Television: Doctor Who, Season 7 (so far)

Okay, so there have been five episodes thus far this season, one for each Saturday in September. And now we must wait for the Christmas special and then whatever comes in the late winter or spring. I'm kind of fine with that. I have an odd lack of impatience at this point, having become used to the long hiatus gracing all things Steven Moffat.

As a whole, these episodes have been largely uneven in tone and texture. The Doctor, as portrayed by Matt Smith, has been especially off with these strange bouts of rage that (a) don't suit this particular Doctor, and (b) don't suit this actor, either. Matt Smith =/= intimidating in any way, so to believe others would find his ire a deterrent is difficult. Meanwhile, Amy and Rory had already begun to peter out well before the Angels took Manhattan and forced them off the stage.

I suppose the big to-do is over how The Doctor has managed to wipe his slate clean by deleting himself from all, what, databases? Human memory? It's not 100% clear, though it smacks of Moffat trying to be clever with the show's title while simultaneously giving himself a new starting point.

Not that he's reinventing the wheel or anything. "The Angels Take Manhattan" borrowed from Sherlock's "The Reichenbach Fall" by utilizing jumping off a building as the climactic endgame and the discovery of our hero(s) still being alive in a cemetery—even if only for a few minutes. I've argued before about how Moffat steals from himself quite liberally, but the redundancy is starting to be a bit of a drag. (You can argue that Moffat didn't write "Reichenbach," but he's still the producer, and if you don't think a man like that isn't in control of the scripts, you're delusional.)

The misogyny in "Angels" bothered me a bit, too. Women already have enough aimed at them regarding aging and body consciousness without a troll like Moffat adding his two cents. And now The Doctor is off to get himself a cute, young, bubbly new sidekick? We were better off—and so was The Doctor—when the companions were mature women like Donna, or even Martha, who was somewhat young but very level-headed. But maybe the show is hunting for a younger audience.

As for the other episodes so far this season, well, some were okay . . . "The Power of Three" was fun but could have played on the Three's Company vibe a bit more. "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" was cute. I was underwhelmed by "Asylum of the Daleks" as the opener, but it wasn't the worst. "A Town Called Mercy," though? That one was pretty awful. Again with the unbelievability as The Doctor gets angry. Am I supposed to think he's conflicted and has a dark side? Meh. Smith isn't able to pull it off. Better he stick to manic and occasionally sweet or sentimental. (But only occasionally. Like seriously, not very often, because even then he seems to be stretching his range.)

Now we wait for Christmas, and to see if The Doctor gets everything on his growing wish list. One new companion now on backorder!


Concert Review: Train at UC Berkeley's Greek Theatre

Last night I took the train (well, BART) to Train. They played at UC Berkeley's Greek Theatre, an open-air venue modeled on the ancient Greek amphitheaters.

I was lucky enough to have a front-row seat, which affords many pros such as a good view that is usually uninterrupted. The con of such a seat is the fact that people do try to crowd the stage and so sometimes stand in front of you, but the event crew was pretty good about clearing them regularly.

The first act was Andy Grammer, whose "Fine By Me" was one of radio's summer staples. His new single "Miss Me" isn't bad, either, and he did a solid job of attempting to get the crowd worked up for the coming acts. I've said it before: it's a hard job being the opening act because most of the seats are still empty, which can seem a bit disheartening. Grammer didn't let it get him down, though, so kudos to him.

After that, the somewhat better known Mat Kearney took the stage. His set was about twice as long as Grammer's; he has at least twice as many recognizable songs, after all. Kearney, too, turned in a solid and satisfying set and appeared to genuinely enjoy himself. By this point the amphitheater was pretty full—Train had sold the place out.

The main draw hit the stage just shy of 9:00 p.m. to much rejoicing from their "hometown groupies." Truth be told, the audience was a wide mix of people who remember Train from their college days (I count among these) and the new teeny-boppers who like that song about all the ways the girlfriend dies. (I'll admit it's a catchy song, and was a good choice as the opening number.)

Now, I saw Train in August 2011, back up in Massachusetts, when "Save Me, San Francisco" was their big hit. I never thought at that point the next time I'd see the band I'd be in San Francisco. Something surreal about that.

I was a little sad that, due to sheer volume, Train reduced some of their older songs to a medley. "Free" and "She's On Fire" were therefore shortened and blended into a number of other songs.

