Search Term Bingo

If you run a website, or even a modest blarg like this one, at some point you will ask yourself the question: “who is reading this?” and maybe, “why are they reading this?” and possibly, further, “shouldn’t they be doing something productive, like culling wombats from their backyards, instead?”

WordPress, in its wisdom, hides a lot of search results — apparently google searches automatically hide the search terms that leads its users to wordpress sites, so I’ve heard (correct me if I’m wrong) — so most of the searches that lead people to my blog are redacted. However, there are some gems in there, and reading through them never fails to make me laugh. In particular, I get a lot of enema-related searches, due in no small part I’m sure to the post I made last year about giving my son an enema. (It remains one of the most frequently visited on this site, despite also being one of the shortest, and contains, sadly for visitors no doubt, very little information about the actual giving of the actual enema.) But not all of the searches are tied up in poop. Here are some of the best ones this year, so far, and I have tried to theorize about what they mean.

“he hadn’t pooped in five days” — quotes were included, not by me. Okay, so searches about enemas notwithstanding, searches even tangentially tied to poop can still land you here. Maybe I need to examine my lifestyle.

how to write a charasmatic [sic] valedictorian speech — I don’t write about it much any more, but I am still a high school English teacher, and I did write some (I feel) helpful posts about speeches. I am pretty sure I spelled all my words correctly. Charasma seems like one of those things you don’t want to exude so much as perhaps see your doctor about.

my wife is an overachiever / homemade wife overachiever — I’ve written now and then about my wife and how she’s better than me in practically every way. I am not sure what a homemade wife is, but I can only assume that the searcher has built an artificial wife out of toaster parts, and is pretty proud of himself for doing so.

occams parenting — I am pretty sure this is not a thing, but if it is, I don’t know if I want to be associated with it. Razors and children don’t usually play well together, and I do not endorse this product.

arsenal never give up — In addition to being a high school teacher, I am also the coach of a high school soccer team, and mentions of that have crept in here from time to time. I can only assume that this is somehow related to the Arsenal football team (that’s proper football, not American football), although I must recognize that it may also be about maintaining and not relinquishing your own personal arsenal of automatic, lethal, and totally necessary weapons for “home defense”. Because America.

poopy toddler story — I won’t lie, I tag all my relevant posts with “toddler poop stories” so I guess this shouldn’t surprise me. Still, the fact that somebody is out there searching for such things is firmly in the neighborhood of troubling.

parental exhaustion — yup. You have come to the right place.

jenker what does in mean — Language are no meaning. Jenker in cat. Cat only cat.

freelance exorcist — the searcher, who I can only assume has a very real problem and is looking for a very real solution without all the red tape of dealing with procuring a legitimate (lol) exorcist from the legitimate Catholic church, was probably disappointed to be directed to my blog full of drivel about toddler poop and dubious writing advice. Still, that’s more views for me.

mum and daughter strengthen bonding by pooping together — *heavy sigh* I guess the family that poops together…

Maybe it’s time to accept reality and re-write my blarg’s tagline: “your internet destination for poop: figurative, literal, and copious.”


Kid Art: In which my 3-year-old teaches me a thing or two about creativity

I’ve been sitting around for the past couple of days when I have a spare minute, watching my son playing with his new chalkboard table.

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Just a sidenote: if you have kids, and the kids are in any way artistically inclined, you owe it to yourself to make one of these. Just take any old crappy coffee table, go to Home Depot and buy a $15 can of chalkboard paint, lay down a couple of coats on top of the table, and let it dry overnight. Easiest and most rewarding DIY project I’ve ever undertaken.

Anyway, my boy has a dubious approach to the thing. He loves coloring but lacks any kind of… I don’t want to say the motor control, because he seems to be doing what he wants to do… what I’m trying to say is, the things he draws aren’t shapes I recognize from this universe. Everything looks like a sea urchin, or a squiggle, or maybe just one long shapeless line. He will draw these designs, over and over again, one on top of another, until the table literally looks like a bucket of chalk vomited all over it, then he will gleefully take a rag, wipe the table clean, and start anew.

