I Believe…

Writing Practice 1/24/2019: I believe…

I believe in the kingdom come. I believe U2 was at its best in the eighties, before they got successful band syndrome. It’s okay, it happens to all of those people who get “successful”. They now have less reason to pursue their artistry and craft than they did when they were broke and absolutely needed to pursue it at all coasts, in order to eat. That kind of pressure that kind of process weeds out those who don’t believe in their message as much; it keeps them from getting complacent, until, eventually, there is so much abundance around them that thye forget the passions that drove them to and through those situations and spaces.

I believe that diamonds are not all girls’ best friends. Oh, sure. Sometimes they are an individual girl’s best friend, because they represent something larger in society, they represent wealth, and with wealth comes status, and with status comes privilege, and princessship, and servants to supply your every demand, and all that Jazz which, apparently, everyone wants.

I believe that their are footprints on the moon. Though that’s not much of a “believe” as an acceptance of fact. There really are footprints there, and pictures to prove it. I guess the belief is that I believe the pictures are not changed, faked, doctored in any way.

I believe that is the way of the world – that this, too, this process of free writing and rewriting and changing your mind halfway through is what gets us there. We are on a journey. The farthest journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, is the old adage. But it doesn’t stop there. It continues. It continues as you move forward, keep going, second step, third, fourth, fifth, tenth, twentieth, thirtieth, and suddenly (well, not suddenly, gradually, we’re not wearing Seven League Boots here) you’ve gone a mile. And after a time, two.

The value comes in going mile five hundred and one, when you’re tired and cold, and bored, and staying someplace warm, with a soft bed and a fireplace and some good company to tell you jokes in the evening as you sit, communal, gathered around the fire and smoking a pipe and enjoying the atmosphere and the community and the “feel” of the place; if you, too, become successful in that moment you will forget your journey, you will stop and stay, you will just be there, you will not finish.

__You will not end well.

____You will not overcome.

So the win, the completion, the culmination of the thousand mile journey is tho the easy part of the first step. and it is not the easy part of the last ten, twenty, eighty-seven miles. You conquer that journey when you are in the middle, faced with a decision.

–Stay?

—-Or go?

How you answer determines your fate. Choose wisely. For each future has consequence.

Writing Practice 12/29/2018

Warning Labels…

We don’t have warning labels on the right things. We have one on our mattress – a sleeping thing, for gods’ sake! But whoever really felt screwed by their imitation mattress? I mean, really, if you can’t tell when you lie down that you’ve got a real or a fake one, some stupid piece of tag stuck to the corner isn’t going to do you a lot of good.

I need a warning label on more things. People, everyone needs more of a warning label. Like, the one on me about 5 years would have said, “Warning: Deprive this man of intimacy, affection, and recognition of the hard work he’s doing and the pressure he is under and he will snap. Futures include holes in walls, doors, and late night drives that only compound the feelings of guilt, not absolve them.”

Our genitals need warning labels. “Warning: improper use could lead to feelings of shame, inadequacy, loneliness, and frustration.

Warning: Proper use could lead to a lifetime of responsibility for another human being, as well as necessary interaction with that other human’s other parent for the corresponding time frame.”

Our schools need warning labels:

“Warning: inside you shall not necessarily learn skill to help you succeed at life. Instead, you are likely to learn how to follow rules, because the consequences for rule-breaking are inclusive of exclusion from society, shame, feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. These feelings are wrong, but the are likely to come anyway.”

Our world needs a warning label:

“Warning – contents under pressure. This situation has been building for hundreds of millions of years. To release all that in one fell swoop of a couple of hundred years is pretty stupid, don’t you think? It mean, who knows what could happen? You’re trying to undo millennia of a one-way process in just a few short decades. You ever think that might have some consequence? No, no you didn’t. And now look – you’ve cocked it all up. Who can tell what’s about to happen? Shame, shame on you. And that one is right.”

You know what else needs warning labels? Puppies and kittens.

“Warning: playing with this animal is likely to induce feelings of happiness, joy, relaxation, and a desire to emotionally bond with it over the coming months. You’ve been warned.”

