Dan Zevin is the 2013 winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor. His latest book, Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad, along with his previous one, The Day I Turned Uncool, have been optioned by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions. He has followed his readers through each phase of life, from post-college coping (Entry-Level Life) to tying the knot (The Nearly-wed Handbook) to developing a disturbing new interest in lawn care and wine tastings (Uncool). And that was all before he had kids.
Marriage is give and take. But sometimes it’s hard to take without your girlfriends. As humorist Janie Emaus knows, they bring the tissue, a good bottle of vodka and a much-needed perspective to help through the rough times. Her essay, “Confucius Say: When Shit Hits Fan, Girlfriends Bring Pooper Scooper,” appears in the newly published anthology, You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.
The Online News Association, the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, and the University of Miami’s School of Communication have issued a call for entries for the 2013 Online Journalism Awards, emblematic of the best in digital journalism.
The deadline for entries is June 21. Click here to enter. Winners will be announced in October.
Nine of the 29 awards come with a total of $37,500 in prize money, courtesy of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Gannett Foundation, including a new $5,000 award honoring the best in Watchdog Journalism.
This year, non-English entries will be considered in all categories.
“Some say journalism is in trouble, but we think these awards show the opposite is true,” said Joshua Hatch, OJA chair and senior editor for data and interactives at The Chronicle of Higher Education. “When we look at what’s happening on digital platforms — from the creation of new user experiences to the power small organizations have in reaching large audiences through their important work — we’re thrilled by what we see. And now that all of our awards are open to entrants of all languages, we can’t wait to discover even more innovative work and share it with our community.”
(Sharon Short, author of My One Square Inch of Alaska, Sanity Check: A Collection of Columns and two mystery series, offers seven great pieces of advice for writers. This article first appeared in Writer’s Digest on April 30. Reposted by permission of the author.)
1. Follow your heart…
Are you passionate about your idea? About your story? Fantastic! Write that! Early chapters of My One Square Inch of Alaska helped me earn a local literary artist’s grant; I used the award to attend a conference for writers of YA fiction. There, an editor (not mine!) told me that fiction set in early- to mid-20th century America never, ever sells. (That afternoon, it was announced that a wonderful novel set in the late 1930s Midwest America won the Newbery Award.) I was not thrilled by her comment, but knew that my story had to be set in the 1950s, and I also knew that I just had to keep working on it. It was a story of my heart.
2. But also thoughtfully consider constructive advice…
On the other hand, that same editor told me that she thought my novel’s concept and theme were better suited to an adult audience, with crossover appeal to older teens — if I’d think more carefully about my protagonist’s story goal. On my drive home, I realized that on this point she was right. I pulled off the highway to a rest stop and re-thought my novel, then went home and revised. That revision became My One Square Inch of Alaska. So, listen to feedback, dismiss what doesn’t resonate, but also carefully consider constructive criticism truly aimed at making your project a stronger piece.
3. Your opening is probably not your opening.
My least favorite part of creative writing is drafting that opening scene. It always feels so forced, so awkward. I have to get pretty far into the story before I know how it really should begin, and to realize (for the millionth time) that ‘dumping backstory’ is not an opening that will hook readers. As I wrote what I thought was the beginning of chapter 18 for My One Square Inch of Alaska, I realized I’d just written the opening paragraphs. Fortunately, I didn’t have to toss out everything I’d written for chapters 1-17. But I did have to write that much before I discovered the real hook of my novel.
4. Be persistent.
When my daughters were younger and disheartened by all the “No!” responses to their attempts to sell Girl Scout cookies, I told them that one gets more “noes” in life than “yeses,” and to get to the “yeses,” one has to get through the “noes.” Selling books is a lot harder than selling cookies. Of course, now when I complain ‘writing/publishing is so hard!’ my adult daughters remind me of my cookie-selling advice. (And I also say yes to any Girl Scout who comes to my door, so at least I have cookies to help me through the woes of the ‘noes.’)
5. But also be realistic…
On the other hand, if your project has received so many ‘noes’ that it really looks like it is time to move on… then move on. I know of a few writers who have spent literally decades revising the same project. At some point, you’re spinning your wheels. When you sense that is happening, review what you’ve learned from the experience of that project, and then move on to another one and apply those lessons.
6. …and open to change.
I’ve been in the writing business in some form or another for more than 20 years, and the best opportunities haven’t been ones I planned or could foresee. For example, if someone had told me while I was writing contemporary mysteries that I would eventually write a mainstream novel, and a historical one at that, I would have scoffed, thinking I couldn’t plot without a mystery backbone. But once the idea for My One Square Inch of Alaska came to me, I just couldn’t let it go, or perhaps it wouldn’t let go of me. So, I committed to seeing it through. I’m so glad I did.
