The first TV show I can remember is Sesame Street. I was an early math hater and didn’t care for the Count. Big Bird was okay, but I’m pretty sure Oscar the Grouch was my favorite. I think you can tell a lot about my current personality based on my views of this show. I even showed early liberal tendencies by approving of Bert and Ernie’s long standing relationship.
My first TV crush was Shaun Cassidy on The Hardy Boys. I wrote him detailed fan letters on the paper from school that was designed to help us learn how to write. It had big blue lines with the dotted lines in the center so you could control the size of your letters and increase the odds for legibility. I begged Shaun to wait until I was older so we could be together. I pleaded for him to wait at least until my bedtime was past 8pm, but he never wrote back. This was my first lesson in “don’t wait by the phone waiting for him to call, honey- cuz it will be a long wait.” Tragically I would need several more boyfriends before I actually learned the lesson, but I have Shaun to thank for the first heartbreak.
I developed my taste in quality TV from my parents, who if I remember correctly introduced me to such classics as Wonder Woman, Three’s Company and Happy Days. We watched TV together then (back in the stone age), I don’t think we had more than one so we had to agree on what to watch. By the time I hit high school we had two TV’s and I was at the stage where spending time with my parents was akin to being asked to hang out at the leper colony. I retreated to the basement where I would watch Fantasy Island and The Love Boat. Show of hands- how many of you went through a phase were you wanted to be a cruise director because of this show?
In case I am ever asked to write my memoirs- I can remember exactly the first time I saw MTV. A friend had heard about this “new fangled music channel” and we turned it on when it went live. Yes, I was there when Video Killed the Radio Star blared across our collective airwaves for the first time. It’s not quite the same as being there when the Berlin Wall came down, but what can I say? I don’t speak German, the moment would have been lost on me.
I don’t watch as much TV anymore and as a sign of my increase old fogey status, the shows I do like appear on Discovery Channel and the Home and Garden Network. I don’t watch Survivor, Amazing Race or a single soap opera. I will admit to a fascination with America’s Next Top Model, but even there- the blush is off Tyra’s extensions. I just can’t get that worked up about the new season.
If I weren’t so lazy, I would do a psychological study about what judgments we make about people based on the TV shows they choose to watch. Do we assume someone who likes Nova is smarter than someone who likes The Bachelor? Would we lie to hide our guilty TV secret?
What is your secret TV pleasure past or present? (I promise not to judge you- but I can’t speak for the others)
My husband will say it’s just me, but I think we’re technologically challenged in our house. To be fair, in his case it’s by choice whereas in mine, it’s, well, just my nature.
Today, for example, when my printer wouldn’t work, here’s what I did: I opened it and closed it, turned it on and off, turned the computer on and off, took the paper out and put it back in and then, bringing out the big guns, I took it off the desk, looked at the back of it, turned it upside down, then put it back. After that, it worked.
We have two TVs, one twenty-three years old and the other about ten. I refuse to have either TV on the main floor because it’s such a conversation killer and my husband (aka The Oppressor—see previous posts) would drive us both around the bend because he likes to watch more than one program at a time and is an incorrigible channel flipper. So, one TV is in the basement (on top of a box of my oppressed books) and the other is on the third floor.
And…we don’t have cable. Shocking, especially for thirty-five-year-old urbanites, but we decided we could do without it for a couple of years. We get two channels, which means a decent amount of programming and two national newscasts, plus we can rent whatever we want on DVD, so we’re only moderately out of the loop.
Sadly, in addition to having ancient TVs and no cable, we have bad reception. We tried the rabbit ear things, (which didn’t work,) then we held the unconnected cable, contorted our bodies and held them in awkward positions trying to get and keep a clear picture. In the end, the only thing that works is holding the very end of the cable and having the metal pokey-thing touching someone’s bare skin. My husband gets a perfect picture this way, just by pressing the pokey-thing to his thumb. He can even get it to work by sticking it between his leg and the couch, should he, for example, want to massage my shoulders, drink some beer or throw a ball for the dog. For some reason though, I get bad reception, no matter what position I sit in or how hard I press that darned thing onto my thumb, so if I want to watch TV, I need it hooked up to my hubby. (And what does that say about me?!)
