Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Here's What Jew Talkin' About

Welcome to the answer portion of my 5th annual Jew & A! We've got some good questions this year — far better than the answers, to be sure — so read on.

Gillian asks:
If you were going to have a party for kindergarteners celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas and the Winter Solstice what elements from each holiday would you emphasize in the celebration?
Chocolate gelt, Christmas cookies, and... uh... Olaf? Sure, why not. Olaf.

If you're worried this would result in a massive frenzy of sugar-laden five-year-olds bouncing off the walls and singing "Let It Go" endlessly at the top of their lungs, you worry too much. Remember: Gillian didn't ask what elements I'd recommend for such a party; she asked what I'd do if I were throwing it. I would be like a god to those kindergartners. A god with a video camera and a suddenly viral YouTube channel.

Alex J. Cavanaugh asks:
What happens if you forget to light a candle one night?
You get an extra candle to use next year.

But seriously, if someone misses a candle he is inevitably overcome by crippling guilt at having failed an entire race of people, guilt that would reduce the toughest man in the world to a useless puddle of blubbering and tears. But of course, we're Jews, so that's pretty much par for the course. We barely notice.

Naomi asks:
What should I tell my Jewish 4-year-old about Santa Claus? Or should I just let him find out on the street?
Don't you dare let my nephew find out about Santa on the street. You might think it'd be good for him to see the jolly old elf standing outside a local store collecting money for charity. But 4-year-olds interpret that as taking payoffs from people to ensure they make it on his Good list. Plus, it's just as likely he'd first come across a drunken, slovenly Santa letching after girls from an alleyway. Either way, once he started sharing his thoughts on Santa with friends, he'd be ridiculed.

You should go the explanation route instead. Share both of the prevailing schools of thought on Santa and let him decide which one to believe. (As a reminder, they are: 1) the Theory of Evolution — that Santa's otherworldly powers evolved over the years as a matter of survival, to avoid being relegated to the dustbin of forgotten saints; and 2) the Theory of Creationism — that Santa is, in fact, an entirely made-up construct with no basis in reality.) Good luck! I hope he turns out to be a creationist like his uncle!

Jenny asks:
What is the preferred dance move to accompany the Dreidel Song?
The traditional Dreidel Song dance is actually a series of moves done in quick succession: the Tiny Dancer, the Easy Bake, the Tick Tock, and the Half-Twist, with your choice of either the Whirling Dervish or the Weeble Wobble during the chorus. Repeat until the singer gets tired of singing the same verse over and over, because it's the only one she knows.

Jewish Like the Olive Garden is Italian asks:
What qualifies you to answer questions on Judaism? You haven't been to synagogue since you were eight, and your family's sole method for celebrating every Jewish holiday (except Hanukkah) is a brisket dinner.
Um, I'm Jewish. Duh.
All Jewish knowledge is passed down genetically, so it's innate.*

* Get it? Innate? (Yeah, unfortunately, punning aptitude is also passed down genetically. Thanks, Dad.)

And that'll do it for this latest session of Jew & A. I hope it has been enlightening for you. Now bring on the kindergartners!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What Jew Talkin' About, Wilson?

Hanukkah is less than a week away. What does this mean? Two things. Firstly, I need to buy and wrap an octet of gifts insignificant enough that Santa would crush them under his jolly boot and not give it a second thought. And secondly, it's time for my 5th Annual Jew & A!

In other words...

I will answer any question you have
about Judaism.

That's right: Just post any questions you might have about Jews or Judaism in the comments section before Hanukkah begins (i.e. when darkness overcomes us on 12/16), and I will answer them for you.

Perhaps you've always wondered where the Jewish unfaithful are most likely to hide their stash of bacon. Or if Moses' deep-seeded aversion to water stemmed from his early basket trip down the Nile. And oy, won't your daughter ever meet a nice Jewish boy and settle down? Whatever your query, send it my way. Even if it's been asked before, don't let that stop you -- much like the Jewish calendar, the answers to such questions are in constant flux.

So, what do you want to know?

The Original Primer and Past Jew & A's:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Bi-Monthly Post to Prove I'm Still Alive

I haven't written anything here in a while.[citation needed] Thus, by now a good number of you have surely come to the conclusion that I'm dead. I assure you I'm not. As proof, I offer you this: I am writing this post.

