The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

The Summer I Almost Remember.

Notes from my school guidance counselor on my essay “How I Spent My Summer”, from 1982 which I just found in an old box:

Dear Chris,
Well! It certainly sounds like you had an exciting summer. I’m not surprised you spent some time playing video games. In fact from the way you describe it you actually designed some video games of your own only to have them stolen by someone named Dillinger. I assume this is a boy who lives in your neighborhood. He must go to a different school since I can’t find any record of him here. I’m also a bit confused by this part where you make it sound as though you actually spent time inside a videogame and ultimately defeated the evil MCP. Well done. I’m glad to hear you also spent some time outside, which brings me to the next part of your essay.
You say you traveled across Thra, which, from the sound of it, is a wooded area in your neighborhood, and, with the help of a friend named Kira, restored a missing shard to the Crystal of Truth. I assume Kira also attends another school. I’d like to meet her sometime and perhaps her pet Fizzgig who is, from the way you describe it, some kind of small dog. I assume she lives near here.
I was also very surprised to learn that you’re an orphan. There’s nothing in any of your school records about that, nor is there anything about you being in the care of a Ms. Hannigan. But it was nice to hear that you had an enjoyable time with a Mr. Warbucks who took you on extensive tours of New York City, and that you had quite the adventure with a couple of people who tried to pass themselves off as your parents.
I see that you did even more travel. I’m not sure where Ceti Alpha Five or Mutara Nebula are. These places sound like they must be in Europe. I was very disturbed to read about what sounded like some very unpleasant experiences with a Mr. Khan and some sort of ear slug. I was also very sorry to hear that you lost a close personal friend in making your escape. It’s a relief to hear that you think there’s a possibility he might return.
From the next part of your essay it seems you again have parents and that they decided this summer would be the perfect time to install a backyard swimming pool. I’m sorry this plan was interrupted by the mysterious disappearance of your younger sister Carol Anne. Perhaps it’s because of this disappearance that I can’t find any record of her. It sounds as though she was returned to your family, though, in a rather terrifying ordeal involving parapsychological researchers and a psychic woman. I’m also glad you escaped that horrible tree.
Perhaps we should skip over your assistance in helping a Mrs. Brisby move her home, though that was very generous of you, your pursuit of a neighborhood bully you call Thulsa Doom, your rather surprising trip to Antarctica, or your boxing matches against Mr. T.
I would really like to focus on what sounds like a very special friendship with an unusual sounding boy whom you met in the woods behind your home. You say he had been left there accidentally by those he was traveling with. Well, he certainly sounds like a remarkable young man. You know, I like Reese’s Pieces very much too. Even better than M&M’s. I was rather startled that your friend, whom you only refer to by the initials “E.T.”, was almost forcibly taken away by the authorities and only returned to his family in a daring escape in which you pedaled your bike so fast it seemed to fly. I do think it’s inappropriate that you called your brother “penis breath” and I don’t know why you included this in your essay.
Speaking of inappropriate, I was both shocked and confused by some exploits you describe in what sounds like summer school. While I was amused by your ordering a pizza in class, there are several incidents which clearly should have been out of bounds for someone your age. I think you must have snuck in to “Ridgemont High” without permission.
I would like to meet with you and your parents to discuss this and whether 
you did anything this summer besides go to the movies.

Sum It Up.

Almost Summer

Performed by Celebration

Written by Mike Love of The Beach Boys, released May 8, 1978


Summer ’68

Performed by Pink Floyd

Written by Richard Wright, released October 1970


Summer Of ‘69

Performed by Bryan Adams

Written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, released June 17, 1985


Suddenly Last Summer

Performed by The Motels

Written by Martha Davis, released August 1983


Here Comes Summer

Performed by Jerry Keller

Written by Jerry Keller, released May 1959


When The Summer Moon Comes ‘Long

Performed by Cole Porter

Written by Cole Porter, released 1910


Summer’s Here

Performed by James Taylor

Written by James Taylor, released July 1981


In The Summertime

Performed by Mungo Jerry

Written by Ray Dorset, released 1970


Summer Skin

Performed by Death Cab For Cutie

Written by Ben Gibbard, Jason McGerr, and Chris Walla, released August 30, 2005


Hot Fun In The Summertime

Performed by Sly & The Family Stone

Written by Sly Stone, released July 21, 1969


Summer In The City

Performed by The Lovin’ Spoonful

Written by John Sebastian, Mark Sebastian, and Steve Boone, released July 4, 1966