Train at Berkeley, 28 September 2012

In truth, Train played a relatively short set, ending around 10:30 or so (including encore). But they were nonetheless crowd pleasing, hitting all the highlights of their current hits and old favorites. For a lot of the older songs, they hardly had to sing at all because the audience did most of the work for them. (This turned out to be a good thing when, at one point in the show, singer Pat Monahan had trouble with his mic.)

Both times I've seen Train play, they've shown a knack for fun with a touch of spectacle that leaves fans happy at the end. For the money, then, I'd say they are one of the best acts to see live. Well worth the train ride, the walk, and the chill September air when you can go home with a warm feeling.


Television: Elementary, "Pilot"

All right, I'll admit by the time the title card came up, I wasn't sold. It was a slow starter. And in a day and age when things need to happen quickly to get and keep people's attention, Elementary didn't really do that out of the gate.

But I stuck it out, and I'm glad I did. The show did a nice job of making the unease between Holmes (played by Jonny Lee Miller) and Watson (Lucy Liu) tangible. There was a good progression of character interaction as the relationship began to take root, so that by the end the sense of a kind of truce and/or budding friendship was believable.

If you didn't watch, let me explain this Holmes-in-New-York setup: Sherlock Holmes is a recovering drug addict who has relocated from London to New York. His daddy holds the purse strings, so Holmes must labor under Dad's directive that he have a live-in "sober companion" to keep an eye on him. Enter Watson as said companion. The tension, then, is understandable. Holmes has a certain amount of resentment at having to be babysat, and Watson doesn't especially love her job. (Turns out she used to be a surgeon but malpractice forced her out.)

The episode itself was a relatively textbook display of television procedural; unlike Sherlock, Elementary does not look to adapt Doyle's stories to more modern life. Therefore, the plotline itself was the least interesting bit of the show. Watching JLM throw a couple temper tantrums? That was pretty good.

This Holmes differs quite widely from that on Sherlock in that he displays a tad more ability to sympathize with other people, or at least with Watson. He apologizes for upsetting her, he admits faults and lies. This is not out of character from Doyle's Holmes, who often had cause to apologize to his faithful Watson, and who was known to throw tantrums at times himself. Too, JLM's Holmes is made angry by the villain—the crime ignites his ire—which is also similar to Doyle's creation, who found a savvy criminal very satisfying in one light but the abuses perpetrated deeply infuriating. He was a consulting detective not only for the fun of it, but because he liked to be on the side of right and to use his talents on its behalf.

Certainly it was important to CBS that Elementary be crafted with a Holmes that its audience would find, if quirky, ultimately sympathetic and likable. This is the reason for pulling those particular traits of Doyle's creation to the fore.

Elementary has also sprinkled some ongoing mystery into the mix, as Holmes refuses to tell Watson what happened to him in London. She deduces it has to do with a woman (Irene Adler perhaps?), but that is all viewers have been allowed to know for now.

All told, by the end of the episode I was ready to say I would continue watching, at least for now. They'll need to step up the actual plots and secondary characters, though, to hold me.


Television: Elementary v. Sherlock (Pre-Viewing Discussion)

Tonight Elementary will premiere on CBS. This is the show with a modern Sherlock Holmes (played by Jonny Lee Miller) in New York. There have already been, of course, many comparisons to BBC One's Sherlock, which is another modern Holmes (though set in his natural habitat of London). But I think, if not apples-to-oranges, this is more like red apples versus green.

CBS has secured its spot in the network hierarchy by offering procedurals with compelling central characters, and Elementary shows all the hallmarks of being exactly one of these kinds of shows. That's the audience Elementary is going for here, a known—and large—quantity. And by all accounts, the formula has been solidly adapted, including the gender switch of Watson, who in this take is played by Lucy Liu. CBS viewers are pretty used to core male/female teams. Coming out of upfronts, Elementary had a lot of buzz around it, and around the chemistry between the leads. It's poised to do well in its time slot, and to gather the usual strong and stable CBS audience.

As for fans of Sherlock, well, it seems to me they've already made the decision to dislike Elementary by dint of the fact they seem to think it treads on Sherlock's toes. But Elementary wasn't made for them. It's an entirely different sensibility, and I think it will be possible to enjoy both shows if one keeps an open mind and doesn't expect the same things from each. Because, aside from the use of Doyle's characters, they are not nearly the same.

