I think reading the Good Omens script book is helping me realize things about my own writing and how I’ve been sabotaging myself.
Of course, I understand, reading any and all books are helpful for writers in their own writing. But honestly, I recently realized that I’ve been taking myself too seriously. Not that I shouldn’t work hard. I need to buckle down and work more, write more, read more. What I mean is until about the last year or so, I’ve been imprisoning myself in a cage where my fiction has had to be one way because that’s the way.
For a long time, I’ve considered trying to publish humorous essays in the style of David Sedaris. His writing taught me that embarrassing personal experiences can make for hilariously good writing. My life is steeped in embarrassing personal experiences.
In the sort of “personal essays” I write for my blog, I use humor freely. My obstacle in my fiction writing is that I have been stuck in a mindset that I can’t be too silly. And to those who know me best, Donnell being not silly, is like “What the fuck?” Because the Donnell everyone knows is silly as fuck. There have been two things I’ve been told for a long time: That I’m funny and that I am good at story telling/manipulating language in a way that makes people want to read/hear my stories. It’s just that I’ve been too stuck the last several years on different editors’ submission requirements, and trying to shape my writing to fit particular magazines’/journals’ expected styles. However, reading Neil Gaiman using a phrase like “glares glarefully” and reading in his intro where he explains he added jokes into the scene descriptions that didn’t exactly amuse the TV production folks, made me realize I’ve been going about this all wrong for too long. I have been thinking this about my writing method for months, but reading the Good Omens script book has really opened my eyes about it. Of course, as always, there’s a Queen song that goes along with my story. (Because, in case I forgot to mention it a million times, I’ve been obsessed with Queen since I was a kid.)
“Oh, don’t try so hard. Oh, don’t take it all to heart. It’s only fools. They make these rules. Don’t try so hard.”
On the album Innuendo, recorded from March 1989 to November 1990 and released in February 1991, there is a song titled Don’t Try So Hard. Written by Freddie Mercury, when he knew he was at the end of his life. It’s an amazing song. For years I’ve listened to it and related to it in different ways depending on my current life situations. It’s been stuck in my head a lot lately. It’s been in my head on and off over the last 7 years during AJ’s illnesses and disabilities, thinking it was maybe telling me that I’m overworking myself in that arena- the role of primary caretaker. So many people tell me all the time how well AJ is doing and has done, and that it’s because of me. But, they also make sure to tell me to take care of myself, too.
In the last month or so, though, I’ve really finally opened my eyes to the idea that I’m hurting my writing by trying too hard. Don’t Try So Hard is a song written by a man who knew his life was ending, and who had one of the most prolific careers in entertainment ever. So what is the song telling me? Or more accurately, what is my unconscious telling me via Freddie’s voice right now at this point in my life? I really believe it’s that I have to relieve myself of the chains in which I’ve bound myself regarding my writing. I have to let my mind do its thing- be silly and tell stories. Not that I can’t or won’t write serious material anymore. It’s just that I’m not a dramatist. That’s not me. Comedy gets little recognition in entertainment, except from the audiences. I’m not writing for editors who want “literally fiction”, “speculative fiction”, and whichever of the other hundreds of preferred types containing some kind of deep meaningful societal dialogue; I’m writing for the audience. For you, the readers.
Monty Python has taught me that comedy can still make people think about deep shit.
You can laugh and contemplate the universe at the same time. Douglas Adams taught me that, too. And most recently, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens (because somehow I hadn’t learned of it until 2019, which I’m frankly embarrassed to admit).
Still there are times you just have to go in for the laugh, and that’s great, too. Laughing is fun. I love making people laugh. It’s probably my favorite thing to do while interacting with others.
I’ve realized I’ve been trying too hard, holding my own head under water trying to fit a model that I’m not. It’s time to remedy that.
I suppose with the cherub(s). The plural will explain itself later.
Unfortunately, because of Hurricane Katrina, I only have a few pictures left of Jennifer Elaine. No photos left from our childhood, when she truly resembled a creation of Raphael himself. The artist that is, not the archangel.
Three of us made up “the girls” of our block. We were the only kids who lived on the block the longest. There were others who came briefly and went. Some of whom I am still friends with in adulthood. But the three of us were “the girls.” Sort of like a more homogenous and smaller version of “the them.”
