Monday, June 28, 2010

Rejection at the Speed of Light

Today at 8:04 AM I submitted another humor piece to The New Yorker Shouts & Murmurs column, this time via email and a .pdf. They replied with this chatty and upbeat note:

Thank you for submitting your work to The New Yorker magazine. Your message has been forwarded to the Shouts & Murmurs department. You should receive a reply within three months.

Forty four minutes later (8:48 AM) I received this rejection notice.

Dear Erik, We’re sorry to say that your piece, “Love Tests,” wasn’t right for us, despite its evident merit. Thank you for allowing us to consider your work. Best regards, The Shouts Dept.

Using the latest techniques of cognitive therapy I imagine several possible explanations for this swift sucker punch.

1. Susan Orlean, Woody Allen, and David Sedaris all submitted the exact same article just moments before me and editors are squabbling over which of these luminaries gets the by-line.

2. The unsolicited manuscript rejection committee saw Toy Story 3 over the weekend and now nothing is funny by comparison.

3. The New Yorker staff accidentally left their "automatic rejection" switch on and no one actually read the 760 words I slaved over this weekend; I've been sabotaged by technology.

4. By fantastic oversight on my part I forgot to tell them I was born in New York.

5. By fantastic oversight on their part they assumed nothing funny could come from a town whose tallest building is Ferndale Grain.

6. God wants me to have empathy for the rejects on American Idol.

7. Garrison Keillor's prediction is true, "The future of publishing: 18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75."

8. The Shouts Dept. received 18 million unsolicited email submissions this morning and due to budgetary cut backs neither reader had time to savor my scintillating and witty prose.

9. In a science fictiony twist of fate someday New Yorker rejection notices will command big bucks on eBay rendering today's lost royalties a mere trifle.

10. Maybe my piece was so disagreeable they bent the three month rule and immediately rid their offices of my loathsome submission like it was anthrax. Meaning, it wasn't funny. Enough. For. Humor. Connoisseurs.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Coffee Aficionados

I drink instant coffee but don’t offer it to guests; I pull out my secret stash of the good stuff. Last Saturday, for example, I took from its honored place on the shelf our high priced coffee made for complicated machines that use measuring cups, filters, and glass pots. I don’t know how to run such machines so I asked our daughter Emily to make a pot of real good coffee for our son’s graduation party. She did and I thought all was well. At least I enjoyed my cup of this gourmet blend served only on special occasions.

When the party was over I was puzzled to see how much coffee was still in the pot but secretly happy; I had leftovers for the next few days! On Sunday morning I poured cold machine-made coffee into a mug and put it in the microwave. On Monday morning I did it again, polishing off the remains—good to the last drop.

Imagine my shock when Emily at a later family gathering informed me she didn’t drink Saturday’s coffee claiming it was inferior to fresh ground beans. We like our kids to be firm in their convictions but her smugness was one bean short of hoity-toity. I protested, “What’s wrong with that coffee? It’s not instant; it’s made for coffee makers!”

Dad, that coffee is old!” she argued with more than a little fervency. “It smelled terrible!”

I said, “It wasn’t terrible. I reheated it twice since Saturday and it was great.”

At this news her husband Jason, all her siblings, and all their friends erupted. “What? You drank reheated coffee? The stuff Emily made from that old can?”

I marched into the kitchen, found the gourmet coffee, and presented it to them with flair, “What’s the matter with this can of coffee?”

Jason read it, “Fred Meyer Supreme Blend? They don’t even make that stuff any more.”

Daughter Olivia’s fiance Brandon removed the lid and sniffed. “This smells like old Saltine crackers and ground up twigs.” Elliot our 18 year old pulled some old Saltine crackers off the shelf for comparison purposes, apparently feeling this bolstered their case.

But it’s two pounds, seven ounces of real coffee!”

Jason turned the can over and read, “Use before August, 2003.”

You’re drinking coffee you got when Elliot was eleven!” came the cries. Apparently one is not supposed to drink, much less reheat, coffee that’s seven years old.

