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Life as the Outsider Writer

I was always kind of awkward growing up. I wasn't one of the popular kids, the jocks, or the rich kids. I was the weird kid who did weird things. I played soccer and raced bicycles.

I was an athlete, I just wasn't one of Indiana's preferred athletes: football, basketball, or baseball. Other than playing football my freshman year, I didn't play the Big Three.

In 1980s Indiana, people looked at you funny if you played sports usually played by other people who didn't speak English.

To further cement my awkward outsider status, I was in the band. I was a band geek. I hung out with other band geeks, caused trouble with them, and made music jokes like, "Why did the dumb kid become a bass player? Because his mom told him to stay out of treble."

Compared to the theatre kids, we were awesome.

As a band geek, I was usually on the outside, looking in, but it didn't bother me.

I never liked what was "in," and so on the days I "looked in," I didn't like what I saw. I was more than happy being on the outside. I reveled in my outsider status and sought out the people who were unusual like me.

I drew the line at the choir kids though. I mean, I had standards.

Even now, 30 years later, there are days that being a humor writer makes me feel like I'm on the outside of the Indianapolis literary scene. I know dozens of writers here, maybe over a hundred, and only one of them is a humor writer.


I was just never into the navel gazing writing style of literary fiction, and I don't like the drama and pain of creative nonfiction. My oeuvre — that's fancy writer talk for "collection of works" — is humor. Like fart jokes, dysfunctional families, and the dumb things school administrators do in the name of Zero Tolerance.

Needless to say, humor writers don't get invited to do a lot of writerly things, since we make people laugh. The thought is that if people laugh because of your work, it must not be serious. If it doesn't make you sigh or dab at your eyes, it's not worthy of being called "literature."

Humor writers are not seen as real writers. We're the band geeks of the literary world.

How's that for a kick in the pants? In a community of people who were the outcasts and weirdos in high school, a community that has created its own circles and cliques, the humor writers manage to be on the outside there as well.

But I finally received some validation last week, when I was invited to speak at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in March, as part of a University of Indianapolis literary function. I'm even going to be the featured speaker.

I've never been the featured anything. Even at my own book launch, I got second billing to the cheeseburger sliders. And now, I'm going to be the featured reader at an event at the memorial library of one of my literary heroes.

I realize Kurt won't actually be there himself, but considering he's one of the reasons I became a writer in the first place, it's like I'm getting his nod of approval. That my work is worthy. That nearly 20 years of fart jokes and columns about the Oxford comma were important. I've been over the moon all week.

I'm not sure of the etiquette of the performance though. How long should I read? Should I read one long piece or several short one? Do I allow time for questions? What if no one has any questions? What if no one even comes? Do I have to provide wine? Should I get the audience drunk so I'll seem funnier? Or should I get drunk, so I won't care?

And the most important question, what am I going to read?

I asked Kaylie, the organizer, what I should read, and she said I could read some of my columns, or I could read one of my books. Considering I write social media marketing books, which are also not literary or dramatic, I don't know how interesting that would actually be.

I posed the question on Facebook, and received a variety of suggestions: Green Eggs And Ham, Kanye West lyrics, the Song of Solomon, or my personal favorite, Everyone Poops.

I'll most likely read some of my humor columns and maybe a short fiction piece or two. Maybe I'll even write a piece in the spirit of another literary hero, Dave Barry.

I'll call it Everyone Picks Their Nose.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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