Donnell (myself), Jenny and Amanda. They are twins, fraternal but still very much identical to the human eye. We were the scourge of the 500 block of Community St. in Old Arabi – just blocks away from New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward neighborhood and minutes away from the French Quarter (where much of our teen years were spent). For all intents and purposes, that was our neighborhood. We decided who joined our band of merry miscreants and who didn’t. There were kids from other blocks who later became part of our friend group as teens, but as kids it was just us. We frequently had trouble with a group of boys from the next street over, and I will confidently say we always defended our territory with little effort.
The area from Community Park to the Lebeau Mansion (no longer standing) was ours. We owned it proudly. We rode our bikes to the Mississippi River levee and gazed upon our land. Even if there were other groups of kids who did the same, to us the dominion was ours.
All things pass with time, which I imagine is the natural order of things – if there were a natural order. As we became teenagers, our paths became a great deal disjointed. But we lived across the street from each other. Right across the street. We were still the girls, even if we weren’t always together causing mischief and causing Mr. Otis, the old man who walked his cat on a leash, bouts of agita.
By now you’re wondering where this rambling stream of consciousness goes next. Now I will address the next topic and major intermixture that will help make sense of the finale -my current Good Omens obsession. A novel that somehow I hadn’t discovered until 2019 when it was released as a Prime original series. And which since discovering have fangirled the hardest over in several years.
The three of us, the girls – myself, Jenny and Amanda – discovered Queen at quite a young age. Part of that was probably because of my parents’ vinyl collection from which I acquired several albums. One of them being the original Jazz album with the iconic Bicycle Race photo on the inner part of the sleeve, sadly yet another victim of Hurricane Katrina.
Did every cassette we had turn into Queen’s Greatest Hits? Well, there wasn’t a car to be had as we were children, but my bedroom oddly seemed to work the same magic. There were albums to be listened to and cassettes to be played and CDs didn’t exist yet. This was the Before Times, people. The 1980s.
We even had a mascot, Freddie Flamingo, which was a plush flamingo I’d caught at a Mardi Gras parade and was rather good at singing Don’t Stop Me Now.
Queen was a big part of our lives then, and still. Mine and Amanda’s anyway. . .
On November 18, 2003 my cherub, Jennifer Elaine, went to sleep for the last time. She and her twin both suffered epilepsy. She had a seizure in her sleep and it was her final seizure. Death does come like a thief in the night.
As kids we were all three inseparable, but I would be lying to say I hadn’t shared something with Jenny that was different than what I shared with Amanda. Neither of those being the lesser or greater. Just different. Love for them both, and I wish I could say unconditional because this is where the regret part begins.
But first, I will get to our song. It will clear up a lot to anyone familiar with the Good Omens Prime series, which is very close to the book but has new elements that I connected with on levels much differently.
One of my fondest memories from our childhood was of myself and Jenny, playing without Amanda this day for some reason. She would get mad at us because we tended to gang up on her unnecessarily sometimes. (Sorry, Amanda!) Probably she had had enough of our shit and went home to play Nintendo.
Jenny and I were running around like the little 10 year old maniacs we were in my backyard, around a table my grandparents had under a patio, listening to what I imagine would be considered an “antique” cassette player. I lived in a double. New Orleans people are familiar with the term if others might not be. My parents and I lived in one side, and my grandparents lived in the other side. Basically a duplex, but in New Orleans everything is different than the rest of America. And our housing conforms to our way of life.
We were listening to my Queen’s Greatest Hits cassette, if you can even imagine it, and the song You’re My Best Friend was playing. (This was the Greatest Hits with the purple [or red?] cover that came before the Greatest Hits II with the dark navy cover that included more songs from Queen’s later albums.)
Jenny stopped running, looked straight at me with all the sincerity a person could have, and said to me “Donnell, you’re my best friend.” I don’t recall my response verbatim, but I imagine I said to her that she was my best friend, too.
I only started being able to listen to that song again in the last five or so years. Since Jenny’s passing in 2003, I had skipped over it whenever it came up on my playlist because I couldn’t bear to hear it. That was our song.
As I stated earlier in this piece, once we reached our teens, we grew apart a bit. Boys that weren’t worth it got in the way and stuff got really complicated. My two best friends had always gone to a different school than me, so we obviously had friends from school that were not part of our Community St. gang.
