Friday Free-for-all #24

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?

Wow. This is an interesting question because, honestly, there are so many possibilities. My strong points are musical theory, film history, English language and grammar, history in general, and astronomy. I could also include theatre history, playwriting, character development, improv, and dog training.

Hell, I could probably also talk my way through forty minutes on Medicare, but I also know enough about the industry to know that I shouldn’t. Well, technically, can’t. So we’ll leave that one off of the list.

The strongest and easiest one for me? Musical theory, I suppose, because as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I really consider music to be my second language after English. So I could easily go on for forty minutes or more on the 12-tone system, the Circle of Fifths, how chords are related to each other and so on, and how everything is really based on a series of combinations of duotones that are just either Major or minor intervals.

And if I happen to rip through that before the forty minutes are over, don’t worry. You’ll get an entire course in musical history from the Baroque Era right up to the modern day

Or, if you prefer, a history of film, decade by decade, from the late 19th century to the early 21st, with plenty of juicy details about scandals galore. Gasp!

Then there’s my quick course in “How not to Make Common Mistakes in English,” which will walk you through how to remember differences between similar words, e.g. “To connects two things, so it isn’t too long,” or dealing with using pronouns properly, which is an exercise in omission. That is, Rule Number One, you always come last. Rule Number Two, get rid of all of the other pronouns and see if it makes sense.”

Ergo, if you write, “Myself and him went to the store,” step one is to put yourself last: “Him and myself went to the store.” Now, get rid of the other pronouns in turn and see what you get.

“Him went to the store.” Wrong.

“Myself went to the store.” Also wrong.

So the sentence you’re looking for is, “He and I went to the store.” Simple and straight forward. I don’t know why so many people make this mistake. It’s just lazy speaking, period.

And my five dollar lesson on who and whom: Rephrase what you’re saying as a statement with the singular masculine pronoun, and see what happens. That is, do this:

Original: To (who/whom) did you give the book?

Rephrased: I gave the book to (he/him).

Correct: I gave the book to him/To whom did you give the book?

Original: (Who/whom) lives here?

Rephrased: (He/him) lives here.

Correct: He lives here/Who lives here?

And when the pronoun is “he,” then the other one is who; when it’s “him,” it’s “who.” The big tell on this is that “m” ending, which is the only reason I don’t teach it with “she” and “her,” because it’s just easier to remember that letter.

Generally, “whom” will be the indirect object of a sentence; the person who received something. “Who” will be the subject; the person who does something.

Regarding history, I can give a good amateur spiel on all things Roman through about Constantine, but especially during the era of the so-called Twelve Caesars, and cover American history and politics from the Civil War on.

When it comes to astronomy, I am a total cosmology geek, and I could nerd out on your asses with anything form the history of the universe to how stars work, how planets form, what black holes and neutron stars are, how astronomy relates to chemistry, why time travel or faster than light speeds are not possible, and even a bit of quantum physics.

If that’s too much, then strap in for some theatre history, from its origins which probably pre-dated the Greeks, but that’s where we start dating it in the West, and just stay prepared for a really wild ride.

Playwriting and character development? Yeah that comes right after music for my personal fluency, but it’s also harder for me to teach only because it’s become so intuitive.

I can ultimately pull apart my musical talents and explain to you why, for example, a C Major chord followed by an E7 chord is so satisfying, even though the latter contains the augmented fifth and major seventh of the former, but that’s all because it leads back into the relative minor, which shares a key signature with your starting place.

But, when it comes to me trying to explain how to structure a story, the only thing I can say is that Aristotle’s “beginning, middle, and end” thing was sort of right, except that each of those also have their own beginning, middle, and end (we’re up to nine), which would leave us with how to structure each of three acts.

But, oops… Each act, with its own beginning and end, has one of each for, well, each beginning, middle, and end. So now, we multiple nine by three, get twenty-seven, and boom.

Those are the blocks you build any dramatic story with.

Funny story: Music tends to work in blocks of four, put two blocks together, you get eight, repeat over and over, you get a song. Three and four only play together well in units of twelve, and one of the most ubiquitous forms of American music is the song based on the twelve-bar blues pattern.

Basically, it involves three “acts.” The first is four bars of the dominant chord, generally referred to as I. The next four shift up for the first two, then come back down. The first two are built on the fourth note of the I chord, so are referred to as IV.

In the key of C, the IV is F, which is straightforward: C, D, E, F. Boom.

So the pattern, in the key of C, so far is:

     C Maj | C Maj | C Maj | C Maj |

     F Maj | F Maj | C Maj | C Maj |

Finally, the last four bars follow the pattern V, IV, I, V. That’s because the V is a natural bridge between the I and IV for various complicated reasons.

This gives us, BTW, the landing pattern of:

     G7    | F Maj | C Maj | G7    |

Oh yeah… jumping back a bit… the V is the fifth note based on the one or tonic, which gives us C, D, E, F, G. And why does G work so hard in leading back to C?

Because reasons. But here are two big easy ones, even though this might sail over heads for the moment. F and C get along because the only accidental in F’s key — Bb — also happens to turn C’s dominant, i.e. V, aka G, into a minor chord. Long story, don’t ask.

