Monthly Archives: June 2014

Goodbye, Bobby Womack (1944-2014)

Bobby Womack

Bobby Womack is one of the greatest soul singers in music history.

Fact.

Known for his raspy voice and storyteller’s approach to songwriting and performing, Womack began recording music in the early 1960s and never stopped. Some of his best-known songs include Across 110th Street, Harry Hippie, Lookin’ for a Love, and That’s the Way I Feel About Cha. He released over 30 studio and live albums and as many singles during his career, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.

Womack died Friday at age 70.

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A relatively recent live clip if Bobby singing “Harry Hippie”

An old clip of Womack performing “Lookin’ for a Love” on Soul Train (with a bonus bad-ass intro from the late Don Cornelius). Fortunately, Bobby was much better at songwriting than lip-syncing!

Sorry, the best looking and sounding clip I could find of “Across a 110th Street” is the title sequence from the film Jackie Brown.

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Sourland Mountain Preserve, NJ- PART II

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In my continuing half-hearted quest to prove that New Jersey is more than stacks of shipping containers along the turnpike and The Sopranos,  I bring you fresh images from the Sourland Mountain Preserve near my apartment. Last time I told you about the glacial deposit at the top, and this time I have pictures.

I took a personal day today to recharge the mental batteries and thought the weather was perfect for a hike. It turns out it was pretty bleeping hot, but a little sweat never hurt anyone.

The Sourland trails are very rocky and can be steep in places. Bring your good ankles.

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So it was a good thing I had these brand new trail walkers to break in. Thanks, Sketchers, for making a pair wide enough for my chimp feet. I will sell out for money in a heartbeat, so, Sketchers people, I can easily put your shoes on my characters’ feet for the right price. Call me.

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Some scenery on the way up

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Things do not seem to have worked out for Jim and Laura. Sad.

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The glacial deposit

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It’s quite remarkable that glacial ice was able to carve the words “hey babe” into this boulder over 12,000 years ago.

 

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From reading your blogs, I know some of you aren’t crazy about the word “selfie” or the concept. So sorry for this. I was lying on a slanted flat boulder, hence the weird angle. Yeah, my shirt is two-toned from sweat. It’s humid in NJ this time of year. And, yeah, that’s the strap from my man purse. I never go anywhere without it.

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Looks like the Sourland ghost from last time has a pal now. “Bye,” says Mr. Yellow Ghost Owl Bat.

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Writing in a Corporate Environment

superman typing

We are lucky. As writers, we have many avenues for expressing ourselves. For example, we could start a blog post with a long, boring list of poetry types and fiction genres and so on, which is probably where you thought I was going with this third sentence. Please slap me if I ever get that boring and predictable.

Nay. I assume you’ve already heard of Haiku and will now move on to the steak and potatoes.

Being a bestselling novelist is the top of the pops for writing cachet. Successful screenplays will get you more free cocaine and hookers, but the average consumer is unlikely to know who wrote the latest Transformers script. They certainly know who Stephen King and Dan Brown are.

For most of us in the real world, getting noticed for our work, much less getting paid, is a challenge. Going into journalism is perhaps the most obvious path to writing for money and getting your name in lights (if people’s laptop screens count as “lights”). Unless you have been living on an island and thought the Panama invasion was still going on, you know that staff journalists are an endangered species and that most bylined writers are freelancers now. This is great for everybody. The news and entertainment organizations don’t have to pay health benefits and can grind you up like old newspaper in a shredder, and you… Okay. Maybe it’s just good for them.

However, the least glamorous, most anonymous and unheralded writing you can do is corporate writing. It’s also the steadiest paycheck.

Corporate writing doesn’t earn you a byline. Chances are, the reader will never know your name. You write training manuals and reports and summaries and evaluations and proposals and other documents read by other people in other office buildings. No one cares about your personal expression. Your writing voice is The Company.

Then, every two weeks, they hand you a check. And you go, “Yeah, boy,” because now you can pay rent and stock up on cupcakes and buy stuff you don’t need on Amazon.

If you’re thinking of taking your writing skills to the corporate world but need more 411, here are some pros and cons:

Pro: Duh. I already told you: paycheck. And you don’t convince anyone to let you write for money. They give you stuff to write.

