FundAnything Campaign Wrap-up

A month ago, I imagined writing this post about how people really came out of the woodwork to help me, an unemployed and struggling writer, buy a new laptop after mine had been stolen. About how I was inspired by people’s generosity and found a new faith in humanity.

And I would tell you all about the short stories I was writing to fulfill my promises to those who helped. And about where my guest posts would soon appear. And how I would soon publish an all-new ebook because the inspiration of your generosity paired with my brand new laptop gave me everything I needed to write write write!

But instead, you get this.

My FundAnything campaign to raise money to replace the laptop that was stolen from me was not a success. It wasn’t exactly a failure, either, because five of you did contribute a total of $140 toward my $500 goal*. Not enough for a laptop, but it’ll cover the cost of MS Office and a cable lock for whatever laptop I do end up getting.

And I will get a new laptop. Eventually. And then, eventually, the things I’ve been writing longhand during my lunch hour will find their way onto its hard drive. And some of them will find their way here.

Eventually.

And eventually I’ll start writing in earnest again. Start trying to re-create the tens of thousands of words that were lost. And start to move past them.

I never expected the campaign to actually bring in $500. I had hoped it would, but I never expected it. Still, I put a lot of hope in that hope.

* To those five: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!

______________________________

If you enjoyed this at all, please click through to the blog and leave a comment.
It’s the only way I can know that I’m not just spinning my digital wheels.

A Done Dream

I don’t usually write about my dreams, but I think this one reveals something interesting about me. Maybe just that I’m a supreme nerd.

In my dream, I was late to school (part high school, part college) after some early-morning shenanigans involving a circuitous drive and the world’s largest iced mocha latte. My first class was English, and because I was late, I was at the back of the class. Not even in a chair, really, but stretched out on the floor at the top of a lecture hall.

I wasn’t paying attention. At the front of the class, the teacher/professor was introducing some new vocabulary (I think my unconscious mind made up a new word so that my dream prof could make a horrible pun out of it) while I paged through an old notebook of mine. Short stories, notes, poems — even one that wasn’t mine but that I found compelling enough to copy onto the page.

The teacher noticed my lack of attention and asked what I was doing.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was just flipping through this old notebook.”

The professor, intending to embarrass me, said, “If it’s that interesting, why don’t you read us all something?”

I wasn’t horribly embarrassed. I turned page after page, looking for something good (and recognizing the text of some real-life short stories that have appeared on this blog), but realized that most of the works were only starters, incomplete.

So I said as much. “Most of these aren’t even done.”

“Not done,” the professor said. “Finished.” Then he gave me some lame line that badly illustrated his belief that done and finished meant two different things. Something along the lines of the old “Cakes are done; people are finished.”

I couldn’t really hear him, though, because my ears were filling up with the hum of anger. I prepared to tell him off, to cite usage by Dickens and Shakespeare and Hemingway, to yell him down for being such a pedantic, short-sighted, and thoughtless idiot.

But I woke up. It was 3:50 a.m. and my body was tense with the anger and frustration. I could only smile.

This is what wakes me up in the middle of the night. The emotional response at having my language choices questioned was strong enough that I was yanked into consciousness.

I am such a nerd.

And thank goodness for that.

In other news, you have only 4 days left to help me replace my stolen laptop and get back to some hardcore writing. Check out the premiums I’m offering in my FundAnything campaign at bit.ly/AndysLaptop.

______________________________

If you enjoyed this at all, please click through to the blog and leave a comment.
It’s the only way I can know that I’m not just spinning my digital wheels.

Social Media Optimization (Catch-up) Tip

Last week, I was recruited to be a backup blogger for Copyediting.com. In all the hubbub that was the last seven days (long, aggravating story), I forgot to promote that post here. So that’s what I’m doing.

In “Tech Tip: Use an Image as a Social Media Headline,” I introduce the concept of what I’m calling the Optimized Headline Dilemma. In short, its the dilemma of having two article post headlines — one optimized for search and one for social — and having to choose which one to use. (Hint: The solution is to use them both.) In that post, I show you one easy way to solve the Optimized Headline Dilemma.

