Brooks Landon Building Great Sentences

Building Great Sentences: For hardcore writers only

Brooks Landon Building Great Sentences

It’s a certain type of person who would glance at the plain white cover of Brooks Landon’s Building Great Sentences and be tempted to give it a look. Granted, it’s not the most grabbing of titles. But Landon delivers exactly as promised, offering useful advice and his opinion on why focusing on the minutiae of sentence form can turn a good writer into a great writer.

In the past ten years, writing has become truncated, shortened to its core meaning, especially in the age of the internet. No more is this evident than the emergence of the Hemingway App, an admittedly super helpful tool for writers (which I use regularly-though not for these free-flowing blogs). The app helps writers eliminate needless words and distill their message while retaining the intended meaning. Hemingway is great, no doubt, but I’ve been having this feeling that it also kind of takes the soul out of your writing. Looking at a draft after its had a bout with Hemingway, you see that the writing has improved. But the new draft often looks like most internet-based writing: Informative, but without much style.

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Raising the Floor by Andy Stern, Universal Basic Income, US economy

Raising the Floor: A convincing case for a universal basic income (for those with patience)

Raising the Floor by Andy Stern, Universal Basic Income, US economy

Before reading Raising the Floor, by Andy Stern, former head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), I had little reason to support the idea of a Universal Basic Income. It seemed a politically impossible idea fraught with the same risks of abuse that plague our current welfare system. But by the end of the book, I came away with a much more positive view towards an idea that not only seems possible but, in a lot of ways, inevitable in our job-scarce future.

For those new to the concept of UBI, it would provide a small stipend to each citizen, regardless of income. This year, Switzerland offered a referendum on a national UBI, which was narrowly defeated. A UBI would serve as a safety net so that citizens can seek meaningful work without having to take a paycheck at a soul-crushing job just to pay the bills. At first, it basically just sounds like an expanded version of our current welfare system without preconditions. But as Stern explains it, the UBI serves more as an impetus and mechanism for average Americans to become more responsible and entrepreneurial with their lives.

A fair warning: The book is slow-going at first. Stern takes a while (3/4 of the book to be more accurate) to actually get to the subject of the UBI. I spent pages wondering when he was going to get to it and why a book that’s supposed to be about UBI only contains about 50 pages delving into the topic. But just as a good thriller spends an hour setting up the plot, only to destroy you with the climax, Stern uses the first three-quarters of the book to set up a terrifying vision of our future world.

Johnny Five, Short Circuit, automation, robots

In short: The robots are coming!

That’s right. It’s not too surprising to find out that automation will make most jobs scarce in the future since it’s already happening. Just as the computer destroyed the typewriter industry and the internet is killing print journalism, the same will happen to industries such as transportation (self-driving cars), retail and manufacturing (consumer 3-D printing), and even healthcare (direct-care robots-yes, really). But the shocking part might be how soon this will happen. We’ve read about Tesla and Google’s attempts at perfecting the self-driving car and the spread of 3D printing. While these technologies aren’t fine-tuned enough to truly disrupt our economy, they’ll get there within five years. Once self-driving vehicles are a reality, you can say goodbye to the truck drivers, who makes up a sizable portion of our nation’s economy. UPS and FedEx will either adapt or be obsolete.

Continue reading “Raising the Floor: A convincing case for a universal basic income (for those with patience)”

Gucci Mane, ice cream cone tattoo

What Gucci Mane taught me about the modern marketplace

Gucci Mane, ice cream cone tattoo

The first time I experienced Gucci Mane was in 2008 after an upper scale benefit. You know, the type you pay $100 for a plate and watch people exhibit their money on overpriced auction items. It was for a good cause and everything…

I was there as a teacher, a chaperone watching over my students as they ran the coat room and waited tables. The first year they weren’t able to sample the food, but instead were given lukewarm ghetto pizza. But at least they could eat this year.

You could sense the divisions all night and I was uncomfortable as their white teacher, overly aware that I was kind of part of this. So I over-compensated and spent the night with the kids, tossing out trash, cleaning up the floors, trying to help out. They were more fun anyway.

But that’s not what this article is about.

