Archive for the ‘ Writing Life ’ Category

Can’t Stop Writing

Last week I thought I was done posting things on this particular website. (Not on the web in general. Someone will probably always be paying me to post something on the web, somewhere, and let that be a lesson to you on putting faith in anything you read online.)

This week I realized I wasn’t done after all. (Again, lessons re: faith, reading things online, etc.)

I guess I’ve gotten used to having a platform for thoughts that are too long to tweet (all of them) or too nuanced for Facebook (same). And say what you like about personal, unpaid blogs, if I write four or five paragraphs here, people are more likely to read them than they would be if I posted the same four or five paragraphs in a Facebook status update.

It’s not so much that an independent webpage adds authority to opinions as it is that social media subtracts.

But more importantly than all that, I realized I still had the habit. I’ve gotten used to having a reason to put some thoughts into words, enough that having the thoughts without the words was uncomfortable.

It’s been a long time since this was even nominally a blog about writing, either the practice itself or specific techniques, because once you’ve written about writing for a few months you realize that it’s pretentious and you either stop or get a master’s degree. But I think we can all take a lesson from how hard the habit is proving to shake if we want one, can’t we?

I think we can. Stay tuned.

The Uncomfortable Truth About Those Adorable Little Hand-Bound Notebooks

I am, for lack of a better word to describe my professional life, a writer.

That means I get a lot of writerly gifts, which is not as bad as it sounds. Could be worse, at any rate. What do doctors and lawyers even get? Neckties or earrings, I imagine, depending on where their presentation falls on the gender continuum, and then those books of lawyer/doctor jokes and various novelty desktop items. Grim stuff.

Writers at least get things of use. Notebooks and pens, mostly, or sometimes reference books (although those can feel a little pointed coming from someone who knows your prose), and of course from those who know us and love us, alcohol.

So I consider myself something of an expert when I break to you a piece of bad news about those gorgeous little hand-bound notebooks that crafters sell at art fairs and such: actually writing in them is an unbearable, unmanageable bitch of a time.

handbound-leather-notebooksNo, really. I mean it. They suck. I’m sure they were a luxury back when we didn’t have enough spare paper to even wipe our asses with, but this is the 21st century. We can do better than four lateral inches of paper bent savagely toward a crooked binding and tied up with a leather thong.

You can’t write much on one of those pages, you know. A college-ruled spiral notebook isn’t glamorous, but you can at least get a paragraph onto a single sheet in them. Cute little pocket-sized notebook with a celtic knot stamped on the leather binding? Not so much. Three, four sentences, max, and the half the page that’s closest to the spine is going to be illegible when you look back over it, because your knuckles were banging the other page the whole time. And that’s just for righties. Lefties have it even worse.

Now, I don’t say all this with any sense of emotional or intellectual superiority. I’m the same as the rest of you; I want to fucking love those little things. They’re great. You feel so writerly holding one. But you can’t write in it for shit, and that sort of defeats the purpose, unless the purpose is to feel writerly rather than to be writerly, and I do enough of the former and not enough of the latter as it is already.

Oh, and they don’t actually fit in pockets. Did I mention that yet? Fat spines and bulky bindings, characteristic of the craft fair breed of adorable little hand-bound notebooks, do not cram into pants or jacket pockets effectively. The big belly pocket on a hoodie can take some of the smaller ones, if you don’t mind looking like you’re pregnant with a LEGO person. But I suppose if you own adorable little writer notebooks you probably also own an appropriately grungy messenger bag (maybe with some buttons), so that one might be less of an inconvenience to the average user than it is to bagless me.

Anyway, I just thought you should all know. And don’t worry, I’ll still use the ones you give me. I will write my notes and my drafts and my scribbled thoughts for later and my secret yearnings and my World of Warcraft character’s in-game poetry in them, because I love the romance of longhand writing and the warmth of using writerly gifts that people gave to me, a writer, because they knew that I was one.

I just won’t be able to read any of it later.

Best of 2014: The Top 10 Posts from MA101

The numbers never lie, they say, at least us “they” that never darkened the door of a math class more advanced than trig. You viewers made the call with your clicks, and now here they are: the top 10 most-visited pages on the Misanthropology101 website this year.

Don’t blame me — I just write ’em.

10. There’s a Reason Your Netflix Subscription Sucks

I know why this post still gets a lot of hits — angry people are still Googling “netflix sucks,” out of some vague cathartic impulse — but the information in it is completely and permanently out of date. It is no longer relevant or accurate. Which is kind of cool, when you contemplate that the post’s only from 2012, and realize just how much media consumption has changed since then.