Watch for a follow-up post this Tuesday, in which I write about using Facebook’s Open Graph to do even more with your headlines.

______________________________

If you enjoyed this at all, please click through to the blog and leave a comment.
It’s the only way I can know that I’m not just spinning my digital wheels.

Ice Bucket, Needle, Garage

The world was black and closed. The curtains were drawn. Rod did not know if it was day or night, whether the sun or moon shone, or if clouds filled the sky. He didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to care. A gnawing rot of hate burned a hole in his belly. It was the only thing he could feel or cared about.

He sat upright on the edge of the bed. He dabbed a needle in an ink-filled Mason’s jar lid on the bedside table and poked his forearm. He winced. The tiny wound swelled slightly. He had filled a bucket with ice. When he was done, he would use the ice to reduce the swelling. He poked himself again. He looked at the ragged visage in the mirror across his hotel room and breathed deep the frozen air-conditioned air. This is going to take a while. He put the needle down and picked up the smoldering cigarette cradled in a glass ashtray and sucked on it until there was no tobacco left to burn. Back to work. Poke. Poke. Poke …

He wouldn’t forget her name. He was etching it on his skin. Maria. Maria. Maria, why didn’t I see it coming? Her suffocating death at the hands of his partner. His big calloused hands like a vise around her swollen purple neck. It seemed predestined now. How could it have unfolded otherwise? God drew it up just so on his fucking black board. Why didn’t he read it? Why did he choose not to read it? It wouldn’t have mattered, anyway. He would’ve been powerless in the face of the ugly mudslide of events.

He thought back. When was it? Two, maybe three days ago. It was hard to know. A drop under High Bridge. Four bricks of coke. It should’ve just been Rod and Jelly, but Maria always wanted to tag along. She didn’t have to, but she always did. It had been that way for a month or more. Jelly didn’t like it, but Rod made the rules. Rod was the smart one. Jelly was his partner because he was the biggest, meanest motherfucker the boss could find.

He remembered that night in Jelly’s garage. Maria was high on ice and shaking. Worse than usual, but she never interfered. Just sat in the back of Jelly’s car and scratched her skin until it bled. They drove an hour or so to the bridge. Nobody said anything. Just the city, a radio sax, and white static.

But the drop went bad. The mark didn’t have the money. He brought big guns and some friends instead. Shots were fired that cracked the hum of the of the highway overhead. Boom, boom, boom. Jelly caught a bullet in his arm but had the sense to gun the car. The tires spewed dirt and gravel into the air. The mark lost them as the black muscle car fishtailed and rocketed away.

Then the stupidest thing happened.

Maria grabbed one of the bricks and threw it out the window. What in the hell was she thinking, Rod thought. Maybe she was scared. Maybe in her doped-up brain she thought she was helping out. But there was no way in hell they could go back and get it. Free coke for a crooked mark. Jelly went berserk, twisted in the driver’s seat while the car sped on a wide city street, caught Maria by the neck with both hands and squeezed the life out of her. Rod punched him in the head, but the blows bounced off him as if he were made of granite.

The rest of the night tumbled out of the car like a fractured nightmare. Rod hadn’t seen Jelly since. But he would find him. And he would kill him.

Balloon, Orange Juice, Tape Recorder

Dominique Manfredi sat outside at a corner table at The White Peacock Café. He had just ordered two eggs (sunny side up), toast with raspberry marmalade, espresso, and a half-glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. It was just after ten in the morning on yet another perfect day in sunny Hollywood, California.

He was anxious. A looming deadline haunted him. In two days, the screenplay he had spent the past two months pouring himself into was due. Galaxy Studios wouldn’t tolerate another delay, and Dominique desperately needed the cash the finished screenplay would bring. His brainchild and labor of love, An Heiress’ Son, was nearly complete. In fact, he was up late the evening before crafting the final scene. However, he felt it lacked something‒a certain nuance he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

He pressed the red button on his portable voice recorder. The tape was nearly full. He intoned thoughtfully, “Idea. The boy walks away, down a long dark alleyway, having seen his mother for the last time. He sobs. The sun falls behind the skyscrapers that loom over him like frozen granite monsters. It starts to rain.”

It didn’t feel right. Something was missing.

