Changes

I’m making some changes. Not Bruce Jenner-level changes but they’re somewhat important..

I’m ending Professor Barnhardt’s Journal after 13 years. I’m saddened by this, but It’s just getting too tedious to continue to update it, and when you start to use the word tedious to describe something you’ve been doing a while maybe it’s time to step away from it. The traffic it’s getting – or not getting, in this case – just doesn’t warrant doing it anymore. I’ll keep the archives up in case you want to check it out. And who knows. Maybe at some point I’ll want to revive it.

The good news is that this move will actually benefit this site. I’ll update it a lot more often and I’ll bring over some of the features I’ve had at PBJ and do them here. So hey! This would be a great time to sign up (form on the right hand side of this page) to get an e-mail sent to you when I update the site.

I’ve started another book too. I don’t like talking about books I’m working on and who knows what will happen to it. So I shouldn’t have said anything. Forget I mentioned it. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Move along.

50

Being sick probably isn’t the best way to spend your birthday, stuck on the couch, watching movies and writing and reading and resting. But then I remembered: that’s exactly how I’ve spent every birthday for the past 10-15 years. The only thing missing this year was the celebratory cocktails I usually have. But I’m not going to mix those with Advil.

Yes, I turned 50 the other day, and I keep thinking that there’s been some mistake along the line. A mistake in math, on my birth certificate, some time-travel glitch. 50? How is that possible? This is a big one. I didn’t feel old when I turned 30. I didn’t feel old when I hit 40 either. But 50…yeah, this puts me into a whole new chapter of my life (if that doesn’t sound too pretentious).

Other things that turn 50 this year: A Charlie Brown Christmas, Brooke Shields, I Dream of Jeannie, “Ticket To Ride” by The Beatles, SpaghettiOs and The Pillsbury Doughboy.

My sense that I’m getting older is enhanced by the fact that I suddenly have all of these little health things troubling me. My doctor has added a second pill for high blood pressure to my daily regimen. I can’t see the clock from across the room anymore unless I have my contacts in. And lately I’ve been having some sort of constant pain in my left hand that is probably carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis. It’s like the warranty for my body has ended and I’m starting to have all these problems. Oh, and since I’m 50 I have a colonoscopy to look forward to. Well, it is my birthday so I guess I deserve to do something just for me.

So what should I do for my birthday post? How about answer the Proust Questionnaire? That seems like a 50th birthday-ish thing to do. (This is a mix of the Vanity Fair and Inside The Actor’s Studio versions.)

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Fall, when I know that cold weather and the holidays are on the way.

What is your greatest fear?

​I can’t swim so probably drowning. Also: I hate bees. The worst would be drowning in a sea of bees.​

What living person do you most admire?

Anyone who has a career doing what they want, has a good family and remains a good person.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Jealousy. Over-thinking. Procrastination.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

People who don’t say thank you. Over-reliance on snark. People who seem proud that they’re ignorant. People who don’t know how to shut up. Lobster and shrimp and dark beer. People who jump up and down and go crazy on game shows, before they’ve even won anything, which is like buying a lottery ticket and jumping up and down before you even scratch it.

What person do you most despise?

Whoever invented auto-play videos on web sites.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Books. Also, I always buy brand name products at the supermarket.

What is your favorite journey?

From the start of the page until the end.

On what occasion do you lie?​

When telling the truth would hurt someone needlessly.​

What do you dislike most about your appearance?

Weight.​

When and where were you happiest?

1985. 1990-91. Early 80s. Mid 70s. Next year. Ten years from now.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I wish I made a lot more money (and knew how to save it).

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

I wish they weren’t so attached to their smart phones.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Staying a writer for three decades.​

If you died and came back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

A dog. Eat, sleep, play with a ball, and someone is petting you all day.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Long-term unemployment and having no money.

What is it that you most dislike?

Heat and humidity, reality television.

What sound or noise do you most love?

Rain, the clacking of manual typewriter keys, laughter.

What sound or noise do you most hate?

Smart phone ringtones, car horns and alarms, a dripping faucet.

What is your most treasured possession?

Pen and paper.

What is your greatest regret?

That I’m not married (yet…)​

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

See previous answer.​

Which talent would you most like to have?

​I’d love to know how to play the piano (I had three lessons and then stopped). I’d also love to be a cartoonist.

What is your current state of mind?

Stunned (that I’m 50).​

Where would you like to live?

Anywhere but here.

What is the quality you most like in a​ ​woman?

Sense of humor.​

What do you most value in your friends?

​Loyalty and understanding.​

Favorite words?

“Wonder.” “Fantastic.” “Noir.” “Thank you.” “Elixir.” “Neon.” “Danger.” “Nostalgia.” “Smoke.” “Zero.” “Pickles.”

Least favorite words?

All those overused Internet phrases and abbreviations.

Favorite curse word?

“Fuck.” It’s perfect for so many situations.

