I Don’t Understand Runners

I try to avoid irrational dislikes for large groups of people, but boy do runners make it hard.

Part of that’s probably geographic.  I feel like you can either be the trendy city that closes its streets for some marathon or triathalon or whatever on a bi-monthly basis or you can be the quaint kind of city with lots of one-way streets and unexpected dead ends on a defiantly ungridded system; Madison does both, and gleefully.  So I do begrudge the running craze some of my time wasted in traffic.

But mostly I live and let live.  As long as you’re not trying to shoulder me off the one tiny shovel-width path Madison gets down to by around the middle of winter or actively blowing snot on me we can probably overlook the runner thing.

Triathletes, now?  They are a source of perpetual fascination for me.  You’ve got three events (run, bike and swim), two of which are torture in the heat, one of which is brutal in the cold, and all of which suck in the rain.  So no matter what the weather’s like you’re guaranteed to have a bad time at least some of the way.

Good job, guys.

I thought about making a writing metaphor out of it (or a drinking one, always a reliable fallback), but I suppose everyone finds some pastime or other incomprehensible.  The moral of it escapes me, just now.  “We all suffer for something or other so pick what you think is worthwhile”?  Something like that.  I’ll take my writer’s-chair-butt and hangovers over being a runner any day, at any rate.

‘Course, this one might be a little poorly-written because I’m sick and can’t sleep, so who’s to say there isn’t something to an aggressively healthy lifestyle?  I’d save on ramen and Tabasco, at least.

…what?  What else would you do for a sore throat?  I’m poor.

What To Do When an Editor Makes Your Writing Worse

Writing about editors is always a touchy business.  DISCLAIMER:  Guys, this isn’t about any of you.  My last few contracts have been fantastic.  I enjoy a degree of both freedom and stability that staff journalists are jealous of.  (They get health care, of course, but whatever.  I’m healthy.)  Please don’t fire me.

That said!  One of the realities of the freelancing life is the capital “E” Editor. Keeping him/her/them happy is pretty much the goal, since they’re the people that sign your paychecks.  Your own perspective of what the intended audience might want to read is relevant but less so; artistic goals do not even bear thinking on.  Usually this works out fine because the editor, just like you (theoretically), wants the piece to be as good as possible.

But every once in a while you’re going to get feedback that makes you wince.  Helpful suggestions in red that don’t help at all.  Fixes that break the writing altogether.  Feces flung all over your beloved icon.  I might talk about poop too much on this blog.

So what do you do when you receive corrections that flat-out make the writing worse?  A few things, usually:

1.  Decide How Much You Care

Seriously.  If it’s a 2000-word toss-off on a subject that you don’t write about much, it may not matter if the finished product isn’t your best work, even under your own name (and if it’s not a credited piece then there’s really not much reason to care). 

Remember that the people making the corrections have their own vision for how the piece fits into a larger publication.  They may have much more important reasons than yours for wanting the piece a particular way.  Think carefully before deciding that it’s worth arguing about the suggestions.

2.  Request “Clarification”

Your editor is never wrong.  They can’t be; they’re genetically incapable of it.  So don’t tell him/her that he/she is.

Instead, fire off an e-mail saying “Working on the piece now — just wanted a clarification on a couple of these edits.”  Then pick out the ones that frustrate you most, and say something like “Are we looking to do [exactly what the edit says] on this one?  Won’t be a problem, but I think it might [the problem you have with the edit].”

You may have seen something your editor didn’t and get a correction to the correction back.  You may also just get an impatient reply saying that yes, you should go ahead and do what they told you to the first time, damn it.  But at least you tried.

3.  Make the Damn Changes Anyway

You are the labor.  They are the management.  Welcome to the bottom of the heap.

4.  Do As Writers Before You Have Done, and Writers After You Shall Do

EDIT:  I never would have noticed without WordPress’s built-in notification, but apparently this is the 300th post on MA101.  That’s a lot of words.

Chocolate Covered Olives

Did I ever tell you the story of the chocolate covered olives?

It all starts at a wedding in Georgia. Outside Georgia, technically speaking — strip mall land, where every street is named “Peachtree Something.”  Somewhere in the hills behind this maze of interlinked parking lots there’s a lovely little manor house from before the Civil War.

