Let’s Blog, Dog!

Met with Skyler the Surfing Dog’s dad, today. We are doing a blog for Big Pete’s Treats, and I’m hoping that we can follow Homer and Skyler on the road to the world championships of dog surfing!

Stay tuned, and check out Big Pete’s Treats to learn more about this amazing duo! We will post a blog there later this week! Till then, check out this video of Skyler getting tubed! Is this the first ever dog barrel?

It’s Not Them, It’s You: Confidence and Craft in Photography

In photography, you are either going to be great from the beginning, over time or never at all. No matter what happens, you should treat people nicely, because whether your work is great or mediocre you are building your reputation. In reality, great work is going to happen if you spend enough time and energy thinking and practicing your art.

What is greatness in photography? It is subjective, obviously, but it is a goal. It is a standard that you set for yourself about what can count as a photograph. It is your evolving sense of value in photography and what you consider a keeper. All these things are dynamic and subject to change. One thing is not. How you treat people matters a lot. 

Photography is creating a public record of a person’s image. During any given portraiture session, you might take anywhere from 100 to 1000 photos. Some people will take more. Some people take fewer, but generally with digital photography there are potentially hundreds of photographs that don’t make the cut for every one that does. It’s the same person in the same lighting with the same camera and photographer but only one photograph out of a dozen stands out enough to really count. 

What does it take to get good photographs of a person? There are lots of answers to this question. The main one is practice. You must get good at working with your camera so that you feel confident in your ability to get the shot when the time comes with a model in front of your camera. This will also help with being good to the people you photograph. The more confident you are in your craft, the more you can focus on the subject and their concerns. 

The second key to getting great results with portraiture is to choose good lighting situations. If you don’t have a studio space, overcast days are great for soft light. If it is mid-day during the middle of the summer you are going to have some challenges finding soft light outside. There are many ways to deal with a challenge like this, but the important thing is to figure them out ahead of time, before you are working with a model. There’s always going to be a certain amount of experimentation, but the more you understand how to get the photos you want, the clearer your path to getting great photos.

Sex, Drugs and Midsummer Nights

When I study Shakespeare, my goals are more creative than academic. I don’t want to be an expert in Elizabethan England. The plays are starting points for conversations, for creative experiments. I don’t care to get the plays right. What I do care is to know them. I want to know as much as I can about how the plays work and what they contain. 

Midsummer Night’s Dream is not as much about sex as it is about sexual tension and attraction and the madness that can happen when young people have their sexuality policed. Hermia and Lysander want to fuck. They are extremely attracted to each other. Hermia’s father must take them to court to try and intervene. 

In the context of the play, the duke is the judge who will decide Hermia’s fate. It just so happens that this family court case is brought before him in the days before his wedding. So, he is full of sexual tension, too. When Hermia defiantly asks what is going to happen when she disobeys her father’s order to marry Demetrius instead of Lysander. Death or the monastery. 

Even the gods are horny and beefing. Oberon and Titania are feuding over a child and they use humans to act out their desires. This is where the drugs come into play. The drug that Oberon instructs Puck to apply to his victims while they are asleep will cause them to fall in love with whomever they first see when they wake up.

I keep thinking about casting this play and I imagine Joe Rogan as Oberon, Steve Will Do it as Puck, Chelsea Handler as Titania. I’m thinking that Natalie Cuomo would make a good Hermia and Kerryn Feehan would crush it as Helena. The cast of actors in the woods has to be some Gas Digital characters. Zac D’Amico as bottom would be great. The legion of Skanks would make up the other cast members. 

Why It’s Funny When Comedy Fails

Lots of comics enjoy watching comics bomb. The funniest part of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the audience’s response to the awful play performed at the duke’s wedding. This scene is funny because of the irony. We have watched these passionate but unexperienced actors preparing for this night throughout the play and it is exactly how wrong they were that makes it so funny. 

When we first meet these aspiring thespians, they are gathered in the woods to rehearse and from the very first moment they get it wrong. It is a failure of leadership, due to a lack of experience that summons the fearful critic among them to point the ship in the opposite direction. They start out concerned that the subject matter is too disturbing for the women in the audience, showing a double misunderstanding: they don’t get theater and they have a false idea of women.

