Me and the F-Bomb

At the end of last  year, I noticed an uptick in the frequency of my swearing–specifically, my propensity to drop the eff-bomb. (For the .0000001 percent of you who have never heard this phrase, I’ll use it here: Fuck.)

So I started penalizing myself; five pushups for every time I dropped it; that and every other, reasonably labeled “cuss word.”

A lot of people ask me why. I have a friend who regularly encourages me to swear; he says I need to cut loose more often. I had my reasons, some of which were tried and true, but today I encountered something that filled in the whole picture for me. So here’s why I’m trying really hard not to use the F-bomb as often as I used to.

This is the peaceful scene I was headed towards before The Ugly Thing happened.

This is the peaceful scene I was headed towards before The Ugly Thing happened.

1. If I’m swearing, I want people to know that I really, really mean it.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Copywriter Brain: An exposé

Copywriting is a largely internal pursuit. And yes, it’s largely solitary. But there is a certain amount of teamwork that takes place, and just as much “brainstorming” as, if not more than, you’d get in any bullpennish office with folks flinging headlines and ideas back and forth at each other, just to test them.

The teamwork takes place between me and my client, me working off of information and feel that I’m getting from them. The bullpenning takes place in my head. It’s loads of fun, honestly.

Most rewarding about the process is the one crystallizing moment, kind of like the ping you get in your ears when a four-part harmony comes together, when you’ve struck the right tone for a line of copy or for a brand whose voice you’re trying to nail down.

If I’m doing my job right, this happens with all my clients.

Sometimes, I get to use the process on myself.

I ran out of business cards recently.

Here’s what they used to look like, and say:


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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

What’s Your Birthright?

We’ve been in California now for a little over a year. I grew up here, moved away for 17 years, and then came back to fulfill what I see my as my filial duty: both of my parents are getting older, and I’d like to get to know them better.

The days run into one another here. The seasons are never changing, especially now that we’re in a terrible drought. (MILITARY SHOWERS, PEOPLE! Just an aside.) We’ve gotten to the point where we chart what month it was by who is visiting, since there’s no weather to provide a memory aid. But there are some days that stand out more than others.

One day, in the summer, for instance. Late in the evening, verging on night, with the sun low across the foothills behind our home. Jim and I are struggling up the hill on our mountain bikes–well, I’m struggling, he’s not–and I’m executing a military move up the hill (veering, left, right, left, right) because that seems like the best way to get ‘er done, when finally, the hill, and the false hill behind it, ends, and we’re at the ridge we’ve climbed so many times before, only this time, something is different.

The sun has just reached the edge of Johnson’s Pasture, on my right, which sweeps away in what can only be described as a textured golden-red sea of sorts, and the “city” of Claremont lies to my left, looking verdant and plush, and my legs have gone loose and free, having conveniently forgotten about the agonizing climb, and a memory triggers somewhere in the reptilian part of my brain, which is the only part that works when I’m exercising, I guess. I’m searching for it, trying to figure out why this feels so damn familiar, and I figure it out just as an overwhelming urge takes me: It’s a scene from a f***ing REI catalog.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

An Open Letter to the Nike+ announcer lady

Hello there.

I feel I need to tell you something. I loathe your voice. It isn’t because I do not value what you are saying. It is because you Like to Hear Yourself Talk.

I picture you a Grace-Kelly-like ice queen; frosty; sure of yourself. “You have run .01 miles,” you say. And then, because you are so deeply enamored with the sound of your voice, you go on. “Pace, 10 minutes, 12 seconds per mile.” You say this smugly, as if you know that this is miserably slow. A little later, you will say, “You have run .02 miles,” and then you will say something ridiculous: “You are halfway to your goal of 1.8 miles.”

You see? Now I know you are just talking for the sake of talking, because you are just spewing nonsense. Seriously, who runs for 1.8 miles? And who the f*** wants to know their total distance every .01 miles? Crazy people, that’s who!

You were really bad this morning: you spent so much time talking to hear yourself talk that you made me miss a critical clue that the detective in my book on tape had discovered. There is no good way of rewinding while I am trying to jog, operate you, and operate my e-audio-book (???) all at the same time. So I still don’t  know what the clue is, or even whether it matters, although I kind of think it does: You sounded extra smug.

