Archive for August, 2012

Writer’s Block? Not In My House!


<Requisite apology for not blogging in a while>

It has been an insanely busy 2 weeks. While I could probably write an entire post on that, I find it unlikely that it would really interest anyway. Despite how it may appear, I have not in fact abandoned Life in B-Flat, and will hopefully be resuming a much more frequent writing schedule in near future. For now though, I wanted to re-purpose a blog post I wrote for our company blog. This post has not actually been posted on our company blog yet, so I will probably get in trouble for using it here, because it’ll jack up the SEO or something.  I’m willing to weather that storm, or I’ll just write another post for the company if Vicky so demands it.

I’ve written about writer’s block before, but in this post I have actual tips on how to avoid or counter its effects. It’s my hope that my methods for defeating the block will work for you as well. If they don’t, then I at least hope that you’ll be entertained.

Until next time then!

– Andy

Did you know that the cursor on a Microsoft Word document blinks 56 times per minute? If you’ve ever had writer’s block, you probably do. Why is that? Why couldn’t they have just timed it so that it blinks once per second? Either there’s some hidden meaning there that only Bill Gates knows, or someone at Microsoft is just lazy. Suffice it to say, I’m sitting here at my desk under strict orders from Vicky to create a new post for the company blog, and I really don’t want to find out what happens if I don’t. Normally Vicky is pretty docile, but if you don’t send her blog content, I think she has the capacity to go all Stephen King on you. The longer I sit here though, the more I realize that I’m not the only person in the world who gets stricken with writer’s block. As a matter of fact, I’m willing to bet that a lot of people suffer the exact same thing when it comes time for them to generate content for their website. And so, I present to you 5 ways in which to avoid, stave off, and in some cases, power your way through writer’s block so that you too can have awesome website content:

1)       Keep a notepad handy – Tragically, some of the best stories never told are so because a great idea or topic disappeared before the writer could get it down on paper. You never know when or where inspiration will strike you, but in my experience, it’s rarely when I’m sitting in front of a computer. By keeping easy access to a notepad, be it a $600 iPad or a $0.60 notebook and pencil, you’ll always have a way to capture your ideas before they fly away forever.

2)       Don’t write on an empty stomach / mind – Despite the fact that I spent my entire college career trying to disprove this theory, one does not do their best writing when they are on the edge of starvation or seconds away from face planting on their keyboard in a coma. Before you sit down to write, make sure you’re well rested and well fed. By doing this, you’ll free your mind from internal distraction. From there, you can engage in an 8 hour blitz in which you write a 20 page term paper in one night only to turn it in and get an A the next day. Or, if you’re a normal person, it’ll let you focus your mind and help ensure that you’re writing at your best that day.

3)       Do your homework – One of the worst tortures I can imagine, aside from being forced to watch a Jersey Shore marathon, is having to read something when it’s clear that the author has absolutely no idea what he or she is talking about. Don’t insult your audience by blathering on with empty rhetoric that goes nowhere. Do the necessary research on the topic at hand in order to write intelligently, because if you don’t, your readers are unlikely to give you a second chance. Unless they just finished watching a Jersey Shore marathon. Of course, if that’s the case, the chance that they can read at all is pretty small.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed toward Jersey Shore are reflective of the author alone, and have no bearing on the company’s views toward the aforementioned program.

4)       Know where you’re going – In addition to serving as the slogan for a very fine company, knowing where you’re going will keep you from wandering into a literary wilderness. Before you write, consider creating an outline for what you want to write about. By doing this, you’ll not only ensure that you stay on topic, but you’ll know exactly when to take it home in a glorious, triumphant conclusion.

5)       Just do it – No, this is not a plug for Nike. They don’t need any free advertising. Personally, this is my favorite method for defeating writer’s block. When I opened up this word doc, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to write about. And so, I just started writing. While this method may require extensive revisions by the time you’re done, I find that it’s incredibly freeing and often the catalyst for truly inspired writing. You may, at this point, be accusing me of contrasting with my earlier recommendation to create an outline before you write. A lot of times I do use that method, but one thing I’ve found over the years is that there is no perfect writing method for all situations. Sometimes you do need to create a firm outline before starting out. However, there are those moments when, in the words of Tin Cup, you just have to grip it and rip it. Those times are my favorite, because when you don’t know where you’ll end up, it’s like travelling to an undiscovered country. And that, my friends, was a pretty good Star Trek movie.

