Turkish delight

What qualities are most helpful in navigating Plan B Nation?

Having given this question a lot of thought, I’ve concluded that one of the most important is a capacity for openness. By this I mean, an ability to drop ideas of how life should be — to be open to the unexpected gifts in unexpected detours and derailments.

It wasn’t until Plan B Nation guest blogger Ellen Rabiner asked me to reciprocate that I realized how much this insight owes to my time in Turkey. In a new guest post for Ellen in Turkey, I explain how this came to be.

Wubby’s (sort of) mea culpa: I may not always be an Angel, but I have my reasons.

Angel M Kellogg

I first met Angel M. “Wubby” Kellogg when I was living in Cambridge some years back and began spending a lot of time with her family. While our conversations were few and far between—she is, after all, a dog—we seemed to enjoy a deep unspoken bond. Which is why I was all the more shocked last week when she turned suddenly hostile, refusing to let me into her house despite extensive sweet talk and offerings of Boar’s Head cold cuts.

As some of you may recall, Wubby’s behavior on this unfortunate day became the subject of a recent essay that appeared on this blog. In fairness, I should have sought Wubby’s approval before going public with the incident and apologize for having failed to do so. (It’s the dog thing that put me off—not an excuse, just an explanation.)

For all these reasons, I’m delighted that Wubby has agreed to share her perspective in the following guest post. I’m also grateful to my friend Betsy for assisting Wubby in its preparation (especially given the fact that she doesn’t come off so well).

by Angel M. Kellogg (as transcribed by Betsy Munnell)

Dear Amy (and I do mean “Dear,” despite my unfor­tu­nate behav­ior of the other day),

I too have been hav­ing some somatic com­plaints [See “40 ways to appreciate a kidney stone“], and have found my moods dis­torted by same. When last we met I was a tad hos­tile (mea max­ima culpa), as a direct func­tion of a deeply alarm­ing week spent fre­quent­ing the neigh­bor­hood vet. (So you get the pic­ture, this guy has a photo-portrait of him­self exam­in­ing a mis­er­ably fat cat hung on the wall of the recep­tion area. AND, two cats live at the office all the time. Really?)

So the first time, I had 15 teeth removed and parts of me shaved, because I have “bad saliva” and lousy own­ers, who are too lazy to brush my teeth. I came home feel­ing rot­ten, with antibi­otics and pain killers. And the sec­ond time, the day of our mis­ad­ven­ture, my older sis­ter Cather­ine dragged me in so the vet could look at a sus­pi­cious some­thing on my back. Despite all his expe­ri­ence the guy found it nec­es­sary to shave me, again, within an inch of my life so he could see it. Then he sent me home with antibi­otics and pocket Gree­nies (of which you speak above) and the dubi­ous rec­om­men­da­tion that my fam­ily apply hot com­presses three times a day for 15 min­utes at a stretch (REALLY?).

So I was not a happy puppy when you came in the door that day.

And by the way, I went back on Tues­day (even though I started to shake vio­lently when we turned up Mass. Ave en route past Simon’s to the cat-man’s lair) because I pulled a mus­cle and blamed Betsy for it and wouldn’t sleep with her any­more and she’s depressed. Now, thank God, I have the pain killers again and they’re back to feed­ing me human food and I’m feel­ing more frisky and smil­ing more. I am try­ing to let Betsy come around on her own, because she got way into my space over the pulled mus­cle thing—she hates when I cry. So I’ve been cau­tious about drag­ging my butt along the floor and hump­ing ran­dom legs when I have an urge to dominate—to reduce her stress level.

So you think you’ve had a tough week. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. I wrote up my own Forty (well, 12) Ways to Appre­ci­ate Going to the Vet

1. It wasn’t some­thing worse

2. I wasn’t out of town—the vets on the Vine­yard are too crunchy, and obsessed with irri­tat­ingly serene black dogs

3. Led me to appre­ci­ate chicken, salmon and steak all the more

4. It gave me another way to reflect on the qual­ity of open­ness that I’ve been mulling; the abil­ity to see out­side expec­ta­tions. In brief, my ini­tial ten­dency was to attribute this to hav­ing eaten some bad chicken, salmon or steak.…. In fact, it was some­thing different

5. I told the doc­tor to stop say­ing “Good Girl” and get a life, which was satisfying

6. I know I should be eat­ing more chicken, salmon and steak

7. Another way to remind my fam­ily how much they can’t live with­out me

8. Gave my own­ers a chance to see that when life doesn’t go accord­ing to plans their first pri­or­ity should be me

9. I got those pain pills and had dreams about hav­ing not been spayed

10. Got Betsy to get off freak­ing Face­book and Twit­ter long enough to address more mean­ing­ful concerns

11. Got Betsy to spend more time with me and less at that over-rated Simon’s Cof­fee Shop, where every­one knows her name and she wastes money on WiFi with her over-educated Cam­bridge friends all of whom wear head­phones (Really? who pays for WiFi anymore?)

