Worrell Family Adventures: The Making of the Male

Spring just sproinged on the Mid Atlantic this week with 85 degree temperatures collapsing into the 50s ushering in wind gusts that knocked Lil’ P. on his precious, diapered butt this morning. Naturally, this weather change arrived right in time for spring break week, just as we embark on yet another Worrell Family Adventure in our camper.  My family supplies me with endless funny bullshit inspiration, and I’m sure I’ll have much to write about as the week progresses.

Worrell Family Adventures always provide a plethora of WTFs, head shaking, sighs, and a wheelbarrow full of shits and giggles for all. One particular WFA we had earlier in our marriage before the advent of Lil’ K. and Lil’ P.(my bio kids), involved a small catamaran, Big. T., Big A.(my stepkids), and the two people loosely disguised as parents (Mr. Jenn and me). Mr. Jenn was sailing said catamaran, I was perched on the opposite pontoon, and the Bigs were hanging somewhere in the middle. Mr. Jenn allowed as to how much better he would like it if I cuddled up on his pontoon next to him so we could enjoy A Romantic Moment as our sails held hands with the wind and meandered down the river together. I moved gingerly across the cat, carefully plopping my arse next to him, when the wind saw an opportunity to have a bit of merriment with the Worrell clan. No sooner had I wedged my asscheeks next to his, then a monumental gust of wind took cruel advantage of the added weight of my wobbly butt, grabbed our sails, and flipped us on our starboard side. I heard the mast hit bottom then splash back to the surface as I launched over and past Mr. Jenn. He cursed loudly as my knee bashed his temple. I found the river floor, tried to stand, but then sank in the bottomless marsh mud. Big. A. had dropped gracefully into the river and was sputtering a little next to me. Mr. Jenn was rubbing the side of his head and looking around frantically. Three of us were accounted for, but where in the world was Big T.? We called his name in a panic until we heard a little voice from above. Backlit from the bright sunlight, Big T. was wrapped around the port pontoon which was several feet above the surface of the water. We tried gently to convince him to drop down. He shook his blond head and wrapped his arms and legs tighter around his post.

“Son,” Mr. Jenn said, trying to inhale some serenity from the river, “we have to turn this boat over. I need you to come on down. NOW.”

Big T. knew the Voice of Lost Patience, so he cautiously unwrapped first one leg, then the other. He hung there for a seemingly infinite amount of time.

Mr. Jenn sighed. “We are in four feet of water.  This is no big deal.”

Big T., bless his awkward little heart, possessed little insight back then into the physics of his own pre-adolescent body. He tried to pull himself up and over his perch for some unknown reason, but lost his grip. He slid off, legs flailing, and took the lower pontoon right in the ‘nards. He sat strattled, paralyzed in pain, with his mouth wide open in a silent howl.

“Oooooo,” Mr. Jenn winced, crossing his own legs under water. Big A., who had been contemplating tears, began to giggle. Big T. noted her reaction even in his moment of agony, and got all Steve-O from Jackass on us. He grabbed himself and commenced to rocking back and forth with that stupid look men get when they’re trying to make it look like they busted their nuts on purpose to impress some chick. Since Jackass hadn’t yet crashed into our living rooms on its jet-propelled bike and water skis, I assumed that  Big T.’s ability to turn his pain and anguish into a comedy routine was either

  1. Inborn as it seems to be with all males;
  2. Something he learned by watching his dad rip his knee while trying to ride a skimboard into a tide pool at the beach in front of about fifteen families;
  3. Something he learned by watching his dad launch out of a inner tube pulled through a large boat wake. My dad was driving the boat at the time;
  4. Something he learned by watching his dad try to snow ski in the terrain park: Mr. Jenn tried to shred on a rail, but missed and face-planted in the snow;
  5. Something he learned by hearing his dad tell the story of  losing control of a jet ski and winding up in a tree.

Big T. continued rocking for a bit, then fell over the pontoon into the water while proclaiming loudly, “I’m dead!”

By this time, Big A. was howling, and Mr. Jenn was cursing as he attempted to right the boat. He pulled himself up on the upright pontoon and humped it repeatedly until the boat fell back down into the water. The mast popped back up, erect as ever, and all was right with the world.

That particular WFA ended happily, with Mr. Jenn and I hoisting the kids back on the boat and swimming the thing back to shore. Now that Big T. and Big A. are off at college having their own exploits, no doubt, Mr. Jenn and I are creating more opportunities for mayhem and insanity merriment and fun with the Little Worrells. Stay tuned while Lil’ K. and I quietly observe the indoctrination of Lil’ P. into the world of male nut-busting and bullshit social mores and customs during this latest upcoming Worrell Family Adventure. Have a literary day—wear your cup!

Mea Maxima Culpa, Bitches: An Interview with the Muse

While I wouldn’t lay that one on Father Henry in the Confessional over the Easter Week, I will tell you that the Muse has been whispering this statement in my ear for awhile. I’ve shut her down on many occasions when she starts spewing irreverent shit, but this time I decided to ask her what she meant. She agreed to an interview, and I caught her the other day as she bellied up to a mess of piss clams and some beer.

