Sunday, February 28, 2016

The In'Fleuss of Dr. Seuss (*Influence, That Is)

Theodore Seuss Geisel
One of the joys about being a writer is getting to talk about your heroes. To talk about people who have influenced you, one way or another; who have had an impact on your endeavors, on your character, and on your work with or for other people. For me, one of those people was (and still is) the late Theodore Geisel a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, who celebrates his 112th birthday this coming Wednesday. Like fellow late artists Charles Schultz and Jim Henson, Geisel was a master of his craft (children’s author and illustrator of over 44 books), as well as a national treasure that spread to universal appeal for children and adults. He will always be known for his use of the written word, his love for rhymes and languages, and his complete freedom, idiosyncrasy and imagination with words, characters and worlds. His books have been translated into over 15 different languages, with over 200 million copies of each book sold worldwide. 

My personal favorites include “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (a perennial holiday classic), “Horton Hatches the Egg” (a character I consider a fictitious hero, like Doug Funnie), “Oh Say Can You Say!” (a collection of brilliant tongue-twisters), “Hop on Pop” (“the simplest Seuss for the youngest use”), “The Sneetches and Other Stories,” and “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” One other such book is not very well-known to several readers, titled “My Many Colored Days.” Geisel wrote the manuscript in the early-1970s, but it was never published, at his request, until the mid-1990s. His dream for said manuscript was to give “a great color artist who will not be dominated by me” an opportunity to contribute to his work. In 1995 (four years after Geisel’s death), his request was met, by illustrators Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. The resulting images in this book are striking and painterly, yet Seuss’s typical rhyme and meter remain (for those of you who read closely). 

More importantly, Seuss wrote this manuscript as a concept book to creatively express and teach different human emotions and feelings—a precursor to Pixar’s “Inside Out,” if you will. It has, in recent years, become a hallmark for me to read to elementary students, having tutored K-3 children for three years. Such a hallmark fits one of many that have inspired others to not only learn how to read, but also to have fun doing it, to not be afraid to take risks, and to help fill the world with creative, imagination, and, yes, a little absurdity. Geisel, after all, did write, “From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere.” 

"Dear Journal": Why "Doug"?

WRITER'S NOTE: Some of you may be asking yourselves, why am I even talking about this series in the first place? Why would I be interested in or even bother with characters of different colors, including a title character who daydreams and puts himself in fantastical situations?

(l-r) Skeeter Valentine, Doug Funnie, and Patti Mayonnaise
The best stories are those that not only allow us to escape from reality for a few moments, but also help us deal with reality. Fantasies can be a good and meaningful form of escapism, and there is a time and a place for them. But sooner or later, there are things in life we all have to deal with and learn from. “Doug” is about dealing with those things—and not just during adolescence—whether we want to or not, and no matter how hard we try to avoid them, even if we fantasize away from them.

Furthermore, "Doug" represents a piece of what our culture needs, which is sincerity, honesty, uniqueness, and originality. It also represents what has been absent in ninety-nine percent of today's "kids' shows," which instead focus on cheap laughs, poor writing, and Hollywood interference. (Exceptions can be made, I suppose, for the current Disney channel series, "Girl Meets World," a spin-off of "Boy Meets World," and the new Netflix series "Fuller House," based on the classic 90s family show.) 

The Early 90s or, Genres and Topics in Bluffington
We've obviously come a long way with trends in pop culture and social media, in terms of the way we communicate and interact. From cell phones to iPads to Facebook, we've obviously become more and more tech-savvy in recent years. On "Doug," the fictitious community of Bluffington (based off of creator Jim Jinkins' hometown of Richmond, Virginia) encompasses a nostalgic period of hang-outs at local restaurants and shopping malls, watching television and videocassettes, being involved with cub scouts, listening to rock or dance music, and having conversations over the telephone or person-to-person. 

One of the interesting things I discovered as I was researching and watching episodes of this series was how diverse it was not only in its characters but also in its themes and topics. This series was never about just one thing (e.g., a pre-teenager journaling his everyday thoughts). Almost every episode had something different to say and had something for everybody to learn, in creative, entertaining, and sometimes enlightening ways. Season One alone focuses on various topics and genres as nature, dance, crime/mystery, animal psychology, photography, camping, rock music or yodeling, Shakespeare, courtroom drama, government, sports, footwear, cosmetology, comic book heroes, fishing, family, business/economics, cooking, babysitting, romance, teamwork, and friendship.

