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The Unapologetic Geek

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12 Things I Learned in 2012

Has it been another year already? Damn, I'm getting old. Alright, I guess it's time to assess the last year and account for the things I've learned.

Chuck E. Cheese's Isn't So Bad

There's not a single happy person in this scene

Before 2012, when I thought of the kid's arcade/pizza joint Chuck E. Cheese's, only two things came to mind: vague childhood memories of screaming and general unhappiness, and a scene from the movie Parenthood in which young Kevin Buckman loses his retainer at a Chuck E. Cheese's-style place, leading to a ridiculous amount of trauma and parents who rifle through trash before getting into a car accident over a blowjob. In other words, I wouldn't have considered it a happy place.

In 2012, however, Tommy was invited to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's and we were obliged to go. I prepared myself for the soulless eyes of teenage employees, the disturbing, creaky sounds coming from rusty, terrifying animatronics, and urine-soaked ball pits beside broken arcade games from the 1980's, all on top of a splotchy carpet that emits smells so terrible even Cthulhu would cringe. Fortunately, my preparations were in vain, because Chuck E. Cheese's is much better than I expected. The games are actually pretty cool: they still have the obligatory air hockey and skee-ball, but they also have cool jetpack simulators, a surprisingly clean play area for the youngest ones, games that actually require you to throw things at a giant HD screen, and Guitar Hero. Plus, the staff is extremely well-trained, able to hide the mind-shattering terror of dealing with toddlers every day behind a comforting smile and a relaxed attitude. I can't speak for every Chuck E. Cheese's establishment, of course, but I can say that, at the one I went to, my son had such a good time that we took him there again for his own birthday party just last week. It's entirely possible that parental eyes are biased by the smile on their kid's face, but if mine are, I'm okay with it.

Digital Publishing Isn't Insane Anymore

Digital Book
Think of it as a complement, not a replacement

I do not apologize for dismissing the well-intentioned advice I have received over the last several years to try self-publishing digitally, because it used to be 100% true that digital self-publishing was career suicide. However, I attended a writer's conference in New York a while back in which it became clear to me (and several other writers) that the stigma is lifting, that the democratization of the publishing industry is at hand. This is a remarkable switch from writers conferences I attended a few years earlier, where we all commisserated with each other about how a declining economy and power-clinging publishing oligopoly ensured that no one could get published unless they were somebody famous and established.

I'm not trying to say that digital publishing is the perfect way to go--I've done a lot of relearning over the last few months, and the bottom line is it all depends on your priorities and your capacity for patience--but it is now a viable way to get your foot in the door. The publishing industry is actually paying attention now instead of turning its nose at the future. If you believe your work can build its own audience on its own merits, you can now put it out there and put that belief to the test. Though I'm not even close to ready to announce anything yet, I will say that I am currently doing some heavy polishing on some of my best stuff. My future as a writer actually looks brighter now that it has looked in quite some time, and if I can build on this (and the publication of "Somatoform Purgatory" last year as well), anything is possible.

You Don't Have to Be an Old Lady to Clip Coupons

You're probably an old lady if you keep a coupon scrapbook, though

Anybody who has been grocery shopping lately knows that food prices have been on a not-so-gentle upward curve. As such, if you live on a tight budget, you have to start weighing your options in terms of how best to save money on food. Unwilling to return to the college diet of ramen and leftover pizza (I still eat these things, but my diet is a touch broader now), my family and I have started finding new workarounds to afford the kinds of foods we like to eat. On top of the predictable things (eating out less, comparison grocery shopping, being willing to experiment with generic brands, etc.), I've also become something of a coupon junkie.

Mind you, I'm not one of these extreme couponers you see on TLC who spend six hours planning every shopping trip so that they can buy $500 worth of canned tuna and mac & cheese for $1.23, but I have learned that just a few minutes going through mail coupons, online coupons, and special deals--along with doing some creative meal planning--can go a long way to cutting into that weekly food budget. If you calculate it like an hourly wage, just ten minutes of work can be equivalent to making $30 an hour. If that makes me an old lady, so be it; I'm an old lady.

Potty Training Sucks

potty screamer
There will be screaming

I've heard tales of children who take to potty training like a pregnant woman takes to chocolate ice cream, kids who seem to understand the underlying concepts, what's expected of them, and how to handle the situation. Some even claim that you can potty train a child in a day, a week at most. Let me step away from these stories and introduce you to something called reality, where unicorns aren't real, karma doesn't prevent bad things from happening to good people, Jersey Shore is popular enough to get renewed year after year, and potty training is the most stressful part of parenting since the birthing process. If you're about to enter this wonderful world, you'd better read up on how to clean poop stains from your couch and how to watch someone urinate on the floor and then reassure them that they didn't do anything wrong.

This is the first time you have to teach a child that the way they've been doing something is absolutely wrong and that if they don't change, they cannot be admitted into civilized society anymore. Toddlers don't really understand how digestion works or that poop comes out of their butt (until they witness this curious event for themselves), much less why anybody would believe that not wearing diapers is somehow preferable to wearing them, so this is a pretty complex and confusing set of skills for them to learn. It takes a lot of time, understanding, patience, patience, patience, patience, and patience. If you're not prepared for that--and if you think potty training is no big deal--do yourself and your unborn children a favor: don't have them.

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-e. magill 1/8/2013

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