Featured Post

How to Think Like a Fool in 60 Ways

Here's the complete list of blog posts with links: How to Think Like a Fool: RIPPO the Fool—5 Types of Fool Think RISK #1: Look for Trou...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Alt Scores for Alt Perceptions

Over the years, I've learned a lot from studying silent movie comedies. One downside of all these repeated viewings is that the movies can lose the entertainment and humor they had for me when I first saw them. One way to breathe new life into these classics is to see them with a new musical score. 

Silent film accompanist extraordinaire Ben Model has been recording alternative scores for available movies that you can buy for a very reasonable price (he even has some free ones), download as an MP3, and listen to while watching a DVD. You'll be surprised the new things you can discover from a film by watching it with different music, which has the power to adjust meaning, highlight subtleties, and make or break gags. Ben's wonderful score for Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. brought back all the excitement I had first seeing the film in New York 23 years ago.

Ben Model's Alt Score website

Foolish Questions: What music do you listen to while creating (if any) or what music do you perform to? Can you find something completely different to accompany you and observe how it affects your work? What did you discover?

NOTE: Many of the videos on my blog and on my website are hosted by revver.com who is having "technical difficulties". Hopefully they'll reappear soon.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Guy Who Lived on the Stairs

I made this as a kind of sequel to my very first silent short, "The Guy Who Lived on a Chair", which ended with the Guy escaping from the chair onto stairs (available as a special feature on my DVD.)
But since no one who was going to see this short had seen the original, I did not really connect the two movies, and made this to stand on its own.
Another seed for this idea came many years ago in college, when I rented a house that had doors at the top and bottom of the stairs (My roommate and I called the house, The House of the Rising Pun). When I closed the doors, it made the stairs into a room, and I thought it would be an interesting place to live.
The box of eggs refers back to an earlier short in the series, "The Guy Who Juggled".
I'm glad I shot the final slide down the steps more than once, because in the first take I looked too realistically terrified—because I was truly terrified.

Foolish Questions: How could you take one of your creative accomplishments and make a sequel to it? Could you disguise it so nobody knows it's a sequel?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nasrudin Thinks Foolishly

Besides watching myself in daily life, I have learned quite a bit about thinking foolishly from the folk hero/clown/trickster/fool Mulla Nasrudin. I was first introduced to some of the stories 25 years ago in a psychology book by Robert Ornstein, who used these jokes to help explain how the mind works. He had gotten them from Idries Shah, who published collections of Nasrudin tales.

This was also around the same time I took my first theatrical clown workshop and realized humor could sometimes do more than entertain.

Here is a web page that will give you a different Nasrudin story every time you reload the page.

Foolish Question: Can you see any of your own behavior in any of these stories?

Friday, March 21, 2008

MacGyver Thinks Foolishly

In my last post I mentioned the problem solving prowess of MacGyver. But I have to admit that I've never seen an episode of the show MacGyver. And the actor who played him, Richard Dean Anderson, studied theater at Ohio University just like I did, which the professors there were always reminding us.

Now I don't have to watch it because I found a great Wikipedia entry called List of problems solved by MacGyver

They write:
MacGyver employs his resourcefulness and his knowledge of chemistry, physics, technology and outdoorsmanship to resolve what are often life or death crises. He spontaneously creates inventions from simple items to solve these problems. These inventions became synonymous with the character and were called MacGyverisms by the public.
Just like a good clown would do.

Here's one of my favorites they list:
MacGyver builds a distraction by balancing pots and pans on a bag of ice that melts from heat produced by a toaster oven. He spreads vegetable oil in the ground to incapacitate some kidnappers. Mac smears pine pitch on pine cones to make "land mines". He then buries a sack of these mines on the road and throws a flaming cone under the villain's car to make the sack and the car explode.
But don't rely on his methods for your own problem solving:
The creative team behind MacGyver made a point of leaving out crucial elements of the inventions so that children would not be harmed.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Fool's Aid Kit

Harpo Marx has his coat and Batman has his utility belt. Last week in rehearsal, I gave myself the exercise of assembling a foolish problem solving kit—a Fool's Aid Kit that would make MacGyver proud. I wanted the kit to be made up of ordinary objects that could be used in a multitude of ways and fit inside a briefcase, bag, box, or small suitcase.

