Friday, November 30, 2007

Bite Into These Beans

The Harry Potter phenomenon has given birth to any number of products spun off from the original novels by J.K. Rowling, including movies, calendars, mugs, bed linens, pajamas, board games and too many others to list here.

One of the most popular products to come on the market as a Harry Potter tie-in is Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, which of course are one of the treats enjoyed by Harry and his friends in the books. One of the unique things about Bott’s Beans is their unusual flavor palette. When you bite into one of these jellybeans, you might be welcomed by a traditional sweet flavor, such as cherry or licorice, but you also might find (to your horror or pleasure, depending on your bent) that you have bitten into a jellybean featuring flavors such as pickle, sausage, booger, vomit, rotten egg, earwax or dirt.

From what I hear, kids love the “nasty” flavors, even if they say they are disgusted by them. I’m sure that the shock value of biting into earwax and vomit has probably subsided a bit by now, since so many kids have experienced that, so I am proposing some new “gross” flavors that the manufacturers might want to consider.

Proposed New Flavors of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans:

Theater seat gum
Chinese toy factory
Liquid paper
Ship channel spume
Witch hazel
Dog breath
Taxi seat
Nursing bra
Charismatic preacher sweat
Baby burp
Grandpa’s mustache

Thursday, November 29, 2007

If a Blogger Posts in the Forest, and No One Reads Him, Did He Really Have Anything To Say?

Well, it finally happened. Less than a week after I started posting to Muley's World again (after an eight-month hiatus), one of my old blogger friends, for some inexplicable reason, dropped by and discovered my return.

I told her in answering her kind comment that I wasn't sure how long I would be "back" because I wasn't exactly sure why I resumed blogging in the first place. I still am not, so I'm going to try and figure that out by writing this.

I started Muley's World and wrote my first tentative post way back in May 2005. It was done totally on a whim, after a friend who had a Xanga told me how easy it was and I found out that she was correct. It was easy and fun, and didn't require lots of expensive equipment, leave stains on the carpet or lead to social diseases or flatulence.

When I began Muley's World, I knew almost nothing about the blogosphere. The only blog I visited on any sort of regular basis was Dawn Eden's, and I didn't have a good idea of just who made up the blogosphere and why they had signed on.

I got into blogging for what I now see were wrong reasons, at least given the prevailing two-way, social, chatting-over-the-back-fence nature of the blogosphere. I have been a writer since my earliest days, and writing -- whether the result was a story, a column, a poem, a song lyric or a play -- was always an invigorating and challenging activity for me. I wasn't one of those strictly discipined and motivated people who can make themselves write every single day and always keep a significant long-range goal in mind for what they produce. I just like to write. In the same way some people love to work crosswords or fashion a gourmet meal from scratch, I enjoy the challenge of stringing random words together to make something greater than the whole. It's a puzzle I enjoy solving over and over again -- can I take this one absurdly simple idea, or this somewhat humorous picture in my mind, and expand it well enough to make a cogent, readable and (hopefully) humorous piece of prose out of it?

It was in this mindset, then, that I began Muley's World. I saw this blog as a wonderful new toy. Somehow, for absolutely no cost, I had been offered my own newspaper or magazine, to do with whatever I wanted. There were no boundaries at all! I could write essays, short stories, poetry, critiques, autobiographical memoirs -- heck, I could even type out my grocery lists -- and then publish them for an audience that conceivably could include readers in every country in the world. Wow! I was brimming with ideas and couldn't wait to get my words pixelated on the page.

Of course, I hoped that people would somehow find their way to my site and read what I had written. They soon did, thanks in part to a gracious, totally unexpected and wildly ego-stroking promo by Dawn Eden on her blog, and I was most pleased with the way things were working out. In the space of a few short weeks I had gone from being a somewhat frustrated wannabe writer to the owner and editor of an online publication that was attracting notice across the country. (In a small sense, of course -- no need to cue the John WIlliams orchestral score to begin here).

It didn't take me long, however, before I discovered that the blogosphere was a bit different than I'd first imagined it to be. I learned that blogs are expected to be quite communal little creatures. By blogging, you are in effect asking people -- strangers -- not only to read what you write, but to give you feedback on what you write through comments left after each post. If you simply read those comments, but do not return the favor by visiting the blogs written by the commentors and leaving comments of your own, you stand accused of being a (gasp) "lurker," a person who is considered to be as slimy and creepy and downright nasty as that ominous term implies.

