Tag Archives: humor

Mama Mia, Don’t Break The Pasta

(This column originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Refreshed Magazine)

(photo December 2015)

(photo December 2015)

Over the holidays I noticed a new product on my grocery store shelf: half-sized spaghetti. It’s basically plain spaghetti, but half the length of regular spaghetti and touted as the “perfect size for any pot” because there’s no need to break it in half.

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, have we become so lazy as Americans that we can’t break our own pasta in half?

I posted that sentiment, along with a photo of the box of spaghetti, on my Facebook page. My intent was to generate discussion about the way we rely on convenience items and technology to do everyday things we really should be doing ourselves. I’m not even talking about things like relying on GPS instead of reading a map. I’m talking about using electric staplers and wearing self-tying sneakers.

The little rant made sense to me, so imagine my surprise when instead of people talking about the laziness of half-sized spaghetti, I was hit with a barrage of replies that all shared the same message: Never break the pasta.

Yes, dear readers, the fact that we’re too lazy to break our own spaghetti is a far less serious offense than the fact that anyone would dare to break spaghetti in the first place.

The debate over pasta size included comments from my friend, Bob, who regularly cooks a variety of delicious-looking Italian dishes for his family and shares the photos on social media.

“Never break the pasta,” he wrote. When I asked why, he replied, “You’re not supposed to break it.”

For the record, I don’t break the pasta; I know not to do that. But why am I not supposed to do that? I asked the question again and again, and dozens of people responded. The conversations went something like this: Continue reading

Notes from the Fringe 2016: the countdown begins

miracle-cure

Cirque du Fringe: MIRACLE CURE & Other Wonders from the Vagabond Caravan

Rochester’s arts and entertainment community is in the final stages of preparation for the 2016 First Niagara Fringe Festival, which takes place Thursday, September 15 to Saturday, September 24, all across Rochester. There will be more than 500 performances at more than 25 venues in and around the city. And 170 of those performances are totally free!

Last year, I had the chance to cover Fringe for Rochester Subway, and I also blogged about it on my own blog (read the posts here). Not only did I enjoy the festival, I got to explore Rochester in a way I never had before. It also helped dispel some myths I’ve held onto about safety and parking and meandering around the city at night.

This year, I’ll be reporting on Fringe from inside the festival: I’ve got a role in the wildly popular Dashboard Dramas! Set inside cars parked in the Spiegelgarden, there are four ten-minute plays happening simultaneously, with two spectators in each car. When each play is over, the audience rotates, until they’ve seen all four plays in about 50 minutes.

A scene from Dashboard Drama II, in 2015

A scene from Dashboard Drama II, in 2015

This is a whole new experience for me. (Fringe seems to really take me out of my comfort zone). I’ve done a few small acting things, but I would hardly say I’m experienced in theater. Not by a long shot. But I do improv, and I love it, and a lot of the people I’m working with in this are people I know from the improv community, and I’m grateful for the chance to try something new.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that, unlike last year, when I spent countless hours wandering around downtown, talking to people and taking photos and finding odd stories – including riding in the bucket up the outside of the Powers Building with artist Scott Grove to inspect the facade – I won’t be able to do that this year. But I’ll file some reports from backstage and on the streets whenever possible. I’m hoping to do daily updates and photos here, and then wrap ups at Rochester Subway.

In fact, make sure you follow me on Facebook for pics and updates!

And I’m still hoping to catch some shows. On my long and growing list?  Jeffery Sweet’s “You Only Shoot The Ones You Love”; Alison Arngrim’s “Confessions of a Prairie B;+@h”; “Eulogy”; “Planchette”; “Sneeze”; and “OneYmoon”. And I’ll try and see as many of the improv and comedy shows as possible.

Argh!! Too many amazing shows!! Too little time!! What a great problem to have!

Anyway, time is ticking towards opening night, and tickets are selling out for some of the more popular shows (Dashboard Dramas was sold out before the Fringe guide was even printed). Here are a few things you won’t want to miss: Continue reading

Confessions of an office (and school) supply addict

photo courtesy of pixabay

photo courtesy of pixabay

(Note: This post is cross posted at Patheos.com)

I spent a half hour today sharpening pencils. I enjoy the act of standing at an old-fashioned sharpener and turning the crank, hearing the blade grind the wood and graphite to a fine point and watching the shavings build into a pile at my feet. It helps me clear my head when I’m stressed, on a column deadline, or stumped by the Sunday crossword.

I picked up the yellow No. 2 pencils while I was out running errands. I limited myself to just one box because the truth is that if I didn’t, I would have skipped the milk and bread and spent the grocery money on school supplies.

Never mind that I don’t have kids in school anymore or that I’m not in school myself. It’s “Back to School” time, which means supplies are on sale, and that’s a dangerous time of the year for me.

Because I’m an office supply addict.

I have an abnormal addiction to pens, paper, pencils, notepads, journals—you name it. I rarely walk out of a store without purchasing some sort of stationery item—paper clips, file folders or a snazzy new pen.

