The two most beautiful words in the English language are “check enclosed.”
— Dorothy Parker
As an ink-slinger who has sold words in the past, I know a little about what Ms. Parker is saying here: artistic satisfaction alone does not pay the bills. I have been away from this blog, focused upon selling what I write elsewhere; please excuse my inattentiveness of late – trying to raise my return on investment is currently proving to be a challenge. I will expand on this more, as time and energy permit, in future posts.
I won’t say I’ve had it rough, but I belong to an enigmatic minority group. Many think we’re absentminded, clumsy, lack certain job skills, are more prone to illness and injury, and won’t live as long as members of the majority will (or can) do. Some of the more charming words wielded against us include the Greek Skaios, which means “ill-omened”; the French gauche, “awkward”; even the Gaelic Ciotóg, which means “the strange one” (shame on my ancestors for that one, I guess). When I was just a small fry, I learned that names can’t hurt me – which is good, because I also learned that I am left-handed, and that, I couldn’t change.
I’m exaggerating about the ’embattled’ part, sure; this does not rise to the level of ethnic or gender struggles. In fact, this seems to be a good time to be a southpaw; I trust my brother Chris, also a lefty, would agree.
The bias against left-handedness isn’t as intense now as it was in, for instance, ancient Roman times, when a southpaw was “sinister” while a right-hander was a “dexter“. Today, you might say a smooth or skillful act was “dexterous”, but a foiled effort was “maladroit”, i.e. bad-right, and whereelse would your “bad” right be, if not to the left of your “good” one?
It’s tough to be a southpaw at first, even in a forgiving atmosphere, discovering how much of the world is engineered to make dexters happy. Keys for doors and car engines are designed for right-hand use, which means a lefty has to get better at right-handed manipulation, which is a good thing. Writing by hand, of course, can be just ridiculous – on right-handed desks, in particular, it’s a fine way to get ink on oneself and, even worse, get a sore neck from having to turn sideways. Scissors, saws and many other hand tools, automated teller machines, and loads of other things are not built to appeal to our “niche market”, but we’re nothing if not stubborn, and willing to learn.
The bright side of being a southpaw, of course, is the company one keeps. Something about being perceived and treated as kooky outsiders seems to bring out the best in left-handed folks. We may never hear of a brilliant left-handed saxophone player, given the current lack of left-handed saxophones, but I bet you’ve enjoyed the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Maurice Ravel, Erroll Garner, Ornette Coleman, Bob Dylan, Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, Iggy Pop, Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, and Kurt Cobain. Southpaw artists:
Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Albrecht Dürer, and M. C. Escher. Lewis Carroll was left-handed; so was Mark Twain. Ramses II, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Charlemagne and Lord Horatio Nelson (who had to switch over from the right hand he lost) were world-shaking lefty warriors; southpaw Mohandas Gandhi shook the world, too, but for peace.
Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity and motion must have sprung from his over-active right-brain, which of course governs left-sided functioning. Left-handed entrepreneurs include Henry Ford, who mass-produced cars, and Bill Gates, who did likewise for computers. “Gentleman” Jim Corbett and Oscar de la Hoya left their mark in professional boxing; lefties Ben Hogan and Phil Mickelson are two of my dad’s golf icons; Babe Ruth, Casey Stengel and Reggie Jackson are famous baseball players. The movies made lefties Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Harpo Marx, Robert Redford, Dick Van Dyke, Carol Burnett, Robert De Niro, and Whoopi Goldberg famous. Left-handed U.S. Presidents include not only Barack Obama, but James A. Garfield, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan (if memory serves), George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton as well.
Being a southpaw would seem to be, to say the least, a surmountable obstacle. So: even though it’s taken up my entire evening to write this, I’d like to wish everyone a HappyInternationalLeft–HandersDay… yes, even if you’re right-handed!
I became a fan of the brilliant and weird T.V. series, ThePrisoner, before I was wizened enough to comprehend just what made it so great. It’s become a classic of Sixties television and the pop culture of that decade although it strained to be not of its time, but outside of it. Irish-American actor Patrick McGoohan had already played a “more realistic” variation of James Bond in the series Danger Man – renamedSecret Agent for U.S. viewers – but he wanted The Prisoner to push hard in the opposite direction, so his ex-secret agent is abducted to “The Village”, an Orwellian mind-control experiment wrapped in the phony elegance of a resort community (the show filmed at a real Welsh beach hotel), employing all manner of fantasy gadgets and bizarre schemes to break his will.
Each of its 17 episodes forced the protagonist, “Number Six” (his real name is never used) to defend his physical and mental freedom from the creepy minions of an unseen interrogator, the inevitable “Number One” – who “only” wants to know why Six resigned, what he knows, and whether he’d be willing to “join the team”. Six wants to escape, to unmask One, and to shut down the Village. Each scheme to conquer him would involve some fantastic device: a machine to televise his dreams; a mind-swap, with another agent; even a double who apes him so well, he is forced to impersonate himself. A giant, roaring balloon enforces “permanent guest” status; it’s called Rover, but this is no playful pet.
Some of the materials may feel like Swinging Sixties artifacts (i.e. the “speed-learning” computer, designed to brainwash Villagers, takes up one entire wall; it would fit on your desktop today) but the ideas discussed have real power, even today. Watch any scene in which a control-room team scrutinizes Six in his dwelling – see if it doesn’t remind you of the current firestorm surrounding corporate and government surveillance of our citizenry. Even the ritual hand salute of Villagers looks somewhat like an eye peering through akeyhole; that surely cannot be a coincidence. In a final twist, Six [REDACTED]… well, as the Villagers are fond of saying: “That would be telling.” You’ll have to watch and decide what happens.
