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Is Fart a Bad Word?

The mythical definition of fart was- “an explosion between the legs.”(image via wikimedia)

Nobody wants to talk about farts.  I understand that.  When I was a kid, kids would get into trouble for farting, but it was worse if we said the word fart.  The word fart has a history, so it’s worth talking about it.  Plus, saying the word fart is fun, so much fun that I had to make a video of it.

If you’re grossed out by farts, I understand, but I don’t think the video is all that gross.  There aren’t any sound effects or foul smells.  This is purely about the word fart.

Dr. Seuss vs. Read Across America

Read Across America Day is approaching, and I almost missed it.

I like the concept of Read Across America Day.  It was centered around Dr. Seuss’s birthday (March 2), and for a while adults such as teachers or librarians would wear one of those Cat in the Hat hats while reading a book like… The Cat in the Hat.  It was a cool concept.

When I was a kid in the early 1970s, I wasn’t aware of anything like Read Across America week (it hadn’t been invented yet).  I think our literacy program was Shut Up and Read, and teachers didn’t care if you read as long as you shut up.

It was smart to base Read Across America on Dr. Seuss.   Decades ago when we elementary school kids went to the library, it was a stampede to the Dr. Seuss section.  Back then, Dr. Seuss was like the kid’s version of today’s James Patterson, only the Dr. Seuss books were better written.  Once the Dr. Seuss books were fought over and taken (I got a loose tooth fighting over Green Eggs and Ham), we had to settle for Babar or the Clifford, the Big Red Dog.  They weren’t bad, but they weren’t Dr. Seuss.

In the last couple years, Dr. Seuss has been taken out of Read Across America because of a few offensive illustrations in some of his books.  And yeah, I can understand why the illustrations are considered offensive.  I can see why a teacher doesn’t want to highlight those illustrations to elementary school kids (“Hey, everybody, look at how Dr. Seuss drew THIS guy!”).

Maybe it’s not a big deal, taking Dr. Seuss out of Read Across America.  It’s not like those atheists who still give presents on Christmas.  You can celebrate reading books without reading Dr. Seuss.  It’s possible.  But when I was a kid, Dr. Seuss really was the best.

When you look back at books, cartoons, and comic strips from over 50 years ago, a lot of them had stuff that is considered racist today (but wasn’t considered racist back then… or people didn’t think about racism back then… or people didn’t care about racism).

I’m not sure what to do about it.  It’s easy for me to not worry about it because I’m an old white guy.  I mean, I don’t want other people to get upset over old stuff that I enjoyed, but I don’t want that stuff to disappear either.

This isn’t the first time that modern standards have been applied to older literature.  Just last year, the American Library Association withdrew Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name  from a children’s book award because of a few passages in her Little House on the Prairie books.  Classic novels like Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird get banned or pulled from reading lists because of a forbidden racial slur (that I frequently hear in current popular songs).  The solution seems to be to no longer promote the books but still make them available.

I don’t have a problem with the National Education Association backing away from Dr. Seuss during its reading week.  I’ll be honest, though.  Most of the children’s books the NEA promotes don’t seem all that appealing to kids.  Out of the ten books on the homepage, I’ve read four of them (reading children’s books in the local book store doesn’t take much time), but three of them sucked… the joy out of reading.

These unappealing children’s books were primarily message or lesson books.  Their purpose was not to entertain kids or make reading a fun experience.  The purpose was to teach a lesson.  I don’t even care what the lesson was (that’s for other bloggers to complain about).  The books weren’t entertaining.  The art wasn’t interesting.

I’m not going to say which books I’m talking about because that’s not my point.  Today’s children’s books that are being promoted by the NEA are nothing like the children’s books that I was directed to in elementary school.  I’m sure a lot of children’s books back in the 1960s and 1970s weren’t very good either, but my teachers didn’t promote them.  My teachers gave us the good stuff.

Of course that all changed in junior high with The Yearling.  Yeah, The Yearling won a Pulitzer Prize in 1939 (what were they thinking?), but it sucked… the joy out of reading.

Anyway, a great children’s book has illustrations that attract kids who hate to (or don’t know how) to read.  Look at Dr. Seuss or The Berenstain Bears or whatever.  Even kids who can’t read will follow the pictures, and that inspires them to WANT to read.  Most of today’s children’s books (with a few exceptions) have passive illustrations that don’t really tell the story, and they don’t inspire struggling readers to take initiative.

