Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on February 20, 2009


typewriter8          So, to get us started today, here’s a funny little story…

          In my hometown of Mattoon, Illinois, there used to be this restaurant called D & W.  It was one of those home-style sit-down-to-eat places, kind of like a local version of a Perkins, where the kitchen served Biscuits and Gravy, and Chicken and Dumplings, and Beef Manhattans.  Unfortunately, D & W went out of business two years ago, but, up until that moment, D & W was a virtual hot-spot for the 65-and-over crowd.  Every day of the week, regardless of the season, hundreds of these blue-haired old widows and widowers would roll into the D & W parking lot at 5:30 in the morning in their Buick Park Avenues and Cadillac Sevilles, and they’d perform a ritualistic eight-hour mating and gossip ritual that involved copious amounts of coffee, dozens of hands of bridge, and chicken salad sandwiches.  Believe me when I say that what Prey is to the 20-something Los Angeles night-club scene, D & W replicated for the geriatric corn-belt crew.

brokeback          Anyway, back in early 2006, my sister was home from St. Louis for the weekend, and I drove over from Charleston to meet my folks and grandparents at D & W for lunch.  I probably had chicken-fried steak, or something equally awesome – but I can’t exactly remember.  What I can remember, however, is becoming fascinated, as I filled myself with gravy, by the conversation of the two old guys at the table behind us.  It turns out that one of them had gone the previous night on a date to go see Brokeback Mountain – but he had no idea what the movie was about before he got there.  Evidently, he just thought it was going to be a cowboy movie, and he picked the film (on his turn in the dating rotation), because he liked Westerns.  Oh God – I wish I could recreate the awkwardness of that conversation for you; it was one of the wildest things I’ve ever heard!  The man wanted to leave the movie, but somehow couldn’t, because his girlfriend really liked it, and he decided to be a gentleman – and just the confusion in his voice the next morning was incredible.  “It was a fag movie, Walter!  About these two fag cowboys!  But…it was kind of good…once you got past all the gross stuff.”  I’m sure I haven’t done the moment justice – but just try to picture it.  It was surreal.

          Now, what’s my point with this introductory story?  Well, certainly it’s not to deride old people for being homophobic.  They grew up in a different era, and this man’s confusion, and his decision to stay throughout the entire picture, was actually kind of open-minded when you stop to think about the context.  Rather, my point is that sometimes in life you just have to accept the fact that you can’t know everything in advance, and in those situations you have to roll with the punches.  Believe it or not, this post today represents that exact situation for many of the site’s readers.

zigzag-white          You see, ever since I released the full list of lessons back in October with the “Real Dope Rapper” / “Real Dope Wrapper” wordplay, my friends have been hassling me about the topic of this specific piece of advice.  And I guess this makes sense, because when you look at the full list, it’s a little difficult to tell exactly what this post is going to be about.  Mostly, I blame this confusion on the general ambiguity of the English language, where so many words double as multiple parts of speech.  Is “dope” a noun or an adjective?  Is “wrapper” a verb or a noun?  Well, now it’s time for the grand unveiling of what lies behind the pearl-studded shirt, spurs, and cowboy boots.  So…today’s post has absolutely nothing to do with a magical elf who explains the proper method of Christmas present wrapping.  Unlike Pam Beesly’s advice to Roy in Season 3 of The Office, I have no interest in telling you that if you’re using more than 3 pieces of tape when wrapping a present then you’re doing something wrong.  Nor is today’s post about zig-zags.  Obviously, Dr. Wizard can make no official endorsement regarding the choice between clear and white papers.  Instead, the “real dope wrapper” referred to in the title of this lesson is the Jimmy – and the lesson is about why you should use one if you’re going to have irresponsible sex with multiple partners – like Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.

birth-control          Now, my agenda here isn’t to insult your intelligence.  I know that most of you, in your moments of rational thought, are completely aware of the reasons that having unprotected sex is a bad idea.  For one thing, unless you have Magic Johnson money, or a magic Johnson, AIDS is still a terminal, not a chronic, disease.  For another, the average human being urinates eight times a day – which is eight more times a day than I would want to feel a burning sensation in my lower extremities.  And finally, babies are a terrifying responsibility.  I have plenty of friends who have waited until they were married for half-a-dozen years, with stable high-paying jobs and strong equity in their homes, to have their first child – and just watching them struggle with the burdens of parenthood (late night crying, constant feeding, the inability to stay out past 7:00) is enough to convince me that raising a human infant must be nearly impossible for a 20-year-old single parent who is simultaneously enrolled in college and working a $12 an hour part-time job.  You’re just short-changing both the future of your progeny and your own future if you think this is something you can handle.

