Posts filed under ‘Cool Stuff Off the web’

The Ultimate Guide…



Writing is a muscle. Smaller than a hamstring and slightly bigger than a bicep, and it needs to be exercised to get stronger. Think of your words as reps, your paragraphs as sets, your pages as daily workouts. Think of your laptop as a machine like the one at the gym where you open and close your inner thighs in front of everyone, exposing both your insecurities and your genitals. Because that is what writing is all about.


Procrastination is an alluring siren taunting you to google the country where Balki from Perfect Strangers was from, and to arrange sticky notes on your dog in the shape of hilarious dog shorts. A wicked temptress beckoning you to watch your children, and take showers. Well, it’s time to look procrastination in the eye and tell that seafaring wench, “Sorry not today, today I write.”


The blank white page. El Diablo Blanco. El Pollo Loco. Whatever you choose to call it, staring into the abyss in search of an idea can be terrifying. But ask yourself this; was Picasso intimidated by the blank canvas? Was Mozart intimidated by the blank sheet music? Was Edison intimidated by the blank lightbulb? If you’re still blocked up, ask yourself more questions, like; Why did I quit my job at TJ Maxx to write full-time? Can/should I eat this entire box of Apple Jacks? Is The Price is Right on at 10 or 11?


Mark Twain once said, “Show, don’t tell.” This is an incredibly important lesson for writers to remember; never get such a giant head that you feel entitled to throw around obscure phrases like “Show, don’t tell.” Thanks for nothing, Mr. Cryptic.


Finding a really good muse these days isn’t easy, so plan on going through quite a few before landing on a winner. Beware of muses who promise unrealistic timelines for your projects or who wear wizard clothes. When honing in on a promising new muse, also be on the lookout for other writers attempting to swoop in and muse-block you. Just be patient in your search, because the right muse/human relationship can last a lifetime.


There are two things more difficult than writing. The first is editing, the second is expert level Sudoku where there’s literally two goddamned squares filled in. While editing is a grueling process, if you really work hard at it, in the end you may find that your piece has fewer words than it did before, which is great. Perhaps George Bernard Shaw said it best when upon sending a letter to a close friend, he wrote, “I’m sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” No quote better illustrates the point that writers are very busy.


It’s so easy to hide in your little bubble, typing your little words with your little fingers on your little laptop from the comfort of your tiny chair in your miniature little house. I’m taking this tone to illustrate the importance of developing a thick skin. Remember, the only kind of criticism that doesn’t make you a better writer is dishonest criticism. That, and someone telling you that you have weird shoulders.


It’s no secret that great writers are great readers, and that if you can’t read, your writing will often suffer. Similarly, if you can read but have to move your lips to get through the longer words, you’ll still be a pretty bad writer. Also, if you pronounce “espresso” like “expresso.”


Part of finding your own voice as a writer is finding your own grammar. Don’t spend your career lost in a sea of copycats when you can establish your own set of rules. If everyone’s putting periods at the end of their sentences, put yours in the middle of words. Will it be incredibly difficult to read? Yes it will. Will it set you on the path to becoming a literary pioneer? Tough to say, but you’re kind of out of options at this point.


A writer’s brain is full of little gifts, like a piñata at a birthday party. It’s also full of demons, like a piñata at a birthday party in a mental hospital. The truth is, it’s demons that keep a tortured writer’s spirit alive, not Tootsie Rolls. Sure they’ll give you a tiny burst of energy, but they won’t do squat for your writing. So treat your demons with the respect they deserve, and with enough prescriptions to keep you wearing pants.

August 24, 2014 at 9:58 pm 3 comments

“America: A Review.”

BY Megan Amram
Originally published July 3, 2013.

How to begin this review? Few countries that debuted in the 1700s have been as controversial or long running (it’s into its 237th season now) as America. It may not have the staying power of perennial favorites such as China or the credibility of indie darlings such as Finland, but America has proven that it can at least make some cultural impact. It’s not the best, but hey, they can’t all be Louie.

America was originally a spinoff of the long-running England. Airing from the 1776-77 season through today, America focuses on a small ensemble of white people using things in the ground to become rich or kill brown people. A sprawling dramedy, it combines all of the loose plot points of a Tyler Perry sitcom with all the fun of being white.

