Rogue Ink

May 30, 2008

Roleplaying for Writers, Or Why It’s Cool to Geek Out.

I have a confession for everyone. I was such an outcast in high school, I had to beg other outcasts to teach me Dungeons & Dragons. Their geekiness had advanced to such a state of cool that the circle was pretty exclusive, and they’d been playing for a long time anyway, and besides, the last girl they’d taught to play had wound up scalping her first kill and stitching a hat out of the skin.

I did learn. I played a bit. And I discovered a secret that I have just uncovered again, playing Escaping Reality, a creative writing role-playing game which the good Men with Pens have just created.

Roleplaying is good for writers.

Hah, say you. Yes, I’m sure that many fantasy writers had their start in role-playing. Adorable. You’re supposed to be a businesswoman, dude. (Side note: Businesswoman Dude is the title I want on my business cards.) Why are we screwing around with barbarian dwarves and psionic magicians?

And I say unto you: HOW CAN WE RESIST?

Also, it’s useful to copywriting. Really it is. Roleplaying hones a huge number of skills that are useful to copywriters, and to PROVE TO YOU THAT MY GEEKINESS HAS PURPOSE, I shall cite some of those reasons for you.

Ahem.

Finding a voice.

We talked about finding your client’s voice some while ago, and I’m not going to recap, because I have learned to hate the recap since TV shows started to come out on DVD. You would think that a logical place to allow your ‘skip to the next scene’ button to do its thing would be RIGHT AFTER the recap. But NO. They skip right to the middle of the next scene, when the new story begins, and then you either have to watch the recap of the story you JUST SAW, or miss part of the scene, or learn to fast forward on your DVD player, and there is only so much time in the day. Recaps, therefore, are evil. Finding your client’s voice is a good idea. If you’ve forgotten just why, you should go check out that episode again. It was a good one. Trust me.

Finding a voice is what roleplaying is all about. You have a character, and your character needs to think and talk and swear, and you need to know what all of that sounds like. You can’t give your character a voice until you know who your character is. Male or female? Large or small? Confident or shy? Quiet or brash? You need to know who this person is, or his voice won’t match. Try giving a woman’s voice to a male character sometime. It won’t work. Or it will, but not the way you wanted it to. Your male character will be ordering the pink frilly drinks in the bar, and that is going to get awkward right quick.

Likewise, you need to know who your client is in copywriting in order to find their voice. You need to know who they are and what they’re about, or the voice in which you’re writing will come out wrong. If the atmosphere your client projects is fun, young, and enthusiastic, giving them the voice of a forty-year-old accountant simply will not fly. No one will believe you, and the client will feel a little humiliated and betrayed, which is never the reaction you’re going for, but seriously, imagine how you’d feel if someone gave you the voice of your Aunt Esther. You’d be pissed. That’s how it works.

Getting rid of cliches.

Cliches in fantasy games are no fun. Cliched characters are boring. They make everyone else playing want to stab your character while he sleeps. Actually, if everyone else in your party attempts to murder your character for no apparent reason, there’s pretty good odds your character is Legolas with, oh, different colored eyes, or something. Ditto for creating a situation that’s so common as to be annoying.

Really? I’m going to go and avenge my dead parents by killing an overlord who is the epitome of all that is evil? I personally cannot think of at least five major films/books/plays/interpretive dances that follow that storyline. This may have something to do with the fact that I live in a cave. Tra-la!

It’s annoying, and no one wants to play it, because they know how this one ends already. THIS, by the way, is why guys hate chick flicks. It’s not that they’re about love. It’s that they’re all identical. He’s seen this one before. He’d rather go roll a half-orc with hydrophobia.

Cliches in copywriting are equally annoying. Actually, cliches in copywriting are more annoying, because they don’t come with dragons and treasure. There is no upside to the writing cliche. It is pure scribbled annoyance. On a stick.

“Ever wish you had a solution to that problem we all have? Then have I got a product for you!”

Shoot me now. Make me play Harry Potter through all seven books. I can bear that, but I cannot bear “the best just got better” one more time. I need some magic tricks to make it worth my while. Even that stupid light-trick.

Thinking on your feet.

In a good roleplaying game, your character will constantly encounter new situations. You won’t be certain how you ought to deal with the situation. You’ve never seen this situation before. (This is because we took all the cliches out back and had them shot. You’re welcome.) Instead, you have to put yourself in your character’s shoes and think quickly to determine how best to react. If you do it well, your character both survives and is believable. If you do it badly, your character is mauled and everyone hates him. Totally up to you, but I know which side of the cat my bacon is taped to.

Copywriters are constantly asked to write about products, people, or philosophies that they’ve never before encountered. I throw myself into other people’s shoes all the time in order to keep up in meetings. Thinking on my feet is rarely useful in terms of pretending I know something I don’t, but it is extremely useful in projecting an aura of capability. Being able to hear a lot of new information and apply it sensibly to a situation in a way that makes sense to your client is a valuable skill, and I swear, the time that you set off a spell trap and you didn’t know what it was and you had twelve minutes to identify and disable it will in fact serve you well. If nothing else, you’ll remember not to hyperventilate.

Shameless Pimping

I’ve been playing for a day now, and I missed it so much I nearly broke my cheeks grinning. All of the above is completely and utterly true, but I mostly wrote this post because role-playing makes me happy, and I want everyone to get involved.

So now that I’ve already secured my slot in the limited roster for Escaping Reality, I think all of you should go over and try to get in. Or at least enter the contest on their creative writing and online gaming blog, Capturing Fantasy, because I haven’t won that yet, and you can ruin my statistical likelihood of winning if you skedaddle on over there. That’s math working for you and against me, which is the way I am most comfortable with my math. The day I have a comfortable relationship with math, you will know the Apocalypse is short a horseman.

