Proofreading and Spreading Myself Thin

I had an eye opening experience this week, which,  should not have been at all eye opening and was completely avoidable.

I’ve been trying to really make this writing thing take off, like really trying, for the better part of a year. I’ve been writing pretty regularly for the past five years, but it wasn’t until I started PA Weekend Fun (my travel blog) that I really starting thinking I could pursue this as some kind of possible full-time (or at least part-time) career options.

The problem, which I’ve been told before but have willingly chosen to ignore up until this point, is that I feel like I’m lacking focus, trying to do too much, and at the same time possibly spreading myself a bit too thin.

My first priority is always going to be my job. I’m lucky to be employed and although I have my gripes with it, I truly do believe that what I do, teaching high school English, is important. In that same vein I am blessed to have been able to devote my summers and plenty of my weekends to writing but during the school year it gets tough as the job that pays my bills will always be my first priority.

I’m trying to essentially balance four, really I guess you could say five, separate writing projects on top of that. I’ve got this blog, which I’ve been trying to remain more diligent with keeping up with, where I both write and chronicle my adventures entering the writing world. I have PA Weekend Fun, which I really love writing. I’ve been trying to do an average of two posts a week there.

I also have posts for The Good Men Project, which is a site I’ve long admired and feel lucky to contribute to. I also enjoy producing these posts, working with the talented editors is improving my writing, I’m getting experience writing for a legitimate publication and it’s phenomenal exposure.

My other two outlets are fiction writing, I bounce between several long-term projects, and attempting to send out queries and pitches to garner other freelance opportunities, which at times seems a bit like a job in itself. And I’m not complaining or asking anyone to feel bad for me. If anything, I’m admonishing myself but we’ll get there.

On Wednesday, I had a piece, a rift on a piece I wrote here, published with Thought Catalog. I was excited. It’d provide a different audience for my writing and let me write in a different, more sarcastic tone then I’d been able to write previously. I was also excited for the feedback from readers, as I know that the commenters on Thought Catalog are generally more active than on The Good Men Project. I was ready to face some criticism. I was ready for the audience to not like what I said.

I was not ready for so many commenters to call me out for my poor editing. Again, I should not have been surprised. Editing and proofreading have never been my strong suit. I’ve been admonished for this professionally at school and had several people point out errors on PA Weekend Fun before, but had thought I’d gotten beyond that. I knew it was a fault, so in the past year, have been making a concerted effort to really proofread everything five, six, seven times before publication.  But here was an article I wrote, one that I was excited and proud of and one an entirely different audience was seeing for the first time, riddled with mechanical errors.

My first reaction was indignation. Who notices these things?  Who nitpicks on blog posts? Then I remembered that I’d certainly notice grammar mistakes in other people’s work. My second thought, and I’m just being honest here, was anger at the editors. How could they let my work go out looking unpolished? But you know what? It’s not the fault of the audience or the editors. It’s my and my fault alone.

Why were there so many errors in my article? The simple answer? Because I rushed it. During October I was somewhat of a writing machine. I’d gotten into a nice rhythm at work, was firing three or four posts off to The Good Men Project every week, was keeping up with two personal blogs and somehow tricked myself into thinking that the more I got out into the interweb, the better it was for my overall agenda. Seeing my name on legitimate websites was a dangerous aphrodisiac and I set ridiculous goals for myself. A to-do list from three weeks ago reads “publish two travel blogs, one personal blog, 4 articles for GMP, query four different sites, and send three stories to Thought Catalog.”  I finished all of those tasks that week, but obviously not to my very best ability. My very best ability, and what would really put my best work out there,  would be if I slowed down and devoted more of my time to less. A few really strong work pieces will always be better than a lot of error ridden garbage.

This week, I made a concerted effort to not publish anything to my blogs, or send any material I worked on out to be published. Rather, I’d start brainstorming some new posts, articles and pitches, and take my time proofreading the ones I had in queue over and over and over, even if it got boring. If I want to put work out there, I’m ultimately the one responsible for making sure it looks professionally done. I need to remember that quantity is not always inductive to quality.

And you know what? I don’t know why I’m in such a hurry to get all this stuff out there. The difference between a Monday or a Wednesday is really nothing, especially if the Wednesday material is just so much better.

Which leads me to spreading myself too thin. Maybe I’m trying to cram too much on my plate? I’m trying to do freelance writing, break into the travel market and write a manuscript. And don’t even get me started on the self promotion. Is it too much? Would I do better to really focus my energy making one of these things great, or is there no harm in trying to conquer several different avenues as long as I do it with care? I obviously have no idea of the answer, but do know that I’m not going to rush whatever conclusion I come to.

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100 Shallow Things I’m Thankful For

I’m feeling a little spread thin lately. It’s been a very busy couple of weeks at work, with October firmly behind us I’ve been concentrating on finishing my Christmas shopping and making winter plans, I’ve been attempting to keep doing two posts a week for PAWeekendFun, made a new goal to try and do a post a week here, have been pitching stories to various freelance publishers, producing a couple of posts for The Good Men Project a week and attempting to work on a few fiction pieces. And I realize that I invalidated any sympathy when I mentioned “making winter plans” as something consuming my time, so I’ll stop with the unnecessary bitching starting now.

