Improv in the Oval

Watching the “whatever-it-was” between Trump, Pelosi, and Schumer yesterday, I thought of Tina Fey’s four rules for improv, and I thought I’d offer a few notes, in case they get a chance to work in a scene together again. First, a refresher:

#1 AGREE (Say Yes). If someone starts a scene with a premise that there’s a wall where there isn’t a wall, go with it, see where it takes you.

#2 YES, AND. If the scene is about a big beautiful wall, don’t try to shift it to a government shutdown. Commit. You could say, “Wow, that’s amazing that there’s this wall already built, with no money at all. And here’s an imaginary check for 5 billion to finish it.” That’s the beauty of “yes, and . . .”

#3 MAKE A STATEMENT. Don’t leave all the decisions to your scene partner. “Do you want a shutdown?” “I don’t know, do YOU want a shutdown?”

#4 THERE ARE NO MISTAKES (only opportunities). No, you didn’t know your husband would start discussing the state of your marriage around Aunt Edith’s Thanksgiving dinner table, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use the opportunity to work some things out. Just make sure you remove the sharp objects first.

Now that we’ve laid down the ground rules, some specifics:

Donald: You clearly have no problem starting scenes–good. It was really clear you wanted this sketch to be about a wall–we got that after the tenth restatement. I think you can trust the audience more. Try saying it once and then holding back.

Nancy: I think I see what’s going on here. You thought you’d be doing something from O’Neill, Miller, Stoppard, or Mamet. Instead, you’re trapped in a loop out of Beckett or Albee. Don’t fight it, just find random moments to shout, “evidence-based!” or “data-driven!” I’ll text you Laurie Metcalfe’s number–she’s great at being the one sane presence in an otherwise flaming pile of . . .

Chuck: I get the sense that you’re not afraid to mix it up or throw a curve ball into the scene. I think you could go bigger with that. The next time you’re sitting there, sardonically stewing, I want you to stand, stare up at Washington’s portrait, rip open your shirt, and cry “Stella! Stella!” at the top of your voice. Couldn’t hurt.

Mike: I see you sitting there, staring at your hands, but I don’t know what you’re going for. Maybe you see yourself as one of Sam Shepard’s haunted father figures? “Is he there? Is he real? Can the others even see him?” That could be cool, but unfortunately what is reading to us is mainly extreme discomfort, like you thought this was going to be the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony but instead walked through the wrong door. Consider reacting to your phone buzzing in your pocket: “Excuse me, I need to step out to take this.” No phone? Mime it–we’ll understand. We already suspended our disbelief a long time ago.

Frank Capra Goes to Washington

Like everyone who isn’t feeling “Cubs euphoria” or staying up nights over Amy Grant’s Christmas album and the new Starbucks cup, I’m thinking about next Tuesday. I’ve seen many of the impassioned pleas on Facebook about the waterfall we’re about to go over in a canoe (different canoes, different waterfalls, same outcome), and my inbox is teeming with last-minute appeals to avert certain disaster, and I’m pretty much done. I feel as if I’m trapped in the last season of Lost, no longer caring if the smoke monster gets me, or if I ever get off the island, or even if whether I walk far enough I’ll run into Gilligan, Ginger, and Mr. Howell.


And, yet, I will vote. Why? In part, I was raised to be a compliant child, and I don’t want to ruin my perfect attendance record. But I’ve also seen too many Frank Capra movies with Jimmy Stewart to give up on democracy just yet. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stewart finds himself a newly elected Senator awash in a sea of corruption, but with Jean Arthur’s help, he clings to his ideals and makes a difference.

How do we make a difference? By voting. Even if you’re a solitary blue person living in a red state (or the other way around), vote anyway. Even if the candidate who best captures your beliefs is a third-party outsider with no chance at winning, vote anyway. Voting accomplishes several purposes:

  1. It reminds you that there is no “they,” no matter how disenfranchised you might feel; there is only “us,” and we all have a say–but only if we vote.
  2. It reminds those in power that those of “us” who live outside the beltway must be taken seriously. Red states can turn blue, carefully designed foolproof districts can shift, new parties and movements can exert influence and cause change–but only if we vote.
  3. It reminds us of our own limitations and of our need for each other and, most importantly, for God. Jesus isn’t running, and everyone else I could hope for as a second choice–including Peter, Paul, and Mary (thinking Bible here, but a folk trio wouldn’t be bad, either)–would be guaranteed to mess things up in some fashion.

