One of my oldest friends told me, “You giving advice on romance is like me giving advice on how to be a lady.” I took her meaning right away, for while I love her a lot, she is to ladies what Chewbacca is to bunnies. I felt surprised though. My wife loves me, and I don’t remember blackmailing her or making her lick a hallucinogenic frog for her to marry me. I must have been a little romantic. I recall buying flowers a couple of times, and I replaced the kitchen faucet with a shiny one she liked. I think that’s pretty good for an eight year courtship.

But my friend got me wondering about romance and my understanding of it. I’m confident it has something to do with love, and greeting cards, and jewelry I can’t afford. And there seems to be a gargantuan commercial industry built around romance—maybe bigger than Halloween, which I find a bit chilling. It makes me feel that if I’m insufficiently romantic then I may be hurting the economy and destroying jobs.

I was my most romantic when I was still dating. Maybe I should call it courting. Courting sounds romantic, while dating sounds like a couple of tough t-bones and a Julia Roberts movie. Regardless, I tried to be romantic when I wanted a woman to like me a lot, or at least like me enough to consider having sex with me someday. Romance is about convincing a person that you cherish them and want them more than you want air. Which of course is a ridiculous lie, but underneath it sits a corresponding truth—you want them more than you want anyone else currently in the room with you.

Romance traditionally includes a lot of trappings and strategies, and maybe my friend meant that I’m not good with those. I don’t plan romantic dinners well, with fat guys playing violins by the table. I’m hopeless with jewelry. I didn’t even buy my wife a diamond for our engagement, although to be honest she didn’t want one—which just proves that I won the marriage derby. My love poetry is rather pedestrian, although it wouldn’t make a jackal barf. I do remember anniversaries and birthdays, so that’s in my favor, although my gifts lack panache. I don’t recommend giving your sweetheart a new garbage disposal for your 15th wedding anniversary.

I’m not a complete disaster. I show up with flowers now and then. I really shine when we pass a store window and my wife stops to look at something. I point to a random spot in the display and grunt, “Wow!” That encourages her to tell me what she really likes, which I could never have guessed even with a chainsaw poised over my privates. My best moment comes when my wife refuses to let me buy whatever she’s fallen in love with, and then I buy it anyway when she’s not looking. There are no mysteries there, and I can follow the logic. I just hope she remembers that when my mid-life crisis hits high gear and I tell her not to buy me that Ferrari.

However, I can tell the romance story from the man’s side. Somewhere on a holy wall in the Orient is written, “Guys don’t care about romance. They just care about sex.” I guarantee that this is a half-truth. Of course guys care about sex. But they do care about romance, just not about the romantic trappings like dinners and poetry. For guys, romance consists of certain things not happening. For example, when a woman dates a man just so he’ll pay her house payment, that sucks out the romance for him. When she only accompanies him to the prom in order to hit on his best friend, that’s a romance killer. When a woman marries a man only to break him of his bad habits and fix his obsession with fantasy football, the man can find no romance there. And so what if guys care about sex? Sex can be romantic if you take your shoes off. So for guys, romance may blow to a different point on the compass, but it still blows.

Although my friend says that I’m romance-defective, I have noticed one odd thing about love and romance. I can’t know what my wife wants unless she tells me. I have poor mind-reading skills, as I’ve demonstrated hundreds of times. On the other hand, I’m tasked with paying attention to what she wants and likes and so forth, so I can make a pretty good guess about what she wants in some future situation. This is the same skill that lets me stick my hand into a fire one time and then know that sticking my hand into other fires would not be good—except that it’s harder to do because I don’t have a burned up hand to motivate me. I have to think about it to do it. I have to be thoughtful, which means I have to be full of thought. I admit that throughout my romance career I may have been full of shit more often than I’ve been full of thought, but at least I recognize that I should be doing something here.

