How Your Column Gets Written. The Very Special Christmas Edition.
I like the idea that sometime before breakfast on a Friday I pull the cork on a quart of Old El Gringo tequila, throw down a fistful of speed and fury pills, and channel my roaring river of white hot rage onto the screen for your entertainment and benefit. I like to encourage that idea among others.
But that’s not really how it works.
As Santa loads up the flying ute, and mainstream Australians everywhere gather in long, snaking super-spreader lines outside seafood shops, I thought I’d dial back on the angry lulz and give you a peak under the hood of the finely-tuned machine that is AlienSideBoob.
First, research. As the week’s outrages pile up I save them straight to the Notes app on my phone or iMac. This starts first thing Monday morning. But normally I start thinking hard about Friday’s scheduled wordsplosion late on a Wednesday.
When the time comes to commit to the gig, say Thursday afternoon, I crack open Notes and sift through my haul.
It’s often a wonder to me how a story that seemed like the biggest fucking deal in the world on Monday or Tuesday, has lost all potency by the end of the week. A wonder too, how often the best columns just come to you cold. No research, no prep. They just reach out and demand to be written.
That’s how October’s, Dear Prudence was written. Hot and fast, right after reading Pru Goward’s delightfully risible piece for the Fin Review.
“If there is hope, it lies in the proles,” she wrote.
“If there is hope, it lies in the Prudences,” I thought.
I don’t imagine that column, which took her original take as source material and tweaked it ever so slightly away from merely banal and offensive and towards the utterly ridiculous, would have been possible if Pru’s name had been other than ‘Pru’.
Stretching Pru out to its full and toplofty form of Prudence suggested the title, tone and method of the piece. After that, it literally wrote itself.
I do love those auto-generating columns.
And I love the purely writerly ones too, like August 20’s In the Valley of Ana Kalay, which took the long way home through ‘the hidden gardens and lush valleys’ of Khas Uruzgan, to tell the story of a small battle in a faraway war, and to contrast the courage and sacrifice of the Australians and Afghans who fought there with the gross political mendacity of Peter Dutton’s claim that some Afghan guards and security officers then fleeing the country could pose security risks.
Most of my time, though, is given over to thinking up new ways to insult Scott Morrison and new forms of profanity to keep the English language vibrant. Luckily this process is often self-reinforcing.
But it’s also time consuming. And there are rules.
Yes, actual rules!
If you’re trying to invent a profane neologism by, lets say, combining ‘fuck’ the ever-useful and sexyflexible Anglo-Saxon intensifier, whether as a transitive or intransitive verb, or as an adjective, adverb, noun with another word to produce a pleasing compound, the most effective and satisfying results are to be had from teaming the one syllable ‘fuck’ with a double-barrelled compound that recycles the short pronunciation of the ‘u’.
Hence the gratifying impact upon the ear of fuckbudget, fuckmuppet, or bunglefuck/blunderfuck.
There are many such combinations, and yes, in my quiet moments it is my habit to generate lists of them that might be useful in a future column.
Those lists are filed with other lists of phrases which have occurred to me or which I might have heard in passing on the street, and which suggest themselves as suitable for some prospective rant.
The phrase ‘fascist pigdog arse maggots’ was once uttered within my hearing and it’s been my dream to see it in print or on screen ever since. It trips along quite nicely, I think.
But of course without a solid topic, words are just wind.
It’s not unusual for a promising subject to tap out quickly. Not unknown for me to give up after hours on the topic either.
Today, for instance, it being The Last SideBoob Before Christmas, I very much wanted to do a seasonally appropriate newsletter. For a while I was toying with an idea suggested by my daughter: that the two greatest Christmas movies ever made, Die Hard and Home Alone, are basically the same story.
A lone hero, trapped in a tower/suburban-McMansion, and hunted by bad guys, must improvise a fiendish series of traps and ambushes to turn his hunters into the hunted, before he can reunite with his family.
Mind officially blown, right?
But of course, a quick Google search revealed that it’s already been done.
There is nothing new on the internet.
Putting that idea aside, I wondered if there might be a simple game to be played, substituting ‘Santa’ for one word in a famous opening line of a movie.
Blade Runner, for instance.
“They don’t advertise for Santas on the off-world colonies. But that’s what I was. Ex-cop. Ex-Santa. Ex-killer.”
Hmm. Promising, even if the juxtaposition of the sibilants in Ex-Santa isn’t quite perfect.
Another search online for great opening movie lines seemed to offer some hope.
Jack Nicholson kicking off Chinatown with, “All right, Santa, enough's enough. You can't eat the venetian blinds. I just had 'em installed on Wednesday.”
But after that, nada. Most of the quotes just didn’t work, or were too obscure. Although I did love The Godfather’s, "I believe in Santa. Santa has made my fortune."
In the end I settled on a simple thank-you as being the most appropriate thing I could do today.
Thank you for being here, for hanging out, and for tipping a few bucks into my begging bowl if you have done so, which keeps me doing what I love to do.
Insulting Scott Morrison with made up swear words.
Maybe this time next year he’ll be gone.
Maybe this time next year we’ll all be gone, because the zombiecron variation of Covid finally arrived and, of course, SloMo forgot to order the vaccines.
But ravening hordes of sniffling undead monsters notwithstanding, I will keep writing.
Thank you for subscribing. I’ll be back after two weeks.
Thanks for another year of quality void rage and thinky bits mainlined straight into my eyeballs weekly, I do like the thought of old el gringo and pills fueling you posts, cause I always like to accompany your words with an extra large martini…. Stirred AND shaken!
Well JB, what a year huh. Jeez. To you I say thank you.
And here's to shutting our mouths and listening in 2022. That's my hope.
And to keep *Shock! Horror!* meeting my neighbours.
Edit: Removed zombie reference