Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Friday, April 6, 2018

Fortune Favors the Cold (Sesame Noodles)

Whenever I eat Chinese food, I want a happy ending.

The beginning is guaranteed to be good, since I always have wonton soup. But the end is... unpredictable.

The cookie itself matters not. It's all about the fortune inside. But I don't want trite, pithy sayings. I want something memorable. Something like:

I got that one my senior year of college, and it started my collection. And though most of the fortunes I've come across over the years have been dull, soulless things, I've occasionally struck gold. Here's a sampling, haphazardly arranged into groups:

Um... What?
  • Do what is right, not what you should.
  • Now go to it! It's ready to be pick.
Double the Pleasure, Double the Fun
  • We are very happy together.
  • There is a true and sincere friendship between you both.
The Future Is Bright
  • You will be advanced socially, without any special effort.
  • You will be fortunate in everything
Nope, Not at All Creepy
  • Someone will visit you soon.
Finally, Some Sage Advice
  • Keep your goals away from the trolls.
  • Teamwork makes the dream work.
  • Eat your vegetable and you'll grow up big and strong like Popeye.
  • You can depend on the trust of the collective.
  • Simplicity and clarity should be the theme in your dress.
  • Make big plans.
  • You are a perfectionist. Don't spoil it.
  • When in doubt, mumble.
Now You Tell Me
  • Warning: Do not eat your fortune
Time to Drop Some Knowledge
  • You have a potential urge and the ability for accomplishment.
  • It is a great piece of skill to know how to guide your luck. Even while waiting for it.
  • The only rose without a thorn is friendship.
Okay, Stop Dropping the Knowledge. It Clearly Has a Head Injury.
  • For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.
  • If absolute can be defined, then absolute is not absolute anymore.
  • Your sweetheart may be too beautiful for words but not for arguments.
  • Many people who have power become a deaf mute.
Wow, This One's Actually True
  • Your spouse's bills are yours and yours are yours.
These Are Also True... and Almost Clever. Almost.
  • What is to give light must endure the burning.
  • Forbidden fruit creates many jams.
  • The man on the top of the mountain did not fall there.
But This One? It's the Truest of Them All
  • Great! You're ready for a party.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back... Into Improv

Back in September, I said I was giving up on improv, and would use the time to work on my novel instead. Since then, I have indeed made some progress. Namely, I:

  • finally completed the first draft;
  • re-structured my epic list of planned revisions, organizing the edits by chapter, character, and general terms;
  • created a spreadsheet mapping individual character arcs, and the emotions and motivations of each character on a chapter-by-chapter basis;
  • selected a new opening for the first chapter (from among six) after much deliberation;1
  • found a resource to answer many research questions concerning detectives and security firms; and
  • made this list.
So, have I started writing the second draft?, not officially.2

Although the holidays and the Winter Olympics have proved distracting, there has also been another impeding factor.3 You see, in November I took a musical improv class.

I know, I know. Yes, I said I was giving up on improv, but I never said I was giving up on musical improv. (For the uninitiated, that's a different thing entirely.) I figured I'd have a blast over the six weeks (I did), and then take a break until the next musical improv opportunity arose.

Long story short: It turns out musical improv is my gateway drug.

By mid-January, I'd signed up for a normal improv class4 and been recruited into a Marvel-based improv show.5 But this isn't like before; this time around I'll maintain the proper balance. I'll do improv (but not overdo it). I'll write on a regular schedule (but not too regular). And I'll eat lots and lots of ice cream.

