Saturday, January 17, 2009

Snatching a Desperate Hour -- Writer's Poke #155

For Writers:

I needed to write my dissertation to finish, but the thought of writing something 200 pages long (and 200 pages would be on the short side) kept me from writing for five years.

Meanwhile, I was paying my tuition each semester so that I could stay active in the program. I pretended that I was just making an "alumni donation" to the university, and this was supposed to make me somehow feel better about paying out thousands of dollars just to keep the hope of finishing alive.

Then that May, I received my annual progress letter. There was a new graduate program director, and his letter indicated that they planned to deactivate me from the doctoral program. I wrote back and asked for one more chance, to which he responded: "You have until August 15."

In other words, I basically had three months to write and defend my dissertation. And guess what I did that summer? I wrote my dissertation. Something that I couldn't do in 5 years I was able to do in under 3 months -- all 240 pages worth.

What impossible acts have you been able to complete?

"It's kind of fun to do the impossible" -- Walt Disney

Friday, January 16, 2009

We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off -- Writer's Poke #154

For Writers:

Back in the stone ages, I suppose people took naked pictures of themselves with Polaroid Instamatic cameras. But now we live in the digital age, and even most cell phones have built-in cameras. Technology has made it much easier to share ourselves with others. And some of us bear more than our souls.

Over the past year, there have been stories of teenage girls who have taken risqué, shall we say, photos of themselves. Some cheerleaders in the Pacific Northwest, for example, were kicked off the team when high school administrators discovered their inappropriate pictures posted online. The girls' lawyers cried foul, wondering why the girls were punished and not the boys that had apparently posted the pictures.

In Pennsylvania it was the boys and not the girls who were punished. The girls sent the pictures to the boys' cell phones (amusingly dubbed in one article as "sexting"), but the boys were the ones who found themselves in trouble. Somewhat amazingly, they are even being charged with child pornography.

Have you ever taken naked pictures of yourself? If so, why, and what ended up happening to those photos? If not, under what circumstances, if any, might you?

"Every picture tells a story." -- Proverb

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Transformations -- Writer's Poke #153

For Writers:

I have a friend, let's call him Bandhu (which is Hindu for friend). A few of us took at trip to New Orleans one year, and Bandhu totally amazed me.

We were at a bar, and Chumbawumba's "I Get Knocked Down" was a very popular song at the time. Bandu just let it all loose on the dance floor. I can't say that he was or wasn't the smoothest cat out there, but what I will always remember is how uninhibited he was. And since the drinks in that bar were so watered down, I can't just attribute his moves to the booze. This young man was sober, and he was out there shaking it for the world to see.

On the other hand, he was still uncomfortable drinking a jelly shot off the stomach of a hired drink seller, but maybe he was simply concerned about her hygiene. It was the funniest thing watching him slurp the shot off her stomach, being careful not to touch her body in any way with his tongue.

And since he hadn't developed the nerve to lick her clean, he tentatively brushed off the residue of the shot onto the floor with his hand. Now this was the Bandhu I knew and loved, not the Dancing with the Stars maniac I saw earlier in the evening.

Something about him, though, was clearly changing. Right in front of my eyes.

How have you changed over the years? Are you more confident? More set in your ways? More liberal? In what ways would you like to change? What stops you?

"The key to change is to let go of fear." -- Rosanne Cash

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Is a Friend? -- Writer's Poke #152

Inspired by

For Writers:

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams is also a writer, and he is the most famous person that I know of who keeps a regularly-updated blog. He has even published his blog entries in the form of a book, lovingly titled: Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!

Lucky for us, he doesn't just stick to comics. The man has a brain, and I like the cut of his jib, if you'll excuse me for using that expression. In a recent blog post, he gave his definition of a friend.

According to Adams' definition, to qualify as a friend, two conditions must be met:

1. You must have told that person a secret.

2. That person must have accepted a favor from you.

Personally, I thought Adams' conditions made quite a bit of sense; and although I had never really thought of friendship in those terms, it certainly seems to pass the smell test.

Provide your own definition for the term "friend." Using Adams' definition explore how many "friends" you have. Does what you discover surprise you? Do the results change when you use your own definition? Explore.

"To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world." -- Brandi Snyder

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Heavy Metal Band Names: Chart


Click for a bigger version.