Con: They give you stuff nobody else wants to or can write.

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Con: You know how sometimes you just don’t feel like writing ‘cause you’re tired and not in the mood? Guess what. Deadlines don’t care about your mood, and neither does your boss. You gotta suck it up and write for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, or they’ll find someone else.

Pro: You learn to meet deadlines. There’s no procrastination when a client needs a report by 2 p.m. and you got the assignment at 1 p.m. You’ll end up managing your personal writing time better, too.

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Con: Sometimes you hit The Wall, and I don’t mean that quasi-religious song by Kansas (it’s on their Leftoverture album). I mean, sometimes your work is repetitious in ways you can’t imagine if you’ve never done cubicle writing. Like last year when I had to write about 85 unique evaluations based on 85 nearly identical data sets in one week. My desk still has the indentation where I smacked my forehead into it around report #60.

Pro: You learn discipline. You power through, and you feel like a professional knowing that lesser humans would have cracked.

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Pro: Everyone thinks you’re smart. Unlike math experts who don’t get to show off their number skills very often in conversation, writers have opportunities to strut their stuff every day. During a recent meeting, I fumbled in search of a word, and a co-worker from another department was so happy. She said she feels nervous speaking in front of us and was glad to know we have our inarticulate moments too.

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Pro: You are often surrounded by like-minded people who can’t find a damn agent, either. Misery loves company?

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Pro: You learn new writing skills, like composing the dull-sounding stuff I described above. Hey, you can do something you couldn’t do before!

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Con: After staring at a monitor all day, the last thing you want to do at home is stare some more.

Pro: I have no pro. Trying to get motivated after work writing all day is my biggest struggle, only ever overcome through discipline and inconsistent bouts of inspiration. Then again, I haven’t tried the cocaine-and-hookers route yet.

 

Talk to me!


One more thing about commas…

They aren’t periods.

"Run-on sentences? Game over!"

“Run-on sentences? Game over!”

When a writer uses a comma where a period belongs, he creates a run-on sentence. We all know this. We all know what a run-on sentence looks like. Yet, I see this error quite often, even from experienced writers.*

In terms of language mechanics, if a writer makes two full statements in one sentence but doesn’t have an and, but, so, which, or some other conjunction after the comma (or at the very beginning), he needs a period instead. Consider the following hypothetical recap of the latest Game of Thrones episode.

“The shows featured lots of gratuitous nudity, there was oodles of killing too.”

This is a run-on sentence. It’s pretty obvious when we read it but not always when we write one like it ourselves. After my comma-themed post the other day, a few commenters mentioned that their primary-school teachers had advised them years ago to put a comma wherever they felt they would pause if speaking the sentence aloud. I have no background as an educator of children, so perhaps those teachers understood something I don’t about child development. Still, that seems like terrible advice. People pause between sentences, don’t they?

Here are more examples:

“My trip to Tokyo was a disaster, Godzilla showed up and smashed the department store.”

“Life was miserable for Jan Brady growing up, her sisters got all the attention.”

Godzilla! Godzilla! Godzilla!

Godzilla! Godzilla! Godzilla!

When you revise your latest writing project, be it a novel, blog post, essay, short story, memoir, manifesto, confession, or ransom note, read it aloud. If something sounds choppy, check to see if you didn’t accidently let a run-on sentence slip in there. It might have felt like a proper sentence when you wrote it because of how you mentally phrased it, but if there’s no conjunction after the comma, and the second clause sounds like a complete sentence with a subject, you have a run-on. Let’s revisit one of the examples.

“My trip to Tokyo was a disaster, Godzilla showed up and smashed the department store.”

This sentence has two subjects: your trip to Tokyo and Godzilla. These are excellent subjects but maybe not when crammed together like that. We could turn it into two sentences, as in, “My Trip to Tokyo was a disaster. Godzilla showed up and smashed the department store.”

Another option is to employ a conjunction. “My trip to Tokyo was a disaster, because Godzilla showed up and smashed the department store.”

You can also stick a conjunction at the beginning. “Since her sisters got all the attention, Jan Brady was miserable growing up.”

