Author Archives: Colane Conundrum

About Colane Conundrum

I’m an aspiring comedy writer who’s ensnared in the cruel and insufferable nightmare of corporate servitude. My cubicle is too small, and the vending machine doesn’t sell the gluten-free pretzels I like. While the splendor of nature unfolds in the glorious outdoors, I sit staring at a computer on a rolling chair with a broken wheel. I’ve always enjoyed such humor writers as Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Nora Ephron, Larry David, Dave Barry, John Hughes and P.J. O’Rourke. I’m sort of like the unread, unpopular version of them. (Minus the talent, of course … not to mention the inspiration.)

Anything you can do, a computer can do better

Technology in the Workplace

It’s quite the confidence booster to discover that a flash drive can do your job.

My boss called me into his office the other day.

“Take a seat,” he said. “I’ve got big news.”

My heart jumped. “Is it about that promotion I’ve been asking for?”

“Not exactly,” he said, sinking into his chair. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you go.”

“Oh.” I looked down. “This doesn’t bode well for my future with the company. And here I thought I was an up-and-comer.”

“It’s not your fault,” my boss said. “It’s just that we’re replacing you with cheaper labor.”

“You mean you actually found someone who’s willing to work for less than me? I didn’t know Bob Cratchit was in the job market.”

My boss pointed to a metal rectangle sitting beside his computer. “Meet Arnie the Artificial Intelligence. He’s the new you.”

I frowned. “It looks like a flash drive.”

“Essentially, that’s what he is. Once we plug him into the mainframe, he’ll start doing your job right away. Best of all, he doesn’t need bathroom breaks, and he’s not known for complaining.”

“So he’s a mindless robot? It sounds like he’ll fit in fantastically with the team.”

“I hope you’re not angry,” my boss said. “You have to understand that AI is the latest trend. Everyone’s doing it. Flesh-and-blood humans cost too much to employ. Plus, they have unreasonable expectations, such as making a living wage.”

“Of course,” I said. “And not only that, but I’m sure he excels at meaningless, repetitive tasks, too.”

My boss shrugged. “What can I say? We live in an economy where human beings no longer matter. Computers can perform every conceivable, modern-day job.”

“You mean like posting cat pictures to social media?” I asked.

“Precisely. That pretty much describes every conceivable, modern-day job. Everybody’s a social-media strategist these days, but once AI takes over, labor costs will go down dramatically.”

“Does Arnie have a college degree in journalism?” I asked. “Does he have sound writing skills?”

“Oh, Colane,” my boss said, “you know that writing doesn’t matter anymore. Nobody reads. Besides, everyone communicates these days using acronyms and emojis, and Arnie has thousands of them in his language database.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s comforting to know that human expression has been reduced to a handful of smiley-face emoticons and a pile of shit with eyes. Shakespeare would be proud.”

My boss shrugged. “Time marches on. The old ways eventually die. You can bet that had Netflix existed during the Great Depression, John Boy Walton never would have wasted all that time writing in his room. The whole family would have been too busy binge-watching ‘Game of Thrones.’ With all that entertainment, they probably wouldn’t have been so depressed.”

“What about my other skills?” I asked. “I excelled at critical thinking in school. I have amazing logic.”

My boss pointed at the flash drive. “You know who else excels at logic? Arnie. He’s a computer.”

“Fine,” I said. “So this is it? Seriously? Just like that, you’re going to replace me with a robot?”

“Exactly,” my boss said, patting me on the shoulder. “With your logical mind, I’d knew you’d understand.”

“But what if the worst happens?” I asked. “What if Arnie becomes self-aware and decides to take over your job, and then the CEO position, and then the world?”

“Well,” my boss said, shrugging, “I guess I’d have to give him points for ambition. Lord knows this company needs more up-and-comers.”

“I’ll see myself out,” I said. 

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Getting ahead by getting in over your head

people who buy houses they can't afford

Apparently, the best way to build wealth is to go into massive debt.

“You know, you really should consider buying a house,” said my friend, Wayne, as he looked around my dismal apartment, his lips curled in a condescending sneer. “Now is a terrific time to buy.”

“Really?” I said, settling across from him on my grungy couch. “Right now? You mean when inventory is depleted and prices are sky-high? Yeah, it sounds like an ideal time to pour all my hard-earned money into a ramshackle hovel. When was the last time I heard this advice? Early 2008?”

Wayne sniffed. “This time it’s different. Home prices can never go down. You don’t want to get left behind.”