After the event, I drove a few of the kids back to the bus station at Dudley Square, as far away from my safe, white Newton suburb as you can get. On the way, the kids threw in a CD and cranked it so loud my speakers gasped for air.

Bricks/All White Bricks/Light Tan Bricks/Just Hit A Lick/For 50 More Bricks

My head was ringing from exhaustion and annoyance. Every year I make the statement that rap can’t get any worse than this. Once again I made that statement. This was horrible.

I figured Gucci was just another fad; another Chamillionaire or Chingy or Lil’ Flip. They come and go, these guys, and I assumed the same for Gucci.

Boy was I wrong.

Imagine my surprise when I found that Gucci was even more popular when I moved across the country and began teaching in Arizona. Gucci was still there, saying basically the same thing. Except now, he had an ice cream cone tattooed on his face.

So I started to pay more attention to Gucci, to avoid writing him off as I had before. And I have to say I learned some lessons.

Quantity creates quality

Gucci Mane chains

In the age of the internet everything is impermanent. Today’s water cooler talk is tomorrow’s faded memory. I wonder what people will think ofStranger Things in 5 years. Probably nothing.

This is what Gucci Mane seems to understand. Since I’d first heard him, he’d released a staggering 45 mixtapes along with a dozen or so official albums and EPs. All this while getting arrested a few times a year.

This guy was sure busy.

Gucci understood the concept of frequency and how it relates to today’s media landscape. The more often you release music (or publish) the more popular you become. This same principle applies to blogging (or Medium for that matter) or Tweeting or posting videos on Youtube. The most frequent are usually the winners.

By being frequent, you refuse to let the public forget about you. Madonna may have been the first to fully exploit this when she continually sought out the latest producers to stay relevant (followed by Jay-Z). This wasn’t accidental.

Continue reading “What Gucci Mane taught me about the modern marketplace”

Female Man Joanna Russ

The Female Man: A weird, somewhat dated science fiction/feminist manifesto

Female Man Joanna Russ

Two months ago I came across a list of Nebula Award winners and felt an urge to read them all. I’ve largely stayed away from sci-fi since my college days, when I binged on Asimov and The Dark Tower series like a crazed drug addict. The genre grew stale due to sci-fi’s penchant for hollow characters. I had to wonder why none of these characters ever had a sense of humor (which made me love The Dark Tower series even more).

I figured that I would be safe by sticking to Nebula Award winner, some of which I’d already read. The first on my unread list was The Female Man, Joanna Russ’ strange, almost-great 1970s mashup of science fiction and early 70s feminist politics. The premise sounded intriguing and unique, so it seemed natural to start here.

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Martin Amis The Information

Martin Amis’ The Information is a bit too much information

Martin Amis The Information
Looks like I disagree with you Michiko

Like Pynchon, I really want to be a Martin Amis fan. He’s certainly got that British wit that I love. Also, he populates his novels with unlikable blowhards, which I’ve always enjoyed for some reason. Nothing annoys me quite like an overly likable main character.

I began with Amis’ Money, which I found quite funny, odd, and full of debauchery. It was just the thing I was looking for at the time; a cynical exploration into what it means to be an “American” told through the eyes of a hapless, greedy, idiot that ultimately fails in his attempt at glory, leaving the reader laughing at his bottom-feeding.

Unlike Pynchon, Amis is much more readable and easy to follow, which is why I chose to read The Information following the psychological torture of Gravity’s Rainbow. I figured it would be a breezy read that I could use to cleanse my pallet. This turned out not to be entirely true.

For whatever reason, this book could not grab me the way Money did. Like the other novel, Amis’ main character in The Information is juvenile in his attitude toward women and friends; a cynical asshole to put it simply. In this case, the main character is Richard Tull, a failing writer who develops an obsession with his friend, Gwyn, who despite his pedestrian writing, becomes a world famous author.

I normally enjoy tales of writers hating other writers and the battle of egos. And I did enjoy this story.

Initially.

The problem is that The Information is waaayy too long. Halfway through, scenes of Richard trying to sabotage his friend with a pitiful gang of local toughs grew repetitive and boring.

There are some laughs along the way, mostly owned by the gang, whose members are a mix of dumb-guy/smart-guy that always works well in comedy. But it just never seems to go anywhere.

