Thursday, December 28, 2017

It's a Jew & A Miracle!

I thought I only had enough gumption to procrastinate one day on my answers, but it turns out I had enough for eight whole days. It’s a Jew & A miracle!

Interestingly, five of the six questions this year are from my own family. I guess I’ve been pretty successful answering all your questions over the years, if it’s just us Jews (and our relatives) questioning our own faith...

Alex J. Cavanaugh asks:
Has your Hanukkah candle ever caught anything on fire?
Absolutely. I wouldn’t be much of a Jew if it hadn’t.

Now, some of you might be confused about the reference to a single Hanukkah candle, when the menorah holds nine. That’s because this is a different candle entirely. You see, when a Jewish child first comes of age (i.e. can first safely hold a lit candle), they get one for their very own. It’s used to burn things.*

* After all, as has previously been established, we’re pyromaniacs.

My sister Naomi asks:
With Yiddish dying (having died?) out as a spoken language, what is going to happen to all of the delightful Yiddish-influenced expressions we enjoy today, such as, "What chutzpah!" and "Oy vey" and "What, you want I should come up with a title?"
First of all, that last expression isn’t Yiddish; it’s Old Jew. There is a difference.

Also, just because no one’s speaking Yiddish near you doesn’t mean it’s dead or dying. It’s just a flesh wound. Yiddish is alive and well in concentrated pockets throughout the world that are nowhere near you.

Nevertheless, when a spoken language dies out, its phrases aren’t lost. I mean, Latin is all over our money and our state flags. And though Egyptian hieroglyphics are no longer spoken, everyone knows the sayings “ankh reeds snake” and “bird water creepy eye bird.” You’re worrying over nothing.*

* Just like a good Jew. L’chaim!

My father Charles asks:
The boxes of Chanukah candles claim to have the correct number of candles for the holiday. Why do we always run out halfway through?
Why do you keep buying Chanukah candles, when what you’re celebrating is Hanukkah? There’s your problem.

Also, you might want to check your grandsons’ pockets.

My 7-year-old nephew Solomon asks:
Why gefilte fish?
I’ll admit this perplexed me for years as well, until I finally came across the answer. It turns out the reason Jews eat gefilte fish is... well, basically, we lost a bet.

It’s too bad, otherwise the goyim would be eating gefilte fish while we feasted upon Christmas ham.

My 4-year-old nephew Norman asks:
Why do guys light the ‘enorah?
Guys light the ‘enorah, girls light the wo’enorah. It’s the way it has always been. Tradition!

And lastly, my brother-in-law Josh asks:
Why are Jewish schools closed on Fridays?
To make you gentiles jealous, of course.

Three day weekends, beeyatch!

And that brings this year’s Jew & A to a close. Now that you have been suitably informed, go forth and share what you have learned. Preferably, in Yiddish. Or hieroglyphics.

Water tchotchke bird tuchis!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

What, You Want I Should Come Up with a Title?

It's a random Tuesday in December, and you know what that means: It's time for my 8th Annual Jew & A! In other words...

I will answer any question you have about Judaism.

Post any questions you might have about Jews or Judaism in the comments section before Hanukkah ends (i.e. sundown on 12/20), and I will answer them for you.

Maybe you need help telling sufganiyot and Sufjan Stevens apart. Perhaps you're unsure about the authenticity of your King James Torah. Or maybe you want to know what Trump's embassy decision means for "next year in Jerusalem."

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:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

What Else I Was Doing When I Should Have Been Writing

Last month, I mentioned I'd been spending too much time doing improv, and had been neglecting my novel as a result. But of course, improv wasn't the only thing keeping me from my fiction.