It’s not that no one likes you. You seem to have all these friends. All these professional athletes keep on popping up to wish me well, or say things like, “Keep it up!” or “That’s the way to do it!” Who ARE these people? Tell ’em to go away. I don’t need their kudos. They tell me their names, but I am too busy trying to hear my detective hero while they are telling me. What he is telling me is so much more important that their “Attaboys” (Seriously? Are you off your nut???)

I have proof of this: See? When I go to this little “settings” place? It says I’ve turned you off.

It’s true. I have. And yet, like a bad houseguest, you keep on turning up. Really, how hard can it be to just go away?

I know, part of this is my fault. I seem to be unable to delete you. I like some parts of you. I like your little maps, your points tally, the fact that you show me when I have pulled ahead of this friend, and even when you tell me I have fallen behind. I even like your idiotic little badges, which as far as I can tell mean nothing. But part of me likes to collect these meaningless trifles, I guess.

Anyway. Every relationship has its ups and downs. I like you most of the time. I just hate it when you–or your friends–talk to me. Okay?


Yi Shun


Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Verbagram 2, the Raw Fish edition

Our good friend Tim came to visit. We had a packed weekend that somehow managed to include some downtime on our couch and four episodes of American Horror Story, before it jumped the shark. It was fantastic.

It also gave us an excuse to go visit Cousin Richard at his incredible sushi joint. And that gave me an excuse to think about another food-based Verbagram. Because, you know what? I am sick of people describing sushi-grade fish as “like butter.” People. That’s disgusting. Seriously, would you ever eat a stick of butter? Or a pat, by itself? This description makes no sense to me.


Sometimes, you eat something and it tastes like the place it came from. By this I do not mean that when you eat a piece of steak, it tastes like a barnyard smells. I mean that sometimes you eat something and you get an evocation, an impression. Piece of steak, again: Big, open fields, as far as the eye can see. The occasional tree, and a few lone cows, standing here and there, with a bird of prey streaking across the sky. See? Steak tastes of largesse, of generosity, and even maybe of excess, depending on whether or not you get the crumbled blue cheese on top.

Take sushi: The texture: creamy, practically, even though the fish is arguably solid, sitting there on its rice. It yields to the bite easily; maybe because it’s ribboned with fat, if you’re eating a nice piece of salmon. Or maybe, if it’s yellowtail, just because that’s the way a good fresh fish should be.

You don’t get any flavor at all, really, in that first bite. If anything, the vapors of wasabi and fine rice vinegar are the first to hit your palate; and then, finally, an absurdly clean finish, a little bit like you’ve rinsed with really cold seawater.

Your salmon should evoke the day you spent on the banks of a river in Maine, with the early-summer sunlight dappling the current. And your tuna will take you back to the day you spent on a party boat in Brooklyn. Your uni will remind you, briefly, of the time you got washing-machined by the wave you weren’t expecting, that afternoon in Rhode Island.

For Grier, a photo. Because you requested it.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Instagram Rebellion

…Okay, I have a confession. I’ve never used Instagram. And I’ve never had even the slightest urge to. Partly this is down to the fact that I know I take crap pictures. Also, I have no desire to make my crap photos look like more than they actually are, which is … crap photos.

I haven’t given this too much thought, except this weekend I had the following Twitter exchange:


gooddirt: After incredible pea, poached egg, and crostini lunch @littledoms, have terrible craving for smashed peas!


littledoms: @gooddirt attach pic next time. Yum!

See, here’s the thing, okay? Even more than taking crap photos and passing them off as “vintage” or whatever, I hate amateur food photography. It makes me squirm to see folks taking pictures of their food at a restaurant. I don’t understand it, however I might appreciate the results, or “like” them on facebook or retweet them, or whatever.

So I have an idea and a challenge for myself: Each time I come across a dish I like, I will, instead of taking a photo of it, take a verbal snapshot of it. That is, I will write a little ditty describing the dish. I will post the results at my Tumblr as well as here, starting with the aforementioned Little Dom’s dish, above. Here it is:

From a purely literary standpoint, there was no music to it. Even the manager of the joint couldn’t be assed to dress it up: “It sounds really weird,” she said, grimacing apologetically. “It’s peas, poached egg, and pea tendrils on crostini.”