Writing Practice 12/15/2018

Presence vs. Presents

Presents: pretty, shiny, fancy, makes you feel special the first few moments.

Presence – close, comfort, intimacy. Make help encourage you to feel more special for a longer time; Presence lasts. Presents break.

Presents, when done right, are a great thing. Too many times these days, though, presents are a pale attempt to replace presence. And this is a tired critique. Many people have made the same. They say that we are becoming disconnected, losing touch, ignoring presence.

Yes, that is true. But, too, we have become lazy in our presents-giving. We are attempting to find shortcuts to telling people that we care much about them, that we care enough about them to consider their sensibilities, their sensitivities, the things they would enjoy. A gift card is cheap. So is cash. Even a gift card or a cash gift of a thousand dollars is cheap. Because it says you didn’t put any effort into deciding what to get me. It says you bought me my own job. You took a look, and said, “Eh, fuck it, I’m tired of thinking of that asshole. He can do the work for me. Here…” and you shove a stack of bills at me, make me go pick out my own gift. Far from being “the perfect gift!” I find gift cards to be imbecilic, juvenile, and irrational. They counteract the spirit of giving. They ruin presents. if you’re going to give me a “present” of a gift card, please do us both a favor and DON’T.

Instead, give me presence. Come over some afternoon when I didn’t expect it. Bring a six-pack of beer, or a pizza. Tell your friend to take my kids to the mall for an hour, and we’ll just sit and talk. Or make love. Or just watch television. Because we’ll be doing something, together, which is presence, and it would mean much more than generic Presents which are nothing more than abdication in disguise.

Extremely Bad Advice – Roommate “Situation”

Another one “borrowed” from Dear Abby. Thanks for doing the research for me, love!

Dear SJ: I’m a man in my mid-30s. For the past couple of years I’ve been in love with my best friend. She doesn’t know how I feel, and I know she doesn’t feel the same way about me. (She calls me the brother she always wanted.) I try hard to fight these feelings os our friendship can continue. She has been a huge part of my life, so losing her friendship would be devastating.

To make maters more difficult, we are currently roommates and spend lots of time together. My heart breaks when she goes on dates or talks a bout guys she may be interested in. I know she’Lloyd never see me as more than a friend. Is there any way I can get over these feelings so we can continue this amazing friendship? – FRIEND ZONE IN VERMONT

Dear FRIEND ZONE,

Seems pretty obvious to me. Your best friend / girlfriend is an incestuous freak. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not for everyone. But when someone talks about you as “the brother she always wanted”, that’s code for “I wanna bang my whole family.” Plus, why do you think she agreed to live with you? She’s been trying to grease the skids this whole time.

You see, there’s a big body of scientific literature that says exactly this: boys want to kill their fathers and replace them between their mother’s legs. It’s called the Oedipus Complex. It’s what drives so much of human evolution. “It was good enough for Dad, it should be good enough for me!” The parallel for women is the Electra Complex, which, my best guess is, has something to do with wiring your nipples to a car battery. Sounds like your friend has taken this to the logical extreme… if sons want to bang Mommy, then daughters want to bang Daddy. Since “society” says she can’t do that, she’s acting out in the nearest substitute possible: you.

She’s grooming you to be Dad’s replacement. It starts out as a surrogate brother, and once she’s got you hooked on that mental mind-warp she’ll start imagining her father’s face on your body when you’re doing it. Trust me, you don’t want to be on the inside of her mind when that happens. I’ve been there, it’s not pretty.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking that she’s really interested in these other guys she’s talking about our dating. Those are just a ploy to make you jealous – to make you see her as desirable – to incite you to finally “man up” and make your move. Let’s be honest: there’s never in history been a male / female couple that is just really good friends without both of them wanting to bone. And it’s not anybody’s fault; that’s just how we’re wired as a species.