Finally, we’ve recently also lost the remote. There are two other remotes hanging around looking like they need a job, but even with fresh batteries, they can’t seem to do it. We may be the only people left in North America who have to get up off the couch to change the channel.
I realize this is a sad state of affairs and occasionally we get all worked up with plans to get TIVO and an LCD, flat screen, whatever-you-call-it with lovely speakers and so-on. But we also still have two DVD players and two VCRs and we’re the chumps buying up the videos for 99 cents when the local video store has their going-out-of-business sale. And part of me thinks we should just wait until someone can beam CSI and Grey’s Anatomy straight into our brains because no matter what we buy, it will be out of date before we even get it out of the store.
I always knew I was going to be a writer, but I had no idea it would require so much time in front of a camera.
I think maybe every author or would-be author imagines what life might be like as a mega-bestselling success: some famous celebrity photographer snapping photos as we lounge by the pool, Jay Leno or Meryl Streep hanging on our every word, and a dozen mailbags a day stuffed with letters from adoring fans.
But the reality of modern publishing is that if you want a career that lasts longer than the shelf-life of brie, you need to promote your books. And frequently, that means going on television.
My very first TV appearance was on the Sally Jessy Raphael show, where a team of professionals cemented my hair with seven or eight layers of hardcore industrial-strength hairspray, approved my wardrobe selections, and spackled enough makeup on me to warrant an automatic arrest on a Friday night within twenty miles of a red-light district.
Remarkably, when the show aired, I looked pretty darned good.
My second TV appearance was on a local Minneapolis affiliate, where I did my own makeup.
I looked, shall we say, pretty darned bad.
Pale. Sickly. Chinless. Drab. Corpselike. I made several more appearances with random success — sometimes I looked passable, frequently, I looked horrible. And after a few lackluster appearances I started begging the hair and makeup people at the big shows for pointers.
(My biggest learning experiences came from doing a regular TV gig every week. I could really see the difference show-to-show.) Week 3: no eyebrows, week 17: too much cleavage, (week 18: not enough cleavage), week 24: what in the world was I thinking when I put that on?
And, as I am absolutely certain my fellow debs will all have their much-deserved turn on the Today show, or (hallelujah!) Oprah, or at the very least, their local news station, I offer these tips for looking fabulous on television:
Wear solid colors and avoid white — patterns sometimes play havoc with the cameras, and white can be a problem. Plus, dark solids make you look skinnier.
Smile. It’s always a shock when you watch a tape of your very first TV appearance and see how much time you spend not smiling. Why do I look so miserable? , you’ll think, I should be happy. I’m on TV selling gazillions of books. Remind yourself to smile.
V-necks are most flattering. I’m not sure why, but it’s true.
Your features will just melt into a puddle when you’re on TV so you’ll need to wear a lot more makeup than usual. When you start to feel like a female impersonator, you’re ready.
Wear false eyelashes. even if you would never EVER wear false eyelashes in real life, wear them on TV. The nice people at the MAC store will show you how to put them on. I snorted when I first heard this tip, but all the biggies wear them: Katie Couric, Oprah, Diane Sawyer.
Wear a good powder. In TV world, shiny is bad. Richard Nixon bad.
Try not to look like a lunatic. Pre-TV, I tended to bob my head in agreement when someone was speaking, and use a lot of hand gestures. (I’m Italian, can’t help myself.) The result? The bobblehead is distracting, and gesturing too wildly (or rocking in your chair) can make you look nutty. That said, don’t just sit around like a stiff with your hands folded neatly in your lap. Animated is good, hyperactive is not.
Don’t be offended if the host hasn’t read your book. Five shows a week, a bunch of segments on every show, producers barely have time to eat lunch, let alone read six (or twenty) extra books. Just be thankful for the airtime.
Plan what you’re going to say ahead of time. Make notecards and practice in the mirror. You want to have a few soundbites ready that sum up your book and/or your main points. A four- or six- minute segment goes faster than you think.
Bring a copy of your book. Most shows will want to cut away to your book cover at the end of your segment. It’s always a good idea to have one with you. (Even if you sent one before.)
Most of all, be yourself, and have fun.
That’s it, kids. Are you ready for your closeup?
