February 13, 2014 § 1 Comment
Just wanted to draw your attention over to my serial novel Slash‘s first major review: 5 stars from IndieReader.com!
They’ve got plenty of flattering things to say about the writing, characters, and plotting, but for our purposes at The Oldest Jokes in the World, I’ll just share the pull quote from the top of the page: “SLASH is a masterfully done serial novel that anyone who appreciates well–written fiction should find to be an enriching read, artfully both comedic and dramatic.” The emphasis there is mine, because, as long-time readers of this blog will know, that blending of the comedic and dramatic is one of my main literary aims. I gather from writers I admire that it is generally best not to let the reviews affect your work one way or the other, but it was really encouraging and affirming to see that readers are not only understanding but enjoying what I’ve put so much work into.
You can read the full review here and learn more about Slash at www.slashserial.com. And to celebrate the good press, ebooks of Episodes One and Two are now just 99 cents each at Amazon and Smashwords!
March 1, 2013 § 1 Comment
I’m very excited to be heading to the A.W.P. Conference and Bookfair in Boston next week. For those that don’t know, AWP (The Association of Writers and Writing Programs) is an awesome organization that does all sorts of great things for writer/educators. They publish a magazine, run an awards series, and provide many other means for writers to connect—but their biggest event every year is the annual Conference and Bookfair.
The conference features keynote addresses and readings by famous authors every night, as well as an exhausting schedule of interactive panel discussions every day. Even better, in my opinion, is the bookfair: conference hall after conference hall filled with presses, each with their own table covered in hardcovers, trades, chapbooks, and swag. Too big to be called a dream, it is more of a bibliophile’s inescapable visionary coma.
I have attended each of the last three years, and it keeps getting bigger and crazier, so I’m looking forward to what it will look like in Boston. My main goal this year is to research self-publishing and self-promotion options for the serial novel I’m going to start publishing this September, but I always end up learning something by surprise when I am there as well.
For example, at the conference in Chicago last year, I attended a panel on jokes featuring Stephen Goodwin, Richard Bausch, Robert Bausch, Jill McCorkle, and Alan Shapiro, and their hilarious discussion of humor in literature (which quickly turned into a joke-off) inspired me to start this blog.
As a result, I’m going to dedicate the next few weeks of blogging to an AWP jokealong. While at the conference, I’ll be on the hunt for the best obscure literary puns and writerly anecdotes, and I’ll update you on my progress on Friday. Then on the Friday after, once I’m home, I’ll compile my findings in an official jokealong post.
That said, if you’re going to be in Boston, too, we should meet up and trade a joke or two. I’d love to meet some of you blogging-buddies in real-life, so drop a comment if you’re going to be there!
And since I don’t want to leave you without a Friday laugh, here’s one of the funnier anecdotes I heard at last year’s conference, told by Richard Bausch:
The novelist Jon Hassler was working on a book in a cabin up in the woods somewhere north of Duluth, Minnesota, and something very bad happened to the sump pump. There was a kind of methane explosion after the toilet backed up awfully and so he had to call a plumber. The plumber was wiping raw sewage off the walls and standing in it up to his ankles. “People told me you were up here working on a book or something? I mean you’re that writer guy from Minneapolis, right?”
“Yes,” Hassler said.
The plumber shook his head almost wistfully, with a kind of pity. “Don’t know how you can do that kind of work.”
February 22, 2013 § 1 Comment
I just added a new “page” to the blog, collecting the last few months worth of posts I wrote on the dichotomy between spontaneous wit and prepared jokes under the title “Why Did Kerouac Cross the Road?”
I didn’t start out planning to include much Kerouac, but after he worked his way into the high school anecdote I started the discussion with, I quickly realized he was almost the pure human embodiment of the spontaneous side of the argument, so I kept referring back to him. Plus, it was fun playing around with the “Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?”/On the Road connections. In any event, writing these posts helped rekindling a long-smoldering love for Jack, so I’ll included his “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose: List of Essentials” here as our final thoughts on the art of spontaneity.
