App of My Eye

November 16, 2013 § 6 Comments

The four apps described below do not exist yet (at least to my knowledge). I really have no desire to put the work into developing them (unless it’ll make me rich), but I think someone should start thinking about how to make these a reality. Maybe they’re already available at the Apple Store. If so, clue me in. If not, send me a check and let’s talk next steps.


Like Shazam, but for objects rather than songs. Take a picture of something perplexing (What type of bug is that creeping up my wall? What is growing out of my ear?) and the app searches the internets for a description. Think of all the poisonous weeds, exotic animals, wild flowers, bad art, tragic skin disorders, and adorable outfits you could identify with one click.

What the hell is that, Click-opedia?

What the hell is that, Click-opedia?


Several apps allow you to “try on” new hairstyles to give you a taste of what you’ll look like if you attempt that atrocious dye job. But what about previewing a new personality?

For example, maybe I no longer want to be all sunshine and butterflies. But what do I do? Simple. I download Persona-mix, submit a photo, and select “badass.” The app does the rest, showing how I’d look in leather and covered in tattoos, listing several deplorable tasks to complete (“litter; knock over some empty trash cans”), and giving me a script of shameful insults to hurl at unsuspecting citizens (“you look old”). If I like what I see, I make the transition.

And I'd drive this while I spread mayhem and fear across the land

And I’ll drive this while I spread mayhem and fear across the land


Silly name-generator apps are everywhere. Want a Star Wars name? An elf name? A Star Wars elf name? There are apps for that. But how about an app that tells you what your real name should be based on your personality? Answer a ton of questions: age, sex, gender, astrological sign, favorite hobbies and food, perfect mate, etc., and the app will give you a name better suited to you. Jessie Ventura, you’re now Kermit McFeeley. Embrace it. Love it. It fits you.


Named after the Velveteen Rabbit, the VelRab app makes your favorite childhood stuffed animal real. Simply supply a photo, your animal’s name, and a description of his/her/its personality. The app sets up Panda Bear with his own Facebook profile and Twitter account and gets him started with some tweets, like

@RaggedyAndy567, u 8 my donut, dude. Hope u choke. #nodinnerforPB

Works with imaginary friends, too (sans photo).

I want George to have thousands of Twitter followers

George wants thousands of Twitter followers

Get to programming, people.

Curing Cancer and Feeding Baby Tigers With Eyedroppers

November 15, 2013 § 3 Comments

Good writers eavesdrop.

Think about conversations you’ve overheard at a party, in the cube nearby at work, in a public restroom, or while riding the subway. Just one perfect random sentence or two and you’ve got a story, or at least a solid start on one.

New York is an ideal place to eavesdrop, for there are many conversations to choose from, and you can casually listen in without blowing your cover (crowded subway during rush hour = opportune time to hear about how the woman next to you is suffering from bunions and a husband who won’t stop bringing home peppered mackerel and kippered salmon from Russ & Daughters despite her severe smoked-fish allergy).

But seriously, wait until rush hour. Empty subway cars do not good eavesdropping make.

But seriously, wait until rush hour. Empty subway cars do not good eavesdropping make.

One of my favorite overheard conversations took place on Coney Island on a quiet, cold morning. It was a long discussion among three friends on a bench, a portion of which I posted last year.

I also vaguely remember listening to two college students talking somewhere near NYU. I’d forgotten about the conversation until I came across my notes the other day. They were talking too fast for me to get much of anything. But I did manage to capture this little gem:

“Curing cancer and feeding baby tigers with eyedroppers.” 

Those eight little words are the perfect start to a short story on two volunteers who constantly try to one-up each other. Or a piece on lame college application essays. Or whatever I want it to be.

Tomorrow morning you should go out and listen in on a conversation to which you weren’t invited. But be discreet. And respectful. And then see what you discover about your capabilities as a writer. The exercise will stretch your creative muscle and help you develop well-rounded characters upon which all your readers will love to eavesdrop.

Lit Imperfection

November 12, 2013 § 6 Comments

I’m lucky to live in a picturesque neighborhood. To my north is an avenue lined for miles with old, renovated Victorian homes and mansions, a favorite for runners and bikers. My street is filled with boutiques and restaurants. But it’s the quiet neighborhood to my immediate south that I enjoy the most.

