Sunday, June 21, 2015

Andreus and the Stone

The elbows and shoulders and hands of the angry crowd surrounding me propelled me forward as if I were caught in a current of the sea. I was aware of three things: my robe swishing around my body, which was sweating profusely, despite the mild weather; the large stone that seemed to burn in my left hand; and the heavy pressure of guilt that weighed on me as if I were carrying a mule on my shoulders.

I was a young man, not quite 20. My father had stopped calling me Rus in favor of my given name, Andreus, just six months prior. I sold fish at a nearby market and made a decent living because I'd been working under my former master, Josiah, for nearly 8 years.

"Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery," I heard the Pharisee say. I'd seen this one at the temple many times, and his wardrobe choices were always as excessive as his lengthy prayers. "The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?"

I stood on tip-toe to get a better look at the scene. I couldn't quite see who the Pharisee was talking to. As if I'd actually spoken up, the crowd formed a circle. First I looked to my left and followed the arc of men—there were probably 30—all the way around to my other side. They all had two things in common: they looked indignant, even angry, and they each held a stone. Most of the stones were large, gripped in a white-fingered right hand.

My breath caught in my throat when I finally got a clear view of the three individuals at the center of the circle. First was the Pharisee, whom I already knew. His expression was one of pride, and his sharp eyes wordlessly judged the two people before him: the woman about whom the question had been asked and the man who was expected to answer it. I shifted my gaze to the woman, who knelt in the dirt, her eyes on downcast. Seeing her again sent a stabbing pain through my gut. The mule on my shoulders got heavier.

I'd first seen her at the market a month ago. She showed up almost every morning to purchase fresh vegetables and fish. I'd noticed her immediately because she had long, perfect dark hair and haunting eyes, brownish purple like the sea during a storm at dusk. She was always polite, asking how sales were going or commenting on how delightful the weather had been. I soon learned she was married—to one of the fishermen whose wares we sold at the market. He was gone sometimes for long periods of time, so I guessed she came to the market to talk to the merchants as often as she did because she was lonely.

I always looked forward to seeing her and didn't see any harm in exchanging pleasantries when she showed up to buy fish, but I couldn't ignore how pretty she was. One day she came to the market as always, but she accidentally paid too much for the fish. This had happened before, with other customers, and to my shame, I'd kept the change unless they had later questioned me about it. But she had been so kind to me that I didn't want to cheat her. I knew where she lived, so I went to her house after work to return the extra money.

She couldn't let me into the house when her husband wasn't home, so she came outside to see what I wanted. It was raining and after supper, though, so no one was around. She shifted the dishes she was holding into one hand and looked at me quizzically. I explained about the excess money and held it out to her. She took it, and I couldn't tell if it was my imagination or not, but her hand seemed to linger on mine longer than necessary. The spell was broken when the dishes in her hands shifted and fell into the dirt, some of them shattering.

I instantly squatted down to help her clean up the mess, and she did, too. She started to say it had been her mistake, and I didn't have to help, but she looked up the same instant I did, and her words were cut off because we found ourselves nose to nose. In one impulsive motion I'd regret forever, I leaned forward and pressed my mouth against hers. She did not resist, and it even seemed that she kissed me back, but I hardly had time to tell. If there were an award for the world's worst timing, I'd get it. A neighbor happened to be passing by and saw it, and before I knew it, I'd been ushered back to my house after a few sharp words from a Pharisee, while a teacher of the religious law took her away, hissing only one word in her direction: "Adulteress."

The next morning, I'd been dragged from my bed by my next-door neighbor, who told me to come outside immediately if I wanted to spare myself embarrassment. That's how I found myself here in this circle of angry men, a sharp rock gripped in my shaking hand. I was here to help stone to death the woman whose place I deserved to take. I looked away from the woman, the kiss I shouldn't have stolen burning on my lips in my memory. The mule grew impossibly heavy on my shoulders, and I stood there in the dirt like the coward I was.

The third and final person in the circle was a pleasant-faced man with a long brown beard and kind eyes. He was a full six inches shorter than the towering Pharisee, but he somehow seemed completely confident, as if he could call and army to his aid at any moment if he wished. He sank to his haunches and drew with his finger in the dirt, seemingly oblivious to the Pharisee's impatience for an answer to his question. He drew three big letters: "R U S." My throat felt like it was closing. This must be some kind of coincidence. Maybe he was going to add something. Maybe—

He looked up and met my petrified gaze, drilling me with his piercing hazel eyes. I heard a voice in my mind that said, "Repent, and be forgiven, my son." My mouth fell open. Who was this man, who knew my sin and could speak to me without opening his mouth?

The pharisee literally kicked the dirt in impatience. "Well?!" he demanded, as if he had other important crowds to stand before and other young women to stone to death. "She is an adulterous woman. Shall we stone her now?"

The bearded man looked up at the Pharisee patiently, as if he'd forgotten he was there. "All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!" Then he stooped again and underlined the three letters he had written before.