This concern over the violence leads them to horrible stylistic decisions that then shape the rest of the play. To avoid offending the ladies, they invent a prologue to explain that the violence is only symbolic and that nobody is going to be hurt during the play and that the lion is not a lion, etc. To work, a play must create the tension needed to get people’s full attention so that it can then reverse their expectations and surprise, delight, or otherwise entertain. Afraid that the ladies in the audience would not understand how to suspend their disbelief, these actors choose to violate the 4th wall and bring the audience into the show.

This device makes it impossible for the audience to take it seriously, though, and so they are left to critique the choices and to laugh at their unintended buffoonery. The players lack of understanding how they are perceived causes them to botch their shot, and this flat-footed clumsiness makes it even funnier when Bottom is turned into an ass by Puck at the service of Oberon to trick Titania, queen of the fairies. They turn bottom into an ass and give Titania a potion so that she falls in love with him.

To take the stage, in order to win the affection of a fairy goddess you have to have some belief in self, and it is Bottom wrestling with his insecurities and his delusions of grandeur that is so similar to what the path of an aspiring comic likely entails. Bottom is a phase, a stage that must be overcome grown through.

The process of finding out just how funny you are, of seeing an audience respond to you in real time makes for some vicious therapy and it is no wonder that actors and comics have a hard time sometimes making sense of where their act begins and ends. You must love anyone who attempts the feat and give thanks to those who succeed, because it makes our world a much more pleasant place to live. Long live the failure of comedy.

Good Headlines Save Lives: The Importance of Powerful Titles

Every day, people publish thoughtful and creative articles, and they dream up some amazingly artful headlines to grab a reader’s attention. Grab is the right word, too. It’s almost an assault. Some of these click bait listicles are so offensively tantalizing they practically give you an unrequested massage. What is a listicle you might ask? It is a title that states: 4 Ways Listicles Will Help You to Win. 

Titles have more importance than ever in a world so noisy with content. We need a way to navigate the chaos, and titles are convenient rafts of easy meaning. If we take the role that titles play in our culture seriously, then we will be able to counter the click bait watering down of journalistic credibility. Making it easy for your readers to recognize that your essay is the kind of writing they want to read is best achieved through creative titling.

The art of writing titles depends upon an ear for tone. How can we make this story pop out in a list of potential search results? How can we entice or excite a reader to engage with an article? The title should match the tone of the essay, but in a distilled and potent manner. It is a shot of espresso, a dab of concentrate.

Without a great title, you are standing naked facing the mighty wind coming off the Pacific Ocean. Unprotected, you expose yourself to becoming chapped and sore at the world. The fog bites at you. Spending time to craft a winning title is putting on your favorite clothes and pair of shoes, of stepping out in the world feeling good about how you look.

Writing is like a boombox without batteries until someone picks it up and reads. It is useless, meaningless inert exhausted energy expired and out of date. The second someone begins to read it; it turns back on. Alive and active in a reader’s mind, the writing blooms into being, has form and substance that morph inside someone’s mind. The words become a copper cable for ideas to follow like electrical current.

For the alchemy of reading to occur, the reader must choose the article. Until this engagement begins, the words are dead and dumb. This simple fact of reading and writing makes the title hold so much weight. The title is the on switch of the reading machine. It is a neon open sign. It is a red lightbulb.

Stoners Only: Jakespeare’s Rule

I am studying Shakespeare to become a better writer. Being a writer is great because you get to make your own rules. You can process your own thoughts and feelings and share what you want and edit out the rest. The better you are at writing, the more control you have over how you tell your story.

The point of humor is to make people laugh, to release some tension, and to lighten the mood and to inspire hope. The point of tragedy is to provide us with an outlet for our tears. If you want to help people, if you want to entertain or inspire them, then you must learn how to do that.

When I become Jakespeare, I’m going to have one rule: you must be a stoner. If you want to be a part of what I dream up, you must consume cannabis daily. I will not tolerate failure in this department. This is a cannabis fueled operation and non-stoniness will not be permitted. 

