White Tops: The Sit-Com

I suppose one of the problems with getting more white tops on TV is that who the hell would want to watch, for example, a sit-com featuring the daily affairs of white tops. Plus, there’s the general problem of making something funny out of daily affairs of white tops.

I suppose there might be something funny in losing one’s hair and developing arthritis in one’s joints or not being able to stand without one’s knees making cracking noises audible clear across the room. And of course one could work for humor I suppose all the various bowel and evacuation problems that go along with aging, like developing lactose intolerance or finding that one has to pee every other second. And oh yes, the absolutely hysterical issues surrounding the prostate, its enlargement and possible cancer treatments.

And the imagination runs rampant at the possibility for humor in all those doctors visits, with insane doctors, and false positives, and getting the wrong results, and various humiliating procedures, and diverse operations to extend the quality of life like knee and hip replacements.

And then of course the laugh-out-loud funny problems involved in paying for all those doctor visits while on a fixed budget in the middle of an inflationary cycle.

And what about that thigh slapping experience of one day having your driver’s license taken away because your macular degeneration has narrowed your vision to a dark tunnel.

What a crack up! I mean staggering around in the dark and falling down the stairs because of vertigo and lying there helplessly on the floor until somebody happens to find you.

Comedy I was once told was like the bouncing ball. In comedy, you bounce. You fall on that banana but you get up, brush yourself off and go on arrogantly believing that you are invulnerable. And, well, that is pretty funny–that necessarily denial of our fleshly being with our fleshly end keeps us ongoing.

But when one gets a white top the bounce starts to go.

Still a white top comedy might be possible in some niche market.

White Tops

Last quarter a student gave an oral report on something called "The L-Word." I had no idea what she was talking about since I don’t get Showtime. Turns out, in the student’s words, that it’s a TV show a lot like "Sex in the City" except with (L)esbians. I never watched "Sex in the City" either, though what the show was about seems implied in the title.

My student when she gave her oral report began to understand (that’s one reason I have them do oral reports) that most of us had no idea what "The L-Word" was since mostly it appeared we were not lesbians, so in her research paper, she provided background (most of which I did know) about how for years lesbians had not appeared on any TV shows, and she quoted in her paper an author who wrote about how most people probably don’t know how odd and bad it feels to watch hour after hour of TV and never see people like yourself represented. The media, TV especially, appears so powerful that if you don’t appear on it, you and people like yourself don’t exist.

So "The L-Word" in its frank and candid depiction of lesbian life, especially sexual life, was a pretty big deal, though my student admitted that as lesbians go the lesbians on the "L-Word" were not entirely representative being wonderfully beautiful and also very affluent. And as she noted in her paper, it felt sort of funny to understand that while lesbian life was more frankly depicted in the "L-Word" mostly only lesbians watched it, so while the media did seem to affirm the existence of very beautiful and affluent lesbians it was doing so mostly for lesbians and not the non-lesbian viewing audience.

But that’s how things go with the niche market. Things get a little solipsistic.

This has something to do with what Wallace means when he wrote that we try to see ourselves in TV characters and, as part of this ID-relation, them in ourselves. This is about narcissism, about wanting to find images or something "out-there," that embodies, gives form to, and affirms our existence.

Maybe it’s not really the same. I wouldn’t know since I am not a lesbian. But I think I have felt a little of that non-being lately, a little of that sense of not being able to locate myself in the public terrain or the world of the media (even in a niche market). I just don’t see that many white guys with thinning white hair on TV shows. Sure there are plenty of older guys in commercials but they are all having problems with heart attacks or the operation of their penises or having to pee all the time. I mean where are the TV shows with white topped older guys and women doing whatever older (and therefore unattractive) people do.

Honestly, I feel a little negated–as if I were drifting off into a sort of TV land irrelevance. Where in general are the white topped guys. I look around and I don’t see as many white topped guys as I would expect. Then it dawned on me. Do a lot of guys my age dye their hair? No doubt about it, you dye your hair and you do look younger….and one TV commercial says that will increase your confidence too and sense of self worth.

But that’s too late for me. If I tried to dye my hair now I would end up mostly dying my scalp. So I would have dyed hair and a sort of undercoat. That might look strange and not really a self-confidence booster.

Breakfast club

Carol and I went out to breakfast at a little place in Old Town Goleta, as it is called. Crummy Town Goleta might be more apt. But it’s the kind of place only locals would patronize and the food and service isn’t bad.