7. Above all, breathe.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by large goals — write a novel! find a publisher! — or to feel distracted by too much writing/publishing advice. When that happens, slowly inhale, exhale, relax and remind yourself that in this moment, you’re simply writing a new paragraph, or revising a page, or sending out one query letter. Focus, and remember why you got into writing in the first place —t he sheer joy of creating a story or poem or article that will touch another human. Breathe, focusing on the moment. Those moments eventually add up to complete projects and a lifetime of the best journey I can imagine — the writing life.
— Sharon Short
Author Sharon Short is the “Literary Life” columnist for the Dayton Daily News. She directs the Antioch Writers’ Workshop and is an adjunct instructor of creative writing and composition at Antioch University Midwest.
(This is an excerpt from Joel Schwartzberg‘s The 40-Year-Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad, now available as an audiobook. Posted with permission of the author.)
“Daddy, lock your doo-wer,” Cindy says as we pull out of my ex-wife’s driveway.
Cindy and her six-year-old twin, Miranda, are already in pajamas and buckled into second-hand car seats, their arms just long enough to flip the door locks. My nine-year-old son Charlie is locked and loaded into the back seat between his sisters.
They’re with me from Friday night to Saturday night every week. We call it “Lazy Dadurday.” And lazy it is. We wake up late, then trek to the bookstore, the pet store, the mall, or the pool, and just let it all hang out. It amazes everyone except actual parents that kids enjoy an errand run to Kmart just as much as seeing a movie or eating bad pizza in an arcade with oversized mouse robots. My kids love hanging on to the sides of the shopping cart like sanitation workers on a garbage truck as I make gratuitously sharp turns in the hardware aisle. They don’t require these Saturdays to take a page from Fantasy Island. And my joy is simply being with them.
I flip my car door lock per my daughter’s plea, and thank her for looking out for me. Feeling the increasingly familiar weight of sole parental responsibility, I proceed down the long suburban road that will eventually take us from their mother’s home to mine.
“Everything okay, guys?” I ask, glancing at them in the rear view mirror.
“Sure,” offers Charlie.
“I mean with the divorce and all…do you have any questions or worries or anything?”
“Nope,” he replies for all of them.
But Miranda has a question: “Why can’t Mommy sleep at your house with us?”
I imagine the scene — my girlfriend, my ex-wife, me, five cats, three kids, one bedroom.
“Remember, you have two homes: one with Mommy, and one with me,” I say, not answering the question. “You don’t just visit me; you live with me, too.”
I remind the kids that, while other things in life may change, even crumble, a parent’s love never does. The words sound pathetically trite in my head, but it’s the most important thing to convey — not what changes, but what doesn’t: Two parents. Eternal love. Lots of pillows. Endless Cheerios.
In the first few weeks of the separation, I was the one feeling I had lost a firm grip on my own life. Seeking reassurance, I turned not to therapy, but to Google, plugging in search terms as if posing questions to a great swami:
“Fathers and divorce”
“Children of divorce”
What came back was a chorus of single-minded advice: DON’T DO IT.
Think it’ll be better for the kids? WRONG.
Think you’ll find the girl of your dreams? KEEP DREAMING.
Think it’ll make you a better parent? NOT ON YOUR LIFE.
According to almost every web resource on the subject, divorce drives kids bonkers and parents to the poorhouse.
Yet, over a year later, I don’t feel emotionally, financially or parentally bereft. A little stretched, but not impoverished. My children are usually thrilled to see me when I pick them up, and just as excited to return home and share their adventures with their mother.
More importantly, I’ve located my inner parent, the one who tells me when it’s okay to let my son stay up late, and when it’s not; when it’s appropriate to be interrupted on the phone by a whining daughter, and when it’s not; when a tense situation calls for stern rules, or just an all-out, no-shoes family wrestling match. I’ve weaned myself from my parents’, my ex-wife’s, and even Dr. Phil’s parental expectations of me; I now provide my own.
In short, it took divorce to make me a better father.
“Dad, let’s play pod-racer,” says Charlie, a few miles from my garden apartment.
“Okay,” I say, and select the Star Wars theme on my MP3 player. I maneuver around the other cars like a spaceship pilot, dramatically barking navigational orders all the way.
“Commander Cindy, prepare the right side thrusters. On my word….Engage.”
We make a sharp left into my apartment complex, and I hustle the kids out of the car, holding their overnight duffel on my shoulder and their hands in mine. As usual, the bag is overstuffed with art projects, stuffed animals and board games they’ll never touch while in my 24 hours of care, but I’m happy for all the pieces of themselves they care to bring along.