I’m in a state of television deprivation. My favorite show–So You Think You Can Dance?–is over and I don’t know what to do with myself each Wednesday and Thursday night now. I’ve grown to miss judge Nigel Lithgoe–despite his mesmerizingly oversized dental caps–and his spot-on critiques of the dancing wunderkind contestants. And crazy judge Mary Murphy, once a staid, unassuming ballroom dance instructor and now a borderline wildwoman you could almost imagine tucking tenners into a male stripper’s g-string. I miss the towering (I swear she had two feet on some of those little dancers) and stunning hostess Cat Deeley, whose bastardization of the word judges (“Let’s see what the jidges think,” she’d say again and again each episode) sort of grew on me, like mold on bread. Poor Cat, who donned a succession of increasingly fabulous gowns throughout the show, unwisely capped the season with a brown confection that looked like it had been assembled by a team of weaver birds building a home in which to incubate their eggs.
While I may enjoy poking a little bit of fun at the “jidges”, I absolutely loved the show. Nowhere else on television (arguably not even on ESPN) could one find a more impressive display of athleticism. Week in and week out, phenomenally talented dancers vyed for primacy–and defied gravity–all for a relatively meager prize, as far as reality programs go.
SYTYCD? is about the best show on television, in my humble opinion, though I’ve yet to meet another soul who watches it. This stands in sharp contrast to that other dancing show that somehow transfixes Americans–you know the one with has-been celebrities desperate to administer CPR, stat, to their flagging careers (I know, I know, it’s called Dancing with the Stars). I understand those contestants do actually learn to dance, but it’s nothing like SYTYCD?, which is more like a weekly award-winning Broadway production for free in your living room, as opposed to watching an Arthur Murray lesson on TV.
I must admit I am just about the worst dancer ever born. Elaine’s spastic dance mockery on Seinfeld would look good next to me on a dance floor. It doesn’t help that when paired up with a partner I have this overriding need to lead. So I probably get an extra added fix by watching SYTYCD?, appreciating all the more the talent those dancers have: I get my vicarious thrill with the lithe-limbed dancing machines who populate the show. And in addition to the extraordinary skills of the participants, I am spellbound by the phenomenal talent of the choreographers, costume designers and make-up artists. It’s just so much more uplifting, the whole ensemble, than, say, yet another episode of CSI: Miami.
Perhaps the end of the show is a good thing after all. Instead of parking myself in front of the television two nights a week, I will park myself in front of my computer and write. And in light of my two left feet and the rhythm of a three-toed sloth, I feel especially fortunate that I was invited to dance at this Ball: one that values creativity on the page above that on the dance floor.
We were broke: our car stalling more often than it started, my husband’s tuition and textbook bills outpacing my teacher’s salary. So I marched into WNNE-TV, the local NBC affiliate in the ramshackle building behind the old Holiday Inn in White River Junction, Vermont, and told them I wanted to be an anchor. I’d been studying the local anchors for weeks and I thought, how hard could it be? Someone does your hair and make-up and you keep your head very still as you read some cue cards? I pictured myself landing the coveted evening gig, becoming a local celebrity and working my way up to bigger and better markets. Not only would I dig us out of debt, I would make us rich and famous. I would be the next Jane Pauley.
I didn’t exactly say all that when I marched in. I casually mentioned that I’d worked in Television in NYC (although I didn’t explain that my job mostly consisted of answering phones and fetching coffee or that I’d been fired for imitating my boss). I told them I’d studied method acting at the Stella Adler Acting studio, been a stand-up comic, an English major, that I’d dabbled in journalism (again not going into great detail). Just giving them enough information so they could see that I could surely read the news in front of a camera.
They weren’t as impressed with my credentials as I’d hoped and didn’t offer me the anchor job. Instead they sent me in to meet the VP of Sales who offered me a job selling air time (double my teacher’s salary, if I made my monthly quota, plus a car allowance and a business expense account). How could I say no?
I hated cold calls. But I told myself I wasn’t actually selling anything. I was helping local merchants position themselves in the market place. And it worked. When I created the Movable Feast campaign and sold it to the Hanover Restaurant Association, I thought, now I have finally figured out how to marry the worlds of commerce and creativity.