9. Fun Midwestern Facts: Miracle Whip =/= Cool Whip

This is important information everyone should have. It’s also apparently enough of an issue that “miracle whip vs. cool whip” is actually a search with some SEO value. Go figure.

8. Sex Ed Website Scarleteen Goes on Strike — and We’re the Management

This was a cool experiment in fundraising. It also has a happy ending, since the threat of “strike” worked and the website raised enough donations to keep its doors open. If you didn’t read it the first time around, check out both the blog post and the links to the “strike” announcement in it, which has been updated to cover new developments since I wrote my post.

7. Gawker; “Ladies of Manure 2013 Calendar” Both Full of Shit

Without question, this post is responsible for my most dubious inbound search terms.

6. Drink Coffee; Do Stupid Things Faster

This links to a pretty well-written post about how coffee works on the brain, but in and of itself is a pretty shitty post. Sometimes better SEO really does win out against better content.

5. The Top 10 Most Absolutely Overrated Books You’ve Probably Had to Read

My fist-ever post that could be described as going anything vaguely resembling viral, this one still bears all the hallmarks of an amateur blogger’s early forays into click-baiting. It’s slipped somewhat in the standings this year, which I’m fine with, but continues to generate an endless stream of aggrieved comments, some of them arguing with people who posted years ago. Unless the language is truly offensive, I usually put ’em on up.

4. National Republican Congressional Committee Goes Phishing: Bogus Donation Sites in Dem Candidates’ Names Send Money to NRCC

This was actually in the way of breaking news (I got there before a couple of TV shows that covered the same story), and I hope was of real use to some people. Then again, the sort of people who make impulsive campaign donations without reading fine print are probably not the sort of people who enjoy MA101, so I suspect I was mostly preaching to the choir. In either event, it was undoubtably one of the slimier and shittier campaign tricks from a slimy and shitty campaign season overall.

3. Nike’s Big Butt Ad Is Fake, Just Not as Fake as You Think

I’m still fascinated by this one. And not just because I’m fascinated with butts.

2. On the Etymology of Ejaculation – “I’m Cumming” vs. “I’m Coming”

It’s nice to know that this weighs heavily on other minds as well as mine. It also continues to generate interesting and well thought-out comments, years later.

1. Drink Classier: The Difference Between “Neat,” “Straight Up,” and Other Useful Cocktail Terms

It’s not a bad post, but it’s not a really interesting one, either. I credit its popularity this year to the broadly interesting subject matter (and its attendant weighty keywords) rather than to any special insights on my part.

Five Years of Blogging at the Void

ma101-logo-geoffrey-cubbageDo you know, I almost missed this year’s blogoversary?

That’s not what the cool kids are calling them now. The cool kids now don’t even have blogs. But here we are, five years after the first post went live on what was, at the time, supposed to be a blog about writing fiction. (Years later I expounded, honestly I think, on why that was a terrible idea.)

I sometimes feel like WordPress has changed more than I have over these last five years. The design changes; the content stays about the same.

That’s not a bad thing. I like my content, by and large. I’ve perhaps grown more critical, leading to more and more posts discarded as not quite good enough for the public (which has led in turn to less updates), but the ones that survive usually strike me as relevant. Sometimes even a little important, who knows? At least two (the one about street harassment in World of Warcraft and the one about Belle Knox’s Wikipedia page) prompted action elsewhere. I can legitimately claim to have changed the face of the internet, and not just as a citation on Wikipedia’s “Hot Toddy” entry.

Not bad, for a pro bono gig by a guy who thinks “pro bono” is giggle-worthy.

It’s a mark of professional growth, I think, that the blog is becoming more of a professional liability than an asset, but I don’t plan to take it down or stop posting any time soon. Quod scripsi, scripsi. Call it a useful safety net for my sanity: it prevents me from taking a job with any outfit so hopelessly conservative that they’re going to hold, say, a post about a porn star’s historical relevance against me.

Here’s to five years, in other words, and perhaps to five more. Who knows what the internet will even be like by then? Perchance I’ll be beaming my dick jokes directly into your brain.

Onward to Year Six!

Want to Test-Read a New Fairy Tale?

No misanthropy or media studies today, my darlings: for once, MA101 needs to go back to its roots as a platform for my modest writing ambitions.

I’m looking for test readers willing to read through a 32,000 word novella and return their thoughts on the reading experience in a fairly timely manner.

The Deets:

This is a whimsical, slightly surrealistic story about a young girl who becomes the prince in a fairy story. With fairyland itself coming apart for reasons no one seems to understand, it doesn’t work out quite the way it’s supposed to.

