Tag Archives: humor

How *you* doing?


Me? Over here?

Oh, you know, just having one of those weeks where it feels like every single thing I write or do or even think seems to me like a sentient pile of bear poop that is, itself, shaped like a bear. A bear with sharpened poop claws and poop fangs just waiting to slice into me for the crime of bringing its poopy mass into existence.

You know, a week where anything I create just gloms together into a seething, roiling mass of crapness. So much crap that it begins to collapse under its own weight, swirling and coalescing into a crappy black hole in my backyard; a black hole into which I might gladly toss my laptop, my current project, my other previous projects, and any and all potential future projects I might have thought about conceiving of. An entire alternate universe of projects that never had a chance of existing; those can go, too. Reality and possibility themselves bend around the gravity of my ineptitude.

Drive it all into the ocean and drown the world in the tsunami.

Douse it with gasoline and outshine the sun with the fireball.

Bury it underground and dwarf Everest with the displaced earth.

Ahem.

How am I doing?

Fine. Everything is fine.

How about you?

Advertisements

Metaphor Monday – PBV Syndrome


Since buying our van a few years ago, and having now driven it all over, I’ve noticed a phenomenon. It’s not tied to me, as far as I can discern — rather it’s a phenomenon that occurs in other drivers that seems to happen when I’m around.

I call it PBV (Passed-By-Van) Syndrome.

The phenomenon is this:

We’re driving in the van, and we approach and slowly overtake another vehicle. Before we can fully pass said vehicle, it begins to speed up, matching our pace and disallowing our passage. It continues to match our speed — oftentimes in great excess of its original speed — sometimes for miles. This continues until the driver decides that they really don’t want to be going quite so fast and they fall off. Occasionally, though, the opposite will happen: the other driver will speed up even more to pass us again, gaining a little buffer of roadway in front of us before it returns to its former speed and the process begins again.

I should note, too, that neither I nor my wife drive at particularly excessive speeds. At most we go maybe 5-10 miles over the posted limit, which by Atlanta standards means we might as well be standing still, given that speed limits in Atlanta are more often taken as baseline minimums to be left behind at the earliest opportunity than as legal maximums. Yet still we pass people, and still they try not to let us pass.

I have yet to conduct double-blind studies, but the most frequent afflicted seem to be trucks and SUVs. However, any driver of any sort of vehicle seems to be susceptible to PBV — I’ve seen it in fancy sports cars (why are they driving slowly enough to get passed by my hulking van?), ridiculous little Smart cars (if the purpose is good mileage, why are you trying to “beat” me anywhere?), and even other minivans (what happens if two drivers afflicted with PBV find themselves passing each other? Does spacetime disintegrate and collapse on itself?).

The phenomenon isn’t limited to my van, either — before we upsized, we had a tiny, sporty little Toyota Yaris, and we’d get the odd pacer there as well. Nothing like what we get with the van, but significant enough to notice.

Motivating factors are difficult to fully determine, but the assumption is pretty simple: some people just don’t like getting passed by a pansy vehicle like my minivan. Because we still live in a society where, somehow, your status on the road and in your vehicle is inextricably fused to your notion of self.

In other words, if you’re getting passed, it’s because the other guy has a bigger, uh, engine than you.

WHICH CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO STAND.

Treatment: well, none, really. Perhaps a bit of introspection. A little consideration of why your foot tends toward the gas when you see a minivan creeping up from behind. Do you really, suddenly and for no discernible reason, just feel like getting more quickly to wherever you were headed? If so, why weren’t you driving faster in the first place? Did my van somehow make you realize you were running late?

If it’s about “beating” the van somewhere, that’s foolish — we almost certainly aren’t going to the same place. And even if we were, the difference in travel time from me going a few miles per hour faster will make a difference in arrival time measured in seconds, not minutes. Ridiculous!

If it’s about a van going faster, then why get uptight about a van over any other sort of vehicle? Again I fall back on the perception thing. Vans aren’t “manly” (but what is “manly” anyway, when it comes to cars? Truck and sports car commercials would have you believe it’s about horsepower and maneuverability, towing capacity and “sleek lines” whatever that means, but again I say: if you are drawing more than a modicum of your personal identity from the vehicle you drive, you are probably a bit of a jerk), therefore getting passed by one makes one ultra-unmanly. Of course, that assessment comes up short, too, because I’ve seen a fair share of women afflicted with PBV.

So.

It’s Metaphor Monday and all, and that means I’ve got to tie this weird phenomenon to writing, and to life in general.

But it’s not that hard to see, is it?