Meanwhile… in a major scale, G hates F, because her seventh is an F#. However, drop that to a regular F, she suddenly becomes a G7, and 7th chords are just hardwired in our brains to lead right back into the dominant chords.

And that’s the funny thing hiding in the progression above. Yeah, sure. It starts out I, IV, V, but that final V chord happens to have both the IV and V in it, without any of those messy annoying sharps and flats, and, yeah…

We wind up landing so damn hard back home that it should be obvious.

This is also the secret of doing musical improv. Follow the rules, and you  can make anyone seem like a genius, because they have nowhere else to go.

And then… where was I?

Friday Free-for-All #11

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What would you do if had enough money to not need a job?

Make my own job, of course.

Ideally, it would be enough money to live off of after buying a house and equipping it with spaces for writing, making music, recording podcasts, and shooting and editing video. I’d probably also host a weekly writing workshop there and, given enough space, have a performance salon on site where interested artists could come and create in whatever media they wanted to.

What? It’s an open-ended question, so I’m dreaming big.

Another nice feature would be either a guest house or a couple of bedroom suites for hosting visiting artists or housing local artists who just need a break from paying rent for a while.

And all of it absolutely dog friendly.

Now, if that Lotto win (and that’s the only way this would ever happen) went beyond the mid-seven figures into anywhere with eight figures or more, then the next step would be to give the L.A. Writers Center a permanent home and endowment while making sure that ComedySportz L.A. also had a home space for, oh, I don’t know — a dollar a year?

If I had enough money to not have a job, then I would be able to do what I love — which is creating — except with the ability to give away the output for free, or at least at cost with no net profit.

Oh, hey… I’m doing that giving it away for free part right now even as you read this!

But given funds beyond my wildest dreams, I could do so much more by supporting local theatre by self-producing my stuff on their stages and then maybe even making every show pay-what-you-can among those who could, and totally free to those communities who need to be exposed to the arts.

I’ve had way too many people tell me that I should be a teacher, and while it’s a noble idea, I know that it’s not something I could actually do in person for a couple of reasons.

One is that while I have no problem speaking in front of a large group of people, my stream-of-consciousness tends to hit the rapids really quickly, at the risk of leaving everyone behind to drown when the raft overturns.

Another is that I’m a really fast talker, and I have this weird hybrid accent that makes a lot of people in Southern California ask me, “Where are you from?” Welp, I was born in Los Angeles and grew up here, but for some reason I inherited a weird combination of my mom’s nasally east coast speed-talk with a few strange vowels, then had that layered with a heavy dose of my dad’s mother’s flat Kansas twang.

Filter that through the actual SoCal accent and it turns into a weird fast nasally drawl of no particular time or place, but for some reason people try to peg me as Southern.

Well, yeah. Southern California, not Southern U.S. Big difference.

Anyway, the more into a subject I am, the faster I talk about it and the sharper the corners on the transitions. Or, in other words, I should never be allowed to stand in front of a crowd and spontaneously teach people.

This is why I’m a writer. Although I also type really fast, somewhere north of 90 wpm when I get going, so even in this format, I can sometimes shoot five hundred miles off course before I realize it and have to reel myself back in.

I have the same issue going when I work in Excel. The formulae and whatnot are planted into my brain so that I just go on autopilot, and dog forbid anyone ask me to explain what I’m doing while I do it.

But when it comes to composing music (not improvising) and editing video, I necessarily have to do it much more slowly, and if I were able to refocus on these two elements again thanks to no need to “work” for money, it might be a good thing. The thing about both is that they involve basically creating larger works in tiny increments, with lots of layers being put down over the same territory, over and over.

I’ll give a music example. Even if you’re creating digitally, you need to do it track by track, and depending on the complexity of the score, you can easily hit 8, 16, 24, 32, 64, 128 tracks or more.

Now while you might be able to math out a track for a whole song, you’re still going to need to listen to it to make sure there are no glitches. Let’s posit a song that’s three minutes long.

Okay, track one — probably percussion or bass — laid down, review, then fix.

Track two will probably be the one not chosen for track one, bass or percussion — lay down, review, then fix.

Track three and on upward will probably start with the backing instruments the supporting chord progression, and then you’ll finally get to the lead lines and solos.

And, again, at every step of the lay-down, you have to listen to the whole damn thing to spot glitches and fix them, then listen to see if the fixes worked.

So if you’re doing a three minute song with 24 tracks, expect to listen to each track at least twice, and… you’re looking forward to at least 30 hours editing time, if not more.

Video editing? Complicate that further, since you’ll be combining several layers of video, effects, and sound effects, and again reviewing every one of them multiple times.

Writing? Much simpler, I suppose, since at least you only have one track to keep reviewing and editing over and over, instead of a group of tracks that keeps growing on every pass.

So… given enough time and money, I’d love to teach people on pre-recorded video or audio, but I’d probably hire an editor to whom I could give guidance, because I just haven’t had the patience to do it, and even this late into the lockdown, I’m not sure I still do.

But… I do digress. If I no longer needed to work for a living, then I would art in order to live, and help friends do it. Ooh. There’s your TL:dr. Enjoy!