“Hell,” I thought. “Sounds just ugly enough to be right.”

“Right” it was, like a dame in heels and seamed stockings, or coffee, black. The “pea tendrils” were wilted into the crevices of the crostini, much as the yolk from the poached egg sank into those same crevices, and the peas were smashed enough that they fit neatly over the fork tines after you’d loaded the thing with egg, bread, and veg.

For an old hand like me, sustenance could be an art form. But when flavors work well, quotidian matters like “art” disappear.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Homage to the Weekend, in three parts

Part I: The Race That Was Not (A Race)

To Whom It May Concern,

This weekend I participated in your Rebel Race. A friend encouraged me to “Escape the Weakday”–GREAT slogan!–and be a rebel. I must also admit that I was drawn to the idea of a lot of mud, an obstacle course (I have been lifting, after all), and the free beer that came with the entry fee ($60). I am also a sucker for trail running.

Now, let’s talk about the six ginormous bottlenecks that took place over the 5K course: One at race’s beginning, one almost immediately after the race start, and the four that were peppered over the rest of the mileage.

You promised me a race and a free T-shirt and a free beer. $60 for a 5K race is about $20 per mile. I figure I did not get to race for about a half-mile. Also, I did not drink your free beer because it was a Bud Light and I am almost 100% sure that is not actually beer.

Plus I had to pay $10 to park. All told, I figure you owe me about $18 (Bud Light being $5 at a bar, tops). But I bought the race with a Groupon, so you really only owe me about $9. Please donate that amount to a real race.

Thank you sincerely, however, for the opportunity to spend the day with friends.


Part II: Hideous Clearing Out

Lara and Peter and I have challenged each other to give away, sell, recycle, or discard one item a day for the next three months or so. (I think that’s right. Guys, weigh in if I’m wrong.) This is because we are pack rats and need a little help from our friends.

I got a little excited and stated eBaying stuff the week before Lara got back from her trip, which is cheating. But here is what I have given away (or have listed for sale on eBay) since the Monday we started, which is the 16th, a full week ago.

  •  Rollabind/Circa punch: I have had this thing since 2010 and I have never gotten the hang of the Circa system. I believe this is solidly because I am just not that organized.
  • Levenger Junior notebook: I know, this is in the same listing as the punch, but I am giving it to myself as an item because damnit, I can.
  • A big stack of books: To my neighbor Kathlyn, who loves to read and who is a librarian.
  • A big pile of nail polish: Lots of mini-bottles whose colors weren’t right for me. I freecycled these. 
  • A spice rack with glass jars: Jim bought this for me ages ago when we were first living together IN TWO THOUSAND TWO OMG because he knew I liked to entertain, but it was prelabeled and we no longer see the point of buying spices only to re-fill existing jars.
  • Some half-empty bottles of facial lotion: My cabinet was a wreck before, cos sometimes you buy things like facial lotion and you think they’ll work, and they end up not working at all, or causing gigantic blemishes. Anyway, this was my cabinet before: And this is after:
Okay, so I’m a couple of items behind. Yargh. I have already sold FOUR pairs of shoes on eBay! So THERE! Gack! And given away something like 12 T-shirts!
Meh. This paring-down stuff is hard. And oh shite I just realized I will be gone for nearly a month all told between August and September, so I’d better start counting every book and every T-shirt. What? No? Is that against the rules?
Part III: A Short Trip to the Airport
In reality, it was not a short trip at all. First we stopped at the deli to pick up a sushi lunch that we could all enjoy. Then we were stuck in traffic. Then Mr. Gooddirt got angry at the &$*(! driver in front of us. Finally we got to the airport, and wandered around looking for stuff and guessing at where we should be, until I fielded a phone call:
“Hi, Dad.”
“We are at Terminal 3, check-in.”
More wandering. Then another phone call.
“I did not mean what I said before. We are at Terminal 3, east side, ticketing, door CRACKLE FUZZ FRIZZITY BLOOP.”
More wandering. Then asking of harried airport employee. Then finally, playing a hunch and looking outside, there were my parents, fresh off a flight and onto a four-hour layover at our worst airport.
Then there was looking at vacation photos and sharing of sushi lunch and complaining about one’s daughter’s haircut, and then an hour and a half later, two hugs from each of them for each of us goodbye, and then swatting of Mr. Gooddirt by mother, just for good measure, and then off they went, two figures smaller then I actually remember them, through the security gate and away for their flight back to California.




Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Immediate thoughts upon receiving a rejection letter

“Dear Yi Shun,

Thank you for sending your work to XXXXXXX. We are always grateful for the opportunity to review new material, and we have given “Inadvertently, Miss Manners Doesn’t Live Here” close reading and careful consideration. We found many strengths to recommend your work and, overall, much to admire. We regret, however, that “Inadvertently, Miss Manners Doesn’t Live Here” is not quite right for us. We encourage you try us again in the future, and we hope that you will.


The Editors”

1. OH, HELL.

2. Not AGAIN.

3. Which piece was this? I’ve forgotten.

4. Oh, right. That one.

5. Let’s see, how many times have I submitted that? It feels like five billion.

6. I’d better check my  spreadsheet.

7. Oh. I don’t have a spreadsheet anymore for that type of thing

8. Mostly because I don’t submit anymore, really.

9. Why? Why not?

10. I think I have only submitted this thing twice.

11. I guess that’s not terrible, is it?

12. Do you think it’s the title? It does look affected, doesn’t it?

13. Get a grip. If you got rejected, it’s probably not the title that did it.

14. What is this saying, really?

15. I have now read this thing fifteen times. Navel-gaze much?

16. Some day I may actually get a rejection letter that says


18. Oh, hell.

19. It says that they want me to submit again.

20. I think that’s what it says anyway–it says they “encourage” me to try again.

21. And that they “hope” I will.

22. Such lovely words, “encourage” and “hope”!

23. They are so full of promise! “Encourage!” “Hope!” What lovely subtleties in each of these words. What volumes can be spoken, just with a few smart choices and turns of phrase!

24. Oh, hell.

25. Guess I’ll try again.




Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Le Flâneur

When I go out these days, it’s more likely than not that I am going with a purpose in mind: Meeting a friend, seeing a specific art exhibit, going to a reading. But it’s hard not to see things while you’re en route.

The Sartorialist sees fashion wherever he goes, and that usually involves taking pictures of people. Me, I like items.

Sometimes I wonder if this isn’t one of my greatest failings as a writer: I anthropomorphize everything from construction lights to goldfish. But when it comes to people, I’m less about imagining what might be going on in their heads and more about observation. I wonder which is more important. Anyway, here are some things I’ve seen recently. And some potential dialogue scraps. 🙂 The last two are from the Norwalk Aquarium. No captions needed.

"Bubba, where we goin' now?" "Wherever the wind takes us, boy."

Gina had aspirations of becoming one of those awesome cell-phone towers, but the Powers That Be said she was too prickly for the job.


"Oh, for Pete's sake. How did I get here?"


"When I was a boy, there was none of this spackle stuff. Don't even get me started on whitewash. Laziness, that's all it is."


"Are you looking at my butt?" "Sorry, Phillippa--it's just--you've got some kind of weird protrusion." "What?!" *cranes neck*



Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

7×7=one grateful blogger

Awhile ago, my Whidbey colleague Charlotte Morganti nominated me for a 7×7 link award! I wish I knew what the origins of this award was, but more important, I’m just happy that I’m getting an award! It’s my first!

Also, one thing about Charlotte, before I go on to the requirements of the award–she’s by far the most diligent blogger I’ve ever come across. She decided she was going to start a blog, and then, bang! She’s been keeping it up, regularly, with great writing tips and interviews with luminaries like Alan Rinzler. She also does great book reviews, and is the author of an as-yet-to-be-published hardboiled detective novel in the vein of Dashiell Hammett. So yes, you must follow her blog doings.

Now. On to this award. I must do several things in order to account for this award. I must list seven items in each of three category.

