Things We Can Do Right Now

I know last week I said that I was starting a weekly feature, inspired by Samwise Gamgee, about things that are good in this world, but it's been a hell of a week.

This week, I'm going to focus on actionable things that we can do right now to help in some way. One of the leading causes of the despair I've been feeling is that I don't think I have any power to stop injustices from happening or cause any kind of meaningful change. While that's true in a sense, there are things that we can do to make a difference.

These actions might be small. They might seem like a drop in the bucket, but many drops make an ocean, and- Okay, inspirational platitudes don't really do much for me, so let's get to the good stuff.

We can donate to organizations like RAICES, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. They've received close to twenty million dollars in donations over the past few days, but it's still not enough for the work ahead of them, which includes providing legal services for immigrants and refugees. You can make a general donation to the organization, or you can give directly to their Family Reunification and Bond Fund.

We can keep the pressure on our representatives. After days of the Trump administration alternately denying that family separation was happening, insisting that it was biblically justified, and blaming it on Democrats, Trump signed an Executive Order. It ostensibly ends family separation at the border, but is really little more than political theater. It also essentially lays out a blueprint for internment camps. The zero tolerance policy that led to this nightmare is still in place, even though 8 U.S. Code § 1158 - Asylum states that "aliens" (their words) may apply for asylum "whether or not at a designated port of arrival." Ugh. Look. it's a whole thing, and I'm getting off topic. Trump's Executive Order doesn't really solve anything, and might just end up replacing one evil with another, if it even holds up to challenges in court. But he only signed it in the first place because of the intense political pressure both from media coverage of the crisis and from people like you and me contacting their representatives in Congress and asking and telling them to do something about this. And, okay, they might not care what you think, and they might not be willing to stand up to Trump or take a day off from gutting Medicare and Medicaid, but at the very least we can make it impossible for them to honestly say that nobody has contacted them about these issues.

You can use the tools provided at the Senate and House of Representatives' respective websites to find your congresspeople. Call. E-mail. Use the contact forms on their websites. Write physical letters. Call. Especially call. Do it again. Then do it again. If you're calling, it can help to have a script or notes ready, especially if you have social anxiety. It's best if you write it yourself, so they're not hearing the same script over and over again. Just make sure you're as informed as you can be about the topic, and organize your thoughts. It doesn't have to be perfect. Just let them know how you're feeling, what you're concerned about, and what you'd like them to do.

And vote. Vote whenever you can.  Make sure you're registered. There's no time like the present. In many states, including Ohio, you can now register to vote online. Or visit your local library. Check out a book and some Summer jams while you're there.

Now I'm going get some exercise doing yardwork and maybe trembling in ball form.

Things That Humans Did That Aren't Terrible: Punch Up the Jam

It's a working title. I also considered, "Things That Bring Me Joy," "Things That Don't Send Me Into a Spiral of Depression," and "Humans: Not Always Horrible to Each Other(?)"

Things are absolutely terrible in a lot of ways right now, and while it's important to do what we can to stop the bad things and try to make the world a better place, it can feel defeatingly Sisyphean, but like if Sisyphus couldn't even nudge that boulder. It's important to take care of ourselves, too, and to remind ourselves of what we're fighting for. Samwise knows. To that end, I'm starting a weekly feature on this blog to collect and promote things that, in my opinion, are pieces of the world that do not suck, and arguably make the world better just by existing.

To kick things off, I'd like to bring your attention to my newest favorite podcast, Punch Up the Jam. Each week, Demi Adejuyigbe and Miel Bradouw dissect a well-known song, and then punch it up with a version of their own. Punch-ups range from covers, reinterpretations, and remixes, to outright Weird Al caliber parodies. Demi and Miel are friends, and it really shows. They have a natural rapport, and as funny as they are individually, when they're together, their powers increase exponentially. This show is one of the funniest things I've heard in the past year, and I listened to their entire catalogue in a matter of days. There are currently only twenty-seven episodes, which makes this a great time to get on board. I know how daunting a back catalogue with hundreds of episodes can be.