The point I wanted to make, albeit in a very roundabout way, is that why I feel I’m writing a lot, I don’t necessarily think I’ve done any work in the past few months on improving myself as a writer. For one, I can’t tell you the last book I read, and I’m of the school of thought that the more you read, the better you write. This is strange for me, but I’ve just been so busy reading in writing for other capacities that when I want to relax it’s been television or listening to music.

I’ve also been following the same pattern when writing the posts and feel like I’ve gotten into a bit of a writing rut, so one day while at Barnes and Nobles to do some work, I picked up a book of writing exercises, promising myself that I’d try to do one a day to keep myself sharp. That was three weeks ago and until last night I hadn’t opened it. With nothing pressing to do I decided to rectify that situation.

I thumbed through the first few pages and found a couple of exercises that looked appealing, but the one that seemed timeliest (with Thanksgiving break looming closer than ever) was to create a list of “100 Things You’re Thankful For.”

I decided to amend this for my own selfish purposes. It was late and I didn’t feel like getting too introspective, deep or emotional, so you won’t find things on this list like “my family” or “such and such life changing adventure.” Rather, it’s a list of decidedly shallow items that as innocuous as they are, make me happy.

Without further ado:

1)      Emerging from a bar with a good buzz after an afternoon of day drinking and realizing that you still have all night to keep going.

2)      Sleeping with the windows open under a million covers on fall mornings.

3)      Having the entire next day prepared when I leave work so that I can relax and do what I want for the night.

4)      Christmas Eve at Franks.

5)      Songs that bring you back to a very specific time/place/incident.

6)      Summertime rides from the house to the bar with ten people packed in the car and everybody singing.

7)      Restaurant meals that come with extras: salad, bread basket, pasta sides, appetizers, etc, when you aren’t expecting it.

8)      Orson wing night.

9)      Cajun clams, Montreal Prime Rib, Salad with Italian Dressing, & a frosted mug of Coors Light at Franks.

10)   Ringo Brothwell (RIP..ok, this was smaltzy but I just watched THIS).

11)   Parade Day.

12)   The chaos that comes with running around and getting ready for a party and then the time between when you’re finished and waiting for the first few people to get there.

13)   Self-deprecating people

14)   Being sore from being active.

15)   90 degree summer tennis.

16)   Perfect summer day: wake up and make breakfast, read, swim, go to the driving range, gym, play tennis, swim more, grill, go out.

17)   Barhopping when you’re snowed in.

18)   Kegs & Eggs

19)   Law & Order:SVU marathons on a Sunday night.

20)   Good eating days (a day where every meal is so phenomenal you can’t stop talking about them).

21)   The perfect drunk (hard to obtain, and maintain).

22)   Being at home on Christmas with a fire place going and people cooking.

23)   Thanksgiving prep with the family before all the company arrives.

24)   Campfires, bonfires, firepits.

25)   When a song comes on that perfectly sums up your mood OR when a song comes on the radio that you completely forgot exists and you have a need to immediately download it.

26)   Making playlists

27)   Pregaming

28)   Ski-towns

29)   BYOB seafood restaurants

30)   Receiving a bevy of Facebook likes

31)   Singing in the car

32)   Accomplishing a lot before noon.

33)   Crab dip

34)   Good deals on buckets of tiny beer.

35)   Eating peanut butter straight from the jar.

36)   A well-executed club sandwhich.

37)   Ditto for a well-executed breakfast sandwhich.

38)   How much NEPA reminds me of Dazed & Confused

39)   The smell of fall & winter in NEPA

40)   “Margaritaville” performed by the Polka Jets at the now defunct St. Mike’s picnic (RIP).

41)   The fact that my parents attended “dump parties” well into their thirties.

42)   Todd & Margo from Christmas Vacation

43)   Finding an Irish pub with an Irish singer

44)   Making lists

45)   Actually finishing those lists

46)   Bonners during Erin Express (and the fact that Bonner’s does not have a website I could link to).

47)   When people compliment me on being funny

48)   A solid boat shoe

49)   Everyone waking up in the same vicinity so you can discuss the night before.

50)   Camping in the fall.

51)   Lawn seats on nice summer nights.

52)   Fat dogs and cats

53)   Animal photobombs

54)   Any night that ends at the Simpson Star.

55)   Front porches

56)   Old school juke boxes

57)   Finding shuffleboards

58)   Knowing you have no school (aka for me: work) in advance.

59)   Waking up and feeling awake.

60)   Italian Meat Pie, when I get it

61)   Turkey Eve

62)   Falling asleep at the beach.

63)   Bean bags and bud light lime and grilled clams; bonus points if all those things happen before noon.

64)   Driving up the Casey Highway and knowing I’m pretty much home

65)   Knowing you’re having more fun than anyone else at a specific locale (ie: bar).

66)   Drunken afternoon dance parties.

67)   Small children who are disobedient in the grocery store.

68)   Three day weekends.

69)   Finishing a book in a night.

70)   Asshole pets (Read: Ringo, Fuzmuz).

71)   Entitled pets (read: Fuzmuz).

72)   Stealing legit pint glasses & bar posters.

73)   Surprise covers at concerts.