All Summer Long

Performed by The Beach Boys

Written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, released July 13, 1964


Summer Breeze

Performed by Seals & Crofts

Written by Jim Seals and Dash Crofts, released August 31, 1972


Summer Wind

Performed by Frank Sinatra

Music by Heinz Meier, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, released August 1966


Summer Rain

Performed by Johnny Rivers

Written by Jim Hendricks, released November 1967


Summer Madness

Performed by Kool & The Gang

Written by Kool & the Gang and Alton Taylor, released September 1974


Summer Fever

Performed by Donna Summer

Written by Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte and Donna Summer, released October 11, 1976


Cruel Summer

Performed by Bananarama

Written by Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey, Steve Jolley, Tony Swain, and Keren Woodward, released June 27, 1983


Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days Of Summer

Performed by Nat King Cole

Written by Hans Carste and Charles Tobias, released May 1963


Summer Nights

From Grease (musical)

Written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, released August 25, 1978


Lonely Summer Nights

Performed by Stray Cats

Written by Brian Setzer, released November 1981


Summertime Sadness

Performed by Lana del Rey

Written by Lana Del Rey and Rick Nowels, released June 22, 2012


The Other Side Of Summer

Performed by Elvis Costello

Written by Elvis Costello, released April 1991


Our Last Summer

Performed by ABBA

Written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, released November 3, 1980


This Ain’t The Summer Of Love

Performed by Blue Oyster Cult

Written by Albert Bouchard, Murray Krugman, and Don Waller, released May 21, 1976


Summer’s Almost Gone

Performed by The Doors

Written by Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore


Summer’s Gone

Performed by The Kinks

Written by Ray Davies, released March 18, 1985


The Real World.

Whenever I see high school portrayed in TV shows or movies it never looks anything like my real experience. Not that I assume any other high school is anything like the one I went to. For that matter no one else’s experience even at my alma mater was the same as mine, even if they were there at the same time, and a lot of what I remember is filtered through what I’d like to forget and what I did forget because so many of the days ran together. But even when I was in high school the way high school was portrayed never quite seemed to get it right. Here are a few tropes that stand out for me:

-Well-equipped science classes.

It always gets me to see kids carrying around trays of test tubes and laboratory flasks, sitting at lab tables blending chemicals, using Bunsen burners, dissecting animals, and doing other science-looking stuff, usually while wearing fancy goggles. There was the biology room at one end of my school and the chemistry room at the other end. The only thing that differentiated them from all the other classrooms was one was used by the biology teacher and the other was used by the chemistry teacher.

In biology class we did dissect an earthworm, a cricket, a starfish, and a frog, and by “we” I mean a class of twenty-nine kids was divided into groups of four and we each got one specimen to dissect while the others stood around and took notes—and by “took notes” I mean “chewed gum and talked”, except for that one unlucky kid who didn’t get to dissect anything.

In chemistry class we did get to do some experiments where six of us would crowd around a table and use an eye-dropper to add tiny drops of liquid to tiny trays of chemicals. If I remember correctly the purpose of this was to demonstrate that if you add one chemical to another something might happen. The teacher did show us how if you put a piece of pure sodium the size of a grain of rice in a beaker of water: it fizzes and smokes, which seemed pretty cool even though we all had to stand at least ten feet away because the teacher was the only one who had a pair of goggles.

-Well-defined cliques.

I get that these are often useful for building a narrative, especially ones where a kid from one group makes the crossover to another group, followed by confusion, chaos, growth, and a valuable lesson being learned by all. Maybe there are schools where there are clearly defined hierarchies and cliques, but mine wasn’t one of them. There were definitely groups, but mostly we were just a muddled mass. In art class I sat next to a kid named Sam who was definitely much cooler than I was and ran with a different crowd but we talked and laughed a lot because we were stuck next to each other for an hour a day. We didn’t talk much outside of class but we still nodded at each other in the hallways, and learning to get along with someone just because you don’t have a choice was good training for working in an office.