In the end, I agree that I’m not ready for any fancy romance maneuvers. So, I’ll stick to the basics. If I want to be romantic, I have to do some things to show you that I want her. Just saying it or thinking it really loud won’t cut it. These have to be things that she’ll like, and I have to do them in a way that she’ll enjoy. That means I must have some idea of what she likes, so I’d better pay attention and occasionally think about something besides my fantasy football draft. I hope all this will convince her to want me so much she’ll forget every dumb thing I’ve ever done. That’s up to her in the end I guess, unless I break out the hallucinogenic frogs.

I still don’t understand why my wife thought this was more romantic than paintball.

Today is my parents’ first wedding anniversary since my mom died a few months ago. It’s also her birthday. Yes, my mom got married on her birthday. She never saw the point in two or three small celebrations when you could have one big blow out. She liked everyone together having a good time, and she loved presents more than a junky loves crank. At a celebration she turned into an eight-year-old girl, instead of an elderly woman who needed to tell you how terrible everything was.

If she were alive, my parents would have reached their 54th anniversary today. I’m not sure what I would have given them. There’s no traditional symbol for the 54th anniversary, unlike the 1st (paper), the 50th (gold), and the 10th (tin). By the way, modern gift-giving experts have redefined the 10th anniversary as diamond jewelry, which is a far better deal for the happily married couple. The 50th is gold and the 55th anniversary gift should be emerald, but my folks wouldn’t have quite reached 55 today. I might have given them gold rings with crappy emeralds to balance things out. I bet she would have loved hers, regardless.

One of the websites I checked for gift ideas threw tradition out the window and recommended that movies are an appropriate theme for the 54th anniversary. They suggested that a framed poster from the movie Dial M for Murder would be a great anniversary gift. I am not fucking kidding you; check out the link. In case you don’t remember, this is a movie about a guy planning to kill his wife.

My dad lives in the house they shared for 52 years. He spends a lot of time in their dim front room, where they sat side by side in recliners from WalMart for the past 20 years or so. When I visit him I sit in my mom’s recliner, which feels weird as hell, but that’s where he wants me to sit. Sometimes he tells funny stories I’ve never heard—whenever my mom was in the room it was hard for us to get in on the conversation. He cries sometimes. Sometimes we talk about work, or politics, or broken air conditioners. I haven’t visited him as much as I should, so I need to rectify that.

Sometimes my dad tells his version of stories that my mom told. My dad’s version doesn’t even resemble my mom’s version. I mean, it’s clear that they’re supposed to be about the same event, but things happen in different ways, different people are there, they may happen in different places, they may even happen two or three years apart. These events seemed a lot more interesting and dramatic the way my mom described them, so I suspect my dad’s versions are more accurate. I’m starting to feel that my past is far different from what I thought it was, and much more boring as well.

My mom would be 76 years old today had she lived. It’s a respectable age, but still a good ways short of the average life span. Her cause of death is a bit mysterious. Her doctor wrote “necrosis” on the death certificate, which basically means that your body died. I’ve considered going to his office to say, “Well, we could see that, motherfucker!” but I doubt that would improve anything except the tight muscle in my shoulder where I’ve been holding myself back from punching him in the throat.

So, Happy Anniversary and Happy Birthday, mom. Everything ends, but I’m thinking about you today, so I suppose it hasn’t quite ended yet.

In these times jobs remain elusive, and many people are thrust into unemployment. Things are difficult now for working people, and they will be difficult again in the future. We want to find a job now, but we also want to find a job that will be in demand during the next economic crunch. We propose that most of us aren’t thinking far enough ahead. Why train for jobs that will survive the next recession, when we should train for jobs that will survive the coming apocalyptic destruction of society?

The jobs on that list are not those you might expect. For example, Environmentalist is a poor choice. That will become evident when they discover that bears don’t like people and that in order to stay warm you must be willing to burn something you find in nature. Similarly, Survivalists will not experience the joyride they may expect, once a thousand looters beat them to death with rocks and steal all their canned ham and 7.62mm ammunition.

Therefore, to assist in your long-term career planning we present the 10 jobs most likely to survive the coming apocalypse.

Psychic Reader: By surviving the apocalypse, a psychic reader will have demonstrable proof of their abilities. They will find a valuable place in any post-apocalyptic community by providing advice on love, family, money, and zombie blood rituals.

