How to Entertain Your Movers

July 21, 2014 § 37 Comments

Whew. Moving is hard.

Doing hard things is a shitload easier if you have the help of lots of other people, including hired professionals who may or may not have been professional bodybuilders in a past career and are therefore qualified to lift extremely heavy things. But even if you’re the one who needs help, you can’t just take, take, take. You have to give back a little, too. I’m a big believer in giving everyone I have a meaningful interaction with something – if not an actual thing, then a gesture, a feeling, a thought. Kind of like how my mama taught me that when you return somebody’s dish, you don’t return it empty; you put something of your own making back into it. (Thank you for the delicious casserole. Here is your pan back, along with some drawings I made of a giraffe smoking a cigarette.)

But what on earth could I offer a bunch of big, burly movers?

I decided I would give the gift of making their work a wee bit more interesting, and I would do it by labeling my moving boxes for them.

I mean, don’t you think it gets old, looking at all those brown boxes every day? They’re probably pretty similar in every house. “Kitchen… upstairs bath… dishes… books… roller skates…” I bet sometimes it feels like the same old job just repeating itself day after day. Well, not anymore. I would make these boxes different, keep the job entertaining. That’s what I could give.

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It occurred to me at one point that there was potential for this whole thing to go wrong. What if the boss guy saw one of my boxes, thought one of his packers labeled it, and said, “WTF, Carl — why is this box labeled, ‘socks for dragons’?  YOU’RE FIRED, CARL,” and then one of the really nice packer guys got canned? So I stopped, and instead of the spiritual gift of laughter, I got everyone some pizzas.

(In reality: If they even noticed, the boss guy was probably just like, “Oh, sheezus. Look, Carl, we got another jokester.”)

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PS: Are you having a nice summer? I hope so. As you may have noticed, I’m not posting here quite so much this month. But it’s for a bunch of good reasons. For one thing, I’m working on the book. For another, my day-job is jammin’ lately. But then also, it’s summer. And I just moved. And I can’t even find the box that has clean bras in it, and I don’t have a washing machine yet, so I’m spending a lot of time hand-washing these same two bras and hanging them up outside to dry, which is why I’ll probably be getting a LOT of dinner invitations from my new neighbors pretty soon, so I guess I’ll be staying quite busy for a while. But I’ll be back. Promise.

Penguins With People Problems: The Book

June 13, 2014 § 45 Comments

I guess I was always sort of afraid someone from Penguin Random House might call.

I figured it would be a lawyer with some sort of cease-and-desist message.

But when the call came, it was not a lawyer. It was an editor. And she did not want the birds to cease (or desist).

I’m beyond insanely excited to share the news that The Random Penguins will be waddling into the real world as a book in the summer of 2015. Penguins With People Problems will be published by Perigee Books, an imprint of — I swear I’m not making this up — Penguin Random House.

a book

 

So that’s the news. If you like stories, here’s the tale of how it all went down:

One day back in February, I got an email from a person I’d never met. Her name was Meg, and she said she was an executive editor at Perigee and wanted to talk. I love to talk, so I said OK and made a list of conversation topics and called her.

Meg did not want to discuss my hair or Downton Abbey or baby goats or that bitch I don’t like — or any of the other subjects I was ready to chat about. She wanted to know if I’d ever thought of turning The Random Penguins into a book. I said: Well sure, but life is busy and I just haven’t had time to pursue it. She said: Why don’t you think about it now, and then let’s talk again. And I said: OK, cool.

Then I hung up and hyperventilated.

Anyway — blah blah blah — lots of stuff happened between then and now. Conference calls; contracts; negotiations on the penguins’ behalf by my agent, Kristyn, who is awesome and understands how little I like to deal with math. But the gist is, there’s going to be a penguin book, published by the same company that published Lord of the Flies. It’s ALSO the company that published Color Me Swooooon, the activity book where you color pictures of Channing Tatum and Benedict Cumberbatch — so there’s obviously no place the penguins could possibly fit in better.

it takes all kinds

All this party needs are some penguins.

