O Tidings of Comfort Annoy

blur-business-card-211290Now that Facebook has become a year-round newsletter, packed with enough posts to make us feel miserable all year long, can we finally call it quits on those dreadful holiday letters?

I understand a family newsletter can be a highlight of the season, recapping all your adventures with witty repartee and candy cane clip art, but to many people, this bragalicious tradition is lemon juice in the paper cuts of life. Reading about how you cured black lung disease or saved an endangered species makes others’ successes look like table scraps.

My newsletter would go something like this, “Dear family and friends, I did not get arrested this year. Happy New Year! Love, Peri.” (Disclaimer: The year’s not over yet.)

So, first of all, don’t write a Christmas letter. However, if you feel you must write an annual message or your life won’t be complete, here are tips to make it bearable for friends and family.

Let your children do the writing. I would LOVE getting a Christmas message that read, “Mom cries in the bathroom and tells us to eat Froot Loops for dinner. Dad has a special ‘drinking mug’ in his garage. Aunt Ethel spent Thanksgiving in the county jail for walking streets. Happy Holidays!”

Use your letter as a weapon. A Christmas newsletter can encourage friendly competition amongst your offspring. Announce who had the most As, the best-cleaned room or who peed the bed the least amount of times. Be sure to embarrass the *&%$ out of them so they’ll be on their best behavior next year.

Create an acronym. For instance, NOEL can be Notice Our Exceptional Lives or No One Enjoys Letters.

Quote Quiz. Choose the funniest quotes said by your family during the year and have your readers guess who said it.

January–“Who left the %&@* lights on?!”

February—“Is there a reason there are a dozen shoes by the back door?”

March—“Who left the %&@* lights on again?”

Write from your pet’s perspective. “This is Peri’s dog, Ringo. I was taken to the vet three times this year and had to get shots. She forgot to give me a treat twice last week, even after I sat under her feet for three consecutive episodes of Westworld. She also didn’t pet me long enough after she got home from work, but she gave me a steak bone, so all’s forgiven.”card-celebration-christmas-1652103

Share a family recipe. If people ask for your sugar cookie recipe, put it in your Christmas newsletter. But don’t be like my neighbor who leaves out key ingredients so my cookies never taste quite the same as hers. Not cool.

Don’t recount Family Disasters 2016. Your water heater broke, your car died in the desert, you have rats in the basement and bats in your belfry. You lost several jobs, were abducted by aliens and SWAT kicked in your door at 3 a.m. Newsletters are not catastrophe competitions. Next!

Don’t brag. For every straight-A accomplishment, for every award-winning dance competition and for every higher-salary promotion you exclaim over, your letter will be read by a man with kids struggling in school, a daughter with no noticeable rhythm and a woman in a dead-end, mind-numbing job. Take it down a notch, will ya?

Even better, since I never receive mail anymore (except for Hickory Farm catalogs and postcards from mortgage companies), maybe save all your glowing updates for Facebook and Instagram where you can gush all you’d like. You can even add clip art.

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Questions I’m Often Asked

Now that I’m a super-famous blogger, I’m always getting stopped in the street and asked questions. Usually those questions are along the lines of, “Can you get out of my way, ma’am?” or “What the hell are you doing?” but once in a while, someone surprises me with a true inquiry.

Because I don’t know how to talk to strangers, I usually stare at them for 20 seconds, then turn and run the other way. But once I get home, I realize what I SHOULD have said. So here are the answers to all those unanswered (or unasked) questions:

Q: How do you write funny?

A: I have a clown costume that I only wear when I’m writing my column or blog. Plus, Mad Libs.

Q: Why did you become a writer?

A: Because my dancing career never took off.

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(I still know the Bat Dance if you’d like to see it performed.)

Q: What is your biggest regret?

A: The 1980s.

Q: How do you get your ideas?

A: I turn my constant rage into manageable humor.

Q. Why is writing so hard?

A. I’ve already answered that question: Top 5 Reasons Writing Sucks

Q: Do you ever find swearing tiresome?

A: Hmmm. &*#@ no.

Q: Have you ever been arrested?

A: Define “arrested”.

Q. Do you have a favorite book?

A. My favorite book changes based on the day, time, season, what I’m wearing, if I’m in a good mood and if I’m hungry.

Q. How can I get past writer’s block.

A. I’ve answered that question, too: Top 5 Ways to Get Over Writer’s Block

Q. Who will win the next presidential election in the U.S.?

A. Not the American people.

Q. How can I become a writer?

A. Write.

Sorry, but that’s all the time I have for questions. If you want more answers, I suggest you buy a Magic 8 Ball.