Zookeeper: Since most technology will be trashed, a zookeeper will find expanded opportunities. These will include handling 2-headed mutant draft horses, and husbandry planning for the giant goat-yak cross-breeds raised for food and their silky fur.

Technical Writer: Our entire technical civilization has been documented by technical writers in manuals that no other human has ever read. If we’re to access any of that technology in the post-apocalyptic world, tech writers will be needed to decode those writings.

Weatherman: In today’s world a weatherman exists to provide people the illusion that they can know at least one thing about what will happen tomorrow, so that they aren’t driven insane by existential trauma. The same will be true after the apocalypse. We expect that the accuracy of forecasts will not appreciably diminish.

Emergency Medical Technician: Those who survive the apocalypse are expected to be a hardy lot, but they will be prey to accidents, bio-engineered plague, and mutant chainsaw attacks. EMTs will be highly prized citizens after the apocalypse because they will go where the zombie attack is happening, and they will treat someone without first ordering two x-rays, an MRI, a blood draw, and psychiatric counseling.

Chemistry Professor: After the apocalypse we will need experts like chemistry professors to harness the elements around us in ways most of us have forgotten. We will need fuels, soap, solvents, and antiseptics. But mainly we’ll want these individuals because none of us will remember how to make beer, wine, or sour mash whiskey.

Retired Mechanic: After the apocalypse our access to machinery, fuel, and machine tools may be limited. Mechanics are likely to be of little use in our communities. However, there will always be a place for a retired mechanic who can yank 500 pounds of computers and plastic garbage out of a Silverado and replace them with a Chevy 350 V-8.

Golf Pro: Prior to the apocalypse a golf pro coached a golf enthusiast on swinging a 9-iron to connect with a golf ball. Post-apocalypse he will coach a desperate, under-nourished survivor on swinging a 9-iron to connect with the head of the zombie who just ate his brother. This is a completely transferrable skill set.

Romance Novelist: Post-apocalyptic communities will face a challenge in repopulating the human species. Not only will it be difficult to find some snuggle time between giant irradiated bug attacks, but everyone will suffer from radiation burns, open sores, and malformations of all imaginable kinds. If this isn’t the time for a story about a bare-chested pirate rescuing a naked girl from headhunters and a volcano, I don’t know when that time would be.

Administrative Assistant: In the immediate aftermath of the apocalypse humanity will lynch all the supervisors and managers, and quite rightly too. Into this leadership vacuum will step administrative assistants. They have long employed their powers of influence and coercion to get people to do all manner of stupid things, and they did it without a shred of actual authority. They will be the bedrock upon which the future post-apocalyptic civilization shall stand.

I’d say they could use a romance novel or two around there.

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.
Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and
Demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life,
Beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and
Its purpose in the service of your people.

Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend,
Even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and
Bow to none. When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and
For the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks,
The fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and nothing,
For abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts
Are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes
They weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again
In a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.

– Tecumseh, 1768 – 1813

We’re never as dangerous as when we think we’re wise. At least I’m not. I’m always full of opinions about people who watch reality TV, or smoke, or wear their pants below their ass crack. I may talk about them, or give them dubious looks. It makes me feel a little better. But sometimes I start thinking I should prevent them from doing these things, and that’s when I fall into dangerous-as-a-panther-dropping-acid territory.

I don’t object to laws against stealing, killing, and other awful behaviors. Those have been thought about and tested by thousands of people over thousands of years. It’s like they’ve been crash tested, and they turned out to be Volvos. But when I think I’m so wise I can build a car in my backyard and let someone drive it into a wall, that’s unlikely to go well.

I get outraged by people who are shitty parents. I defy anyone to argue that some parents are not awful and repugnant in a way that poisons the soul. I think, “Jeez, if I could have stopped them from being parents, I would have.” I also think, “What the hell? People need a license to go out and shoot a deer between the eyes, but they can just have a kid because they think it would be neat?”

