Saturday, June 28, 2008

Deer Droppings--Oprahcabana

Please click on the photo above to watch a short, one-minute video from the "Deer Droppings" series called "Oprahcabana." This song parody of Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" features a celebration of Oprah Winfrey's life, loves, scandals and future. So put on your Carmen Miranda fruit hat and dance along.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

An Animated Essay on a Titillating Tag

For those of you who’ve read my blog in the past, you might remember that I am a huge fan of animated films. (With a special concentration on the Disney brand.) So when Matthew Urdan of Meltwater Torrents Meanderings Delta sent me a tag asking me to list my favorite animated films of all time, I was rather intrigued. Not intrigued enough to actually respond to the tag, mind you, but intrigued enough to write a blog entry about why I feel this tag is a particularly hard one for me. (Sorry, Matt, I know this wasn’t what you were expecting, but perhaps you’ll understand after I start pontificating.)

The truth is I love all animated films, even the earliest Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons. I appreciate all the time and energy that goes into pulling off such an amazingly labor-intensive achievement. And I marvel at all the creativity and imagination used to bring the story and characters to life. So to answer a question about my top ten favorite cartoons of all time is not only unfair, but also downright sadistic. What if I pick the wrong ten? What if, while assembling my list, I completely forget about one of my all time favorites? Say, Snow White, for instance. Then later, Snow finds out about my oversight and decides not to be friends with me anymore. And even worse, she forbids me from ever playing leapfrog with the Dwarves again, which as you all know is a favorite pastime of mine. Or what if Monsters, Inc. goes bankrupt because I did not include them on my list, and therefore they don’t have the full emotional support they need to survive? I even hesitate to think what Bambi’s mother might say if I don’t include her son as one of my favorites. It would just kill her!

But wait. That is not even the extent of Matt’s tumultuous tag…no, my dear readers, it gets much worse. For not only did he command me to list my top ten favorite animated films, but he also forced me to choose a character in each film that most resembles me. Horrors! Can you imagine the inner turmoil I’d be suffering while trying to work all that out? Not to mention the angst I’d endure wondering if anyone was making value judgments about me based on what characters I happen to identify with.

Or what if I couldn’t find a character, so I chose one at random, and then was stuck with that moniker for the rest of my life? (“Oh, he chose Ratatouille, so he must be a real rat.” Or “Do you think he chose Pinocchio because he’s a liar, or because he has appendages that grow to unusual sizes?”) And what if I identified with various aspects of a certain character, but not the whole person? Like, I had the independence of Belle, the vanity of Gaston, and the misunderstood personality of the Beast? Would people consider me schizophrenic?

No, I’m afraid this tag is much too difficult for someone as devoted an animated connoisseur as myself. I simply cannot compare one film to another. How can you compare the brilliance of the Evil Queen’s transfiguration into the Old Hag in the original full-length animated feature “Snow White,” with the technical wizardry of something like “The Incredibles” or “Toy Story.” You can’t. They are completely different animals. And yet I love and appreciate them both. As well as everything that came in between.

Well, with maybe one exception. “The Black Cauldron” was a definite low point in Disney animation, and temporarily turned me off to the genre for a period of time. Plus, I was in high school and animation was just not cool any more. Except maybe Saturday morning cartoons, which somehow passed as quality entertainment amongst the cool crowd. But once “The Little Mermaid” came along in the 90s, I was not only hooked again, but an even bigger fan than I was as a child.

To this day, I make my annual sojourn to the “homeland” every year (Disney World) and have my office completely covered in animated statues, posters, and figurines. It allows me to work in an environment that is happy and colorful and just a little bit “off.” Would it work for everyone? No. But for me, someone who grew up constantly escaping into the world of his imagination, my office is a colorful little retreat from the often-grey colors of the real world.

Plus, I wouldn’t want to cause any animosity among the figurines if I should choose a movie that represents some but not others. (The Queen of Hearts and Captain Hook statues can be particularly nasty when they want to be.) All I’d need is for a few of them to get a little jealous, start a feud, and the next thing you know I’m cleaning up huge piles of porcelain and resin off the floor. So to avoid that, I’m going to remain neutral like Switzerland on the topic.