And so, 800 or so words later, I’ve completed my assignment. Writer’s block can be the bane of existence, to the point where you’ll want to head butt your monitor but you can’t because it’s the company’s monitor and Support will chew you out for damaging their equipment again. Therefore, instead of risking a concussion or having to replace your equipment, try utilizing the methods I’ve listed above. I can’t promise that they’ll work for you, but they do work for me. And, if just one of us can avoid writer’s block, then there will continue to be life, liberty, and web content from sea to shining sea.


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On Airports and Noise Pollution

T-Minus 20 something hours until GenCon!

As I write this, I’m sitting with Grant at Austin Bergstrom International Airport. As ABIA is one of the last airports in the free world to not offer free Wi-Fi to the poor souls trapped within its confines, it’s likely that I will not post this until we arrive in Indianapolis. However, as airports offer some of the best opportunities on Earth for people watching and reflective thought, coupled with the challenge of whether or not I’ll be able to finish writing this before my battery dies, I feel compelled to write down my thoughts before they are deemed a danger to national security and whisked away by the TSA.

– I do not like flying. I’m not afraid of it, but I find it incredibly stressful. Airports by their very nature seem to exist to drain the happiness from my immortal soul. As a child living abroad, I registered by displeasure for flying by developing the unfortunate tendency to become ill when placed on or near an airplane. At last count, I believe I’ve thrown up in at least 12 different countries. The result of this is that I fly as little as possible, and when I do travel I prefer to do it by car. Unfortunately I don’t like driving either, but that’s another story. I’m really looking forward to the day when we can travel either by teleportation, or when air travel will involve the sleeping pods the used in The 5th Element. That will be green. Super, super green.

– In regards to the TSA, I realize that they’re just doing their job, and that their ultimate goal is to keep us safe (I think anyway). However, that does not change the fact that 1) Their job sucks and 2) No airport seems to follow the same security procedures. That kind of inconsistency is neither good for morale, nor confidence that any of them know what they’re doing. The team at ABIA used to be pretty good, but the seemed to have denigrated into a unit fraught with bureaucratic delay and overall ineptitude. It could be because it’s hot out, I didn’t sleep very well last night, and I’m at least 50% crabby whenever I step into an airport to begin with, but today’s security check made me want to headbutt their radar machine that is probably warping my brain cells. Furthermore, the machine detected an anomaly right below my belt line, even though I wasn’t wearing a belt. As a result, I was the recipient of a somewhat intimate pat down while wondering if I’d grown a tumor on my posterior. If that’s the case, then the last people I want on this Earth diagnosing me is the TSA. They’d probably declare any abnormal growths to be weapons of mass destruction, and insist that I return to the United counter to check my ass through to my final destination.

– Kids are really, really loud. Especially if you’re trying to take a nap at your gate. I’ve long accepted this as a universal truth. However, upon further reflection, it seems like parents who have noisy kids are also abnormally loud themselves in public places. Today this was evidenced by the father who organized an impromptu 10 yard dash for his kids at the gate directly behind me. I appreciate that the spirit of the Olympic Games persists even though the torch has been extinguished, but please, shut up. I don’t expect your kids to sit quietly, especially given the example they’ve been given to follow, but adults should not add fuel to the fire. The most horrifying part of all of this is that we’re not even on the plane yet, and I already find myself looking for the emergency exit. Thankfully the first leg of this journey is a quick 30 minute flight to Houston, during which I will likely pump the loudest music I have through my headphones. I can only pray that this family isn’t going to Indianapolis as well. Should that be the case, I will probably end my journey early, and will need someone to pick me up from the Houston airport. Jason, I’m looking at you.