74)   Any and all Scranton memories, including those that happened post college.

75)   Learning embarrassing things my parents  as I get older…also when they straight up admit we were weird/difficult children.

76)   #SundayFunday

77) Springsteen therapy.

78)   Appetizers.

79)   A long cross country ski.

80)   Great deals (especially at Weis Markets).

81)   Facebook stalking.

82)   When random people in life also quote Anchorman, Stepbrothers, & Wedding Crashers.

83)   Aimless drives

84)   Channel flipping and finding White Chicks

85)   The ending sequence to Last of the Mohicans

86)   Springsteen lyrics.

87)   When really white people rap really well

88)   Turkey Hill Chocolate Milk

89)   Non-seasonally appropriate holiday celebrations.

90)   Frank Sinatra on Sunday mornings.

91)   Planning trips.

92)   “Cecilia”..anytime, anyplace

93)   Military tributes

94)   It’s a Rap: The Coconut Bangers Ball

95)   Parade season

96)   Thanksgiving-New Years

97)   Nights that start off low key and that end the next morning

98) The convenience of living above a Vietnamese restaurant.

99) (my current online obsession)

100) Spicy bbq sauce.

*Note: this list is not by any means exclusionary and does not occur in any particular order

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Social Media Overload

People keep telling me that I need to download SnapChat. The thing is, that once upon a time I did. Back when I still had my IPhone (RIP) somebody convinced me that I needed it. Frankly, I didn’t (and still don’t) get the big fuss about it. If I wanted to take a picture and send it to someone, I’d just text that picture. Screen-shotting has basically rendered this app moot (there’s a Law & Order: SVU episode about this, so you know it’s legit), but it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon (well it might, if the creator continues to be a giant moron).

But the main reason I got rid of SnapChat is because I felt overwhelmed by social media. I currently have two blogs. I have this one, which focuses on fiction writing and writing in general. I have my travel blog, PAWeekendFun. I have two twitter handles. I have @patb130 which is my “everyday” twitter and I have @paweekendfun which I use to promote that blog and post about my traveling/lifestyle musings and recommendations. I have a personal Facebook page and I have an Instagram account and I have a google plus profile I don’t really know what to do with yet, and a StumbleUpon account that at this point is basically used to look up pictures of photobombing animals. There was too much going on so I deleted SnapChat from my life.

The thing is that despite feeling overwhelmed, in the blogging/writing game, social media is extremely important. It’s a way to connect with readers and a way to get your stories out there to audiences that wouldn’t have just stumbled upon it any other old way.

I find it overwhelming in this capacity as well.

When it comes to social media, Facebook is my first love. I spend an unhealthy amount of time on Facebook and I hate admitting this, but nothing fills me with happiness like a status achieving a ton of likes.  I’m old fashioned about Facebook though. I probably won’t friend you. The people I’m FB friends with our people I actually know. I have a rule that I need some sort of human interaction with you in order to accept you as a friend. Old-fashioned, but how I roll.

I’m coming around to twitter and am very active on @Paweekendfun, mostly because I write enough on that blog (2 posts a week) to constantly have something to tweet and rub in reader’s faces, but struggle with tweeting consistently from @patb130.

Since I will not allow you access to my personal Facebook, I do have a blog Facebook page set up, but in the spirit of full disclosure it’s a mess. I think I’ve posted three things and have hardly any likes. I feel like I’ve just really mastered self promotion on twitter and now I hear Facebook is the best way to share. What gives?

I feel like I’m overusing the word “overwhelming” but it’s the best descriptor.  You write a piece or a post and that’s not enough. You then need to market it over all of these different channels. As with the twitter/facebook situation, I feel like I master one, and then another pops up.

I’m in the midst of learning how to use Google plus  more and just created a Reddit account. I’m even considered getting a Pinterest Page but the feeling I have that I need to be super connected to all these different channels is taking some of the fun out of the writing. I feel like I spend just as much time setting up my tweets for the week as I do creating my blog, and once again, in the spirit of full disclosure, I wish I had more time to redesign the blog, create a blog roll, touch up my photography skills etc.

So any advice from any of you out there who has mastered being a social media coordinator. What channels work best? What tactics worked for you? What am I doing wrong? Should I just pick one or two and stick with them? Any help on this subject would be greatly obliged.

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Why I Find Self-Promotion Gross

Since I’m morphing into my father at an alarming rate, I woke up bring and early on this beautiful Saturday morning in order to go grocery shopping. As I was innocently deciding whether or not a entire gallon of chocolate milk would be a good purchase (it was, and it’s gone already which is its own special kind of gross) a guy approached me and asked if I’d gone to the University of Scranton.

I'm on the right, wearing the shirt that started this rant.

I’m on the right, wearing the shirt that started this rant.

I hadn’t really been cognizant of what I was wearing but it turns out I was wearing my “Ain’t No Party Like An Oscars Party Cuz An Oscar’s Party Don’t Stop” tee shirt that says “Scranton Parade Day 2011” across the back of it. One thing that ties Scranton graduates together is the amount of tee shirts we’ve all accumulated over the years, so this is not the first time this has happened to me.

