The Curious Case of Collecting

Collect them all… whiles supplies last!

The marketing teams working for our favorite kids’ cereals brands and fast food restaurants obviously had a good reason to promote collecting the whole series of toys they attached with the food they were selling: to increase profit. But what is strange is the way my actual response was often “sure, okay” or “I won’t make any promises, but I’ll try”. Because in the bottom drawer of my dresser at my parents’ house back in Alabama are several complete collections of plastic figurines.

A few months ago I gladly let a co-worker borrow my Dave Ramsey CD series on Financial Peace. Within a few weeks, she was no longer employed where I work. When I called her to say I’ll drive to her side of Nashville to get my CD’s back, she assured me that she will bring them to me when she’s finished with them. I waited two more months and called again- her phone is out of service.

The funny thing is, I don’t even need the CD’s. I’ve already listened to them and daily apply what I learned. At this point, I should consider them a gift that she needed more than I did. In fact, I didn’t even buy the CD’s myself. Someone gave them to me as a gift.

But they were MINE. And now she has them.

Why must I feel so compelled to want to possess things? Things I definitely don’t need. Things that aren’t even mine.

I am learning to convert this desire of collecting material items to collecting memories of new experiences instead. Collecting all the state quarters does me no good but travelling to random states like Rhode Island (which my wife and I did) stays with me. And I don’t even need a souvenir. As long as I have a memory, I’ll always remember when my wife and I got hot stone massages from two very strong hippie women in downtown Providence. And if one day my memory does fail me, I’ve got the pictures on facebook to remind me.

“There’s something missing in us, we long to make it whole. Though it never feels like it, I know you have it all.” -Pete Yorn (Social Development Dance)

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The Holidays Can Be Painful, Physically

 St. Patrick’s Day shouldn’t be the only holiday where it’s okay to inflict pain on the people you love as well as random acquaintances. 

Surely the person who started the tradition of pinching people who don’t wear green on St. Patrick’s Day was OCD and a sadistic individual. And since evidently people enjoy this sort of thing I thought of some similar monthly traditions we could attach to our already existing holidays, as proud Americans. 

New Year’s Day– January 1st: Wet Willy anyone not wearing white.
Valentine’s Day – February 14th: Wedgie anyone not wearing red.
April Fool’s– April 1st: Poke someone in the ribs for those not wearing orange.
Mother’s Day– May 10th: Step on the heels of those not wearing pink.
Father’s Day– June 21st: Get a person in a headlock if they are not wearing blue.

The 4th of July– Place a lit bottle rocket in a person’s back pocket if they don’t appear to be a proud enough American.
Summer Bank Holiday (Scottish Holiday) – August 3rd: Sneak up and surprise someone by playing a bagpipe very loudly if the person isn’t wearing plaid.

Labor Day– September 7th: Make a person mow your lawn if they are not wearing a leisure suit.
Halloween– October 31st: Force feed a person vegetables if they are not wearing a costume.
Thanksgiving– November 26th: Sneak a live turkey into someone’s bed while they are asleep if they come to the dinner table not wearing one of those black and white pilgrim outfits with the bonnet thing on their head.
Christmas– December 25th: Make a person sign an affidavit swearing they will not mail out Christmas cards with their family dressed in reindeer sweaters the following holiday season if they do not dress up as the Holiday Armadillo during gift exchange on Christmas morning.

Being Excessive and Eventually Finding Common Ground: My First 40,000 Hits on WordPress

Thanks for 40,000 hits.

In my 313 posts on Scenic Route Snapshots, I’ve covered so many random topics along the way that if you type into my search box on the right side of the screen (“Curious? Type any word in the box…) the first off-the-wall word that comes to mind, you are quite likely to pull up at least one entry.  Try it right now if you’d like.  Go ahead, I’ll still be here.

Here are a few examples to try: John Candy, 1977, duckbill platypus, moped, or Ohio.

It all goes back to #9 of The Code: Write an excessive number of posts every month. They won’t all be awesome, but it’s often the ones that I predict won’t really connect with readers that are the ones that really do.  The more I write, the better I’ll be, and the better I’ll know how to connect to readers.”

Perhaps the greatest example of this theory occurred this week: WordPress hand-selected  The Korean Sauna Experience: Friendship, Friendship as a feature story on their “Freshly Pressed” homepage ( wordpress.com/).  Accordingly, my daily traffic has benefited:  The first day I was featured I got 1,748 hits and the second day 1,646.  (Last week’s daily average was 584.)

