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“…White people are obsessed with being in the right neighborhood and the Internet is no exception.”

The above is from a popular blogsite called “Stuff White People Like” (“This blog is devoted to stuff that white people like”) that’s being up-linked and forwarded around the old Internet Highway. It has some funny stuff.

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“In the early days, white people joined a social-networking service called Friendster where they could connect with old friends and make new ones. Eventually, white people started to notice more and more of their friends on MySpace, so they closed their Friendster accounts and migrated to the new service. It was like living in a neighborhood that was pretty good but kind of far away, so you might have to miss out on a few parties. Needless to say, this was unacceptable…

“…For a brief period of time, MySpace was the site where everyone kept their profile and managed their friendships. But soon, the service began to attract fake profiles, the wrong kind of white people, and struggling musicians.…”

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The site lists such things as “Unpaid Internships,” “Facebooks,” “Girls with Bangs,” and “Writer Appearances.” I have an idea what the first one is but have never had much call for anything like it. A “Facebook” I can only guess at; it’s a kind of appointment calendar, I assume. “Girls with Bangs,” I’m there, but I’ll take what I can get. Listed beneath that bangs thing are Joni Mitchell (check), Jane Birkin (huh? — I feel as if I’m supposed to know this one — is she in government?), and Jenny Lewis. No idea there — one of Jerry’s Kids? And then there’s “Writer Appearances.” I’ll have to look into this. Surely, it does not include any appearance of mine, but let me make sure.

No, no. Nothing to do with me or my personal grooming. It is simply a list of bookstores where you can buy the book What White People Like. Still, it gives me pause. How about a book of my own? What White Writers Like. Or better yet, What Poor White Writers Like. Or maybe I should just make it Poor Writers. But reading on, I see the blog entry “Comparing People to Hitler.” This is, again, something white people like. Well, yeah, I did that with Bush some weeks ago — you know, Iraq and Poland, so I guess it was white of me. There was a question at one time about that, however — me and my whiteness, I mean — though it turns out the answer to the question “Are Italians white?” is that no one cares.

I’m still thinking there is promise in this poor-writers thing. Julia Child was once asked her opinion of a Big Mac, and after a grimacing, chewing pause (presumably gargling the pickles), pronounced, “Well, I suppose it will keep you alive.” What sprang to mind for me was not Mickey D, but Jack in the Box and their 99-cent tacos. Two for a buck, and white people will never know the difference, if there is any, between a taco-cart taco in El Cajon and these babies. I’m pretty sure there’s a major difference, but my doubt is testimony to my whiteness.

Poor writers will want to be familiar with Kinko’s low copy and printout rates (the more prolific you are, the more you can save) and cheap flash drives. Any cheap flash drive will do except for mine. It’s called a Cruz. It’s the only one with which Kinko’s has problems.

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“For those few who haven’t yet seen it, read about it in the Los Angeles Times, or heard about it on NPR, the blog was created by a 29-year-old aspiring comedy writer in L.A., and it is, by its own description, ‘devoted to stuff white people like,’ presented as numbered, encyclopedia-style entries; e.g., #1 Coffee; #5 Farmer’s Markets; #69 Mos Def; or #79 Modern Furniture.” — The New Republic, March 17, 2008

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Can’t get much whiter than the New Republic.

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“I imagine the most common reaction among its readers is summed up by one rhapsodic commenter: ‘Oh, lord, it only hurts because it’s true!’ And that’s the problem. The reason the phrase ‘it’s funny because it’s true’ has become a shorthand for things that are neither (a) funny nor (b) particularly true is because humor is rarely truly satirical when its targets also make up the bulk of its audience. Or, if it is, the audience doesn’t tend to find it funny.…” — [Ibid.]

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This, too, sounds familiar. I hardly expect anyone to remember, but I said something very much like it recently.

Poor writers will often like other poor writers. Even more common is that poor writers will often believe that other writers, poor or not, can do a damn thing to help them. A joke was going around Hollywood for a time; it may have originated with William Goldman, but who knows? In the guise of a Polish joke, it went:

“Have you heard about the poor, stupid starlet who came to Hollywood?”