The objects I picked were: string, scissors, zip-loc bag, an old sock (that looks cleaner than it is), umbrella, quarter, a stick of gum, coat hanger, marker, tape, tape measure, rubber ball, bungee cord, and roller skate, which all fit in this suitcase I've had for awhile. I think string and tape will have the most potential so I'll challenge myself to use the other objects first.

True story: I closed the case and picked it up and...

The latch broke and everything spilled out.

Luckily I could use some of the items in the kit to make sure the case never again opens unexpectedly.

Except I forgot to put the objects back in the case before I sealed it. Which turned out to be okay because I needed the scissors to cut the string on the suitcase; I made the knot too tight.

Foolish Performers:
Assemble your own Fool's Aid Kit that your character might carry around in case of emergency.

Creative Problem-Solvers:
Assemble a kit of items you could use when the non-foolish solutions aren't working.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Steve Carell Thinking Foolishly

Here is a clip from the Dana Carvey show of Steve Carell trying to solve the problem of practicing being a hockey goalie when alone.

Foolish question: How can you do something by yourself that usually takes other people (something besides sex)?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Eric Maisel and The Van Gogh Blues

I’ve always intended for this blog to be not just about visual comedy, but to use what I’ve learned as a professional fool to inspire creative people and to share resources that have been helpful to me. Today we have an interview with creativity coach and author Eric Maisel who is visiting Think Foolishly on his blog tour to spread the word about his book, The Van Gogh Blues:The Creative Person’s Path through Depression.

I have had my own bouts with depression over the years, most recently at the end of this past summer and into the fall, set in motion by some major professional set-backs and criticism, causing me to question my career as a performer. Eric Maisel would call this a meaning crisis and it was re-reading this book that helped me to crawl out of that depression and accomplish some of the things I thought I just didn’t care about anymore. Was I thinking foolishly or what?

Of course, we have the cliché of the crying-on-the-inside clown, and the apocryphal story of the famous clown being told by his doctor (who didn’t recognize him) to cheer himself up by going to see that famous clown playing down the road (who happened to be the patient). Imagining that to make people laugh, one has to be sad and troubled is one of those romantic stories that often does more harm than good. You can draw from those experiences for humor and inspiration, but perpetuating them can quickly snuff out the creative flame.


Q: What is The Van Gogh Blues about?

Eric: For more than 25 years I’ve been looking at the realities of the creative life and the make-up of the creative person in books like Fearless Creating, Creativity for Life, Coaching the Artist Within, and lots of others. A certain theme or idea began to emerge: that creative people are people who stand in relation to life in a certain way—they see themselves as active meaning-makers rather than as passive folks with no stake in the world and no inner potential to realize. This orientation makes meaning a certain kind of problem for them—if, in their own estimation, they aren’t making sufficient meaning, they get down. I began to see that this “simple” dynamic helped explain why so many creative people—I would say all of us at one time or another time—get the blues.

To say this more crisply, it seemed to me that the depression that we see in creative people was best conceptualized as existential depression, rather than as biological, psychological, or social depression. This meant that the treatment had to be existential in nature. You could medicate a depressed artist but you probably weren’t really getting at what was bothering him, namely that the meaning had leaked out of his life and that, as a result, he was just going through the motions, paralyzed by his meaning crisis.

Q: Are you saying that whenever a creative person is depressed, they have existential depression? Or could that person be depressed in other ways?

E: When you’re depressed, especially if you are severely depressed, if the depression won’t go away, or if it comes back regularly, you owe it to yourself to get a medical work-up, because the cause might be biological and antidepressants might prove valuable. You also owe it to yourself to do some psychological work (hopefully with a sensible, talented, and effective therapist), as there may be psychological issues at play. But you ALSO owe it to yourself to explore whether the depression might be existential in nature and to see if your “treatment plan” should revolve around some key existential actions like reaffirming that your efforts matter and reinvesting meaning in your art and your life.

Q: What else can help a creative person to keep making meaning?

