Feeling Sorry for Yourself? Try a Humbling Experience

Feeling Sorry for Yourself? Try a Humbling Experience

The next time you feel sorry for yourself, stop.

Instead, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and do what I did. I visited a local convalescent home.

It’s humbling. It’s a bit of a wake up call, and a genuine reminder of how good I really have it. Because, no matter how bad things may seem sometimes, most of the folks there have way more on their plates than either you or me.

And yet what struck me about the people I met, all of whom have some degree of brain trauma, was how upbeat they are, and what a decidedly positive outlook on life many seem to have. Continue reading

Tangled Web Lady Finds New Career as Panel Moderator

From Left:Museum's Education Director Lydia Vogt; and Cartoonists Greg Evans, Jim Whiting, Steve Breen, Jeff Keane and Sony video game animator, Brad Constantine. These guys were hilarious and made my job a breeze!

Posing with me, from Left: Museum’s Education Director Lydia Vogt; and Cartoonists Greg Evans, Jim Whiting, Steve Breen, Jeff Keane and Sony video game animator, Brad Constantine.

When it comes to moderating a panel on comic art, let it be known that the woman behind Monica’s Tangled Web, does her homework.

In other words, thanks to much preparation, I nailed it.

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Brad Constantine (far right) keeps the artwork coming.

I stepped up to the challenge of moderating a panel on account that the idea exhilarated me. And, once I made the decision to do it, I took the bull by the horns.

Which means, that for the week leading up to it, I visited the exhibit on comic art, I researched each cartoonist on the panel, I googled cartoon art in general, and read everything I came across, so that I could come up with thought-provoking questions, rather than the usual, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Then, I pulled out the stacks and stacks of Archie Comics I keep under my bed and read every last one of them (not that this helped, but it sure was fun doing—and as good an excuse as any to re-read).

I also renewed my subscription to Mad Magazine so I could refresh my memory on the antics of Spy vs. Spy and the movie and TV show parodies, which I’ve always loved.

I then came across an article written for the Harvard Business Review on how to moderate a panel, and memorized it. Of course, I didn’t follow all of the tips. For example, it said to sit with your panelists, and not stand at a podium. Oops.

All told, I studied and prepared day and night for two straight days, drinking gallons of coffee with an extra jolt of caffeine to keep me going.

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Jim Whiting (center) enlists the help of Greg Evans (left) and Jeff Keane to demonstrate a magic trick.

And, when I felt informed enough on the subject matter, I decided to do one more thing:

I decided to be myself.

Which turns out, is about as easy as emptying a pool using a thimble. If you ask me, it’s practically akin to going on stage naked!

But once I psyched myself into relaxing and enjoying the evening, I was able to think of the event, not as a panel before a live audience, but as a scintillating party, where everyone was listening and participating in on a conversation that we happened to be having with five funny guys.

And boy, these fellas were so hilarious, they made my job a breeze!

No doubt, it helped that the topic was comic art, and not planning trusts, or tax codes, or some other boring stuff. After all, comic art by its nature tends to be, well, humorous. And, clearly these cartoonists love what they do and are passionate about it. Ooh la la!

It also made a difference that everyone in the audience was genuinely interested in the topic. So there was laughter amuck and plenty of questions for the panel.

Finally, here’s what we didn’t have: No booing or no heckling.

Thank goodness!

And, here’s what I learned from the evening:

Jim Whiting’s hobby is magic. Halfway through the evening he stood up and got the audience in a frenzy when he did a magic trick, enlisting the help of Jeff Keane (Family Circus) and Greg Evans (Luann).

In conjunction with the comic art exhibit, the museum ran a comic art contest for high school students. Here, one winner gets advice from the panel.

A student who participated and won the contest gets advice from the panel.

Greg Evans’ Luann comic strip is about a teenager, and is based on the antics of Evan’s daughter. When he started the strip, Luann was 13 and is now 16. Meanwhile, Evan’s daughter is now 38. Time moves slowly, if at all, in comic-strip land.

Jeff Keane is the youngest son of Bill Keane, the man who created Family Circus. The character of Jeffy is based on Jeff’s childhood. Jeff has pretty much taken the strip over from his father and writes and draws it, using his own children for ideas.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Breen doesn’t mind when his editor suggests a topic for one of his editorial cartoons, but doesn’t like it one bit, when they suggest how to present it.

Brad Constantine, the only animator on the panel, says it takes about 100 people two years to create a video game. Wow.

As a moderator, I managed to keep the evening on schedule and end with enough time for those in attendance to explore the exhibit. So now it’s over and I’m still riding high from all the good vibes from the evening.

Best part was meeting the panelists and having Steve Breen say to me, before the program even started, that he really liked the questions I had developed.

This soon to be high school junior poses in front of her work, which received top honors in the student contest.

This soon to be high school junior poses in front of her work, which received top honors in the student contest.