Subscribe. I may never post again, for I shall be role-playing.

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May 29, 2008

Save your world. Write.

Yesterday, we talked about procrastination, and why it works. Because when you get down to those last few minutes, you know you have to write, you have to finish. This works great for me, but that is because I have a hero complex. Come along. We’re about to geek out.

The Hero Syndrome

I know a lot of people who cannot handle the pressure of a last-minute deadline. I was one of them when I was small. The thing is, I need an impetus, a push. I need a reason to write, and I realize that there are a good many romantics who consider breathing to be a good enough reason to write, and I hope that they all make lovely poetry somewhere, preferably at the top of a tree where I can’t hear them. I choose to not be a poet. I think the whole pen-and-sword thing started because writers need to believe themselves heroes in order to get any work done, ever.

If you don’t get the writing done, horrible things will befall you. The rent won’t get paid, you’ll starve, you’ll have to subject yourself to the horrible tyrant at the Widget Factory and be chained to a cubicle and have fluorescent lights shined in your eyes forever. The weight of the world is on your shoulders. You are the only one who can get it done. You are the chosen one. You are the ring-bearer, Frodo. You are the hero. You are the child, Bastion. Save us. The force is strong within you. There is no one else. You, and only you, can keep your world spinning.

Think. Fast.

You have to think. Shutting your eyes and jumping only works at the very last moment, just before the explosion happens and you’re shot across the atmosphere in a very cool movie still. Before that happens, there’s a moment of inspiration. Listen to it. What are you going to do? What are the first words going to be? You have to decide, and you have to decide now. There’s just no more time.

Make the decision and stick with it. No time for waffling. If you figure out something brilliant halfway through, you can change tactics, because that is the privilege of the hero. If some magical connection suddenly clicks into place, spin around and go in that direction. You’ve already started. You’re a man of action. (Or a woman, but seriously, being all PC totally ruins the rhythm of these things. We have to GO, people. There’s only five minutes left.)

Don’t look up.

The girl is crying, the sidekick is babbling, lightning is flashing, big explosions are exploding and someone nameless is screaming in the street. There’s probably an adorable puppy whimpering somewhere. Don’t look up, don’t you dare. No distractions matter at this moment, because the clock is running out. Whatever you do, don’t look up. Don’t check Twitter, don’t look at your email, don’t answer the phone. There’s no time for that. You’re writing.

Don’t stop.

If you stop, you’ll fall down. If you stop, you’ll stop forever. If you stop, Mount Doom will open cracks below your feet and it will always be winter in Narnia and the Nothing will eat Fantasia. You cannot stop. Keep writing, keep putting words one after another. Your words are your footsteps. You can correct them to keep yourself from falling down, but don’t ever stop putting one foot in front of the other. One word, another word, keep moving, keep going.

Believe.

I swear, nothing was ever so powerful as being a hero, ever. I got myself a big hourglass at the Z Gallerie just because it was the coolest, most romantic thing I’d ever seen. It measures out, shockingly enough, one hour, which is a good unit of time to get something significant done. A press release, your web content, the first five pages of your short story. Reach out. Turn the glass over. Start running, start writing. This is your world, and you save it every day. John Steinbeck said something amazing that is my official writer’s mantra. It goes:

“The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.”

My time’s up. Subscribe now, or the world will end.

May 28, 2008

Procrastination. It works for me.

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 5:22 am
Tags: ,

Put your head down, your nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel, money where your mouth is, hand on the helm jam on the biscuit, weasel in the rabbit hole, martini in the left hand and pool stick across the right, for I say unto you: cliches are fun when properly abused, and they are an excellent way to pass the time when you ought to be doing something else. Like, say, work.

I procrastinate. A lot.

This is not my fault. I place the blame it squarely upon my dearly beloved professor of Shakespeare at the University of Chicago. This blessed gentleman was not only the owner of several of those delightful jackets with the leather patches on the sleeves – not to mention a bicycle, a full head of white hair, and an incredibly sweet and welcoming wife who didn’t seem to mind filthy college students in her house at all hours – but was also a scholar of no small distinction who had been teaching the Bard for over fifty years and had seen a paper written on nearly every possible topic on the subject. I mention this because he made ‘A’s contingent on producing a thesis that he had not seen before. In fifty years.

I spent a full day writing my first paper, and I’d like everyone to bear in mind that I write very quickly and generally spend a good deal of time ‘thinking’ about it before I actually put pen to paper. I got a B+ on it. ‘Good writing,’ said he, in his comments, ‘but I’ve heard this argument before. Also, you happen to be wrong, but you didn’t lose points on that.‘ Is it any wonder that there was a deep and abiding love in my heart for this man?

The next paper I consulted with him beforehand to make sure he hadn’t seen the topic before. He was about to go onstage for a production of The Tempest, he was dressed in robes and a good deal of stage makeup, and he discussed my topic with me so arrayed until he had to answer ten minute call. He hadn’t heard the topic before. I spent the afternoon writing it. I got an A-.

The final paper I completely forgot about. It was finals week, I had a class in global warming taught by a professor who bore a remarkable resemblance to Gimli of Lord of the Rings, if Gimli dropped the axe and the helm and discussed particle dispersion a lot, and I figured my studying hours were best spent on physics. I wound up reading the play (again, I’d read it once before in high school), deciding on my topic, and writing the paper all in the space of five hours.

I got an A.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I procrastinate. It seems to work for me.

The trouble is, while procrastinating projects works for me, what I tend to do with the spare time is never good. It usually involves pop songs, for some reason. These are the moments in my life when I tend to think, “What would I say to all my loved ones in the afterlife if the Apocalypse happened right now and we all got to view our last twenty minutes over and over again? Is there any realistically cool explanation for spending one’s last moments on Earth rocking out to nineties one-hit wonders? I don’t think there is.”

