Sunday, November 24, 2013

Dear NaNoWriMo

I don't remember where I first heard about you.  I just know I wish it had never happened.  You've been both the best thing to happen to my writing since I found out people would read the idiotic letters I write to things that make me angry, and the worst thing to happen to my exercise regimen and free time. 

National Novel Writing Month seems like such a neat idea.  It's a month to stop making excuses and to get the novel out of my brain and onto paper, or the fake paper of a word processor.  I've been struggling with three different book ideas since college, about ten years now.  At one point, I had gotten about 1,200 words down for one of them, but abandoned the project when I couldn't figure out what to do next.  There it has sat, dormant and stagnant for years.

I can remember downloading an episode of the new defunct podcast "The Deceptionists" that dealt entirely with NaNoWriMo.  I listened to it while I mowed the lawn last summer, and made vague and ultimately unkept plans to participate.  When November rolled around, getting 50,000 words down seemed like too much of a task to undertake, so I instead wrote more angry letters to television stations and women who ignored me at stores, because I am a classy guy.

This year, I didn't really make a plan for it.  It just so happened that on November 1st, I saw a posting that you had started, and I decided, "What the hell?  I'm doing it."  Most of the good decisions in my life have been made that way, so it seemed promising.  How hard could it be to write an average of 1,667 words per day?  Most of my Open Letters are between 500 and 800 words, so it'd be about two or three angry letters a day.  Old people do that, so I could do that.  I did an eenie meenie mynie moe, and picked one of the three stories. 

The first two days went well.  I hit my word counts, and the story seemed to start well.  My character voice was strong, and I was surprised already with some of the story choices I made on the fly.  On day three, I hit a wall, and decided everything I had written was terrible, that I couldn't write in third person, and that I look terrible when I wear flannel.  Not all of those were relevant to NaNoWriMo, but I was in a bad place.  I tore down the story and started over.  Somehow, I even caught up and went ahead. 

As I stated, my free time suffered.  The little social interaction I usually do had to be cancelled in lieu of writing.  Luckily, the website for NaNoWriMo offers interaction with other writers, and after browsing, I found out that there was going to be a "write in" for people to get together and work on their stories around other participants.  That seemed like a great idea!  I could meet some people, knock out some pages on the book, and since it was at Panera, I could get a scone.  I just hoped the waitress I had written a letter about previously was not there. 

The write in was set to begin at 12PM.  I showed up a fashionable 15 minutes late with my laptop and a can do attitude, but couldn't find anyone else with the group.  Then, in the back, I saw an older gentleman with a laptop.  Surely he was there for the write in.  I set up shop behind him. 

Looking over at his screen after I had set up my computer, I saw he was doing a crossword puzzle online.  He was not a kindred spirit.  I went to the website and the Maryland NaNoWriMo Facebook page, and put a call out to the other people to see if anyone was coming.  After an hour, I still had no response.  I did find out that the woman that was supposed to be running the write in was in fact a 17 year old high school girl, so that started to bode less well.   I shook it off, and continued to work.

After a couple of hours, I heard some people talking loudly.  I looked up, and there was a young girl asking a group in a booth I couldn't see, "Are you all here for the write in?"  She introduced herself as the coordinator, only two hours late to the party.  I figured I was already there, I should go introduce myself as well, so I got up and walked over.

The booth these people were sitting at was behind a partition, so I didn't see anyone until I turned the corner and was standing right  at the table.  There sat another four high school girls.  The entire turnout for the write in was 5 high school girls and a large 30 year old man that hadn't shaved in five days and was wearing a shirt that said "Rough Rider" with a skull and crossbones that looked like Teddy Roosevelt.

I had stopped at the table, and before I could move on, all five girls turned and stared at me.  I had to say something at this point, so I told them I had heard them mention NaNoWriMo, and I was a participant too, and thought I would say hello.  To their credit, the girls were very nice.  They asked what I was writing, I politely answered, and quickly tried to go back to my seat.  That was when in unison, they all told me to come and sit with them. 

Again, this is five high school girls, at a table in the middle of the day at Panera.  There is a grizzled man that has been sitting in the corner, who everyone has seen get five cups of coffee from the self serve, and was muttering to himself for awhile over a laptop.  Had I sat at their table, the cops would have been called in record time.  People around them were watching, and they gave me looks that let me know that in no uncertain terms I was being viewed as a dirty old man.  I did not explain any of this to the girls.  I just ran back to my seat, threw on headphones, and tried to look nonchalant while I sang along softly to When In Rome and typed frantically.