“Take a look at my apartment,” I said. “I’ve already been left behind. I couldn’t buy a house in the aftermath of the recession because I had a low-paying job. And now that I have a better job, home prices have surged to outpace wages. I can’t win.”

“You’ll never learn,” Wayne said. “The only way to make it in life is to buy and sell houses. That’s the key. The only people who get ahead are the ones who buy homes.”

“Huh. I always thought the way to get ahead was to save your money and live below your means.”

Wayne laughed out loud. “Seriously? And where has that gotten you?”

I glanced around my dismal apartment. “Not far, I suppose.”

“That’s exactly right. Working hard and saving money are probably the stupidest things you can do. When you live below your means, you’re not living. That’s why you’re supposed to buy a house and borrow against the equity. How do you think people have RVs and ATVs and brand-new cars? They’re not working hard and saving the money, I can tell you that.”

“I believe it,” I said. “People don’t seem to have to work anymore. Everyone’s just rich for no reason.”

“It’s not for no reason,” Wayne said. “They’re rich because they live in enormous houses with rising values. You should take some notes. Like I said, now is a terrific time to buy.”

“People always say it’s a terrific time to buy,” I said. “When the market’s up, it’s a terrific time to buy. When the market’s down, it’s a terrific time to buy. When a zombie apocalypse hits the planet, it’s a terrific time to buy.”

“Actually,” Wayne said, “that would be an amazing time to buy. You could get in early when the prices were down. You’d just have to hose out the guts and rotting flesh.”

“Well, tell you what,” I said. “I’ll make you a deal. If a zombie apocalypse hits the planet, then maybe — just maybe — I’ll consider buying a house.”

“If you do, check out mine,” Wayne said. “I’m listing it for sale, and I’m looking for a buyer. I’m trying to move up.” 

“Move up?” I said. “And you want to use me as your stepladder?” 

He shrugged. “What can I say? If you knew anything about making money, you would have bought a house you couldn’t afford a long time ago.” 

Rallying for all the wrong reasons

Demanding Day Traders

Well, fair’s fair.

My next-door neighbor, Paul, was all grins the other day when we met for drinks after work.

“What are you so happy about?” I asked, my head sagging over my gin and tonic.

“Well,” Paul said, wearing a huge smile, “I’m not sure if you follow the financial news, but there was a major relief rally today on Wall Street.”

I peered up at him. “A relief rally?”

He nodded. “Yep. A big one.”

“Well, then,” I said, rolling my heavy eyes, “isn’t that just spellbindingly fantastic? Jolly jolly six pence.”

Paul’s bright smile dipped ever so slightly. “That sounded sarcastic.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “Not at all. You see, when it comes to relief, I can’t think of a more deserving group of people than rich Wall Street jerks with huge mansions, five vacation properties, four yachts, three private jets and a wad of hundred-dollar bills blowing out their backside. I mean, forget the working-class poor who are slaving away at multiple part-time jobs and struggling to raise their children in a rising-interest rate environment where wages are stagnant and the cost of living is skyrocketing. Goodness knows they don’t deserve relief. When the market dips ever so slightly, my heart goes out to the truly downtrodden — the truly worthy — such as the bankers and the politicians and the lobbyists. They’re the ones who deserve the outpouring of pity flowing from our tender hearts. In the patchwork quilt that is America, they’re the imperative threads that weave us all together in a snug cocoon of kinship and closeness.”

Paul blinked at me. “Are you sure you’re not being sarcastic?”

“What do you care about the ebbs and flows of the markets, anyway?” I asked, throwing back my drink. “You don’t have any money invested.”

“I was trying to pass on good news, is all. I read that you should try to share a bit of good news every day, to instill cheer in your fellow humans.”

I glared at him. “Instill cheer? And you think the idea of rich people getting richer is supposed to instill me with cheer?”

“Well.” Paul shrugged.

“If you wanted to instill me with cheer, you could tell me that housing is finally affordable, or that healthcare costs have gone down, or that instead of buying back their own stock, companies are finally investing in their employees.”

Paul shook his head. “Nope. None of that’s happened, as far as I can tell.”

At that moment, his phone buzzed. He picked it up to read the alert.

“Hey,” he said, “I got more good news. The Dow futures are way up in after-hours trading.”

I sighed, sinking lower in my bar stool. “What a relief.”

An economy where no one has to work

connection economy

What we have in business today is a failure to communicate.