I could do cool things when I procrastinate. If I scheduled it right, I could be procrastinating certain projects while scrambling to meet a deadline on another. I could dance or sing or train squirrels to do the tarantella. But I keep putting it off, because none of those things have deadlines.

Procrastination is not the problem. The problem is, I don’t have enough things to procrastinate. If I did, I could be in a constant state of panic, and everything would get done, and it would all be BRILLIANT.

I’ll tell you all about it. Tomorrow.

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May 27, 2008

Commuting is the Mind-Killer

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 5:22 am
Tags: ,

You may have noticed I took a long vacation this weekend. I sincerely hope that’s all right with everyone, because my father’s ribs are not to be trifled with. Not his personal ribs, per se, because I realize we have a problem with possessives here. There’s nothing terribly exciting about my father’s personal ribs. They’re not some sort of melodic human xylophone or anything. But the pork ribs he cooks on the barbecue are extremely exciting in that they are mighty tasty, and they deserved my full and undivided attention this weekend, and so that is what I gave them.

Meanwhile, I found out something that I once knew, and had forgotten, because I have lived within walking distance of my job for some years now.

Commuting is wretched.

I used to have an hour-long commute, each way, and the commute on the way back was sometimes closer to two hours, if my boss managed to come up with some last-minute task for me, which he often did, because he was an evil old man and he lived two minutes from the office. If I could get out the door at exactly five o’clock, I only had to wait behind the few people that worked in close proximity to the bridge. If I got out the door at oh, five-ten, I and all the other suckers whose bosses came up with last-minute tasks for them would convene together, and we would all wait, seething and cursing and breathing exhaust fumes. It was a five-mile long gridlock of boss-hating and hallucinating revenge. Many of us could be seen drawing diagrams on our car windows in soap of how, when, and with what diabolical tools these bosses would meet their ultimate demise.

I have a bit of trivia for you: people who drive Hummers fantasize about using some truly obscene torture devices on their bosses. Word to the wise.

Anyway, commuting sucks, and I have a couple of reasons why.

The hour before arriving and the hour before leaving don’t exist.

This is even before you check the news, your email, and the blogs you like. Even before THAT hour, there’s the hour spent recovering from commuting. This is not a joke. You are in a bad mood. Nobody likes to be trapped in a car moving forward inch by microscopic inch and listening to morning talk radio. If you have a CD player in the car, you’ve probably forgotten to trade it out for a new CD, and have been listening to the same one for the last year or so. You probably liked the CD when you first got it, but you don’t anymore, and you can’t decide if it’s better to listen to that or hear some poor sucker get prank-called into admitting he’s cheating on his girlfriend. You decide on silence instead, and spend the time chanting “I hate work” over and over. By the time you get to the office, you are not fit for human socialization. You need a little time. More specifically, you need an hour. You need to recover for exactly the same amount of time you spent in a commute, because that is how you erase Hell. In equal proportions. Satan is very methodical in that way.

The hour before you get into the car is lost because you are anticipating fearfully how long the commute will be, trying to figure out how to dodge the boss who gives you the last-minute task, and wondering if you could possibly get home just five minutes before you usually do so as to have time to change shoes before meeting friends for a burrito, because yours hurt, and you might actually not be able to evade the boss, come to think of it, because the shoes are not stealthy so much as they are clicky and presence-announcing. You contemplate sneaking out of the office barefoot, and what impact that might have on your career if you were to be caught. That extra five minutes might be worth the risk.

Two hours of work time, down the drain. You might as well come in an hour later, skip the commute, and be able to get down to business. Same thing for leaving. I would have happily worked my tail off if it would have meant sailing home ahead of all the other commuters.

The cost of transportation is high.

I had forgotten about this. I used to go through a tank of gas at least once a week, if not every three days, and that was in a fairly fuel-efficient car. I’m currently driving one of my parent’s cars, an old Buick, and its mileage is lousy, but I’m only driving fifteen minutes over to a cafe and back, and I’ve had to fill the tank twice in the last week. Eighty bucks, for the privilege of not working at home.

Now, I command a fairly good hourly wage these days, but it sickens me to think that when I was working for a fairly low hourly wage, I was sinking about a day’s worth of pay every week into commuting. That’s correct. I lost a fifth of my salary for the privilege of having a job. That is lousy. If your job is far away, it had better be paying you VERY well. If not, I know some guys in Hummers you should hire to do some negotiating for you.

One word. Cops.

I’m not saying I speed, or take U-turns, or drive on the sidewalk when cars won’t move. I will say, however, that people are known to attempt any and all means to get themselves out of the car just a little bit sooner, and cops are waiting to catch you.

By ‘cops’ I include meter maids, and here’s the real clincher. If your office doesn’t have parking (and many do not) suddenly it’s your responsibility to either guard a meter with your life, move your car from one parking zone to another to remain within their 2-hour limit, or pay for parking in a parking garage. Note: parking in parking garages is an excellent way to get things stolen out of your car. Why? Because all the cops are out on the street, writing tickets to U-turners and people who didn’t put their seatbelts on because they were mad at their boss and just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge.

Cars are awesome. Commuting is horrible.

The number-one reason I hate commuting is that it takes something that should be glorious – driving – and makes it dirty and evil and just wrong. Forcing an activity automatically makes it cruel and unjust. It sullies it forever. I couldn’t even LOOK at my car for hours after a commute. The poor guy was wondering what on earth it had done wrong (this was before Billy Markham, this particular car was named Sparky, and he was on loan from an ex-boyfriend).