The crazy thing is, he knows what he’s drawing. I can point to this squiggle, say “Sprout, what’s this?” And he will say, confidently, “apple.” Point to this two-foot-long wobbly line: “water fountain.” This wonky-looking unidentifiable polygon: “dinosaur.”

Which is, in itself, adorable and delightful; hours of fun just asking the boy what he’s drawn and trying to imagine how exactly he sees these things.

But it goes a level deeper.

Because sometimes, he’ll decide to draw something himself. “I going to draw a car.” Okay, sprout, go ahead. *scribble, scribble.* He works with such intensity sometimes that I find myself looking over his shoulder to see exactly how he’s going to describe the shape of a car. Of course he isn’t. It’s just a shapeless blob of color. But he will finish, stand back to admire his work, and say, “Oh, that’s not a car, that’s a banana.” And then go on drawing something else.

Or I’ll ask him to draw something. “Draw daddy,” I’ll say, and his eyes will light up with glee, and he’ll begin the painstaking, arduous work of outlining my bald head and bugging eyes and ha ha just kidding, he scribbles a little bug-splat of color, stands back and looks, and announces to me, “Oh, that’s not daddy, that’s blocks.”

This little game simultaneously cracks me up and creeps me out, because I know he knows his shapes from any of the myriad of little puffy books or kids’ youtube videos we’ve looked at together. He can identify a triangle without batting an eye, can tell the difference between a duck and a penguin, and knows his boats from his spaceships. He knows things. But he also has the ability to recognize his nonsensical artistic representations of these things as these things, despite the fact that the two bear no resemblance whatsoever to one another. And I know he’s not just making it up, because he can lay down five or six spaghetti-tangle pictures which he names as completely different things than he originally set out to draw, and then he can point to each one again and tell me what it is with 100% accuracy. And I’m sorry, if he’s just making this stuff up off the top of his head, I don’t think he has the wherewithal to piece together a fiction. I really think that to him, that squiggle somehow says, “dinosaur,” while this one says, “grocery store.”

It’s a nifty little parlor trick, I guess, for a three-year-old to be able to do, but I started thinking about the boy, and I started thinking about creativity and art in general, as is my wont, and then came the lightning strike moment. The moment where the mundane, not-at-all special and completely-by-accident whimsical actions of a toddler shake my preconceived notions of the world to the very roots.

How many times have I found myself banging my head against a moment in a story? A character who just doesn’t seem to behave the way I want him to? Or a fiddly bit of plot that just won’t jive with the pieces all around it? Or an element that I need for the story to move forward, but I can’t figure out how to work it into the story? Or, maybe, the problem is more intrinsic to the story: I’m trying to write a science fiction thriller but it detours into comedy, or I’m trying to write a lighthearted romantic-comedic bit, but suddenly things feel all melodramatic? I always talk about how stories have lives of their own, how the characters have drives and desires buried within them that are sometimes a surprise even to me, but I still find myself trying to force square pegs into round holes. No, the story is meant to be this way. No, I need to focus on this aspect of the plot now. No, I’m trying to send this thematic message.

But not my son. The art takes him in a new direction, he’s happy — even ecstatic — to detour and abandon the thing he thought he was working on. The story changes, he changes with it. He has no preconceived notions of what it should be, there is no consideration for creating the wrong thing. The thing he creates is fine by him, whether it’s what he set out to create or not.

And I think that’s pretty freakin’ awesome. Because when you don’t get hung up on the problems in your story, when you don’t wander off into the bog of unrealized expectations, you can process the project in front of you with the unbiased perception of… well, of a child. To a kid, things are what they are. And there’s nothing wrong with that.


The Bag Man

Chuck’s challenge for the week: The car chase.