You can jump in anywhere, but I'd recommend starting with episode four, You Make My Dreams. Not only is it hilarious, it establishes a running joke that keeps coming back both when you most expect it and least expect it. You could also just start from the beginning. The first three episodes cover Christmas and New Year's songs, but they're no less enjoyable out of season. This week, Miel's dad joins the podcast to talk about What a Fool Believes, and brings some knowledge from his history as a music producer during that era.

You can subscribe to Punch Up the Jam on any of the usual podcast services.

Ten Years of NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, as it's popularly abbreviated) began in 1999, but I first participated in 2007. If you're unfamiliar with NaNo, you can read more about it here. Essentially, the idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days.

The first year I participated in NaNoWriMo is also the only year I've hit that 50,000 word goal during the official month. It was exhilarating, stressful, thrilling, maddening, and highly rewarding. I ended up with a 51,516 word monstrosity that contains a coherent story somewhere within it, but would require a huge amount of editing to make it remotely readable.

But, hey, the point of NaNoWriMo isn't to create a finished product. The point is to put your butt in a seat in front of a computer, or typewriter, or notebook, and produce the first draft of something that could one day be a finished product. NaNoWriMo is about quantity. The editing comes later.

With one or two exceptions, I've only participated during odd-numbered years since then. No particular reason. It's just become a personal tradition. This happens to be my tenth anniversary of NaNoWriMo-ing. I still haven't revised that first victorious mess into a readable novel. And I haven't met the word count goal in any of the subsequent years. But it has absolutely been worth it.

Two years ago, I finished and self-published my first novella, the first volume of a series called Zeck. It's about 30,000 words long, 20,000 short of a NaNo goal. Word count isn't everything, though, and that book is as long as it needs to be. It took me two years to write the sequel, which I started during NaNoWriMo of 2015. My word count by the end of that month: 15,342. The current word count on the final draft: 88,675. Even though I didn't hit the word count goal that November, I blew way past it and finished the book almost exactly two years after I started it.

I've been thinking about whether or not this will be my last year participating in NaNoWriMo. Possibly. I'll see what I'm doing around November of 2019, if the world still exists more or less as we know it. The precise rules of NaNoWriMo might just not fit with my workflow and lifestyle anymore. But I do find these periods of intense production to be useful. It just took me a while to find a balance between producing so much so quickly that I filled the pages with unusable nonsense, and revising as I go so that my production slows to a crawl. I think I found that balance with Zeck.

In any case, I've produced an appropriately low word count for the month: 4,469. Chalk it up to many things: working full time, operating at a constant level of stress and anxiety about the demagogue who's helping the GOP shit all over ninety-nine percent of Americans and keeping the threat of nuclear war at a medium simmer. Also, being November, we've had not one, but two family tragedies. Things happen.

Still, it wasn't a fruitless NaNoWriMo. I've made a good start on two different stories, one of them in a genre I haven't worked in before. Cheers to anybody who participated, whether you sped past 50,000 or scribbled two words on a cocktail napkin and threw it away.

Sequels and NaNoWriMo

I finished the sequel to Zeck today. I still have to give it one more revision, to polish up a few rough edges and catch as many typos as I can, but I can confidently say that today, I finished writing Zeck vs Colonel Destroyer.

This is super exciting to me, because I've been working on it for almost exactly two years. I released Zeck into the world in late October of 2015, and started working on the sequel during NaNoWriMo of that year, which starts November 1st. I tend to do NaNoWriMo in odd-numbered years, and finishing this book so I can clear time to work on my NaNo project is a huge relief.

Mind you, if I hadn't finished by November 1st, I'd still have kept working on it until it was finished. I didn't rush the novel to completion just so I could get it out of the way. It took the time it took, and it became as long as it needed to be, which is nearly three times as long as the first book. (Still fairly short, but novel length rather than novella.)

Longer post on all of this later. Right now, I need to shove some food into my mouth after sitting in a dark room in front of a keyboard for hours.

Zeck vs Colonel Destroyer should be out in mid-to-late November.

Take a Break

President Hobo, the weekly vaguely political bizarro serial here one Whatnot, etc., is taking a hiatus of a few weeks. Though most installments have only a tenuous connection to current events (with some exceptions), this hiatus is a result of basically getting burnt out on politics. More on that later.

