CRITIQUES: Ouch, but necessary

I must love playing “Kick Me.”

However, if one gets no feedback at all, one cannot improve. That’s what I say when I get constructive criticism *sob* *WAIL*. Anyway, is there anyone out there who’d like to take a look at my entry in this year’s Robert Benchley Essay Contest? I’ve already sent it in, but there’s no harm in getting suggestions.

If you’ve never read Benchley, Dave Barry, James Thurber, or even Erma Bombeck, this whimsical “dotty person nattering” style may not be your cuppa. But if you HAVE read and enjoyed these authors, I’d love to hear what you think of this. Oh, and the final judge is Bob Newhart, which sort of explains the last couple of paragraphs.


A goodly number of people (most of whom have no idea what “goodly” means) are thinking of starting garage bands, although they’ve never had a garage or even a garage sale. Studies show that independent thinking can be hazardous to your mental health, so I’d like to offer some free advice that’s worth about what you’re paying.

If you’re forming a band to express your inner self, purge childhood angst, and experience free booze and wild groupies as you hit the major arenas, you’re probably out of luck. First off, select your genre wisely. Starting a polka band limits your tour dates. And about instruments–yes, Tchaikovsky wrote a note for a cannon in his “1812 Overture,” but he was Russian and they were too poor to afford violins. Stick to popular instruments such as bongos, kazoos, and ten-dollar electronic keyboards.

Your band’s name is the first concern to address (be sure to affix proper postage.) “Numinous Armageddon” and “Mandible Temperament” are great, but they’re taken. Try fancy scientific terms such as “Planck’s Constant,” “The Fibonacci Sequence,” or “Occam’s Razor.” If you’re stuck, pick up the nearest book, turn to page 27, and out of the third paragraph copy words 2, 5, and 7. That’s how “Bowling for Soup” was named.

Make sure at least one of your bandmates can actually play. If the drummer isn’t tight (or at least slightly fried), the heartbeat of the band will have arrhythmia. He and the bass player should work together, as they are your rhythm section. This has nothing to do with the old Rhythm Method that good Catholic women used to use to get pregnant.

Have at least twelve songs, only one of which should be your old high school fight song. Base your big hit, “Most Annoying Song Ever,” on an old Welsh funeral hymn. Most bands break up over really important artistic issues such as disputes over which Queen album is coolest, so minimize such friction by spraying bandmates with nonstick cooking spray.

Time for your first gig! Show the club how you can rake in those cover charges: recruit your sister’s sorority, your parents’ AARP chapter, or a local homeschool group that needs a field trip. Your first question should be where the bathrooms are–and may I state the doors at the DewDropInn aren’t well-labeled; their “pointer” and “setter” looked like a Golden retriever and a Pomeranian. I ended up surprising a little gray-headed man rather badly, I’m afraid . . . but his shoes didn’t look that expensive, so whatever.

The most important aspect of this is whether you believe stardom is your destiny. The first thing I do whenever I’m thinking of trying something new is ask myself, “What would Bob Newhart do?” Then I do exactly the opposite. (Heh-heh. Little joke there.) Since most famous comedians have already abandoned their failed polka bands, I recommend you forget the whole thing and stick to watching MTV.

**the end**

I’ve already had some good feedback from Dennis. But my mother and husband both just shrugged and said, basically, “I don’t get it.” (They always have to be forced to read my work at seltzer-bottle-point, and are never enthusiastic about what they see, so that’s kind of what I expected.) They suggested I write about something FUNNY. Since they couldn’t think of anything, I decided to stick with this. It can’t be as bad as all that . . . maybe.

Read the 2007 winning entries and the 2006 winning entries at the Robert Benchley Society‘s website.


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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