This is a tribute to my mom, Diane, who knew that there is never an inappropriate time for laughter (and also that bad situations are usually funnier than good ones.)

"Sun, sun, sun, here it comes"
-George Harrison

Monday, April 23, 2012

Of Humor Writers

I just attended the Erma Bombeck Humor Writers Conference in Dayton, Ohio.  I had the opportunity to meet several humorists that also happened to be lovely people.  Many assumed I was one of them; an established writer who attended the conference to meet other writers and learn how to be more profitable.  Those things did happen, but that's not why I went.   I attended the conference as pilgrimage to Erma Bombeck's hometown and alma mater.  To me, these place are sacred.

Erma Bombeck's writing came to me fatefully.  I was a young newlywed frantically trying to finish college.  As a B student, I was not even close to qualifying for any of the medical, dental or pharmaceutical schools my friends applied to.  I wouldn't have gone, anyway, even if I had gotten into a program. I was about to become a mother.

I stood at a bus stop outside my Physics lab as a failure and an outcast. The university had no place for me, save a pathetic lab job where I was an indentured servant to a virologist who led research in HIN1 and West Nile Virus.  I risked both pig and bird flu to run tests and wash dishes for eight dollars an hour.

I leaned against the bus stop sign, feeling unattractive, victimized and annoyed that no one made room for me on the waiting bench.   I then noticed a badly beaten paperback in the rain gutter, titled I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression. A bibliophile by upbringing, I  promptly rescued the book, assuming it was a self-help book, and surely one I would need sometime soon.  

After boarding the bus, I opened the book and began to fall in love with humor writing.  Still largely egocentric at this point (I was only 22), I gratefully realized that other people experiences matched my own, along with the corresponding emotions.  Erma Bombeck called herself the wife of the husband no one wants to swap with.  A drudge.  A loser.  And yet, she clearly wasn't, evidenced by what I held in my hands and would not let go of until I reached the back cover.  Erma Bombeck wrote a book so important it could be titled 'How a Mother Should Live', issued in every delivery room to rescue new mothers from the chronic mistakes of seeking validation through our children, expecting more from our husbands that they can provide, and, most threatening, taking ourselves far too seriously.

Erma Bombeck was not just a writer, she was a source of goodwill, and remains one still.  When I first read her book, I felt like this woman threw herself to the wolves for me.  She openly admitted that marriage is lonely and motherhood disenchanting without taking away from the joy and beauty of both.  As "a simple average housewife", she knew she was written off by society as insignificant, but she laughed about it, encouraging her readers to join her in merrily commiserating how completely average we are most of the time. 

Humorists write out of love.  Say a bully finds your diary and threatens to reveal your most embarrassing secrets; a humorist is the friend that steps in and claims the diary is his.  He takes the humiliation upon himself. They give of themselves, and often take away from themselves, to make us laugh.  They work extremely hard at it, and for that I sincerely love them so much.  And Erma especially.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Overwhelmed by Overachievers

All my life, I have been surrounded by overachievers. It started with my parents. My mom received her masters degree while she raised three kids, and pursued her doctorate while battling cancer. My dad has multiple masters degrees, works full time, serves as mayor of his town, exercises, gardens and volunteers. My brother works as a Pentagon-White house liaison. My sister is a drill instructor for the Marine Corps. My husband works in internet security as a computer engineer. My daughter just qualified for gifted classes. It never ends.

I went University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, home to Nobel prize laureates, innovators in every field of science and famous novelists. It was the worst. High school went well for me, so I entered the university feeling pretty good about myself; reasonably intelligent with a cute, girl-next-door appearance. It did not take long to realize that high school went well for everyone at U of I, and that I was completely average. Overachievers were abound.

I couldn't compete, and I knew it. I began to celebrate small victories in order to have something to contribute when my friends spoke of their futures.

Friend: I just found out I was accepted into Harvard Law!
Me: Congratulations! I just found out that Denny's is accepting applications!

Roommate: I can't decide which medical school to go to: Stanford or Johns Hopkins.
Me: That must be so hard. I am so lucky that both institutions made the decision for me!

Even though I was a small fish in a big pond, I did what I had to do, and earned a degree in Biology with a Chemistry minor. Sometimes now, college comes up in conversation, and people ask me what my degree is in. After I answer, I always get the two same responses:
1.) "Wow! That's really impressive!" (This is false. My mantra in college was 'C is for credit, D is for degree.' Aren't you glad I didn't become your doctor?)
2.) "Oh, so what do you do with that?" (Answer: you apply to med school, or dental school, or, at least grad school. I did none of these. I worked as a lab slave until I got knocked up.)