Or, as I prefer, “My trip to Tokyo was awesome! Jan Brady was miserable because Godzilla smashed the department store, so she allowed the festering rage within to take control, which manifested itself in the form of an instant growth spurt that turned her into a 400-foot-tall, lighting-spitting middle sister. I watched in stunned silence as the titans engaged in a death battle and laid waste to a once-gleaming metropolis.”

See. I told you I am a writer. You think a goon like Hemingway could have conceived that?

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*When I do one of these punctuation or grammar posts, I may imply the error I’m discussing is encountered with alarming frequency. Let’s just say, instead, that the error under discussion happens often enough that I wrote a post about it.

To help confuse you, I created this meaningless chart. It’s pure nonsense, but I advise you to keep your errors in the blue area anyway. Let those green and maroon bastards take all the heat.

We apologize. Rabid weasels hacked into our servers and inserted offensive content into this chart. Rest assured that category 4 does not in any way represent your face or suggest that your face has errors.

We apologize. Rabid weasels hacked into our servers and inserted offensive content into this chart. Rest assured that category 4 does not in any way represent your face, your loved one’s faces, or the faces of anyone living or dead. We also regret that a chart about errors has an error. 


Sentence clauses and where to put the comma. With gratuitous nudity.

Warning: The naked monster in this picture has nothing to do with the content below and is therefore gratuitous.

Warning: The naked monster in this picture has nothing to do with the content below and is therefore gratuitous.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to think up an enticing blog post title when your topic is sentence clauses? That’s about as unsexy a thing as can be discussed. My other options were Full Frontal Commas and When Punctuation Marks Hook Up, but I ultimately decided “sentences clauses” and “comma” both belonged because the union of those two language elements is what we’re talking about today.

I’m willing to bet that when writers express worry about their punctuation skills, their chief grief is commas. Like, when to use one and where to put it (by the way, if you block out the rest of this post, you have to admit what I just wrote could be sexy). Today I shall discuss one aspect of comma use: when they are required to separate sentence clauses and when they are not.

The guidelines are pretty simple. If you have a dependent clause, you don’t need a comma, and if you have an independent clause, you do need a comma. Important note: Dependent and independent clauses are typically separated by “and” or “but.”

But sometimes, to even the most experienced writer, grammar talk sounds like bleeeeeaaaaaaahhhhhhh grldlugnk fzzznuh. Therefore, I shall provide examples.

A sentence with a dependent clause:

Im-Ho-Tep, pre bling

Im-Ho-Tep, pre bling

Im-Ho-Tep was awakened from his ancient slumber and began killing the archeologists who disturbed his tomb.

Two things happened in that sentence. Im-Ho-Tep woke up, and he began killing archeologists. Each thing is described by a clause (as well as separated by “and”). I made the second clause dependent (without a comma) because the two things are connected. He was awakened and killed the people who woke him up, kind of like I wanted to kill the garbage truck that woke me up this morning at 5:45.

By technical definition, the second clause is dependent because it depends on the first half of the sentence for meaning. Began killing the archeologists who disturbed his tomb does not have enough information to be a sentence. It’s missing a subject.

Here’s one with an independent clause:

Im-Ho-Tep awoke from his ancient slumber, and he quickly decided to ditch the yellowed wrapping in favor of Versace and some nice bling.

I made the second half an independent clause because, while the subject (Im-Ho-Tep) does not change, the two actions aren’t directly related. By technical definition, the second clause is independent because it stands alone as a complete thought or idea. He quickly decided to ditch the yellowed wrapping in favor of Versace and some nice bling works as a sentence.

To recap: If your second clause depends on the first to make sense, you do not need a comma because the thoughts are not separate. If your second clause stands alone from your first clause as a functionally independent statement, you do need a comma. More examples follow…

Dependent:

Countess Dracula climbed out of her coffin and ventured into the night in search of human blood.

Two ideas are expressed and are separated by “and,” but ventured into the dark night in search of human blood is incomplete by itself.

Independent:

Countess Dracula gazed longingly into the eyes of her human beverage container, and he gave it up to her after deciding there were far worse ways to die.

In this case, he gave it up to her after deciding there were far worse ways to die could be a sentence by itself, so you need a comma.

OK. It got a teeny bit sexy at the end.

OK. It got a teeny bit sexy near the end.

Dependent (with “but”):

Larry was bitten by a werewolf but did not transform into one until the night of the next full moon.