“Why?” he seemed to say. “Why have you forsaken me? Did we not used to take curves too fast and parallel park in impossibly small spaces and race truck drivers through Nevada together? Why did you drag me through two hours of stop-and-go traffic with other, inferior cars and their masters and then abandon me here on the curb, keening over my own inadequately exercised pistons? Why would you do that to me?”

And I had to turn my head away in shame. We all did what we had to do. Those were hard times, before freelancing. I wasn’t good to that car, and I wasn’t proud of it, but it was the job I had, and nobody had told me yet that there were better ways to live. I’m sorry, Sparky. Maybe one day you can forgive me.

Billy Markham never had to commute. It’s why he loves me, why he’s joyous and free and never gazes off into the distance looking depressed and resigned, the way Sparky did. It’s why he got a surname, too, because that’s the other evil of commuting. Sparky never had a surname because there was no chance he’d ever pass it on. You can’t propogate the species sitting in gridlock. Commuting will be the death of us all.

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May 23, 2008

War on English: Bad Copywriters

Filed under: Copywriting,The War on English,Writing — Tei @ 3:01 am

I have seen the apocalypse, and it comes with a dangling gerund.

They’re EVERYWHERE. They’re not only copywriters, they’re PR experts and marketing professionals. People whose business, theoretically, is the creation and sale of effective, enticing communication. Somehow, inexplicably, an absurd number of these people seem to be unable to form a sentence with all its nouns and verbs matching up. For those of you figuring out how to do this, it goes in pairs, people. Like Noah’s ark. And line dancing.

Where do they come from?

I know at least one client who hired a marketing service to make up some – wait for it – marketing materials. Yes. I KNOW. It shocked me, too, but it doesn’t stop there. These people created some of the most painful, hair-raising, excruciating copy I personally have ever read. It was somehow humiliating to even be seen looking at it. Like watching Queer as Folk with your grandmother. They mixed second and third person without SHAME, people. Like so:

“One won’t believe how much you’re going to love this!”

It was horrible to behold. And it went on and on. Page after page. I’ve seen copy that would make your fingernails start to grow inward to try to avoid making contact with the print on the page. I’ve seen copy that third-grade English teachers would point to as a cautionary tale to all those students who refuse to learn ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’, after which the students would rush, feverish with fear, to their dictionaries. I’ve seen copy that makes me, personally, want to blow my brains out, and I want to know why.

How do they survive?

Darwin, bless his heart, tells us that the strong survive and the weak die out. Now, the strong have certainly survived, but why haven’t we EATEN the weak long ago? Why are they still out there, producing their terrible copy, day after day? Who is feeding the beast?

I have a partial answer, but not one that fully satisfies me. However – some of them have learned camouflage. The client referenced above was suckered into paying for a marketing package without viewing samples of the marketing company’s work. She paid for the package and then she felt too guilty to demand her money back. That’s right. The bad copywriters are surviving by preying on the unsuspecting clients. New clients, baby clients, clients who don’t know better. They are eating the young.

There must be more to this. They must have a secret weapon. We have to find it and destroy it before they start writing scripts in Hollywood. YES. It gets worse than the Star Wars I-III trilogy. It’s almost too horrible to contemplate.

How do we kill them?

Damned if I know, Johnson. Try to warn as many clients as you can. Tell them to watch out for the warning signs. Tell them, by all that is holy, to look at a portfolio, to ask to see a writing sample, to get one shred of proof this person can produce passable English. Only by educating the populace can we stop the scourge.

Don’t they have any redeeming qualities?

Well, yes. Sort of. Once a bad copywriter has produced copy of a hideous nature, it’s a fairly easy job to produce better copy. I wouldn’t call it a challenge, but it’s a low bar. If you can clear that bar with a foot to spare, you’ve just become pretty impressive to your client, and that’s worth while.

The down side is that your client might not have any money to repair the problem now that the bad copywriter has cleaned them out. They might be stuck, desperately looking for someone to save them, but to no avail. Take pity on them, the poor bastards. Give them a preposition or two. Move an apostrophe. A little kindness is all I’m asking for. Don’t let the scourge win.

What’s your deal, dude?

They make my head hurt. No, literally. I have a microchip in there inserted by the Grand Society for the Preservation of Grammar and Sanity, and it zings me every time I see someone say ‘breath’ when they mean ‘breathe’. I see that, and I get half a taser shot worth of lightning. For the love of JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES, PEOPLE! You BREATHE air. You stop to catch your BREATH. They are pronounced differently, and they mean different things. WHAT MORE CAN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE DO FOR YOU?

Subscribe. Or the GSPGS will zap me again. Help!

May 22, 2008

Hi, My Name is Tei, and I’m a Widget Addict

Filed under: Blogging — Tei @ 4:03 am
Tags: , , ,

Actually, neither of those things is true. My name is actually Taylor Catherine Lindstrom, and I am to understand that ‘widget’ actually refers technically to those applications you use on a website. However, it is easier both to refer to me and the problem I am about to describe by our simpler pseudonyms (ooh, alliterations that doesn’t LOOK like alliteration! I love it!) and so, damn it all, that is what I am about to do.

Feedburner. Why is it a mathematician?

I have discovered my Feedburner likes number sequences. The first time I looked at my subscribers, I had seven. Then I forgot Feedburner existed until some other blogger mentioned that their subscribers had hit twelve kajillion, and I checked it, and it said fourteen. Then I forgot again, and someone mentioned it again (does anyone sense a pattern here? No, besides the number pattern, don’t be a twit), and then I had twenty-eight subscribers.

My plan is to take an amnesiac pill every time I check my blog stats, rinse and repeat. I figure I’ll erase about half my memories and motor skills in the process, but my subscribers will equal the number of people with internet access the galaxy over. Worthwhile trade-off, no?

