In solidarity with striking Hollywood writers, self-help guru Chad Fifer has refused to write his column this week. However, he has decided to share what it would have been about, just so we know what we're missing out on.
Let me get one thing straight immediately. I am NOT writing this column. You may be reading it, but that does not mean that it has been written. I can neither put pen to paper nor claw to computer while my screenwriting brothers and sisters are out walking the picket lines, trying to get their fair share of the producers' pie. Instead, just as Homer dictated the Iliad to a Grecian scribe, I am speaking these words to my assistant, Sage, who is sketching the letters out with colored pencils and scanning them into the computer, where powerful word recognition software is turning them into the text you now see. No writers have been involved in this process at all – just a speaker, an artist, a machine, and Sage's drunk ex-boyfriend, who is huddled in the corner of the room, watching us.
But writing is so much more than a physical act. All writers, whether novelists, script jockeys, monologue joke-smiths or ad men, do one thing in their brain before putting the words on paper: they synthesize. They take disparate bits and pieces of the human experience – personal memories, pop culture, dreams, observations, cultural stories – and they combine them into a coherent structure, a word-sculpture that has a purpose, whether it's telling a fictional character's story or persuading a TV viewer to buy toothpaste. When I approach this column every other week, I do this same kind of synthesis. I weave together my recent experiences and epiphanies into a coherent piece, building around a specific topic and HELPING YOU ACHIEVE YOUR DREAMS!
This week, I won't be providing that service either. Not while corporate assholes refuse to pay writers for new media projects that they know damn well how to monetize. However, just to show you how entertaining and revelatory this column COULD have been, I will provide you with the bits and pieces that I would have synthesized. In their component pieces, they are tantalizing, but without a writer to make sense of them, they are ultimately meaningless. Here you go:
The other day, I walked into a Best Buy just as a crazed-looking old man in a beard was being escorted out of the sliding front doors. As he was pushed into the early evening air, he shouted back "Good-bye, Best Buy – you Nazi Hitlers!" I don't know what the hell had just happened, but I would have most certainly used the epithet "Nazi Hitlers" in this article, as it is hilarious.
It occurred to me recently that before radio was invented, it was probably pretty difficult to actually hear a person's saliva. Now, thanks to NPR, the crisp, clear, wet sounds of saliva are streaming and podcasting twenty-four hours a day.
Last week, while I was working my job at an ad agency, which is what I do when I'm not CHANGING LIVES in this column, I received a resume from an editor seeking employment. As a writing sample, he included a paper he'd written in college about vampires. Aside from being a stupid thing to use as a professional writing sample, the paper was horrible. Here are the first two sentences of the paper: "Vampires are all around us. Not in reality, of course, but in fiction." I wondered if the guy's intention was to scare me with the first sentence – like, I'd start looking around frantically, thinking vampires were going to attack – and then to reassure me with the second sentence. I didn't hire the guy, but I probably would have used a couple of sentences just like those in this article, for humorous effect.
Small talk has been driving me crazy. All of this talk about the weather is the real cause of global warming, I think. But what else do you talk about with strangers? I'm really uncomfortable around people I don't know very well, and I just prefer to be silent. But then I start wondering if I'm coming off as a weird guy because I'm the only one not talking. In this article, I probably would have listed some different tongue-in-cheek ways to avoid small talk. One or two of them probably would have involved working up a boner.
You know how when you go to somebody else's house, it has a certain smell? Not good or bad – just specific. Sometimes, I'll smell something at random and I'll be desperate to place it. Then, BAM – I'll realize that it reminds me of somebody's house from very long ago, a school friend or neighbor whose name I can't even recall correctly. When I was a kid, I knew that my own house must have a certain smell, but I didn't know what it was, because I lived there. I used to wonder what it was like. Did it smell too much like the potpourri my mother had in bowls everywhere, or more like the kind of food my dad cooked? Did visitors like it? Hate it? Years later, on a few return trips home in my early 20s, I was finally able to perceive it. The smell of my own house. A bit of fresh air, lacquered wood in humidity, a slight hint of perfume. It took me some time, but I finally realized that's what it was. And once I realized that I could smell my own home, I also realized that it wasn't really my home anymore, and that my childhood was over. It was a very sad feeling, and I've been thinking about it a lot in the last couple of weeks.
I probably would have woven some fictionalized version of that last paragraph around the end of my article, and then undercut its sentimentality with something funny and crude, probably recalling a random element from earlier in the article to let the reader know that I'm winding everything up. Something like, "Oh, great – Sage's ex-boyfriend just worked up a boner. I'd better finish this before things get crazy in here."
Then I would probably write a final thought related to the topic at hand. Chances are that with this particular set of thoughts floating around in my head, the topic would have had something to do with our inability to know how we are perceived by others, and the insecurities this causes. But to suggest more than this would be synthesis, which I cannot provide at this point. So, take that, you fat cats! Figure it out on your own.
Okay, Sage, you can stop sketching. I'm done.
More of Chad Fifer's self-help advice can be found here.
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