A mailman, a roofer, and a writer walk into a bar. They all look miserable and could use a stiff drink. The mailman says, “rain, sleet, and snow, my foot! Last winter I had to deliver mail in three feet of snow!” The other two nod sympathetically. After a swig, the roofer says “Well, this heat wave is killing me. All day long up on a sizzling roof in the blazing sun? No thank you.” The other two nod sympathetically. Finally, the writer says, “Well, those sound horrible but I think I have you both beat.” The other two brace themselves expecting the worst. “This one time,” he says, “I went a week without WiFi.” The other two hastily order another round for their friend.
Yes, having moved into my new apartment I found myself without WiFi for over a week now. It’s been a nightmare scenario that haunts my waking hours. It’s also why I have struggled to pump out the number of articles I used to be able to do: Researching and finding sources is tough when those sources are online and you aren’t.
It’s not a complete wash though because I have managed to write a lot more fiction and reflective essays in the interim. I am trying to look at this time as a bit like Henry David Thoreau’s time at Walden Pond (but with more electricity and less tranquility). Who knows, maybe while I’m missing the latest trending topic on twitter I’ll discover the next great American philosophical movement. Or perhaps I’ll just think up some more corny jokes.
In this episode of Not in my back yarn! We have a very special guest in the form of our good friend Dan LaBrecque. We talk movies. What makes a movie memorable? What are the things that keep us coming back to a particular film again and again. How is water cooler talk important? We tackle these questions and more (including “what happened to M. Night Shyamalan and what did we do to deserve it?”). Check it out! More to come soon, listeners.
Warning: Because of the nature of this podcast, quite a few films will be spoiled during the discussion. Although you should have seen them already, be careful if you still don’t know the endings to:
Children of Men, Man from Earth, The Shining, Man of Steel, World War Z, Horsemen, and some ridiculous movie called “Happy Birthday to me”.
Sometimes I hate Microsoft Word. I wish I could tell it that I’m not writing a thesis paper, or perfecting my cover letter, or typing up a congressional report: I’m making ART. It’s going to be messy. I’m going to use fragments. My fragments are going to fragment. I’ll throw in a run-on sentence where it’s needed. Jackson Pollock didn’t have to deal with this crap.
If that little anthropomorphized paper clip were still around I would give him a serious talking to (I’m a writer, I don’t need to justify what I do at my writing desk. I’ll talk to a virtual paperclip if I please!). I’d inform him that maybe he should focus more on making sure I don’t accidentally use “there” when I mean “their” (yeah, I do it sometimes. Arrest me, grammar police!), instead of underlining every other sentence in obnoxious, judgmental green. “Um, stop writing please. You’ve got a fragment here. Consider revising.” Hemingway would have killed Clippy. He wouldn’t have put up this.
Don’t get me wrong, I bet Microsoft Word has really helped cover letter authors, thesis writers, congressional interns, but putting “Slaughterhouse-Five” into a word document should be considered high treason, such is the offensiveness. That masterpiece of a book would stand no chance against the silent, heartless, soulless grammarian that is this programs internal algorithms. Ignore the power. Ignore the sentiment. Does it violate “noun+verb=sentence”? Then, sorry Mr. Vonnegut, it appears you’ve got some fragments. Consider revising. So it goes.
Even if they can’t articulate it, I bet there isn’t an author on the planet whose favorite color is that shade of green. On some primordial, intangible level, that shade of green represents stagnation, interruption, and – the authors worst foe of all – doubt. How could an author love a color that represents such antipathy towards the creative process. Clippy is clearly not a writer, but surely he can relate. We, like him, are often ignored. Our egos are paperclip thin. We both tell inconvenient truths if we’re doing our jobs well. So back off. Let me write. If you think I need a semi-colon, wait until I’ve finished my thought. If you notice a fragment, consider that maybe it’s important. Maybe it’s exactly where I want it. Right where it belongs.
I know. I know. Just turn off “spell and grammar check”, some will say. It’s not that simple! That feels like cheating. If I did that, then I’d be wondering where the green lines would be. I can’t work under such fascism. Instead, I plead for understanding. Heck, maybe even give me some encouragement. When I write a particularly good line, grammar be damned, underline it in yellow. “Great alliteration!” that yellow line would say. “Wow, powerful stuff!” that yellow line would say. “Cool opening paragraph, but a bit contrived don’t you think?” watch it yellow line, don’t ruin this.
