Reduce, Reuse, Rewrite

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I love recycling. For me, this is generally restricted to cans of pasta sauce and Dick Cavett jokes, but I came upon another opportunity while editing my novel.

I have spent five years working on the book (on and off, not straight through) and, worried that my periods away might have undercut the integrity of the overall work, I weeded through the manuscript looking for oft-repeated words and phrases. Discovering an add-in for Microsoft Word that scanned a document and produced a report, I found myself looking at the entirety of my novel reduced to an alphabetical list of words accompanied by a number indicating how often it was used; with each new number, the alphabetising started anew. It was a fascinating way of viewing those words I had worked on for so long, re-ordered and shaken free of context. It made my work sharper and forced me to confront why I overuse the word “braying”.

Employing what is, in essence, a cut-up technique, I now provide the following poem culled from the words that didn’t appear all that often. Enjoy! Or don’t. Or, cut it up and make a new one.

 

From the Department of Irregular Words

 

The Grotesque spy

Conveniently overhears;

Pushes homicide

 

Pantomime sparrow

Unleashes culminating verse;

Caucasian counterparts and

women cat-dancing

in the blithe discourtesy of

anemic mysteries.

 

Mid-argument cross-current rays

on a high-speed wood-panelled tilt-a-whirl

anchored by a sponge

 

 

Flinty fraternizing opposing thrill-kill alibis

the fleshy homeowner’s lament.

 

Writing wasn’t thought

when the late high heart

waited to trip your childhood

And break your goddamn neck.

 

Yellow cracked sounds

when Father returns for a four ear response

and terrible breath

 

Rounded plastic hips,

Mother has written beyond suffering men.

 

She’s calling.

Appeared, sit-kneed to explain,

“Get drunk on the pale palm.

Ever surrounded, seven shoes in the right rubber aisle.

Conversations don’t prove fellowship

anymore.”

The flat twisted phrase

a wild trick of the reflected evening

shuffle-board squeals our struggled solace

when handsome amorous groups

framed romantic menace.


In Memoriam: VHS and the Philosophical Rewind

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On September 15th, 1830, William Huskisson died because the world sped up and he didn’t notice.

Poor bastard.  Huskisson, a man whose chief talents apparently lay in a facility with the French language and inheriting great sums of money, dove into British politics after witnessing the dawn of the French revolution as a young man. He served several constituencies with consistency if not distinction and yet will never be remembered for any of his middling achievements. Instead, he is remembered for his appearance at the opening of the LiverpoolManchester Railway, whereupon he stood on the edge of one train while misjudging the speed and proximity of another (George Stephen’s Rocket) approaching on an adjacent track. Never mind his work reforming the Navigation Acts as President of the Board of Trade and Treasurer of the Navy—Huskisson has become known for being pulled under the wheels of a train and forever after as the first railway fatality, to say nothing of his pioneering work as patron saint of klutzes.

Perhaps his story is less an ode to the comic ballet of fatal disfigurement beneath the wheels of a locomotive so much as it is a cautionary tale; one about speed, the rush of advancement and the simple pleasures of not being killed by a train.

Our family VHS machine was a JVC top-loader. Hitting ”eject‟ was followed by a glorious whirl of gears and gathering hush of elegant hydraulics, which only heightened the anticipation of a young boy whose palm gushed sweat over his rented copy of Code of Silence (which chronicled, if the video box was to be believed, Chuck Norris as a “good cop having a very bad day”).  Over time, the action of that ejection became less graceful and more like a dog cacking up a bone fragment. But when it was new, it lifted up slowly and came to a cushioned stop with an adorable sigh.

As much as I loved that sound, and the confident interlocking of cogs as the tape was pulled from the casing and run along the video heads, I loved even more when the movie was finished. Before watching the second movie (and there was always another as video renting was the last gasp of the classic double feature viewing habit), you had to rewind the tape. Instead of frustration at the curse of sitting idly by in a hopelessly pedestrian analog world, this demanded, and inspired, patience. You could always pull the tape out and slap in the next, but rewind fees were usurious and a silly thing to pay for, like the privilege of taking your own money out of the bank.

Better than forced meditation, the rewind offered a quiet break to discuss the movie you’d just watched. Later in the arc of VHS history, you were able to watch broadcast television when the tape in the VCR was stopped. But in the early top-loader days this was not an option. To press stop meant a black screen and silence. And to rewind the tape meant the same but accompanied with a lulling hum from the machine; slow at first, the wheels struggling to pull the tape back right from the end, then picking up speed mid-way. This provided the perfect rhythm for conversation, shocked into silence from the sudden halt of the end credit music, then the slow slog into review.

