Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

New Year - Essay from Newsletter 76

On not turning on the television then looking for something to watch

Howard Homework

Ed Asner died this week. I’ve enjoyed listening to replays of interviews with him and clips of his roles in various shows. Asner worked for twenty years before he landed the role he’s probably best known for - Lou Grant.

Lou Grant was Ed Asner’s character of a crochety newsman. He created the role in the comedy half hour The Mary Tyler Moore show about a television news room and they spun it off into a one hour drama that took place in a Washington Post kind of newsroom.

Asner worked for forty years after he finished playing Lou Grant - including a lot of voice work. You may known him as Carl in the movie “Up”.

I loved his character in “Up”. Yes, there’s the whole talking dogs part - but it is a beautiful movie about the life we did and didn’t get to live.

My junior year of college I got to take an undergraduate class on set design with Howard Bay.

Howard was a very famous set designer who would fly up to Boston to teach in the middle of the week and he let me take his class if I would promise never to try to work in the field - I couldn’t draw to save my life.

Monday nights I would get together with the only other person in the class and she and I would finish our homework for Howard while watching television.

We did designs for Carmen, The Iceman Cometh, and other shows while watching CBS’s line up that included MASH at 9 and Lou Grant at 10.

I can’t tell you what show aired between MASH and Lou Grant - it’s the way television used to be programmed. The executives knew that you wouldn’t turn the television off or switch away so they would tuck a new or lower rated show between two hits hoping the exposure to the large audience would help launch the show.

We’ll come back to that.

A fresh start

Today is the first day of the Jewish New Year.

I’m not religious or formally observant but each year I take time to look back and think about how I want to be a different person this year.

This year’s look back feels biblical.

In my country alone, we have fires, hurricanes, and floods. The victims of these disasters need to compete for hospital beds with those who have elected not to take precautions against a pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 people in our country alone and is now killing more than one thousand people a day.

This feels biblical as well.

Do you remember how end-of-the-world frightening it was to lose three thousand people during the 9/11 attacks? We reacted by completely changing our airport security. We now lose that many people every two to three days in the US and can’t be bothered to even require masks at public gatherings.

So many people are watching Noah build his arc and making fun of him.

Get vaccinated? Wear masks? Nope - this flood is all in your head.

We’re not supposed to have disdain for those who won’t get vaccinated. Some of them have reasons that make sense to them and we should be compassionate or understanding.

Some fear the unknown side-effects some fear the unknown long term effects.

Even if I leave those people alone - can’t they wear a mask? Can’t they stop objecting to kids in schools wearing masks?

I watched videos of college football games celebrating that the crowds and the energy are back. I watched stadiums packed with sixty-thousand fans or more jumping up and down, shouting at the top of their lungs, hugging when their team does well, and not a mask in sight.

Currently in Ohio there are 7000 new cases of COVID a day.

Can’t they at least wear a mask?

If not, can’t they at least stop objecting to kids in schools wearing masks?

I think I would feel differently about these people who are so opposed to anyone telling them they must get vaccinated or wear a mask because how dare we tell them what to do with their body if they weren’t so committed to telling women what they must do with their bodies.

We’ll come back to that - maybe next week.


So what changes should I make in this new year. What adjustments should I make?

I could be less angry but I think I resolve to try that every year.

I have gotten better at noticing my anger, taking a breath, and letting it go. Though often something sparks it again within moments.

Yesterday I was listening to the Children of Tendu podcast. One of the hosts repeated writing advice that you shouldn’t sit down at a typewriter until you have something to write.

This was the counter programming to the television executive’s plan.

Instead of watching MASH and leaving the television on until Lou Grant comes on, I should turn it on to watch MASH. Turn it off. Turn it on to watch Lou Grant.

Today when shows are on whenever we want to watch them, we should turn on our television - or more likely open an app for a streaming channel to watch something.

I shouldn’t sit down to watch something and then look for something to watch. If there’s something I want to watch, I can turn the television on.

I should sit down at the typewriter when there’s something to write.

That’s the change I plan to make this year in general.

I’m sure I won’t always succeed. In fact, I’m sure that I won’t often succeed.

I will try to spend my time and attention more deliberately.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 76. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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