Best best part:  Having someone from the audience walk up to me afterwards and tell me I ought to have my own talk show. Plus, one of the A/V guys told me he was convinced I’d been moderating for years. I had to hug him for saying that. (And, not because he was cute!)

Best best best part: When Brad Constantine, who was doodling pictures of famous cartoon characters all night, signed and gave one to me. Aww.

In conjunction with the comic art exhibit, the museum ran a contest for high school students. I loved meeting some of the award-winning students  and seeing their amazing art. You can tell, the passion for comic art already runs deep within them.

After all is said and done, would I do it again?

You bet!

Now tell me, how have you risen to the occasion when given a task that is clearly outside your range?

This lucky boy got to go home with one of Brad's drawings.

This lucky boy got to go home with one of Brad’s drawings.

Excuse Me—Is My Comfort Zone Showing?

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Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone.

Try something new.

Dare to embark on a new adventure—a journey to where you’ve never been before.

Like my blogger friend, Kathy (Reinventing the Event Horizon), who sold her home, packed her bags and, together with her partner, Sara, headed to Ecuador for an indefinite stay.

Though getting out of your comfort zone doesn’t have to be such a huge undertaking. Take me. A couple of weeks ago, after returning from my daughter’s graduation, among the voicemails awaiting me at the office was one from Lydia, a woman in charge of education at the California Center for the Performing Arts Museum.

Lydia’s message mentioned a new exhibit they have, now through July 28th, titled, Art Illustrated: Celebrating Comic Art. I had already heard about it and wondered what she could want. So, I returned her call and learned that the museum was hosting a panel discussion on comic art, and how they were in need of a moderator for the panel. As I listened, I assumed she was going to ask me if one of the reporters from my station would be available.

But, that’s not what she asked.

Lydia asked me if I could do it.

Wait. Did she just ask me??

Yes she did, and she didn’t seem to care that I had NEVER moderated a panel before. All Lydia knew was that someone had recommended me.

Wait. Did she just imply that they had a discussion and my name came up as a candidate for moderating a panel on comic art??

Wow.

The idea of moderating a discussion on a topic I know little about terrified me—and excited me all at once. After all, I grew up reading the Sunday funnies and comic books and still have a weakness for Blondie and Archie and the gang.  Plus, I was a big fan and peruser of Mad Magazine. Though, what Baby Boomer isn’t?

As I tossed the idea  around in my head, I kept thinking how I love my safe and secure comfort zone. It protects me from crazy stuff like going bungee jumping, pole vaulting, scaling tall buildings in a single bound, or engaging an audience for two hours by moderating a conversation on cartoons. Sheesh. What questions would I ask?

But the idea really made me feel exhilarated. So, after a lot of deliberation, and asking our reporter, who actually has a keen knowledge of comics and has covered Comic Con for my station (she declined, as she is very busy preparing for Comic Con, which is next weekend), I said yes!

And, so I opened the door and took a flying leap out of my comfort zone.

Ta-dah!

I visited the art exhibit at the museum and got a personal tour from Lydia, who assumed I knew what I was doing. We talked and talked and she gave me background info on the exhibit and the expert panelists, who include the following:

Steve Breen, Pulitzer-prize winning Political Cartoonist
Brad Constantine, Video Game Animator for Sony
Greg Evans, Cartoonist and creator of “Luann”
Jeff Keane, Comic Artist of “Family Circus”
Jim Whiting, Magazine and Newspaper Cartoonist

If you ask me, looks like tonight I’m going to be talking with the nobility of the comic industry!

Now, when was the last time you got out of your comfort zone?

Lightning in a Jar: The Misfits

The hip hooray and bally hoo,
The lullaby of Broadway.
The rumble of the subway train,
The rattle of the taxis.
The daffodills who entertain
At Angelo’s and Maxie’s.

–From the song, Lullaby of Broadway by Harry Warren and Al Dubin

Chapter 12:

They say the teen years can be the most trying of times. We falter, we plow ahead. We push, we dare. We make mistakes and presumably learn from them. Some of us handle the awkwardness of transitioning from childhood to adulthood a whole lot better than others. Some of us come out the other end with flying colors, embracing the change it brings to our lives.

Joan Crawford in the film, "Mildred Pierce."

Joan Crawford in the film, “Mildred Pierce.”

Not me. Having to face adulthood is what I dreaded most. I wasn’t ready and doubted I’d ever be. Young people aren’t supposed to worry about getting old or the passage of time. But, I did. On the eve of 1970, while revelers were partying and rattling their noisemakers in Times Square, I sat in my room and cried, lamenting the end of a decade that, to me, represented my youth. It was as if the new decade was quashing what was left of my childhood, snuffing out the free spirit inside. Peter Pan didn’t want to grow up and neither did I. My mother put her arms around me, not really understanding why I felt so bad.