Sometimes I bitch to my friends about this. I’m blowing off steam and rockin’ on the injustice of it all. Then I think, “I can fix this. There ought to be a law.” That’s when I walk into the land of the dangerous panther. Until that point I’ve been complaining, but now I think I’m wise enough to make people do things and fix the whole problem. It took a wise fellow like Solomon to suggest cutting a baby in half. How much wisdom does it take to decide which people don’t deserve any baby parts at all?

My problem is that I wouldn’t get to see the parents act like insane baboons with their kid first, and then afterwards decide whether to let them have a kid. They’d already have the kid by then. So I’d have to make a prediction. That’s also known as a guess wearing a suit and tie.

Or, maybe I could look at them with their first kid and then decide whether to let them have any more. But even that’s tricky, because this all deals with who is allowed to exist and who isn’t. If I’m deciding whether other people’s children can exist, I’d better be pretty damned wise. Or, I’d better I hire wise people. And I’d better hope that after I’m dead the people making existence decisions don’t say to hell with being wise, and just tell the people they don’t like to shut up and forget having kids.

But I can be optimistic. Maybe I’m wise, and the people who come along after me will be wise, and everybody and his pet goat ends up being a wise, wise fellow. Maybe I can predict with complete accuracy who will be a whirling natural disaster as a parent. Victory! Let’s get a beer and get laid!

But wait—I see a flatulent hog rooting in my re-ordered garden of existence. Horrible parents don’t always create horrible children, and horrible children don’t always grow into horrible adults. In fact, if someone could have predicted my childhood, they would have almost certainly prohibited my existence, and I wouldn’t be around to comb my wife’s hair and ignore the weeds in my yard because I’m watching Blazing Saddles.

In the end, I haven’t even shown that I’m wise enough to stay away from wallpapering a bathroom. That’s not a good wisdom resume. I might bitch all I want about horrific parents, but as far as deciding who can and can’t exist, I guess I’ll stay out of what people do with their happy parts.

Besides, I may be busy passing other laws. I’m starting to change my mind about those pants-below-the-ass-crack guys.

Should this child have been allowed to exist? We’re still not really sure.

 

Do they smoke dope at an elvish solstice festival?

I know it sounds like a frivolous question, but I grappled with it for several hours yesterday. You see, I’m writing a story about Santa Claus, and he’s an elf, and the next thing that happens in the story requires a bunch of elves all together in a jolly horde. So, I needed to create an elvish solstice festival. Obviously. But then I had to describe the damn thing.

What do big groups of elves do for fun? I’m not talking about those gangly, pasty Tolkien elves that creep me out, and that would creep you out too if you met one of the pouty, immortal bastards. I’m talking about happy elves that clean your house in the middle of the night and make toys and steal your firstborn child if you can’t guess their name. You know, elf hijinx. But what do big gangs of them do for a good time?

I thought of lots of things they might do. Dancing around elf-sized solstice-poles, holding shoe making contests, dueling with candy canes, and so forth. None of it seemed right. I liked the image of the teenage, future St. Nick and his friends hiding behind a giant toadstool and smoking a joint. But that didn’t seem right either. I felt like a crummy writer. I hated my brain, and I wanted to beat it to death with tequila.

My fourth tequila shot reminded me of something I learned in improvisational acting. When you want to start a scene, don’t think about something happening. Go with an emotion.

Okay, you may not relate to that, so try this. Think about when you were five years old and you wanted to tell a fib. Some enlightened parents call it telling a story. My parents called it being a lying little shit. Whatever you call it, you needed to tell something that wasn’t true. It’s just like being a writer, except that five-year-olds don’t get paid, and writers don’t get paid either, but they get lots of rejection letters that make them think about tequila and smoking dope.

Anyway, your five-year-old self may start his lie with, “What happened was, I was standing in the kitchen, and then I was just playing, you know, and just standing there petting the dog, and then the dog jumped on the table and then knocked the baby on the floor…” You know the whole time you’re talking that you knocked the baby on the floor when you climbed the height chair to grab a fist full of cake frosting. This pathetic lie ends with you locked in the broom closet for a week and fed only spaghetti noodles slid under the door. All because you just talked about stuff happening.

