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You're Doing It Wrong: Ten Ways to Improve Your Life in 2018

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How to Be Funnier

So you're an edgy comedian? Do you really think you're in some vanguard of shock-troop comics dropping the N-word on people for the first time? If so, you're doing it wrong.

To borrow a line from all those Avengers movie trailers, "The world is changing." As more and more people awaken to inequality, institutional dysfunction, and secret oppression of all kinds, it gets harder and harder for the hard-touring hack to get by on jokes about rape, the mental capacity of Polish people, or the general assumption that LGBTQ lifestyles are a punchline in and of themselves. Still, every time a comedian goes too far and gets in trouble, the cry goes up: Political Correctness is killing comedy. Memphis comics Katrina Coleman and Richard Douglas Jones recently shared a story from open mic night at the P&H Cafe about how they watched negative crowd response flip an aspiring funny guy's punchline from something cliche and negative, to something almost empowering — and still funny!

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Midtown's a charming place, so naturally Midtowners love the pleasure of their own company. The P&H crowd is self-entertaining, and any performer who's ever tanked there knows the sick, sinking feeling you get when the crowd starts ignoring you and talking among themselves. But the famously open and accepting bar doesn't put up with mess and vocally rebuked a comic for his routine about how upsetting it was to see his son playing in a dress.

The joke tanked twice, but the comic kept it in his set. He even kept a bit of its original tone in order to divert expectations. But the routine's emphasis shifted from heteronormativity to fashion. "He changed the punchline to, 'AND HE'S CLEARLY A SUMMER,'" Coleman says emphatically. "It made the joke hilarious. Thereafter, I saw it kill at a state fair in Mississippi and multiple other places."

There are probably some good rules to follow, like "don't punch down." But better joke telling may come down to how much the teller values cheap shots and cheap laughs. Comedy is craft, and there's nothing cheap about good craftsmanship. — Chris Davis

How to Cook Tofu

Is your tofu tofunky? A flavorless and flat disappointment? We turned to the person, Ermyias Shiberou of Blue Nile and Stick 'em food truck — who makes the best tofu in town — for tips.

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Those tofu kabobs off the Stick 'em truck read as sorcery. How on earth can tofu be so fatty and decadent? Shiberou achieves this by cutting a firm square of tofu into large one-inch squares and does not press the tofu at all. That extra water is what makes the inside so moist. Then he deep-fries the squares at around 350 or 375, making sure they don't touch. When he takes them out a few minutes later, he then douses them with a marinade or dressing. I mean, lots and lots of marinade. (Shiberou's own is a combo of soy, worcestershire, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper, and pineapple.) The fried tofu will soak it up. He then grills it to "bring it up a notch." The grilling caramalizes the marinade and elevates this tofu to greatness. "That's all I know about tofu," says Shiberou.

— Susan Ellis

Self-Service Checkout

There's a reason stores like Kroger and Home Depot always have an attendant on duty near their self-checkout machines: Too many people do it wrong. You may be one of them — seldom able to get through the whole process without hitting a snag and having to timidly raise your hand to ask Charlotte for help.

It shouldn't be that hard, really. Scan the bar-codes for your items, put them in a bag, press "PAY," insert your debit card or a few bills, and take your receipt. Easy, right?

Oh, wait. Those bananas have to be weighed? Dang. "Ma'am?"

The important thing is not to panic. Everything you need in order to do checkout like a pro is there: a scale, a list of items and prices, a keypad. You can do this. Maybe.

The first thing to remember is not to get too ambitious. Think of the self-service line as you would the "15 Items or Less" line. In other words, don't attempt to self-checkout $250 worth of groceries. That's a job for Brenda over on aisle six. If you have a week's worth of groceries, just go wait in line and look at your phone. It'll be over before you know it.

Second, be aware that if you buy produce, you're probably going to have to weigh it and key in an item code. Same with some baked goods. If that sounds scary, then don't attempt it. You'll only tick people off. If you do attempt it, you'll have to key in a PLU number or item number from the list near the checkout machine. Or call Charlotte over, which kind of defeats the purpose.

Got some coupons? Don't try it. Just don't. No one wants to watch you try to key that crap in.

And finally, remember: The whole point of using the self-checkout line is to save time. If it takes you longer to checkout and bag your own groceries by yourself than it would to let a pro do it, don't muck up the self-checkout line just to prove a point. We're in a hurry back here. — Bruce VanWyngarden

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Brush your teeth, idiot.

The words "brush your teeth" sound so ... self-explanatory. You got the brush. You got the teeth. Bada-bing. Bada-boom.

I was wrong. 

I know someone once explained the correct procedure to me along the way. But it wasn't until I was facing disappointing reports at the dentist's office that I stumbled upon Quip. 