BELIEF & TECHNIQUE FOR MODERN PROSE
LIST OF ESSENTIALS
- Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
- Submissive to everything, open, listening
- Try never get drunk outside yr own house
- Be in love with yr life
- Something that you feel will find its own form
- Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
- Blow as deep as you want to blow
- Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
- The unspeakable visions of the individual
- No time for poetry but exactly what is
- Visionary tics shivering in the chest
- In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
- Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
- Like Proust be an old teahead of time
- Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
- The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
- Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
- Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
- Accept loss forever
- Believe in the holy contour of life
- Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
- Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
- Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
- No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
- Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
- Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
- In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
- Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
- You’re a Genius all the time
- Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven
Thanks again for reading. I’m not sure what my next big series of posts will be on, but I do have an extra-special jokealong planned for the next month, so check back for more details next week!
February 8, 2013 § 4 Comments
As an addendum to our ongoing discussion of the dichotomy between wit and composed jokes, I want to take this week out to discuss racist, homophobic, and sexist humor. Last post, in linking wit to liberalism and jokes to conservatism, I used hate humor as evidence, pointing out that our culture’s vast catalogue of such jokes serve to conserve prestige and privilege for the group telling them.
Proofreading right before posting, though, I realized I had missed a possible contradiction to my argument: racist wit. If the divide between wit and jokes is really like a road that humor crosses back and forth over, it makes sense that there would be a sort of wit that would correspond to jokes that rely on hate speech. Does such a wit exist, and if so, would it mean that wit isn’t actual the liberal side of the street?
Irresponsible, I know, but I posted anyway and decided to figure out if what I had written was right or wrong later. And after a week of consideration, I think I was right all along: there is no such thing as hateful wit. I might just be trying to make the world into what I want it to be with this line of reasoning, but I truly believe that wit is by definition open and searching, and as a result, closed-minded comments can never really be witty.
What ultimately convinced me of this was considering examples from life. Most of the hate humor I’ve come across has, thankfully, not been from my friends and family but at work, where we don’t have as much power choosing our conversation partners. For example, for a while I was forced to work closely with a particularly miserable guy we’ll call K; whenever the rest of us at work would get a nice, convivial, and witty conversation going, he’d have to interject his a racist, sexist, or homophobic comment to get in on the fun. But it never came across as witty, just another instance of K trying to force his agenda on our otherwise free-ranging conversation.
(Looking back, I don’t think K’s agenda was propagating a misogynist worldview as much as satiating his need to control the conversation, making everyone feel uncomfortable so he could feel power. I think there was a bit of jealousy in it, as well; unwilling or unable to open himself up to the creativity of wit, he was often left behind in our conversations and probably wanted to ruin what he couldn’t participate in.)
All hate humor has an agenda; even it’s most spontaneous expression is built on preconceived notions for the purpose further propagating those notions—and as such, it is never pure wit. Finding the opportune moment to say what you’ve been wanting to say is a different thing than finding the novel words this fresh moment demands. As such, hate humor is also the enemy of conversation; a moment of such forced “wit” will always end a conversation uncomfortably if the audience doesn’t agree (as with K) or tighten it into something less than a conversation, as all the participants talk only to reinforce their shared opinions instead of exchanging foreign ideas.
February 1, 2013 § 3 Comments
Unfortunately, we’re going to skip the jokealong this Friday. I jumped into the third draft of a novel this week and feel I’m too deep into the problems with the old draft to do much other creative work for the next few days. Luckily, I have a guest post up on Ross Gale’s blog this week so you won’t have to miss me. Just click the image below to check it out.
Ross runs a great blog full of thought provoking and creativity inspiring content for writers. Ross was one of the first people to reach out to me when I was still struggling to start this blog, making me feel like I was part of a community when I was wondering what the point of it all was; he has a great way of fostering dialogue when so much of blogging feels like a bunch of writers who aren’t willing to read. As a result, I was thrilled when he asked me to participate in his Writers Series about how writers with day jobs persevere.