Jennifer was always such a fan of mine. Jenny and Amanda both always had the utmost confidence in me, and Amanda still does. I don’t know why. But before I started writing this, I prayed to Jennifer and asked her for some of that confidence now. This is the hard part. A lot of things happened, memories that I will keep in the sacred tabernacle of my mind. My cherub was tempted down a terrible path. And not by me.
Everyone pretty much accepted I was the evil one. It was known. Jenny was influenced easily, and I was normally the one who did the influencing. But at a point, I distanced myself and someone else came and took my place. Someone truly wicked, not just slightly evil in a cheeky, devilish way. Not someone who’d just sauntered vaguely downward. In our youth, I might have taken advantage of the fact that I could get Jenny to do certain naughty things. If I dared her to do a thing, she did it. She trusted me.
I failed her.
Soon things were cascading out of control, and I didn’t know what to do. None of us really did. But by God, I should have done more. I do hold myself accountable in so many ways. We weren’t angels in our late teens/early-20s. I was a fool. I should have been more assertive with her. Aggressive even. But I felt betrayed for reasons, and we parted ways for a while.
Just days before she passed, I saw her and talked to her for the first time in a long time. I asked her to come over – from my front porch. Her grandmother was ill, and she said she couldn’t at the time but maybe soon. I said OK and went on with life. All I had to do was walk across the street. I could have easily gone over to her house, if she’d have let me. I was foolish and stupid.
That same week she died.
“Love of my life, don’t leave me…”
My Obsession with Good Omens
Let me first start with explaining that I am very prone to fangirling. Already mentioned: The Vampire Chronicles (When we first saw Interview With a Vampire as young teens, we decided I was Lestat and Jenny was Louis, because as I’ve stated, everyone knew I was the more tarnished one.) and The Phantom of the Opera.
Most recently, obviously, Good Omens. It doesn’t take much of a stretch to imagine that when I saw this trailer I was instantly interested (also a friend of mine who knows I love Queen brought it to my attention):
Did I read the novel twice in the last month? Yeah. I did.
Have I watched the series thrice in the last two months? Yep.
You know what an almost forty year old woman who still fangirls over things like a teenager discovered? Good Omens animatics on YouTube. I didn’t even know that was a thing. It is. I’ve watched many of them.
I know if she was still here, we’d be all over this. Even as adults. And every time I watch a scene with Crowley and Aziraphale, I think of her.
I think of how we’d both read the novel together, and maybe watch the series together. Although at this point in life, we would both be grown with our own families. I can romanticize my imaginary scenarios. They are only imaginary after all.
Because in the series, Crowley tells disincorporated Aziraphale that he lost his best friend, but **SPOILER ALERT** his best friend returns.
There is no magical happy ending in real life. Real life is raw and uncut. There are no edits. Things we lose are gone. Only to live on in our hearts and memories.
So make it count.
(This blog entry is dedicated to Jennifer Elaine Lapara April 2,1979 – November 18, 2003)
I get about one day a week off from my nearly 24/7 duties at Children’s Hospital. (If you’re just joining us, you can read about all that here.) This day is Friday, when my mom comes to stay with Robot Boy so I can go home, have a real dinner with my husband, decompress, and sleep. My mom works most Fridays, and she is wonderful enough to come after work and sleep at the hospital. Well, I shouldn’t really say “sleep at the hospital” because anyone whose ever been in a hospital or stayed with a loved one in a hospital knows you don’t sleep. Not more than an hour or so at a time, anyway.
It’s suffice to say these evenings I get away from the hospital are sacrosanct. I do my best to get home in enough time to go out to dinner with my husband and at least spend some time with him before he has to go to bed, as he works Saturdays usually. My home is approximately an hour and a half from the hospital, depending on traffic. The drive is hardly bothersome under normal conditions. For the last five years, I’ve had an hour commute to and from work-sometimes before and after working 12+ hours. I don’t mind driving, as long as the traffic is moving and there aren’t very many fucking assholes inconsiderate drivers on the road. I turn up the radio and exercise my vocal chords.
I sound nothing like Gonzo while singing this medley.
As I’ve said, under normal circumstances, I don’t mind the drive. However today, today my decisions led to me into very unusual driving conditions for my Friday night of freedom. My mom didn’t work this Friday, and she was at the hospital earlier than usual. Instead of leaving the hospital shortly after she arrived, I chose to stay and visit a while. I also have a terrible time tearing myself away from RB. Especially on nights like tonight, when he was watching me pack my bag, knowing that I was leaving. Not that he doesn’t love his grandma. He is very excited when she visits, but Mom is the safety net. Mom is there to make sure nothing goes awry. And also Mom knows-or thinks she knows-exactly what he wants most of the time.
