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Daily Affirmations For Busy Bloggers

June 26, 2012

I had a rough day yesterday. I write a certain blog for a Very Large Newspaper, and while it wouldn’t be professional of me to go into details, I can boil down what happened for you in what we journalists like to call “fairly unbiased terms”:

1) A business decision was made at the newspaper which might or might not have been either extremely popular or extremely unpopular;

2) There might have been some people (or possibly not) who objected very strenuously to that decision, or possibly they didn’t.

Anyway, as the public face of the blog, I might have received at least some of the heat for this thing (or possibly I did not; I can neither confirm nor deny any of this), and it occurred to me that what I needed to get me through these kinds of days were some good, daily affirmations. The kind of affirmations that would remind me why I became a writer. The kind of affirmations that would totally justify talking to yourself in the mirror in the first place.

So I came up with a short list of positive sayings for bloggers like me. Feel free to use them if you like. These are best said in the heat of the battle while at work, although I will caution you to make sure that you retire to a place where you can have some privacy, like the boiler room, because what could happen is that the Managing Editor passes by while you are talking to yourself in that mirror and re-evaluates your annual review. Not that I would know.

Now that you have found yourself bunker an airshaft supply closet a comfortable place to recite your affirmations, take a cleansing breath and have at it.

Here, without further ado, are my:


Daily Affirmations For Busy Bloggers


1. I am talented. I am an artist. I am also a large bag of internal organs and leftover pizza.

2. Every day that I am able to publicly state my opinion in a way that makes people laugh or think is a blessing. It is proof that I am alive. It is also written proof of my waning control over my faculties.

3. Typos and factual errors are the Universe’s way of reminding me that I am human. I accept my fallibility with humility and absolutely no sense of shame. The people who laugh at me and post those mistakes on Facebook and Twitter, however, can rot in hell.

4. I am aware of the impact that my words have on others. I resolve to no longer sneak such nasty, twisted hidden messages about avenging the death of my parakeet into my posts.

5. I send my words out into the world on a tidal wave of love and good will. They cover people with a thick, heavy coat of wellbeing, which is to my ultimate advantage because it slows them down and makes them easier to capture.


There. Don’t we all feel better now?


Federal Beef

May 3, 2012

It’s been a while since I updated this blog, and just sitting down and writing for myself is something I’ve truly missed. I recently spent a very inspiring weekend with a group of writers at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, and it was like a hit of oxygen for me. It was also like a near-electrocution for me, but that’s a whole other story.

There are good reasons for my absence, chief among them work and divorce.

I don’t want to talk about the divorce, so instead I’ll talk about my job. I really love my job. For the last year or so, I’ve been writing “Wordplay”, the official crossword blog of The New York Times, and if that sounds boring to you because you do not do crossword puzzles, think of it as a humor column about my dog, which makes a sincere attempt to mention the New York Times crossword puzzle as often as possible. I know I do.

This year, in accordance with the “Tag! You’re It!” clause of my contract, I also became the producer of Puzzles & Games, which essentially took me from being a fairly non-technical person who wrote a lot of un-New York Times-like jokes about testicles just to see if my copy editors were really paying attention, to someone who had to learn my way around the coding and gooey innards of the digital side of the paper. Eventually, I was able to wean myself off the Xanax, and learning to publish the crossword puzzle right-side up and in English just did wonders for my self esteem.

But I don’t think I would be overstating things if I said that taking on a new job so far outside your comfort zone and turning your entire life inside out to ensure your own survival can honest-to-god just suck the funny right out of you. Some humorists work best when they’re in pain, but not me. So I took some time off from the blog to clear my head. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it.

Take the federal frozen cow problem, for example. There is simply no way I could have found that funny a year ago (well I might have, but I wouldn’t have had the presence of mind to tell you about it.) And yet here I am today reporting on it, because how would you even know how much your government is trying to stay within its budget unless I dug this stuff up? I’m telling you, a short spell in therapy can be worth its weight in gold.

Everyone sees the government as this huge, mean, uncaring, behemoth that is only concerned about itself and couldn’t care less about the average person, and I am here to tell you that you’re wrong: that is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The rest of the government is not as bad. In fact, they are currently spending their time trying to figure out a way to get rid of some frozen cows in a way that won’t cost the taxpayer a cent or damaging the land. How’s that for caring?