Cannabis only makes you paranoid if you’re being a jerk. If you aren’t smoking often enough, you might have developed some real POS habits and then when you do finally smoke it will all come crashing in on you. It’s not the cannabis, though; it’s the stupid things you did when you weren’t stoned. 

Smoking weed regularly ensures that you won’t walk around unaware of your bad vibes. If you don’t consume cannabis and you don’t think that you are a real jerk, then smoke a little cannabis and see what you think. Cannabis reveals us to ourselves. It points to the work we have to do. 

Prospero’s Wisdom: Power and the Greater Good

The Tempest is highly relevant and relatable to our culture today. Especially after coming out of a pandemic, a kind of banishment, we can relate to Prospero’s situation. He had to make do with some very trying circumstances. It’s not just Prospero’s plight that connects this play to our culture, today. In an almost kaleidoscopic way, Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a hall of mirrors for our times.

Prospero washes up on an island with an inhabitant who wants to kill him and to rape his daughter. This would be nightmarish, horrific, were it not for Prospero’s ability to control Caliban with his spells. There is a military imperative. Prospero’s interest in the literary arts led to him ignoring politics and opened the opportunity for his brother to betray him. Alone with his daughter on the island, he has no choice but to control its violent inhabitants. It is either control or be victimized for Prospero.

Still, there is something entirely creepy about Prospero’s controlling ways, necessary or not. Especially when it comes to his daughter. He orchestrates an encounter where she will fall in love. He manipulates the situation to arrange a marriage. In doing so, he is very deliberate about controlling their sexuality. He wants them to fall in love and to get married, but he is manipulating their sexual urges to do so. 

The metaphor of the island has a lot of significance to us, today. Islands have become symbolic of secrets, of illicit and illegal behavior. Prospero establishes a kind of law and order on the island. He is a benevolent master an anti-Epstein. He manipulates the players and works them up to do what he wants, but he is not doing so for personal gain but for what he thinks will be best for the greater good. It is only through Prospero’s ability to renounce his powers, to give up his competitive advantage that we come to trust him. Yes, he is controlling, but with good reason and as soon as he can give up his power, he does. 

The only way to trust someone is to see them in a situation where they have power and do not use it. Otherwise, we can only attribute good behavior to a lack of power. It is through restraint that we gain respect. For this past year and a half, we have all been banished to our own islands. The great hope is that this time of forced introspection, of limited mobility will have helped some of us, enough of us, to overcome our fears and hungers enough to see what a positive solution could be. We need people who are willing to give up their power for the greater good.

This summer will be a “brave new world” and we will do well to listen to the wisdom of Prospero.

To Conspire or Not: Prospero’s Forgiveness

Conspiracy theorists should love Shakespeare. So many juicy plots are formed in secret. Conspiracy is daily bread. It’s how people live and how they die in Shakespeare’s dramatic world. In the Tempest, we have a series of conspiracies that unfold, and it is ultimately Prospero’s deception that leads to resolution if not redemption. 

In a world full of dishonesty and betrayal, where conspiracies are everywhere, it becomes a kind of test of survival to form conspiracies. To exist, you must conspire, and you must do it better than the parties who are against you. Prospero learns this lesson the hard way, after miraculously surviving an attempt on his life. 

He washes up ashore an island with his daughter and some books. It is not merely a stroke of good luck or divine intervention that saves their lives, but it is the secret decision of Gonzalo to help them to survive. Prospero is conspired against, and he only survives because he manages to solicit empathy from a double agent. Gonzalo betrays his orders and conspires with Prospero out of sympathy for his situation.

The timeline of the play, however, is ruled by conspiracies shaped by Prospero himself. Having lived on the island with his daughter, the spirits he controls with his spells, and the slave that he has do his bidding, Prospero has achieved a mastery of his situation. He uses this advantage to create an extravagant false reality to manipulate his enemies and to create new relationships with allies. 

The most interesting thing about the character of Prospero is that he forgives. He contrives this elaborate situation to regain his rightful place of power and to potentially punish his enemies, but when the time comes where he can have his revenge, he chooses forgiveness instead. Prospero becomes a figure of self-realization and actualization. He becomes bigger than an emotional need, more generous than his detractors.