Tangent: One of the kids is now running around with a sippy cup and without a shirt on. You know you’re in Texas when…

In retrospect, I’m a grouchy mofo at the airport. I’m not going to apologize for that; I’ll just blame genetics. I don’t actually think that either of my parents share my hatred of flying, but we’ll assume for argument’s sake that one or more of my grandparents does. I’m very much looking forward to arriving in Indianapolis, where the dice will flow like a sweet wine in a summer vineyard. Until then, I will continue my journey undaunted, with Grant at my side and my killer instinct fully engaged.

Tangent: Can you check a kid in a pet carrier? If so, how much does that cost? I’m more than willing to cover the cost if that’s an option.

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Another Day In Paradise

In what seems to be an all too often recurring theme, innocent lives were once again forefeit this weekend on American soil at the hands of domestic terrorism. Hatred was once again given a name and identity in the person of Wade Michael Page. As Page was killed in a gunfight with the police, we will never hear the story of what would possess him to enter a place of worship with guns blazing. However, having had some time to reflect on the incident now, I find myself asking the question, “Does it even matter why?”

Truth be told, I tried and failed to write this post yesterday. The last time I wrote on a serious topic was a mere 2 weeks ago following the Colorado theater shootings. I’d actually hoped for a longer reprieve than 2 weeks before the next mass shooting took place, but ain’t that America? When I wrote that post, I was filled with a lot of righteous anger. I didn’t think about what I was writing, I just wrote off of pure emotion and fury. This time however, when I tried to put my thoughts down on paper, I found that I didn’t have the same anger. Why is that? Is it because the people who were killed don’t look like me? Is it because the shootings happened inside a Sikh temple, and not a Christian church? As I started at the flashing cursor yesterday, I began to feel a lot of self-loathing. What the hell was wrong with me, that I shouldn’t be angry about what happened? What kind of person does that make me?

24 hours later, I’ve begun to realize the truth. I am angry. Furious even. Because those people that died don’t look like me, act like me, or believe what I believe. But the truth is, those people were living in the state in which I was born. Those people were living in a country that allows them to believe what they want to believe and say what they want to say. Those people were just like me. And now, because once again a maniac got himself a gun and started blowing people away for reasons that only he knows, those people will never get to do anything ever again. And so, I am angry. But more so than that, I’m tired.

Those who know me best know that in many regards, I am an intensely private person. I tend to hide that behind a suit of armor that’s comprised of jokes, sarcasm, and cynicism. Even beyond that, often times to avoid issues that I don’t want to think about or deal with, I tend to build up walls to hide behind. Walls that cannot be penetrated, and walls that prevent the bad things in this world from having an impact on me. Call it a defense mechanism; call it whatever you want to really. The point is, I’m tired of building walls. I’m tired of hiding. I’m tired of living in a world where the good things seemed to be outweighed by the bad. After the Colorado shootings, I posed the rhetorical question, “when will enough be enough?” The universe, in its infinite wisdom, seems to have answered that question simply by stating, “not yet.”

The truth is that without some radical change, this is going to keep happening. There will always be a psychotic son of a bitch with an agenda. In this case, the perpetrator was a former soldier who’d received a dishonorable discharge and had reported ties to white supremacist groups. I imagine the gun he used to murder people in a place of worship was acquired legally. Regardless, the how and why in this case are inconsequential. Once again, evil has personified itself in our society. Once again, we are left to mourn the fallen without having any answers. And once again, we are left with bloodstains that, without change, will never, ever be removed.

May the fallen find the peace in the afterlife that they were denied on Earth, and may their memories never fade. May their lives be celebrated by those who loved them, and may their deaths be paramount in the process that finally, finally stops the insanity in which we all exist.

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Reflections on Life, The Universe, and Even More Olympics

People probably would have hated Alice Cooper if he wrote a follow up to “School’s Out” entitled “School’s Back In Session.” I guess that would have been like Crosby, Stills, and Nash writing a song about how the establishment was just super.