Okay, fine. Technically I could have written and scheduled this ages ago. I assure you I didn't. As proof, I offer you this: I don't plan ahead; I procrastinate.1

Anyway, here is some of what's happened over the past few months:
  • My wife officially beat cancer a second time.
  • My improv group had its debut performance. We rocked.
  • My son became fully potty-trained. It rocked.
  • I made umpteen repairs to our house with my own two hands.2
  • One of my photos was used in a Buzzfeed article. (It's #3.) I only found out after my friend Scott (the pinchee) was asked if it was him or his doppleganger.
  • For Halloween I dressed as a Disney lawyer for a Disney-themed party, handing out cease-and-desist orders to everyone else there.
  • I read over 100 books.3
  • The National Science Foundation asked to use haiku from my 2012 Robot Haiku contest in an upcoming campaign. (I'll post a link once the campaign launches.)
  • I went for a jog today.4
  • I wrote this post.5
So there you have it. I'm alive.


1 Note to self: Write this footnote before posting.
2 "Umpteen" means "innumerable," or in other words, "unable to be counted," so technically what I said is true. (It turns out I'm much better at doing repairs with my father's own two hands.)
3 Almost every one contained pictures of trucks.
4 This is more impressive than it sounds. Not much more, mind you, and it really depends on your interpretation of the word "impressive," but still.
5 This is far less impressive than it sounds.

Friday, September 5, 2014

One Ring to Bind Them

Four years ago today, Denise slipped this ring on my finger, and I haven't taken it off since.

Well, except a few nights early on, when it was irritating my skin. And those occasions when I set it aside in the bathroom and only remembered hours later. And whenever I've done gardening or masonry or some other activity that could sully it. Oh, and of course that time I jammed my finger playing football and couldn't get the ring over my knuckle for twelve months.1

It's okay, though, because Denise knows that even if I don't wear it all the time, my feelings for her are constant. She is my everything.

Or rather, she was. Until our son was born. Now she's half my everything. Or if you go by weight, 80% of my everything. Though really it's more like 78 or 79%. And that number's dropping.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: Math is hard.

I mean, I even screwed up the title to this post. It didn't take one ring to bind us; it took two. Which proves I'm nothing like Gollum. I'll have to tell this to my preeeecious. She'll be so relieved.

(Happy anniversary, Denise!)

1 I also may have removed it once to take a photo of it. Maybe.

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Thorn By Any Other Name

Up until a couple months ago, I could see an establishment called The Gold Club from my daily commute. Yes, it was a strip club. And no, I never set foot in the place; I know full well all that glitters is not gold.1

Then one day, a new banner hung out front. The club had a new name: MYNX. Later, fancier signage showed the full name as MYNX Cabaret. Though they likely employ the exact same dancers as before, it now seems like they're trotting out a lower quality product, doesn't it? Gone is the (perception of the) high-class establishment, replaced with girls and a club that are, at best, saucy. Thus, the discerning strip club connoisseur enters with lowered expectations.

And that got me thinking about book titles.

Let's say you've written a book. It's ideal title would both fit your story and catch the eye (or ear) of potential readers.2 And of course, novelists must take genre into account. Titles that play well for thrillers or mysteries will rarely cut it in women's lit. And any overlap between horror and romance is purely coincidental.3

It's also best to match your book's tone. If what you've written is quirky or humorous, try to work a hint of that into your title. Avoid puns at all costs unless they are truly clever puns. (Yes, there are such things as clever puns. No, you shut up.) And only use a trashy (a.k.a. mynxy) title if your book calls for it.4

If all else fails, just stick with something simple, and either hope the publisher comes up with a winner, or reel your readers in via the cover, jacket copy, and word of mouth.

For your perusing pleasure, here's a small sample of the titles I've considered for my first novel (about an invisible assassin whose mission is repeatedly stymied by morons):
  • And Then Came the Invisible Monkeys
  • The Unseen Agenda
  • See No Evil
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Invisible
  • Unvisible
  • Scythe Unseen
  • Invisibility for Idiots
  • How Not to Be Seen
  • The Final Defenestration of Rupert Fenwick

Most have some merit, but alas, none are fervor-inducing. The closest might be that last one, but sadly I made it up just now, and it has absolutely nothing to do with my novel. Clearly, I still have work to do.5

But no matter what, I won't sell my readers short. I'd rather my title promise more than I can deliver ("Gold Club") than lose readers by limping in with something less appealing ("MYNX") or lacking in creativity ("Naked Chicks on a Stage").

Come to think of it, I should have come up with a better title for this post. This probably isn't at all what you were expecting.

1 A partial list of glittery things other than gold and strippers: silver, bronze, iron pyrite, six-year-old girls, jazz hands, far too many greeting cards, fairy godmothers, vampires of the Meyerian oeuvre, and Gary.
2 Okay, its ideal title would actually grab people by their lapels (whether or not they're wearing lapels at the time) and instantly instill in them the innate need to buy/borrow/steal/claw each other's eyes out for your book, all before they've even seen its jacket or learned anything else about it. But, you know, good luck with that.
3 La Petite Mort: Return of the Bodice Ripper
4 You know, for instance if it's a cheap, tawdry affair... about a cheap, tawdry affair.
5 For instance, I have to finish writing it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Webs for Other Bugs That are Good

My son will soon be three. He still loves animals and books, but he recently moved onto the gold standard for boys his age: construction vehicles. Most nights before bath time, he's more dirt than boy.