Deferred and Delayed -- Writer's Poke #151

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

-- Langston Hughes

For Writers:

Delayed gratification is supposed to be a sign of maturity. That's what we're told, right? And I don't doubt that there's a lot of truth to the idea.

If you can't afford a $5000 vacation to Europe, then you probably shouldn't just put it on the credit card and go, right? Save you money for ten years and pay cash for the trip. (Just assume that you'll be around in ten years, and that you'll still have both the health and desire to want to go to Europe.)

Take this classic example from psychology: the marshmallow test. If told that they can eat one marshmallow now or two marshmallows when an adult returns to check on them, a toddler will inevitably eat the one marshmallow as soon as they can, whereas older children will learn to wait for the adult to return with the promise of the second marshmallow. In this simple example, the value of waiting seems clear.

So perhaps it's not fair of me to bring into the discussion Langston Hughes's "A Dream Deferred." The subject matter of his poem and the traditional idea behind delayed gratification aren't exactly the same, right?


What's the difference between delayed gratification and a dream deferred? Is there one? Is it really immature to avoid deferring your dreams, to stop delaying your gratification?

"Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends." -- William Shakespeare

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mensa Invitational: Not Real Words (But they should be)

Here are the winners of the Washington Post's Mensa Invitational, which once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

3. Intaxicaton : Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation : Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone ( n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little signs of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy : Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. Giraffiti : Vandalism spray-painted very, very high

8. Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

9. Inoculatte : To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Osteopornosis : A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon : It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido : All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.) : Satan in the form of a mosqu ito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its
yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

And the winners are:

1. coffee , n. the person upon whom one coughs.

2. flabbergasted , adj. appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3. abdicate , v. to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. esplanade , v. to attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. willy-nilly , adj. impotent.

6. negligent , adj. absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7. lymph , v. to walk with a lisp.

8. gargoyle , n. olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. flatulence , n. emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. balderdash , n. a rapidly receding hairline..

11. testicle , n. a humorous question on an exam.

12. rectitude , n. the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. pokemon , n.. a Rastafarian proctologist.

14. oyster , n. a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism , n. the belief that, after death, the soul flies up
onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. circumvent , n. an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

Bunny Research -- Writer's Poke #150

For Writers:

The kid was no doubt intelligent, but he admitted that he never did well when boxed inside the structure of a college class. By semester's end, he had only produced three of the seven required essay assignments, claiming he just couldn't get into the assigned topics.

Although the topics I assigned gave students a lot of flexibility, I told him that I was open to foregoing the regular classroom assignments all-together, as long as he had some good ideas ready to present. Since he needed to write the equivilent of four 2-page essays, I suggested that he do an eight-page research paper. We should meet during office hours, I said, so that we could hammer out the details.

The following day, he came to my office carrying a box of Playboy magazines. My dad is a collector, he said, and he has Playboys all the way back to the 1950s. Great, I thought, as I watched him starting to remove Playboys from the box.

Take a look at this one, he said, as he pulled out three more from the box. Suddenly Playboy magazines started multiplying all over the office.

He didn't seem to comprehend that there was anything wrong looking at Playboys on a college campus. And my worst fear was that the Department Chair or College President would walk in at that exact moment. How would I explain to the college administration that the student was just using these magazines for the articles?

If you did an analysis of Playboy magazines from the 1950s until today, what might you learn a) about culture, b) about America, c) about yourself?

"Students have initiative; they should not be mere imitators. They must learn to think and act for themselves -- and be free." -- Cesar Chavez

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My Personal Alfred -- Writer's Poke #149

For Writers:

Alfred, Bruce Wayne's butler, has always been one of my favorite characters in the Batman universe. He's obviously so much more than a butler. He is Bruce's base manager and confidant; but more than that, he's family -- the only family Bruce has, and probably the one person that helped him stay sane after watching as his parents were brutally murdered.

On our last cruise, we upgraded to a penthouse suite, and with the penthouse came a butler. How would we use a butler, we wondered? Sure, he fixed our fancy coffeemaker, he brought our evening snacks, and he kept our mini-fridge stocked with cokes, but it's hard to develop a meaningful relationship with anyone when the cycle lasts only seven days.

As I said, he was more the butler to the penthouse than he was our personal Alfred.

What function would a butler (or any kind of personal assistant) serve in your life? Would having your own personal Alfred change your life?


Would you rather serve or be served?

"Well done, good and faithful servant" -- Matthew 25:23