Time off is my favorite time not teaching
A short post for a short week
Winter break comes at exactly the right time, or maybe I know a break is coming and adjust my expectations to fully live for it. But the time not teaching is what makes the teaching possible. It’s hardly “vacation,” it’s a needed break. I peeked at teacher Reddit, a terrifying place that I will diplomatically say doesn’t always focus on the bright side of teaching. But the topic was what non-teachers need to understand about the profession, and the two most popular answers were about the number of decisions you make daily, and the amount of time at work you’re “on.” Both are worthy subjects of entire substacks, but this is my week off from those lots more. Did you even notice I flat-out skipped last week? Oops.
And I’m still only partially up to engaging, so I guess I’ll just leave you with my earth-shattering thesis: Time off is good. Happy 2023, my resolutions are largely food-related and easily guessable, plus reading more, engaging more with friends, and perfecting nuclear fusion.
The Urban Blah
Back in 2009-11 I collaborated with the brilliant Lovisa to make a webcomic that failed to become syndicated across the globe. I am pro-recycling.
I think about this all the time, especially when the bathroom soap makes my hands smell weird and I want to say something. When this comic first ran, my wife was like, “Look, we’re on a date.” I’d make that a resolution, but we’re pretty good about prioritizing our date nights. Though we always can do with more!
And Lovisa has a substack, you should subscribe.
Jam of the Week
I always spend the last few weeks of the year scouring year-end best lists, looking for ideas. In our glorious era of musical streaming, I can sample a band and decide whether to bookmark it for future listening in a massive playlist (700+ songs) alongside any 2022 album that’s tickled my fancy. Somehow I’ve been recommending a lot of electronic and psychedelic rock, so why reinvent the wheel this week? I liked Workingman’s Club first album, and their latest is darker and excellently danceable. And I’ve been intrigued by Tokyo’s Dhidaleh, crunchy guitar droning just the way I like.
My Back Pages
In 2004, I was in my waning days pursuing a career writing for multi-camera sitcoms, unaware that the asteroid had hit and laugh-track sitcoms were dying off. My agent asked for a sketch package, so I dashed off three wildly unsuitable sketches that made me laugh. From “Notes on ‘Untitled Howard Brothers Project’”:
Three network executives, LOUISE, RAY, and KATE, ENTER. Everyone ad-libs greetings as the group sits at the table.
LOUISE: Funny stuff.
HENRY: Isn’t that a great cast?
LOUISE: Just delightful. So, should we just jump in?
ARNOLD: Be gentle. I bruise easily.
LOUISE: (GIGGLING) Oh, you big kidder! We're not that scary! (SUDDENLY SERIOUS) There are several moments that are still not working for us. In particular, we were confused by the monkey wrench.
LOUISE: It felt unmotivated.
HENRY: Think of it like this — Moe just stomped on Larry's foot, twisted his nose, and gouged his eyes. Larry's in a lot of pain. So he takes decisive action and hits Moe on the head.
ARNOLD: With a monkey wrench.
LOUISE: Does it have to be a monkey wrench?
I spent four years as an assistant in writers’ rooms for network television sitcoms, and one my jobs was taking notes as the network weighed in on scripts. I wondered: What would network notes on The Three Stooges look like? “Does it have to be a monkey wrench?” was essentially my answer. I also had a sketch about the Sesame Street writers room, but it went too deep into the horrible things writers say and would be too profane to share here. And the edited version just lost too much good stuff, like watching Die Hard on TBS. Yippe-ky-yay, mister-funny.
LOUISE: Well, let’s just track Moe's drive here for a minute. In act one, he’s working alongside Larry and Curly. But then at a moment’s notice, he’s really hurting them.
HENRY: We see Moe as a Roseanne type. He’s cantankerous and has a temper, but deep down you know he loves the other Stooges.
LOUISE: Then let’s see some back story. What happened to these guys as kids? Maybe Curly could talk to Moe about why he’s so angry.
ARNOLD: I’m sorry, but that’s not the show you bought. Right from the original pitch, these guys were hurting each other and breaking stuff. I don’t want to do “Three Men and a Baby.”
RAY: What if it’s “Three Men and a Baby Goat”?
LOUISE: Ray, please.
Every week on The Geena Davis Show, the network would voice concerns about the main character’s “drive.” The writers determined it was because she didn’t have a strong worldview: “Roseanne would have an attitude about that lamp.” She was viewed then the sitcom gold standard, so either my art is drawn from LIFE ITSELF or I was a lazy writer who masked few details.
LOUISE: A few page notes. Page twelve, Curly's line...
Everyone checks their scripts.
HENRY: “Wub wub wub”?
LOUISE: No, down a little.
HENRY: “Nyuk nyuk nyuk.”
LOUISE: Right. They're a little close together.
HENRY: Curly’s in a different place each time. The “wubs” are panicked, a reaction to drinking sour milk. The “nyuks” are sly, a coda to throwing that same milk at Moe.
This is how sitcom writers actually talked. They would parse and elevate the stupidest things because these scripts were their lives’ written work. They would refer to two lines of dialogue as a “couplet,” as if The Geena Davis Show was Shakespeare.
Part of the reason I never succeeded as a sitcom writer is that I couldn’t take the genre seriously, and I think that came through in my writing.
LOUISE: Let me just throw something out here. I'm wondering if we made a mistake casting Curly instead of Shemp.
LOUISE: The network likes Shemp.
Inaccurate. Nobody likes Shemp.
LOUISE: One last thing. The boys are supposed to be plumbers, and yet they end up destroying the house. Can we show that they’re good at their jobs?
ARNOLD: But they’re not good at their jobs.
LOUISE: We think they should be.
ARNOLD: They’re stooges. They mess things up and hit each other.
LOUISE: I just think the audience will relate better if they’re more competent. Maybe they’re excellent plumbers with bad luck.
One of the things that astounded me about LA was how many of the stereotypes were true. And most network executives were exactly who you expected them to be. Little wonder my sixth graders now think of “television” as a device you watch Netflix on.
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