Recently, Chris Flynn asked me to give some pointers to a friend of his who wanted to be a writer. Apparently, this means I’m a full-on writer and not just a charlatan, as my paranoid, minuscule ego likes to tell me. Anyway: I spent a good while typing up an e-mail, blindly, without regard to whether or not this girl was an intelligent person. The result was a lengthy piece of work that was incredibly insulting to her intelligence. Luckily, I showed it to Flynn, who told me to calm down. I edited it down and, instead of the list being insulting, it was pretty practical. I’d post it up here, but, as I said, it’s largely stuff that I believe is good – but I’m not a Famous Author. Here’s advice from a Famous Author.
Anyway, one of my suggestions was to write something every day. Another advice was to not get distracted by petty things like TV and video games. Well, I’ve been writing every day (after taking a couple of weeks off during the move and ensuing job hunt), but I’ve gone and really, really broke the second rule. And, my friends, I can say that the reason I’ve broken it is a good one: Minecraft. Well, perhaps not good, but very fun.
Recent college graduates (like me!) are coming to the conclusion that the world has no pity on us. Even though we all have completed at least one degree, the world is still flinging itself around the star Sol at a mind-asploding pace, and life on Earth doesn’t really care whether or not we get a job.
You walk across a stage, grab the diploma from the Dean of Students, or whoever, and then you step outside and Sallie Mae loan officers are standing right there, contract in hand, grinning at you, and holding up a sign displaying the amount you owe in student loans. Hopefully you’ve thought about all of this before and have at least applied for jobs. And, if you’re lucky enough, you’ve gotten some callbacks and have gone in for interviews. In the interview, you’ve probably been asked some questions like: “What are your strengths, weaknesses?” But sometimes you get thrown a curve ball. Sometimes they ask you something like this: “If you could be any bird, what would you be?” That’s when you start thinking about whether or not you’ve applied to be a support staff officer or an ornithologist. It is petrifying on a visceral level.
But I’m here for you.
Wow your interviewer with some outside the box answers, like the ones that follow.
Q: What do you regret the most?
A: [put on a thousand-yard stare] Letting my girlfriend drive the car that night. I should have realized that the GPS wasn’t updated. That what it thought was the Interstate was really Dead Man’s Gorge.
There are so many things I could tell you about today.
I could tell you about how my interview went.
I could tell you about how many times I thought I was going to kill my arm if I keep sleeping on air mattresses.
I could tell you about how I thought I was going to melt if I stay in this state too long. (It is ungodly hot in Tennessee.)
I could tell you about how I’m still lamenting the loss of my external hard drive as a result of my own idiocy.
Instead, I’ll tell you about how I almost killed myself.
See, I had just finished the job interview, talked to my rents about it, and walked the dog. I decided that I’d celebrate by going for a little swim in the pool in the complex. Good idea, right? I don’t walk around a lot in Nashville (no one does), and so I needed to get some exercise in – and swimming’s a great way to do it.
Well, halfway through the swimming session, I decided that I’d start singing while swimming. And, as Fiddler on the Roof was one of my fondest memories from the past year, I decided that I’d sing “If I Were A Rich Man.” While on my back. In water. While moving. Sometimes, you see, I have lapses in good reasoning and decide to do things that should end up in my demise.
So there I am, thirty seconds later, sputtering by the side of the pool, cursing Chaim Topol for no reason other than he inspired me to be Tevye in the first place. I swore, then, that I would never sing while swimming again. Will I do it again? Probably. For two reasons:
- I am human, and thus I am stupid.
- I like singing when there’s no one around. There were geese, but they don’t judge.
You see, we all make pledges we won’t keep. Swearing not to drink after a hangover, for instance. I’m no exception, but, as I’ve rehearsed for the interview: “We all make mistakes. But, really, the only regrettable mistake is one from which we learn nothing.”
Huhzah! Another thing to toss up on the Aaron on Demand section.
This comes from my deep nerdery and my very, very brief stint (read: one trial lesson) teaching at a school in Sittingbourne in Southeast England. One of those ideas that just clicked, really.