I don’t regret my decision to stay, but I was less than pleased to be stuck in the horrendous traffic which accumulated at the precise moment I left the hospital’s parking lot. I made the unwise decision to leave at exactly 5p.m. on a Friday night. Oh and also on the night of a Hornets game. I sat on the same street for no less than 30 minutes. Someone in a black Yukon that’s license number I did not memorize for use in future voodoo ceremonies nearly caused an accident by purposely skirting around me while I was clearing changing lanes to avoid an 18-wheeler. I hardly berated the driver before he/she sped away.
I finally made it to the interstate, only to discover the traffic was almost as bad. With my bladder’s fluid gauge on full, I approached the High Rise, which any native knows is another traffic nightmare. At any rate, I finally got through the city and crossed Lake Pontchartrain en route to my home.
I exited as soon as possible and hit a gas station to fill up and utilize their surprisingly clean restrooms. I bought an enormous coffee (and a six-pack) and returned to the road. Instead of heading back to the interstate, I remained on the highway, which proved to be an unfortunate decision since everyone else in the state also decided to do the same thing on the same road. I was stuck in more traffic. But, with an empty bladder, a serious caffeine high, and good music, my two and a half hours in snarling traffic already seemed much less unpleasant, and at the exact moment I was contemplating driving through servitudes and on private property, the Muses graced me with a rather fitting song on the radio. . .
This song describes my entire life right now.”Pressure pushing down on me/Pressing down on you/No man asked for/Under pressure /That burns a building down/Splits a family in two/Puts people on streets.”
I, of course, recognized the fortuity. As I began to sing (both David Bowie and Freddie Mercury’s parts in perfect pitch, I might add), my foul mood was interrupted by tolerance and stoicism. What importance really, in the grande scheme of things (if there is one) holds traffic? I felt most uplifted: “Pray tomorrow gets me higher, high, high!”
Perhaps it was the music, or my utter madness, or the realization that there is no use being upset when you can grin and enjoy a major caffeine rush, or perhaps it was all these things, but I was wearing a smile and feeling so much better. “Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word/And love dares you to care for/The people on the edge of the Night/And love dares you to change our way of/Caring about ourselves.”
When the song ended, I felt like I needed a decent follow-up. You can’t just come down off a high like that. With my iPod on shuffle, I skipped the next two songs until I found a great song to accompany the first.
This is the cutest video ever.
“That time will come/One day you’ll see/When we can all be friends.”
Under Pressure was written and performed by Queen & David Bowie and appeared on Queen’s 1982 album Hot Space.
The Miracle was written and performed by Queen and appeared on their 1989 album of the same name. The four boys from the video are Paul Howard as Brian May, James Currie as John Deacon, Adam Gladdish as Roger Taylor, and Ross McCall as Freddie Mercury.
Bohemian Rhapsody was written by Freddie Mercury and performed by Queen. It appeared on their 1975 album A Night at the Opera (titled after the Marx Brothers’ movie of the same name).
The Muppets were created by Jim Henson and currently belong to The Walt Disney Company.
“Surge decore meo. Sit vita tua conplebuntur sanctí sedere carinae.” The queen raised her hands above her head; her smile was hard and resolute. “Surge dilectione mea.” She took her scepter. The amethyst at its tip ignited. Indigo phantoms waltzed on the chapel’s stone ceiling. “Erige te amica mea. Simus unum iterum.” Purpurescent flames sparked from the scepter’s amethyst and landed at the queen’s black velvet slippers. Her gown created a current of air that wafted to the tiny purple flames and aroused them as she moved. They rose and swelled, licking at the draft to consume its life giving oxygen.
“Surgere et iungere vobis regina.” The queen approached the alter, and she placed her scepter on a stand near the head of the sarcophagus there. Laying her hands on the sepulcher she spoke, “Surge rex meus et adiunge regina vestra. Rise my king and join your queen!”
Rain pelted the stained glass windows. The wind whirred through the windows’ colored inlays. The queen could hear the birds in the belfry flapping their wings. “Rise my king!” she shrieked with passion.