Once inside the apartment, the girls brush their teeth, then burrow their tiny bodies into small Dora- and Pooh-inspired inflatable beds. I get their bedtime “sniff shirts.” One is their mother’s worn blouse from home; the other is my own T-shirt from the laundry basket.
When they first started staying with me overnight, Miranda asked for a “Mommy sniff shirt” to help her sleep. When her sister requested a Daddy version a week later, I couldn’t run fast enough to grab it.
“Eeeeewwwwww,” Cindy said, giving it a strong smell.
“No. I like it,” she replied matter-of-factly, putting the T-shirt to her nose and closing her eyes.
I make some popcorn, which Charlie eats ravenously while playing on the computer. I’m tempted to ask, “So, everything’s really okay?” but enough’s enough. I’m not really looking for answers so much as affirmation anyway, and that’s not worth an interrogation. It’s my children — not Google — who hold the secrets to how this is going to work out, but those truths will be revealed at their own slow pace.
Eventually, Charlie traipses into the bedroom, collapses on the queen-sized bed, and allows himself to be swallowed by the warm comforter.
Hours later, before my girlfriend Anne and I take our positions on the living room’s convertible couch, I peek in the room.
Watching them all silently sleeping, their bodies frozen in soft contortion, I know I should go to bed, too. But I treasure the moment, just as I did after each of them was born.
At the time, seeing them asleep came as a relief.
Now, it’s a gift.
— Joel Schwartzberg
Joel Schwartzberg is an award-winning humorist, essayist and screenwriter. He has published pieces in Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, New Jersey Monthly, The New York Post, The New York Daily News, The Star Ledger, Babble.com and “in the flimsy pages” of regional parenting magazines around the country.
One evening after dinner, my wife and I settled into our respective spots on the couch and easy chair. As normal, we began to unwind from the day’s work by watching TV and checking our Facebooks.
The first post in my newsfeed was from my friend Dennis, announcing his new daughter’s dedication on this coming Sunday. In my usual attempt to be funny, I left a comment that read, “I’ll see you there if I can get approval from her highness,” and then I moved on to the rest of the newsfeed.
A few moments later, a notification popped up telling me that my wife, who was sitting across the room from me, had commented on the same post. When I clicked back to Dennis’s page, she had posted a response under my comment that read, “Why do you always have to make me sound like a nag or a party pooper?”
“I was just being funny,” I answered via comment, annoyed at her lack of humor.
“You are always trying to be funny, but a lot of times you’re just a jerk.”
Before I could respond, a comment popped up from Jill, a mutual friend of ours and Dennis’s, which read, “We are honored to be able to share this blessed day with you and your family.”
Getting angry, I typed, “Do you mind not butting in, Jill? And @wife: You think everything I say is being a jerk! You have NO sense of humor!!!”
The next comment came from Dennis, whose page we were on, “Could you guys go fight on someone else’s baby dedication announcement post?”
And then my wife, “I used to have a sense of humor til YOU wore it out with your STUUUUUPPPIIIIIIDDD “jokes”!!!”
Having had enough, I hit “like” on my wife’s last statement, and exited the page.
I was still stewing when the little scrolling account of what everyone is doing on Facebook showed that my daughter had commented on a status from her iPhone. Wanting to move past the argument with the wife, I clicked to see what she had said.
My daughter’s friend Nikki (with a little heart before and after her name) had posted that she had the flu and wasn’t feeling good. My daughter had then commented that she was sorry, and hoped she would feel better soon. Being proud of my daughter’s kindness, I “liked” her comment.
I then paused for a moment to take a bite of the sandwich that I had been working on while Facebooking. Before I could move on from my daughter’s friend’s page, a comment popped up from my wife that read, “Don’t you dare “like” me and then walk away!”
She had obviously seen in the same scrolling privacy-invasion box that I had liked our daughter’s comment and followed me there.
“I’m not continuing this conversation if you are going to be unreasonable!” I answered.
“Oh that’s you, leave whenever you know you’re WRONG!”
Then a comment from Nikki, whom neither my wife nor I were actually “friends” with, saying, “Who are you guys, and why are you on my page?”
Followed by a comment from my daughter that said, “YOU GUYS ARE RUINING MY LIFE!!! GO AWAY!”
“@Wife: I’m not wrong! @Daughter: Oh yeah! Did I ruin your life when I bought you two new pairs of jeans last week? @Nikki: Sorry, we’ll be done here in a minute.”
