Writing Slump

“Like a Pitching Slump, but With Fewer Balls”

I haven’t been able to write the J.R.S. for about, oh I dunno, six weeks? For those of you who noticed and mentioned it to me, thank you. I appreciate your words.

Basically, it all comes down to pressure.

Almost everything in my life is driven by an internal pressure in my head. Pressure to do well in my career. Pressure to write the most wonderful words. Pressure to be the best person I can be.

To be honest, the JRS was originally created as a personal pressure release valve. It was a place to write just for me, without any pressure on performance or writing quality.

Then I had to go and share with friends and family, and I immediately developed a new pressure point in my life. I have to deliver a finished product to people I love Thursday morning, come hell or high water.

This is not a dig at you, dear reader. In fact, knowing that I have readers keeps me honest, keeps me accountable. Except when we were traveling in Amsterdam I got distracted.

I’ve done this time and time again in my writing. I’ll start something and go full steam 68% of the way, and then somewhere I’ll spring a leak and the momentum will bleed off without me noticing.

So I missed a week of writing. Then a second week. The first week was excusable – I was in Amsterdam for work. The second one, less so, but hey, I was jetlagged!

The third Thursday I woke up with a dread and guilt. I wasn’t uninspired, in fact, I’ve known what my reviews from Amsterdam were going to be all three weeks. It was the pressure (and guilt) that was trapping me. Not only was I letting the readers down, but now I was another six reviews behind.

Fast forward to today, and the last time I graced your inboxes was August 23rd. That’s 6 weeks ago. I’m now 18 reviews behind.

My goal when I started this was to write one newsletter a week, for a year straight. I’ve missed a week or two here or there, but nothing like this.

Looks like I have some reviews to write.

And some pressure to release.

Writing Slump – 1 out of 5 Stars

Rapid Fire Reviews

“Because Snackable Content Sticks”

To stop living in a festering pool of guilt and internal tension, I’m going to reset the clock. Here are 18 rapid fire reviews.

Travel Edition Part 3: Amsterdam

Trains to Work – The only time the world can hit “snooze” on your perfectly timed morning is with a late train. Still, it beats driving.  – 3 out of 5 Stars

Zoos – Whenever I have a moment while traveling, I’ll visit a zoo in a weird place. Animal rights tabled for the moment, the zoo in Amsterdam is my favorite cuddly jail, it had wide awake animals all over the place. Talk about instant gratification! – 4 out of 5 Stars

Envy – A fancy restaurant Kate and I went to in Amsterdam. We sat at the Chef’s Table and had an 11-course meal, four of which were mostly foam based. Do I want to eat most food in foam form? No. Was it cool though? I dunno, is eating bubbles cool? Absolutely. – 4 out of 5 Stars

Misc

Our Current Political Climate – 0 out of 5 Stars

Jicama Sticks – They lack the crunch of carrots, and yet have the weird texture of watermelon. – 2 out of 5 Stars

Bohnanaza – A card game where you’re a bean farmer and have to trade with other farmers to reap the best bean harvests. You know it’s a good game when you’re standing up and shouting across the table “HOW MANY STINK BEANS DO YOU WANT FOR ONE CHILI BEAN GODDAMMIT” – 4 out of 5 stars

Twitter – I’ve gotten back into the word whirlwind that is Twitter. Avoid all Kanye tweets. – 2 out of 5 Stars

Chia Pods – We were mistakenly given a bagful of these in our last Instacart order. They’re like if you mixed bad pudding with the gelatin portion of pomegranate seeds. – 1 out of 5 Stars 

The Good Place – What a brilliant show, and what trust in the writing staff. – 4 out of 5 Stars

Cheers – Speaking of Ted Danson, this show is uncomfortably misogynist. However, that seems like a great bar to hang at. – 2 out of 5 Stars

A Career in the Postal Service – I’ve often dreamed about is being a mailman in a nice walkable neighborhood. You get to exercise every day, you could listen to podcasts at work (learn French!) and most of the time you’re delivering something important to people’s lives. – 3 out of 5 Stars

Jazz Flute – When Kate and I were in Spain, the only music we had at the house were a stack of CD’s her family had left. Most of them were classical, except one was an album that had crazy good jazz flute renditions of Brazillian music. An Absolute Banger. – 4 out of 5 Stars

