Tag Archives: humor writing

A Short History of the List

To-do lists on post it notesOne day I woke up and found lists all around me.

They were telling me what I needed to do, what I wanted to do, restaurants I had to try, the must-read books of the year, bills I hadn’t paid, people who owed me money, action items from meetings I’d forgotten, and other things I absolutely could not forget. The lists covered the walls and lay heaped on the ground, were pouring out of the closet and bursting from drawers.

I was completely surrounded by them and immediately began to panic, the weight of all this crucial information bearing down on me with the force of an anvil, paralyzing me from acting at all or crossing even one item off one list.

So instead of beginning my work, I waded through the lists to my computer and began to procrastinate. I looked up the history of the list.

At the dawn of time, when all the earth’s matter and energy had been vomited up from the great unknown, the sole purpose of each individual bit of matter and anti-matter was this: to become more complex. Billions of years later, after a couple supernovas and other heavy-element producing astrological events, humans evolved and shortly thereafter started wearing trousers. Roughly around that time, the clock was invented. Prior to trouser-wearing and time-minding, the human’s to-do list looked something like this:

1. Survive

Or maybe like this:

1. Obtain food

2. Eat

3. Talk to Mom

At any rate, it was incredibly short because the basic tasks that went into a productive day were obvious and didn’t need to be remembered because if they weren’t, death would result shortly after. But in the time of trouser-wearing, the basic tools for survival became a bit murkier. It was no longer necessary to worry about obtaining food. It was readily available. Survival, too, turned out to be slightly easier than before, due to advances in leeching and humour-reading. All of the sudden, the question of “what do I do now” became much more profound.  It was no longer “what do I need to do today so I don’t die” but “what do I need to do today so I can do what I need to do tomorrow” and so on and so forth in a never ending cycle of perpetual productivity.

That’s when the humans invented lists, an all-powerful demigod that would tell them what they needed to do today in order to prosper tomorrow, or be happy, or avoid debtor’s prison, or remember the things they already knew.

Soon, lists became too complicated to understand, so it was necessary to develop a system where the lists could be listed, organized and distilled into something intelligible. Soon even that was too complicated to understand, so further reduction processes were undertaken and so on and so forth in an eternal battle between existing knowledge, and the desire to remember and act upon it.

There is a legend among the hill people of San Francisco that soon there will be one List that descends from the heavens, restoring order to the world and a sense of purpose, the List to end them all, to forever guide and inform, to comfort and encourage.

Until that day, the list demons proliferate, accusing their victims of sloth, of indirection, of forgetfulness. And the victims accept gladly, and create even more lists. Occasionally, on the most unusual of days, a list gets crossed off completely and disappears. Most often, however, the lists torment the list-maker to a point of madness or indifference, which could be the same thing. It depends on your perspective.

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What Improv Taught Me About Life

Life lessons from improvSo I started taking improv classes. I just did it for fun, and to meet other people and find out if my humor could translate to the stage. Three months later, I’ve accomplished almost all of my improvising goals, including being told by the teacher to try “less yelling.”

Unexpectedly, I also learned things that are useful for life, lessons I believe are helping me become better at sucking out the marrow of life’s ribs.

Other people have also found improv valuable. Heck, this guy even wrote a blog with the same title as mine.  It’s valuable for writers who want to write better, for actors who want to act better, and for humans who want to human better. The really incredible thing is that I have different points to make than these other chucklenuts. Let’s get going.

1. Live in the moment

It’s impossible to improv effectively if you’re inside your head, thinking about how the act is going, what you should do next, or what you could have done better. Every moment spent inside your skull monologue-ing to yourself, is  moment your body is occupying space onstage and going nowhere. Be present. Don’t over-think it. Silence the inner critic.

The same thing applies to living. How can you live effectively if you’re always thinking of what you could do better, judging yourself, or comparing yourself to other people. Life is going on outside your skull, and it’s meant to be lived, not tiptoed around.

2. You have a body

All day long, we use this body of ours to do things like type on computers, sit in chairs, stare at powerpoint presentations, make coffee, see patients, put on clothing, digest food, pick other people’s noses, etc. But how often are we conscious of it, of the weight we support on our frame, of the way our ankle feels when the other one is resting on it, the rhythm of our own heartbeat, the blood in our veins and the juices in our stomach.

