What American Apparel’s Near-Pornographic Ads Can Teach You About Writing

I’m not a very classy person.  I have, for example, a tendency to prefer cheap pizza to the fancy wood-oven-fired stuff with weird ingredients.  Pine nuts and truffle oil?  No thank you.  I’d like fat with more fat on it, please. Things like that. But I draw the line at carrying my porn around in public.

You wouldn’t think it would come up that often, would you?  This is the internet age, after all; those of us who like the naughty pix can just store them on the privacy of our own hard drives, or tweet them to the privacy of young women’s hard drives, where they will eventually be leaked to the press and cause a scandal that ends our political careers.

Hypothetically speaking.

So even classless ol’ me shouldn’t usually have to worry about walking around publicly with porn in hand that often, right?


That’s not a page from Playboy.  You could be easily fooled, since it features not only a scantily-clad woman but also a cute little bio and some URLs telling you where you can see more sexy pictures, but it’s actually an advertisement that ran on the back page of our local paper a few weeks ago.

These are very awkward things to carry around on public transit, just for an example.  Little old ladies give you odd looks.  Parents with small children scowl until you flip the page over.  And in their defense, some of the back-page ads aren’t substantially different from a porno cover.  Some of them are worse.

This, for example, is an advertisement.


While this, in theory, is pornography.

The woman in black is wearing quite a bit more clothing, and, I would argue, posing less provocatively as well.  She does, I assume, wear less inside the magazine, but the point remains that I’m allowed to carry the daily news around with the American Apparel ad showing (give or take the occasional disapproving look), while taking a Playboy onto the subway would cause all sorts of trouble whether I opened it or not.

There is actually a writing-related point to the comparison, and it is this:  packaging and branding matter more than content.

American Apparel can run pornographic ads in the mainstream press because they’re not billing it as pornography.  The fact that it’s more physically titillating than a Playboy cover doesn’t bother people because Playboy is for jerkin’ off and full-page newspaper ads are just for selling clothes.  The context trumps the content.

This can play out in a lot of ways.  Just about any choice you can make about a work affects how people will read it:  what genre it’s billed at, whether it’s “literary” or “popular” fiction; even just the difference between hardback and paperback carries expectations that you’ll never get away from.  Don’t be afraid of the choices — but do be aware of them.

And don’t take your Playboy on the subway.  That’s just classless.

How to Always Update Your Blog On Time

So there’s actually two ways to do what I’ve promised up there in the title.  One involves hard work and advance preparation; the other mostly comes down to gimmicking the backstage of your blog.  Guess which one we’re going to talk about here?

Getting a blog post up “on time” is a sort of variable goal.  MA101, as regular readers know, goes up daily in the morning where “morning” is defined as “almost always before noon in the central United States, except on bad days.”  A while back it was three times a week rather than daily, but with no real change in what time of day people could expect a new post.

A fixed time for posting isn’t really a necessity as far as human readers go.  They tend to be forgiving — and more importantly they tend to be using a feed reader of some kind, so you’re not really inconveniencing them no matter what time you get it up.

"Get it up," hur hur hur.

The real advantage of regular posting in the every-day-at-the-same-time sense is that search engines like it.  Robots like other robots; a little robotic precision goes a long way when you’re starting out in convincing Google that you’re a Thing Worth Upranking.  So if you’re anal-retentive about that sort of thing (or just like other people thinking you’re anal-retentive) it’s worth trying to get the blog up at the same time every day.

Which brings us to how!  That was the point today, remember?  The obvious way is, of course, to write your posts ahead of time and then schedule them.  Most popular blogging platforms have a built-in option for scheduling posts nowadays, and there are third-party programs still floating around from the bad old days that will schedule it if yours lacks the feature.

That works great right up until you forget, or get behind, or the program glitches.  And then you get a post with a different time, which let’s be realistic, if you’re still reading this particular post you’re the sort of person who cares about shit like that.

I’m sorry.

But it’s okay!  You can lie.  When you go back and edit a blog post in a platform like Blogger or WordPress one of the things you can change is the date and time.  I could make this post tonight and immediately change it to September 21 2009 if I wanted to, and it would move back to appear in the right chronological order, in with the other posts from two years ago.

Or, of course, you could work a few days ahead of schedule and always have a post ready to go up right on the stroke of midnight.  Anyone?

Writing Takes You the Strangest Places: My Career as a Sex Toy Tester

Mom, Dad, stop reading now please.  Just come back tomorrow or something.


Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about my career as a sex toy tester.

It was a surprise to me too.  But apparently this is the sort of thing that happens after a while of doing small freelance jobs, making deadlines, and in general getting a modest reputation as someone who works well and on time.  People start giving you jobs:  Review a local cookbook.  Do the written descriptions for a friend’s Etsy site.  Receive truly esoteric sex toys in the mail and write up your experiences with them.  That sort of thing.

What? It's a "3-Phase Electrical Vibrator." Relevant to the discussion.