Though today it was, the service I mean. And as I sat there feeling antsy, two husband and wife teams come and sit–wife facing wife, husband facing husband–catty-corner from us. They are not loud at all but the one whose face and thus mouth flap point in my direction has one of those voices that, though not loud, carries. They have just come from church I understand because the mouth flapper starts in talking about how going to church what with all that kneeling and standing up again aggravates the old vertigo.

That’s how it starts and that’s how it goes for twenty minutes. Perhaps they have not seen each other in a while because they seem to move back and forth in a verbal tennis match from a discussion of one surgery, or procedure or treatment or doctor’s visit involving eyes, ears, bowels, circulation, heart and most especially teeth. It’s like they had a check list.

And then the mouth flap one says, well, so you don’t have any feeling along here–and he moves his finger sort of down the side of his mouth and chin line–and the other guy says yes, and the mouth flap says, "Have you had any trouble eating your lips. Because people with that sometimes eat their lips without knowing it."

Something had apparently gone wrong in a dental procedure. "No," the guy said…he had not eaten his lips and it was easy not to do that because all of the teeth on the side with no feeling had been removed. So he just ate with the other side of his face and so had avoided eating his own lips.

I was pretty damn depressed when I went into that place and went out more depressed. The idea of eating your own lips and not knowing it has stuck with me the whole day.

Oh! The heart-ache and the thousand natural and, one might add, unnatural shocks/ That flesh is heir to…

TV Time

David Foster Wallace, the novelist who recently committed suicide, wrote a pretty long and good essay on television’s effect on writers of fiction. He thinks those effects have been rather grossly underplayed. One place in this essay he wrote something that gave me pause:

The U.S. generation born after 1950 is the first for whom television was something to be lived with instead of looked at. Our elders tend to regard the set rather as a flapper did the automobile: a curiosity turned treat turned seduction. For younger writers, TV’s as much a part of reality as Toyota or gridlock. We literally cannot imagine life without it…. We have no memory of a world without such electrical definition.

As a person born before 1950 and having been raised without a TV set till I was ten or eleven, I have such a memory–of a world without TV. Not that I haven’t watched plenty of it since. But that’s not the point exactly. I tell my students that I don’t understand them and I mean it. What I mean though has not always been clear. But this TV thing is part of it–of this difference I don’t quite get.

At some elemental level because of those early years without TV I cannot quite step into a world of students who have known TV forever and for whom TV is part of what Wallace calls "reality." At some level I just don’t feel TV is part of reality in the way a Toyota is or gridlock.

I must be bone headed. According to what I have read the only thing people do more than sleep is watch TV. They watch on average at least six hours of it a day (though perhaps the figures are changing some what with the internet.). But if you think of that–six hours a day!–you better get the feeling that TV is–how to say–a significant "experiential unit" in the overall fabric of reality that includes such things as work, driving to work, school, or other life shaping activities.

My students tell me they have bought things just because a celebrity they admired wore the thing they bought. This idea has never crossed my mind.

Wallace knows what my students feel better than I.

He writes:

We try to see ourselves in them [TV characters]. The same I.D.-relation, however, also means that we try to seem them in ourselves. When everybody we seek to identify with for six hours a day is pretty, it naturally becomes more important to us to be pretty, to be viewed as pretty. Because prettiness becomes a priority for us, the pretty people on TV because all the more attractive, a cycle which is great for TV. But less so for us civilians, who tend to own mirrors, and who also tend not be anywhere near as pretty as the TV-images we want to identity with.

Bad Banks

I try not to think about the economy, but it’s hard not too. And then when I do think about it, I am not sure what’s going on.

I found a site that’s devoted in part to explaining the basics of the crisis to your basic layman like myself and listened to a 58 minute podcast on the banking crisis.

It explained the bank balance sheet: how the bank’s capital and deposits are supposed to balance with the money it has loan. From this perspective the banking crisis is really simple. The balance sheets are completely out of whack; the money made in loans completely outbalances deposits and capital. The people on the podcast said the biggest banks, to put it simply, are already busted. They are insolvent. One of the results of this is that when the government gives these people money, they don’t loan it out because they need the capital to help balance their balance sheets.

The banks are held together at this point by bluster and hot air. The bankers claim they are not insolvent. They claim that all the mortgages, for example, that they are holding are worth or will be worth, in some distant future, far more than they are actually worth at this very moment. So they are not insolvent, at least in some distant future which may or may not occur.

