Monthly Archives: September 2013

Cigarettes: A Love Story

Ahh, cigarettes.

Ours was a classic high school romance. We met one another at a young age and I was smitten. Cigarettes made me feel cool, like I belonged to an elite and discriminating club. We were inseparable; we went everywhere and did everything together. There was never any doubt that cigarettes and I would grow old together (probably not as old as non-smokers would grow, but relatively old). Then, a few years ago, cigarettes became abusive. I suppose it was easy to ignore at first because I loved cigarettes so much. I started to get winded after climbing a flight of stairs, I started coughing in the morning. This is just a phase, I thought. Cigarettes might not even be at fault! I would tell myself, “you don’t exercise regularly and you don’t have the healthiest of diets, right?”

But when I started wheezing at night, and needing my wife’s asthma inhaler, I couldn’t ignore the problem anymore. Unfortunately, you can’t just change your phone number or get a restraining order against cigarettes. And so, for about a year now, I’ve had a rocky, on-again-off-again relationship with cigarettes. For awhile I experimented with everyone’s newest darling, the e-cigarette, and found that while it helped me cut down on smoking real cigarettes, it was an inferior replacement and did nothing to break that hand to mouth habit that comes with a lifelong addiction to smoking. After I fell off that wagon I turned to the nicotine patch, and after a couple of months I was completely nicotine free. I stayed that way for a few more months, and was finally starting to feel like I was done with cigarettes for good. I was wrong.

I would still see cigarettes often, of course: they were hanging out at parties, having a good time with my friends. Eventually I decided to give one a try, for old time’s sake, and we had a wonderful time. The next day I was back to being a non-smoker. No harm done, right? I managed to convince myself that I could just see cigarettes on the weekends, while I was out having a few beers. We didn’t have to “go steady” or anything; we could just keep it casual. I should have known that a relationship like this with an old lover like cigarettes wouldn’t work out, and it didn’t. I was back to smoking full-time again after a few weeks of one night stands. The abuse started up again almost immediately. I couldn’t breathe at night; I couldn’t stop coughing in the morning.

Now I’m in a kind of “holding pattern.” I started the patches again, but I’ve still been seeing cigarettes on the weekends. There is a rational voice in my head that knows cigarettes will kill me if I let them, but often that voice is frail and feeble in the face of my addiction. I don’t think that using nicotine patches most of the time and smoking occasionally is a viable long-term plan, but it’s the best I’ve been able to manage so far with this cessation attempt. That has to change, so I’ve told myself that I’m not going to smoke this weekend.

Wish me luck.



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Red Herrings and Sweeping Generalizations

“Funny thing about weekends when you’re unemployed, they don’t mean quite so much. Except you get to see your workin’ friends” – Les Claypool


I feel like I see things differently than most people, and I blame this on my English Degree. When I see the new sign at the mall that reads “Wifi Now Available in Every Corner of the Mall,” I picture crowds of people congregating wherever two walls meet, trying to harness the new “corner wifi” signal. I’m incapable of reading a sign or an advertisement or a potato chip bag without dissecting and analyzing it (What does the author mean when he says: “Now with more flavor in every bite!” Did they originally try putting more flavor in only a few bites? How would that work? Also, did I just refer to the person who wrote the text for this potato chip bag as an author?). I’m pretty sure that this is a terminal condition, and that one day I’ll see a billboard like the one below and my belt will snap off its flywheel for good:

il·lit·er·ate  adj. 1. Unable to read and write.

1. Unable to read and write.


But, I suppose I have to take the good with the bad. Being an English Major also taught me a great deal about thinking critically, citing sources, and avoiding logical fallacies. Basically, I feel smarter, just not in a way that can immediately and obviously be linked to a source of potential employment. A lot of other college graduates have the advantage of getting an education in a field that has a career named after it, which in hindsight seems like a solid strategy. If anyone reading this is contemplating a major right now, forget all of this nonsense about “English” or “Cultural Studies” and go for something less abstract, like “architect” or “zip line tour guide.” The truth is that most of us English Majors have no idea what we want to do after college, we just know we like to read books and that we’re terrible at math. Psychology Majors are the same way; They don’t have a clear idea of what they want to do either, but they also have a nagging suspicion that they may be crazy, so psychology sounds like a good way to maybe tackle two issues at once. Us English Majors, by contrast, didn’t have to do any upper level coursework to find out if we were crazy or not – we knew the answer to that question a long time ago.

Yes: we’re crazy.


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The best part of waking up has very little to do with Folger’s in my cup.

Ahh, mornings. There’s nothing like pouring that first cup of coffee, setting it on your desk, and then chasing down a toddler who’s ripping the cover off an old Hemingway novel. Then changing a diaper, preparing a fresh fruit breakfast, and reading some children’s books until nap time. Then dumping out that cup of coffee you sat down earlier and pouring yourself a second cup of coffee. I wouldn’t trade this routine for anything. Enjoy your morning, everyone.