Meanwhile, I saw that the wife had left a comment back on Dennis’s page that read, “Sorry Dennis, he thinks only of himself.”
But before I could respond to that, my daughter commented, “That doesn’t give you the right to ruin my life!”
Nikki wrote, “Will you all please go away?”
My other daughter popped up in the “chat” box, “YOU BOUGHT NATALIE JEANS? WHY DIDN’T I GET ANY?”
Another notification chirp let me know that my wife was tweeting @me that #MyHusbandIsAJerk.
I was now FURIOUS!! I began firing back responses.
@Nikki: TURN OFF THE COMPUTER IF WE ARE BOTHERING YOU!
@Daughter 2: I BOUGHT YOU A CAGE AND FOOD FOR YOUR STINKING RODENT, WHO KEEPS US ALL AWAKE RUNNING ON HIS WHEEL ALL NIGHT!
@Wife: I’M NOT THE ONE BEING A JERK!
I then tried to go back to the dedication post to get the last word in, but discovered that Dennis had “unfriended” us. And he wouldn’t answer my call to see if he would at least let me dictate my response to the wife’s last remark.
So I set my cyber sights on daughter and fired off a comment that read, “WHY DON’T YOU BUY YOUR OWN CLOTHES AND FOOD, YOU SELFISH BRAT!”
But at the exact moment I hit the send button, I noticed that the comment above mine didn’t look familiar. It wasn’t from my daughter, my wife or Nikki. Scrolling up, I realized I wasn’t even on the right post.
Somehow in my angered frenzy, I had hit the wrong notification and had just commented on a link our pastor had posted that featured a starving child from Somalia’s heartbreaking plea for help. … I had just called a starving child from Somalia a selfish brat and told him to buy his own food and clothing.
It took several sweaty minutes for me to figure out how to delete my comment to the Somalian child. After which I called every Facebook friend that I thought had been witness to the whole debacle and apologized.
Then I gathered the wife and daughters all together in the same room, and we had an all-out, old-fashioned, face-to-face blowout, complete with shouting and arm waving.
And just to make sure everything was good, I made a large (by my standards) donation to the charity whose video the Somalian boy had been featured in.
— Jon Ziegler
Jon Ziegler is a 44-year-old husband, father of two girls and a tree trimmer who started writing as an outlet for what he calls “creative madness.” He’s the author of The How-Not-To Guide to Parenting and Marriage.
I heard that in an interview with Matt Lauer on the “TODAY” show, Martha Stewart, 71, said that she’s had trouble meeting a male friend with benefits and admitted she attempted to (unsuccessfully) join Match.com.
Apparently she loves dating, but the questionnaire seemed impossible and so she’s just going to keep looking on her own.
Well, I’ve never attempted online dating, but I think I could really help her out with this thing. After all, if weirdo Guy Fieri can find his Gal Fieri, there has to be hope left for Martha.
Username: Martha Stewart
Headline: Lifestyle guru, businesswoman, author, magazine founder and publisher, TV personality and domestic diva seeking companionship and snuggles with someone who appreciates the finer things in life.
Age: A spritely 71
Sign: Leo, which is perfect because I love my Himalayan cats!
Ethnicity: Whitest woman on the planet
Nickname: In prison it was “M. Diddy,” but I would prefer to just go by Martha. Bygones!
Income: Well this is curious! My income range is not represented. No matter. I get by.
Religion: Cleanliness is next to godliness. Also, Dog is my co-pilot. Ha!
Relationships: One ex-husband and several ex-beaus, most notably a software billionaire and Anthony Hopkins, who I had to break it off with after viewing that wretched film, “Silence of the Lambs.” I was unable to avoid associating Hopkins with Hannibal Lecter, a man with absolutely no table manners or sense of proper etiquette.
Children: I’ve had many lovely dogs, cats and horses over the years, but I won’t bore you with those details yet! However, if you’re interested, my two blogging pups, Francesca and Sharkey, have created a photo gallery of all my pets.
Oh, and I have one daughter, Alexis.
Body Type: It depends on what I’m eating, but I prefer an Asti for a light-bodied wine and a Barbaresco for a full-bodied wine.
Celebrity Look-Alike: I’ve been told I could be a mix of that lovely woman who played Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen) and Diane Sawyer.
Smoke: Do you mean salmon? If so, yes. It can make a delightful appetizer when done correctly.
Drink: I love a whiskey sour with fresh juice or a mojito, but it has to be a purple basil mojito and the basil has to be cultivated from my own garden and tended to with painted garden tools.