My boss gave me more clients and a bigger territory and not only was I meeting my monthly sales quota, I was earning quarterly bonuses and we bought a new car and paid off our credit card debt and also bought our first house (from one of my Realtor clients who gave me an unbelievable insider’s price). I hate to admit it, but I liked making money, taking the little hubby out to eat at the end of his school week, wearing high heels, treating clients to lunch and handing out business cards, going out on Friday nights with the boys to the run-down Holiday Inn lounge after our sales meeting. The discomfort of the cracked vinyl chairs digging into our backs and the smell of the old, moldy carpet fading in direct proportion to the number of cheap drinks and chicken wings we consumed. I liked that this world was so different than the medical school world I’d been thrust into with my husband, the parties where once people found out I wasn’t in medical or law school, the conversation stopped.
The people at WNNE were real people: The cute, dyslexic Italian guy who was a little overweight and always wore cowboy boots and when I told him about the med students, he asked me, “but do they know how to dance?” and pulled me on the sticky dance floor. The sweet, black sheep son of a business tycoon who after a few drinks would divulge exactly how his father destroyed his self-esteem. The middle-aged, divorced secretary who had dated every available guy within a 20 mile radius and loved sharing the intimate details. And the VP who was so proud and supportive of his wife, “an up and coming artist,” that he was always asking people if she could sketch them.
By the following year I was pregnant and since they’d never had a younger woman in a sales executive position, they didn’t have a maternity leave policy. They gave me three weeks. It didn’t sound like much, but I figured if I wanted to “have it all,” this was the kind of thing I would have to learn how to handle. I couldn’t imagine putting my three-week old in day-care or handing her over to a stranger, so my husband manipulated his semester so he could study and watch the baby while I worked.
Every morning I would wake early and nurse my daughter and rush into the office and pretend to make a few phone calls and then tell them I had “meetings” and rush home and nurse some more and rush back to the office and shuffle some papers around my desk and then head back out for more “meetings” and nurse and call into the office from home to wrap up my day. This went on for a couple of months and even though every time I left my daughter I felt like a limb was being severed and my milk leaked and I was always on the verge of tears, I would have soldiered on, since it would be a good six months before my husband would graduate and even then, his intern’s salary wouldn’t cover our living expenses and school debts that would be due.
Then one day, when I rushed home for my morning “meeting,” a little earlier than usual, I found my daughter strapped in her swing, inches away from Janet Jackson gyrating to “The Pleasure Principle,” in an MTV daze, and my whole world came crashing down. How could my husband have left her unattended and why had I assumed he’d know what to do, I wondered, as I picked up the phone and called the VP and told him I quit. He didn’t beg me to stay. I’m sure it was just a matter of time before they discovered my charade. I hadn’t had a new sale in months. All he said was that his wife had been wanting him to ask me if she could sketch me nursing the baby, in the nude. I declined even after he said they’d pay me a commission on the sales of the prints, and we went straight back into debt and stayed there for more than a decade.
Writing this down, I see that MTV moment was a pivotal turning point in my life, when I realized I wasn’t going to “have it all,” and I made the choice to do the very thing that (I have since warned my daughters) shifted the power in my marriage (possibly irrevocably). And while I think I would have figured out how to juggle work outside the home, eventually, I still have a recurrent dream of ME strapped in a chair in front of MTV and my boss walks in and asks me why I haven’t met my sales quota for the month.
Our daughter is a teen-ager now, and coincidentally, she has a beautiful voice and perfect pitch, and whenever I bring up this story to my husband, he says, “I’m the one who introduced her to music.”
Deb News! A wonderful endoresment for Deb Danielle’s FALLING UNDER: “Danielle Younge-Ullman redefines modern fiction with this finely wrought, edgy debut. With her crisp dialogue, precisely drawn characters, and heartrending prose, Stephen Elliot and Heather O’Neill fans will have a new literary crush to thrill them. Younge-Ullman is the best kind of new author– enormously talented and utterly unafraid.” Kristy Kiernan, author of CATCHING GENIUS
Founding Debs on Lists! Founding Deb Tish Cohen’s middle grade novel, THE INVISIBLE RULES OF THE ZOE LAMA hits the Canadian Booksellers Association bestseller list for Canadian Kids’ Books at # 8! In a miscategorization twist, ZOE LAMA was also an invisible bestseller the week prior (#7) and simply adores the invisible irony.
