Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Dumb Blonde Lightbulb Moment

I know you have asked yourself this, how many blondes DOES it take to screw in a lightbulb

Sure, this is a joke of mythic proportions. Along with all the other dumb blonde jokes. Hell, I've even laughed at most of them. Mostly because I'm blonde and I can screw in a lightbulb, so, you know, ha-ha.

But now the joke should be, "How many blondes does it take to screw in a hallogen lightbulb, or fluorescent lightbulb, or energy savers, or LED's or CFL's? This joke just got real.

I'm not going out on a limb here by saying I'm pretty darn good around the house. I can fix broken doorknobs, drain a sumppump, change a fuse, light a water heater, patch a boo-boo and even mow the goddamn lawn.

Recently, my office wall light, hidden behind a lovely sconce, burned out. I replaced it with another hallogen energy saver. Didn't work. Then another. Nothing. So I typed in the dark because who has time to deal with this stuff. I have books to write.

After tripping over my kids tennis shoes for the fifth time and finally twisting my ankle, I thought I had better call an electrician  But first I had to find one. I certainly wasn't going to faffle with the wiring behind the sconce. A girl could get electrified.

At the same time, two wall sconces blinked off in the guest bedroom. So he or she could fix those too.

In my neighborhood, a fabulous women called Paulette Light started this referral system. I had actually started one of these years ago, before Angie's List; I was even in beta, but I am just too damn ambitious. I wanted a referral system in every city in every state, then every country, all at once.  I was 70 pages deep in HTML planning with no end in site and eventually put it aside and moved on.

So when I came across Paulette's TheFriendex,  not called Momstamp I was overjoyed.  It works! Because it's our neighborhood and nearby environs, but is quickly growing and made up of friends, friends of friends, and so on. So the referrals are much more dependable and reliable than say- Yelp- which I never believe anyway.

I found a short list of electricians and jotted down their names.

"Hi. Is this the electrician?"
"Yes. I'm an electrician."
"Oh fabulous. I got your name off Momstamp. People seem to like you."
"Oh. Great. I can't say I know what that is, but happy to hear it."
"So this is Manny?"
"Uh, no. Josie."
"Oh, sorry, I wrote a bunch of names down. Anyway..."

I went on to explain my entire ordeal and almost got into my childhood before he could stop me. Then Josie said:

"What's a conch? You have sea shells on your wall?"
"No... you know those things on the wall that cover light bulbs."
"Oh. Sconce?"
"Yeah. Sconce. Sorry. Did I say conch? I've been writing all morning. My brain is mush."
"Okay. Have you put in a new bulb?"
"Well sure. But it didn't work."
"What kind of bulb?"
"The new kind. The twisty kind."
"Those are fluorescence energy savers. In some houses, they work for a bit, then stop. Have you tried an old fashioned bulb? The kind from 50 years ago?"
"Shit, has it been that long?"

I put in an old fashioned bulb. It was tricky because I couldn't see inside the sconce.

"Okay. Hit the on switch. The wall switch."
"Oh. Right."

And it worked!

"Oh my god. I have light. Josie you're a genius. Can you help me in the guest bedroom?"

I took the phone into the bedroom and stood on a chair, just over the bed.

"Oh. These are shaped like a worms."
"Okay. Those are halogen. See the clips that are holding the worm?"
"Yep. I'll unclip those."
"Well, be careful. Don't touch it if its hot."
"It's freezing. I did it! But I can't wiggle this worm out."

And with that I fell off the chair. It seemed like slow motion. Like in a Tom Cruise movie. My entire body was in free fall, the phone flew to the ground and I hit the bed and bounced once.

 I quickly got up and grabbed the phone.

"Josie? Sorry. I dropped the phone. I think I will leave this for later."

No way was I telling him what happened.

"Well, you sound all set."
"Can I pay you? You are so awesome."
"No. Glad I could help."

I had a feeling Josie was laughing his ass off after he got off the phone. I actually just told a woman how to screw in a light bulb. I bet she was blonde.

I now have light. In every room. And if I trip, I can no longer blame the dark. I do keep flash backing on that free fall. Thank god my bed was there.  But then again the reason I fell is because I stepped on one of the 20 fat pillows I stack on the thing for some reason.

