Category Archives: Blogging

Brain Pan

The air is thick with the stench of decay and the metallic tang of fresh blood which thankfully isn’t yours.  Your back is braced against the battered door, enduring each lazy, persistent blow from the other side.  You can feel as much as hear skin and nail dragging against the wooden surface, scrapping away layers of each.  In one hand you hold a smoking Glock 9mm, its magazine spent.  In the other the bloodied axe you liberated from the abandoned fire engine on Elm Street.  Both hands shake from the conflicting forces of adrenaline and exhaustion.  You close your eyes tight, trying to recapture your focus and sketch out a plan to survive the next few moments.  That’s when you hear the window shatter from the other room, followed by the shambling movement of creatures entering what had been your shelter, your haven, for the past six days.  But now your castle has been breached, your security compromised.  What next? 

We’ve all seen or censored the many incarnations of undead party crashers killing the mood at civilization’s orgy.  For decades the zombie apocalypse has infested every form of media and been flavored with every possible genre; fast swarming zombies, smart child zombies, night stalker zombies, romantic zombies filled with teenage angst.  The zombie craze has even given rise to a counter-culture of YouTube videos and wiki entries, supply lists and exercise routines, all offering insightful methodology for surviving your doom while maintaining a bikini ready bod.  Even the CDC got into the action and published a graphic novel and numerous follow-up blogs to ensure that the citizens of our once great (now mildly functional) nation are properly prepared for the worst.  Preparedness is great in theory, but I bet most of you don’t even have an escape plan for a house fire, much less have a backup plan for the end of the world!  Even here in the heart of earthquake country many people are not stocked with sufficient disaster supplies beyond the crank radio they got from a NPR pledge drive 6 years ago and the box of stale Ritz crackers in the cupboard over the fridge, so I’ll just assume most of you aren’t sitting pretty with a bug-out bag hanging ready by the front door.  You might be quite proud of your fancy new InstaPot and the cornucopia of post-Soccer meal options it offers but when the shit goes down it won’t be any better than foil wrapped roadkill cooking on the engine block as you floor the gas pedal to escape being brain tartare.  Bon appetite!

Now granted, there are those few dedicated individuals who are totally prepared for this (or any) eventuality and we lovingly refer to these people as “bat shit crazy”.  This is the demographic sweet spot that live on “compounds” and stress the importance of a healthy paralegal militia… er, I mean likeminded, proactive citizens embracing an old-world chivalry wrapped in a new-world order.  But despite the televised NRA propaganda that says these are the people that keep the world safe, anyone who’s ever watched Walking Dead knows these are usually the people that end up eating other people or at least pressing them into indentured slavery.  While this seems like very poor manners for god-fearing church goers, I must admit “thou shall not eat your neighbor” did not make the cut in the final draft of the Ten Commandments. Perhaps the editors thought that one was a no-brainer.  Ha, no-brainer, see what I did there… okay, never mind.

For the others out there, who think the zombie apocalypse isn’t plausible for the simple fact that brain sucking undead seem about as likely as rampaging unicorns with a disturbing horn fetish, you need to remember that the zombies (and kinky unicorns) are completely optional.  They’re all just window dressing in this scenario… like the faded floral print window dressing at grandmas that smells of saccharine and fried fish; sure, you could do without them, but they lend a vivid sense of place.  The true nature of the event, be it alien incursion, viral outbreak or dinosaur rampage, is just a single slice of the larger threat pie being served up.  First there is the simple destructive force of Mother Nature and the necessities of life made more elusive by a collapsing society.  Second but perhaps more problematic is “humanity”; not French Literature or Neo Impressionism, but human beings, driven to “Lord of the Flies” type shenanigans. The wackos of the world suddenly given free rein now that society is no longer around to keep them in check.  Sorry to say, but the meek shall not inherit the earth; they will either be forced to serve others or be served with a tangy BBQ sauce… or a bold seasoning rub if you’re caught in Kansas City.