The fact is, I am not that thrilled with car chases. All they ever seem like is another tool to demonstrate how clever the chasee is and how inept the chasers are, and usually that’s just a big game of cops and robbers but with explosions and smashed fruit stands and millions of dollars in collateral damage. So I tried something a little different, a sort of Walter Mitty glimpse inside a familiar scenario.

The Bag Man

Wednesday mornings are the best. I get left alone most of the time, only occasionally getting called upon to fetch this or that. Mostly I hang around trying to dig up dirt on the neighborhood offenders, a couple of crazy cats that like to loiter around and cause trouble for the locals. Makes me sick, really. Dunno why they can’t keep that stuff in their own neighborhood. It’s sort of a little game we have: one of them will set up shop in a shady spot until they see me coming, and then they just bolt. Truth be told, I don’t know what I’d do if I caught one of ’em, but I chase ’em to send the message: this is my turf, not yours. But before too long they hop a fence or scramble up a fire escape or something, and well, I’m not in the shape I once was, so that’s usually the end of that. I can’t help but get the sense that they’re laughing at me, but this is my turf — it’s not like I’m going to STOP chasing down the no-goodniks.

But there are none of them hanging around this morning, which is good. Leaves me undistracted so I can focus on the big kahuna.

I’ve been chasing this guy for years, but I’ve never truly had a good chance at catching him. He always catches me unawares, showing up and dropping off packages for his associates, and clearing out before I can question him. He doesn’t wait around for payment, so I’m guessing he’s just some sort of bag man for some even bigger, more sinister syndicate operating right under my nose. I’ll hear the roar of his engine as I’m sitting down for a nice bowl of chow, or while I’m hunkering down for a midday nap, and by the time I can get on the road to look for him, all I can see are his taillights going around the bend. He’s been dodging me for years, and all I’ve got is his vehicle; a flat white truck with blue stripes. Inconspicuous. Blends right in. Vanishes quick.

But not today. Today my superiors have been a little lax with the call-ins, and as a result I’ve been ensconced in this sweet little spot all morning. I’ve got the whole road staked out, from the Johnsons’ place with the absurd little Cupid fountain out front, to the Smiths’ down at the end of the block with that gorgeous picket fence. The kind the neighborhood toughs want to pee all over. Sleepy little town. My town. When this guy rolls through today, he’s gonna feel the heavy weight of justice as I clamp down with my —

Son of a bitch. There he is.

I hear him before I see him, the peppy little coffee-grinder sound of his engine betraying him from around the corner of the Johnsons’ yard with that low-hanging Magnolia tree. He’ll lurch into view, turn this way up the street, and then I’ll have him. And, sure as sunshine, there he is, the boxy front end of his little white truck poking into view, before he makes his move…

Bingo.

He turns down my street and I turn from my post, hopping down from my window seat — its comfortable shape, molded perfectly to my butt, forgotten as I fly into action — and down the stairs. I skid out of control when I hit the linoleum in the diner — they must’ve just waxed — and crash into the kitchen wall with a decidedly unheroic yelp. Not my proudest moment. I spin around in a jiffy, though, and dart for the back door, which crashes open as I barrel through it and bangs shut the moment I am clear. Its clatter sets my teeth on edge as it does every time I give chase, priming me for the hunt.

The truck is almost at the Smiths’ by the time I careen onto the road behind him, my tail end swinging wildly out into the far lane as I fight for traction on the rain-slick asphalt. Then everything catches and I am flying, hurtling through space toward him, his white-paneled exterior growing large in my vision, the absurd red-and-blue eagle taunting me from the back hatch. I see his arm withdraw, empty of packages, and I know it’s him. Another successful drop. The wind of my pursuit flows like fingers through my hair, whistles in my teeth, tastes of paper and diesel and lunch meat on my tongue.

His engine growls and he lurches away from the curb, that tinny grinding sound like a nest of angry bees infuriating me. He’s not getting away, I silently vow, not today. And I am certain that he can hear my growl from behind, because he’s picking up speed, scattering tiny pebbles like living, malevolent marbles and causing me to slip and fall further behind.