Just when I was about to drop out of the book completely, a weird twist shows up that had me at least mildly interested for the next 50 pages or so (I won’t give the twist away unless you ask). But this change in perspective also goes on too long, to where it didn’t seem shocking anymore, but rather boring.

There’s also some extreme over-writing in the The Information (ironic that I mention this since I’m a guilty over-writer myself). The language grows so twisted and erudite in some of its sentences that the jokes often get lost in the labyrinth of words. I know this is a British thing, but it’s been done better by Amis himself, nevermind the works of Oscar Wilde and numerous other British humorists.

I won’t give up on Amis yet. He’s still got a .500 batting average with me so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. There were certainly aspects of the novel I enjoyed. I just wish there weren’t so much damn information.

freelancer funny

How to be a freelancer

freelancer funny

After 10 so-so years of teaching, I decided not to renew my contract and seek a career as a freelancer. I know that’s a general term. After all, you could conceivably be a freelance beggar if you wanted to use that terminology. After all, you would only be accountable for yourself.

It hasn’t gone that bad for me, but it also hasn’t been easy. I’m finding some regular freelance clients while driving for Uber at night, so I’m double freelancing if anything.

I wanted to share my daily schedule for those who are thinking about dipping their toes in the freelance writing field. First, know that dipping your toes won’t get you wet because it’s exxxtremmely time consuming to make any sort of return on freelancing. But once you get there, it’s worth it.

Or so I’m told.

Now here, for your education, is my daily schedule.

8:30 am: Alarm rings. I turn off alarm.

9:30 am: Alarm rings again. I think about getting up but fall back asleep.

10:00 am: Alarm goes off a third time. I finally wake up. Spend next hour cursing self out for sleeping so late. Check email; the most pointless and time-consuming first.

11:00 am: Get out of bed, curse self out for another 10 minutes.

11:10 am: Forgive myself in the mirror and tell myself that I’m going to have a “great and productive day”

11:15 am: Spend far too long thinking about what to make for breakfast when I know damn well that I’m having eggs.

11:30 am: Eat eggs, read news. Check Wikipedia page of band I liked in high school. Debate someone I barely know on Facebook about whatever Donald Trump said the day before.

12:30 pm: Wonder out loud where time went and curse self out for spending so much useless time on internet. Make lunch.

12:45 pm: Turn on Uber app for first ride of the day. Get aggravated that no one requesting a ride. Decide to drive closer to downtown.

1:00 pm: Receive first Uber ping. Passenger travels around corner and I make $1.47.

1:15 pm: Receive 2nd Uber ping. Passenger cancels when I’m 1 minute away. Decide to drive to coffee shop.

1:30 pm: Get to coffee shop and order coffee. Read remaining email and engage in one last debate over latest conservative outrage. Check out Craigslist, Journalismjobs.com, and Upwork for gigs.

2:00 pm: Finally begin work on 7000 word ebook project and forget how easy and enjoyable it is to write and edit.

4:00 pm: Stomach rumbles. Debate eating lunch while reading about what obscure actor is doing now and get disappointed in result.

4:30 pm: Eat lunch. Debate doing another Uber drive, but take walk around block instead.

5:00 pm: Work on blog article assignment. Once again feel the thrill and enjoyment of writing exactly what I wanted to say.

6:00 pm: Take a minute to enjoy being productive while simultaneously being unproductive.

6:10 pm: Back to work on 2nd blog article, then edit with Hemingway App. Realize my 1st draft wasn’t as great as I thought and Hemingway would hate me. Fix mistakes and tighten up writing.

7:30: Send out 5 responses to Craigslist ads. Send 5 pitches on Upwork and another 5 for Journalismjobs. Realize I forgot to change pitch email on at least half my pitches.

8:00 pm: Get email from Listedby.com, asking me to invest in Miami real estate. Realize I was data-mined by Craigslist ad.

8:05 pm: Go to bathroom 6 times in next half hour due to day’s coffee intake.

8:20 pm: Realize I’m out of gas (figuratively). Turn on Uber app and plan to drive back towards home.