“So. What’d you think?”

“It was good.”

“Yeah. Yeah, it was.”

“I liked the music. It was by a band called Tangerine Dream.”

“Really?”

“I think that’s their name.”

“No, I mean you liked it? It sounded like elevator music.”

“That’s a little harsh.”

“No, it was just… not what I expected.”

“It does give it a weird feel. Not like any other teen comedy.”

“How many other teen comedies have the lead guy running hookers out of his parent’s house?”

“Point taken.”

Before long, a list of Risky Business virtues were judged greater than the comparative sins of Private School and all were in agreement that Tom Cruise was a better star whereas Matthew Modine was the better actor.

Then technology had to rear its ugly, ergonomically-correct head and ruin the whole thing. Once DVDs arrived we could bid farewell to the double bill (one viewing of the movie plus a cursory trip through the extra features and Jimmy Kimmel was on), to say nothing of the rewind. How, pray tell, is the modern-day film watcher supposed to accurately digest and analyze The Fast and the Furious without this forum for the free exchange of ideas?

Now I don’t want to come off sounding like a linear-minded veranda-squatting crank yelling at these digital kids to get off my damn analog lawn. There are many changes born of technological advance that aren’t soul-sucking harbingers of the coming apocalypse: self-defrosting freezers, universal remotes, online socialising that allows for contact without the messy human component. I propose that advancement simply because we can isn’t always worth the collateral damage. Haven’t we learned our lesson from Frankenstein? No? Of course not, because we haven’t watched it and then taken the time to discuss during the rewind (or at the very least reckon with the more suspect directorial choices made by Kenneth Branagh).

If you need a moral to savour, then I humbly suggest this: time-saving developments are only as good as the activities we undertake with those newly discovered moments. As long as conversation is trumped by nattering, and interaction confused with connection, we’ll never tease out the subtle ambiguities of the Kevin Smith oeuvre and that, ladies and gentleman, is a world I shudder to contemplate.

Bonus feature moral: watch for on-coming trains. They are moving faster than you think.


I’ma Let You Finish: Random Thoughts on How the Ladies Might Be Right about Male Privilege

View More: http://wonkyeye.pass.us/men2014

 

If Peggy McIntosh is right and white privilege is an “Invisible Knapsack” that holds the benefits of being born a particular shade, one can safely assume that male privilege is an “Invisible Fanny Pack”, sticky with energy drink residue and adorned with a sports logo (either staggeringly racist or sexist in a mud-flap sort of way). Likely there is also an “Invisible Messenger Bag” option for the hip fellows who think they’re not a part of the problem because they read the first twenty pages of The Beauty Myth.

 

 

There has to be a better way to demonstrate my solidarity with women than listening to the entire Belle and Sebastian catalogue. I mean I’ll do it, but I’m probably going to pout the whole time. (Note: pouting usually results in me getting a cookie, so come prepared.)

 

 

Here’s the thing: as a male (and a straight and white one to boot!), certain promises were made to me. Not out loud mind you, but implicitly I was told many times that, in general, things would work out for me. The tacit understanding was that I would really just have to show up and I’d get a) a job; b) a promotion; c) a better table at the restaurant of my choice; d) taken seriously by authority figures; e) automatic conferral of “authority figure” status, and; f) a loan with any financial institution provided I gave collateral in the form of a wink and a firm handshake.

Now, at this late date, all that’s supposed to change? Why the fuck did I waste my time watching Three’s a Crowd reruns? If I knew that I’d be placed in a societal structure more closely resembling a meritocracy, I would have taken the trouble to learn my times tables, to say nothing of proper punctuation;

 

 

Suggested replacement hashtags for #NotAllMen:

#NotAllMenEvenIfSomeOfThemStillWearSunglassesSoTheyCanLeerAtWomenInPublic

#NotAllBadApples (sounds wholesome)

#ThisIsWhatAFeministCooksLike (for tie-in with food porn shots)

#CanIHelpOutDamesAndStillKeepMyEarningAdvantage?