It turns out that he did not go to the University of Scranton, nor had he ever visited Scranton but knew a couple of guys who went there. This should have been my first red flag that something weird was going down, but since I can rattle on about Scranton all day and LIVE to discuss parade day and because I literally had no where else to be that early on a Saturday morning, I chatted for a while. Finally, after going on and on (I’m sure) for five minutes, I told him it was nice chatting but that I was going to get going.

He told me that he enjoyed the chat and that I seemed like the kind of guy who was a natural go-getter and ready to really seize every day. The wheels in my brain started to turn as I thought to myself, “and me extolling the greatness of pre-noon Irish carbombs helped you to come to this conclusion how?” Then he pulled out his “business” card and said that he knew of an excellent growth opportunity for someone like me if I wanted to set up a later date to chat and “begin my road to retiring early.” Had I ever heard of Amway Global?

I lied and said that I hadn’t but that I was just way too busy with school and work and writing, which isn’t as you’re probably aware if you read any of my stuff, complete bullshit. What was bullshit was that I hadn’t heard of Amway Global previously. If you’re unaware, it’s a pyramid scheme/cult hybrid that turns normal citizens into “independant marketing agents” who could make so much money if you get so many people to also sign up for Amway Global, which is the primary reason he approached me in the supermarket with such a shoddy story.

This wasn’t the first time I’d had dealings with the Amway Global folks. They’re sneaking all over Lancaster, and in fact this is like the fifth or sixth time one of them has accosted me at the Weis Markets on Fruitville Pike. When I was younger and dumber (four years ago), I actually allowed one of these people to give me their “presentation” while I was doing work at Barnes & Noble. Besides for the fact that any job that comes with a “lifestyles” always sends up red flags, the whole prey-on-your-friends-and-family for your own monetary growth and flagrant promotion to strangers left a bad and very inauthentic taste in my mouth.

I think it’s because self-promotion leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Self-promotion is something I somewhat struggle with. How do you find a balance between hustling and putting yourself out there without overkill? And how do you do it in a manner that doesn’t just appear, but is actually authentic (and do I sound completely naïve?)?

Maybe I’m coming across as naïve because I’ve been living in a world where self promotion is not necessary. There is no self-promotion in teaching. It’s about doing a job and doing something more important than yourself. As I actually attempt to give this whole writing thing a go, I’m beginning to realize the hard truth. Content is important, sure, but you could be the best writer with the most innovative spin on things but if you’re not promoting yourself, you’re not going to make it. Hits and shares are just as important as strong ideas and good grammar.

I mainly promote my blog and posts for The Good Men Project via Facebook and Twitter. I like twitter as a self promotional tool because there is no charade. I’m not pretending to give your helpful advice or be your friend. If you follow me on twitter you know that I’m going to be shamelessly shoving my writing in your face. That’s what it’s there for.

And I guess that’s what I find most distasteful about self-promotion. There’s a large element of deception to it. It’s why I shared the story of my Amway Global encounter this morning. If the guy had straight up approached me and told me he had this opportunity for me, I still wouldn’t have listened to his spiel, but I would have had a little bit more respect for not just him, but the product he represents.

I see it in the blogging community as well. People will comment on your post and say things like “I love your blog, please comment back on mine.” I get where they’re coming from and I get that anything that drives traffic back to your post is necessary but it just seems cheap and tacky and easy. I comment on other blogs and tweet other people’s work but I try to comment only on other blogs that I legitimately have something to say about. I tweet or repost things that I agree with, find intriguing, and go along with the same philosophies and brand that I’m creating. And I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t elements of marketing going through my mind when I’m deciding what to write about next, but in general I also still try and cover the things that I’m interested in and what I’d want to read about. It’s about finding a balance I guess?

I don’t know, am I getting myself worked up over nothing or do I have somewhat of a valid point? Or should I simply direct my vitriol today at the Amway Global people who will just not let me shop in peace.

I’d be grateful for any input.

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Social Media and the Future of American Fiction


That’s an impressably stuffy title right? Like it sounds like it might be in an academic journal or the title of a research paper or a 20/20 special, but alas it’s simply from the inner bowels of my small mind.

I recently did a piece for The Good Men Project discussing whether or not Jay Gatsby, of The Great Gatsby fame, was a stalker or not. A lot of the students seem to think so when I teach the novel, but I defended him as a sympathetic victim of his time and circumstances.

I argued that if Gatsby were set in 2013, that he would have been creepy, but in the 1920’s was a victim of the time. Upon later reflection, I realized that while Gatsby is a timeless piece about consumerism and the underbelly of the American dream that still holds up in 2013, there’s no way that this story would be able to take place in 2013.



The updated cover perfectly illustrates how Gatsby shouldn’t get a 2013 update.

The main culprit? Social media.


Part of the driving force of Fitzgerald’s novel is that Gatsby and Daisy have not seen each other in years, have a lot to catch up on, and the mystery behind Gatsby’s ascent to the gold coast A-list. But, as a commenter on my article pointed out, in this day and age Daisy and Tom’s wedding, their child and the rest of their “messy lives” would be scattered around Facebook, twitter, Instagram and whatever other channels the kids are using these days (like Vine? What is it?). And Gatsby’s charade would have come undone with a few simple Google searches.

Millionaires don’t just spring out of obscurity anymore. They have digital footprints too.

