I’m going to take a break from blogging for a while.
Thanks, God Bless,
Theodor Geisel here. You might know me better as Dr. Seuss, the author of Green Eggs and Ham and many other children’s books. Seuss is my middle name, but I’m not a real doctor. You can just call me Ted, which is what my wife and friends call me unless they’re mad at me, and then they call me something else.
Something decidedly less friendly.
MikeWJ asked me to guest-write a post for him today. Something about writing a parody in the style of Dr. Seuss. I suppose that means he expects me to get poetic and use the anapestic, trochaic and iambic tetrameters that made me famous. He probably also expects me to make up funny words like fuzzlewump and crickety, and rhyme them with words like crumpet and persnickety.
But I don’t wanna. Not on a wall, or with a ball, or even with a double-shot of my beloved gin and tonic in my hand to help me get through it. I think MikeWJ will understand. I’ve written dozens of books in that style, and I’d just like to be myself for once, if you don’t mind. Or even if you do.
So if you really want to read something in my own style, here’s a secret: You are.
Want to know another secret?
Although I married twice and kids’ books made me filthy rich, I never had any children of my own. I don’t like them very much. As I told my second wife, they scare me a little. They’re noisy, messy and unpredictable. Whenever they’re around, I can’t help but think, What will they do next? What will they do next?* That’s why I don’t write for children. I write for people.
This news may come as a surprise to my fans, especially the librarians and teachers. I like teachers and librarians. They’re warm, wonderful people. They perform an invaluable service. Also, it was a nutty high school English teacher who first encouraged me to pursue writing professionally. But let’s be honest. Sometimes educators can be a little stuffy, bookishly puffy, and maybe—just perhaps—the teensiest, tinsiest bit fluffy. Most of them don’t want you coloring outside the lines, or bending the rules too much, and they’ll stifle creativity if it conflicts with curriculum.
Some people may think of me as an educator, but I’m as subversive as hell. I’ve always had a mistrust of adults. I’m not sure they always trusted me, either. It’s probably the slicked-back hair, or the fact that I grew up in a brewery.
Whatever the reason, did you know a lot of schools were initially reluctant to use The Cat in the Hat as a primer even though I loaded it with 220 new-reader vocabulary words? They only relented after parents and children demanded it. I showed the educators. As of yesterday, The Cat in the Hat had sold 11 million copies and been translated into 12 languages, including Yiddish and Latin. Its Latin title is Catus Petasatus, which sounds like a venereal disease but means “the cat with the travelling cap on.” I think it loses something in translation, but in a direction that I like.
Anyway, boy, am I glad the schools relented. Ever read Dick and Jane or Fox on a Box?
Classic school books.
Oh, sorry. Dozed off for minute there thinking about school.
As I was going to say before I blacked out—thank God for black coffee!—I wrote Cat in the Hat in the mid-fifties at the request of my publisher. He was disturbed by the news that kids weren’t learning how to read because kids’ schoolbooks were boring. He also knew he could make a lot of money with a good kids’ book. That’s publishers for you; they’re the biggest champions of literacy in the world so long as it puts a little change in their pockets.
My publisher came to me because he knew I understood why little Johnny couldn’t read. Johnny’s brain was turned to strawberry jelly by traditional look-and-see books. You could crack little Johnny’s skull with a blackjack and spread the jam on your toast for breakfast. This is why I’ve long believed that you can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.
My best books are popular because they break the rules. They’re short, sometimes just two- or three-hundred words arranged on the page in goofy ways. I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope…and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.
As for my drawings, well, I admit they’re silly, even sloppy. I only took one art class in high school, and the teacher didn’t like my work. He told me not to pursue a career in art. I ignored him. The teacher wanted me to draw the world as it is; I wanted to draw things as I saw them. Kids exaggerate the same way I do. They overlook things they can’t draw, their pencils slip, and they get funny effects. I’ve learned to incorporate pencil slips into my style.
