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.

* * *

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