The Writing Wombat

An American Marsupial in Fiction Land

Month: December, 2014

Old Year’s Resolutions

This time of year, like many others, I like to take stock of my life and make some resolutions.

Except that I’ve always hated resolutions. My eighth grade teacher used to make us copy a quote each week, and sometimes she made us make up our own quotes, which we were too young to counter with “anything I say is a quote from me.” I remember the prompt the Monday after Winter Break: “This year I will _____________.” I filled in the blank with “make it to ninth grade.”

My teacher responded that that wasn’t really a resolution, as it was likely to happen anyway. Had I more self-confidence or experience in remonstrating, I might have asked why we should only resolving something that is not likely to happen.  Why did she want me to avoid accomplishing my Resolution? Why was she setting us up for disaster? Why did she want a bunch of thirteen year olds to start off a fresh new year by failing?

Because guess what? I ain’t gonna lose weight or learn a new musical instrument or write a novel or travel to outer space. Some of those might be doable, but January 1 has no bearing on if and when I decide to do them.  For instance, I started this blog in June and didn’t start posting weekly until September.  Had this been one of my New Year’s Resolutions, it would likely be deemed a failure, because we tend to determine their success or failure by the middle of January, not the end of the year.  So they’re really not New Year’s Resolutions, at all. They’re First Week of the New Year’s Resolutions.

You pick something you don’t like about yourself and say you’re going to change it because the calendar switched. But that thing you don’t like about yourself isn’t going to change because of something arbitrary. Willpower isn’t tied to a date on the calendar. Especially if you take something like losing weight, which is much easier to do in April or May, as the days get warmer and longer.

So I’ve decided to switch things up a bit, and instead of a New Year’s Resolution, I’m looking back and making some Old Year’s Resolutions. I am going to take a look back at the cool new things I’ve tried or accomplished over the past twelve months and make some belated resolutions. And, spoiler alert, I nailed every single one of them!

But, Wombat, isn’t that just a Year-in-Review? You may ask.

And my response is…

Shut up! My blog, my rules.

Resolution #1: I will have a wonderful baby girl.

Considering my wife was three months pregnant on January 1, this one might be close to my “make ninth grade” resolution. But a lot can go wrong in the second and third trimesters. Plus we did not know it was going to be a girl until ten days into the year, so had I tried to make this resolution at the proper time, I would have had a 50/50 chance of failing at the very beginning.

Of course, the more I think about it, I don’t have much to add to the whole “have a baby” thing. My part was finished in 2013, and if things go south, there isn’t much my resolve can do. My wife is doing the heavy lifting for the first six months of 2014.

So maybe I should change it to I will begin to raise a wonderful baby girl.

Yeah, I like that better. That’s something I can actually resolve to do.

Resolution #2: Take up curling.

In January, the Winter Olympics were still a month away.

Gosh, I wonder if they are going to be exciting! I’m sure the Russians will have beautiful Sochi in perfect condition for the wonderful athletes who have trained so hard to get there.

Hey, remember when I did that Learn-to-Curl back in 2013? That was fun. I wonder if I can find a place closer to home and recruit some friends to try it in February. If that’s successful, maybe a couple of us can join a league. And if we get paired with some veterans, maybe we can begin learning the ropes and go undefeated throughout the summer season.

Then maybe I can form my own team and skip during a bonspiel against really good curlers. Like maybe even a couple of those curlers that are going to spend February in those swanky Sochi hotels. Then maybe I could win a do-or-die, skip-vs-skip, closest-to-the-button tiebreaker at 2:00 AM for the right to advance in the loser’s bracket.

If all that happens, who knows, maybe I’ll end the year by asking for expensive curling shoes for Christmas and prepping my hand-picked team for an elongated Winter/Spring season in 2015, forcing my wife to coin the phrase “Curling Widow.” But the “Future Curling Star” onesie I would get for my daughter (see Resolution #1) for Christmas would be super cute.

But that’s crazy. I doubt all of that would happen in one year.

Resolution #3: Lose More Weight.

This is always the scary one, right? But let me tell you, it’s a lot less nerve-racking to make this resolution after the fact.

I lost a lot of weight in 2013. A pre-diabetes diagnosis and a new-fangled invention called the Fitbit put my ass (or, more accurately, my legs and mouth) in gear, and by early October, I was down close to forty pounds. Then Halloween hit, followed by Thanksgiving and Christmas. Combined with those shorter, colder days I mentioned earlier, and about ten of those forty pounds found their way back by the end of the year. But that meant I was still down thirty over the course of the year.

Could I repeat that in 2014? Probably not to the extreme I had the year before. After all, there was less to lose. And all those nasty indicators in my blood have returned back to normal levels. But still…

If I can go back to the Spring and Summer routines I kept in ’13, maybe I can take those ten added pounds back off by June. Then maybe I can take another ten to fifteen pounds off before Halloween kicks off Fat Quarter (which extends past the New Year to include Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day) again. That Fat Quarter will be even harder this year, because while I might be willing to go for a jog in the forty-degree dark when I get home from work, I’m not quite as willing to take the baby along.