-Student government that actually governs.

This is a less common trope but it still irks me because, well, twenty minutes after the election for class president and whatever the other offices were I couldn’t tell you who won, and twenty minutes before the election I doubt I could tell you who was running. I only remember the year my good friend Tony decided to run for class president, not because he had any ambitions or interest in politics, but just because he thought it would be fun. When it was his turn to give a candidate speech he stepped up the podium, let out a bloodcurdling scream that blew out the entire sound system, waited a minute while everyone recovered, then said, quietly, “Tension breaker. Had to be done.” The only other thing I remember is he lost.

-Every kid who fits the classic nerd type is smart.

High school stories don’t always rely on stereotypes, and by that I mean they acknowledge that jocks can be smart, but if you see a kid with thick-lensed horn-rimmed glasses wearing a button-down shirt and carrying a calculator you know he’s smart. Unless you’ve met Scott, who was in my class and who was a perpetual C student, not because he was super-intelligent and had mastered calculus in third grade, but because he just wasn’t that bright. At least he worked hard and I think he’s found his niche in middle management where all he has to do is sit behind a desk and look smart. The only thing he ever used the calculator for, as far as I know, was to show me how to use it to spell BOOBS.

-Everything rides on the big game.

Maybe for some kids it did but even for guys I knew who were on the football and basketball teams if they lost there was always another game next week that they could also lose.

-The drama club puts on big elaborate productions.

First of all there was no drama club. The closest thing we had was the debate team which had a sub-group that would do dramatic interpretations. I went once because I was interested in that. The teacher said, “Here, work on this,” and gave me some xeroxed pages of a scene from The Odd Couple. Okay, I could be both Oscar and Felix, but was I supposed to mime their movements? Should I bring a pot of linguine to the next meeting? I never found out because the teacher left, everybody else was debating or chewing gum, and I never went back.

My senior year a few teachers did arrange a production of Oklahoma! which was pretty good and the kid who played Curly was really perfect for the part in every way except he couldn’t sing.

High school seemed so big and important at the time because, well, it was big and important. I think one thing that is true for most of us is that there will never be another time in our lives when so much about ourselves changes in such a short amount of time, when we go from the larval stage to, well, a very different larval stage. I look at how high school is portrayed in countless films and TV shows and think that, if, for the creators behind them, their high school was anything like that, I really missed out. Then I think maybe they did too. Maybe they’ve rewritten their past to be something it never really was.  

The Night Was Humid.

I like humidity.

There. I said it. I know it’s a controversial statement, especially for all those people who say, “You know, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” as though they feel the heat is being unfairly blamed when people complain about the weather. There are so many genuinely terrible things in the world that I just want to take humidity off the list so we have one less thing to worry about.

And I do know how much difference low humidity can make. I’ve been to Palm Springs, California, in July, so I got to experience firsthand how almost zero humidity can make triple-digit temperatures not only bearable but even comfortable, which is the problem with low humidity. I was at an outdoor gathering and a woman next to me said, “Oh, it’s so pleasant out here,” right before she collapsed from dehydration. Across the street from my hotel there was a bus stop that had the kind of misters grocery stores used to keep the fresh vegetables damp. Only these misters were used to keep people damp and that’s when I realized it was a place where people really don’t belong. We should leave there and leave the misters and the desert will never miss us.

What prompted me to think about this is the morning weather report where the meteorologist had a dew point chart that listed comfort levels from Perfect Summer Day to Comfortable, Muggy, Sticky, Sweltering, and finally Oppressive. None of these sounded particularly technical and, again, going back to the list of things in this world that are genuinely terrible, I think it’s wrong to call humidity “oppressive”. People oppress other people, and that should stop because it’s a deliberate and terrible choice. The humidity isn’t trying to oppress anything. It’s just doing what it does, keeping the air moist.