The purpose of stuff like children’s books and Read Across America is to inspire kids to read.  If it takes a Dr. Seuss book to inspire kids, go with a non-racist Dr. Seuss book.  Just preview the book first.

Awkward Moments in Dating: Hygiene and Grooming Issues

(image via wikimedia)

As disgusting as it was, the string booger hanging from my nose didn’t matter.  Francine would have turned me down for prom anyway.  The booger just made it worse.

We were sitting in my car in Francine’s driveway after school on a Thursday ( you can get more details here), and I had just asked her to prom.  When she declined, I adjusted the rear view mirror just so I wouldn’t have to make eye contact with her, and I saw the dangling booger.

I’m not sure if I physically flinched, but I know a bunch of thoughts flooded through my brain.  I knew I couldn’t say anything about the booger, but I knew Francine had seen it, and she knew that I knew she had seen the booger, and neither of us would say anything about it, and she was in my car.

To my credit, I didn’t act like a murderer.  A murderer would have driven Francine into a secluded area and… Actually, I don’t know what a murderer would have done because I’m not one.  I just let her finish her explanation (she just wanted to go with her friends).  When I say I “let” her finish and leave, it doesn’t mean I had any plans to keep her in my car against her will.  The thought never occurred to me then (or now).

Then I watched helplessly as she got out of my car and fled into her house.  I didn’t even bother to do anything about my nose problem until I got home.  The damage had already been done.

Francine never asked for a ride after school again.  She never accepted my offers to drive her home again (I asked twice out of politeness).  I think it was because we had shared a really awkward moment.  I hope it wasn’t because she thought I was a disgusting guy who didn’t check his nose.

Anyway, I felt selfish and guilty because I had destroyed our friendship just so that I might get a prom date.  I went back and forth over this for a few days.  After Francine’s melodramatic fake crying in the hallway, I’d been 80% sure she was going to turn me down, but I’d asked anyway.  That proved I wasn’t a coward.  I hadn’t been rude to her at all; that was in my favor.  Plus, I didn’t say anything bad about her to my friends after she turned me down.

As far as I know, Francine didn’t tell anybody about the booger either.  I never heard about it (and believe me, I was on the alert for mockery).  She could have done some damage to me with booger ammunition, but she didn’t do it.  I respect her for that.  You know, we probably would have had a good time at prom.

Anyway, I learned my lesson with the booger.  After that debacle, I knew I was never safe.  I wasn’t that attractive, I wasn’t rich, and I didn’t have a magnetic personality, so I had to make sure there was nothing grossly wrong with me.  If a really attractive woman has a booger dangling out of her nose, people might snicker behind her back, but suitors will still line up; it’s a fixable problem.  For a boring guy like me, the booger would destroy any potential chance I might have.

Because of this experience, whenever I pass by a mirror in a public place, I check myself out.  It’s not vanity.  It might look like vanity, but it’s not. It’s survival.

Here’s a list of what I’ve discovered (and taken care of) since then because of my paranoia:

1. A booger in my nose (again)

2. Pee dots on my crotch (that I swear weren’t there when I checked myself in the bathroom).

3.  Water dots on my crotch that look like a pee dots (that weren’t there when I checked myself in the bathroom).  What’s the point of checking myself in the bathroom if these issues show up anyway?

4.  Bird poop on my head (If you feel moisture hit your head when you’re outside, always look out for a white spot.).

5.  Spinach (or broccoli) in the teeth

6.  Undone fly

7.  Shirt untucked in a bizarre way

8.  Chocolate stain on the butt (Yes, I sat down on chocolate!)

I’m not (and haven’t been) the most hideous guy in the world, but I have/had enough natural flaws.  I can’t afford to sustain the avoidable ones.  I must always be vigilant.  But at least I learned that in high school.  Some poor fools never learn that lesson.

What about prom?  Yeah, it was awkward too, of course, and I’ll get to that next.

To be continued!

And for more cringe-inducing romance, read Awkward Moments in Dating: The Coworker.

