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Changing Up

To my faithful readers (all five of you):

I’m planning some upcoming changes to soon—well, soon for me…as soon as I can get around to them, anyway. I just wanted to let you know in advance because things are probably going to break and look ugly/ier for a little bit until I can get it all sorted out. Here’s why:

I’ve been using the tagline, “I write…so you don’t have to,” for about four and a half years now. My original premise when I first purchased the domain was to “pimp my wares,” which is a nice way of saying, “letting people know what services I may equitably provide them.” No, wait…switch those around. People often refer to starting their website as “hanging out a shingle,” but I don’t think that means the same thing now that it did in, you know, medieval times. Now it has a different connotation (to me, at least.) And nobody wants to see that hanging out on the web.

Anyways, several months ago, back when we were visiting Greece (the country, not the musical), I decided that I wanted to start blogging in a manner that entertained me. And if anybody else enjoyed it as well, that would just be gravy. (And who among us doesn’t like gravy? Am I right or am I right?) It’s like that old saying, “Misery loves company,” so I figured at least a handful of people would tag along. (Turns out I was aiming too high.)

I’m a huge fan of the genius of @badbanana, he of the Twitter fame (407,232 followers?!? Seriously?!?). He once tweeted, “Misery loves company picnics.” So true.

So here’s what I’m gonna do (or, as Kanye might say it, “Hee’s what I’ma do”):

I’m going to simplify somewhat. My plan is to move to only words, since that’s what my mom says I’m best at. (And she’s my mom, so why would she lie to me…right?) The home page at will have two halves, something like “Serious” and “Less So,” or perhaps “Business” and “Fun.” The “Less So” (which on my site now I refer to as “Sillier Things” in the menu options above) will lead you here, to my dumb blog. The other half will be building out what’s now “Serious Work.”

While I had hoped to spend more time entertaining people and giving them the opportunity to laugh (hopefully sometimes even out loud), and just have kind of a respite from all of the seriousness of our lives, I also have to kind of be a grown-up (or something) and be more serious about the writing I do for a living. I much prefer being a doofus online, but of course that’s not paying any of my bills. (Despite my incessant begging, you guys have just been no help in that department.)

At some point, I’ll also be changing over my Facebook structure. My plan is to create two new pages. One will be the same obnoxious smarmy feed you’ve come to expect from me there, and the other will be a “serious” one about the kinds of business services I can offer (like exorcisms and exotic dancing at bachelor parties, bat mitzvahs and kids’ birthdays). The downside to that is that, if you’re my Friend on Facebook, and you want to keep seeing the “fun” stuff, you’ll have to “Like” the page I set up for that. I’ll then reserve my “normal” Facebook profile for family and personal things that actually are related to my friends, and not just me, and not just me embarrassingly screaming for attention. (I haven’t decided yet how I’ll accomplish the same thing on Twitter.)

So, any questions? Certainly I welcome your feedback. (Not that I’ll actually take any of it into consideration, of course—but I prefer to leave you with at least the impression that you are valued in our relationship). Does anybody really even care? Do you think Sarah Palin seriously has a shot at the White House at some point in the future? (Whether yes or no, please defend your position.)

The Names Machine

A friend recently implied that I might be using some sort of expensive software to generate the Random Fake Band Names of the Day that I post on Facebook and Twitter. (Fresh band names appear Monday through Friday at 3:45 PM—unless something doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.)

Before that rumor spreads any further, please allow me to take this opportunity to nip that in the bud right here, right now: I do not now, nor have I at any time, used any technology or software—other than the mushy coils between my ears and the rhythms of everyday conversation—to generate band names. Friends that I used to work with years ago can attest to this fact, and even verify the origin of what became a game that we played on a near-daily basis: “Yeah, that’s your band name of the day right there.” (They would even tell you that I was the game’s creator.)

People tell me all the time, “Hey, I’ve got a band name for you…” Often, sadly, they do not. In order to qualify as a band name, a certain rhythm must be achieved in the syllables, and once the name grows beyond a particular length, often you must yield the field and transition into the arena of album titles. (Album titles can be as long and as unreasonable as you like.) The best band names are those which are not only relatively short, but which also contain some degree of ambiguity. Of course it’s not always possible to achieve ideal band name parity with such stringent conditions, so the rules are a little lenient.