Taking a moment to consider the universe of our own being is somehow relaxing. It helps define a space for me, reaffirms my existence, and helps me connect to the essence of what I am, namely, a being made of animated atoms. Wild, isn’t it?

3. There’s no right answer

Improv is not about being funny. It doesn’t matter if you say “thumb-flavored jello snacks” instead of “a pink ruler,” so long as you say something. The reality is that everything is right and good. My partner throws out something about being in a kitchen. Awesome. Yes. Or maybe she throws out something about me as her daughter that’s recently been having trouble wetting the bed. Awesome. Yes.

In life, I get so caught up with trying to find the ‘right’ idea or the ‘best’ idea that I don’t end up trying anything at all. I’m paralyzed by indecision, and the end result is much worse than if I’d run with something and improved it along the way.

4. Nothing’s funnier than the truth

Yes, space aliens that sprout wings anytime someone says the word “kerfuffle” are interesting, but so are work crushes, parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers, churches, bars, hair salons, the whole mix and everything. Our everyday life and relationships are incredibly rich, laden with beauty, pain, and humor.

What makes improv really great, and all humor really great, is its ability to relate to the truth in a unique way or portray it in a new light. That’s the gotcha moment, when all of the sudden you’re on the floor crying from laughter because of a scene about someone eating a donut. That’s where the real magic is, it’s in the everyday, the mundane, and the banal. That’s also the title of my next improv show. I hope you come.

P.S. I’ve been taking improv with Leela and am really enjoying the classes. If you’re in the Bay Area, you should definitely check them out.

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BREAKING NEWS: Fox News Found Playing at San Francisco Cafe

Fox News at a Cafe in San FranciscoSAN FRANCISCO, CA — It was just another sunny Sunday morning in the Inner Sunset district of San Francisco. Parents were out walking their children and their dogs on the way to wait in line at breakfast places while the merchants of the local farmer’s market were displaying their produce and engaging with potential customers.

In the cafes, baristas prepared morning brews for a hungover or elderly clientele and the world rested and rejoiced in the last day of the weekend. Everything seemed right in the world. Birds flew, leaves rustled in the wind, and internet flowed endlessly to mobile devices.

But unbeknownst to the outside world, a cataclysmic clash of paradigms was occurring inside one humble San Francisco cafe, Cafe la Flore. Someone in this daring establishment had chosen to eschew cultural norms, and instead of CNN or MSNBC on the flatscreen,  this cultural deviant put on Fox news.

Yes indeed, Fox news was the choice of this humble cafe, the channel that has been called by locals a conservative propaganda machine, the opiate of barbaric and uneducated rubes, and in one case, the mouth of Sauron himself.

The very name evokes scoffing or even disdain from the average San Franciscan, who has never watched the channel except when there happened to be clips from it on The Colbert Report or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The gluten-free, vegetarian, and meat-loving liberal hordes dursn’t set eyes on the accursed channel lest their rational minds be perverted by the conservative backwash spewing from the two tongued mouths of Fox News robber barons.

Yet, in the face of this considerable cultural discrimination, some brave and likely isolated soul has hissed into the face of the liberal majority, defying them with a quiet yet potent act of subversion.

The world outside this cafe continues on, oblivious to the astonishing and all-together unforgettable political tension here in Cafe La Flore, but I and the man next to me both know the significance of this day. Though we shall never speak of it, we will always remember Sunday, March 10th, 2013: the day the world stood still inside the cafe and thought about political biases.

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What I’ve learned from speed-walking to work in San Francisco

Speed walkingSome people drive to work. Others bike or hop on the train, bus, light-rail, or ferry. Still others run, walk, scoot, or rollerblade. There are, perhaps, a few that cartwheel, skip, grapevine, ride a hovercraft, tesselate, or apparate.

But it is a small minority indeed that speed-walks to work. In fact, from what I can see, I’m the only SWLKR, making me the Bay Area’s foremost speed-walking commuter.

Speed-walking is like walking, except faster and dorkier. I like to keep my arms up and moving at a brisk pace to avoid finger swell, one of the foremost dangers of long periods of speed-walking.

As the Bay Area’s expert SWLKR, you probably have a lot of questions for me, and these I am happy to answer if you leave them in the comments below.

For now, I give you 10 tidbits, just a sample of the mind-juice I’ve squeezed from my walking grapes.

