Weekly Shocks' Blog

More snow?! Son of a … now I have to drag my couch outside to mark my damn parking space again!

I'm so homesick right now.

I'm so homesick right now.

Let’s get one thing straight: I love New England winters. I mean that with all sincerity. In fact, one of the regrets I occasionally dwell on when I consider my trade-in of “New England” for “England Classic” is that I no longer get to experience the brutality and sheer entertainment value of Massachusetts in January. This entertainment value is admittedly a bit odd to an outsider, but nonetheless palpably charming to those who get it. It generates from the following premise: New Englanders, I am proud to report, can bitch and moan about absolutely anything, and they do it better than anyone else on the planet.  That’s never more true than during winter. You’ll occasionally see some poor fool from another part of the US (Midwesterners are notorious for this) attempt to engage in a pissing contest with a New Englander over just how miserable his winters are. The New Englander will win every damn time, I promise, not necessarily because our winters are in fact worse, but because we have so much practice exaggerating their horrors. Bitching about winter is the local pastime here when we pause momentarily from our rants about how the ^%^$ Yankees stole yet another player from the Sox. I think a rough breakdown of The Top 3 New England Bitch Fests runs through the following subjects in this order:

1) Terrible winters

2) Filthy invaders from other parts of the US coming to New England and bitching about our terrible winters

3) Scott Boras

You may fail to see the appeal of a perpetually whining population, but that’s probably because you grew up in a place less susceptible to sports curses and cheesy Matt Damon movies about boy geniuses working as janitors and befriending abrasive-but-lovable psychiatrists/burnouts. Also, our accents are really horrible. I’m sorry for that. The point is that all of us stodgy Yanks are in this horrible place together and no one but us understands just how bloody godawful it is. God, I loved it. I get the warm fuzzies just thinking about it.

But I don’t get to experience that joy anymore because I just had to go to grad school in another damn country. What a loser I am. We have something resembling winter here in Oxford, but frankly, it’s a bit pathetic. As you might expect, it rains constantly, and not proper rain either, but miserable, misting, drizzling stuff that never, ever stops and blocks out any sunlight that may have occurred in the roughly 45 minutes the sun is actually up during winter. It almost never snows, and when it does, a minuscule dusting of the stuff will cover the streets and the entire country panics and shuts down completely. Armageddon is declared, people run (and slip) through the streets screaming, sobbing, wretching: in short, losing whatever stiff-necked English dignity they once had. It’s very sad.

Oh, bother, the Apocalypse is upon us.

Oh, bother, the Apocalypse is upon us.

What makes it worse is that Oxford is utterly gorgeous in the snow: it’s like something out of a Dickensian novel with its grace and charm and it’s frankly just sickening. Gimme the dirt and grime of the Boston stuff, complete with cursing cab drivers, Cadillac-sized potholes, and the occasional well-placed pile of dog poo. That’s what winter’s all about. Well, that and that f(*cking jackass Boras trying to screw the Sox out of yet another player. That knob.


When you’re too lazy to write a blog post…

…you steal funny photos taken by your friends. Thanks, Katie!

I bet it was real excitin,' too.

I bet it was real excitin,' too.

I wonder if he has Facebook access in his PopeMobile.

The Holy Father, Keeper of Men's Souls! Wonder if I can poke him on Facebook - he is rather like a Troll Doll....

The Holy Father, Keeper of Men's Souls! Wonder if I can poke him on Facebook....

Every once in a while I remember that, as a Catholic, I’m occasionally supposed to pay attention to what the Pope says and adjust my behavior accordingly. Lucky for me, the miracles of modern technology have reached deep into the heart of St Peter’s, allowing for good old Benedict to beam his troll-like visage and complicated, often contradictory eschatology into the homes of millions! Yes, ignoring his edicts has never been easier now that the Vatican has its own YouTube Channel!

Taking pot shots at the Catholic Church has become so easy it’s not even fun anymore, and I’m still devoted enough to my Irish Catholic roots to feel the need to defend the Church. This isn’t easy, especially because I grew up in Boston, and when people find that out, they inevitably ask if I, or any of my friends, was handled inappropriately by a priest. It’s quite sad, because I loved growing up Catholic and had a pretty hard time adjusting my perpetually confused, but very affectionate opinion of the church with this worldwide scandal that pretty much tanked the already fairly limited ‘cool factor’ associated with being a Catholic. It was hard enough having to explain to my Protestant friends, that, yes indeed, we believed in transubstantiation, and, yeah, I guess that sort of did make us ritualistic cannibals, but hey: there are worse things out there than indulging in a little, old-fashioned human flesh, right? Right?! It’s not as if we were molesting small boys!


