The Menagerie of Bad Ideas


The mind is like a zoo.

A panoply of animals separated by a profusion of cages. Noisy kids running here and there. Somebody’s vomit there, just right there, next to a trashcan. (How they managed to get so close and miss the trashcan will forever baffle.) A series of footpaths connecting the lot. Maybe a little train to let you take it all in while you kick back and relax.

Our brains compartmentalize just like a zoo. Can’t have the dark thoughts of your latest antagonist kicking around your head while you’re pushing your little ones on the swings. Can’t have lions sharing the cage with the cockatiels. (Is that how you spell cockatiel?) Rather, you keep it all separate. Go visit the dark part of your brain when you need the antagonist. Stick to the flamingo exhibits when you’re with the kids. And so on.

Confined, Monkey, Cage, Animal, Prison, Captivity

But zoos aren’t perfect. Neither are caretakers or cages. Look at the octopus that just recently escaped to the ocean, or at any number of stories of people falling into wild animal enclosures and being mauled (or rescued!) by the inhabitants. Every once in a while, the externally-imposed order breaks down, and things get messy.

And in a zoo, that’s maybe not such a good thing. But in the mind, that’s a necessity.

If you’re like me, you’ve got maybe a dozen different story ideas swirling around in your head at any given time. And those ideas are in their cages, sure, but you can’t help noticing them as your consciousness strolls by. They rattle the bars. They chew on the locks. And occasionally, they break out. Cross-pollinate. Pollute each other.

And for the writer, that’s a very good thing.

The sci-fi idea that you had might just be awesome with a bit of that romantic comedy thrown in. The alternate-history period piece could crackle to life with a dash of the thriller you thought of last week over a plate of meatballs.

Or maybe those ideas will breed and collapse from genetic deformity.

That’s okay, too. Ideas are as numerous as grains of sand, if we’re only open to seeing them.

We can’t keep our ideas in their cages.

We’ve got to let them out once in a while.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

How’s It Going?

pretty good

I started out writing a post about how the boy in this picture is all of my students right now.

Then I realized that the boy in this picture is actually me right now.

Then I took one last think on it and it struck me: the boy in this picture is all of us, all of the time.

We’re all making this sharknado up as we go along. Nobody knows what the hell they’re doing. We hope we’re doing the right things, and we certainly like to think that we’re doing pretty good in that regard. But running like a river of slime just below that shiny, smiling surface, is a bubbling, broiling river of doubt and despair, and you never know when it’s going to flood its banks and cough up a clutch of dead raccoons on your perfectly manicured lawn.

Best we can hope for is that our brave facade holds up, and that no hapless interviewers bother to follow up when we tell them things are going “pretty good.”

I could watch that little boy’s face collapse for hours.

Winnie the Pooh is a Masters’ Level Writing Class

I’m sitting here watching The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh with my kid. You know, the one from the 70s that’s less a movie and more a bunch of cartoon shorts slapped together with honey-flavored caulking.

Now, there’s a lovely little book that came out some time ago called The Tao of Pooh, which takes the silly old bear and infuses him with all sorts of Zen mysticism. (Actually, the mysticism was in him all along, we just didn’t always realize it.) And that book has a companion called The Te of Piglet. Fantastic reads that you can pick up and put down as often as you’d like; the kind of books that grow with you. The kind of books that mean something entirely different to your full-of-piss-and-vinegar twenty-something self and your tired-as-fargo-from-wrangling-toddlers-all-weekend thirty-something self.

But I realized, watching the cartoons just now, just this instant, that you don’t need a zennified book to appreciate the dubious wisdom of Pooh. The beauty is in the simplicity. And as a writer, the simplicity resonates on several levels.

Let’s take the opening short.

We meet Pooh in his house, and Pooh wants some damn honey. Why? Because he’s a stuffed bear, and fargo your reasoning; his honey stores in the house are empty, so he’s got to go get some more. But he doesn’t have a grocery store with a plastic bear full of honey to overpay for; he’s got to go straight to the source. Who makes honey? Bees do, so Pooh goes after the bees.

