Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Moment Of Shit

Sitcom writers have a term for that moment when some kind of moral interjects its way into a show, that moment when everything comes to a screeching halt and it's all group hugs and tears. The Tanner family Christmas, say, or that time Tony Danza teaches us all a little about how to deal with our senile relatives. Or maybe you get that one episode with the silent credits screen, where the show has a Very Serious Talk with you about the dangers of jaywalking.

Blossom teaches us all a lesson about smoking. Saved By The Bell really wants to educate us all about truancy rates. Arnold from Different Strokes has an encounter with a child molester (seriously, it happened, I remember it when it was on the air). We all take a time-out to get serious.

Sitcom writers call it the "moment of shit."

Seth MacFarlane most recently mentioned it, according to our favorite panopticon, Google, but it's an industry term. I've seen it come up over the years from various writers. I think it was one of the sitcom veterans who used to write for Rosanne where I first heard it.

...sounds awful, right? Very cynical. And yes, it is. Sitcoms are notorious for shallow heart-string plucking, or for bludgeoning their way through treacly public service announcements. Just clumsy, awful, punch the card in the time-clock type writing...which is unfair, because there have been some truly well-written sitcoms over the years (Rosanne, for example, had a great deal of fantastic writing). It's just that all things must bow before the 90% rule, even television. Turn on the TV and, yes, you, too, will only have a one in ten chance of getting the good stuff. Maybe one in a hundred. Maybe smaller. I dunno.

But everybody has to go through their moments of shit, those less than genuine moments of emotion you have to slog through because reasons. Whether you're a writer or not, it's just a thing you have to do.

Nobody wants to go to Chuck E Cheese, but to your toddler it's the most important place in the entire universe. So you go and pay homage to the mouse because it's important to someone you care about. If you have to suffer through an entire evening of shitting, screaming yard-apes, it's worth it to you, because it makes your own monster happy. And you have to like it, because your own yard-ape is paying attention and if you don't look like you're having fun, they aren't having fun either. Hug the mouse and smile, damn it!

Likewise, in your writing, sometimes you have to insert your own moments of shit, times when you have to bang through a scene because it makes sense and it's expected, even if you're not quite feeling it. Yes, it's good to be able to have every scene be a fist-pumping hell-yeah right-from-the-heart rocket-launching-barrage of genuine heart-felt prose. You want it to be genuine, but...sometimes you've gotta move along. Or go in a certain direction because, face it, that's what sells.

The "moment of shit" is an awesome phrase, easily one of my favorites, mostly because it conjures up images of cynical chain-smoking old writers banging out treacly shit for dimwitted audiences. It's blatantly admitting that you're selling out, taking your doctorate in literature (or whatever) and using it to create drek so you can cash your paycheck, probably at the liquor store, you scurvy dog, you.

But at the same time, we all have constant tiny moments of shit, because you have to take into account your audience. Every time you write, you're selling out a little, at least if you have hopes of someone else actually reading what you put down.

Of course, there's selling out and there's selling out. I think I like the phrase mostly because we've all been there at one point or another.

In other news, my replacement Chemex just came in. I've been in a constant golden haze of coffee-happiness. The first morning after I got the new pot, I just wanted to curl up in a corner somewhere with my coffee mug and just sob, from pure unadulterated joy. One of my friends pointed out that I could probably just make do with gas station coffee until the replacement pot came in the mail and I wanted to drive to where he lives and poke him in the goddamned eye. Only fiends and complete unrepentant degenerates would think that was a good idea. Gas station coffee, blergh.

It occurred to me this week that I could, if I Made A Project Of It, wrap up my book this weekend. Intriguing. Really depends on energy levels and social schedule.

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