Me: Why piss clams? Little Necks are better.

Muse: What do you know?

Me: Uh…

Muse: Seriously, tell me, what do you know?

Me: About piss clams? They are mushier than Little Necks, and you should wash them off in broth before you eat them.

Muse: I consider myself a purist. I don’t wash them.

Me: EW?

Muse: EW? Coming from a girl who eats all the yellow stuff and guts in her steamed crabs? Pu-lease: I heard what you told that guy you caught cracking open and cleaning the crabs in that bushel he had just cooked. I believe you used the word, “sacrilege.”

Me: Touché.

Muse: Merci beaucoup. Now can we get on with this conversation? I don’t think you called me down here to gripe about my food. So what do you know?

Me: It’s what I don’t know that’s got me interrupting your dinner. That whole “Mea Maxima Culpa, Bitches!” thing has me stumped.

Muse: Aw, come on. It’s all about the freedom you attain by taking responsibility your own excrement. Like in that co-parenting book you read called, No One’s the Bitch, by Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Carol Marine …I believe they had a chapter titled “Owning Your Shit” imploring step parents and bio parents to admit their fears and issues so the relationships within the blended family structure can improve.

Me: I did own my jank within our family structure. Not terribly helpful to anyone but me, the stepmom–sources say that, contrary to beliefs held by Marine et al., I am the bitch of the universeAll that aside, what does owning my shit have to do with my art?

Muse: Everything. One can’t have light without darkness. One can’t have sweetness without the shit smell.

Me: So?

Muse: You can’t connect with your writing and with other people unless you have a firm grip on all facets of your being. If you don’t confront the most dangerous parts of yourself, you’ll bind your art.

Me: Constipated writing?

Muse: Exactly. As we have said, one can smell stoved up rants from miles away.

Me: So does that mean I have to write those writhing confessional pieces and vomit rage and angst all over the page?

Muse: For the love of God, no. Please. You have notebooks of that garbage hidden in the attic. I mean you have to come clean with yourself. Are you angry? Do you lie to others? To yourself? Are you a slacker? Are you judgmental? Small? Obnoxious? Homicidal?

Me: I avoid killing people.

Muse: Good for you—would you like a cookie? To paraphrase Rita Mae Brown in her writers’ manual: an artist must acknowledge the murderous parts of him/herself before he/she can create a dynamic and believable character truly capable of killing.

Me: On what page did you find that?

Muse: How would I know? I’m up to my elbows in piss clams. I’m not about to soil my copy of Starting From Scratch for a page number. You go find out.

Me: I’m too much of a slackass. Besides, my characters aren’t murderers.

Muse: Why not? Kill off some people every now and then. Committing homicide with the pen vents frustration. Don’t you have some people you wouldn’t mind offing?

Me: No comment.

Muse: Pussy.

Me: Look, I admitted to being a slack ass. What more do you want?

Muse: Confess your control issues. When you swallow your pride and admit how little power you really have over your events in your life right now and how much you hate that fact, then the experience of powerlessness will stop haunting you and, instead, flesh out some aspect of your art.

 

Muse: You’re quiet.

Me: I’m trying to swallow my pride. It’s stuck in my throat.

Muse: Well, good. You have infinite amounts of pride, so you’d better start swallowing, Honey. It’s getting in your way, big time.

Me: I thought pride was healthy?

Muse: Not when it keeps you from asking for help. Not when you get so caught up in trying to control and ameliorate situations way beyond your firing range that you ruminate day and night over the unfixable like some sort of sick cow.

Me: I thought helping people was decent.

Muse: Their shit is their responsibility, not yours.  Let ‘em go.

Me: I have.

Muse: Good. That’s why you’re finally writing instead of whining about how much you want to write.  Mea Maxima Culpa: you don’t have the energy, the impact, the contacts, or the wherewithal to control all your relationships, your family, your family’s health, or your job. You cannot fix all these things on your own; Sister, you are not in control. And that pisses you off beyond belief.

Me: Feed me some bile this morning, why don’t you?

Muse: Drink up. Let everyone else own their own shit. Stop trying to shield them from it. Or, as in some other cases, stop trying to jam it down their throats.

Me: Why would anyone reading this care about my shit?

Muse: They don’t. Hopefully, you will inspire them to confess their own shit to themselves. If you run from your darkness, it will chase you like bean farts from here to eternity. Everyone else will smell it, except you. You’ll be wondering why in the world everyone you meet has their nose all wrinkled up. Meanwhile, there’s a steaming poop pile behind you that you don’t even see. Have the sense to notice the crap, examine the color. Why are these turds following you? Interview the pile.

Me: Oh, my GOD!!! Are you my shit?????

Muse: You might consider me one of your cow pies, yes.

Me: You don’t look like shit.

