BUT . . .

The most powerful word in the English language is “but.”  It’s a grammatical Liam Neeson with a very particular set of skills that kicks ass.  It’s way better than that greedy little “and” who’s always looking for something extra the minute he shows up.  And, don’t get me started on “or:” grammar’s Hamlet, who couldn’t make a decision if his life depended on it.  No, for sheer conjunctional word power, go with “but” every time.  Here’s why:

1 – “but” sugarcoats the punch in the face — When you want to rip somebody a new one but you don’t want them to get so angry they go home and get a shotgun, throw in a “but.”  For example: “Jennifer, you are one of our most valued employees, conscientious and hard-working, BUT you have the math skills of a goat, and if you don’t get with it, I’m going to fire you so hard your grandchildren will be unemployed.”

2 – “but” pleads your case — When you know you screwed up and you’re looking around for something else to blame, use “but.”  Once again: “I know I drove your car into the side of that guy’s house, BUT you didn’t tell me it had sticky brakes when I borrowed it.”

And if you play #2 correctly…

3 – “but” can even get you off the hook — “Normally, I’d pay for the repairs to your car, BUT if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have ever known about those bad brakes.  Actually, I did you a big favour.”


4 – “but” lets us look on the bright side — When your situation seems about as bleak as the slums of Mordor, try “but” to turn the lemon into lemonade.  “Hey, bro!  Sorry I had sex with your wife and your little sister last month after your birthday party, BUT they both phoned today, and guess what?  They’re not pregnant.  Cool, huh?”

And finally the most badass tool of all:

5 – nothing important ever gets said until someone says “but.” — In any conversation, discussion or argument, you can discount everything that’s said before “but.”  In fact, you don’t even have to listen.  Check it out:

“I understand your point of view, but only the part that happened before you opened your mouth.”
“Of course I agree, but not enough to quit arguing with you.”
“That’s an interesting opinion, but I’m not all that familiar with LooneyTunes cartoons.”
“Certainly, this current refugee problem is a crisis of biblical proportion and Western governments have a moral obligation to offer as much assistance as possible but what are all these gypsies, tramps and thieves doing in my country?”
“I like pasta, too, but there’s no way I’m eating that Italian glue tonight.”
“I’m not a racist but, man, those people are weird.”
“I love you dearly, but if you leave the toilet seat up one more time, I’m going to shoot you in the head.”
Etc. etc. etc.

So here’s to you, “but,” you sassy little conjunction!  Thanks for always being there for us.

Originally written November, 2015

Let’s Write Something


Okay, okay, okay! We’ve all been stuck with our four walls and families for an eternity, and it’s beginning to wear thin.  We’ve cleaned out the fridge, we’ve cleaned out the garage, gone through 8 years of emails and binge-watched 6 years of television.  We’ve organized the towels by fluffy, the food by expiration date and the underwear by number of holes.  We’ve done all those stupid patio exercises and gained 5 kilos (11 pounds.)  We’ve taught the kids all the math we remember and nobody normal cares how long the 30 Years War was.  The dog is refusing to go “walkies,” and somebody stole the chocolate you hid in the tampons box (Steven, you bastard!)  So, now what?

This is the perfect time to write a national anthem for The Moon.

Think about it! You definitely have some time on your hands.  You wrote poetry when you were young, “moon” rhymes with everything (“swoon,” “June,” “raccoon”) and you can just steal the music from the public domain (“Moonlight Sonata,” perhaps?)  Plus, how cool would it be to be the person who wrote the national anthem for The Moon?  Like Way Cool!

The truth is, even though The Moon is central to the tides, the calendar and romantic love, humans have always treated it badly.  For example, there are 181 moons in our solar system — from Ganymede (bigger than the planet Mercury) to Deimos (smaller than Liechtenstein) — and every one of them has a name — except ours.  Ours is just “The Moon.”  C’mon folks!  Make an effort!

Meanwhile, people always say weird stuff happens whenever there’s a full moon.  Hey, that’s celestial profiling.  Venus doesn’t get that kind of abuse, and it spins backwards, for heaven’s sake.

Then there are the million and one songs supposedly written about The Moon that aren’t actually about The Moon, at all.  We have blue moons, harvest moons, moons hitting your eye like a big pizza pie and even bad moons rising — but nothing about The Moon itself.  You never hear lyrical lines like, “From thy rocky cratered majesty/Across your lifeless plain.”  Nobody ever sings that stuff.  No, Moon songs are always about love or lonely, or “My God, you make me horny.”  We look at The Moon and gush our emotions all over the place like water from a runaway garden hose, but when it comes to praising our shiny little friend, suddenly everybody’s mute.

However, even though we’ve treated our closest neighbour despicably for centuries, that isn’t the reason we need a national anthem for The Moon.  Here’s the deal!  The way things are going here on Earth, we’re probably going be living up there sooner than we think.  So, rather than getting caught with our pants around our ankles like we did with Covid-19 — let’s get prepared!

God save our gracious moon
Long live our shiny moon …

How am I doing?

First Lines Are Important

first lines

Writing is a complicated business, beset on all sides by pending disaster.  Those who choose to tell stories to strangers must begin at the beginning — and that’s where the trouble starts.  Tons of good tales die on the first line because they never get one.  Writing the first line of any story is hard.  Authors have a tiny window to convince potential readers that the approaching landscape is worth their time and trouble.  Unfortunately, most authors get it wrong.  For example, one of the most famous first lines in literature, “Call me Ishmael” is actually a total disaster.  It does nothing to pull the reader into the story.  In fact, it’s a little misleading.  The only important thing Ishmael does in Moby Dick is – uh – survive.  Melville would have done a better job with, “Call him Ahab!”  But seriously, a first line should leave the reader with a nagging feeling of what-the-hell-is-going-on-here? — and a strong temptation to find out.  Here are a few first lines that do exactly that.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

George Orwell – 1984

My mother died today.  Or maybe it was yesterday; I can’t be sure.

Albert Camus – The Stranger

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.  My sin, my soul.

Vladimir Nabokov – Lolita

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.

Stephen King – The Gunslinger

All children, except one, grow up.

J.M. Barrie – Peter Pan

It was a pleasure to burn.

Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451

Marley was dead, to begin with.

Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol

All this happened, more or less.

Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse-Five

This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.

William Goldman – The Princess Bride

The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.

Ian Fleming – Casino Royale

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Hobbit

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

Iain Banks – The Crow Road

“Where’s Papa going with the ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

E.B. White – Charlotte’s Web

Elmer Gantry was drunk.

Sinclair Lewis – Elmer Gantry

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

Dodie Smith – I Capture the Castle

I’m pretty much fucked.

Andy Weir – The Martian

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.

Hunter S. Thompson – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

And, of course, the best first line ever written:

Once upon a time. . .


*Illustration from The Far Side