He climbs a tree and tries to just straight-up jack some honey, but the bees aren’t playing that, and the twiggy brances at the top of the tree can’t support his honey-eating behind, so he falls all the way back down. Is Pooh discouraged? Not for a minute. Along comes his pal, Christopher Robin, with a balloon of all things, and Pooh says, hey CR, let me snag that balloon so that I can use it to get some honey. CR is no fool, and he asks the question that we’re all asking, watching this: how are you going to get honey with a balloon?

Don’t be silly, says the bear, I’m going to use the balloon to float up there. The bees will think I’m a raincloud, and they’ll let me have the honey. Now, this is patently idiotic, and being a good friend, CR points this out to him — you don’t look like a raincloud.

Right, says Pooh, let me roll around in some mud so I’m all dark like a thundercloud. So he rolls around in the mud for a minute, gets good and disgusting, then floats up to the treetops. This works until the bees realize that the bear is ganking their honey again, so they attack him and he ends up falling all the way down again.

Bees aren’t parting with their honey, he realizes, and goes off to his buddy Rabbit’s house, where he just asks for some honey without any niceties or prelude. And Rabbit gives it to him. Gives him so much, in fact, that Pooh can’t even squeeze his honey-stuffed stuffing out through the door anymore, and he has to go on a two-week diet before he can even go home again.

Let me not spoil the whole program for you if you haven’t seen it, but suffice to say, the shenanigans continue. All are ridiculous and wholesome, and all are approached with the same oh-well-I-guess-if-that’s-the-way-it-is-we’ll-just-have-to-change-the-way-we-think attitude.

So why is this relevant to the writer?

Pooh wants honey and he sets himself to the task with the single-mindedness of a cat stalking a crippled lizard.

He tries the direct route. When that doesn’t work, he doesn’t just think outside the box, he turns the box inside-out. When that doesn’t work, he dispenses with the pleasantries, doesn’t hem and haw his way around it, he just goes to somebody who can help and gets some damn help.

In short, once he decides he wants it, there is no force on earth that is going to stop him.

So it must be with the writer.

Sometimes the direct route is all it takes to get us there, but more often, the direct route is a boring and ineffectual route. We have to get outside the box. Sometimes that means redesigning the box, burning it, designing it again, throwing it down a flight of stairs, and building another box from the shattered pieces, then stepping into the box just for the purpose of stepping back out of it. And sometimes, we just need a little help.


Let’s get some honey.

Useless Measurements

Venturing once more into the realm of dumb things spotted in the retail world:


Notice the little infographic in the top right.

I’m not sure if the fifteen refers to minutes or seconds — it could really be either based on the picture — but what I do know is that if you buy this thing based on its expected caloric burn, you are doing it completely wrong.

I mean, you either want a heavy calorie burn, in which case you’ll lift some serious weight, run some serious distance, or you know, carry a bunch of cinder blocks across a parking lot and back again, or you want to strengthen your … I’m looking at this thing and I’m trying to figure out what exactly it does … fingers? Individually?

But nobody. Seriously. Nobody has ever set out to strengthen their grip and wondered how many calories they were burning. And isn’t 45 calories like, one singular french fry? Or maybe an eighth of an M&M? Maybe it’s the candy shell.

Well, fifteen indeterminate increments of time squeezing this thing will allow you to burn that candy coating right off!

Saddest of all, though, is that for a fleeting moment, I entertained the notion of buying one. I could keep that on my desk. Squeeze it in between sentences.


Sippy Cups


Okay, Toys R Us. Enough already.


We are not equipping ourselves for a Saharan expedition. We aren’t venturing into drought-blasted Death Valley. We are having a bit of chocolate milk or apple juice.

And if I ever meet a parent who says I need to hydrate my child, somebody is getting a kick in the throat.