Muse: That’s my point!!! Once you get to know your shit, it’s not all that nasty. It stops stinking. What is crap but the delicious yellow stuff in the belly of a mess of hard crabs? After all, what is poop, but fertilizer? Your piles of dung morph into something vegetative. Art. Writing. Song. Own it, Baby. Then You. Are. Free.

Me: Wow. Confession really is good for the soul.

Muse: Mea Maxima Culpa, Bitches!

Me: Yeah. Now I get it.

Verbs and Vindication at the Virginia Festival of the Book

When Valerie Tripp, author of the American Girl series, said that excess description in children’s books borders on “self-indulgent,” I swear I heard my Muse crack open a beer in salute. I attended Tripp’s session on the differences between writing for boys and girls at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville yesterday. Fred Bowen, the session co-presenter and author of two series of sports books for kids, agreed. Both said that metaphors had better explode to “earn real estate on the page.” Hallelujah, pass me the verbs!

As I traveled through various presentations from authors, editors, and agents yesterday in Charlottesville, the same theme followed me. During a session entitled “Dancing with the Manuscripts,” writers could submit the first 100 words of their manuscript ahead of time. The moderator read each submission aloud during the forum. Four representatives from the Moseley Writers’ Group served on the critique panel at the front of the room and held up a green card if they wanted to read more or a red card if the writing had problems. They consistently “green-carded” submissions that dropped readers right in the middle of the action with vivid language that moved. Those stories that launched into a description of the setting or some other story element generally ended up with a red card. The Moseley Writers also requested that authors use fewer “be” verbs and completely annihilate the word “it.” By this part of the day, the Muse had finished a case of beer and had a good buzz going.

I’ve always hated books with long descriptions like that Proustian crap where it takes two pages for some guy to walk across a room or three pages for the same guy to eat his eggs in the morning. I tend to put down books replete with metaphors and similes and devour plot-driven novels. William Zinsser refers to all these excess words as “verbal camouflage” in his book On Writing Well. Even though he gears his manual toward the creative non-fiction writer, I think his statement applies to any genre. But then, maybe you shouldn’t listen to me. I’m a twelve year old trapped in a late-thirties body: I still think farts are funny.

I believe the passive tense completely shits all over a good piece of writing as well. The sentence “From its pink shutters to its cute little door and hanging wisteria, the sweet little house was lovingly built with hand hewn boards and guarded carefully by enormous trees, standing sentry-like on both sides of the driveway” pisses me of. It makes me want to write a rebuttal like this, “The tornado ripped through the neighborhood, sucked the roof off the pink-shuttered house, snapped the guardian trees in half, and deposited giant logs atop the splintered hand-hewn boards.” Call me an asshole, but still! Let’s just pile some passivity on the roof of the poor house, power-wash it with adjectives, then hurl some adverbs through its windows until it collapses with a guttural moan and dies.

Given my preoccupation with flatulence, I must again remind you that I may not hold the qualifications to judge good writing. I will point out that some successful writers agree with me, though. My favorite author is Rita Mae Brown—I particularly love her earlier works like Southern Discomfort, Rubyfruit Jungle, Bingo, High Hearts, etc. I also like Cathy Lamb, Sarah Addison Allen, William Kotzwinkle, and Glenn Murray. All these fiction writers have VERY different styles, but their stories all move. Brown’s characters pepper the stories with colorful dialogue and bad behavior. Lamb creates a grandmother who thinks she is Amelia Earhart and flies around the room, while another character lights her thongs on fire after every one-night-stand she procures. Allen makes trees throw apples at villains. Kotzwinkle and Murray created the Walter the Farting Dog series for kids. Walter’s flatulence leads him on many exciting adventures that caused me to weep and snort with laughter one afternoon in a local bookstore.

All those books are short on passive verbs and long on action. Even the forays into the characters’ emotional lives literally shove the plot along. The authors tell us very little about their characters—they just turn them loose on the page and let them bump up against each other or fart repeatedly, as the case may be. Their crazy behaviors reflect their emotional lives, relegating all the “to be” verbs to the obsolete hole of darkness where they belong.

In her book, Starting from Scratch: a Different Kind of Writers’ Manual, Rita Mae Brown says, “If you want to get your black belt in boredom, load your sentences with variations of the verb to be.” (p. 67). I read this book during my first year in college and loved it! Ignore the chapter about “Computers and Other Expensive Knicknacks” that advises writers to buy an “IBM Correcting Selectric III” rather than a computer. Brown says, “You’re better off with expensive lighting than a computer. Those damn computers hurt your eyes, too” (p. 53). So what if she published the book in 1988? The writing advice is still relevant and reads like one of her novels.

Yesterday’s sessions at the Virginia Festival of the Book taught me that I need to tighten up my writing, make the first words of my books scream with excitement, and stay true to the type of writing that I have always loved. While Oprah may never endorse my books, plot driven writing sells, too. Hello, Hunger Games! Fred Bowen quoted Mark Twain and said something like “If you don’t write for money, you’re a blockhead!” Damn straight. Once the Muse recovers from her hangover this morning, the two of us will get to work. Liven up those verbs, and have a creative day!