We live in an ultra-modern, super-high-tech society with instant messaging, social media, visual teleconferencing, desktop screen-sharing and collaborative workspaces.

Yet despite all that, it’s still impossible to get a hold of anybody.

In my professional career, I don’t think I’ve ever called anyone and actually gotten through. I’ve always been directed to voicemail. This frustration led me to undertake a yearlong project in which I researched the accessibility of the average worker. (Yes, that’s where I’ve been all this time, instead of blogging.)

The results were astounding. They showed that a whopping 93.8 percent of U.S. business is conducted by empty offices with phones sitting on desks. 

This may explain why highway traffic is so heavy during peak business hours. While phones sit and ring in unattended offices, working-age Americans are driving around wearing shorts and sandals, enjoying the weather.

In fact, David Von Sickle, chief economist with the Ingrate Institute, attributed the U.S.’s current housing shortage to unused office space.

“Instead of building homes, we’re busy erecting executive suites that nobody will ever sit in,” he said. “To cut down on commercial real-estate costs, American companies would be better off installing a bunch of phones in a random storage shed.”

Efficiency expert Wanda (who’s so efficient that she has no last name), said that our economy has reached so-called “peak productivity,” meaning that everyone is apparently rich and doesn’t have to work.

“In this era where nobody has to show up to the office,” she said, “you could reasonably conduct a multinational conglomerate from a single warehouse in the Arizona desert. All you would need is a truckload of phones and a table to set them on.”

Indeed, corporate strategists have been busy building a connection economy in which nobody actually connects. Little work gets done anymore because nobody is available to do it. Some experts say that this has led to a widening national trade deficit and dizzying phone trees where all possible options disconnect the caller. 

“American business is falling behind,” said Amy Asinine, a prominent bureaucrat for a government agency that creates economic reports using made-up data. “Our foreign trading partners are overtaking us because they actually show up to work.”

Some people disagree that detachment from the workplace is necessarily bad. (However, perhaps tellingly, these people tend to be aloof and out-of-touch executives who never show up to the office.) 

Larry Lethargic, a corporate officer with a multi-syllable title at an unnamed tech firm, said that although he’s never seen the inside of his suite, he’s heard that it could fit 20 standard-sized cubicles. 

“I think it’s on the ninth floor somewhere,” he said, as he took a break from his 10 a.m. Wednesday tennis match to talk. “I’m not quite sure what it looks like, but I know that there’s a phone sitting on the desk.”

When I asked Lethargic about his job responsibilities, he looked at me with a puzzled expression, as if he were watching a David Lynch film.

“I don’t have responsibilities per se,” he said. “I just get paid money — a lot of it. The phone at my desk takes all my calls. And if the money starts to run out, I just buy back stock. That’s how business works.”

The most vocal proponents of social media tend to be celebrities who gather millions of everyday followers and then follow back only six people — all of them other celebrities. 

“I love interacting with my fans,” a popular musician told me, while plugging her new album on Twitter and ignoring incoming Tweets from her fans. “Thank goodness for these social media platforms.”

Other experts such as Michael Mindless, a thought leader living in New York City, argue that today’s connection economy has fostered collaborative relationship building across corporations nationwide. 

I reached out to Mindless for a comment, but I could only get his voicemail. He didn’t immediately return my call. 

Sick days and substitute teachers 

Substitute teacher sitting in front of classroom with books on desks

My nerdy half-sister, Clara, often fills in as a substitute teacher. It’s one of the few occupations where you can end up with a “Kick Me” sign taped to the back of your shirt. That doesn’t happen in most office jobs.

Substitute-teacher days were always weird.

You knew something was off as soon as you walked into class. You could feel it churning in your gut – along with the undercooked corndog you’d eaten for lunch.

Some random adult would be standing at the head of the classroom, looking lost and out of place, as if they had wandered onto campus for their 20-year reunion and taken a wrong turn into the science lab.

Some of the students would stare, their eyes wide and startled, as if a spaceship had landed in their yard. The smart alecks would sneak discrete glimpses at each other, already plotting mischievous deeds, while some goody-two-shoes girl would exclaim, “Oh, no! Is Mrs. Ryan sick?”

And of course, the substitute didn’t know, so he’d shrug and mumble, “I have no idea. They just called me here this morning.”

I always pictured substitutes as impoverished vagabonds whose entire livelihood depended on a full-time teacher calling in with a hangover. They’d be awake and dressed at 4 a.m., standing by the phone and waiting for the call – a call, perhaps, from the principal himself, that most venerated of educational leaders.