Well, my friends seemed oblivious, too, eager as they were to get their driver’s licenses, and get on with their plans for college. So I tried not to think too much about the future, nor how junior year would be ending soon, and I would need to find a job for the summer. Whether I liked it or not, the pressures of adulthood were creeping in.

My feelings for James continued to run the gamut. One minute I couldn’t imagine life without him. The next, I’d flat out ignore him, feeling the shame of being a year older than him burn my cheeks. I could kiss him and spurn him in the space of a minute. And always, he waited. No matter what I did, he stood by patiently. I knew he deserved better, but I couldn’t bring myself to be any other way. Yet, I worried what would happen to us once school let out.

Max proved to be a fresh dose of reality. When the day of our planned trip to the city arrived, he showed up to pick me up with his usual panache.

“Miss Thing! I’ve seen hyenas in heat that look better than you!”

It was 8:30, Saturday morning. Crack of dawn if you ask me, but he insisted we get an early start.

I was at Liza’s, where I’d spent the night. Max, dressed in a flaming red ascot and a silk smoking jacket, was looking rather cavalier as he assessed my “I just fell out of bed appearance”—gray circles under my eyes, and my black ringlet curls were all frizzed out. Having gone into panic mode, they looked more like a mound of Brillo pads that had been pinned to the top of my head.

“This simply won’t do!” He said fretfully, plopping down a valise he’d brought along with him.  “Now, where can we go to doll you up?”

I was curious as to what he had in mind, but also dreading it. Still, I pointed to the parlor to the left of the entryway of Liza’s Victorian home.

Yanking my arm, he grabbed his valise and pulled me into the small, cozy room with over-stuffed chairs and an upright piano. Motioning me to sit down, he flicked his suitcase open and began pulling out an assortment of garments, circa 1940s, as well as cosmetics, a hairbrush and hairspray, and a container of bobby pins. For the next 30 minutes, he did my hair as best he could, working feverishly to stick pins in all sorts of ways, until, miraculously, my hair looked quite fashionable–had I been Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce, that is. Then, he handed me a violet-colored dress to wear. All I needed were a pair of arched eyebrows and a smear of red lipstick to complete the Mildred Pierce look.

When he was finished and pleased with the results, we hastily rushed off to make the 9:23 train to Penn Station, New York. I was consciously aware of the looks we got as we boarded the train. Taking our seats, Max began to tell me what he planned for the day, how many shops we’d be visiting, and where we’d be having lunch.

“There’s a whole world beyond school, Miss Thing,” he’d say, “and you need to see it!”

I rolled my eyes, once again feeling like I was the only one not ready to move outside my comfort zone of school and riding my bike around the island. I imagined it was easier for Max, as he’d be graduating soon and seemed eager to move to the city. Maybe I’d feel better when it was my turn, and, like him, I’d find myself hankering to leave home.

As I gazed out the window, watching the scenery whiz by, I knew one thing to be certain. Sitting next to Max on the train, he in his ascot, eyeliner and mascara, and me, donning a vintage dress, it occurred to me we were nothing more than a pair of misfits.

Max must’ve known what I was thinking because he smiled and blew me a kiss.

“Now, about your love life,” he said exuberantly. “Tell me, is there something going on between you and James, or are you still dating that insipid George?”

Nothing like cutting to the chase. Max never ceased to leave me dumbfounded. He had his arrows and knew exactly where to sling them. Perhaps he sensed the angst his question gave me, for his face was filled with consternation.

“You’re not going to the prom with George!” I wasn’t sure if that was a command or a plea.

“I’m sorry?”

“Well, I’ve heard George mention it this week in the cafeteria, but I assumed he was lying. You wouldn’t waste your time.”

“He asked me weeks ago. I said yes. It’d be rude to back out now.”

“It would be crazy not to! Tell him you’ve come down with the flu–or, better yet, the clap. That boy is as bland as tapioca pudding, and furthermore, he doesn’t appreciate you. Not like James.”

I winced. “What do you know about James? You only met him once!”

“Don’t think I missed the looks between the two of you, Miss Thing. That boy’s pining for you like nobody’s business, and if you don’t snap him up, I will, because he’s drop-dead gorgeous!”

The idea of Max finding James attractive made me uncomfortable and I was suddenly overcome with a fierce desire to protect James.

“I like James,” I said flatly. “Only it’s complicated, which is why I haven’t told anyone.”

“Why’s it complicated?”

“Because he’s a sophomore and I’m a junior. That’s why.”

Max looked at me incredulously and then laughed. “That’s your reason? I thought you were going to say he has cancer and only weeks to live. Darling, don’t let that stop you. Show him off! Walk arm in arm with him at school and watch all the other girls be insanely jealous. I know I am.”

“You don’t think I’d be ridiculed?”