Dominique set the recorder down and sipped his espresso. He observed the wake of bobbing heads of passing pedestrians‒tourists, stars-to-be, locals‒drift by in an orderly chaos with a rhythm all its own.

He saw a boy with a blue, helium-filled balloon. It buffeted on the air a couple feet above his head as he happily skipped by without a care in the world. As he passed Dominique, he tripped and fell, and the balloon sailed up and away, free from its master, to God knows where. The boy cried plaintively, beseeching Dominique with tear-filled eyes to do something. Anything.

Dominique was at a loss.

“Sorry, kid. It’s gone.”

The boy sobbed and walked away. Dominique watched him recede into the crowded street. He gulped the last of his orange juice and pressed the red button on his voice recorder yet again. “Idea. The heiress gives her son a blue balloon, an unsatisfactory parting gift. It does nothing to soothe the boy’s broken heart, but the heiress appears unconcerned. He cries. She dispassionately strokes his hair and walks quickly away. He walks into the alleyway, head bowed, and lets the balloon go. The camera follows the balloon up into the sunset. It drifts out of view.

Dominique paid his check, walked home, and fell quickly asleep.

Today’s word: epigone

epigone: Generally a follower or disciple, but usually used to indicate an inferior successor.

At first blush you might want it to follow the pronunciation pattern established by epitome or Antigone, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t even rhyme with gone. It rhymes instead with loan, so that the phrase “Ed disowns epigones” has a nice little rhyme to it.
The Republican party, from my liberal point of view, is beset (perhaps overrun) with the epigones of Ronald Reagan and Ayn Rand, both of whom I can find reason to praise, but neither of whom I would vote for.

I ran across this little gem today in a book, originally published in 1973, by Richard Kostelanetz called The End of Intelligent Writing. I found the book on the “Pay What You Can” cart at IndyReads Books and just couldn’t pass up a title like that.

On page 11, in a discussion about so-called Southern (American) writers in the first half of the 20th century, you’ll find this pronouncement:

In the early fifties emerged even younger Southern epigones, all born between 1914 and 1930, who were eager to do various kinds of academic-historical sweeping . . . most of whom, unlike their cultural daddies, remained in Southern universities, some of whom devoted whole books to themes and subjects their precursors treated only in essays. They were the grandchildren, so to speak, in a literary family whose father figure, [ss] Ransom, was privately called “Pappy.”

Kostelanetz isn’t very laudatory toward the Southern writers or their literary offspring. Or really any “school” of writing that attaches itself to a minority. Or to New York.

And I’m only to page 70.

I might write more about this book later, if I ever stop gnashing my teeth long enough to finish it. Kostelanetz is pissing me off a little. He writes with the smugness that only comes with overconfidence, decorated with a large vocabulary (words like epigone, which appears again a couple dozen pages later) to veil his personal griefs and unsupported accusations behind professorial haughtiness.

Then again, I’m wound pretty tight these days, so I piss off easily.

If Richard Kostelanetz is still alive (I haven’t looked yet), I want to ask him if he still believes everything he wrote here.

And, on another note, while I was reading I found myself wondering whether David Foster Wallace had read this book. I think he would’ve liked it.

______________________________

If you enjoyed this at all, please click through to the blog and leave a comment.
It’s the only way I can know that I’m not just spinning my digital wheels.

Broccoli, Caesar, and Sex

The following autobiographical essay is completely true.

Well, okay, it’s mostly true.

Tru-ish.

Something like this almost happened to I guy I knew.

Broccoli, Caesar, and Sex

Many of us have clear memories of the first time we tried, say, sushi. Or Key lime pie. Or haggis. But these are the exceptions to the rule. Normally, one’s taste in food changes slowly, like the hands of a Swiss-made watch.

When we’re young, for example, the only acceptable condiment for a hot dog is ketchup. Then, sometime in our early teens, our palate starts to accept yellow mustard. Then onions. Then pickle relish. Until, by the our mid-twenties, hot dogs just aren’t enough anymore, and we find ourselves topping home-grilled bratwurst with spicy brown mustard and heaps of sauerkraut. Or jalapeños.

Or, that one time in Las Vegas, pastrami.

