Jun 27

Writers' Agonies, Volume I, Chapter I

As a writer, I maintain certain unexamined assumptions I do not wish to examine at all. To wit:

1. Words are the whole world.
2. All words are equal.

These assumptions mean I agonize not only over my own work, but at scarifying length over all words ever spoken or written to me. I can spin up whole rainbows of agony out of a lone "Sorry" scrawled on a rejection slip, and fury, too, because whoever wrote it doesn't seem really sorry! I can't seem to weigh and sort words according to their source or context or tone. Some people say that words are mere hot air, or can be ignored! Not I! To me, all words are serious! You can imagine how I fare in a culture that is jerry-built on kidding and banter. For example:

A--HOLE:
Hi there, Eagle Beak!

ME:
Eagle Beak?

A--HOLE:
It's a joke! Just a joke! (Punches ME on the arm.) Can't you take a joke?

ME:
(Looks daggers.)

A--HOLE:
Ha, ha! I was just kidding. (Pounds ME on the arm repeatedly.) Geez!

ME:
You're a f-----g a--hole.

A--HOLE:
A-ha, ha, ha!
Jun 27

Not Everything is a Joke

You know the mock air violin that smart alecks "play" when somebody's telling their troubles. Someone who'd just learned to do that, a big joker, asked me if I'd ever seen it, and demonstrated, and I said, "I find that sickening, vicious and cruel. Here somebody is not joking for once, is speaking in earnest, and you are making fun of their honest feelings. You are shaming people for speaking their truth."

Sitcoms and standup have set the tone for our language and behavior, and writers increasingly write that way. I have a cookbook whose hip young authors riddled the text with cutesy, unfunny jokes, and I wonder why. If someone speaks in earnest, with passion, we say: "Tell us what you REALLY think!" If someone complains, we play the air violin or say, "Do you want cheese with that whine?" A harsh story or philosophizing makes us say, "that's heavy" or "that's pretty dark" and we do our best to restore a light and carefree atmosphere as if the world and Disney World were one and the same. We joke, tell jokes, refer to jokes. We all know chronic jokers. I have learned smart-aleck replies to earnest inquiries as simple as, "What time is it?" Above all we want to be liked. Laughter brings us together, but it can also keep us apart. Not everything is a joke.

Surprisingly, our comedians do not tell jokes. We are the ones who tell jokes. They tell truths: about money, sex, relationships, politics. Our poets do that also. The U.S. found the perfect poet in Billy Collins, a hybrid poet/comedian who is a product of our time.
Feb 15

Did You Accidentally Hire a Poet? A Checklist for Employers

Poets deliberately withhold from their resumes and job applications the fact that they are poets. You may not be aware you have poets on staff. There is absolutely nothing worse. This list of “poet behaviors” will help you root them out. A poet:

  • frequents the post office
  • reads books and magazines with no pictures in them
  • cannot tell you the current date and time
  • claims to have cremated one “Sam McGee”
  • has studied "humanities"
  • frequently finds important workplace communications to be “vague” or “hilarious”
  • brings bearded individuals to the company party
  • claims to possess talents which, however, are undetectable and unquantifiable
  • says, without context,  things such as “’twas the wily Boche that got me”
Find one? Ready, aim, fire!