A call that — on most days, no matter how long they waited — just wouldn’t come.

In defeated anguish, with no moneymaking gig, they’d wander the isolated streets — alone — scrounging for loose change to buy a loaf of day-old bread. If there was enough left over, they might get a secondhand picture frame to display their second-rate teaching certificate.

But if they did get the call, they’d show up in their corduroy pants and stand slump-shouldered at the head of the class – a flaccid, uncertain sergeant commanding a troop of baggy-pants know-it-alls. They’d kick things off by taking attendance, fumbling over names and biting their lip as they withstood the snickers.

After that, we students expected a free period to kick back and relax. In our minds, you see, there was a tacit understanding between the school and its students that the substitutes would make no effort to actually teach.

Instead, they’d distribute word-search puzzles, or assign busywork, or maybe put on a movie. They were supposed to be glorified babysitters, not aspiring educators striving for full-time status.

If the substitute did open a textbook and start to lecture, we’d have to set him straight. A kid would pull the book from his hand and say, “Sorry, but no — this isn’t how it’s going to work. You see that VCR attached to the TV stand — the one that’s flashing 12:00? Well, you’re going to pop in a National Geographic special from 1979 and play it for us.”

“Oh.” The substitute would place a fingertip to his lips. “Will I be giving you a quiz at the end of the film to ensure you’ve internalized the information?”

The student would shake his head — slowly — his eyes wide and threatening. “No.”

On another note, it seems like teaching is the only profession that gets substitutes. How come it’s a perk that never caught on in other workplaces?

I mean, when I can’t make it to work, I’m not allowed a stand-in. I can’t call up some random guy to do my job for a day. If I don’t show up,  my co-workers have to pitch in.

And when my boss is out, there’s no auxiliary superior to distribute word searches to me and my co-workers. No one plays a National Geographic special for us in the breakroom. We’re still expected to do our jobs, even without the watchful eye of a surrogate overseer. It doesn’t seem fair.

But maybe it’s just as well. Knowing me, if I had a substitute supervisor, I’d be one of the smart alecks sneaking discrete glimpses at my co-workers, plotting mischievous deeds.

What can I say? Even though I’m no longer in school, some things never change.

Maybe you should try decluttering your house before listing it for sale

man in office talking on phone

Perhaps not so surprisingly, my career as a real-estate photographer was short-lived.

Years ago, I worked in a small real-estate office. One of the agents got a new listing, so she asked me to drop in and take photos.

As I dropped in, my jaw dropped. Random junk sat atop every conceivable surface. It looked as if a tornado had struck a knickknack shop.

There were dog toys on the couch, antique dishes on the coffee table, torn-open mail on the kitchen counter. If House Hunters and Hoarders got drunk and made a baby, this house would be it.

I would have wiped my feet on the mat, but I didn’t want to dirty my shoes.

However, I was there to take photos, so take photos I did. Being the professional I am, I used creative angles to portray the garbage as artistically as possible. Natural sunlight flowed through the open curtains, adding a heavenly glow to the pristine piles of rubbish.

We posted the photos and listed the home. A few days later, the homeowner called.

“Can you tell me who took the photos of my house?” he asked.

I told him that the creative genius in question was me.

“OK,” he said, “then riddle me this: Would it have occurred to you not to take photos of all the clutter?”

Now here’s my problem: I have a smart-aleck switch. When it’s switched on, I start spewing a stream of passive-aggressive prattle that can’t be stopped. Once I get going, I’m not able to turn the switch off, even if I try. I just have to keep going until I run out of steam.

It’s sort of like Planes Trains and Automobiles, when Steve Martin accuses John Candy of being a Chatty Cathy doll who pulls his own string — except the reverse. I have a switch over which I have no control. Only other people can flick it on for me.

And this homeowner, unfortunately, had succeeded in flicking my switch.

“Well,” I said, “riddle me this: Would it have occurred to you to clean your house when you know full well a photographer’s coming?”

Silence.

“You see,” I continued, “a photographer’s palette is the whimsical world he frames with his lens. While a painter suggests reality with brushstrokes and splatters, a photographer captures the essence of a moment and coaxes it to its fullest expression. The environment in which he composes his masterpieces sets the mood for the photos that emerge. So when he finds himself in a repulsive midst of messiness and disarray, his thoughts, emotions, and photos reflect the untidy shambles of his surroundings. What develops – quite literally – are photographic representations of the egregious eyesore, complete with all the filth and clutter that litter the landscape.”

