Phyllis Diller And Belief

When we got the news of comedienne Phyllis Diller’s passing a few days ago, I remembered her like most people did.  But I also remembered another tidbit of information about her that most people aren’t aware of.

Diller credited a rather obscure, early self-help book from 1948 called The Magic Of Believing by Claude Bristol with her success in transforming herself from a beaten down housewife in the Bay area to an entertainer.

You can see her talking about it here:

Her friend Liberace also claimed the book influenced his life, and even paid for a special edition of the book to be printed to keep it in circulation.

When George Burns died at age 100, a copy of the book was on the nightstand of his Beverly Hills home.

You don’t hear much about The Magic Of Believing anymore.  I’ve read it, and it is pretty dated and obscure.  But it is one of a few books that spawned the multi-billion dollar self-help industry, and certainly seems to have made an impact on the people I’ve mentioned, none of whom was involved in selling or publicizing the book for profit.

The premise is pretty simple.  Before you can do anything, you first have to believe you can.  Visualize yourself doing the thing, and succeeding.  This technique is now considered pretty mainstream by sports psychologists and used by trainers.

If you watched the diving events at the London Olympics recently,  you might have noticed divers standing by the side of the pool with their eyes closed, twisting and moving through their dives.  Visualizing the perfect dive.

I’m not sure what struck Phyllis Diller in Bristol’s book, but she obviously took it to heart and believed that life had more to offer her than what she’d seen so far.

In addition to her comedic talent, she’s a good example of how we can create ourselves.


At Some Point, I Stopped Listening

If we think back, we can all remember when we shelved various creative pursuits.  You used to draw in school, then one day that was put aside for math and science and the “useful” things.  Most people kept a diary or journal at some point in their youth (I’m talking about pre-blogging days) and then just let it lapse.

Music lasts longer though….we seem to be “into” music when we’ve already moved on from other outlets.  But as our 20’s turn into our 30’s and beyond music stops being something that we identify and define ourselves with and just turns into something we keep around as background noise.

And I don’t mean just “Top 40” or popular, youth-oriented and marketed music.  I look at my dusty stack of CD’s (and vinyl previous to that) which I intend to burn to mp3 but haven’t yet.  I don’t explore new genres or make a point of actually going out to listen to live music anymore.

I love music – I played music through my college years.  My Ipod Shuffle allows me to carry hours of my favorite songs in a device the size of a postage stamp.  It’s never been easier to indulge yourself sound-wise.

Yet when I look at most people my age, and even a decade younger, I don’t really see them taking the time to listen to anything anymore.  Sure, they might have earplugs in while at the gym or jogging.  But I can’t imagine them taking the time at home to really listen to music, like they would to watch TV or whatever else they do to “entertain” themselves.

I think it’s another symptom of how at some point we stop living our lives and just begin maintaining them.  We don’t have the time, we tell ourselves.  Gotta make a buck, gotta do this and that and when that’s done we’ll have time to live.

But I know one place where I see a lot of people listening to music  I also see them reading, and even keeping pictures around of family, pets and friends to look at and smile at.

Where is this magic place, where people seem to regain their appreciation of the things that make life worth living?

It’s the chemotherapy lab at the local oncology clinic.  People return to what gives them strength when life makes you stop your busywork and pay attention.

I don’t think you’ll see anyone reading the Wall Street Journal there.

(This post is dedicated to my e-buddy Fred Reiss, of the blog “”. For some reason, WordPress won’t let me add the link directly today.
Anyway, Fred is coming back out into the light, and is writing about the experience. My own experience with close family members and cancer makes me appreciate Fred and his viewpoint. Plus he’ll make you laugh.)

We’ll Always Have Paris….And Spam

I’ve recently had another round of spam commenters, and if you run a WordPress blog maybe you’ve had them too – they seem to come from Brazil or thereabouts.

They ALMOST pose as a regular comment complimenting you on a post, until you realize they are bot-generated with links attached.  They aren’t really a problem, they get screened as spam and you just have to take out the trash every so often.

We’ve been fighting spam on the Internet for what now, like 15 years?  Yet despite the best efforts of the smartest people, even smarter (apparently) people are always able to pick their way through the defenses, at least for a short time, until their tactics are known and protected against.

I think that whatever future technology holds for us, even when we have wi-fi in our eyeglasses and keyboards surgically implanted in our kneecaps, we’ll still be getting emails from shady loan outfits, the Nigerian Embassy scam, and porn sites.

Right now NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover is exploring the Red Planet.  It’s software and missions are getting sent up to it “on the fly” and it is almost an interactive mission.

All I know is that if Curiosity has an email inbox, I hope it doesn’t click on any of the links!



Not Setting The Idea Grinder To “Fine”

I used to have an old coffee maker, and every time I put beans in I had ground myself I had a mess on my hands.  It seemed about 50% of the time I could never get the grinder to get things “just right” for it.  I had to mess with the settings between coarse and fine to hit the magic spot.

When the beans got ground too fine they would plug up the tiny driphole and back up coffee all over my counter, making a silty mess.

I think our “idea grinders” can be set too fine also.  I’ve thought of plenty of ideas for possible blog posts in the last month or so, but haven’t committed any of them to this blog.  I thought about them a little, figured there wasn’t any appeal to them, or that no one would be interested, and then on to the next one.

At which the whole process would loop.  It seems I’m never quite so eloquent as when I’m talking myself out of something.

