Invisible Mikey on Blogging, Writing, Creating

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How I Blog
by Invisible Mikey

Larry Brody and I are pals. We enjoy each other’s conversation and company. We also enjoy each other’s writing, though we have little in common there except that we get each other’s jokes. Maybe that’s not such a little thing. Larry asked me to write about my “process”, to share with his readers, which is both flattering and amusing. I thought of the Mother Theresa joke. Forgive me if you’ve heard it.

A reporter who was interviewing Mother Theresa asked her if she could have a personal wish fulfilled, what it would be.

“Oh, I would like to see the world at peace.”
“No, I mean something for your personal benefit.”
“Oh, I would like to know that no one anywhere was hungry.”
“No, no, I mean something JUST for you. For you, yourself.”
The revered lady thought silently for a moment…
“Well… I’ve always wanted to direct.”

I think everyone is the author of his or her own life story. Some are heroes and others blunder through it. But there’s a self-protective safety barrier in place whenever you set out to write about your own life. No one’s really able to view themselves, warts and all. The core jest of calling myself Invisible Mikey on the blog is that I’m only invisible to myself. Anyone reading can see things about me that I can’t. Since I can’t cross the barrier into objective self-awareness, the next best thing is to try different ways to tell an entertaining story.

When I was a boy I loved reading a humor columnist in the Des Moines Register named Donald Kaul. He could write on topics he knew nothing about, and make it fun to read. I thought this was a neat trick that he had invented. One of my elementary school teachers informed me there was a whole genre of this kind of writing. She pointed me to Mark Twain and Robert Benchley, both of whom had been humor columnists for newspapers. Later I learned Charles Dickens and Jonathan Swift, whose more “serious” works we had been taught in school, had also worked as satirical newspaper pundits. So I’ve got lofty role models for blog writing. I take comfort in knowing they all improved considerably with practice.

One of the differences between how Larry and I write is the discipline of habit. When he gets hold of an interesting idea (or vice versa), he drops everything to write about it. He says he can’t stop, that it’s a kind of obsessive-compulsive behavior, or perhaps autistic. I just think he was always a born writer, like Mozart was a born savant composer. I use the Beethoven method myself. I’ll get hold of a motif idea, and write variations for years, hoping it will end up as good as “Da-da-da-DUMM!” I am temporarily distracted by everything of interest in the world. I have little focus, until suddenly I have extraordinary focus. I have a good memory, but I have a hard time predicting what will capture my attention for long enough to commit to text.

Back in the late 1970s, I went to Community College. I liked the advisor of the student newspaper and thought he was funny. When I met him he said, “You want to write for the paper? You can write about anything you want. The entire staff just graduated.” So for two years I wrote page after page, about ten longhand pages a day. I wrote gossip, cartooning, investigative news, arts critique, and made tentative attempts to emulate the pantheon of satirical writers mentioned above. I got better with practice. I learned how to get to the point.

For the next 30 years, I had careers that were creative, but did not involve creative writing. I was a salesman of many kinds of goods and services, a portrait photographer, an actor on stage and screen, and a post-production editor, before switching to medical imaging at age 50. While waiting for a state license to be issued in Washington, I decided to try blogging to alleviate my anxiety. The license took four %$^&* months! By that time I had gotten to enjoy a hybrid of habit between what I had been doing at Community College, and confessional invention.
When I’m not writing op-ed, I tell stories about a character based on me. They are always improved compared to my actual history, with the boring bits removed. Sometimes it’s entirely made up. I learned to be a good liar when I was a salesman. What matters is entertaining my readers.

I’ve had an interesting life, done many different kinds of work, and loved a variety of different sorts of people. Because I’m writing later in life, I have tons of experiences I can draw upon for story material. I’m not saying you can’t make up great stories when you are young. I just think it must be harder to do well. I certainly could not have predicted the kinds of wonders and catastrophes that have happened to me, and I have an excellent, vivid, adventurous imagination. When I retire in 2016, I’m going to start publishing some longer-form work. I’m working the themes and variations now.

I have an advantage over some of you. I have no need to make a living from writing. I don’t ever have to write anything “because it will sell”. That’s a craft I admire very much when it is done well. I know little about how to do it, even though I know quite a bit about editing, making things up, and how to tell the difference between good and bad writing. You’ll have to ask Larry how to write what will sell. I write for practice, to get better at doing it, and on subjects of my own choosing. I’m a hobbyist.