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It has widely focused on the themes of war, freedom, sitting, Fenway Park, maps, the one true Christian god, rugs, pregnancy tits, Vice magazine, butterfaces, coal, butterdicks, “Where’s the Beef?,” Chicago, Larry Flynt, colonialism, Terri Schiavo, NBC single-camera sitcoms, toddlers, suicide pacts, Atari, penny farthing bicycles, SpaghettiO’s (Cool Ranch flavor), tiny dolls, the TLC show Sister Wives, H1N1, television, and genocide. It has some unique perspective every once in awhile, but honestly, America can be super derivative. Most of the stories have already been on The Simpsons.

A lot of episodes in America don’t really hold up. Slavery? Parachute pants? White slavery? It just feels really overdone now. Among the most memorable episodes are “The Civil War,” “Texas,” “World War” (a two-parter), and “Black President.”

Some of the storylines are also a bit of a stretch. Are they really expecting us to believe that they killed all the Indians and that all those Indians did to deserve it was invent diabetes?! And come on—that stuff in the 9/11 episode could not have happened without someone working on the inside. That makes no sense. “9/11” jumped the shark. Hard.

It’s been on so long that no one wants to comment on the OBVIOUS PLOT HOLES. Such awful continuity. Like, how could it be explained that in season 170, George H.W. Bush fathered a mentally disabled son, but then in season 225, that son became president?! Really terrible continuity. I would like to point out that I do appreciate a recent callback to earlier plots. Around seasons 174-184, some of the anti-feminist and sexist storylines were put on the backburner, but it’s nice that we’ve seen a resurgence in this last season.

America has time and time again proved itself as a launching ground for young starlets. It’s fun seeing people before they became huge stars, like John Ritter, Stella McCartney, Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, and Ted “Ted” Bundy. But the ensemble works best when we see the regulars yearn for a raise or promotion, struggle with Mary Tyler Moore’s foibles and be there for Mary Tyler Moore when the going gets rough. I stole this from a review for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but I think it completely and entirely makes sense to literally lift from that review and drop it into this context as well.

As someone with more quirky and alt tastes, I can’t say that America is my favorite thing to watch. I’m more into Breaking Bad. Have you seen season 4?! Season 4 of Breaking Bad is flawless. Season 4 of America is VERY uneven. It had no main black characters. Girls, much?! I love The Wire!

I just hope to God (the American/right one) that they don’t pull some deus ex machina shit at the end of this series. Like, there’s nuclear war with North Korea, or they’ve been dead the whole time or something.

Anyway, it may have veered off wildly from the pilot, but America is definitely worth a look. It’s an interesting experiment in the world of primetime sovereign nations. What the characters lack in consistency, they make up for in body weight, lingering racism, and inconsistency. But it makes for a quick and easy viewing, and can often surprise you with heartfelt turns. It’s like eating Cool Ranch SpaghettiO’s on a warm summer’s eve. And hey, sometimes things get really good right before they’re cancelled.

MY RATING: 50 stars (out of 100).

July 5, 2014 at 9:38 pm Leave a comment

“Because I Said So.”

BY Marsh McCall

Because I said so, that’s why.

Because nobody likes taking piano lessons, but it’s important that you do it. And that’s the end of it.

Because I’m the grown-up and it’s my house–-except for your room, which is nominally yours, but not really, I could go in there any time I want–-and my house means my rules.

Well, I’m sorry to hear that. But it’s not my job to be liked.

Because saying “my rules” is easier than laboring over a long, drawn-out explanation about why my life experience makes me a better judge of your choices.

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Okay, because my brain is more emotionally developed than yours. I’m not boasting, it’s just science. Aha. See? The fact that you’re getting angry proves it. No, I am not shouting. And no, my anger is in response to your anger. It’s not the originating anger. That’s the difference.

Because when I was your age I gave up on the piano, and now every day I regret not being able to play like Billy Joel. Early Billy Joel. Anything before The Nylon Curtain album. Not his best, that one.

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Well, I don’t care if your friend Brad doesn’t have to learn the piano. He isn’t actually your friend at all. He’s a person you think you should like because he’s part of the popular crowd, but if you try to glom on to that group, the end result will be tears and humiliation, and you’ll question your self-worth while lying in bed at night, creating imaginary torture devices you’d like to use on him. How do I know? Because I’ve met people like Barry. What? I said “Brad.” Well, I meant Brad.

Do you still not like me? I honestly don’t care, but I’m asking.

Because if you don’t practice, you can’t have any ice cream.

Because if you do practice, I’ll give you some ice cream.