The best part about this time of year is it’s dark immediately after work, perfect for wandering these tree-lined streets anonymously, zig-zagging my way from block to block. As I pass by each house, I glance over at the lit-up rooms and watch life unfolding inside — a couple preparing dinner together and talking about their days at work, a neighbor visiting, a child doing homework or practicing piano, a family eating dinner or watching television. Visions unavailable for most of the summer, when lights don’t come on until after 9 p.m.

A happy house under a happy moon

A happy house under a happy moon

And while I enjoy watching these scenes play out from house to house, I grow a tad melancholy as I’m reminded of what I don’t have. It’s not necessarily the big, beautiful house I want (although that would be nice). It’s what fills it — love, laughter, trust, stories — that I treasure. Someone to come home to and talk about my latest idea. Someone to make dinner for. Someone to make laugh after his rough day.

Many friends remind me that marriage is hard work, that I should be careful what I wish for. I certainly don’t have delusions that only perfection exists behind those lit picture windows. The couple cooking dinner together may have just returned from couple’s counseling. The child doing his homework may be struggling with a learning disability. Half the family sitting down to dinner may be livid with one another.

And I expect that. I don’t want perfect. I welcome the challenge to work on myself and help others through their struggles. But I also want the chance to experience all the good moments that come from building a life with someone.

I’m hopeful to find the right person who wants to have someone look inside our house and see me with him, possibly dancing, most likely laughing, and to have that interloper look forward to the day when he or she will have that too.

(Never) Say Never

November 8, 2013 § 6 Comments

sky dives, permanent eyeliner, Nascar, precarious suspension bridges

archery, clown makeup, fantasy football, meth

Coursegold Tarantula Festival, whale riding, Comic Con, monster truck rallies

body piercing, ice fishing, knuckle cracking, poi sampling

presidential run, bodybuilding competition, crew cut, Tasmanian Devil wrangling

ballet dancing at Lincoln Center, a six-minute mile, pregnancy, motherhood

…but you never know…

At One With Weirdness

November 7, 2013 § 6 Comments

A boy I liked in middle school told me I was weird and broke my heart.

His comment bothered me for years, and it wasn’t until adulthood that I realized saying I was weird was just this boy’s mean and awkward way of admiring my creativity, originality, and silliness. At least that’s what I tell myself to get through the day.

My type of weird means my mind is all over the place. If you follow this blog regularly, you probably notice I don’t have a theme. I haven’t the stamina to write about dogs or running or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict every day.

Instead I embrace the weirdness I was born with and mine my brain for ideas, typically while I exercise. The problem is I forget half of what I remember by the time I hit my runner’s high. So I decided tonight to put my iPhone to work and make an audio recording of my thoughts as I took a short walk around the neighborhood.

I don’t know much about any of these topics, but would enjoy exploring them as a potential fiction, nonfiction, or bad poetry post (because every one loves bad poetry). While I mull over some of these topics and decide whether any are worth pursuing, I’ll give you a peak into my eccentric mind.

November 7, 2013; 5:15 p.m.; unfiltered story ideas:

This is the honey badger, and he don’t care about no yoga poses. Source: Wikipedia

This is the honey badger, and he don’t care about no yoga poses. Source: Wikipedia

  • Downward-facing honey badger and other cool yoga poses for people who hate yoga
  • The peculiarities of disappointment
  • Growing up living in a shoe
  • Being scared to death of the Walt Disney version of the Big Bad Wolf when I was a tot
  • Running barefoot in blizzards
  • Decorating a wedding cake with cream-, ecru-, eggshell-, and beige-colored frostings and the repercussions of doing so
  • Possible reasons why that guy is screaming in his car as he waits for the light to change
  • Carrots and raisins in milk and other bad recipes
  • Mini Cooper rallies and Smart Car pulls
  • The audacity of overhead lighting
  • White picket fences in a trailer park
  • Llamas that spit Kool-Aid when they’re happy
  • Growing old and feeble and liking it
  • Santa and the Tooth Fairy’s illegitimate child
As a kid, I can’t even tell you how many times I looked under my bed at night to make sure this dude was not there. Source: 50 Most Influential Disney Animators: Norman Ferguson

As a kid, I can’t even tell you how many times I looked under my bed at night to make sure this dude was not there. Source: 50 Most Influential Disney Animators: Norman Ferguson

I think if you’re willing to admit it, you can come up with some pretty crazy topics in the course of a short walk.

Embrace that weirdness. Write something grand.

