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Awkward Moments in Dating: Hygiene and Grooming Issues

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

I Accidentally Became A Conspiracy Theorist

(image via wikimedia)

I didn’t mean to become a conspiracy theorist.  I’ve been a normal guy all my life.  I went to college, found a decent profession, got married, and started a family.  That’s supposedly what normal people do.

Then one day while driving with my daughter, I was talking about something in the news (I won’t say what) and tying it back to something that that had happened months earlier that nobody else connected, and my daughter laughed.

“It’s not funny,” I said.  “This is serious stuff.”

“But you look crazy,” my daughter said.  “You have that look in your eye, the crazy conspiracy theorist look.”

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist,” I said.  “There’s just some weird stuff going on.”

“That weird stuff is the conspiracy,” she said.

I drove silently for a while, listening to the radio.  Some current pop schlock song was on with a simple hypnotizing beat and vulgar lyrics, and I knew it was no accident that this was marketed to kids.  It was on purpose.  Some very rich people who run the music industry want kids to listen to music about sex, violence, and habits that would make them unproductive to society.

Ugh, I thought.  My daughter was right.  And my wife would kill me if she found out I was a conspiracy theorist.

“Does your mom know?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” she said.

“Good,” I said.  “Don’t tell her.”

I haven’t been like this for long.  I didn’t always think like this, but I know exactly when it started, and I explain it below:

Famous Journalist Writes Book, Gets Accused of Plagiarism

I didn’t create this cartoon, and I probably haven’t cited it correctly. (image via wikimedia

Jills Abramson, author of the recently published Merchant of Truth, might not be considered a famous journalist.  I had heard of her (because I read a lot from various news outlets), but I don’t know what she looks like.

I think facial recognition is a part of fame.  You’re not really famous if people don’t know what you look like.  That’s why I wouldn’t mind being a famous writer because I could still go anywhere and no strangers would want to talk to me (or try to fight me).

Anyway, Jill Abramson’s book Merchant of Truth was about how has journalism changed over the decades because of the internet and social media.  Because of the internet (this is me talking, not Jill Abramson), it’s easier to do research and plagiarize.  The down side is that it’s also easier to catch the plagiarism.

I’m not going to examine the questionable passages in Merchant of Truth because others have already done that (here and  here ).  People seem to disagree about what reaches the standards of plagiarism.  Some say it’s the exact usage of the same words.  Some say it’s a paraphrase of the same information without giving credit.  And there’s even disagreement about what makes common knowledge so that an author doesn’t even need to give credit.

I’m always surprised when famous authors get caught plagiarizing.  Publishing companies have a bunch of editors who (I think) have access to the internet.  It would be easier to check a book before publication than it is to apologize later and fix mistakes later.  Or maybe I’m wrong.  There’s a lot about publishing that I don’t know.

Supposedly, publishing companies trust the author.  Ha ha!  If publishing companies haven’t learned from authors who have lied and plagiarized in the past, then that’s on the publishing company.  I’ve heard the phrase “Trust, but verify.”  I don’t care if there’s trust or not.  If there’s a ton of money involved, then I’d verify.

Despite her initial denial, Abramson now agrees that she got sloppy with citations in her book.  That’s the problem with journalists today.  If they’re not rushing out inaccurate (or false) stories, they’re still sloppy too often.  Competing with so many other news sources makes journalists sloppy.  Trying to be funny or snarky on social media makes journalists even more careless.

A couple decades ago, Abramson’s plagiarism (or whatever it is) would have been more difficult to catch.  And when it was noticed, there would have been no way to tell everybody.  News was controlled by a few newspapers and television stations, and if they didn’t want you to know a story, they squashed it and called the alternative news sources crazy.

Abramson has been writing/editing for a long time (I’m not making fun of her age) and was a journalist before social media and so many competing news sources existed; she should have known that any mistake she made would be met with glee from bloggers and other online sources who are competing with her.  When you’re a journalist writing a book about journalism, you need to do your citations correctly.

This book Merchants of Truth leads me to trust journalists even less than I did before.  Readers might not trust me either, but I don’t self-righteously proclaim how important I am.  I’m just a blogger who reads a lot and posts links.  Like Abramson, I’m probably sloppy with my citations (if I make any).

Journalism has gotten so sloppy (It’s not all Jill Abramson’s fault) that I don’t even trust the history books anymore.  If journalists can’t get the story right (sometimes when the video of the whole thing is right there), how can historians get it right?  I don’t want to go full Illuminati, but the implications are huge.

As an aspiring indie author, I see a little spiteful humor in this (I’m sorry!).   Some traditional publishing companies look down on independent authors (and I can understand why).  Indie authors can be careless and make a bunch of inexcusable mistakes.  Just like Jill Abramson.

So the next time I make a bunch of grammar mistakes on my blog, or I publish an ebook with a word missing on the cover, I can say, “Eh, at least I’m not Jill Abramson.”