Did not transform into one until the night of the next full moon is not a complete sentence. No comma.

Independent (with “but”):

Larry became a drooling, uncontrollable savage last night, but that happens every weekend at his frat house.

That happens every weekend at his frat house is a complete sentence. Yes comma.

This is hardly a comprehensive explanation of when to use commas and when not to when composing a two-clause sentence, but I think the other scenarios are more intuitive.

Thoughts, comments, monetary donations are welcome below.

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Goodbye, Rik Mayall (1958-2014)

Rik Mayall

Rik Mayall

As a child of the 1980s raised on MTV, I remember three things about that channel:

1. World Premiere Videos by Journey, Michael Jackson, and Duran Duran

2. Headbangers Ball on Saturday night

3. The Young Ones

Gen Xers should know The Young Ones, the utterly demented British TV series about the four worst college students in the whole world: Neil the Hippie, Vyvyan the punk rocker, Mike the vertically challenged Casanova, and Rick the anarchist.

The Young Ones: Nigel Planer (Neil), Rik Mayall (Rick), Christopher Ryan (Mike), Adrian Edmondson (Vyvyan)

The Young Ones: Nigel Planer (Neil), Rik Mayall (Rick), Christopher Ryan (Mike), Adrian Edmondson (Vyvyan)

Though it ran for only 12 episodes, The Young Ones made a lasting impact on us MTV children. Everyone had a favorite character, but every good sitcom has a villain, and in this case, that villain was Rick. Played to the max by comedian Rik Mayall, he fancied himself a budding Che Guevara but, to his endless frustration, was viewed by the rest of the world as a pimple-faced twit.

Mayall went on to star in the cult hit Drop Dead Fred (1991) and appeared on hundreds of BBC shows since. He died today at age 56.

Sayonara, Mr. Mayall. You made me laugh.

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A few Young Ones clips featuring Rik Mayall and friends (see if you can pick out some famous faces amongst the guest stars):


The Banality of My Own Evil

AKA – How I helped kill the bookstore through depraved indifference

chimp feet3I’m going to take a guess and say our local Borders bookstore occupied its spot for about 18 years. Perhaps it was more like 20 years or as few as 15. Anyway, Borders always appealed to me more than Barnes and Noble because it seemed less corporate. Inside and out, it lacked B&N’s architectural finesse and refinement of design. It was a bunch of tall shelves full of books with no particular sense of order. They cared more about books and less about coffee shops. It felt authentic.

They offered obscure titles, too, as if they were a cool bookstore in the city rather than a boring one in the suburbs.

So was it two years ago they closed? Three? It’s hard to say for sure, since we all saw it coming for ages. This much I recall: Who didn’t feel bummed out when it finally happened?

Whenever a big store closes, some are sad, but we are also intrigued by what might replace it. In the case of my local Borders, they put in a DSW, which, if you are unfamiliar, is basically a warehouse store for shoes.

Are you kidding? They took away our bookstore and replaced it with a shoe store? How boring. Row after row after row of shoes on display with the boxes crammed right underneath, self-serve style. I’d bet that a single DSW has the combined inventory of an entire shopping mall’s worth of shoe stores and then some.

Yawn.

Thing is, I have chimpanzee feet. Thanks to a dreadful experiment conducted by a mad scientist named Dr. Moreau, I was changed from one primate species to another… except the equipment malfunctioned before the transformation was complete.

[I’ll let you guess whether I changed from human to chimp or chimp to human]

Because I am burdened with chimpanzee feet, my shoe options are rather limited. I needed new shoes for the office and a pair of trail hikers for the summer. To find those items in size 8.5, quadruple wide, I pretty much had to hit up DSW.

Saturday, I entered the retail space that formerly housed tens of thousands of books and walked out with two pairs of shoes in size 8.5, 4E.

Standing there on the sidewalk in front of the store, the transaction from moments earlier replayed in my mind: The cashier scanning the bar codes and telling me the total, me handing over my Visa card, the cashier swiping it, me signing the little screen with the rubber pen, and the cashier giving me a receipt and a shopping bag.

I waited for a car to pass then crossed the lane to the parking lot, disturbed by the realization I had just spent more money at DSW in 2 minutes than I had at Borders in 18 years.

*****

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