“Are you finished?” the man asked.

“Not quite,” I said. “The horrific conditions of your abysmal abode not only undermined my artistic endeavors, but they endangered my life, as well. When I stepped backward to frame a shot of the dining room, I tripped on what I assume was a poodle — or maybe an overgrown rat. Either way, it wasn’t moving, so I imagine it had sucked its last breath as it desperately clawed through the clutter, seeking the freedom it could never find in the midst of the suffocating chaos.”

A heavy sigh came from the phone. “Is that all?”

“Your trashcan was also overflowing and left sitting in the middle of the kitchen,” I added. “I would have moved it, but I couldn’t swat my way through the thick swarm of flies. They pushed me backward and pinned me to the wall. I’m sure I could have taken them individually, but as a team, they proved to be an unstoppable force.”

“OK — I believe you’ve made your point,” the man said. “Are we done now?”

“I think so,” I said. “That’s all I’ve got.”

“Good. If I clean up the clutter, could you come back to retake the photos?”

“Of course,” I said. “I live for my art. I exist to achieve excellence. I cherish the creative satisfaction that comes from replicating the beauty of nature. Why, my camera –”

The phone clicked in my ear.

“Hmm.” I hung up the phone. “Well, not everyone appreciates my creative genius.”

Seasoned employees don’t use exclamation points

Two men at work writing an e-mailWhen I compare my work e-mails today to the ones I wrote as a new hire, there’s a noticeable difference.

My e-mails today — though friendly — are often brief and to the point. The sentences are simple, and the punctuation is basic.

“Hi John. Please send me a copy of the check. Thank you.”

Of course, when writing to upper management, I’ll usually throw in a semicolon – just to show off that I know how to use one. (You never know when good grammar might score you points.)

“Hi Boss. The project is nearly finished; however, there’s been a delay in receiving a copy of the check. I reached out to John in Accounting, but because he’s not as committed to the company as I am, he’s been remiss in providing a timely response. Thank you.”

However, when I look at the e-mails I wrote as a new-hire, the obsequiousness is downright obnoxious. To compensate for my lack of confidence, I used a nauseating number of exclamation points and smiley-face emoticons.

“Hi John! You might not remember me, but I’m the new guy down the hall!!! I sit next to Emily! Isn’t she a hoot? 🙂 She’s been super, super helpful in getting me acclimated. Anyways, can you please send me a copy of the check? Only when you have a chance! I know you’re like, super busy and stuff, and I’m still learning, so just when you can! OK? Cool, and thank you!!!!!!! 🙂 🙂 :-)”

OK – that was a slight exaggeration. I wasn’t quite the shrill Valley Girl as portrayed above, but as a new employee, I did want to be perceived as friendly and eager to help.

I’m not sure where that enthusiasm went. I used to be the passionate newbie, but now I’m just the crotchety killjoy. These days, when a co-worker knocks on my cubicle for help, I just narrow my eyes and give them a Clint Eastwood snarl. That’s how bad it is.

It’s as if job longevity transforms us from fawning, ambitious sycophants to cantankerous, grumpy curmudgeons.

Over time, as we establish our roots in the position, the exclamation points and smiley faces start to dwindle, then disappear entirely. Blunt curtness replaces the once-cheerful tone of our interoffice correspondence.

Where once our writing exuded wholehearted passion, now it just drips with Dilbert-like cynicism.

I can always tell a new employee based on their e-mails: the deferential tenor; the overeager intensity. It reeks like the leftover salmon someone microwaved in the breakroom.

Come to think of it, microwaving fish in the breakroom might be the one instance these days where I’d use an exclamation point in a work-related e-mail.

“Note to employees: Someone this afternoon microwaved fish in the office breakroom, creating a rancid stench that’s offensive to our environment. And not to place blame, but I have a strong suspicion that it was John from Accounting! If you see him in the hall, please let him know how appalled you are by his thoughtless behavior! Not only is he a detriment to the team, but that incompetent jerk still hasn’t given me my check!!!!!”

Blank pages waiting to be written on

a blank notebook page

A blank piece of paper is an empty canvas just waiting to be filled with imaginative musings.

Every time I go to a Dollar Tree or a Big Lots or somewhere like that, I have to buy a spiral-bound notebook. It’s a compulsion.