Personally, this represents how writing (as the title character himself does) allows us to consider and understand these various aspects of life. In addition, it should be noted that Doug's many roles, besides that of his fantastical alter egos (Quailman, Smash Adams, Race Canyon), include journalist, artist, banjo player, and baseball player. These themes and ideas can allow us to understand our various roles as individuals, as well as what makes us, in the words of Patti Mayonnaise, "one-of-a-kind". The same could be said about this series--at least, the Nickelodeon version. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Tips and Thoughts for "Creative and Unconventional People"

I have a special desire to help people who, like me, don’t fit easily into conventional doctor or lawyer or banker molds. This book was written for people who want to keep learning and growing, who want to work on exciting and challenging projects that earn them recognition and respect from true peers, who desire an opportunity for self-expression along with enough freedom that they can do things their own way instead of the way it has always been done before.
~ Carol Eikleberry, Ph.D.

Carol Eikleberry, Ph.D.
In her 2007 book, “The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People” (of which the above excerpt is from), career counselor and licensed psychologist Carol Eikleberry, Ph.D., talks about ways in which people who are led to be creative and pursue their dreams outside the norm of the workplace can do so. One tool that she uses is known as Holland’s Theory, a theory based on the research of fellow psychologist John Holland, as a way for individuals to navigate the world of work. There are six areas in this theory, including artistic (A; those who create), social (S; those who share), investigative (I; those who explore), enterprise (E; those who make something happen), realistic (R; those who do something physically and actively), and conventional (C; those who keep something going as usual).

In January of 2011, during which time I first read this book, I considered myself artistic (A), because I love to be creative; social (S), because I love talking to people about certain things; and investigative (I), because I love researching and thinking about things. Therefore, my “Holland code,” if you will, was ASI. A few other alternative codes for others include as follows:

AIR (Artistic Investigative Realistic) = somebody who is creating, exploring, doing; in other words, somebody who starts and searches
AIC (Artistic Investigative Conventional) = somebody who is creating, exploring, going
ASI (Artistic Social Investigative) = somebody who is creating, sharing, exploring; in other words, people who collaborate
ASE (Artistic Social Enterprise) = creating, sharing, making it happen
ASR (Artistic Social Realistic) = creating, sharing, doing; somebody who starts and shares and does
ASC (Artistic Social Conventional) = creating, sharing, going; somebody who starts and shares and goes
AIE (Artistic Investigative Enterprise) = creating, exploring, making it happen
AER (Artistic Enterprise Realistic) = creating, making it happen, doing
AEC (Artistic Enterprise Conventional) = creating, making it happen, going
ARC (Artistic Realistic Conventional) = creating, doing, going
SIR (Social Investigative Realistic) = sharing, exploring, doing

I recently came across an old journal entry as I was reviewing this book. Some of the things I wrote had to do with where I should live and work. Should I pursue a job that I am passionate about (writing, creative arts, performing)? Should I keep working and saving money to make a living? Should I live near and work alongside others to make an impact on their lives? What kind of work will benefit my artistic and creative endeavors? A video store? A newspaper or magazine? One of my ambitions was to share and explore ideas with others, and to be a part of a collaborative process.

One of the things I’m gaining from my current job is a sense of professional growth and upward mobility, specifically in ways I never thought possible. It may not be the job or position I would want to pursue full-time, but I do believe I am gaining skills that can and will benefit my endeavors in the future. Self-management and evaluation. Time-management. Building impulse in others. How indifference works. How to talk to people effectively and not just professionally. How to lead others in a business setting and/or set an example for them. What you can learn from others. How to manage attitude and therefore build more effective relationships with others.

Here are a few quotes from Eikleberry’s text to conclude:

“Changes often being with an ending. In other words, before you can be reborn to something new, something old must die.” (pp. 124)

“Character is hard to define, but for me it has to do with integrity, with doing what you say you will do, and with being honest in your presentation of yourself.” (pp. 119)

“People get in trouble when they interpret a single mistake as a total failure and then abandon all further effort, instead of turning the mistake into an opportunity for learning.” (pp. 110)

“Setting goals and priorities is more of a process than a final decision.” (pp. 101)

“Happiness is not the mere possession of many; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"Dear Journal": Color, Kids Rule, and Adult Figures--Topics of Issue and Discussion about "Doug" for Discerning Families

WRITER'S NOTE: Parents can use this as a guide to talking about "Doug" and other cartoons with similar themes. 
It’s a Colorful Life
As revolutionary as Nickelodeon has been to the television industry since its inception in the late 70s, there have still been plenty of controversies and issues from parents and critics over the influence of its “kid-centered” programming. One such topic has been whether the cartoon series “Doug” and its central character were racist, considering said character was apparently the only white (colored) character on the show. The Huffington Post even wrote an article on the matter, the same year author Matthew Klickstein published his book “Slimed” (which touched on this issue as well). 