The economy it was built on collapsed in about 1865, so the manor house is now a rental hall.  All the nice rugs and furniture are still there, museum-like, though some of them are behind elegant velvet ropes to keep you from accidentally using an antebellum chair as, say, an actual chair.

O Best Beloved and I wandered the buffet feeling like the out-of-place Yankees that we were.  The crowd was mostly white Southern relatives and friends of the bride, the extremely-deferential and all-black serving staff made us feel a little odd, and you couldn’t get anything but soda at the bar, which certainly put me in a bind.  Having a black eye from a fight with one of the groom’s party the night before didn’t help any either.

No, seriously. There it is.

Adrift and awkward, I eventually found my way to the chocolate fountain to drown my sorrows.  A pack of strangers wandered up.  I nodded cordially, they warily; their children not at all as they ignored all the grown-ups and rushed for the chocolate.  Feeling daring and more than a little perverse, I picked up a nearby olive — also skewered helpfully on a toothpick, just like the strawberries and little pastries by the chocolate fountain — and dipped it casually into the molten flow.

“It’s a big fad right now,” I said, conversationally.  “Sort of like caramel corn and cheese corn all in the same bag, you know?  Salty and sweet all at once.”

I twirled the toothpick, eying my olive, the very picture of a man making sure his gourmet treat is properly executed.

Some of the children doubted.  “That’s gross!” one pointed out.

“But you don’t like olives,” her mother noted.  She watched me curiously.

“It’s really a hot new thing,” I assured them.  “I think the New York Times had a thing about it.  Maybe it was the Wall Street Journal.

The blow found a chink in the armor.  “Oh, yeah,” her husband agreed, nodding in the casually disinterested way of one intellectual to another.  “Now that you say it, I think I read that too.”

And he picked up an olive and dipped it.

We chatted for a bit and I wished them well after they’d all had their chocolate-covered olives and commented that they weren’t too bad (except for the older boy, the only child to try one, who rightfully pronounced them “disgusting”).  They went their way and I went mine, leaving a chocolate-dipped olive discreetly tucked away with some other food detritus on one of the little standing tables.  I always wondered, later, if any of them ever looked up “chocolate covered olives” and realized there was no such fad.

That said, you can order them from at least one specialty retailer online (or so Google tells me), so maybe I wasn’t being as perverse as all that.  But peer pressure is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

Have you ever given in to the desire to be very bad at a big wedding where you don’t know anyone?  Or am I the only one that can’t go out in public?  Oh, and if either the bride or groom from that wedding are reading this, sorry about feeding your relatives chocolate-covered olives…

When Bad Names Happen to Good Websites

I have a confession to make:  I’m not actually all that attached to the name Misanthropology 101. It was a sort of personal joke from back in undergrad, when dinosaurs ruled the earth or were at least an acceptable thing to have on your bedroom wall.

Rawr.

I mostly used it (the name, not the dino poster) because it was very different from anything else in the same general corner of the blogosphere.  Not having any form of the word “write” in the title seemed very novel and cutting-edge at the time.

I was young.

But it’s my blog’s name and I’m happy enough with it.  Which is why I was very startled to see a blog named “Misanthropology 101″ appear just below mine in the Google search results two days ago:

And theoretically it’s from quite some time before mine, or at least that’s what the post dates would indicate.  Which is odd, because I Googled all the blog names I was considering to make sure they didn’t exist already when I started MA101.

My ego-stroking theory here is that Google upranked MA101 and various other old, defunct pages that it had abandoned got dredged back up because they share the name and might therefore be relevant.  So a page named “Misanthropology 101″ that got dropped off the search results might be back on them just from association with me.  Cool, huh?

Or it could be something else entirely.  But whatever the cause, Misanthropology 101 at Blogsome — though I wish its author well — is not my blog or in any way affiliated with it.

Has this happened to anyone else?  Are there sites very similarly-named to yours that contain unrelated (and possibly startling) content?  Other than WhiteHouse.com, of course…

Spending Your Freelancing Paychecks Wisely

This one’s for my freelance peeps.  (“My freeps?”  No.  Anyway.)  Freelancing!  I’m not going to bitch about it, because it’s been good to me.  I work from home.  I can wear a bathrobe all day and start drinking at 9:00 in the morning if I want to.  (Ha!  I am, of course, joking about that last.  I never get up as early as 9:00 in the morning.)  And it’s certainly one of the coolest-sounding jobs out there.  Downright mercenary, like a masterless samurai in old Japan.