Check out this interview at The Motivated Writer with Eileen Cook talking about her debut, Unpredicatable.
Deb Friends! Deb friend and Literary Mama editor and columnist Caroline Grant just delivered the manuscript for Mama PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life, an anthology she has edited with Elrena Evans (Rutgers University Press, 2008). Join the Mama, PhD mailing list by writing to the email@example.com
We’ve never had a living room before. Well, technically, the room came with the house, but other than lining one wall with our dream floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, we’ve always pretty much ignored the room, only stopping by to search for a book, or store a hockey bag, or display the piano I swore I’d learn how to play but eventually wound up selling.
The room was a glorified garage.
One evening, as our kids entertained pals in the den, my husband and I parked our friends in our living room/garage for drinks. Two of us were lucky enough to have chairs from my grandmother’s basement. My husband sat on an unpopened crate of Town House books. Another guy sat on a skateboard.
My friend balanced her drink on the vaccum canister and said, “You guys are fortyish now. Isn’t it time for a real living room?”
She had a point. Even my husband agreed she had a point.
It was time to grow up.
Then came the news that, in order to promote an upcoming literary festival, my house was to be featured in the home section of a newspaper. I panicked. My house, my gardens, they’re all suffering from the same problem–absolute neglect.
The interviewer said they’d need to shoot in 3-4 rooms and they gave about two months’ notice. Just enough time to pick out a couple of sofas, some tables, pick up a few lamps and a pair of curtains. And, of course, we’d need to paint. And if we painted the living room, we’d need to paint the dining room, and the kitchen, which I painted yellow once, to match a sweatshirt I’ve since threw out. And then we’d need to paint the hall, which meant painting all the way up the stairs.
I didn’t break this painting news to my husband all at once. I broke it to him gently, one Town House white, washable matte latex gallon at a time.
As the summer weeks passed, we spent our evenings laboring away to get the house ready. Painting. Scrubbing. Moving furniture.
I found a huge five dollar metal milk can with the bottom rusted out, painted it black and filled it with tall sticks. I bought a ten dollar wooden ladder, stained and waxed it and propped it in a corner and hung blankets from it. I ordered tables from the Mennonites and rearranged the bookshelves. I picked up linen curtains from Ikea. I dug up a silver tray from my mother and polished it–yes, using actual silver polish–and filled the tray with thick, white candles.
When the room was fully furnished, I drove up to Newmarket to a particularly toothsome antique mall with prices time seems to have forgotten. For two years, I’d been stalking a vintage ceramic German Shepherd. It was oversized, about the size of a malnourished rabbit, black, brown and cream, with a bright red tongue. Sleek, stylized, 1950′s chic. The canine equivalent of chrome-bordered kitchen table, a beehive hairdo, or an avocado-colored stove.
At $20, the dog was hardly a splurge. I don’t know why it took me two full years to make this purchase. I didn’t trust myself. Just kept walking away, daring myself to forget about the gaudy Alsatian.
In the end, I couldn’t.
A few weeks ago, I bought it. Carried it home and set it on the fireplace.
The living room was complete.
(On a side note, that very day, my youngest son was looking for a book. I told him it was in the living room. He looked confused. “Where’s the living room?” he asked. Poor lamb. This is what our delayed growing up has done to our children. They’re lost in their own home.)
Today, the photographer arrived to shoot the house. We’ve been straightening and cleaning every night this week. While the main floor looked pristine, the upstairs was groaning with laundry baskets, paint cans, and ugly bits and bobs we’d pulled off the main floor. The upstairs had become our new, if temporary, glorified garage.
The photographer asked which rooms he could shoot. I showed him three or four, just like I’d been told. The photographer shot the kitchen, dining room, den, and, of course, the living room. We were done. I could finally relax–no more tidying, fussing and cleaning!
The photographer turned to me and smiled. Said he needed more rooms. He’d been told to shoot seven rooms. Maybe eight. Nine would be best. He glanced up the stairs and said, “Shall we head up?”