He can’t get away. But he’s going to. If he makes the turn onto Oak, he gets away every time. I can’t keep up with him in the open.

I call out for backup, barking out in short, clipped phrases to my colleagues, trying to get them to join the chase — The bag man! He’s on Studebaker Street! I’m in pursuit! — but I know, in my heart of hearts, that nobody will help me this time. I’ve roused them too many times, I’ve made this my own personal crusade, I’ve exhausted them with my tales of my great chases after this guy. I can see them now, elbow-deep in piles of trash looking for leads, asleep at the desks catching a nap before their shifts, lazily munching a snack of congealed bacon and beef from last night’s leftover burgers (probably going bad, but some guys will eat anything). They’ll hear my call, think to themselves, Rufus is at it again, and start laughing, already anticipating my tale of another failed pursuit.

Not this time, boys. I dart forward and just miss his bumper, go sailing into the road as he clips the turn short. An oncoming wood-paneled wagon slams its brakes and skids, its occupant just visible above the wheel, squinting through glasses that make her eyes look somehow twice as big as her head. She stares at me and I shout at her, “Get outta the way!” but she’s frozen behind the dash like a deer that’s just scented a predator, and I have to take to the sidewalk to get around her.

She’s helped this monster get away without even knowing it — Oak Street is a long stretch of straight road, and the white truck has opened up a tremendous gap on me. I slide back onto the asphalt, ignoring the honks of the angry motorists I cut off, and continue halfheartedly down the street. His taillights are tiny in the distance. He’s going to get away, I think, but then his taillights light up like great red eyes, and they stay lit. He’s stopping.

I’m renewed. Adrenaline surges into every inch of me as I open all the way up, cannonballing down the street, shocked motorists swerving aside and shouting out at my passage. He’s only a hundred yards away now. Fifty. I’m actually going to catch him. It’s happening. I can taste my victory. My tongue slides out across my teeth and hangs there.

I close the last twenty yards in a frenzy, sliding in sideways on the glossy black street to block his escape. I stare at him through the windshield, my weapons out, howling at him. Out of the car! He looks out the window, sees me, and jumps in surprise back against the door. Never expected I’d catch you, did you, you lowlife? He looks panicked. His eyes dart from me to his steering wheel, to the traffic stopped all around, onlookers gaping in dumbfounded wonder. I hear the chatter of my colleagues echoing in the background. They can’t believe I’ve done it, and they’re rushing to the scene to get a firsthand look. This is how it’s done, boys.

With a sudden movement, he slips the vehicle into low gear and tries to dart past me into the oncoming lane, but I lurch sideways and head him off. He backs off and tries to take the sidewalk, but I’m there in a flash, shouting at him now louder than ever. His eyes are wide, terrified. I can smell the fear washing off him in waves. He eases his hands off the wheel and holds them up, in the universal “nothing to fear here” gesture.

Horns are sounding all around, people are shouting. This has gone on long enough; they want to get on with their business. I realize, suddenly, that I have never actually thought of what I would do if I caught this man. I can’t kill him. He won’t talk to me — probably doesn’t even speak my language. We stare at each other in silence for a few moments as I decide, as slowly as the leaves turning, that there’s nothing for it. I have to let him go.

It’s enough, I think, that he knows I caught him. That I could catch him again, any time I wanted to. It’s enough that he knows this street belongs to me. It’s enough to let him go, terrified of what might happen next time. I pull my lips back in a snarl and move out of the road to let him pass.

He slides by with terror in his eyes, but he can’t resist having the last word. Through his rolled-down window, he shouts in a tremulous voice full of defeat: “Nice doggy.”

Then his wheels spin and in a spray of mist from the road, he’s driving off into the distance.

I lick my paws, as if this was my plan all along: to catch and dismiss this man. I move to make an explanation, but nobody’s even looking at me now; the cars are just sliding past, moving on with their own respective Wednesdays. I see my colleagues, gathered at the edges of fences, tugging at the ends of their leashes, trying to get a better look. Their faces are a mix of amazement and wonder. I know what they’re thinking. He caught the bag man. It’s enough. I pad back to the house, my head and my tail held high. Smells like lunchtime.