But, hey,  if I can lose twenty-plus pounds by October, then I can still gain ten to fifteen back and still be weight-negative for the year.

Resolution #4: Win Camptathalon.

Every year amongst my friends, there exists a Men’s Camping Trip. Because when womenfolk come camping, we have to take more than five paces away from the fire before we drop trou and pee, and I’m sorry, but that just ain’t true campin’.

At said trip each year, there is something called the Camptathalon.

What is it? Only the most grueling competition of wit, acumen, and bravado known to mankind. Think Triathlon, but take out the wussified events like swimming and biking and running. And add things like Whose Horse Comes in Last at the Kentucky Derby. And the Butter Toss.

Oh, and the whole thing needs to be done as inebriated as possible.

Wait, did you say Butter Toss?

I did. And to find out more, you’ll just have to check back in April, when I devote an entire entry to the 2015 Camptathalon.

(That’s what the promotions biz peeps call a teaser.  “What common household object might kill you? Stay tuned until the end of this blog entry to find out.”)

But this year, I plan to win the competition. I came in dead last in 2013. I think I was second or third the year before. But this year, with the competition being held the same weekend as my wife’s baby shower, I feel it is my time to strike.

What would be even cooler is if it was tied at the end of regulation, forcing us to make up a sudden-death cribbage match to decide it all. And if I could be losing said sudden-death cribbage match going into the final turn before pulling out a 21-point hand and a 24-point hand back-to-back. Why, that would almost be as cool as winning a sudden death draw to the button at a curling bonspiel.

If I could also be the first ever Camptathalon champion to not yack his guts out the same weekend, that might be an added bonus. That’s a tradition that need not be continued. Unlike the Butter Toss, which is a tradition as true as the Tournament of Roses.

Butter Toss? Am I sure I’m hearing you right?

April, dude. April.

Resolution #5: Win in Reno

Every year, I make a few trips to Reno. This year, 2014, I’d like to win there.

To be clear, my definition of “win” does not mean to hit a jackpot or win a car or come home with a duffel bag full of cash. I don’t even define winning as being money-ahead at the end of the year. I know the math – giant resorts would not exist in the middle of the desert if customers won over the long run.

What I mean by “win” is I’d like to take one weekend trip wherein, after paying for gas, food, and my portion of the hotel, I’m still money ahead. Is the forty dollars I might win in October going to offset the two hundred I’m going to lose at March Madness? Of course not. But man, that forty dollars would feel awesome, like I’m a world killer! Something definitely worthy of being mentioned in a Year-In-Review,  Retroactive Old Year’s Resolution.

Here is how I would love for this particular resolution to play out. I’d like to win a little bit at everything I do. Put $20 in a slot machine, turn it into $60. Put $2 on a long-shot horse to show and have him eke out third place. Stick around a blackjack table long enough to get buzzed on the casino’s dime yet still walk away up $10. Actually feel like I know what I’m talking about when all of those sports results go final. That would be nice.

To keep with the curling and Camptathalon theme, I don’t know if any of those games I bet on can go to overtime, but maybe I could squeak out a photo finish on the ponies.

Resolution #6: Write.

I’d like to write more this year.

Maybe I can try NaNoWriMo again this year. Even if I only get 20,000 words into a novel, it would be an improvement over 38 of the last 39 years.

Maybe I could even take part in some flash fiction challenges. Writing an entire story from beginning to end might give me a sense of accomplishment. That way, I could also play around with different genres, different voices, different points of view. Who knows? Maybe after I’ve tried a few safe ones, like a standard scary story, I might even write a story from the point-of-view of a female drug addict.

Hey, remember that blog I used to have? I stopped writing anything on it in 2008. right around the time I joined Facebook, because why write a thousand words when I can write fifteen and get immediate gratifica-, er, feedback?

But seriously, in 2014, maybe I can start that up again. Then maybe after a few flash fictions there, I can start up a new one on wordpress instead. And get back to actual blogging in addition to flash fiction.

Maybe I could even make myself post a new entry every week. Sure, it’s arbitrary, but maybe there will be some weeks I don’t feel like writing, like maybe Christmas week, and then all of a sudden it’ll be Monday, and I’ll be like, “oh shit, I have to post a blog entry,” and then I’ll actually write instead of just putting it off. I mean, it could happen. And even if it only works for, like, the last fifteen weeks of the year, what would that be? Twenty thousand words? Thirty thousand? To add to the twenty thousand in the novel? Throw in some of the earlier flashes and I’d be over sixty thousand words written in a year.