Anyway, the Pope has gone thoroughly modern now, which I think is awfully cool, though it also means that I seem to be sinning in ways I had never considered possible before. Take the pontiff’s latest proclamation on the subject of social networking sites:

“The concept of friendship has enjoyed a renewed prominence in the vocabulary of the new digital social networks that have emerged in the last few years. The concept is one of the noblest achievements of human culture. … We should be careful, therefore, never to trivialise the concept or the experience of friendship. It would be sad if our desire to sustain and develop on-line friendships were to be at the cost of our availability to engage with our families, our neighbours and those we meet in the daily reality of our places of work, education and recreation. If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development.”

Now, I fully admit to being a Facebook whore, mostly because it means I don’t have to interact with real people in real time and the steady hum of my laptop drowns out the voice of the Devil in my head. But now Pope Benedict is telling me that such obsessive desire is in fact isolating. Well, bugger, since when has isolationism been a problem for Catholics?! Have I been imagining all those monasteries and convents in both my anecdotal religious experience as well as my shoddy historical training? Apparently. Still, it’s always nice to chalk up yet another previously innocuous habit into the category of sin, because, let’s face it, we Catholics are nothing without our sin. And I cling to that, because sin is also inherently funny. So I guess I am taking pot shots at the Church, like every other stooge in the world, and what’s worse, I’m taking really cheap pot shots, too. Oh well: you do what you can with what you’ve got and then you repent later when the burden of your guilt starts sitting on your head and crushing it.

I wonder if you can receive Penance online? ‘Scuse me, I have a date with Google.

Jack and Mike or How I Got Me An Idea For A Totally Mediocre Novel

So, let me tell you about my novel.

I’m very fond of my novel, in much the same way a mother is fond of her delinquent, pain-in-the-ass offspring who can’t hold down a job and lives at home, rent free, until he’s forty. Jack and Mike will never be published: it’s amateurish, totally unmarketable, and no matter how hard I try to pummel it into shape, it’s still a flabby, fat-assed mess who sits on the couch all day watching Jerry Springer, eating bon bons, and scratching its belly. Ungrateful toad. Nevertheless, it is my baby, and I love each and every trite, crappy page.

I started writing Jack and Mike back in February of ’06, although the idea for it was born a few years earlier. In the spring of 2002, when I was but a wee, innocent undergrad, I took a creative writing course and have been regretting the whole hellish experience ever since. Some creative writing courses, I’m sure, are wonderful opportunities for writers to present their work to interesting, thoughtful students and mentors, and then get helpful feedback, perhaps even make a few connections in the publishing industry. Some creative writing courses are barely disguised group therapy sessions in which the participants bitch and moan about their latest breakups or half-hearted suicide attempts or how mummy and daddy just don’t UNDERSTAND. Guess which kind mine was. It didn’t help at all that I went into the class thinking that the whole thing was BS and I could just hot dog my way to an easy A. And it really didn’t help that my primary form of writing is humor: humorous essays, humorous fiction, humorous sketches of the weird and totally irrational world in which we live. I tried the whole earnest, serious, caring human being thing for a while, and it just doesn’t work for me. I’m much better off laughing at you while you’re being earnest, serious, and caring. Yup. You’ll be making a difference in the world and getting paid an obscene amount of money to do so, and I’ll just laugh at your sorry, overachieving ass while I eat lima beans in a cardboard box, pick fleas off my body, and burn my devastatingly witty scribbles for warmth. Yeah. That’s right. How you like me now, bitch?


Anyway, one of the problems in writing humor is that you run the very high risk of exposing your work to people who don’t find you funny at all. The students in this creative writing class, of course, did not find me funny. Not even a little. Each week, fifteen other students would show up, and bellow out free verse poetry that usually went something like this:

And i bleed red red bloodwine into the streets
of this wasteful City of empty trolls
Fools, all!
Meanwhile, my semen travels it’s slow path to the womb of destruction
it’s offspring spawn will cry out in birth pangs
and our tears will mesh as one river
in the desert of Time.