Writing should be one of my top priorities whenever my son is asleep, watching TV, or not at home. But it would seem I'm too easily distracted. Here's a partial list of what I was doing instead:
  • I was writing. Admittedly, the number of blog posts has been steadily declining (apart from a 31-day attempt at a kick-start last January), but it's still something.
  • I read a lot. And watched a bunch of TV. Far too much TV.
  • I was writing. I enter literary agent Janet Reid's flash fiction contests on occasion, and have garnered one win each of the last three years (and five in total).
  • I fixed up a house, packed up a house, and moved to a new house. (And maintained the old house for far too long.)
  • I was writing. Lyrics. To a parody mash-up of Hamilton's "Non-Stop" and Thomas the Tank Engine.
  • I built 200 square feet of patio. I am so proud I did this myself (with some assistance from Denise and the boy), and so proud I'll never have to do it again.
  • I was writing. Lyrics. And melody. For an original song which I envision being the opening to a musical (which may never get written, and still needs full orchestration).
  • I built a shed — and the platform it goes on — with my dad. Compared to the patio, this was a cake walk. (But don't worry, no cake was trod upon.)
  • I was writing. Personalized birthday and wedding cards. Recently, these have included a Choose-Your-Own Adventure, an escape room, an overabundance of anagrams, and an homage to the game Secret Hitler.
  • I did the dishes. So many dishes.
  • I was writing. Clues. For 3 crosswords which I created just to see if I could. There's a mid-week puzzle, a Sunday puzzle, and a cryptic crossword. I was aiming for NY Times quality, but as these were my first attempts I fell a bit short.

So yeah, that's what I've been doing. Which makes the solution pretty clear: Naomi, if you want me to finish my novel, you'd better come do our dishes.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Exposition Excavation Expedition

It finally happened: I have completed the first draft of my novel.

Yes, the one with the invisible monkeys. And no, don't try to remember how long it took me.1 The important thing is I finished it; I'd never completed a story over 2,500 words before. So yeah, this is kind of a big deal.

Which means, of course, that it's time for me to sit back, grab a drink, and celebrate! re-write the entire thing.

You heard me.

Okay, maybe it won't be a complete rewrite, but an extreme makeover is certainly in order. There are adverbs and adjectives to excise. Exposition to expunge. A whole stable of overused words (even still, only just that) to extract. So much tell (characters feeling and seeing) to exchange for show.

Not to mention all that's changed since I started this thing. My writing style, for one. My understanding of what makes for good writing, for another. Technology.2 Politics. Hell, one of my characters switched genders 3/4 of the way through the book. Another never reappeared after chapter 7.3

As I wrote, I kept notes in a second document when new ideas surfaced, rather than make the edits right away. Today, that document is nearly 1/4 the length of the book. Sixty-five pages, single spaced. And that's not the worst of it.

Many of the notes are no longer valid. Dozens contradict each other. And I guarantee some will have me wondering what the hell I was talking about. Add in all the research I also have ahead of me—into the Secret Service, police procedure, weaponry—and this rewrite becomes quite the daunting prospect.

But then I think about you. Yes, you.4 Some of you have been waiting years to read about these monkeys. Others are itching for me to finish this damned thing so I'll get back to my next novel, with Captain Interrobang and the other not-so-super superheroes. I can't just sit idly by.

No, I need to sit actively by, and get to work.

It's time to start digging.

1 Certainly don't remember that when I started, there was no such thing as an iPhone.
2 See Footnote 1. I'll need to go Blackberry picking, and remove all such references.
3 No, I don't mean she remained invisible the rest of the way. Though I can see why you might think so.
4 Hi there.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Exit, Stage Left

I've been doing too much improv.

It began five and a half years ago, with a single class. Soon I was hitting the improv scene 2-3 times a week, occasionally for 10 hours straight. The only hobby I did more in that span is reading.1 And not to toot my own horn,2 but I'd gotten pretty good.3

Nevertheless, thanks to a mass tryout in May, I learned I'm not good enough to be in any of the local improv groups. (My words, not theirs.)

Which got me thinking. Well, first it got me fretting and stewing and plotting revenge. But then it got me thinking.

Without an outlet to perform for my friends and family, it would be selfish to continue to do so much improv. Not to mention, I've enjoyed it less since the rejection. Thus, I'm stepping away.