Despite the name of my blog (or the resulting Google search results when trying to find my non-SEO optimized blog) I have only a rudimentary knowledge of actual survival skills. While I grew up with heroic visions of self-sufficiency my most grueling experiences have been things like the Spartan Run, so as long as the road to desolation has a clearly marked route and someone there handing me water every half mile I should be fine.  But even if I manage to survive the basic elements I’m not sure where I’d stand when facing off against bad guys with BBQ sauce.  Sure, I’ve geeked out on blades, owned a hand gun, learned plenty of self-defense but I question the level of violence I’m actually capable of; Hell, my friends still give me grief for my catch and release policy with spiders.

But I think at its heart this is the very question people take pleasure in wrestling with; do I have what it takes to survive?  What would you do to survive?  What would you do to ensure your family survives?    Do you have the intestinal fortitude to slather your body with putrid zombie gore to escape detection?  Could you make the hard choices for the people who rely on you?  Would you sacrifice your own humanity to prevail?

One classic scenario is set in the early days of the fall.  You and the family are fleeing the city in a car well stocked with more than just Ritz crackers and a labor-intensive radio.  You have food, water, fuel, blankets, med-kits.  The works.  The situation outside is already sketchy and while trying to flee to safer ground you come across a stranger on the side of the road begging for assistance, perhaps suffering from something as simple as a flat tire.  Do you pull over to render aid at the potential risk to your loved ones, and if so how much assistance do you provide?  Want to help with repairs?  Share a generous resupply of food and water?  Do you offer a ride?  Would your answer change if the stranger was female?  Had kids?  What if there were 3 adults and 2 kids?  Even if you’re inclined to be generous the realization that you’re now outnumbered becomes a concern… what’s to prevent them from just taking your well-stocked car once you pull over?   What if your own car breaks down further down the road and you find yourself in the reverse situation?  Would you hi-jack a Good Samaritan if it meant protecting your own family from being abandoned roadside?

Fast forward a couple days, you’ve survived the road trip and find yourself at the entry to a gated community that offers the chance for a real level of normalcy.  The catch is that due to limited resources they ask you at the gate “what useful skills do you have to offer the commune?” Keep in mind it needs to be something practical and useful.  Programming skills, worthless; we can’t even power the toaster (since NPR didn’t think to market one of those with a crank!).  Social media phenom with 50,000 followers on Instagram, who cares, most of them are now zombies or zombie chow.  Artist or musician, pointless; post-apocalyptic society has about as much use for the humanities as the Trump administration!  Accounting skills, well maybe, but how much skill is required to count cans of green beans or determine the exchange rate of bullets to toilet paper (it’s 10 to 1 for a roll of single ply and 25 to 1 for double ply quilted, just so you know)?   So, what do you have to offer?

Putting aside the unlikely premise of the zombie apocalypse there is real value in these types of mental exercises.  On the surface they teach us to be good little Boy Scouts and always be prepared. The CDC had it right in assuming that proper preparation starts with an awareness of potential need.  You may live in a zombie-free zone, but you can still be side-swiped by earthquakes, floodwaters, flashfires or Sharknados (hell, there’s been like 5 or 6 of those things already).  Imagining what we might need to survive these situations is more effective than a reminder to replace the smoke alarm batteries at the start and finish of the utterly pointless and completely antiquated Daylight Savings Time (not that I’m bitter).

Another, perhaps more important, benefit from these scenarios is that they allow us to be introspective about an aspect of our psyche that most of us will never have opportunity to explore.  We are confronted daily with heart-wrenching tales of suffering from all around the world that we are powerless to affect.  Thinking about how we’d kick ass and chew bubble gum after the fall of civilization can become a cathartic exercise of empowerment; what is our measure of heroism and the value we place in maintaining our humanity? For many of us this is as close as we’ll ever get to facing real life-threatening choices; would we have the courage to rise from the shelter of a battle-torn trench to charge the machine nest pinning our platoon?   Would we have the conviction to run towards the burning skyscrapers on the verge of collapse to help those trapped inside?  Would we rush into a school on lockdown to face off against a school shooter? We want to believe we’re brave enough.  We want to feel like we have the right stuff to survive in this world against all threats, real or imagined. Since there are no zombies knocking at the door and Bear Gryllus isn’t hovering around challenging us to drink our own pee or sample live scorpions, our assumptions are safe from scrutiny. Hopefully we’ll never have to put up or shut up in the real world so for now we can ravel in thoughts of zombie carnage and celebrate our inner hero… along as he doesn’t step on any spiders.