Which, btw, I just purchased on Dark Friday.

Rhonda Talbot weighing in on lightbulbs.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Something About Einstein

I came across this article today that distills into 10 "Kick Ass" lessons we can all learn from Einstein. In reading, I thought I would repost something I wrote as these are the very lessons that have carried me through my life and in my opinion essential to everyones. But I call them gifts. Einstein was a gift to all of us.

My published Einstein article.

When I was eight-years-old, my young mother handed me a slip of paper with an Einstein quote, “He who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned by contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.”

Why she gave this to me and not her other five children remains unclear. Perhaps she saw in me my disillusionment with the rat a tat, airless echo of school, the Catholic Church, the Sunday roast dinners, our predicable life.

I had been punished a number of times for staring out the school window day-dreaming, maybe about stink bugs, who knows? Then thwack goes the ruler, held by a tightfisted, chalky nun, who sent me off to kneel on the concrete hallway floor for two hours. I would later go home and draw pictures of nuns being kidnapped, held in dark closets being starved to death, begging for mercy, often choking on their own wimples. I hid the stories under my bed, accompanying the other stacks, all stories concerning some level of inequality.

It was during this time, music and freedom were calling my mother to another place, another life, one where she wouldn’t be a “wife,” a more hopeful existence. She was a “hippy” to my father’s buttoned- up businessman.

By the early 70's, she had had enough. My mother did not have many heroes, as they were fleeting and then dead; Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, the Kennedy's, she herself became disillusioned.

But there was something about Einstein that settled into her very core, then mine.

A few days later she confided in me. “We are leaving. Tell no one, your sisters won’t understand. Thor (my father) will be at work and return to an empty house, to compliment his empty existence.”

Then: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” She added, “Don’t forget that. Ever.”

Thus began my own obsession with Einstein. I tucked these quotes into my grandmother’s jewelry box she had given me just prior to her death.

Legions of people remain enamored by this brilliant man, Albert Einstein, not just for what he discovered, accomplished and how he radically changed the world, but because of his childlike innocence, his unlimited curiosity, his great humility, and a legacy of words that continue to endure.

He was a rascal, those wild eyes, the mop of hair, his crumpled clothes, the rumors of his flirtatious encounters. This made him real for the rest of us. He has permeated our culture from the Three Stooges to the bobble heads in the film Night at the Museum.

When you ask a complete stranger to define genius, they often replay casually, “Oh, Einstein.”

I began to collect quotes and read about him in libraries, his humour brought me tremendous comfort. He wasn’t some impervious man one couldn’t access. Quite the opposite. He didn’t believe in separating himself from others and in fact, loved sharing his ideas, while helping others expand on their own. He was approachable. Both alive and dead.

To this day, I keep a tip sheet of quotes tacked up near my computer, and read one every day. It really doesn’t matter which one, as I come away with yet another interpretation.

Born with a kind of eternal intelligence, his curiosity about all “things” began to emerge at age four. While examining his father’s pocket compass, Einstein was baffled. What was causing the needle to move? The empty space made no sense to him so he began to build models and mechanical devices. He wanted answers.  All that empty space! 

Why Einstein? Among so many brilliant minds, he continues to inspire. What of DaVinci, Tesla, Newton, Hawking, Aristotle, Edison, Cervantes. The list goes on. They too share not just powerful minds, but an endless pursuit through curiosity and instinct. They knew knowledge was important, had to be learned, but could only get them so far. The rest is mystery.

My belief is Einstein embodies the mystery. He thought through images and sensations. Something we can all understand. His quotes alone speak volumes and one quote could be expounded into an entire book. “Keep things simple---this requires patience, perseverance, allowing room for empty spaces.”

Turning complexity into simplicity is no easy task.

So many of Einstein’s ideas, beyond his incredible discoveries in the world itself, which would ultimately turn the world on its head, would all contain room, empty space, air to breath.

E=mc2, is thought to be the most famous equation in all of physics eventually setting the stage for the development of the Atomic bomb and nuclear power plants. But had he known where this was going he thought perhaps he should have become a watchmaker. Einstein was very much against war.