Humidity makes us feel warmer, and when is being warm a bad thing? Part of what makes winter so miserable is the air gets really dry, although my own saying, “You know, it’s not the cold, it’s the dry” hasn’t caught on yet, but that’s another story. Admittedly it’s also possible to have weather that’s humid and cold which people say is “clammy”, which I’ve never understood because I’ve never had a cold clam, even after I’ve dipped them in cocktail sauce.

And I know there are limits. As much as I like humidity, especially when it makes my hair weirdly puffy which I know bothers some people and they should get over it because it’s just hair, it can get pretty uncomfortable. Even I don’t like to be out in one-hundred percent humidity, although I respect that humidity can actually give a hundred and ten percent—which is mist or fog, and it can even go beyond that, although at that point it’s, well, rain, and if your humidity hits two-hundred percent you’d better have scuba gear or gills.

Also while safety and health are important—never exceed your limits—there’s something very satisfying about working up a good sweat, and you can’t do that when the humidity is so low the air wicks away your body’s water. The salty sheen of a good sweat can be a reward for a job, or a workout, well done, or just a way to relax. The Scandinavians invented the sauna because they also gave the world ABBA and the Vikings, which is enough to make anybody feel like schvitz. And I want to point out that you can’t spell “sweltering” without “swel” and all’s well that ends swel.

A Copy Of A Copy.

Source: The New Yorker

So I heard about an author whose upcoming book was withdrawn from publication because of plagiarism and the author offered an apology which turned out to also be partly plagiarized. I won’t go into any more details partly because the author has been dragged enough and there are a lot of articles out there already about this specific case that it would be really tempting to me to just copy and paste, but also while I don’t want to defend plagiarism I’m also kind of defending plagiarism.

This also isn’t the first time I’ve thought about plagiarism so forgive me if I repeat myself. Besides you have to figure even the first person to say “Originality is overrated” got the idea from somewhere.

In science, of course, if someone repeats your experiment and come up with the same results that’s a good thing because it means the original conclusions are probably right and it’s a major part of the scientific process called “reproducibility”. In the arts on the other hand repeating someone’s work is called “plagiarism” or “forgery” even though you’d think they’d be thrilled if you came to the same conclusions. I’d like to have someone tell me I’m right about something because I hear so rarely.

Would a truly original idea even be relatable? It’s hard to say because I can’t think of a truly original idea. Even Shakespeare lifted plots from various sources, as many scholars have pointed out. He’s also credited with inventing a few dozen new words, and why can he get away with it when I can’t? Sometimes I’ll drop an unusual word in conversation and I’ll be accused of using a “made up word”. Every word is a made up word, although some words are free-range, organic, and locally sourced.

I get that every author, composer, and artist has their own distinctive style or voice, and that’s part of what makes art great—because we’re all individuals we all bring something new to the table, but right now there are more new pieces of writing being added to our collective culture than ever before and I’m sorry for making the problem worse by adding my own thoughts right now but I can’t seem to stop. And there are constraints. For one thing to be understood, and I think in most cases we want to be understood, we all have to use the same words. There’s a finite number of words in every language and an even smaller number of combinations that make sense. I realized that when I was in grade school and a teacher told me to describe something in my own words. I said, “I don’t have any words of my own. Can I use some from the dictionary?” And the teacher said, “Oh, like I haven’t heard that one before.”

My favorite story of plagiarism, though, isn’t one that happened to me but was one a philosophy professor shared with a class I was in as a warning to us not to try plagiarizing. He had a student who was failing his class and at the end of the term the professor offered everyone a choice: they could take the final exam or they could write a paper instead. The student opted to write a paper and what he turned in started with, “Immanuel Kant transformed the hylomorphic distinction from an ontological to a noetic order.”

The professor offered him a second choice: he could explain just what that first sentence meant or he could flunk the class, and I kind of wish he’d pulled it off but he went with the second option.

In retrospect that wasn’t the best example since the student’s attempt was pretty obvious, but I didn’t think about that at a time because the story reminded me I was supposed to turn in a paper for that class and I was in the back quickly grinding out five pages of analysis of Nietzsche which, I must say, were pretty original.

A Sense Of Place.