My Monotone Voice Doesn’t Match My Enthusiasm

(image via wikimedia)

My monotone voice has always been an issue for me.  My friends in high school used to mildly make fun of my naturally quiet bored voice.  A few years ago a celebrity yawned in my face when I was getting a signed photograph.

Some of my professional peers don’t pay attention to what I say, and that gets a little frustrating.  I mean, they come to me individually to work with me, but in large groups I sometimes (not always) get ignored, even if I know what I’m talking about.

I’m the mild mannered guy who can get talked over.  I don’t get walked over (I do my own thing if I need to), but I get talked over.

I’m not complaining; this is just how it is.  Explaining a state of being is not complaining.  If I explain and then blame everybody else, then that’s complaining.  I’m going to explain, and then I’ll describe what I can do to change.  That’s not complaining.

Anyway, a few nights ago I put up a video about books that are kind of similar to A Game of Thrones.  I didn’t post it on the blog because I’ve already done too much Game of Thrones stuff on the blog recently.  Anyway, after I published the video, I watched it, and then realized…

My voice in the video was not just monotone; it was extra monotone.  It was extreme monotone.  It was so monotone that I didn’t notice it was monotone.

How did I NOT notice this?

Despite my slow, pondering delivery, I talk about four different book series in this four minute video with both an introduction and a conclusion, so it isn’t a waste of time.  I’ve seen video reviews go much longer and say nothing. Still, a little inflection would have been nice.

Aaaarrrgh!  I still can’t believe how bored I sound in the video.  If I sound like that with books I actually like, I must really put people to sleep when I talk about boring job-related stuff (which I won’t discuss on my blog).

I have no doubt that I really like the books that I mention in this video.  My voice makes me sound like I’m not sure.  If I talk like that around coworkers about stuff that matters, I understand why they ignore me.

*****

Once I see a problem, I try to solve it.  In the next video, I concentrated more on my voice and tried to speed up my words.  Plus, I’m talking about grammar NAZIs.  You can’t speak monotone when you’re talking about NAZIs, even if they’re the NAZIs of grammar.

It’s an improvement as far as emoting is concerned.  I mean, I don’t cry or anything like that, but I have some (just a little) vocal inflection.  I think it’s an improvement.  I don’t want a weak voice, especially on such an important issue like grammar Nazis.

Awkward Moments in Dating: Prom Rejection

(image via wikimedia)

I knew Francine was going to say no if I asked her to prom, but I had to ask her anyway.  I’d told my friends that I’d ask her.  Plus, I thought she was cool enough with our friendship to say yes.  Then I saw her melodramatic act in the hallway between classes, where she’d fake cried on her friend’s shoulder after her friend had pointed me out to her from a distance (you can get more details here ).

I admit, I might have misread the whole thing.  Maybe Francine had been fake crying over something else.  Stuff like that happened.  People misinterpreted situations all the time.  There had been a TV show on a few years earlier called Three’s Company, where characters often misinterpreted stuff (almost always in a sexual way).  It was a good lesson (not the sexual stuff, the misinterpretation stuff).

Despite the valuable lessons from Three’s Company, I was pretty sure I hadn’t misinterpreted the fake crying.  Somebody had told Francine that I was going to ask her to prom, and she didn’t want to go, and it put her in an awkward situation.  I couldn’t ask anybody for advice because it was embarrassing to admit you knew a girl probably didn’t want to go to prom with you.  I could just not ask her at all, but that would be cowardly.

I had to think quickly.  It was Thursday, and I didn’t want to ask on a Friday.  I don’t know what was wrong with Friday, but it felt wrong to do a suicidal prom request on a Friday.  I’d been ready on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  Francine was (probably) using delay tactics.  I just wanted to get it over with.

After school, I went straight to Francine’s locker and caught her by surprise.  I didn’t grab her or anything.  I just stood a comfortable distance and said her name.  She glanced over and her eyes widened, but that could have meant anything.

“Did you need a ride today?” I asked.  “I’m heading out.”

“Sure,” she said.  She could have said no to the ride.  That would have ended everything, but she said yes.  Maybe I’d been wrong.

I was really nervous as I drove her home that day.  I almost passed through a stop sign, but she yelled at me to stop in time.  The breaks screeched, and Francine jolted forward.

“You trying to kill us?” she said, readjusting herself in the seatbelt.

