Tag Archives: first world problems

The Pen Makes the Writer (Except it Obviously Doesn’t)


The prompt for this week’s SOCS post is open book, point, write. Now that sounds great and funny and creative for most people, but the problem is that our house is run by this little monster and his little monster sister, and as a result our house is full of their books.

Pay no attention to the clutter. We just got home from vacation, so I’m going to pretend that’s the reason for the mess, and that the house isn’t totally like this all the time.

And because the house is full of their books, that literally means that their books are everywhere, so when the prompt says to reach for the nearest book, and you do it in good faith, you come up with this:

AKA “Pizza Cat”

And you don’t get an awesome word like “psychotherapy” or “Mondrian” or “motivation” or “clown car” (sure that’s two words but it’s a great concept in the book I should have reached for: Everything is F*cked by Mark Manson, more on that later). No, you reach for a Pete the Cat book and you get a word like “bat”, and it’s not even a usage of bat that’s fun for a writer to explore like, I dunno, vampire bats or something, no, it’s a literal bat because Pete is literally playing baseball. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I hate baseball (almost as much as I hate golf). Still, I’m a good soldier, and the prompt says to use that word, so here I go.

But but but, the prompt is also a Stream-of-Consciousness prompt, which means write whatever comes to mind, and my mind is decidedly not on bats or baseball. So I’m going to remain a good soldier by sticking to the intent of the prompt and going where my mind takes me, which is pens.

Literal pens, specifically, in fact one particular pen in particular, but also pens in the larger sense, the metaphorical sense. (See, if there were a Pete the Cat story about pens, we could have jumped straight to this point instead of all that dithering about with bats.)

Pens are on my mind because I’m having a sort of existential crisis about pens lately, and if you think that’s a silly thing to have an existential crisis about, then obviously you’ve never held a proper pen in your life. (Ok, that’s a little hyperbolic. A little.) Actually, I need to back up.

I’ve been writing by hand a lot over the last couple months, and when you do a thing a lot, you want to make sure you’re doing it right, which is to say, efficiently and, if possible, pleasurably. And while my Pilot G2 pens have been my go-to for years, with all this writing by hand, I wondered if there was a better option. (Writers, let me do you a favor. Stop now, if you value your sanity.) Well, you do a quick google on the issue, and you fall into a hole. Long story short, I invested a ridiculous amount of money in a single writing instrument (though not nearly as much as you could spend if you were of a mind to — the hole on pens goes DEEP) and quickly fell in love with it. It writes so smoothly! It feels so satisfying in the hand! All the good things! Seriously, if you fancy yourself a writer and you haven’t tried writing with a fountain pen, you are depriving yourself.

Thing about fountain pens, though, is they run out of ink and have to be refilled. I planned for this by buying some ink refills when I bought the pen, but I’m too clever for my own good; I took them to work with me (since that’s where I was doing my writing by hand at the time) and left them there. So my super nice pen ran out of ink, and I had no ink with which to refill it.

(Here I must detour to say, I know the amount of thought I’m putting into this is ridiculous. I KNOW. Okay? But again, if you think this is a silly thing to have an existential crisis over, then you obviously haven’t spent any time in a head anything like mine.)

It came time to write this morning’s pages and my fountain pen was down for the count. So I reached for any old pen sitting on the shelf, and I was immediately reminded why I have so quickly taken to fountain pens. The writing felt scritchy, the ink didn’t glide onto the page as smoothly … and as a result, writing my pages was not as much fun as it’s been lately.

Here’s where the existential crisis comes in. I’ve pretty much made it my mantra not to care about brand names, celebrity endorsements, advertisements … anything like that. If it does the job, it’ll work for me has basically become my phrase to live by. I only shop store brands at the grocery store, I order off-brand sneakers … I don’t even know the brand name of the clothes I’m wearing now. I drive my wife nuts because she has wanted to upgrade our almost-20-year-old Camry for years but I wouldn’t dream of it. Why would I? It runs fine. So why am I getting twisted up like hair in a blender about my pens?

