Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Mom's Name is Gail!

Cartoonishly bad writing always makes me laugh, possibly because I've seen so much of it and can tell when people aren't even trying. Often, all it takes is a second read-through to catch mistakes, and a little revision can go a long way. I always tell people (just as teachers have told me) to spend time listening to how the writing sounds; you can usually hear it if something's off. The story I'm working on now is about writing that may be technically sound, but totally misses the point in other ways; for every writer is oblivious to some aspect of their work.

Then of course, there's writing that's beyond all hope, which makes me laugh even harder. I can't take credit for this; it came from the NH State Testing manual that Mr. Armstrong showed us in Lit Comp and Critique sophomore year, and is an example of what a score of 1 out of 6 looks like. The prompt asks the reader to write about someone they respect, and I've paraphrased the shoddily written essay as best as I can remember:

The person I admire most is my Mom! My Mom's name is Gail! She respects me because I respect her, and she lets me do a lot of stuff! I guess that if she didn't respect me than I would still respect her because she is my Mom.

I really became interested in bad writing as a way of making people laugh when I took English Prose style, and Chris Miller gave us the assignment to turn in the worst writing that we possibly could. I wrote this piece based on the following imaginary AP English essay prompt: "From a novel or play of literary merit, choose two characters who the author sets up be similar but instead reveals to be ironically different." I think that by exagerrating these kinds of mistakes it becomes easier to notice the shoddiness in our own work, or that of others.



A Comparison Between "The Dude" and The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski, a film by the Coen brothers, is a film about a guy named “The Dude” who is really lazy, drives a beat up car, has no money and really loves to bowl. He has the same name as Jeffrey Lebowski a millionaire, who is in a wheelchair and helped a lot of kids in the inner city. However, I think that even though they have the same name, the two Lebowskis could not possibly be more different from each other.

First off, there is “The Dude.” “The Dude” is really lazy and doesn’t seem to have a job, this is evidenced by his writing a check for creamer in the first scene in the movie. If he had had the money to pay for the creamer, he wouldn’t have had to have written a check to pay for it. Then there is his car. “The Dude” drives an old Ford Torino that is rusted light yellow and barely runs. He likes it, and does not want to get another car; even if he could afford one. Of note is his rug, which is peed on by the Treehorn thugs in the first scene of the movie. “The Dude” has to right away get rid of the rug and cannot afford to buy another one; that is why he goes to Jeffrey Lebowski (the millionaire) in the first place.

Then there is his friends. “The Dude” has two friends named Walter and Donny who love to bowl, in fact, they love bowling so much that they have their own bowling team. They also compete in league tournaments and are involved in a tournament when the movie begins. Donny is quietest, but Walter is very loud and frequently carries a firearm around with him that he is not afraid to pull out during league play. Walter also drives a beat up van, and it is his idea to take the money and replace it with “the ringer” full of his own dirty underwear to throw off the bridge in place of the real briefcase of money; which they will keep and spend for themselves. Unfortunately, this plan does not work, and “The Dude” is angry at Walter and doesn’t want him involved in his life any more. But he keeps coming back, which is why he likes to hang out with “The Dude.” In fact, he also smashed Little Larry’s red sports car on the street with a baseball bat in the homework scene, and he didn’t even check to see if it was really his. He is really “The Dude”s crazy out of control friend.

However, the other Jeff Lebowski couldn’t possibly be more different. He is an old man who is in a wheelchair, and he also fought in Korea, where he lost his legs in the war. He also established the Lebowski Achievers Institute where he helped a lot of kids, which made him very rich. However, he ran into some financial problems and needed to launder money from the Institute, so he decided to trick “The Dude” into losing the money from the kidnapping. He wanted to easily pin the money theft on “The Dude” and keep it all for himself. Just the fact that he would do something so terrible is proof that he is a dishonest person. He also orders “The Dude” into his limo after he gets the toe in the mail from the nihilists, and he tricks ‘The Dude” into thinking that its really from her. He is very rich and very dishonest; and could not possibly be more different then “The Dude.”

So, in conclusion, though both Lebowskis may have the same name, they couldn’t possibly be more different. One is a messy slob who likes to bowl and goes by a nickname all the time, while the other is a rich millionaire who would steal money and pin it on other people. This adds a bit of flavor to the movie, and I think that it is a better movie because of it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Post-College Abyss

I’ve been plagued by worries about what lies ahead ever since I’ve graduated. I’m not going to be cliché and say that I don’t know what I want to do with my life, because that’s not true—rather, what’s thrown me off most is the loss of structure now that for the first time in seventeen years I don’t have formal education to plan my life around. For a long time I’ve wanted to face the future and explore what the world has to offer, even though this is disorienting and scary. I don’t want to do something completely off the deep end like some people I know have done, but the idea of having adventures and trying new things resonates strongly with my situation at the moment.

However, what also bothers me is the fear that things might not work out now that I’m out of college; though it may appear that way on the surface. I can’t explain exactly what I mean by this; but everywhere I go I feel like I’m surrounded by important-sounding jobs that don’t sound like they’d be very stimulating to work at, even though they provide the security and benefits post-graduates need—or so I’ve been told. But would I really be happy working a job like that just for the security? I don’t think so. I believe that no matter what you’re doing, you should be living your life in a dynamic way. It’s hard to explain this to people, especially when friends ask me if I’ve “thought about what I want to do,” as if this meant making a concrete decision about how I’ll spend the next fifty years working to achieve various financial goals . I love to write, but fitting this in with earning a living, leading the life I want to, and freeing myself from the shackles of debt is something I’m still working to figure out.