No man is an island, and no writer works alone–especially when it comes to comics. Jon’s great to work with. This was as much a collaborative effort as anything else I’ve ever done. Look out for some more comics from Denim Trousers and myself!
via Denim Trousers
I wrote this in May. I think. It’s a little diddy I came up with when I was trying to figure out how to get a job in the UK. (This was before the Home Office and the Border Agency effectively broke my willwith their catch-22 regulations and requirements, by the way.)
Of course, if anyone reading this in the UK needs a good writer on staff for anything, and would like to sponsor me for a work permit, then, please, let me know. Otherwise, I’m working on getting a job in the US – and it’s going surprisingly well – and trying to figure out if I could handle living in Nashville after being in England. (England, for the uninitiated, is a land where the streets are a reasonable size and would not double as a landing strip for a Boeing 747.)
At any rate, this was one of the two things I wrote that I consider in the vein of David Sedaris – just not gay.
So, first off, thanks to everyone who showed up last night. It was great seeing you for… well, not the last time, but, you know, for a while.
Anyway, I don’t know anyone who’s good with goodbyes. The person in my family who’s best with them is my brother, and to tell you what that means, here’s a story:
My family had a golden retriever named Pebbles. We got the dog when I was about seven. Second grade, whenever that was.
The first memory I have of Pebbles is when my Mom and Dad drove us out to a rescue ranch in rural Ohio. The place was literally full of dogs in need of homes, and my Dad fell in love with a Wookie of a dog named Queenie. However, as chance would have it, as we pulled up and got out of the car, Pebbles, at that time, two years old and hyper as hell, bolted around the side of the house and started circling me, panting and nudging a tennis ball at me. So, yeah, I was the youngest, and we got Pebbles.
Anyway, she made life a lot easier. My parents were divorced a few years ago, and it messed me up more than I thought at the time, but I got off lucky because I had Pebbles to play around with. (You know, in addition to all of my friends and whatnot.) Then, a couple of years later, my Mom and I (Joel having started college) moved down to Tennessee. Tennessee was not my favorite place to be, and, if it weren’t for a few really, really good friends, I probably would have turned into a Goth or some crap, and that just wouldn’t have been any fun. But, through it all, Pebbles was around, and my brother and I essentially had a little sister.
So, midway through my sophomore year at UT, when I heard that Pebbles died after having to deal with severe doggie arthritis, old age, and having a rough time of it all, I was wrecked. I’d like to say that I held it together, but that’s a pretty harsh lie, and it was a rough few weeks. Everyone in my immediate family, especially my Mom, Joel, and I, were sad, but Joel had a pretty Zenned-out attitude towards it all. While my Mom and I were sitting around in the condo sighing, Joel was knocking back drinks in her honor and telling stories about the time she ate a bag of chocolate chip cookies and puked on the bed, wrapped him up in her leash and sabotaged one of his runs, and fought off three Scottish Terriers over her tennis ball. I did this too, don’t get me wrong, but, he managed to sound like a stand-up comedian wheras I sounded bereaved.
The reason I say all of that is to illustrate that I seem to have inherited a terrible weepy gene from my Dad. (The other story I can tell is how, on my Bar Mitzvah, my Dad couldn’t say anything on the bima because he was crying.) Case in point, this leaving business after hanging around for a year is a right bitch, shall we say. As I don’t have a dog around (quite yet), music’s the best way I’ve got of getting some sort of emotional outlet stuff going on (yes, that’s right, I say something like that and I’m a published writer), and so, here’s my Leaving List. Shall we say.
A while ago, I had a column in the University of Tennessee’s The Daily Beacon. It lasted a semester, and I was kind of surprised when they said they wouldn’t need me around for the Spring semester. I had what you might call a cult following. (Occasionally, someone who looked like they should be in an art class came up to me and said they thought I wrote some funny stuff.)
My columns were essentially nonsequiturs. I didn’t have any desire to report on campus politics, and whenever I talked about what was going on in the Outside World, it was done through heavy satire and a very sarcastic tone. In my defense, the editor never told me that the column had to be about anything. (Never told me anything, now that I think about it.)