Here’s another surprise for you: I’m proud of best-selling books like Hop on Pop and Go Dog, Go!, but I didn’t set out to be writer of children’s books. I wanted to write serious literature. That’s why I went to Dartmouth, Oxford and the Sorbonne—to get a degree and become a professor like my dad wanted me to do.
But like I said, school frusrated me. I liked writing humor for the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern well enough, then the stodgy dean forced me to resign after I was caught smoking cigarettes and drinking gin with friends in my dorm room. I admit it was during the Prohibition, but could you be more provincial? So I showed him, too. I started secretly submitting articles to the magazine under a pen name: Seuss. Yep, the same Seuss you see on the cover of Horton Hears a Who!
Phooey on school and their mossy rules! I wasn’t about to let them hold me down. One reason I dropped out of Oxford and the Sorbonne was that I thought they were taking life too damn seriously, concentrating too much on nonessentials. English and writing was my major, but I think that’s a mistake for anybody. That’s teaching you the mechanics of getting water out of a well that may not exist.
I’d still to write some books for adults, and I think I could. I can handle big themes. I was heavily influenced by radical writers like Voltaire, Hilaire Belloc and Jonathan Swift. Even Marxists like Lenin. I also wrote overblown propaganda films for the U.S. military during World War II. Fist-pounding movies like Our Job in Japan and Our Job in Germany, which won an Academy Award for Short Documentary in 1946. My 1947 film Design for Death criticized Japan’s warring culture and won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature. Both of those films were a little over the top—it was propaganda, after all—but with my background, I think I could write important books with lofty themes rivalling books like For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Maybe Oprah would put me in her book club.
I wouldn’t mind dabbling in ligher adult genres, either, like science fiction and horror. Remember my book How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Sometimes I wish I’d gone more Stephen King on it and made the Grinch and everybody in Who-ville a little less happy-go-lucky and a whole lot meaner. Like maybe the mean old Grinch doesn’t just sneak into town to steal their Christmas presents. He breaks into little Cindy-Lou’s bedroom and kills and eats her. And then the enraged Who-villers hop on their snowmobiles and hunt him down. They shoot him 123 times times two and cut off his head with their knives, sticking a sprig of holly in the gaping hole in his neck and carrying his noggin back into town on a tall pole.
Maybe if I’d done that with the story instead of having the Grinch go all soft-hearted so the kiddos who buy my books can get to sleep on Christmas Eve, people would stop thinking of me as just a writer of kids’ books. Maybe I’d win a real Pulitzer Prize instead of the “special” Pulitzer Prize they gave me. Maybe everybody would stop calling me Dr. Seuss and talking to me in silly rhymes, and start calling me by my grownup name.
T.S. Geisel, novelist. I like the sound of that.
Oh, and by the way, for the record, Seuss isn’t pronounced Seuss.
It’s Zoice, which rhymes with voice. Look it up.
* All the italicized sentences in this post are Theodor Geisel quotes.
Everything else in this extra-dry parody of the legendary Dr. Seuss is 110 percent true. I added 10 percent for the obvious exaggeration about the alternate take on the Grinch and maybe a few other minor facts. Geisel loved to exaggerate, and once said, “I tend to basically exaggerate in life, and in writing, it’s fine to exaggerate. I really enjoy overstating for the purpose of getting a laugh. It’s very flattering, that laugh, and at the same time it gives pleasure to the audience and accomplishes more than writing very serious things.”
Two things happened this week that I didn’t believe were possible: My life was affected by both Facebook and Oprah Winfrey.
If you know me at all—and you probably don’t because I go through friends faster than Miley Cyrus goes through Chronic—you’ll agree that this is amazing news.
I couldn’t have been more surprised if the angel Moroni had appeared to me in the middle of the night, handed me a set of golden plates and told me to translate them with the help of Uma Thurman.* Which I would totally do, by the way, because, hey, we’re talking about an angel and Quentin Tarantino’s muse here. If I have one rule in life, it’s never piss off an angel or a muse.
Anyway, I’ve long ridiculed Facebook and Oprah for being vapid and shallow, which is dumb because vapid and shallow pretty much mean the same thing. But you hardly ever see writers use one of those words without the other, and I’m not about to take a stand on this issue here because after the week I’ve had I’m trying harder than ever to fit in. So vapid and shallow it is.