So, I haven't accomplished as much as my college friends, or high school friends, or family members, or my fifteen-year-old violin prodigy neighbor that baby-sit my kids, but I've learned not to compare myself to others. I still celebrate those small victories, so that I can joyfully declare to my husband that, in addition to his large bonus, I saved $1.25 on toilet paper! I cleaned out a closet! I got through a few e-mails! I shaved my legs (calves and thighs, but not knees)! I scheduled a dentist appointment! Through my hard work, I have achieved $1.25, a wardrobe that only contains things that fit or almost fit, only 13,766 unread e-mails, mostly smooth legs and the promise of a better smile. If that's not success, I truly don't know what is.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Back to the Blog

Well, I'm not quite finished with my writing class, but the time has come to put an end to my readers' deprivation of my thoughtful musings and witty insights. I come back to you a stronger writer, trained to define and use literary terms like "assonance". (Be prepared, I may use this writing technique to create powerful lines of poetry, such as Ouch! This couch would better suit a mouse house.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Crazy Busy

I decided to take a creative writing course this semester! The class is fun and interesting, and will hopefully help to improve my writing. Please be patient with me, I can't post regularly, as I now have homework to do. I plan to post what I write for class, in case anyone wishes to pretend they are English TAs or really low paid editors. (Note: if you are already a English TA or editor, constructive criticism in regards to the craft of writing is always welcome!)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Music, Man!

What is it about music that turns nice, agreeable people into insufferable snobs? Even though our musical taste is largely developed at age 15, we all seem to think that our music is, unquestionably and objectively, the best.

Or at least I do. At 15, the same year that I was jealous of a friend who discovered electric blue mascara before I did, I decided that Smashing Pumpkins, Mazzy Star and Radiohead produced the best music ever written (I was also I closeted show tunes fan.) At 29, I have deviated little from this stance, though I did expand my repertoire slightly when Wicked came out.

Largely, though, I am intolerant of new music, or, more specifically, music that is written or performed by anyone younger than me. This is really wrong, especially considering that I am unaware of approximately 98% of music written after 2001. It's a classic case of ignorance breeding intolerance.

I regret that I haven't kept up with new music. What I really have a problem with, though, is that the music I loved in high school is slipping into the "easy listening" genre. More than once, while traveling, I've flipped through the radio stations until I find a good song, under the assumption that if the station is playing a song that I like, it will be a good station. Then the song ends, and I find out that the station is LiteFM.

Then the depression sets in.

Why is this so depressing? Because the type of music you like is a direct correlation of how cool you are, and LiteFM is never cool (Oldies, yes.) Now, I know that there are a lot of people that are cooler than me, but I like to think that I am cooler than somebody. A lot of times I assume that one person is my husband.
Me: Hey, I found an awesome cover song- Johnny Cash singing Trent Reznor's Hurt.
James: Oh.
Me: Trent Reznor is the lead singer of Nine Inch Nails.
James: I know.
Me: Sorry...I just thought I was a little bit cooler than you.
James: You know, that song came out in 2002.

I realize that it's shallow to try to be cool, through music or otherwise. Once, a good friend admitted to me that she loved Britney Spears, and I found my admiring her bravery, similar to what is felt when someone admits to having a drug problem. Her statement said, I am who I am and I like what I like and I don't care if some prematurely aging 29 year-old, who knows none of the current top ten artists on iTunes, harasses me.

So I learned from my friend to stand by your musicians, and be faithful to music that inspires you. In this spirit, I will now proudly claim ownership of these well worn CDs:
-Wayne's World Soundtrack
-Monster Ballads
-Pure Moods 3
-The Little Mermaid Soundtrack
-Ruben Studdard (American Idol winner, Season 2), Souful
and, of course
-many, many show tunes

Rock on.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My Family, a Neighbor's Prespective

NEIGHBOR HUSBAND and NEIGHBOR WIFE's immaculate living room. Centered on the wall is a large picture window that looks out to a typical suburban house, except that it can easily be mistaken for either a daycare or possibly a happy junkyard. Periodically, a small dirty child should run across the yard of the house, chased by a mother in sweatpants. The sweatpants are essential.
NEIGHBOR HUSBAND. Honey, I'm home!
NEIGHBOR WIFE [handing NEIGHBOR HUSBAND a glass of wine]. How was your day, dear?
NEIGHBOR HUSBAND [accepting wine glass]. Delightfully uneventful, until just now, when I saw the neighbor kid outside naked.
NEIGHBOR WIFE. Naked, or just peeing again?
NEIGHBOR HUSBAND. Both, actually.
NEIGHBOR WIFE. Last week I was paying the landscaper when I heard the mom suggest they dig through the recycling to find something to play with.
NEIGHBOR HUSBAND. What about all the toys that are lying in the front yard?
NEIGHBOR WIFE. Well, I think most of them got buried in Judy's rose garden. Or run over by their car. Was the mom outside with the boy?
NEIGHBOR HUSBAND. She was covering him up with one of her daughter's nightgowns.
NEIGHBOR WIFE. Oh, I feel so sorry for him!
NEIGHBOR HUSBAND. While she was dressing him, she told the girls to take the car seats out of the car and spray them with the hose.
NEIGHBOR WIFE. How bizarre, whatever for?
NEIGHBOR HUSBAND. Well, a few of them appeared to be covered in Slurpee.
NEIGHBOR WIFE. Where was the baby during all this?
NEIGHBOR HUSBAND. I asked myself the same thing, but then I saw she was hiding in the garage.
NEIGHBOR WIFE. Smart girl.
NEIGHBOR HUSBAND. Except there was hardly any room with all of those empty boxes they have piled in there. Do you think they are hoarders?
NEIGHBOR WIFE. Maybe they are saving them for fuel in case the power grid shuts down...forever.
NEIGHBOR HUSBAND. Maybe they are online entrepreneurs and they ship mass amounts of product from their home.
NEIGHBOR WIFE. That must be it. No one in their right mind would save all those boxes for no reason!
NEIGHBOR HUSBAND. Surely not. I am sure there is also a very good explanation for all the cords, wires and computer equipment.
NEIGHBOR WIFE. I actually asked about that. Apparently, many of those items are from the early 90s. There must be a "vintage" market for electronics. If that is the case, they'll be rich!
NEIGHBOR HUSBAND. Good! Maybe then they'll move. [raises wine glass] To the vintage electronic market!
NEIGHBOR WIFE. Cheers! [they 'clink' glasses]