Here are some more tidbits from the past few months:

We're setting the table for dinner.
Him: "That's my barracuda!"
Me: "These are my salad tongs."
Him: "That's my barracuda!"
"I watched a beetle with Wyatt and Narayan. But not DJ and Arav and Lily. They were mad."
"They were mad at you? Why?"
"I had a hammer and hit the floor. They were mad. And I said 'No thank you!' to the kids who were mad at daycare."
"No, Daddy, you don't sing."
"Why not?"
"I'm going to sing better songs. You sing silly songs."
Along with many recognizable characters from Seuss, Disney, Henson, and Milne, there are other imaginary creatures my son talks about as if they're real and everyone knows what they are. A partial list: the Backson (from this), the Snatchabook (from this), the Gulper, Grabular, Undersnatch, Spiny-Backed Guzzler, and Saber-Toothed Yumper (all from this), and Santa Claus.

I'm kidding about that last one, of course. He never mentions Santa Claus.
He is looking at a drawing of two chipmunks.
"What are they doing?" he asks.
"They're playing croquet."
"No, they're playing hockey."
"They're playing croquet."
"No, they're playing hockey."
"Nooo, they're playing hockey."
"Noooo, they're playing hockey."
"Okay, they're playing hockey."
"I think they're playing chess."

We're on a walk, and I've been carrying him for a while. I ask if he'd like to walk some more.
"Are your arms tired, Daddy?"
"Yes, they are."
"That means you have to carry me all the way home."
"I want to eat bulgogi."
"We don't have any. We're having pasta tonight."
"Put it in the bowl, mix it up, it becomes bulgogi."

(Note: He's never tried bulgogi. He's only heard of it thanks to this book.)
"Spider-Man makes webs for other bugs that are good."

(Note: He's never watched any Spider-Man. He's only seen him on clothes. Oh, and on one refrigerator magnet.)
And what would a summary of a 2-year-old's activities be without a mention of poop?

Grandma: "Let's go change your diaper."
Him: "No. I didn't poop."
Grandma: "You stink. If it's not poop in your diaper, what is it?"
Him: "It's..." (pauses to think, then looks down at the furniture he's leaning on) "...stool."

He is so much smarter than he has any right to be.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Winners of the Shamu Haiku Contest!

Clearly, you people consider the ocean a solemn place. For the first time in any of my haiku contests — nay, for the first time in any of my contests, period — the number of serious entries outnumbered the humorous. After all, the ocean is dark and mysterious... much like the criteria by which I judged your haiku.

Thanks to everyone who entered! Your fantastic submissions made it tough to settle on the winners. I wish I could give awards to you all, but alas, that's not in the rules. I checked.

So, despair not if your entry doesn't get highlighted below; it barely missed the cut. And if you haven't done so already, make sure to check out all the entries.

Honorable Mention

Dan Yungk waited until one minute past the deadline before posting a comment. It's written all in one line and has nothing to do with the ocean. So why does he get a mention? Because I always reward cleverness. (Just not necessarily with gift cards.)
Every single year, I plan to participate, then run out of time...
Marian Allen, as soon as you posted this question, the answer was always going to be one. Yours.
How many entries
Will use the words, "I think we
Need a bigger boat"?
This one of Tara Tyler R's gets the nod (barely over her "Poles baited") because every time I read it I hear my 2-year-old son's pronunciation of barracuda. (That's what he calls the salad tongs.)
A lurking monster,
hidden in coral...attacks!
Boss barracuda!
Matthew MacNish had me at "cthulhu."
Dagon in the depths
la Cthulhu f'taghn
shadows of the past
J. Grace Penningon swayed me with the force of her imagery.
anemones sway
but not from force of current
back and forth alone
And this one from Juliet Lauser is beautiful, even though I must admit I'm not entirely sure what the tiger represents. (I think I've got it, but who knows.)
That tiger curls round
Two thirds of earth so we play
With his velvet toes.

First Place - Humorous

Matt Pelletier, take a bow. Just don't do it near the bow of the boat...
Frigid salty depths
Waist deep... OHGODWHATWASTHAT!?!?

First Place - Traditional

And Li takes the crown with this entry, titled "Pearls."
life's irritations
transformed by patient bivalves
jewelry from torment

And that does it for this year's contest. Thanks again to all who entered, stopped by, retweeted, shared, mocked, etc. Matt and Li, please send me a note so I'll have your email addresses and can get you the Amazon gift cards.

And before you leave,
Here's a haiku just for you.
(It's not very good.)