Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On the subject of Acts of God

My dear friends, it's edition number one hundred of the blog, and I am talking religion here people! So yay verily, gather around my children and let me tell you a story. Peace be with you!

Okay, I just thought I should start a blog about "God" with a preacher like intro, as I am sure I have said a few gosh darns over the past few days. I am writing you from the very crowded waiting room inside my car dealership. I am waiting on an estimate for repairs on my beautiful blue SUV (no - it's not a gas guzzler - it's a midsize.)

So what does God have to do with it? Well, apparently it was one of his "acts" that caused damage to my car, where I will have to have the undercarriage of the vehicle replaced. Driving in snow qualifies as an "Act of God."

This comes after a broken tire chain link punctured the tire on my wife's Subaru. This shredded the inside of the tire. Since we have a four wheel drive, and it was caused by someone else's chain which was caused by snow, this little "Act of God" cost us abut 650 bucks as all four tires had to be replaced.

Seems like a lot of car repair shops are blaming God for everything, and why not? It's an easy out.

I have had a lot of friends go through some life changing experiences over the last month. Two of my best friends decided they could no longer live with each other. They are very much the church going types, and this little "Act of God" may get one kicked out of said church because this particular doesn't believe in divorce. Funny thing is, the father of the prospective kicked out person is a minister (retired from a different church.)

One of my blog followers and another of my best friends are getting through their first holiday season without their fathers. Some would say this too is an "Act of God," as it was "their time." Both are dealing with the sorrow in different ways, one with a very heavy heart, one by supporting her mom who is having a tougher time dealing with it all.

Two other friends have not been able to find love even though they are wonderful people who have lots of love to give. Thankfully, they give me lots of love through the phone reminding me that they love me. Should some "Act of God" give them a soulmate to give them the love they deserve to receive.

The newsman just came on with an update. He said we should expect winds of 55 miles per hour tonight. Act of God?

I am not bashing God or religion here, I am just saying that some things just seem to happen, and using the Act of God thing on me seems to be getting more popular as a go-to explanation. Truth be told, I do not live in a church going household, but I do, through many years of going to an Episcopalian school understand the concepts of theology.

In this country, our money says "In God We Trust," but we can't mention him on public property without giving people who don't believe in God an equal display (at least here in Washington State.)

What I would wish as an "Act of God" is that we could all learn to love each other a little more in the new year. I am blessed, and I did use that word intentionally, with some wonderful friends and a wonderful family. This family is now larger by two cats, thanks to what could only be explained as an "Act of God" as I was the one who said we could adopt them after being adamant about not having more pets in the house. My kids and wife have no other explanation, so that must be it.

So, my last message of 2008 is this... love each other, whether a higher power tells you to or not. You will find life so much better when you do. And if you have to thank someone for that... please do. And if you don't, you're welcome.

Gotta go, the mechanic is about to hit me with what this "Act of God" is gonna cost me.

Happy New Year, and God bless you all.

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

PS... Apparently, the mechanic was able to "re-secure" the piece of the undercarriage and said it did not have to be replaced yet, thus saving me 300 bucks. Thank you, God. :)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

On the subject of a White Christmas

Bing might have dreamed of one, but he never could have imagined this.

It is a total blanket of white outside my door and for the first time in 45 years, I am enjoying a truly White Christmas.

In 45 years, Christmas has gone from a spectacular of bows and carols and gifts to a more reasonable holiday, and I am not positive it is for the better, so let me go back and take stock.

Rewind to the 1960's.

On Christmas Eve, my old neighborhood would gather for the best party of the year. It would begin in the large circle that was the centerpiece of the "Hamlet." The large evergreen would be covered with lights by Mr. Mattson and we would have a place to sing carols. My best friend, Allen Manfuso and I would always be belting out the songs, and for a night, the neighborhood felt like a huge family.