What happened was this: a small herd of cows broke away from a ranch in Colorado, and, looking for booze and a “good time” as cows are wont to do, they wandered into an abandoned cabin high atop a mountain.

Unfortunately, these cows forgot to appoint a designated driver, and they stood around in the cabin partying until they all froze to death. No one even missed them until some soldiers happened to pass by the cabin while snowshoeing.

The Forest Service became involved at that point and, with the foresight that the federal government is known for, started to panic. Spring is on its way to Colorado, and with Spring comes the thaw. With the thaw comes rotten cow smell and decomposing cow parts, as well as probable contamination of the adjacent hot spring.

Here’s the part where I feel like I need to apologize to Dave Barry. Exploding cows are definitely his territory, and I acknowledge that. But this is too funny to pass up, so I’m going to tell it anyway.

This is also as good a time as any to tell you that the cabin was located on federal land.

That posed a problem for the Forest Service. Being that these were now federal cows, the government had ideas for how the cows could and could not be disposed of. One idea was to remove the cows by blowing them up with dynamite, but the fallout (sorry) from that was thought to not only be disgusting, particularly for the people who lived at the bottom of the mountain, but damaging to federal property. An air-lift via helicopter was briefly entertained, but was deemed too expensive, and someone suggested using horses to pull the cows out of a lot of snow after an 11,000 foot climb, to which the horses responded “Oh, hell no. The cows got themselves into it, the cows can damn well get themselves out!”

So as of this writing, your government is still hard at work, trying to come up with an inexpensive, ecologically sound way to remove the frozen, federal cows before they start to thaw.

Because they care.

Thanks for coming back. I’ll try to keep the shop open more often.







When Did They Stop Giving Away Toasters?

September 8, 2011

Don’t you just hate it when you go down to the bank to make a withdrawal, get accused of stealing the bank manager’s “manhood”, and have to flee an angry lynch mob?

I know I do, and I tend to avoid those situations like the plague, because they can put a serious crimp in your day. This is why I am so worried about Nigerian journalist Saminu Ibrahim, and based on the day he’s had I would voluntarily send him my bank routing number, if it would help him out.

I’m sorry. That was a cheap joke at Mr. Ibrahim’s expense. He’s had a bad day, if we can believe his story, and yet it is so incredible I just have to share. In order to keep my PG rating, however, I will be using what we in the humor industry call a “euphemism”, which is our way of protecting our readers’ delicate sensibilities and not getting fired from our day jobs. In this case, I shall be referring to the bank manager’s “manhood”, as it says in the article, as Herman.

According to Mr. Ibrahim and local witnesses, a trip to his bank to withdraw his paycheck turned ugly when the manager, an educated man who would presumably know about these things, discovered that his Herman had gone missing. That’s certainly a troubling turn of events in anyone’s work day, so the manager did what any financial service professional would do when confronted with a problem of this sort: he immediately contacted the bank’s insurance company, which completely covered his expenses and even managed not to lose his paperwork.

Ha ha! No, I’m just kidding. What actually happened was that the bank manager accused Mr. Ibrahim of stealing his Herman, whereupon the other customers at the bank formed a lynch mob, and Mr. Ibrahim survived his morning only because the police were able to pry him and the Herman-less manager away from the bloodthirsty mob.

That’s a pretty good story, but like most of the newspaper articles that people send me, it raises a couple of questions in my mind:

What kind of a bank is this? Are Hermans a normal part of the swag at Nigerian banks? Mine only gives away keychains. I almost feel like I’m missing out.

Are African journalists misinterpreting the phrase “getting to the meat of the story”? According to Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), pronounced “Noodge”, this is the SECOND TIME a journalist has been accused of misappropriating a Herman that did not belong to him.

The chairman of NUJ, of course, was on hand to say that at no time were any journalists in possession of a Herman that was not his own, and what’s more, newsmen have been suffering from a decline in reputation lately, plus the accusers are devils.

You’ll have to excuse me now. I need to look into opening a Nigerian bank account.





Passing Go Without Crying

May 23, 2011

Everyone talks about eating dinner together as the savior of the modern American family, but frankly I learn more about my children and their view of the world from playing games with them.

Here are some of the things I have learned just from playing the games “Monopoly” and “Trouble” with them:


  • No game of Monopoly will ever be finished in our lifetime.