Here, I think, is why: the fountain pen, for one thing, feels really nice to write with. It’s hard to describe, but it literally glides on the page. And when you’re writing multiple pages at a whack, it makes a difference if the tactile experience itself is enjoyable or irksome. Also — the fountain pen just looks like a Real Writer’s Tool. Seriously. Look at that thing!

The weight of it! That nib! (Horrible word, that — “nib” — but who cares, the point of this thing looks like something Shakespeare himself would have used) The user of a writing utensil like this, my brain whispers in my ear, is a user who Knows What He Is Doing When He Puts Pen To Paper. I just feel like a real writer when I use it, and being suddenly deprived of it makes me feel the ever-dreaded less than.

Which is STUPID. A pen no more makes the writer than the clothes make the man (an idiotic expression if ever I’ve heard one). But the heart wants what it wants, and my heart wants my Real Writer’s Pen back. Which is why, even though I dutifully wrote my Morning Pages with an Any Old Pen I found in the drawer, I plan on picking up more ink when I head out later today.

I know, I know. It’s stupid. First world problems in the extreme. What can I say? My brain is broken; this is just the latest example.

This post is part of Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday.

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The World of the Small


We took the sprouts to Six Flags last night, and it opened up our eyes (as doing things with your kids will often do) to some things that you just don’t notice or even think about when you don’t have kids.

Namely, “family” events. Before you have kids, these things might as well be taking place on the moon, and you can avoid them just as easily. In short, if you see a bouncy house, a grown person in costume, or a brightly colored clutch of balloons, steer yourself in the opposite direction, and you’ll be fine. But when you do have kids, these are things you have to do, somehow. There’s a vague impression that lives at the base of your skull that you’re not a “good parent” if you don’t take your kids to these things. Unfortunately, they usually also mean leaning into the worst things about having kids. The peer pressure of other kids acting crazy, which inspires your kids to act crazy. The hyperprevalence of sugary snacks and drinks, for which your kids will beg you incessantly. The proliferation of oblivious parents, obliviously ignoring the obliviously a-hole-ish behavior of their oblivious kids.

But because you’re dumb, you take them.

And it sinks in — again — that your life has changed irrevocably, and will never again be what it once was.

Because once upon a time, you were young and adventure-seeking, and you went to amusement parks for the thrill rides: the more the better. Your stomach was made of iron: you could easily take down a 64-oz full-sugar soda, a double cheeseburger and fries, and a funnel cake, then ride the most wickedly devised gravity-defying stomach turning rides and never blink an eye. There was a “kids section” in the park, and you knew its location only so that you could more effectively avoid it.

These days, you know the kids section because it’s the only area of the park that concerns you. You pack your own snacks because you know that a whiff of funnel cake after riding even the tame little teacups will leave you queasy and sweaty. And you walk right past the thrill rides with a suppressed sigh because you won’t be riding them today, even if you thought you could handle them, which you probably can’t anymore.

So it’s bad enough going to the park with sprouts in the first place. But it’s worse on the “family days” (here in Atlanta, it’s Six Flags’ Holidays in the Park). Because 90% of the traffic in the park is poor, run-down, exhausted and raccoon-eyed moms and dads and their squalling, snot-faced brood.

The kid-centric drains on your wallet are even more pronounced, prevalent, and shameless. The kids’ area is lousy with “games” that cost a ridiculous amount of money for your kid to win a bit of candy or a cheap stuffed toy. Everywhere around the park are carts selling pretzels and popcorn and hot chocolate. And around every corner is a festive elf or a costumed cartoon character just crying out for a photo-op with your bundles of joy — which means people are clogging up all the major thoroughfares and creating foot-traffic jams, the worst kind.