I like Sherlock, and what's more I like Sherlock Holmes. I am open to a wide range of interpretations of him. Benedict Cumberbatch has done well in the BBC role, and I think JLM can carve out his own space on CBS. (As an aside: Cumberbatch and JLM played opposite one another in Frankenstein at the National Theatre, switching between the roles of Victor Frankenstein and his Creature, so I've seen them do the same roles very differently—and yet be equally successful.) What Elementary especially has going for it over Sherlock is that there will be more than three episodes every 18 months or so, its regular schedule allowing for audiences to find it easily instead of wondering, "When is that show coming back?" or "Is that show ever coming back?" (Also, one hopes, Elementary is recorded at a volume viewers can hear, and perhaps JLM's Sherlock won't talk so fast some people need their closed captioning, a repeated fuss I've heard from various Sherlock viewers.)

I'm looking forward to trying Elementary tonight. After it airs, you'll be able to find my thoughts on the show posted here. (Meanwhile, go read about why Sherlock didn't win any Emmys). In any case, I think there's plenty of room on the small screen for more than one Holmes. He was a man of many facets; it's only fair he be showcased in as many different ways. There are red apples and green apples in the world. Some people only like one or the other, but some people know that each has its uses, depending on the recipe.


Television: Revolution, "Chained Heat"

Straight out, Billy Burke is the best thing about this show. I get the sense the Google guy might be fun and interesting too, if they'd give him more to do. It's clear, though, that the writers' abilities to create compelling female characters is somewhat challenged. Charlie is irritating and over-earnest. Maggie . . . I can't figure out, but so far I haven't been swayed to try very hard, either. Nora came across as a stereotype. And Rachel? Grace? ::shrug::

Too, the youngsters so far have little draw. Besides Charlie, I don't much care about Danny or Nate, either. Especially Nate, who so far is a cardboard cutout for "conflicted."

But I do want to know more about Monroe and his relationship to Miles. And Captain Neville (played so superbly by Giancarlo Esposito) is mesmerizing every time he's on screen.

I can't say I found "Chained Heat" to be nearly as interesting as the pilot. I was not as engaged. I'm hoping it was a sophomore slump, since there is a lot of potential here. I'm waiting for flashbacks from characters other than Charlie, who is one of the least interesting. If she's supposed to be central and sympathetic, they've missed the mark with that particular crossbow shot. Her nagging makes me wish Miles would run her through with his sabre.

I did get Torchwood flashbacks with the whole, "Don't let go of your brother's hand" thing. There's some Firefly and Hunger Games stuff going on in all this as well. With the right blend, Revolution could be amazing. But I don't think the mixture is quite right yet. We'll see.


Books: Stuff I've Written

For those who may be curious, I do have e-books out there. You can find them on my official site PepperWords, but I'm also going to list them here for you in order of publication.

These are all available on Amazon Kindle; "Last Line" can also be found on Smashwords.

The Emmys: Why Sherlock Didn't Win

All right, since you've been asking. I could go the easy route and say simply that the competition was stiff, but truthfully, when taken as a whole within its category, most of the other stuff was simply better. I want to be clear here: Sherlock is a fan and critical favorite, but that doesn't always translate to ATAS and/or Emmy gold. And being asked to take A Scandal in Belgravia as a made-for-television movie didn't help things. It doesn't stand well on its own. Look at the first 15 to 20 minutes, which requires both an understanding of Holmes canon and the previous series (season) to fully comprehend and enjoy.

One could argue that, even though the Academy was only voting on the one episode (movie?), they are not entirely able to separate that from their conception of the series as a whole. Psychologically speaking. But it is possible to sit down and watch just the one episode with a completely critical eye. And that's what Academy voters were told to do. Just because they might like it (i.e., find it entertaining) doesn't mean they'll vote it as best.

Here are some of the ways Scandal fell down. 1. Steven Moffat beats viewers over the head with this idea that he's very clever. From the cutesy ringtone on Moriarty's phone to the cutting back and forth as Sherlock and Irene "prepare for battle" . . . Honestly, it's exhausting to see him trying so hard. 2. Benedict Cumberbatch—who is a fine actor, at least some of the time—ran into some problems in this episode: (a) being unable to fake playing the violin very well, (b) spending a good deal of the episode moping and wandering for what seemed like no very good reason, and (c) that tacky scene in which he playacted at being a priest, but which really just came off as bad acting of bad acting. 3. Those who enjoyed the original Irene Adler from Doyle's story found this take to be a shade off, seeing that she doesn't win in the end after all. In fact, Sherlock has to save her? Really? (Moffat's track record in writing and depicting women has been a knot of discussion, and Scandal dragged it all out again.) 4. And this is more general: British and American sensibilities are different. And Sherlock as a character, who goes between bouts of quietude and mania . . . At best he appears bipolar (something viewers understand), but at worst the actor simply seems inconsistent in his efforts. Remember that not everyone watching the show knows Doyle's original, and a good program won't require them to in order to enjoy and connect with the characters as they're currently written and portrayed. I get the sense that during a chunk of Scandal, viewers were asking, "WTF? Why is he acting that way? What's his problem exactly?"