“Honestly, do you know how many times I’ve been the source of ridicule? Has that ever bothered me? Sometimes, maybe, but you just deal. Each of us has something to hide. The question is, are you willing to own up to it or are you going to let it eat you up?”

As the train reached Penn Station, passengers began to gather their belongings and move towards the doors. As Max and I followed suit, he gave a wink.

“Choose wisely, Love. James is hot and adores you,” he said, adding salaciously, “You’ve no idea what I’d do to him if he were mine!”

I cringed at the thought, wishing Max wouldn’t be so forthcoming, but I knew he had a point. Yet, was I willing to heed his advice?

Once on the platform, he took my hand, and guided me through the throng of travelers. Two misfits were we, trying hard not to melt into the crowd. Only one of us was succeeding.

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the page, Lightning in a Jar: High School Years.

Observations on the Oscars & Then Some

If you watched the Oscars earlier this week, then you already know.

That I wasn’t invited to present an award or to perform one of the nominated original songs.

Furthermore, unlike years past, none of the winners refused to accept the award on account of the plight of polar bears in the Antarctic, pirates in the Red Sea, or because they don’t believe that what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas.

"Argo" wins for best picture.

“Argo” wins for best picture (and isn’t even nominated for Best Costume Drama). Sigh.

Not a soul gave a shout out to the Pope for being the first Pope to resign, not just in decades, but in centuries. And no one speculated on whether Kate and William are expecting a boy or a girl.

No one said boo about the impending sequestration this Friday, though First Lady Michele Obama, who presented the best picture award, came close when she winked into the camera. I know it was her way of saying, “Run for the hills! The sequestration is upon us!”

Yet, if anyone had done any of the above, it probably would have been Kristen Stewart, in an effort to distract us from her messed up hair, bruised arm, and an angry look that said, “I was just making out with Quentin Tarantino, but if you tell Robert Pattinson, I’ll come after you.”

And, by the way, blame me for Kristen’s hairdo. Or lack of it. Earlier that evening she’d lost her hairbrush and asked me to run to Target to buy her a new one. I was in such shock that she’d actually spoken to me at all, I plumb forgot. (Actually, it’s safe to say we never met.)

Anyway, on to my other observations of the evening:

The Oscars are predictable. Pretty much because anyone who’s won in other award shows, ends up winning an Oscar, too, and yes. If you ask me, Argo deserved Best Picture, Best Director (which it didn’t get, thanks to the incomprehensible wisdom of the Academy—sorry, Ben!); and Best Costume Drama (also did not get, don’t ask my why). I mean, did you ever see so many cool, retro fashions from the 70s since, well, the 70s? It’s like they raided The Rockford Files set and crashed head on into the cast of Barney Miller.  And, I swear one of those women was wearing the exact same pair of glasses I had back then. The kind that are so big, you look like you have the face of a fly. It’s no wonder they called me Bug Eyes back then. Sheesh.

The Academy makes mistakes. Ergo, leaving Argo’s Affleck out of the Outstanding Director category (and not inviting me to be a presenter).

Either ya got it or ya don’t.  Taste, that is. Those who wear stunning gowns always look, well, stunning, and those who wear “What was she thinking?” outfits, clearly never do.

Unlikely duos #1:  And, will somebody tell me why First Lady Michele Obama presented with Jack Nicholson, of all people? What was that all about? When he introduced her, I thought it was a joke, and I kept waiting for the punchline. In fact, I’m still waiting.

Unlikely duos #2:  There is such a thing as monologues that overstay their welcome. McFarlane’s seemed like it would go on forever. In fact, I’d appreciate if someone explained to me the William Shatner and Seth McFarlane bit. A little strange, a little off. But, it did provide McFarlane an opportunity to showcase his singing and dancing talents. Loved the soft-shoe he did with Daniel Radcliffe and that other guy whom I’ve seen before but can’t remember his name.

Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in "The Way We Were."

Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in “The Way We Were.”

Sexism is for the birds. Maybe it’s me, but the “We Saw Your Boobs” number was dumb and pointless. Haven’t we moved beyond such rudimentary “entertainment” by now? Last I checked, the sixties are over, so it’s okay not to be sexist. At least, that’s what I’ve heard.

I loved when the cast of Le Miserables came out and sang, in my estimation, one of the best songs of the musical. So riveting, emotional and empowering. Made me want to get up and fight the French Revolution with the rebels. Come on-a my house, Hugh Jackman, and I’ll give you one day more!

Finally, Barbra Streisand’s tribute to Marvin Hamlisch. Beautiful. Tugged at my nostalgic-ridden heartstrings, harkening me back to the streets of New York City, saying goodbye all over again to Hubbell—that gorgeous hunk, aka, Robert Redford–and stroking his hair. Enough said.

Oh and by the way, why wasn’t I invited to present–or sing, for that matter–at the Oscars?? Oh, well. Their loss.