I expect President Hobo to return somewhere around the Fourth of July. In the meantime, I'll be devoting my time and energy to other projects, some of which will make their way to this space.

An American Fever Dream

President Hobo: An American Fever Dream is a new weekly serial here on Whatnot, etc. It's partly an absurdist reaction to the absurdity of the current state of US politics, partly a buddy comedy road trip story, and partly a bizarro dive into the strange and multifaceted place that is the United States of America. It's my first real stab at serialized fiction, so I'm excited and terrified to see where it goes. Won't you join me in excitement and terror? Please? It's so dank and lonely here. There were others in the dark, but it's been days since the scrabbling stopped. Perhaps they escaped. Perhaps they lie in wait, biding their time until I venture out again, prodding my way along the corridors with only the sweating rock walls to guide me.

Just kidding. Not about the serial, that's happening. Here's a synopsis!

The year: 20$$. American Presidents have been outlawed. Now, more than forty ex-commanders-in-chief will have to work together if they want to save Democracy. It's a coast to coast road trip through Real America, Fake America, and all the Americas in between. From Heartland to Buttland, sea to rising sea. Is the American dream still alive, or is it nothing but a nightmare?

New chapters every Saturday.

We're All Still Processing This

Like everybody else, I have some thoughts about last week's election. And like everybody else, I'm still sorting them out. Everybody has a different take on this, and it seems like no matter who you are, what you say, or what you do, there's somebody telling you you're reacting in the wrong way, or blaming the wrong people for the outcome, or taking the wrong kind of action in response. I get it, I think. Maybe I don't. But we all grieve in different ways, and we all celebrate in different ways (although seeing people celebrate this election makes me sick to my stomach).

This post is mostly for myself. Not to make myself feel better, but to sort out some of the chaos in my head. I have to rip off this Band-Aid Brand Adhesive Bandage if I'm going to move beyond wallowing and into action. So, you know. At the moment, I don't have much to say that hasn't been said already. And I don't blame you if you're sick and tired of reading things like this. I know I am, but I keep reading them anyway.

I was feeling very fiery last night, but not so much today. That's been the whole week for me. Ready to rip Trump and his base a new hole one minute, feeling cold and powerless the next. It's exhausting, keeping up with every new atrocity. Each bigoted, anti-intellectual crony he taps for his cabinet. Each new hate crime committed in his name. Each assault. Each act of vandalism. Each instance of schoolchildren parroting hate speech at their fellow students. It's exhausting for me, and I'm in a position of privilege. I can literally only imagine what this week has been like for women, minorities, and anybody else Trump has verbally assaulted. These are things which fill me with a mixture of outrage, despondency, and guilt. Guilt because I am a white male in a heterosexual marriage, so I am among the safest of our society. But we all will be affected by a Trump presidency. We have been already. None of us live in a vacuum, whether we realize it or not. It's something I wish I could say to each patron who comes into the library and tries to tell me how happy they are that Trump won, and all I can do is tell them that I have to remain neutral, which is both a comforting escape from what would be a horrible conversation and a tacit endorsement of their demagogue's victory. They themselves might be lovely people. They themselves may not be vile, xenophobic bigots, but they voted for one, and that's not really better, it's just a different kind of bad.

But a feeling of powerlessness does not weaken my resolve, it strengthens it. Here's what I'm going to do, and it's only a start:

Keep starting sentences with conjunctions. I only do it when I think it's appropriate, but I like it and I don't care, and I also like run-on sentences.

Wear a safety pin. Cynics are calling it 'slacktivism,' but I disagree. Sure, if all you're doing is slapping a safety pin on your shirt, patting yourself on the back and calling it a day, you're not accomplishing much. If that's what you're doing, well, dang. Don't. Symbols are important. If you're going to wear a symbol, you should at least attempt to embody the things it stands for. I will not be an idle witness to harassment or assault. I will do all I can to be an effective ally, and I will always be learning how to do that better, because there is always more to learn and more that can be done.

Vote. Shit. I always vote, and I'm gonna keep voting, especially in midterm elections. It is the least we can do. I am also interested in any and every way we can fight voter suppression and disenfranchisement.

Donate money to organizations that fight bigotry and stand up for the marginalized.