Pitches…GAWD!

Writing pitches reminds of me pregnancy hemorrhoids. I strain really hard, then something odd pops out. I’ve been pushing all day, let me tell you. I hope I have created something at least slightly Prep-H worthy.

I really HATE writing pitches, but I won’t get published without them. I love making stories, but I despise trying to consolidate my ideas into a couple of attention-getting sentences that will snag me an editor. I’m NOT short winded. AT ALL. I will fart around for days before I actually sit down to write a synopsis. I spent all day yesterday avoiding the queries I’d assigned myself by lolling around at the park with my family. I had the BEST day playing with my kids, so I slapped a couple of pictures from our little adventure up with this post. They are way cuter and more appropriate than any graphic representation I could put up that would symbolize me trying to get my work done today. For me, writing a pi-otch is a bi-otch.

I’m not sure if I’m even qualified to give advice on the subject of pitching, but I’m going to try. Here are a couple of things to remember when you are on your own personal query toilet.

  • First and foremost, consider your writing style. Are you funny? Is your writing contemplative? Flowery? Sarcastic? Academic? Then write that way! Construct your query to match the writing style you are trying to sell. Be professional, obviously, and DEFINITELY have your facts straight, but don’t send some stilted formal tome to introduce yourself. Editors can smell constipated writing from miles away.
  • For Cripes SAKE! Spell the editor’s name correctly. If I were the editor, and you screwed my name up, I’d flush your “jank” immediately.
  • Look for and FOLLOW EXACTLY the directions on the submissions guide for the  magazine/agency/publisher/website to whom you’re sending your work. Most editors, etc., will slushpile your work if you don’t format or send it correctly.
  • Do your homework. Show the editor/agent/publisher that there really is an audience for your work. Statistics help. If you’re writing a book on stepmothers, you can tell a potential agent that there are around 2500 stepfamilies created daily in this country; currently, there are an estimated 15 million stepmothers in the United States. There’s definitely a market for your book, and you proved it with your stats. BUT, don’t submit an article on snow to a local publication in Miami, Florida, whose readership consists of people who hate cold weather. Duh.
  • Most pitching experts I’ve consulted (stalked on the Internet) agree that if you can’t narrow a synopsis of your work or idea down to four or five sentences, you don’t know what the hell you’re writing about. I have to agree, but that doesn’t mean this tight of a summary is easy for me. My queries today were pretty long, but I got my point across.

I can assure you that there are plenty more important things to think about as you create a query, and I’ll add to my list as time goes on. I am also going to submit the synopsis I created for my unfinished middle grade novel manuscript to The Canary Review to be “Pitch Slapped.” Their reviewers will rip it to shreds, slap me soundly, then provide me (maybe) with some ideas for a better pitch. I’m scared crapless, but criticism from fellow writers can really help improve your work and possibly get you published. I’m ready to flush my ego and put my stuff out there. I’ll share any comments and feedback I receive on this blog; I’m going to get me a public “pitch slap.” So wish me luck, and have a creative day (that doesn’t involve queries, hemorrhoids, or constipation).

Finding a Story Doesn’t Have to Grate On Your Nerves

Today, I’m going to try my hand as a mystery writer. My life is filled with intrigue and suspense which occasionally mingle with petty crime. With four kids and two adults in the house, every day is a new mystery. Not a one of us can ever find a damn thing. Each morning affords me an annoying feeling of suspense as I try to locate the Little Worrells’ shoes. Some mornings leave me with a cliffhanger ending, and I strap my babies into their respective carseats in their sock feet. Luckily my parents keep the kids for me while I teach. They know me well and keep the house stocked with clothes and shoes for these particular days.

Other days unfold a little like a crime drama. I use my Kindle Fire for word processing, but I also downloaded some apps on it for Lil’ K. to play with under my strict supervision. The other day, I reached into my purse for my little writing lifeline, only to find it gone. I searched around frantically, following Lil’ P.’s clues and footsteps, certain he had made off with it somehow. He led me to a glowing blanketed lump in a tight corner of our bedroom. He threw himself
onto the lump, thus making it squeal in loud protest. When I lifted the lump’s blanket, I found a guilty-looking Lil’ K. playing Zoodles on my lost Kindle. Culprit found, placed into timeout, and I finished my work.

The most interesting mysteries in the Worrell house occur when the needs of the Little Worrells and the Big Worrells collide. The latest story involved the family cheese grater. Big A. was home from college, and both Little Worrells had hacking coughs and fevers. Lil’ K., who hadn’t eaten all day, allowed as to how she would enjoy some cheese and raw broccoli for dinner.  I started searching for her requested food  against my better judgment. I could just see her sick little gullet hitting the reject button and sending broccoli and cheese all over the wall. That was some art I didn’t want to see.

“Straight cheese, Mama,” she told me.

