2010 10/05

There was an accident outside of my office.  A SCREECH and a THUMP so loud that the whole company gathered at the windows to rubberneck. We watched as a middle aged man ran around his shredded bumper to pull a baby seat out of the back.  A crowd gathered as he trotted his confused infant into the shade of a nearby coffee shop, terrified of what whiplash might do to a soft skull.  Collectively we hoped, not much.

And then Addison shouted,


True enough, one of the onlookers was wearing bright red sneakers.


2010 01/01

Though I could be called well-rounded, I am in fact the product of a long series of obsessions.  From 1993 to 2000, for instance, my thoughts entirely to the art of jazz guitar.  I took summer classes at Berklee, sat in a claustrophobic practice rooms with no air conditioning for sometimes 8 hours a day, and largely ignored all other elements of teenage life.

When you suck at something it doesn’t take long to see improvement.  An hour of practice and suddenly you’re capable of something new and amazing.  Early on, your will to practice is fed by that feeling.  But as you get better, the events that spark that feeling of progress get farther and farther apart. You find yourself working a million times harder for a millionth of the improvement. The better you are, the harder you need to work.  That’s the adage. Problem was, I was getting pretty good.  I won a musicianship award at the Clark Terry Jazz Festival, and occasionally I’d get paid for a gig (a feat I have yet to accomplish as a writer).  You would think these were positive signs, progress, recognition of talent, but I saw the wall coming up on me.

It always seemed like the next improvement was a thousand practice hours away, and the kid who was just a little bit better than me, he seemed like another TEN thousand away.  I slowly came to the realization, and even more slowly accepted the fact, that I was never going to be as good as I wanted to be, and this catharsis could rather melodramatically be referred to as “the moment my dream died.”  I did not react well.  I let myself down by sabotaging practice sessions and auditions, I let my friends down by tuning out of bands, and eventually, finally, I let my father down by selling the guitar he’d bought be as a kid.

For the next ten or so years I would occasionally reference my jazz-obsessed past, perhaps giving a short, romanticized summary of my decision to quit, one  that might make me sound tortured and mysterious. But I literally would not touch a guitar.  Just wasn’t interested, I’d say, but it was a stubborn thing, really.  I was protecting a broken ego.

…And if it took me a decade to really explain why I quit in the first place, forgive me if I don’t know how to put into words exactly why I’ve picked it up again.  But I have, yay! New Year’s Resolution, play guitar again.

Time Travel Soul

2009 11/23

“The Way I See It” is what I’m calling “Time Travel Soul,” because Raphael Saadiq swings so hard trying to hit retro that he loses his balance and lands in 1967. The result is 12 tracks of pure soul commitment and then a Jay-Z remix that hits like a punchline.

And really, that’s the best way to drive home the game of the album. It’s as if no true soul classic could exist today without some opportunistic MC’s subversion. And let’s be honest, it couldn’t. Oh yeah, there are head nodders out there that didn’t know P-Funk before Dre, believe it. They didn’t know The Isleys before Biggie and Puff, didn’t know Chaka before Kanye. Fact is, these days hip hop producers use their samples as a bully pulpit almost as much as they take advantage of their success. And If you think more people didn’t listen to Toy Soldiers after Eminem dropped his version, you’re wrong. I sure I did. So Jay-Z’s barely different rendition of Saadiq’s “Oh Girl,” seems to make the song relevant again after all these years. It puts the final thump into the album’s classic stamp. The impression is left.

Great music is at once familiar and new. And this is the dance that Saadiq steps through with Temptation-like precision. You’re sure you’ve heard this before, but damn, you would remember THIS. You wold remember “The Way I See It.”

Writer’s Rules for Writers

2009 07/23

If you’re as big a fan of lists as I, then you’ve already come across a few famous authors telling you how it is. The most well known and unavoidable sets of writer’s rules are the following:

Ernest Hemingway’s famously adopted the Kansas City Star style sheet (pdf):

  1. Use short sentences.
  2. Use short first paragraphs.
  3. Use vigorous English.
  4. Be positive, not negative.

…and Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules (which are really 11).

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said” . . .
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
  6. Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
  11. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

The already initiated, though, may not be as familiar with these guidelines:

Norman Mailer

  1. Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.

Robert A. Heinlein

  1. You Must Write
  2. Finish What Your Start
  3. You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order
  4. You Must Put Your Story on the Market
  5. You Must Keep it on the Market until it has Sold
  6. Start Working on Something Else

George Orwell

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

and W. Somerset Maugham FTW said:

“There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Six Word Stories

2009 07/20

I’ve always been a great admirer of Hemingway’s shortest story:

For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn

So this Wired article really made my day. They asked some of my favorite authors to contribute their own pithy sentences.

Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time
– Alan Moore

With bloody hands, I say good-bye.
– Frank Miller

Finally, he had no more words.
– Gregory Maguire

Steve ignores editor’s word limit and
– Steven Meretzky

I’ll play too:

7 – 6 loss. Missed extra point.

Parenthetically, I’m going to have to read some Gregory Maguire. He looks interesting.

Needs More Puns

2009 07/17

My first guitar teacher, Sandy, was a funny guy.  Well, no, he wasn’t interested in being funny, but in being so unfunny that he became funny.  You got the feeling he had cultivated this with years of careful practice. He loved to pronounce the word “Pianist” in a very specific way, and he would tell jokes like:

“Hey Dan, how many bass players does it take to screw in a lightbulb?  None! The pianist can do it with his left hand!”

And then, this is the key, he would stare you down with a wacky smile until you would sooner laugh than bare the discomfort.  For an hour every week for six years, I studied Stairway to Heaven, triplets, and Mixolydian, but mostly, I learned from him how to properly enjoy a pun.

They’re sort of the contraband of humor, puns are.  You make one and you sort of look around to see if you’ve gotten away with it.  After all, you can rightly expect a hard slap or an admonishing look.  When someone laughs at a pun, that’s an event to be celebrated.  You’ve either done really well or really poorly (and in the amazing world of puns, the two can be hard to distinguish).

When a stranger laughs, well… they’re not really a stranger anymore.  No, the pun maker and the pun appreciator are kindred spirits.  They share something in that moment.  I imagine it’s something like gay-dar.  You look at each other and you know, “we are the same kind of dork,” with a strange confidence.  It’s such a particular personality.  We’re always scholars, or jazz musicians or scientists or something.

Well, today I came across a geology blog called… All My Faults Are Stress Related.

Now I’m sort of having a pun catharsis.


2009 07/14

You’ve seen it around. You’ve probably used it.  End a sentence with a question mark and an exclamation point and you’ve pretty much done it.  “She did what?!” It isn’t just cool, it’s got an awesome name. The interrobang. Go interrobang someone right now and see how it feels.

Apparently there are a dozen other less than well known alternative punctuations marks.

  • sarcasm mark – ¡
  • irony mark – 6px-Irony_mark_full.svg
  • doubt point – 13px-Point_de_doute.svg
  • certitude point – 13px-Point_de_certitude.svg
  • acclamation point – 10px-Point_d'acclamation.svg
  • authority point – 10px-Point_d'autorité.svg
  • indignation point – 7px-Point_d'indignation.svg
  • love point – 15px-Point_d'amour.svg