I have a notebook in every room in my house, one in my car and one in my purse, so when I have an idea I can write it down quickly, before I forget it. I keep a supply of pocket folders in a range of colors to suit my every mood. I have a panic attack if I can’t find my stapler.

I think my addiction is rooted in my childhood. As a kid, I loved getting ready for the new school year, the smell of autumn and new possibilities in the air, my book bag filled with folders, freshly sharpened pencils and clean, white notebook paper just begging to be filled with stories, notes and essays.

Every fall, I would vow that this would be the year I would stay organized. This year, I would put the science notes in the science folder and the English notes in the English folder. This year, I would save all of the quizzes so I could study for the cumulative final. This year, I would record every homework assignment in my pocket calendar and never again be scrambling at the last minute to complete a project.

But it always ended the same. In less than a month, I had geometry theorems mixed in with grammar notes. I would show up to science class with my Spanish textbook (“Wait,” I’d ask. “Que hora es?”) and had taken to writing homework assignments on my hands (I had the first Palm Pilot). My locker always looked like a tornado had blown through a paper factory.

It’s more than 30 years later and I’m still not organized. I’m continually digging through a towering pile of folders on my kitchen table to hunt for research notes, paper clips and pens. I have three calendars within arm’s reach, but I never know what day it is.

I know what you’re thinking: there’s an app for that. Calendars on your phone, e-books, virtual folders and documents. But I’m not interested.

It’s not just the fact that I can’t keep up with the latest technology on a writer’s budget. The truth is that I like doing things the old-fashioned way. I like putting a real pencil to actual paper and scribbling away, crossing out words, rewriting sentences, and doodling in the margins when I’m mentally blocked. I think better that way.

And science backs me up on this. Study after study has found that students who take notes longhand actually comprehend and retain information better and longer than students who take notes on a laptop. Researchers think it has to do with the cognitive process necessary to listen to someone speaking, digest the meaning in their words, and then succinctly condense the information into notes. Our brains process that differently then when we’re typing the words verbatim on a laptop.

In other words, a valid rationalization for me to buy more office supplies. Thank you, science! Pencils and notebooks are still on sale! Who needs groceries, anyway?

(A slightly different version of this appears in my book “What The Dog Said,” a collection of humor columns penned over the years. It also appeared in the October 2015 issue of Refreshed Magazine.)

Back from Erma, flu-free

erma workshop logo

I awoke slowly, a tiny ray of light peeking through the curtains as I tied to open my eyes. The dog was breathing in my face, his wet nose crammed into my right eyeball. My eyes hurt, but I don’t think it was from dog slobber. They felt itchy and irritated, and when I finally hauled myself out of bed and looked in the mirror, I could see they were also red. I panicked.

Uh oh. Do I have pink eye again?

I’d recently gotten back from the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in Dayton, OH, where I spent four days socializing and eating dessert before dinner. The sessions were instructional, the keynote speakers inspirational, and the message one of encouragement and embracing one’s mission. We all left feeling empowered.

And for some, nauseated.

What do you get when 350 women and 9 men check into a hotel for a weekend-long humor writing conference featuring top notch guest speakers, dessert with every meal, and more fun than a barrel of monkeys?

You get the flu, that’s what you get.

Prior to the conference, most of us had joined the Erma Attendees Facebook group, taking time to learn each other’s names, discuss packing lists, and admit fears about attending the premiere workshop for humorists.

After the conference? The talk was all about who caught what from whom and when.

Patient Zero clearly brought the dreaded virus with them to Ohio, because a few attendees were struck down the first night and didn’t recover until it was time to head home. A few others got sick over the weekend; as I left the hotel on Sunday morning, I saw several people who looked like they might not make it out the door.

And then as people returned home to their corners of the country, like a giant domino chain of nausea and fever, one by one others fell. Someone even started a Facebook poll to track who was sick, since so many people were posting “Me, too” in the comment sections of other people’s posts.

Me? I got lucky. My stomach was upset, but that could have been from all the cheesecake; I don’t usually have dessert at every meal. I checked my temperature every hour, just in case I was burning up and didn’t know it. Nope, no flu here. But my eyes were killing me, and I was afraid that in addition to my business cards maybe I’d also passed out pink eye. If the next discussion thread was about who caused the painful temporary blindness, all fingers would point to me.

Not how I want to be remembered. Continue reading

Plucking words from the universe and dancing with my muse

radiolab muse elizabeth gilbert

Click the photo to go to Radiolab.org and listen to the podcast.

I just got back from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, OH. I attended in 2004, 2006, and 2008, and then last summer, while at St. David’s Writing Conference, I met three women and talked them into going with me this year.

I’ll write more about the actual conference later, when I’ve recovered from four days of cheesecake, teaching, and social interaction. It was, as expected, fabulous. But I wanted to share one thing with you now.

As I drove from Rochester to Dayton, I binged on past podcasts of RadioLab. One in particular stood out: “Me, Myself, and Muse.”

If you read my blog, I often lament about having great ideas that I don’t follow through with, or about book ideas that I don’t write and then see someone else has written them.  I get stuck, and overthink, and talk a lot about things I want to do but don’t, and it’s been going on for while. Too long. Like, if this whining was in a plastic container of leftovers in my fridge it would have not only gone moldy long ago, it would have sprouted a civilization that developed a cure for cancer.