You’re driving on the highway. You see this dinky little minivan creeping up on you, about to pass you, and something in your lizard brain says “DON’T LET IT HAPPEN.” You’re paying attention to what the other guy is doing instead of focusing on the road in front of you, which is all that should really matter anyway. You’re comparing yourself to somebody else when no comparison even makes sense. You don’t know where I’m going. You don’t know if there’s an urgency for me that doesn’t exist for you, or vice versa. You don’t know if I’m late to a meeting for backyard lawn darts enthusiasts. (My new backyard would be so choice for lawn darts.) You just want to beat me there.

And what’s the internet, but a big ol’ information highway, with writers to the left and the right? Internet’s lousy with writers. Some of them driving souped-up muscle cars and churning out thousands of words per day. Some of them puttering on mopeds, coughing up maybe a thousand per week. And you look at somebody’s website — let’s call it, I dunno, a minivan of a website — where she talks about having a full-time job, two kids, a spouse, all those things that you have. And he further claims to be getting two thousand words a day.

You just got passed by a minivan. What are you gonna do about that?

You’re gonna stomp the gas, is what — after all, they have nothing going on that you don’t have, and they are getting it done. You deserve everything they have coming. And you need it now!

Except, as my dad used to tell me (or maybe it was merely a construct of my dad as I tell myself I remember him — you can never tell), it ain’t always that simple. Sure, the stuff you can see is comparable, but you don’t know what’s going on in their life, what’s kicking around between their ears. In short — you don’t know why their minivan is going faster than you. It just is.

As long as you’re writing, you’re making forward progress. You spend the unmitigated bulk of that time slaving away in silence and solitude anyway — what kind of good does it do to compare your slaving to somebody else’s? It’s a good way to burn out. Get frustrated. Get disillusioned.

And when your brain gets disillusioned or frustrated or burnt out, well, your whole vehicle breaks down, dunnit? And when your whole vehicle breaks down? Everybody passes you. Even that grandma scooting around on her moped.

The point? Don’t give in to PBV syndrome.

Stay in your lane. Eyes on your own road.

Let the minivans pass.


Sparks! (and spiders)


Yesterday I wrote about the occluded flow of viable ideas making it from my brain to the blank page. Here’s why I think my particular eclipse might be waning:

In the past twenty-four hours I’ve had a couple of ideas penetrate the mental fog, strike me as amusing, and stick around for more than a few moments (of late, the ideas strike and then vanish again into the ether like Batman knocking out a criminal and disappearing into the night). Both spurred by simple real-life situations that could easily have been left alone and forgotten about!

Situation 1:

I’m at work. I get no cell service in my building. So if I receive a text, it doesn’t usually land until I’m in the parking lot, leaving school. As it turns out, I receive a text from my father as I’m pulling away from the building. It’s time-stamped around 2:00: “What is happening?”

I reply “not much” and don’t think of it again until the following morning. A response never comes. Now, it must be asked: who sends a text to ask “what is happening” without that being pretense for actually asking something more significant, a la “let’s get together for dinner” or “are you going to be available on Saturday” or “do you still have the shovel and duct tape and garbage bags and lye that we used for that one thing that one time, I kinda need them right this minute”? Nobody, that’s who. You ask somebody “what’s happening” so that you can talk to them about something else and you don’t know how to begin the conversation without a banality. And, by the way, you say “what’s happening” like a human, not the more formal “what is happening” like a robot.

But there it is. Just that question — “what is happening?” — and nothing to follow.

Right around the time of the eclipse.

Then, in my head, the scenario plays out: the eclipse has come, the sky is dark, and my father rushes out into the yard, beseeching the heavens (and then also texting me, because of course he would do this): “WHAT IS HAPPENING?”

Read with the proper inflection and emotion, this makes perfect sense. All it needs is a second question mark to fit perfectly — ooh, or perhaps the saucy interrobang. The world needs more interrobangs. Doesn’t it?!

Ahem.

And why no response? Well, that’s easy. He was taken by the lizard men, obviously, and spirited away to their space station on the far side of the moon.

This is much more palatable than the probable actual truth, which is that he just sort of wanted to check in with me.

Right. Situation 2:

I was out for a run this morning. Gorgeous one, actually. Starry sky in full glory, perhaps trying to make up for being overshadowed (haw) by the eclipse yesterday. I’m plodding on, eyes skyward, when I tear through this massive spider web.

And I do mean, massive. The web happened to be strung across the gap between a football fence and the bleachers behind it: a four-foot gap, and right at head-and-chest height. I’ve got strands in my mouth, on both shoulders, even trailing the tops of my knees. I’m pulling webby gunk out of my eyebrows, off the back of my hands. The dog is freaking out because I’m stumbling all over the place like a drunk trying to pick a fight with a bar stool.

While we’re on the subject, have you ever run into a spider web while bald? I can’t say I recommend it.