 

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Dream Girl

“Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream,…”  ~The Chordettes

Dear Dream Girl,

Acknowledging that you may well only exist in my imagination I thought I should at least write a formal invitation to make my intentions clear.  Best not to leave these things to chance, you know, or pretend I’d be happy with anyone like the parental platitudes of “we just want our baby to be healthy”, which sounded like a fabulous starting point, but I probably should have edited out some of the sassy attitude and funky smells.   Was that an option?  Anyway, I could start off by sending you a virtual wink, nod or smile, but historically my success rate with that approach has been less than dismal.  Subdismal perhaps?  Better if I just be open and honest with exactly what I’m looking for and how I can reciprocate.  It might be a random shot in the dark but there’s certainly no harm in trying, unlike randomly shooting in the dark which is never a good idea.

While my wish list might seem exhaustive or oddly specific I can promise a great deal of devotion and loyalty in return.  I would go to prison for you.  Well, not you, I hardly know you, but the idea of you and the future us that we could become.  As long as there are conjugal visits,… too soon? Probably.  Ok maybe the whole “going to prison” thing is over-stepping at this stage, but suffice to say I’d be dedicated to you; I may not help you hide the body, but at the very least I’d give you a solid head start before reporting said body to the authorities and I’d also make you a nice sack lunch so you don’t get hangry while on the lam,… and as I am enjoying some delicious lamb curry (since that totally got me thinking of lamb) and watching the live coverage of your high-speed chase I would absolutely root for you, while inwardly feeling validated that you do, in fact, drive worse than I do, even if you are better at parallel parking.  You know, now that I think about it I should probably just start off by asking that you’ve never been involved in a high-speed pursuit and you have no immediate plans to “end” someone by malicious or illegal means.   And if you have one of those “tear” prison tattoos, we can probably consider that a deal breaker as well.

Maybe I should start with the basics; I’m looking for someone who’s beautiful inside and out.  Not the inevitable sexy skeleton of Jenny Lawson, or the sexy underthings of Victoria’s Secret (though that never hurts) but a radiant soul filled with equal parts passion and compassion.  Your heart is wide open to love but has a discerning palette for kindness.  You have that solid sense of self to guide you; you know how you like your eggs.  You have strong opinions that you’re willing to fight for but listen to others regardless of perspective. You speak about others as if they were standing in the room. You can be a friend to my friends and an example to my kids.  You are a good person when no one else is watching. You love your job and embrace every day for its abundance of possibilities.  Even if one of those possibilities is finding a better job.  You push me to be a better person.  You encourage me to eat less carbs but will still stop for doughnuts.  Some days you will kick my ass to work out when I lack the motivation, and some days I’ll kick your ass to do the same.  Some days we’ll skip the ass kicking and just take a nap. You are consumed by your own interests but are present in the time we share together. I will support you with the things that matter most to you.  Try to do likewise even if my interests seem nerdy or frivolous.  At the very least, don’t piss in my corn flakes; the people and things that matter most to us are a package deal. Unconditional acceptance is the key.  If I can get behind the quality writing of “Sex in the City” then you should be able to sample the quality story telling of “Game of Thrones”, even if it has dragons. You are playful.  We will laugh together often, and sometimes playfully at each other, but never at the expense of another and certainly not each other.  You must enjoy warm hugs, but you don’t have to understand references to Frozen.    You should probably know who Inigo Montoya is though, and the tragic fate of his father.

What about me you ask?  Well, let’s just say, for the duration of this correspondence, that I have long flowing hair, if you’re into that, and large rippling muscles, if you’re into that.   Actually, if you’re into all that (or at least only that), then I’m probably not going to be into you. If you say that humor, honesty and humility are the most important attributes you look for in a man then I hope you mean it.  If all your past boyfriends have been brooding bad boys with a worn collection of Polish jokes or fart noises, then you might want to reconsider the reality of your “type”.   Who knows, maybe you dig “tear” tattoos, those just scream “comedy”.

In reality I can be loosely described as an introverted liberal dad.  I am a creative scatterbrain and a sucker for sap.  My inner voice rambles often but never stops me from listening.  I compensate for hair loss with muscle tone.  I like my eggs over-easy.   What more needs be said?