Finally, with all the talk of a new British invasion on American television, it's possible that Academy voters closed ranks to safeguard their side of the industry, thereby shutting out a lot of the British programs.

Downton does better on this side of the pond because (a) Americans can kind of understand WWI Britain in a way we don't understand—and are sometimes even threatened by—modern Britain, and (b) it's quite simply written with more finesse. I do think Sherlock might have had a chance if one of the other episodes had been on offer. Hounds could have stood alone quite neatly, and Benedict had that lovely scene beside the fire in that one which would have showcased his work better.

Rumor has it the third series of Sherlock begins filming this coming January March, and that it will probably be the final series as well. Last shot at Emmy gold for that group, then. Better make it count.


Television: Parade's End (Episode 5/5)

How awful.

It would have been so much better if Christopher had died in the war. I really don't think it was right to reward Valentine's ridiculous, school-girl idea of love by getting to be Christopher's mistress at the end of it all. I realize Sylvia was spiteful, but she had a right to be in my mind. And the fact that Christopher gets to have his cake and eat it too? Just goes to show the gender bias. Every man wants a happy-go-lucky little young thing that fawns over him. None want to take on the work that is required to handle a real woman. Sylvia ends up being slandered, used, and tossed aside. Too bad since Rebecca Hall was the one bright spot, the actress seeming to be the only one of the entire cast who knew what she was doing and why; even though her character was not meant to be sympathetic (at least, I'm sure she wasn't, in order to cop the "happily ever after" for Christopher and Val), Hall's fantastic turn made Sylvia compelling and sympathetic nonetheless, leaving Christopher's and Val's actions—already wrong, even if you expect me to believe their love was "true"—to look downright inhumane. Look, I'm no moralizer, but this just turned my stomach.

In the end, I hated the whole thing. The way it finished out made me sorry I wasted my time on it.


Books: The Happiness Advantage, Part IV

Finished! And nothing much to add, either. Achor doesn't have much to offer on ways to expand one's social networks, his book operating on the assumption most people work in offices and have co-workers and families to interact with. Rather short-sighted of him, I feel. No one is an island, sure, but some of us are more peninsular than others.

The last bit of the book is dedicated to reminding readers that all Achor's principles work together to make a happier you, and a happier you makes a happier world. Tra la la. Seriously, it's all about how when you're more positive, studies show that positivity trickles down on average three degrees from you (not as far as Kevin Bacon, but still), and so the ripple effect makes not only you happier, but those closest to you, and then because they're happier . . . You get the idea. IT ALL BEGINS WITH YOU.

Um, okay.

I'm doing the writing-three-good-things-per-day exercise, but I can't really tell if anything is coming of it. I have noticed it makes me look for good things throughout the day, which was kind of the point: to redirect one's focus from the negative to the positive. But I still have and see my share of less-than-great things. So my happy-go-lucky is being tempered a bit. ::shrug::

I'm also wondering if writing a step-by-step plan for achieving some of my goals might help. Although figuring out how to go about achieving each step (like finding a producer) may be more difficult. Sigh.

Achor reflects at one point in his book that a lot of the things he suggests seem like common sense. And yet common sense does not always translate into common action. It's easy to say, "Yes, these are things I should do." It's less easy to actually make a habit of doing them. I will continue to try. If there is a chance of being happier, it's worth some effort.

Books: The Happiness Advantage, Part III

Nope, I'm still not done with this book (but I'm close). I'm not going to go into any real discussion or argument about how having too many choices is like having too much on your plate—it slows down your work and wears down your willpower. Distractions, too, are like choices: I can choose to work or I can choose to check Facebook. Which is easier? Which am I more likely to do? (Achor talks about how making it harder to distract yourself goes a long way . . . Once Facebook is no longer the path of least resistance, you're not as likely to keep looking for new status updates.) No arguments from me on any of this. I live it every day.

What I don't live every day are the social interactions Achor promotes as part of productivity and overall well-being. I work from home, in a solitary office, in a solitary business (writing). I am aware I need more friends. I am aware I need to get out more. Making that happen—making those connections—is the difficult bit.

I don't disagree with the science that suggests people with strong social support networks are happier, more productive, and even live longer. I don't doubt it. And I haven't finished the chapter yet, so maybe Achor will eventually give me tips on, well, how to make friends? In a world filled with online and superficial interactions, deep bonds can be hard to form.

