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Showing posts from December 28, 2008

Discovering Worlds -- Writer's Poke #141

For Writers:

I came to reading fiction rather by accident. Before I entered college, I read, but mainly just magazines like Sports Illustrated and Newsweek. It was not my habit to haunt bookstores, and my experiences in high school English classes gave me little encouragement to see what I might be missing. It's difficult to imagine a time when the names Vonnegut, Hemingway, and Steinbeck meant nothing to me, but the truth is, I had no one to show me the way.

Then, one of my first college English instructors gave our class her personal reading list. Here were over 500 books that she had read from cover to cover. That intrigued me. Why would anyone dedicate so much time to reading? But she asked each of us to read a book from the list, and I selected Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

It sounds cliche to say, but Shelley took me to another world. And in short order, I read Animal Farm and 1984 and Lord of the Flies and Slaughter-house Five and on and on and on. It was never my intention…

Chance -- Writer's Poke #140

For Writers:

I didn't know how to use the telephone. It never occurred to me that I could invite friends over to my house. Instead, I would stay home on Friday nights, wondering what other kids were doing. Why didn't they call me? Why didn't they invite me over to their house? Once in a while somebody did, but more often than not, I spent the night at home alone, reading a magazine. Wondering.

When I was old enough to drive a car, I would sometimes drive around town, sometimes aimlessly, but sometimes purposely. I would drive past the houses of people I knew, hoping that someone might be outside. That would give me the excuse to stop. Then I could say, "Hey, I was just driving by, and I happened to see you." But I almost never saw anyone, and the idea of stopping to knock on somebody's door was much too forward for my taste.

For the longest time I lived by the philosophy of: If it happens, it happens. Unfortunately, even when I tried to increase my odds of makin…

Leaving My Mark -- Writer's Poke #139

For Writers:

It was the middle of the night, and I really couldn't remember where I was. The room was completely dark, and I stumbled over to the corner.

A picture of Marilyn Monroe hung on the wall, and her face seemed to emit a faint glow. Under her picture was a small cabinet. Still half asleep, I pulled open one of the drawers and thought I was standing in front of a urinal.

Before I could do any damage, Matt walked through the door, saw what I was about to do to his cabinet, and suggested that I might want use the toilet in his bathroom instead. With the flip of the light switch, the room got bright, and the cabinet that I thought was a urinal became a cabinet again.

Describe your most embarrassing moment; or, tell a story about the most inappropriate place that you've ever used the bathroom.

"Excuse me, everybody, I have to go to the bathroom. I really have to telephone, but I'm too embarrassed to say so." -- Dorothy Parker

Loose Lips -- Writer's Poke #138

For Writers:

When the party was over, she followed him upstairs to the bedroom. I had had too much to drink, and I was going to sleep on the couch downstairs. But at the moment, I wasn't tired. The idea of her going upstairs played over and over again in my mind.

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door; it was the neighbor from the adjacent apartment. We knew each other, but we weren't friends. He asked me if I had seen this girl, and I explained that she had gone upstairs with the party's host. At the time, I didn't realize that she and the neighbor were dating. And apparently, I wasn't in control of my mouth. I told the neighbor some pretty mean things about this girl and how slutty she was to go upstairs to my friend's bedroom.

The next morning when I woke up, the girl had apparently already left, but as I was preparing to leave myself, she came back. And when she saw me, she tore into me. How could I, she asked, tell the neighbor those awful things about her? …

The Facts of Life -- Writer's Poke #137

For Writers:

I'm tempted to quote the theme song from the 1980s television show "The Facts of Life," but I won't. For those of you familiar with the show, I'm sure that the song is already starting to play on an endless loop inside your mind.

And for that, I apologize.

But on a more serious note, are there any "facts of life"? We live in an age where everything is relative. Most people seem scared to take a position or to stand up for something that they believe in. And anyway, as we all know, belief and facts don't always go together.

Your mission, if you're up to the challenge, is simply this: list as many facts about life as you can. And then, take it to the next level. Take those facts, and develop your life philosophy. For those of you that already have a life philosophy, don't impose your philosophy on the facts. Come up with the list of facts first, and then create your philosophy solely from those facts.

It will be interesting to see if y…

The Gift of Childhood -- Writer's Poke #136

For Writers:

When I was five years old, I had rather simple pleasures. For Christmas that year, I would have been happy getting Lego's, tinker-toys, or stuffed animals. Heck, I would have been happy getting a fuzzy pillow. I loved fuzzy pillows.

My grandparents' gift to me, however, taught me that the simple pleasures of a five year old boy weren't proper. It was time, they said, that I grew up. After all, I was five, and I had had my opportunity to have a childhood.

The gift they gave me was a "grown up" gift. It was a lamp with a little porcelain figure of a boy standing as part of the base. I think I tried to hide my disappointment when I saw what they had given to me, for that was the kind of polite boy I was.

This was 1978, so my grandparents would have been 71 and 69; they both came from modest backgrounds, lived through the Great Depression, and believed that childhood was somehow just an unnecessary luxury. Their gift to me was practicality; being a child jus…

Crazy English

This one is for the English teachers out there:


1. The bandage was wound around the wound.

2. The farm was used to produce produce.

3. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4. We must polish the Polish furniture.

5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10. I did not object to the object.

11. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

12. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

13. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

14. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

15. They were too close to the door to close it.

16. The buck does funny things when the does are present.

17. A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

18. To help with plan…