So. That’s that.  The book will be roughly half brand-new, never-seen-before penguins and half greatest hits of the online bunch (re-drawn with better technology). Manuscript and illustration due in August . . . which, if you know me in real life, means you know I’m writing and illustrating a book at the same time my people and I are living out of boxes, having just moved. I have no idea what day it is or which end is up. Please pardon me if I seem scattered. It’s all very exciting, though, and I’m super-crazypants grateful for the support of everyone who’s been around from the start.

Meanwhile, new penguins will still continue to go up on tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. AND, starting now, they’ll be on WordPress as well. (Many thanks to Michelle on the WordPress team for helping me click a few buttons and, beep-bop-boop, make that happen.) Head on over and click to follow if you want.

Thank you!

David Sedaris Interview

June 12, 2014 § 8 Comments

If you’ll pardon a little work-related cross posting today… Thought some of you might enjoy this one. It’s an interview I did with David Sedaris for Musing.

He has some great comments here about writing, editing, and publishing, if you’re into that sort of thing. And also he’s just funny as all hell — not to mention a real gentleman and a thoughtful guy. Click the pic and follow it over to the interview if you like:

"Readers often assume that I have no boundaries, but in fact I go out of my way not to reveal other people’s secrets." <-- And that's just one reason to love the guy.

“Readers often assume that I have no boundaries, but in fact I go out of my way not to reveal other people’s secrets.” That’s a good guy right there.

Bonus: If you prefer not to blow your disposable income on hardbacks, his latest book is now out in paperback.

 

 

If the Fashion Industry Gave a Commencement Speech

May 23, 2014 § 15 Comments

Graduates, parents, faculty, friends: Welcome.

The beginning of summer is a special time for both endings and beginnings. You’ve no doubt been surrounded by packaged wisdom lately: greeting cards; career advice via Dr. Seuss books; the words of famous dead people quoted back to you in stale coffee breath by old people. But let’s get real, darlings. None of it means a thing.

All you need to know to win at adult life can be found on the glossy pages of your favorite magazines. Specifically, in the ads. That’s where the fashion industry conveys essential truths. Behold the 10 key pieces of stylish wisdom you need to succeed:

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1. Always Act Swiftly & Boldly bold Let’s talk about where shy little mush-mouthed baby-people get in life: nowhere. You want success? You gotta grab every opportunity. Don’t sit there listing pros and cons; don’t get down on your knees and ask the cosmos what to do; don’t line up the pencils on your desk in neat rows before you begin. Just GO. Do. In professional terms, this trait is known as “bias for action.” Like this gal here – see? Someone told her there was a 2-for-1 crabcake happy hour special on the next island starting in 10 minutes. Did she call a water taxi? No. She didn’t even change clothes. She waded right out into the sea in the snappy pants outfit she wore to a networking lunch earlier. And you know who’s going to get all the crabcakes? She is.

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2. Attitude Is Everything wheee bikes are fun Can you guess what’ll really set you apart from all the other wide-eyed newbies out there? That’s right. Confidence. Hold your head high and take pride in your work. Sure, you’ll make mistakes. We all do. But don’t cower in shame about it when it happens – get up and show everyone what you’ve learned. Take Michelle and her bold choices, for instance. Could you tuck a cocktail top into some high-waisted briefs, hop on a bike you borrowed from Ann of Green Gables, and take your grandmother’s train case on a ride? YES, you could. You just have to believe in yourself. No shoes. No helmet. No fear. All confidence and a baller haircut.

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3. New Trumps Old look out olds The blossoming of summer signals fresh growth. In the fashion world, a new season also means it’s time to replace what you’ve been wearing with new outfits that are better, more current, and more expensive. This is not only a style fact, but also a professional metaphor. You see, this time next year, you could be replaced in that (practically unpaid) internship by someone younger, cheaper, and more naïve. So work your hardest, do your best, and always have something new to bring to the table – or before you know it, those juicy youngsters will be coming for your job, and you’ll be left sitting on your desk, all wan and confused, wondering what the hell just happened.