Achor points out that interactions needn't be deep to be beneficial. And I know this is true, too, because I know the high I get when I have even a short, pleasant conversation with someone, and how good I feel when I help a tourist find his or her way. (I'll admit I'm selfish; I do nice things because it makes me feel good to do them.) Still, in times of crisis, you cannot expect your online friends to do much for you. Nor are the tourists or acquaintances going to be there to help.

I do have friends and family. But most of them are the kind that can barely be counted on to check their e-mails, much less come to the rescue when you need someone. In fact, I tend to be the rescuer in a lot of situations. Something goes wrong and suddenly I am remembered! My own efficiency and self-sufficiency has begun to work against me.

In order to achieve my goals, certainly, I must learn to forge these connections. I want to see my novella turned into a short, independent movie. How to do that? Well, first I need people. A producer willing to back it, a crew, actors . . . So I do understand the need for a network. I've tried online, but can't say I've seen much benefit. Yet. Either I'm doing it wrong, or sites like Stage 32 really do just consist of a lot of people yelling into a void with no one really listening.

I'll keep trying. And I'll keep reading and see if Achor has any more suggestions.


Books: The Happiness Advantage, Part II

(You can find Part I here.)

No, I'm still not done with this book, but I've read some more of it and have some more thoughts.

I'm pleased to be able to say, I have found one suggestion of Achor's that I'm giving a try. He says one way to be happier in one's life and career is to re-train your mind to look for the positive instead of the negative. Now, I like to think I see things pretty clearly, but I know there are times I'm seeing more bad than good in my world, so I'm going to follow Achor's recommendation that I write down three good things that happen each day. They don't have to be huge things, just three upbeat moments or small blessings or whatever. The idea is eventually your mind starts looking for these good things, and your outlook in general becomes rosier. I started yesterday, so we'll see what happens.

Still, I continue not to be 100% sold on some of the things I'm reading. It's not that I doubt the science or dispute what Achor is saying; I'm just not entirely clear how or if it applies to my situation. Take, for example, the whole learned helplessness discussion. I will readily admit I have learned helplessness in my career. But it hasn't been for lack of trying or optimism. I have written and submitted and been rejected. I have rewritten and edited and submitted and been rejected. I have put aside those stories and scripts and tried new ideas, only to be rejected. And I've rewritten those . . . and been rejected. I've taken things step by step, always with the idea that somewhere out there is the right fit for my work, or that with a little more polish my writing will find its place, but . . . At what point, Achor, does one throw in the towel? Or, to use his falling metaphor from the book, at what point is a person too tired and bruised to get up again?

It's frustrating to basically be told in a roundabout way to "just keep trying." And I don't think I've been unreasonably optimistic, either, which is one thing Achor warns against. It's sort of the whole: "You'll never succeed if you don't try, BUT . . . don't get your hopes up too high, either" argument. Thanks there, coach, but I didn't really need a book to tell me that.

I haven't been completely unsuccessful, of course; I've had plays produced and published, and I've had stories and poems published, and I've had moderate success with self-publishing. And I am able to look at these as stepping stones. I'm just not clear on how much water I still have to cross, and these rocks are slippery.

Achor goes on to talk about how feeling in control goes a long way toward reducing stress and achieving success in our goals. (This is where I currently am in the book, the discussion of the Zorro Circle.) This, too, is shaky ground for me. I do feel in control of my work itself—my output, how good it is, my talent in general (assuming I have any)—but in order for me to succeed on the level I most desire to succeed, well, others have control of that: publishers, producers, the people who can "make it happen." Again, I've done it for myself to an extent by self-publishing some of my work, but until I have enough money to make my own movie or can bribe a television showrunner to take me in . . . (And don't think I haven't thought about it.) I do understand it's all about networking and connections, and I've tried that too, but you'd be surprised how few people are interested in a nobody. Even the other nobodies aren't too keen. I think the idea is we're supposed to help each other, but a lot of us creative types can be flaky, and then again a lot of us just don't know where to start. Anyway, the upshot of all this is: it's hard to feel in control when a lot of what you do and/or whether or not you'll get to do it rests in others' hands. I'll keep chipping away, like so many other independent writers, but I'm really not sure how much success I can hope to have. And that's not me being pessimistic. That's reality.

We'll see what happens when I attend the Austin Film Festival next month and the San Francisco Writers Conference next February. These will be my first major events, my first real opportunities to network in person as opposed to online.

More to come as I continue to read.

