How to Read my Blog:

an instructional interlude



Dear valued visitors and followers: This is the content of a new page, accessible from the main menu (above) and let’s everyone wish it a very warm welcome. I wanted regular and new readers to know it exists, to draw your attention to it (me), to be encouraged to read it, and to take the hint. — DR


MY, HOW STANDARDS HAVE FALLEN! I can hear you rolling your eyes from here to Des Moines, and I know you’ll say to yourselves, “Of course, he’s doing the old-guy thing, the back in my day speech.” You may be right. I may simply be following tradition and experiencing inevitable change as a worsening, a dumbing down, when I should be grateful for progress.

That’s the narrative, isn’t it? That humans are following this trajectory of progress, albeit so slowly at first that nothing happens for millenia. Everyone just sits and stares at each other. And trust me, after a lifetime spent examining the fossil record so you don’t have to, I can confidently tell you that these millenia of staring are sheer tedium.

Sitting and staring. That’s it, dude. You could kill for a decent conversation, but because there’s no other activity—except for finding food, eating food, getting sick from the food, dying from the food or surviving the food, at which point the survivor carves the name of the food onto the Great Big Rock of Food That Won’t Kill You, with five stars and the “best before” date, which at this point is straightforward, “best before you starve to death”—because the only rainy-, or cloudy- or unseasonally cold- or even sunny-day activity is sitting around staring at everyone else who survived the food, good luck with that having a conversation thing.

I mean, there’s only so much feigned interest you can project in a lifetime.

While the proto-men and proto-women stare at each other it’s so quiet they can hear individual leaves falling onto the savannah, which they experience like bowling balls thudding onto parquet, notwithstanding they would likely not use that exact terminology just yet. Bowling, and therefore similes involving bowling  balls, have not been invented. We’ve got a long ways to go before they invent bowling, let me tell you! So they just shriek and run for cover.

Then once in a hundred years somebody pipes up, “Hey I was just thinking that maybe—” and everyone gasps and turns around in astonishment with a big whooshing sound to look at her.

Unfortunately, this is so intimidating she immediately forgets what she was going to say.

“Oh… nothing. Never mind. No, really, it’s OK, it was just—an idea…” (This, by the way, is the birth of passive-aggressive behavior, and not a moment too soon.)

Everyone sighs, maybe a couple of grumblers go I wish she’d stop DOING that! and then—silence again for another century or two.

Meanwhile everyone’s thinking, What are those pin pricks of light in the night sky, and how did they get up there and why don’t they fall down? If someone asks, I’ll say it’s Wilbur, The Great Caribou! We could use a little light humor! And anyway, what the heck are pin pricks, or for that matter, pins?

Gradually the silences get shorter and shorter, and you hear distinct noises as civilization develops. The chattering of villagers, the whoosh of the scythes, then, at exponentially increasing speeds, the rattling of looms, the hum of conveyor belts, the blasts of jet engines, ending in the present with the whine of one-sided conversations hitting the back of your neck, announced by smartphones generating what was probably supposed to sound like music but only if you’d never heard music.

Do you see how the standards fall? Nowadays you hear the one-sided conversation.

Growing up, I was taught: Ssh, not so loud! People will hear you! Use your indoor voice! Be seen and not heard! Conversations were restricted to the participants. Likewise telephone calls. You went into a little booth and slid the door shut because you didn’t want people to overhear you. Think what this means: a telephone call was as private as going to the bathroom.

Privacy has always been mankind’s greatest luxury, and no, I don’t mean data. We didn’t use words like data in the fifties, sixties, even seventies. You didn’t get data on your Princess phone. You got your mom’s voice asking why you hadn’t called, or your boyfriend saying he had a headache when you know very well he’s screwing the football coach. Data was a word you used, maybe, if you were Robert Oppenheimer. Probably even Einstein didn’t say data.

Yeah, right. I’ll show you “headache”! That’s rich!

We worry about data now, but back then we were worried about our conversations being overheard or disturbing other people.

Remember other people?

And we’d be mortified if someone had been listening to our conversation or found out our secrets. Secrets were still in their early phase of something you didn’t tell. My great aunts, Victorian women all, never told anyone that my eldest sister got pregnant before she married the guy, nor did they tell anyone about my parents’ divorce. This was private business, and if you talked about someone’s private business who wasn’t there, that was gossip.