If I can write something as readable and entertaining as the professionals whose work I prefer, I’m satisfied. Quite often I don’t get there, which I find funny. I have wonderful moments after reading when I think, “How did they do that?” and laugh like an idiot. Sometimes I applaud, as if the author will hear it. No matter how much I learn about the craft and process of good writing, I hope I can always experience reading it with undimmed, unsophisticated pleasure, the kind a five year-old gets watching a magic trick.

Invisible Mikey: My Trigger

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by Invisible Mikey

I was reading Zeenat’s post about daily methods for reinforcing your inner upside (http://positiveprovocations.com/2011/02/21/top-9-ways-to-be-positive-and-happy-everyday/).  The first one listed was to Carry a positive Trigger.  She was writing about having a token of something that makes you happy with you at all times.  When you get sidetracked, you can use it to get back in the game of life.  She did not realize that by saying this she reopened a beautiful memory from my early childhood.  I’ve had a positive trigger inside me since I was three!  It’s Trigger himself, the smartest horse in the movies.

Roy Rogers was a former shoe factory worker from Ohio named Leonard Slye.  He reinvented himself and became a beloved singing cowboy in movies and on TV.  In preparation for his first lead role in Under Western Skies (1938),Roy tried out several handsome horses the studio provided.  He was carried along smoothly and rapidly by a six year old palomino named Golden Cloud , but Roy was also impressed at how intelligent and responsive the horse was.  During the shoot, co-star Smiley Burnette remarked that the horse was so quick Roy ought to call him “Trigger”.  And quick he was, a fast learner and a fast runner.  The name stuck.

Trigger went from A-budget films to B-Westerns in order to work with Roy.  He had been Maid Marian’s horse in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).  From then on he played himself, as in Robin Hood of the Pecos (1941). That horse had real star quality.  You could tell he enjoyed performing.

Most of their films included some demonstration of Trigger’s abilities.  Here’s a clip from Hands Across the Border (1944):

Roy Rogers movies and TV shows were mostly formulaic nonsense, which matters little to an audience of children.  They featured fistfights without blood, shootouts in which no one is killed, and love scenes with one kiss (maybe).  The realest part was the friendships.  Roy and Gabby Hayes, his bearded sidekick, acted like pals.  So did Roy and Dale Evans, his off-screen wife.  The revelation for me was seeing what close friends Roy and Trigger were.  I hadn’t had a pet or significant relationship with any animals yet.  Because I saw Roy and Trigger’s interaction with each other while I was a young child, I began believing people and animals could be friends.  Roy never once used a whip or spurs with Trigger.  They just communicated.

Trigger made over 80 films and 100 TV episodes with Roy.  That’s long-distance stamina by any means of reckoning.  He got one more shot at A-budget films in 1952.  Their contract was up for renewal, and the studio (Republic) didn’t want to allow the duo to move to TV, where their audience was.  Roy and Trigger galloped over to Paramount and appeared in Bob Hope’s Western spoof Son of Paleface:

Fast-forward half a century.  I get along with many kinds of animals.  Dogs, cats, deer and horses are curious about me, as I am about them.  Birds will almost always come near.  They sense I mean no harm, and I offer them food.  On foreign trips I’ve touched whales and dolphins, and watched them studying me.  I’ve had important, meaningful relationships with many animals that chose to live under my roof.  I owe it all to watching that beautiful palomino and the cowboy he carried.

Trigger was a performer on-camera and in personal appearances for twenty years, longer than many human celebrities.  When he died in 1965, Roy had the body preserved in the iconic pose, rearing up on his hind legs.  For 45 years he was a museum exhibit under glass, the King Tut of horses.  The mummy sold at auction for $266,500 last year.

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EDITED BY LB TO ADD: Speaking of the Roy Rogers Museum, where Trigger used to do his mummified thing, many years ago my wife and I took our Youngest Daughter to see Roy’s goodies. He’d been a guest star on a show I produced called THE FALL GUY and was quite the host. But when the YD saw all the stuffed animals (not only Trigger but also Roy’s dog, Bullet, Dale’s horse, Buttermilk, and a host of big game animals shot on various Rogers’ family African safaris), she burst into tears and fled from the building. Sorry, Roy. Sorry, Mikey. Really sorry, Trigger.

Invisible Mikey: Remembrance of Television Past

And the son of a @#%$ remembers it so well:

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Technical Difficulties
by Invisible Mikey

The world’s most famous television test pattern was introduced by RCA in 1939 and was still in use until the 1970s. American TV stations used to broadcast it not only when scheduled programming ceased for the day, but any time unexpected technical difficulties caused a delay.  It’s been ten days since I’ve made my last confession.  I’ve been fully intending to do so, but I’ve had obstacles interrupting the broadcast for which I am heartily sorry, and I hope you’ll forgive me.