Instead, go with emotion. You should start your lie with a hurricane of tears, and then shriek, “The baby’s going to die! Don’t let the dog kill me too!” This is more like it. Your mom is so freaked out that she never considers you might be a lying little shit. This lie ends with the dog tied to a stake in the backyard and you getting a popsicle.

So how did Mr. Tequila help my five-year-old self create an elvish solstice festival? Instead of trying to imagine what was happening at this festival, I took each character in the story and wrote about his favorite thing at the festival, and why it was his favorite thing. It didn’t exactly write itself, and the four tequila shots didn’t help. But when I’d finished it felt right and made sense, and I had a realistic place for my characters to do some dumb stuff. Well, as realistic as an elvish festival can get.

And no, they don’t smoke dope at an elvish solstice festival. Snorting lines of pixie dust is another matter.

Yeah, we know what’s in that pipe, Sparky.

I’m participating in Six Sentence Sunday, a cool effort that invites authors to post six sentences from one of their works on Sunday morning. Six Sentence Sunday will then link the post on their site. It’s a slick concept, and I encourage everyone to check it out. This post is six sentences from my not-yet-published novel “No Good Deals.”

After drawing a huge breath and wishing for scorpions that stayed properly on the ground, Desh dropped and crawled after the woman into the wasp-swarming thicket. The wasps treated him kindly, in the sense that many of them shared their venom with him, injecting it into his flesh where he would be unlikely to mislay it. At the first sting he failed to muffle a squeak. A mahogany hand flashed towards his face, mashed his nose between its fingers, and gave it the kind of twist used to wring a chicken’s neck. Another cry rose to his lips, but he crushed it down since the hand remained poised like a claw before his face, every digit ready to deal out pain. Desh swallowed and accepted the numerous wasp stings as a kind of penance for being stupid enough to be alive.

Please check out some of the other authors linked at Six Sentence Sunday.

Some of my friends tell me I think too much when I write posts for my blog. I can’t say they’re wrong, because I haven’t tried to just whip off a post. So, here goes.

I’ve started working on another novel. Smart writers convinced me that I need to stop editing the two novels I’ve written. I met some unpublished novelists like me a few weeks ago, and they invariably told me one of two stories. A startling number had finished their novel, but they needed another month to “polish” it. That month of polishing had lasted anywhere from several months to several years. The rest had finished polishing their novel, and they had engaged someone to edit it. Now they were fighting with the editor, who clearly didn’t know a god damn thing because he kept making stupid suggestions. Some of these writers had fired their editor and were now working with their second or third editor, who was also a moron.

I heard about a whole lot of novels that were 99% finished. So to hell with that. I’m declaring my novels 100% finished, and I’m moving on. I’m shooting queries to agents all right, but I’m not waiting around for responses. And I’m not spending all of my time on social media to build my “platform.” (A platform is the group of people out on the internet who think that you’re kind of neat and who theoretically might buy a book you wrote.)

One of the coolest things I heard recently is that “books sell books.” You’re a lot more likely to make fans if you have five books on the shelves than if you have one book on the shelves. Plus, you’re likely to become a better writer with every book you write. So, I can’t ignore all that platform stuff, but right now my mission is to write more books, and I’d better not forget it.

I don’t have a working title for my new book yet, but I can tell you about it in one sentence. It’s the story of how Santa Claus went from being a juvenile delinquent to being the world’s best loved jolly old elf. I’ve done a lot of character and plot work, and I started writing last night. Just for fun, here’s the first draft of the first couple of paragraphs. I expect that by the fourth edit these paragraphs will be quite different. I might not even use any of the same words, including “the” and “as.”

*****

Santa Claus is a bastard.

I mean that literally, since his elfin mother once sat under the moon with an earnest fellow just as young and dewy as she was. They had a jolly time, although maybe it was a bit too jolly. Even that would have been fine, except he had the bad manners to walk off into the forest one day and never come back. When she at last found a husband and became Mrs. Kringle, she brought along her son Kris, who was just like that useless bowl you can’t throw away when you move into a new cottage, because it was a gift from a wealthy aunt.