I doubt Microsoft can, or will, change Microsoft Word just for us writers. It’s sold in Microsoft Office for a reason. It’s for TPS reports and interoffice memos, not short stories and unfinished novels. Besides, the word “office” implies jobs and authors don’t have jobs (haha… aw), so it’s up to us – the authors – to soldier on, ignoring critics from without and, sadly, within. Like we always have. So it goes.
This week on Not in my back yarn! we have a very lively and roundabout discussion on the nature of writing and how we, as mere mortals, ever conceive of an interesting story, character or both. We also veer widely into several tangents that, I think, explore some interesting ground such as the tricky, scary world of storytelling in video games (the concept for a future episode perhaps?). Broad in scope, bulging in all the right places, this episode is all about the origins of ideas. Hope you enjoy and as always, have a happy new year!
I knew I was in trouble from the second I entered the precinct. Maybe it was the other officers all shouting out in unison “You’re in trouble!” and maybe it was that gut feeling you get only after years on a job that requires you to take even the most subtle of clues and use them to solve the hard crimes. I don’t know. I’m not a scientist. I’m a detective.
“Detective, get your ass in here!”
I took my time. I stopped by my desk and collected a few papers, placing them from one pile into another. My captain just stared at me, willing his eyes to burn holes through my body. I refused to play his games.
“Something I can help you with, Captain?” I asked innocently as he swung the door to his office closed.
“I’ve got the mayor up my ass about you, you know that?” He asked, spit flinging from his mouth.
“Sounds like a domestic issue,” I said. I am really that smooth, which is why I’m so popular.
“Wipe that smirk off your face, officer. You are in for a world of hurt if you don’t drop this investigation.”
“You mean the one you dropped on my desk?” I asked.
When the Captain dropped the cold case file on my desk it was immediately clear what was going on. He wanted me out of the way, stuck on a wild goose chase far away from ruffling the feathers of the men and women who rub elbows and grease the hands of our cities politicians. I had asked all the wrong questions and ended up getting all the wrong kind of answers. So the Captain had the idea to shut me up. Little did he realize then that the cold case he stuck me with would turn out to be the missing piece to the puzzle.
“I gave you that case because I wanted you to solve it,” He lied. “Now, you dragged in everyone from the Mayor to the me into this mess. And on an election year.”
“Captain, I just follow the leads I don’t have any culpability just because you don’t like where they go.”
He threw a desk lamp at me. Luckily it was still plugged in so it reached the end of its cord and snapped to the ground, the bulb shattering on impact.
The mess seemed to soothe the Captain. He sat down. “Okay, so let’s hear it. In your own words, who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?”
“I think we both know who stole the cookie from the cookie jar, Captain.”
He stared me down, trying to figure out how much I knew. What he saw in my eyes worried him. At length he asked: “Who me?”
“No, not you,” I said. “No offense, but you aren’t creative enough to pull something like this off. And you’re not desperate enough to try it.”
He smiled. Maybe he thought I had given him a pass. I hadn’t. I turned around and gazed out towards the buzz and chaos of the precinct. Officers and perps moved about in pairs, like unwilling dance partners in a ballet that neither had any idea was happening. I asked what I needed to ask.
“How long have you known about your daughter’s involvement in the cookie jar incident?”
My back was still turned and when he didn’t reply I assumed he hadn’t heard me. I turned around and to my surprise he was holding his head in his hands. After quietly crying for a minute, he composed himself and looked up to me. Always the professional, I thought.
“How did you know it was her?”
“I didn’t. Not until just now.”
He looked astonished, then defiant, then resigned. His head was below his shoulders.
“Look, when I put you on the case I didn’t know my daughter, my Ellie, had anything to do with it. She was always such a good girl. She never would have gotten involved in stealing cookies if her mother were still alive. My job… it’s demanding and I’ll be the first to admit I’m not around as much as I should have been,” He said staring at his desk.
“The day my wife’s hot air balloon went down, my daughter lost two parents…”
I was too hung over from last night’s party (of which I was the life) for sympathy. I brought the cuffs out. Justice would be served this day, although it didn’t feel good.
“Place your hands behind your back, Captain. Nice and easy, don’t make this any harder than it has to be.” He complied and I sat him down again with hands in chains to get his statement. That’s when he saw Ellie walking in shackles being led to an interrogation room by two mean looking beat officers. She looked terrified, and her 5-year-old body was visibly shaking. Prison wouldn’t be easy for her, I thought with regret.