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

When You Can't Thrive, at Least Survive

Again, it has been way too long since I last posted. I've been spending all my free time watching old episodes of Dual Survivor on Netflix. If you haven't seen it, it's this awesome show where two guys go out into the wilderness with random things like a pack of cigarettes and a camera lens, and survive until they come in contact with civilization.

Every time I watch this show, under my electric blanket with a cup of hot chocolate, I think, I could do this. It's practically my life already! How hard could it be to hunt for my own food? Did I not take the neck and giblets out of a turkey with my bare hands? I could certainly field dress a porcupine.

I have always found virtue in self-reliance. In fact, I have often wondered if I am a descendant of Henry David Thoreau (or Hank DT, as I affectionately call him.) If I were, it would explain why I found myself alone deep in the woods a week ago, with nothing expect a bottle of water, a notebook and a copy of Civil Disobedience. I didn't even have pen to go with the notebook. I thought I could whittle a stick into a pencil, after I found some graphite, and a rubber tree for an eraser. This would burn valuable calories, of course, but it was necessary to catalog the deep thoughts I was sure to have while spending time alone in the wilderness.

Dear Journal, I observed some moss on a tree today and found myself jealous, because what does moss have to do, besides just live? I wish I could be as unhurried as moss. Also, moss doesn't have an ounce of fat on it's body (bodies?)

It all started when I woke up one morning disgusted with myself. I was far too accustomed to a comfortable life: someone else paying my bills, fighting my country's wars, cutting my hair, cleaning my pool, delivering my mail, etc. I felt a strong need to prove to myself that, if needed, I could survive on my own. So I borrowed my husband's car (and some money for gas), and took to the woods.

There is a forest preserve near my house that has many hiking trails, ranging from just a quarter mile to a 13 mile long path. I decided to try the five mile trail, which runs along the 13 mile trail for about three miles. When the two trails split, I stood at the fork. The five mile path was well-worn, while the 13 mile was obscured by weeds. I knew that, physically, I was better suited for the five mile trail, seeing that the last intense workout I had was an hour of Zumba. But I just kept thinking of the Bible and Robert Frost, and so, I grandly chose the less traveled path.

For a few miles I walked tall and proud, because I was in a open field. Everything changed when I entered the forest. How could I forget that Florida's climate allows suitable habitats for an abundance of life forms, no matter how fearsome?

General Deciduous Forests in America

Sub-tropical Forests in Florida

-squirrels scurrying

-venomous snakes scurrying after squirrels

-small, non-threatening leaves and plants
-huge, overpowering foliage, like in Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors

-geese, ducks and swans

-no waterfowl, because they have been eaten by alligators

It should also be said that Florida forests have giant bugs of all kinds (not at all cute) and black bears (large, but cute if you don't look at their claws.)

Upon entering the forest, I thought that I had to be at least halfway through the 13 miles. I lost my map around mile three (a common mishap in wilderness survival, I'm sure), but I found out later that the forest started at mile five; if I had turned around at this point in the trail, my overall hike would have been three miles shorter and I would have avoided seeing IT.

A large snake, coiled and looking right at me, right in the middle of the path I needed to take.

I immediately started praying Hail Marys. What were my options? What would Dave and Cody do on Dual Survival? They would hunt it for meat, of course, but I really wasn't hungry. I felt fairly certain that my breakfast of blueberry waffles and bacon would sustain me until I reached the trail-head. Then I could replenish my lost calories at the Wendy's across the street.

So, I panicked for awhile, watching the snake as he watched me. Who would make the first move? After a few minutes of this, it began to get a little awkward-for me. The snake seemed unfazed; he was clearly not concerned about making me feel uncomfortable. Finally, I turned around to find a stick I could fight the snake with so I could cross the path. Luckily, at this point the snake bolted. I was so happy to avoid that confrontation.

So, obviously, I made through the hike alive, although I did have some killer blisters by the end. I proved that, if I stayed on a marked trail and had a big breakfast, I could survive in the wilderness for several hours on my own. Hank DT would be so proud.