“Why, no. How poor and stupid was she?”

“She fucked a writer.”

A writer’s joke, and hardly a blonde or Polish joke.

Poor writers will, and as Fran Liebowitz once pointed out, need to — as early as infancy, if this can be identified — practice drinking lots of water (not Perrier, as she suggests — tap will do fine) in rehearsal for quitting alcohol. Other helpful hints I might include, following “advance action and reveal character,” would be that suicide is unhelpful. It is a long-term solution to a short-term problem. After Hamburger Helper, if you find you can no longer stomach the stuff, remember: Yogurt is cheap and helps regulate gastric reflux.

If you do not have a computer and are subject to the dictates of your wallet (or a higher, artistic directive), I’m still with you, but try to get over it. Here’s a suggestion as to how. Kinko’s, again — or even certain smoke/head/UPS stop/Lotto joints — will offer Internet time at a reasonable rate. Use this time for what you will, but you may want to access Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace to see where you might sell your wares, and print out the relevant section, if you can, and read what you walk away with closely. Then forget about it.

I’ve heard it said that reading cheap paperbacks and calling it “research” is a waste, but I’ve never found it any worse (quite the opposite) than watching television. Read Conrad, and it’s worth any number of hours watching COPS or the History Channel about crab fishermen. Used copies of Joseph Conrad’s work are probably cheaper than Stephen King’s. They’ll go farther though. He’s a few inches away on bookstore shelves from anything by Graham Greene. Read Greene, even type out entire paragraphs of his, so the weight and proper balance of a sentence runs through your arms and fingers. Also, try it with the last paragraph of James Joyce’s short story “The Dead.” I did, several times. If you give up COPS, and please do, pick up a bargain-bin James Ellroy. Just about anything of his will do.

I live in a cheap hotel, or did. If you can pull it off, live with someone who thinks of you as an “artist.” I’ve had trouble with this, and you will too, but if you can live with yourself, it’s better than living with yourself, if you know what I mean.

Coupons, well, try it. Don’t smoke a pipe. You can’t afford that, and it just torpedoes the hell out of your credibility, and you have none. Try Maverick cigarettes; you can get them for $2.99 a pack. Better yet, forget them. Distorting Conrad’s Kurtz: “Make friends with the horror.”

Know where to steal. Again, we’re back to the Internet. When you do, be convincingly disdainful of Wikipedia and at least some of your own sources. Use Google like the phone book. No computer? Phone book, it still works.

John Gardner, a fine novelist and writing teacher (author of The Art of Fiction, On Moral Fiction, and others), pointed out the need for writers to experience some degree of success at some point, if not early on, then at least at regular intervals. How you define this success to yourself is key. Getting paid for your work is a fine example, but more than once (and I am not referring to these pages), I have had the temerity to ask for payment well after acceptance but before it was convenient for an editorial panel that could have formed a basketball team to convene. I earned a reputation for being “difficult.” Another and very famous writer friend told me that in order to be considered difficult you must first be somebody. It is a comforting thought, but comforting thoughts and bus fare.…

What about ideas? What to write about? Once you enjoy a modicum of success — say, you get paid for something — you will be asked: Where do you get your ideas? You may want to know yourself. If you write science fiction, this question will be guaranteed. In the case of one such writer, Roger Zelazny, I heard he grew so tired of the query (with the word “crazy” usually added before “ideas” because it was science fiction), he formulated his own quick response: “Schenectady.” He swore he saw people wearing Mr. Spock ears jotting this down. I adopted a more elaborate answer for science-fiction panels. I must have lifted this from somebody, but I cannot remember whom. My answer was “I don’t know, but every night before I go to bed, I leave a quart of milk on the back porch, a box of cookies, kosher salami, and a jar of pickles. Every morning, I wake up and these things are gone, but there is this stack of crazy ideas.”

One item you must be very careful about and that is hope. Obama aside, this is dangerous stuff. If you do not use a computer or typewriter, you are probably among those, not unlike me, who would fancy a quill. It was, I think, Emily Dickenson who said, “Hope is a thing with feathers.” Use a ballpoint. — John Brizzolara

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