Of course, I don’t stop running while I’m trying to de-web myself (NEVER STOP RUNNING, the demons will catch you). So about fifty yards later, when I’ve collected my thoughts a little bit, the real horror strikes. What’s unpleasant about spider webs is not the webs themselves, but the spiders they conceal. And now I have to contend with the possibility that a spider is on me right now. Worse than that, massive, human-sized spider webs are not woven by tiny house spiders. This web was a doozy, which means the responsible spider is a doozy by proxy and I know spiders don’t always just sit in the middle of their webs but SOMETIMES THEY DO OH MY GOD HELP.

But I can’t feel the spider, despite lots of swiping at my face and neck and back and various other parts.

And I figure that means I’m okay.

Unless the spider is one of those weird anomalies of nature like that parasite that takes over an ant’s brain and drives it onto the top of tall grass at nightfall to be devoured by a cow. If it were, couldn’t it conceivably have wiped out the past twenty seconds of my memory, when it crawled up through my nose and buried itself in my brain, and only made me think that I hadn’t found the spider?

Couldn’t it, then, be driving me around like a meat puppet right now?

Could I really be the spider right now? Thinking spidery thoughts that just happen to be the thoughts that spiders would think if they found themselves embedded in human husks?

We can’t be sure that I’m not.

So I’ve spent the past several hours wandering in and out of a dreamland in which my father was abducted by eclipse-riding lizardmen and I was being piloted by a mind-controlling spider. Which is a weird headspace, but not a narratively unfertile one.

Still, it’s got my brain percolating, so that’s good. Even if a spider is to blame.

(Spiders are usually to blame.)


Metaphor Monday: The Unmown Lawn


First of all, is it “mown” or “mowed”? Auto-correct liked “mowed” over “mown” but doesn’t like either “unmowed” or “unmown.” What up with that? Anyway.

Not to harp on a theme, but we’re still getting settled in the new house, and one thing task that I was particularly avoiding was the mowing of the lawn.

Big deal, right? It’s a lawn. You live in suburbia, you pay your dues. You handle it. Grass. Mower. Gas. Summer heat. Suck it up, sweat it out, keep up with the Joneses, and mow it.

Problem is, the lawn at the new house is about three times the size of the lawn I’m used to mowing, so what was once a 25-minute job to be breezed through in between sips of coffee on a Saturday morning is now a capital-C Chore requiring over an hour to complete.

Okay, so great, it’s going to take longer than I want to do it, but the new house saves me on the order of four or five hours in weekly drive time, so again: the price you pay.

But if you’re a regular reader of the blarg here, you know that no seemingly mundane task, no apparently benign situation has proven to be quite so simple. Just so with the new lawn.

The front lawn is blanketed with this lovely stuff — I don’t know a gopher’s arsehole from a chipmunk’s elbow when it comes to anything green, so I’m gonna say it’s BERTUCKY FLUEGRASS — soft and springy underfoot. The word “lush” comes to mind. If they could make this stuff into carpet, I’d do the interior of the house in it. Surely this is the grass that adorns the lawns of heaven.

Then you hit the backyard and you step into the untamed Amazon rainforest of grasses. Gone is the delicate bedding of greens whose clippings waft away like angel dust on a celestial breeze. Here, instead, is a tangling thicket, a countlessly-armed kraken of grasping blades and shoots into which, once your shoe disappears, you wonder if you will ever see it again. Whatever’s back here (and again, not knowing anything about grasses, I’ll just call it DEVIL-FESCUE) grows about four times as fast as the Bertucky Fluegrass out front. The terrain is less gently-rolling-possibly-part-of-an-improvised-golf-course-green and more sheetmetal-poked-up-from-beneath-by-demons.

Furthermore, when our move was delayed for first a few days, then a few weeks, the owner of this house, fed up with the process (rightly so!), folded his arms and decided not to bother mowing the grass any longer. So the Devil-Fescue got up to knee-high in some places.

So. Suck it up and mow it, right? Well… if you’re a frequent or even only sometime mower of lawns as I am, you know that with your standard, run-of-the-mill, welcome-to-the-suburbs Saturday-special lawnmower from the Home Depot, you know that the secret to successful mowing is to not allow things to get out of control. Get after it weekly, keep it from getting overgrown. Because once it’s overgrown, god help you. Clippings from the Devil-Fescue will clog your special little mower in nothing flat. The tall grass will snarl the wheels. You’ll be getting the workout of your life on your pull-starter arm while breaking your back to flip the thing over and pull the cut grass out of the blade and the vent, all while the rain is starting to fall and the neighbors are laughing at you over glasses of wine they spent the last twenty minutes chilling on their back porch.

Which is, of course, exactly where I found myself. Because make no mistake, mowing a lawn in such a condition is awful, but every day it’s allowed to fester beyond that only makes the job that much harder. Comes a point where, no matter how daunting the task looks, you have to bite your lip and accept the back-breaking task before you, or let it go forever. And given that we’re new to the neighborhood, it seems a little early to go giving the finger to the HOA at this point, so there I was.