“I forget about those things sometimes,” I said, pointing out the stop signs. I accelerated the car forward again and obeyed all traffic laws.  “They’re so many of them, I stop noticing them.”

“They’re there so you know where to stop,” she said.

“I know,” I said.  “But they put them at every intersection.  It almost makes them impossible to notice.”

“That’s why they make them red.”

“That’s my point.  All of them are red.  It’s what makes them forgettable.  There should be some color variation.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” she said.  She actually sounded mad.  I know I had almost driven through an intersection without stopping, but that shouldn’t have cancelled out her sense of humor.

“All the stop signs are red,” I said.  “Red, red, red, red, red.  My brain tunes them out after a while.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t drive, then.”

“Yet my driving record is perfect,” I said.

“You drove past a stop sign!”

“I almost drove past.  Technically, I stopped in time.”

“Because I told you to!”

“And I’m thankful.  But my record is still perfect.”

“How many stop signs have you driven through when I’m not in the car?”

I’d never been preoccupied with a prom date request while also driving before, I thought, but I couldn’t say that.

“Never,” I said.

“You wouldn’t know!”

The transition from my driving record to prom was going to be tough, I thought, but I had to do it.  As we pulled into her driveway, Francine was still ranting about how I had no credibility as a judge of my own driving ability, and I had to cut her off.

“Hey,” I said.  “I was wondering…”

She stopped talking.

“I was wondering… Would you like to go to prom with me?”

I could tell from the look on her face (or maybe it was just in her eyes because I can’t really describe what her expression was) what her answer was going to be.

“I promise to drive carefully,” I said.

She laughed, but it didn’t change her answer.

“I think I just want to go with some friends,” she said quickly, too quickly for it to be natural.  As soon as she said “I think….”, I knew what she was going to say.  Dejected, I glanced into the rear view mirror and fumbled with it, pretending to adjust it, doing anything I could to avoid eye contact with Francine at that moment.  What I saw in my rear view mirror changed my life forever.

A long stringy booger was dangling out of my nose.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, that was gross, but I learned a valuable from this, and I’ll get to that next.

To be continued in  Awkward Moments in Dating: Hygiene and Grooming Issues .

And for more cringe-inducing romance, read Awkward Moments in Dating: The Coworker.

Awkward Moments in Dating: Asking a Girl to Prom

(image via wikimedia)

At the time, I thought that Francine was the right girl to ask to senior prom.  I’d known her since elementary school.  We’d always been friends.  Even when I’d been at my social low point in junior high, she’d hang out with me at lunch sometimes.  She’d laugh at my jokes, and she was as vulgar and sexist and bigoted as any junior high boy back in the early 1980s, so anybody could say anything around her and she didn’t care.

Francine became more attractive in high school (she was never ugly, but you know), and had a couple boyfriends (not at the same time) and had just broken up with some guy.  Since I was an old friend and had a car, I drove her home after school a few times a week.  We had an easygoing friendship.  I knew that asking her to prom, however, could mess that up.  I didn’t want to risk an almost lifelong friendship by asking her to prom.

On the other hand, it was senior year.  The best time to potentially destroy that friendship was the end of senior year.  I didn’t want to be a senior guy going dateless to prom, and I didn’t want to go with a sophomore girl who would go only because she’d be able to brag about going to prom as a sophomore.

My mistake was telling Keith and a bunch of friends on a Saturday night at a diner a few weeks before the big event.  Keith had announced his intent to ask Karla, and I’d agreed that was a good choice.  I didn’t want to reveal my own plans, but I guess peer pressure got to me (you can read more details here), and I messed up.

“I think I’ll ask Francine,” I said.

Keith stared at me, and then glanced around the table.  “That’s brilliant,” he said.

At first, I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic, but he continued.

“She’ll go,” he said.  “And you two will have a good time.”

I nodded, relieved that he understood.

“You’re not gonna get any, but you’ll have a good time,” he said.

I grimaced.  “I know.  I’ll have a good time, but not THAT good of a time.”

Keith grinned and then turned to some other guy at the table, peppering him with another round of prom questions.  I let out a breath, glad to be done with my social interactions for the night.