It’s even gotten to where I have to avoid the school supplies aisle in the supermarket. I always end up with a Spiderman or Hello Kitty notebook in my cart, and then I have a hard time making eye contact with the cashier during checkout.

I’d probably feel less embarrassed buying Preparation H.

And heaven forbid I spot an Office Depot or a Staples along the highway. That’d be like an alcoholic stumbling onto a Budweiser warehouse. If I do see an office-supply store, I have to swerve the car Steve McQueen-style and speed down a side street.

I feel like Mel Gibson in that movie Conspiracy Theory, where he’s programmed to buy endless copies of Catcher in the Rye.

Maybe I was once a CIA operative whose memory was erased, and instead of having covert-ops skills, I was a voracious note-taker. If they made a movie about me, it would be Tom Cruise (or Will Ferrell; whoever’s available) dropping into the dense jungles of some war-torn foreign country. Flexing his gargantuan biceps, he’d flip open his tattered journal and start scribbling furiously with a leaky pen. (I can tell you from personal experience, it’s a pain getting ink smeared on your gargantuan biceps.)

I threw out a bunch of notebooks the other day, because it was clear I didn’t really need them. Each one was half-filled with half-baked ideas, blog posts that went nowhere, and stories I started but didn’t really want to finish.

That’s not to say they were a waste, though. After all, a rose that blossoms and wilts prematurely is prettier than a rose that never blooms at all. I’d rather scrawl down an idea and throw it away later than to have it flicker through my mind and never have a record of it. I’ve lost a lot of great ideas that way. (Well, I’d like to think they were great, but I might be biased.)

I like to buy notebooks because I love to write. All those blank pages are a canvas just waiting to be filled with a writer’s wonderful prose.

When I see a blank notebook, I’m not seeing the book itself. Rather, I’m seeing all of its imaginative potential. A blank notebook can be a novel, a compilation of essays, a collection of ideas. You can doodle in it, jot down an observation on the fly, record a snippet of a conversation you overheard on the bus.

A notebook isn’t just a stack of blank, lined paper. It’s a potential tapestry of unfettered human thought.

In his introduction to The Gunslinger, the first book in his Dark Tower series, Stephen King wrote how the whole novel came about because of yellow paper. He worked in a college library with his future wife, Tabitha, and they each got a package of colored paper.

To him, that ream of paper was a blank canvas just waiting to be filled with imaginative musings. He took it home, put a sheet in the typewriter, and dashed out the first sentence to what would become not only a novel, but a best-selling series.

I feel the same way about blank paper, which is why I love notebooks. They make me want to create – to write.

It may sound weird, but the mere sight of a blank notebook excites me. My imagination starts going in several different directions, and I start daydreaming about how I could fill all those pages with chapters of the Great American Novel. (Or fart jokes; whichever leaps to mind first.)

To me, a notebook is a blank canvas. And I think all of us have our own version of a blank canvas – something we do that brings joy to others and enriches our everyday existence.

For a gardener, a planter of topsoil is a blank canvas.

For a decorator, an empty room is a blank canvas.

For a landscaper, a patch of weeds is a blank canvas.

For a painter, a blank canvas is … well, a blank canvas.

We all have our own version of a blank canvas. What’s yours? 

Going the distance – albeit with short bursts of speed

man jogging down path

Because priorities.

I’m more of a sprinter than a long-distance runner.

Actually, let me clarify. When it comes to track, my preferred position is spectator.

But if you were to drag me back in time to high school, re-enroll me in my sophomore year, and force me to fulfill my physical-education requirement by taking a semester of track (you heartless time-traveling bastard, you) —  then yes, I’d be more of a sprinter than a long-distance runner.

My dad’s the same way. We work best with short bursts of energy, and not prolonged periods of continual exertion.

Case in point: I can’t write every day.

I’ve tried, but it’s a goal I’ve struggled to keep … sort of like my New Year’s resolution to jog each evening. (Come to find out, binge-watching Top Chef at night puts a damper on my daily exercise regimen.)

I know writing every day would be good for me. And it’s something I’d like to do. After all, the most successful writers are the ones that train themselves to make writing a habit. They treat it like a job.

Although I suppose I treat writing like a job, too – only it’s one that involves a shovel, a pile of cow dung, and knee-high wading boots.

That is to say, it’s not only an unenjoyable job – it’s often downright excruciating.