I only joined Facebook so that I could spy on my children. I hardly ever look at my Facebook page, and once forgot all about it for months and months until Hollywood released The Social Network, which is a movie about the multimillionaire wunderkind who invented it. When I do leave a message on Facebook, it’s usually something completely pointless like, “Hey, I’m having a sandwich!” I only have “friends” on Facebook because my “friend” Tyson said he could get more “friends” than me, which he did, so fuck him.
Life isn’t a popularity contest.
Or at least I didn’t think it was. Not until Sunday, anyway.
That’s when I was abruptly and unexpectedly “unfriended” on Facebook by old friend, an intelligent young woman and gifted writer who was the first person to regularly read and comment on my blog. And she hasn’t refriended me, either, or whatever Facebook calls it.
I guess what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s publicists say about Facebook is true: You can’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies. Or, in my case, to 128 friends.
I know! It’s shocking! I can hardly use enough exclamation points to express my surprise!!!
Keep in mind that we’re talking about me here, the guy my sister describes as “Mr. Getsalong.” The guy my boss says needs to be less agreeable and more assertive. The guy who once worked all night to secretly deliver ruby-red roses to 50 girls he knew in high school because he didn’t want any of them to feel left out on Valentine’s Day.
I’m not saying I didn’t deserve to be unfriended.
I was trying to be funny and flip when I left a profanity-laced comment on her Facebook page. But instead I was grandiloquent and abrasive—those are writerly words for self-important and rude—to a couple of my friend’s peers. Maybe to her a bit, too.
I get that way sometimes, usually when I’m tired and stressed, which is almost all the time these days. I don’t think much about it, and I don’t think I should have to. Who isn’t an asshole from time to time?
But suddenly I felt embarrassed, alienated and rejected.
What astonishes me is that my feelings actually got hurt by Facebook, an Internet site I once considered vapid and, of course, shallow. It was the last thing I expected, expect perhaps the aforementioned visit from the angel Moroni.
Surprisingly, on Monday, Oprah stepped in to mediate the damage with some positivity.
Not directly, of course.
Oprah doesn’t give a shit about me. I don’t think Oprah truly gives a shit about anybody other than herself.
You see, on Monday, Oprah revealed that she recently discovered she has a half-sister. They reunited on live television, and I recorded the entire show and watched it later that night. I won’t repeat the story here because it’s complicated, but it was truly moving. Here was a family ruined by poor decisions and suffering, a family wracked by loss and grief, a family plagued by rejection and alienation. But now, unexpectedly, an elderly mother and her middle-aged daughters are experiencing what it means to be a family again.
And who doesn’t love a story of genuine forgiveness and reconciliation?
I was practically in tears.
Okay, I was in tears, blubbering like a giant baby with graying hair and a goatee. But so what? Fuck off! Men can have feelings, too!
Plus, Oprah, who’s in her last season as a talk-show host, received some of the best ratings of her career.
I’m going to see if I can friend her on Facebook.
And I’m going to be really nice to all of her friends, too. Because even though I might not be a genius, I’m not an idiot, either.
I’ve learned my lesson.
* Totally obscure reference alert! Bonus points if you can figure it out!
I spend an inordinate amount of time shopping at the health food store with my wife, Kerry. Mostly, I’m bored. But last Sunday, I was delighted to discover that lots of nature’s most useful medicinal herbs have dirty-sounding names. Here are some of my favorites:
17. Dong Quai
13. Uva Ursi
9. Sweet Rocket
4. Ma Huang
2. Horny Goat Weed
If you wanted know what was going on in the world in the faraway olden days, you were shit outta luck because “current events” didn’t exist yet. Everything either happened a fortnight ago, or in The Year of Our Lord Such and Such, Anno Domini. You were born ignorant, grew up desperately wishing somebody would invent television, and fervently prayed your life would be taken quickly by the Black Plague instead of slowly by boredom.