Something I only thought about recently is how, when curators or even dealers are designing art exhibits, they have to be conscious of how each work is positioned. It’s even kind of funny to me to think that, among all the college art courses I either took or just saw in the catalog “How To Design An Exhibit” was never one of them, and that definitely seems like something that could be made into an entire course. At the very least some training in it would be helpful for art history majors going out into the world hoping to grab a job at a museum or gallery. Some choices seem obvious but it still seems like being able to say, “Well, I know not to put a Seurat in a hallway” would give you some edge in a job interview.

I also think about artists like Denyse Thomasos, who’s getting a bit of a revival lately, and whose paintings often dealt with the themes of of slavery and the African diaspora, and who purposely made big paintings so details would be clearly visible, as well as giving a sense of the inescapable, since she was trying to convey the experiences of people who were trapped. Placing a big painting requires careful thought. Then again so does placing a small painting. How much wall space is there? How much space should be between paintings? How high on the wall should a painting be placed?

Add to all these considerations the fact that that most exhibit spaces are designed to guide you from point A to point B–the more walls the more display space there is, and some exhibits try to tell some kind of story. Even if they don’t a good curator has to be aware that what people see first is going to influence what they see next, and it’s important to keep them moving. You don’t want to put the best work first or people will either stop or feel let down by the time they get to the end, if they don’t just leave. And it should be really obvious that you want to provide a clear view without anything in the way.


Ticks Ticks Boom.

So far this year I’ve found three ticks on me, and it’s not even summer yet even though it’s already starting to feel like summer. And while one of those ticks was on my back, because they like to go for hard-to-reach places, I found the other two in my hair, probably because it was convenient. Ticks like to hang out on low-lying branches, and just getting there must be a pretty impressive feat for a creature that’s less than a quarter of an inch long, and they seem to do it pretty quickly too. Imagine climbing to the top of Mount Everest in a matter of hours. Now imagine climbing to the top of Mount Everest from the bottom of the Mariana Trench and then having to walk west to east across Iowa in just a few hours. This is nothing like what the tick has to do because they don’t need special breathing equipment or even a backpack because all they need is tightly packed into their compact bodies which explains why they make such a satisfying popping sound when you crush them. And once they’re in position they can sense a potential host by its carbon dioxide emissions, ammonia, other chemicals, and even sweat and body heat with a special body part called Haller’s organ, and I wish whoever Haller was would take it back.

Ticks can carry diseases and their bites can cause infections and if that weren’t enough reason to hate them a tick almost ruined my first camping trip when I was eleven. I had to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and I picked what seemed like a convenient tree and apparently the tick thought it was convenient too because when I woke up the next morning there it was fastened between my legs, so of course I did what seemed most logical at the time and ignored it for the next two days hoping it would drop off and not take anything other than some of my blood with it. It probably would have eventually but by Sunday afternoon I was getting impatient and more than a little worried so I took the bull by the horns, or rather the tick by the carapace, which is actually more impressive even if it doesn’t sound as cool, and yanked it out. And everything was fine until the area where it had been swelled up and turned a horrifying shade of cerise. My mother called the doctor who advised rest and applying a towel soaked in salt water to the area, which was probably a placebo, but I got to skip school that Monday so some good came out of it.

I also have a certain respect for ticks. Although they’re not nearly as impressive as their arachnid cousins, the spiders, they are pretty remarkable in their ability to survive and locate prey. It’s also unfortunate that they sometimes latch onto humans because we’re more likely to find and destroy a tick before it can complete its meal and move on to another host. Imagine you wanted a steak and accidentally got an entire cow. Now imagine that cow was the size of the Sears Tower and that it stepped on you. This is nothing like what a tick experiences and the popping sound you’d make wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying.

It’s Enough To Give You A Headache.

Our migraine medication is safe and non-addictive.  It’s also so effective it can prevent or treat a migraine if taken up to an hour after your first symptoms, which is at least how long it will take you to open the package.

For your convenience each pill is in its own blister pack. The term “blister pack”, by the way, doesn’t refer to the way each pill is enclosed in a miniature package. It was conceived by our testing department after they decided calling it a “slip under your fingernails and cause excruciating pain pack” or “slice your arm open when the knife that’s the only thing sharp enough to pierce it slips pack” would be too long for the standard design manual.