(cue background music – “Somebody to Love” by Queen as sung by Anne Hathaway in Ella Enchanted,… just because.)

As the music plays me off like one of those audio birthday cards in Target that you open by accident, I want to thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration.  I can just imagine you sitting there, silhouetted against the crescent moon absorbing the significance of each request and taking to heart the sincerity of my impassioned plea which, to summarize, is you should have everything I want and nothing I don’t.   That’s not too much to ask the personification of a fantasy dream girl, is it?

Of course it is.

I mean I get the idea of putting out clear intentions into the Universe, visualizing your goals, making a dream board.  Those are all great exercises to help me explore what I’m looking for, but it all needs to be tempered with the reality of an actual person with actual flaws and unique characteristics that evolved from the amalgamation of that individual’s life experiences.  You may be completely different then how I imagined you.  You may have something to offer that I didn’t even think to ask for and that’s pretty awesome.  So really it doesn’t matter if you like Pina Coladas or getting caught in the rain, as long as there are no dead bodies in the trunk we should be good to go.

(music swells…)

“Can anybody find meeeee,…… somebody to love.”

(roll credits)

Sincerely,

Me

 

BONUS TRIVIA: From what movie does the reference to knowing how you like your eggs come from?

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In Printed

I may not be a fan of New Years resolutions,  but it is a good time to dust off the ol’ bucket list.  One of the top items on my bucket list is to be credited both as writer and illustrator of my own published piece; likely a children’s book but who knows, illustrated spy dramas may become all the rage.  I’ve always thought that this would be the ultimate creative outlet for me despite what all publishers and submissions guidelines may say to the contrary.  They make it repeatedly clear that writers should steer clear of submitting artwork since they have their own collection of darling in-house artists to choose from.  To which I say “you’re not the boss of me.  I play by my own set of rules.  I write my own rulebook complete with illustrations drawn by yours truly.” To which they reply with resounding silence or a short, mildly polite rejection “Thank you for not following our submission guidelines.  Have a nice day”.

It would seem I need to be more professional in my approach.  I need to prove to them that I can offer value on both sides of the creative playing field.  I often wonder if they initially rejected the Wimpy Kid books because of submission guidelines or suggested Jeff Kinney’s clever stick drawings be redone by an in-house illustrator who previously specialized in cover art for trashy romance novels.  Now eleven books later with Mr. Kinney’s ability to essentially print money any time he needs a new boat, or a house in the Hamptons I’m pretty sure he’s given full creative freedom despite the fact that Greg and the rest of the crew bear no resemblance to Fabio or his bodice bosom counterparts.

Now a secondary bucket list item which is closely tied to the first is to read in print any reference to me or my creations with the phrase “wildly popular”.  There’s just something about that expression that tickles my sensibilities; “wildly popular”.  Not “mildly popular” or “really quite popular” but “wildly popular”.  It’s as if “scathing report” and “inflammatory remark” had a love child from an angry bout of make-up sex resulting in “wildly popular”.   I’m not sure if that’s better than going viral but it sounds a great deal more sanitary.

I am not under the delusion that everything I write or draw is solid gold masterworks worthy of worship.  This is still all a work in progress and the rants and ramblings contained herein are merely an exercise in creative expression.  My 5 views in a week is not “wildly popular” by any metric.  The ice cream man can achieve 5 followers by cruising the park on a mild spring day.  No, I may be just screaming into the void (which is slightly preferable to pissing into the wind and still more sanitary then going viral) but I can dream that one day the numbers will pick up and the small handful of views today will snowball into a wildly popular number,… like maybe 16 for instance.  And then, once I have my “wildly popular” blog to shove in the publishers’ faces they will have no choice but to bow to my demands and happily offer me a three book publishing deal for my series “Clifford the Big Red Spy Dog”.  Until that happens, I resolve for the New Year to either get at least one piece of fiction or two articles published by the end of the year,… or reach 16 followers, whichever comes first.

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10 Sexy Secrets for Outside the Bedroom

No, not really. However in this age of blogging bloat this is the type of topic that gets most of the blogging buzz; pithy lists and scandalous secrets. The once Wild West of the internet, where you need only hang out your shingle, has become an overpopulated strip mall struggling against urban blight.