“Straight cheese” is grated cheese from a bag. Naturally, I had run out. I reached into the cabinet for the cheese grater, knowing two things up front:

  1. Lil’ K. wasn’t going to touch my grated cheese with a ten foot pole because it wouldn’t have the same taste, texture, or color as the bagged crap.
  2. I am a lazy slackass who would rather pay someone to grate cheese and put it in a bag. Scraped knuckles suck anyway. I hadn’t reached for the grater in months.

As I opened the cabinet where the cheese grater had been in the habit of living, all the pots and pans dutifully fell out. Organizing my cabinets is, like, number 980 on my to-do list. Cleaning our closets is number 981. Maybe that’s why we can’t find anything. Anyway, the only things left inside the latest cabinet disaster were a few smooshed steel wool pads and a sifter. Clearly, the grater had taken up residence elsewhere.

The little Worrells had cleared the room, so I posed a rhetorical question to the rest of the family.

“Where in the hell is the cheese grater?” I asked.

“It’s where in the hell you left it,” replied my husband, Mr. Jenn.

I noticed Big A’s expression shift from thoughtful perplexity to reluctant recollection. She slipped furtively from the room, while I proceeded to start more cabinet avalanches.

“Where’s my cheeeeeeeese, Mama?” whined Lil’ K. from the next room. She lolled her way into the kitchen. Lil’ P. followed her closely behind and opened up the damned cabinet with all the plastic ware in it. The enormous mountain of piled lids and tubs of every shape and size slid down and hit the floor with a sickening crash.

I stomped over and tried to bulldoze all the tops and bottoms back into the cabinet. We also keep liquor down there, and as I shoved, I displaced a bottle of my favorite brand of rum.  It tipped and teetered beside a lettuce container and an old whipped cream tub. I gave another skillful shove and managed to stabilize the whole heap. I took note of the rum and decided that a shot or two later in the evening would not be out of the question.

“He’s eating that wooly stuff!” cried Lil’ K. suddenly. She gestured to Lil’ P. who had crawled back over the fallen pots and pans under the sink and had a steel wool pad in his mouth. I grabbed it, only to incite the silent scream from Lil’ P.

“Whatcha tearing up the kitchen for, Mama?” Lil’ K. asked. Lil’ P.’s face had turned puce with rage—his mouth was wide open, but thankfully, not yet emitting sound.

“Trying to find the cheese grater to make you some straight cheese,” I told her, holding up the block of cheese. I patted Lil’ P. in a futile attempt to curb the explosion and felt his mid-section expand with a violent inhalation. This was going to be a doozy.

Lil’ K. immediately clapped both hands over her mouth, and emitted a mile long whine.

“I don’t wike dat kind,” she cried.

Lil’ P. finally drew enough breath into his scrunched face to create the volume he needed to let the world know how positively pissed he was that he couldn’t snack on the steel wool. The duet between the two of them rattled the windows. I would have reached for the rum then, but I knew the bottle was currently holding up Mount Plasticmore.

“Jesus CHRIST!” Mr. Jenn yelled, yanking open the dishwasher and tossing in a plate. Peyton stopped screaming long enough to note that the dishwasher was opened. “Young’uns screaming, shit falling out of cabinets—I’m going back to work!”

Just then, Big A. came in holding the cheese grater.

“Um, I borrowed it,” she said. “Last Christmas, when the girls were over, we, uh, were trying to fray our jeans with it.”

I took the cheese grater from her. I tried to remember what it looked like the last time I saw it. I didn’t think its handle was bent into a leering grin like it was now. I also didn’t recall the rust, and I know it didn’t have pieces of jeans stuck in it.

“I tried to get the jeans out, but I guess some are still left,” Big A. said, rinsing it in the sink.

“Fiber,” my husband noted. “It’s what’s for dinner.  Jesus!”

“DEEEEsus!” giggled Peyton. I suddenly realized he wasn’t holding onto my pants and screaming. I looked up and saw him in the dishwasher.

“DEEEEEsus!” he said again, cackling from behind the plates.  Mr. Jenn fished him out before I could get to him.

“Boy!!!” he said holding Lil’ P. up to eye level. “What in the hale are you doing in there?”

I just shook my head and grated the cheese. Soon I had an impressive looking pile; I didn’t see any denim therein. Lil’ K. picked up a piece of my cheese, sniffed it, and crossed her arms. After all that, I could tell my pile of cheese didn’t have a snowman turd’s chance in hell of winding up in Lil’ K’s gut. I looked up to notice that Lil’ P. was climbing back into the dishwasher.  Big A. had come in and handed me the stylin’ jeans she had engineered herself with the family cheese grater. Damn. Not bad. Hmmm. I had some 501s that could use some fraying—what an interesting and worthwhile use for a cheese grater. I would sacrifice my knuckles for a cool pair of jeans.

Finally, we had solved the cheese grater kidnapping. We now had to solve the mysteries of how we were going to keep Lil’ P. out of the dishwasher during the loading and unloading and get Lil’ K. to eat something decent. I still need a few clues. I do know that I’m going to buy a new cheese grater. Big A. will find this one on her bed on her next trip home from college.