In addition to being a bastard, Kris Kringle can act like a bastard. At least he’s a bastard to me sometimes, and I’m his friend. In fact, the first thing he ever said to me was, “Stop rolling around and whining, everybody will think you’re a baby.” This was out behind the Aething House, where teenage elves learn their trades and bully each other with minor tricks like making someone’s shoes shrink to the size of a goose egg. That’s not as much fun as you’d think when it’s your feet in the goose eggs. On that particular day my feet were the ones being crushed, and I did roll, whine, grunt, claw, and plead in the snowy yard behind the house.

*****

So there you go—a blog post I whipped off in a few minutes. It was kind of liberating, in an “I have no idea whether that sucked” kind of way.

Since this is a kind of random post, I kind of randomly tossed in this photo I took of my wife.

 

 

 

I used to think I was a pretty smart guy. That was because I knew what an imaginary number was and I remembered the difference between Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. I didn’t think I was a genius, mind you—just pretty smart. I now realize something though. Yes, I’m fairly smart, but no, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.

We have this idea that exceptionally smart people are on top of the world, but I think that’s false. We don’t generally embrace the geniuses among us and reward them with charming tidbits. Say on one hand you have a woman who engineers bridges so that they don’t fall down, and on the other hand you have a guy who bats .372 in the playoffs. Which one of them has a fan club and a Lamborghini for each day of the week?

Please don’t misunderstand me, I think that raw intelligence is a wonderful thing. If I need open heart surgery, I don’t want a surgeon who’s sitting around watching Jackass II before the operation. And smart people have helped us a lot throughout history. Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein didn’t exactly spend their time counting on their toes and eating paste.

On the other hand, just last month I met the dumbest guy with a 160 IQ I ever ran across. Have you met this guy? He’s obviously brilliant, but he understands so little about the world he lives in that he’s unable to accomplish a single damned thing. If he wore barbed wire briefs to dampen his intellectual prowess, he might be better off.

Raw intellectual power is like a keyhole saw. If you need to cut a hole for a doorknob, a keyhole saw is invaluable. For a slew of specialized jobs, if you don’t have a keyhole saw you are practically paralyzed. If you don’t have a keyhole saw and instead use a different tool, like a rubber mallet, things are not going to go well.

But the great majority of jobs in your garage are not keyhole saw jobs. For example, if you try to re-wire a chandelier with your keyhole saw, no fun will be involved in the process. If you are lucky enough to have a keyhole saw, by all means keep it in your toolbox, but realize that you’ll only need it for special jobs. As any handyman knows, most of your jobs in life are best handled with duct tape and WD-40. With them you can do just about anything (doorknob installation notwithstanding).

So if raw intellect is like a keyhole saw, then what qualities are like duct tape and WD-40? Well, I’m sure everybody has their own theories about that. I personally try to understand them in terms of our distant ancestors. Considering those ancestors, I think that duct tape is the skill of working nicely with the rest of the clan so that they don’t throw you out of the cave into the snow to die. And WD-40 is paying close enough attention to the world around you so that you can hide from the saber-tooth tiger before it eats your ass.

This kind of thing is useful every day. How often do you need to conjugate a verb or interpolate a logarithmic function? (painting and photo by Cyn McCurry)

 

 

 

I’m participating in Six Sentence Sunday, a cool effort that invites authors to post six sentences from one of their works on Sunday morning. Six Sentence Sunday will then link the post on their site. It’s a slick concept, and I encourage everyone to check it out. This post is six sentences from my essay “The Secret of Love,” which is available in my book Bring Us The Head Of The Velveteen Rabbit.

Love just mystifies the hell out of me. I can certainly recognize it when it wanders by. But love’s like a really slick cell phone; I can see the cool stuff happening, but I don’t have the first idea how it works. I’m absolutely a falling in love kind of guy. But I’m also a falling off the ladder kind of guy, and I understand the inner workings of love no better than I understand the inner workings of gravity.

Please check out some of the other authors linked at Six Sentence Sunday.