Monday, March 27, 2017

Hi. Hey. Hi. Hi. Hello. Hey.

Hi there. So, I went to grad school for three years and just finished in December. Let’s say that’s the only reason I haven’t been writing at all, and that sloth and inertia didn’t play any part. Cool? Cool.


A few years ago, my roommate Petunia gave in to her grandma’s repeated suggestions and signed up for an online dating site. I decided to do it too, for moral support—though the buddy system doesn’t really work on the internet. Unlike when you persuade your friend to come with you to a party, you can’t just stand in a corner and talk only to each other.

Petunia was willing to pay for a membership to one of the classier sites. I was not, and I ended up on Plenty of Fish for free. I can affirm that this is not the skeeviest dating site possible, though. I know this because of the other sites that advertise in its sidebar. Here are some helpful screenshots to prove that I am not making these up:

For some reason these sites do not advertise the number of lasting relationships they have enabled.

Plenty of Fish allows you to craft a description of yourself, thoughtfully answer questions and prompts about your personality, provide information on your interests and the qualities you are seeking in a match, and then receive insistent messages from people who have read none of these things.

I was not prepared for this attention, and at first I applied the same flawed strategy I had used for college mail. After taking the PSAT in high school, I received mail from a number of colleges that had no immediate appeal or connection to my future plans.

They all included a tear-off postcard to send in for further information, and it seemed reasonable to collect as much information as possible before making such a big decision. Even if the initial pamphlet looked unpromising, how could I be sure from first impressions that I wasn’t passing up the perfect opportunity?

I eventually compared notes with friends and realized my mistake. Unfortunately, I did not learn the lesson in a lasting way.

When it came to online dating, I initially assumed that it was only proper to reply to everyone who sent me a message—especially those who wrote more than just “Hi.” That’s how I got myself into the following mess:

This sounded to me like a reasonable and fairly self-aware request. Also, I had one clear reason in mind, and it was something he should be able to fix pretty easily in order to improve his future prospects. Providing this sort of advice—when someone specifically asks for it—is clearly the kindest and most helpful thing to do, right?

To my surprise, he did not appear to consider this a helpful response.

By this point, I still had not begun to suspect that he was not actually interested in my suggestions for improving his approach. I helpfully tried to explain.

Having learned a lot about the norms of online dating messages from this exchange, I then wisely…repeated almost exactly the same conversation with a different guy the next week. Optimism and stupidity often share surface characteristics.

In the end, I deleted my profile after reaching my limit for people coming on way, way too strong.

Whatever approach Petunia took worked noticeably better. She steered clear of Well-Meaning Pedantry traps and managed to avoid the fecally inclined, and I got to be part of her wedding last summer.

As for me, I'm thinking of starting my own site:

Extra credit:

Friday, December 27, 2013


Astute readers will have noticed that I haven’t posted anything recently. I haven’t posted anything not-all-that-recently, either. It’s all part of my demanding new routine:

I do not have a dramatic explanation for this lapse. I have not been traveling to Antarctica. I have not been stricken with Ebola SARS. I have not been starring in a play, composing a symphony, or writing a book. I’ve barely been reading a book, for that matter. I have been sort of regularly practicing becoming a small amount less bad at playing guitar, but that isn’t exactly an all-consuming pursuit.

The thing is, once you put off doing something long enough, it is just so easy to keep on not doing it.

It’s the justifications that cause the real trouble, though—that thick layer of self-deception assuring me that slacking off is really the more responsible thing to do.

What I’m trying to say is…I don’t know. Maybe ’90s TV should stop being so enjoyable?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hooray, it’s another story with barfing in it!

Taboo, in addition to being the vehement objection of a society to a forbidden behavior, is a word game that you probably have in your closet. Either one can be fun at parties, depending on the guest list.

In the version less likely to involve grave-robbing or ritual banishment, the object of Taboo is to get your teammates to guess the top word on a card by giving verbal hints. You have to do it without saying any of the other words on the card, though, which leads to sounding like you’ve recently discovered how to use a thesaurus.

One really sound way to succeed at this game is to own an older copy that has not taken into account the last fifteen years of pop culture and technological innovation.

Probably the most effective method, though, is just to have a lot of inside references and shared knowledge with your teammates. It doesn’t take a lot of rounds to figure out which couples, siblings, and roommates shouldn’t be allowed to play on the same team.

Shortly before we fine-tuned the separation rules, one of my friends pulled off an impressive play with her roommates that ended up derailing the game while the rest of us demanded to hear the full story.

It seems that she had recently experienced an unfortunate run-in with the kitchen hygiene hazards of communal living.

The roommates in question agreed that they had not harbored any plans for sponge-sniffing escapades, but it was thoughtful of her to take that risk so selflessly on their behalf.

Of course, success in Taboo is all about personal context. Depending on your lifestyle, that same clue could potentially work for at least half the deck.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Have I mentioned that I enjoy being good at things?

The human brain has some impressive mechanisms for revising unpleasant memories. That’s how I manage to try V-8 again every couple of years.

This same phenomenon also dulled my recollections of middle and high school P.E. enough for me to take a volleyball class one semester in college.

The early days of class, however, showed several areas in which both my memory and my technique could use improvement.

After a few sessions on basic skills, the instructor broke us into teams for in-class tournaments. He asked us for team names to fill out his roster, and my group quickly ceded our naming rights to the one member who seemed excited about it.

We changed teams every couple of weeks after that, but for some reason the coach stopped asking us to make up our own names.

As the course progressed, our positive, encouraging instructor did everything he could to help us all improve our individual skill levels. It wasn’t his fault that my existing level was in the negative numbers. He also had the perfect attitude for an intro-level course, which he shared with us at least once a week.

(I don’t think I’m the only one who heard the subtext to his start-of-class pep talks, though.)

The semester went on with very little change, save for rising frustration levels on all sides. In between missing the ball, ducking the ball, and miscommunicating with my more skilled teammates, I started feeling compelled to defend my personal worth. I wanted to stop the game and declare, “There are things I’m good at, I promise!”

By the end of the term, though, thanks to the coach’s superhuman patience, I had transformed into a person whose overhand serves cleared the net at least 15% of the time. I may even have discovered one of those non-athletic lessons that ragtag kids learn in sports movies: I’m trying to hold on to that feeling of utter and ridiculous volleyball helplessness to reflect on in moments when it’s my turn to be shocked by someone else’s colossal incompetence.

Of course, that kind of thinking can lead perilously down the slippery slope toward self-betterment. Thank goodness I’ve developed a workaround.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Kerrville Folk Festival 2013

I recently returned from the Kerrville Folk Festival in the Texas Hill Country, which I attend pretty much annually. I’ve mentioned it a couple of times before.

It’s a phenomenon that’s not very easy to explain to people who aren’t already familiar with it. This time I tried a new variation on my standard description.

I got a new response, too.

This was a fair question, as I had left out an important part: I love aging hippies. All my festival friends are aging hippies. I’m afraid of the ones in my age group, who are much more cool and tan and alternative than I am.

It’s intimidating.

Generally, the previous generation suits me a lot better.

I’m not sure how I managed to become simultaneously forty-five and eight years old, but there you have it.

Come to think of it, I know exactly how this happened. It’s clearly caused by the genetic material inherited from my two favorite aging hippies.

Thanks, guys.