          Nevertheless, millions of college students, who in their sober moments of reflection know better, will choose to have unprotected sex this year – because all responsible thoughts aside, the argument against wearing a condom is one of the most persuasive imaginable – that is, “it just feels better without one.”  But trust me when I say that this sneaky devil of an argument is one that you must fight against vigilantly.  Why trade nine minutes of drunken bliss for nine months of pregnancy if you’re not ready?  I promise you, if you do this, you’ll live to regret it as being one of the worst trades of all time.  AIDS for a midnight romp with a random girl from the bar?  That’s like the trade between Charlotte and Los Angeles in the 1996 NBA draft that sent Kobe Bryant to the Lakers for a washed-up Vlade Divac.

vaughn-790656          So what’s my argument?  Well, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have sex – because I don’t really believe that, and I think the “wait until marriage” argument is naïve at best.  I do think, however, you’d be best served by at least waiting for awhile, by only having monogamous sex with one partner to whom you are committed at a time, by taking birth control seriously, and by being regularly tested for STDs before each new sexual encounter.  But if you’re not going to do this, at least wear a condom so you don’t jeopardize your future.  Sure, occasionally life will throw you an unexpected wild pitch, and you’ve got to roll with the punches – but it doesn’t mean you have to step into the batter’s box every night with Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn.  That’s just asking to be beaned in the head by a 100 mile an hour fastball.  So, use protection: a batting helmet if you’re crazy enough to be playing a baseball game against the fictional Major League Cleveland Indians, and a condom if you’re crazy enough to dip your wick into some unknown waxy candle.  Just like Pam Beesly, the condom is a “real dope wrapper,” and when it’s not busy messing with Dwight, at least it does some secretarial work.


Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on February 17, 2009


typewriter7          I think that one of my mother’s greatest fears with this whole Dr. Wizard Creative Group business – besides the fear that I will somehow legitimize the f-bomb as an everyday article of speech for you, America’s undergraduates – is that I will suddenly wake up one morning and decide that I’m going to drop out of the academic game for good to follow the wild-goose chase life of being a penniless writer.  Now, to be fair, it’s not exactly like this fear isn’t grounded in a solid basis of precedent that can be traced throughout my early 20s.  You see, up until the age of 24, I had a nice, consistent penchant for leaving respectable educational institutions and employers to chase down wild dreams with very little planning and almost no preparation.  But I consider these all learning experiences, and they’ve led me to where I am today.  Still, for a little humor at my own expense, let’s do a quick run-down:

          In the summer of 2000, I lived with three friends in an awesome condo at Fort Myers Beach, Florida, where we had secured good jobs waiting tables at a retirement home for former United States Congressmen and captains of American industry.  These guys took us out to play golf, and one of them, who used to be a member of the Red Sox, let us borrow his boat.  This place we worked at was incredibly posh – and we made great money.  But six weeks into the job, I decided that it was interfering (and this is going to sound crazy!) with my non-existent rap career, and so I quit the job, used all of my savings on a Yamaha Keyboard and beat-making equipment, and settled down to write rap lyrics full time.  The rest of the summer was full of freestyle battles at this somewhat shady club called The Purple Platinum, bar fights whenever my friend Striegel decided that he would dance provocatively with another dude’s girl to a Prince song, and beat-boxing sessions with our neighbor Jimmy, a crack-dealing, Gold Gloves boxing champion.  When I came back to school in the fall, my rap career had made no visible progress due to my decision to quit work – and I was broke.  But this didn’t teach me my lesson.