At least, that was my experience. The switch from plain old ketchupped hot dogs to steaming loaded German sausages happened slowly and imperceptibly. And that’s how I think it is with developing a taste for most foods, from Japanese potstickers to Polish pierogies.

But occasionally, one adds a food to one’s culinary repertoire suddenly and forcefully. Take, for example, the story of how Caesar salad and broccoli entered my gustatory field of vision:

I had successfully spent two decades hating both broccoli and salad — salad in general, much less some ancient Roman version — before I made the switch, and that switch came, as monumental shifts in a man’s personality often do, because of a woman.

Let’s call her Elsa.

When I first met Elsa, I was a 20-year-old college student passing the summer before my junior year in a ramshackle house on the edge of campus. She was a 23-year-old senior who looked like a TV star — which is similar to looking like a movie star, but without all the glamour and ego. She was a friend of one of my housemates, and stopped by often to go bar hopping, complain about summer classes, or smoke weed. Sometimes all three.

We fell into a romantic relationship the way a 10-year-old boy who’s afraid of the water falls into a swimming pool after being pushed by his older, meaner brother. She was smart, confident and beautiful; I was introverted, lonely, and aimless. I was smitten and enthralled, and she was gentle and understanding. I was willing putty in her hands. It was the perfect recipe for a wonderful, if short-lived, relationship.

As new couples are wont to do, we enjoyed doing things for one another. I wrote her a poem, for example, and she bought us a bottle of cheap vodka. She stayed with me when I dropped acid, and I helped her fold her laundry.

One night, she decided she wanted to prepare us a romantic, home-cooked dinner. Something from scratch. She asked me what kind of foods I liked.

“I’m not picky,” I told her.

It was the truth, or what I thought was the truth. I wouldn’t recognize until much later, after I had eaten my way through larger regions of the world’s culinary landscape, how small my palate really was back then.

But at the time, I loved food and I loved her and so the thought of turning her down never even entered my mind. The possibility that she could be a horrible cook — that I might find a plate of unidentifiable lumps of meat smothered in gravy the color of wet newspaper — had crossed my mind, but the promise of a “dessert” that most surely waited for me sometime after we finished the ice cream gave me the resolve to eat whatever monstrosity she put in front of me.

Or so I hoped.

The evening of the dinner came, an overcast but dry Saturday. She had already begun preparing the meal when I knocked on her door. She refused my help in the kitchen but asked me to light the romantic candles and pop open the bottle of red wine that I didn’t know from vinegar. I asked her what wonderful meal she was preparing for us, and she said our romantic dinner would begin with a Caesar salad.

I had never tried Caesar salad before and knew only a few things about it. I knew it used a different kind of lettuce than the nutrition-free iceberg lettuce I was used to. I knew it used a special, creamy kind of dressing, which was worrisome to me. Whenever I ate salad, which was as seldom as possible, I preferred an oil-based dressing.

I had to find out what I was getting myself into. So while Elsa made her final preparations, I surreptitiously peeked at the ingredients on that evil green bottle of semen-colored dressing that threatened to defile my salad.

Its main ingredient, I discovered, was something called anchovy paste.

My stomach shrank three sizes.

I hated seafood back then, and anchovies were the worst. I had never actually eaten any before, but they had always been there as that “joke” ingredient adults threatened to ruin an otherwise perfect pepperoni pizza with.

And paste? I had heard tales of children — intellectually slow ones, mostly — eating paste, but I had never done it. And I certainly never expected it to be a part of adult cuisine.

Nonetheless, I resolved that I would power through this meal. The possible reward was too great to back out.

I took my place at the table. Elsa swooped in and placed two bowls of Caesar salad on the table. Then she sat down across from me, poured herself a glass of wine, and smiled.

At that moment, I recognized the salad for what it was — not a moderately healthy and delicious appetizer, but a test of my devotion to her. I was Orpheus, she was Eurydice. If I managed without looking back to keep down the weird, crunchy lettuce, the hard croutons that tried with every bite to shred my gums, and, most importantly, the fishy glue that held it all together, happiness waited for Elsa and me on the other side.