So it would be safe to say that I’m feeling philosophical about my writing career this morning.  It’s taken me interesting places, and now it’s apparently going to take some very oddly-shaped silicone sculptures interesting places too, which I will then write about.  This, apparently, is the reward for a few years of diligent work and self-promotion.

All in all I can’t complain.  It’s great that this offer came my way.  I like the people I’ll be writing for and it’s hard not to enjoy the strangely bulging packages that arrive in my mailbox now (that’s not a euphemism).

But boy is the writing life an odd one sometimes.

Other writers?  The oddest job you’ve ever been offered?  Or you can just share your opinions on the latest in “Palm Powered Pleasure” technology, if you prefer; I’ve got a few thousand words to produce on the subject by Friday.  Leave a comment!

I’ll just be, um, doing research.  Over thisaway.

Just How Many Things Does PBR Stand For, Anyway?

Today’s post started out as something different.  I was Googling “PBR case” for a good image to steal, with my usual dedication to copyright and proper citation, that might help illustrate the concept of Wisconsin hospitality to readers from less fortunate states.

I found one, too.

But what I learned in the process was that “PBR” stands for an awful lot of damn things.  For example, it clearly has something to do with computers:

I have no idea what, but it pops up when you Google "PBR case."

It’s also apparently a thing you can get shot with.  Non-fatally, since it stands for “plastic baton round” (sounds much nicer than “riot bullets,” I guess), but you should still probably double-check what Officer McFriendly means when he offers to share some PBRs with you.

Although your head might actually hurt less, afterward.

And then apparently there’s this physics thing, where you’re comparing the “PBR case” to the “ZR case.”  Man do I want to be a part of that study.

The original caption tells us that "thick curves represent the PBR case," which is a pretty accurate description of Wisconsinites in general.

It’s also the Burkinabé Party for Refoundation in Burkina Faso, a nuclear “pebble bed reactor,” the “plant breeders’ rights” that the creator of a new plant breed enjoys, and the Professional Bull Riders organization.

Which is exactly what it sounds like.

All this from one little Google Images search.  Plus I found this awesome picture of what appears to be a Pabst Blue Ribbon coffin, bringing a new and wholly inaccurate meaning to the phrase “going out in style.”

So I’m not the only one that gets wholly distracted when looking for images, right?  I think the original post was going to be something about my brother’s unannounced visit, and how we always wind up tying one on, but I’ve lost track by now.  You tell me which would have been better!

Rewarding Your Writing, or, The Art of Treating Yourself to Some Ramen

Sometimes I over-analyze things.

Like in the grocery store:  I’ll be standing in the ramen noodle aisle (which is actually the “ethnic foods” aisle, and apparently includes British as an ethnicity, since the next thing over from the ramen is Spotted Dick-in-a-can).

Honestly, I just like using this graphic.

Anyway, there I am, buying up ramen because we always need it when someone gets sick.  And they’ve got these “Souper Packs” [sic] of like six ramen packets all at a time for even cheaper than the usual stuff.  So I grab three or four of those.

But then the second-guessing and uncertainty starts.  I don’t actually like the beef-flavored ramen, say, (available in Souper Packs) as much as the pork (not available in Souper Packs).  Chicken’s okay but boring, and “oriental flavor” is just weird.  Shrimp’s really the only good Souper Pack available and we’re already bored of it.

So I hesitate.  I turn to the other ramen flavors.  Desire wars with economy:  you’re holding the best bargain right there in your hand!  Put it in the cart and let’s go!  People are starting to stare.  And I stand, paralyzed, unable to decide whether I can bring myself to knowingly spend more than I have to.

This is a good point in the narrative to mention that the difference in cost is about one and a half cents per package.

But times a hundred packets that adds up to...okay, yeah, about $1.50

So there’s some irrationality going on here.  And there’s the lingering shame of being the guy that stood weighing his options in the ramen noodle aisle for like half an hour.  But I get more than over-salted soup out of it:  I get a treat.

When things go really sour — when I’m sick and behind on deadlines and cold and my cat has decided to come snuggle lovingly and then pee on the blankets — I can pick myself up, dust myself off, put the blanket in the laundry, and grab a packet of the extra-special chile-lime flavored ramen.  Forget that regular ol’ chicken or beef stuff; today’s a special treat day!

And that’s about the nicest feeling you can buy for a penny and a bit.

Do you have special treats that aren’t actually all that special for your bad days?  Has the wholly artificial construction paid off?  Or does that require being the sort of person who deliberates for hours in the ramen noodle section of the grocery store?

The Sickness Scale

Yeah, so I’ve been a little sick lately.  But how sick?  I’m glad you asked.  Self-scheduling is part of the writing life!  You gotta be able to pace yourself.  Guesswork doesn’t cut it — when you’re deciding if you’re going to manage to crank an article out or not you need science.  So I have a very scientific scale:

Kinda Sick

  • Symptoms:  Upright but unwilling to do anything beyond ordering delivery pizza and watching too many episodes of children’s TV.
  • Writing Prospects:  Yeah, okay, I’ll finish off that outline I already have an outline for.  Grudgingly.