He worked on this equation for ten years, never game up, tossed it about until it made perfect sense. Input, criticism, rejection. He embraced all of it. His critics challenged him to work harder. One of the greatest lessons I've learned from Einstein is to embrace criticism, and not take it personally.

To this day, his theories inspire advances, in science, astronomy, physics, philosophers, new-agers!

I’ve been to my fare share of enlightenment lectures, where the self-appointed "gurus" often spout some version of, or direct quote from Einstein. “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” “Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds. “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used in creating them.”

Despite the many great brains, his would be the one cut into 240 pieces, kept in jars, cardboard boxes, often hidden, studied under microscopes. (We must get to the bottom of this!) Bits of his grey matter still remain in the University of Princeton hospital. All those years of cutting and probing and analyzing, really amounted to very little as most was hypothetical.

The irony rattles the very jars into a pulpy mess if only because it contradicts what Einstein tried to impress. Stay curious, questioning, love the mystery. Conventional knowledge, though essential, is finite. Imagination is not. This is what Einstein embraced. Perhaps the lore of his brain in a jar, rather than say Plato‘s helps prolong the iconic myth.

As a boy, his father of course knew little Albert was gifted, and perhaps because the elder Einstein (an engineer) had failed at so many businesses, he insisted his son stay in school. He enrolled him in a school in Munich to pursue engineering, but Albert was frustrated with the educational system and clashed repeatedly with the authorities, resented their teaching style and further still wrote about how schools were essentially killing the creative spirit and curiosity of its students. He was 15.

”The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”

When I read this in Junior High School, I could finally relax; a simple statement that brought along a universe of vindication because I simply could not understand the entire educational process of rote learning. It was too easy, too boxed in, too impersonal. I realized I would have to find my own way intellectually alongside the traditional, through books, and by age 12, sitting in on lectures by Rollo May, Erik Fromm, B.F.Skinner, Timothy Leary, and Marshall McLuhan.

I was no genius, simply curious and frankly bored with school and given the number of times my by now gypsy mother moved, staying on track in class made me weary. Another school, another teacher, another set of young people I would somehow have to navigate.

Something Einstein ingrained in me and I hope to never lose is his insistence that we all stay curious, intuitive and of course, maintain our sense of humour.

After countless failed exams at higher learning institutions, and his works of genius being overlooked, he carried on anyway with his writing and exploring; at the Patent Office, the only place he could find a job. Funnier still, he was overlooked for a promotion because he had not "managed to grasp technology!"  Nonetheless, it was here, the now 26-year-old Einstein would develop some of his most radical notions. Unrecognized and working for pennies. Inspirational indeed.

It would be ten more years before he would be awarded the Nobel Prize, (for his discovery of the law of photoelectronic effect) but after he became famous, the world was no longer just a place to study; it had become his stage, the Universe his canvas and he made all of this relatable to us.

Traveling the globe and meeting new cultures was an enormous highlight in his life.

His works, books and various biographies became my anchors during the hard scrabbled years of my life. As though their very weight kept me from floating away into space as my family drifted aimlessly around the country. He was my kite string and I held on tight. He made the crazy seem sane. The insane seem okay.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger; who can no longer pause to wonder and strand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

Recently, while driving my own eight- year- old girls to school, I said, “Remember, imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Through the rear view mirror, I watch them both roll their eyes in that “Oh please, Mom, just drive,” kind of way, they said in unison, “Okay, Einstein.”

Rhonda Talbot on her love for Albert Einstein.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Halfway Decent Girl of Thanks

Just to a note to all of those who are purchasing my first novel, A Halfway Decent Girl, off this website. I was quite happy to receive orders and happier to send them out. Your interest means a lot to me.

All of this Amazon and other sites are so very complicated, and I like adding a personal touch. Sort of a virtual book signing.

Beating Heart

So thanks again as this helps me push forward to complete the next book. Getting there....

As all writers know, we need the occasional break and sometimes I just go to Russel Brands crib. He's super nice and gives me words of encouragement like "Hey then, you can do it. Right on." Btw, he has an awesome set up.