So, without complaint or hesitation, I pushed the first forkful of fresh Hell into my mouth and chewed.

What you and I know now is that Caesar salad is neither disgusting nor named for a famous Roman murder victim. The salad’s creator was the eponymous Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who, legend has it, faced an ingredient shortage at his restaurant and created the salad on the fly with what he had on hand. This was sometime in the mid-1920s, when restaurants never ran out of anchovies because, as today, nobody ever actually ate them.

I learned both those things over salad that night.

After the salad came the main course: Chicken breast, plainly prepared; homemade mashed potatoes with fresh thyme pulled from her herb garden; and steamed broccoli.

My trial, it seemed, was not over.

Chicken breast and mashed potatoes I could eat all day every day, but broccoli? Steamed broccoli?

Throughout my life, broccoli had been little more than “those little green trees” that I did not eat. I grew up not liking broccoli in a family that didn’t like broccoli. In twenty years of living, never had I knowingly ordered a restaurant meal that had broccoli in it, on it, or with it. Never had I faced a mound of those foul things on a dinner plate. Never had I been forced to sit at the kitchen table until every last crunchy branch of broccoli, warm or cold, was eaten — a tactic I have heard some parents use on their children.

I hated broccoli.

And this was steamed, which meant it was not fully cooked. What few vegetables I had grown up with had begun life in plastic bags we kept in the freezer, and by the time they reached my plate, they were tasteless green things the consistency of a damp sponge.

My childhood, it seems, had left me with a skewed view of what vegetables really are. But I didn’t know that when I was faced with a healthy serving of Elsa’s crunchy little trees that, unfortunately, had slid far enough to one side of the plate to mix with the mashed potatoes.

I wondered if she would believe that I had stuffed myself with too much Caesar salad to eat any more. I looked around for a dog I could surreptitiously feed my broccoli to under the table, but he had been relegated to the backyard. I was trapped.

Elsa dug right into the flora on her plate. Every glance in my direction was fraught with expectation, always on the verge of disappointment or offense. That’s how it looked to me, anyway, as I enjoyed the dry chicken and buttery mashed potatoes as if they were the only foods in front of me.

What we talked about I don’t remember, but it was distinctly not about my untouched broccoli, looking ever more obvious as its neighbors disappeared by the forkful down my throat. She adamantly avoided mentioning my broccoli. Each non-mention of the broccoli was passive-aggressive paralipsis aimed at reminding me that I wasn’t eating my broccoli. She was relentless about not talking about my broccoli.

Eventually, just to stop her nagging, I speared one (just a little one) with a fork and lifted it to my lips.

It was uncomfortably crunchy, and it needed salt. Not a whole pillar of it, mind you, but a dash to make it more edible. She ceased her incessant deflecting, then, and asked me how it was.

“It’s good,” I lied.

It would take a few more broccoli side dishes over the course of months before I developed a true taste for it, but today it stands as one of my least-hated vegetables.

We men will do strange things both for women and because of them. Sometimes they’re positive experiences, like eating one’s vegetables, writing a sonnet, or learning Esperanto. But all too often they’re horrible decisions that don’t reveal their true ghastliness until years have passed and we can read the situation with more clarity and objectivity. By then it’s too late, of course.

Eating common vegetables certainly isn’t the most outlandish thing I’ve done in hopes of winning a woman’s attention. In fact, it’s probably one of the least embarrassing. Nothing close to my first time eating sushi.


Your turn: What improvement have you made in your life that might never have happened if you weren’t trying to impress someone else?
______________________________

If you enjoyed this at all, please click through to the blog and leave a comment.
It’s the only way I can know that I’m not just spinning my digital wheels.

Today’s word: sororal

I took a few moments to click through the chronological navigation over on the right side of the screen the other day and realized that, even before my precious laptop was stolen, I had really been slacking off on this blog. I’ll try to do better. (But, again, it would be much easier with a new laptop.)

So here’s a little tidbit for the weekend, and I’ll have a new story for you on Monday. Promise.

Today’s word: sororal


This tops the list of “Words That Make You Sound Like Scooby-Doo,” but it’s also rather useful. It might be used in the place of the word sisterly.