Silent Discos on the Beach – If time permits, I try to run after work before the sun goes down on the beach. Recently I’ve been coming across a group of Burner types who all wear headphones and gyrate wildly in silence on the beach as the sun goes down. Whatever works I guess. – 3 out of 5 Stars

Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes – A recipe taken from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings, put this in your weekly rotation now. It’s the deliciousness of mashed potatoes, sans the Irish guilt. – 5 out of 5 Stars 

Bad Blood – I just finished this book about Theranos, the Silicon Valley startup that tricked investors out of a billion dollars, and then immediately made Kate read it. I’m usually not one for nonfiction, but this is a fascinating and fast read. – 4 out of 5 Stars

Wearing My Suit to a Wedding – Got to finally break that bad boy out for a trip to DC a few weeks back. While people weren’t throwing money or their bras at me, I did feel like a million bucks (at a 40% discount, thanks Atta!) – 4 out of 5 Stars

Pumpkins for Decoration – It’s October again, which means I start stressing about my Halloween costume, and Kate goes overboard on decorating. Our house now contains a pumpkin that we will never eat. It will just slowly rot until I throw it in the garbage. – 1 out of 5 Stars

Crossing Things off a List – Every Monday morning I sit down and make a list of thing I need to get done for the week. Some of them are ongoing projects, but some of them are gimmes. I literally write “make a list” and then when I’m done, cross it off. I encourage endorphin manipulation at all opportunities. – 3 out of 5 Stars 

Blisters

“The Worst Type of Bubbles”

For the first time in my life, I went to Comic-Con. I was down there for a work event and ended up spending almost seven days in San Diego. Unlike my last journey down south, this excursion wasn’t full of quaint towns and delightful bloody marys.

No, this was all about the job. I won’t get into the details, but I worked with a dedicated and passionate team to put on something that had never been done before at such scale, and I’m incredibly proud of the output.

My feet strongly disagree.

The life of a professional writer is rarely physically strenuous. Mentally taxing at times? Yes. It’s tough to stare at a blank document and then figure out what to fill it up with. But writing takes a low physical toll on my body – my fingers are most impacted as I have an annoying tendency to snap my fingers when I’m searching for the correct word.

For six days straight, I was up and on my feet. Pacing, running, walking, I was never sitting down. Part of my role was to lead a team of nearly 100 people, and I channeled my former lives as a teacher and camp counselor by making sure they never saw me sitting. If I was asking them to stand, then I had to be the Superman of standing.

After one day, my feet began to pulse with fiery pain. By day two, blisters began to form, and on day four every night was a terrible ritual of slowly peeling off my shoes in gentle motions.

In the few hours of downtime I had, I dragged a coworker to buy new socks, thinking that would remedy the problem (it didn’t). Resigned to my fate, I woke up each morning, put on my shoes with a grimace, and trudged out into the hotel lobby.

All in all, my feet and heels are healing, so I don’t regret a single moment. This experience has made me respect shoes that nurses and waitresses wear – suddenly rounded Keds and Sketchers don’t look so dumb after all.

Blisters – 1 out of 5 Stars

Raking Leaves

“Outdoor Punishment”

Growing up, there were a few constants in my life.

A. According to my sister, I chewed too loud
B. Fantasy novels
C. There were leaves to be raked

Our backyard had around 20 incredible oak trees. One of the trees was so big, we had to build our deck around it. These trees were integral in my love of the wind, but they also dropped leaves, which became the bane of my allergies and my existence every weekend.

I believe chores are an important part of building self-worth and character in a child, but holy shit did I hate raking leaves.

We had this long and narrow strip of concrete that was nestled in between the back of our garage and the beginning of our backyard deck that seemed to naturally collect all the leaves in the world. Also, it seems that all the dust and pollen decided to come along for the ride.

In the fall and summer, every weekend involved me doing an hour of labor, and 95% of those labor revolved around leaves.

I would throw on a bandana and rake pile after pile of dead leaves into a plastic trashbin, then trudge down across my yard and dump the leaves down the side of our hill. It was my own personal Sisyphean task. My eyes would sting from pollen, dirt would be lodged under my fingernails for days, and after the hour was completed, I would spend the next two sneezing.

I hadn’t raked leaves since I was 18, until a few weeks ago when I visited a friend’s house in Echo Park. We’ve been friends for almost a decade, and one of the things we’ve bonded over is a love of projects. Together we’ve built a chicken coop, a gate, new stairs, cleared brush, and more.