“One Day at a Time” is a little more serious (and juicily personal!!!) than what I normally write for The Oldest Jokes in the World, so if you came here for laughs and only feel somberer, you should check out this cool interview of George Saunders from The Colbert Report—he talks about how short stories are like jokes!
January 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
Since people are continually stumbling onto The Oldest Jokes in the World in search of actual jokes, not just abstract theories about them, every other week we have a joke-along post. I’ll search through the site’s stats for a specific joke people have been searching for, comb the internet for the best existing examples, and try come up with one of my own. And then you all can add your own in the comments, so the next time someone comes searching, they won’t leave disappointed.
Last year, I took part in a lovely pot luck/reading put on by Cracked Walnut Readings and Red Bird Chapbooks and wrote up a post about how literary readings are always like pot lucks with everyone bringing their own voice to share. In the same way, I feel like these jokealongs are humor pot lucks, as I gather some tasty jokes from around the internet and ask y’all to supply some of your own.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a great diversity of pot luck jokes available; most every joke I found came from either a Baptist or Lutheran related website. Many of them were lame and tame, such as:
“It has been said that the only thing that ever changes in the Lutheran Church is the color of the Jell-O® served at the monthly potluck dinners.”
(Take note, joke writers: starting with “It has been said…” makes it seem like you know your joke is well-past its prime.)
Or, number 4 on the list of top 10 reasons you might know you’re a Lutheran:
At potlucks all the men have tableware and napkins in their shirt pockets so their full plates are easier to carry.
But there were a few gems, such as this item from an actual church newsletter:
Thursday night will be a potluck supper. Prayer and medication to follow.
Or this excerpt from an advertisement for Lutheran Airlines:
If you are traveling soon, consider Lutheran Air, the no-frills airline. You’re all in the same boat on Lutheran Air, where flying is an uplifting experience. There is no First Class on any Lutheran Air flight. Meals are potluck. Rows 1-6, bring rolls, 7-15 bring a salad, 16-21 a main dish, and 22-30 a dessert. Basses and tenors please sit in the rear of the aircraft.
After finding little but this sort of in-group joking, I realized that that’s just the nature of the pot luck joke: they are usually for an audience no bigger than could gather politely in a church basement. With this in mind, it is nice to note that all the jokes I found were of the self-deprecating kind instead of the sort that builds up the group at the expense of outsiders.
Since this spirit of community seems an essential part of any pot luck joke, I chose the following definition from Urbandicitonary.com as my favorite; it comes from a different community, but is about the same polite respect as the church newsletter jokes above:
POTLUCKITALLY CORRECT: Preparing a dish for a potluck where you’re overly conscious about it being low-fat, gluten-free, hypo-allergenic, kosher, soy-free, low sodium, peanut-free, non-offensive to the majority of religious groups and not too spicy.
Sam: What are you bringing to the potluck tomorrow?
Ralph: Well, I don’t know because Sally is a vegan, Jim is a diabetic, Lisa needs a kosher dish, Anne has ciliac disease, Bob’s allergic to shellfish and Amy gets hives from chocolate.
Sam: Dude, you don’t have to be so potlucktically correct!
As for my contribution:
Like all Canadian youths, I had a powerful slap-shot long before I’d developed fine-motor skills. Training for the day that the bigger kids would finally let me join their pond pickup games, I’d set up a net at the end of our dirt drive. But no matter how long I aimed and concentrated, I always sent the puck far over the goal into some distant snowbank, sometimes as much as half a klik away. As frustrating as it was, though, I kept at it all winter; on the few afternoons I spent inside our warm house, usually because I was fresh out of pucks, I would always catch sight of a puck crashing into one of the snowbanks outside my window and realize one of the neighbor kids half a klik down the road was working on his shot while mine was stagnating.
Maybe to stifle that sense of competition into a more Canadian camaraderie, the older kids passed a tradition down to us: during the first thaw, all the young kids cleaned up their yards and met at the rink in town to laugh about who’s shots had missed by the longest distance: the lost puck pot luck.