Shit, that might almost feel like an accomplishment. ”Hey,” I’ll tell everyone, “I wrote what Ken Follett writes in his sleep!”

It also might be cool to learn how to hyperlink.

On to 2015.

Wow. If I could have made all of those resolutions in January, and followed through on all of them, what a cool year it would have become.

And if so, what would be in store for 2015? What plans should I make? Only one way to find out – wait until next December.

See you all in the New Year

By the way, it was a knife. A knife is a common household object that might kill you. Thanks for staying with us.

War on Saturn

Every December, I get annoyed by all of those cultural warriors that try to re-write history and put their own spin on what this holiday season is truly about. They’ve even gone so far as to change the name of the holiday itself, trying to force us all to use a different greeting than was originally used. Unfortunately, the holiday was named after a person, or a personified deity, so when they change the name, they’re taking it away from the true basis, the true meaning of the holiday season. It’s almost as if they’re trying to eradicate the poor person whose birthday falls on December 25.

Jesus? No, not that charlatan. He was probably born in early spring, by most interpretations.

The person I’m talking about is Saturn, the “Reason for the Season” of Saturnalia.

Oh, we could throw Yule in there, too, but I really don’t if that’s a person or a season or just some other random crazy thing the Krauts came up with.

Oh, you thought Yuletide was a Christian thing? Because Jesus didst spake unto the Rich Corinthian Leathers, “Bring unto me a chopped down tree that is in no way indigenous to the region. Oh, and a log that burns for a really, really long time, like maybe a Duraflame.”

No, Jesus wasn’t born in December and most of the things we associate with Christmas were around long before Christianity. Even if a specific birthdate existed, that date probably would correlate to our current calendar. December, based on its name, was the tenth month of the year. Ever noticed that? September, October, November, and December translate to seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth month. But then a couple of Caesars came by and wanted their own months plopped into the middle of the year, so the rest of the months got pushed back. While Julius had already been there by 1 AD, so maybe there was a July by then, Augustus had not shown up yet.  I don’t know if there were ten or eleven months on the calendar that year, but I do know that December 25, 1AD would not be the same as December 25. Except that December 25 would not be listed on the birth certificate, anyway.

That’s why Easter changes its date every year. It falls on the Sunday following the first full moon of spring. Had Jesus’s birthday ever been noted, it would have had one of those kooky always changing dates. If he was lucky, “Three Days after the Winter Solstice” would have sufficed. But it probably would’ve been based on the last full moon of autumn, which would’ve been hard for the Apostles to buy him presents.

Oh, and by the way, Easter is named after Ishtar, a goddess of fertility. Hence all the bunnies, eggs, and other fornication references. Wow, another holiday the Christians stole. I would chastise them for ignoring the 7th Commandment, but they stole those from the Jews, anyway.

So who was born on or around December 25? Saturn, the Roman god. But even Saturnalia’s date moved around a bit, as December shrank from 36 days down to 31. Because even Roman gods would have to move their birthdays around as the first day of winter changed.  After all, the Solstice is the REAL reason for the season.

Every primitive society had some sort of celebration around the Solstice, be it Yule or Saturnalia or Festivus.  I include Festivus because I can think of no better definition of “primitive” than standard def and having to sit through the commercial breaks.

Why the celebration of Solstice? It is the shortest day of the year. So the day after it, the sun begins its return. And if the sun is one of the things you pray to and define your life by, then you celebrate the fact that he/she/it is coming back. I know, it sounds so silly and pagan to say your god was born with the return of the sun. I mean, the son of God being born that day is totally logical. But an actual god? Don’t make me laugh.

Birthdays and gods aside, though, there was a much more practical reason for celebrating the first days of winter. The weather is about to get worse. Food is going to become scarcer. There will  barely be enough food for the humans to make it through the next three months, much less the animals.  So you keep a male and a female and slaughter all the rest. Then you enjoy them, maybe with some gravy, because it’s the last time you’ll by full before April.

In fact, the Agricultural Revolution was caused in large part by a dude named Turnip Townshend. In addition to playing the guitar with a distinctive windmill motion, he also discovered that turnips replenish the soil better than leaving it fallow. Even better, people now had a whole bunch of turnips that they could feed to the livestock through the winter. Livestock living through the winter equals a more stable food supply equals farmers being freed up (or forced) to move to the cities. Add coal and iron and, voila, instant industrialization.

But back to these solstice festivals. In addition to the culinary element, they were usually marked by gift giving and the upheaval of social conventions. Lords and peasants switching places. Getting drunk and making out with your co-worker. Secret Santas. No wait, that came later.

So early Christians were trying to get converts A Roman guy says, “Gosh, your religion sounds great, what with all the rising from the dead and the turning of other cheeks and whatnot, but it’s hard for me to give up the revelry of Saturn’s birthday.”

So the Christians didst respond, “Oh, hey, our guy was born that day, too. We just call it Christmas. But all the other shit’s the same.”

