Monday, April 28, 2008

The 10 Things I'm Going to Do Now that I Have My MFA

As many of you may already know, after eight years I finally received my MFA in Creative Non-Fiction from the University of Pittsburgh. For those of you wondering what, exactly, Creative Non-Fiction is, I can only tell you that it’s not fiction. In celebration of my graduation, I present to you:


1. Defer student loans by not paying them.

2. Finally take that trip to Nigeria. Meet with exiled prince. Collect the $3.5 million he promised me and deposit it in my bank until the prince can come to America and collect 50% of it, thus leaving me with a net profit of 2 million dollars.

3. Fulfill lifelong fantasy of having sex with one woman at the same time.

4. Work the phrase “I have an MFA” into conversation as much as possible. As in “Welcome to Taco Bell, I have an MFA, would you like to try our new Cheesy Gordita Crunch?”

5. Come up with a new idea that’s not “open a lightbulb store.”

6. Get job with Los Angeles Times. Come up with brilliant concept for story about the high-school experience. Go undercover at a suburban high school as nerd. Befriend nerds, and then fall in with the cool crowd. Attain popularity that I never achieved at real high school. Shun original nerd friends. Fall in love with hunky teacher who has moral dilemma about dating students. Have cover get blown, resulting in falling out with all my cool friends. Beg for forgiveness from nerd friends who were the only ones really there for me in the first place. Make up with hunky teacher and get first kiss ever on the pitcher’s mound of the baseball field before the championship game. Learn a big lesson about life. Win Pulitzer.

7. When I get to work every morning and brew the coffee for the office, add a new ingredient: sophistication.

8. Draw face on egg. Pretend it is a child. Stay at home and take care off egg. Ask friends to watch egg just for one night. Tell friends, “Well I want to go to the bar too, but I can’t because I’ve got to watch my egg. Why won’t somebody just watch the god damned egg for just three freaking hours!!!” Throw egg against wall. Receive a C- in Home Ec.

9. Open my new NetFlix-inspired, internet-based clothing rental business. For only $20 a month, you can rent a pair of socks, wear them, return them, and receive another item of clothing in the mail within 3 days.

10. Celebrate by getting really drunk and bask in the irony that drinking was the reason that it took me eight years to get my degree in the first place.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Reading Habits of Highly Ineffective People

It occurred to me this morning, while staring at my copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that the very first chapter in the book shouldn’t be “Habit 1: Be Proactive,” but should be dedicated to methods and strategies for actually reading the book past chapter one. Yes, in two months, that’s as far as I’ve made it. Have I learned “powerful lessons in personal change” as the book jacket promises? Well, I’ve learned to expand my circle of influence and shrink my circle of concern. Ask my girlfriend who is tired of me repeating “that’s outside my circle of concern” over and over again. I need some new mantras, but that means actually reading chapter two.

It’s not that I don’t like reading; it’s that I try to read too much at once. For instance, besides Habits, I’m also well into the six month of reading A Tale of Two Cities. I started the novel with the intention of becoming more learned, a mission I’ve been on ever since I was forced to take a graduate-level literature class called “Young Britain: Class/Nation/Youth.” (All grad courses are required to have an obnoxious, and sometimes repetitive, name that utilizes a colon.) The first week of class we were assigned Alice in Wonderland. I breezed through the book in thirty minutes, and that’s including illustrations. “This graduate school stuff is easy,” I thought.

The next week’s class began with a discussion where the fifteen other students analyzed Alice in Wonderland in a psychosexual context referencing Foucault and Lewis Carroll’s photography of naked children. Since all of the conversation was spoken using undecipherable lit-school jargon, I didn’t understand much except that the class consensus was that Lewis Carroll was a pervert. I just thought it was neat when Alice ate the cookies and became really small.

Over the course of the semester, I realized that not only was I decidedly under read compared to my classmates, but that I had no idea how to analyze literature in a graduate-studies atmosphere, a skill that would surely earn me millions of dollars in the private sector. I made a promise to myself to improve by consuming and analyzing mass amounts of literature on my own time. In the eight years since, I’ve made it through half of War and Peace and one-third of Walden. Every so often, I renew this promise to myself, hence A Tale of Two Cities. I’m on page 106, and every time I pick it up I have to read the online CliffsNotes first just to remind myself what in the hell is going on.

If I go by the theory that one should read what one actually enjoys, then I’m doing better. I devour memoirs like Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up and The Tender Bar. But it seems like I’m always reading three books at once. Right now, besides Two Cities and Habits, I’m well into Bukowski’s Post Office. It seems like I’ll never catch up with my reading, especially when you consider that I have to watch movies and make time for PlayStation 3.

I do have friends who enjoy reading five books at once, but I’m too high-strung for that kind of thing. I like to finish what I start. Of course, if I could just concentrate on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and get to chapter 3, “Begin with the End in Mind,” I might be able get something accomplished. That should only take another year or two.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Regarding Henry

After much deliberation, we decided on the name Henry Bean. He looks like a Henry; the name Bean is strictly for comic effect. Henry was rescued by his former owner from a pet store, one of those puppy mill distribution places that should be outlawed. Since Henry’s former owner already owned three hundred dogs, Henry needed a home. Now I am a father.