E: I think it is a great help just to have a “vocabulary of meaning” and to have language to use so that you know what is going on in your life. If you can’t accurately name a thing, it is very hard to think about that thing. That’s why I present a whole vocabulary of meaning in The Van Gogh Blues and introduce ideas and phrases like “meaning effort,” “meaning drain,” “meaning container,” and many others. When we get a rejection letter, we want to be able to say, “Oh, this is a meaning threat to my life as a novelist” and instantly reinvest meaning in our decision to write novels, because if we don’t think that way and speak that way, it is terribly easy to let that rejection letter precipitate a meaning crisis and get us seriously blue. By reminding ourselves that is our job not only to make meaning but also to maintain meaning when it is threatened, we get in the habit of remembering that we and we alone are in charge of keeping meaning afloat—no one else will do that for us. Having a vocabulary of meaning available to talk about these matters is a crucial part of the process.

Q. How do you see using humor and embracing absurdity playing a part in making meaning and fighting depression?

E: This is an actually a very tricky question, because if we don’t approach life with a certain requisite seriousness we won’t manifest enough “metal” to actually make our meaning, but at the same time we want to experience joy and fun and we are obliged to embrace our “absurd” condition. Isn’t this yet another one of our amazing life tasks, taking life seriously while honoring its absurdity? If we had to fall out of balance in either direction, however, I think falling in the direction of humor might do us the most good!

Q. When I was working on my first solo show, my acting teacher helpfully told me to remember that when I am rehearsing in the studio, no one cares that I am there. Instead of getting depressed, I took great power from that advice and continue to use it with joy. What makes the difference between perceiving something seemingly negative with despair versus empowerment?

E: The main difference is that we recognize that the thing we are doing is an integral part of our meaning-making efforts and not a meaningless or mindless pursuit of no interest to anyone, including ourselves. If I am thinking, “This practice time is pointless,” then I will get depressed, but if I am thinking, “This practice time is a necessary link in the meaning chain I am constructing,” then I will at least get on with it, whether or not it is bringing me complete joy. If a task actually does serve our meaning-making needs, then we need to remind ourselves that it is doing that work and sanctify it that way.

Q. Actors/Performers are often told they are their own instruments. That lack of separation between themselves and their work can often make them more vulnerable to criticism and meaning crises than the artists who can distance themselves from their books or paintings. What can performers do who feel they just gave a bad performance and think that they have no choice but to take it personally ("They didn't like me!")?

E: Immediately switch “They didn’t like me” to “What do I think of my performance?” You return that arbitration to yourself. If you liked the performance, then the issue is settled (though of course you may still have to gauge whether the sort of thing you are doing is wanted, even if it is good). If you didn’t like the performance, you can analyze the matter and work to get better or you can slough it off as one of those performances that just didn’t work. The main thing is to return the matter to your own honest but kind arbitration, with you the sole arbiter of whether or not what you are doing makes sense to do and is turning out well or poorly.

Q. Do you have any foolish (wisely unorthodox) tactics that you use with your creative clients or yourself to help solve artistic problems?

The one that comes to mind is making risk more palpable, to remove its sting. We all know that a creative life is a risky life and so we now that we must take uncomfortable risks in order to succeed. Often we are scared of taking those risks without knowing that we are scared. To rid yourself of that fear (which you may not even know is there), stand at the edge of your rug and imagine plummeting into a great chasm—and then step off the rug. Take the plunge. Feel the fear—and the exhilaration. It may look to the world foolish to be leaping off your rug into the Grand Canyon, but you’ll know why you’re doing it!

Q: This is the paperback version of The Van Gogh Blues, How was the hardback version received?

E: Very well! The reviewer for the Midwest Book Review called The Van Gogh Blues “a mind-blowingly wonderful book.” The reviewer for Library Journal wrote, "Maisel persuasively argues that creative individuals measure their happiness and success by how much meaning they create in their work.” I’ve received countless emails from artists all over the world thanking me for identifying their “brand” of depression and for providing them with a clear and complete program for dealing with that depression. I hope that the paperback version will reach even more creative folks—and the people who care about them.

Q: How does The Van Gogh Blues tie in with other books that you’ve written?