It makes you think about how many other classics would drastically change if they were reinterpreted during the digital age. So much of the speculation, he-said-she-said and mystery would be eradicated.

I feel (and again, keep in mind this is not based on research or any sort of reputable academia, just my own deep mind) that our literature, popular writing of any kind really, is at a crossroads before the advent and inclusion of social media will forever alter the sorts of stories  we’re able to tell.

My generation, the 20 somethings, are in a strange crossroads. I’ve generally grown up with communication, technology wasn’t always front and center. While I didn’t get the internet until 4th or 5th grade, I remember it always being a factor in the schooling process and by age 15 or 16 spent a good deal of time on both my cell phone and AIM (does anyone else miss AIM? I sort of do). On the other hand I’ve never owned a video game console of any type and read and played outside a lot. That, and NEPA has terribly unreliable cell service so when I go home for visits I still have to contend with a night of no communicate depending on what bar we go to.

The University of Scranton was granted access to Facebook the second semester of my freshmen year, so that’s always been a part of my adult life. But twitter? Instagram? Reddit? Vine? Tumblr? Most of those were foreign terms to me until the past few months. I currently have an Instagram but I think I have like 20 friends if that and I have twitter, but honestly feel it’s something of a chore to regularly tweet. My life is simultaneously ruled but not ruled by social media. I have friends on both ends of the spectrum, some uber connected and some who only text.

The kids I teach? They’re deeply entrenched in posting everything about themselves and their lives somewhere on the interweb and I feel that as a country we’re moving that way. I’ve even applied to several jobs recently where a twitter handle was a required part of the application.

The thing is that while these comments brought this subject back to the surface, it’s not a new issue for me to run into, especially in terms of writing.

I tried my hand at novel writing the past three years.  It’s been a side project for me. I finished what I thought would be the final project of my first manuscript this past spring, a mystery set in my beloved NEPA. I didn’t include any references to social media, just because I guess I’m not used to really reading about it.  When I had a friend look it over for me as a favor, the topic came up.

Is the story realistic? What the mystery at hand be able to be kept underwraps in these days of oversharing, they wondered. Wouldn’t people be tweeting about this?  It was a relevant question. I’d set the story in 2010, so just three years ago and the characters were, like me, 20 somethings in post collegiate life. I hadn’t mentioned checking into Facebook once or tagging pictures or finding out what others were doing via Facebook which are things I do daily, hourly really, if I’m going for full disclosure. Why wouldn’t this be something these characters were doing  as well? So, I amended the story and truth be told, while it might be more realistic I feel like it’s lost a little bit of it’s magic, becoming, maybe too pragmatic? And the thing is, that when I think back on it, I probably could have used some literary license with omitting social media, because as I referenced above, mine is a generation on the cusp. In just a few years I feel a full on social media assault coming on.

I wonder how it’s going to effect the sorts of stories we’re able to tell. Will it take away some of the intrigue and mystery that often moves a plot forward? Will it allow us to know what too much background information about characters from the get go or will it make characters who like to do things “the old fashioned way” seem dumb rather than cerebral? I’m especially curious to see what it does for the mystery genre and the modern PI story.

Despite being a fan of social media, I tend to think of it as a negative factor in newly minted fiction. Mostly, because if I were to update so many of my favorite stories to include it, they’d be ruined. On the other hand, it could open up entire new doors that have yet to be explored.

Any thoughts? I’d love to hear.

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The Cult of Crossfit

I like to think of myself as a reasonably athletic person.  I enjoy physical activity.  I played soccer in high school, intramurals in college, play tennis and hike as much as I can in the summer, cross country ski during the winter, and just ran a Tough Mudder this May.  I generally enjoy physical activity butI also have a healthy dose of narcissism which means I’m at the gym almost daily lifting and doing some type of cardio.  By all accounts, I should like CrossFit.  It’s social, it’s challenging, it’s a time effective workout, and participants legitimately look like the after picture from a late night fitness infomercial. Hell, it would probably be the push I need to finally have the abs my long-term relationship with beer and wings has never allowed.  Despite these things, I’m extremely reticent to become involved in CrossFit.    Mostly, because I believe it’s a cult.

If you’ve been living under a rock, CrossFit is the latest fitness trend that might literally be trying to take over minds and souls of this country. The appeal of CrossFit is that it’s a high energy, low time consumption workout that mixes Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, calisthenics, gymnastics, sprits, plyometrics, and “practical” exercise like rope climbing and box jumping in order to create super humans that are fast, strong, and agile.  Even if you don’t follow the fitness trends, you’ve ostentatiously seen CrossFit plastered across the social media of your converted friends: encouraging tweets filled with inspirational quotes with the local CrossFit affiliate the person attends hashtagged out the ass, Instragrammed photos of people forming human pyramids filtered so the sweat stains look extra intense, and videos uploaded to Facebook of people doing jumping jacks and pushups.

And, it is taking over.  CrossFit was founded with just a handful of gyms in 2006.  There’s currently over 3000 in the US alone.  There’s probably one near you.  All I had to do was a quick google search of “CrossFit gyms in Lancaster” to find that there’s seven within reasonable driving distance of me, and Lancaster is only a midsized city. If you’re in a legitimate metropolis, they’re probably everywhere.