#InSomeCountriesIt’sConsideredForeplay

 

 

Discarded opening lines from Jian Ghomeshi’s infamous Facebook post:

“Look, you don’t get your face on a massive banner that is draped in a government building without being of strong moral fibre. Just ask Stalin, Hitler, Kim Jung-il, Mugabe, al-Assad, Pinochet, Qaddafi, Khomeini, Mussolini, Mao, Marcos, Ceauşescu, Reagan, Stern…”

“You are about to hear a smear campaign perpetrated by the ‘media’. How can I vilify a group to which I undoubtedly belong? That’s a solid question.”

“I never thought my victims would say anything, given my position of power. Did I say ‘victims’? I meant ‘jilted ex-girlfriends’.”

“We can argue the finer points of abuse of power, institutional failure to protect those in the employ of a federal entity, or the inaction of the union concerned, but I think we can all agree that naming an interview program ‘Q’ was the height of pretension. My only regret.”

“Why is it that if two people engage in the this kind of activity as part of a dedicated relationship filled with unsurpassed communication skills and in a safe environment it’s fine, but if I spring it on someone it’s considered a ‘felony’?”

“Would a violent predator wear such a cute leather bracelet?”

 

At some point before now, I should have dubbed male privilege the “Invisible Nutsack”.


Valedictions for the Modern Office: How to Make Your Email Sign off Work for You

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Is your career stalled? Do you find yourself holding onto the corporate ladder while your colleagues pass you by on their way up? Do they crush your fingers and stand there for longer than they really need to? Is this jerk eating a piece of cake from the kitchen that you didn’t even know was there, getting crumbs in your eyes and making it look like you’re crying but you’re not and even if you were how is it anyone’s business how you process your emotions with other people succeeding all over the place while your career is stuck on this stupid ladder?

Well, you’re not alone.

Have you considered why your career is in a soul-sucking rut? Maybe it’s your poor networking skills. Perhaps you don’t trumpet your accomplishments in the workplace. Or possibly your cubicle collection of Valentine’s Day cards from notable serial killers is considered less of a ‘colourful quirk’ and more of a ‘disturbing off-hours hobby’.

It has to be one of those reasons, right? Wrong!

Email is the single most powerful tool of communication in today’s office, still surpassing instant messaging, HD meeting holodecks and some curious act known as face-to-face conversations, whatever those are (they sound painful and awkward).

Experts agree (one would assume, if one were to interview any) that how you sign off an email is just as important as the actual content, if not more so. Experts would also say that the sign off is called a “valediction”, because they like to show off even though it is very clear that you are on a first date and didn’t think through the whole spelling-bee-as-ice-breaker thing.

Take a look at this sampling of the most used sign offs and a handy guide as to why you’re a big dumb clod if you still use them:

“Regards” My stars, aren’t you just the picture of refinement. You’re probably wrote it while scratching your back with that ruler that no one ever wants to borrow. You’re not fooling anyone!
“Best” Snore. “Best” what? “Dressed”? “In Show”? Not valediction, I can tell you that for damn sure.
“Cheers” This isn’t a darts tourney at a seedy “Cirrhosis and Firkin”, you faux-cockney git.

Those are your standbys, aren’t they? You’re worried how long people have noticed this complete lack of originality on your part.

Slow down, Panicky Slim, and get that gun out of your mouth. Now isn’t the time to suss out who has been laughing at whom, for how long, or how many meetings have been called in Conference Room C to discuss what faces to make behind a certain person’s back. It’s time to map a plan on the road to that corner office.

Use any of these handy valedictions and hold on for the career-related rollercoaster ride of your life!

I beg you to look favourably on this, my respectful submission, Formal? No, classy. Watch those upwardly-mobile ivy league jerks steal this from you and get that big promotion you promised your wife you’d get under threat of divorce.
Alas, being this my last living breath, please RSVP to the Funny Hat Friday Committee with my sincerest salutations, That, friends, is a call to action. (Also works for Pot Luck Wednesdays and Theme Day Idea Tuesdays.)
Jag förblir din ödmjuk, lojal och sycophant smilfink, Oh, who’s this mysterious author? Not only do I want to answer her message, I want to know what the family crown looks like.
Yours truly, BA, MDIV, Ph.D, DDS, VetMB Look, if you want an email sign-off to improve your career, you clearly aren’t much of a planner. So go with lying! In this multi-media culture, who’s going to verify your claims?

You’re welcome.