Incidentally, I’ve noticed that other bloggers like to casually mention the number of subscribers they have, like they were keeping track of their golf handicap. “I got three thousand today, not bad for a Saturday. What say we go get a martini and mock the poor sap in the golf cart?”

Blog stats. Why do they think they are an Etch-a-Sketch?

I think my blog stats no longer reflect the actual number of visits to my blog. I think that some goblin uses my blog stats for a toy and is painstakingly attempting to reconstruct the skyline of the mountain ranges on the West Coast. To which I say to him, that’s all well and good, but I happen to think the journalism terms post was damned funny, and you’re cramping my mojo by telling me that only 200 people came around to take a look at it.

Goblin: “Ooh, looks like today we’re drawing Hell’s Canyon.”

Me: “I hate you, you slob-nosed green menace to tiny child-princesses and elves.”

Twitter. Why does it always know when I’m at lunch?

I like the Twitter, I do. I don’t quite get the way that some people find me, because I personally don’t sit around just waiting for someone to say something witty so I can follow them. This is partially because I find the random most intriguing, and I know this does not necessarily bode well for the long-term. Some guy could have been reading his grocery list piece by piece, but if all I get in the Tweet that I see is “Medium-large cabbages, the purple kind” – I’m intrigued.

But I do follow some very interesting and funny people, and they all seem to have delightfully witty and intriguing conversations. When I’m asleep. Or eating macaroni and cheese. Or finally turning off all social media to get some work done, for the love of all that is sacred and righteous in the world, by which I mean ‘chocolate’. I come back. Delightful commentary is still on the screen. And now I want to play, but it happened two hours ago and now everyone is gone, and I’m all alone, reading the Tweets over and over again, the way you listened to that message your teenage boyfriend left you when you were thirteen. It was so sweet. Maybe he’ll come back. Maybe. If I just stay by the phone long enough. But no. The moment you go to bed, you know what will happen, and so do I.

James and Harrison are going to debate which of them has better biceps, and I am going to miss it, and I will never be able to throw in the surprise write-in vote for Naomi, and she will be pissed. Check out the contenders here and here, ladies and gentlemen. And . . . all you others. Also up for grabs: are those their real biceps, or are they making gratuitous use of image archives? Curious minds want to know.

What are you addicted to? Stand up, we’re all friends at the Lusty Weevil. We’re here to help.

Subscribe. Otherwise you will break the numerical sequence, and my math friends will be sad.

May 21, 2008

My House. In the Middle of My Street.

Filed under: Entrepreneurship,Writing — Tei @ 5:42 am
Tags: ,

I didn’t used to have a house.

I was a wandering sort of rogue. I lived in half a dozen cities in less than four years, and even when I was theoretically settled (you know, going to college and all) I would drop everything for a road trip every two months or so. And by ‘every two months’ we mean ‘biweekly’. I used to cruise around in the car just to PRETEND I was going somewhere, even when I had a test the next day and there was no way in hell I could even drive from Chicago to Cleveland (a short jaunt, really).

I moved to Boulder, Colorado temporarily to help out a friend of mine who was having her second baby. I used to visit her in Boulder a lot when I was in Chicago (that was about a normal one-day sixteen-hour hop for me), and I loved Boulder, and why I didn’t move there before is beyond everyone, including me. I decided to stay after she and her husband and their passel of children moved back to California. It may have had something to do with the incredible plethora of attractive snowboarder/philosophers. I mean, just possibly. Also the breweries. There are a lot of them, and their joint creed is deliciousness.

So I found a house.

Actually, I found a duplex, but since my neighbor’s entrance is way over on the other side and he actually has a different street address than I do (as in, mine is Grove Street, his is 16th Street), I just pretend he doesn’t exist. I have the front of the house anyway, which makes it better.

I like my house. It is big and roomy and has lots of windows and plants growing about it, and it is walking distance from everything. It is painted a pretty shade of green and has an attic with no apparent entrance (I am not making this up) and a friendly ghost (I might be making that up a little but I had VERY strange dreams the first night I was there, and they involved levitation, so what’s your conclusion? That’s what I thought).

Settling down is a new sensation for me. Usually I’m thrilled to be elsewhere for awhile. I like novelty. I like visiting. I like intruding upon friends and strangers and seeing what’s up with them. I never expected to want to settle down with a house but here I am, happily monogamous to a single place, and now I can’t get back there, and it saddens me.

I am not a social creature.

There are many, many ways in which I am not your typical female, and this is one of them. Women are supposed to get off on communities and interactions and discussions and compassionate goings-on. Not me. I like all of those things in moderation, but if I don’t have at least half the day entirely to myself and my own devices, I start looking around for things to break. Crockery. Hearts. Small buildings. You know.

I was one of those teenagers that didn’t want to interact with the family and I never got over it. It was actually a problem before then. As a kid, my mother was certain something was wrong with me because I never wanted to play with the other kids. I was a nose-in-a-book girl, and it took a long time before everyone realized I just liked it that way. As an adult, my closest two girlfriends are very accommodating to this quirk. I have actually had both of them take one look at my crazed stare and insist that I go on a walk. For four hours. Or so. Until you stop feeling homicidal.

They’re great. My Tara actually did this to me WHILE WE WERE PLANNING HER WEDDING. That is how intense that crazed gotta-be-alone look is. Even soon-to-be-brides know what’s up. We’ve all decided I’m not allowed to have children. It would be a survival of the fittest game – who can run away from Mommy the farthest so that she doesn’t kill them in a maddened blood-wrath. They could make a reality show out of it.

I’m not living alone right now. What’s worse, I’m living with my family.