Gossip was tacky, except for the rare occasion when it was a ray of sunshine in an otherwise cloudy afternoon.

How many months? She didn’t! Oh, I know! And you mustn’t say you heard this from me, but—apparently he’s that way!

We kept to ourselves out of fear of making the other person uncomfortable. No one knew your financial woes, the minutiae of office politics, the state of your marriage; we did not make our friends into our psychiatrists or social workers.

Now we live in public, holy prostitutes assuming the face-down spread-eagle to receive validation from anyone who might pass by. We are nothing on our own, because we are empty, and we are empty because we know nothing but the fascinating contents of our own heads and because we haven’t left the house since MySpace.

We have no allure, because we are so easily accessible. We are brands, personas, stories we tell that might as well be true.

We have no need for privacy, for we are at once the incentive and the prize, the scoop and the investigative journalist. Our mere bodies, those archaic chunks of pre-industrial too, too solid analog flesh, may melt, like so much ground beef past its sell-by date, into compost; but our personalities, fizzing with fake pizzazz like artificially sweetened soda and echoing third-hand opinions down broken phone lines crackling with static, have been uploaded to the cloud for all-device synchronization and easy universal obfuscation.

Standards have fallen. Where there was once charisma we now have persuasion; for glamour, brand loyalty; for thought, sponsored content. We long to read web copy that doesn’t suck instead of literature that, guaranteed, did not contain the word “suck” unless someone was talking about bees.

We no longer keep to ourselves in dark studies lined with ancient texts teaching ourselves eternal truths, while disciples as yet unknown to us spent a lifetime beating a path to our door; now we are everywhere, and depressingly unavoidable.

To award yourself Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame you at least had to throw on a metal mini-dress by Paco Rabanne, gloss your lips white and learn to frug before hailing a cab to The Factory. Compared to Instagram, this is like getting your Baccalaureate in semiotics at the Sorbonne.

We document the mysterious trail of our morning glory muffin from its perfect plating at Jet Fuel to its passage through our perfectly moisturized lips; we would, given our druthers, eagerly await and document its return to the primordial light and the roiling waters at the other end had we the time, the followers and the influence that really matters.


Not wishing to be thought an old piece of dried-up ear wax, a wizened pair of donkey testes, not au courant, I take a deep breath and, both melding with and standing out from the crowd, I vow to proffer my creative process for public, that’s you, consumption. Why wait, all high-and-mighty and flaunting my good taste, until my work is polished and ready?

That’s why, like a fledgling terrorist holding in front of me a terrified kindergarten child as hostage, I thrust into the limelight my crude first drafts and confused initial thoughts.

These are never totally crude and unworthy of your attention, though. I mean, this is me, dudes. I consider a pressed shirt and a bow-tie from Harry Rosen to be casual wear. Or at least, I considered that way during the three years I actually got paid by an employer and could afford to be abused by the Harry Rosen sales staff, and how, I ask you, how will they keep me down on the farm, once I have seen Harr-ee?

Exactly.

Oh my god will he ever get to the point, and meanwhile could someone drive right through that red light while I dart onto the crosswalk without looking? comes your exasperated cry.

I interpret this as a metaphor for wanting me to get to the point, the promised point being: how to read my blog. Very well, then.

Read each piece more than once. Again for emphasis: Read each piece more than once.

(Including this one.)

That’s it! Really. That’s how to read my posts. As a series of drafts that I polish into their final form, for I have turned the light and breezy blog post about making waffles or how to monetize your hate group into a soul-searching, overly-literate polysyllabic Proustian nightmare clocking in at anywhere from two to three thousand words.

Yep, that was me.

Thus, to get the full effect, and only if you’re interested in these things, read my unpolished initial thoughts, but return, once, twice or even three or more times, after a few days, weeks, or months, for my posts are not mere words on a screen, but living entities that materialize, mature and mutate at hectic, time-lapsing speeds.

And you’ll never know what living entity to expect. Sometimes you’ll see a peony fluttering its petals like runway model’s Oscar de la Renta ballgown; sometimes a gecko opening its lipless lizard maw to gulp down a—whatever it is geckos gulp down. I’m no one to judge.

This means that you can follow the progress of each piece as though I were on live cam, but without the cam.

Why no live cam? Because I write naked.