Hiii-yah.

The flip side of this idyllic life is that, like those wandering samurai, you spend an awful lot of time eating plain rice and wiping your butt with leaves.  Paychecks are uncertain things.  The good weeks have got to be enough to get you through the bad weeks, because there will be bad weeks.

So when a paycheck arrived today with more digits in front of the decimal than I have ever seen addressed to me in my life, I did the fiscally responsible thing:  I immediately went out and bought one of those fancy dinners where they bring you dead things on skewers and don’t stop until you say to.

I think this was a healthy choice.  Mentally healthy, I mean — no theory scientific nor spiritual can transmute six and half pounds of dead cow into the right choice for your stomach.

But when you’ve been wiping your butt on leaves for a month because you can’t afford toilet paper and you finally do come into some cash you do not want to go spend it on toilet paper.  You want to go spend it on something that makes a month of wiping your butt with leaves worthwhile.

Ahhh god stop talking about leaves already Geoffrey.

My point is this:  if you wanted fiscal security you’d have taken a degree in Actuarial Sciences the way Dad always wanted.  Freelancing is going to be a wild and crazy rollercoaster no matter how sensibly you do it.  So be smart and set 90% of that damn-this-was-a-good-month paycheck aside against the damn-this-was-a-bad-month ramen packets* — but spend the other 10% on you.

Right now.  You deserve it.

*You’ll notice I didn’t say “leaves.”

Road Maps and Writing, or, What I Drank for Labor Day Vacation

D’you have a city that you just know your way around without a map?

My father and I always seem to figure places out after a little while in them; it’s why my mother says she never bothers to learn directions anymore.  O Best Beloved is the same way.  (God only knows what either of them will do if Dad/I get a knock on the head or something.) But it all seems (for me, at least) to be grounded in some atavistic sense-memory that guides me, like a homing pigeon, exactly where I want to go, rather than in a higher-brain system of names and coordinates useful to everyone.  Thus, while Milwaukee (just for example) looks like this on Google Maps:

…in my head it looks more like this:

For O Best Beloved’s purposes and mine, this gets us around just fine.  But it’s sort of useless for any directions based on, say, a helpful local with knowledge of actual street names and landmarks that don’t involve spirits distilled from grain.

It’s okay, though; this is Milwaukee, so all the locals use landmarks involving spirits distilled from grain too.  And after a while it all starts to run together and you realize that, fuck it, whichever way you stagger you’re going to wind up near at least one of those glowing, golden beacons still legible on your hop-tinged mental map.

Sometimes I wonder if we’re not, most of us, writing like this.  We have the places we mean to go, the must-have stops that aren’t actually necessarily good for us but make the trip a whole lot more fun; the cheerful locals pointing the way — some of them helpfully and some less so.  And in between is a whole lot of fill-in-the-blank crap that we drive through competently but without any real dedicated thought.

We also drink too much beer along the way.

Too overwrought a metaphor?  I hope not, ’cause those maps take longer to draw than they look like.  If they’re not helpful I’m going back to clip art.

In other blog news we’re halfway through our Infinite Jest building contest today, so get those submissions in!  Anything you like, built out of copies of David Foster Wallace’s mammoth work of literary fiction.  Prizes!  Also the minimal fame that a MA101 mention can get you.  The very finest in links about drinking problems and men taking their shirts off.

Bonus Post: MA101 Goes Shirtless

Ok, I was going to just leave my Labor Day contribution as the post directly below this one (because I think it’s hilarious), but sometimes people make it worth working on a holiday weekend.

The inestimable Tawna Fenske, blogger and romance writer extraordinaire, is one of those people, so when she chose today to put up shirtless pictures of Yours Truly I felt like I ought to mention it.  We still have fans lurking around from The Topless Men Post last year, right?

Right?

Aaaaanyway.  Tawna’s good people and a wonderful writer, so you should buy her book even if you aren’t usually a romance reader and don’t have a half-naked cowboy to pose with it.  We can still play Battleships online, maybe (there’s an app for that).

Don’t get the Battleships reference?  Read Tawna’s blog!  It’s better than mine anyway.

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