But fear not, dear readers! I'm not giving up! Okay, I kind of am, but not really. What you're witnessing here is a shift in priorities. You know all those hours I used to devote to improv? I'll be writing instead. Let me break it down for you:
Less improv = more writing
More writing = more blog posts and finished stories
More blog posts and finished stories = happier readers
Now, I'm no mathologist, but I believe that means less improv equals happier readers. And I'm all for that.

And instead of selfishly entertaining myself (via improv), I'll be selflessly entertaining my friends and family.4 That's a win in my book.5

Besides, it's not like I'm abandoning improv completely. I'll drop in to visit once in a while. And who knows, maybe someday I'll be welcomed into another group. But for now, alas, the love affair is over. I'm running back into the arms of my old mistress, the written word.

It's not you, improv. It's me.
No hard feelings. I wish you all the best.
And hey, I'll see you around.

1 Procrastination doesn't count. It's not a hobby; it's a life choice.
2 Because I don't own one.
3 At improv, that is. Also, at reading.
4 In that order.
5 Which I'm still in the process of writing. Give me a moment to breathe, people; I only switched priorities a couple paragraphs ago.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Wild West Haiku Contest: Winners!

I apologize for taking a week to announce the winners of this year's contest, but I was delayed by unexpected circumstances *cough cough laziness cough cough* and I'd better get to it quick since it sounds like I'm coming down with a cold.

First of all, let me say you guys outdid yourselves this year. Picking the winners was tough. A couple brief observations before I get to the winners:
  • I didn't realize titles on haiku were a thing. As long as the title wasn't required to understand the poem (and thus, a way of sneaking in extra syllables), I allowed it.
  • I knew movie references would be a thing. But I didn't expect they'd end up completely shut out of the prizes. A couple came close, but in the end, no pop culture references (be they movie or video game) made the cut.
As always, remember my judging is very subjective, but my word is law. Still, make sure to check out all the action-packed entries.

Anyway, let's get to it.

Mention (Not Honorable, Not Dishonorable... Just Mention)

After five stray shots (TomBstone my favorite among them), Scott's sixth rang true:
Apparently all
I know about the wild west
Is from the movies

Honorable Mentions

For me, this one was the most shocking. Not only did my dad (Charles Wilson) provide a serious entry, but it was actually good. He's come a long way from his early entries purposely insulting haiku. And gift cards. (2010, 2011, 2012)
Spaghetti Westerns
were my childhood food and drink
and still nourish me
From Bob Chase, I'm not sure if this one qualifies as humor or horror:
Sleeping on the ground
The fire goes out way too soon
Horse lips touch my lips
I don't know if Billy the Kid ever actually faced off in this style of showdown, but I love the imagery here from Keith A. Simmonds:
Showdown at high noon...
Billy the Kid walks slowly
set to flash his colts
Sam Cook provided this fine one-two combo of great visuals and subtle humor:
The doors swing open
Silence covers the saloon
Piano gets tuned
And Gillian Skow, I think, did the best job of capturing the voice of the wild west, so to speak:
Howdy gunslinger
We don't want no trouble here
Glassware is costly

First Place - Humorous

Sam takes home the Humorous prize for the second straight year with this one. It still makes me chuckle every time I read it. Killer stuff, Sam:
Stop calling me Kid
It's a little demeaning
I'm William the Man

First Place - Traditional

With Betsy Rose's entry, I'm having trouble putting into words why it speaks to me, but luckily I don't need to explain myself. All I need to do is say it wins. And it has.
The land of big sky
Now tamed by small minded men
The West: wild no more.

First Place - Creative

There were too many great haiku not to reward a third this year, and Larysa gave me the best twist on the Wild West theme. Or maybe I just like puns. Either way, she nets a prize.
Big film producer
Directing film called "The Sun."
It's set in the west.

And that brings this year's contest to close. Sam, Betsy, and Larysa, I think I have your email addresses, but just to be sure, please send me a note at and I'll get you your winnings.

Thanks again to everyone who entered, shared, tweeted, ridiculed, or hacked my contest. Until next time...

As I do each year,
I will end with a haiku.
This is that haiku.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Wild West Haiku Contest!