This past week was one of my busiest in recent memory, due in large part to the fact that my entire client base returned from their summer vacation on the same day, and were once again ready to engage their respective projects with great zeal. Coupled with the fact that I am unable to work any time a US Olympian is on my screen during prime time as a matter of principle, this week resulted in some late night emailing and not a lot of blogging. Throughout the week I had about a thousand different thoughts that I had hoped to weave into a blog post. However, most of those have gone to wherever my lost thoughts go. I think it’s also where a lot of my socks end up, which is why I prefer to wear flip flops. Regardless, here’s a few things that have been bouncing around in my head this week…

– One week from Tuesday, I will return to Indianapolis for the first time in several years to attend GenCon. For the uninitiated, GenCon is a massive gathering of just about every type of gamer on the planet, with a focus on board games, collectible card games, miniature gamers, and more recently, video games. I’m not saying it’s out and out a nerd convention, but if a massive earthquake hits Indianapolis next week, NASA is not going to make it to Mars in the next 50 years or so. During this convention, I will meet new people, study them briefly, and then figure out the best way to destroy them in whatever game we happen to be playing. After all, it’s always fun to meet new people, but it’s even more fun to beat them down with extreme prejudice.

– In less than 24 hours, the NFL Preseason will begin. According to the talking heads, my beloved Minnesota Vikings have about as much chance of having a successful season as I do of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in rhythmic gymnastics. At the moment I really don’t care, because I’m just stoked that football is almost back. Once the season gets rolling though, I fully expect the Vikings to shock the world and make a run at the Super Bowl. After all, they have one of the most inexperienced quarterbacks in the league playing in a division against 3 teams that are all predicted to make the playoffs this year. What could possibly go wrong? To the Vikings, I say to hell with the haters. You go, do your thing, and win the Super Bowl for the people of Minnesota. Meanwhile, I’ll start practicing my ribbon twirling, and will look forward to standing on the podium in Rio with a gold medal around my neck.

Tangent: Do they even have rhythmic gymnastics for men? I don’t think I’d do well if I have to wear a leotard. That seems like it’d ride up in the crotch quite a bit.

– As I write this, the United States currently leads the overall medal count (54) and the gold medal count (26), with the Chinese close behind and the host Great Britain in a distant third. However, it is worth noting that a combined US/UK team would be standing at 40 gold medals and 73 overall medals, which would absolutely crush the Chinese. Seems to me like the British should have tried a little harder in the American Revolution if they wanted to be on top of the mountain. Lincoln once stated that, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” In this case, he was wrong. This house divided stands just fine, but it’s all on this side of the Atlantic.

– Lately I’ve been listening to A Prairie Home Companion a lot while I’m at work. As a native son of the Midwest, I’ve been listening to the show as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is a road trip that we took from Wisconsin to New York / New England. Even though I was no older than 4 years old, I still remember listening to A Prairie Home Companion as we drove across the amber waves of grain. 28 years later, I’m still convinced that there is no better storyteller in our lifetime than Garrison Keillor. The magical voyage to Lake Wobegon that he conjures up for the audience each week is something that would take me forever to do, and even if I could, I would never in a thousand years be able to do it like he can. The reason I bring this up now is because of some rumors that Mr. Keillor will finally retire for good in 2013. While I realize that he has retired in the past, it feels like the next one will be the last time. I don’t so much lament the thought of his retirement, because he’s certainly earned his rest, and the good people at NPR have created an online archive of the show that dates all the way back to 1985. My fear is that, once Mr. Keillor retires, it will mark the passage of an art form that is simply not practiced by enough people these days. In the Information Age, it feels like anything that cannot be said in 144 characters is not worth saying at all. I’m not exactly sure when the world decided that it didn’t have time to listen to stories anymore, but I think it’s a real shame. Maybe if we all just took a step back and listened for a moment, we’d realize that there were still things worth hearing that can’t be conveyed in a minute’s time. At work, I’m constantly guilty of this… perhaps even more so than most of my co-workers. Often I find that I blast from one item to the next, and will become irritated if someone or something slows my progress. I understand that there will always be deadlines that need to be met, but I’ve decided there also needs to time to take a step back and listen to a story once in a while. That’s why, no matter when Mr. Keillor decides to retire, I’ll always make time to visit a place where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.

Per the norm, I’ll end today’s post with yet another haiku:

Football tomorrow,
Indianapolis soon.
Yeah, it’s Andy time.

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