Captain looked up at me. “How did you know it was her?”
“It was pretty simple, although as I said, it wasn’t confirmed until you said it. I simply started by assuming you stole the cookies from the cookie jar.”
He wiggled upright in outrage. “Couldn’t be!”
I smiled. As a detective, sometimes the obvious answers are wrong, but they lead you to the right ones. In this case, it was just a matter of eliminating the suspects and asking yourself: “Then who?”
Dear Melissa (Melanie?),
First of all, I would like to thank you for a wonderful night. Overall, I had a wonderful time. However, I thought I should write you this letter as a bit of explanation for my apparent careless behavior this morning. I am well aware that a man slipping out quietly before dawn with only vague excuses is one of the tent pole clichés that romantic comedies are built upon but you must believe that I was being sincere. My cat, as I mentioned earlier last night, has a very finicky stomach and any deviation from her strict diet leaves her feeling sick and anxious. It was therefore imperative that I fed her promptly at 8 AM as is her custom. By the time I stopped and got gas and got home it was nearly 8, and I daresay I just made it. I hope that you will forgive me for my apparently lame (but as I explained above, completely legitimate) excuse.
I appreciate you writing me (and on such short notice!) and formally laying out your excuse on paper so that I could show it to my friends for their amusement. You see, I had the hardest time convincing them that an excuse such as yours was realistically possible. As a woman of natural beauty I, of course, don’t get very many excuses so yours was a special treat. Your letter also had the tertiary effect of proving once and for all that I am a generous soul. Indeed, no one could deny that even talking to you in the most mundane circumstances would be below most women of my level, and here I am, giving you a taste of what must have surely been for you a once in a life time fruit.
I read your letter with the same type of growing pity and deepening sadness normally reserved for the obituaries. I find it the height of irony that you have suggested that you are a generous soul when it was abundantly clear on the night previous who gave more to whom. To say that the foreplay was asymmetrical would be an understatement. While it is to be expected that a woman of your obvious ego should expect more than she gives, to suggest that you did anything to pull your weight could be considered something akin to perjury. On that same note, I will have you know that while I am the first one to admit that I may not be a “ladies man” in the classical sense, I have it from reliable sources that I am more than capable of holding my own in the bedroom. Unfortunately, the nickname “pleasure island” never took but for several months it appeared as if it might. I can only speculate as to what you can say to that. The facts, laid bare, speak for themselves.
I’m not quite sure what the world looks like in the persistent delusion that you call reality but I can tell you it’s far from the real world. Did it never once occur to you that the only reason I held back was because of concern for you? For the same reason a starving man will eat until his stomach bursts, I could not allow my full sexuality unleashed on such a naïve and unsuspecting victim. Had the liquor not depressed my normally quite active prefrontal cortex, I would have prevented you from even getting a good look at me for fear of heart failure. It was practically criminal negligence on my part and for that I am sorry. Furthermore, I must say that whoever your informants may be, it appears you have been misguided. Not once did I get the sense that I was making love to a man worthy of the name “pleasure island”. Although I did appear to be enjoy it I should inform you that I have experience acting on a professional level having been cast in several off Broadway plays over the years. For my part, you did get – however briefly you lasted – a certain sense of why past lovers have referred to me as “wonder woman”.
If that was indeed acting, then I must say bravo. Having been to several off Broadway plays I can safely tell you that you deserve a standing ovation. Sadly, I must also inform you that I too was acting. Having paid my way through college doing improv, I am expertly trained to act my way out of any situation (no matter how difficult). When I saw that you were incapable of producing anything approaching a satisfying experience, I fell back on my old acting coach’s mantra, “give ‘em what they want”. I apologize for not telling you earlier but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings, you see, I too was once an amateur and I know how hard it can be to build confidence at such a tenuous period in ones sexual life. People need to be built up NOT torn down. Fortunately, we all get passed it at one time or another (although, for some it is most certainly the latter). I’m tempted to ask you out to dinner again as a tax write off. Charity is everything to me.