That’s correct. Tits to the breeze and always wary of my hot cup of coffee. And now that I’m certain you’ll never, ever be able to get that image out of your mind—

My work here is done.

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What I Learned from my First Two Hundred Medium Stories

+plus+ Monday Man-Crush

Digital illustration by David Roddis / sign graphic derived from a photo by Austin Chan (via Unsplash)

I JUST REACHED TWO HUNDRED STORIES on Medium. I’m telling you this because I know how hard you are on yourself when you forget to hire the marching band, arrange a platter of clever hors d’oeuvres and invite the guests.

Admit it: I go the extra mile for you.

And I’m telling you this even though there’s, well — just a tiny whiff of imposter syndrome tainting my buzz, when I consider that, for example, one of my stories consists of only three words, and they are not “I love you.” But, still, two hundred.

Here’s what I learned along the way:

1. Do lists, sometimes

Everyone, except me, loves lists. Seriously loves. They’ll read “Ten Reasons Why Lists Suck.” They’ll read “Five Ways to Improve Your List About 10 Reasons We Hate Facebook, and did you see my cat video?” Takeaway: Two Pad Thai with shrimp, and some spring rolls. Couple of Coke Zero.

Sorry, that’s take out.

The take away is: make the occasional list. They’re light and breezy and full of Anne-of-Green-Gables plucky optimism, and promise quick stimulation, like a shot of espresso taken standing up. In fact, now that I’m writing one, I love lists!

Another take away is that I occasionally channel my dad’s really corny sense of humor. Is there a dad without a really corny sense of humor? What is it about diapers and khaki pants from GAP that shreds whatever part of the amygdala that’s responsible for waspish rejoinders and Wildean epigrams?

This is my first list. You’ve never heard of me, but that all changes today, baby.

2. Find a resonant, eye-catching image, or make one

Gigantic, eye-popping images of unparalleled garishness (see above) are effective because they both attract and repel. It’s like not being able to resist driving back to view the aftermath of a non-fatal car pile-up.

Or like watching Bernie Sanders try to be cool. Or well-groomed. Or electable. “I’m voting for social democracy / I’m voting for a Muppet.” Attract / repel.

Remember: You’ll nab ’em with an image. But your content had better merit the attention, or they’ll wander off, probably to read a list because you were too high and mighty to think one up. Get over yourself, girlfriend!

3. Images, further advantages of

Big images with lots of primary colors and lacking in subtlety make your article look significantly longer and more researched than it actually is. They’ll think, “Jeez, did she hire a graphic designer?” This is discouraging to many rookies. Which is great, because — less competition! You are rockin’ my list!

4. If you can’t take the heat… choose your battles

You’ve got a loving heart. Now grow some thick skin. Engaging, however politely, with surly, obnoxious NRA supporters, if you’re a people-pleaser like me, goes well with a big helping of solipsism, i.e., don’t read their replies. Just stay in your Pollyanna bubble and talk to yourself, which you mostly do anyway.

My one foray into this territory prompted My American Cousin to publish a gratuitously nasty, chauvinist, anti-Canada screed that oozed contempt, and in which he asserted I have no standing to discuss gun control in the U.S. (This may or may not be a point, depending on how many hot guns were smuggled into Toronto this past week.)

As a response to his outpouring of bile I countered with my most concise story to date, which I wrote after I stopped crying. My story totalled three words: “Oh, fuck off.”

This is either a triumph of not caring or a total decompensating cop-out. In retrospect, my only regret is that I didn’t say it twice.

5. Everything’s a “story” and that’s OK

“Stories.” Ahem. Lord knows I’ve tried, but I’ve never quite acclimatized to calling an article a “story,” much less my short responses. Those I call responses. Yes, I am old.

This is like Spotify calling the movements of a Beethoven symphony “songs.”

“You can’t beat Beethoven’s Fifth —that first song is just so totally — woke!”

Nope. That didn’t happen. Never said that. No, siree.

6. Be your authentic self

Do you suddenly feel that you’re entirely on your own, out in the big bad world, where your mother is not going to stick your “story” on the fridge door because she’s so proud and impressed by your mouthing platitudes to a deaf choir?

You’re absolutely right, you are. Learn to hold your own hand. Say what you want to say, not what you think people want to hear. You might open the eyes of one or two special readers, those who “get” you. They are like gold, and they are yours. You might even make them laugh, hopefully because you intended to.