E: I’m interested in everything that makes a creative person creative and I’m also interested in every challenge that we creative people face. I believe that we have special anxiety issues and I spelled those out in Fearless Creating. I believe that we have a special relationship to addiction (and addictive tendencies) and with Dr. Susan Raeburn, an addiction professional, I’ve just finished a book called Creative Recovery, which spells out the first complete recovery program for creative people. That’ll appear from Shambhala late in 2008. I’m fascinated by our special relationship to obsessions and compulsions and am currently working on a book about that. Everything that we are and do interests me—that’s my “meaning agenda”!

Q: How else can my readers find out about your work?

E: They might subscribe to my two podcast shows, The Joy of Living Creatively and Your Purpose-Centered Life, both on the Personal Life Media Network. You can find a show list for The Joy of Living Creatively here and one for Your Purpose-Centered Life here. They might also follow this tour, since each host on the tour will be asking his or her own special questions. Here is the complete tour schedule. If they are writers, they might be interested in my new book, A Writer’s Space, which appears this spring and in which I look at many existential issues in the lives of writers. They might also want to subscribe to my free newsletter, in which I preview a lot of the material that ends up in my books (and also keep folks abreast of my workshops and trainings). But of the course the most important thing is that they get their hands on The Van Gogh Blues!—since it is really likely to help them.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Special Guest Here Tomorrow

I will be interviewing creativity coach and author Eric Maisel tomorrow. Dr. Maisel is doing a blog tour in support of his book, The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path through Depression. Besides giving an overview of the book, he will also be answering some questions that should be of interest to the foolish thinkers who read this blog. For more information about Eric Maisel, go to EricMaisel.com.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

30 Ways to Think Foolishly

Here's a list I used for a workshop I taught at QuestFest two weeks ago. I'm still developing these concepts, subtracting some and adding more. I'll explain each one in more detail over the coming months, but feel free to guess what each one means and then try to apply some to a problem or creation.
  1. Get Caught-up in the Moment
  2. Make Problems
  3. Imagine the Worst
  4. Repeat the Same Tactic
  5. Use More Effort Than Necessary
  6. Persevere
  7. Prepare for Something Else
  8. Don’t Solve the Problem
  9. Add More Obstacles
  10. Treat Objects as Alive
  11. Treat People as Objects
  12. Imagine the Impossible
  13. Try the Impossible
  14. Compromise the Impossible
  15. Make Yourself Laugh
  16. Overreact
  17. Under-react
  18. Act Improperly
  19. Do What You're Not Supposed To Do
  20. Act Crazy
  21. Change Identity
  22. Do the Opposite
  23. Misinterpret/ Misunderstand
  24. Do the Impossible
  25. Follow the Rules
  26. Do things Backwards
  27. Use What's Available
  28. Take things literally
  29. Transform Objects
  30. Expand Space
Foolish Question: How can you use one of these to think foolishly about something you're working on?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Don't Solve the Problem

This morning, I was working on the beginning of my show, where I enter through the curtain opening and get my thumb and then hand tangled in the curtain. I am trying to get on stage so that I can put signs on an easel and start the show.

In past performances, I tried different tactics to get untangled until I have found one that works. Then I went to the easel and put the signs on, causing the poorly assembled easel to collapse.

Watching other performers in the past few months, I noticed they sometimes share this same pattern: do something, discover problem, solve problem, do something, discover new problem, solve problem, and so on. This rhythm can work fine, but there can also be a repetitive nature that lacks a build-up of dramatic tension.

What if the earlier problem or problems did not get solved? What if you still tried to reach your goal with the first problem still hanging around your neck?

In rehearsal this morning, I tried to get untangled, and when that just made things worse, I gave up on solving that problem, went as far as I could downstage with my right hand still caught in the curtain, and reached as far as I could with my left arm to put the signs on the easel, which of course collapsed. I used my feet to pick up the easel, put the signs between my legs so I could reassemble the easel with my left hand, and I noticed that my right hand had gotten free while I was preoccupied with the easel.

For me, this was much more interesting than the previous version. It was also more fun and challenging. Next time I'll see if I need both hands to get the easel back together and if my hand can stay stuck even longer.

Foolish Question for your physical comedy routine or even for a problem in your life that needs solving: Do you really have to solve this problem to reach your goal? How can you move forward with this handicap?