Can't go wrong with ice cream.6

Nor can you go wrong with heroes, villains, and someone pretending to be Stan Lee. If you're in CT next Friday (March 2), come see Improvised Marvel!

ink by Kevin O'Toole, color by me
(click to embiggen)

1 Alas, the novel's original first line — At 4:17pm on a Tuesday, Sean Greyson lost his fingers. — did not make the cut. It's a shame, since it led directly to the entire plot as it stands today, but the story is better for it. And it's just the first of many darlings I will be murdering ruthlessly.
2 Not unofficially, either.
3 Two, if you count laziness. (But don't do that. Be lazy, like me, and stop counting altogether.)
4 The horror!
5 The! (I was hoping for a clever one-two punch of horror and something similar but since they're footnotes maybe it should be called a one-two kick and you know what this is only getting worse so let's pretend this footnote never existed.)
6 Well, unless it's Final Jeopardy and the answer is clearly gelato. Besides, everyone knows you need to put that shit in the form of a question.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

5 Lists of 5 For No Reason in Particular

I hadn't posted in a while, so I thought I would. And why bother with a cohesive idea when I can just put together a bunch of lists? (Okay, so I guess I had reasons after all.)

5 Things My 6-Year-Old Son Has Said Somewhat Recently
  1. "He's a water jet. He can't go in the water."
    "Can't? If he can't go in water, shouldn't he be a non-water jet?"
    "Well, at the beginning there is a silent 'non'."
  2. "I'm tired of sleeping."
  3. "I was trying to speak to the chipmunk in bird language, since I don't know how to speak chipmunk."
  4. "I fell in love with her the first day I met her... I'm trying to get to marry her, but she has a different teacher this year."
  5. "When people love me, I just hug 'em."

5 Non-Traditional Ways to Defend Yourself Against Attack by Vampire
  1. Stay inside your house all the time.
    And don't invite anyone in. I mean no one. Vampires can only come in if they're invited. Did your husband just bring out the trash? Chances are he's been turned. Lock him out.
  2. Stay outside all the time.
    And keep heading east. Move with the sun. As long as that glorious ball of flame keeps shining overhead—and as long as you steer clear of the shade—you'll be safe.
  3. Drink nothing but holy water.
    One taste, and your blood will burn that vamp from the inside out. A couple round battle scars on your neck are a small price to pay for victory. (Holy frijoles and/or guacamole are also fine ways to supplement your diet.)
  4. An army of drone bodyguards just out of visual range. Armed with lasers.
    With lasers!
  5. Clothing entirely covered with pointy wooden stakes.
    The latest in Milan fashion! And if that toothy character tries anything, just give him a great big hug.

5 Books I've Stopped Reading But Have Left Bookmarks In, and Why
  1. The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Michael Chabon
    p. 236 of 411, 3 years ago
    I tend to slog through Chabon novels—I paused for 3 months 50 pages into Kavalier & Clay—but I still kind of want to know how it ends.
  2. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, Michael Pollan
    p. 106 of 205, 2 years ago
    When we moved, this ended up back on the bookshelf. I only remembered today, while making this list.
  3. Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, Jeff Vandermeer
    p. 16 of 357, 1 year ago
    Opening chapters didn't keep my interest. Rather than read straight through, when I jump back in I'll skip around a bit.
  4. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
    p. 232 of 402, 3 months ago
    Made it through book one, but apparently over-the-top Russian satire isn't really my thing. Maybe I'll go back to it?
  5. The Nowhere Man, Gregg Hurwitz
    p. 84 of 358, 23 hours ago
    It was late, and I had work in the morning.

5 Ways Vampires Can Counteract Your Non-Traditional Defenses Against Them
  1. Cut your power. Repeatedly.
    With your internet down and phone dead, eventually you won't be able to pay your landlord/mortgage/taxes, and soon you'll be out on your ass. Hey, good things come to those who wait.
  2. Full-body prosthetics from top Hollywood makeup artists.
    They'll walk right up to you, with you none the wiser. They won't be on fire or nothin'. And then you'll be toast.
  3. Two words: Food taster.
  4. Three words: Trained attack bats.
    Possibly radio-controlled attack bats. Because, fun!
  5. A Spider-Man style upside-down kiss. Of death.
    Alas, your dress made of stakes can't protect you against attacks from above. Try all you want, but you'll never quite touch that man's heart.