But that’s just me. What are your top ten favorite animated films of all time, and what character would you identify with in each? (Go ahead, you try it….!!!!)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bird Bits--Meet the Uncles

Please click on the photo above to watch a one-minute video from the "Bird Bits" series entitled "Meet the Uncles." In this episode, Belinda Bluebird introduces Robin to her "Uncles" before going on their date.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Creative Quips on Qualifying Quirky Qualities

I have once again been tagged by Roxy of Roxiticus Desperate Housewives to carry out one of her humiliating tasks of self-evaluation and public exposure. I don’t know why she feels it necessary to unload her particular requests upon me, but for some reason I feel the need to comply. After all, the latest “homework assignment” involved publicly revealing my special quirks or idiosyncrasies, as if I had any of those to begin with. To me, this was a big assumption on Roxy’s part, because I personally view all of my personality traits as normal extensions of my being. And should some of my habits happen to be a little different than the average person, I certainly wouldn’t call it a quirk. I think of these individual attributes as “qualities” rather than quirks, but perhaps that’s because I’m just more advanced than some people. (i.e., a certain Desperate Housewife.)

Nevertheless, I will try to assemble what I consider to be some of my most interesting “qualities,” several of which may have been referred to at one time or another as a “quirk.” Certainly not by me, of course, but by other people. After all, aren’t your quirks really pointed out by someone other than yourself? Because without their input, you might think everything you’re doing is perfectly normal. Unless one of your quirks happens to involve strange rituals with pig blood and dead chickens, in which case you might actually be displaying cult behavior rather than a quirk. But I digress.

Another interesting assumption of Roxy’s request was the requirement of listing six different quirks. As if everyone had six basic quirks they could easily assemble at any given moment. Like having six senses, your six quirks were as obvious as your eye or hair color. (The proverbial sixth sense being your ability to see dead people, like Bruce Willis’s career.) But what if you had seven quirks, or a hundred and eight? Or what if, God forbid, you only had two? And you had to make up the rest just so you wouldn’t be embarrassed. Or even worse, what if one of your “quirks” was the fear of actually having to talk about your various quirks? What then, Miss Roxy, what then?

So now that I’ve successfully drawn out my sarcastic introduction to a fourth paragraph, I think it’s time to tackle the issue at hand: the public pronouncement of my most interesting “qualities.” And here they are:

One of the major “qualities” that distinguishes me from the masses is my obsession with anything animated. Disney animated movies are my favorite, but I also like classic Saturday morning cartoons like Scooby Doo and Bugs Bunny, as well as the more artsy Japanese animation from Hayao Miyazaki. I believe that in a former life (if there is such a thing), I probably started out as an animated character. Perhaps a pencil drawing or a sketch on a napkin. (You may even have seen me as a forest animal in “Snow White” or as one of the puppets in “Pinocchio.”) Animation is magical to me. I am literally drawn to the colors, the characters, the stories and the overall feeling that “everything will be all right in the end.” If this is a quirk, I gladly accept it with all the candy-coated optimism such an attribute implies. After all, without optimism we have nothing.

A second quality of mine is that animals love me. I’ve been told by many pet owners that their dog or cat is usually hesitant or fearful around most people, but feel immediately at ease around me. I’m not sure if it’s because I smell like a butcher shop or I remind them of a fire hydrant they once peed on, but I definitely have a kinship with our four legged friends. And I don’t mean in a Horse Whisperer sort of way; more like an understanding of what it’s like to be the underdog. (Literally) My black cat, Trey, who appears in the Cat Clips videos, sleeps by my head every night as if there to protect me.

I’m addicted to chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter. (Not at the same time. Although I have tried mixing them in the past, and rather liked the results. Though my waste and teeth do not.)

I don’t drink coffee unless it has some kind of flavored creamer in it. And I don’t mean the powdered kind, which never really provides the fatty creaminess one requires in their cup of coffee. (For more on my coffee requirements, please refer to My Quest for the Perfect Cup of Coffee)

I sleep in the nude. This isn’t really a quirk. More of an advertisement.

I love the glamour and mystique of Old time Hollywood. From the silent comedies of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, to the Film Noir classics of the thirties and forties, to the big MGM musicals of the fifties and sixties, I’m a classic film buff. (I also like movies produced after the sixties, but there is something very special about the older films that I truly appreciate. ) Hitchcock is one of my personal favorites.

And finally, and probably most significantly, my constant need to “create” is one of the driving forces in my life. It doesn’t really matter what form it takes (playwriting, drawing, singing, blog writing, making movies, etc.), as long as it gives me the opportunity to express myself. That is what gives me the most pleasure, and is probably my biggest quirk. Though I think of it as more of a gift. And if others happen to like what I create, that’s just icing on the cake.

But that’s just me. What are your six “qualities” that people might consider quirky?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Mouth Organ Karaoke--MAMMA MIA!