What dish are you bringing to the pot-luck-joke pot luck?
January 18, 2013 § 4 Comments
Continuing our discussion on the differences between spontaneous wit and prepared jokes, this week I want to explore the different mindsets they are connected with. I got at this a bit in our last post on the subject, “Who’s lines are these, anyway?“, which concluded:
If a prepared joke is like a speech, then wit is like a conversation. Wit’s natural habitat, in fact, seems to be the conversation, and those that stand out as witty are the sorts of people who are good enough listeners to incorporate what others have said into a fresh comment, the ultimate example being that serendipitous remark that brings a conversation “full-circle” and makes everyone involved feel included—and lucky to have been.
With it’s openness to—and hunger for—new material, wit is the liberal side of the dichotomy. Wit requires that sort of searching faith that is ready to go wherever the truth leads and eager to incorporate whatever it finds into it’s conception of the truth. Ultimately, nothing is off limits to wit; to be witty is to be in a state of creativity—to be “submissive to everything, open, listening” as Kerouac asserts in his “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose“.
This goes not only for the witty, but their audience as well; to be truly receptive to wit, you have to let go of your expectations about what is funny and your biases about what isn’t so you’ll be ready to follow whatever fresh connections are being made. Since wit is essentially conversational, this is usually a given anyhow, as one flips back and forth between joker and audience, staying receptive the whole time. Similarly, if you’re engaged in a battle of wits, you have to be ready to laugh at yourself then redouble that laughter at your opponent—not cross your arms, pout, and decry, “Untrue! No fair!”
Conversely, prepared jokes represent the conservative impulse, a codification of what we think is funny to protect and propagate for future benefit. At its worst, we can see the the dangers inherent in our conservative impulses playing out in racist, sexist, and homophobic humor, as in-groups spread jokes to reinforce their position of prestige and power. Mostly, though, I feel it is fruitful to preserve our jokes; they sustain us in times when our wits are failing and serve as templates for its expression when it is properly firing.
This relationship between the two sides has become clearer to me since trying to compose my own prepared jokes for our jokealongs. I usually start by cataloging as many existing jokes on the subject as I can in order to open myself up to as many possible directions. I’ll usually come up with a few dead ends that night, sleep on it, and think about it at work the next day. When the joke finally comes from out of nowhere, it always hits me with the force of wit; if it doesn’t at least make me chuckle to myself, it isn’t the joke. But once I have it, I have to find a way to communicate that chuckle to someone else, and following a common joke formula often feels like not just the easiest and safest means of expression, but the most effective. We conserve our joke formulas because we know they work, and we use them over and over again because we know our audience will know how they work, allowing more sophistication in our expression as we play to and off of these expectations. As a result, the process of writing a joke often involves trying to shoehorn that moment of mind-expanding insight into a knock-knock script. Whenever I read my jokealong jokes again after posting them, that sense of joyous revelation is almost completely missing, but I have to believe there is more of it communicated to the reader than if I had just kept my laughter to myself.
It is fun and illustrative to think about this process in reverse. Take, for instance, one of our culture’s most ubiquitous and enduring jokes:
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: To get to the other side.
Ever since I was a child, I thought this joke was banal, but now that I’ve tried to imagine its composition, I’m starting to appreciate it for the masterpiece it is. I mean, who wrote this one? Who laughed at it and then passed it on? In my imagination, there is a bong in a dorm room—but since print references to the joke apparently date back to 1847, I’m probably wrong. I suppose all that ultimately matters is someone spat it out once, and it seemed to so perfectly capture the irreverent uselessness of our wit that it has been passed on ever since. I recognize now that even when I was adamant it wasn’t funny, it was communicating an important lesson about what was funny to me and every other kid who has ever heard it: humor searches without aim, crossing boundaries just because it can.
We obviously need both sides of humor just as our larger culture needs both conservative and liberal impulses: we need wit to find and generate more humor, and jokes to preserve the humor we have found so that we can further build upon it—and there is much to be gained by crossing back and forth, getting from one side to the other.