The Long Con

I’ll be honest, as I’ve been in the past: I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m making this all up as I go along. All of it. Life. Fathering, writing, teaching, running, husbanding… you will find no stores of expertise here, and precious few pearls of wisdom in a heap of dusty crumbs of idiocy. But you’ll also see that that doesn’t stop me from pretending.

I use this blarg all the time to talk about things I pretend to know a lot about. I dispense all sorts of marginally intelligible writing advice, I wax eloquent about the virtues of distance running, I tell funny stories about baby poop that hint at, but never actually deliver, profound lessons about life. Why bother doing all this, when I’m not actually a writing guru, not actually a running yogi, not actually a SuperDad?

Because I want to be those things.

But here’s the trick: you don’t get to flick a switch and start being those things. The road from where you are to where you want to be is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the weak and the tyranny of evil men. (Or maybe that’s only if you’re Samuel L. Jackson.) Oh, you want to write? There are thousands of writers out there. What makes you think you’ll make it? Good point, you think, and give it up, wisely saving your efforts for more productive endeavors. Oh, you want to start exercising? What’s the point? Most people fall short of their exercise goals and give it up anyway; you might as well hang it up now and save yourself the heartache. Too right, you think, and cancel your gym membership.

But where do those voices of doubt and dissent come from? Sure, there are haters out there that will poop on your dreams and ask you to thank them for it, but the louder, more convincing voices are the ones in our own heads. I know I can speak for myself when I say I’m my own worst critic. The voice in my head that tells me I can’t do things speaks like Morgan Freeman with a 50,000-watt station broadcasting down to the very marrow of my soul. It’s overbearing, constant, undeniable. How do I overcome it?

By pretending.

I’m not an expert writer, but I can pretend to be one. And I can bang out over 1,000 words a day on average despite my full-time job and part-time daddy duties as if I were an expert writer. And I can shovel out advice like a steamshovel about my experience and pretend to know what I’m talking about to give the illusion that I actually do know what I’m talking about. Because that’s what experts do. They look confident. They walk the walk and talk the talk. You wanna be that thing? You have to start doing the thing.

Nobody’s born a brilliant novelist. No athlete pops out of the womb running ultramarathons. The people that do those things have the same voices of doubt that you or I have. The human experience, for all its vast variations, striations, complications and salutations (whatever, I ran out of good rhymes), is actually pretty standard. We get a life, we get some challenges, and we either overcome them, or we don’t. If you want to get ahead, you have to learn to be a con man.

But not so that you can run a swindle on some unsuspecting rubes. (Though I guess that helps, too.) The con you want to run — the long con that you work for years and years — is on yourself. You have to fool that inner voice of doubt into believing that you’re not to be doubted anymore. You have to fake it til you make it. That means pretending to be the thing you want to be, every day, in public and in private, until one day it’s no longer a con and you are that thing.

Wanna be a writer? Write buckets of garbage. Drivel, drivel, drivel. Pile it on and pile it on and write boring stories and hackneyed narratives and cliched tripe and nonsensical dialogue until one day, when you’re not even thinking about pretending to be a writer anymore, you’re simply writing because that’s what you do now, you write something and it’s not half bad, and your inner voice of doubt will say, as if you’ve just demonstrated that the world is not, in fact, flat, as he previously believed, “oh. Well… I guess that makes sense, then.” And BLAM KAFIZZLE, you’re a writer.

Wanna be a runner? Get outside and run until you can’t anymore, and then stop and walk home. Then do it again. And again. And again and again and again, until you can run for a mile, and then for two miles, and then one day you’ll be out for your daily torture session, except you’ll realize it’s not actually torture anymore, it’s rather enjoyable, come to think of it, and you’ll start looking forward to those runs. And when people ask you what you’re doing this weekend you’ll respond airily, with a casual wave of your hand like you’re just going out for eggs, “oh, I’m going out for a 10k this morning,” and they’ll be all like “whoa, you’re running in a race?” and you’ll be all “no, that’s just what I do — I’m a RUNNER NOW.” And you’ll stomp on their toes for emphasis. Or maybe not. The stomping is optional, though it sends a good, strong message.