So, what’s your move? Forget about “getting over the feelings”. You and I both know that’s not going to happen. Instead, you need to step up and step out. Tell her exactly what you feel. If you need help writing the script, it should sound something like this:

“Hey, Roomie, let’s be more than roommates. You know your lady-bits tingle when I walk in the room, ‘cause I feel the same way. My Tower of Power gets all electrified just thinking about you. Those other guys? They ain’t got nothin’ on me. Remember last month when you ‘accidentally’ walked in on me in the shower? Yeah, I ‘forgot’ to lock the door, and you somehow ‘didn’t remember’ that I take a shower every day at exactly that same time. Let’s not kid ourselves any more. We should do this, ‘cause, feelings, and stuff. What do you say?” Trust me, it’ll work out great. Soon you’ll be banging like a screen door in a hurricane and everyone wins.

And because I’m a good guy, I’ll even give you a Plan B. If she does happen to reject you (even though my analysis is on point like 98% of the time), and you really do want to forget all about your feelings, try this. Hit yourself in the head with a hammer. If you can remember, afterwards, why you hit yourself, do it again. Repeat as necessary. Toodle-ooo!

Extremely Bad Advice – Weight Loss Tips and Tricks

Dear SJ,

My doctor says I really need to lose 20 pounds. But I really don’t want to give up peanut butter. What should I do? EXTRA CHUNKY FOR THE WIN

Dear EXTRA CHUNKY,

First off, I gotta say, if your doctor says you need to lose 20 pounds, you can bet it’s more like 40. And if you’re in the US, I’ll put dollars to doughnuts that it’s really 60, but both your doctor and I know that if someone actually says that to you, you’ll pull a nope, nope, nopey nope nope. Like the 98% majority in this country, you would rather just be thin than get thin, so seeing the whole mountain of work in front of you becomes an intimidation rather than an inspiration.

And while I may decry the phenomenon, I’m not really that interested in beating my brains out to change community psychology. It’s like trying to unburn a campfire: in principle it can happen, but in practice it’s a one-way street. And this street is a supersize, extra grande, double-stuffed highway straight to the donut shoppe. Everyone does it, so why should you bother trying to stand out? Just accept the diabetes and the inevitable (but ultimately innefective) bariatric surgery. You’ll be much happier along the way, even if the way is materially shortened due to a heart attack or liver failure.

But, if you’re so committed to this self-delusion that you actually think you can lose weight, and you’re looking for some hints other than the standard “Eat Less, Move More” that you must have ignored already, I’ll give you a great plan to get off the Skippy.

First, enjoy all of the rest of the tub that you’ve got in your pantry. And I do mean “tub”, not “jar”, because fatties like you don’t buy peanut butter in the smallest serving size available. Am I right? Or am I right? I’m right. [nodding and winking] I’m right.

Next, go buy yourself 10 more tubs of peanut butter. For this exercise, they need to be the “natural” kind, where the oil settles out. Open them all, unseal them, and mix that oil back in. Take 2 tablespoons out of each one and eat them, in your preferred method. See, this isn’t so bad, is it? You got this!

Now, time for the payoff. Take an empty cup and head to the bathroom. Collect a urine sample. If you have other family members, you could recruit them to help you by donating theirs as well. “It’s a team effort!” Now – for ONLY ONE of those tubs, add the urine and stir again. Put all the lids back on, and forget which jar has your stanky old waste inside. Mix them up like a card sharp on 42nd Street and put them back on the shelf. Now, every time you to go grab a scoop of Extra Chunky, all you have to do is think, Yeah, but there could be pee in it. And poof! Desire gone.

Do write back in 6 months and let me know how it goes. I’m gonna bet my neighbor that it’s less likely you hit your weight loss goal than you say something like “Surprisingly, you really can’t even taste the ammonia!” Peace!

Writing Advice

A friend (M) asked me for advice for said friend’s child (R) who has shown interest in and talent for writing. So here’s what I came up with. I offer this to you as either inspiration, a wet blanket on your enthusiasm, or however you want to take it.

***

So my thoughts for R. (or you, or the teacher, or whoever else wants to know about writing) are this (in general order, but do a lot of them all at the same time):

1) To write well, you need to read. A lot. And a lot of different things. R. should be reading at least a book a week, maybe 2 or 3. She doesn’t have that much going on that she can’t also be reading a lot. So find a few authors she likes and read a bunch by those. And then find some things that she starts and thinks, “I absolutely hate this”, then finish it and asks yourself, “why did I not like it?”