Music Video: "Our Song" by Matchbox Twenty

Okay, quick: my favorite band? I know, I know, there's no accounting for taste, but I've loved these guys for forever, and now they've released an "official" video for one of my favorite songs off the new album (North, it's #1 if you hadn't heard).

The song is catchy, and the video is cute, even if it is only a collection of recording room snippets. (Not much to do with the song, really, but whatever.) I like having proof that I'm not the only person in the world who lies around on the floor periodically; people always poke fun at me for that, but see! Rob does it too! Maybe it's an Aquarian thing, or a grounding issue. But sometimes I'm just like, I need to lie down. Right here will do. (The flip side of this is climbing on shit for no real reason, which I've also been known to do.)

The other song I really like on North is "How Long?" . . . I have to say, even though Matchbox Twenty is my favorite band, or one of my favorites, I haven't even heard the whole album yet. Bad of me, I realize. But I haven't had the chance to just settle in and listen, so I'm only getting what my iPod throws out on shuffle. I promise, boys, I'll get around to it. Eventually.

But first, I just need to lie down. Right here under the desk will be fine.


Movies: The Five-Year Engagement

Starring: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt
Directed By: Nicholas Stoller
Written By: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller
Universal Pictures
R; 124 min
3.75 stars (out of 5)


A movie about doughnuts!

(If you don't know why I'm excited, you clearly haven't read my reviews of Parade's End.)

In truth, this little romantic comedy is fairly routine. Tom (Segel) and Violet (Blunt) get engaged a year after they first meet. But the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune conspire to prevent them from planning their wedding. Things really begin to fall apart when Violet gets accepted to a Ph.D. program . . . in Michigan, a far cry from San Francisco. Like a good fiancé, Tom agrees to leave his solid job as a sous chef in a popular restaurant for this seemingly temporary, two-year limbo in the frozen wasteland that is Michigan. But he fails to find a job as a chef, having to settle for making sandwiches at a local deli instead.

Where, you ask, are the doughnuts? Well, they are an integral part of Violet's work in the psychology program, where the ongoing experiment is designed to test participants' will power by leaving them in a room with stale, day-old doughnuts. The participants are told fresh doughnuts will be coming in 20 minutes. Will the subjects wait? Or go for old pastries?

The whole thing becomes a metaphor for Tom's and Violet's relationship. Are you happy with what you have, or do you hold out for something better?

In the way of romantic comedies, things get worse before they get better. The Five-Year Engagement is longer than most rom-coms, but that's because it fully explores the relationship. More than a typical "funny honey" flick, this one has a realism to it uncommon to current, more popular entries into the genre. It resonated more with me because it spoke to my experience. It wasn't laugh-out-loud funny, no, but it was sweet and true. I only docked it some star points for lack of laughs.

Books: The Happiness Advantage, Part I

Shawn Achor
Crown Business, 2010
256 pages

Okay, I'm going to cover this book in stages (parts) because I'm having lots of thoughts about it as I'm reading, and I don't want to try and save it all up for one big blast. That would be unhealthy, I think. So I'm going to ease the valve open and let some steam out.

Let's first talk about the premise of this book. It's not terribly groundbreaking. The fundamental idea is that being happy is an element of success—as opposed to the usual idea that being successful is what will make people happy. Even just a little bit of common sense makes this notion passable; after all, if success made people happy, they'd only need to be successful in one thing, one time, to have a lifetime of good feelings. But no. Being successful in something usually results in yet another goal to be achieved. Soon life becomes a long series of "if only" and "when" and the happiness never happens because, in this mindset at least, there is no final destination.

Fair enough. Achor spends a number of pages backing all this up with scientific studies to prove his point, but they're not really necessary to convince the reader. We get it. It's not such a revolutionary idea.

Achor also spends a lot of time telling anecdotes about his traveling around giving talks all over the world. The reader doesn't really need these either. In fact, so far I've spent a lot of my reading time thinking, Get to the point. A lot of the book (so far) is just so much padding.

Having established that positivity aids in success, performance, productivity, etc., Achor does finally suggest ways to be more positive. These turn out not to be any more mind blowing than his thesis. He lists things like meditation and exercise, getting away from your desk every so often (take a walk, chat up a co-worker), or taking time to view a funny online video. In Achor's big picture, these little mood boosters, if done regularly to the point of becoming habit, will increase positivity in increments and therefore bring the benefits of success. One simply needs to re-train one's mind to a new way of thinking, a more positive perspective on the world.

