Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Humor - What's So Funny About It?

Have you ever found yourself being dead serious but other people think you're funny as hell? Or, what's even worse: you're trying to be funny and no one laughs? Ouch! As a writer, I find myself trying to find balance between these two extremes because ... well, they epitomize my life.

One of the finest personality characteristics a person can possess (in my humble opinion) is a terrific sense of humor. It's the major reason why, when asked what historical figure I'd most want to meet, I choose Mark Twain. Have you ever read his short story, The Diary of Adam and Eve? It is the funniest thing I ever read--and may be one of the most poignant, as well.

Why, I wonder, do I find him so darned funny? He's dead! I never listened to him speak or watched his facial expressions. On the other hand, although I listened to, and watched, the Three Stooges, David Letterman, and Chevy Chase. None of these men ever made me laugh. Go figure.
I didn't have much of a sense of humor when I was a kid. In fact, my parents would probably be so [un]kind as to say I didn't have one at all. I was sensitive, you see. Cried if you looked at me cross-eyed. Which my brothers did all the time ... just to make me cry. I suspect they're part of the reason I didn't have an SOH.

It's BBQ sauce ... what did YOU think it was?
I acquired a sense of humor in my late teens. (Probably because that's when I started getting over myself. Puberty was a thing of the past and, along with it, my affinity for crying and, to some degree, drama.) Unfortunately, I've never acquired the ability to tell a joke--on purpose, that is. I always forget the punch line. On the other hand, I'll be standing in front of 30 people conducting an insurance seminar and people will howl with laughter because of something I said.  Something I meant. Something I meant--seriously. THEY think I'm hilarious. I think I'm tyring to make a point. If I did make a point, and they got it, and laughed along with it, I guess that's a good thing. Right?

One of the funniest people I know personally is my oldest daughter. That girl was born funny. Just hearing her laugh makes me laugh. I remember her telling a joke at a family gathering when she was in 4th grade. Her big blue eyes sparkled with suppressed laughter when she told the joke--you could tell she really got a kick out of knowing the punch line and knowing everyone was going to laugh when she shared it. I don't remember the whole joke. But it's about a string who walks into a bar. (That alone cracks me up: a 10 year-old telling a joke about anything that happens in a bar.) The string asks for a drink and a bar patron comments about the messy condition this string happens to be in. Questions and answers are exchanged, I don't even remember if the string gets his drink, but the punch line is delivered after someone asks the string a final question.  I do remember this punch line--because of the way Beth giggled like hell after she delivered it: "No, I'm afraid not." (Messy string = frayed knot.) 
I have a friend who is a humor expert, Lois McElravy of Lessons from Lois, and she's explained all kinds of technical stuff about what makes us laugh and why we should laugh. Despite my intellectual understanding of laughter and humor, I still don't understand--emotionally--why one thing cracks me up and something else leaves me feeling untouched.

Do you think our appreciation for humor is tied to our personalities? Our preferences? Our parents? Do I enjoy sarcastic humor because my mother was sarcastic? Do I only sometimes "get" and laugh at British humor because I'm not British?

What do you think is so funny about humor?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rant About Apostrophes

Okay. I've had it. I can't go anywhere, and I mean anywhere, without seeing all kinds of people misusing apostrophes: In the newspaper, in advertisements, on Facebook and Linked In, and on slates hanging outside front doors, for Pete's sake!

Listen up, people, because I'm going to give you a lesson. Once. Apostrophes are used for the following major purposes: (1) To indicate one or more letters have been omitted, as in a contraction: don't (the "o" is missing); and (2) To indicate possession, as in Linda's rant on apostrophes.

There are other reasons to use apostrophes, but they are all related to the preceding. So, how do I see apostrophes being misused? Let me count the ways:
  • I heard that song in the 1970's. What's the omitted letter? Where is the possession? It should be the 1970s.
  • The slate outside your front door says The Faulkner's. If you want the sign to indicate that the house belongs to the Faulkners (i.e., possession), I guess this is okay. But if you want the sign to indicate that two or more people named Faulkner live in the house, the slate should say The Faulkners - as in the plural of a singular Faulkner. (Each of us is exceptionally singular, by the way.)
  • Merry Christmas from the Smith's: Bert, Bertha, Bertie, and Bertina. NO APOSTROPHE! The Smiths is the plural of a singular Smith. 4 Smiths = plural; 1 Smith = singular. The Christmas message isn't about possession.
Now that you get the idea, please report misused apostrophes by commenting here. Maybe we can eradicate the damned nuisances.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Am I a Workaholic? Are You?

I've always worked at jobs I enjoyed because, when I quit enjoying them, I quit. Period. No more job.

I enjoyed working in the insurance industry and I enjoy writing. I especially enjoy writing. In fact, it's safe to say I LOVE writing and all it entails. It doesn't feel like work. Not that selling insurance, or consulting, or being an insurance education provider was harder than it was enjoyable, but I always knew I was working--even when it was fun.