The stone in my hand dropped to the ground, and I looked around at the bewildered men who, one at a time, dropped their rocks and backed away, almost as if they were frightened. One by one, beginning with the oldest, they slipped away until I was all that was left of the circle. Somehow the Pharisee had disappeared as well. I turned away but walked slowly so I could hear what the strange man would say to the woman. "Where are your accusers?" he asked. "Didn't even one of them condemn you?"

"No, Lord," she answered.

Lord, I repeated in my mind. How stupid I had been not to recognize Him. This man was Jesus, the one who claimed to be God's Son, the one who claimed to be able to forgive sins. And now, since He'd spoken in my mind, I knew it was true.

Faintly, even as I walked away, I heard Him say to her, "Neither do I. Go, and sin no more."

I repented of my sin before God that night and fasted for 30 days. I haven't seen Jesus in person since then, but I think I will someday.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Why I Enjoy Being a Reporter

I'm an editor, so most of my work involves reading through other writers' pieces and correcting them for clarity, grammar and content. Sometimes I get to write my own articles, but they are often aggregate pieces. Every once in a while, I get to attend an actual event and report on it. One might think that I enjoy being a reporter just because I like to write. However, I have other reasons. If you're considering a career as a journalist or are just curious about what it can be like, read on to find out why I enjoy being a reporter.

1. I get to go to a different place for each assignment. My journalism adventures have taken me to hospitals, schools, hotels, libraries and even a nursing home. These places might not sound too fascinating, but they are often populated by interesting people and events. One time for a story about education innovation, I drove to a school in Owsley County that my GPS couldn't even locate. I drove in that general direction and made a 2-hour trip, somehow finding the school with some vague directions from the school secretary. Finding the locations can be stressful sometimes. You may wonder why such a geographically and directionally challenged individual would enjoy new places so much. Besides the excitement of seeing new things, I also enjoy entering a new environment because doing so allows me to ask questions without feeling dumb. I just show up at the right address and ask the first person I find where I'm supposed to go.

2. I get to learn about a variety of topics. A few weeks ago I reported on a panel discussion about local foods, which I previously knew nothing about, and today I attended a conference about how to stop bullying. The speaker said that the cause of bullying is not low self-esteem as previously thought. Instead, the bully often is the jock or the cheerleader or the lawyer's kid. Instead of a lack of self-esteem, there is often a power imbalance. The true cause of most bullying is narcissism, which is getting worse in today's children. Knowing stuff is cool. I thoroughly enjoyed learning throughout my education, so it's awesome to continue learning for my job.

3. I get to interrogate people. I used to think that everyone held conversations by rapidly exchanging question after question—until I spent a significant amount of time with someone who rarely—if ever—asked questions. I've discovered that most people patiently exchange remarks and do not ask tons of direct questions. I like questions and always have a lot of them, even for strangers. As a reporter, my name tag, camera and anything else that labels me as a journalist give me free reign to randomly approach pretty much anyone at an event and ask whatever bizarre queries I need for my story. It's great.

4. I often get free coffee and food. They say that a college student's favorite word is free. I think my favorite word will always be free. At many of the events I cover, I get free coffee, free lunch, free donuts and even free pens. One time I even ate an $80 plate at a dinner party. Like, you know, I ate the food on the plate, not the actual plate. Anyway, when I attend events, I eat while gleefully striking up weird conversations with people I'll probably never see again or just sit alone and shovel the food into my mouth. Everyone knows I'm a reporter and don't know anyone. For all they know, I'm observing the way the attendees eat their food, watching, waiting, pondering my story.

5. No one expects me to behave like everyone else at the event. Or if they do, they never show it. I think it's because people are so used to seeing movies with scenes featuring jittery, loud-mouthed reporters who skitter after the poor protagonist, shoving microphones in his face, asking rude questions and taking obnoxious photos. In comparison, I seem well-behaved. Sometimes I come late or leave early. I sit wherever I want. I get up and take pictures with my giant camera. I'm usually the only person in the room with a laptop; of course, I'm using it to take notes. Usually I'm the youngest person in attendance. Unlike the rest of the attendees, I generally don't talk to anyone unless I'm interrogating someone for my story. And that's OK. I'm a reporter, and I'm working. They understand I don't have time to socialize.

Journalism is cool. I really had no idea what it was when I declared it as a major. It's so much more than writing newspaper articles. I don't even write for a newspaper because both publications to which I contribute are online. Any questions? I like questions.

Monday, June 1, 2015

How to Defeat Job Interviews in Five Easy Steps

This is it. It's the big day: THE company of your dreams has called and asked you to come in for an interview. You've crafted a spectacular resume and written a cover letter that could make Mark Zuckerburg cry. But that was child's play. Now the real game begins.

When you get the email about the job interview, it's 9:27, and you're sitting in the office at your current job. You wanted to quit this job because it requires you to sit in your desk chair at 8 a.m. sharp, put your head in a vice, and read things on a computer for 9 hours straight while someone comes around periodically to criticize you. Usually it's your boss, who often says, "Try not to blink. The average person has his eyes closed for 30 minutes per day because of blinking. I'm not paying you to sleep."

Make sure no one sees the email. Since you were stupid enough to ask a potential employer to send an email to a company computer, you'll need to destroy the evidence. Take the sledge hammer from underneath your desk and give the machine a good whack. Now let's hope you get the other job. You're going to get in trouble for taking your head out of that vice.

1. Before the interview, do your research.
The rule for lawyers is the same as the rule for job interviewees: never ask a question you don't already know the answer to. That's why you need to find out literally everything before going to the job interview. Find out your interviewee's sock size, zodiac sign, rental car history, St. Patrick's Day plans, and opinions on iguana breeding.

This is important because the first thing you need to do is establish trust. The day before the interview, call the interviewee from a blocked phone number and ask about the things listed above. If his or her answers match those from your research, you know you're dealing with an honest individual. If his or her answers do NOT match up, whisper, "You chose...poorly," hang up, and send a box of exploding sparkles to his house.

2. Make an entrance.
Do you remember that scene in Aladdin when he disguises himself as Prince Ali and shows up at Jasmine's palace with a parade, thousands of adoring fans, and every other pomp and circumstance you could possible think of? Picture that exact frame when the elephant upon which Aladdin sat just extends one thick leg and smashes open the palace door and the music is all like "Prince ALI HANDSOME IS HE, KING OF AL-BOB-WAHHHH!"

Then picture the flabbergasted look on Jafar's face. That. That's what you want your interviewers to feel: pure, unadulterated awe.

Come in. Shake their hands like you are Alexander the Great. Smile like you are about to install a gum ball machine in your kitchen. Then sit down. The world is your oyster.

3. Know how to answer the difficult questions.

The following are just a few of the tricky questions you might encounter during your interview. Be sure to memorize one of these convenient canned answers to "wow" your interviewer.

Interviewer: "Well, I think that's all the questions we have for you. Is there anything you'd like to ask before we finish up?"
Your answer: "Do you believe in love at first sight?"

Interviewer: "Why do you think you're a viable candidate for this job?"
Your answer: "I'm Batman."

Interviewer: "Well, I think that's all the questions we have for you. Is there anything you'd like to ask before we finish up?"
Your answer: "Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?"

Interviewer: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
Your answer: "Doing your job."

Interviewer: "Well, I think that's all the questions we have for you. Is there anything you'd like to ask before we finish up?"
Your answer: "What would you do for a Klondike Bar?"

Interviewer: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
Your answer: "Probably in the mirror, just like I see myself now."

Interviewer: "Why do you think you're a viable candidate for this job?"
You answer: "I had assumed you'd have already read my resume. Would you like the book-on-tape version?"

Interviewer: "Well, I think that's all the questions we have for you. Is there anything you'd like to ask before we finish up?"
Your answer: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Interviewer: "What are some of your most impressive skills?"
Your answer: "I once built my own pogo stick, and I do an excellent Gollum impression."

4. Make it clear you're the right person for the job.
Do you feel like the interview is going swimmingly? Or maybe you feel like you're ruining the whole thing. Either way, you need to make it clear exactly why no other candidate can measure up. Immediately after a question is asked—it doesn't matter what question—sit back in your chair and take hold of your suit jacket. Slowly move it to the side, displaying the 14 different kinds of cookies you sewed into little pockets on the inside. Silently hand one cookie to each interviewer and whisper, "There's more where that came from."

5. Write a hand-written thank you note after the interview.
When someone requires you to put on uncomfortable clothes you would never actually wear to work, subjects you to a 45-minute rapid-fire inquisition, and makes you too nervous to eat for two days, you should always send a thank you note. A hand written thank you note.

Not sure what to write? Try something like this:

Dear Mr. Jimmy Snibbler,
I greatly enjoyed our professional conversation a fortnight minus 12 days ago. I fully expect to hear from you again with positive news. If I don't, you can fully expect to never see your dog again.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Four Reasons You Should Go to Grad School

Most kids know about college. It's where you go after high school so that you can spend four years trying not to sleep, eating enough pizza for an entire football team, attempting to write 10-paged research papers in a single night, and saving up to buy soap at Walmart when you eventually have time to take a shower. And all this just so you can get a job.

As an alternative to immediately joining the workforce following college, you can go to grad school. What is grad school? Should you go? People don't understand what it is unless they've actually attended, and even some who have survived grad school have trouble explaining it to outsiders.

Ask your cousin Mildred, who did a five-year combined master's-Ph.D. program in Geometric Calculus First Methodist Geology Differentiation, and she'll blink her pale blue eyes behind her binocular-like glasses and stutter, "Don't...send me...back there. I... just want to sleep. Just want...a desk job. Just want...Mommy..."

So don't ask cousin Mildred. Ask me. Without further ado, I present to you...

Four Reasons You Should Go to Graduate School:

1. They say that if you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room.  If you attend grad school, you will never be the smartest person in the room. 

Your Mass Media professor, Dr. Xenogh Xu, M.S., M.D., M. Div., Ph.D., who has published 179 research studies and has been working in his field for 48 years, will ask you a question like: "How can we characterize the passivity of the receiver when we examine the aftermath of 911 through the lens of second-level Agenda-Setting when taking into account Neo-classical perspectives that negate any possibility that priming will not occur following a crisis divergent from the personal narratives held by individuals of Muslim descent?"

Your response will inevitably be: "Um, I think I hear the fire alarm."

Then some 2nd-year Ph.D. student will supply an answer that sounds like chapter 17 of a textbook called Mass Media Theories for People Smarter Than Albert Einstein right off the top of his head.

2. You won't have to join a gym or go on a diet because you won't have time to eat anyway.
You will rise at 6 a.m., pack 17 hats into your bag, and show up at the office. You'll spend all day grading undergraduate papers, meeting with your advisor, attending 2.5 hour long classes, teaching a freshman earth science class, answering emails, fighting ninjas, and meeting with your supervising instructor. Once you get home around 6 p.m., you'll read hundreds of pages of articles for class, read Google Scholar like there's no tomorrow, and try to work on one of the four 25-paged papers you have to write this semester.

Around 2 a.m., you'll realize you have to get up in four hours, but your stomach is eating itself. So you'll raid the fridge and eat corn on the cob, heat up some expired Easy-Mac, and fall asleep next to your bowl of stale Wheaties before the Easy-Mac is ready.

The next morning, you'll consider buying Life cereal next time because of the irony.

3. It's a great conversation-starter with people you haven't seen in a while.

Person you haven't seen in a while: "So you graduated from college, right? What are you doing now? Churnin' up those profits on Wall Street?"

First of all, Person 1 doesn't even remember that your undergraduate degree was in history, and the only thing you know about numbers is that in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

You: "Actually, I'm in grad school."

Person 1: "So you couldn't get a job?"

You: "Um, actually I wanted to go to grad school. It's kinda hard to get in."

Person 1: "So it's like... going to college again?"

You: "No, it's a lot harder, actually. I evaluate tier 1 research projects and sift through the related literature for gaps so I can make my hypothes—"

Person 1: "So are you going to do anything cool like Indiana Jones? Like raid tombs or something? Should I call you Dr.?"

You: -_-

4. You'll be challenged in ways you never imagined, work harder than you ever thought possible, and accept that you know almost nothing—and that is okay.

You might be asked to teach an undergraduate class including students who are only a year or two younger than you are. You might be in the same class—both as students—with one of your former professors from your undergraduate university. You might have to deliver a 40-minute presentation on a topic about which you know next to nothing before an audience of 2nd and 3rd year Ph.D. students. You might have to learn how to balance working 30 hours per week and taking a full load of graduate school classes while figuring out how to pay bills, grocery shop, and cook all your own meals.

You might learn that you know very little and that you have to ask for help a lot, and that is not just okay—it's ideal.

Basically, don't go to grad school unless you really, really want to. It's not something you do just for the heck of it. But if you do want to attend, GO FOR IT. It's awesome, and I wouldn't have wanted to do anything else with the last two years of my life.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

5 Ways to Write an Awesome Cover Letter

Are you tired of trying to guess the password for your neighbor's wifi network called "Good luck nincompoop neighbor kid - the password is in Korean this time?" Are you weary of gnawing on blocks of raw ramen noodles because your microwave gave up the ghost? Are you, like, totally over potential employers telling you that your experience sorting seagull turds at a factory for three months that one summer isn't enough to get you a job at a Fortune 500 Company? Languish no more. Read the following expert advice about how to write a cover letter, and your days of cooking your dinner over a lightbulb at the public library are over for good.

1. Don't use "To Whom It May Concern" as your salutation. If you do that, you might as well just say, "HEY YOU." That's not going to work. Take the time to find out who exactly will be reading the letter. If you have to, call HR and ask.

For example:

To the honorable, dashing, irreplaceable Mr. Joseph Phartnog,

Dear Dr. Ranelda Flibbernugget, queen of the social sciences department and future ruler of my heart,

2. Begin with a narrative. Don't start with: "Um, I want the job you posted." That's boring! You're a special individual with a riveting tale to share. Stories capture people's attention, and that's exactly what you're going to do. Share a story that shows 1) why you're qualified for the job and 2) why you want the job.

For example:

Last Tuesday at 9:24 a.m., I woke up with a start and skittered down the ladder of the barn in which I currently reside and slipped into the cool air wearing only my boxers. The smell of fresh cow dung assaulted my senses, but I charged toward the street nonetheless. I dove into the road, grabbing a chihuahua as I rolled out of the way of an oncoming semi-truck. As I lay panting in the grass, a small child accompanied by a woman with one blue eye and one green eye approached me. As she thanked me, teary-eyed, for saving her dog, I noticed she was wearing a Nike shirt. That's when I knew I should be the new CEO of your company.

3. Tell the truth, but don't be afraid to brag. This is your time to shine! Did one of your former students say that the lecture you gave as a TA changed his or her life? Note it. Did you boss trust you to run the place while he was gone? Note it.

For example:

Before you read my resume, you should know a few important factoids about me. I can play the trumpet through my nose. I have been to Boston in the fall. I once went out on five dates in one day, and that was after turning down three. I have visited P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney. I can do the McDonald's 50 nuggets challenge. I put my pants on two legs at a time. Oh, and I'm Batman.

4. Use the actual wording from the "Requirements" section of the job posting and explain how your experiences meet those requirements. If the application says "must have great attention to detail," write, "Working as the copy editor for college newspaper for two years taught me to pay attention to detail and recognize errors."

For example:

You say you want someone with leadership experience? When I was five, I taught my two younger siblings to hide candy under their beds during "nap time" so they'd have something to do while they were supposed to be sleeping. You say you want someone with good people skills? One time my neighbors got some of my mail in their box, and they waited two weeks to give it to me. So the next day, I put a tasmanian devil in their mailbox. Boy, were they surprised.

5. If possible, deliver the letter in person. Unless the instructions explicitly say you must email or mail the application, try delivering it. You may only meet your potential employer's administrative assistant, but that's still better than an impersonal email. Who knows, you might get to shake your future employer's hand.

For example:

Busy hiring personnel love surprises. Monday morning at 8 a.m., scale the building from the outside using climbing shoes and nunchucks. If the window isn't open, use a glass cutter to get in. Then find the correct room and play the song "We Will Rock You" on your iPhone. Once it gets to the chorus, pull out your crossbow and send an arrow—with your application attached to it, of course—at your potential employer's desk plant. Bonus points if you don't break it. When he looks up to ask you what you're doing, smile knowingly and reply, "That's for me to know and for you to not know." Then disappear in a cloud of smoke.

If you read this without the words in italics, it's actually good advice. I edit cover letters for people all the time, so if you need help, send them my way. I accept payment in coffee or, you know, money.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What if my Socks are Conspiring Against Me?

Occasionally I ask the people of Twitter to supply me with a blog post topic suggestion, but rarely does anyone actually give me an idea. But today, a tweeter asked, "What do you do when you keep losing one sock? It could be a metaphor."

My immediate response was: "You thank the Lord that you didn't lose both socks."

But I soon realized three major problems with my response. One, I didn't actually suggest any solutions for solving the problem. I basically recommended putting masking tape over a crack in a windshield. Two, I was insensitive. When you keep losing something you invested in (i.e. socks cost money and require brain power to purchase from Walmart), a snarky response just isn't what the doctor ordered. Three, I ignored the very important fact that it's a strong possibility that in many cases, she does lose both socks. Because one sock is not there to remind her that she lost the other one—yes, you are so smart; both socks are gone—she has probably lost multiple sets of socks without even realizing it.

If you have one sock, you can properly mourn the loss of the other. If you're particularly audacious, you can accept the disappearance of the left sock as permanent and use the right sock to clean the mysterious grey fuzz off your space heater. If both socks are missing, you probably won't even realize it. This begs the question: how many sets of socks have YOU lost? You will likely never know unless you find them again.

Other clothes don't just disappear. Yes, occasionally a rebellious sweater will vanish when you really wanted to wear it, but such frustration is probably your fault: you are the idiot who threw it in the laundry and never washed it. See, socks are what disappear. Socks. It's always the socks. And you know what we blame? The dryer. I've got news for you: it's not the dryer. You need to stop blaming it and accept the truth:

Your socks just don't like you.

Surprised? I was, too, when I finally realized it. They're just tired of dealing with your stinky, unwashed feet. They're tired of being walked on. They're tired of being unappreciated. Your socks hate you. The dryer doesn't "eat" them. Your socks run away. Most socks are pretty stupid, which is why usually only one escapes. The really smart ones escape in pairs, never to be seen again. The more brilliant ones make you forget you had them in the first place.

Doesn't it make you sad to think that you probably can't remember the best pair of socks you ever owned? Just don't let the people in your life be like socks.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Real Life vs. The Movies: Let's be Honest

In the movie Galaxy Quest, a group of aliens watch movies and television shows produced on Earth. The aliens believe that all of the films are true and depict the history of Earth. They also take the films literally and assume that is how things actually work on the planet. Sounds silly, right? Not really. We do the same thing. We watch movies and expect our lives to follow suit. Life isn't like the movies. I'd just like to clear that up. Check out these 5 important differences between movies and real life.

1. Moving spontaneously to a new town.
     The movies: You randomly decide to leave everything one day and drive 14 hours away to another town, probably somewhere near the shore in South Carolina. Within hours of your arrival, you get a fully-furnished apartment and purchase a rottweiler to help protect you from the axe murderer who is inevitably stalking you (maybe this is a Lifetime movie?). Then you show up to the nearest establishment and remove the "HELP WANTED" sign from the door. You show it to the manager and earn a job within five minutes.

    Real life: You debate about moving for 7 years. It takes you 8 months to find a suitable apartment and four trips with your punch buggy to bring down all of your stuff. The first thing you do is sign up for a new library card.

2. Going to a new school.
   The movies: Someone trips you as you get on the bus, and you have to sit by yourself. You stare at the passing farmland, rueing the day your mother sent you to Kansas to live with your Aunt Mildred. Dramatic music plays. Once you get to school, an overly exuberant yearbook staffer offers to help you find your first class. Inevitably, she tells you that you have the same History 101 class. During your first class, the teacher introduces you, and three people in the room decide to hate you for no reason. When you get out of class, you bump into the same person who tripped you on the bus, and you drop 14 books all over the hallway. Because who uses back packs anymore. Then this really hot guy helps you pick up all your stuff, but he has to run to class before you learn his name.

    Real life: You drive yourself to school. The building smells like formaldehyde, but you figure you'll get used to the smell of whatever cleaning solution they use on the floors, walls, and windows here, just like you did at your old school. The person at the office helps you find your first class, and you pull the strings of your hoodie as tight as you can so that only your nose is showing. The teacher doesn't introduce you to the class because teachers don't actually do that. You use a back pack because that's what people do. You make it through the whole year without getting shoved into a locker, becoming the enemy of the lead cheerleader, or making a speech about how wrong you were about everything in front of the entire school.

3. Running from the police.
    The movies: You have time to stop every so often to purchase a new slick outfit, usually involving leather and cool sunglasses. You use the closing draw-bridge like a ski jump to propel your car onto the opposite road before the police catch you. You're with Nicolas Cage. When you total your first car, you get out, unharmed, and immediately steal a motorcycle.

    Real life: You wonder if you'll ever have the luxury of deodorant again. You try not to actually drive too fast because pot holes. You're by yourself and actually just late to work.

4. Sneaking out of the house.
   The movies: You got invited to this awesome party, but you're grounded. So you put on a disguise you happened to have in your closet. Then you toss a rope out the third-story window and climb down. Of course, your window doesn't have a screen. You show up at the party all fabulous and meet up with your friends. Before the night is over, you push your mortal enemy into the pool, get asked out on a date, and get home just before you have to leave for school the next day.

    Real life: You lie on the floor of you room repeatedly tweeting at Taco Bell asking why they don't deliver.

5. Living in the woods by yourself because you're tired of real life.
    The movies: After an upsetting life experience, you strike out on your own to live in the mountains. You build an impressive shelter out of a cave and weave a blanket out of pine needles. You start a fire with two sticks, just like you read about in your science book. You use some rocks to sharpen a stick and use it to catch fish in the river. A few days into your journey, you run into a bear that seems bent on your destruction. But really you have something to learn from it. While originally you planned to hunt and kill it and use its skins to make new clothes, you eventually come to respect each other during a final showdown during which you kill a wildebeest in front of the bear, and it decides to leave you alone out of respect. You live in the woods for two years and return a changed man.
    Real life: You try camping in your backyard, but the extension cord for the microwave isn't long enough, and you really wanted Ramen noodles, so you give up and go back inside.

Friday, January 16, 2015

How to Get Out of Any Conversation

There is no escape. You're standing in a crowd of fantastically interesting people at the sickest party of the year. This could have been the best night ever, but you've only been here for 12 minutes, and it happened already. Peabody Snodgrass, the most obnoxious blowhard on the face of the earth, has spotted you and is currently weaving through the crowd toward you so he can spew infuriatingly off-base political opinions at you for the next 45 minutes. If you're lucky. At the Christmas potluck last year, Miss Ginny was stuck talking to him for an hour and a half because he started ranting about 9/11 conspiracy theories, one of which involved the claim that Harry Potter is a real person. Rumor has it Miss Ginny has been going to therapy for eight months.

This doesn't have to happen to you. If you just knew how to excuse yourself from these unwanted conversations, you wouldn't have such disappointing party experiences. Use any of these tips, and you'll never have to deal with Peabody Snodgrass ever again. Get out of any conversation. Guaranteed.

1. Transform yourself into a walrus. This is very effective because most people would be very afraid of a large tusked mammal, especially if it looks angry. Even if your Mr. Snodgrass is one of the 1.2% of the population who is not, in fact, terrified of walri, he will likely be so surprised that you became one that he will run away shrieking—which is exactly what you want. If you don't get immediate results, try lunging toward his ankles. Works every time.

2. Ask about his toenails. You need to be in control of the conversation. The best way to end it before it starts is to ask your Mr. Snodgrass how his toenail fungus is doing. Ask, but don't wait for a response. Move right along to: "You know, you wouldn't suffer from all of these fungus problems if you just clipped your toenails more than biennially. I've also heard it burns calories."

3. Hide under a table. This works especially well if he hasn't seen you yet. But even if he has, it can still work. Just dive under any table with an adequate table cloth, cover your head with your arms, and refuse to respond to any questions he might bellow down to you. Once he is gone and you want to rejoin the party, someone might see you emerge from beneath the table and ask what you were doing. Remove the Egyptian mummified rat—that you stowed in your pocket before the party—and tell the other party attendee that you were geocaching. Just yell, "FOUND IT!" They'll get it. I promise.

4. Ask him if he wants to play the "quite game." First explain the rules. Whoever remains silent for the longest wins the game! Tell him you're going to "count down to quiet." Then begin counting down from 10. Once you get to 1, discreetly bash him over the head with a crow bar.

5. Excuse yourself politely. In other words, jump onto a chair, remove your sword from its scabbard, and yell, "You will always remember this as the day you almost caught Captain Jack Sparrow!" Then jump down and run across the room. Run fast enough so that he cannot follow you.

So there you have it. If you have recently witnessed people transforming into walri, diving under tables,  or imitating half-drunk pirates, you are Mr. Snodgrass. (P.S., Don't actually try number 4. I've heard that individuals of a certain disposition might find it offensive.)

Monday, January 12, 2015

5 Ways to Make Friends on an Airplane

If you're interested in sitting in a winged steel tube, plummeting through the sky at thousands of miles an hour, drinking Sprite out of communion cups, and watching a movie on a TV screen the size of your thumbnail, you're probably also interested in making friends with hundreds of people who really hope you don't talk to them. Do you fly a lot? Do you get lonely during your long travels? Never fear. Here are 5 easy ways to make friends on any airplane.

1. Make eye contact. The hardest part about making friends during flight is finding the ones who are interested in talking to you. (Don't worry; you can still talk to the ones who would sooner swallow a ziplock bag than talk to someone on an airplane.) Anyway, choose the passenger closest to you and turn toward him or her. Then open your eyes as wide as you can and stare at their left sclera. Since you're probably not a scientist, I should probably tell you that the sclera is the white part of the eye. If you can see the passenger's sclera, that means he is awake. You should stare just long enough so that he notices you. Then move slightly closer. If he asks any questions, refuse to respond. It's not to time to talk yet. Once a full minute has passed (if he's still seated and hasn't called for the air marshal), whisper, "Now, sonny, how did the whites of your eyes get to be so... white? What's your secret? Heh?"

2. Ask the person next to you to switch seats. Every five minutes. This is how you establish a connection. Eventually, he'll come to depend on you.

3. Bring 85 sticks of butter. No one really cares what you bring in your carryon as long as it's not dangerous. So fill your favorite back pack full of butter. Wait until the plane takes off. Wait until the person next to you falls asleep. Then, every so often, carefully peel the paper off one of the sticks of butter and throw the naked butter as hard as you can toward the people sitting in first class. If you hear a disturbance of some kind, just wait for it to die down before making your next move. After you've thrown at least 15 of the butter sticks, the passengers WILL become disgruntled and ask the airline stewardess to find out what in the world is going on. Pay the airline stewardess $100 to tell the people in first class that the butter is a free gift from the airline and that they should be more grateful. Once the stewardess leaves, throw some more butter. One of the passengers is guaranteed to become so disturbed that he straightens his toupee, climbs over four people, and marches toward your seat. Before he gets there, drop the backpack onto your sleeping neighbor's lap. Then lean against the window and pretend to be asleep. When Mr. Toupee starts yelling, wake up and yell, "IT WAS YOU!" and point emphatically at your neighbor, who is now staring incredulously at his recently acquired backpack full of butter. Now you have their trust.

4. Stand in line for the bathroom. This is where you'll meet the most interesting people. You can handle this situation in a variety of ways. Choose the one that works best for you.
    A: Turn suddenly to the person in line behind you and say in a loud voice, "Buddy the Elf! What's your favorite color?"
    B: Kick the person in front of you in the back of the shins. When he turns around to ask you what your problem is, say, "Oh, sorry. I thought you were someone else."
    C: If you're first in line, knock on the bathroom door and say, "So, number 1 or number 2? You're taking a while in there!"

5. Ask every person on the plane if he or she has viewed the movie "Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail." It's a great talking point. It's easiest to get away with this if you dress up like an airline steward. Smile a lot, and pretend you're going to provide the passengers with refreshing drinks and criminally small-portioned snacks. Then, once you have their attention, ask your question. If an airline steward catches you, tell him it is part of a class project.

This piece is satire. I do not recommend that you actually try any of these things. Heaven knows none of them actually worked for me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

How to Win a Facebook Argument Without Really Trying

It's happened to you. OR it has ALMOST happened to you. You're sitting there at 11:30 p.m. wearing sweatpants and an ugly T-shirt, haphazardly feeding yourself Cheez-its with your left hand while your right hand scrolls through facebook. Then you see them. The WRONG-PEOPLE. One of your friends has shared a link or posted a passionate status asserting an absolutely ludicrous opinion about some political, economical, social, or elliptical topic. You weren't going to say anything. But then you did. You just couldn't help it because they were so WRONG. Never fear. Here are five easy ways to win any facebook argument. Because it is definitely possible to win an argument on facebook.

1. Pretend you're going to be civil. Everyone knows you're eventually going to explode into cruel soliloquies, spewing hateful statements at your fellow facebookers—even if the discussion was just about the best kind of shoelaces—but at least make them feel, in the beginning, that you're going to be nice. You know, give them a false sense of your kindness and morals. Say something like: "Well, that's an interesting opinion, but..." Or, "Wow, I like the font you used in that facebook status." Then, lambaste them!

2. Attack their character, actions, and appearance. The most legitimate way to win any discussion is to tear down the people who oppose you. Make sure you curse a lot. Then they'll know that you're mature and mean business. Be sure to call them lots of names. For example, call them sexist, racist, everything-phobic, and stupid. Say: "I'll bet Santa Clause won't even bring you coal because your arguments are so lame!" Post pictures of them with a mustache that you photoshopped over their face. That is super original and will definitely help your case. As an extra bonus, personally message them as many hateful things you can think of. Forget the fact that it's the Internet, and they could totally screen shot it and send it to your mother/employer/principal.

3. Use improper grammar. Especially because you probably don't have anything worthwhile to say anyway, you should make sure it's super vague. The best way to do that is to use woefully incorrect grammar. Spell things incorrectly, especially if doing so could cause someone to mistake one word for another. Don't use commas; rambling run-ons make it sound like you're ranting! People will view you as a talented rabble-rouser, standing on your proverbial soap box in the midst of the crowd, talking down all who disagree with you. Don't use contractions, capitalization, or wording that makes sense. Word vomit! Go you.

4. Most important of all: make stupid arguments that don't educate, inspire, or make sense. Just repeat trite statements that you've heard before, especially if they don't apply. You get bonus points if you can argue with someone about something they aren't even arguing about. Extra bonus points if you get angry about it because you can't read plain English. Just make it clear that you couldn't write a passing argument essay in English 101 if the lives of all nine of your cats depended on it.

5. Ignore all of these rules and instead engage people in conversation in person. But this is hard. I know. One, because most people do not talk about these things in person. Two, because some people are too cowardly to disagree face to face and instead hide behind their social media sites and squabble using their hideously bad grammar. And three, because so many people are wrong on social media, and some of them are strangers. But remember, no matter how smart you are, you can never convince a dumb person that he is dumb. (So stop trying to convince me. It won't work.)

So there you have it. Go forth and act like mature adults on facebook! I know you can do it! (If you cannot tell that this is satire, then you should probably stay in school. If you can't tell that I'm also making fun of myself—because I, too, occasionally debate on facebook—then I suppose we cannot be friends because you do not understand sarcasm.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

11 Things You Should be Doing If You're Single

Every article on the Internet is trying to tell me what to do. Because I'm a woman. Or because I'm a Christian. Or because I'm white. Or because I'm a millennial. Or because I'm a college graduate. Or because I'm American. Or because I'm single. "Here are 10 Things You Should be Doing If You're ______." It's "advice," but it's not usually based on anything substantial, like scientific evidence, the Bible, or valuable—applicable—life experience. Frankly, most of it is just a bunch of cliche poppycock. Either I'm already aware of it or think it's total bologna. Without further ado, I present to you, "11 Things You Should be Doing if You're Single." Brought to you by someone with only 23 years of experience, no relevant degrees, and a snarky attitude.

1. Stop trying to figure out what's wrong with you. Leave that to the experts.

2. Stop looking! Everyone over the age of 40 who is married will tell you that. When you stop looking for a significant other, one will find you! Of course, this principle also applies to finding a job. If you just sit on your couch watching Netflix for at least 11 hours per day, the CEO of Google will undoubtedly kick your front door down and offer you a full-time job at the company.

3. Work harder at work, take a weekend trip, or start a new hobby—like printmaking or pinecone collecting or duck hunting! Anything to trick yourself into believing there's more to life than having a significant other. (Wait, there actually is? What is this chicanery...?)

4. Reconnect with old friends. Because nothing is more helpful than spending time with your best friend from college who is married to a brain surgeon and lives in a house the size of your apartment complex.

5. Cut and dye your hair the way you want. Wear what you want. Eat what you want. Now you don't have to worry about what your significant other will think of you! (Or, you know, don't date a man who is actually stupid enough to tell you he wants you to change your hair or stop eating pizza.)

6. Make up a really great excuse for being single. Such as: "I'm going to avoid the dating scene for 2 years. Or, you know, however long it takes me to find another boyfriend." Or: "I'm trying to find myself." Or just be honest: "I'm a terrible human being that no one can tolerate."

7. Eat ice cream straight out of the carton, laugh like no one can hear you, and dance like no one's watching. Or however that stupid saying goes. Because that will definitely help!

8. Join Christian Mingle. This requires no explanation.

9. Buy yourself flowers. (Yes, one "advice" article literally listed this one.) Then tell everyone at the office it was your "secret admirer."

10. Change your own lightbulbs. Prove that you don't need a man to take care of your around-the-house tasks. (Again, this was literally published in an "advice" column about what to do if you're single.) WATCH OUT, WORLD! I CAN CHANGE MY OWN LIGHTBULBS, SO I CAN OBVIOUSLY HANDLE BEING SINGLE.

11. Call your mom and ask her to tell you what's wrong with you. (She will know.)

Note: I wrote this for my own entertainment, so don't argue with me about my "advice." I'm not a licensed professional, so you should ask your doctor before you implement any of these things into your life.