I don’t write poetry and I don’t particularly like blood or demon spawn or deserts, so there wasn’t much I could contribute to the discussion. Most of the other people in the class loved this kind of stuff, though. There’d be a good twenty-minute debate following the author’s presentation about whether or not there should be more exclamation points after the semen’s journey, some arguing viciously that one punctuation mark alone was insufficient in expressing the necessary RAGE, while the poet himself heatedly explained that a single exclamation point “represented the unity and oneness of RAGE’S BEING, man.” After the argument was settled (the poet, I believe, grudgingly agreed to add a second exclamation point), I’d read aloud, in a nervous, trembling voice, my latest pathetic attempt at self-conscious wittiness. And I’d get a big, fat nothing for my troubles. Nothing at all. I don’t think anyone in the class so much as cracked a smile at anything I wrote that semester, although occasionally a fellow student would ask, with a pained expression, “But what does it MEAN?? It was like being in hell. If you’ve ever told a joke that fell flat on its face or said something that you thought was incredibly funny but everyone else found incredibly insulting or incredibly stupid, just go ahead and relive that misery, then magnify how you felt by about a thousand. That’s pretty much how things were for me every Tuesday evening that semester.

After a while, I simply stopped going to class. I’m amazingly good at coming up with excuses for skipping classes I actually enjoy, so it was no trouble at all to create a semi-valid reason for missing this beast of a course in the ten minutes it would take me to trudge down from my dorm room to that dingy torture chamber in the middle of campus. I ended up with an A-, which was much more generous than I deserved considering my absences, but I was still pissed off about the grade and at those self-absorbed students who just didn’t UNDERSTAND me and how brilliantly funny I am. Fools, all! I was angry enough to stop writing humor altogether for a while, because if no one was going to get it, then what the hell was the bloody point?

Anyway, I’m getting all hot under the collar, and, besides, I’m taking the long way around in explaining how I got the idea for Jack and Mike: the book is about a couple of college kids who, for a variety of reasons, sign up for a creative writing course thinking the thing will be a breeze. Instead, the class is an absolute nightmare of pretentious students, impossible assignments, and a fascist dictator of an instructor who threatens to fail both of them unless they get their shit together and write some meaningful RAGE poetry, pronto. So Jack and Mike decide, in the grand American tradition, to fudge things a bit, and instead of writing their own stuff, they buy it off the black market and submit it as their own. (You might think this last part is totally fanciful, but ask any English major at your university about the black market for poetry. They’ll strenuously deny such a thing exists, sure, but notice how they fail to make eye contact, shudder unconsciously, perhaps even whimper a little. Trust me, your average English major has had more than his fair share of violent run-ins with the seedy underworld of buying and selling sonnets, villanelles, haikus, and ballads on the insidious poetry black market. It’s a terrifying, terrifying place, and I thank God every night I escaped its evil clutches.) The instructor falls in love with the cribbed stuff they present, and, imagining the poetry to be the direct result of his sadistic bullying, he shops the kids around on all of the talk shows, presenting them as his brilliant young protégés. Of course, it has to come out eventually that Jack and Mike did not actually write this stuff, and, oh gosh, do they get into some big trouble then. Antics ensue. Silly nonsense happens. It all gets resolved. (Actually, not really, I’m still kind of working on that part.) The end.

So, that’s my book. Certainly not a prizewinner, but it’ll do. There is, of course, a cheesy attempt in the novel to present a rather clichéd message: just be who you are, and do what you love, even if it means you get criticized for it. It’s obviously a theme that no one has ever written about before, and it needed to be done, damn it! Frankly, the book is just goofy, meaningless fun, but it was nice for me to return to writing amusing nonsense and not give a flying rat’s ass if other people “get it” or not. OK, that’s not true: I do want people to get it, to smile when they read it, maybe even to chuckle a bit. I don’t think you ever stop seeking praise for doing what you love. But I promise not to fly off into a psychopathic rage if I don’t get that praise. (Although, admittedly, if I did, it might be quite funny. Sounds like a pretty good idea, actually. Maybe for my next novel…)

Regardless, thanks very much to all of you who have asked to see my book. It’s very kind of you and I blush and giggle like a little schoolgirl whenever I read your praise. Let me run it through another draft or two, and then you can all have at it to criticize as you please. Just please don’t ask, “But what does it MEAN??