12. Made me appre­ci­ate Mass­a­chu­setts, where health insur­ance is affordable—leaving more cash left over for chicken, salmon and steak

12. Writ­ing about this gives me a chance to apol­o­gize for my poor behav­ior, and to offer a believ­able excuse, thereby increas­ing the like­li­hood that when you come again you will still have Evergood’s cheese on hand.

Love and licks from me, Wubby

Author’s Note: In the event you still have doubts about my trials and tribulations, consider that the above photo first appeared on Facebook with the following commentary: “Why am I blue? Well, I trotted through a freshly poured sidewalk on Avon Hill Street. My master is an idiot. Note the remains of my cement shoes.” Very diplomatic of me not to have used my master’s name, don’t you think? (By the way, it’s Betsy.)

Editor’s note:  This guest post first appeared as a comment on the original post, where it elicited the following response from Canine Canine’s Eddie:

“Wubby, my most sin­cere com­mis­er­a­tions for your vet­eri­nary ordeal. Some­thing else to be grate­ful for (#13): you did not have to wear the cone of shame like my pal Remy, who came home with a deep gash on his paw and had to get stitches because some jerk left bro­ken glass on the path at Fresh Pond.”

Finally, big thanks to Eddie’s owner Jan for suggesting this guest post’s clever title.

Should you write for free? One author says yes. Here’s why.

Tapping a Pencil

Years back, when I had a full-time job within the not-so-hilarity-filled walls of Harvard Law School, there was one thing I could always count on to brighten my day: 3L Jeremy Blachman’s humor column in the law school’s student paper. (Here’s one of my favorites.)

As it turned out, I was far from the only reader eagerly awaiting Jeremy’s next offering. Unbeknownst to us all, even as he schlepped from class to class in Cambridge, he was (fictionally) thousands of miles away, spewing withering, operatic rants as a West Coast law firm partner—and drawing in thousands of readers with his “Anonymous Lawyer” blog. (One law professor, who used the blog in his class, called it a “cultural phenomenon.”)

“I was just writing satire,” Jeremy said, when he finally revealed himself to the New York Times in late 2004 (and shortly thereafter garnered a major book deal). “In a way I’ve been disappointed that I’ve been able to pull it off. I’ve painted a picture based on a few months of observation and the worst things I saw, heard about, or could imagine about law firms, and experienced lawyers are chiming in, saying: ‘This is exactly what it feels like.’”

Some seven years later, Jeremy continues to write, now from his home in Manhattan. He’s at work on a second novel, as well as a film adaptation of the first, and has written for McSweeney’s and the Wall Street Journal, among other venues.  (And lest there be any doubt, he hasn’t lost his talent for skewering the world of law firms, witness this fictional partner’s memo dating from the economic downturn.) Here, he shares some thoughts about writing, both on and off the clock.

By Jeremy Blachman

Amy e-mailed me last week to ask if I’d write a guest post for Plan B Nation. In her e-mail, she said she felt bad asking me to write for free. She linked to this musician’s post in an online forum:

And, indeed, a quick Google search leads to an endless number of online posts telling people not to give away the milk if you want someone to buy the cow. (Of course, many of these posts seem to either be about actual cows or the raw milk debate, but still, the point is clear.)

I would like to offer hope. In the Plan B Nation economy, a lot of things that might sound silly are not in fact all that silly. In the Plan B Nation economy, I believe writing for free is an actual, legitimate thing to do, even if you have actual, legitimate bills to pay. And I don’t think it’s just about writing. I think the more things you can do for free—the more proof of work you can throw out into the universe—the better off you’ll be. After years of writing things—for free and not for free—I still can’t predict what’s going to bring attention, followers, and potential opportunities, and what isn’t. You don’t know what is going to turn into something real. (And by “real,” I mean useful in paying for actual food.)

Almost a decade ago, I was about to start law school. I was mostly going to law school to buy myself three years—albeit at an astonishingly high cost—to figure out how to be a writer. I had written sketches and songs for the Princeton Triangle Club while an undergrad—and then, having no clue how to turn that into a job as an actual writer, I spent a year and a half working in marketing for a software company. I continued to write on the side—some television scripts, a musical, and some very long e-mails about working in marketing for a software company—and  continued to have no idea what to actually do with my life. To a great extent, I was too risk-averse to move to Los Angeles, be someone’s assistant, and hope that developed into an opportunity to be a writer. Partly because I would be terrible at answering someone’s phones, and partly because I had no idea how the entertainment industry worked.

Having deluded myself into believing that going to law school would open all sorts of doors, I decided, hey, at least I’ll have a degree at the end of three years, and if I can’t figure out how to be a writer, I can be a lawyer. Anyone with any knowledge about anything would have tried to convince me this was a terrible idea, but fortunately I didn’t know any lawyers, had no idea what a law firm was, and didn’t want to spend $25 for the Vault Guide to Corporate Law Careers.

Before starting law school, I happened to read an article about blogging. I decided that starting a blog would be a neat experiment to force me to write every day, and the blog would give me a place to try and turn the law school experience into some sort of comedy. I had never read any blogs, and I knew nothing of the blog world. On August 8, 2002, having received my 1L course schedule in the mail, I began writing.