But worst of all is making your bee-line past the thrill rides — most of which have waits of less than five minutes, if they have a wait time at all! — to the kids area with its crappy slate of rides, for which you’ll be waiting twenty minutes a pop, because everybody who is here tonight is here for this.

The part of your life where you could run amok, ride everything in the park, and go home without making a bathroom stop halfway (because the four-year-old somehow never needs to go when you’re walking past a restroom, but damned if he doesn’t suddenly start doing the dance when you’re about to get on the crappy kid coaster)? That’s over.

Say goodbye to fun at the amusement park.*

You’re parents at the park, now.

Abandon all hope.

*Actually, Holidays at the Park is pretty sweet. I just hate everything.


Watch This


I’m one of those guys who still wears a watch.

I know, right? Older than old school. Positively ancient. Not only do I wear a watch to begin with, but I don’t even wear one as a fashion statement: I wear the tacky digital kinds (one of those backward primates who still thinks digital watches are neat).

Why bother? When we have what are essentially supercomputers tucked in our pockets, what’s the point of having an outdated piece of tech strapped to the wrist?

Well, regular readers know already that I’m a little bit preoccupied with time as a concept. I wrote an entire novel (still in edits — okay not in edits yet, but slated for it soon) about time-traveling teenagers. There’s no telling when that phone in your pocket will run out of juice or kick the bucket all on its own (as the technology increases, so does the crash potential). Not to mention the fact that — and perhaps I’m showing my teacher stripes here a bit — I find it enormously tacky whipping your phone out as regularly as breathing to check anything: social media, e-mail, the time, the weather. I’m guilty of enough of that without resorting to the phone to check the time several times an hour.

Further, something about my bare wrist bothers me. Hard to nail down why, but my unadorned body kinda skeeves me out. I wear all kinds of stuff, preferably the kind I don’t have to take off, just so that my naked skin isn’t just flapping in the breeze. Rings on both hands (I’m down to just one on each hand these days). A three-year-old glow-in-the-dark bracelet from a 5k. A really rather sharp man-chain necklace, a gift from my wife in our first year together. I even, back in times we won’t talk about, dabbled in earrings, and in my really dark days, an anklet. (I know. I KNOW. It was the nineties. God.)

And then there’s my watch, which is the only functional accessory in the lot.

I dunno, I think there’s something elegant and classy about being able to track the movement of time — time, dictated by the very movement of the planet around the sun, or, in a less direct sense, by the actual vibrations of Cesium electrons (and yes, okay, they’re not “Cesium electrons” but rather electrons in orbit around a Cesium atom GOD this isn’t a science class) — just with a flick of the wrist, an adjustment of the sleeve. Plus, and I know I’ve mentioned this before, I’m a teacher, and teaching types live and die by the number of minutes left in the period, so I like to have that information handy. (I am so sorry. No I’m not. Every pun is deliberate.) Seriously. Digital watches are neat.

And my watch broke the other day.

Well, the band broke. And with the caliber of watches I traffic in, that basically means the watch is dead to me, because it costs only slightly more to buy a replacement watch than it would cost to buy a replacement band, not to mention finding the right band and fiddling with microscopic screwdrivers and tiny pins and pieces that can barely be seen with the naked eye. No thanks. Plus, that battery will be going soon, for that matter, and … yeah. It’s quicker and easier to shell out $20 for a new watch than to sink time and repair into the old one. (#firstworldproblems, I know.)

How did I break the band? Fair question. Here’s my humble-brag: push-ups. Apparently my wrist bulges like an inflated python, and after — man, how long did that watch last? let me ratchet this humble-brag up a step — let’s say a few thousand reps, that thing snapped like a fat man’s belt at a Vegas buffet.

So I have to muddle through a few days, watchless.

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Don’t look at the tan-line too long. You could go snow blind.