While I was sitting here, right now, writing this post? My brother came in and tried to make conversation (I’m typing in his room since Daddy kicked me out of the office so he could watch TV shows on Hulu), and then my dad came around behind him and tried to offer me the office back, and I frankly want to go out and kill everyone in the world right now, just to keep them from talking to me while I’m writing. When the keys are making that happy sound? The voices of angelic children singing hosannas would be in disharmony with that happy sound. The voices of my beloved family are causing me to involuntarily sprout iron fingernails with which to wrench their tongues from their sockets.

I love them. Really I do. But I want my goddamn quiet house back. It never tries to talk to me. Even the GHOST shuts up when I’m writing. It’s a very considerate ghost. I think it used to be a writer, too.

Moral of the Story

1. It’s important to have a place where you can accomplish things.

2. Find that place.

3. Then never leave it.

This is good advice, from me to you. You don’t want to see the blood-wrath. It ain’t pretty.

Not Related At All

Akismet recently caught a spam mail entitled, “How to Weigh Weed.” Now, I did NOT click on it, because I know better than to encourage the beast, but I was mightily curious, let me tell you. Do you weigh weed differently than you weigh, say, jelly beans? The things you MISS when you skip the secondary intoxicants, I’m telling you. I don’t even know street names anymore for any of this stuff. I used to. I used to have CRED, people. But I was faking it.

Subscribe. I’m homesick.

May 20, 2008

Lousy Boss, or How I Starved a Kitten

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 5:39 am
Tags: , ,

I promised you guys more race relations today, but I’m going to fail you. I figure we’re being a tad gloomy about the Lusty Weevil these days, so I’m writing you a post in my own favorite pub in my old hometown, Albany’s The Pub, drinking a pint at one of the wood tables and discussing my inadequacies as a boss.

As it turns out, I’m a lousy boss.

Allow me to first define ‘boss’. ‘Boss’ usually means ‘clients’. They’re not your real boss. They can’t really tell you what to do. By and large, though, they’re responsible for your paycheck, and they are in charge of the current project, so you do in fact answer to them. Their only differentiation from a normal boss is that they are not responsible for your health insurance. Though they should be. I’m pretty sure the ulcers I have are their fault.

I just became a boss/client myself. Not my usual state of affairs. I actually cannot remember having ever personally hired a freelancer for my own project before. I say this so that as this story unfolds, you will not immediately think, “That asshole,” but rather, “That poor, misguided, inexperienced soul. Oh, well, she’ll learn.”

I’ve hired a couple of people recently to do all the things that I personally do not know how to do. Well. Not all the things. It is not within my economic means to hire someone to do impressionist painting for me. Or make Brazilian-style roasted meats. Or perform the entire works of Shakespeare in an ongoing festival in my living room. We have limited the hires to those things that I do not know how to do business-wise, and unfortunately, due to budget constraints, ‘run a business’ was not something I could afford to hire someone to do.

Which is probably how I wound up being a lousy boss. I’m pretty sure if I had hired someone to be the business-runner for me, he or she would have been a pretty good boss. I, however, suck at it.

Here’s how I found out I was a lousy boss.

My web guys sort of plaintively/firmly got in touch with me the other day. I do not know how they managed to be both plaintive and firm, but that is why I hired them. They are damned good at paradox, and that is good for rogues. The gist of the email, and I am both paraphrasing and exaggerating, was, “Dude. You have disappeared off the face of the earth and though the total of expenses is normally due upon project completion, that is sort of contingent on you continuing to finish the project. Please stop being the Invisible Rogue and pay us. Also, if you wanted to, you know, finish your website, you might find that beneficial on a personal level. Just saying.”

I have sent these letters before. It’s what you’re supposed to do when you haven’t been paid and/or when your client isn’t finishing the project. You’re supposed to send a nice, courteous wake-up call. They are usually to perfectly nice clients, who I know bear me no actual malice and who probably are completely unaware that there is a problem on my end. My letters usually have the following subtext:

“Um, hi. If you don’t pay me, I can’t eat anything other than oatmeal for the next week. FEED ME, SEYMOUR!”

I try not to sound quite that desperate, but my point is I know this problem. This is the problem of having a lousy boss. These are the clients who delay the project indefinitely, who want weird changes, who disappear entirely for weeks so that no work can be done, and who neglect to realize that there is no overhead company paying a salary. The client does not realize (or, in the Alternate Universe of Dipwads, does not care) that your personal welfare depends on this project being completed. No project finish = no rent money. That simple.

I’m that guy. Oh, gods, I’m THAT guy. How did I come to be that guy?

How did I come to be a lousy boss?

I don’t know how to set aside time to do things for myself. I know how to do things for clients. I am the best goddamn Gal Friday in the business. I will break my back to make sure what I deliver is to the client’s liking, that it’s delivered on time, and that it accomplishes what they need.

All of that takes some serious time and energy. Whatever’s left of my time goes to my projects. By the time I’ve finished my clients’ projects, though, I am usually not thinking, “Sweet! I’ll work MORE, but for ME. That sounds like twelve kinds of awesome smothered in special sauce and triple-baked with cheese!”

I am usually thinking, “Sweet. It’s done. Maybe I’ll go see Iron Man for the third time.”

And that’s all fine and dandy when I am the only person working on a project for me. But when I have other people working on a project for me, it bodes well to think of them as another kind of client. I don’t owe them work, but I do owe them the courtesy of remembering that they are now suffering a lousy boss. Unlike the many other times that I have encountered the lousy boss, I have the power to do something about this particular one. Namely, I can stop being lousy.

The consequences of being a lousy boss are dire. It may already be too late.