It’s novella-length, meaning you could read it in one long sitting or several short ones. Either will work. It’s a single, contiguous story: no multiple acts, no jumps in time or “moving line on a map” transitions, and no straying outside the experiences and perceptions of the main character.

It’s also going to be a bitch to sell to anyone, but that’s my problem, not yours. If you’re interested in reading such a thing, and you think you could get through it and fill out a short response sheet for me in a two-week window, let me know! There will be thanks, gratitude, similar reviewing services in return as needed, and drinks on me if you’re ever in the area as payment, at least one of which has cash value.

Contact info, if you don’t have it, is just my first name and my last name, separated by a period, at the ubiquitous Gmail. Though if you didn’t know that already I’m surprised (and flattered) that you’re interested in my fiction writing projects.

The Singular They: Another Grammatical Hang-Up You Can Get Over Already

pronouns-he-she-they-itThe legacy of the nit-picking late 19th and early 20th centuries is with us still, in the form of armchair grammarians. You would think sometimes that the English language had been shat whole and complete out of H. W. Fowler’s clenching sphincter.

We’ve already talked about “literally,” and how it can mean literally any degree of literalism you want; now let me clarify another grammatical misconception for you: the singular “they” has been with us from the beginnings of modern English, and no one has ever been confused by it.

Chaucer used it. So did Shakespeare. Jefferson, Austen, Dickens, Thackeray, Shaw…pick a famous English-language writer, and somewhere in their works you’ll find the singular “they.” (See what I did there?)

And really, why wouldn’t English writers rely on the oldest and most common gender-neutral pronoun in their language? Taken as both a singular and a plural pronoun, “they” is just one more English word out of thousands with multiple possible meanings.

It’s not like there are better alternatives. English lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun with no alternative meanings (other than “it,” and an emotional separation between humans and all other objects is encoded too deeply in the rest of the language to ever let that one catch on).

A purportedly gender-neutral “he” isn’t gender-neutral, obviously (try a construction like “everyone hates getting a run in his stockings on the way to work” to see the absurdity of it), and if we were to use a gendered pronoun as the generic, “he” has worse odds of being accurate than “she” in our slightly female-skewed population. If reducing ambiguity is your game, that’s not the way to go.

“He/she” has obvious readability and efficiency issues, and while more inclusive than one gendered pronoun is still not particularly representative of modern gender identities (which could be better shortened to “fuck it; who knows?”).

And perhaps the reformists who want a brand-new pronoun will have their day eventually, but the cause would be drastically helped by moving away from really odd and under-used English consonants that produce ambiguous pronunciations: none of us old farts give enough of a fuck to figure out what the difference between “ze” and “zhe” is, or how you say either one, and they’re both a pain to type. Until a very widely-read author or publication picks one option and throws all their weight behind it, those will remain an alphabet soup of wistful good intentions.

So until something better comes along, please — use the singular “they” with confidence. You could probably come up with a sentence where the numerical disagreement created ambiguity if you really tried, but it would be a tortured construction that no one would realistically use in their day-to-day speech.

See what I did there?


The Freelancer’s Holiday

martin-luther-king-day-of-serviceWorking from home is an odd beast.

If you read the entrepreneur blogs (and there are a lot of them, most of which appear to have an audience consisting entirely of other entrepreneur blogs), the self-employed are the real overachievers of the modern economy. You are your own toughest boss, &c., which let me tell you as I swig my beer and scroll through Tumblr porn in another tab is total bullshit, but it’s a nice-sounding idea.

(Or maybe not a nice sounding idea, depending on how you feel about work. But the point is that these self-employed gigs are supposedly the ones where there are no days off and every workday is a 12-hour-plus day. Your mileage in terms of actual productivity may vary, based on how many of those twelve hours are spent fondling your crotch.)

So I take all of that with a grain of salt, or several grains of salt gracing the rim of my afternoon margarita. But I will say this much about working from home: it really takes the fun out of federal holidays.

Seriously. King Day and all those others aren’t holidays; they’re workdays plus I can’t run down to the bank.

Ah well. Over the last few years of federal holidays I’ve called Veteran’s Day “the most awkward holiday of the year,” listed “making out with your sister-in-law” as a traditional Memorial Day observance, and castigated Labor Day as a watered-down bread-and-circuses distraction designed to separate American workers from the international labor movement (which it is). Reverence for national days of celebration is clearly not in me.

At least I can fill that bank run time I’d scheduled with another beer from the fridge.


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