As fraternal is to fraternity, so sororal is to sorority. Though with a pronunciation like “sore-oral,” it’s front-loaded for making fellatio jokes that will get a guy slapped. Even Scooby-Doo. Consider that your “how not to use the word” lesson for the day.

______________________________

If you enjoyed this at all, please click through to the blog and leave a comment.
It’s the only way I can know that I’m not just spinning my digital wheels.

Update on the Stolen Laptop

The laptop is still stolen.

I’ve given up on ever seeing it — or the data it contains — ever again. In the meantime, I have a decrepit Windows XP desktop computer available for a number of minor tasks.

I don’t know whether the OS is missing important files or the computer is infected with viruses or if this is just how computers were in 2005. Along the line of viruses, if we’re going to use metaphorical sicknesses to describe a computer’s behavior, I think mine has the digital equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease. Ask it to do something, and it takes time to mull it over first — you can hear the hard drive working away — and even then it might not do what you told it to. There’s no guarantee that files you opened or websites you visited yesterday will readable today. Once, the computer decided to go into standby mode while I was typing.

Why, just now, working in MS Word and knowing that a system crash could happen at any moment, I pressed Ctrl+S and was treated to a dialog box letting me know that the “Places bar” was being initialized. I’ve worked in Word for almost as long as it has existed, and I have never heard of a Places bar.

After two minutes of waiting, the Save As dialog box finally opened. Two minutes after that, I had managed to navigate to a folder on my desktop. Three minutes after that, the file finally finished saving (though it’s still labeled as “Document 1” on the task bar).

That’s no exaggeration. It took me seven minutes to save a file.

It’s maddening. So I generally avoid it.

I’ve been doing a lot of longhand writing, which takes twice as long as typing and leads to hand pain twice as fast. Even when I’m home, I prefer the immediacy of writing to the interminable, inexplicable waiting of using the desktop. And if I want to write on the go, my options are severely limited.

So I’ve given up on getting my laptop back, but I haven’t given up on writing. In fact, I have three blog posts (two stories and an essay) very nearly ready to post, just as soon as I transcribe them from page to screen. If this computer will let me.

If I hadn’t been unexpectedly fired at the beginning of the summer, I might have already replaced the laptop, and you wouldn’t be reading this particular gripe right now. But as it is, I’ve already been putting off paying some of my regular bills to keep from overdrawing my checking account. Until I get a few paychecks from my new job into my account, my disposable income is nil.

The purpose of all these true, heart-breaking facts is to build up a sense of pity and desperation, but also of hope. And here’s why: I’ve launched a FundAnything campaign to try to crowdsource the purchase of a new laptop for yours truly. My goal is relatively small: $500, just what I need to cover a decent laptop, a copy of MS Office Student and Home, and the fees associated with FundAnything and PayPal.

I offer my writing and editing talents as rewards for donors, and you should feel free to offer up any ideas for other rewards you might pay me to perform. Check it out at http://fundanything.com/en/campaigns/help-the-words-flow-again and consider helping me out of this madness, won’t you?

For the record, yes, it does feel awkward asking for money for something so selfish, sandwiched in there among people trying to pay medical bills, save wounded animals, or fight patent trolls. But will I let a little awkwardness stop me? Like my Facebook banner image says, I put the “wkwa” in “awkward.”*

Consider this both an experiment in crowdfunding and an opportunity to restore my faith in humankind.

Just for fun, here’s the video I made for the campaign. Notice its low quality. This is the direct result of filming with a tablet that records only in mp4 format and then trying to piece the video together in some old software that won’t read mp4s without purchasing a new add-on.

*I totally stole “I put the wkwa in awkward” from someone, though I don’t remember who.

______________________________

If you enjoyed this at all, please click through to the blog and leave a comment.
It’s the only way I can know that I’m not just spinning my digital wheels.

There Were Trees

I remember there were trees,
And shadows
And the smell of wet grass
And tiny ripe berries
That my Mom said were poisonous,
So that I wouldn’t eat them.
And a rusted swing.

Back then
It was easy to catch up to myself,
Because I always was.

But now
I must try
To be who I am.

It’s easy to give thanks
When it does happen …
When my God cups me in his hand.