8:25 pm: First night Uber ride, which takes me in opposite direction of home.

9:00 pm: Get home. Pace around house for 15 minutes then make dinner.

9:20 pm: Eat dinner. Watch 15 minutes of TV.

9:45 pm: Go for short bike ride and listen to podcast.

10:15 pm: Back to different coffee shop that’s open until midnight.

10:20 pm: Sit outside, read a book and pretend I’m in 1920s Paris.

10:45 pm: Write Medium article or post on my blog.

11:15 pm: Write screenplay, the most important writing to me that gets the least amount of time. Scribble madly.

12:00 am: Realize I ran out of time just when it was flowing.

12:05 am: First late night Uber drive, usually from strip club. Drive passenger silently. Mentally figure out how much money I need to make before I can go home.

12:30 am: Promise myself I’ll be home by 1 am and be in bed by 2.

1:00 am: Surge goes on. Decide I’ll drive for another half hour.

2:30 am: Get home. Eat salty snack and watch 1/2 half or hour of TV, only half paying attention.

3:30 am: Read in bed. Panic at how late it is.

4:00 am: Go to bed.

You too can become a freelancer if you have the stomach to break promises to yourself, beat yourself up, dust yourself off, actually do some work, then have a little fun before driving a bunch of drunks around town and praying that they don’t puke in your car.

I know you’ve got it in you.

Good luck and write on!!!

Trump pledge immigrant values test

Leaked! Donald Trump’s immigrant values test

This story originally appeared on Medium.com under the Mindwafers publication

Trump pledge immigrant values testThrough a bit of old-school investigative journalism mixed with nights of dumpster foraging and some help from Ukrainian hackers, Mindwafers was able to uncover the text of Donald Trump’s much talked about immigrant values test.

Trump unveiled his plan this week to assign a “test” to incoming immigrants in order to determine their loyalty to the US. We as a news organization love the idea because, as we all know, tests are never wrong and are the best way to gauge ability. After all, people never cheat on tests.

Regardless of how you feel about the plan, check out the test questions below. Have a try at and figure out if you should be banned from the US. It’ll be a fun and educational adventure!

Original Text

United States National Test of Human Excellence Measurement (USNTHEM)

Directions: Choose the correct answer to the following 10 questions. If you have a question, please refrain until the test is completed. If you need to use the restroom, please inform security detail. You will be led into a side room and affixed with a small GPS collar.

Good luck!

Question 1: When reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, you should:

a. Sit quietly

b. Lip sync the words

c. Place your hand on your heart

d. Detonate a dirty bomb within 50 feet of a busy town center

Question 2: The greatest president of all-time was:

a. George W. Bush

b. Ronald Reagan

c. Donald Trump

d. Nothing is greater than Allah

Question 3: It is December 20th and you see a friend on the street. You wish him/her a:

a. Merry Christmas

b. Quirky Kwanzaa

c. Happy Holidays

d. Radical Ramadan

Question 4: Where is the best place to get breaking news?

a. Anything but the mainstream media

b. CNN

c. Fox News (except for anything involving that Megyn Kelly broad)

d. Inspire magazine

Question 5: True or false: The US is better than your hell-hole country:

True

False

Question 6: You want to live in the US because:

a. I want to live in the greatest country in the world

b. I want to breathe the same air as Donald Trump

c. I want to be able to see first-run episodes of The Bachelor

d. I want to be the one to take down the Great Satan

Question 7: Why did you leave your native country?

a. Lack of job opportunities due to US “winning” the economy

b. Country is run by Communists and Socialists

c. Ugly men/women compared to US

d. I was sent on a mission

Question 8: What do you think are the 2 most important fundamental principles of the United States?

a. Freedom and winning

b. Freedom and free speech (with exceptions)

c. Freedom and freedom

d. Foreign wars and destruction of Muslims

Question 9: I would describe myself as:

a. A great looking woman

b. A hard working man

c. An obedient child

d. A soldier for Allah

Question 10: Choose one: Would you consider yourself:

White

Other

How did you do? For us, this seems to be a full-proof plan to rid ourselves of the terrorist influence taking over our culture. There is no possible way to trick this test.

We applaud you Future President Trump!