Part of that is my penchant for perfection. Rewriting and editing are important parts of the process, but it’s easy to wring the heart from a piece through rigorous revision. That’s a problem I know all too well.

There’s a vein of creativity that runs through the mind, and my best work emerges when I can tap into it and transcribe the thoughts that stream effortlessly through my fingertips.

On the other hand, striving for technical precision suffocates the life from my writing, leaving me with a series of grammatically accurate sentences that collectively lack a soul.

Another issue I have is writer’s block. There are so many days when I sit down to write and nothing’s there. It feels like I’m wearing concrete boots and slogging through a mental cavern of thick cobwebs. (Unfortunately, today is one of those days.)

Other days, I’ll feel clear-headed and energetic, and I’ll dash out two or three blog posts in one sitting.

It’s weird, but apparently, it’s how I work.

I still try to write every day, but if nothing’s there, I’m not too hard on myself.

I also remind myself to have fun. If I’m not enjoying what I’m writing, then likely no one else will enjoy reading it.

I also remind myself that perfection is an illusion, and striving for it will suck the life from my writing. When it comes to creativity, good enough is truly good enough.

So if you see me on the track, just know I won’t be running the mile full-steam. I’ll dash forward, walk for a while, then dash forward until I run out of oomph.

Again, it’s how I work.

And maybe that’s OK. Because whether I’m sprinting or walking, I’m still going the distance. I’ll get to the finish line eventually.

It’s just that it’ll be on my own terms — and, apparently, in my own sweet time.

An essay of epic proportions

man standing alone in barren desert

Funny thing, but I enjoy writing more when I don’t take it so seriously. Who would have thought?

I sat down to write a blog post the other day, and this overwhelming sense of exhaustion draped over me.

The idea of piecing together a coherent essay – complete with a gripping lede, a compelling thesis, and a succinct conclusion to tie it all up – seemed daunting and not worth the strain. I was tired from a full day of work, and I couldn’t summon the strength to compose a compelling journalistic masterpiece.

I sighed and rested my head in my hands.

Why do I even keep a blog? I thought to myself. It’s all work and no play. It’s not fun anymore.

And right on cue, as if to reaffirm a lesson I already knew, a scene from the 1996 movie Mr. Holland’s Opus started playing in my mind.

In the film, Richard Dreyfuss stars as a high-school music teacher. It’s not his dream job — he’d much rather be at home, working on his own compositions — but throughout the movie he enriches the lives of generations of students by instilling in them a love for music.

There’s a part where a girl is staying after class to practice the clarinet, but she keeps hitting a sour note. She gets frustrated and wants to give up.

So Dreyfuss puts a record on the turntable. It’s “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen. He tells the girl that even though the music is simple and really not that good technically, he loves it.

He loves it, he says, because music is supposed to be fun. It’s not supposed to be torture and drudgery and endless hours of frustration. It’s supposed to be enjoyable.

And he’s right. The music that touches people comes from the heart. It may not be technically precise, but it’s got soul – and soul is what resonates. It reaches people on a deeper level and evokes all sorts of emotions.

Essentially, Dreyfuss was telling the girl to lighten up. By treating her practice sessions as excruciating struggles toward perfection, she was forgetting why she wanted to play music in the first place. Her determination to be perfect was draining all the joy from what should have been a pleasurable pastime.

No one decides to become a musician – or, for that matter, a writer – with the hope that the challenges will be agonizing and impossible to overcome.

They decide to do it because they want to express themselves – and because they derive enjoyment from pursuing their craft.

And that was my issue. Like the girl in the movie, I was treating my hobby as if it were strenuous toil. There was no fun in it anymore because I was taking it too seriously.

In my unyielding determination to succeed, I had forgotten why I started blogging in the first place.

I realized, too, that blog posts aren’t high-school essays. They don’t have to have an outline, or a thesis, body, and conclusion. There’s no strict headmistress looking over my shoulder, ready to rap my knuckles with a ruler if I split an infinitive or misplace a modifier.

Blog posts can be whatever we want. There’s no structure required.  Mental wanderings are perfectly acceptable, if that’s your thing. You don’t have to write an essay of epic proportions.

Like music, writing should be fun. Fun writing flows from the fingertips, while strict writing requires endless tinkering and unwavering deliberation.

So like the girl in the movie, I’m going to try to loosen up and enjoy myself. After all, I’m here to have fun.

And just as technical precision doesn’t infuse a piece with heart, a single sour note doesn’t deprive it of its soul.