In short, the only wasted vote is the vote that isn’t cast. You may not feel able to check certain boxes on the ballot. Go to the polls anyway and be counted. Jimmy’s counting on you.

A really, really Popular idea for the Presidency

With just a few weeks to go before the election, I realized I may not have given third parties a fair shake, so I decided to do my homework. I see that the Librarian Party is running Gary Johnson, which puzzled me because it doesn’t appear he’s read much, at least not in the Geography section. But, I have to say, h7b80a3eb730b50178c5c95eb500a4a06aving a Librarian in the White House might not be a bad idea: they’re organized, they think outside the box (you have to, with all of the e-resources), they’re infinitely curious, and they’re generally full of great recommendations.

Now, if they could only team a perky, upbeat Librarian with someone from this Green Party–you know, someone with bold ideas, someone who might even defy gravity–I’d think they’d be UNLIMITED.


Another Exit for England and Wales?

brexitThe world woke up this morning to the news that the United Kingdom had voted to leave the European Union. Shockwaves were immediately felt throughout global financial markets, and news shows were filled with discussions about the immediate and longterm consequences of this international divorce.

Much was made of the frustration among the growing populist movement in Britain, which sees increased integration with Europe as a threat to its identity and way of life. This, together with the reality that ongoing relations with its close neighbors are likely to be awkward at best after the split, has led to a not-surprising decision on the part of Boris Johnson, the acknowledge unofficial head of the “leave” faction.

“Recognizing that the interests and welfare of the British people are no longer aligned with those of the European community, we are in the planning stage of relocating the British Isles to a more advantageous locale,” Johnson announced on Friday during a press conference.

Johnson went on to say that, “While some would view this as an extreme reaction, we feel it is a natural extension of the wisdom that led to yesterday’s momentous decision. Will the move be difficult? Yes, of course, but that has never stopped Britain before and will not stop us now.” He cited the historic successes of Britain’s colonization efforts throughout the world as evidence of the nation’s pluck, foresight, and resolve.

Johnson’s announcement set off storms of speculation regarding Great Britain’s new home. One proposed location is just off the coast near Massachusetts, since it is already home to the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. This, however, raised concerns among locals. “I don’t know,” said professional handyman Larry, who was accompanied by his brother Darryl, and his other brother Darryl. “We already have one New England. Would we call them ‘New New England?'”

Complicating matters is the fact that only the nations of England and Wales voted for the split; Scotland and Northern Ireland indicated their strong preference for remaining in the EU. When asked about this apparent conflict, Johnson—who was joined at the news conference by his golfing pal Donald Trump—was undeterred. “My friend here has assured me that it is not that different from developing a subdivision or making condos out of historic buildings.” Trump added, “You’ve already got this, this, what do you call it, this Hadrian’s Wall—God, I love walls—so you just make a sharp crease and snap it off. I’ve done it millions of times. And we’ll make Scotland pay for it.”

When it was pointed out that moving England into open waters via the English Channel might be a tight fit between France and Ireland, Johnson was confident they would be happy to shift a bit to accommodate the passage. “After all,” he said, “England has done so much for Ireland and France through the centuries. They owe us.”

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's LibraryEscape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an altogether fun read!

Don’t hold the fact against him that Mr. Grabenstein used to write in James Patterson’s book factory. We found this book to be an absolutely delightful, engaging read. Grabenstein is clearly big on libraries as centers of discovery, learning and community. Twelve twelve-year-olds, who have never been in a library due to their town’s library being torn down twelve years ago, compete to go to the grand opening of Mr. Lemoncello’s library. Once there, they find themselves locked in and are told that their goal is to use the library and all its resources to discover a hidden exit for a grand prize. Mr. Lemoncello is a great game-maker and some of the clues come from his games, while others come from the ten Dewey Decimal Rooms, a holographic librarian and holographic creatures, and pictograms hidden in books.