Okay, look. I have my down days, but on the whole I've been an optimist most of my life. When I write and send something off, I envision good things happening. But I'm often disappointed. This is because no matter how positive I am about my work, it doesn't mean someone else will be. My positivity doesn't really influence these people reading my scripts and stories. Thus, so far Achor's advice comes up to very little for me.

One interesting suggestion Achor had was to utilize one's natural talents and strengths. Apparently people show a greater level of satisfaction with life when they stretch those muscles. Achor sends his readers to an online site to take a 240-question survey to identify those strengths. (After you answer the questions, scroll to the bottom of the results page for a free option.) For the curious, here were my results:

Your Top Character Strength


Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind.

Your Second Character Strength

Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence

You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.

Your Third Character Strength


Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.

Your Fourth Character Strength

Love of learning

You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums—anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.

Your Fifth Character Strength


You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.

Character Strength #6

Social intelligence

You are aware of the motives and feelings of other people. You know what to do to fit in to different social situations, and you know what to do to put others at ease.

Character Strength #7


Although you may not think of yourself as wise, your friends hold this view of you. They value your perspective on matters and turn to you for advice. You have a way of looking at the world that makes sense to others and to yourself. 

I'll stop there to avoid boring you with more of my stellar traits; there were 24 total on the list, including Fairness and Humor, two of which I'm very proud and was surprised to find were not at the top (they were #10 and #11).

In any event, I'm not sure exactly how I'm supposed to incorporate Judgment into more of my day-to-day existence, short of becoming a detective of some kind. Hmm. And yes, I'm being facetious here, but the point is that Achor is being very glib and rudimentary about his advice; so far there is little I can take away and really use.

It's better to be happy. Yes. Being happier makes you more successful and productive. Yes, okay. These little things are some ways you might be able to be happier. ::nodding:: But what if they don't work? What if these are things you've already tried? How can you get others to be as enthusiastic about your work as you are (thus becoming more successful, if, like me, you work in a world that requires others to buy into your vision)?

In the portion of the book I'm currently reading, Achor has gone through some scientific studies and experiments that show a person's way of thinking can bring physical, concrete changes. (Think: placebos.) But in every example, the physical changes are only in the person him- or herself. The person loses weight or gets over a cold or whatever. I still have yet to see how being the best me I can be—the most positive, enthusiastic, whatever—can translate into others producing my work. Maybe Achor will get to that part somewhere later in the book. I hope so. I need all the help I can get.


Television: Parade's End (Episode 4/5)

In which a very long game of "Doughnut, Not a Doughnut" is played by bored officers at camp in Rouen. There was, in fact, quite a bit of fighting over the doughnuts Sylvia had been suspected of smuggling in from England. It was very entertaining.

Meanwhile, the real question is whether the emergency sonnet ever got translated into Latin?

I'm hoping Christopher dies and they find the sonnet in his pocket and spend their time wondering what it's all about. (It's about doughnuts, of course. What is Latin for "doughnut"?)

You see? Here, as in World War I camps, we make our own fun.


Television: Revolution

Much as I love J.J. Abrams, I can't say I had high expectations for Revolution, a new drama series about the aftermath of a worldwide blackout. In short, people have had to learn to live without electricity—and all the things we've come to depend upon electricity for. Still, for J.J.'s sake, I wanted to give this one a try. It premiers on Monday, September 17th, but if you have Hulu, you can go watch it now. NOW!

It seems we may finally have a worthy successor to the Lost mantel. Revolution is steadily paced but doesn't tarry. The characters do border on stereotype, but the plot is interesting enough to buoy the show on the whole. Because as it turns out, Revolution is about far more than dealing with a lack of video games or iceboxes. There is a mythology here, held in the center of the show like a dark pearl. I'm not going to spoil it for you, but the reveal near the end of the pilot episode ups the interest level quite a bit.

And then there's just the fun of watching people fight with crossbows and swords. So we've got some Buffy and Highlander kinds of stuff going on there, too. Though the wardrobe choices were definitely more informed by Firefly. And seeing that the pilot was written by the guy who created Supernatural . . . Well, that shows, too. So this should appeal to fans of all sorts.

In short, I definitely recommend giving this one a try. I'm crossing fingers and toes it won't get canceled before it can live up to its potential. Revolution has made my "must" list for viewing this season.

Book Review: The Real Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II

Andrew Marr
Henry Holt & Co, 2012
368 pages

I don't think I ever planned or expected to read a book about Queen Elizabeth II. But I was at the library doing research for some other stuff, and for some reason this book jumped out at me (no, not literally, the library seldom gets so exciting). And I saw it was recently published, and so in my mind it was also relatively up-to-date, and I decided to give it a try.