But I do have another post about some mundane thing to illustrate that every day moments make art, too. Don’t overlook these small things in your life as you develop your own creativity. I don’t mean that you make every piece of art you bring forth resemble an annoying romp through your iPhone family photo gallery at your office party, but STILL. It’s  no mystery to me: my life is kind of beautiful!


Poop

As an artist of any sort, it’s imperative that we create our masterpieces from what we know. If you are a parent or caregiver to anyone under, I don’t know, thirty-five, then poop has been paramount in your experience in some form. Now before y’all hit that Lil’ red X at the top of y’all’s screenie-poos on this one, let me explain. I just Googled “poop art,” and good Lord, let me tell you: Venus de Milo? Made out of Panda crap? Seriously? Another artist pooped in a can in 1961, sealed it, and it sold for £124,000 at a Sotheby’s auction. Turds appear to have endless sales possibilities; in this house, I believe we may have cornered the market.

As a writer, I do take the whole “write about what you know” thing seriously. It would be far-fetched for me to write about nano-particles or e-trading or bridge building.  I don’t know, ahem, shit about any of that. However, I have shoveled enough caca in the past ten years to declare myself an expert. Before that, I had horses. I can tell you what kind of hay they’ve been eating based on the color and texture of a fresh steaming pile.

In fact, Lil’ K refused to potty train, and had to be punished, bribed, sang to, read to, and otherwise cajoled in all manner of speaking to deposit her waste into any typical receptacle other than a diaper or the floor. Enter Lil’ P. on the scene last year. Upon his birth, I want y’all to know, I received the title, “Head Ass Wiper in Charge” ’round this house. I may not know shit about much, but I know, well, shit.

If poop inspires you in any way, by all means, ahem, run with it. Consider the medium, though. For instance, the time Lil’ K. deposited a log big enough to be a keel for an aircraft carrier in the tub would be best captured in a sarcastic story such as this rather than in oils. Incidently, during this same crappy event,  Lil ‘ P. was present as he had just finished his bath. He had to be left undiapered on his frog towel in the floor while I tried to dispose of this ginormous coprolite in the tub. P. was indeed fascinated as I transferred the package to the toilet in three parts with a sand shovel I found fortuitously crammed behind the unused potty chair. His big blue eyes carefully tracked my ever move. While I was plunging the toilet because the thing wouldn’t go down, Lil’ P.’s face lit up with smiles and rainbows as he then proceeded to spray down the bathroom doorframe, the wall, and the sink. He was cackling so hard to the rhythm of the sucking plunger that he rolled over for what I believe may have been his first time.

“Don’t say that Mama,” admonished Lil K. as I let fly strings of expletives normally reserved for porn stars and pirates. There was nothing else to do but laugh maniacally, once I unclogged the toilet. I mean, what do you do for awhile after all that?

Again, let me reiterate that potty catastrophes such as these should probably be reserved for the written or spoken word. There are a few exceptions, though, like the photograph I took of Big T. practicing his saxophone on the toilet when he was in the sixth grade. He was known to disappear into the crapper for long periods of time, generally completing homework, music practice, and perhaps his own rendition of War and Peace on the throne. Once I found him in there eating spaghetti during a rowdy family gathering.

“I just have to get away from all these…people,” he said, expertly balancing his tray on his lap and twirling his spaghetti on his fork. He had a point. I considered sitting on the side of the tub and joining him for awhile, but I didn’t want to screw up his vibe.

Another exception to Jenn’s Poop Immortalization Rule is music. If you can write about crap, you can sure sing about it, too. I happen to own a Cd from a wonderful folk band called Molasses Creek with a poop song on it. This band, which hails from Ocracoke Island, NC, and was featured on The Prairie Home Companion, sang about one of their daughters having to do a Number 2 on the road to the Cedar Island Ferry. The family then hits road construction and misses the last ferry of the night from mainland NC to Ocracoke, due to this ill-timed dump. The song is HI.LAR.I.OUS. This same daughter now has a Cd of her own, so does not seem to be scarred in any way from having her bowels immortalized in a song.

So I guess the point of this is that there is no end to artistic inspiration if you are willing to go out on a, um, log. So, the appropriately titled challenge Quit Farting Around and Ripple the Universe, comes into play here.

Quit Farting Around and Ripple the Universe Challenge #2.

Get off your toilets, or go sit on them if you need some peace, and find inspiration in the weird or gross around your house. Write, paint, sing, or do something with the strange nastiness around your house. If your kids produced the ick, don’t worry. They will survive a lifetime of your embarrassing renditions of their childhood moments. Big T. just got into the honor society at his college, no doubt developing his brilliance in all the communal bathrooms along the way.

Finding Inspiration in the Generation Gap, Part 1

When you are an artist of any kind, it helps if you have a supportive family. It’s a bonus if they have nutball tendencies, too, because then you have amazing story fodder, particularly if you are a writer, like me.