Because we know one of the symptoms of migraines is sensitivity to light we’ve purposely coated the entire raised side of the blister pack with a highly reflective metal foil. This will make the package easy to find at three a.m when you realize that half glass of red wine you had at dinner was a mistake. You were sure would be okay, of course, because it’s been six months and you had a really rough week, but you’ve now got the warning signs of increasing pressure behind your eyeballs and zigzags across your field of vision which look sort of like reflected light.

This will also allow you to see each individual pill pocket without, of course, being able to see the pills themselves which, we’ve only just realized, makes it hard to know exactly where the pills are. To determine the location of the pills just shake the packet.

Since another symptom of migraines is vision problems which can mean hallucinations, difficulty focusing, or partial or even total blindness we really should have stopped to think before we printed the instructions for removing the pills in tiny print on each individual packet on the opposite side which is made of white cardboard reinforced with plastic. For convenience we’ll reprint the instructions here: Apply gentle pressure to force the pill out of the packaging.

We realize that “gentle pressure” is a relative term and that between the foil that can only be cut with heavy-duty shears and the reinforced cardboard is so tough your efforts to get the pill out of the packaging will probably grind it to a powder. We do not recommend trying to take the medication in powder form. For one thing you probably won’t be able to get enough of it into your mouth to make an effective dose. For another this medication is extremely bitter which will trigger or worsen the nausea which, we’ve just remembered, is another symptom of migraines.

Sometimes the pill will pop out of the packaging with the application of pressure but will snap in half. If this happens don’t worry, unless the half that pops out skitters across the floor and is picked up by your pet or toddler. Should they ingest even a partial pill we recommend you call your local poison control center immediately and also induce them to vomit. This shouldn’t be difficult since you’ll already be vomiting yourself because you’ve got a migraine. But feel free to take the other half of the pill once you’ve managed to peel away enough of the foil/cardboard.

You may be wondering why we chose to package the migraine medication in this way and it’s because we’re all about safety. Also someone in the design department was up late one night and stumbled on the Wikipedia page for the Chicago Tylenol murders and got kind of freaked out.

It might also be that the average migraine sufferer only experiences an average of two to four attacks per month. Any more than that and you’d want to take something stronger, like one of our high level pain medications which, we admit, have been shown to be highly addictive and have even led to overdoses, but which, because we care, are conveniently packaged in the traditional amber plastic bottle with a newly redesigned easy-to-open screw-top lid.

Do not take this medication if you are allergic to it or if you are unable to open the package.

Rejected by McSweeney’s.

Perennially Annual.

Facts About Dandelions:

  1. The common dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is native to Europe and was introduced to North America some time in the late 18th century.
  2. Although technically an invasive species dandelions in North America don’t pose a threat to native plants and animals and are an important source of nectar to bees and other insects.
  3. Dandelions are edible in their entirety and given the ease with which they can be grown could be an important food source.
  4. A form of latex has been produced from cultivated dandelions that’s of the same quality of that produced by South American rubber trees but without the same environmental concerns.
  5. Dandelion seeds have been an inspiration to engineers who have produced small windborne sensors that can travel long distances.
  6. Dandelions are a sign of a diverse, healthy lawn.
  7. If you blow all the seeds off a dandelion head and make a wish it will come true if your wish if for more dandelions.
  8. Dandelion seeds are an important food source for many birds.
  9. My neighbor Kevin hates it when people blow dandelion seeds on or near his lawn and, really, do you need another reason?
  10. Dandelion wine, made famous by Ray Bradbury’s novel, is easy to make and will make you really popular at parties.
  11. Dandelions have never lured small children into the sewer and devoured them. You’re thinking of azaleas.
  12. Dandelion roots, when dried and powdered, can be used as a caffeine-free substitute for coffee.
  13. Dandelions are actually more closely related to housecats.
  14. The taproot of dandelions brings up nutrients for other shallow-rooting plants, making it an ideal companion plant.
  15. Dandelions were arrested on suspicion of selling knockoff foundation garments in 1923 but were ultimately cleared of all charges.
  16. In Belgium dandelions are known as dandepangolins.
  17. Dandelions are an uncredited scriptwriter for the 1936 film adaptation of the musical Show Boat, directed by James Whale.
  18. No one’s sure what dandelions do at night or why the shoes you left by the back door had moved three feet to the left in the morning.
  19. Dandelions swept the 1987 World Croquet Championships in Paramaribo.
  20. Dandelions are excellent swimmers. How do you think they got from Europe to North America?
  21. Dandelions pay back loans in a timely manner and with interest.
  22. Dandelions know what you did. Don’t worry–they’re not going to tell.
  23. Dandelions will always let you sit in the window seat on the airplane so you can see the Grand Canyon.
  24. If dandelions invite you out you should go. Seriously, you may not remember it but that crumpled up receipts you find in your jeans the next morning for two bottles of quality scotch, four hundred Twinkies, and a hot air balloon ride make you think it was a great night.
  25. Dandelions did not take down Benny “The Nose” Lewis in the infamous St. Dymphna’s Day Massacre. Again you’re thinking of azaleas.
  26. They’re lions and they’re dandy, hey, what’s not to like?
  27. Dandelions are high in vitamins. Probably. I don’t know which ones but you could look it up.