In other words, if someone writes a column in a print publication and you read it without immediately mailing off a letter to the editor, you are considered normal. However, if you read that same author's columns online without once leaving a comment, you are considered a lurker who might just as well be peeping into the shutters of adolescent girls' bedrooms around bathtime.

Now, I am as social as the next person (well, almost), but I also have a huge shy, private streak. I didn't get into blogging as the means to a social end -- to meet women (I'm married) or to find a publisher (not actively, at least) or to discover new soulmates or beer buddies. I just wanted to write, and, as a secondary goal, to see if what I wrote might by some wonderful luck be interesting to anyone else. That's all.

I think of myself as a kind, caring and fair person, however, and I could understand why neglecting to even visit the sites of people who regularly visited mine, much less neglecting to read their pieces and leave comments in turn, could be viewed as selfish and unfair. I mean, after all, if I want you to visit my site, shouldn't I return the favor? Isn't that the Monroe Doctrine? Or is that the Geneva Convention?

And so I did visit. Often. As more and more people visited Muley's World, my blogroll got larger and larger, and I began rolling up into the driveway of the sites of my newfound cyberfriends on a regular basis. I learned a lot and laughed a lot, and got to enjoy stopping in for chatty, witty téte-a-tétes.

After a while, though, all of that cyber surfing started to feel less like an enjoyable hobby and more like a job with lots of overtime. Checking my site, reading any comments left, leaving responding comments on my site, then visiting the sites of the commenters, reading their new posts, leaving new comments, checking on my previous day's comments to see if those had been replied to and leaving a set of follow-up comments if necessary -- as that routine grew to encompass more than 20 blogs a day, I started having to steal time from work and family to keep up with it all. And, like it never had before, writing began feeling like a chore, an obligation, something I had to do or else I would let people down.

So I stopped. Cold. Twice.

Now I'm back, wondering why. Am I like an alcoholic who has been sober for months, wanting to test whether he can have a few teensy weensy sips of light wine each day without ending up in the gutter again? I haven't even told my wife or my friends that I've begun posting again at Muley's World -- that's how unsure I still am about all of this.

I do know one thing. I can't get back to that incredibly time-consuming whirl of blog-checking and drive-by commenting that I was on before. I don't think that means I never want to trade thoughts with my wonderfully sharp and funny cyber friends. Why deny myself that pleasure? But I don't think I can let that aspect of blogging guide what I do. To keep writing (and to keep sane) I think I need to adopt the philosophy that I will best serve my friends by hopefully writing things they might read to add a laugh or a provocative thought to their day. Period. Anything that I might be able to do beyond that will be gravy.


I'm reading back over what I've just written and it all sounds so smug, so incredibly selfish. "I am such a writing talent that you should feel honored and lucky just to have the chance to read what I deem you are worthy to read." But I assure you that is not my intention.

You know what this blog is for me? Above all, it's not a vehicle to allow me to attract praise, but a tool that motivates me to get off my butt and do what I know I really want to do down deep inside, which is write.

If I get what I think is a great idea or a funny scenario in my head, and all I do is chuckle to myself about it and then resume my daily drudgery, then it's gone forever, and I've remained a lazy and flabby writer wannabe. If, however, I know that I have a blog that hasn't been updated in a while, I am motivated to take that small idea, chew on it, ruminate on it, let it spur my imagination to flex its muscles, and then let it lead me running to the keyboard to see if I can somehow corral all the wild thoughts flying around my mind into something cohesive and understandable. It's an incredibly fun test of skill that I never get tired of.

Then, after I have completed whatever piece I have written, if I think it's something worth sharing, if I think it's something that might be of value to someone else, then I have this wonderfully convenient thing called Muley's World where I can throw it in and let whomever wishes look at it. They can like it, they can hate it, but either way, it now exists in tangible form and I've had fun creating it.

This, as you see, is not at all the traditional model of most blogs, which seems to be basically "tell me about your day and I'll tell you about mine." Frankly, recounting most of my days would probably bore even your dullest friends and relatives, but maybe I can conjure up enough goofiness in my imagination to make all of you smile.