And, as they say in the infomercials, much, much more. This is only a start. A drop in the bucket. We are stronger together. We are all human. And we can all make a difference. And if I repeat that enough times, I might really start to believe it.

On "Locker Room Talk" and Other Emetics

Not that anybody asked, but here's my two cents on the recently revealed tape of Donald Trump bragging to Billy Bush about committing sexual assault: It's gross and horrible, and it's not acceptable for anybody to say things like that.

Okay, here's a slightly longer version.

If you're not familiar with the tape I'm referring to, The Washington Post was the first to break the story after NBC sat on it for four days. That link will give you the rundown, complete with embedded video, but be warned: it's the verbal equivalent of that possum that we found two days after it got stuck under our fence and died. That is to say, it's disgusting, and the passage of time does nothing to improve it. Nothing that comes out of Trump's mouth should come as a shock at this point, considering the array of hateful garbage water he spews on a regular basis, but this still managed to be a special brand of vile, and even turned out to be the final straw for many of his bafflingly staunch supporters.

I'm not the first, and surely I won't be the last to point out that Trump's defense of the video as "locker room talk" is not only inaccurate, but offensive. Many professional athletes are questioning the phrase and insisting that nobody actually talks that way in locker rooms. Brushing it off as something that men just do when they're alone with other men is absurd. It offends me as a man. It diminishes the genuine harm statements like his can cause, whether hyperbolic or not. Dismissing it as "locker room talk" implies that it's fine to talk about sexually assaulting women, to even brag about having done so, as long as you never actually act upon it (which itself is a huge benefit of the doubt to give Trump at this point). It contributes to a culture in which many men think it is okay to act the way Trump describes in the video. The concept of rape culture is not a new one to me (just mention Brock Turner if you want to see me seethe), but I've always clung to the notion that said culture represents a minority of men. The notion that all men secretly think and talk this way would terrify me if I were a woman. The idea that half of the world's population is constantly thinking about ways in which to assault you? And the fact that this idea was suggested by the presidential nominee of a major political party? I asked my wife for her perspective, and though she is a sample size of one, she confirmed that it makes her feel unsafe. Just as distressing, she adds that she is not surprised by it. I am also a sample size of one, and I can't speak for all men, but I can speak for myself.

There's plenty of hot takes out there. I could go on for paragraphs, but this already feels disjointed. Here's why I really wrote this post: I am a man, and I don't talk about sexually assaulting women as if it's an okay thing to do. I don't brag about having done it, because I haven't done it, I won't, I wouldn't, and it's a terrible thing to do to somebody. I've heard plenty of guys talk about sex (presumably consensual). I've heard a great deal of lewd conversation and dirty jokes. Trump's remarks aren't lewd, they're predatory. I cling, like a spider in a whirlwind, to the belief that most men are not like that.

I don't even think I'm, like, a saint or anything. I just try to be a decent human being. Decent human being. It shouldn't be difficult. On November 8th, and on all other days, let it not be rare.

Confessions of a Sitcom Junkie: Fuller House

I didn't even watch Full House. I haven't seen a full episode of that show, only clips and snippets. Despite this fact, despite having no nostalgia for that particular series, I somehow found myself watching the entire thirteen-episode first season of Fuller House on Netflix this week with my wife. We are both still sane.

If you're unfamiliar with either show, let me give you a brief rundown: In the original series, Full House, a widower lives alone with many children until his friends all move into the House, filling the empty space in Bob Saget's heart with an Elvis aficionado and a man who speaks only through a woodchuck puppet. They later made a movie about the latter character called The Beaver, in which he was played by troubled actor Mel Gibson.

There were three children? They added more later on, stuffing the House to the gills with each one as they said aloud, "This House is Full, but it could be Fuller," foreshadowing its later resurrection in new media. Also, there was a neighbor child who was loathed by all characters but one. The hated one was cursed to return to the House each day until all occupants loved her. "Hola," she would say. "We hates you," they would reply, followed by their signature catchphrase. Only her friend, a popular D.J., would answer, "I love you, Kimmy. Oh, Mylanta!"

Another of the children appeared in one of the Star Wars as a Jamaican frog. She repeated her phrase over and over, flicking her tongue at the other stars and saying, "How Rude," until she was the winner of the Star Wars.