He has a view of a lovely Pepper tree, along with phone wires.  But still, I mostly just look at walls where photographs still need to be hung. Ideally I would like my desk to look like this.

But alas, it looks like this, or a teeny portion of it.

I should mention Melatonin is a lovely sleep aid when needed, it truly works. I keep it on my desk because I forget to take it sometimes and then I can't sleep which makes pushing the rock much harder the next day.

Insomnia has always been an issue since age ten, so if anyone has a solution, you will get a free book. And I will throw in one of my kids paintings because I sense they will be much more valuable with time than my own artistic endeavors.  Thanks again!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Did I Silence the ending of Hannibal Rising?

Though I spent many many years as a film exec, I've also been writing my entire life. I mean, I sold my first screenplay at 17. It was crap, but hey. This is the gist of it.  Nifty short story, but neophyte screenplay. Then first article at 18 about how TV news purely for mindless entertainment. There's my brag.

So-- of course I have been through the preposterous Rube Goldberg landmine of TV and screenplay development.  You know, agents, producers, executives get the script, can't believe they finally found something so brilliant, so funny, so amazing, they just have to sign you, work with you, capture you, enslave you.

The funny thing is I don't take this very seriously or personally. Because a week later, you receive 20 pages of notes from 10 different executives telling you what needs to be changed. This is how they justify their jobs. Cool enough.

Here is what is looks like after an hour of trying to figure out what the hell they are going on about.

In the time it takes for me to decipher d-code, I could have written another screenplay or at least three great short stories.

Oddly, the screenplays that were made were never rewritten. Now, we're only talking two, but whatever.

Because I'm a writer, as an executive there is an advantage. I like working with talent and I certainly know what it takes to write. It's not easy, I don't care if the end result is not film-able, the writer put in hours of hard work. Be kind! The things that come out of these peoples mouths is often unfathomable. But that's another little story.

As a buyer of films, often times a company is spending anywhere from 1M to 15M on a picture for their country. I bought movies for large corporations all over Europe for years and only worked with the owners, which is nice, because it's me and the important guy. No tiers of people to go through. Probably why I gravitated toward this line of work and plus I love to travel and love film festivals and the South of France.

Okay, so when it came to certain movies where I was laying down the big bucks on behalf of company, sometimes I had to say something. Always in a very kind way and typically to the producer or director or studio head since by that time the project was out of the writer's hands.

I thought of this because in cleaning out files, I found this memo to a studio head. I remember telling my boss that if Hannibal kept the original ending, it would be a disaster. The film was already veering way off course (staying true to book) as clearly underlined by Jodie Foster's passing on the role.

My boss told me, "Well, go ahead. Tell the studio head."

I love when bosses do that. You take the blame. Good luck with that.

So I did. I could not see Clarice, a character I loved, portrayed in such a thoroughly disgraced manner. Julianne Moore does a good job with the material, but the new Clarice is harder, bitter, yet weaker.  For those who may or may not remember, in the end of this horror story in the book, Clarice and Hannibal fall in love and run off into the sunset together. Literally. They move to an exotic island after eating Ray Liotta's brain.

Not Julianne Moore obviously. I love her... she would never do this.

I couldn't take it. There was already too much depravity in the new film that was beyond revolting, the deadly fat pigs, the pedophile who fed his face to dogs, just ugh. The screenwriters kept everything from the Harris Hannibal book but the book had none of the genius of Silence of the Lambs.  The least I could do was save Clarice. So,

"Dear Mr. Studio Head,

We are thrilled to have the sequel to Silence of the Lambs as we did very well with Silence. But as a woman, I must make my voice be heard. If Clarice throws away all of her integrity, scruples and just folds into a weightless character because she is caught under the spell of Lector, I'm afraid you will lose a huge portion of your audience. Clarice is such a captivating character and though she has changed in Thomas Harris' Hannibal, I fear this ending will not translate well cinematically. Clarice has to stand up to him, despite her weakened condition, and fight for her life. Then she MUST try to arrest him. We know he will elude her, but she will nonetheless have kept her character intact. Otherwise the audience will not know who this woman is and they will be greatly disappointed. Thank you for reading."