Grabenstein cleverly reinforces the idea that reading is, itself, a rewarding activity, and those who take time to focus on the process are rewarded more than those who try to take short cuts. He also emphasizes such values as loyalty, team-work, and respect. Titles of many famous children’s books are sprinkled throughout Mr. Lemoncello’s conversations and the clues. There is also a puzzle not in the story that can be solved and sent into Mr. Grabenstein for a chance to win two libraries of books. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is a fast read. Mr. Grabenstein also does a very good job of creating distinct characters. None of the kids feels like a carbon copy of the other; they’re all fleshed out in ways that help you get a sense of what motivates them.

View all my reviews

Good Friday Reflections

Today, as our family’s way of observing Good Friday, we have been have been having a modified version of the stations of the cross. At breakfast, we talked about Jesus’ trial before Pilate, being scourged, and what was involved in being crucified.

At supper, we continued our conversation, focusing on Jesus’ time on the cross, on his being taken down, and on the sealing of the tomb. Then we talked about the women discovering the empty tomb on Sunday morning and what that means.

As you might imagine, these were conversations with many interruptions: eager questions, dogs attempting to get into the trashcan, requests for more food, etc. But, as we concluded, I found it interesting to note the differing responses, and it reminded me of how thankful I am that the gospels also record a variety of personalities having a variety of reactions.

When I asked, “how would you have felt on Friday night if you were one of Jesus’ disciples?,” my most “Peter-like” child responded, “I would fight the guards!” My “Thomas” was full of questions about what exactly would heaven be like and how would we know for sure that it would be good, and whether electronics would be allowed.

Empty-Tomb-Picture-07My “Mary,” listening to these ongoing, deeply-felt, concerns about the scariness of death and the mystery of the great beyond, simply said, “He’s ALIVE, duh!”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Even though I’m a few days early, I’m glad that I can already say Happy Easter.

Myers-Briggs Revisited

MyersBriggsTypesDecades after first taking the Myers-Briggs personality profile, I thought I’d try it again, just to make sure I still had a personality.

For years, when anyone would ask, I would tell them I am an ENTJ. Some, like myself, who haven’t studied these things extensively, would nod and move on. Others would give me a slightly puzzled expression, as if to say, “I’m not so sure about that.” I have had several occasions where a friend would assume I was an ENFP or an ENFJ. When I corrected them, I would get the same “whatever you want to think” vote of no-confidence. Continue reading “Myers-Briggs Revisited”

Asteroids, Dinosaurs, and Jesus

I was helping Josh wind down for bedtime a few nights ago, and the following conversation ensued:

J: I still have one big question about Jesus.

C: Go ahead, shoot.

J: Well, it’s something I can’t quite figure out. If Jesus sent the asteroid to wipe out the dinosaurs, how long until he sends the asteroid to wipe us out? Continue reading “Asteroids, Dinosaurs, and Jesus”

Jackass Olympics

IMG_0243I’ve been reading about my friends’ quadrennial disappointments and frustrations with the outcomes in skating, hockey, and some of the skiing events at the Sochi Olympics, and it occurred to me that this is an opportunity for American ingenuity to take center stage. Can we not introduce some innovation to these traditional winter sports–you know, liven them up a little?

We’re probably never gonna beat the Canadians at hockey, or those pesky Russian figure skaters, or those Norwegian skiiers. That is, not unless we shake things up a bit. We’ve always been good at reinventing things to our advantage, so here’s what I propose: Continue reading “Jackass Olympics”

Josh’s Morning Routine

When Josh is getting ready for a school day, I can only imagine how he processes his to do list.

“Lets see, I have to

A. Bug Joe
B. Bug Amy
C. Bug Lauryn
D. Change underwear
E. Get dressed
F. Put on socks AND shoes
G. Brush teeth

Wow, that’s a lot. Time to prioritize. A-C are non-negotiables, but that’s going to leave me pressed. D is optional, so I’ll put that off til next week. I can manage to squeeze in E and F as long as I leave out the sock part. If I just run my toothbrush under the faucet, that might just leave me enough time for another round of A-C. This should work.”