The Roman looked skeptical.

“Seriously. Just put up this nativity scene, and then you can do all of the pagan pipers piping you want.”

And, lo, Christmas was born.

Then it died.

In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church frowned upon Christmas because it was too tied up with superstition and paganism. The Puritans then banned it, to the extent that December 25 was the only day of the year that British were not allowed to go to church. The Puritans were also the Pilgrims, so the alleged first American colonists didn’t celebrate Christmas. I say “alleged” because the Pilgrims actually showed up thirteen years after Jamestown was founded. But I’ll leave that for another day, because I can only destroy one misconception at a time.

But the next time a “War on Christmas” yahoo talks about the founding fathers being upset at what is happening to Christmas, be sure to tell them that the founding fathers didn’t celebrate Christmas. Even though most of them were Anglicans/Episcopalians, not Puritans, Christmas and its debauchery had fallen out of favor with many.

But like any good Christian, Zombie Christmas rose from the dead. Actually, better to call it a vampire, because it was much more intelligent and calculated than the randomness of a zombie.

What brought Christmas back from the dead? The very same thing that defines it still today. Love and joy? Ha ha, good one. No, I’m talking about money, money, money.

Our modern conception of Christmas comes from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. You know the one. Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by some ghosts and learns the true meaning of Christmas and Kermit the Frog and blah, blah, blah. But Dickens wasn’t describing the actual Christmas spirit that he observed, he was making up what he thought it should be.

So think about that. The true “spirit of Christmas” is based on a borderline Marxist attack on wealth inequality. I’m pretty sure Fox News leaves that part out.

The rest of the things we associate with Christmas were mainly marketing ploys. Rudolph? Invented by Montgomery Ward. Santa Claus, the way we conceive him now, was more or less solidified by Coca-Cola ads. Interestingly, the reason Coca-Cola used Santa so much was because they were not allowed to make any ads that specifically targeted or showed children. So they used Santa to market to kids without getting in trouble. Ah, consumerism!

Then there’s eggnog. Honestly, I have no idea where eggnog came from. I only know where it’s going: directly into my belly.

So enjoy your holiday, whatever holiday that may be, because we’re all really just celebrating the same thing. Go ahead and sing along with me the perfect carol for this wondrous season:

“Here comes the sun, do do do do, here comes the sun, and I say…

“It’s all right!”

Teacher’s Anonymous

Hello. My name is the Wombat. And I’m a teacher.

Whew. That felt good. Admission in the first step.

I’ve been teaching for… (let’s see, take off a shoe to keep counting)… thirteen years now.

Why did I start teaching? Boy, that’s a loaded question. I mean, who can ever really remember that last thought of sobriety before your world changed?

But that’s why organizations like Teacher’s Anonymous exist. If any group needs anonymity more than alkies, it’s us, right? Shoot, you see a guy with multiple DUI’s in a bar, you roll your eyes and think, “poor guy can’t beat the sauce, let’s call him a cab.” You see a teacher in that same bar, you wag your finger at him and scold, “Shouldn’t you be setting a better example?”

Hell, even a guy with a sarcastic blog needs to call himself the Writing Wombat.

But I’ve been spending more time around new teachers and future teachers, and it’s got me trying to think back,  to peel back the fifteen rings off of the tree. Or the onion, as the case may be.

  1. Time off.

Next Monday, I won’t have to get my ass out of bed unless I want to. Same with the day after and pretty much every day for the next two weeks. And then I’ll repeat that in March. And did I mention June and July?

Any teacher who says our vacation doesn’t factor into their decision to teach is a liar. After sixteen or more years of getting two weeks off every Christmas and a couple of months free throughout the year, everyone faces that “moment of clarity” when they get a real job.

“What do you mean I have to work Christmas Eve? AND the day after? Oh hell, no. Is there something I can do to get those three months off again? Teach, you say? Yeah, hook me up with some of that.”

Then again, we’re not allowed to take time off when we want to, like normal human beings. So let’s toast to round two.

  1. Autonomy.

My class, my rules. Yeah, I can get used to that really quick.

I still have to teach. I still need to make sure school rules and general decorum are enforced.

But it’s not the cubicle world I had known before taking the plunge. No boss walking by every few minutes because he has nothing better to do than micro-manage.  In my mid-twenties, I had a few jobs that fit the Office Space mold perfectly. Have I worked for some Lumberghs in education, too? Of course. There might be more of those smug, un-self-aware, horrible idea-spouting bastards per capita in education than any other professions. “Hey, I taught one year of PE before becoming an administrator, but I think you should teach World War II before World War I.”

But at a high school, I don’t have to see these yahoos as much. A typical high school has two-thousand students, one hundred teachers, and maybe fifty other staff. Overseeing that is a principal, and maybe two or three assistant or vice principals. Doing the math (damn, I have to take my shoes off again), each administrator has about six hundred people that they are in charge of, five hundred of which have the tendency to pull fire alarms and sneak spliffs in the bathroom from time to time.