Henry arrived out of nowhere two Sundays ago, my girlfriend surreptitiously bringing him into our lives. It was like that movie with the Rock where he’s a football player and his daughter just shows up one day. Except this wasn’t some movie that I’m forced to watch on the plane ride back from Jamaica, this was real.

Henry is half Lhasa Apso and half Australian Cattle Dog. He’s a scruffy canine, with an old man’s beard that gets wet every time he drinks water. He’s still getting used to his long, fawn-like legs, and he walks at an angle. The other day I took him for a run on the leash. He looked back at me with his trusting puppy eyes every few seconds to make sure that I was following. Then the little bastard ran sideways into a fence.

Dogs aren’t only retarded, but they’re expensive. The first thing we had to do was buy Henry a crate for $100. He promptly thanked us by defecating in it. Hence, the potty training started. I’ve said the word “poop” more times in the last two weeks than I have since I was four. I have whole conversations with my girlfriend on the phone about my dog’s bathroom habits.

Of course Henry has diarrhea, and he steadfastly refuses to go in grass. Cleaning up after him involves scraping the feces off of the sidewalk with a plastic bag. Imagine my delight the other day when I discovered there weren’t any plastic bags in the leash dispenser. Since I couldn’t go anywhere without leaving a huge pile of poop in a parking lot, I was forced to dig through a nearby trash can and use a Doritos bag and a napkin soiled with something yellow and wet. And I still got shit on my hands.

The training has gone well ever since I’ve started rewarding him with treats every time he uses the bathroom outside. But all day long I stress out about my dog and his poop. Will he go in the crate? Can he hold it until I get home? Are we almost out of treats? I’ve becomes so preoccupied with house training that the other night I gave a snausage to a drunk guy urinating on the tree outside my house.

Henry won’t stop itching either. It’s so bad, he’s taking the fur off his ears. (Which makes a great idiom: “I can’t stand that guy. Man, he really takes the fur off my ears.”) After a vet visit on Sunday, it turns out Henry has ear mites, also known as “mange.” That’s right, without further treatment my dog will look like a chupacabra. Scabies treatment: $300.

But damn if I don’t love the little sonofabitch. If the Rock can learn to juggle his career as an all-star quarterback with the responsibility of being a parent, then surely I can learn to juggle my career as a receptionist with the responsibility of cleaning dog shit off the sidewalk. And that, my friends, is called parenthood.

Monday, April 7, 2008

We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off to Enjoy Bad Music

I admit it; I have the worst taste in music. This is no great secret among my friends and family. My girlfriend listens to the smooth jazz radio from time to time and still has better taste in music than I do. (By the way, why does every smooth jazz radio station in the US have a late night show called “The Quiet Storm?” How about something original; “The Soft Explosion” maybe?)

In my formative pre-school years, I listened to three albums: Everybody Loves a Nut by Johnny Cash, Steve Martin Live, and My Home’s in Alabama, by Alabama. My mom listened to Q101, Chicago’s rock station. I couldn’t stand it. Pop music generally sucked in the mid-to-late eighties. Now I like a lot of that music, which means that early grade school was the zenith of my music-listening sophistication.

By junior high I was obsessed with Weird Al Yankovic. From there, my musical taste never really matured. At the very least, I became musically stunted. I would go through musical phases five years later than most people. You’re supposed to obsessively listen to Led Zeppelin when you’re in high school. I waited until college. College kids discover Pink Floyd. I was in graduate school. I’m still waiting to hit my Beatles phase. Maybe I’ll pick up the White Album this weekend and see what all the hubbub is about.

Now I listen to a mish-mash of music, buying whatever catches my fancy. I consider myself a jack of all trades, uncommitted to any one style. As a result my taste tends to run middle-of-the-road which I realize is not the best place to find innovative music. With the exception of Tom Petty, I don’t know any particular artist’s repertoire extensively. But at the very least, I’m not pretentious. I know what I like when I hear it. That’s good news for bands like Hootie and the Blowfish. has a list of the worst 50 songs of all time. Surprisingly, I would only say that I like five or six records on the list. The worst song of all time is “We Built This City,” by Starship, which is a song I would spontaneously belt out at least once a night during a two-week period of binge drinking in May of ’03.

I have three of these worst songs on my Ipod: number 42, “The Sounds of Silence,” by Simon and Garfunkel; number 29, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” by Deep Blue Something; and number 16, “What’s Up?” by Four Non Blondes, which I didn’t even realize was a bad song until just now.

My poor musical taste may be attributed to the fact that I truly enjoy songs that are notoriously bad, songs that most people listen too ironically. My favorite bad song of all time is “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off” by Jermaine Stewart. You have to love any song that opens with the lyric, “You just took for granted that I wanted to skinny dip.” Jermaine Stewart’s good-time alternative? Dancing and drinking cherry wine. Is he dating a homeless person?

When it comes to musical taste, I’m more of a victim than anything else. The music I listen to chooses me-- a song from a great movie, something I overhear at a bar, music that makes me reminisce about a particular time in my life. And that’s what music is all about, right? How can I help it if “I Want a New Duck” makes me think of my first girlfriend?