Merriam Webster dictionary defines a cult as: great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work.  I feel like this sums up how CrossFitters (they have a name for themselves…another cultish sign) feel about their workouts.  I pointed out before that if someone’s in CrossFit, you know about it because they are not only incessantly talking about it, but also posting about it online, in order to spread the word.  They want you to join.

Back to the videos I mentioned.  They promote exclusivity.  It makes you feel like you want to be a part of something great.  There’s a look-what-I-can-do-element that tries to lure you in.  I could probably bang out 60 pushups in a minute if I needed to.  I could ask you to watch and you probably wouldn’t be impressed.  But I could upload a video of me doing that to Facebook (which I’ll literally do the same day that I upload a selfie of myself shirtless in the bathroom making duck lips, as to say : IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN) popping out rounds of pushups online, with a frenzied crowd cheering me on, and 64 likes, and comments saying what an animal I am (all coincidentally from my  fellow CrossFItters) and all of a sudden, it looks impressive.  If all goes well, well maybe one or two of my followers will say, I want to try that.  I want in.

Then, there’s the term “CrossFit family” that gets thrown out a little too liberally for my tastes.  CrossFitters talk about how close they are with their CrossFit family.  They tell each other everything.  They feel supported.  These are legitimately good things that I shouldn’t be mocking, but this fast camaraderie and closeness leaves me wary.  They start only messaging each other via social media and start hanging out together outside the gym as a pack, where all they talk about is CrossFit, pushing boundaries, and living a healthy lifestyle. They start having the same thoughts and interests and non-CrossFitters might find themselves unsure of how to add to the conversation.    Furthermore, the only other non-related groups I could recall that puts the “family” moniker on themselves are the Mafia (a cult of sorts) and the Mansons (the definition of cult).  I don’t want to be a lean and ripped Squeaky Fromme 2.0.

So for now, I’m going to keep a distance between myself and this new fitness phenomena, but I’m going to keep an open eye.   A cult of super athletes is not something that bodes well for the rest of us.   Maybe I’m overblowing this.  Maybe I just know I’d be the one lagging behind that everyone else would need to cheer for and it’s embarrassing for me.  Maybe I’m just jealous that I don’t really have a “group” I feel like I belong to.  Maybe I’m just a cynical dick.  But, if the CrossFitters start referring to their gyms as compounds, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Why I’m Writing About Shoplifting

The manuscript I’m currently working is about shoplifting.

Trust me, it’s a lot more exciting than that sounds.

I  became somewhat obsessed with cultural phenomenon of shoplifting sometime this fall after stumbling across a New York Times article on the subject.  I wish I could find the original article, and have tried but to no avail.

What struck my most is that 27 million people, or 1 in 11, people in this country shoplift.  This information does not distinguish the extent of the shoplifting.  We really have no way of knowing whether this person is habitually pocketing Ipods or a hungry 5 year old swiping some candy from Turkey Hill.

It also doesn’t spell out what exactly constitutes shoplifting.  Confession: if taking pint glasses from a bar or restaurant is shoplifting, then color me guilty.  Either way it’s a pretty drastic number.

What blew my mind even more were the demographics the article spat at me.  While I wasn’t able to find the original article, I was able to find find these same facts from a variety of other sources.

You’re more likely to shoplift if you have a college degree (this means me).

You’re more likely to shoplift if you make over $60,000.00 (now I’m in the clear).

While it’s certainly still a case by case basis, in general shoplifting has moved on from the beleaguered, the addicts and the poor.  It’s, if you can believe it, become gentrified.  The question on the table these days isn’t what made you have to shoplift for the bare necessities, but what we consider those”necessities” to be.  The top shoplifted items are mostly not food and clothing.  They’re luxury items: perfume, electric toothbrushes, razors (not the garden dollar variety), electronics and expensive body lotions.  The only food that normally cracks top ten lists: steak.

What’s interesting is how the numbers don’t add up with the publicity shoplifting receives.  When was the last time you heard  whispers about someone having a shoplifitng problem or getting busted for shoplifting all over the news?  27 million people have tried shoplifting in one form or another.

The same goes for cocaine use.

27 million people in the US have tried cocaine.  Again, this doesn’t distinguish between a casual bump out of curiosity in high school or a full on addict, but just that 27 million people have tried it.  I bet that you know someone that’s tried cocaine.  I bet you probably can name someone you know who you at least suspect of using it regularly and I bet you’ve seen coke busts go down on the news.  It’s weird right?  And, in the past 5 years, 10 million people have been busted for shoplifting.  The only one I can name is Winona Ryder and that was well over 5 years ago.

I started mulling over this and doing additional research and the wheels in my head began to turn for a story idea.  What, I thought, if I wrote about a seemingly normal person, someone with an education, a job, with money who started shoplifting for whatever reason.

I found it interesting that shoplifting is so widespread but not talked about and why that is and hypothesized that maybe it’s hitting a little too close to home.  The conclusion I came to was that enough people must be doing this because of greed or to keep up with certain expectations that some lifestyles demand.  A few things I read said that it especially picked up after the recession.