Every Christmas Morning on Kerry Lane, my sisters and I would gather on the top of the stairs wondering if Santa had visited our house. We would rush down the stairs in anticipation of what was there. From simple ABC blocks in a wagon, to a shiny fire truck to a new bike with a banana seat, my parents, um, Santa rarely would disappoint. Gifts would always be accompanied with an amazing Coffee Cake from a secret recipe.

Christmas Eve or Christmas night meant Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding! We would all wind down in the family room and enjoy the joy.

Since I was a full 9 years younger than my nearest sibling, the stairs were a lot less crowded in the 70's with just me at the top of the stairs.

My grandfather, who played a wonderful Santa, was still spoiling me rotten though. His presents were the ones with flash; my parents providing the practical ones.

In the 80's, Christmases moved to Seabrook Island, SC, the new home of my parents. It was a wonderful place with my parents incredible house. Gifts turned to nice clothes and practical matters.

Then into the 90's... and my first Christmas away from home. I was working at CNN at the time... no, really working on Christmas Eve and Day. Luckily, the Irish Pub in CNN Center happened to be open on Christmas Eve and they were serving Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding. It wasn't Mom's, but it was the only piece of Christmas that felt normal.

1993. I worked Christmas Eve... my first Christmas Eve in Seattle. I was anchoring the local sports on Channel 11 (the main and weekend anchor took the night off, so they let me make my debut - or they just wanted the night off.) Little did I know that appearance would literally change my life.

On that night, a stranger was watching the news. She had rushed home to see this guy, who a co-worker was setting her up with on a blind date. She apparently liked what she saw.

One year later, that stranger and I would be spending our first Christmas as man and wife.

We have now had our eleven Christmases with children, and for the first time ever, quality won out over quantity.

My wife gave me such thoughtful gifts, some for play, some for memories, some for comfort. My gift to her was a simple love letter. I had been busy leading up to the snowstorms, then I got sick and then time ran out. I had a couple of chances to go buy stuff, but my words ended up meaning more than any present.

Her birthday is just three days away, and we are celebrating at Teatro Zinzanni, a place where dreams come true, and I told her in the letter that there may be surprises under the big top.

So from a holiday full of gifts to a simpler day full of love. Who knows what the future will bring, but this I know... it's the love that makes Christmas, not the presents. And we are all lucky for the love from each other and the love from above.

This marks the final blog of the "first century." The next blog will be entry 100 of a project I did not think would make it past entry ten.

To all you wonderful people who have joined me on the journey, love to you, and peace in the days ahead.

Oh, my wife just uncovered our traditional Christmas Coffee Cake, and I can smell it. It's the same one that my Mom baked every Christmas morning, and it is simply cinnamon heaven. Okay, maybe it's coming back to me.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Saturday, December 20, 2008

On the subject of Saturday Mornings

My daughter is watching her seemingly fourth episode of Suite Life of Zach and Cody. I think I am on my ropes end. The wife is asleep in the bedroom, and so tired that the resonant noises are keeping me from watching the television in there. So, without the television on a snowy day, I thought I would do something worthwhile, like blog a bit about Saturday mornings... the way I remember them.

I feel like a grandpa saying "back in my day," but it's true... back in my day, we had only a few choices for Saturday morning television, and that day was reserved for kids! There was no Saturday Today Show or extended Morning News... it was ours!

Some of my favorites... well I seemed to be an ABC guy. Hong Kong Phooey was definitely on the list. Lancelot Link Secret Chimp may be my all time favorite. Those monkeys still make me laugh.

Superfriends had me until they started getting all strange with the Wondertwins and that strange looking monkey like thing.

Schoolhouse Rock was the transitional program... I'm just a bill. Conjunction Junction, what's your function? I am happy to say I have the DVD of these for my kids, and my son loves them.

Of course CBS had Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, with the interludes of ba doop be doop be dopp be doop... In the News. Bugs Bunny and Road Runner could always get me going. Loved Wacky Races and always wanted to rescue Penelope Pitstop. I still quote Mutley when I get mad... "sacka frassa no good rotten!'