First, seven things about me you probably don’t know:

  • I don’t like very spicy food. That is to say, I don’t like things that flame your nasal hairs out and make you sweat. I’m much more apt to buy a mild tomatillo salsa than I am an “extra hot” salsa, for instance.
  • I am a sucker for the American Standards songbook.
  • I can’t dance.
  • I struggle with my weight. Part of this is my inherent laziness. The other part of it is my love/hate relationship with exercise. The final part of it is genetics.
  • I think everyone should have their own personal style. This is not to be confused with trendiness.
  • I adore button-down shirts and in general prefer neat dressing to slovenliness.
  • I love to cook. And I prefer to do it with friends in the kitchen or nearby.

Now, 7 posts from my own blog that I like:

  • Chris Hondros, in Memoriam: Chris was the photographer for one of my first-ever feature articles. He died in Libya almost a year ago.
  • Book Review: Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane: I write book reviews at my site every once in awhile, but I like this one because it deals with something I think is super important in books–characters one can identify with. Also, it gave me a chance to write a bit of a love letter to Dennis Lehane’s characters. And okay, maybe Lehane himself. 🙂
  • Speaking the Gospel: This is a brief roundup on why everyone should try public speaking. I almost never write posts about business, but this is one of those things that I’m both good at and that I feel strongly about, so I did this one. It’s just a list of reasons everyone should love to speak publicly. And yes, you read that right.
  • Iron Girl, Iron Guy, and the Iron Maiden, Part I and II: This is the story of our Ironman competition. We trained for six months and had a blast, and I’d readily do it again. I loved this race. It was awesome. (Yes, yes, okay, in retrospect.)
  • A Phone Conversation: This is exactly what it is, a phone conversation between me and Mr. Gooddirt. I think it’s hilarious. It pretty much pegs Mr. Gooddirt.
  • Track Rats: This is part of a series I’m writing called “The People in My Neighborhood.” It’s about the folks who populate my life. This one is about the people who first really made me feel like I was a part of my physical neighborhood.
  • An Open Letter to Do-Gooders: I’ve deployed to Haiti twice as part of the ShelterBox Response Team. While I was there I noticed a few things. This letter is obviously not from ShelterBox itself, but it’s my perspective of what people who really want to help in a disaster situation should and shouldn’t do.

Phew. That was hard. This next one will be easier. 7 blogs I like, and, in turn, pass the 7×7 award on to:

  • GrassDirtCorn. My friend Hollie Butler is very special to me. I’ve known her since I was 18. We were camp counselors together. And we used to write letters. Now Hollie tackles some good things–and not-so-good things–in her blog on food, health, and general life. I love it.
  • DaphneUnfeasible. My friend Kate Schafer is a great literary agent. And she has good, important things to tell writers, on her blog.
  • ChelsKnorr. My friend Chels Knorr just started her blog. She’s off to a bang-up start. I think what she has to say is intriguing. I think the way she says it is beguiling. G’wan, take a gander.
  • Manhattan Nest. I’ve just started reading this one. I almost never have patience with blog posts that are this long, but I love Dan’s sensitivities and his design sense. So he’s hooked me. If you like mid-century design–or design at all–you need to take a look at this.
  • The Sherman Foundation. Thomas Sherman makes great, pithy remarks about things that matter to me–art and design and marketing. I appreciate his respect of my time and attention span, but more important, I respect his wide-ranging definition of design.
  • Harvey Briggs. Harvey’s been involved in advertising everything from cars to pantyhose. I can’t remember how I found him, but I’m thrilled I did. Another master of pithy copy, Harvey often points me to really interesting advertisements, but more important, he has interesting, commentary-provoking things to say. Every. Single. Day.
  • Kate Gale. Is a librettist, an editor, a smart, smart woman, and a wicked conversationalist. Again, short, loads-of-fun commentary. Well worth a peek.
  • Nancy Norton. I’ve written about Nancy before, but I think you should go over and take a peek at her blog. She spends part of the year near Toulouse, France, and aside from the part of me that’s an inveterate francophile, I’m always amazed at the things Nancy ends up doing and seeing–and sharing with us.

Okay. That’s it from me. Thanks to the blogosphere in general for this, and, more specifically, thanks to Miss Morganti.






Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.