I drafted up a character and started figuring out what situation would cause him to do this.  Without giving too much away, I picked a teacher, not just because I’m out of control creative, but because I wanted someone who was used to a certain lifestyle, or who’s friends were able to afford a certain lifestyle and who couldn’t himself.  I wanted him to steal for selfish purposes, not to make him unlikable (or maybe he is, this is still very much a work in progress) but because that’s honestly what I believe is the catalyst for a lot of people.

When you do some research into shoplifting there’s all kinds of theories about doing it to remain in control, how it could be a cry for help, or that often times it’s something deeper like a compulsion or addiction.  I’m a little skeptical on some of this.  I do think that there’s some truth to this but also feel that a lot of it is just rationalization, not wanting to admit that you simply want something you can’t have so you steal it.

I wanted my character to always be very honest with the audience in that he knew it was wrong, he just did it anyway, sort of like cocaine use.

It’s an interesting topic to cover for sure and I sort of hope more gets published on it.  If you really want an in-depth look, get a copy of Rachel Shteirs’s book The Steal. It was a very helpful layer of based information for me to have.

Start keeping an eye on your friends next time you hit the mall.  Maybe one of them may surprise you (or maybe you feel incredibly guilty and dirty after reading this…who knows).

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My favorite Youtube Video to Watch

I watch a lot of live performance videos on YouTube.  That’s sort of a lie.  I usually just listen to them briefly, see if they have any merit beyond the original version of the song, and if I deem they do, I then convert them to Mp3’s to upload to my I-pod.

I’m happy I took the time to watch this one, because, well it’s great.  I’m not going to spend too much time explaining it, but I re-watch this at least once a week, often times more.

Artists collaborate all the time and often it’s in slickly produced award show numbers.  It also seems like when these artists are interviewed about said collaborations the younger ones always say what a dream it is to work with their idols.  I don’t always believe them.

That’s what makes this video so magical.

In this clip, Bruce Springsteen invites Brian Fallon, lead singer of Gaslight Anthem (who you need to download) up to sing one of my favorite Bruce songs, “No Surrender.”  If you follow the Gaslight Anthem at all you know that Springsteen is a huge influence on them from the way they sound to their lyrics and both hail from the Garden State.

Check out how excited, and almost chocked up Fallon is, like he can’t believe it’s happening.  And, it’s evident from the way Bruce yell’s “Is Brian around” that it wasn’t very carefully planned.

Better yet, he kills it.

There’s something amazing about watching someone get to sing with one of their idols, appreciating it, and making it their own. It gives me the chills every time.

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Wednesday Playlist

1) My Life Would Suck Without You (as sung by One Direction):

I’ve got something I want to get off my chest, which is probably not really a big surprise for those of you who know me.  I’m kind of a One Direction fan.  “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” has sadly slipped into the 20 top played in my ITunes.  I was going to post that video but figured I’d instead leave you with this gem from their X-Factor days.  It proves that while I might have shitty taste in music, at least they could sing.


2) If I Ever Leave This World Alive

Great song by Flogging Molly.

3) Timothy

I just heard this on the radio yesterday and completely forgot that it exists.  My mom and uncle always used to sing it to us when I was little and told us that it was a true story based in the Scranton area.  I always believed them, being it’s about three men trapped in a coalmine collapse, with two of them, turning cannibalistic on poor Timothy.  Even though it’s not about NEPA, I always associate it with the area.

4) Cecilia

No explanation necessary.  “Cecilia’s” the best.

5) You Are My Sunshine

“You Are My Sunshine” reminds me of my grandparents.  My grandfather sang the song constantly growing up and I always tried to find a recording of it that wasn’t depressed or sang by children.  Frank Turner’s version is perfect: modern, calming, and sad.

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Things I’m Going to Purchase When I Become the Best Rich Person Ever

This past weekend my brother, sister and I threw my parents a surprise party for their 30th wedding anniversary.  What started out as a planned small get together of some of their close friends and our local family ballooned into a full on large scale party with almost 200 people invited.  It was a pain to plan at times and somewhat expensive but well worth it.  We pulled it off, my parents were legitimately surprised and everyone (I think) had a really great time.  I’m happy because we really wanted to show them how appreciative we are for all they’ve done for us. I couldn’t have been more blessed in parental department.  They really went above and beyond giving my brother, sister and I a great upbringing and still continue to be supportive and helpful.

There is one glaring thing they did never provide me with: a trust fund.

I truly believe that I’d pretty much be the best rich person ever.  I definitely wouldn’t work.  Why work when you’re absolutely loaded right?  I wouldn’t though, become a waste of life that sits home all day just because he can.  I’d travel, I’d write, and I like to think I’d volunteer somewhere.  I’d probably also spend a gross amount of time playing tennis and going to the driving range (because that’s what rich people do) but I’d balance that out by taking my grandma out to lunch a lot and volunteering to help out friends whenever possible (since I’d have the time and money).

I sort of look like a pompous trust fund kid in this photo, a regular old Kennedy in training.  Sadly, my bank account probably regretted that round the next day.

I sort of look like a pompous trust fund kid in this photo, a regular old Kennedy in training. Sadly, my bank account probably regretted that round the next day.