No, what concerned me was pop culture and its prevalence in our lives as students. A couple of years before I went into college, my brother made me watch Red Dawn. It was two years before I could talk about it, and, when I finally got over the shock, I found that the only healthy way to express my feelings was via newspaper column.
It just occurred to me that I haven’t put up a link to a story that I actually had published last year. (That’s right kids, if Aaron can do it, so can you!)
“Rocks and Hot Dogs” was a story workshopped in one of my Writing Fiction classes that, a couple of edits later, I blindly submitted to a magazine called Danse Macabre. About a week or so later, I got an e-mail in my inbox that told me that they would publish my story. You can find it here. Hopefully I’ll be able to have more posts with this header in the near future, but, well, that’s up to the editors of websites, isn’t it?
Anyway, here’s the first paragraph to whet your appetite:
Douglas Roth hadn’t written a decent word in over three months. Pages and pages of overly dramatic narration, self-serious commentaries on the human condition, concerned paragraphs dealing with failed relationships and various types of cancer were easy: Everyone on the planet Earth at one point or another suffers from an existential funk or has the extreme misfortune to experience or know someone who is diagnosed with a terrible disease—that’s why his four stories from the past three months had been snatched up almost immediately after he put them in their envelopes. Douglas, though, had always strived to write about something Rare. These Rare things came in a flash of inspiration, usually in disjointed phrases that made no sense and took either a tremendous amount of coffee, tremendous lack of sleep, or tremendous amount of booze to make sense of. Generally, these Rare things were nonsense or had no relevance to anything going on in the modern world and were thus called trite or nonsensical by literatis, but Douglas loved each of them like children and was continuously surprised when someone came up to him in a bar expounding a theory about one of his stories. It seemed that his readers were much, much more intelligent than he was.
If you’ve ever sat in a university coffee shop during an exam period, then you know that they are prime examples of how land, and space, is not a God-given right.
For example: at the University of Tennessee’s Hodge’s Library, the Starbucks is the go-to place for meeting up with study groups. And, since humans are social animals, study groups may be defined as, “A group of ten people, two of whom are doing any sort of work, crammed around a very small table.” The Starbucks on campus had two types of seating: typical Starbucks tables–the small sorts of thing where even two people feel crammed together–and these incredibly comfortable leather recliners.
For the individual studier–like me–the two leather recliners were the best thing on the planet Earth. They had the feeling of being at home, but with all the environs of a sort of place where, if you weren’t doing any work, you’d feel guilty. (That, of course, didn’t stop me from people watching around 75% of the time I managed to snag a chair and their glorious ottoman counterparts.) More importantly, they were one of the few places where you could feel comfortable grabbing a cat nap in the library.
And, by and large, the people at Hodge’s kept to the rule that the recliners were to be used by one or two people at the most, but, from time to time, you’d get groups who came in and completely ignored this unwritten etiquette. From what I could tell, they were usually business students. No judgment there; I’m just making an observation. They’d trickle in, intent on working on their presentations for whatever Business Admin class that week, and then, slowly, spreading like a cancer, take over the leather recliners.
One day, as I sat in Hodges, working on an assignment for a literature class, the group trickled in and, rather than doing anything about it, I wrote this passive aggressive piece of short fiction.
When I was going through my undergrad at UTK, I kept running across Romantic poetry. At the time, I couldn’t stand the stuff. It was dull, it lacked life, joy, a certain music that played in the background against the words. I can’t quite pin it down, but there was definitely something in there that I just couldn’t jive to. Every line would end and I’d feel my eyes unfocus. I’d start people watching without realizing I was doing it. At the end of the poem, I’d realize that I hadn’t read anything, and I’d have to go and do the whole damn thing again.
And then, I discovered Dadaism. The absolute maddest thing on the face of the planet. Everything about it made me want to jump up and shout, “Yes!” like a character from a Jack Kerouac book. Of course, as tends to happen, we only read a couple of them and then went on to Samuel Beckett. (Which, for the record, I also got a rise out of.) But, in my opinion, there’s no real comparison. I wrote a flash fiction (micro-fiction?) piece about it. It’s untitled, but I’d have to call it “Dada” if nothing else.