Writing. That's a different story. There's nothing I don't like about writing. In fact, as I cracked the whip [on myself] Friday to come up with a schedule, I had a blast. Sure, I've done a little goofing off in the six weeks since I sold my insurance agency.  You know, I stopped what I was doing (several times a day) to play with the kitties and puppies or to converse with Pete the parrot about stuff that was a bit too intellectual for the felines and canines. Or I spent an hour on the phone with one of my friends or one of my kids. Or I played Solitaire on the computer. Oh, and I have completed three freelance projects during these six weeks.

When I buckled under and attacked my new schedule, it took me about an hour to decide whether I wanted to do my freelance contract (work) writing in the morning or the afternoon. And whether I'd schedule this many, or that many, hours for work on my WIP (a romantic suspense). Oh, and where I'd fit in the daily time to work on my outline/proposal for the 2nd book in the Taking the Mystery Out series.

It wasn't until Saturday, when I actually began following the schedule, that I realized it entailed 7 (yes, seven) days. No days off. Yes, I'd allowed myself two blocks of personal time between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. each day, but still...  I think I need to re-evaluate.

I worked 10 and 12 hour days when I owned my insurance agency. Now that I'm not spending 40+ hours a week doing that, and I'm having fun writing, why am I still scheduling 60+ hours of non-personal time into my week? Sure, it's writing. So why doesn't it feel like work?

My daughter thinks the answer is simple: Workaholism. I don't think I'm addicted to work. Yes, maybe I feel compelled to be doing stuff, but I'm always doing stuff I enjoy. And I take time off. See the coyote in the picture my husband took? I spent at least 11 minutes on Sunday watching him trek across the back yard, looking over his shoulder, and then watching his pursuer (maybe a lovelorn female ... the second coyote was a bit smaller than our handsome hero, above) when he/she arrived on the scene 2 minutes later.

Because I take breaks from my writing to eat, watch wildlife, talk on the phone, play with the critters, walk outside with the puppies, that means I'm not a workaholic. Right?

Wrong? You're saying I'm wrong? Okay. I'll consider you might be right. But only if you give me a good reason ... or six.

Friday, February 11, 2011

How Do You Come Up With GOOD Ideas?

 Sometimes, even for those of us who are comfortable spending a lot of time in our right brains, it's difficult to come up with a GOOD idea. It's like sifting through my mother's old button box to come up with exactly the perfect button: it can't be one of those clear ones with the four little holes because they're [pardon the cliche] a dime a dozen.

Sure, we come up with ideas--but they're mediocre. Or as the late Nancy Bulk (aka Dee Holmes) once explained in a writing workshop she conducted 20 years ago, they're the same ideas other people come up with. As in: our readers are going to spot what's going to happen two seconds into the scene.

Based on Nancy's excellent advice, whenever I'm plotting or searching for a GOOD idea, I use the 10 item rule. I'll grab a pen and paper and cluster (i.e., brainstorm or free-associate) to come up with a scene, or some dialogue, or character motivation that will knock my readers' socks off.

This is how it works. Let's say my heroine is in her house, alone, at night, and we know the stalker's coming to get her. How can the stalker get into the house without her knowing and then scare the pants off her?
  1. He'll use a key he stole from her purse or beneath the flowerpot outside the back door.
  2. He'll cut through the screen in the spare bedroom.
  3. He'll sneak in through the bulkhead door in the basement.
  4. He'll climb a tree in the back yard, spider-walk across the roof, and get in through the attic vent.
  5. He'll knock on her door, claiming to need to use the phone because his car broke down.
  6. He'll make a bunch of noise out in the back yard so her dog barks. When she lets the dog out, he temporarily immobilizes the dog. When she goes out in the yard to see why the dog doesn't respond, he sneaks into the house.
I've just run out of quick and easy responses. Now I have to put my thinking cap on to come with another idea. Which means that none of these is going to knock the socks off my readers ... because they came easily to me. If they came easily to me, guess who else will they come easily to? Right. My readers.

So where do YOUR good ideas come from? Can you give me numbers 7 through 10?

[photo credit: http://www.bigfoto.com/]

Monday, February 7, 2011

Talking About Attitude...

If this is your glass, is it half-full or half-empty?

I talked about Attitude over at my blog for Taking the Mystery Out of Business earlier today ...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

University of Montana's School Business gives a great review to Taking the Mystery Out of Business

Yes, Clueless is a dangerous place to be! That’s why regardless of whether someone is a budding entrepreneur, a new graduate just getting started, or an experienced professional, Linda’s book is a must read! For those who haven’t run a business or managed people, it might save their career or their business. For those who’ve already been at it for a while, it’s a gentle reminder of important concepts and good business practices. Her customer service stories and principles are outstanding illustrations of what to do and not do.

The way Linda writes makes reading her book enjoyable and memorable – which makes it very useful as well. Her examples help make it real for newbies so they don’t have to learn the hard way and gently reminds veteran business managers, as well. Linda’s book really is an arsenal of tools and resources to help managers and their businesses succeed. I can see myself referring back to the book regularly--I’ve been at this a while!

Janel Queen, Director of Career Advancement, School of Business, University of Montana