There are Monopoly games that were started generations ago and are being continued purely out of loyalty to the dying relatives who began them:

Grandma: Promise me, Frank … whatever you do … keep Park Place in the family {Expires}

Frank: I’ll make you proud of me, Grandma! I’ll put up a hotel in your name!

Some of these “legacy” players burst into tears everytime they pass Go.


  • Monopoly is designed to be most attractive to children exactly ten minutes before bedtime.

They don’t want you to know this, but Monopoly sets are designed by the Hasbro Company to send off powerful board game pheromones that trigger a child’s intensive whining mechanism. Fact.


  • If you are playing against a child, you will never get to be the race car.

You will be relegated to the piece that always falls over on its side.


  • In fact, no one gets to be the race car unless your dog, who swallowed the piece while you were trying to remember how much money everyone is supposed to start with, decides to play along by upchucking it onto the board.


  • Children do not voluntarily clean up dog vomit.


  • When playing Monopoly against a parent or sibling, it is not enough to win.

You must destroy your opponent, seize his and/or her properties without mercy, bankrupt them financially and crush any remaining will to live. This is not as difficult as it sounds, because in all likelihood you will still be playing around midnight, when everyone is pretty much zapped anyway.

  • In the game of “Trouble”, you will never roll a six. Ever.

But your youngest child will, and they will use that roll to capture your piece, sending you back to the beginning. Even though you helped them push down the ridiculously brittle die bubble, cooked them dinner, and more importantly, suffered through 14 hours of back labor for them. Even though you are the one who TAUGHT them how to count to six.


  • Holding down the die bubble longer does not, I repeat NOT, give you more of a chance to roll the number you need.


Nothing good comes from pounding it with your fist, either.


  • While you were explaining this to your child, the dog has been eating your pieces.


  • Children do not voluntarily clean up dog vomit.


  • At some point during the game, your kids will begin to humor you.

They might offer to help move your piece for you, or perhaps help you push down that ridiculously brittle die bubble. Do not fall for this; it’s their way of cheating, bless their larcenous little hearts. When you are not looking, they will push the die bubble a second time, or move your piece to where it’s most vulnerable.

Or they will feed it to the dog.

The Boy Explains The Resurrection

April 22, 2011

We’re Jews, and not terribly good ones at that. Oh, I’m raising my kids to be good people who do unto others and all that, but I’m afraid we’re sorely lacking in the formal education department.

This isn’t entirely my fault. My own parents fled from traumatic early religious training, and this tended to trickle down to my own upbringing. My father rebelled by filling our Seder plate with take-out Chinese food (pork spare ribs stood in for the lamb shank), but my mother developed an inconvenient and uncontrollable propensity for nervous hysterical laughter during spiritual events, which interrupted any chance my sister and I might have had to learn about religion.

Over the years, this has gotten us 1) ejected from the original theatrical showing of “The Ten Commandments” during the pivotal scene where Charlton Heston converses with shrubbery, 2) “escorted” out of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in mid-tour by men of god who really should have been much better at turning the other cheek, and 3) the evil eye from the rabbi who performed my marriage ceremony when my mother became totally incapacitated at the point where she needed to agree to give me away. So you can see why I turned out the way I did.

I didn’t realize how this affected my own children until I talked to them about the fact that this is Easter weekend. I might not know a lot of details about major religious events, but what kind of mother would I be if I didn’t at least discuss these things with them? Without laughing, I mean.

“So you know about Easter, right?” I helpfully informed The Boy over dinner.

“Oh yes, it’s very dangerous”, he said, solemnly munching his sushi roll.

Personal note to people who don’t have children: sixth grade boys talk amongst themselves a lot, and only about 0.00001% of what they come up with is accurate, or even sensical. You have to be ever-vigilant about correcting whatever nonsense comes home from their friends at school. If you don’t, it tends to snowball until they grow up to be the kind of people who believe that being black and President is a leading cause of socialism. I put down my chopsticks and prepared myself.


“Yes, Easter is when you have to be on the look out for Zombie Jesus”, he explained.

I thought about this for a moment. It’s not hard to understand how, with just a few random facts scattered about the pre-teen landscape of his brain, he might have come to the conclusion that Jesus’ being resurrected qualified Him for zombiehood. But I decided to set him straight — or at least do my best to set him straight — so he wouldn’t get himself into trouble.