To help celebrate the upcoming new movie "Mamma Mia!," The Rubber Duck Players have come up with their own interpretation of ABBA's classic song. So please click on the photo above to watch this short one-minute movie from the popular Mouth Organ Karaoke series.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Henson's Hell Wins An Award!

Henson’s Hell has won an award. And I didn’t even know such things were possible. But Jon from The Ups, Downs and Sometimes Insane World of Freelance Writing has given me the esteemed “Arte y Pico Award.” It is part of a tag initiative from the “Arte y Pico Blog,” where you pass along the compliment to other bloggers.

I am truly honored by this award, and have so many little people to thank for helping me achieve such recognition. Yes, it has been a long struggle to win this achievement, and yes, I had to compromise every moral and value I held sacred just to scratch and claw my way to the winner's circle. But now I am here, and I have no one to thank but myself. And all the millions of pixels that help form my blog every day. (Forgive me for this little sarcastic interlude, but I just couldn't help myself.)

Now on to the important stuff. To follow are the rules and then my own personal selection of five deserving winners:

1) You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also for contributing to the blogging community, no matter what language

2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.

3) Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.

4) Award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of "Arte y Pico" blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.

And though I wish I could tag everyone with this special honor, I can only choose five. And here they are:

Meltwater. Torrents. Meanderings. Delta.

Roxiticus Desperate Housewives

Magic and Moments at Dragonfly Cottage

Daisy the Curly Cat

The Roller Blog

Please visit all the great blogs above, and see why they are at the top of their game.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cat Clips--Litter Etiquette

Please click on the photo above to watch a short one-minute video from the "Cat Clips" series entitled "Litter Etiquette." In this episode, our two cats discuss the finer points of proper cat box policies.

Monday, June 16, 2008

When Memory Manifestation Leads to Physical Ramifications

Did you ever have a sense memory that was so strong it could illicit a physical response from you just by thinking about it? For instance, when you hear the sound of a lawn mower, or the smell of freshly cut grass, does it suddenly harken you back to your youth when perhaps you were responsible for that family chore? Or does the smell of cinnamon cause your mouth to immediately start salivating? Perhaps a song comes on the radio that takes you back to a favorite time in your life, or a sad memory of someone no longer with us?

Actors are taught to become aware of these types of sensations so they can use them in their creative process. The more an actor can associate with a specific emotional response, the more credible their performance. That’s why some actors can cry at the drop of a hat—they’ve trained themselves to recall a specific memory in their lives that will always help them get that kind of reaction.

I have a very strong sense memory from my days playing a clarinet in band that still gives me the same kind of sensation today as when I originally experienced it. In fact, sometimes the sensation is even stronger than the original incident that inspired it. I’m speaking of the feeling you get if you’ve ever tried to play a clarinet with a dry reed. Not only does the instrument produce a loud high pitched shriek, but you also experience a physical reaction similar to what you might feel when someone drags their nails across a blackboard. Both the sound and the action combined are what set off your physical response. For me, my neck and shoulders scrunch up, and my face stretches out in a very pained expression as if I’d just bitten into a sour lemon. I also get some kind of tingly sensation which ripples down my back, as if my muscles were being individually repulsed by the experience.

(Side note: As I was trying to find the words to describe my physical reaction for you, I actually had to keep recalling the sense memory over and over again like some kind of masochist. And to be honest, right now my back and mouth are physically exhausted from the efforts---that’s how strong my sense memory of this silly little event is. I can physically make myself uncomfortable just by recalling it.)

And though not recommended, this type of skill might be useful if you ever wanted to get out of a social obligation or avoid a specific type of chore. All you have to do is try and recall how it felt to be so physically sick you couldn’t even get out of bed, and you’ll be surprised how your body will react to that kind of committed recollection. The more you concentrate and try to remember, the worse you’re going to feel, giving you an outward physical manifestation of your internal memory. The problem is, sense memory can sometimes be so strong and your abilities so effective, that you actually might start to trick yourself into believing you’re actually sick. In which case, I would counteract those feelings with sense memories of how good you felt once you recovered.

Anyway, I find it interesting that my body can retain a physical response from something that happened to me over thirty years ago, and repeat it verbatim any time I happen to recall the event. But then again, I have friends who will actually start to vomit just by mentioning the word “vomit,” so I guess I’m lucky my sense memory doesn’t include a weak stomach as well.