Point is, all the old adages are true. If you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you’re right. A thing always seems impossible until it is accomplished. You have to fake it until you make it.

The power of sticktoitiveness (not a word, but yeah, totally a word I love) cannot be overstated. If you wake up every morning determined to accomplish a thing, and then take the steps and do the work necessary to take one step on that journey EVERY DAY, you can get there.

But what do I know? I’m not an expert.

I’m only pretending to be.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.


A Narrative Sugar Rush

Much of the process of writing is boring. Fun-boring, perhaps, the way that putting together a 1000-piece puzzle is fun if not YEAH LET’S GO FINISH THAT PUZZLE WOOO fun. You spend much of the time silently puzzling out the … puzzles … of how all the little fiddly bits fit together. If I want to have that character jump over a cliff to save his dog later in the novel, how do I foreshadow that moment earlier in the text? If that character has a deathly allergic reaction to oranges in chapter three, can I somehow twist that for the resolution in chapter twenty-seven?  My character seems to want to collect postcards from everywhere she visits by the end of chapter twelve… did I have her collecting the tongues of her vanquished foes instead in chapter eight? Better go back and revisit…

You slog through those moments, creating back story, laying foundations for the future, discovering odd little curiosities about your characters along the way, and meanwhile the story meanders forward not unlike a stream: a little cascade over rocks here, a long slow flow of calm water there, a spontaneous whirling eddy over here (not to be confused with Whirling Eddie, the circus performer)… but stories have a life of their own, and just as a somnambulant stream can turn into a vicious torrent with a summer storm, so too can a story surge to life with the proper impetus.

Like, oh, say, the hero deciding she’s had enough of the idiots around her spouting theoretical scientific mumbo-jumbo about time travel and alternate futures and the dangers of wandering through free-standing space-time portals without observing all applicable safety protocols, then running out of the safehouse she doesn’t believe is actually a safehouse, straight into the cold steel arms of one of the very robots the mad scientist was just warning her about.

Or, you know, something. Purely hypothetical, that. Definitely didn’t just write that in my new novel today, over lunch. Nope. No robots or mad scientists here. What are you looking at? Get away from my non-robot-involving, non-mad-scientist-featuring draft.

I wasn’t planning to write that moment today, but all of a sudden my hero decided she’d had enough of sitting around listening to exposition and decided to blow the story the fargo up by walking out of it (and of course, karmically, [is karmically a word?]) walking right into it.

I’ve enjoyed drafting the new novel, but today I couldn’t stop writing. Just like that moment where you can’t put the book down, I kept saying to myself, just one more sentence. Just one more paragraph. Just see what happens next. And I can’t wait for my next drafting session, wherein I’ll get to find out what does happen to my hero next. Because, while I have the general plot for the story mapped out, her getting captured by robots was not necessarily something I expected. Er, not captured by robots. She was, um. Inconvenienced. By… aphids. In her garden. Tomatoes. Very frustrating. No spoilers here.

But expected or not, I think you have to embrace these little detours when they crop up. Outlines are great, and having the end in mind is a fine way to craft a story, but I firmly believe that stories, like life, have minds of their own, and if authors don’t allow those stories a bit of leeway to stretch their legs and explore the side streets a little bit, well, you miss a lot of the fun along the way.

And, as always, I fully recognize that this particular diversion might suck. It might not work with the narrative as a whole. It might have to get cut completely from the book when I get down to the editing part. The sucky part. The I-want-to-kill-myself-with-white-out part.

But you can fix all that in post, as they say.

For now, it’s time to stop and smell the robots.

Roses. Smell the roses.

No robots here.

*hears the whir of servos*

*goes to investigate*


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