Elizabeth II has been Queen of England for as long as my mother and I have been alive and almost as long as my father has been. That's quite the perspective for you. It's hard for me to imagine a world in which Elizabeth II is not queen, perhaps because it's hard for me to imagine Charles as king, but whatever. It will happen eventually. That's what The Real Elizabeth sort of brought home to me, really. It's not something I'm inclined to think about much, but Marr's book gives such a detailed accounting of the way Elizabeth II handles her affairs, and one knows Charles is likely to do things very differently. Elizabeth has weathered many storms in her time as queen, and one can't help but wonder if Charles will find his own path to success.

Though of course The Real Elizabeth is based mostly on historical record and a few quotes from those who've worked for and with the queen, Marr still manages to paint a portrait of Her Majesty that gives the reader a pretty solid idea of what she must be like as a person. He also does a nice job of couching key events in her reign in political and historical context. The sum total is, naturally, a sort of defense of the monarchy as an institution, tempered by the acknowledgment that the monarchy must change with the times if it is going to continue. All in all a very safe book, but still a fine read. (I especially liked the chapter about the Britannia. I'll admit to having skipped the chapter about money.)

I always feel a little gawkish when reading a book about a current person, someone still alive or only recently deceased; there is a voyeuristic aspect to the whole thing. But maybe that's also true of books about people long dead . . . Why else read a biography except to get the scoop on someone? Biographies were, I suppose, the original form of reality programming. The Real Elizabeth is a pretty decent one, at any rate, and nothing you have to feel embarrassed about being caught with.


Television: Parade's End (Episode 3/5)

There's no one to like in this program, and I think that's what really bothers me. (That was the very reason I couldn't be bothered to finish Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, either; I just wanted everyone to die.) What's worse, I think I'm supposed to maybe feel sympathetic toward or sorry for Christopher and Val, as if they have some kind of true love connection that's being denied them by convention and the fact they are both, at heart, very good people, but . . . No.

If anything, I feel bad for Sylvia, which sounds insane except that I absolutely understand her. She is childish in her attempts to manipulate some kind of action from her husband, but I can at least understand her motivation. She's looking for some show of affection from Christopher, she wants to prompt him into feeling. Anything would be better than his seeming indifference to her. That makes sense, even if Sylvia's methods leave much to be desired. She's tried to make him jealous, she's tried to be "good" by being chaste, but there seems to be no pleasing him. She cannot please him, he does not want her, so her frustration is valid.

But God, the whole Christopher and Val thing is insipid. I cannot like the way the story gives them carte blanche to take up with one another—Sylvia practically gives Christopher permission, and then Christopher's brother Mark even strives to arrange for it—even if it doesn't come to pass. It's not because they've stopped themselves, only because they've been prevented, so there's no saving grace in the lack of consummation. It's something of a hypocritical story in turning Sylvia into a beast for her indiscretions but making it okay for Christopher. Is it because he's supposedly really, truly in love? That makes it worse, not better. A woman might be able to forgive a man who strayed once or twice, so long as his heart is at home. Emotional affairs, however, are not to be countenanced.

Anyway, at this point I'd rather Christopher get a bullet in the head at the front lines or something. Put us all out of his misery.


Television: Parade's End (Episode 2/5)

Okay, I really do just have to say I don't see how even one woman could be in love with this Christopher fellow, much less two. (We are supposed to believe both his wife and that girl are in love with him, aren't we?) He's such an insufferable sop. Perhaps knowing what's coming is part of my problem, as I can't countenance that kind of misbehavior. I understand his wife was unfaithful, but she's begun to rectify that, and two wrongs and all that.

In any case, I made this episode much more entertaining by pretending it was all about doughnuts. If you take all those lingering shots of people's expressions (particularly Cumberbatch's, but others' as well), and imagine they are reacting to doughnuts—or a lack thereof—it makes the whole thing really quite fun to watch. Perhaps I'll carry on in the next episode by pretending the entire war is over doughnuts. Or maybe I'll imagine Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson showing up in the trenches. That could be a good time.

Then again, I get the sense we might not actually see much of the war itself in this. Which is fine because (a) I don't much like war shows/stories, and (b) this Christopher stands to be the Worst. Soldier. Ever. . . Gag. He's already the worst husband and/or would-be lover and probably father or whatever, so . . . Why is there a whole five-hour show about him exactly?

Or maybe the real question is, why am I watching it?

Well, that's easy. I'm watching it for the doughnuts.