Brandon took the can and with flair dumped the contents into the garbage, “There! Now you can’t use it at all.”

Thoroughly chastened, I yielded. I couldn’t out-argue a mob of vociferous coffee aficionados, especially now that my secret stash was gone for ever.

So now I’m going to learn about coffee pots. I wonder how often one can reuse a filter and grounds.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Joy of Cigar Smoking

Today our family celebrated our fifth and last child's graduation from High School. Elliot's older brothers have developed a hankering for cigars so I joined them (again). I gotta admit, there are three things about cigar smoking I find pleasantly otherworldly: 1) sitting still--it's hard to run around with lit stogies, 2) shooting the breeze in the back yard with guys age 18-29 --Vicki and I have great sons and daughters who hang with great guys, and 3) joining the ranks of great smokers of church history--Chas. Spurgeon, Soren Kierkegaard, R. C. Sproul, C. S. Lewis, and Gandalf. When I was a pastor I'd quip, "Smoking won't send you to hell; just make you smell like you've been there." I'm now eating my words. Apparently the smell of cigar smoke isn't as vile as I'd been lead to believe.

I also learned that my sons realized too late that--due to dad's lack of sense of smell--they could have smoked like chimneys all through their teen years and I'd never have known it. They prudently waited until legal age before lighting up.

Lennon and McCartney taught me to, "Curse Sir Walter Raleigh he was such a stupid get." Ronald Regan taught me, "Smoking Hippies dressed like Tarzan, looked like Jane, and smelled like Cheetah." Mark Driscoll taught me, "Cigar smoking + Christianity = Holy smokes!" (I made up that last quote). W. Churchill, T. Soprano, and D. DeVito taught me, "Close but no cigar!" And the young guys in my life taught me, "Clip off the ends, spit a lot, and drink lots of water."

Congratulations, Elliot! We're proud of you. We light up these tightly wrapped and finely aged Dominican Republic beauties in your honor.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Creativity in 5 Minutes

Jeff Warren's Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness includes a brief but nifty summary of the skills of the creative (p. 50). I list them here with elaboration.
  1. Spontaneity: While contemplation and reflection are rare in our speed-of-light lives, one can think too much and too long. Fear of mistakes often paralyses creativity. Homework: try doing something impulsive this week (that isn't immoral, illegal, or fattening).
  2. Effortlessness: I once wrote a letter to (and got an answer from) Kurt Vonnegut telling him how hard I laughed at his description of a woman, "whose greatest act of creativity was squishing old slivers of soap onto a new bar of soap." Creative acts need not be rocket science. Homework: Pay attention this week to all those tiny acts of creativity you do in the normal course of a day. If you can't find any, squish slivers of soap together.
  3. Expressiveness: Social networking is fueled by expressiveness. Once I answered the question, "What do I care about people's daily breakfast menu?" I began to appreciate micro blogs as tiny acts of creative expression. Homework: post something on line this week; it lets your fans know you're alive and kicking.
  4. Innocence: Creative people are typically too naive to know that something can't be done so they try it anyway. The result? The Wright brothers flying machine, Edison's incandescent light, Salk's vaccine, Dean Kamen's Segway, and Chuck Hoberman's sphere. Homework: don't let naysayers, party-poopers, or pessimistic drudges rain on your parade. Keep believing you are capable of creating new ways of doing things.
  5. A lack of fear for the uncertain, ambiguous, or unknown: Control freaks, black and white thinkers, and the "highly certain" are generally not too creative. Homework: Instead of looking at the gray areas of life as threatening, see them as opportunities for creativity. A whole genre of Biblical literature is dedicated to ambiguity: wisdom literature (Job and Ecclesiastes in particular).
  6. An ability to tolerate bi-polarities and to integrate opposites: Juxtaposing two different things unleashes all sorts of new ideas. Creativity is stifled when, for the sake of harmony, one polarity is ignored, eliminated, or discounted. Homework: this week list all the things apples and oranges have in common.