It's Thursday night, seven minutes after midnight, which technically means Friday. My column—this column—is due on Friday. The Sword of Deadline-ocles hangs over my head.
I blame Rob Garbowski.
Rob Garbowski is (warning: blatant, gratuitous friend-band plug cometh) the drummer for a smokin' hard-rock band called SweetTooth. Rob and I are friends and all, but the other day he said something that irritated my ass off.
He was detailing the reasons he was not impressed by a recent column I had written and concluded by saying, “I could tell that you phoned that one in.”
Now, normally I welcome criticism. Constructive criticism has improved my writing a great deal over the years, not the least of which came from Rob, who you can always count on for honest and intelligent critique.
So, I hope you take it in the right spirit, Rob, when I tell you to lick my liver blisters.
This is not the first time I've heard that particular criticism. There have been many friends and acquaintances over the years who have accused me of phoning in one column or another—meaning, I assume, that I didn't try hard enough or care sufficiently about the article in question. Well, people, for the record, I have never phoned one in.
This is not to suggest that I am incapable of not caring or not trying. The truth is, phoning shit in is something at which I excel: I phone in my chores, I phone in my taxes, I phone in my workouts. I'm generally a lazy person who would phone his phone calls in if such a thing were possible. But this column is different. This column, you know, it goes out there; it goes out to people—people who scrutinize it—people who are just waiting for it to start sucking so they can tear me to shreds. People like you.
Don't deny it. You know it's true, even if you don't know it yet. And I'm not blaming you. I'm not mad. Because I'm the same way. It's how we all are. We're all waiting for somebody to suck so we can tear them to shreds, and I live in fear of that day when I start sucking and you start shredding, which is why I spend a lot of time on these columns, spend a lot of time inventing ridiculous words, absurdly hyphenating existing phrases, Creating Useless Acronyms (CUA), thinking of various festering organs for my nemeses to lick and, the hardest part of all, finding the right column topic.
Sordid Tales is due every other Friday at 2 p.m. The only time I have any peace in my life is the weekend after I send it in. It's the time when I don't worry about what the hell I'm going to write about for my next column. But come Monday, the mad dash to find a premise begins.
I know, I know, at that point, my next deadline is still 11 days away. So why the rush to find a topic? Because I go through topics like coyotes go through canyon puppies.
Here is my life on the biweekly Hamster Wheel of Despair: I spend one or two days searching for a column idea, followed by one or two days working on it, after which I realize the idea is rubbish, toss it, find another, work it and toss it. I usually do this several times per deadline, and before I know it, it's Thursday night / Friday morning again and I've got the Hamster Droppings of Damocles hanging over my head.
Take this column you're reading now. Originally it was called (ugh) “Phoning it in.” I pondered for days about whether to go with it, mostly because, a long time ago, I swore I would never do this. I swore I would never write a column about how difficult it is to write a column. It's the first thing they teach you in Column College.
However, Rob's “phoning it in” comment kept nagging me, taunting me. I had to write about it, which presented another problem: If I do write about writing my column, should I write that I know it's wrong to write about it? My inclination is, yes. If I write that I know it's wrong to write about my writing, the reader might give me a pass. Of course, the whole thought process sent me headlong into the obvious, imminent, infinite regression vortex because now I'm writing about writing about whether it's right to write about my writing, and uh-oh, see that? I just wrote about writing about writing about writing....
The whole thing became so ludicrous that I tossed it in the trash and began working on another idea: the adverse effect pot brownies have had on my sanity. I moiled on that piece of garbage for two days before I realized that writing about the adverse effect pot brownies have had on my sanity was adversely affecting my sanity. So I trashed it and retrieved the “phoning it in” file—this file—to see if I could make something of it after all. I gave it a useless acronym (CUA), an absurdly hyphenated word (Deadline-ocles), a festering organ for somebody to lick (blistering liver), then took a sip of coffee, blinked my eyes, looked at the clock and the clock ticked Friday—that confounded sword shimmering a mere quarter inch from my throat.
So, “Phoning it in” it will have to be. The decision has inspired a minor panic within me. In my mind, I see you scoffing as you read this. I see you tapping your friend on the shoulder. “Get a load of this piece of trash,” I see you saying to your friend in my mind. And, yes, perhaps it was a mistake to submit this column. I don't even know. I never know. The only thing I know is, I didn't phone it in. I dragged it in, on bloody hands and knees, again.
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