This explains one of the problems in trying to solve the crisis. The government might buy up those toxic assets, but the banks want top dollar (the dollar in some distant future) and not what they are really worth at the moment. This would really be sticking it to the tax payer. The tax payers would be buying mortgages grossly inflated because the banks won’t sell them for what they are really worth.

One banker out of Europe I think put it simply: give us the money now because one way or the other the tax payers are going to pick up the bill and you might as well do it now by having tax payers (the government) give as much money as possible to us bankers.

All of this is pretty infuriating because the bankers’ practices (all that irresponsible lending) are what got us in this mess in the first place.

That’s true enough. But the "climax" of the podcast came when one commentator said, "We (the people) are the problem." Since 1980 Americans have been encouraged to buy, buy, buy. And we have done so on credit, credit, credit, with the result that we have gone deeper into debt, debt, debt. The banks are holding all that bad money because we, the people, now lacking credit, can’t pay off the our debts and don’t have the money to buy much of anything. So the problem isn’t just the banks but a whole way of life that Americans have embraced since around 1980.

This fits my pet thesis: the problem is the Consumer Society and the ethic it promotes.

The podcast closed with a scary statistic. For some decades now the economy has trucked along with the amount of consumer debt being about 30%, 40% or 50% of the GDP (the total value of all final goods and services produced in a particular economy; the dollar value of all goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a given year). But this year consumer debt was 100% of GDP. The GDP was 13 trillion and the amount of debt Americans carried was 13 trillion.

The last time this happened was 1929.

Default Positions

Well, I continue to struggle with teaching and learning. The whole thing has become harder the closer I get to not doing it anymore. And it’s harder too because the pressure upon students now, more than ever, is to succeed. I can understand that what with the economy being what it is.

I have wanted to think of education as the development of the person and haven’t always been able to say exactly what I meant by that though I tried to in "Self-Development and College Writing."

The other day I came across the commencement speech that David Foster Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005. Wallace was a novelist–some kind of genius, as a friend put it–who committed suicide recently. It’s very down-to-earth commencement speech. He attempts to define and defend "liberal arts" education, as he tries to navigate the sea of cliches invoked by such an occasion. But part way through it he writes something that touches me and my notions of what education might be:

Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

I suppose this hits me particularly hard because just the other day in class, I was trying to talk with my students about something like this. We (or rather I) was trying to discuss D.W. Winnicott’s idea about creativity and its role in daily life. For Winnicott, this type of creativity is essential to a feeling of wholeness and aliveness. He writes very strange and incomprehensible things trying to get at what he means. But I think what he means has something to do with what Wallace says when he writes about liberal arts education as learning "to choose how you construct meaning from experience."

The main point to be made here is that while we do construct meaning from experience, we don’t know we are doing it. In Wallace’s words, we simply fall into what he calls, when it comes to thinking or constructing meaning, the "default position." This position he explicitly says is "unconscious." These unconscious, default positions have something to do with Winnicott’s false self. The false self, the ability to have one, is essential to social functioning. The well adjusted person has a solid false self; the problem is that those very adjustments supply the default positions for those ways of making meaning that go along with such a thing as being well-adjusted.

So we don’t think about where our thoughts come from or even that they come from somewhere and were, where-ever that somewhere might be, constructed.

That’s the point of liberal arts education: to constantly point to that fact and in point to that fact to suggest experience teaches us nothing. We construct its meaning and there are various ways to do that, those "various ways" having something to do with what Winnicott calls creativity.

Wallace’s commencement address may be found at.

Bizzaro World

Yesterday was a visit from bizzaro world.

The day before yesterday I had been trying to write an optimistic anti-sucide song, called "Don’t Give Up."

Then yesterday morning I called an old friend, who is actually old (in her 80’s), to learn that her old male friend of some 30 years had committed suicide the day before yesterday. He was in great physical pain with no hope of recovery.

I have a bad cold and feeling fit to be tied I picked up the recent New Yorker and thumbing through it I noticed (the workings of the unconscious) out of nowhere the name of a guy I met and talked with a couple of times in my days at San Diego State. He is the good friend of a good friend of mine. Noticing his name I decided to read the article.