“No, honey, Christians believe that a great miracle occurred after Jesus was crucified. He rose from the dead.”

“Isn’t that what a zombie is?”

“Kind of…”

“Well then, why isn’t Jesus a zombie?”

“Because He’s just not! Eat your sushi.”

So I’m fairly confident that I’ve educated him at least a little. And I kept a straight face the entire time.







The Kind of Mail I Get

April 1, 2011

I’ve come to the conclusion that high school age boys make up the majority of my fan base.

I’m not sure how these young men (none of whom I actually know personally, Officer) got hold of my book, or why they were even interested in reading it in the first place. I had written this book called “It’s Not PMS, It’s You”, which was a humorous look at relationships. It’s not like it’s about football or drugs or anything. You would think a book with the word “PMS” in the title would send them running in the other direction, wouldn’t you?

Even if they were interested in learning more about how women think, it was kind of a leap for the average reader to tell that it was about the vastly complex world of male-female relationships anyway because the book looked like a large bar of chocolate. From what I can tell, somewhere in the jacket design process the decision was made to pay attention only to the capitalized words in the title, and so a book about the things guys do in relationships to really piss women off garnered a lot of attention primarily because the first thing people thought when they picked up the book was, “Mmm…. chocolate.” Maybe the publishers knew what they were doing.

Anyway, I base the whole high school thing on some samples of the kind of mail I’ve been getting:

I’m not a Nigerian prince but I do need your help!


Dear Ms. Amlen,

I’m an 11th grader at Redacted Academy, a New Hampshire

prep school, and I’m a big fan. I work on our weekly newspaper, The
Daily Redacted, with my friend Calvin R. Edacted, who compiles our humor page. This email is really about a favor I’m asking you to do for Calvin. He’s
really a very sweet guy who’s dedicated to being funny and making
people smile, and if you could send a couple of words of encouragement
to him and maybe an autograph (I didn’t have time to actually send you
a SASE, but even just an email would be nice.) I know it would mean a
lot. He works hard on the page every week because he knows how much
happiness it brings to people, but he is rarely thanked, and rarely
told that his dream career in writing comedy is worth his time. I hope
there’s something you can do for him to change that. I’ve attached
some of his early work after my signature, if you would like to read


Andrew Redacted”

Very sweet. Far be it from me to crush the hopes and dreams of enterprising young humorists such as Andrew and his classmate Calvin, so I wrote them back:

“Dear Andrew, 

Thanks so much for writing.

My general feeling is that if someone goes to the trouble of telling me that they are not, in fact, a Nigerian prince, then they probably really are, in which case I clearly stand to make a whole boatload of money by writing back to you. Please tell your friend Calvin that it’s taking advantage of opportunities like this that has made me who I am today.

I think it’s great that you are so supportive of each other, and Calvin, if you’re reading this, hang in there, buddy. If you are into humor writing for the long haul and the pure enjoyment of it you won’t need external validation, or at least that’s what my therapist tells me. She charges by the hour and has a lot of very impressive plaques on her wall, so I’m pretty sure she knows what she’s talking about.

Seriously, It seems that you are both doing a great job, and if there are newspapers to write for when you get to college, by all means write for them as well. Many of the humor-writing jobs in film and television are fed by college papers.

Keep on making the jokes and the thanks will come. Trust me.

Best Regards,



Then there was this one:

“Hi Ms. Amlen,
My name is Robert Redacted (no relation to Andrew). I’m a teacher in Texas. One of my students is reading a portion of “It’s Not PMS, It’s You” for a prose reading contest that requires the author be born after 1960.
Could you e-mail me a note stating your birthdate. I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.
Robert Redacted, R. E. Dacted Memorial H.S.”
Also very nice. But my first two thoughts upon reading this were (1) Lord help the poor child who is reading from my book for a prose-reading contest, and (2) Wait, they want me to publicly admit my age?
Well, anything I can do to help literacy programs in this country is my pleasure, believe me, Mr. Redacted. I was born in 1962, which would put me at a very solid 29.


AT&T Weds T-Mobile; No Reception Afterwards

March 22, 2011

AT&T to acquire T-Mobile USA

I’m sorry. I’m still exhausted from my coverage of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Better jokes next time.