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4. Do Everything 100% robocop At this stage of life, it’s natural not to be totally sure who you are. Are you kind of artsy? Sort of corporate? Lots of fun but sometimes serious? No. Forget that “everything in moderation” bullshit. Whatever you are, be ALL that. Like Kate Moss here. She could have dipped a toe into futuristic fashion with just a touch of metallic eyeshadow and maybe a single titanium bicep cuff. But no. She went full LEATHER ROBOT WARRIOR in all f’ing caps. And who do you think is going to get picked for the space army when the time comes? She is. Because she and her magical babydoll totally own that look.

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5. Remember: You Are a Precious Gift giftwrap THIS One of the bummer things about going out into the big world from your safe little cocoon is that humanity at large hasn’t been vetted by an admissions committee. Unfortunately, there are assholes and psychos mixed in with regular people everywhere you go, and they’re not labeled as such, so you can’t identify them by sight. Want to be sure you’re sharing your heart and mind with only the most truly awesome people? Take a tip from this look: Draw ribbons all over your naked body and rest a giant bottle of perfume on your crotch, then hang onto your face until someone comes along who says, “Hey, I love presents. I think you’re the greatest gift ever!” That’s probably a quality person – or at least someone as crazy as you are, which is just as good. The point is: Don’t waste time on people who don’t value you for who you really are.

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6. Be Different unique snowflakes It’s easy to get sucked into mob mentality, especially when you’re always hanging out with people who are at your same life-stage. You know, how everybody’s got to hang out at the same bar, and everybody’s got to do their hair the same way, and everybody’s got to carry this purse with a face on it. Be the one who stands out. Like these ladies, for example – four distinct individuals, each with her own vibe. Look how different each of them is. NONE of them are wearing the same color glasses. So bold.

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7. Openly Express Your Emotions meh In this age of emojis and hashtags, the art of communicating feelings has been reduced to electronic symbols, and that’s a real shame. Let your generation be the one that reconnects with the people around you through authentic gestures and expressions. If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. If you’re angry, throw a glass of wine at the wall. And if you’re tired of applying sea kelp lotion to your neck and your heavy designer bracelets are making your arms tired and some dumbass wiped their inky blue hands all over your nice ecru smock and you don’t even feel like putting on your Adele wig even though you already slicked your real hair back into a nice tight pre-wig bun, go ahead and make your sad face for all to see. Slouch it out, girl. Your feelings are real.

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8. Never Let Down Your Guard bang Look, this is a sad fact, but it’s a fact of life nonetheless: Danger is everywhere. Do you have to be on edge all the time? No. But you should keep your eyes open, be aware of your surroundings, and know a few basic self-defense moves. No one wants to think it could happen to them, but the truth is that finger-gun purse snatchers are out there, and the tattooed ones are really bold. Don’t be a victim.

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9. Sisters, Have Each Other’s Backs this beach is sad This advice is especially for the ladies: Support one another. Don’t let competition for work, status, or dudes pit you against each other and drain all your smarts and energy into petty woman-vs-woman wars. To illustrate how that kind of behavior turns out, these ladies have acted out a scene in which Miley Cyrus gets super-mad at Dakota Fanning for wearing strappy athletic sandals to a formal bonfire, so she kills her and then props her up on a sand dune to look like she’s just napping with her eyes open. But as you can see, that sort of lady-warfare doesn’t work out for either party. Everyone ends up sad. Or dead.

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10. Don’t Forget What Really Counts skipping en francais So to sum up, remember what the fashion industry has taught you as you go, oh, the places you’ll go: Your degree matters some. Your professional performance matters more. Your outfit matters the most.

Go forth and dress like you mean it, kids.

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In other news: Enormous gratitude to BlogHer for naming I Miss You When I Blink a Humor Voice of the Year for the second year in a row, and also to WordPress for featuring this site again on Freshly Pressed. Holy smokes. Thank you!

