Did you know that The Sound of Music turned 50 years old this year? I recently re-watched it for my Mental Floss article 14 Things You Might Not Know About ‘The Sound of Music’. Now I really want to go to Austria.
Want to learn about the white blackberry, the spineless cactus, or the trifoliate orange? Consider taking a trip to the Luther Burbank Experiment Farm, which I wrote about for Via Magazine.
When I was a kid, Vivien Leigh was one of my heroes. My admiration was re-awakened by this recent Mental Floss article Fiddle-dee-dee! 18 Facts About Vivien Leigh. She was a fascinating lady.
I looked down at my hand while I was line editing and had to chuckle. I look like I’ve had an injury, but in fact the three band-aids I have on are to protect my fingers from writing calluses. Who says editing a book isn’t physically taxing?
I took a little trip to Yosemite on Friday. Ususally the park is a little annoying to go to, simply because it’s (rightfully) one of the most visited places in the United States. But the mixture of going on a Friday, in February, with unusually warm weather, meant a different experience. The park was gorgeous, uncrowded, and peaceful.
We saw a coyote–pictured below–and a bobcat, which strolled right in front of us, as casual as could be. It was my son’s first trip to Yosemite, and he was taken with the big rocks, and the fact that they had cracks in them. He’s two.
Obligatory Half Dome picture.
You can’t take a bad picture in this park.
Bridal Veil Falls.
My son, investigating a crack in a boulder.
I recently watched A Charlie Brown Valentine (1975), a gripping tale of one person’s descent into madness. In it, Charlie Brown is fixated on the Little Red-Haired Girl, who he relentlessly stalks and fantasizes about, growing increasingly despondent and obsessed as the movie progresses.
A Charlie Brown Valentine does a brilliant job of depicting how through the lens of mental pathology, a pleasant emotional state like love can be turned inward and gnawed upon, leading to a hollow carnival of the soul. Here are examples of the progression of Charlie Brown’s breakdown.
1. Extreme Self-Loathing.
On the surface, Charlie Brown’s self-flagellation at being too cowardly to defend the Little Red-Haired Girl from a bully may seem within the realm of normalcy, but note how long it goes on, as well as its severity. Charlie Brown is so overcome with self-hatred that he literally crumples over, gripping his stomach. One gets the sense that we’re glimpsing the cruel internal dialogue that runs constantly through his mind. Some fine animation here.
2. Magical Thinking.
In this scene, we get a chilling look at Charlie Brown’s disconnection from reality. He has gone to the store and purchased a box of candy. Now he stands behind a tree holding that candy out, believing that the Little Red-Haired Girl will come along and accept his gift. (Of course, the heart-shaped box also has great metaphorical power—he is offering her his heart.) Yet even as Charlie Brown is performing this bizarre behavior, some part of him knows these actions are not quite right, expressed in the moving line, “Love makes you do strange things.”
3. Suicidal Tendencies
This disturbing description of suicidal depression, and the failure of the psychiatric industry to treat that depression, speaks for itself.
4. Inappropriate Sexual Fantasies
Throughout the film, Charlie Brown describes his fantasy life surrounding the Little Red-Haired Girl—who, in a manner consistent with objectification, is never named. In this case, he imagines sexually assaulting her during class. But the film’s poignancy lies in Charlie Brown’s struggle to overcome, or at least limit as best he can, the expression of his untreated disease. Always, no matter how inappropriate his thoughts, he tells himself to stop–an act that in itself is a kind of bravery.
5. Hallucinations and Memory Loss
This clip is from the movie’s sequel, It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown (1977), a continuation of Charlie Brown’s deterioration. Charlie Brown kisses the still-unnamed Little Red-Haired Girl, then descends into psychosis, hallucinating and blacking out the rest of the night. It is complete mental annihilation. His stunned expression at the end when he discovers the extent of his insanity hints at the need for medication, perhaps even hospitalization. Tragedy in its rawest form.
These remarkable films not only illustrate the extent that illness can control a life, they also humanize that life–ironically, indeed, as they are cartoons. A Charlie Brown Valentine and It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown do important social works and are, in my opinion, some of the most overlooked gems of 1970s TV animated specials.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
I recently got my first gray hair. That may have had something to do with my most recent Mental Floss article: 10 Head-Scratching Facts About Gray Hair
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is one of my favorite books, so I was excited to write about it for Mental Floss. Check out 10 Interesting Facts About Mrs. Dalloway.
When people talk about writing novels, the focus is always on writing the first draft. Editing, for whatever reason, is left out.
I find this perplexing. It’s more useful to learn how people improve writing than how they got it on the page in the first place. Writing is editing, as the saying goes.
Here’s how I’m currently editing my novel.
1. I print a draft out on paper.
2. I do a line edit, correcting language as I go.
3. As I read through the book, I write any and all questions that occur to me in a notebook, labeling the questions according to the chapter.
So for example:
Chimney Rock Chapter:
*What can be added to the description of the fort?
*What can be added to the description of the minstral and Vira’s reaction to him?
* Is there a better way for Tobias to talk Elmer into taking the buffalo hunt? Conversation needs another element/more action.
At the end of the edit, I’ve filled half a notebook with questions about the novel.
4. I enter all language changes into the draft on the computer.
5. I sit with the questions and answer each one in a journal. This takes some time.
6. I write a plan for a new draft on a white board with all the changes noted below each chapter. (See image above.)
7. Finally, I go through novel on the computer and add all changes, continuing to correct language as I go.
Continue indefinitely? (Or until finished.)
This is Virginia Woolf’s birthday. She would have been 133 years old today.
I have observed that Woolf hated having her picture taken. Allow me to demonstrate:
Screw you and your bloody camera, you bloody scalawag.
Must every outing be destroyed by one of those perverse boxes?
How can you say, try not to look bored? I put on my mother’s dress, posed for your picture, and now you want me to falsify my emotions?
Lovely. Can’t I even read without someone wanting to capture the moment?
I am smiling for the camera this time, dear. This is my natural smile.
Ah! Gah. This again? Bloody scalawag.
Happy birthday, Virginia Woolf.