The funny thing about this is- of the hundreds of posts of written in the past five years, that particular one in my opinion, is definitely not one of my best.  At 1500 words, it’s over twice the length of most things I write.  It’s seems a bit of a bore to me- though I have to keep in mind that it’s an event that I experienced six years ago, so it’s no longer that exciting to me.  But for someone hearing it for the first time, I could see how it could have a different effect.

The point being, I simply lazily posted a familiar story on my website- just another brick in the wall.  But it caught the eye of the right person and found favor with them, which has increased reader subscriptions and daily hits.  In part, because I post an excessive amout of my writings.

I’m way too scatter-brained to come up with a smart theme like http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/, which is creative, yet focused.  Maybe I’m just a conditioned channel-changer, a product of the 1980’s.  Getting exhausted by having to think about the same concept for everything I write about.  So I just write about whatever comes to mind, which by default, ends up being about one of the following things: My Categories: Nostalgia, People, Storytelling, Spirituality, Writing, and Recaps.

So what I can’t accomplish by being clever enough to come up with one solid money-making idea, I plan to make up for in my excessiveness- by typically publishing an average of 28 posts every month, basically one per day.  (Usually I don’t post anything on the weekends, but at least 2 or 3 every weekday, averaging about to about one a day.)

I guess when it comes down to it, I’ve set a secret goal to publish more posts than anyone I know that has a website.  So far, I’ve been successful at meeting that goal.  Doing my best to slowly take over a corner of the Internet, so that whatever noun a person types into Google, they will easily find their way to me.

So in my Spumoniness, I am able to reach out to several demographics of people.  And my hope is that in the end, I won’t be just a gimmick or a fad that people eventually forget about as I fade away into obscurity.  I want to be here in the background of your life, writing the coming-of-age literary soundtrack.

Other posts of this “10,000 Hits” series:

Being Down to Earth, Yet Never Really Touching the Ground (posted April 11, 2010)

Being Original, Yet Never Really Breaking New Ground (posted May 18, 2010)

Being Engaging, Yet Never Really Standing on Dangerous Ground (posted on June 10, 2010)

The Sussudio Effect: Why We Secretly Love the Mysteries of Life

Whether we will admit it or not, we like unexplained mysteries.

Do we really need an answer for everything?  Isn’t omniscience (the ability to know everything infinitely) a trait we reserve for God?  Could we handle the responsibility of having all the answers?  We like to think we want all the answers, but if we did, that would be a life without surprise, suspense, and ultimately, much excitement.

Much of the mystique we deal with revolves around our origin, purpose, and ending.  But even without all the big idea concepts like “why am I here?” and “what exactly happens the moment I die?,” both of which the element of ignorance is attached to, life is still full plenty of petty mysteries to think about.  Which at best, simply reflect the fact that mystery is a part of life.

Like the song “Sussidio” by Phil Collins.  It became a number one hit in July of 1985.  And though I wasn’t quite in pre-school yet at that point, the song has definitely kept a solid spot in the Soundtrack of My Life.  I can’t say that I like the saxophone-enhanced song just because of its feel-good vibes and groovy melody.  A big part of why I like the song is because of its quirkiness.  Because let’s face it, no one really knows what a “sussudio” is.

In recent years, thanks to Phil Collins’ interviews that have surfaced and have been referenced in Wikipedia, I have learned that Phil always did a lot of ad-lib and improvising in the studio.  He often would record the music to the song before he wrote the words, just making up random words and phrases to hold the place; then coming back later to replace the gibberish with actual lyrics.

“Sussudio” was a place-holding made-up word that he never came up with a replacement for.  And so it remained.  The word still doesn’t mean anything.  It’s not the name of a girl, as some have assumed.  It’s just a mysterious word.  You get to decide what it means.  Weird concept, but after all, the song did make it to the number one spot.

Why?  It’s a great catchy song.  And it’s mysterious.

I will deliberately bypass the way-too-obvious fact that LOST’s popularity is associated with its strategic and clever uses of mystique (LOST- Answering Questions that Were Left Unanswered) and instead close with the fact that we can spend a lifetime just unveiling the mysteries of the people closest to us in our lives.

It’s not like we sit down with our parents or spouses or best friends and interview them with a #2 pencil and steno pad about their childhood and see what we can learn about them that we didn’t know before.  Instead, we just wait for those random trigger words to show up in conversation, which prompt a story that we’ve never heard before about them before.