I made sure that when I left, I looked at the carpet.  The carpet does not judge me.  The carpet knows I am not a bad person.  Only I could enter a writing contest and end up a pervert at Panera.  I have a superpower for misunderstandings and awfulness. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dear Non Smoker

I quit smoking cigarettes just about two years ago.  Yes it was tough, and yes, I know it wasn't doing me any good.  I've lost almost forty pounds since then, and am in better shape than I have been in years.  That being said, I still enjoy the occasional cigar and pipe.  It's calming, it tastes good, and remember kids, it makes you look cool.

My grandfather smoked cigars.

My dad smokes cigars.

So, yeah, I smoke cigars.

This week, I took some vacation time and went to Atlantic City.  This is a city where I would routinely go through half a carton of cigarettes in a trip back in my smoking heyday.  Now, with anti-smoking laws, and the general outcry of the public to make things difficult for anyone to have a vice that isn't food, sex, or terrible reality television, most casinos only have one small area where a man can gamble and light up a stogie in peace.  That, paired with what is apparently a new law that every casino has to blast "Starships" by Nicky Minaj at least once every half hour, can lead to some aggravating times. 

I found myself in one such room my second day at the shore.  I walked into the designated smoking area, and saw right away that there were two brand new Iron Man machines near the entrance.  Unfortunately, one was being played by a lady no younger than 80.  The second, immediately next to it, was occupied by her equally not young husband.  He was not playing the game, only sitting there to be with his wife.  Say what you will about me, but I did not ask him if I could play the game.  I simply took note of how much money she had left to play on the screen, and went to another game to bide my time.

The only game that was open in the immediate area was an older style game, but I reluctantly sat down and gave it a try.  The name of this game?

This is a game in which if you spin a winning combination, you are rewarded with both credits and wonderful Glamour Shots of different cats.  Instead of playing a game with Scarlet Johansson in a catsuit, I was seated at the feline equivalent of the Sex In the City slot machine.  Karma needed to be extra nice to me for not making that old guy get out of his chair.

While I played Kitty Glitter, I reacquainted myself with a friend, Mr. Arturo Fuente.  The cigar was excellent, and I hit a bonus quickly on the game, so I had a good excuse to get up.  I figured enough time had passed for the lady to finish her credits, and rounding the last bank of machines, I saw I was right.  The couple was gone, and only a middle aged man was seated in the left hand machine.  I grabbed an ash tray, and sat down on the right hand machine, cigar in hand.

Immediately, as I put my money in the machine, the man next to me muttered, "Jesus Christ."  I figured he wasn't having any luck with the machine, and I started playing.  Five seconds or so pass, and he starts "coughing".  This was not real coughing.  He was about as convincing as Keanu Reeves was as a Brit in Dracula.  I chose to ignore him, and keep playing.

Someone had eaten their passive aggressive pancakes that morning, because he started doing it louder and more deliberately.   I had enough and finally turned to him.

"Is there a problem?"

He looked at me like I had slapped him in the face with the corpse of his first childhood pet.  There was sheer horror on this man's face, as if I had stated that I endorsed using dolphins to kill other dolphins, and then killing those killer dolphins with the cast of the Kitty Glitter game. He immediately cashed out, and walked away.

Call me crazy, but I was in the smoking section.  I think that gives me pretty much free reign to enjoy a cigar without someone bitching or whining at me.  This was quite literally the only place where it was even legal for me to have that cigar while in the casino.  If you have so much of an issue with smoke, go play the other 100,000 slot machines in the casino that are located outside of the 100ft by 100ft smoking section.  It isn't that hard.  All the other crybabies are doing it, so you should fit right in.  Apollo Creed fought and died defending the rights of all Americans to do what they want to do, and you are spitting on his grave with your apathetic dramatics.  

It was your loss anyway.  I was sharing my delicious cigar with you, for free I might add.  Had you stuck around, I would have also treated you to my rendition of the song "Iron Man", sung in the style of that great plastic surgery disaster Sir Kenneth Rogers. I also don't know any of the lyrics, so I tend to sing it, "I am Iron Man.  Iron iron iron iron IRON MAN!"