And it’s painful. Because I have no idea what time it is, outside of knowing that it’s generally night or day based on the light coming in through the window. Sure, I could check the systems clock at the bottom right of my computer screen — or the digital display on the cable box — or the Roman-numeral-analog job hanging on the wall — or the other digital display on the stove — or the one in the dash of my car — or my alarm clock that shows the time TWICE (once on its face and once projected in foot-tall letters on the bedroom wall — OR OKAY FINE MY PHONE — but no.

NO.

I needs my watch.

I feel naked without it.

So naked I’m thinking of putting an anklet on my wrist.

Please, think of the anklets.

No, wait. Don’t. Don’t think of the anklets. EVER.


Wal-Mart Thinks We’re All Criminals


I am not a crook.

Just as a rule, I don’t break laws. That may put me in the minority, especially if you consider traffic violators to be lawbreakers (by the way, the days when cars will automatically drive us where we need to be cannot get here fast enough for me. I firmly believe that driving, like the internet, somehow brings out the worst in people just by its very nature), but I take some pride in being a guy who follows rules, does what’s meant to be done, and by and large and as often as I can, considers the people around him when making a decision.

Despite all this, and despite the fact that I look about as likely to go on a crime spree as to spontaneously break into a ballet dance, Wal-Mart and its subsidiaries think I’m a criminal.

I mean, they must, right? Because I can’t exit their establishment with any amount of goods in my possession without displaying my receipt. It’s been that way at Sam’s Club for a while, but today it happened at the regular old Wal-Mart as well.

Yeah, I know, here I go again with the first-world problems, and this is me making a big gripe over a really minuscule inconvenience, but I’m not so sure it’s minuscule.

Let me be clear: I don’t mind proving that I bought and paid for the things I’m carrying out of the store. That’s fine. What I mind is being detained (let’s not split hairs here, you get stopped on your way out the door while they “check your receipt”) for no other reason than that the store has to double-check and make sure I’m not stealing from them.

Because that’s what they’re doing. There’s really no other way around it. Checking your receipt at the exit isn’t designed to make sure you have the everything you paid for, it isn’t designed to safeguard the nutritional value of the food you’re buying for your family, it isn’t even designed to create jobs for retirees and veterans — that’s just a byproduct (though the fact that they have to take jobs like this is a subject for another post, probably too depressing for me to cover here). No, the business of checking your receipt is designed to ensure that you aren’t walking out with stuff you didn’t pay for.

In other words, that person at the door is there to say to you, “let me make sure you didn’t forget to pay for something,” which is another way of saying, “let’s make sure you aren’t a dirty, stuff-taking thief,” all while they (hopefully) smile at you and (sometimes) wish you a nice day.

And I get it. People steal stuff. Some people steal a lot of stuff. The whole self-checkout thing is throwing a wrench into the works, whether it’s the way forward or not, and there have to be some safeguards in place to make sure people aren’t taking advantage. A company’s within their rights to protect their property through reasonable means (reasonable, I guess, would be an action short of shooting you in the kneecap if you accidentally stuff a bottle of salad dressing into your pocket because your kid started having a fit in the store and you needed both hands on him to wrangle him and usher him out of the store in a hurry, forgetting to pay for the bottle of salad dressing in the process, NOT THAT THAT’S EVER HAPPENED TO ANYBODY AROUND HERE *whistles*), and having a person there to check what you’re walking out of the door with certainly isn’t an invasion of privacy or a denial of your human rights. I’m not about to stage a sit-in because a low-wage employee came at me with a highlighter. But does that mean that the company has to operate under the assumption that everybody is a criminal?

It makes me feel icky about shopping there. It’s hard to look past the subtext: “we check everybody’s receipt because everybody is potentially a criminal.” I don’t care how nice the shopping experience is otherwise (and let’s be clear, I’m not saying it is — Sam’s Club is routinely home to the longest and slowest lines I’ve ever seen in retail, and Wal-Mart is… well, let’s just say there’s an entire website dedicated to the ridiculous/sad/terrifying/I-don’t-want-to-live-on-this-planet-anymore experience that is shopping at your local Wal-Mart), the fact that this retailer is silently accusing me of petty theft every time I pass through their doors kinda makes me not want to shop there.