*** The contest has ended. View the winners here. ***

Welcome to my 8th annual haiku contest!

We've previously explored ninja, pirates, robots, space, the ocean, heroes & villains, and science. But now it's time to go a different direction with Wild West haiku!

It's pretty simple:
Write seventeen syllables
And shoot 'em my way.

Simply follow standard haiku structure (5 syllables, then 7, then 5 again) and have it involve the wild west. However you interpret the theme is entirely up to you.

To enter, write your haiku in the comments section below. Two or three lucky winners will receive the entire Gadsden Purchase $25 Amazon gift cards.

I will be selecting the best haiku in each of two categories:
  • Humorous/Creative
  • Traditional (i.e. eloquent, evocative, etc.)
In addition, I may also reward a third entry if I see fit. So, go west, young men and women!

The deadline to submit a haiku is this Sunday, May 7 at 5:00pm (Eastern Time). Official "rules" are below.

Official "Rules":
  1. To enter, post Wild-West-themed haiku in the comments section below. Multiple submissions are allowed, up to a maximum of six (6) entries. If you haven't hit your mark by then, you're out of luck. You won't be given the chance to reload.
  2. Standard haiku rules apply. To qualify, each entry must be a three-line poem, the first line containing exactly 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllables, and the third line 5 syllables. If you miscount, you're nothin' but a goldurn cheat, and you won't see a dime.
  3. The contest is open until Sunday, May 7, 2017 at 5:00pm, Eastern Time. If your entry arrives after the allotted time, you won't have a chance at a prize. That train will have left the station.
  4. Entries must be in English. (i.e. Using Japanese kanji will not help you win for best traditional haiku.) If I can't grasp your meaning, it means you ain't from around here. And we don't take kindly to strangers in these parts. You won't win.
  5. Anonymous entries will not win. If I don't know who you are, you're a stranger. See Rule 4.
  6. Prizes will be awarded in each of two (2) categories: Humorous/Creative and Traditional. A third prize may be awarded if I'm feeling generous. Or if I'm hallucinating from exposure.
    • First place winners will each receive a $25 Amazon gift card.
    • An indeterminate number of Honorable Mentions will receive both mention and honor. Not necessarily in that order.
  7. I will act as sole judge, and select the winning haiku based on the aforementioned criteria, as well as other criteria I make up as I go along. All decisions are final, and will not be changed under any circumstances. Unless circumstances change.
  8. NEW RULE (as of May 1): "Wild" can sound like 1 or 2 syllables, depending on how you say it. Sure, the internet says it's 1, but the internet is full of lies. For this contest, "wild" is wild: depending on what you need for your haiku, it can be either 1 or 2 syllables.

Monday, March 20, 2017


To start the year off right, I procrastinated for over two months before writing my first blog post. (Yes, I consider this to be a good thing. After all, I have a black belt in procrastination.)1

In the interim, however, I did write a 100-word story containing the words

pry - jet - blue - desert - gnaw

"He sprayed you?"

"With one of those new Jango Fett--sorry, new-fangled jet power washers. Called me impure."

"You should've reported him."

"I did. That's why he chopped down spry moose. My spruce. From my daughter's memorial garden. He said it defiled his yard."


"Prejudice brings out people's shoe trades. Er, true shades."

"Yet, if it's his house..."

"I know. And he had me wino saver. Sign a waiver. When I rented the place from the affluent buck. Dammit. Abluent f--"

"I get it. So, you're here to lodge another complaint?"

"What? No. Biz hottie's in try monk."

This brings my total wins on literary agent Janet Reid's blog to five. I do have an advantage, though: She happens to enjoy clever wordplay, which I've employed in four of my five victories.2

But enough about me. Go check out the other winning entry and all the other finalists, all of which are bucking frilliant.

1 It's not an actual level you can attain, like in martial arts. All it means is sometimes I wear a black belt while procrastinating. Usually because I've chosen to wear black shoes that day. I may rock the socks-and-sandals look, but I'm not entirely devoid of fashion sense.
2 Or three of them, if you don't consider the puns in my first win clever.