Reviews say it's like "Apple designed a toothbrush," or "Tesla's toothbrush." For me, it was small and used regular-old AA batteries instead of a bulky charger. So, I was in. 

The brush came with these Ikea-esque directions. But unlike Ikea's, these directions were clear, precise, and — for me — revelatory.  

Brush at a 45-degree angle, the directions said, because brushing your teeth really means brushing your gums. Derp.

Also, they said, brush for two minutes, breaking up your mouth into four, 30-second segments. The Quip brush pulses for me at intervals for a derp-free workout.

Finally, don't wash out your mouth after you brush. Do it, and all that fluoride goodness is washed away. — Toby Sells

Rinse & Repeat

Surely, you know how to wash your own hair by this point. But, chances are, you're doing it wrong — and too often, according to Meagan Kitterlin, salon director of Pavo.

Kitterlin says your scalp will tell you when it's dirty and needs a wash. Laying off washing provides some relief for taxed hair. If your hair tends to be oily, use a shampoo with an astringent. If it's dryer, go for a creamier shampoo. You then get your hair wet, apply your product to your scalp (use less product if it's from a salon), massage the product into a lather. "You should massage your scalp in and out of the shower. It helps prevent premature hair loss," Kitterlin says. After you rinse the shampoo out, you'll want to apply a conditioner or hair mask. You'll apply it mid-length down and leave it in for the duration for the shower. Rinse that out with hot water, followed by cool water. "It adds shine and seals in moisture," Kitterlin says.

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For stretching in between shampoos, Kitterlin says, "Dry shampoo is amazing. It's good for daily upkeep, and it adds texture." A good dry shampoo absorbs oil and is good for freshening up after a workout.

For those with curls, Kitterlin recommends a co-wash, which is a conditioning wash that doesn't weigh down curls. "Overwashing is kryptonite," she says. — SE

How to Cure a Headache

After the excitement of the new year wears off, the normal day-to-day stress is bound to return. And when the stress arises for some of us, so does a throbbing, achy headache. And for me, nothing is more bothersome or distracting than that.

Usually I give in, reach for a bottle of Excedrin, and pop two of them. But, in the spirit of the new year, I've been trying some natural, healthier ways to nip my headaches in the bud.

But, before we talk remedies, let's talk prevention. If you experience a lot of headaches, maybe start with asking yourself these two questions: First, are you drinking enough water each day? That could be a contributing factor to your headaches. Coffee, sugary drinks, and alcohol can further dehydrate you, too. So pour yourself a glass or eight of water and drink up.

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Second, are you getting enough hours of sleep? Lack of sleep or irregular sleep patterns can trigger a headache like nothing else. On the flip side, too many hours of sleep can also cause one. The best thing to do is to figure out how many hours of sleep your body needs and consistently try to get that amount.

When the headache has already kicked in, here are two remedies that I find useful.

Massage a drop of either peppermint or eucalyptus oil on your temples, forehead, or wrists. Tension will be released, and your headache will likely subside.

Try stretching. Tension headaches can be caused by staying in the same position for too long. I once read that hunching over a computer screen, can put up to 30 extra pounds of pressure on your neck. So every 30 to 60 minutes at work, get up, stretch — dance if you have to. Just keep moving.

— Maya Smith

Google Better

Google gets you. But speak its language, and it'll really get you. 

Looking for Imagine Vegan Cafe but don't wanna see all that "Buttholegate" stuff? Just put hyphens in front of the stuff you don't wanna see. So, you'd type: imagine vegan memphis -buttholegate -babies -toddler -naked. (After some Googling, that was, seriously, the only search recipe that DID NOT yield items related to Buttholegate. Wow.)

Want to see stuff that only contains the word "Buttholegate?" Just throw it in quotation marks. So, you search: "buttholegate" and relive summer 2017, when times were simpler.

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Finally, want to see every time the word "Buttholegate" has appeared in the Flyer? Google it like this: buttholegate site:memphisflyer.com. 

It'll bring up every time the word has appeared on our site. I tried it. Here's the result: Flyer: 2, Commercial Appeal: 0. Your move, CA. — TS

How to Play Piano

This lesson is not for everyone. Memphis is crawling with accomplished musicians who are not afraid to learn a song and perform it. But I encounter so many who are. My brother, a theoretical physicist, once saw me play and confessed, "I'm amazed that you can do that!" People are far too mystified by music. It's a holdover from those childhood piano lessons.