5 Reasons You Should Be Disappointed With This Post
  1. I didn't include a single picture of my son with his curls and gap-toothed grin.
  2. Two vampire-related lists, and no cracks about Twilight.
  3. Not a single footnote. Not one.1
  4. There's no list of ways to counteract the vampires' counters. You're doomed.

1 Nope. Sorry. Adding one after the fact doesn't count.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

It's a Jew & A Miracle!

I thought I only had enough gumption to procrastinate one day on my answers, but it turns out I had enough for eight whole days. It’s a Jew & A miracle!

Interestingly, five of the six questions this year are from my own family. I guess I’ve been pretty successful answering all your questions over the years, if it’s just us Jews (and our relatives) questioning our own faith...

Alex J. Cavanaugh asks:
Has your Hanukkah candle ever caught anything on fire?
Absolutely. I wouldn’t be much of a Jew if it hadn’t.

Now, some of you might be confused about the reference to a single Hanukkah candle, when the menorah holds nine. That’s because this is a different candle entirely. You see, when a Jewish child first comes of age (i.e. can first safely hold a lit candle), they get one for their very own. It’s used to burn things.*

* After all, as has previously been established, we’re pyromaniacs.

My sister Naomi asks:
With Yiddish dying (having died?) out as a spoken language, what is going to happen to all of the delightful Yiddish-influenced expressions we enjoy today, such as, "What chutzpah!" and "Oy vey" and "What, you want I should come up with a title?"
First of all, that last expression isn’t Yiddish; it’s Old Jew. There is a difference.

Also, just because no one’s speaking Yiddish near you doesn’t mean it’s dead or dying. It’s just a flesh wound. Yiddish is alive and well in concentrated pockets throughout the world that are nowhere near you.

Nevertheless, when a spoken language dies out, its phrases aren’t lost. I mean, Latin is all over our money and our state flags. And though Egyptian hieroglyphics are no longer spoken, everyone knows the sayings “ankh reeds snake” and “bird water creepy eye bird.” You’re worrying over nothing.*

* Just like a good Jew. L’chaim!

My father Charles asks:
The boxes of Chanukah candles claim to have the correct number of candles for the holiday. Why do we always run out halfway through?
Why do you keep buying Chanukah candles, when what you’re celebrating is Hanukkah? There’s your problem.

Also, you might want to check your grandsons’ pockets.

My 7-year-old nephew Solomon asks:
Why gefilte fish?
I’ll admit this perplexed me for years as well, until I finally came across the answer. It turns out the reason Jews eat gefilte fish is... well, basically, we lost a bet.

It’s too bad, otherwise the goyim would be eating gefilte fish while we feasted upon Christmas ham.

My 4-year-old nephew Norman asks:
Why do guys light the ‘enorah?
Guys light the ‘enorah, girls light the wo’enorah. It’s the way it has always been. Tradition!

And lastly, my brother-in-law Josh asks:
Why are Jewish schools closed on Fridays?
To make you gentiles jealous, of course.

Three day weekends, beeyatch!

And that brings this year’s Jew & A to a close. Now that you have been suitably informed, go forth and share what you have learned. Preferably, in Yiddish. Or hieroglyphics.

Water tchotchke bird tuchis!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

What, You Want I Should Come Up with a Title?

It's a random Tuesday in December, and you know what that means: It's time for my 8th Annual Jew & A! In other words...

I will answer any question you have about Judaism.

Post any questions you might have about Jews or Judaism in the comments section before Hanukkah ends (i.e. sundown on 12/20), and I will answer them for you.

Maybe you need help telling sufganiyot and Sufjan Stevens apart. Perhaps you're unsure about the authenticity of your King James Torah. Or maybe you want to know what Trump's embassy decision means for "next year in Jerusalem."

Whatever your query, send it my way. Even if it's been asked before, don't let that stop you — much like the Jewish calendar, the answers to such questions are in constant flux.