Hobbies: Anything involving a hot glue gun — decoupage, scrapbooking, creating snow globes out of glass from upcycled chandeliers; knitting blankets from the hair of my prize-winning Chow Chows, baking “green” brownies with my pal Snoop Dogg/Lion out of cupcake tins I’ve created from paperclips and aluminum foil; building a billion-dollar empire and tweeting. I love the Twitter!
Who I’m Looking For: Someone who I can laugh with that knows they can use half a potato to unscrew a broken light bulb. He should love animals, personal transformation and organized bed linens. There’s something incredibly satisfying about opening up the linen closet to see not unholy chaos, but color-coded bundles neatly tied in a bow.
Note: Stockbrokers and actors who have portrayed cannibals need not apply.
I think it’s pretty solid and can only imagine that the men would be lining up. And if all else fails, I’m pretty sure she could try Craig’s List or get cast on “The Bachelorette.”
Martha might just meet her match.
— Abby Heugel
Abby Heugel is a professional writer and editor of trade publications for employment, but a neurotic humor writer the rest of the time for enjoyment. She runs mental marathons in yoga pants and blogs her brilliant insights. She makes you feel normal.
I left it, all dusty and alone, with bags of used clothes piled on its seat and tray. No one was there to receive it, and no one came out to the loading area despite the loud click when I unfolded it and the rattle of its wheels against the pavement as I set it down. Ah, well…someone will find it, I thought as I rolled it out of the sun and locked its wheels, careful not to let it touch the miscellaneous things around it. (I didn’t know where they’d been.)
Then I got in my air-conditioned van, very slowly drove away, and abandoned it there with all that other stuff strangers no longer want or use at the back of a charity thrift store. I had been so impatient to get rid of it, but as I glanced back in my side mirror, I felt a sudden, painful constriction in my chest.
I turned the corner, and a panicky voice began to plead, Go back for it! What are you doing? What were you thinking? Don’t leave it with all that junk. I breathed deeply and tried to let go, but the voice took on a tone of logic, No one’s going to want it, anyway. It’s too old and faded and it has that orange crayon melted in the pocket. Yes, true. I had taken great care to vacuum it out and wipe it down, but the orange crayon remained as well as some dust I hadn’t noticed on its frame. There, then, said the voice of sentiment, go and get it before anyone finds it and tell the thrift store you changed your mind. All four of your babies rode in that stroller, every single one of them…save it for the memories.
I was already on the street and going through a light, but even as I made my way to pick up my two oldest from school, the lump in my throat was growing along with an urge to turn back. Those tall, skinny kids who were about to be dismissed from class had once been tiny little things, riding in that blue and yellow stroller. And then their two siblings had occupied it after them. All of them had snacked in it, slept in it, thrown tantrums in it and gone for long strolls on city streets, in nature or shopping centers in it. All of them had been nestled in the crook of my left arm many times as I pushed their empty stroller around one-handed.
I thought back on all the baby-rearing history and adventures as I inched through the car line at my kids’ school. I couldn’t take the remorse anymore. I needed support and pragmatism, so I called my Man up.
“Honey, I dropped off the stroller today,” I said. ”Do you want me to go back and get it?”
I swallowed several times before saying carefully and tearfully, “Because all four of our babies rode in that stroller…”
There was a pause and then a long chuckle and a gentle reproof, ”Silly woman….no, we don’t need it anymore. Let somebody else get use out of it. It’s fine.”
Would somebody else get use out of it, though? Would they sense all the residual love clinging to its fabric and honor that despite its appearance? Or would they cruelly beat it with sticks for being so used and sorry-looking? Surely I had made a mistake in offering it up to the great unknown.
“We could get a lap dog and push it around in it.”
“NO. I’m not doing that.”
I didn’t even mention how my sister had used hers to push around shopping bags on Black Friday. Maybe I could have used it for Christmas shopping, too, with an attached disclaimer that read, “No, I didn’t forget my baby. This stroller is retired and hauls merchandise for a hobby.”
“We should have had more kids,” I said, jokingly.
He replied very seriously, “No, we shouldn’t have.”
As I hung up I felt better, still shaky but fortified. Then my older kids got in the car, and with one look at their sweet faces, the tears came back. Berto watched me sniffling for a while in silence and then asked, “Mama, why are you crying? Is it the paper again?”
My boy knows me too well and my propensity for crying at news stories. I tried several times to tell him what was wrong but faltered on the words. When I finally spilled it out, his response was much like his father’s.
But I still wish I had saved our stroller.
— Hillary Ibarra
Hillary Ibarra is a mother of four and a writer at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. She has been published multiple times at the humor site Aiming Low. She lives in Arizona where she takes every chance to explore Native American ruins and natural wonders.