Top 5 Ways to Make Money With Your Sweet Writing Skills

Yes, I know your heart’s desire is to write the next best-selling young adult fantasy trilogy that involves a love triangle between a goblin, a unicorn and a pair of comfy slippers but, not to dash your dreams into a glacier of cold reality, it’s probably not gonna happen.

(Are they assuming you’re writing for young adult dummies? I’m good with that.)

But you have great writing skills! Why not put them to good use? Here are some ways to incorporate writing skills into every day jobs–and make money! Win-win!

#1–Become a food server.  You always assume your waitress is writing your order on her little memo pad, but she might be jotting down your irritating characteristics as the basis for the villain in her next novel. As a food server, you can spend all day writing. Who cares if you never get the orders right?

#2–Write parking tickets. Add some creativity to the boring old parking ticket. You could write out the offense is several genres, such as–Shakespearean: “Thou hast parketh too near the hydrant of fire.” Agatha Christie: “Illegal parking is terribly revealing. Try and vary your methods as you will, your tastes, your habits, your attitude of mind, and your soul is revealed by your actions.”

#3–Create copy for cereal boxes.  Kids read this stuff, so it better be clever. Kids don’t go for bulls***–just give it to ’em straight. “This box contains processed circular grain-flavored shapes that may, or may not, contain dozens of unidentifiable chemicals and preservatives. It’s most likely this box of cereal will lead to your death in the years to come. Free toy inside!!!”

(How many years have you spent reading cereal boxes?)

#4–Write homework essays for the neighbor kids. This is a great way to make a quick buck–assuming your clients get a weekly allowance. No one wants to write about Melville or Dickens–but, for a small fee, you can create flawless essays about symbolism, social satire and funny character names.

#5– Write ads for Craigslist. In order to sell your product on the internet, it needs to have a catchy headline, so use your creative writing skills to capture the attention of the general public. “Strippers needed for baby shower!” “This NuvaWave appliance will CHANGE YOUR LIFE!!” “Moderately stained mattress can be yours today!” “Overdue library books–cheap!”

(With your finely tuned writing skills, you could sell this mattress to Martha Stewart.)

Top 5 Reasons Writing Sucks

I’ve been writing since I learned to eat a pencil eraser. I moved on from chewing pencils to eating pen caps, sniffing markers and giving myself ink tattoos with a Bic during history class. Then came “typing,” “keyboarding” or whatever the hell it’s called today.

(Remember typing so fast the keys stuck? Yeah, I’m that old.)

I learned to type on the very first typewriter carried to this continent by Leif Ericson and his band of merry Norsemen. It sucked. But the more technology has developed to help me write, the harder writing seems to be. I’ve been a “professional” writer for 10 years and there are days I LOVE it (the days I’m on my meds) and days I hate it (every other day).  Here are the Top 5 Reasons Writing Sucks:

1. Content Limit: There are only so many words in the dictionary and only so many ways to arrange those words. So, unless I start writing in Russian or Greek, I need to maximize 26 letters in a way no one has ever done before. No pressure there. And Shakespeare already used the best one-liners. But, then again, even monkeys could write a novel if given enough time—look at Sarah Palin.

(Maybe she’d like a ghost writer for her next book.)

2. People are easily offended: If anything in the previous paragraph offended you–take a number. I’ve received emails from people who were angered by things I’d written, not taking into account I write a HUMOR column, not political essays for the Washington Post. Trigger words like “conservative lunatic” or “get off your a**” seem to set people off. Go figure.

3. It’s SO personal. Writers bleed their hearts onto the paper (or screen) and tentatively let it loose in the biosphere for people to attack/enjoy, only to have it received with a sniff and a derisive comment. If you don’t have thick skin, perhaps you should choose a different field. Like hermit.

4. I’m easily distracted. I just typed “I’m easily distracted” then stared at the screen trying to decide which Girl Scout cookies are left in the pantry. My method for writing is:

1. Craft a brilliant sentence (or phrase)

2. Look around the room to see if there’s anything more interesting to do

3. Rewrite the brilliant sentence (or phrase)

4. Get up and eat a Girl Scout cookie

5. Repeat 1-4 until the article, blog, column, etc. is complete (sometimes this can take days).

5. Low pay. I know, you’re shocked. But how many millionaire journalists do you know? We put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) every day, subject ourselves to ridicule and, in return, make less than many Wendy’s managers. Okay. ALL Wendy’s managers.

So why write, you ask? Because I love to . . . ummmm. . . I enjoy . . .Well, I guess it harks back to the day when I tried to type so fast the keys would stick. Not such a problem anymore.

Sigh.