I could not get proper cell phone coverage at home or work with our previous provider.  I got a new provider and I now have coverage.  I also have this new phone with new functions and a 50-page manual that I haven’t had time to do more than speed-read through in desperation.  Our wonderful new house (which I named Casa DeLuxe in previous posts) would appear to have undergone an explosion to the casual observer.  It’s full of boxes that are partially unpacked, with belongings everywhere.  I would love to show you as well as write about it, but I can’t figure out how to get the dozens of pictures out of my new complicated phone and into the computer.  I guess I’ll be adding a “photos/captions only” post in a few days when I have solved this problem.

We got a new land-line and ISP at home, but that took hours worth of phone calls it shouldn’t have because it was a hard concept for the home phone/internet provider to understand that it would require scheduling the two different types of (subcontracted) technicians the same day in order to guarantee the service would work.  They kept saying they could schedule them days apart and it would all link up.  I’ve been through that many times before.  It often doesn’t work, and then untangling whose fault it is takes days or weeks to figure out and correct.  I don’t know what was so hard about “same day, same time” for them, but I had to go through levels of the beehive and beg the queen’s direct under-drones.  I got the two techs.  It worked, sort of.

The phone rang, however it kept intercepting all our home phone calls to re-route them to an included voicemail service we had not asked for, and that we couldn’t access.  Our callers heard a recording saying, “This voicemail box has not yet been set up.”  Technical support replied that the voicemail service “came free” because we had bundled home phone and internet service, but that we had to go through the initiation process of Harry Potter’s sorting hat, perform twelve “labors” and answer a survey before it would work.  “It burns!  It burns!  Get it off!” I cried.  The voicemail service is no more.  We get to hear our own phone calls instead of the recording secretary hearing them first.

We’ve been without a TV service for six weeks.  Despite not suffering any real ill effects, we actually want a TV service, and we’ll, like, PAY for it and everything.  First I had to endure wave after wave of sales people pushing a programming service I did not want with channels I did not want at a price I did not want with outdated technology I DEFINITELY did not want.  That’s because they’ve made “a deal” with the phone provider to sell that service bundled to home phone/internet customers.  Now every time I talk to anyone from the phone company they make another pitch for DIRECT TV.  I’ve been around the block.  If “everybody says” it’s the best, except for customers, it isn’t the best even if it IS the biggest.  Plus, I am determined to stop paying for things I won’t use.  It’s called VOLUNTARY SIMPLICITY.  The lack of voluntary simplicity is a chief reason my past life was so full of clutter.  I finally found a guy who works out of his house.  He will set me up with a satellite and (mostly) just the channels I want.  His name’s Dan.  I met his wife.  THAT’S how I like to do business.  Screw you, oh super-fabulous DIRECT TV.

I passed my final test to become a nurse delegate/medication aide.  Later this week I begin training on the many-drawered med cart, the pharmacy on wheels that makes life more manageable for 30 people with nine kinds of dementia.  Without enough medication, dementia produces memorable quotes.

“How does this thing work?” (The thing being his hand.)

“Which side do I reach over to get to the ocean?” (Which side of the chair.)

“No one can help me now.” (Said under severe pain.)

“This is SUPER…super…superfluous.” (She liked the pudding.)

“I don’t want anything at all.  Just you.”

Dementia has begun to seem like old-time black & white TV static to me.  It’s an interruption to the brain’s regularly scheduled programming.  Is there a test-pattern running in their heads?

I’m more involved than ever at the Dementia Care facility.  My co-workers are heroes.  They work double shifts for low pay, nursing their own injuries and enormous stress.  This is the struggle against suffering, undertaken at an essential, visceral level.  Several residents have had falls or near-falls as their conditions worsen.  We keep them as safe as we can, but you can’t predict when a person who used to be able to walk will suddenly drop to the carpet or the grass, never to walk again without assistance.  Two of our residents have died in the ten weeks I’ve worked at the care home.  I knew both intimately.  We’re in the trenches.

MORE POSTS COMING — PLEASE STAND BY

Invisible Mikey: Yet Another Reason

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…to remain invisible.