I’m even on deadline, right now, right this minute, for a book I’m contracted to write that is just completely stalled, and I’m spinning my wheels creatively.

One of the reasons I was back at the Erma Bombeck Writing Workshop was to get my creative self back into alignment. Some time ago, I went from a very successful stint as a music blogger, with regular paying freelancing gigs, and lots of paid blogging and writing, to walking the dogs and binging on Netflix and bemoaning the fact that I offer nothing to the world. To be fair, things had changed in the music and publishing industry, and magazines and newspapers I’d been writing for were sold, which meant those paid writing gigs were gone. And I got jaded and lost my passion, for life and writing. (And there was also that stalker, too, who caused me no small amount of aggravation and was the last straw in the camel’s backpack that led to my taking a break from regular, serious writing for a while.)

The last few years have been a process of stopping, starting, reevaluating, doing well, crawling under a rock, taking stock, and emerging with wings that aren’t quite unfurled. Other parts of my creative life have emerged – improv and, most recently, stand up.  But the writing is now in a different climate, from a different perspective on life, and amidst a great deal of disorganization in my creative life. I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk wondering if I have any words left and, if I do, where I’d find them under this pile of folders and books and notes and dog toys.

So the message of this podcast has really stuck in my head and heart, particularly the part where Elizabeth Gilbert says:

“I kind of believe the world is being constantly circled as though by Gulf Stream forces, ideas and creativity, that want to be made manifest. And they’re looking for portals to come through in people. And if you don’t do it, they’ll go find someone else. And so you have to convince it that you’re serious and you have to show it respect and you have to talk to it and let it know you’re there.”

It haunted me the entire drive. And then the first workshop session I went to at Erma was with Alan Zweibel, who among many, many, many things, was an original writer for Saturday Night Live. He told us that the secret to writing is to write, and that we should focus on the process, not the product. There there are words out there, he said, and they just need to be plucked out and put down.

There it is again.

I’d never thought about my ideas or creative inspiration being something outside of myself. I always felt like creative inspiration was supposed to be inside of me, and if I wasn’t feeling it, it was because I didn’t have any.  But what if ideas and creativity are constantly swirling around me, like bits of the universe that I can reach out and catch, if only I open my hand? Well, that’s another story. Because then, what I’m lacking isn’t the creativity. What I’m lacking is the work. And I have total control over that.

So the takeaway, from the podcast and the sessions and the whole conference? It’s all there for the asking. All of it. ALL OF IT. The only thing that’s required of me is the work. The muse will join me in this dance of creativity once she sees me out on the ballroom floor and believes I’m going to stay there for the entire song.

Food for thought I wanted to share with you.

There’s so much to say about the conference, which is still digesting in my soul, and I’ll write about that in a separate post. But right now? I’ve got some work to do.

My stand up debut at Firehouse Saloon

 

One of the goals that I had for 2015 was to write and perform 5 minutes of stand up material. I’m not sure where I got the notion that this had to be on my proverbial bucket list, but there it was.

Maybe because my humor column often starts out with me musing aloud, and then I write it down and adapt it for the reader. Maybe it’s part of my quest to be Carol Burnett, and I figure learning to stand alone on stage and talk just strengthens every other part of my humor experience. Maybe it’s because I tried and loved improv and need to up my investment, the way people start out using marijuana and end up addicted to heroin.

Whatever the reason, last summer I met with a local comic named Allish that I know from improv, and he walked me through some of this methods for writing jokes. He even convinced me to come and watch an open mic night. It was intimidating but not completely impossible for me to imagine doing it. I never took the extra step to write and perform but I kept thinking about it.

Stand up is different from improv in that with improv, you’re not alone on stage. You have partners and a team who are there to support you. Your job is to work with your partners, and while it’s all off the cuff, you know that you’ve got each other’s backs. There’s no wrong answer, no judgement, all support.

Stand up? While there might be support before and after, you’re on your own on stage, with no one to step in and pick up the ball if you fumble. Continue reading

Going for gold in my sleep

My dog Bailey, demonstrating an advanced napping position.

My dog Bailey, demonstrating an advanced napping position.

Today is National Napping Day, and to celebrate, here’s a column that ran in Refreshed Magazine in February 2014, and was adapted from a piece in my book, “What The Dog Said.” I would have posted this earlier today but I was, yes, napping.

I’ve never been known for my athletic abilities, but after watching the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, I went into training with the hope that my favorite sport would be added in time for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Known as extreme napping, this highly technical event mixes skill and determination to honor the competitor with the ability to sleep the longest and most soundly amidst the greatest number of distractions.

Alas, my pleas to the Olympic Committee have gone unanswered. I don’t know why. Extreme napping is as thrilling a sport as, say, golf. In fact, from 1912 to 1948, Olympics medals were awarded in the fields of architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. If you could watercolor your way to a gold medal, why not nap?

Think you’ve got what it takes to be an extreme napper? Then start training! Here are some things you’ll need to ensure success: Continue reading