2) Write. A lot. Get a notebook. Write at least 10 minutes a day. Here are some topics to start writing about, if you can’t think of some:

I feel…

I smell…

I remember…

I want to go to…

I used to be…

One time, when I walked outside, I saw…

I wish…

Yesterday I dreamed…

When you fill a notebook, read it back through, once. Then put it on the shelf. Start another one. When you finish that one, read it through, then put it on the shelf. Keep going until you have 10 notebooks. Then keep going again. Sometimes, set a timer for an hour and don’t stop writing until it goes off. If you get stuck, keep moving with “Okay, now I’m stuck and I don’t know what to write. So I’ll just write what I hear. I hear…”

3) Did I mention reading a lot? Yeah, keep doing that.

4) If she’s going to be blogging, I recommend you (M) be the blog owner and she work with you to publish stuff. That way you’ll have access to comment moderation. I use WordPress, because it’s free (if you want, I think I pay something like $99 a year to have a domain that doesn’t include “.wordpress” in it). I’m sure there are a hundred blogging sites, you can find something that works for you.

5) At first, set a schedule for blogging. Like, “one post every Monday and then one every Thursday or Friday”. That way, one of the things  she wrote on Friday – Sunday can be selected for Monday, and one of the things from Monday – Thursday can be selected for Thursday or Friday. This will get her into a rhythm of writing, but it will also remove the pressure to create additional pieces just to post. Don’t worry if it isn’t great. Blogging isn’t meant to be perfect.

6) Read. A lot. Not just books. Have her read the New York Times from front to back one day. Go to the library and read an article from each of Cat Fancy, Guns & Ammo, Cosmopolitan, Ebony, and Science. Mix these up, read different titles each month. She won’t understand some, some you might have to chaperone or totally block, but just get her reading a variety of stuff, not just Nancy Drew or Wimpy Kid all the time.

7) Write more.

8) Read more.

9) Have her write a story. Make sure it has a beginning (something was like _____), a middle (then this problem arose_______), and an ending (and this is how the people solved the problem__________). Read it, give your honest feedback. Have her friends read it. have them give their honest feedback. Put it aside. Have her write 5 more stories. Read them, giving your honest feedback. Have her choose one of these to revise. Have her friends read the revised story. Have her revise it again. Put it aside.

10) Invite her to write letters to 10 authors. These could be people who have articles in the newspaper, or book authors, or magazine article authors. See if she gets any response.

11) Keep writing. Keep blog posting. Keep revising. Keep writing stories. Once she’s written 20 stories (each with a beginning, middle, and end), have her submit one to a magazine. Have her be honest about herself, her credentials, and be realistic. Expect rejection. Aim for 100 rejections. Once a story is rejected, find another place to submit and send it in. It might take 5 years to write enough stories to get 100 rejections, and some stories may have 20 rejections while others only have 1 or 2. That just means you’re honing your craft all the time.

12) Keep reading. Keep writing. Write for yourself (R), not for anyone else. If you like it, that’s important. If you like it and you’re authentic (which means it’s real, not just “what you think your audience wants”), that’s enough. Nobody else may ever like it. That’s fine, if you’re writing for yourself. Because ultimately only you need to be satisfied with it. And, strangely enough, if you are satisfied with it, eventually you will find an outlet for it.

13) Sometime you’ll want to, in your writing practice, start with “I write because…” You should attack this topic a couple of times a year. I still do, because I still don’t have a definitive answer for why I write. Mostly it’s because I love the feel of creation. I love to be surprised at what my mind comes up with when my pen is scratching across the paper. Some of it is the desire to impact people. Very little of my writing that I really enjoy is because I’m going to get paid for it or because it’s going to make me famous. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, they write because they can’t not write, not for any other reason. They would still be writing if they weren’t making the same money from it. The money is a bonus because the things they wrote are authentic for them, and, as above, since it’s authentic, it resonates with others too.