My extended family is full of delightful wackjobs, and they have found their way into several of my stories. I just hope they don’t recognize themselves. My focus today is my immediate family, because the people that surround you on a daily basis have the largest impact on your art. This is definitely true for me, anyway.

My husband and I have four kids: Big T. And Big A. are from his first marriage, and Lil’ K. and Lil’ P. are ours together. The big Worrells are now at college–they are 18 and 20, but we have been a family since they were six and eight. Lil’ K. is four, and Lil’ P. is one. They all have starring roles in my memoir, and they will be in many stories in the future.

When we run into friends we haven’t seen in awhile, we get mixed reactions when we tell them about all the kids and the age gaps. Older friends with teenagers or grown kids look at us like we’ve shot the dots off our dice, then ride off on their Harley Davidson touring bikes to Sturgis. My husband puts on his wistful face and sighs, then hands Lil’ P. a handful of Puffs as he straps everyone into their seats in our 2001 Yukon with the big- assed double stroller in the back. I’m going to interrupt this scene before my husband makes the comment about me on the back of the Harley with leather chaps and a thong (eeeeeeeewwwwww) to create a few posts about why it’s cool to have toddlers and teens running around at the same time.

Today’s thoughts about my unusual family have to do with music. When you’ve watched so much Nick Jr. that you find yourself singing the theme song to Max and Ruby while you scrub your toilets, your teenagers will come home from college and save you. Big A. had just gotten the thumpin’ stereo we gave her for Christmas installed in her Jeep, and she wanted me to hear it on her latest trip home.

“Check this out, Jenn,” she told me, then proceeded to crank the bass until I couldn’t figure out if the bumps I was hearing were coming from the speakers or from the thuds the squirrels were making as they launched from the trees and hit the sides of the house.

Through all the thumpin’, I commenced to discern the repitition of the word, “ass,” for like fifteen minutes.

“Have you heard the ‘Ass Song’?” she asked. “It’s by Big Sean and Nicki Minaj.”

By this time in the song, Big Sean had added more brilliance to his lyrical ode to asses worldwide with some version of the words ” Wobble-dy, wobble-dy, wobbly-dy, wa, wobble, wobble.”

Apparently, at this point in the creation of this gem, Big Sean whipped out a thesaurus, because I then discerned the word, “colossal.” Suddenly, it hit me. Was it possible? Could Big Sean be rappin’ about my thirteen-month postpartum hindparts? When he brought up the part about the tiny waist and the collassal ass, I dismissed this notion. Ain’t nothin’ on me tiny, DAWG.

But STILL. This dude was getting rich singing a song with fewer words than the entire “Hot Dog Dance” song about…ass. People, there is hope for all of us starving creative types if you listen to that. Wow. Regardless, I had leaped across the chasm from Nick Jr. to Nicki, and I had me a new ear bug. Cleaning the toilets will never be the same again.

As I was vibrating in the front seat of Big A.’s Jeep listening to Big Sean and Lil’ Wayne, I had to think back to the time that Big T. introduced me to the Lonely Island on Youtube. I believe P. Diddy accompanied this group of white boys on a pretentious looking yacht as they bellowed, “I’m on a boat, MFer, take a good hard look at the MFing boat…” and so on. Basically, they appeared to be making fun of the whole materialistic, rich rapper thing and swearing a lot. When my husband bought a ten foot long Jon boat off the side of the road for 100 bucks, I paid tribute to its dented loveliness by singing to all passers-by that they should take a good long look at our new MFing boat.

If you have an entire generation between the kids in your house, you do need to be cautious about mixing up their music. When I heard Lil’ K. singing about her “Poker Face,” I knew I’d better stick to the Laurie Berkner Band when she was around. Tim, Big T., and Big A. put a wrench in my censorship operation when they taught her the refrain from the country song “People are Crazy.” I didn’t find out that they did this until my new boss asked Lil’ Miss K. if she knew any songs. My curly haired blond grinned and nodded.

“God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy!” she belted.

Delightful. But as I sit with all my kids, my flippy floppies on, my MFing boat turned over in the backyard waiting on a fishin’ trip, I think about the 40-something friends of ours currently enjoying the  freedom of the open road with no diapers, rap music, or toilet brushes. Humph. Dat shit cray.

Gone!” Part 2

Photos and videos detailing damage from last week’s tornadoes are now encased in white. Several inches of snow fell on much of the destruction today. Friggin’ fabulous if you’re trying to find your possessions in your neighbor’s yard, I’m sure.

Anyhoo, I challenged everyone to get off their asses and write/paint/sing/dance in the spirit of community and healing several days ago. I had initially intended to write a couple of posts about my own town’s experiences when we lost one of our schools in a freak tornado last year. I hadn’t done any writing about all that happened last April, and I really wasn’t thinking about it that much until the latest outbreak of tornadoes.

When I started typing about the destroyed school and our lost neighborhoods, words just spilled out everywhere. I couldn’t stop them. Suddenly, I had several posts worth of material, and I wasn’t even close to finished. I felt like a weight I didn’t know I was carrying was off my shoulders, BUT what I had written didn’t lend itself to individual blog posts.