If it’s grape-flavored, that means he loves you. Source: HD Wallpapers

If it’s grape-flavored, that means he loves you. Source: HD Wallpapers

Learning to Love the Loathsome Gingko

November 5, 2013 § 7 Comments

I spent the autumns of 2011 and 2012 in the great metropolis of New York. My life-changing time there was even more memorable because Manhattan sidewalks lack smushed gingko seeds. (Yes, Manhattan sidewalks offer other offenses to the nose and eyes, but gingko seeds ain’t one of ‘em.)

Gingko Armageddon -- not in NYC

Gingko Armageddon — not in NYC

I’ve been running and walking the streets of St. Paul for many years now, and the only downside to autumn that I can think of is the production and elimination of the female gingko tree’s nasty children.

Years ago, before I realized the peculiar odor rising from the sidewalk was not vomit, I thought the gingko seeds were pretty little apricot-like berries that you could gather to make pies and jam.

Look at them, all innocent and cute, waiting for you to pick one up and pop it in your mouth

Look at them, all innocent and cute, waiting for you to pick one up and pop it in your mouth

Ha! Fooled me! It’s not my kind of eats, but some foodies purport that if you can dig through all that deplorable flesh without gagging, a delectable nut awaits you. But guess what? Too many gingko nuts can KILL YOU. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the gingko is a lose-lose proposition.

Low-hanging gingkoes waiting to kill you

Low-hanging gingkoes waiting to kill you

I realize I’m being flippant. Perhaps the gingko has some wonderful qualities I’m overlooking. Perhaps I should write an ode to the gingko seed. Or better yet, a children’s book about the bullied gingko who overcomes adversity and inevitably enjoys equal esteem among the athletic oaks, stunning maples, and skinny birches.

To research my soon-to-be best-selling picture book, I googled “gingko qualities” and came up with a slew of them:

  • Medicinal aspects — gingko leaf extract can help with dementia, memory problems, depression, cataracts. Sign me up!
  • Nothing fazes the stately gingko — not smoke, not deer, not air pollution. It laughs at insects and diseases that easily overcome other trees. Simply build a fort of gingkoes around your compound — nothin’s getting through!
  • “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” — Linus Van Pelt, 1965 (but not in reference to a gingko)

You’re right, Linus. For don’t we all deserve a little love? Even the foul gingko.

Art World Kiss and Tell (Subtitle: AWK-ward)

November 2, 2013 § 2 Comments

On my twenty-fifth birthday, I went out with a group to a favorite downtown bar and spent the evening kissing men I didn’t know. Egged on by a friend, I found the exercise remarkably innocent, confidence-building, and rewarding, landing me in the arms of a handsome stranger who danced with me until closing.

Alas, those days are gone — the late nights, downtown bar hopping, youth.

Instead I now fill my time learning how to kiss strangers in the new old-fashioned way. Thanks to events like Art World Kiss (AWK), I can now greet friends and strangers alike in the manner people on the coasts and in the Old World are accustomed to.

Part tongue-in-cheek, part boot camp, today’s AWK lesson was led by three artists and inspired by writer Andy Sturdevant and his essay on the AWK — that kiss on both cheeks you see people do on television but never in the Midwest — from his new book Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow

(Side note: I highly encourage you to buy the book, especially if you’re from Minnesota — not only can the guy write, but he also finds quirky aspects of the metro area and beyond to research, ponder, and profile.)

The band of artists, the author, and a small group of amused and curious participants (including my friend Laura and me) met in downtown Minneapolis this afternoon, did some warm-up exercises, and hopped a train to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to learn and practice the art of the AWK. Why the train and the airport? Both are symbols of cultures that embrace mass transit and require a long plane ride to reach — locations that coincidentally embrace the AWK.

Awaiting her AWK

Awaiting her AWK

Once on the train, the lessons began in earnest, always beginning with an example of the wrong way to perform a portion of the AWK (e.g., eye contact in the transition between cheeks, wet lips, invasion of another’s personal space).

Light rail AWKing

Light rail AWKing

While the other light rail passengers seemed mildly upset or confused by our shenanigans, the rest of us had a ball, answering and asking questions, and eventually trying out our new skills on one another. Once we reached the airport, we detrained and graduated, receiving a certified AWK learner’s permit.

Certification means I must now widely practice my new skills by AWKing the millions of Minnesotans who weren’t in attendance. It takes a village to make AWKing a cultural practice, so let’s embrace it, one and all.



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