Monthly Archives: May 2011

Mash-Up, May 28: David Bouchier, Clay Morgan, Leanne Shirtliffe

This week we review an essay from humorist David Bouchier, a blog post from Clay Morgan at eduClaytion.com, and a column from Leanne Shirtliffe that was published in the Calgary Herald.

David Bouchier is an award-winning essayist for National Public Radio and author.  Originally from England, he relocated to New York’s Long Island, in search of, I imagine, more traffic.  His humor column “Out of Order” appeared in the regional Sunday edition of the New York Times for ten years until 2003.  The Song of Suburbia, a collection of humorous vignettes about trying to make it in the suburbs, is ever at my side.

David Bouchier’s writing is polished, lively, and funny, and he regularly treats the public to a featured essay on his website.  His most recent such piece, The Anxious Traveler (May 27), highlights the comic irony of our oppression by the very means of travel that were designed to empower us, a topic near and dear to my heart.

Our next piece comes from Clay Morgan via his website, eduClaytion.  Clay is a writer, professor, and speaker from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He has a particular interest in using pop culture references to reach a generation of students that are often considered unreachable, as Clay explains in this guest post that appeared on Lessons From Teachers and Twits.  His ebullience is part and parcel of his work, and every visit to eduClaytion puts me in a good mood.

This week, Clay writes a touching and funny memoir of “Macho Man” Randy Savage, a professional wrestler who brought life to the World Wrestling Federation from 1985 to 1994, and whose own life ended on May 20th when he suffered a heart attack while driving his truck and crashed into a tree.  Clay’s prose resurrects those gladiators in colorful briefs, sparring with metal folding chairs, and catapulting off the ropes onto their supine adversaries’ glistening chests and faces.

I saw the moves all over again: the body slam, the pile driver, the back body drop, the airplane spin, the gorilla press gutbuster.  Was it honest athletic competition, or staged entertainment?  Either way, I was glad it happening on the television instead of in my living room.

And last, but not least, comes a piece from Leanne Shirtliffe, who blogs at IronicMom.com about her misadventures raising twins.  Her work will bring a laugh if you have children, or even if you don’t have children but have seen examples of them on television.  Her article titled “Water, kids, and failed experiments” (Calgary Herald, May 26) is about keeping your cool when your child discovers the garden hose.

What is it with kids and hoses?  Sigmund Freud had an explanation, but this blog is geared towards a general audience.  Leanne wisely ignores the psychology, and takes her child’s fascination with aplomb and humor; a lesson in parenting, and a lesson in writing.

And that’s a wrap.  Enjoy the weekend.

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Why the iPhone is Perfect for Writers

Last year I submitted a piece by email to my local newspaper for Op-Ed consideration, and then left for a four-day bachelor party in Florida.  When I was able to see straight again at the close of the trip, and got to an Internet connection, I saw that I had received three emails from the newspaper’s Op-Ed editor.  She had wanted to run my piece in the Sunday edition but needed to talk to me about it, and all she had was my email address.  I frantically called her Monday morning, but it was too late.

Missing a publishing opportunity because of missed email was a bitter pill to swallow.  I swore it would never happen again.  You might be thinking that I could have avoided the problem by including my cell phone number with the submission.  But then I wouldn’t have this little story.

Getting an iPhone solved the problem of the missed email.  But I’ve discovered two other advantages that have improved my life as a writer.  It allows me to take notes without looking like I’m taking notes, and it allows to me read without looking like I’m reading.

For years I carried around a little notebook.  If I thought of something, I would write it down.  The problem was that people sometimes acted funny when they saw me taking notes.  “What are you writing?” they would ask, or “Are you writing about me?” or “Can I read what you wrote?” or “I’m going to take that notebook when you are sleeping and read it!”  That kind of attention affected my prose.

With the iPhone, however, they don’t know I’m taking notes.  They think I’m just texting or, better yet, playing a video game.  Sometimes I angle the device this way and that to make it look like I’m racing a car.  And as soon as I’m done recording my thoughts, with one tap I can email the notes to myself for later use, with no crumpled up receipts to clutter the coffee table and spark an argument.

Reading books in public used to be a problem, too.  Bringing War and Peace to the dinner table was generally interpreted as rude, no matter which translation.  One evening as I dined with family, I noticed that someone was holding his iPhone under the table to watch a YouTube video of washed-up celebrity chefs falling down flights of stairs.  I asked my fellow diners why he was allowed to watch a video, while I was not allowed to read.  Everyone stared into their mashed potatoes.