The next day (a Sunday), I planned out how I’d ask Francine.  My best chance to ask her was when I was driving her home from school, but I’d wait until I pulled my car into her driveway.  That way, she wouldn’t feel pressured to say yes just to get out of the car safely.  I didn’t want her thinking that I’d plow the car into a tree or steer into opposing traffic if she said no.  I was pretty sure she’d know that I wouldn’t do that, but people did crazy stuff for prom.

I wrote out a mini-script with several variations and memorized them.  I was ready to ask her on Monday, just in case I drove her home that day.  I never knew ahead of time if she’d need a ride, so I wanted to be ready, just in case.  But that Monday, she didn’t talk to me, not even in the classes that we shared.  That was alright, I though.  I’d see her sometime during the week.

But nothing happened on Tuesday either.

Wednesday?  Nothing.

Thursday, I started to get anxious.  Three days in a row without talking to Francine was really unusual.  It could be a coincidence that this drought happened right after I’d told Keith about my prom plans, but I doubted it.  Most coincidences are intentional, I thought.  There was no way to prove it, but I was pretty sure this was no coincidence.

Anyway, that Thursday I was hurrying down a crowded hallway on my way to class (I don’t remember which one) when I spotted Francine walking side by side with a friend of hers.  We didn’t exactly make eye contact because I didn’t have time to, but I was aware of her amidst all the other students moving around me.  Her friend (I watched her from the corner of my eye and this happened quickly) looked right at me, said something to Francine while looking right at me, and then Francine… Francine… Francine…

Francine fake cried on her friend’s shoulder.

Her friend fake hugged her in consolation, and I rushed to class, pretending I hadn’t seen anything.  Aaaargh!  I was socially awkward, yeah, but I knew what that melodramatic hallway act had meant.

Francine knew I was going to ask her to prom.

And Francine was going to say no.

Even worse, the story isn’t over yet.

To be continued in Awkward Moments in Dating: Prom Rejection.

Introvert Problems: Making Facial Expressions

(image via wikimedia)

I’ve been told that my resting face is a blank stare.  It’s usually not a bad face to have.  When I was in high school, I never lost a staring contest.  When I’m challenged to NOT laugh at something, I can set my face on “stone” and I remain expressionless, no matter what else is going on.

To be fair, my “stone” face has limitations.  Whenever I hear Taps, I shed tears, no matter what.  I always cry at Taps.

Anyway, my stone face is causing me problems with my current YouTube experiment.  When you upload a video to YouTube, YouTube randomly picks three images from your video to use for the thumbnail, the picture that goes underneath your title to attract potential viewers on the homepage.  If you’re lucky, one of the images won’t suck, but they usually do.  Most of my thumbnail choices have me expressionless or with closed eyes and drunk facial expressions (even though I’m completely sober).

After a few videos, I decided I’d just make my own thumbnails, and I use basic free software for it, but even so, making your own thumbnails is worth it.  The only problem is that I have to fake facial expressions that I didn’t actually use in the video.  I mean, I really have to fake facial expressions.

In the video below, I make a bunch of faces for a potential thumbnail, but I’m not sure yet which pose to use.  When in doubt, I go with the stone face.  Nothing ever goes wrong with the stone face.

For more solutions to your introvert problems, go to  Introvert Problems: Public Speaking.

Famous Author Lifestyle Strategy: Lie About Having Cancer

When The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn came out last year, I was immediately suspicious of it.  The novel was promoted as “the next Gone Girl.”  A bunch of other extra promotion was going into the novel, way too much for a first time author.  The final straw was Stephen King calling the book “unputdownable.”  I’d been burned by King’s overly positive reviews of mediocre fiction in the past, and I knew something was going on.

Then in an interview, I discovered that AJ Finn’s real name was Dan Mallory and that he’d actually worked as an executive editor for the publishing company that was putting out the book.  No wonder The Woman in the Window was getting so much publicity, I thought, nepotism.  Journalists didn’t seem to see anything wrong with that.  I understood; if journalists voice their concerns, they won’t get future interviews.

Despite all the super-hype for a first time novelist (I’m always suspicious of super-hype), I felt I needed to read at least an excerpt of The Woman in the Window.  Maybe the novel really was that unputdownable.  It happens, though I can’t think of an example offhand.  Usually a novel that is that unputdownable takes a while to get noticed.  Still, I decided to read the first few chapters (without spending any money).