Sometimes when my wife and I are out at a restaurant, we (being “people watchers”) will notice an older couple sitting in silence, only really speaking to say predictable things like “How’s your steak?”  We want to be cooler than that when we’re older; we want to have cool stuff to talk about, even now.

There are so many hidden stories in each of us.  We can only try, in a lifetime, to extract them from each other.  Not that they all can be told even in one lifetime, we ourselves can’t remember them all.  Because unlike God, we mysteriously ended up without an omniscient memory.

The Art of Storytelling: How to Be a Good Storyteller- Start in the Action or Plot, Note the Irony and Comedy, Then Do a Quick Recap

I’m not good at it.  I just follow a formula I made up.

Last month my Italian second cousin Phyllis from Kenosha, Wisconsin left me a comment on my post People Watching in Nashville Traffic, saying, “I love your stories!”  Until then, it had never crossed my mind that I even told stories.  I’ve always seen myself as a younger Grandfather Time- the voice of a man who keeps one foot in the past and one in the present, in order to keep a nostalgic feel on everything “new” idea I write.  Just an involved narrator.

I’ve always thought of myself as a commentator on life.  A writer of nonfiction.  There’s no hesitation in me admitting I’m no good at making up stories- fiction is something I am only a spectator of, not a creator.  What I can do is embellish the story that is already there.

Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon

By connecting the facts to old school pop culture references with a subtle smart Alec touch.  Finding ways to make the ordinary occurrences of life seem more interesting than they are.  My favorite author, Michael Chabon, refers to it in his book Maps and Legends, as “the artist’s urge to discover a pattern in, or derive a meaning from, the random facts of the world”.

 

And that’s basically what I’m doing.  And I get so much out of it.  It makes me feel like, in a sense, I’m about to prove the world’s wisest man ever, King Solomon, wrong, when he said there’s nothing new under the sun.  (Though he’s still obviously right.)

Because everyday life events actually are more interesting than they seem.  They may just need to be seen from a reversed diagonal angle.

So now I’m embracing the fact that intermittent in all my quirky observations are actually little stories.  The tag “storyteller” became even more real to me yesterday as I was conspiring with my sister to write Which Role Do You Play in Your Family? When I asked her what my roles are, the word “storyteller” came up write away.

There are certain things about yourself you can only learn from other people.

Frank Lapidus

Maybe my surprise in all this is the connotation that the word “storyteller” conjures up in my head.  Some eccentric, animated man looking like Frank Lapidus from LOST (for some unknown reason) telling a corny ghost story to a bunch of kids gathered around a campfire who all gasp at the end of the tale when he says, “And the ghost of Tom Joad still haunts this campground today in the form of the wolf that killed him…”  And of course, right as he finishes that sentence, the storyteller’s buddy, who has been hanging out in the woods waiting for his cue, howls at the top of his lungs, for dramatic effect.

 

But now I get it.  Storytellers can also recite true stories.  Nonfiction.  That is my specialty.  And now that I better understand who I am as a writer and communicator, I am starting to realize my frustration when people don’t tell stories the way I like to tell them (and hear them).

Like the guy at work who drags out the end of the story until the last sentence.  And I think to myself, “You can’t do that!” Because I get annoyed waiting to find out the point of the story and I stop listening and start thinking about something else, and whatever I start thinking about instead ends up becoming a new post on this site a few days later.

Or the friend of a friend who uses the punch line or climax of the story as the opening line.  Again, “You can’t do that!”  Because then I feel like there’s really no point in sitting around to hear all the details.

What that tells me about my own form of storytelling is that I have a formula for it:

1)     Start the story in the first moment of action and/or the plotline.

2)     Get to the resolution of the story by the second paragraph, approximately 1/3rd or halfway through the length of the post (or if the story is being told orally, 1/3rd or halfway through the time set aside to tell the story).

3)     Spend the rest of the time or page space picking out the irony and humor of the story’s events.  By not ending the story when the story actually ends, but instead, ending on an provoking or comedic recap note, it opens up the door for the listeners to share in the story- because the story is resolved, yet left open-ended.  (Like the finale of LOST.)

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on storytelling, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

People Watching in Nashville Traffic

Practice makes perfect.

Picture of the actual event. See the trumpet?

I am absolutely a “people watcher”, always ready to spot slightly strange behavior from the strangers around me.  Pay dirt.  Yesterday as I was driving home from work, I couldn’t help but notice (whether I was “people watching” or not) that during the red light, the man in the car in front of me pulled out a trumpet and played it until the light turned green again. 