If there is anyone still reading this (and that is a highly doubtful proposition) I apologize for this very atypical Oprah-like confessional from me. I don't as a rule like to make my navel-gazing public. But more than anything, I wanted to wrestle with the issue of why I am blogging again to try and find the answer in my own mind, and if sharing some of that process with you in print has left you cold (or approaching REM sleep), I apologize.

I am glad to be back -- whatever that may mean. I thank Emma and any other longtime Muley readers who want to stop by, and I look forward to doing my best to return the favor from time to time. Above all, I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to stop talking to myself in public places and once again have a socially approved outlet for my malady.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Turning a Page in Life

Isn’t it entirely possible that each of us harbors some sort of fantasy involving “leaving it all behind,” “it” being the secure job, the 9-to-5 existence, the totally tethered life, and heading out for unknown places as a romantic, risk-taking, free-spirited vagabond?

I think so, and recently I met someone who not only acknowledges those fantasies, but is doing something tangible to make them happen. It was at our public library’s used book sale, where I was working. I was in the “Hold” area, where people who fill bags full of dog-eared books they want to buy can temporarily stash them so that they can go out on the floor again, arms free, to buy even more.

When I got to the Hold area to begin my shift, I noticed about 20 bags full of books marked “T.Baker,” and wondered who this person was. I finally met her when she came to drop off another bag, and over the next few hours (as she dropped off probably 10 more bags) I got to know a bit more about why she was seemingly so book-crazy. She was in her late 20s or early 30s, and had driven in from a city more than three hours away to attend the sale.

When I first spoke to her, I told her I had come up with three possible theories to explain her mounting pile of bags:

1. She was preparing to move to an incredibly remote part of Alaska, where the nearest library, post office or Fedex station was a two-week journey by kayak and dogsled;

2. She was an insatiable reader, a literary nymphomaniac, devouring books like a drug addict pops pills; or

3. She was buying stock for a bookstore.

It turns out that the third scenario was correct, but the woman was not just dutifully buying stock to throw on the shelves of some dusty strip center bookstore. No, she has a full-time day job in a big city at a big corporation (which she despises) and knows that she is scheduled to get laid off in 2008. I’ve never met someone so happy (and eager!) to get canned.

Preparing for unemployment, she has started an online used bookselling business in her spare time, selling books through both eBay and That’s why she was buying all these books (more than a thousand dollar’s worth by the end). When she finally loses her steady job, she intends to sell used books full time, traveling across the country, hitting library used book sales, thrift stores and garage sales to buy new stock. She won’t get rich, she knows, but she says she loves books, and travel, and this is a dream of hers to combine those two. And, in her new career, every Ding Dong or Whopper or convenience store munchie she buys while traveling will be tax deductible.

I have to say, the idea of being able to head out on the road, at your own pace and on your own timetable, and go wherever your heart leads you, is a tempting one for me. Of course, if I tried to imagine the details of her situation at all, the picture gets a bit less rosy – the bad food, the smelly stores and rude people, living lean when sales are down, sleeping in cheap motels or even the back seat of the car to save money, being alone at night in yet another small town – some or all of that might indeed be ahead of her, but she isn’t worried about that now. She’s gloriously happy and excited by life, and it shows.

Given the chance, and even forced to do so by circumstance, wouldn’t we all be willing to leave behind the computer screen and the telephone and day planner and interoffice memos, and just fly away singing? At least on some days I think we just might, and damn the odds.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The World On Ice

I just heard that there is now a version of "High School Musical" on ice. This confirms my belief that, eventually, all forms of entertainment, art and human expression will strap on skates and move onto the rink. Here's just a few shows we should be seeing advertised before we know it:

Citizen Kane On Ice
WWF Smackdown On Ice
Glengarry Glen Ross On Ice
The Christie Brinkley/Chuck Norris Infomercial On Ice
"Don't Tase Me, Bro" On Ice
The Battle of Midway On Ice (reenactment)
Dark Side of the Moon On Ice
The O.J. Simpson Kidnapping Trial, Live, On Ice
The Daytona 500 On Ice
TLC's What Not to Wear On Ice
Ken Burns' The Civil War On Ice

and, in a final ironic twist,

Al Gore's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, On Ice