NBC - Frankly I don't remember many NBC shows. Maybe in the 80's when I wasn't a kid and Saved by the Bell made high school look cool after I had left high school. Ah. Kelly Kapowski, although I think I had a thing for Elizabeth Berkeley. (And no, I have not seen Showgirls.)

But the one I remember more than about any other was the strangely wild Krofft Supershow. One article I saw recently described this show as "an orgy of Sid and Marty Krofft weirdness." How true! On the heels of HR Pufnstuf came Wonderbug, Dr. Shrinker, and the one that tested my adolescence, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. Yes, I thought Diedre Hall was a superheroine, and I didn't even know she was on Days of our Lives.

The end of "Saturday Morning" would always be American Bandstand. I loved Rate a Record and seeing the top ten. And as I grew older, I started liking to see the dancing more than the musical acts who had those amazing microphones with just the antenna. (Lip Sync? what's that?)

Sometimes, my TV would end up on Channel 20, WDCA (or was it Channel 5 - WTTG) where Don Cornelius brought us Soul Train. This was so strange, yet so compelling to watch. I guess this and Bandstand is what began my love of disco dancing and music.

Now, there are literally dozens of choices and here on the west coast, Saturday Mornings sometimes get rescheduled to Sunday afternoons due to sports coverage. Kids shows have become E-I shows, including one I produce on High School Sports. But one always remembers their childhood, and I hope I might have brought back a memory or two for you. Now if I can just get the vision of Electra Woman out of my head, I can go on with my day.

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Monday, December 15, 2008

On the subject of Carrying a Tune

I sing constantly. My XM gets a workout as I am always looking for a song to sing. Until this weekend, the sound of loud music always covered up my singing, and I thought it was best that people not hear my warbling. Well, I may have to reassess that situation.

Under the incredible direction of Doug (improv teacher extraordinaire) and Amanda (have pink guitar, will travel), the Jet City Musical Improv workshop took place this past weekend, and I was one of the participants.

On the surface, this workshop was just another piece in my giant improv education pie, but little did I know how tasty it was going to be.

On Saturday, the group of 10 students began their foray into the musical improvisational arts by learning how to commit to a chorus. Rules include keep it simple and make it catchy.

Under the suggestion of Werewolves, my chorus was inspired by a meek person in a haunted mansion. "Why must I be so scared in this house, I am as frightened as a little mouse." Okay, it's not Lennon and McCartney, but it was my first effort, and it felt cool. What was even more interesting was that I actually was singing. My voice broke into spoken word singing, but it began with actual hitting the right note singing. I was amazed.

Others were more amazing than I was including some students from the UW who sounded and looked like they were just out of theatre class.

I was happy to be joined by some of my improv troupe and was loving their work as well.

Next up, we had to create entire songs... verse then chorus. Off the suggestion of Checkers, I went into a song about how I loved a soft furry puppy named Checkers, then I proceeded to kill him off in a horrible accident in a parking lot when I had to rhyme with something. The class laughed hysterically and then Doug imagined me taking it to a whole darker level with the dog causing a fatal accident killing the person driving the car and we all went - yikes, but knew it was the right way to go in improv.

Other classmate's songs included subject matters like Hover Monkeys, Corsets, Square Dancing in Gym Class and evil girlfriends (the nastiest song of the day.)

Snow fell on Seattle Saturday night into Sunday morning putting our class into jeopardy (singing the thirty second timing song here - nothing as genius as the woman who had the perfect timing song for cooking top ramen when her timer was broken, but I digress.) However, 9 of us traversed the icy roads and made it to class, and thankfully we did, because day 2 put an exponential spin on the class.

We began with some warmups that included Hot Spot. The premise here is that one person takes center stage in the circle and sings a song to which the others can join in. However, the warmup takes two shapes. One is to see who is willing to take the spotlight or hot spot and put themselves out front. Second is to see the judgement of the others on when they choose to tag in and take the spotlight for themselves.