I wouldn’t be an asshole about money.  I wouldn’t show it off unless it was to say, buy a summer vacation for all my friends or leave obnoxious tips, stuff that actually benefits others.  Hell, I might not even tell people I was rich.  For me, being rich would not be about power or showing off, it would just be about being able to go through life without having to worry about money.  I wouldn’t even live that lavishly.   I’m much more into paying for experiences rather than things and I think everyone benefits from that.  Or who knows, maybe I would turn into a giant asshat who wouldn’t deign to sleep on nothing but 1000 count sheets.  We never really know until it happens right?

Still, I’d like to think that I’d have no want to have a Ferrari or $10,000.00 shoes or a gold plated toilet.  I’d like to think that I’d still value money and realize what a waste those things are.  What wouldn’t be a waste of money? The list below.  It’s the top ten things I’d purchase if that trust fund were a reality or if I somehow marry rich or win the Powerball in the near future.

1) Old School Airstream Trailer:

Airstream Trailers don’t necessarily scream “money.” I told you I’d be a benevolent and modest rich person.  Still, they do retail for about $80,000, so I’m not going to be getting one anytime soon.  I think it’d be awesome to hitch one of these on the back of your car (or truck…I’d have a pickup truck if I was loaded) and be able to go see the country.  You could do the same in an RV, but these just seem so much classier and classic.

2) A Luxury Golf Cart:

One of my life goals is to have property so big that you need a vehicle to traverse it but not so unmanageable that it stretches on for miles.  A property that needs the utilization of a golf cart is just perfect.  How awesome would it be to have to hop in your pimped out golf cart in order to get to the garage or the poolhouse?  Maybe in reality it’d be a pain, but this dream has been with me for a while.

3) Old School Wooden Speedboat:

You’ll see in (4 that I’m planning on living on a lakeside property so will need some sort of nautical plaything.  I’m sure I’ll have some jet skis but what I want most is an old school wooden speedboat, the kind I normally associate with places like Cape Cod or the Adirondacks. And let’s face it, the whole luxury golf cart thing is sort of white trash rich people so I’ll need something to offset that balance.

4) Lake Front Property with a Swimming Pool:

I want to live on the water.  Maybe I’ll rent a beach front property from time to time but I always see myself ending up in Pennsylvania.  Plus, living on a lake just seems safer and smarter, no hurricanes or sharks.  The problem is that while I like watersports, I prefer swimming in pools.  Since I’m rich and there’s no real reason to be practical I’m going to have a pool that overlooks a lake.  If I’m feeling the need to really go big maybe a waterslide will connect these two bodies of water.
5) This Travel Bag:

I saw this travel bag in a magazine once and immediately filed it away in my brain as on my “things I’m going to purchase when I’m wealthy” list.  It’s big enough to hold a week’s worth of clothing, has a detachable carryon and a hammock in case you need to bunk wherever you end up.  It retails for “only $395” which is why it’s going to have to be on a rich person wish list.  I like this as it also symbolizes all the traveling a trust fund will allow me.

6) Ski House:

I don’t ski but even so I would prefer a ski house to a beach house.  I’d specifically want a decent sized ski lodge up in Lake Placid NY.  I’ve been there twice and love the town and all the winter sports you could do there.  A plus, it’s also a nice summertime getaway.

7) Adult Tricycle:

Have you seen people riding around lately on motorcycles with three wheels?  Well, I’ve sort of secretly been coveting one.  Motorcycles never appealed to me as I’m a terrible driver/wouldn’t trust myself but I always liked the idea of hitting the open road in the open air.  The adult tricycle (copyright: me) would allow me to do this in relative safety.  I was always embarrassed about liking these and confided this in my sister last week who told me that my dad liked them.  If he’s ok with it, then I am.

8) Shuffleboard Table:

I don’t know that I’ve bragged about this before here, but I’m pretty good at shuffleboard.  In fact, it’s the only bar game I’m really good at (besides for foosball but whether or not that’s a bar or childhood game is an argument for another day).  I suck at darts and I have no patience for pool (ie: I suck at that too).  The problem is while those seem to be easy enough for the average guy to install in their basements, shuffleboards retail starting at $9,000.  Plus I’ll need a huge basement to fit this in.

9) A Pickup Truck:

I literally never thought I’d see the day when my dream car was a pickup truck but here we are.  They’re just so useful (hauling things, tailgating) A lot of people have pickup trucks.  They are not some sort of luxury item, but for me they just wouldn’t make sense.  I travel a lot and these things are notorious gas guzzlers.  Now it’d be easy enough for me to own one if a made a few thousand dollars more a year, but in order to keep up with the amount I like to drive I think I’d pretty much have to be rich to justify one.

10) A Personal Assistant:

Having a personal assistant would not only make life so much easier, it’d also make sense.  Hear me out. I wouldn’t have my personal assistant do demoing things like tie my shoes and make my meals but how awesome would it be to have someone just do all the things you don’t have time for.  They could run errands, do online research (of which I feel l spend way too much time), make appointments, take care of your bills, participate in E-bay auctions, remind you to do things, take your car to the shop, etc.  The list is endless and you could do so much more with the time saved.  I wouldn’t even be a dick to my personal assistant.  I’d pay them salary and let them work normal business hours.

There’s much more but like I said, I don’t want to be that asshole rich guy

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