14) Read. Read the classics. Frankenstein. Dracula. The Swiss Family Robinson. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Read the classics of tomorrow:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The Hobbitt. 1984. The Prophet (Gibran). When you finish reading something like this, take one or more of your writing practice sessions to critique these stories. What worked for you? What was confusing? What was unexpected? What was too bland? How would you have made it better?

15) Create your own rules. These are suggestions. Read them. Read Strunk & White. Read Anne Lamott. Read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Read the AP Manual. Create your own writing rules. Follow them. Break them. Make new ones. Follow those. Break those. Make new ones again.

16) Be yourself. Write the stories you want to read. Write the essays you want to read. Write the poems you want to read. Write the plays you want to see performed. Write the songs you want to hear. If you can do that, you’ve won.

— SJ

Extremely Bad Advice – Child Misbehavior

Dear SJ,

My wife and I are having a disagreement about our son. He is 11 years old and is starting to misbehave. My wife wants to make him do extra chores around the house when he’s getting out of line, in order to show him that his actions have consequences. I say that unless the chores are directly related to what he did, he won’t associate them together. Like last week – he broke a window in the family room by throwing a ball through it. That’s easy enough; he has to pay for the window replacement. But what about being disobedient, or just lazy? Are there chores we can assign that are punishments for these kind of actions? — FRUSTRATED IN FARGO

Dear FRUSTRATED,

I’m sure you don’t want to hear this, but your wife is right. There absolutely are consequences for your actions, and sometimes they aren’t even directly associated with the thing you’ve done, except for a roundabout way. For example: last month I had sex with your mom. She was pretty tight, for an old broad, I’ll give her that. As a result, it now burns when I pee. Goddamn, but I thought I was done with STDs back in college! Anyway, the direct consequence is now I have to go to my doctor. The indirect consequence is I have to deal with a clingy grandma who just won’t go away and keeps texting me like six times a night to come over and give her another good one. It’s almost enough to block her. But it’s not just her. Apparently the whole bridge club is in on the deal. Sheesh, you make one old woman shudder uncontrollably and you never hear the end of it.

So, in your situation, your son has absolutely got to learn that actions have consequences. Break a window? Pay for it out of your allowance. Front a disobedient attitude? Get a dismissive one in return. It looks like this: “Well, since you didn’t hold up your end of the parent-child relationship and disobeyed me, I’m not going to hold up my end either. No dinner for you! Enjoy the soup kitchen.” If you’re feeling generous you can print out a Google Maps set of walking directions.

However, that’s pretty tame by my standards. Just telling you to be a jerk probably isn’t what you’re looking for. That’s just bad advice, and it would probably only solve the surface problem of misbehavior. You want Extremely Bad Advice which will not just deal with the symptoms of the disease infecting your life, it will actually root out the cause and eliminate that forever. Here’s what you need to do.

Next time your son does something wrong, you actually reward that behavior. Go buy him a puppy! Or a new dirt bike, or video game, or something he’s been asking for for a while. This kind of reverse psychology will start to fuck with his head really quickly. He’ll tell his friends what he did and how you reacted. They’ll all start trying it with their parents but getting opposite results, and pretty quickly he’s wondering just what happened with you. He’ll try it a few more times. Double down on the technique. When he back-talks you in front of his teacher, take him out for ice cream. If he comes home late from a friend’s house, supply him with rotten eggs and you both go whip them at the crusty old couple down the street.

In a few months this kind of mental mind-warp (the difference between what you do and what a typical “good parent” does) will break down any remaining sense of logic and rationality the kid has. At that point one of two things will happen, both of which solve your problem pretty quickly. Option one, he dissolves into a quivering, immobile blob on the floor, blathering on and on about “friends say … mom says … friends don’t … dad does …” and your disobedience problem is resolved. Kind of replaced with a permanent diapering problem, but at least he’s compliant. Option two, he finally can’t take it any longer and runs away. Presto! Instant happy house and no more sass from the kid.

Trust me on this one. You can’t do any better for yourself and your own happiness than psychological torture. Good luck!