Pretty Sick

  • Symptoms:  Re-reading Dealing with Dragons for the twenty-somethingth time; eating ramen noodle soup with Tabasco.
  • Writing Prospects:  The blog will probably still get done.

Really Fucking Sick

  • Symptoms:  Lying completely prone and listening to the 1974 recording of The Hobbit voiced by Nicol Williamson, which my parents used to play for me on the like eight LPs that it took up when I was home sick as a child; drinking shots of NyQuil mixed with straight bourbon.
  • Writing Prospects:  Often ambitiously large, in an alcohol-and-NyQuil-colored haze of excitement.  Finished work usually looks something like “and then we snail with the burple fjjgm/////////////////////” as I fall asleep on my keyboard.

This is, obviously, a rather personalized scale.  But it gets the job done (for example, I’m happily downswinging from “pretty sick” to just “kinda sick” right now, and hope to be a real human being again by tomorrow).

I think these benchmarks are important for writers and the self-employed.  Or you could just get an O Best Beloved to say “yep, you’re sick” and make you soup.


I am, of course, kidding.  I make the soup even when I’m Really Fucking Sick.  But it’s still good to know.

Sick Day: Search Term Roundup

I don’t quite remember why I started the tradition of doing a search term roundup whenever I get sick.  It had, I suspect, something to do with NyQuil.  But it’s quick, easy, and entertaining, giving you the laugh you’ve no doubt come to expect here and getting me back to bed as quickly as possible!

So let’s take a look at what’s bringing people to MA101 for the first time lately, shall we?  These are all taken from WordPress’s own built in stats tool.  Theoretically it’s giving me a comprehensive list of what terms, entered into search engines, have resulted in people clicking on a MA101 page — I try to take that with a grain of salt.  But it’s good for the occasional laugh.  Lately, for example…

The Good…

Things that MA101 or at least a post on it are about, sort of.  I am happy I was able to help these people!  Good job finding what you wanted, if you are one of them.  I hope you enjoyed the blog.

  • “Misanthropology 101″ – is self-explanatory, and also spelled in many interesting and creative ways in people’s searches.
  • “Cute ponies,” “fuzzy ponies,” “pony pictures,” etc. – are not really what MA101 is about, but I can’t deny that I’ve brought that one on myself.  I expect these people went away satisfied.

…The Bad…

These are searches that clearly did not want anything I wrote.  A lot of them are just image-related.

  • “Taboo” or “Taboo game” – Apparently the classic party game is waaaaay more popular online than I thought.  I suppose the one post that mentions it is, in fact, about a game of Taboo, but I doubt it’s what the searchers are looking for.  Especially since it also talks about porn.  Maybe I better go back and clean that one up, actually…

…and The Ugly

Seriously people?  What the fuck.

  • “Pederasty porn” – Eight people?  Eight fucking people?!  Please note that this cannot actually be found on my blog anywhere…
  • “sexy larp girl” – Okay, I guess technically there is a picture of those on the blog, once.  But who sits around Googling that shit?
  • “giraffe cock” – I mean…yeah, there’s the thing about giraffe penises, but…that’s not so dirty.  It’s just about a translation error, for god’s sake!
  • “avtobus” – I’m sorry, I have no idea what you three were looking for.  I really can’t help you here.
  • “bassoon eileen reynolds” – I don’t think any of those terms has ever appeared on my blog.  Have they?
  • “hyperbole and a half no updates” – I share your frustration, friends, but alas I also have no idea what happened to Hyperbole and a Half.
  • “fat drag queens” – I got nothin’ here.
  • “google http://www.comanglo-saxon tied in the the cubbage,s” – I include this only because it directed people to my blog three separate times.
  • “always need to have a blanket wrapped around me” – I’m…sorry?
  • “little boy in fur suit” – Gah!
  • “[the full name of one of my exes]” – This never appears on the blog.  I went back and checked just to be sure.  None of her names appears anywhere in the complete text of MA101.  Google, you’re fucking creepy!
  • “תמונתו של דוריאן גריי” – Pretty sure that’s Hebrew.  Mine’s a little weak, sorry.
  • “автобус школьный” – And some Cyrillic too, sure.  Why not.
  • “huge black dildo shopping” – MA101 must have been very disappointing.
  • “i keep porn in public” – I…don’t?
  • “‘hit in the testicles'” – Double-quoted there because they Googled the exact phrase.

I could go on for a while with these, but you get the point.  It bears mentioning that none of these were single, isolated incidents — every example above sent people to this blog at least twice.  I’m not sure if it’s time for me to start reexamining my life, or time for a whole lot of other people to do the same.

Fellow bloggers, any recent search term hilarity from your own stats pages?  Feel free to leave a comment (or to just steal the idea and turn it into a post of your own, I suppose).  Me, I’m going back to bed.


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