Source: Imgur

The Deadline Is My Watermark.


One of the advantages professional writers have is the deadline. I think that’s true, anyway. I’ve never been a professional writer, at least in the sense that I’ve never gotten a steady paycheck for writing. I have written a few pieces for magazines that needed me to turn in my work by a specific time, but they didn’t pay me, but most of my writing has been done without a specific publication or even necessarily a specific market in mind, which explains why, among my collection of rejection letters, is a really nice one that said, “Thank you for your astronomy-themed poems. We enjoyed them a lot and wish you the best of luck but we don’t feel they’d be right for our publication. Sincerely, the editors of Trout Fishing Monthly.”

I realize deadlines can cause a lot of anxiety, especially for anyone experiencing writer’s block, even if it’s self-imposed. But the advantage of a deadline is that facing the empty page can be really scary, even for those of us who want to write. The impulse to write stems from an inner voice that says, “I have something to say!” Which is fine as long as it’s drowning out that other inner voice that’s saying, “Who cares?” and “Why do you think you’re special?” and, occasionally, “What is reality?” In fact I believe it’s the desire to turn up the volume on the former and try and drown out the latter that motivates all writers, or at least all who want to write for an audience other than themselves—even those who pursue careers as ghostwriters or doing low level journalism like obituaries, although in their case the voice they’re trying to amplify seems to be saying, “I have something to say! I just have no idea what it is and I don’t care if I get credit for it!” but that’s another story.

And the other advantage of a deadline, one that’s externally imposed by an editor or publisher, is you have someone outside of you saying, “Okay, you have something to say, so let’s hear it!” And occasionally adding, “By Monday at the latest or we’re going to ask you to pay back that advance we sent you and that you’ve already blown on coffee, rent, and a really expensive nose hair trimmer which you bought even though it didn’t seem like a good idea even at two a.m. when you were hopped up on allergy medication.”

So anyway the Manuscript Writing Café just opened in Tokyo, Japan, and I want to go there even though I already had plenty of reasons for wanting to visit Tokyo, because I’m fan of cafes, coffee shops, or other places that offer a space to write or work on other creative projects with the added benefit of having food and beverages that I don’t have to worry about preparing myself. If you recognized the reference to Henry Miller’s essay “The Angel Is My Watermark”, in which, overcome by a vague but insistent inspiration, he went out to a café determined to just sit and drink quietly and ended up writing all over the tablecloth, give yourself five bonus points. If you didn’t give yourself ten bonus points because, well, who would recognize that?

The Manuscript Writing Café offers writers and other artists an extra bonus: you have to book time there, you have to come in with a specific goal, and you can request “verbal pressure” from the staff—they even have different levels, and you can’t leave until you’ve finished your writing goal. Or until the place closes which does take some of the pressure off no matter how much you’ve asked the staff to come out and yell at you.

It’s a funny idea but I also like that it was very likely started by, I’d even say inspired by, someone who felt the pressure but was still struggling to write and who said, “There’s a need for a place like this!” and they were heard.

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