So, what do you want to know?

The Original Primer and Past Jew & A's:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

What Else I Was Doing When I Should Have Been Writing

Last month, I mentioned I'd been spending too much time doing improv, and had been neglecting my novel as a result. But of course, improv wasn't the only thing keeping me from my fiction.

Writing should be one of my top priorities whenever my son is asleep, watching TV, or not at home. But it would seem I'm too easily distracted. Here's a partial list of what I was doing instead:
  • I was writing. Admittedly, the number of blog posts has been steadily declining (apart from a 31-day attempt at a kick-start last January), but it's still something.
  • I read a lot. And watched a bunch of TV. Far too much TV.
  • I was writing. I enter literary agent Janet Reid's flash fiction contests on occasion, and have garnered one win each of the last three years (and five in total).
  • I fixed up a house, packed up a house, and moved to a new house. (And maintained the old house for far too long.)
  • I was writing. Lyrics. To a parody mash-up of Hamilton's "Non-Stop" and Thomas the Tank Engine.
  • I built 200 square feet of patio. I am so proud I did this myself (with some assistance from Denise and the boy), and so proud I'll never have to do it again.
  • I was writing. Lyrics. And melody. For an original song which I envision being the opening to a musical (which may never get written, and still needs full orchestration).
  • I built a shed — and the platform it goes on — with my dad. Compared to the patio, this was a cake walk. (But don't worry, no cake was trod upon.)
  • I was writing. Personalized birthday and wedding cards. Recently, these have included a Choose-Your-Own Adventure, an escape room, an overabundance of anagrams, and an homage to the game Secret Hitler.
  • I did the dishes. So many dishes.
  • I was writing. Clues. For 3 crosswords which I created just to see if I could. There's a mid-week puzzle, a Sunday puzzle, and a cryptic crossword. I was aiming for NY Times quality, but as these were my first attempts I fell a bit short.

So yeah, that's what I've been doing. Which makes the solution pretty clear: Naomi, if you want me to finish my novel, you'd better come do our dishes.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Exposition Excavation Expedition

It finally happened: I have completed the first draft of my novel.

Yes, the one with the invisible monkeys. And no, don't try to remember how long it took me.1 The important thing is I finished it; I'd never completed a story over 2,500 words before. So yeah, this is kind of a big deal.

Which means, of course, that it's time for me to sit back, grab a drink, and celebrate! re-write the entire thing.

You heard me.

Okay, maybe it won't be a complete rewrite, but an extreme makeover is certainly in order. There are adverbs and adjectives to excise. Exposition to expunge. A whole stable of overused words (even still, only just that) to extract. So much tell (characters feeling and seeing) to exchange for show.

Not to mention all that's changed since I started this thing. My writing style, for one. My understanding of what makes for good writing, for another. Technology.2 Politics. Hell, one of my characters switched genders 3/4 of the way through the book. Another never reappeared after chapter 7.3

As I wrote, I kept notes in a second document when new ideas surfaced, rather than make the edits right away. Today, that document is nearly 1/4 the length of the book. Sixty-five pages, single spaced. And that's not the worst of it.

Many of the notes are no longer valid. Dozens contradict each other. And I guarantee some will have me wondering what the hell I was talking about. Add in all the research I also have ahead of me—into the Secret Service, police procedure, weaponry—and this rewrite becomes quite the daunting prospect.

But then I think about you. Yes, you.4 Some of you have been waiting years to read about these monkeys. Others are itching for me to finish this damned thing so I'll get back to my next novel, with Captain Interrobang and the other not-so-super superheroes. I can't just sit idly by.

No, I need to sit actively by, and get to work.

It's time to start digging.

1 Certainly don't remember that when I started, there was no such thing as an iPhone.
2 See Footnote 1. I'll need to go Blackberry picking, and remove all such references.
3 No, I don't mean she remained invisible the rest of the way. Though I can see why you might think so.
4 Hi there.