I sent it off, and forgot all about it. A year later I was out of town during the premier of this film, but caught it in San Francisco. The theater was packed. All of the disgusting scenes remained, but to my surprise and delight, Clarice does try to fight for her life, does try to arrest him and does NOT run off to Fiji with him.

The film grossed $390M not including ancillaries. Which is to say, it did extremely well. The reviews were not great on any level and certainly there was no talk of any Oscars for anyone.

But I do sometimes wonder if my little memo had an impact. A memo I was shocked they even read and further used. The memo was actually longer, in that I detailed exactly how the movie could end with little work to the script because they didn't want to spend anymore money re the screenwriters.

I will never know. But I do know there was a lot of repeat business and a lot of female movie goers. If Clarice had eaten the brains and had sex with Anthony Hopkins on some sandy shore I am certain women would have been appalled.

I didn't write this to pat myself on the back, believe me. I wrote this because often times people never believe they can have an impact in this town. Studio head, schmudio head. Sometimes it's fun to clean out your file cabinets.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Scarlet Letter and Neil LaBute

I won this prize, it's always a great feeling to be acknowledged  particularly when they are Susan Orlean, Neil LaBute and Adam Leipzig.. this is my signed rare copy of The Scarlet Letter. It's a beautiful book to put on my shelf.  Thanks guys, made my day.  Here is story from Cultural Weekly...

A challenge from Neil LaBute re Scarlet Letter.    You can also see, once clicking on link, Neil LaBute's story.  I took the challenge because, well, as in my story, we all know it's not uncommon to develop a mad warped crush on a married professor.

I won't say if this story carries great personal truth, but will say I did invest in lipstick for the first time in my life as a college freshman. :)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I Loathe Halloween

I suppose there was a time I liked it. Possibly when I was a kid. Sure, I remember competing with all the kids to see who could get the most candy and last the longest. It was an endurance race. And I always won.

When the other kids went  home, I stayed out until 10pm. When they all ran out of candy because they ate like hogs, I saved mine, then sold it to them later when they were jonesing.  Milky way bars and Butter Fingers sold for the most, Tootsie Rolls the least, but I usually made at least 50 bucks.

So to me, Halloween was just another entrepreneurial endeavor.

I hated Halloween parties as an adult. I went to a few, dressed up like an idiot, sometimes in lingerie, sometimes in leopard cloth. It was never fun. I don't drink, so what is the point?

Then I had kids. It's fun for a few years, they are all so damn cute, but then the worry. Are their razor blades in the candy? Are pedophiles scoping out my kids? And so on. They never got the actual candy. I threw away their collections and swapped it out with candy I bought.

I am now 22 years into this shit. I had a 2nd set of kids, twin girls who are nine. They love Halloween. And sadly for them, I can't really muster up any enthusiasm. It's pathetic. Their dad does everything thank god. But by now, they understand I am this other kind of mom. An observer of sorts.

When it comes to the big stuff, I am certainly there. The emotional talks, the books I feel they need to read, the cultural places I feel they need to go.

But no zoos, amusements parks or shit hole water parks for me.

We all have an understanding.

This Halloween was like the others. Father helped them with their costumes, bought all the candy, decorated the house, created an EVENT. That is what he does. If he could make our house glow in the dark he would.

He always dresses up so that other people comment. Fat chefs, Scottish freaks, chain gang members. The girls love the attention.  I tagged along wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

I know my girls have disdain for me on a few levels, they want me to be this other kind of mom. The one that gets all excited over school cupcake day or loves painting posters for fund-raising events or serves hot lunch at camp.

Never going to happen.

Instead we bond over watching Bridesmaids 14 times, read the classics, paint landscapes and make gourmet meals.

But even when I make, for example, a cinnamon role from scratch,

"Mom, that's not from scratch. I saw the Trader Joe's box!"

Okay, but the truth is, I rolled it out, placed them nicely on the tray and they were good. They were not store bought from a package. I know deep down they appreciate this.

So here we are now moving into all the Holidays most families love. I can't begin to tell you how much I want to jet to Paris and return in January. But, it's only November 1st, so I will stay in the day.

I want you all to know my kids adore me. They just pretend not to.