The Woman in the Window was okay.  I put it down.  I didn’t finish it.  I didn’t think the main character was that interesting and the focus on film noir felt more like the author was just showing off.  It made me suspect that The Woman in the Window was a huge bestseller just because the publishing company wanted it to be, and the book was interesting enough to not ruin the hype.  I’ll give the author credit; the book didn’t suck.

The author sucks, but the book doesn’t.  Now I’ll get to why the author sucks (in case the title of the blog post didn’t make it clear).

It came out a couple weeks ago that the author Dan Mallory has been outright lying about having cancer (you can get more details here).  I mean, he didn’t lie to me personally about having cancer.  He supposedly lied on an Oxford application and to the publishing companies where he worked in London and the United States, and he’s lied to audiences in his public appearances.  I’m not sure how much his fictional cancer stories helped him in his professional career, but you know he received a lot of attention over it.

Cancer victims always get a lot of attention and sympathy.  I don’t begrudge them that attention.  Having cancer is rough.

Those fake cancer people don’t have it quite as rough, though.  In fact, I can’t stand those fake cancer people.  They’re taking away sympathy from others who need it more, like real cancer victims and people who’ve lost their loved ones.  Those people deserve the sympathy.

I admit, I’m not exactly truthful all the time, but I know my boundaries.  As a somewhat anonymous blogger, I change a few minor details to give myself plausible deniability (if I ever need it).  But I won’t lie about cancer or dead relatives.  I don’t even lie about dead pets.

Maybe Dan Mallory regrets lying about cancer, but he won’t really get punished for it.  His novel was still one of the top selling novels in 2018, and he’ll still make a ton of money off the movie that’s coming out this year, even if it sucks.  He’ll still get a lot of money for his next book.  As far as I can tell, he has only been rewarded for his bad behavior.

I’m not saying he needs to go to jail or anything.  He doesn’t need to go on Oprah and cry, like James Frey did.  He doesn’t need to change his pen name and start writing YA fantasy books, like James Frey did.

Actually, that’s a good punishment.  He can still write books, but they have to be YA.

Lying about cancer is pretty bad.  I mean, there’s a part of me that’s glad that the author didn’t really have to suffer through it.  The other part of me thinks… what a dick!  Lying about cancer?  At least he didn’t write a memoir about surviving cancer.  At least his novel has nothing to do with cancer (I think).  At least the publishing company didn’t promote the novel as “written by a cancer survivor” and put out pink book flaps.

But I’m still disgusted by the guy.  Now I’m glad that I didn’t spend my own money on The Woman in the Window.

Introvert Problems: Public Speaking

If you wear white, cover it with a jacket or a sweater.  Think about the armpits, man! (image via wikimedia)

The fear of public speaking is kind of irrational.  After all, nothing really horrible happens because of a bad speech.  The audience won’t rush the microphone and murder the presenter if the speech is bad.  Nobody throws rotten vegetables anymore.  The public speaker usually won’t even get booed (unless politics is involved).

Half the time, people in the audience aren’t paying attention.  They’re thinking about their own problems.  Even if the speech is bad, it will probably be forgotten within a few minutes, just another bad speech in a succession of bad speeches.

Still, we introverts are proud.  We might not enjoy too much social interaction, but we don’t want to suck at it either.  I’ve never been comfortable giving speeches or presentations, but I’ve had to do it.  Even though I’ve given a bunch of good presentations in my career,  I’ve also frozen a couple times too.  The times that I froze were my fault because I have a few simple steps that guarantee that my speech won’t suck and I didn’t follow my own steps.

If you’re not an introvert, these simple steps will probably help you too.  I try to be inclusive in my blog posts.  It’s just that introverts seem to get more nervous before speaking in front of groups.  In the video below, I list my simple public speaking steps that work, even for an introvert like me.

What do you think?  What strategies do you use when you have to give a speech?

And for more about introvert problems, read Introvert Problems: Faking Enthusiasm.

Writer’s Group Horror Story: The Tough Crowd

(image via wikimedia)

Being the new guy in an established writer’s group isn’t easy.  Writers who are comfortable with each other can talk about their works of progress but are less likely to be so forthcoming with the new guy.  Nobody in the writer’s group knows if the new guy is a true aspiring writer or just another wannabe who’ll drop out after learning how frustrating the writing process can be.  Plus, a lot of writers are introverts, and putting introverts together in a social situation can lead to lots of silence.