Richard Matheson has left us, and more’s the pity, for he gave us so much. This is not even a full list of his “Number 1 hits”, let alone of his full body of work:
Film: for Roger Corman, he converted Edgar Allen Poe’s gripping prose into the silver-tongued speeches of Vincent Price villainy; The Masque of the Red Death is lurid and comical. He turned a regular guy into The Incredible Shrinking Man; unleashed a world of vampires upon the anti-hero lead of I Am Legend (that actors as different as Price, Charlton Heston, and Will Smith have portrayed Neville speaks volumes about how malleable, and mythic, that story has been). He launched grieving men on otherworldly searches for love, in the distant past (Bid Time Return, filmed as Somewhere In Time) or in the Afterlife (What Dreams May Come);
Television: He dreamed up, for The Twilight Zone, the “toy aliens” who invaded a farm house, a World War I pilot whisked to 1960, the gremlin on the wing of that airliner, etc. He is “to blame” for the transporter accident that split Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk into warring “angel” and “devil” twins. He let loose a demented, never-seen (and possibly, supernatural) trucker to besiege Dennis Weaver’s terrified motorist, in Duel. He sent Kolchak, the Night Stalker on his first monster hunts. He influenced Stephen King; The X-Files even named a UFO-seeking senator after him.
He was also kind and generous towards his fans; for instance, he once sent out a friendly, and helpful, reply to an awkward letter I had written to him, seeking professional advice from a Grand Master. Besides possessing such epictalent, he was reputed to be quite an excellent person, too, which suggests that those are not mutually exclusive traits, after all (take that, “divas” everywhere!). He is Legend, all right.
Let us now praise the innocent bystanders of fiction, for they play an invaluable role: they witness the narrative, and lend it a helping hand. Ever imagine yourself living in a fictional world‘s setting? You would most likely expect to be one of the main characters; at least, to interact with them… but one can interact with the pivotal characters, without being one. Try to picture what it might be like to be a walk-on character in a larger story… even a glorified extra, too, has an entire story of his or her own, as do we all.
Think about how that walk-on views the world. He or she “stars” in a story not being told in greater detail, at the moment we first encounter this specific, fictional world. So-called minor characters live entire lives that may happen to intersect just once with the lead figures, but that’s enough to acknowledge their contribution. (Richard Linklater‘s quirky comedy film Slackeremploys an entire cast of walk-ons, to great effect.) The saloon keeper who knows something about cattle rustlers; the person who provides a lead to a detective working on a case; the below-decks crewman who lends the ship’s captain a helping hand; the folks in the bleachers who cheer at a game: they’ve got their own, huge stories, of which we may learn nothing in the story we’re experiencing.
We may think that the only character whose narrative matters is the main one, because that is the life-path upon which the story is focusing at the moment we are paying attention to it, but think about it: this person, too, has lived a number of years prior to entering this scene, which means a wealth of experiences informs that person’s own viewpoint. This means there may be no “unimportant” or “minor” characters; only characters possessing some degree of mystery. To be little more than a “glorified extra” in a larger narrative is something closer to common experience than being the central figure is, and while we all want to be the celebrated figure, each of us already plays such a role, even if unsung, somewhere off-stage.
Tired of putting in simple searches? Try going on a “Hero’s Quest” instead, and cue the soaring music, as the credits roll! Dividing the various from the sundry into categories is “filing-cabinet territory”…Ire-brandedit “Inner Space”, because then it’s like we’re exploring underwater. I almost left the “Work” bit in peace, till I liked the sound of “Wares” better. Most self-respecting calendars track “The Sun and the Moon”... which sounds like it came from a children’s book (wrote this on a Wednesday… just GO with it –)
Which is a phrase concerning motion, yes, I know. Perhaps I have to be someplace. Where was I? Right. My deal is: Anybody can just pick the widgets that this wizard gizmo provides, use the standard names for each, and go to town (well, not literally, as that would require… some sort of… motion… toward a town – that again),but of course, I just had to be difficult, because when you’re adept at something, you…
The point is: I could have just taken the standard “bells and whistles” one sticks on one of these pages, and run with them. (Third timewith a “traveling” metaphor! They get it already, man.) I should make this a lot easier to navigate, if nothing else. I gave that all due consideration, and I decided: “NAH! Boring. Middle Management stuff. Plenty of that to go around already.” Figured if I could liven up the place, it would… be livelier. Like putting a potted plant in your office, to make the place feel more like you’re at home, that type of thing.
Welcome to my first post of this new blog! I plan to cram it chock-full to almost bursting with useful and useless stuff, leaning more to the first category – if all goes well.
I picked the title “Inky Brightness” (after more effort than I would like to admit I had to invest) because it contains a deliberate contradiction: it’s funny how we scratch down ideas, plans, messages, dreams, etc. in opaque ink, in order to illuminate them.
I like it. I hope you do, too.
Caesar Augustus, in order to launch something, might say “Sic infit” – “So it begins”… sounds a bit like he’s saying, “Baby with a cold”, right? Right out of the gate, we’re not trying to offend scholars of Latin or new mothers, so instead, I’ll just go with “Plug it in, turn it up, and-a one, and-a two…”