So, as long as I am professional, teach my students, and have a track record of success, I don’t have to constantly deal with someone telling me they don’t like the way I wipe my ass.

You’ve never had a boss comment on your defecation technique? Just me? Hmm.

  1. Sage on the stage.

I know we’re not supposed to teach this way anymore, and I usually don’t stand in front of the class and blah, blah, blah for a full 58 minutes. But it cannot be denied that the teacher is the foremost expert on most of the content and skills that are on display in any given classroom. Power is an aphrodisiac, and knowledge is power. String enough pithy clichés together, and you get close to understanding what it’s like to stand in front of the room of students. You’re the medieval noble and clergy all rolled into one. That’s two of the three Estates! But unlike ancien regime France, they ain’t no Robespierre and this ol’ Marie Antoinette ain’t eatin’ no nuthafuckin’ cake.

Did I mention I teach history, not English?

  1. Creation.

Come to think of it, comparing myself to a petty nobleman or medieval Pope is selling what I do short. What I do is nothing less than the creation and maintenance of an entire worldly ecosystem. Yeah, baby! Crush that up and feel it coursing through your veins. If I want to teach the Cuban Missile Crisis as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure wherein three-quarters of my subjects (ahem, “students”) start World War III?  Done. A 20-minute abridgement of The Matrix to convey Plato’s Cave? No problem. A March Madness bracket to determine the most important person in European history? I do it every year. And the minions are always tricked into a debate over economic systems when Karl Marx “happens to” run into Adam Smith in the Elite Eight every year, never knowing that their benevolent dictator had that match-up all along.

Oh, and Class of ’14, who had the audacity to put Otto von Bismarck past Joseph Stalin into the finals? I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger, and you will know I am THE LORD…

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, the scope and sequence of content. Planning the short-term and long-term goals so that they coincide and build together. Looking back over what worked before and what needs to be tweaked. Finding the happy medium between content and delivery.

There are some that don’t seem to enjoy this process. “Yeah, I just have them do a graphic organizer out of the book. I don’t really have anything to add to that.” Really? Then why the hell did you become a teacher? For the grading? Are you one of those alcoholics that only drinks for the hangover?

  1. Entertainment. I’ve got 150 potential sources of hilarity every day. And if I bring some grading home with me, maybe mix in an adult beverage, and I can’t help but guffaw. There will be a forthcoming blog entry with some of the best answers I’ve ever gotten. That post will be why I have to remain anonymous.

Think back to high school. Remember how all-consuming it was? Remember how you had all of the answers to any question life could throw at you? Remember thinking you were pulling one over on your teacher? But when you look back now you realize that he or she was barely holding back incredulous laughter? Yeah, take all of that, but subtract out the drama of teenage angst. And the acne. And the cool kids reminding you of the time you put your pants on backwards in third grade.

That’s teaching. Every year, you get the same kids. They change their names, but they look and act the same. Hell, I’ll have a goofball sit in the exact same seat that his doppelganger sat in two years ago. And he’s shocked, SHOCKED, that I’m always ready with a comeback.

“Hey Mr. Wombat, did you miss me yesterday?”

“You were absent?”

“Yeah, what did we do?”

“Oh, yesterday was the party. Too bad you missed it.”

So there you have it. Five reasons for the twelve step process in my thirteenth year of teaching. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go complain about having to work for four WHOLE more days before having ONLY two weeks off.

Selfie Immolation

I guess the world and pop culture moved on while I was taking my one-month writing sabbatical. Not sure who the hell gave them permission to do that. But now I have to catch up.

So am I here to write about the horrors of Ferguson? Or maybe the effect that the midterm elections will have on Obama’s second term and place in history? What about the spread of Ebola and its implications on civil liberties?

Nope. I’m here because those bastards cancelled Selfie!

Most years I have two reactions to the first round of TV cancellations. The first is “Really? That sounded like a stupid show” or “I totally saw that coming.” Next, I expunge my DVR of the remaining episodes of whatever show was just canceled. I can usually read the tea leaves and hold off watching a few shows until they get the pick-up. This year, I’m still waiting on Forever.  I watched the first few episodes and thought it was okay, if a bit thin, but I can see its ratings and don’t want to get too vested.  If it somehow makes it to the end of the season and gets picked up for another, I guess I’ll get caught up over the summer.

This year, I aired my rare third reaction. It’s a mixture of “Man, you didn’t even give that a chance” and “What precisely did you think would happen with that show?”  Although I saw it coming, this was my reaction to Selfie.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to wax lyrical about the brilliance of this show. And I’m not going to malign the multitudes for not watching. Had I been blogging when Better Off Ted failed to find traction, you would all be getting a stern finger wagging. But Selfie was no Better Off Ted. It wasn’t a great show. But in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t bad. In a world where Two and a Half Men and Everybody Loves Raymond can each reign supreme for a decade, there should certainly be room for Selfie.