This happened for the remaining five or six traffic lights we shared until I turned the other way to get to my house.  Each time the light turned right, he immediately pulled out his horn.  It didn’t take long for others to notice what he was doing.  Laughing to themselves as they witnessed the random happening.

Was he just trying to squeeze in some extra practice time for an upcoming gig?  Or a recital?  The man was at least 30 years old. 

Or maybe he just really has a passion for music?  After all, this is Music City.

For another humorous  social observation in Nashville, read Operation: Mustache (A Social Experiment).

I “Get” Conan O’Brien: Why So Many Americans Support Team Coco Over Jay Leno

In the Year 2010…  In the Year 2010…


I am one of those people who function best on 5 ½ to 6 hours of sleep a night.  Any more than that and I’ll wake up with a headache and the rest of the day will just drag by.  This is something I learned in high school (1995-1999).  And the way I found this out was by staying up every night to watch the then unfamiliar Conan O’Brien.

He acknowledged his audience: High school students, college students, and senior citizens.  Demographics showed those were the people who for some reason kept tuning in each night.  Those were the groups of people who “got” his kind of humor.  Such as:

A giant bear wearing a diaper who was put in a chamber with cash flying around who instead of grabbing for as much cash as he could during the 30 second time limit, he chose to grab… himself.

Staring contests between Conan and his sidekick Andy Richter with distractions on stage to make it for challenging for them both.  My favorite was when a robot came out on stage and sat down on a toilet.  The sound of bolts clanking into the bowl were heard.  Then the robot raised his arms in victory.

Andy Richter’s little sister.  She was in love with Conan and would sit in the audience in her pajamas and pigtails and rush up on the stage whenever she got a chance.  I remember having a crush on the 25 year-old actress who played her; it was her first role on TV.  Years later she ended up on SNL and eventually got her own show, Parks and Rec.  Amy Poehler.

Not Cool Zeus.  Conan would flip through his “special NBC satellite” channels to see what else was on while his show was on.  He watched a show called Not Cool Zeus where Zeus broke obvious social boundaries.  One time he drank milk right out of the container from the fridge, looked around to see if anyone was looking, then snuck it back in the fridge.  Another time he did a huge cannonball into a swimming pool right next to a group of people who were just chilling out.  Each time a red logo would be stamped onto the screen that read “NOT COOL ZEUS”.

Raymond, who gives away Preparation H to audience members and sings, “Raymond’s here, Raymond’s here”.

Triumph the Insult Comic dog: “For me to poop on!”

Secrets with Mr. T.

http://hornymanatee.com/

Twitter Tracker.

When it really comes down to it, Conan O’Brien is my favorite comedian on TV.  And he has been as long as I’ve been watching him.

I don’t “get” David Letterman’s style of humor.  I’ve tried.  I failed.  The dry, aimless, ad-libbing Midwesterner and his Jewish bandleader Paul Shaffer were never a team that pulled off keeping my attention.  I’ve never made it through a full episode of his, not even the ones where he heavily addressed his scandal.

But Conan’s randomness reminds me of the way my guy friends and I joke around.  It’s not vulgar.  It’s just weird and off the wall.

Conan O’Brien is much more scripted.  Almost too scripted.  And somehow that becomes an advantage instead of a downfall.  It’s part of the fun.  In a way it’s like he’s making fun of how organized the show is.  He has always mocked NBC and his writers.

Like a grown-up version of Pee Wee’s Playhouse where he is the only legitimate entertainer amongst a crew and network consisting of imbeciles.  And a creepy Jewish bandleader named Max Weinberg who just happens to also be Bruce Springsteen’s drummer.  That is solid.

And the fact that Conan refuses to change his Spandau Ballet hairstyle. And that he speaks in a 1940’s radio broadcast dialect.  And that he constantly makes fun of his pasty white skin and lanky 6’ 4” body.

Yet he comes across as the classiest late night host.  Conan is somehow timeless.

I remember a few years ago I remember thinking how weird it would be if any of the late night hosts themselves ended up in the headlines.  Because so much of their job is sarcastically commentating on what’s going on in the news.  Ironic.  Now with David Letterman’s sex scandal, Jay Leno’s failed new show, and Conan’s leaving The Tonight Show, all the bases are covered.

I will always be a Conan guy.  Whether he’s on NBC or not.