I don’t think anyone really knows when an idea is going to “catch”.  I’m sure when Van Gogh was locked up in the asylum in Saint-Remy he spent a lot of time by himself just thinking about things.  Staring out the window, and letting his train of thought go whistling through his head, taking note of the occasional interesting idea.

Something must have hit him just looking out the window enough for him to paint Starry Night.

I’m glad Vincent didn’t just let this idea go as “not good enough”

He could have said “what the hell, it’s just the night sky in the countryside, who cares”.  And went on to think of whatever popped into his head next.  He would have been somewhat correct – not a lot of people did seem to care then.

A lot of us seem to now.

To sum up – if you’re like me, you spend a lot of time with your Idea Grinder set at too fine a setting.  You’re your own harshest critic.  There isn’t a lack of ideas, there’s a lack of execution of most of them.

So dial the self-criticism back a notch.  It’s better to err on the side of too coarse, rather than too fine.

Things are less messy that way, in the kitchen and in life.


How The Little Tramp Got Trampled

I watched a documentary last night – “Charlie Chaplin, The Forgotten Years” – and it made me realize what a royal screwing one of our most notable screen icons got courtesy of the U.S. government.

The film was about Chaplin’s life from 1952 on, when J. Edgar Hoover closed the door to his re-entry to the U.S. based on perceived “un-American activities”.  I guess it was conveniently forgotten how Chaplin had helped raise over 18 billion dollars during war bond tours during WWI, or how the U.S. had been happy to help themselves to their share of his success with income tax rates that were as high as 56% on anything over $200,000 (my brief research indicates that Chaplin was hauling in $1.25 million in 1920’s dollars – imagine the squealing today if we had anything close to these rates!)

It is hard to imagine how a man who’s only weapon was a bowler hat and a cane could be perceived as a threat to the world’s most dominant power, but there you have it.  Chaplin made the best of it, but the film gave me the impression he would have preferred to be at the epicenter of an industry he helped create, not exiled to a genteel existence when he felt he still had something to contribute.

Having lived in L. A., and having spent considerable time mucking about Hollywood and other areas searching out remnants of the past, I have always been amazed at how much has just been erased.  And while everyone was happy to cash in on Chaplin’s image as a symbol of the golden age of silent films, he didn’t even get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame until 1970 after a 12 year battle by fans.

When Chaplin was allowed back into the country in 1972 to accept an honorary award at the Oscars, he was only allowed a 10 day visa.  This is how a grateful nation celebrates someone who helped create not only a uniquely American art form, but a good deal of prosperity for the city of Los Angeles.

I don’t remember where, but somewhere in the past I read a story about Chaplin’s 1972 trip to accept that particular award – in which he was give a 12-minute standing ovation, the longest in the Academy’s history.  Chaplin was 83.  He wasn’t able to get around to see much of the place he’d been instrumental in creating, but he did get a brief tour in the back of a limo.

He got to see his old studio for the first time in years, as well as other places that still existed then but are now long gone – the old Keystone locations, the United Artists offices he new as a founder, and who knows what else.

I’d have liked to have gone on that ride.

We like to think that this type of political witch hunt is part of our history. Black and white footage of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Joseph McCarthy seem dated and part of our unenlightened past.

It’s not.  It can all happen again.  Each generation, there are new boogeymen and new tyrants ready to whip us into a frenzy to suit their own agendas.

If we let them.


Missing Community

I’ve just finished delving into one of those works that is a collection of correspondence between a writer and others in the intellectual community.  Who the writer is isn’t really important because what really struck me is how we’ve lost this type of cross-pollination between people who share a common interest.

We have Internet forums, social media, and thousands of ways to connect, but I don’t see the type of interchange of ideas taking place anymore.  Books were discussed, professional advice exchanged, people introduced to other like-minded people.  We use the word “community” pretty loosely now, but the letters I read between various writers and artists showed how effective and interesting a social network could be that consisted of nothing more than a #2 envelope and some stamps.

I’d love to have a similar group of friends across the globe, intelligently discussing things, learning about others, and sharing books, manuscripts and artwork.  And we certainly have tried to use technology to make this happen.  Occasionally it does – I’ve always been appreciative when someone has taken the time to send me a link to some new info, or left a thoughtful comment.

But the thing we seem to lack is the “culture”, for lack of a better term.  And what I mean by culture is the ability to slow down, process our thoughts, and be able to engage, disagree, and learn without people’s feelings getting hurt, or competing against each other.

To build and elevate whatever your particular “thing” is.  By contributing our own unique piece to something that becomes part of a shared work, whatever form that takes.

Our blogs should certainly facilitate this type of exchange, but just responding with a quick comment isn’t really the same as writing a well-thought out page.  I know I’ve touched upon this subject in previous posts, but reading this particular piece made me think again about how our ability to exchange masses of data and information isn’t the same as being able to communicate a feeling or thought.

Most Internet forums I’ve become familiar with seem to last until the inevitable flame war breaks out, and everyone who has blogged has run into the commenter who’s only purpose is to be anonymously nasty.

When reading blogs, I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to just posting a quick, usually congratulatory comment on someone’s blog or post I like.  We justify this by saying time is short and there is just not time to adequately respond, so, just this quick note…….

And speaking of time, I’ve not posted here as often as I’d like to, the common downfall of bloggers everywhere.  So perhaps it’s time I apply my own advice and devote time to what I think is important.

And sharing ideas and experiences is the most important thing there is.  Take that away, and what is left of life but the daily maintenance of it?