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A Little Bit of Creative Writing

The main reason for this blog is to get me to write. I’m still not 100% sure how to get a job with my English Degree, but I’m hoping that it will involve writing in some capacity. This includes creative writing, which I haven’t done very much since leaving school. Or at all. OK, I haven’t done any creative writing at all for a while now, but I hope to change that. Rather than just writing something creative for the sake of having it here, I thought I would start by posting something that I wrote a few years ago that I really like. Before that though I thought I would bore everyone with this rambling paragraph. Anyway, here is my (very short) short story:

A Rose for Bethany

By Travis Milam

     Bethany use to feel like a prisoner when she looked out at the world from her bedroom window.  The mountains that straddled the long valley had seemed like giant fences, and the hickories and elms at the edge of the drive had been like a closed gate, swallowing the road.

     Just to the left of the drive hunkered Hank’s shed – the guard tower of Bethany’s prison.  It was a ramshackle edifice of scrap wood and rusty nails, punctuated by a stove pipe that would have normally been spinning out a steady stream of grey-black smoke at this time of year.  Looking at it, Bethany could almost smell the whiskey overpowering the fresh scent of lilacs; she could almost feel the beatings and the rapes.  But now the warden’s office was dormant and dark, its dusty windows devoid of the pale glow that often emanated from the hanging bulb within.  Hank’s heart – the dismal thing that it was – had finally given up on him, just like Bethany had done years ago.

     Bethany exhaled, and felt a great weight leave her body with the outrush of air.  Now, she found the view from her window to be breathtaking – beautiful even, aside from Hank’s decrepit shack.  The mountains she gazed upon seemed to exhale as well, inviting her to explore the world beyond their boundaries instead of conspiring to seal her within their walls.  The wisps of cloud that encircled the distant peaks no longer reminded Bethany of Constantine wire. Now they looked like halos.  No longer did the trees seem to swallow the road.  Instead, they parted for it as it wound its way down through the valley.

     Tomorrow, she would call for a bulldozer, and have that shambling tyranny, standing now like a crumbling sepulcher, removed from her lawn.  Then she would plant a rose garden.



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Unemployment Rates by Major: Will Work for Food and Structured Student Loan Repayment Plan

I came across this website that lists “Unemployment rates by Major” and I was shocked that English Majors aren’t at the top of the list. In fact, it looks like “Industrial Design” and “Cultures/Civilization” top the list at 23.1%, while English Majors have only a 4.9% unemployment rate. The website is kind of a mess visually, has ads all over the place, and sites no sources other than alumni survey results from an unnamed institution, so I’m sure it’s an 100% accurate reflection of unemployment rates across the board.

I think that if these numbers show us anything, it’s that Industrial Design and Cultures/Civilization Majors think they are too good to work at call centers, while most English Majors don’t have this reservation. Either that, or English Majors love to lie when they take alumni surveys, while most Industrial Design and Cultures/Civilization Majors are brutally honest.

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Wanted: English Major. Must have read The Catcher in the Rye and written a lengthy essay about Nathaniel Hawthorne.

I’ve been looking online and in the paper for months and, unfortunately, I haven’t seen any classified ads that read similar to the title of this blog post. I know that there are people out there writing things, because I read things all the time. Cereal boxes, pamphlets, microwave instruction manuals, billboards… All of these things have writing on them; I’ve seen it.

Where do the people who write these things go to find work? (Kellogg’s talent scouts: if you’re reading this, you should know that I have some great story ideas about Snap, Crackle, and Pop that I think would be perfect for the back of a Rice Krispies box. Call me.) I’ve seen postings for writing-related positions, but they always want “experienced writers,” which begs another question: where do all of these experienced writers get all of this experience? Why isn’t writing about how delicious Pop Tarts are an entry level position? I have over thirty years of experience eating things, but I can’t find one person who wants to pay me to write about what these things taste like.

A lot of places also want writing samples, which I have plenty of, but I’m not sure that New Critical essays on The House of the Seven Gables  and Huckleberry Finn are what they are looking for. I assume they mean professional writing samples that I wrote while doing the mysterious work necessary to amass the five years of experience that I also need for the position. So that looks like another dead end.

Then there are job postings that want “blogging experience,” or “sample blog posts.” So I thought: “Hey, wait a minute! I could start a blog!” So I immediately sat down and created a blog about roleplaying games, a topic so eccentric and geeky that it clearly wouldn’t work in this capacity. Then the light bulb came on all the way, and I created this blog. So here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

(Note: The “Related Articles” below have not been peer reviewed. I have no idea what the content is like. It looks like they talk about The Catcher in the Rye and Nathaniel Hawthorne though, and I did a little too. So in that sense they are related.)

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