TTFN,

Jesse McLean


Current World Events That Threaten Our Safety and Sanity Ranked From Best to Worst (an ode to Buzzfeed)

  1. Dystopian Young Adult Literature
  2. Bruce Jenner’s Current Gender Status
  3. Ebola Now a Thing Because It’s In North America
  4. Teresa Giudice
  5. The slick production values of ISIL recruiting videos
  6. The poor production values of Stephen Harper’s Attempt to Stick Canada in a Middle Eastern Quagmire to Fight ISIL
  7. Homeland without Brody
  8. The search for that missing Malaysian air liner that has turned into a de facto sequel to The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper
  9. The swarm of October mosquitoes I saw on the bus the other day
  10. The degradation of privacy in an increasingly on-line world please click this link to allow us access to all of your personal banking information.

The Yawning Gulf

My old uni-hued friend...

My old uni-hued friend…

 

On days like today, when I can’t get my shit together and string together a reasonable sentence on single thing that I’m working on, I realize how much computer screens these days are engulfed in white. After staring at that ocean of a blank slate for a short while (one hour? six?), my eyes hurt. I blink and walk away and the ghost of the white screen follows me into the living room where I cuddle with the dog or the kitchen where I cuddle with a bag of cookies.

The first computer I had was a generic PC clone. My parents bought it for me so I could transcribe my first novel onto a floppy disc for easier transport and use in any Frisbee-related emergencies.

I say “novel” but it was too short for that. A 26, 000 word coming-of-age piece that fairly burst with all the accrued wisdom you could expect from a fifteen year-old virgin with braces and headgear that slung around his face like a broken spoke from a grocery cart and the delightful grace-note of a sweat-stained neck strap.

I wrote that first draft on a manual typewriter I still own and on the only paper in the house that was even remotely appropriate–blank but with three-holes punched out. Thinking back on it, I must have had a mortal fear of margins because I crowded letters on the entire page, from the top left corner to the bottom right, even deftly squeezing an adjective or two on the left-hand side of the holes.

The summer of 1986, I spent my vacation transferring those pages onto disc and scanning the radio dial for the Michael MacDonald’s “Sweet Freedom” from my favourite movie of the year Running Scared (the older I get, the more I look to my historically shitty taste in music and wince). Kids, you won’t understand the fun of hunting the airwaves for a song in your instant-gratification YouTube era, but back then you could spend days without hearing your wanted song but when you did, Jesus, it was like winning the lottery. But with an unavoidably catchy melody.

Other than the comforting, dulcet tones of a certain ex-Doobie Brother, I remember the screen on that computer’s monitor. The amber text hovered on a black screen, somehow keeping straight lines in what should have looked like (in my mind at least) the alphabet in zero gravity.

Even though I was transcribing existing text, there were enough times that I spent staring at a blank screen (likely pondering what the next John Hughes movie was going to be like and if I had enough money to see Running Scared again).

I experienced enjoyment at those moments, a strange warmth that the white screens of today do not provide. At least in those days, even after I had finished tapping out my novel and started an ill-advised tango with poetry, I could sit in front of the screen and not know what was going to happen, like falling at night and not being able to see the ground flying up to flatten me.

And if you’re going to say “Go thee and find a monochrome monitor emulator”, I’m going to say that not only are you stiff-necked jerk, you’ve missed the point.


Story Ideas Of Mine That Didn’t Make It Past The Title Stage

  1. Dude, Where’s Your Tsar? (historical romp)
  2. Hello My Name is Lorne Ipsum
  3. Been Drunk in the Wheat So Long, It Looks like Chaff to Me
  4. Mister Perfectt
  5. Namaste, Bitches!
  6. The Dorothy Parker Character Assassination and Vinegar Pie Club Meets at The Broken Arrow Cafe
  7. Another Shit Day in Asstown
  8. This Metaphor is Condemned
  9. Dead Men Knit No Cardigans
  10. Michael Corleone-Type Metamorphosis from Unwilling Participant to Head of the Crime Family But With a Middle Eastern Setting (shelved after a certain FX show hit the air)
  11. From Hair to Eternity: My Battle with Male-Pattern Baldness and Terrible Puns
  12. Who Ate My Parachute?
  13. No Big Deal, But I Think The Work of Carlos Castaneda Is a Bunch of Hooey
  14. Sex Is a Four Letter Word If You Spell it With Two X’s
  15. White Privilege Doesn’t Exist: Dispatches from the Penthouse