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dear Sesame Street

Today is Sesame Street Day, or so MSN homepage tells me, so I feel like it is an appropriate time for this letter.  I've sat back long enough, hoping someone else would say something.  As in most things, it seems like it's been left to me to make the world a better place.  From what I gather, at the outset, your goal was to create an educational tool that children will enjoy while not at school.  Ideally, it was a way that adults could use the electronic babysitter for their children and not worry that they were only being subjected to mindless garbage.  If we worked in ideals, Adrianne Palicki and I would be happily married, solving mysteries while riding a fanboat.  No, we live in the real world, where her lawyers have repeatedly asked to to stop contacting her, the police keep telling me I have no business at their crimes scenes, and your characters set a terrible example for the children they are supposedly educating.

Let's take Elmo for example.  Elmo is a furry little monster that started out as a background character, had several wildly different voices, and then became a breakout star with his high pitched, nasal whine.  Basically, he is Fran Drescher. The main difference is, children know to fear Fran Drescher, and they don't learn from her.  If you ask Elmo anything, he will undoubtedly refer to himself in the third person.  Only three types of people talk in the third person: NFL wide receivers, pimps, and Bob Dole.  None of them should be allowed around children.

Cookie Monster is another good one.  Since his creation, childhood diabetes has risen over eleven million percent according to some studies that I may or may not have made up.  Furthermore, he's the clearest depiction of an addict that some children will ever know.  One day, he'll be singing "C is for Cough Syrup" and no one will bat an eyelash, because we've all known it was coming.

The rest of your cast of characters are either blatant stereotypes, blackboards that your producers use to promote whatever agenda they see fit, or simply hellacious monsters burst forth from some nether region to enslave mankind.  Bert and Ernie are blatant stereotypes of the downtrodden Armenian coal miner and Snuffalupagus is barely more than a minstrel show caricature of a Greek fisherman.  Grover has been used to perpetuate the rape culture of America for decades, and Big Bird is a thinly veiled recreation of the pagan god Aengus, known as the frightful god of spring, who feasts upon cattle fortnightly.

I will not stand to let my children, however fictitious they may be, be sullied by your foul and blasphemous propaganda.  If my children need to watch television to learn something, they will be what I did, and learn from Night Court.

Also, this letter had nothing to do with the fact that I threw up in the ball pit at Sesame Place.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dear Winamp

How did you let iTunes beat you out for computer music playing supremacy?  In 1998, you had the world on a string, but your hubris and vanity opened the door for the far inferior Apple to steal your glory.

Throughout high school and college, you were a constant on my Gateway desktop computer.  I had custom skins downloaded, including the awesome Social Distortion skeleton skin, and the Johnny the Homicidal Maniac one as well, lest people think for a second that I was not down with the counterculture, thinking man's graphic novels.  Napster kept a constant stream of tasty new music flowing through your custom built playlists, and the new joy of ripping cd's to my computer ensured that we would never run out of tunes.

You were with me through almost every paper I wrote in high school.  You were there when I did my college acceptance essay, through my term papers, and kept me up until dawn every morning as I worked on my senior thesis.  You and I kept parties thumping, and entertain the occasional lady that we were able to get back to my room with promises of candy and a bootleg Flogging Molly concert recording.  You were there through every rewrite of my "independent movie", which was code for "Look at me, I'm making a college movie.  Please love me, ladies!  I'm artsy!"

Fondly, I remember the day I found the Milkdrop visualization button on your interface.  That's the thing you click and all the lines and pretty colors dance around and make your music even better.
See?   That's the only known way of making "Ace of Spades" a better song.  Even Lemmy agrees.

Sadly, very shortly after college, you became somewhat a joke after iTunes came to power and Metallica killed Napster with their whining and posturing.  Why would someone export all of their songs to you when they were already immediately in iTunes after they were legally paid for?

It doesn't seem like much of a stretch to correlate the fact that most of my creative writing curtailed in the years after college, the years where you were absent from my life. Therefore, I place the blame solely on you.  Unable to whip the llamas ass, as you were so want to say, I never wrote the Great American Novel.  I didn't even get close to the Great Canadian novel.  At best, I was somewhere between Belgium and Qatar in the Great Novel game, and that won't cut it by any stretch.

I came up with a plan though.  No one said you can't go back.  I went there, and I'm birnging this with me. 

Does Chabon have Fishbone on his Social D. Winamp?  No.   He probably uses Windows Media Center like a sucker.