What words or phrases do you overuse?​

“Cool.” “No.” “Sucks.” “Interesting.”

Who are your favorite writers?

Raymond Chandler, Andy Rooney, Charles Schulz, Peg Bracken, Ray Bradbury, Ross Macdonald, James Sallis, John Cheever, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, Fredric Brown, Stephen King, Erma Bombeck, Evelyn Ryan, too many TV/film/advertising/song writers to name.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

Rob Petrie and Bugs Bunny.

How would you like to die?

92 years old, at home with my family, at the computer, just finishing my last book.

What is your motto?

Keep writing.

Revenge of Five Things About Media and Technology Right Now

All social media edition! Sort of a part 2 of my Thoughts on Social Media, which you might want to read before you read this.

1. I see people who are prolific on Twitter. I mean, massively prolific. They’ve given up their sites/blogs and spend 100% of their online time on social media, making observations and one-liners and jokes all day long (we’re all stand-up comics now). I know some people who have 20K, 40K, 100K tweets! I was going to say how impressed I am by their output, but I can’t bring myself to say that. As a writer I certainly want to be prolific, but not prolific on social media. I don’t want people to say, “hey, that guy sure is good at Twitter!”

I’d rather be known for other things. At some point you have to decide: are you going to be someone who just comments on the art of others or create your own?

2. Have you ever noticed that people who say they’re going to cut back or disappear completely from social media rarely do that? And I include myself on that list. While I don’t have any other social media accounts, I still have a Twitter account, and I find myself being pulled into its seductive feed. It’s mostly because I actually work in media/publishing and, well, that’s where everyone else is. But I’m getting better. Later today I’m going to deactivate my account. I’m not going to delete it. Who knows, maybe I’ll need it for work in the future. There might be sites I want to use and you can only use if you log in with a social media account. Or maybe they’ll pass a law saying you have to have at least one social media account or you’re fined/banished to the Island of Misfit Web Users.

This isn’t to say that people shouldn’t do social media. It can be great! I’d just rather concentrate on other things, and I already spend an incredible amount of time online.

3. A lot of people will tell you that they don’t particularly like social media, but it’s a great way to keep track of friends and family they don’t get to see anymore. While I think this is probably true, especially with Facebook, I wonder if people realize that there are actually ways you can stay in touch with those people online (and off), and there always has been. You can send people e-mails, chat with them via AIM or another messaging service, call them on the phone or write a letter. If you want to see pictures of their kids or their vacation there have always been sites and blogs for that. Sure, if you wanted to know where they stood on the latest controversial political issue or wanted to know what they were having for dinner or wanted to hear that wacky joke that’s going around, you’d have to specifically request it. And unfortunately when we had these conversations all of our friends weren’t instantly notified of what we were talking about (or eating). But somehow – somehow – we all got by before Facebook and Twitter.

I’d love to see more people mark their own territory online. Why give your entire digital life to a social media company?

4. There’s a saying that goes something like this: Facebook makes you hate the people you know and Twitter makes you love people you’ve never met. I don’t know if that’s actually true though. What I did find is that social media in general made me find out things – because no one can let a thought go without posting it – about people I’d rather not know about. Including myself.

Especially myself.

5. Here’s a list of people who would have never joined social media:

Ward Cleaver
Sheriff Andy Taylor
Oscar Madison
Jessica Fletcher
Lt. Columbo
Philip Marlowe
Don Draper

(Five Things About Media and Technology Right Now is an ongoing series. Here is Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.)

Notes on Mad Men

If you’ve never seen Mad Men, don’t read this. Not that you’d want to. If you’ve never seen the show it won’t interest you or make sense to you anyway. But Mad Men is one of the greatest TV shows in history and if you haven’t watched it yet, you should at some point in the future. So don’t read this because it contains SPOILERS (I think there’s a law that says that word always has to be in all caps now).

***

Quick notes I jotted down around midnight or so after watching the episode twice. Not an essay but late-at-night jumbled thoughts I cut and pasted into a post, with grammatical errors. Hopefully it makes sense.

They say that people can be divided into two groups: PC/Mac, morning person/evening person, Coke/Pepsi, Letterman/Leno. And I think there’s another two to add to that list: people who thought last night’s Mad Men series finale was lame and cynical and those who think it was fantastic and deeply satisfying.

I’m in the latter group.

I don’t really see how anyone can think that Don’s ending was cynical. Maybe it’s an age thing. I’m sure a lot of people didn’t like that he comes up with the classic Coke commercial after such an emotional personal journey and goes back to NYC and works for “the man” again. Maybe it’s because I love advertising and don’t see it as “bad” or “selling out.”. What other ending would have been as satisfying? Don jumping off those Northern Cal cliffs to his death (death for Don would have been the lazy, easy way out, thinking that a show is more important or has more gravitas because the lead character dies)? Changing his name yet again and leaving his kids/friends/work forever? Or something even worse than a disappearance or death, becoming a… hippie?!?