I ran into this by accident when looking for something else.  I had completely forgotten it.  Well, it was 25 years ago.  This was my first “union” job in Hollywood, after I had earned the SAG card.  I got paid a few hundred dollars to shout “YAY!” in the background of the commercial.  I’m turned away from camera.  The bar is a set.  The lead actor, Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee), was a nice-looking but only average-sized man.  Therefore, to make him look big and macho, the bar set and everything in it is just a little bit smaller than the real thing.  I remembered the casting call.  They chose a variety of “looks”, with only one requirement.  You couldn’t be any taller than 5’7”.  The guy on the stool next to Paul talking to him is Leslie Jordan.  He’s just under 5 feet tall.  It’s a good thing I never filmed anything embarrassing, aside from the fact that much of it was bad TV.  This stuff sticks around forever!

Originally published on Invisible Mikey’s Blog

EDITED TO ADD: Thanks, Mikey!

Invisible Mikey: Lessons From TV

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Mass media impacts lives, and each generation adopts current technology for the sharing of information, communication and entertainment. Five years ago, during my last round of college, I realized how differently my younger colleagues in class were experiencing media than I had. I use the Internet, but I’m a different animal. I was part of the first television generation. During my formative years, it was only available in black and white, and there were no remote controls.

Sometimes I read opinions written by columnists and bloggers who state unequivocally that television can have no positive influence, especially on children who watch. I don’t care what the studies say. I am living proof that TV could influence in meaningful, positive ways. You may prefer to believe I was just lucky, but I learned many important things from watching TV. Here are three:

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The Joke’s On You. Learn to Enjoy It.

When I was a boy in Iowa, Duane Ellett and his dog puppet, Floppy, hosted one local show. Duane and Floppy showed cartoons and performed before a live audience of children. Throughout the show, the kids were invited to come up and tell jokes to them. Predictably pleasant, right? Something unexpected and wonderful happened. The kids would tell the SAME EXACT JOKES over and over. Floppy would laugh and toss his ears around every time, while Duane (the straight man) would look more and more miserable. Floppy would stop and look back at Duane like “Why aren’t you laughing, man? This is great!” Duane would be rolling his eyes and growing visibly older by the second. This is the yin-yang of comedy, and in many ways, of life itself. Sometimes you are Floppy. Sometimes you are Duane. And life will keep playing the same jokes on you. Because I had watched The Floppy Show, I understood Waiting for Godot when I read it many years later.

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Big and Small are Defined by Context.

Half my life has been lived in big cities and half in small towns. Small towns are more entertaining. That’s because every small town pretends that it’s a big, important place. There’s a recent movie called Cedar Rapids, a fish-out-of-water comedy about a man from a very small town trying to adjust to opportunities in the “big city” of the title. The in-joke is that Cedar Rapids isn’t big. It’s just bigger than where he was from. I lived in Cedar Rapids for years and found it hilarious that Cedar Rapidians took their town so seriously. I knew they weren’t all that. After all, I was from (ahem) Des Moines!

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By the time I moved to Cedar Rapids at age 14, I had been fully prepared for small town pretense by watching TV. I was a fan of The Andy Griffith Show, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres – shows that exploited the inflated pride people have about their small towns for comedic effect, but that also portrayed the virtues of living more simply. Now, in the autumn of my years, I love Last of the Summer Wine, the world’s longest-running situation comedy. It was a British show about pensioners with attitude, and it echoed the themes of those American shows that came before.

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Everyone is Still a Child.

I was a very angry teenager. The Vietnam War was going on, college students were being gassed and beaten at peaceful demonstrations, my parents were heading for divorce and life was grim in general. My inner child was dying from neglect. An honest embrace emerged from TV in the afternoons, in the form of a show for very young children that I needed as much as they did. Fred Rogers understood that children of all ages need reassurance in uneasy times. He showed us an improved world in miniature, one we could live in if we treated each other better. It was Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

The show was on Public Television. Back then, just like now, there were those in government who wanted to cut funding for non-commercial TV, because they thought it was “too liberal”. Mister Rogers didn’t believe in war. He suggested more money should be spent on the education of children, including through television, instead of spending it on weapons. I know this is a long clip, but it’s an example of how powerful authentic gentleness can be. In this excerpt, you can see Mister Rogers melt the hard heart of a real U.S. Senator, just by talking to the child inside him. I can’t watch this without crying.

Mister Rogers died in 2003, a month before the U.S. invaded Iraq. His show began during one war based on lies. His life ended as another war based on lies began. I remember telling Mary at the time that I felt as if the world wasn’t good enough to have someone as kind as Fred Rogers living in it. I’m sorry he’s gone, but I’m glad his TV show helped me to change. I’m not an angry adult.

TVWriter™ gives big thanks to Invisible Mikey’s Very Visible Blog