The parallel to writing is obvious, right? You treat the writing like a devotional, returning to it regularly much the way you return to cutting the grass once a week. Keep the Devil-Fescue in check and don’t allow it to grow to strangling height. Do it regularly and the job is easy: You carve your neat little lines in the lawn, or if you’re fancy, you do it on the diagonal (or if you’re me, you mow around the outside in ever-shrinking boxes, like a game of snake that’s doomed from the start. Boy, I wonder what that says about my psychology). You put it off, and the job becomes untenable.

The longer you stay away from writing, the harder it becomes to go back to writing. Or to any thing, I suppose. You reach the point where you either go back to it in an epicly (epically?) traumatic battle of wills, or you let it go forever.

Or you move back into an apartment and never have to worry about mowing a stupid lawn again.

Not pictured: running out of gas 2/3 of the way through and cursing the entire observable universe. Note the dead heaps of Devil-Fescue and the wheelbarrow I overturned after running entirely out of fargoes.

Mondays are for metaphors! Every week, I’ll pick a thing and compare it to another thing. Probably writing, since that’s what this blog is about, but who knows? Metaphors are awesome. Alliteration, doubly so. Got a suggestion for next week’s metaphor? Drop it in the comments. And yeah, I’m a day late today — you’ll see why below.


Metaphor Monday: The Painted Closet


Metaphor Monday is a new thing we’re trying out around here. Every week, I’ll pick a thing and compare it to another thing. Probably writing, since that’s what this blog is about, but who knows? Metaphors are awesome. Alliteration, doubly so. Got a suggestion for next week’s metaphor? Drop it in the comments. And yeah, I’m a day late today — you’ll see why below.

We’re moving (finally!) and as a result, most of my thoughts bend in that direction. The whole affair got delayed and postponed and we ran out of time this summer to deal with it the way we would have liked, and now we’re having to rush through things. Instead of two weeks to sort our lives out before we got back to work, we were left with more like two days, so it’s a frantic rush of movers and building furniture and unloading boxes and the house looks like a war zone if the war were fought between rival manufacturers of styrofoam peanuts.

So we’re hustling to get the kids’ rooms painted (because if we don’t do it now, it’ll never happen), and I catch my wife sort of staring into the closet. Hands on hips. Thoughtful frown on her lips.

“What’s up?” I ask.

“I don’t know if I can handle these closets,” she says.

I look. While most of the rest of the house is immaculate, the closets are not — especially the ones in the kids’ rooms. They were obviously occupied by kids before, and bear the scars of it. Dings and chips in the drywall where toys or sporting equipment were chucked heedlessly in. Aimless, careless scribbles in crayon and marker — not a design or an attempt at artwork, just an outburst of uncertain creative energy.

I shrug. “It’s a closet.”

“I know, but it’s going to bother me.”

Really? I’ve got bunkbeds to build and a rain forest in the backyard to trim down and about a bajillion boxes to haul up the stairs and you want to waste time painting a closet? Why? Who’s going to see it?

Come to think of it, I mean, when’s the last time you saw the back of your own closet, let alone anybody else’s? Leaving the closet in that state is a crime without a victim; literally nobody will ever know. I begin to protest, but I don’t get very far.

“No, I really want to paint over them.”

Happy wife, happy life, they say. So I go down to the basement in search of the primer. We crack it open and go to work with the rollers, and the job is done in less than an hour. We don’t even do a good job, really — the color’s not a perfect match to what’s in there already, and some of the really dark marks show through — but the closets look miles better.

And my wife is smiling a little more.

And so am I.

So, what’s a painted closet have to do with anything? Well, it’s exactly what it is: a lovely little detail that nobody else knows is there. It’s Van Gogh’s signature twisted into the whorls of a sunflower. An authorial flourish added, not for the well-being of the observer, but for the well-being of the author.

An oft-quoted bit of advice for the writer is “kill your darlings.” Generally, it means that those weird little things that you stuck into the work for your own benefit? Because they made you laugh, or amused you, without serving the story as a whole? Those are things which distract from the narrative, that seem to stand for bigger things and thus demand the reader’s attention, and then frustrate the reader when they don’t. They’re a waste of time, in other words. Everybody involved has better things to do. So they deserve, to butcher syntax in a way I feel rolls right off the tongue, to be got rid of. (Diagram that sentence, Ms. Finch!)

But a closet doesn’t take that much time to paint, and there’s the odd house guest who might poke their nose into the nooks and crannies of the place; wouldn’t we rather give them a nice, finished closet to look at rather than a pockmarked and graffitied (graffiti’d?) hidey-hole we hoped would never see the light of day?

By the same token, a story needs a few diversions. A few rabbit holes for readers to dive into, even if there’s nothing hiding at the bottom.

And, after all, a happier wife is worth an hour’s worth of work with a paint roller.

 


%d bloggers like this: