The Problem with The Brantley Blog

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To anyone who is still here after my year long-hiatus from this blog, I feel like I owe you a big apology and an explanation.

The Brantley Blog was discontinued for two primary reasons.

Bad Feelings

What began as select drinking stories and misadventures from college slowly turned into a broader story arc of my coming of age after leaving home for the first time.  This was a natural evolution, but it came with a price.

I struggled with a lot of loneliness in my first semester of college.  During my second semester, I finally made friends and I got really close with a lot of people who didn’t have much in common with me other than our shared affinity for inebriation.  This didn’t end well.

Petty conflicts, jealousies, and certain individuals’ affliction of talking about people behind their backs led my group of friends to a boiling point.  We all met on top of a parking garage to air out our grievances with each other in a structured act of full disclosure.  We called it, I kid you not, a “Pickle Pow Wow.”   Instead of the kindergarten classroom tool of a “talking stick” with which speakers take turns so that they don’t end up shouting over top each other, we passed around a pickle in a pouch.

Tears were shed, hugs exchanged, bandaids applied to minor emotional scratches and wounds, but deep down we all knew that the group of friends was doomed to collapse in on itself.

I know that this is all incredibly stupid and “high school” dramatic, but it really genuinely mattered to me back then.  A lot of people that I cared about stabbed me in the back and friends that I tried to help resented my efforts.  It left a sour taste in my mouth.

Needless to say, the fun of mocking my youthful naivety and the joy of embellishing drinking tales were far preferable to describing how I lost numerous close friends over the course of just a few short months.  When the story that I was telling one blog post at a time reached this point, I suddenly found myself unmotivated to continue.  These events weren’t much fun to write about and I assumed that it wouldn’t be much fun to read.

I had it in my head that someone out there was piecing these individual posts together and reading them like a book; that this heavily foreshadowed climax was hotly anticipated.  I put a great deal of imaginary pressure on myself to get the story right.

Now I know that this was a silly thing to think.  I understand that blogs are typically consumed piece by piece rather than as a unit and that I could have neglected the hard parts of the story and nobody would have noticed.  But it was still enough to suck the fun out of The Brantley Blog for me.

Brantley:  The Great Disappointment

A recurring problem that I had with weaving my underage drinking stories was the looming presence of my parents in the back of my mind.  Both mother and father had recently joined Facebook and had dropped comments (Mom especially) here and there that made social networking lose its luster.  Thoughts of the shit storm that would arise should they find my blog and read about my youthful mistakes (most of which were intentional) prevailed over every revision and every edit of every post.

Over the last month or so, I’ve come to realize that it goes much deeper than fear of my parents finding out that I enjoyed being a little troublemaker in college.  A big part of my tendency to hold back in my writing has been knowledge of their inevitable disapproval of what I have to say.

You see, my parents are very religious.  As a kid, I remember my Dad making this objection throat clearing noise every time a character in a movie swore.  I remember him changing radio stations and calling certain pop songs “garbage.”  I remember my Mom forbidding me from seeing certain movies and how upset she was when she found out that I had used Napster to burn CDs with cuss words in them.

I, on the other hand, have more or less oscillated between atheism and agnosticism ever since the day that my parents decided that I was too old to get away with napping during church services.  I used to lay my head down in the pew every Sunday morning and rely on my family to wake me when it was all over.  Once that was no longer an option, I found myself increasingly uninterested in the entire body of rituals.

Every part of my worldview is so radically different from my parents that it makes for awkward silences during the holidays.  It would be stupid to let my political opinions alienate me from them, but at the same time, there are certain things that I feel very strongly about and it becomes really difficult to see any basic human decency in differing opinions on some issues.

Really, the worst part is that I get the feeling that they don’t even notice these awkward silences, these times that I shut my mouth in polite dissent.  It makes me feel like they probably don’t know very much about me and who I am, who I became once I left their house.

All of this is in the back of my mind during every keystroke, every sentence.  These things that I write, they are an extension of me.  To hate my writing is to hate me.  When it comes to my parents, that’s a lot of stress to handle every time I push that “publish” button.

It isn’t easy suspecting that a falling out with my parents will inevitably be a big part of my artistic journey.  Some days, it’s enough to keep my fingers from hitting any key other than “Backspace,” but I just can’t live that way forever.

I’m 26 years old.  I’m smart, thoughtful, kind, compassionate, and patient (though I struggle with this one sometimes).  I’m stubbornly optimistic and I don’t want to accept defeat, not for myself, not for society, not for the human race.

I’m proud of who I am and I’m proud of my writing.  My parents should be too.  And if they aren’t, then that’s an issue upon which I can’t courteously keep my mouth shut.

From Here   

I plan on continuing to tell my stories, to laugh at myself and the things that have happened to me.  I plan on sharing my insights on petty injustices that I encounter in my day to day drudgery.  I plan on trying to make readers laugh or smile, to entertain a person or two if only for a few minutes out of their day.

I plan on doing these things on a wider level.  I’m going to share this blog with actual people that I know and if my parents find it, I hope they enjoy it.  No.  I hope that they can’t help but enjoy it, even though they disapprove.  I hope that they are just as proud of me as I am of myself.

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Freelance Writing Update:

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On July 1, I kicked off a more serious pursuit of freelance writing.  It’s been quite an emotional roller coaster so far and I haven’t made enormous gains, but I’m still optimistic.  I began my gig hunting with a wide open mind.  This led me to read a lot of job postings for opportunities that I’m not in the least bit qualified for.  That led to me becoming really bummed out.  Eventually I put that approach on hold to pursue another one.  More on that in a little bit.

My biggest accomplishment in the past month was easily the writing Fellowship that I’ve scored with TheDodo.com.  It’s like BuzzFeed for wildlife and conservation.  I’ve published two articles with them and both have made the front page!  They advertise that they are working with the same venture capital groups that were behind BuzzFeed and Huffington Post, so hopefully I’m getting in on the ground floor of something that could go really big!  

My one complaint about this website is that they pay 45 days after the end of the month that you publish the article (according to a Writer’s Agreement that they made me sign).  I was, however, paid within 10 days for my first post so I have no idea when to expect checks in the mail from this website.  At least I know that they weren’t lying about paying me though!  

The goal of 100% self-sufficiency through freelance writing has both sustained me and pushed me to the brink of a nervous breakdown.  You see, I haven’t shown off my writing very much, and so the idea of putting myself in position to be published in a wider way has been pretty terrifying.  So naturally, I used my go-to technique for handling scary things:  avoiding them at all costs.  I worked on everything but the things that frightened me.  I half-wrote like three articles while researching several more, all the while guaranteeing myself that I would never finish anything that I could publish.  All of my writing has to be squeezed in between my two jobs, so eventually the time drain of never finishing anything weighed on me heavily.  

I was throwing the ball for my dog in the yard as I researched the fates of failed presidential candidates.  I wasn’t paying attention to fetch.  I just picked up the ball when Magic dog brought it back and then chucked it into the pool for him to swim after again.  It wasn’t long before the ball smashed into the little frosted lights that hang from the overhang of our back porch.  Tiny white glass shards spread all over the pool deck and (I feared) into the pool itself.  

That’s when I lost my damned mind.  

I had put so much pressure on myself and I had so little time for writing that picking up these tiny pieces of glass would leave me with less than half an hour to pursue my ambitions.  I led the dog away from the scene of the accident, brought him inside, dried him off, and then went back out to search for glass shards.  

Frosted white glass on a white concrete pool deck on a sunny Florida (read “unbearably hot”) day don’t make for a fun scavenger hunt.  I looked high and low and didn’t find nearly enough glass.  I swept everywhere within a 10 foot radius of the incident.  That’s when I feared that the glass was in the pool and conjured horrifying mental images of my pup accidentally swallowing glass-laden water while joyfully swimming towards his orange rubber ball.  I started cleaning the pool thoroughly, vacuuming and skimming to no avail.  I was defeated.  We couldn’t let the dog near the area until I found more of the glass (which I did find in a small gutter next to the back patio a few days later).

This was the first time that I realized how much pressure I was putting on myself.  

That’s when I came up with what seemed to be a great way of coping with my self-inflicted frustration:  I would write a quirky, charming biography of myself from the point of view of my writer’s block!  I was a half-dozen pages into the project when I realized that I wasn’t all that interested in it and that it only served as a way for me to feel productive about avoiding writing that could be more realistically published.  

As I mentioned before, I abandoned depressing job hunting because it was eroding my soul and undermining my elusive, occasional, and probably hypothetical self-confidence.  I altered my strategy to involve finding out what the market would bear in terms of selling my writing to leads that I had already located.  I would bank articles and then try to sell them in bulk.  (Ex:  This site pays $100/post and they bought 5 posts from me in one week.  Thus they are good for $500/week).  Just to keep myself from regaining too much sanity, I created an arbitrary deadline to strive towards and stressed myself out by forgetting its meaninglessness.  

I had 4 out of 5 articles ready to sell to a website that I had never worked with before.  I would write the fifth article over the course of the week.  That was the plan.  Upon delivering the first post, I realized that hidden on the website as a lengthy list of Writer’s Guidelines that I had never seen before.  Committed to my imaginary deadline, I observed the ones that I could and ignored the rest.  

The article was rejected with a form letter.  I crumpled into despair, certain that I couldn’t possibly reach my goal now.  The next day, I moped more heavily than usual as I read carefully through the Writer’s Guidelines and realized that of the 5 posts I intended to sell that week, only one might be of any interest to the website.  I had jumped the gun in a fit of courage and now I had reaffirmed my mercurial low self-esteem.  I thanked them for reviewing the article and adjusted my goal to getting one thing that I had written accepted by the site.  

Once we had a more solid relationship, I reasoned, I would better understand what they would and would not buy from me.  I realized that this would need to be my approach with other leads as well.  

In the meantime, I was a neglectful jerk to my girlfriend who I treated like an obstacle to my ambition.  She confronted me on it and I saw how much of a turd I had been and reevaluated my obsession with fictional pressures that I put on myself and how I let them affect the person I love the most.  

I revised my one last hope, an article about hate groups that was surprisingly thoroughly miserable to write.  Did you know that we live in such a politically divided country that we can’t even seem to agree on who is and is not a hate group?  

I adhered to their guidelines, submitted it, and received a more cordial rejection.  This time it was a human responding.  They said it just wasn’t a good fit, but that they would love to give me feedback on some pitches before I spent the time to write another full article to submit to them.  

You better believe I took them up on that offer!  I pitched about 5 potential articles and thanked them for taking the time to review my much hated hate groups post, also asking if it was rejected for form/style or content.  

Now I’m re-tooling the hate groups post to pitch it elsewhere.  I’ve got about 12 hours of excessive research, rough drafting, and revision into this stupid post so I’ve gotta sell it somewhere!  

In the meantime, I’ve realized that writing web content is enjoyable and fun.  Even though the research takes hours sometimes, it’s a really awesome way to learn new things about this big weird world that we’re living in.  With that in mind, I’m going to take up my job search once more with a narrower focus on the type of writing that I find interesting.  Hopefully it will stave off the boringness of corporate form postings and the depression of confronting my limited professional-experience.  

In the meantime, here are my published posts from the first month of my freelance pursuits:

How You Can Help 6 Critically Endangered Species with Populations of 500 or Less:

https://www.thedodo.com/fellows-pitch-6-critically-end-628725703.html 

A Muggle’s Guide to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Universal Studios:

http://www.americansky.co.uk/blog/muggles-guide-wizarding-world-harry-potter-universal-studios

8 Endangered Species Making Epic Comebacks:

https://www.thedodo.com/8-endangered-species-making-ep-652564299.html

A Muggle’s Guide to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Islands of Adventure:

http://www.americansky.co.uk/blog/muggles-guide-wizarding-world-harry-potter-islands-adventure 

Since Last We Spoke

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Life Update

Dear Blog/Blog Readers,

I’m sorry that it’s been nearly two months since last we spoke!  I’ve made some changes in my life that have taken up a great deal of my time (and my words).  As terrible as I am at keeping my life in balance, my recent freelance writing pursuits have pushed the Brantley Blog right out of my mind.  

I will do my best to sum up the past 51 days in a series of short impressions and updates.  In this post, I’ll only deal with non-freelance writing stuff (that’s a whole ‘nother post!).

Disneyland Avenger’s Half-Marathon  

I just started training for the Avenger’s Half-Marathon in Disneyland.  Months and months ago I was too broke to buy new running shoes, so naturally, I pretended like my old shoes were just fine.  Boom.  Plantar Fasciitis.  I can’t seem to kick the arch pain in my right foot.  It doesn’t bother me when I’m running, but I have to stand for hours on end at work and that’s when it really acts up.  I’m pretty nervous about my training now.  I don’t want to exacerbate the injury, but I have to go on living my life (AKA running my miles)!  Plane tickets are booked.  Trips to San Fransisco and the Redwood forests are planned.  After this half (which is in November), I’ve got another full marathon in January. 

How Not to Make New Friends

Making new friends at work is making me realize that my people skills are weird.   There are definitely some bizarre things that I shouldn’t have said to people who don’t know me that well.  

Example 1:  Someone brings up that a co-worker doesn’t get to see his daughter because the baby momma is “a bitch.”  In an effort to lighten the mood, I pondered aloud the possibility that the baby momma truly is a “bitch” and that the daughter is a dog-human hybrid monstrosity that the co-worker father can’t bear the sight of.  It didn’t so much lighten the mood as bring the conversation to a screeching halt and fill the bar with silence for what felt like a few hours.

Example 2:  I was walking quickly to my car after work because the distance between the restaurant and my car in the parking garage is 100% not-air conditioned.  I passed two female co-workers.  One of which joked that I snuck up on her and I joked back that she should be more vigilante because it’s a big scary world full of dangerous people.  I said this to her in a parking garage…in the middle of the night.  Why?  Why would I say that?  

The Great New Radio Station Sucks

There’s a new radio station in Orlando!  It plays solely alternative music, which is a dumb, moving target industry term that effectively means “weird stuff that doesn’t suck yet still finds its way onto pop and rock radio stations.”  Think an Imagine Dragons station on Pandora. 

They kicked off their existence with 10,000 songs in a row with no commercials, which was thrilling because they play The Black Keys, Bastille, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, Imagine Dragons, and quirkier weirder stuff.  

Their cardinal sin is that they are still a radio station.  Anyone finding themselves iPod-less/CD-less/Spotify-less and doomed to listen only to what the radio has to offer can attest:  There is a music industry belief that people can only handle a few new songs at a time or else _________ (fill in your own dire consequence here.  Mine would probably read “the public might realize that there are millions of music options and that the radio is an outdated tool for discovering worthwhile songs,” but “the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man will destroy New York City,” would be an interesting fit too).  This belief has infiltrated my beloved alternative radio station and we are currently engaged in the following frustrating yet inevitable exchange:

Radio:  Oh you like the Arctic Monkeys?

Brantley:  Yeah, they’re pretty good.

Radio:  Okay, then we will play them twice an hour or maybe just every time you get in your car and tune in.

Brantley:  But won’t that make me hate them?

Radio:  You like The Black Keys too, right?

Brantley:  Yeah, but you didn’t answer my last question.

Radio:  Okay, then we will alternate almost exclusively between the Arctic Monkeys and The Black Keys on our station since we know that those are bands that you like.

Brantley:  But that will make me hate both of them.

Radio:  Shhh!!!  We’re playing “Fever!”

Brantley:  Look, there are tons of bands that I like and even more bands that I would like, but haven’t heard of yet.  You guys have a captive audience in this guy right here.  Maybe just give me the illusion of respect and use your position to promote interesting new music that people might really fall in love with.

Radio:  Okay fine.  We will throw in Cage the Elephant, but for every one time that we play them, we are going to have to play “Rude” by Magic thrice.  

Brantley:  I’m going to listen to an audiobook instead.

Also this radio station needs to change their batteries because they come through staticky just about everywhere in the city.  I’m pretty sure they were being overpowered by some dick with an FM transmitter listening to The Police the other night.  

Margaritas Are An Art

In an attempt to occasionally order something other than beer, I’ve discovered crappy margaritas at numerous bars.  I don’t know how to make them myself, but I don’t feel like they should be so hard.  My girlfriend makes an orange juice heavy margarita that is tangy and delicious.  Rocco’s Tacos (which is in my opinion, heaven on earth) makes tasty margaritas that are simultaneous smooth and crisp by some feat of sorcery.  

I’ve noticed that ordering a margarita occasionally raises eyebrows.  I’m not sure if it’s a “girl” drink or just an uncreative way to choke down liquor.  Either way, I don’t care.  Margaritas bring back fond Taco Memories for me, and Nacho Nostalgia.  

Maybe my love of margaritas is heavily influenced by this little Brantley Trivia tidbit (and this will shock regular readers of the blog):  I’ve never had too much tequila.  I’ve never puked or suffered a tequila hangover.  I don’t know how I’ve accomplished this, but I think that some credit goes to the booze-sponginess of Mexican food which seems to absorb 2-3 drinks in terms of alcohol tolerance.  

Remove the Nuts Before Jacking It Up

I helped a co-worker change a flat tire in the parking garage after we left the bar last night.  It was surprisingly not all that bad.  My worst memory of changing a flat tire involved me jacking the car up before removing the lug nuts.  The wheel spun as I manhandled it with the tire iron.  Frustration ensued.  Also it was hot, as it always is all the time everywhere in Florida.  Don’t get a flat down here.  

My Anti-Drug is:  Non-Existent

Many of my co-workers express enthusiasm for smoking pot.  After smoking a select few times early in college, I quit to pursue a job that I was certain would require drug testing.  Though I did get the job and they never tested me, I still abstained.  I just didn’t miss it that much.  I’m a junk food fanatic with motivation problems.  I’m practically stoned 24/7 by sheer virtue of my personality.  

That being said, people ask if I smoke and I tell them no.  Being an illegal hobby, they sometimes want to know why as if I’m on the verge of calling the cops.  I honestly don’t have a good answer.  I just don’t smoke.  I don’t care if other people do.  I just don’t.  I’ve got allergies and I’m not interested in putting smoke in my lungs (which don’t even seem that fond of air).  I’m either convincingly uninterested or off-puttingly strange enough that they don’t bother trying to peer pressure me into joining them when they light up.  

Smells Like Twenty-Something Despair

Our restaurant plays a boring, elevator music playlist of only about a dozen songs. All day.  Everyday.  On repeat.  They have a muzak version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  Every time it plays, a little piece of me dies inside and I fear that I will soon be no more than a shell of a human being, a dried up husk with a soul made of dust.  

Pressing Pause

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I owe an apology to the handful of my followers that like and comment on each and every post that I publish.  I know that I’m in the middle of telling a story, but I’ve gotta take a break.

These blog posts are about things that happened to me about seven years ago.  I was working my way towards the present slowly, because it’s hard to make an entertaining story out of wounds that are still too raw.

The gist is this:  I left my first post-college job, which I thought was going to be a really solid foundation to my career.  It wasn’t.  I ended up delivering pizzas for a year.  Now, I’m training to wait tables at a fancy pants restaurant and I’ve never been less certain about what to do with my life.

For right now, I feel like I need to get out of Orlando.  I’ve scoured this area for opportunities and have come up empty handed.  My girlfriend and I want to move to New York City.  All of the woes and heartbreak of trying to find a job down here are evidently non-existent in NYC.  Yes, I know that it isn’t easy to get an interview.  Yes, I know you need to know someone to even get your resume looked at.  I’ve heard it time and again.  It doesn’t scare me.  I welcome the challenge.

I recently fell into a nice-paying freelance writing gig.  I’m hooked.  I want more.  I want a pile of clients that pay me enough money that I can quit or at least scale back all of these other jobs that eat so much of my time.

That’s the plan:  Become geographically independent through freelancing, and then uproot and move to the big city.

There’s just one problem:  I totally don’t have time to look that far forward in my life.  Between the new job, an old job that I’m keeping just as an insurance policy, my WIP that collects dust for entire weeks at a time, this freelance opportunity that I don’t want to botch, planning for my future, this blog, and the rest of my life in general, I’m just not doing anything more than halfway these days.

I’ve spread myself too thin and The Brantley Blog has become a chore that I muck my way through so that I can cross it off the to do list.  Seriously – did you read those last two posts?  Did you notice that I haven’t bothered with a “Brantleyism” in like a month?  I just don’t want to do this halfway and I don’t want it to feel like work.  It was tremendously enjoyable once and I’m sure that it can be tremendously enjoyable again someday (hopefully really soon).

In the meantime, I’m going to try and finish this damn book of mine and establish one of those “careers” that grown ups are always talking about.

I’ll be back once I’ve got my head straight.

 

Capitalism and the Chicken Little Perspective of Pop Culture

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I recently read a blog post where an older man wrote about how he doesn’t seem to find today’s comedy movies and television shows funny.  He referred to an NPR piece postulating that mid-century comedy was more intellectual, whereas current comedy seems to stick more to slapstick.

I won’t link to the man’s post or reblog it.  I was working on a comment on my phone, but it was coming across too harsh and I don’t want to directly attack this guy just because I don’t agree with his opinion.

I have a real problem with this way of thinking.  Journalists, bloggers, storytellers, and many other groups seem to enjoy using vague generalizations to paint a picture that everything used to be so much better before the relentless march of time drove any given facet of civilization or culture straight downward into the sewer.  Depending on the source, you can sub out “relentless march of time” with “kids these days,” because people inclined to use that term seem to love this worldview.

Today, I’m going to use a unique blend of Capitalism and Pop Culture observation to explain why I will never agree with these folks.

Part 1:  The Rise of Television Real Estate in America

The television landscape has changed over the past several decades.  Dramatically.  When TV sets first became a mainstay in American homes, there were only three channels.  Advertisers didn’t have to guess which of the three given programs airing at any particular time slot was the best.  They were guaranteed an enormous amount of eyeballs, even on the lowest performing shows.  A selective viewing of TV series from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s will show that while there were some quality programs on the air, there were also some turd sandwiches as well.

The conceit of this argument is that because television real estate was so scarce, it had higher value, but I argue that comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges (that is, programs of the same genre and depth across time) would show that this argument doesn’t hold water.  There were crappy network shows back then.  There are crappy network shows now.  There are great network shows now.  There were great network shows back then.  People arguing otherwise tend to compare the great classics of the era with the disposable garbage of the modern day as most of the best stuff currently on the air flies right over their head.  We know that Real Housewives of Atlanta is not as good as The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Find your remote and change the channel rather than using one bad show as your reason for writing off everything else on air right now.

Part 2:  Enormous Growth in Viewer Options

Efforts by major networks to establish high-production value shows with maximum pop culture impact further supports my position that when competition for viewers is high, content quality must also be high.  If the shows on the networks aren’t up to snuff, consumers now have a gazillion other options on cable, premium channels, free and paid on-demand features, Netflix, Hulu, and even home video (which wasn’t around during those days when TV was “so much better”).

Targeted marketing through cable programming sells for a higher cost per thousand impressions (CPM), allowing grand cinematic visions to hit the small screen in the form of shows like The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and actually just about anything currently on primetime AMC.

Purely by the numbers, I would argue that there are more excellent shows on air or available to viewers right now than there were in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s combined.  (And no, I’m not counting the fact that any teenager with an internet connection can now pull up an episode of Gilligan’s Island if he or she is so inclined when I say “available to viewers right now.”)

The converse of this, of course, is that there are many, many, many more horrible, vacuous, pooptastic shows on air right now as well.  And they manage to find an audience unfortunately, ensuring that we will continue to know about any and every little thing that a Kardashian ever does ever until we locate the people watching that show and cut off their cable.  (That’s a homework assignment, Society.)

Part 3:  The Search for the Lowest Common Denominator

I’ve done my best to acknowledge the counterargument to each point I’ve made so far, and this point especially will tip my hat to those who believe that television has seen better days.

Desperate major networks have adopted a popular Hollywood method of marketing:  find the lowest common denominator – that one thing that won’t put off any single viewer – and get as close to that topic, tone, theme, etc. as possible.

It’s the reason why paint-by-numbers crime procedural NCIS is the top rated show every year.  There’s nothing wrong with that show.  It isn’t awful.  It just doesn’t have any flavor.  It doesn’t go anywhere risky or do anything that might make you think.  It doesn’t surprise you in any way that might make you uncomfortable.  It is a safe, mind-numbing viewing experience;  the culmination of the perfect execution of this particular programming formula.

Same goes with the strangely popular Two and a Half Men (prior to Charlie Sheen’s departure).  Nielsen keeps telling us that millions and millions of people are watching each week, but it seems like nobody is talking about it.  It doesn’t generate buzz or spur conversation.  It isn’t a cultural phenomenon that will be remembered through the ages.  It’s just some stuff happening on a TV screen that millions of somebodies somewhere out there like to space out in front of.

Though by necessity this approach must have been the goal of the networks in the early days of television (with three stations micro marketing would have been suicidal), there was still an experimental aspect to shows back then.  With so many unknowns on a new frontier, strangeness managed to find its way into American family rooms because the suits hadn’t yet perfected their  formula for hollow success.

Part 4:  Comedy’s Evolution

The statement that comedy used to be more intellectual is a bit ridiculous to me.  To argue that humor used to reference elements of history, science, or pop culture; that a degree of knowledge used to be required to “get the joke” is totally wrong in its conjugation.  Change that past-tense to present tense, because it never stopped being true.

Turn on Family Guy for God’s sake.  They reference anything and everything and all the freaking time.  I once saw that show reference a Crest Toothpaste commercial from like the early 80’s.

These days even slapstick, screwball, and physical humor are used to wink at the viewers who have been paying attention.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the elaborate joke constructions, episode-spanning set ups and rapid fire third act pay offs of Modern Family.  Seriously, watch the recent episode titled, Las Vegas, and marvel at all of the complicated things that they pulled off in just 21 minutes of screen time.

If you’ve got even more time to kill, watch all four seasons of Arrested Development.  If that show wasn’t cancelled for being so far ahead of its time, some of its jokes would have made our heads explode a thousand times over by now.  Had those writers chosen different paths in life, their knack for off-the-wall concepts and flawless execution would have made them prime candidates to form an Ocean’s Eleven-like crime ring.

After you finish Arrested Development, check out How I Met Your Mother.  It’s an entire series structured as flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks telling one long elaborate tale that is just a prologue to the pivotal moment when a hopeless romantic meets the love of his life.  And it’s one of those shows that appeals to people who enjoy a good boob joke.

Actually, all four of those shows have goofy physical humor and crude sex laughs, but it doesn’t take a genius to appreciate the complexity of what those writers are trying to accomplish in the big picture.  Sure, there’s a lot of junk shows whoring their one dimensional characters out for easy laughs.  But there are also a ton of really ambitious, weird shows that make you appreciate the hand of the storytellers in weaving such an unconventional, detailed narrative.

Remember the moment in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince when you realized that Harry stabbing the talking diary with the snake tooth in the weakest book in the series was actually an enormous part of the overall conflict that all seven books build to?  Even network sitcoms are doing stuff like that these days, so you should check out those four shows and try really watching them.

Part 5:  Conclusion

The irony of writing a long post that speaks in broad generalizations to uphold my criticism of people that write long diatribes speaking in broad generalizations to uphold opinions that I don’t agree with is not at all lost on me.  This was a natural, human reaction.  I was frustrated and I won’t pretend that I’m not a hypocrite for responding in this way.

That being said, I don’t truly believe that television back then pales in comparison to television today.  They were different times.  Society had different expectations of their pop culture, different values, a different sense of propriety when it comes to questioning any given widely held belief of the time.  It doesn’t mean that their stories have lost value over the years, even the ones featuring now irrelevant plots and conflicts.  I grew up watching Nick at Nite – I Love Lucy, Bewitched, I Dream of Genie, The Munsters, Happy Days, The Wonder Years.  I will always love these shows, but they do NOT represent some superior time period that we will never again live up to as creative people.

My problem is this:  When people state that art, society, civilization, pop culture, and everything else  has gotten unequivocally worse over the years, they write off a treasure trove of what the world today has to offer.  Quit lusting for the past so much and you just might find that the present is pretty awesome too.

I just might write up my similar take on movies someday to go along with this post, but it will probably only happen if someone gets me riled up on the topic again.

Blog Promotion – A Hiatus and A Crossroads

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Blog Promotion – A Hiatus at the Crossroads

It’s been a weird couple of weeks, people.  In January, I managed to double my followers purely through networking.  I busted my butt for hours and hours every week, reading other people’s blogs, liking their posts and leaving comments.  In return, people gave my stuff a look and dropped comments, followed, or liked posts.  It was rewarding, but exhausting and unsustainable.

I need follows, views, likes, and comments to come to me unsolicited.  I’m standing at a crossroads, and I can’t really pick a path until I gain a better understanding of some things.

The Purpose of this Blog

If anyone has been able to identify a purpose for this blog, please notify me immediately.  I have NO IDEA what I’m trying to accomplish here.  My posts fall under two headings:  stories from college and random contemporary insights.  The first heading was initially my purpose.  These old stories are easy and fun for me to write (which got me into the habit of writing regularly), and are entertaining to read (I hope).  The second heading just kind of evolved.

I want people to read and enjoy my posts, and I’m trying to string them together in a way that tells a grand, coming-of-age story.  Beyond that, I want publishers to see my blog as a substantial platform that can be used to promote the books that will make me super rich.  Is that too much to ask?

I started doing research into ways to get more engagement from my time.  The two general methods of blog promotion that I’ve identified are Social Media and Search Engine Optimization.

Social Media

I know I should be using social media to promote my blog and that it’s a huge, obvious, step one approach that I’ve been ignoring.  The problem is, I don’t really want my family to see this blog.  It contains subject matter that would chafe their religious sensibilities and I don’t get to see them or talk to them often enough that I want to spend the few conversations that we have arguing about this stuff.  For these reasons, my family has ruined Facebook for me.

Twitter is still available to me, and I’m radically underutilizing it.  I just need a basic growth strategy that will bring followers from Twitter to the blog.

LinkedIn is a no-go for me.  I’m in the process of changing fields and I’m months into the job search.  I don’t want to broadcast my college drinking stories to the professional world.

Google+ and Pinterest are platforms that I’m totally unfamiliar with.  I get the gist of them, but I don’t really know how to make them work for me.

I’m working on brainstorming some work-arounds for some of these problems, but others seem pretty insurmountable.

Search Engine Optimization

This is where the gaping void where my blog’s purpose should be is really haunting me.  There’s a cornucopia of great advice and tutorials on how to make your blog easy for Search Engines to understand and categorize.  If you make their lives easier, they reward you by putting you at the top of the results on relevant searches.

The question is this:  How do I optimize a blog that isn’t about a specific subject, but is just a personal platform for whatever I want to talk about?

I know I could put in a lot of hard hours making myself the top result for people searching for my name, but I don’t see much value in that at this point.  I’m not a highly searched guy.  Additionally, I don’t want this blog to be the first thing that potential employers find when they’re making sure I’m not a criminal.

What would you say that this blog is about?  I’ve gotta narrow it down to some keywords that are broad enough that people search them, but specific enough that I can dominate.  Off the top of my head, “College” and “Humor” come to mind.  Combine those two, and you get an enormously popular website that I certainly won’t knock out of the #1 spot in Google search results.

Conclusion

I’m pushing SEO to the back of my mind for a while.  I will be focusing on a light social media promotion strategy that makes sure that this blog doesn’t get passed around to my family on Facebook.  I will also be looking into other outreach possibilities, including listing this blog in any directories or blog networks that I come across, and reaching out to other bloggers for plugs and guest blogging opportunities.

In the meantime, I’m going to scale back the volume of posts for a week or two until I sort out what direction to take my daily promotion habits in.  No sense in publishing all of my best stuff before I figure out how to find some folks to read it!

To Veteran Bloggers

Any help, advice, validation, encouragement, or informative reading material on the subject would be truly appreciated.

New About Page

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I’ve had it on my list to re-vamp my “About” page for several weeks now.  I had a nagging suspicion that it needed an update to hint at how my more current prognostications fit in with my overall theme of growing up.  Tonight, I just got around to taking a look at it.

And I changed like one sentence.

Growing up is such a broad, all-encompassing theme.  Though this blog has primarily been a spot to reminisce about ways in which 18 and 19 year-old Brantley learned things the hardest ways possible, I feel like it has begun to break free of its original humorous, self-effacing cocoon.  This means that it is becoming something more beautiful and profound now, at least according to the metaphor.

With my goal being two posts/week (one current and one Throw Back Thursday chapter in the College drinking odyssey), I’m not exactly sure where blogging will take me.  I just hope that it’s somewhere just as enriching and enjoyable as the path I’ve traveled so far.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read my posts and send a comment or like my way.  Double thanks to my 100+ followers!

NaNoWriMo – Final Update

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Yesterday, November 29th at around 11:20 AM EST, I closed my laptop and walked away from a word count of 50,250.  I DID IT!

Though my novel is nowhere near finished and will probably shrink dramatically in its second and third drafts, I’m still supremely proud of my accomplishment.

National Novel Writing Month was exactly what I needed to get out of my head and start writing.  Story elements that frustrated me in the plot outline stage became unnecessary or completely apparent in the rough draft.  Sometimes you gotta stop planning and start doing, and this month that is exactly what I did!

I will definitely need a to set some short term goals for December to provide stepping stones towards my longer term goal for 2013:  to finish the rough draft of this novel.  On a side note, that was a goal that I set for myself last December as a New Year’s Resolution and it wasn’t until November that I started actively pursuing it!  After such a fruitful November, I feel like I’ve made up for a lot of lost time.  If I can keep up this pace, I should have a rough draft ready to go by January 1, 2014.

Congratulations to my fellow NaNoWriMo finishers!

To those who didn’t quite make it this year, don’t sweat it.  The creative process can’t be viewed as a To Do List (believe me, I’ve tried!).  The important thing to take a way from this challenge is what you have learned about yourself:

  • Did you do your best writing in the morning, afternoon, evening, late at night?
  • Were you more productive writing in several short sessions or in one long session where you churn out multiple days’ worth of words?
  • Schedule-wise, what obstacles did you face in your personal life that obstructed your daily writing goals?  How did/could you work around them next time?
  • What pre-writing or planning steps did you take/should you have taken to limit road blocks in your narrative?

My answers:

  • I did my best writing in the morning over a couple cups of coffee shortly after waking up.  It helped me keep my mind clear of other responsibilities in front of me for the rest of the day.
  • I was most productive on the days when I was on a roll and churned out 3,000-5,000+ words in one sitting.  It wasn’t always possible to find enough time in my schedule for this and some days it just wasn’t flowing right, but getting ahead of my quota and finding out that I was capable of hitting 3 days worth of words in one sitting gave me the confidence to walk away from the laptop rather than trying to force it on days when it just wasn’t happening.  That being said, I also had days where I came in under word count and it was some of the tightest, most direct writing that I’ve ever done.
  • Working a “we will call you if we need you today” catering job was the biggest hassle in my personal life.  Moving forward, I’d like to be more disciplined and wake up earlier so that I can churn out a fair amount of words before something like this can arise and chew up a few hours smack dab in the middle of my day.
  • Magic the DogOther potential obstacles included my girlfriend and dog, both of which were perfect in being understanding of the challenge.  My girlfriend was my biggest cheerleader this month, and it really meant a lot to me that she understood the need to hole up in the office and leaving her on the couch some days.  We are on different schedules and don’t get to spend as much time together as we would like , so it was a really huge gesture for her to be understanding of this demanding writing challenge.  My dog was totally fine with NaNoWriMo, just so long as I threw the tennis ball for him as I wrote.  Believe it or not, it put me in a good rhythm where every throw allowed me to gather my thoughts a little bit before returning my attention to the word processor.  I’m thinking about giving him a writing credit – “By:  Brantley and Magic the Dog”
  • My girlfriend’s parents have been coming over every weekend to help us work on fixing up our house.  Unfortunately the only way to work around this time commitment was for me to duck out on them and hide in a coffee shop like a selfish, bad person rather than helping them.  Luckily, I only had to do that twice, and one day was on my birthday when they exempted me from house work anyways.
  • Our house isn’t as sparkly clean as I would like for it to be.  I won’t say that I was wishing for the procrastination bug to bite but I will say that when it does, I avoid working on things by working on other things (such as cleaning up my house) so a little of writer’s block would have helped me win the war of attrition that I’ve been fighting all month with my green pool.  It’s the constant presence of leafs, none of which are coming from my backyard (we don’t have any trees) which only makes it more frustrating.
  • In the future, I need a more balanced approach to scheduling writing into my personal life, rather than just avoiding other responsibilities.
  • It turned out to be a blessing how much I’ve pre-written this story to death.  I had solid plot and character outlines, as well as an adequate understanding of my setting and mythology.  That being said, I’ve learned so much more about my characters through the situations that I’ve put them through and it’s helping me to realize fictional beings aren’t just lists of personality traits.  They’re living, breathing people with strengths that lead them in the wrong direction and flaws that misinform their every perception.  The volume of notes accumulated by November 1st isn’t my complaint though, it’s the length of time over which I mapped everything out.  I became so frustrated with details that didn’t fall into place from a bird’s eye view that I never sat down to actually dig in and sort things out from the trenches.  From now on, I will be less of a perfectionist about pre-writing.
  • One exercise that I found to be extremely helpful in advance of longer writing sessions was to map out some plot points for each chapter.  I started off making around 20-30 points per chapter, totally planning out every beat and move to where I only needed to add some description to have a rough draft.  While this was successful in orchestrating action-packed conflicts, it was confining for chapters focusing on character development, internal struggles, and building chemistry between characters.  Now, I’m down to 5-10 bullet points for what I would like to accomplish in each chapter.  Most of the time, I don’t even use them all.  It’s liberating to stop planning so much and just GO!

It’s been a wonderful, enlightening month for me.  Whether you made your word count or not, I hope that you had a rewarding experience that taught you much about storytelling and a little bit about yourself as well.

Happy NaNoWriMo and Happy Holidays!

50,250 words

99 single-spaced pages

and counting!