Signing up to do yardwork, I began to rake leaves for my friend, and I was filled with a sense of dread as the first world trauma of raking leaves came rushing back. After arranging a few piles, I quickly switched tasks and didn’t even give them a glance.

Also, what are these memories that people on the east coast have of jumping on leaf piles? Sounds like an opportunity to get slugs on you, or worse. Pass.

Raking Leaves – 1 out of 5 Stars

Ketchup

“A Take-Down”

Ketchup is basically a garbage condiment that really only exists to be put on french fries and hot dogs. Other than that, it has no place in cooking. It’s full of sugar, overwhelms your palate, and more often than not, it makes fart sounds when you’re squirting it out.

In fact, the fart sounds are the only positive things one can say about Ketchup.

Also, catsup? That’s how you say hello to felines. Not how you spell a condiment.

Ketchup – 1 out of 5 Stars.

Cider

“Apple Urine”

At work the other day, I opened the refrigerator to be greeted with a row of large bottles that each had tape wrapped around them with the aggressively scrawled “MINE” inked on the tape with a sharpie. My curiosity was immediately aroused. What was the ambrosia trapped in these glass vessels that warrants such protection?

Turns out, it was alcoholic cider. And I knew I had to say something about this. For benefit of all mankind, can we just agree that cider is bad?

It’s bad at being a tasty juice, and it’s even worse at being a good alcoholic beverage. Cider is the Porcupine of the animal kingdom. It doesn’t have a real clear purpose, but in general, you know that you don’t want any part of it.

Now I’m sure there is special cider that is made in the highlands of Scotland that is absolutely fantastic. But I’ve never had that cider. I’ve only had Strongbow and the other variations of cider that are breaking into the American market in the last decade or so.

If you have a food allergy, and cider is the only alcoholic beverage you can drink that isn’t straight up liquor, then you get a pass. But to everyone else who drinks cider, or brings cider to a party and pretends to “enjoy” the taste. I see through your web of lies, your false grins of glee. Let’s cut the crap, cider is basically a wine cooler with better branding.

Have you ever wanted to drink something cloyingly sweet but also sour and mildly alcoholic? Even better, do you want the pain of a sugary morning-after headache, without any of the joys of being intoxicated? Ladies and Gentlemen, you might want to drink cider.

Spike your juice or order a beer. Let’s cease buying cider completely.

Cider – 1 out of 5 Stars 

Doughnuts

“A Sugar Rush No One Asked For”

In theory, doughnuts should be a delightful treat. They have all the components of a thing that would bring joy to the masses. Dough, sugar, and a relatively low price point.

But in reality, doughnuts leave you filled with shame, sadness, and a sugar high that quickly turns into a splitting headache, ruining any joy that the brief bite of fried dough brought.

Growing up, doughnuts were a Sunday staple in our household. My father would return from his bike ride and stop at the Chinese restaurant down the street and pick up a pink box full of glazed sweets. I’ve discussed this with other people, but I always thought all Chinese restaurants doubled as doughnut purveyors, but I guess it’s just a California thing.

It wasn’t until a fateful family trip to Pacific Northwest did doughnuts display their true colors. I was maybe 14, and we had gone up to Seattle to explore the city. The day started off nice enough, and as we strolled toward Pikes Place we saw a flyer for our hometown band, Eve 6.

When we got to the famous fish market, my parents were kind enough to let my sister and me scarf down a platter of doughnuts. It was a vacation after all, let’s live a little!

The next twenty minutes were a frenetic blur, but my next solid memories were ones of lethargy and crankiness. The sugar had run its course, and now the last thing young Joey wanted to do was literally anything. Somehow I made it through the day without being disowned, but after the doughnut disaster of Seattle, they became scarce in the Serxner home.

As an adult, I actively try to avoid doughnuts whenever possible. This has become more challenging because my work is two doors down from one of those fancy doughnut places. They sell doughnuts like rose-water and pistachio or double chocolate fried banana with an Oreo crumble for $4 bucks a pop. We have them for client meetings, which means there are usually doughnuts up for grabs in the kitchen.

Strong of will and the memory of the Seattle Sugar Rush even stronger, I breeze by those puffs of despair and do not let doughnuts defeat me.

Doughnuts – 1 out of 5 Stars