I’m certainly not the first to be lured by the promise of expressive freedom, putting my voice out there for all the digital world to hear. While this notion of blogging is quite romantic in theory, in practice the sad reality is the expressive freedom you signed up for is little more than a message in a bottle; perhaps some lonely soul in China will find it one day and use it to practice their English skills but more often than not entries will remain undiscovered and unread.   If you think about it the number of available blogs out there is staggering. The amount of content created over the course of a week is overwhelming. Even if one were to narrow down their search to specific blog topic or theme there’d still be thousands of posts to page through. There are blogs about moms, kittens and geeks. There are blogs about how to blog. Hell, I even typed in “robot monkey” at random and got three blog results!

Like any start up business the biggest challenge of blogging seems to be luring people through the virtual front door and then sufficiently dazzling them so that they’ll return again on their own volition. In addition to the more technical strategies involving meta tags, search rankings (SEO), and a robot monkey strike force sent to disable the competition, the majority of this task comes down to shameless self-promotion like posting links and references on Facebook, creating a buzz among friends and family, and joining the blog community, commenting on other people’s sites in hopes that they return the favor in kind; Anything you can do just to get your name out there and, as my friend suggested, be a good “net citizen” (sorry robot monkeys, maybe next time).

Originally publications would handle the battle for viewership and then we the writers would battle for a small slice of their printed page. Nowadays we may cheer for the liberation of removing the publisher as middle man until we realize this drops the hard fought battle for viewership squarely on our shoulders. And this battle is not like a new NBC comedy pilot hoping to win market shares over “The Big Bang Theory”, this more like Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl competing against the actual Super Bowl,… if the Puppy Bowl was reenacted with sock puppets, filmed on your iPhone 3 and posted to YouTube.   The other inherent problem with this new battlefield perspective is that it even if we “win” it becomes increasingly difficult to define success.

What is the measure of a successful blog? Is it the number of views on a post? The number of subscriptions? The number of comments? Do numbers even matter? Does a singer busking on the street corner count success by the coin drop or the one person that mindfully changes course to cross the singer’s corner each morning? If that singer filled a coffee house with fanatic fans would that be more meaningful? What if she filled a stadium?

I recently came across a post from one of the daddy blogs (full post here) that I was checking out as someone who’d “made it”. As an excellent example of “the grass is always greener” this post perfectly illustrated the potential side effects of my perceived success; trolls. These are not the fictional trolls of Tolkien that I could go on about in far too much nerdy detail, this is referring to the online rat bastards that are the polar opposite of good net citizens. These are the individuals that like to leave the literary equivalent of a flaming bag of poo in someone’s comment section only to delight in the resulting shit storm that’s unleashed. Now I should say that other than the comments I intentionally solicited, my current count for valid non-spam comments is exactly one. I would often comment about how much I wish I had more comments. To me it seemed like a decent measure of success to not only have someone read a post but to be moved enough to share their thoughts. Apparently that doesn’t hold true when the comments turn vile. In the beginning a writer has only to contend with his own internal voices of doubt, which are hard enough to filter out. Once we add an external voice of scathing criticism I would imagine it becomes more difficult to press on with confidence much less a glowing feeling of success.

I wrote once about internal motivations and about how true artists supposedly create art for “art’s sake”. This is not a motivation I can cling to. While I do like the process of creating something I know that this comes from the anticipation that someone with eventually see it and appreciate it if not fully enjoy it. Like the question of whether a tree will make a sound if no one is around to hear it, does a post hold any meaning if no one is around to enjoy it? I prefer the way another inspirational writer put it, stating that if we do not create “we are keeping our gifts from the world”. This works better for me probably due to the “Jewish mom guilt” vibe, but the principle is important. We do not create for the random troll who think flaming bags of poo is their gift to the world, we are creating for the people who are open to finding creative expression all around them and will appreciate what we produce. So while I’m still unsure how to measure any endgame success (though it will be telling to see how many hits a bogus title gets me), I will be content for now to continue tossing bottles into the virtual ocean and hoping that one is occasionally rescued.  People need something to read while they recover from the latest top ten sex secrets.

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