(More fashion posts here.)

On Music, Then and Now

April 25, 2014 § 9 Comments

Let’s talk about music for a sec.

I enjoyed this interview in the New York Times Magazine last weekend with Sia Furler, the artist whose songwriting touch turns tunes to gold. The part that interested me was where she said that when she got exhausted from writing deeply personal songs for herself, she took a break and spent a few years writing pop songs for other artists. (She’s a bit of an oddball — and has some demons, clearly — but damn, is she talented. She wrote Rihanna’s “Diamonds” in 14 minutes.) Here, she explains how she feels about that switch:

“Maybe I have some shame around it,” she said. “Maybe I’m embarrassed because I’m writing something so cheesy. Then something like that experience will happen [where she helped an artist articulate a very personal experience in a song], and I’ll realize maybe I’m not as stupid as I thought — and maybe people aren’t as stupid as I think. It occurs to me that there is value to what I do.”

I always sort of wondered how she went from doing songs like “Breathe Me” to writing Flo Rida’s “Wild Ones.”

Anyway.

Speaking of music, here’s an odd little musical thing that happened this week. For the record, I’ve nothing against talking dirty, as long as you’re not talking to a theater full of small children waiting to see a G-rated movie. So thanks a lot for that experience, Regal Cinemas.

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And now for one more musical interlude…  I couldn’t be more delighted that Nancy Kho of Midlife Mixtape (love that name) invited me to contribute an essay to her series, Still in Rotation. I think the music we listen to at certain turning points in our lives becomes a touchstone later — when you listen to it, you remember exactly who you were then, and you realize that the then-person is still there, inside the now-person. I wrote about an album I played on repeat a good bit when I was on the cusp of turning into a teenager. Pop over and visit, if you like.

Thanks — and have a great weekend.

How Euphemisms Keep Life Surprising

April 18, 2014 § 31 Comments

Sometimes, it’s better not to spell out the exact thing you mean. In that case, it helps to use words that put a fuzzy-sunrise filter on the issue instead.

There really should be a "euphemism" filter.

There really should be a “euphemism” filter.

Euphemisms can be a real life-saver in social situations when you don’t want to hurt feelings or offend anyone. You know, like how “she was a bit tipsy” is a cute way of saying “she got so hammered, she tried to use a Sharpie as lipstick.” Or how “unfortunately” is a polite way of saying “fuck you,” as in, “I would love to come to your party, but I’m busy that night, unfortunately.”

Euphemisms can also be useful for maintaining the element of surprise. For example, if I see a movie, and you ask me how the movie was, and I say, “It was… interesting,” and then you go to the movie and discover that it’s about robotic, bloodthirsty aliens time-traveling back to the gunslinging days of the wild wild west, well, didn’t I do a nice job of not spoiling the plot?

Perhaps nowhere is euphemism quite so powerfully employed as in the real estate business. I’ve discovered this lately while doing some house-hunting, and I’ve quickly learned to decipher what some terms really mean.

  • “Old-world charm” = “the doorknobs come off in your hand”
  • “Sold as-is” = “asbestos in the walls and a skull of indeterminate origin in the attic”
  • “Cheery and bright” = “crayon on the walls in every room”
  • “Very open floor plan” = “oven and shower in the living room”

Also, “Tudor-esque,” “Spanish-style,” and “Italian countryside, right here in the city!” all mean “a bastardized cross-cultural mashup owned by a person with delusions of grandeur whose initials you’ll find permanently rendered in the ironwork over the driveway gate.”

Perhaps the very best, though — I mean the super-duper-totally-awesome best — is “historic property with original fixtures.” Do you know what that means?

It means the house comes with a rustic yet convenient murder station in the basement.

I shit you not.

I shit you not.

Wait, what? you say. Yes. Let’s take a closer look at what I actually found in one home I visited.