A number of shows, particularly sitcoms, need a little time to find their way. It’s always worth noting that Cheers got horrible ratings in its first season. Truthfully, Cheers is still a show that takes a number of episodes for a new viewer. It is an wkward show to introduce people to, no matter what season you’re watching, because so much of the humor involves knowing the characters and all of their foibles. Think about it – the brilliance of the episode where Cliff goes on Jeopardy is lost upon someone who hasn’t spent many weeks listening to him as the know-it-all that annoys the whole bar with his inane trivia. Trust me, I’ve tried a number of times to show some Cheers episodes to my students. Episodes I find hilarious fall flat, and it’s not just because the times have changed. Show them an episode of I Love Lucy or Welcome Back, Kotter, and they laugh at all the right spots. But not Cheers.

And let me reiterate, I’m not saying Selfie was anywhere close to Cheers, only that some shows need a season or two to figure out what they have. I thought the Robin Williams sitcom last year fell into the category of shows that get better in the second half of the first season when they figure out how the characters should interact. It started out trying to put Sarah Michelle Gellar on equal footing with Robin Williams, but then they realized that a) Sarah Michelle Gellar isn’t a comic lead, and b) there were three other very funny actors next to her. The last half of the season, it turned into an ensemble behind Robin Williams and it was much better.

Of course, the viewers didn’t come back to the Robin Williams show, because once you decide the show is a lost cause, you don’t check to see if you’re right later in the season. So Selfie never would have gotten to where they needed it to be. But it wasn’t the show’s fault.

Selfie also had some good ensemble actors to work with. Poor John Cho just can’t get a break. For a guy who started his career out as the “MILF Guy” from American Pie before starring in a slew of Harold and Kumar movies, the guy actually has some acting chops.  He was pretty good in FlashForward, a drama that lasted only one season. Last year, he played alongside Matthew Perry, another guy who can’t seem to gain any traction post-Friends. That show only lasted a year. Seeing a trend? I would say he is becoming this generation’s Ted McGinley, except that Ted McGinley brought about the demise of established shows, not new ones.

But any question about John Cho’s ability to act should be answered by Star Trek. He plays a Korean ensign who will grow up to become a Japanese captain. I mean, that’s some ability!

As for Karen Gillan, I’m not overly familiar with her ability, because I was late to the Dr Who party. I’m currently on Martha Jones, who is at least two companions before Amy Pond, the one played by Karen Gillan, and I only watch over the summer when shows like Forever don’t get picked up for a second season. Friends have assured me that Amy Pond was a good companion. I will have to take their word for it. They have also informed me that Karen Gillan is attractive. I am proud to announce that I have verified this information.

In Selfie, her character didn’t seem to have much consistency.  The writers seemed to have trouble growing her beyond the vapid narcissist that the show was based on. The same could be said for John Cho’s character. The only consistent characters were the aloof boss and gossipy receptionist. This seems to happen a lot in new sitcoms, as the writers realize the main characters have to become more well-rounded than the initial kooky-crazy person created for the up-fronts. But the lesser characters don’t have to evolve. They can stay with their shtick. And if the show lasts as long as The Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother, those quirky characters might even become the focus. Yes, I said it. Sheldon and Barney were never intended to be the front characters. And I think both shows suffered when each character grew from random comedic interjection to focal point.

The failure of Selfie lies squarely at the feet of the TV execs for a number of horrible decisions in the placement and promotion of a show that had a chance. The main problem was its place on the schedule. The horrible name didn’t help. Oh, and selling it as a modern day My Fair Lady. Boy, nothing says hot and modern like referencing a 60 year old Broadway play. And the ultra-ephemeral name was just seen as overcompensating. But really, really. Those weren’t the major problems. The major problem was where it was placed on the schedule.

ABC put it on Tuesday night opposite NCIS, which is one of the top, if not the actual highest, rated shows on television. Okay, whatever, something’s got to go up against it, and maybe they draw from different crowds. Plus everybody has a DVR these days, so no biggie. I managed to record both shows for a few weeks despite the fact that they were on at the same time.

After those two weeks, though, CW added The Flash to their schedule.  This is a show I’ve been looking forward to for a year, ever since it was announced. So a few days before it was set to air, I thumbed forward in my channel guide and set the DVR to record.  I was then informed that The Flash would not record due to two other conflicts. I checked what the two conflicting shows  were. NCIS? Nope, not skipping that. Selfie? Sorry, buh-bye. You were cute for a couple of episodes, but we’re done now.