The article was about David Foster Wallace, a novelist, who recently committed suicide. The friend of my friend’s name appears because he did a long interview with David Foster Wallace and that interview is cited a number of times by the author of the article in the New Yorker, one D.T. Max (which has to be a pseudonym).

I noticed then that the New Yorker had a short story written by David Foster Wallace. I wasn’t going to read it–and in fact I still haven’t–but–again the unconscious working–I see the word "Tingle." That’s tingle with a capital "T." Here it appears: "He wasn’t from any Tingle that Lane Dane had observed on his own." Or: "Mr. Bondurant’s high hard gray hair was just visible four Tingles down." Maybe if I read the whole story I could figure out, from context, what a Tingle is. But I have no intention of doing so. From the little I can infer by the context supplied in these quotations, a "Tingle" appears to be an object of some kind.

Then Carol called to say she had backed the Honda into a telephone pole.

Funeral Disrupted

Under the Heading: Truth Stranger than fiction, Brother Steve sent along the following article from GoLaurens.com:

A North Carolina woman found out the hard way on Tuesday that crashing a funeral where one of the pallbearers is the Sheriff is not the best idea. Nicole Leonard, 25, of Candler, NC, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and disrupting a funeral.

According to reports filed with the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office, Leonard, a massage therapist, was traveling from North Carolina to Florida when she spotted the funeral at the Laurens County church where the incident occurred.

Not knowing anyone involved with neither the service nor the deceased, Leonard proceeded to enter the church and went to the front of the sanctuary where she began reading from a book behind the pulpit and dancing near the casket. She then took the flowers off of the casket and threw them on the ground in the direction of the family.

Leonard then produced a “wand”, which Sheriff Ricky Chastain said resembled a car antenna, and started waving the object over the casket. After opening the lid of the casket, she struck the deceased in the head with the wand, prompting the funeral staff to escort her from the church.

Leonard left the church at that point, but LCSO deputies soon pulled her over on I-385 and arrested her. Upon arrest, investigators asked her about the incident and why she committed the crime, to which Leonard stated, “I felt that it was the right thing to do at the time.”

“She looked very distressed,” said Chastain, who was a relative of the deceased. “We actually thought she was part of the family at first.”

Leonard was booked at the Johnson Detention Center, but posted bail on Wednesday. She could face up to 30 days in jail for the disrupting a funeral misdemeanor charge.


“I felt that it was the right thing to do at the time.”

Well, OK?

I didn’t know there was a specific crime known as "funeral disruption."

Fond Memories

A colleague sent out an email to all of us. He was troubled. He had a student who had written an excellent essay/article for him, and he suggested the student submit it to a contest and the student won the contest. So on the basis of that success my colleague suggested the student send out his article to a "real" periodical and, wow!, did the editors of the journal do a hatchet job, saying things like trite, full of cliches, banal, lacking insight, name dropping. Just a bunch of nastiness. The poor student was devastated, and my colleague wanted to know what to tell the kid.

I wrote back about the rejections I received during the 70’s and early 80’s for the short stories I wrote during that time. I think I wrote forty, maybe fifty, if I count the science fiction ones, along with the "serious." And I sent individual stories out repeatedly, some of them a dozen times or better. I became a connoisseur of rejection letters.

Most of these were purely perfunctory; sorry, we have no need for your work at this time. Occasionally, somebody would scribble a few words on the standard rejection, and somebody at Paris Review wrote a couple of paragraphs of encouragement. But I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about, so I didn’t follow that up.

The worst I got was from some editor at a "little magazine.l" He wrote two fat paragraphs saying stuff like the characters were unbelievable, not to mention insane, the dialogue was wooden, the thing had no narrative movement, lacked all plot, and so on and so forth. And, oh by the way, he concluded, I had the worst pseudonym he had ever heard.

Well, as you might have guessed, I did not use a pseudonym, but my real name, "Nick Tingle," and I guess that sounded so weird to him that he thought I made it up. Though why he thought anybody in his right mind would make up a pseudonym like "Nick Tingle," I don’t know.

This was long ago in the days before the internet and the so-called personal computer. Today, the guy might have googled to see that in fact some people are named Tingle and a tiny number of those have the first name, Nick. But that guy was so nasty I expect he would have written, and oh, by the way, you have the worst name I have ever heard. You had better come up with a pseudonym especially since you don’t really want anybody to know you have written such awful stories.

Give some people a little power–especially editors–and they will use it to their own sadistic ends.