So then this idea came to me. It might turn out to suck ass, but here goes. I’d been reading some ebooks and blogs about, well, blogging. I tend to jump into a new project, screw it up royally, then decide to read 500 books about it. I decided to read earlier than usual, this time. Each blogger and author I checked out talked about how easy it was to make and sell ebooks on their sites. These publications can be twenty or thirty pages long and are easy to make. So wouldn’t it be cool if I put all my thoughts down in an e-book and put it on the blog? I think I’ll give it a…err…whirl. I’ll post updates about my ebook-making progress from time to time. I’m currently researching options. I’m so proud of myself! I’m reading the damn directions first this time! Go me!

So there you go. I’m working on my end of the challenge. What about you? To really get you going, I’ve decided to add another element to the blog. I have been playing around with names for my creative challenges such as: “Get Your Creative Implement Out of Your Ass and Get to Work!” (Too long), or “Quit F&*%ing off and Make Something! (Too bitchy), or “Quit Plucking Your Chin Hairs and Be Productive!” (Too Much Information). Finally, I’ve settled on “Quit Farting Around and Ripple the Universe!”

So here goes.

Quit Farting Around and Ripple the Universe: Challenge #1

Has your life or that of a loved one or acquaintance been permanently altered by a natural disaster? How? Use your medium to describe the event, then show how you/your friend found hope in the situation.

Post a link to the work in the comments section below. You probably know how to upload your stuff to Youtube if it’s an applicable format for you. If not, do like I did and find a teenager to help you. I’m lucky to have pretty easy access to two of them, which I would be happy to hire out for a price. College tuition is expensive these days!

If you’re a writer, I found this WAY cool site called Scribd (www.scribd.com) that will allow you to upload and link to your writing. The site description says that it wants to be a “Youtube” for PDFs.  You can easily post a link in the comment section, and we can all see your work. Again, I just learned to Skype last month (those teenagers are SO handy), so it’s not like I’m on the cutting edge of new technology or anything.

Have fun! Make me some ripples! Comment below. Have a creative day!

 

Gone!

The headlines and news videos are pretty clear: thanks to Friday’s tornadoes, entire towns no longer exist except in the hearts of their citizens. I can’t wipe the faces of the people I’ve seen out of my mind. The looks of grief over lost loved ones, disbelief, and complete displacement tear at my heart as they should.

She’s right, you may be thinking, the devastation is terrible to watch, but what in the world does this have to do with an artist’s/writers’ blog?

Everything. In times like these, the art community provides the therapy and the hope. Now more than ever it’s important for writers, musicians, artists, and other creative types to get moving and be productive. Whether your particular endeavors make kids laugh, make adults cry, or fortify yourself enough so that you have the strength to rebuild a town, get off your ass and make something! God knows our world needs it right now!


Being Crazy Isn’t Enough–Dr. Seuss

Boy, did ol’ Theo hit the nail on the head on that one. Crazy in and of itself isn’t enough when it comes to art. You have to be disciplined about it. Dr. Seuss wrote 60 books throughout his life, and 46 of them were for children. Those children’s books came from a place in himself beyond imagination. That kind of writing and illustrating requires the author to live in those cob-webby, unused spaces within their own minds on a pretty consistent basis. Getting to that mental location is difficult, if not impossible, if you’re working a full-time job, chasing kids around, and trying to figure out what to cook for dinner.

Theodore Geisel said, “In my world, everyone’s a pony, and they all eat rainbows and poop butterflies.”
I most certainly can relate to the poop part. When my son was born last year, we were still potty-training my daughter. My husband and I dubbed me the Head Ass Wiper In Charge ’round our house. I was drowning in shit there for awhile, and let me assure you, there were no butterflies involved. If any of these poetically winged creatures had flitted by, the smell would have killed ‘em for sure.
I wasn’t always changing diapers on maternity leave last year, though. I spent a goodly amount of time stomping through the stream in the woods behind our house with my son in the front pack and my daughter splashing along in boots beside me. We threw leaves in the stream just to watch them float along with the current. We stalked bears, lions, deer, and antelope; we were sure we’d seen their prints all along the bank. We bent the little saplings by the water and checked the size of their buds each day. We thought a lot of thinks during those lazy days. We would come in each afternoon for lunch, baths, and naps. I wrote like crazy during those naps.

We have to be so disciplined about our jobs, chores, and errands each day. As important as those things are, they absolutely suck the life out of our creativity unless we discipline ourselves to find time to play. Blocking out all the mundane noise quiets the mind enough to that the Muse can wake up creativity and download ideas. Dr. Seuss was definitely on to something. Because our world turns at lightning speed, it may seem irrational to take time to watch a stick float down a stream. If you want to find your inner genius and bring it to light, making a date with “crazy” on a regular basis is imperative. So graze on some rainbows, shit some butterflies, and access the best of your creativity this weekend; celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday by celebrating yourself!

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