Although I can by no means conclusively prove that I don’t cheat to generate band names—it’s really a question of character and integrity, which is why I invoked the support of witnesses present at the inception of the band name of the day—here are just a few examples from band names I have posted in the past, along with the explanation of how they were born:

  • Accidental Battle. On a recent visit to Greece, we were confined for lengthy periods to (never-unpleasant) tour buses. Many times, to get to someplace great, you have to ride for a while. (Go figure.) Anyway, on one of the longer rides, our fabulous tour guide showed us a couple of DVDs on the in-bus entertainment system. One of them was a History Channel production about the original, true story of a rogue Spartan general facing off against impossible odds in a narrow canyon, a moment in history which was the likely inspiration for the blood-gore-and-boobie-fest graphic novel and subsequent film, 300. The narrator of this documentary at one point remarked how this general found himself in this awkward position—where he had no choice but to fight—quite by accident, and only through sheer determination and strategic prowess did he win the day. An Accidental Battle.
  • The Buffalo’s Apple. Our great State Fair of Oklahoma was held just a month ago, in mid-September. Although it has become absurdly expensive and uncomfortably crowded in recent years, there exists no substitute I am aware of for mullet and pierced navel sightings, so I still consider it a must-attend. I took my 9-year-old son and my 5-year-old daughter, and my sister and brother-in-law and three lovely nieces joined us. At the very end of our stay, as we were walking toward the exit gate, everyone wanted to have a look at a mangy buffalo inside a fenced-in area. So we ambled over to ogle him. There, by his hooves, was a rather large and visibly soft pile of buffalo chips (feces), and within just a few inches of it was—you guessed it: an apple. The apple had a large bite out of it already, as though he had been munching on it earlier and had inadvertently dropped it, losing it in his hay. We laughed as we watched him sniffing all around, as though he were searching for it, placing bets on whether he would actually eat the apple if he found it. He did find it. He did not eat it. It was The Buffalo’s Apple.
  • Roasting a Drone. Recently I read an article online about some military technology which employs pairing a sophisticated tracking system with a high-powered laser to superheat and therefore ignite missiles and similar propulsive explosive devices to the point that they detonate before reaching their targets. In the military contractor’s demonstration before the happy government committee who writes checks, they successfully shot a small radio-controlled missile, sort of like a Predator drone, out of the sky with their “laser.” Somewhere in the copy of the article, the author described the process of heating the flying implement as essentially “roasting” it in midair. Thus, Roasting a Drone.

I hope that my de-mystifying this process for you does not diminish your enjoyment of the Random Fake Band Name of the Day. Rather, I seek to include you in the game with sufficient means that you may become fiercely competitive at it yourselves.

Also, if you haven’t noticed it before, because I love you—all five of you who read my blog—every title of every post I’ve ever written for this blog…is a Random Fake Band Name. Yes. I am awesome. And as always: You’re welcome.

What’s YOUR random fake band name for today? (Be careful—I’ll be judging, and I may relegate your entry to the dreaded album title category instead.) Do you have a favorite random fake band name of the day that you remember from those I’ve posted? If you’re not following me on Twitter or on Facebook, for the love of cows, why not? What’s WRONG with you? I mean, seriously!

Random Survey

So… Recently some of you have told me—and you know who you are, although you probably shouldn’t be too quick to act all smug, because you’ll think it’s you, but it’s actually been more than one of you, so you’re not the only one, and therefore you’re not nearly as special as you think you are, so stop thinking so self-importantly—that you would be more inclined to read, and perhaps even read it more often, if I posted with less frequency.

Believe me, I feel your pain. Sometimes, the burden of responsibility I feel to make certain that I provide you with ample obnoxious humor every Monday, Wednesday and Friday is almost more than I can bear some weeks. The pressure and anxiety has been sufficient that my investments alone are helping to keep solvent Pepsico, the manufacturers of the delightful Mountain Dew Code Red. Which, in a random aside, you know has to actually be really healthy and good for you, because just look at the picture of how fit this chick is on the Code Red info page:

Sweet Nectar of Life

So anyways, what’s up? I know the stuff I write is too many words. But that’s genuinely because in my opinion it takes a while to tell a good story—especially to tell it well. I have a target word count that I shoot for (and then conveniently overshoot by a substantial margin—except for this time, when I labored to hit it square on the nose; can you guess what it is?) each time I sit down to write for you.

So now it’s your turn to write, at least a little. I need your feedback. I need your help.  Please tell me: How much is too much? How often is too often? Would you guys be cool with just two posts a week? One?  What’s that magic number? (If I write two, it will most likely be on Mondays and Thursdays. If I write one, it will most definitely be on Monday.) If I write less often, I can write more. (I’ll bet you thought I was going to say “better,” didn’t you?) Well, maybe that, too.

Please either comment below with your feedback, or let me know on Facebook, or let me know on Twitter. And if you know other people who read, please let them know that I’m asking today. I want as many people as possible (or at least who care) to let me know how I can serve you.

Is three days a week too much?