1. No one else speed-walks to work.

2. Speed-walking past someone is, by far, the most awkward way to pass someone. Especially if there’s a stoplight coming up. And they’re your co-worker. And you stand behind them because you don’t want them to see you in your tennies and backsweat. And then you walk at a normal pace so you don’t have to talk to them, but end up taking the elevator with them anyways.

3. Speed-walking up a hill makes one look just as foolish and out of shape as running on a flat stretch of land.

4. Speed-walkers get more love from the general public than other kinds of commuters. To date, I’ve gotten two thumbs up, countless smiles, and one (friendly) comment.

5. If you’re speed-walking, it’s a shorter step to running across the street to avoid waiting for a red light than if you’re just walking.

6. Wearing tennies, athletic capri pants, and a backpack in downtown San Francisco at 7:45 am in the morning is a great way to avoid fitting in with the corporate culture or getting respect from people who dole it out based on appearance.

7. Sweat still happens, but like most liquids, it dries.

8. People are often frightened by speed-walkers, the bizarre combination of quick but not-too quick movement that makes them think someone’s trying to sneak up on them but no it’s just me, your friendly office employee heading downtown to do some thought work.

9. There are three major hills I have to overcome as I head into town from the Richmond, but they don’t always pay off in beautiful views. Rather, the views come when you least expect them, like when I saw the Golden Gate bridge randomly yesterday and a rainbow today.

10. Beauty is everywhere. I saw a bird fly from a blossoming tree branch as two flowers fell to the ground and thought it was incredible. Then I realized what a romantic sap I was and that I probably shouldn’t share that moment with anyone.

11. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see something new everyday. And I think that’s the most important lesson of all.

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My life through the songs I’ve screamed

Chapter 1: Edmond, Oklahoma-“Under Pressure” by Queen

I was concurrently enrolled at the local community college my last year of high school. This was not, as most people assume, because of my insatiable love for learning. I took college classes because it  gave me a shortened school day that I could use to work on my television-watching hobbies.

My house was roughly a four minute drive from the high school and yes I drove every day. I’m from Oklahoma–unnecessary wheeled transit is what we do best.

On the way home from school my last semester in Oklahoma, as soon as I got in the car I would blast “Under Pressure” by Queen. I had to get the timing just right, in order to match the song with the drive. I loved nothing more than getting in every little “Umm ba da” or “Dee dee dee dee” right along with Freddie and then screaming at the very end, right as I was entering my neighborhood “WHY CAN’T WE GIVE OURSELVES ONE MORE CHANCE.”

As I was pulling into the driveway, “This is our last chance, this is ourselves, under pressure…….” And then I would switch off the ignition and run inside and make a cup of noodles for lunch and watch an episode of one of my hobbies.

Chapter 2: Boston, Massachusetts- “Endless Rope” by Patty Griffin

I went to college at Boston University with no time to transition out of a crush with a German man 5 years older than me or my ongoing crush on Conan O’Brien. I was also unprepared to be lonely and uncertain of where my best friends were. This led to me to identify with songs by Patty Griffin with lyrics like, “Say goodbye to the old streets that never cared much for you anyway…different colored doorways you thought would let you in one day” or “Sometimes all I can do is weep weep weep with all the rain coming down.”

I often found myself walking back to my dorm late at night. The street would be mostly deserted and the night city felt like a secret. One of my favorite things to do while I was walking alone beneath the street lights and watching the stoplights turn green and crossing in the middle of the road was belt out the song “Nobody’s Crying.”

I would scream the end of the chorus, “Just have this secret hope, sometimes all we do is cope, somewhere on the steepest slope, there’s an endless rope, and nobody’s crying.” Note: I was never crying when I sang this song. Note: that’s probably not true.

Chapter 3: Cairo, Egypt-“Rolling in the Deep” by Adele

My second apartment in Cairo was located about a 20 minute walk from the nearest metro stop, a 20 minute walk along a highway that I would take every morning and evening.

In order to pass the time and forget my unfortunate location in an exhaust cloud on the freeway, I memorized songs, one of which was Rolling in the Deep. I would sing it at the top of my lungs while weaving through traffic, and go somewhere else in my head. I believed no one could hear me from the noise of the traffic, and I never felt more free than when the sun was setting and I could hear myself above the chaos screaming “YOU HAD MY HEART INSIDE OF YOUR HANDS” against the honks and the vrooms and the noise of a revolution settling.

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