HA! I can only assume Charity is the stripper you paid to call you “pleasure island”. I doubt they would let you out of the mental institution long enough to take me out to dinner but if you ever agree to take your medications, and you get written permission from your psychiatrist, I would love to accompany you to dinner. I have been feeling a bit of a cold coming on and you know what they say, “laughter is the best medicine”. But before you even think it (wishful thinking can be a powerful drug so I want to be explicit here), this is not a “date”. Not in the traditional sense. Not in any sense. We must not be seen together. I have over the years garnered a certain reputation around town as a “rising star” and I would hate to have my picture wind up in the Town and Gown under the smear column. It’s not your fault, I think the way they judge people on their looks is contemptible and shallow but c’est la vie.
I hate you, but I am looking forward to our date. Is Friday at 7 ok?
That’s perfect, even if your personality is not.
If you’ve loaded up Google today (and let’s be honest, who hasn’t), you find that the logo has changed to a loving, animated tribute to the late Maurice Sendak. If you don’t think you know who that is, you do. He’s one of the most important figures in your childhood. At the very least, you’ve read “Where the Wild Things are”, his legendary ode to a child’s imagination.
Maurice Sendak dying was a hard thing for me because at 84, he still seemed like he had more to say and do. Just before passing he had done a brilliant interview with Stephen Colbert for “The Colbert Report” that demonstrated the author’s quick wit and offbeat sense of humor.
A few years before that, I had the pleasure of listening to his interview with Terri Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air program. I remember distinctly sitting in my car, long having arrived at my destination but unable to leave before hearing the entire thing. I still think about that interview. The man spoke with such gentleness and joy that when I feel myself slipping into bitterness or cynicism, I try my best to be like him. Here’s one of my favorite lines from the interview:
That NPR interview (which you can find here) is one of my favorite things of all time. It spans a life, his life, but its also bigger. It’s so dear to me. I struggle with death and the scariness of dying, and to hear Maurice Sendak talk about it with such defiance and honesty is uplifting. Maurice in his interviews is like his stories, gently reassuring us that there will be bad things in life, bad things will happen to us, and it’s okay to be sad about that but it doesn’t mean there isn’t goodness as well. We need that message more than ever.
There was a quote by Maurice Sendak that was widely circulated after his death, but it’s a good one and is worth repeating:
I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more…
Tonight, I am unveiling the first episode of a weekly podcast co-hosted by friend and fellow countryman Mason about storytelling in pop culture.
This episode focuses on consistency of character in stories and quickly spirals into a rant about just how bad the new movie “The Purge” is at doing that. If you care, be warned, there are brief spoilers ahead.
Shout out to our sponsor, Subway! Subway, live hard, eat fresh. That’s Subway, with an “S”.
I plan on writing a strong essay, starting with a good thesis statement. Following the introduction to my essay, I will provide three solid paragraphs in support of my thesis. It will make up the body of my essay and I’ll try to include enough information to properly get my message across. I’ll end where I began.
My first paragraph will include what I deem as the strongest case for my thesis statement. It will hit the reader with a barrage of statistics, figures, testimonies, and other techniques to illustrate why my thesis is defensible. I will relate my topic to other topics in order to achieve understanding by way of analogy. The real goal of the first supporting paragraph is to entice to reader to keep going.
My second paragraph will include a weaker, but still substantial argument for my thesis. I will attempt to get at the meat of the argument, while acknowledging its weaknesses. The key is to acknowledge the weaknesses but dismiss them one at a time. They are there to provide peace of mind to the audience who does not want to be exposed to merely one side. This is the paragraph to bring up the other side because it’s not the first thing the audience reads, but it’s also not the last. The second paragraph is always the one forgotten.
The last supporting paragraph will be short. My essays start strong but grow more and more impatient as the night continues. I will have written myself into several dead ends that only deal tangentially with the thesis. The audience will begin to wonder where I am going with this. I haven’t a clue, I’m only dimly aware that something is wrong. I make casual references to Hitler. I’m in Godwin’s Law territory now.
Something is wrong. The conclusion is meant to be a summation of the thesis statement and the three supporting paragraphs but looking over what I have written, I can’t seem to make sense of any of my points. Perhaps I’m over thinking it. What did Bush always say? Stay the course. That’s good. That’s a good quote, maybe I can slip that in somewhere. The audience will respect my ability to focus my thesis down to a simple, common quote by a famous figure. This paper has turned into a disaster. It’s been staring me in the face for the past hour of writing but I’ve only just acknowledged it. There is nothing to be done now, I’m too far in. I can only do one thing: end where it began, I restate my thesis statement.