The second I got the email (which, by the way, was infinitely more courteous than my summarized counterpart above) I realized that I was being a complete loser, and I immediately coughed up the remaining portion of the payment. As a result, I got a quick thank-you from the designer, which included the following sentence:

“Thanks. Now my cats will get to eat this week.”

Yes. That’s right. My lousiness was so extraordinarily lousy that it STARVED KITTENS.

Do not be a lousy boss. The kittens deserve to live.

Subscribe. More guilt trips tomorrow.

May 18, 2008

Well played, Julian Bond

Filed under: Entrepreneurship,Well Played — Tei @ 7:20 pm
Tags: , , ,

I told myself I was going to write on this blog every day. I made a pledge, in fact. A solemn vow. Which I have hereby broken, and none of you will be surprised to learn it was all my mother’s fault. Well. And my brother’s.

You see, he had the audacity to graduate today. Yes, I KNOW. Most inconsiderate of him. And mom’s a sucker for ceremonies, so my sister and I flew out, and my family and I have been sitting all morning on the National Mall (which, by the by, is the most idiotic name for the center of the DC monuments that I personally can conceive of. I realize all other malls took their cues from the National Mall, and I don’t care. Now that the word ‘mall’ generally connotes Forever 21 and those really nasty and yet somehow irresistible cinnamon rolls, I feel that perhaps the plaza in which you are flanked by the White House and the Washington Monument should have a better name. ‘Plaza’ would, in fact, do nicely.

Actually, considering the current occupant of the White House, perhaps ‘Mall’ is in fact appropriate.

Never mind. Forget what I just said.

Anyway. My brother had his convocation on the National Mall this morning, and I couldn’t see him at all because the gardeners who tend the stretch of grassy lawn in the middle of the National Mall did not see fit to equip it with stadium seating. Also, it was raining, so umbrellas sort of obscured the view. But if the ‘visual’ people were on strike that day, the ‘audio’ people were in fine fettle. Those microphones expanded above and beyond their prefix. I could hear everything in slightly more volume than I generally use on my iPod while listening to a particularly rousing rendition of ‘Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy‘. I could not, in fact, focus on the book I brought, foreseeing the problem of lawn = no stadium seating in advance. Which is how I came to be listening to the current President of the NAACP, Julian Bond.

Julian Bond gave one of the best speeches I personally have ever heard.

I say this as an avid follower of the current election (yes, I too have a crush on Obama). I used to be a theater geek, and theater geeks hear a lot of excellent speeches, because oratory is what we do. This guy was amazing. He was powerfully compelling, he dropped a couple of well-placed unexpected jokes, which are the best kind. Stealth funny is perfect for speeches.

He clearly had an agenda that had driven him for most of his life (when he was first elected to the Senate, they wouldn’t let him come serve, to which I say BOO to the 1965 Georgia legislators). He has an amazing history of civil rights advocacy, including being a co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and work in the Senate for the state of Georgia. His grandfather was a slave, and his great-grandmother was a slaveowner’s mistress. This man stood up in front of an immense crowd of people and declared his grandfather’s bastard status, and for that I commend him, particularly since he had a point.

He called upon the generations of his family and the years of the civil rights movement to say that many people fought hard for the opportunities that were in front of the graduates, and (there was subtext here, he didn’t actually say this precise thing) if we waste the opportunities for which thousands upon thousands of people risked their lives, their welfare, and their safety, we are, as a nation, ungrateful punks.

I thought, ‘much as I hate being a punk, he has a serious point.’

He’s right. No ancestor of yours, whatever your heritage, ever worked or struggled or starved or fought for you to sit on your butt and play Halo 3 all day. I’m pretty sure they had other things in mind. The freedom to play Halo, most certainly. They fought for that. But I think they’d be a little irritated to find out that with all the time you spend on it, your ten-year-old nephew keeps killing you.

I’m a woman, and I own my business, and that would not have been possible a hundred years ago. Screwing around with that business is not cool. It will bring Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a whole slew of angry feminists down upon my head. Simone de Beauvoir will be pissed, and I don’t know about you, but I am not so cocky as to think I can contend with the vengeful ghost of Simone de Beauvoir. I have seen enough episodes of Scooby-Doo to know that they have used up all the benevolent ghosts.

So well played, Julian Bond.

You also told a really awesome anecdote whose segueway made sense at the time but which I cannot currently duplicate, but which I found so amusing that I will relate it now, and you all can take it however you will.

Two men are standing by a river (let’s say they’re fishing, just so they’re not standing there in this anecdote like dufuses). They see a baby floating in the river, a la Moses, in a basket. They wade into the current and rescue the baby, pulled him to shore. Just as they reach the bank, they see another baby come down the current, so they wade in again, catch the basket, and bring her to shore. The third baby comes swooshing along a moment later, and one of the men, instead of wading into the river to rescue it, starts running along the bank upstream as fast as he can, making little skoosh noises with his shoes because they’re pretty damp now.

The other man yells after him, “Where the hell are you going? We have to save that baby!”

“You can save that baby!” says his friend. “I’m going to go find out who’s throwing babies in the river and beat the hell out of him.”

Actually, what Bond said was ‘make him stop’ but I like to think it would be a semi-violent sort of stopping. Throwing babies in rivers ain’t cool. You can quote me on that.

Anyway. Don’t throw away your babies, your legacy, or the rind of your Parmesan cheese. I know an Italian lady in Firenze says you can throw that in your next pot of soup, and it will be tasty, and then you can invite me over for dinner. Because I am about to confront airline food for the second time in five days, and I could do with rescuing.

And Well Played to my brother, too.

My brother graduated George Washington University today with a double major in History and Geography. He’s going to make the best goddamn eccentric professor-scholar ever, and I’m very proud of him.