Because someday when you grow up and nothing’s worked out the way you thought, you might find yourself at a party, with people who all seem to know each other better than you know anyone, and they’re laughing at memories of previous parties you weren’t invited to, and they seem to have made fashion choices that you vaguely sense are clever and interesting. And then you notice you’re in the den, where a lonely upright piano stands in a corner, ignored by the world since some other children long ago gave up on their piano lessons, and as you stroll past you nonchalantly play a little riff, and somebody asks, “Oh, do you play?” And then you answer, “Not really. Just a little tinkering.” And then someone else responds, “Oh, I’ll bet you’re just being modest.” And suddenly you’re sitting at the piano, which is crowded by family photos and dusty Christmas carol songbooks, and you’re playing “Piano Man.” Or “New York State of Mind.” The selection isn’t really important. It doesn’t even have to be a Billy Joel song, but why not? His early stuff just has something… ineffable about it. And suddenly you’re surrounded by people holding glasses of chardonnay, and they’re singing along, at first ironically, laughing self-consciously and pretending they don’t remember the words, but by the end they’re all belting out “The microphone smells like a beer” as if they really mean it, because they do mean it, and little kids are poking their heads into the room to see why their parents are being so loud and embarrassing, and then finally you play those last chords, after which you incline your head modestly, and wait for the applause—and by god there will be applause—and then you say you’re going to go “grab a beer,” but instead you slip out and go home, without saying goodbye to anyone, and in your absence people will wonder whether they had it all wrong about the person they thought you were, and they’ll begin to suspect that you might even have other secrets or metaphysical insights which decorum has prevented you from revealing. And then—and this is very important—you never go back there. Why? Because our mission will be accomplished.

I said “your” mission. Yes I did. Now go practice.

Because I said so, that’s why.

June 29, 2014 at 7:31 pm 2 comments

“Who Are You Really?

By Melissa Balmain

Pick a secret shame…

● In that online quiz yesterday, you chose Céline Dion as your favorite singer because she was the only one on the list you’d even heard of.

● You couldn’t choose a favorite 19th century novel because, as an English major, you never read any of the classics you now pretend to have read, and instead spent 18 months deconstructing Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

● No kind of dog is your favorite dog.

● Your true dream home—a boring furnished apartment that doesn’t smell like your ex, and where you feel no pressure to do anything but nap—wasn’t pictured.

● You’ve never seen Blade Runner.

● At least half the time when you take these quizzes, you find out you’re Chester A. Arthur.

What were you doing before you started this quiz?

● Repressing thoughts of death while Instagramming your Pop-Tart.

● Sobbing uncontrollably while captioning a goat meme.

● Posting at

● Facebook-stalking your middle-school German teacher, who you maybe saw in Key Foods yesterday and who looked sort of OK in a fat-Piers-Morgan way.

● Googling yourself to make sure you exist.

What activity are you avoiding?

● Working.

● Working out.

● Showering.

● Standing up.

● Going to all the trouble of unwrapping that Twix bar.

Online quizzes you regret taking include…

● Which U.S. President Are You? (Answer: Chester A. Arthur)

● Which Historical Personality Are You? (Chester A. Arthur)

● Where Should You Live? (Pitman, New Jersey)

● Which Writer Are You? (Sue Schneider, author of Mulching for Dummies)

● Who’s Your Celebrity Lookalike? (Chester A. Arthur)

● Which Muppet Are You? (Some random chicken)

● What’s Your Porn Star Name? (Chesty A. Arthur)

● Which Downton Abbey Character Are You? (The yellow-Labrador butt from the opening credits)

Pick an irrational hope…

● If only a quiz would tell you you’re Virginia Woolf, you could post about it and people would finally know you’re brilliant and also worry you’re suicidal and start being nice to you.

● If you could post, “I’m Miss Piggy,” they’d think, “Wow, the sexiest Muppet—I guess she is pretty sexy.”

● Posting “I belong in… Paris!” would make your lack of showering seem earthy and European.

● No one knows you’re taking these quizzes over and over till you stop getting lame authors, obscure towns, and crappy Muppets.

After this quiz, you will probably…

● Write a text that no one answers.

● Write a tweet that no one retweets.

● Facebook-stalk your high school chemistry teacher.

● Briefly consider hitting the gym, throwing out your junk food, and going to that Singles ‘n’ Saltimbocca thing tonight, because it’s never too late to turn over a new leaf, goddammit.

● Take another quiz.


● Chester A. Arthur

June 22, 2014 at 10:18 pm Leave a comment

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The blogger tries to think outside the box, or wonder why she sometimes can't.

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"I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint." - Antonio Salieri, from the movie "Amadeus"

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