Category Archives: Woody Allen

Are You a Consonant or a Vowel?

img_8883_croppedI apologize in advance for the scatological nature of this post. Sometimes I think in metaphors, and sometimes those metaphors involve excrement. Especially when I’m playing Words with Friends. To get the disgustingness behind us, when my tile rack contains all or nearly all consonants, I liken it to constipation. When the letters are vowel-heavy, it’s similar to diarrhea. Too many consonants, and there’s no flow; too many vowels, and there’s only flow. (Either way, a satisfactory move is unlikely.) I guess that means a word, which has the requisite balance of consonants and vowels, is like a healthy bowel movement. Again, I’m sorry.

The other day, I got to wondering if people (aside from their digestive tracts) might be like consonants and vowels. I recalled a scene from the movie Husbands and Wives, in which Judy Davis’s character muses about whether people in her life are hedgehogs or foxes:

I thought how different Michael was from Jack. How much deeper his vision of life was. And I thought Michael was a hedgehog and Jack was a fox. And then I thought Judy was a fox and Gabe was a hedgehog. And I thought about all the people I knew, and which were hedgehogs and which were foxes.

The scene refers to a famous essay in which Russian-British philosopher Isaiah Berlin puts writers and thinkers into two categories: those with a singular world-view (hedgehogs), and those who have a new idea for every situation (foxes). Though others took Berlin’s metaphor seriously, he had meant it to be humorous. Indeed, applying a dichotomy to the entire human race can be quite amusing.

Referring to this helpful page from Macquarie University, I compiled the following table, which compares the characteristics of consonants and vowels:

Consonant Vowel
Closed Open
Constricted Flowing
Discordant Melodious
Less prominent More intense
Valley Peak

So, which list of characteristics describes you better? Do you seek out those possessing the opposite qualities? Are your relationships with these people balanced? Do you have good conversations? How are your bowel movements?

When I asked my husband if he was a consonant or a vowel, he said both: “FU.”



Why Do I Love Bad Romantic Comedies?

Romantic ComedyModern classics like Annie Hall (rated 8.2 on IMDB) and When Harry Met Sally… (7.6) lend legitimacy to my favorite movie genre, romantic comedy. (I wonder if A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Taming of the Shrew did the same for rom-coms in the 1590s.) There is no shame, I think, in being entertained by a solid, respectable romantic comedy, such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall (7.3) or Crazy, Stupid, Love. (7.5). But then there are the not-so-good lovey-dovey-funny films, the ones that give romedies a bad name. They’re predictable and limply humorous, with hackneyed characters and contrived plots. The thing is, I love these pieces of crap. But why?

I thought I might be able to find the answer by identifying what really draws me to view certain poorly rated romantic comedies over and over. I caution you against seeing any of these 10 films. Yet they have brought me many hours of pleasure. Please don’t waste your time on them. But I kind of love them.

Romantic Comedy IMDB Rating The Appeal
Along Came Polly 5.8 Great character names (Reuben Feffer, Polly Prince); best performance by a ferret; Hank Azaria as Claude, the scuba instructor.
Bride Wars 5.1 Some good lines (“If I were your wedding, I’d  sleep with one eye open,” “Miss Wang is a stern mistress,” “You’re like this very tall, very hot Smurf,” “The International Butter Club?”).
Fools Rush In 5.8 Love overcomes culture clash; the poor man’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding (6.5).
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past 5.7 Michael Douglas as a smarmy womanizer, Matthew McConaughey as his smarmy protégé.
Joe Versus the Volcano 5.5 I flatly reject the IMDB rating. This movie is offbeat awesomeness.
Sex and the City 5.2 I was such a fan of the show that I am compelled to embrace its “snuggly” offspring.
Someone Like You 5.9 Very likable and/or sexy stars: Ashley Judd, Greg Kinnear, Hugh Jackman.
Something Borrowed 5.7 The smart girl gets the hot guy.
The Wedding Planner 4.9 I’m a sucker for Jennifer Lopez (and apparently for smarmy Matthew McConaughey; see Ghosts of Girlfriends Past). The supporting characters are charming.
What’s Your Number? 5.8 The funny, creative girl gets the hot guy. Also, the protagonists are always eating (wedding cake, pizza, Chinese food, sandwiches, snacks).

So have I learned anything from this exercise? Not really. Perhaps the allure of the rom-com is that its ending is guaranteed to be happy—or at worst bittersweet, as in the case of Annie Hall. Near the end of that movie, Woody Allen’s character says, “You’re always trying to get things to come out perfect in art, because it’s real difficult in life.” Maybe that’s why romantic comedies, even bad ones, are so satisfying.

Everything comes out perfect.