Subscribe. More race-gender relations tomorrow, because Crystal of Big Bright Bulb and I had a discussion.

May 16, 2008

Writers Know More Than Wile E. Coyote

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 5:45 am

My father and I were discussing my writing career. Specifically, we were discussing why I don’t write fiction very much anymore. I used to write fiction, and still do, occasionally, when I can’t help it. I stopped actively trying to write fiction a little after college because I realized that there was something wrong with my writing. It wasn’t bad. It was, in fact, quite good. I made a girl in my fiction writing class believe that I was a smoker with a scene from one story. She offered me a light for about three weeks before she shook the assumption. It was a good victory for fiction land.

But I stopped doing it. Here’s why.

You Actually Can Only Fold It 11 Times According to Mythbusters, But Math Isn’t Real Anyway

The trouble is, I’ve always known the difference between what I was able to produce, which was decent fiction, and literature, which is bloody brilliant fiction. It is a big gap. It is a chasm. It is approximately the length of a piece of tissue paper folded a hundred times, and if you never had a mathematics professor who thought he was particularly clever, you will not know that this is a freaking long distance, but I will. And I will judge you for not having that mathematics professor, and yes, my judgment will in fact be surrounded by a cloud of envy, because he was an irritating little man.

I know the difference between what I am able to produce and literature. And looking at that distance, daily, was killing me, and making me not want to write, ever again, because it seemed like the gap would always be there, like the one in Madonna’s front teeth, just right THERE. Always THERE.

So I stopped writing literature.

DON’T PANIC

The Hitchhiker’s Guide is full of great advice. That’s top of the list. Don’t Panic, in large, friendly letters. I’d have made them friendlier but WordPress only has so many fonts to choose from, people. I say ‘don’t panic’ because I can sense that each and every one of you who are writers are now poising your fingers above the keyboard to tell me not to quit, not to give up, that the artist within me will prevail. I thank you in advance for your cheerleading and assure you that it is not necessary, because my ESP keeps me warm at night. Also, because of this:

I am not giving up. I am going into training.

At this time, I would like to issue an apology.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have counseled clients and friends against doing what I am about to do. I have warned them it is only for the elite and Jack LaLanne, and that most of us are neither of those things. The President does it, and I think we all know by now we’re not looking to him for good ideas in communication land. I am against it in all forms of media, from speech to writing to hieroglyphics, and yet, here I go. I humbly beg your pardon, good people of Rogue Ink, for I am about to do something dangerous and possibly quite painful.

Yes. I’m going to do it. I’m going to use a sports metaphor. I will try, for all our sakes, not to make it too hideous.

Here Goes

Trying to write literature when you have not spent any significant period of your life in constant writing is the equivalent of a pretty fast kid deciding he’s going to run in the Olympics, and he’s going to beat the world record for sprinting. The pretty fast kid can beat everyone in his hometown, and everyone in the surrounding towns. Everyone he knows is impressed with his speed. He has been compared to cheetahs and racecars and other really fast things, and someone has probably written an impressive little piece of poetry about him in an op-ed in the local paper. He’s a pretty fast kid.

He is not the fastest kid in the world.

What’s more, before not being the fastest kid in the world, he is also not the fastest in the country or the state or the college he’s going to attend in two years. If you put this kid directly from his sophomore year in high school onto the Olympic running team, he would get schooled and it would be humiliating. Athletes would waste precious bodily fluid to spit in his general direction, and then they would have to replenish from a carefully rationed bottle of Gatorade, and that would break their concentration, and then the Communists would win. I’m telling you, it would be bad all around.

What the hell does that have to do with writing?

I’m the fast kid.

I’m a good writer. I was one of the best writers in my school. In general, I was the best writer in every office I’ve worked in. People have commented on it, people have praised me, and as long as I never left my little sphere of Awesome, no one would ever know that I wasn’t Olympic material. But I know. So does the kid. The kid knows that the difference between his best time and the fastest man in the world’s best time is a minute and twenty seconds, and he knows exactly how big of a gap that is. I know what my gap looks like, and it is huge.

So what do the kid and I do? We can’t keep comparing ourselves to the Top Gun, because he is too impressive. His glory makes our brains hurt. We are not worthy to gaze upon the Top Gun, and besides, he’s ruining our self esteem, and if we have to spend all our money on therapy we’re never going to be able to pay the rent. He’s an inconsiderate bastard, the Top Gun, but he is there and we have to deal with him.

The kid and I are going into training.

This blog is training for me. It’s about an hour a day of me stringing together a coherent thought in long format, making it funny, and making it halfway intelligent-sounding. I write in my journal for another hour a day. I spend about half of my work day doing writing (the rest of my workday, for those of you who are not writers, is spent doing something we like to call ‘brainstorming,’ which is more accurately assessed as stressing out in venues as varied as the bathtub, the bowling alley, and the biker bar. I spend about six hours a day, solid, writing.

In another week or two, I’m going to be adding another hour of fiction writing to that total. Then I’ll increase the fiction writing hours, and then I’ll increase the quality of that writing, and someday I’ll get there.

Until then, though, I’m not looking at the Top Gun anymore. He’s freaking me out and he is sapping my mojo and I just don’t like him very much. It’s something about his hair. I think maybe he’s got a piece that he gilded, or something. His halo glints all wrong.

The kid is doing a lot of running to get to Olympic level.

I am doing a lot of writing to get to literature level.

The kid just wants a gold medal.

And all I want is a Pulitzer. Like that is SO much to ask.

Moral of the story: Do not look at the gap. The gap is the mind-killer. Remember how Wile E. Coyote never fell down until he saw the chasm? It’s just like that.

Subscribe. When I win the Pulitzer, I’ll thank you in my speech.

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