Skip to main content


Showing posts from February 15, 2009

Brat -- Writer's Poke #190

Panera Bread likes to know its customer. So when you place an order, they ask for your name. The local Panera still asks for your name even though they now hand out those coaster-size buzzers that let you know when your order is ready for pick up. And they still ask you for your name even if you hand them a credit card that has your name clearly imprinted on the front of it.

When I go there, I always give my name, and then I spell it out for them, just in case my tongue is overly lazy that day, or just in case the ever-attentive employee taking my order has pieces of cheese stuck in her ears.

My name is a one-syllable, four letter word. And this is what I say when they ask me my name: “Bret: B-R-E-T.”

When I pick up my order, I like to look at the receipt to see what they’ve heard me say. If they happen to spell Brett or Brent or even Brad, that’s no big deal. People often mistake a Bret for any one of those. But here’s the kicker: on multiple occasions, the name written on my receipt ha…

Center of the Universe -- Writer's Poke #189

Human beings are a funny lot.
For most of our history, we believed that we were the center of the universe, and that everything revolved around us. Guess what? Even though now we seemingly know better -- that the Earth revolves around the sun, that our sun is just one of billions of suns in billions of galaxies -- we don't. Most people simply don't sit around and contemplate how small and insignificant we -- and our planet, and our place in the universe -- really are.
What we lack, in other words, is perspective. And maybe that's a built-in defense mechanism. In fact, I'm sure it is.
Growing up, we all experience the same thing on an individual level, right? We all start out in life believing that we are the center of the universe. We are the protagonist in our own play, and everyone around us simply shares our stage. It's hard to think that with a planet of 7 billion people, even if we were "one in a million," that still means that there are thousands of pe…

Trading Lives -- Writer's Poke #188

I haven't always been conformable in this skin.

Back in junior high and high school, specifically, I would leaf through pictures in the yearbook and compare myself to the other guys. What does this guy have that I don't have, I'd ask?

One guy in particular was everyone's darling. But why the girls were ga-ga over him and not me, I never understood. I'm sure that there were times when I would have been glad to trade lives with him.

But during our senior year, the girl he was dating -- the girl that I, of course, wanted to be dating -- ended up pregnant. And when that happened, that pretty quickly put an end to me wishing to be him. Then, I was very thankful that I was me. Virgin, yes. But father, no.

Have you ever wanted to trade lives with someone? Why do you imagine that their life is so much better than your own?

"Enjoy your own life without comparing it with that of another." -- Marquis Condorcet

Hippos and Wheelbarrows -- Writer's Poke #187

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed in rain

beside the white

-- "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams

You know, I've taught "The Red Wheelbarrow" as a serious poem to my writing students for years and years. And I've told them that they could analyze it for a full 3-to-5 page essay. So, yes, I appreciate that poem.

But as I was brushing my hair this morning, I looked into the bathtub, saw some of Octavia's toys, and this "parody" just came to me. Then I wiped away a tear, knowing that I'll never be as widely anthologized for my stunning, impressionistic brilliance as W.C. Williams is.

Truth be told, I spent less than five minutes "composing" my poem, which is just about as long as it took Williams to write his. So why is Williams' poem famous and mine never will be? Is it just because he wrote his first? Is it because his objects are better than mine, somehow more essential to a symbolic understandi…

Truth and Taffy -- Writer's Poke #186

"Sometimes you tell the truth
Like you're pulling taffy."
-- from "Taffy" by Lisa Loeb

How in the world is pulling taffy related to telling the truth?

According to, pulling taffy "aerates it, or incorporates many tiny air bubbles throughout the candy. This makes it lighter and chewier."

The process itself can be quite strenuous to the one doing the pulling, because it requires "stretching it out and folding it in half, then stretching and folding again, over and over, until you may reach the point of exhaustion."

Now imagine telling the truth like this. But then remember the pay off -- a "lighter and chewier" truth.

Develop another metaphor for telling the truth that is as innovative and as descriptive as Lisa Loeb's "Taffy."

"If you're going to tell the truth, be funny of they'll kill you." -- Billy Wilder

American Idol Syndrome -- Writer's Poke #185

Some contestants on American Idol know they suck. They just want their fifteen minutes of fame, and if that means that they have to make asses of themselves, then that's exactly what they're willing to do.

Why we watch, though, and I admit it's a bit sad, is to see the hopes and dreams smashed to bits of those that genuinely believe they have Kelly Clarkson's voice. When they sing, they don't hear themselves as being capable of making dogs cry. Quite the opposite; these people think they're superstars.

What's even more scary is that some people are "tone deaf" in much more profound ways.

Take the political party you love to hate, the religious leader that has the direct hotline to God, or the smirking boss at work that never asks for your advice. Describe the attitude that makes people "tone deaf" to different ideas and alternative points of view.

"It's like Randy went deaf this year. I don't know what happened." -- Simon C…

How Many Months Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb? -- Writer's Poke #184

The florescent light in the bathroom worked fine, as long as you didn't switch it off. Doing so caused it to twitch and flicker. Sometimes it would come on full strength, but other times it wouldn't.

Our solution was a piece of grey tape. We put the grey tape over the light switch, and the light stayed on for six solid months.

The nearest Home Depot is only 3 miles away, and replacement bulbs cost less than $7. Swapping out a pair of florescent bulbs is not a major home improvement project, either. It takes about 5 minutes to unscrew the cover, take out the bulbs, and pop in the replacements.

Yet, no one wanted to go through the minor inconvenience of changing the light.

What's the most simple thing you've put off doing? For how long, and why?

"How soon 'not now' becomes 'never'." -- Martin Luther