The D.J., having music in her blood, would rather dance with the stars than battle them, and she later had her own spin-off series in which she danced with a different star each week, never stopping until one of them bled from the feet and collapsed. She is known for never going down in a dance-off, so she was granted all of the dances, which she brought back to the House in its second incarnation.

Also, there were two babies, but they all pretended it was just one, so the House would never know which one had been marked for sacrifice. Later, when the House bulged with occupants, two more twins were born. The House could not stand under its own Fullness, and it sank back into the depths, vowing to one day return as a newer, wider, Fuller House.

Now the House's chilling prophecy has come to pass. The olden twins sought refuge in the impenetrable world of fashion, but the other children are now grown. The popular D.J. is now the widow. The Jamaican frog is now the popular D.J. The hated one is still hated, but now she dwells inside the House, and it is her husband who must return each day to seek approval. Bob Saget is the couch now. There are a new set of twins, and they performed the Flintstones chant as before, uncannily synchronized with their past selves, to cloak the twins in the illusion of oneness. The Elvis man can still find no mercy or quarter. The woodchuck man has gone to Vegas to marry his puppet.

Other children now fill the House, though it is not yet Fuller than at its peak. There is a daughter of the hated one, who we know is ethnic because she is proud of her flag. All cultures are portrayed realistically and with sensitivity on this show. There's no room for caricatures or stereotypes here. Human lives and mannerisms are also very real and good on this House. All people we see and hear look and sound like real and fleshy human ones. The studio audience (Live? Alive? Incorporeal?) confirms that the House fillers are both funny and saucy. It is good that they managed to bind the audience to their seats, keeping the same watchers at the ready for the House's inevitable return. They are the arbiters of the House's realm, signaling us with excitement when a familiar face returns to fill the House, laughing at jokes that were not visible to us, wooing saucily when something saucy happens, such as each character kissing every other character in turn, or a baseball man exposing his pizza fork.

Oh, and Macy Gray shows up at one point, only to wonder aloud what she's doing there.


R.I.P. Bob Elliott

Bob Elliott, half of legendary comedy duo Bob & Ray and father of comedian and actor Chris Elliott, has passed away.

I have my father to thank for introducing me to Bob & Ray. We both thought of each other today when we heard the news. He used to drive a truck for a living, and sometimes I'd go out on the road with him. We listened to a lot of things to pass the time, but Bob & Ray were a favorite. He bought me a set of their "Lost Episodes," sketches that to my young ears seemed both inevitable and impossible, classic and revolutionary. Their deadpan delivery of absurd characters in cockamamie situations appealed directly to my sense of humor. They had a profound influence on that sense of humor as I matured, and influenced me in ways innumerable.

As much as I consumed movies, television, and radio shows from the early to mid twentieth century, Bob & Ray were the first inkling I had that humor like that existed so long ago. It's every generation's belief that they invented everything they like, but Bob & Ray really were revolutionary. You can see the ripples from their decades of work in everything from David Letterman's Late Show era to the fluid absurdism of 30 Rock and Comedy Bang! Bang! You could list a thousand other things; it would be difficult to overstate their influence on comedic entertainment.

With so many years of work under their belts, it's hard to pick a place to start, but the Lost Episodes are as good a bet as any. Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife is a perfect example of a parody that outlived and transcended its source material, telling the simultaneously outlandish and mundane story of a troupe of Broadway stars, one of whom can only speak the gibberish words, "Dippa-dippa-dippa-dah, dippa-dippa-dippa-do." Wally Ballou, Bob Elliott's reporter character, attempts to interview the owner of the world's longest, narrowest house, but his microphone cord won't reach past the kitchen. And Mr. Science manages to (nearly?) kill Jimmy in every episode.

There's not much available in digital formats, unless you want to wade through a bunch of cryptically named files on There's a fair amount on CD, though, and it's all worth seeking out. I'm going to pull out my old cassette player tonight. "Write if you get work, and hang by your thumbs."

Word Count for NaNoWriMo 2015

So, I finished the month of NaNoWri with a word count of 15,342. Not even close to the 50k goal, but nothing to sneeze at, either. If you consistently wrote 15,000 words per month, you'd end up with 180,000 words, which is a more than decent length for a novel.