The message was clear.  There was a double standard for new technology and old.

The iPhone has made it possible to read at the dinner table again.  I read books on my iPhone and everyone thinks I’m on Facebook looking at wedding pictures of people I don’t really know.  Attending parties with a book, even a book that had received good reviews, always met with stares.  Now people just stare at their devices, as I stare at mine.  Just like with the notes, an unacceptable rudeness masquerades as an acceptable one.

And sometimes when the party’s over, and the potato salad scraped off the plates, and I’m back in my room, alone, I pick up a notepad and a book…and find them both a little heavy.

What’s your experience been?  How has an iPhone (or similar device) changed your life as a writer?  Or are you still carrying around a notebook and getting weird looks?

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How I Started Blogging

My first blog was created in the fall of 2008.  America was in the midst of a Presidential election, and debate was fierce.  While showering I came up with a few ideas on how to solve the financial crisis and the exploding cost of healthcare.  I published a few posts sharing my views, and dreamed of appearing on television news programs with the words “Freelance Public Policy Expert” floating under my talking head.

When I clicked on “publish” it was as if a jolt of electricity had gone through my body.  I imagined that my post would instantly show up on everyone’s screen like that persistent prompt to download the latest version of Abode Flash Player.  Now our leaders would know what to do.  But none of my posts got any comments, or any views, and every Sunday morning it was the same group of politicians, journalists, and well-established experts on the Meet the Press instead of me.

My second blog was daily vignettes and flash fiction.  I wrote about annoying cell phone conversations and chronic snifflers and people who carried large pieces of luggage onto commuter trains during rush hour.  I wrote a story about a device called the Descriptionizer Functioner, even though I did not know what it did, and another story about a man who can’t find parking in Manhattan until a UFO vaporizes a parked car right before his eyes.  I had a great sense of accomplishment with each story, but still no one was reading.  I figured it was because my characters had no depth.

At no point did it occur to me to tell anyone what I was doing.

Then it was early summer and getting hot, and I was taking another stab at the collected works of William Shakespeare.  I try this every summer.  I was supposed to have read Hamlet in the 12th grade, but I was busy slacking off at the time.  Better late than never, I decided a great way to learn the play was to write a humorous parody of it and post my work to a blog.  I wrote it up, and then I moved onto Macbeth, which I liked because it had lots of rhyming and is very short.  At last I had found my blog concept.  I would write a blog making a parody of each Shakespeare play.  But I hit the wall at King Lear.  At first I thought my problem was that I did not understand the text.  Then I saw the movie – the recent one with Sir Ian McKellen – and realized that the play is just really disturbing.

Then I was blogging journal entries about my daily life.  I wrote about coffee and cat food.  I wrote about looking for a copy of a video I made when I was running for class president.  I wrote about my office mate who seemed to do nothing but sip soda and chew gum.  And then I got bored and stopped.

The blogging thing just didn’t seem to be working.  I was glad I hadn’t told anyone about it.

Then I was home for Columbus Day and considered loitering in front of a convenience store to pass the time.  Suddenly I remembered a cartoon show called Beavis and Butthead that had aired on MTV in 1993.  I remembered how fond I had been of that show, and how the base and tasteless humor had spoken to me at a time when I was fairly base and tasteless myself.  And I saw how I could write a post about it.  The short post occurred to me all at once, and after I wrote it I thought of other things that had changed in the last few decades.

The topics seemed inexhaustible.  I blogged for a few weeks, and mustered up the courage to tell my mother about it.  I got decent feedback from my mother, and then I told my wife.  My wife gave me decent feedback, too, especially after I shoveled the driveway and took out the garbage.  Then I told my dearest, closest friends.  Then I told my Facebook friends.  And I saw that the feedback was good.  I kept blogging for them, and then one day I was Freshly Pressed and had the greatest experience I know as a writer – being read by thousands of strangers.

And now I can’t stop blogging.  I think about it when I’m supposed to be paying attention to people who are talking to me.  At least I have an inexhaustible concept for posts.  “Remember when…”  There’s no end to that!  No way would I ever break with such a concept.

So what’s your story?  How did you start blogging?

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