No, this was a beautiful ending because we see Don having the breakthrough (which should please the fans who wanted Don to grow and learn and change) and then realizing that his “real” life actually is back in NYC. He’s going back to work and he’ll be in his kids’ lives again and everything’s back to normal. He’s found peace, with the world, with advertising, and especially with who he is/was.

I’ll admit that when I saw that Don wasn’t back in NYC when the episode started (testing a car at the Bonneville Salt Flats??) and the whole episode takes place in a commune with Stephanie, I wondered where the hell is this going. I thought it was going to go in a direction I didn’t want to see. But everything tied together and those last 10 minutes were perfect.

When you think of the entire episode and its structure, it’s amazing what Matthew Weiner and company were able to do. They got a lot of characters in there and they all got endings, but they’re endings that weren’t all “endings” as in death (well, except for Betty, but that made sense) or firing or OMG moments, endings that showed a continuation, because in the real world life does go on. They actually pulled off a neat trick: completely fooling us with a zig and a zag here (the show was always two steps ahead of fans and reviewers and people on social media) while still giving ‘shippers who wanted to see certain things happen actually see those things happen. Peggy and Stan got together! Pete and Trudy and Tammy flew off into the sunset (literally) together and happy! Roger and Marie are getting married (come on, they’re perfect for each other)! Joan is starting her own business!

We even got to see nice moments that wrapped things up between certain characters. I was afraid Don and Betty had had their last conversation in the kitchen and Don wouldn’t know she’s dying, but he got to say goodbye to her on the phone (even if the goodbye was “I’ll see you soon”). That was a really well-acted scene by Hamm and Jones. I was really impressed – and this may sound odd but it stood out – by the acting that Hamm and Jones did with their breathing and crying on the phone. It was real and emotional (noticed the same thing when Moss was on the phone with Jay Ferguson, her breathing and how she comically kept saying “What?” – what a terrific acting job). Don and Betty made peace with their relationship at the end and it all felt real.

Sally, after being sort of a typical teenager who rolled her eyes and couldn’t stand her parents and had seen/heard so much, finally came home and, well, became one of the more responsible people on the show. She’s going to be just fine (nice scene with Bobby too, and it’s great that Gene finally got a line!)

Meredith is let go by Roger and says she always ends up OK (and we know she will) and Pete and Peggy…just great. I’ll even say that Pete completely redeemed himself at the end. A thing like that!

We even got to see Ken again, in a scene that at was both odd – when did Ken and Joan really do anything together? – but also made beautiful sense. They’re going to be working together and this is the start of Joan’s business. Sure, Peggy decided to stay at McCann and not partner with Joan but at least she and Joan were close at the end and she’s probably at least going to work on that script and their friendship is solid.

And I was glad to see Harry get a good send-off too. He was only in the episode for a minute but the scene was funny – Harry getting a tin of cookies and Peggy mentioning to Pete that Harry thinks they’re the Three Musketeers when they’ve never even had lunch together before. This was a very quick scene but it redeemed Harry a bit because he wanted the three of them to go out to lunch together and he couldn’t understand why Peggy couldn’t go. He’s sleazy but this showed a heart (much like the time he lied to Paul about the Star Trek script and gave him money to leave for L.A.).

Some people will say that some characters didn’t get final “ending” scenes with each other. I personally think everyone did, but you also have to remember that Don comes back to NYC and gets to continue life with Peggy and Joan and his kids.

I think a lot of us saw the Coke commercial coming – though not in the way it came – because there were so many references to Coke in the past few episodes. Jim Hobart telling Don he was going to work on the account, Don fixing the Coke machine at the motel. Hell, Joan even did coke in this episode (side note: glad she and Richard didn’t work out. I think a lot of people thought he was going to be the knight in shining armor Joan deserved, and while he wasn’t a cad, they just weren’t right for each other, and I’m going to assume he took his coke with him and that was a one-time experiment for Joan and she’s never going to try it again).

Not every series finale can be perfect – and I think shows like The Sopranos and Lost have kind of screwed up our expectations of what a finale is supposed to be – but wasn’t this pretty much perfect? I have a theory that all pop culture is personal. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been drifting away from being a TV critic. No matter how “good” or “bad” something is, we take a TV show or movie or song or book a certain way because we like the things that we like and we don’t like the things we don’t like. We bring into everything our tastes and interests and biases and that’s how we ultimately judge something. Mad Men was deeply personal for me for many reasons, but I think we can universally say it’s one of the great TV dramas of all-time. One that somehow fused character journeys and pop culture in a way that wasn’t really done before. And unlike a lot of series finales lately (*cough* Lost *cough*), we can go back and watch the episodes again without thinking it’s a waste of time because it eventually falls apart. This was perfect. It put a period on the story but one that shows that the characters and story continue (again, that’s a neat trick for a writer to pull off).

Thank you Matt Weiner for not only creating a brilliant TV show but also a work of art.