But that’s just me. Do you have a strong sense memory that gives you a physical reaction any time you think of it?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mouth Organ Karaoke--Summer Nights

Please click on the photo above to watch a short one-minute film from the "Mouth Organ Karaoke" series. In this video, the Rubber Duck Players perform their rendition of "Summer Nights" from the hit musical "Grease," accompanied by the Hohner Organ in my mouth.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Does a Desire for Dance Denote a Decade of Depression?

There has been a very interesting phenomenon taking place in the last few years which is both encouraging and disturbing. I’m speaking of the reemergence of dance into our national psyche. With a slew of shows, from the ever-tacky and totally addictible “Dancing with the Stars” to the more exciting “So You Think You Can Dance” to the horribly dull “Dance Wars: Carrie Ann vs. Bruno” (should have been renamed “Dance Bores”), America has been lapping up dance shows with a hunger I’ve never witnessed before.

When I was a child, I loved to dance. I would put on my records and dance around the living room as if I were Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire. It wasn’t until later, when I tried dancing around my first grade classroom that I discovered this was not acceptable behavior for a boy. The unfortunate consequences I experienced later on the playground further solidified my realization that dance was something best left to the girls. Of course, when I was in college and started going out to clubs, dancing was an acceptable part of the dating ritual. (Though I also learned you should never look like you’re enjoying it too much. Just bob your head and move your body, and keep a slight grimace on your face. That was acceptable dance protocol in my neck of the woods.)

But now dancing has come back with a vengeance, with unlikely support from macho sport stars like Emmet Smith and Helio Castroneves. It almost feels like “opposite day,” because even ballroom dancing has become “cool” again. But why is this phenomenon occurring now? Why are Americans so thirsty for talent, and entertainment, and a good pirouette? Could it be that the last four or five years have been so stressful, and the current state of the economy so scary, that we are harkening back to the days of the Great Depression when big Hollywood musicals were the best escape from the harsh reality of life?

Seems plausible. Only this time it’s different, because there appears to be a new respect for dancing, fueled by wild new moves of energetic street performers and new dance forms like crumping and hip hop. So though I am very happy that dancing has become “cool” again, I’m afraid it points to a much bigger problem. Depression. When people are depressed, or when there is a depressed economy, people naturally turn to something that is out of the norm. They gravitate towards fantasy or romance stories, and find comfort in the energy and talent they observe in extraordinary individuals. No wonder talent competitions of all kinds have emerged over the last few years. We need someone to root for. Someone to throw our support behind. Someone who will ultimately unify as a country. How appropriate that we turn to an art form that is the ultimate expression of man’s strength and versatility, of his creative and emotional capacity, of his triumph over challenges and difficulty. If only our country’s leaders had a little more of those qualities, we might not be in the current state we’re in.

Even Paul Abdul, not the brightest lightbulb in the lamp, seems to have hit upon the current collective thought with her appropriately titled "I Want to Dance Like There's No Tomorrow." I'm hoping the song isn't also prophetic as well.

But that’s just me. What do you think of the current dance craze?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Deer Droppings--Celebrity Obsession

Please click on the photo above to watch a short one-minute film from the "Deer Droppings" series called "Celebrity Obsession." The video is a song parody of "Supercalifragilistic..." from "Mary Poppins," lampooning America's obsession with celebrity.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Sad Saga of Assembling Seven Songs

The other day I was “tagged” by Roxy of Roxiticus Housewives to assemble a list of seven songs I am currently listening to on my iPod. She was, of course, assuming I already had an iPod and could easily tap into my “frequently played” list to find my most popular current choices. But for those of you who read about my unfortunate subway incident in Madrid, you will know that I no longer have an iPod. In fact, I no longer pay attention to music at all, preferring to spend my days listening to the gentle rustle of mice beneath my floorboards. (Just kidding about the last part. I still listen to music and I don’t have mice. At least I don’t think I do. I’m sure the cats would have found them by now.)

Anyway, in order to comply with Roxy’s wishes, I had to go out and buy myself a new iPod so I could truly immerse myself in the creative process. Yes it’s true, I could have easily made up a list of seven random songs and just told Roxy they were on my iPod. But that would be dishonest. And if I know one thing about certain Desperate Housewives, they do not put up with dishonesty. (Especially someone as prude and prudent as Bree.)

So out to the local Circuit City I went, credit card in hand and a calliope of famous tunes swimming in my head. Unfortunately, the local Circuit City was all sold out of iPods, or maybe they never had any iPods to begin with. I wasn’t really sure, because I couldn’t understand the salesperson that waited on me. His English was not that great, nor were his translation skills. And when I tried to ask another salesperson for help, he got very angry and started cursing me in another language. (Or at least I assume that’s what he was doing, as his vocal histrionics involved an awful lot of spitting.)