I haven’t looked at the ratings, but I would be willing to bet they dropped when The Flash came on. Let’s look at who Selfie was catering to. The show stars somebody that has been in the last two Star Trek movies and another person who was on Dr. Who. Plus, let’s not forget Karen Gillan was in a little movie this summer called Guardians of the Galaxy, albeit bald and in green skin. Oh, and throw in Harold and Kumar. So who is going to check this show out? Geeks. But when push comes to shove, those geeks are going to pick The Flash over a sitcom still trying to find its way.

I assume someone at ABC knew it catered to geeks and put it on the same night as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But Marvel is on at 9:00, an hour after Selfie was on. Isn’t the spillover effect supposed to go the other way? I could maybe see somebody watching one show and leaving it on the channel, but who turns on a channel because a certain show will be on later that night? Are the execs aware that we have these new-fangled remote controls?

I did end up watching the rest of the episodes online. Like I said, it was nothing spectacular, but  a fun show nonetheless. The interactions between the characters was getting better. One of the last episodes featured Eliza (Karen Gillan) and Charmonique (the receptionist) try to fill out an online dating profile for Henry. They end up setting him up with a roomful of people who look exactly like the two of them. Sure, it’s been done a thousand times, but what sitcom trope hasn’t? At least it wasn’t continuous menage-a-trois jokes from Charlie Sheen.

There were a couple of other sitcoms that debuted last year that had similar dynamics to Selfie. Both had an ostensible star, but featured an ensemble that developed their shticks and interactions as the season went on. The first was Undateable, starring Chris d’Elia, who had previously been the boyfriend on Whitney. The other was Ground Floor, with  John C. McGinley, no relation to Ted McGinley (as far as I know, neither of them have invited me to their family functions).

That’s two Ted McGinley references in one blog post. If I bring up Revenge of the Nerds, do I win a prize?

Interestingly, both Undateable and Ground Floor featured the same female “lead,” an actress named Briga Heelan in a budding relationship with a supporting actor.  Both shows seemed unsure if that particular relationship should be the focus of the show or not. Undateable, in particular, lost her for the second half of the season, presumably because she was filming the other show.  That forced the show  to feature some of the other actors. One of them, Ron Funches (don’t worry, you haven’t heard of him) stole almost every scene he was in. Rory Scovel was quickly becoming the star of Ground Floor’s first season, although I worry his kooky, quirky character is starting to go down the Sheldon/Barney path, becoming way too much of a focus. Of course, I assume the producers would be perfectly fine following in those characters’, and their shows’, footsteps.

The irony, of course, is that both Undateable and Ground Floor got picked up for a second season. Briga Heelan is going to have to hedge her bets for another year. So why did they make it but Selfie did not? The same reason mentioned above – because the television execs realized what they had, or more precisely what they didn’t have, and that it shouldn’t go up against the powerhouses of Fall TV. The execs in these cases also seemed to realize that it is no longer 1995, and there are different ways to market and broadcast a show now. Ground Floor was on TBS. I’m pretty sure getting ten viewers is enough to be profitable on that channel. Undateable was on NBC, but they held it off until summer, when it was not on against anything else. They then ran two episodes a night for six weeks and were done. And it worked.  Not in the November sweeps way, but in the middle-of-June way.

Seriously, had Selfie been moved to the “death valley” of Friday night, it might have been successful. I know my DVR would have followed it. In fact, why do we still run all of our shows between 8:00-11:00 PM? Had they run it at 3:00 AM, I would end up watching it just as close to “live” as I watch anything. But not if it’s opposite NCIS and The Flash. Really, when is TV going to lose the 8:00-11:00 Prime Time model. Just tell us when the show is on and we’ll set our DVRs.  I know, I know. Live audience, ad revenue, Same Day +7, blah, blah, blah. The world is passing you by, better come up with a new business model.

In the end, Selfie did not fit whatever unrealistic expectations ABC had for it, so it was dumped. Was it going to be the next  Seinfeld or Modern Family? Doubtful, but it certainly was more watchable than about ten seasons’ worth of Two and a Half Men. Or it could have been. But now we’ll never know.

NaNoWriMo Postmortem

National Novel Writing Month is insane.

Some might say evil, but that could be taking it a bit too far. Not because a month cannot be evil. It most assuredly can. I’m looking in your direction, August. You know why.

But NaNoWriMo is insane.  Writing 1,667 words a day is insane. That many words in one day is no biggie. In fact, I did that a whopping three times in November. Sometimes I can even back up one 1,667-word day with another day that approaches 1,000 words. Hell, I think I got 3,000 words in a weekend once. But writing that much every single day? That’s insane.

Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day. He is insane. He is one of my favorite authors, but he is insane.

Here are my totals for the month: I wrote just under 25,000 words. The first day I fell thirty words short. Could I have written the extra thirty words? Sure. But I figured those extra thirty wouldn’t matter in the long run, and falling short on day one might give me motivation on day two. I was correct on the first assumption, not on the second.