I think most people avoid the kind of search that I and others I know are on because it’s just easier to pick a career and stick with it as a way of obtaining security. That way, you can define yourself through your job and impress people regardless of how insignificant that job may be . But what you do doesn’t have to define who you are ; often, a job is just a way of supporting yourself, accessing certain resources, or just a way of trying something new . My friends from Bennington, for instance, are working a wide range of different jobs that don’t necessarily say anything about them as people, and that’s all right.

Randall once told me that I believed in mind over matter, and that all I had to do was put the right perspective on something to improve my situation. I think I’m finally on my way to embracing that mindset with this new problem, once I’ve dispelled the notion that people see me as a failure. I don’t know why I let the stupidest shit get to me—I just finished a job where I got to do a lot of fun things and I’m involved with other projects that make me feel rewarded while providing adequate compensation. People I know are have done tremendously creative, interesting things, and these types of endeavors are something I can’t lose sight of.

A lot of writers have had a variety of experiences and haven’t just focused on one career, which has shown me that there’s no one way to lead your life. Some writers moved out to the middle of the woods to work on a first novel, others worked in business for years before discovering their first great idea, some played professional backgammon, and still others spent time developing successful careers as lawyers, art critics, or even composers; obtaining knowledge and experience that found its way into their fiction. There’s a world filled with possibilities for people willing to look for them—and there’s no reason to be afraid.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

On Other People's Blogs

The Next Blog button, which sits at the very top of this page next to the search bar, moves the daring internet surfer to a random blog within the Blogspot network. It took me a little while to figure this out; originally I imagined that all of the blogs were arranged in a line that you could move along with this button like the old webrings you used to see on people's themed fan pages. The first time I tried this button I found a cheap porn banner, and thought it funny that anyone who clicked this button from my page would be greeted with a graphic image I find unsuitable to describe here. I've since used the button to find all sorts of wierd stuff, but nothing really worthwhile yet. See for yourself:

Believe me when I tell you that this is the most exciting blog you will ever read

The name says it all

Is there any logic to this guy's choice of news?

Check out the hilarious list of porn on the right

One man's adventures naviagting the world of online poker

The latest in mainstream entertainment

This one is actually pretty cool, imagine The Motorcycle Diaries in Africa

Teenage reading material. He reviews Watership Down a few enries from the top.

Stop me if my blog ever becomes like this one

A miscellaneous assortment of everything, with subtitles

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Safe Kitchen Sex

I went back to visit Bennington this past weekend and had a really fun time. Aside from Leigh house being a lot crazier, the place hasn't changed as much as I was afraid it would (that was comforting). Rather than chronichling the entire weekend, I chose a single funny moment to write about.

I was sitting in the Leigh kitchen with a friend boiling some ramen when Mark marched over to the shelf with a determined look on his face and proceeded to remove all the rubber gloves from the safe sex kit.* I asked him what he was doing and he said that he wasn’t sure. “Isn’t it weird that they keep rubber gloves in the safe sex kit?” he said as he dangled one in front of him. “What do you think they’re for?”

I explained their purpose to him in terms of a baseball euphemism.

“That’s disgusting,” Mark said, still dangling the glove. “What better way to set a romantic mood than by snapping on a rubber glove before pleasuring a woman?”

My friend (strangely enough) was silent during this exchange.

The rest of the bag was filled with condoms, lubricant, and white Durex instruction manuals. Mark unfolded one of the manuals (which appeared suspiciously long until we realized it included multiple languages) and pointed out the comically abstract drawing of a penis in the instruction diagram. “This is ridiculous,” he said, “who in their right mind can’t figure out how to put on a condom?”

“I’m sure some people get confused,” I replied, giving the matter some serious thought. “But then again, don’t most people get shown how to put a condom on a banana in high school?”

“Not a banana,” Mark said, getting excited again. “In my high school we had this Mexican guy who lectured our safe sex class while drinking an Orangina and waving his other hand back and forth. [Mark demonstrated by limply flicking his wrist.] At the end he pulled a condom out of his pocket and put it on over the entire Orangina bottle. Afterwards he told us never to worry about the condom not being big enough.”

“Did he drink out of the Orangina afterwards?”

“I don’t remember,” Mark said. He had gone back to the shelf in the midst of his story and began to carry out some sudden task with uncharacteristic diligence. Amelia and I watched as he tore open a condom, hurled the wrapper towards the garbage but landed it in the hallway instead, and unwrapped the condom over a small, fat olive oil bottle he had grabbed. It took some effort to get the condom around the curve of the bottle, but once past this hurdle he slid it easily down to the base. He admired his handiwork and pointed out that the condom was invisible save for the sperm-catching tip above the bottle’s cap. I told him he should leave it there.

Mark laughed hysterically at this proposition but pulled the condom off the bottle and threw it away. As if it were a natural extension of our conversation, he grabbed an Astroglide packet and squirted thick, gooey wads of lube all along the cap and the sides, then opened another condom and reinserted it over the bottle tighter than before. “You have to get all the air bubbles out,” he said as he ran his hands along the shaft of the bottle, “or else the condom could break.”

I thanked him for the advice and took a bite of ramen.

The condom is probably still there, and I suggest that if you’re in the Leigh kitchen you use the vegetable oil.

*Bennington safe sex kits are always kept in house kitchens, and I have become so used to seeing condoms while I cook that I don’t even make the connection anymore.