After a couple of people sang, I tagged in and started into the one song I absolutely knew I knew... Amy Winehouse's Rehab. I went full force into performance mode, and for the first time with this song, I actually heard myself singing it, and it wasn't that bad, bordering on good. Later, I broke into Rapper's Delight in a full force fast pace making eye contact with many in the circle. We were all in a great mood after the circle... and ready for what was to come.

It was time for Duets!!! I got to work with Will Li (no relations to the Letterman band member.) He was one of the UW Collective - the university improv group. He was something right out of a musical, with a great voice and pitch. Our suggestion was bath house... but we took it in a different direction with the power of the bath house to make one awesome. I got the chorus in which "The steam gives us courage... the heat will make us strong." I know it doesn't rhyme, but it sounded good.

Beth and I did a duet as well... but for some reason I can't remember my verse.

Our class danced and learned the diamond which can lead to improvised choreography for a big production number. Pretty cool.

The highlight duet by John and Beth was off the suggestion of Chuck Norris. It was a strange mix of a love song and a story of domestic abuse in the number "Karate on my Body." Hilarious. Really, it was.

And Sarah's Checker is my Plan... about the evil mastermind who replaced people's eyes with Checkers.

Finally, we did scenes and played SING IT where we had to break into song when prompted or when it felt right. My scene with Will and Beth was set on the transporter deck of the Enterprise. I was apparently beaming up people and turning them into mutant squirrels. When I finally brought a human onto the ship, I offered her an acorn, which she said she didn't like. That meant "I did something right!" Of course, that created the song "I did something right, that became "you did something wrong" when the red light came on leading to self destruction. Oh, the joy of failing.

So, now my obsession with singing has taking a whole new level, which happily, now has a direction. Class was incredible, and my interest for the process peaked.

Weather permitting, we will all get on stage on Wednesday and try out our new performing skills. I'll let you know how it goes.

Good night fellow singers!

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger

Monday, December 8, 2008

On the subject of Creating Emotions

I want to start by apologizing to you readers for being away during a busy week. Time was that I would make time every day... now the day goes by so quickly that I am asleep before I realize all that I used to do goes without doing.

Now did that create some empathy for what you might feel about reading regularly. I did not start out to write the opening paragraph to make you feel one way or another... more to make me feel less guilty for not writing.

Creating emotions... it's just what I do in life. My job is to do that, to the thousands of viewers on television (and happily for me, the numbers are back up - that statement was to make me feel better) or to thousands of people in the stands, which I was happy to be able to do this past weekend. The emotion I created was hope and happiness for the audience, and accomplishment and happiness for me.

Through these blogs, I hope to create a pensive environment at times, but mostly I want to make you laugh... thus making you happy. For me, it's happiness in sharing to the desire for acknowledgment (yes, I get a huge kick out of comments.)

I spend a lot of time with my family trying to make them feel better, through telling them I love them to empathizing with their feelings. Again... it's trying to create an emotion for them, and to me honest, serenity for me.

Improv is all about creating feelings... and I have written scores of words about how I feel about that.

Sometimes, creating emotions can have a reverse effect.

Last night, at the Olive Garden, there was a significant wait for a table. I was sitting with my son when I saw some older ladies arrive. They looked tired and in need of a break, and were discouraged to hear of the long wait. I told my son to get up from the bench and walked over to them to tell them that they could have our seats. When I was half way over there, a teenage boy with Ipod earphones planted into his head, plopped his butt down where we were sitting.

The oldest of the ladies shrugged her shoulders, and the teenager was oblivious. The emotions created. I began as empathetic, went to hopeful and ended up pissed. For the ladies, frustration turned to appreciation turned to disappointed.

So, it taught me a lesson. Sometimes when you try to create an emotion, it can backfire, which reminds me that I need to spend more time letting things happen for themselves.  I won't stop trying to do good things, but I need to quit forcing it sometimes.

But before I do, I hope all of you have a better today than you did the day before. See. I just can't stop!

Yours truly,
Johnny Blogger