Perhaps you should rethink your plot structure.

I tend to obsess over my writing, or, more precisely, over my words.  I figure most plots are fairly unoriginal and derivative anyway, so if the writing is going to be any good, the building blocks of the story really need to pop. Despite all my time-wasting obsessiveness, however, I’m not even that great a writer, and, what’s worse, my plots tend to snap under the dead weight of excruciatingly constructed puns, similes, and metaphors. Still, I persevere in this line of writing because I’m also a bit of a masochist and I don’t think a story is really done until I’ve tortured the language of  the damn thing into Guantanamo Bay-like submission. Ritual humiliation, chronic starvation, the occasional water-boarding, and a good, well-timed leadpipe beating: that’s what makes a plot move forward and the story sing!

Anyway, this is all just a rather belabored set-up for a comic I got sent today and find especially amusing. And profound. And heavy. It, like, really speaks to me, man. Like, woah.



Seriously, why have God when you’ve got a Mac?

It is with deep sadness that I must report the loss of yet another loved one to the Cult of Mac.

I don’t get the whole Mac Adoration thing. I fully admit to being a nerd, but it seems as if my nerdiness simply doesn’t extend to spending obscene amounts of money on a product that I’m not wholly convinced isn’t produced by a splinter militia group. Unfair? Too mean? Perhaps. But Mac apologists (and, good Lord, there are so damn many of them) are some of the pushiest, most annoying people I have ever met. On any other topic, they can be sweet, rational, entirely normal human beings. Suggest just a slight criticism of their elegant, godlike, and crushingly ubiquitous MacBook Pro, and you better hope you have a spare seven hours on your hands, because you will subsequently be subjected to a stern and very bitter lecture detailing not only the technical wonders of the Mac but also the inherent evil found in PCs. Their fervor is frankly creepy. I think they honestly believe that if you hold a Mac against a gaping wound, the power of the Almighty Mac will magically heal the injury. Seriously, why have God when you’ve got a Mac?

Of course, PC fanatics are nearly as bad, and possibly smellier too, because when they’re not making fun of the ‘game deficiency’ of Macs, they’re stuck in hour 47 of their World of Warcraft raids, stopping only occasionally to join online chatrooms and viciously argue the merits of The Similrillion with other similarly hygiene-challenged losers.

Yes, I’m being horrible. And I need to admit right now that I use a Dell, and a really cheap Dell, too. I’m sorry. I know that makes me a technological leper and a skinflint prole to boot. But knowing that, perhaps you’ll understand why I just do not give a toss about the supposed benefits of the Mac’s ‘user-friendly’ system and why it really is worth nearly three times the cost of my perfectly functional Dell. I don’t care. I’m cheap. I have over $100,000 of educational debt and will most likely die before I finish paying it off. So, to repeat: I do not want a Mac and just don’t get the whole superior Mac thing.

But maybe you don’t either. Who knows. Regardless, watch this: you’ll feel better.

I’m so proud of the work I do.

You know, there are good reasons why I never wanted to become an actor, besides the fact that I can’t act. Well, that and the smashed-up mug shot of me that will inevitably appear all over the internet after I try to assault a camera man with a 6-inch stiletto heel when he photographs me snorting lines of coke off the windshield of my Hummer limo.

Regardless. I was babysitting my seven-year-old niece a couple of days ago watching something with her called The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, which, as near as I can make out, is about a couple of apishly annoying pre-pubescent twin boys who live in a hotel and break the law with impunity. I do so love the Disney Channel. Anyway, about halfway into the program, this guy turned up:

Oh, the things we do for a paycheck. What makes it worse, though, is that this guy also happens to be the same actor who plays the brilliantly psychotic Dr Hooch on Scrubs:

You just know this poor dope, who is clearly very talented and very, very funny, is going to have to give an interview someday in which he expresses heartfelt thanks to the producers of Zack and Cody for taking a chance on him, giving him the opportunity to work with innovative, talented young moppets in a creative and invigorating environment.

Enervating and very, very sad. I’ll stick to writing cheesy blog posts: that’s where the real creative freedom lies, right, not to mention lots and lots of cash! BOOYAH.