Shakespeare’s Greatness: Art and Business

Shakespeare’s success story is part of what makes him the GOAT. We have a canon of great art produced by tragic figures who killed themselves or drank themselves into oblivion and ridicule. Shakespeare not only produced an incredible body of work, but he was also a popular success and was able to maintain social rank despite doing something for an occupation that was deemed unworthy of a gentleman. What was it about Shakespeare that gave him the energy and stability to have such a perfect career in less than stable conditions and times?

I’ve started listening to the audiobook version of Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World, which is a biography of Shakespeare. Using the public records of Shakespeare’s birth, his father’s career, his education, his marriage, and his entrance into the London theater scene, Greenblatt pieces together a portrait of the bard that is compelling and insightful. 

The plays themselves are fully capable of capturing our interest on their own. I’m not suggesting that Shakespeare’s biography holds some secret keys to understanding his plays. That’s not what is interesting to me. I’m interested in how Shakespeare ran his career like a business. It is the story of a great artist/ entrepreneur. This isn’t an interpretive key as much as another way of reading the work altogether. Literature that is produced for the critics, for the academy is much different than work that is produced for the public. Shakespeare produced work for the public that also is canonical to the ultimate degree. 

Thinking about Shakespeare as an entrepreneur also shifts the way we consider greatness in art and its popular appeal. Another thing I find interesting about Greenblatt’s biography is it helps to create this image of a world contained within London where there was excitement about the theater. It’s kind of funny to think of people that long ago wanting to be actors. It goes back much further to the roots of Ancient Greece at least. Dudes want to make up stories and act them out.

The competition to be the greatest writer or the best performer is almost central to our human condition. How essential is art to human society? It almost seems to go hand in hand. As soon as we have a group of people, we have clowns trying to entertain them. We also have people trying to lead them. A group of people is a potential audience. It’s an opportunity for an artist to give them something to think about.

What we can see by looking at Shakespeare’s career is more important than looking for clues to understand his psychological drives. When we see how Shakespeare hustled, and how he kept his productivity so high, it shows us how the greats perform. It’s motivational to artists who strive to have a great career. Making great art is just the first part. You must find a way to make it last. That’s why figures like Henry Miller are so important, too. Certain artists figure it out and live great lives worthy of being studied. 

It’s strange to have a figure who set the high mark for achievement over four hundred years ago. In every other human pursuit, we have made tremendous advancements, but in writing nobody is even coming close. Thinking about Shakespeare’s career, putting his literary achievements in the context of a world of supply and demand, we have an opportunity to challenge our times. If we demand a Shakespeare, she will come.

Making Play: Shakespeare and Eternal Amor

The reason we get so much from studying Shakespeare is because he put so much of his world into his plays in a loving way. Shakespeare’s body of work is one of the most complete and well-rounded in all literary history. He wrote Tragedy, Comedy, History and whatever you want to call the plays that don’t fit into these generic categories. Shakespeare created works of art with joyful and powerful language that open wildly entertaining dialogues about life, love, and art. 

You can read Shakespeare in so many ways because there is so much in them and to them. The plays are so compelling because of the subject matter but also the style and especially the language. Shakespeare’s dialogue powerfully transforms even the darkest human tendencies into a performance worthy of witnessing. He makes art out of commonplace everyday events and shows the same care when writing sublime or terrifying moments when powerful people do horrible things. The attention to language renders each moment in the plays equally interesting.

Like great painting or photography, the subject matter is less important than the handling of the form. Edward Weston could photograph a bell pepper or his muse with equal intimacy and sensuality. This quality of affirmation, of loving the process of creation, is a kind of creative play that sometimes translates into work that is forever interesting. Shakespeare’s plays are great because of how much he includes with equal amor.

Shakespeare’s plays are stories rendered with a painter’s care for detail, tone and style about the human condition. Using language like some multidimensional paint, he creates a world that reflects a passion for the art form of theater. The love of language and of making plays elevates the subject matter and renders it all equally interesting. The tragic and comic outcomes, the virtuous and villainous characters, the countryside and the courtly settings: these dualities become unified through the force field of loving attention.