I was the new guy.  I had walked into an established writer’s group on a weeknight in the back of a library (You can get more details here).   When I saw the circle of about twenty writers sitting in folding chairs and no table, I noticed that I was the only writer who had brought copies of his/her work in progress (we called them manuscripts back then).   At first, nobody paid attention to me, but then somebody said “Look!  An enthusiastic new writer!” and then everybody turned in my direction.  I was the only person standing up, and I had a bunch of manuscripts.

I didn’t know what to do or say, so I introduced myself.

“My name is Jimmy, and I…”

“This isn’t Alcoholics Anonymous,” some grizzled old guy with a thick grey beard said.  He looked like he’d be familiar with AA, but I kept that to myself.  Half the group laughed at his comment.  I had a feeling they’d laugh even if he hadn’t earned it.

“Umm… I thought it would be helpful if I brought copies,” I said.

“Are they free?” somebody else said.  More laughter.

“I had to pay for them,” I said.  “But I’m not charging you.”

“We wouldn’t pay anyway.”  That was a middle aged woman calling out, and even she got a laugh.

That last line ticked me off because everybody should have known that I’d been joking.  Of course, I wasn’t going to charge anybody.  It was ridiculous that anybody would take that statement seriously.  These were writers, I thought.  How could writers take my banter so literally?

“You’ll have to wait your turn,” some other guy with glasses said.

I nodded and sat down, fuming.  I had walked in knowing that I’d wait for my turn.  The new guy doesn’t just walk in to an established writer’s group and read his stuff right away.  Did it really look like I was that eager?  Or were they just being old jerks?  As I looked around, still ticked, my initial observation had been correct.  Nobody else had made copies of their manuscripts, at least not as far as I could tell.

“Alright,” the guy with glasses said.  “Who didn’t get a chance to read last week?”

About ten hands went up.  I calculated.  Between five minutes of reading (at least) and five minutes of critiquing (at least), that was almost two hours gone right there, and that was the whole meeting.  I inwardly sighed.

Some other old guy started reading dramatically from his manuscript, and I can’t even tell you what it was about.  My mind wandered.  It wouldn’t be so bad sitting through so many readings on my first night, I thought.  It would give me a chance to meet people before they read my stuff.  I had sensed a little hostility from the group, so I’d have a chance to mend that.  Most people liked me alright after they got to know me.

After a couple minutes, I slowly shifted my stack of copies underneath my chair.  I settled in and relaxed.  Whatever the guy was reading, it seemed to be interesting to everybody.  People nodded and grunted a bit at his dramatic pauses.  If there was any fidgeting, I didn’t see it, and I’m the type to notice fidgeting.  I missed having a copy, though.  It was a lot easier to follow a passage if I could see the words in front of me.  Plus, I can go back and reread something (or read ahead) if I wanted to.  Instead, I was at the mercy of the reader’s pace.

The guy took his five minutes, and then six and seven.  Yeah, I thought, I’m not reading anything tonight.  That was okay.  There’d be no pressure.  Since I hadn’t made the best first impression, I could use that extra week for them to get to know me.  The chairs were pretty hard, though, and I knew my butt was going to hurt.  Crap, even back then, I hated sitting for long periods of time.  This was going to suck even worse than I thought.

The guy finished, and nobody applauded or anything.  It was silent.  That was good.  If we applauded his reading, then we’d have to applaud even for the writers who sucked.  And every writer’s group has somebody whose excerpt sucks.  That’s no insult.  Even great writers can put together a draft that sucks.

“Okay,” the guy with glasses said.  “Nice job.  Who wants to start off?”

I looked around to see who’d raise a hand, but the guy with glasses kept talking.

“Jimmy,” he said.  “What do you think?”

“What?” I said, startled.  I felt my face turn red instantly.  I hadn’t been expecting the attention.

“We like everybody to be involved in the discussion,” he said.  “What do you think?”

Usually, when I read something, I form an instant opinion, just like everybody else, but not this time.  This time, I had no opinion.  After all, I hadn’t listened to a single word the writer had read.

To be continued!

*****

In the meantime you can start another Writer’s Group Horror Story at the beginning with Writer’s Group Horror Story: The Vulgar Guy.