Above all, be your unique self. As an example: I’m flippant, shallow, self-involved and immature, but I try to make sure at least one person is snickering before the truth sinks in.

7. Don’t hog the last word

You don’t always have to have the last word, you know, Mr. Smartass Buckaroo. Give someone else that dubious honor occasionally.

This is a note to myself.

8. Practise random acts of taste

It is the height of bad taste to engage with your critics — and face it, you know they’ll never come round. They are “entrenched,” you are “right.”

By the way, if you are not familiar with the concept of “taste,” this is when you have every right to do something, then refrain from doing it.

Taste therefore means good judgment.

9. Start. Finish. Repeat

When I posted my first story on Medium, I was nervous. Well, with reason, because the first things I posted weren’t all that good.

Oh, they were not. Oh, stop it.

Really? You think so?

But I know that by posting that first story I stepped out of my scared skin as a writer, and acquired a bit more space in the world. I stopped apologizing and worrying if I was any good and remembered that dreams and goals and ideas are like dime-store jewelry; taking action and completing something, just one thing, is worth a million unfulfilled, unfinished dreams. Bear in mind: You’ll probably have to leave the house at some point.

I want the people who don’t think they have anything to offer, the people who are afraid, to step out of their own scared skin and complete something. I want them — is this you, perhaps? — to write any old rubbish, make a gesture with a paint brush, or sing and not care what it sounds like, not yet; and I want you to keep doing this until you’re done. Then I want you to do it again, and again, until you have a lifetime’s worth.

Let me be perfectly clear: I’m talking about writers and artists. I’m all the way up to the waistband of my dollar store briefs, thanks anyway, with conservatives who have skins like elephants and all the zeal in the world around making the world a more hateful place.

Feel free to not complete something, conservatives! Take a day or two off! OK! Back atcha!

10. Accept your possible irrelevance

I will never be relevant. I have the reaction time of glaciers. I shift into high gear like metamorphic rock.

I ponder.

I have always been cursed with “l’esprit de l’escalier.”

I’m at the pub, for example, and someone in the group standing next to me glances at my Friday Night Shirt, the blue and white paisley with the ruffles down the front, the shirt that must be special because I feel so uncomfortable wearing it. I leave this shirt untucked, lest my delusions about still retaining a thirty-inch waist be shattered by a wisp of Oxford cotton. This guy glances at me, turns to his friends and stage-whispers, “Nice shirt!” while rolling his eyes, and I take him at face value.

I feel suitably attired, proud that I’m turning heads who is that distinguished gent who looks so good, backlit? and setting the bar just that little bit out of reach, for fashion’s sake. High fives!

One night later that month, while slipping blissfully under the duvet, I’m ambushed by a nagging moment of uncertainty, followed by full-body blushing, and I sputter, “Why, goldarnit! I do believe he was — making fun of my shirt! That — that hooligan!”

This is why I’m still polishing my satirical barbs about Hillary Clinton. It’s nice to find someone equally irrelevant, and, bless her, she gives and she gives. She’ll go on until the end of time, our little pink bunny, forever beating her drum. I think of Hillary and I as growing old together.

Look for my Joe Biden satirical barbs around 2024.

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Monday Man-Crush: Doug.

Just—Doug.


WELCOME TO THE RECURRING FEATURE, previously an occurring feature because this is only the second time it has occurred, that has you on the edge of your organic kneeling-chair, called “Monday Man-crush,” which I am posting on a Sunday.

My timelines, you surely have noted, are not of mere human proportion. My timelines are those of mountains, of giant tortoises, of asparagus beds; they scoop their arcs with the majesty of Emily Dickinson contemplating the starry vault as she rolls her lisle stockings down to her ankles, then sets up her large-format view camera for a thirty-minute selfie.

Also, I’m disorganized as shit.

MM-C points the well-manicured index finger of random interweb glory and/or ridicule at the unwitting, luscious straight guys who have caused the sludgy, congealed sap of my involuntary celibacy to melt into man-lust then burble and spurt along the byways of my gnarly tree-trunk.

Ka-pow!

Now, meet Doug. But may I just say: Hands OFF, Murgatroyd.




Love, if it comes, comes too late.

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