Needless to say, I left Circuit City and headed over to Best Buy, where I was sure I would find what I was looking for. Sure enough they had plenty of iPods available for sale. But because of some kind of fluke shipping mishap, the only color they currently had available was pink. Honestly. It was like they were having a Barbie convention or something.

So I left Best Buy, hoping to reach the Mac store at the Mall before it closed. With fifteen minutes to spare, I ran from my car, into the mall, past Macy’s, past Sears, past The Disney Store, until I finally reached my destination---the Mac Store. Surely they would have a wide variety of iPods to choose from. And a large selection of colors as well. I glanced at the window before entering the store, and was relieved to see a multitude of options and models. Thank God. I would finally be able to get my iPod, go home and load it with music, so I could finally figure out what I was listening to.

But as soon as I tried to enter the store, I noticed a sign taped across the entryway that read “Sorry for the inconvenience. We are currently closed for inventory.” I’m sure you can imagine the string of expletives that came bursting forth from my mouth, as the frustration of my situation overwhelmed me. After a short tirade, I left the mall, only to find my car had been ticketed for parking in front of a fire hydrant. Only I didn't know it was a fire hydrant, because it had recently been painted to look like a garden gnome by a local group of schoolchildren as part of their “Let’s Make Our Neighborhood Colorful” project. Lucky me. (I didn't know it was supposed to be a garden gnome, either. I thought it was a statue of Ross Perot.)

After such a horrendous experience, I still have not assembled the list of seven songs, though there are several four-letter words that have gotten a lot of airplay in my household lately. One of them, being the name “Roxy” for putting me through such a terrible ordeal. (Just kidding, Roxy.)

So for now, I have still not assembled my list of seven songs. But that's just me. What are the seven songs you are listening to constantly these days?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Bird Bits--House Hunting

Please click on the photo above to watch a short one-minute movie from the "Bird Bits" series entitled "House Hunting." In this episode, a Cardinal realtor is showing a Robin some new bird house options.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

How to Deftly Deal with a Distracted Listener

Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation with someone when you suddenly realize they’re not even listening to you? Sure, they appear like they’re listening—they nod their head at various intervals, or interject pointless questions to keep you going. But as far as "active listening" is concerned, they obviously “checked out” long ago.

This practice is becoming a standard during phone conversations, when people are easily distracted by other factors while talking to you. Especially people who insist on calling you when they’re in traffic jam, so you can listen to them constantly scream expletives at other drivers. (So much fun!) Or the parent who calls you just as his child is having a tantrum, so you can suffer through two simultaneous conversations—the one the parent is having with you, and the one the parent is having with his child. And guess which conversation eventually wins? That’s right, the escalating argument with the child. Sometimes the parent even leaves your conversation to go yell at his children, and then never returns. They also forget to hang up the phone, allowing you an uncomfortably intimate peak into their domestic dynamics, an opportunity best left untaken. (Trust me!)

Nevertheless, I am used to people zoning out during phone conversations. We tend to be a society addicted to multi-tasking, so most phone conversations now take place while people are working, driving, on the computer, reading a book, or any number of other actions which allow them to talk at the same time. (However, if I ever hear anyone flush a toilet at any time during our conversation, I immediately end the call. After all, there are certain “distractions” I don’t need to be a part of.)

So during phone conversations, I give some leeway when it comes to a person’s attention span. But when someone is standing directly in front of you and you suddenly notice their eyes glaze over, or their attention shift to the table next to you, chances are they’re thoughts are elsewhere. At this point, I usually stop talking, allowing their processing system to catch up on their lack of participation. The more abrupt, the better, because this will immediately jolt the inactive listener into “defense mode.” They suddenly become very attentive and scramble to remember the last tangible thing they heard you say. Usually it was something you said at the beginning of the conversation, a realization that not only embarrasses your distracted listener, but hopefully keeps them attentive for the remainder of your exchange.

So whatever happened to good listening skills? Have we become so busy and over-extended in our lives that we need our conversations served to us in small bite-size portions in order to fit them into the rest of our schedule? To me, there is nothing more satisfying or stimulating than a good conversation with people I enjoy. I hope the era of text messaging doesn’t eventually encapsulate our interchanges into a series of blips and beeps, because the human voice is a terrible thing to waste.

But that’s just me. What do you do when you notice someone zone out during a conversation? Or do you even notice? (Which may have completely different implications.)