Cut to a year and a half later. The first e-mail I’d sent with my Harvard Law account was to the Crimson to see if I could write for them. Grad students, they quickly informed me, were not allowed to write for the storied college paper. Instead, I pitched a humor column to the law school paper, and started writing there weekly. My blog had about 700 readers a day, which seemed like a nice number. But it hadn’t gotten me any closer to being a writer for real. My roommate had no idea why I was wasting my time writing for free on the Internet. I could pretend I had a plan, but I didn’t.

I had spent my 1L summer working for eight weeks for a small publishing company and six weeks for a political media firm—both jobs I had found entirely outside the law school career services system—but I figured that over my 2L summer I would try out a law firm, so that at least I would be making an informed decision about what to do post-law school. I interviewed, I got an offer, I accepted the offer. I hadn’t blogged much about the interview experience, for the (sensible) fear that it would hurt my chances. On a whim, 2L spring, thinking maybe there could be some funny blog posts to write in the voices of some of the partners who had interviewed me, I started a second blog, an anonymous blog about an over-the-top, evil lawyer, playing on all the stereotypes I’d heard, and exaggerating the details I’d seen in the interview process.

Now my roommate had no idea why I wasting my time writing two blogs for free on the Internet.

I was not entirely sure either.

The first blog ended up being a year and a half of practice for the anonymous one, which, thanks to some beneficial links early on, quickly grew a larger audience than the blog with my name on it. For a brief moment, I found this irritating. “Why are more people reading my anonymous blog than my real one?” Eight months later, after having used my summer associate experience to obtain more details I could grossly and unfairly exaggerate, the New York Times wrote a story about “Anonymous Lawyer,” revealing that I was the writer behind it. I got over 500 e-mails that weekend, including a bunch from agents and publishers, and I ended up with a book deal to turn the blog into the Anonymous Lawyer novel.

I was, of course, very lucky—I am certain that I benefited a great deal from the accidental timing of my blog. It hit just as blogs were becoming mainstream enough for publishers to start getting interested, but not so far along the curve that bookstores were filled with books built off blogs. I sold a television pitch based on the book to Sony and NBC and worked with them for two years on a sitcom adaptation. I’m currently working on a film version and have other scripts I’ve been writing, along with a second novel. All of this emerged from writing I was doing for free, without any idea about where it would lead.

That’s what’s great about this Plan B Nation economy. Sure, perhaps no one is going to pay you up front. But the Internet makes the world where people do get paid accessible to anyone, and you never know if—or when, or how—you’re going to be found, and what your free work might lead to.

I still write for free because I don’t know what might next hit. (I also write for pay, if anyone out there is open to pitches; feel free to e-mail me.) As it happens, the most e-mails I’ve gotten recently have been after pieces I’ve written for the humor site McSweeney’s, for free. There is no shame in writing for free. Amy had nothing to feel bad about.

Jeremy Blachman is a freelance writer and the author of Anonymous Lawyer, a comic novel about corporate law. He welcomes e-mail.

6 things that cracked me up in 2011

The Happiest Place On Earth

Who needs positive thinking when you have a dark sense of humor?

This was my Facebook status update on Tuesday, billed as my “Insight of the Day.” (Actually, it was my first and only insight likely to be so labeled, but Facebook  is forgiving that way.)

In any case, I’ve been thinking a lot about humor lately—and the critical role it’s played during my past year in Plan B Nation. Of all the qualities that serve us well in this place of uncertainty—optimism, gratitude, and perseverance, being just a few—humor is perhaps the only one that comes naturally to me.

People often tell me that I am funny, and it’s true that sometimes I can be, but where I really excel is in recalling funny things I’ve read and heard. In that spirit, here are six things that cracked me up this year—and helped make my roller coaster search for work both bearable and (at times) entertaining.

1. I’m sorry I bit you during my job interview: For most of us in Plan B Nation, job interviews are serious stuff.  In any case, rest assured that whatever happened at your last interview, it was nowhere near as bad as this guy’s.

2.  And that’s why you should learn to pick your battles: But perhaps you are totally sick of thinking about jobs, work, the economy, or anything remotely related to any of these. If so, perhaps the time has come to spend some time reflecting on BIG METAL CHICKENS.  Seriously, I recommend it. You’ll be glad that you did.

3. Adventures in depression: Still, no doubt about it, life in Plan B Nation can really suck, and you may find yourself becoming just a teensy bit clinically depressed. In which case, I’d like to introduce you to this darkly hilarious little cartoon about how even the saddest among us can still find a way through.

4.  Why yoga can be so irritating (although you should go anyway!): Of course, one of the best ways to avoid depression is regular exercise. Yoga has the added benefit of fostering a deep sense of connection to the world around us—except when it doesn’t.

5.  An honest Facebook political argument: Just because you are home alone on your computer looking for work doesn’t mean you can’t take part in discussions of the major issues of the day.  And where better to do this than Facebook?

6. Need a role model? If so, look no further than bestselling author Laura Zigman, whose Xtranormal video series has quickly been gaining a cult following and offers textbook examples of Plan B Nation humor.

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I hope you enjoyed these. Please help add to my collection! Share your personal 2011 favorites in the comment section below.