So, for the most part I don’t. Trips to Sam’s and Wally World are few and far between for us these days, for this among other reasons. But every time I check out, and I see people blithely handing over their receipts, I have to wonder if anybody is really thinking about what’s going on there, if they really consider the fact that the retailer they’re giving their hard-earned dollars to silently and discreetly considers them a possible thief just by virtue of having bought something there.

And there’s the fargo’ed up thing. If you walk out ostensibly empty-handed, you don’t get stopped. So I — having just stood in line for fifteen minutes waiting for a dead-in-the-eyes twenty-something to ring up my economy-sized jar of pickles and twenty-pound sack of potatoes and shambling toward my car while carrying a baby in one hand and holding the hand of my three-year-old in the other, and pushing the cart with my third hand OH WAIT I DON’T HAVE A THIRD HAND, I’m doing all this with only the two hands I was born with — I get stopped to have my receipt checked. But the guy who came in, stuffed a couple of fishing rods down his pants legs, a few astonishingly priced shirts under his armpits, a bunch of grapes under his hat and a half dozen batteries up his ass, and then walked out empty-handed because he “didn’t find what he was looking for” doesn’t get smiled at, doesn’t get a highlighter waved in his direction, and in fact goes on to rob the very store that’s giving me such a hard time for shopping there with an ease I can only dream of.

This is our world. Wal-Mart thinks we’re all crooks, but man, just look at those prices! I guess they can think what they want…


That Kind of Morning


I usually don’t use the blarg to vent about little things; it’s not my jam to get overly worked up over the ticky tacky stuff that happens to everybody all the time.  Then again, sometimes things happen that just throw you so far off your stride it’s impossible to get past it.  Douglas Adams made a fantastic comparison once (and I’m paraphrasing heavily): It’s as if you’re going along happily in third gear, and feeling how wonderfully powerful you are and how smoothly everything is going, and then as you shift into fourth gear you miss the shift and throw the vehicle into reverse, and your vehicle vomits its engine out onto the highway.  I feel like that was in The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, but I can’t be certain.

There are just some things you take for granted in your day.  Some simple things that are so very simple they cannot fail.  The sky, for example, will hover merrily above your head.  Gravity will tug gently downward at you.  People will generally be decent, if a bit self-absorbed.  Doors will operate by the simple use of their handle.

But you can’t take all of those things for granted.

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That’s my driver’s side door, moments after I attempted to open it to go to work this morning.  I took hold of the handle and pulled it toward me in the proscribed manner, and then with a comically loud snap, it broke off in my hand, sending me windmilling wildly backward in my driveway.  (I wish I could have said windmilling wildly westward, but I don’t know if that’s true and it’s a bit aggrandized.)  I can still get it open, but I have to slide a finger behind that tab of remaining handle to lift up the metal bit which lies flush against the back of the handle well, and then get my other fingers under that to open the door.  So it’s about five times as much work as opening a door should be, plus it looks like absolute ass.  And okay, yes, first world problems and all that, but ugh.  Of all the things that can go wrong with a car, you don’t expect the door handle to be anywhere near that list, or in fact on the list at all, or even adjacent to the list.

I’m not one to ascribe significance where there is none.  The breaking of a door handle has no bearing on the rest of my day except for leaving me a little bit in doubt as to whether other taken-for-granted elements in the world will also cease to function as advertised.  Still, this strikes me as pretty odd.  I mean, I didn’t know this could happen through what I can only assume is normal use of the product.

Am I wrong?  Does this happen?  Are we all just in some long invisible queue waiting for the automatic certainties of the universe to decay on us?  Or is all my working out paying off, so much that I now need to be really careful when I handle delicate objects?

Ahem.  So this is Tuesday.


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