One of my favorite books is How to Play the Piano Despite Years of Lessons (Cannel & Marx, 1976), its point being that sight-reading will not necessarily help you keep music in your life. Photographer William Eggleston, who has improvised and played by ear since he was four, likens sight-reading to typing, which gives short shrift to all the classical and session musicians of the world but contains a kernel of truth: Sight-reading alone is not enough. For many it's a barrier to simply playing — and listening.

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What my favorite piano book says in 240 pages, Jim Dickinson says in two. In his recent (posthumous) memoir, I'm Just Dead, I'm Not Gone, he describes a childhood encounter with a man he referred to privately as "the Phantom." Sitting briefly at the Dickinson family piano, the Phantom turned to young Jim and revealed a secret: "Everything in music is made up out of codes." As Dickinson writes, "I thought, 'Codes ... Secret codes!!! Like Captain Midnight.'"

"This is how you makes a code," said the Phantom. "You take one note, any note. Then you goes three up and four down, just like in poker. Three up and four down and you gots a code." As Dickinson explains, "Of course, he meant chord ... a major triad." But "code" is more appropriate. It's what stymies would-be tunesmiths who humbly think they could never play a song.

Learn some "codes" and bash out a song. Just remember, Jim broke the code, and Jim was a maker. Be like Jim. — Alex Greene

Win an Internet Argument Many of us have spent years engaged in running arguments across the internet, trying to desperately to convince our fellow Americans to turn away from encroaching fascism. How's that been working out?

Obviously, we need to get better at changing people's minds. Here, according to science, are some tips:

1. STAY CALM: Yes, it feels good to yell at your opponents. It's also counterproductive. You want them contemplative, not defensive. If you look hostile, you risk activating their tribal instincts and shutting out your words.

2. ASK "WHY?": Don't try to talk your opponents out of their position — help them talk themselves out of it. Drill down into their reasoning by asking them to articulate it. Then they can find the holes themselves. Be prepared to do the same.

3. K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Fox News reasoning is so effective because it demands very little mental work except blaming the "Other" for all problems. The less mental energy the listener expends, the more persuasive they will find the argument. Remember: The brain is like a muscle. It literally burns energy to think, and when it works too hard, it gets sore. When a student says "calculus makes my brain hurt," they're being literal. Keep your sentences as short and simple as possible: noun, verb, object. The less energy they burn understanding your words, the more energy will be available for reasoning.

4. REFRAME THE ARGUMENT: Sun Tzu says, "Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy shall be fresh for the fight." Choose the battlefield. Make your position the default position, and make them come to you. This is why plutocrats call the estate tax the "death tax" — it changes the argument from "Why should people have excessive wealth they didn't earn?" to "Why should dead people pay taxes?"

5. SMILE WHEN YOU SAY THAT: If you're face to face, make eye contact. Nod. Encourage empathy. Point out areas where you are in agreement. Compliment them. "That's a good point, but ..."

6. BE A GOOD WINNER: People can be stubborn because they're afraid of looking stupid. Allow your opponent to back down from their position gracefully. Give them a way to save face. Your default mode should not be "You're wrong!" It should be "Join us!"

7. KNOW YOUR REAL AUDIENCE: The hard truth is, you're probably not going to change the mind of the person you're arguing with. The guy who comes out swinging in defense of white supremacy is likely not persuadable, but there will be other, more persuadable people who will be reading your words and watching how you conduct yourself in the argument. Even if you lose the battle with this particular troll, a solid rhetorical style can still win the war. — Chris McCoy

On Figuring Things Out

The advice I consider most relevant to the theme of this week's cover story came from good ole Sergeant Rollins, the kind-hearted World War II vet and Army careerist who oversaw my R.O.T.C. instruction way back in the day at Central High School. "There's the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way," he informed us, and that paean to transcendent authority made as much sense to me then as a paradox can.

I choose to apply that same kind of thinking to the issue of how one finds a solution, any solution, or courts Lady Luck. And make no mistake: She's out there, somewhere, in the warp and woof of Einstein's universe, just outside the reach of Newton's logic and the doomed presumption of those mathematical "systems" that habitual gamblers think they can apply to the workings of fate.

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"By-the-numbers" can only take you so far.

Consider how one reaches any conclusion. You start building premises slowly and methodically: Point Number One, hmmm; Point Number Two, okay; and you keep this up all the way to, say, Point Number Seven, when, all of a sudden, your mind abandons the whole pile-up, you let go (or surrender, if you will), and with a swoop of unpremeditated intuition, you are transported all the way to Point Number Ten, the Eureka! The tell. The reveal.

That wasn't you who did it, it was the aforesaid Lady Luck who filled in your blanks, or, if you want to keep things gender-free it was the IT of Zen. There's the right way, the wrong way, and, er, The Way. And, baby, it don't belong to you. — Jackson Baker

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