I participated in a number of Word Wars over the past thirty days. In Word Wars, a whole bunch of people stop chatting for about 15 minutes and just write, write, write. I’m usually good for somewhere between 250-350 words in a 15-minute span of writing. Some people write over 1000 words. How? I have no idea. They say things like “it was dialogue,” or “it was a scene I had already thought about.” Um, okay. I could have planned out every damned word, and I couldn’t regurgitate a thousand in fifteen minutes. My brain needs to stop and breathe from time to time.

And yes, I can hear you math majors already – if I can write 300 words every 15 minutes, all it should take me to write 50,000 words is… carry the one… about forty hours. One work week! What’s the problem, Wombat?

The problem is that I can’t string together too many Word Wars. I’ve improved a bit from last year, when I would spend the ten minutes following each Word War going back over the drivel I had just written and edit it. I became much more comfortable with writing, and more importantly leaving, that drivel this year. My inner editor took the month off, and I’m happy with that. I’ve found that the mantra of “fix it in the re-write” is a good one to write by. Characters are going to change, anyway. I’m going to be writing one scene and think “Oh, crap, I need to allude to this in an earlier scene.” So save it for the second draft.

But even without the inner editor and with Word Wars aplenty, I cannot consistently push past 1,500 words. My sweet spot seems to be about 800 words a day. I know I need to increase that. But for right now, those 800 words are all that fit in my brain at any given time. I think about what I’m going to write the next time I write, and about 800 words later, I’ve finished that scene or description or dialogue. Then I usually need some time to think about the next batch. Occasionally that will happen in the same day. I might write a few hundred words, take an hour or two to drive somewhere or take a shower (a really long shower) or whatever, then I’m ready to go again.

So why don’t I just make sure that I always write two batches of 800 every day?

Because I’m not insane.

Okay, maybe that’s not it. I very well might be insane. But the things that are preventing me from always double-dipping, from always pushing 2,000 words a day, are the same old things as before NaNoWriMo.  Lack of motivation, lack of confidence, real world distractions.

This year one of those real world items was my daughter, the best distraction in the world.  Some of the best writing times, evenings and weekends, are now prime baby time.

My wife also has a very busy November. She works in health insurance, and of course, most people renew their insurance on January 1. So her November is spent driving all over to various open enrollment meetings. Last year, she’d call and say she wouldn’t be home till 8:00 or she was spending the night in beautiful Redding, and I thought, “Cool, I’ll just sit here and write.” This year, that meant I was single parent for the night. Similarly, my school district gets the entire week off for Thanksgiving. Last year, I wrote in overdrive that week. This year, we took baby out of daycare for the week and I was full-time daddy.

Mr. Mom finds it hard to get things done. I know, I know, the baby naps. Why don’t I write then? Just like in the first month of her life, when the so-called experts said “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Sounds good in theory, but I never know if this particular nap is the 15-minute variety or the 2-hour coma. And then bottles need cleaning and, oh, a shower might be nice. I can also put the baby in her swing or give her some toys on her playmat. And in fact, I did get some writing done at those points, but anyone with a child knows that is living on borrowed time.

But I’m not laying this year’s shortcoming at those tiny feet. There’s still that fear of the unknown. Twenty-five thousand words later, I still haven’t finished the part of the story I had already plotted out in my head, much less figured out how everything would resolve itself. I thought it would take 10,000 to 15,000 words to get to a point in the story that is still probably over 5,000 words away. Sometimes I got disheartened by how little happened in those 800 words. Hell, I was writing a sex scene for five damned days. Every day, I woke up thinking, “Okay, another two or three hundred words to finish off this scene (literally and figuratively during the sex scene), then on the next scene where some cool stuff will happen.” Then the next day, 1,000 words later, I was still on that damned scene. It’s bad when even the guy writing says “Okay, this scene is boring me, when does the good stuff start happening?”

I know, I know. It’ll come out in the re-write. Some of the excessive character introspection and revelations will be spread out over to other points in the novel.  But you cannot edit a blank page.

And I refuse to divulge how many levels of Bubble Witch Saga I passed when I should have been writing.

Now NaNoWriMo is over. The next time I write 800 words in a day, it will be an accomplishment, not a disappointment. And if I can string together a few of those, who knows, I might finally find out what happens after the sex scene.

This is the time to remind myself that I wrote over 20,000 words last month. That is no small feat, NaNoWriMo be damned. If I could add another 20,000 this month, and another batch in January, I’d be close to having a bona fide novel. Last year this transition from writing in November to writing in December was where I failed miserably. This year, I hope to do a little better.

Right after I do some Cyber Monday shopping.

If worse comes to worse, I can always just wait until next NaNoWriMo and try again. Then maybe I can do everything exactly the same way I did this year. I’ll just expect different results.

Because we all know what that is the definition of.