          In the fall of 2001, fresh off a study abroad semester in London and 12 credit hours short of graduating Summa Cum Laude from Truman State, I decided that I no longer wanted to be a lawyer, and dropped out of school to work as a bartender and write a novel.  Once I quit school, however, and sat around the fraternity house all day staring at my computer, I found that I no longer had any motivation to finish my book.  This also may have had something to do with the fact that the first novel I was writing was just horribly shitty.  In fact, I wouldn’t let somebody read it now if they offered to pay me a thousand dollars.  But again, this initial foray into novel-writing and subsequent failure didn’t exactly teach me my lesson.  So let’s take a look at what some might call my final great creativity-bred life failure:

hp_dormshoot_webversion          In the spring of 2003, now back in school at Eastern Illinois University, again 12 credit hours short of graduating with a new degree in English, I started a band – Hardly Portland.  Shortly thereafter, I dropped out of school to take a job selling cars so that I could focus my attention on promoting my band full time.  In retrospect, this seems like perhaps the dumbest decision in the world.  But I followed that one up with another that may have been even stupider.  You see, when the job of selling cars got in the way of my band work, I proceeded to quit it too, purchased a 15-passenger van, and dedicated myself fully to songwriting.  Again, I quickly ran out of money.  Luckily, this time, however, I went back to school for good.  And now I’ve got a job where I have both the financial flexibility to not have to worry about rent while I’m working on music or writing at night, and the temporal flexibility to spend every Tuesday playing guitar all day if I want to – as long as I also take care of my teaching responsibilities on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  It took me awhile to get there – and I had to stop and restart a couple of times along the way, but ultimately, for at least the last five years, I’ve become a finisher – and have been able to actually enjoy things like seeing my first rock musical produced.  Mostly, this was because as I was working on the project, I wasn’t constantly worrying about how I was going to pay the rent.

          Still, when I call to tell my parents about all of the exciting things that are currently happening with Dr. Wizard’s Advice, I understand their hesitation to embrace the moment, and completely understand the fact that my mom always follows up by asking me whether or not I’ve been working on my dissertation.  My parents are deathly afraid that I still have the latent crazy-gene buried deep inside of me – and I can’t really blame them.  But, hopefully, this will calm your fears, Mom: YES, I’ve been working on my dissertation, it should be finished pretty soon – and we’ll ultimately let the editors decide about the number of f-bombs in the book.

          You see, while it took me awhile, (and I think in a lot of respects that time I spent drifting has made me a more focused person – see Lesson #53), eventually I learned a very valuable lesson about the way to appropriately follow my crazy-ass dreams – and I’d like to share that lesson with you today.  If you want to do something creative or risky with your life, the best way to transition out of your current position and into a more non-traditional one is to continue working hard at both careers until your second one provides reliable income.  If you’ve got the talent and the desire, you can be anything you want to be in this world – a fashion designer, a concert pianist, or a ruthless venture capitalist.  But it takes years to learn the ins and outs of each of those ventures.  It’s going to take lots of practice, and it’s going to take money in the mean time.

          If you’re in college at Loyola in Chicago, and you believe your band, The Jesuits, has an incredibly bright future, don’t drop out of school and move to New York to pursue your dreams – pursue them in Chicago.  Why?  Well, for one thing, New York’s really freaking expensive, and for another, you’ve already got the beginnings of a built-in fan-base in your current population of friends who will let you know whether or not you’re any good.  As you work your way up from the Beat Kitchen to the Cubby Bear to playing shows at the Metro, you can build a local army of followers who will be a valuable asset in gauging your progress.  If your band is good enough to play the Metro, and if you’re sending out demos that include a press-piece about the shows you’re playing where you’re drawing 2000 fans, I think you’ll catch the attention of an A & R guy.  The secret is to not give up your day job – until the time is right – because most bands don’t make it, and it’s good to have a back-up plan.  Life, like New York, is also pretty freaking expensive.

eight_mile_ver2          At this point, it should probably come as no surprise that I love the movie 8 Mile – that’s where the title of this lesson comes from.  But you know the best part of the movie (besides the battle-scenes)?  It’s at the very end, where after defeating Papa Doc at the Shelter, Eminem goes back to work at the stamping plant.  He’s following the two-worlds approach that I strongly advocate in this lesson – waiting to make his big move until the appropriate time arises, and all the while laying the groundwork for that move while keeping his day job.  The bottom line is that life is short, and it’s silly not to follow your dreams.  If you just let them die, you’ll eventually become that old, middle-management dude who’s just bitter and awful (like the Will Ferrell character who proudly screams “I drive a Dodge Stratus!!!”) – but you’ve got to cover your bases.  One of the unfortunate aspects of life is that as humans we must occasionally eat, and there’s nothing that’s really all that romantic about being broke, even if you are a real dope rapper.