Why do I always feel obligated to ask questions in italics? (It’s actually a strategy based on ample research, you know—the idea being to engage you with leading questions that invite you to participate and contribute your voice to a so-called “conversation.”)  Do you think that’s poppycock? Do you even know what “poppycock” means? Say it aloud, right now where you are, ESPECIALLY if other people are around. It feels good to say, doesn’t it? You’re very naughty.

Catch Them Bones

This is something a little bit different. Because I write for a living (so you don’t have to), many people often ask me for writing advice. So I may from time to time share some general ideas from my vast experience and *brilliant insights* into that particular topic. I’ma do that today…

When people struggle with their writing, one of the most common troubles I hear about is how hard it is to get all your thoughts together. You sit down and begin to write, and things just won’t “gel” for you. If this happens to you, it’s not because your thoughts are no good. (Well, maybe that’s why. But probably not.) If you can’t organize your thoughts on paper, it’s most likely because you haven’t first organized them in your mind.

Many people fantasize that there’s some great mystery, some grand writing process that only insiders know—a secret society with elaborate handshakes, funny hats, code words, and custom embroidered silk undergarments. Allow me to pull back the curtain for you: None of that is true (except maybe the undergarments part—but that’s actually a matter of personal choice, and not a strict requirement for inclusion in our club). You imagine some genius “writer” with unique gifts you’ll never possess, sitting down and effortlessly cranking out page after page of flawless story, fresh off the top of their head. Am I right? A lot of people do in fact write this way—except for the “flawless” part.

Remember in school when your English teacher constantly tried to stifle your creativity, burying you under all her nonsensical rules about spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence diagramming, outlining and a whole bunch of other things you didn’t like and didn’t understand? It turns out she was right. (Not about everything, of course.) But writing is like any worthwhile endeavor, whether outdoor grilling, lifting weights, throwing a perfect spiral, tying French braids, or hand-stitching your family crest onto the most exquisite silk fabric, soft to the touch, delicious against your skin: It takes practice to get good at it. You have to actually do it if you want to improve.

I’ll break down each of these nonsense rules for you in other posts, but for now, let’s focus just on outlining.

UGH! you think. That’s just soooo boring!

And you’re right. Sort of. But also not.

Outlining is boring and a pain because you’ve likely been taught to try to do it in order: chronological, priority, whatever. And you try to type it out from scratch or write it on a notepad. But your brain doesn’t work like that. Your brain is like a giant dresser, with thousands of tiny drawers (millions, even). When you have an idea or learn something new, your mind opens a random drawer, throws that thought into it, makes some weird little notes about the drawers surrounding it, and then slams it shut. Recalling just one specific thought is a delicate matching game, like flipping over tiny cards with pictures of dinosaurs or kitties when you were a little kid, looking for an identical pair. The approach is time-consuming, inefficient…and boring.

What you need is to dump all of your ideas out of the drawers onto the floor where you can see them. You dump them essentially in the reverse of how they were stored in the first place. Just start jotting your thoughts down. I call this “writing down the bones,” a phrase which I stole from the title of a book I was supposed to read in graduate school, but didn’t and then lied about at the time. (I hope you can forgive me.) In my experience, a way that works for most people is to use Post-It notes and a huge blank wall. Write just a couple of words or a phrase on a Post-It—just enough to jog your memory for that idea—and stick it on the wall. Anywhere. Do that for every idea that you can possibly come up with related to what you want to write about. Eventually, your idea well will run dry. When it does, stop.

Now, start moving things around. Group Post-Its into categories that make sense to you. You’ll see stories emerge. Themes. Entire chapters. This process will also reveal the places where you have gaps. When you see a gap—a spot where two ideas need another thought (or more) in between them to make sense—write the bridging thoughts on Post-Its and stick those where they go.

Once you have all your thoughts arranged into groups—whether it’s into columns, circles, clusters, whatever—then sort within that group in a logical sequence. Is it a story? Then sort the events in the order in which they happened (chronological). Are they ideas you’re trying to share? Do you need to share some ideas first, to give your audience the foundation they’ll need to be able to understand your other ideas? Then put those foundational ideas first. If you again see gaps, write Post-Its that bridge them and stick them in place.

Once you have all of these things sorted into the appropriate silos, what you’re looking at, stuck there on your wall, is all of your ideas, neatly organized, showing you clearly where you should start, where you need to end, and what you need to do in between to get there. Also, what you’re looking at…is an outline. And it wasn’t boring at all. It was fun.

What are some other fun ways you know to organize your thoughts? Do you ever outline? Have you ever done the same kind of approach, only with 3×5 note cards, maybe on the floor? Do you remember learning the Dewey Decimal System in school? I think it’s genius. (Is it just me, or don’t you think the dude who designed it probably used drugs?)