As it is, I'm about halfway to my word count goal for the second volume in the Zeck series. The first novella in the series is a little over 28k. I'm aiming to make the second volume just a few thousand words longer.

I've also made pretty good progress on an unrelated short story, set in a fantasy world I've been having trouble finding an entry point for. I think the new story is working pretty well so far, both as a stand-alone and as an introduction to that fictional universe. Word count goals aside, I've made progress. And I don't have a document that's half filler, as I did after my first NaNoWriMo.

If I'm looking for excuses, I was fighting off a cold for the first half of the week of Thanksgiving, so I was going to bed earlier than usual. By the time the holiday rolled around, I was feeling better, but by then I was deep into the multi-day shopping, cleaning, and cooking that comes with hosting over a dozen people. No complaints here; lovely people, good food, good times. Cheers.

NaNoWriMo? NaNoWhyNot? Wait, What?

All right, so I'll do NaNoWriMo again this year. I've made at least some sort of effort to do NaNoWriMo every odd-numbered year since 2007. Though I only met the fifty-thousand word goal that first year, I still enjoy taking a stab at the challenge. If you're unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, here's their About page.

This year, I'm doing it a little differently. I actually have a finished piece of work now, a book that I wrote and self-published and can hold in my hand and say, "Yep, I sure made this thing." So, of course, during the month of November this year, I'm going to work on the sequel. The thing is, the Zeck series are novellas, or at least the first several will be. Even if I finish the second installment this month (and I intend to), I will be several thousand words short of the NaNo goal. I could stretch the story out to fill 50k, but I want the Zeck stories to be of a certain length and move at a certain pace. That may change as the series goes on, but for now, they're going to be novellas.

This means I'm going to be working on more than one story for NaNo. In addition to volume two of Zeck, I'm writing a short horror fantasy story. I'm also very tempted to work on a maritime adventure novel I've been planning for a while. I'll probably stick with the first two projects, but if I need to up my total word count for NaNo, or if I just want to work on something different for a little while, I'll dip my toe into that sea voyage.

Honestly, if I finish the first draft of Zeck vs. Colonel Destroyer this month, but I don't meet the NaNoWriMo word count goal, I'll be happy anyway. One thing I found after completing NaNo in 2007 was that I ended up with a lot of filler. Filler can be easy to excise, but it can also get in the way of the story you're trying to tell. I'd rather tell a good short story than a terrible long one. I guess what I'm getting at is that if I find myself inserting a lot of filler just to meet a certain word count, I know I'm going to cut the filler in the next draft anyway, so I might as well leave it out in the first place.

Happy NaNo-ing to anybody who is participating this year.

Oh yeah. My word count as of today is 1,503. Not great for the fifth of the month, but I tend to catch up on weekends.

Shiny New Website

Welcome to the new home of Whatnot, etc! I've made this switch ahead of the release of my first book, Zeck. It's a darkly humorous sci-fi/fantasy adventure about a group of prisoners who have to team up with their captors to survive an attack in the middle of a rocky wasteland. And there are some, er, weaponized spiders, homunculi, and robot horses. Coming soon!

If you've read my blog before and want to access old posts for any reason, you can still see them at . Yes, Typepad. Don't ask why. I do not recall why I chose to start my website on Typepad, but I must have had my reasons. Look, Typepad served me well for the past few years, but now I need something a little different. The Typepad page works well as a blog, but that's about it. I wouldn't necessarily recommend Typepad to anybody, but I'm not going to put them down, either. Needle threaded.

This blog will be a continuation of the old one, meaning it will sometimes be about my many neuroses, sometimes about projects I'm working on, and sometimes about a cool spider I saw and found equally fascinating and terrifying. In the coming weeks and months, I will also be rolling out new video content and possibly a web store.

New video content will always include new episodes of Miscellanea. This time, I'm working on a themed series of Miscellanea episodes. I will take one ingredient and do several different things to it, all of them food-related. I also have half of an idea for a video contest. As far as I can tell, it's something that hasn't been done before, so I'm working on making it into a whole idea.

That's it for now. Release date for Zeck coming soon, pending final proof of the hard copy.

Stay classy.