Now, I know I'm a city girl. So maybe I'm not used to seeing the accoutrements necessary for chopping wood or killing chickens or any number of completely normal activities that happen in some homes. But come on. You can't tell me that wouldn't stop you in your tracks.

Look, I know I’m a city girl. So maybe I’m not used to seeing the accoutrements necessary for chopping wood or killing chickens or any number of completely normal activities that happen in some homes. But come on. You can’t tell me that wouldn’t stop you in your tracks. Also: Yes, I do very much regret not posing with the ax for some additional photos, but there’s nothing I can do about that now.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having a large, petrified stump in one’s basement. I am, however, questioning the decision to carefully ACCESSORIZE IT WITH AN AX and LIGHT IT UP WITH A SPOTLIGHT. Like, welcome to this lovely home that hearkens back to a gentler age… a time when gentlemen wore hats… ladies held luncheons… and recalcitrant staff had their limbs punitively removed in the basement.

It’s just… interesting. That’s all I’m saying.

“Moms Are Nuts,” A Love Letter to Our Funny Mothers

April 10, 2014 § 18 Comments

Do you have any hidden/weird talents that are just waiting for someone to call them out? I bet you do. Like, maybe you walk around every day, hoping that just *once* someone will say, “Hey, Mike — do you happen to have a great impression of Beaker from the Muppets?” so you can finally do your Beaker act for an audience. Something like that.

Well, several months ago, I got that call. Amy Vansant was putting together a humor anthology called Moms Are Nuts. Much to my surprise and delight, she had invited me to contribute an essay to the collection (more on that in a sec). Anyway, we were chatting one day about the book, and she said, “We haven’t settled on a perfect cover yet. I just wish I knew an artist who could, like, bring a bunch of peanuts to life and make them have a little conversation.”

Me: “I’VE BEEN PRACTICING FOR THIS MY WHOLE LIFE!”

Amy: “Oh, so are you saying you could…”

Me: “I’M ALREADY ON THE WAY TO BUY MORE HOT GLUE!”

And that is how this scene unfolded:

nut scene

The world of nut-styling is not as glamorous as many may believe.

Which leads us to this book cover:

cover

Moms Are Nuts is a collection of humor pieces by some hilarious writers (plus me) about the wonderful, weird women who raised them. As you can imagine, it was important to represent a diverse group of mothers, grandmothers, and mother-figures.

photo 1

The photo shoot was lots of fun. In fact, the camera kept rolling on set between takes, which enabled us to capture some rather tragicomic outtakes on film. (More from the blooper reel here.)

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Anyway — I could not be more delighted to be included in this collection alongside some really funny people. Fellow contributors have written for Comedy Central, The Tonight Show, US Weekly, VH-1, and The Onion, and include actors, stand-up performers, and alums of comedy programs such as the Groundlings and Upright Citizens Brigade. Critically acclaimed comedian Abbi Crutchfield contributes, as does comedy writer Gloria Fallon, plus some of my Internet friends, such as Nancy Kho and Wendi Aarons, and… well, there are 26 total. Here, you can see the list on the back cover:

backcoverI contributed the chapter, “Cursing With Style.” People have asked before if I’d publish that piece, and I’ve always meant to look into it… Thankfully, Amy came along and took care of it, so now it’s available in print for the first time. (Remember, kids: Never do work yourself if you could wait for someone else to do it for you.) 

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You can buy it right here, right now. (In a few days, there will also be a button to purchase from Parnassus Books, so you can flaunt your indie-bookstore pride!)

 

Moms Are Nuts makes a great Mother’s Day gift for anyone. It’s not about being a mom, it’s about having a mom. Many of the writers — dudes and ladies included — are not parents. But we all have beloved moms who are wonderfully colorful characters.*

Here’s a link to the official press release. I’m really tickled to be included in this project. Thanks, Amy and the Moms Are Nuts team!

 

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(* As always, a special thanks to my own mom. We’re just like those Proctor & Gamble commercials where the mamas get up early to help their little Olympians lug their skates and get to practice on time, but with cursing instead of skating.)

 

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