Well, Doug Funnie (our journalistic and imaginative hero) wasn’t the only white character. So was Ned, one of Roger Klotz’s gang members, and Percy Femur, the bully who turns out to be “just plain mean” and worse than Roger. Even Doug’s sister, Judy, counts. Also, the color of every other supporting character arguably didn’t so much represent race as it did character and personality type. And fortunately (perhaps all for the better), no color is suited to only one character. Consider Doug’s best friend Skeeter Valentine and his family, who are all blue. Roger, teacher Mrs. Wingo, and athlete Chalky Studebaker are all green. Patti Mayonnaise and Vice Principal Mr. Bone are brown. And neighbors Mr. & Mrs. Dink, as well as Beebe Bluff and her family, are all purple. 

Save for one comment Judy made about one of Doug’s friends in a season two episode (“Is he the blue one?”), there has never been a point in the series’ history on Nick where a certain character or more were judged by their skin color. Also, a possible reason that Doug’s friends are all colorful and he is white could represent his average personality and how his life and imagination may be colorless without them. 

“Kids Rule”?
Because it was known as “the first kids’ network” in its heyday, Nickelodeon became a place where kids could hang out, have fun, and make friends with characters on the tube. We all have people who influence or inspire us the right way (which Doug creator Jim Jinkins wanted for audiences). And there are those that do so on the opposite end. Nickelodeon, you could say, is kind of both. For some viewers, this “kids rule” mentality can tie into the questionable theme of disobedience toward adult authorities, as well as to the notion of kids doing certain things to get their way. This latter notion is obvious with a character like Roger, but even Doug and Skeeter and company are no less susceptible. A few examples include Doug and Skeeter trying to get to concert, fantasizing about underage driving, even sneaking in and getting passes. The same goes for characters who “update” the town history at a school pageant, and against Mr. Bone’s supervision. 

Speaking of Mr. Bone, he is often portrayed as a strict assistant principal who easily looks down on students and sets expectations. One character describes Mr. Bone “as if he’s “programmed to say ‘No’ to everything”. At the same time, his intentions and character may be questionable, such as when Doug and his friends are thrown in Saturday detention for breaking “silly and pointless rules”. Both are worth talking about. 

As for the other parental or adult figures on Doug, here are a few questions discerning parents and teens can ask and talk about. 
- Are the parent figures on Doug involved in their children’s lives? In what their children are passionate about?
- Do they want what they think is best? Do they want things their way? 
- Are they supportive and/or understanding? 
- What kinds of examples do they represent?
- What kind of advice do they give? What makes it good or not-so-good?

Here are a few other examples: 
1. Take Phil Funnie, Doug’s dad, for instance. In one episode, he makes a simple kite, along with being obsessed and excited about the whole thing. Doug thinks he can make a better one (and even wishes he was the son of another parent), until he sees that his dad knows what he’s doing. In a different episode, Mr. Funnie (as do other parents) thinks his children can play better/other positions in, say, baseball. In one of Doug’s daydreams, his dad is disappointed that Doug chose not to be a pitcher. The lesson here could be that, sometimes, new things that are tried don’t turn out well, and they can reassure us of what we are already capable of. The theme involves doing what you believe you’re good at, and not going around trying to please other people.

In another episode, Mr. Funnie does give Doug some worthwhile advice when it comes to fighting (and in contrast to Mr. Dink’s misguided fighting tips). “Show me a man who resorts to violence, and I’ll show you a man who’s run out of good ideas.”

2. What about school teachers? There’s Mr. Shalacky, the happy-go-lucky guidance counselor, who doesn’t really help any students with his fleeting advice. And there’s Ms. Newberry, the substitute teacher. Doug makes a bad first impression and is immediately labeled a troublemaker. The lesson here, in Doug’s words: “Don’t be too quick to judge somebody else. And first impressions aren’t always right.”

3. What about town representatives, regarding other matters? Take, for example, Mr. Bluff and his advice on business and leadership. Or Mayor White, in terms of how he does things, and what his priorities are as oppose to what they should be.