Nowadays, television and the Internet make almost everything a current event, from the effects of Kim Kardashian’s ample rump on ocean tides, to Charlie Sheen’s career-killing nosedive off the curb outside the liquor store 8 inches down to the gutter where the hookers spit out their breath mints when they’re done for the night. Nearly nothing escapes the lidless Eye of Sauron these days, not even the shaky video of the wildly off-tune violin recital that my 10-year-old niece just posted online, damn the luck.
This can be exhilarating.
For example, I was watching television in a sushi restaurant in our nation’s capital a few months ago when anxious rescuers started pulling 33 copper miners out of their would-be tomb half a mile beneath the Chilean desert. I got a little teary-eyed and the waitress mistakenly called me “Mr. Boehner,” offering me a tissue to dry my eyes. I politely corrected her and blamed my awkward outburst on the sushi’s wasabi, the bright-green Japanese horseradish condiment that’s like a Molotov cocktail for the sinuses. But there we were, complete strangers, a waitress and a writer, staring at the screen with watery eyes and sharing a moment of indescribable optimism with a plate of raw fish. Oh, and millions of viewers around the world.
This constant stream of current events can also be exhausting, however.
Whenever I accidentally channel surf onto a political talk show, for instance, I’m initially riveted by the intense chatter and conflict between the hosts and their guests, which reminds me of the relentless screeching and howling at my local zoo’s monkey house. But I soon realize the hosts aren’t saying anything intelligent, they’re just scooping up piles of excrement as it oozes from their mouths and throwing it at me as fast as they can. So I sigh and switch over to the Food Network, where I can watch something more enlightening, like commentator Alton Brown strutting around Kitchen Stadium while celebrity chefs compete for supremacy on Iron Chef America.
It’s not that truly important current events aren’t shared on television and the Internet. Who among us wasn’t captivated by the life-changing consequences of the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, the Indonesian tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the global recession of 2008, Haiti’s earthquake last year, and the Tragedy in Tucson earlier this month?
Still, almost all of what we see on television and the Internet is silly, and irrelevant.
The folks at YouTube, for instance, say that more than 24 hours of video are now uploaded to their site every minute of every day. About 23-and-a-half hours of it is grainy clips of young men getting hit in the nuts. The remaining 30 minutes are soft-focus footage of kittens, which are the cutest, funniest creatures on earth until you wake up one morning with a sticky hairball in your mouth and a double set of bloody claw marks across your face.
This is useless information, and overwhelming.
If you want to prove it for yourself, fire up your computer and Google any old random word or phrase that leaps to mind. You’ll probably be stunned by the number of responses you get. I tried “Kim Kardashian” and got nearly 33,000,000 results, roughly 221,000 of them directly related to “Lil’ Doublewide,” which is my pet name for her astonishing derriere. My own name yielded 813,000 results. “Too Many Mornings,” 332,000. “Poopy pants,” almost 82,000 hits. Even something as obscure and repulsive as “smelly armpits” got nearly 33,000 responses. In fact, it was only when I Googled “CardioGirl,” one of my fellow bloggers in Knucklehead’s second-annual blog-off, that the number got laughably small, less than 11,000.
But don’t misunderstand me. I love living in the modern Age of Information, even if it is mostly pointless.
Maybe especially because it’s mostly pointless.
I’ll gleefully trade the certain boredom of living ignorantly in the Dark Ages for the risk of suffering entertainment ennui—the curious loss of sensation caused by being over-satiated—any day. Even if it means listening to every note and near-note of my dear niece’s violin recital online so that I can call her up and tell her how proud I am of her. Not a year or a fortnight from now, but this afternoon or right now, while her wonderful childlike excitement and pride of accomplishment is still a current event.
Author’s note: Speaking of current events, I’m currently fighting for survival in the third round of the second-annual Knucklehead!humor-writing contest. If you like this post at all, please visit Mr. Knuck’s blog sometime after 10 a.m. PST Sunday through late Wednesday afternoon to cast a vote for me, Too Many Mornings. Also, please invite all of your friends and family to do the same so I won’t be any more embarrassed than I already am.