Easy Reading Is Damn Hard Writing

Nathaniel Hawthorne penned the pithy statement that is the title of this post. Over the years, famous authors have contributed to an incredible volume of eloquent writing advice. “Never use a long word where a short one will do,” George Orwell ruled. “Try to leave out the parts that people skip,” Elmore Leonard recommended. “Write drunk, edit sober,” Ernest Hemingway advocated. I wondered, with so many persuasive tips out there, how you know which ones to follow. Since you are more likely to take advice from someone you admire, I decided to focus on writers who had an impact on me at various points in my life.


When I read The Martian Chronicles in the fifth grade, I thought, “Ray Bradbury, where have you been all my life?” (He had been busily writing short stories, novels, plays, and poems.) In 1989, Bradbury published a collection of essays called Zen in the Art of Writing, which is now on my Amazon wish list. One of his oft-quoted pieces of advice was, “Don’t start out writing novels.” Oops. He also counseled, “You must write every single day of your life.” I will take this teaching to heart. And I like to think he was speaking to me when he said, “I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you.”

I became a fan of Shakespeare in junior high. I even had a Shakespeare pin, which I actually wore to school. You can imagine how popular I was. Here are some helpful hints gleaned from Shakespeare’s plays:

  1. Be brief. “Brevity is the soul of wit.” (Hamlet)
  2. Read a lot. “My library was dukedom large enough.” (The Tempest)
  3. Express sincere emotion. “Write till your ink be dry, and with your tears / Moist it again, and frame some feeling line / That may discover such integrity.” (Two Gentlemen of Verona)

“Be a literary genius” is also implied.

I discovered Woody Allen in high school, when I saw Love and Death (which I loved and subsequently quoted to death). According to Allen’s character in Husbands and Wives, “Some can write; others will never learn.” I suspect that may be true. Regarding his personal routine, Allen says, “I always write with a yellow pad and a ballpoint pen, on my bed. . . . When it works, I type it up afterward.” He describes the writing process as “wracked with anxiety” and a “battle for survival”—which I find oddly comforting.

Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer and The Assistant amazed me when I read them in college. When asked about his work habits, Malamud replied, “There’s so much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing.” Touché.

What the Heck Is a Nanowrimo?

When I was in the fifth grade, one of our regular assignments was to find an unusual word in the dictionary and turn it into a multiple-choice question for the class. We were to provide four possible definitions for the word: the actual one and three fabrications. I remember feeling an impish sense of satisfaction when a schoolmate would select one of my made-up meanings. So in the spirit of Miss Brown’s vocabulary-building exercise, I offer the following MCQ:

What does the word nanowrimo mean?

a. A punctuation mark, proposed by English printer Henry Denham in 1580 and used until the early 1600s, indicating a rhetorical question

b. Any of several large, thick-skinned, odd-toed mammals of Africa and India, having one or two upright horns on the snout

c. One billionth of a wrimo

d. Thirty days and nights of literary abandon

If you answered a, b, or c, I applaud you as a very decent human being who graciously took my inane quiz. (If you recognized b as a rhinoceros, extra credit!) The correct response is d. But I sort of tricked you. The proper presentation of the word is NaNoWriMo. The acronym stands for National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo describes itself as a “fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing.” The program began with 21 budding authors in 1999; in 2011, it tracked the progress of over a quarter million “WriMos.”

The Night CircusParticipants start writing on November 1, with the aim of completing a 50,000-word novel (equal to 175 printed pages) by November 30. And it works. National Novel Writing Month has yielded a long list of published novelists. Bestsellers penned during NaNoWriMo include Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen; and The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. The former was released as a motion picture last year; the latter is in development.

I have considered participating in NaNoWriMo for several Novembers, going so far as to create an account (where years’ worth of unread NaNoMail is waiting for me). Because I finally have a concrete idea for a novel, this year’s event seems perfectly timed. However, there’s an NaNoWriMo logoissue. NaNoWriMo values quantity over quality, “enthusiasm over painstaking craft.” The goal is to produce a crappy first draft, “to forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create.”

Maybe therapy could help, but I am inherently incapable of writing without editing. I have been writing and editing, editing and writing, for over 20 years. The two activities are hopelessly intertwined for me, and my projects rarely involve one without the other. To misquote Woody Allen in What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, if you know me at all, you know that writing is my bread and editing my butter. Oh no, editing’s my bread, and writing is my butter. No, no, wait . . . I’m sorry . . . writing and editing are my various breads, and various butters.

To compensate for my quirk, I am proposing a scaled-down version of NaNoWriMo. Specifically, a 1:10 scale. My reasoning is that for every ten steps my writing takes me forward, my editing takes me nine steps back. So instead of generating an average of 1,667 hastily chosen words per day, I would shoot for 167 somewhat polished ones. By the end of next month, I would have 5,000 words, the length of a respectable short story.

Does anyone want to do NaShStWriMo with me? The name is catchy, you have to admit.