The queen’s hands leapt from the stone lid of the king’s tomb, as if burned by a terrific heat. She stood paralyzed as the stone shifted then slowly slid in a diagonal motion away from the grim enclosure. She recognized her husband’s signet ring on the decomposed finger attached to the near skeletal hand that now crawled from the shadows of the sarcophagus and clenched the edge of its lid.
The king, having been roused from his years long rest, pushed the stone to the floor and stood from his tomb. The queen jumped at the sound the stone made as it struck the floor. She saw something she did not recognize. The eyeless sockets found her, and as if the king could see without the ocular orbs, his putrified lips turned upward in a grisly smile.
“My queen,” he groaned, though it was barely audible as his tongue was thoroughly deteriorated.
The queen screeched and fled from the alter, but her king pursued her. The rotting flesh of his legs sloughed off the bone and struck the concrete floor with a wet sound. Maggots covered the bits of flesh left behind. They inhabited the king’s arms and legs- and in his exposed nasal cavity.
The doors of the chapel were immovable, and no matter how the queen fought with them, they remained fixed. She could hear the king approaching, the sound of his feet shuffling on the floor and the sodden sound of the maggot infested flesh falling from his body.
The queen turned and pressed her back to the chapel’s great doors. Rigid with terror, she could not move as the king moved in on her.
The king pressed his body against his queen’s. He put his infested hands through her hair and pressed his fetid loins against her. She could feel the worms livid and squirming through the material of his threadbare burial attire.
“My queen,” the king groaned again pressing his decaying lips to her neck.
Winning. Not something that’s been a big part of my life. Much like the unfortunate likes of Charlie Brown or the Amazing Luckless Peter Parker, I’ve been one acquainted with catastrophe. Literally, and I’m not misusing literally.
I’ll never be the person who wins the Powerball twice in ten years (bastards) or finds a briefcase full of a million dollars (okay, seriously, that’s mob money). You won’t see me winning any competition. I’ve often joked that if there were a contest which required its winner to be named Donnell Jeansonne and have my social security number, some identity thief would win it.
But when you are a luckless schlub, you learn to really appreciate the things in life that some people might find trivial. To be completely cliché I’ll maintain I’ll never be wealthy, but my life is enriched by the people in it. Some of those people are close friends and family. Some are new friends. Some are acquaintances. Still, some are folks I’ve never met in real life, and may never meet.
One of those wonderful people is a lovely lady and author of the blog Pinwheels and Poppies. We met as WordPress bloggers when I first read her blog The Coming Adventures of a Soon-to-be Baldie in which she writes of an upcoming trip to Chicago to participate in a St. Baldrick’s event. The blog was posted on March 19, 2012-just thirteen days after I learned my own son, then twenty-eight months old, had a malignant brain tumor.
We’ve corresponded via the Internet since then, and today she shared something with me. Although I’ve been behind in blogging (I promise all of my free time is spent working on my novel.), she’s awarded my humble blog with the Liebster Award.
Coincidentally, I studied German for three years in high school and two in college. I can’t say I’m fluent anymore as parts of my brain have gone on permanent vacation. But I do know that among the word’s meanings, one of them is beloved. And with this knowledge, I want to thank my friend at Pinwheels and Poppies for awarding my blog, and as always for dedicating herself to helping raise money for pediatric cancer research.
Now there are rules that go along with this award. Just like Spidey says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” These rules don’t appear to be carved in stone or anything, but basically they are intended for bloggers to pay it forward by acknowledging the blogger who awarded them and to pass it along to other, also lesser known, blogs. According to seemingly official Liebster Award criteria posted by P&P, an awarded blogger should recognize three to five other bloggers with less than 300 subscribers.
Past bloggers have also passed down rules that an awarded blogger should state eleven things about herself/himself, and should answer eleven questions set by the person giving the award. And that we should write eleven questions for our own awarded bloggers.
Since the lovely lady who has seen fit to give me this award has followed the eleven question rule, I will follow suit.
11 Questions for Me:
1. What is your earliest memory?
A tight squeeze and a bright light. Just kidding. My earliest memory is from last week. Who am I again?
2. What are your personal religious/spiritual beliefs?
Spiritual yes. Religious hardly.
3. Favorite comfort food?
I really can’t answer this question. I’m from NOLA. Everything is comfort food.
4. Are you crafty? If so, what’s your crafting niche?
Is sticking yourself repeatedly with sewing needles and burning yourself with hot glue guns a craft? Because if so, that.
5. Who do you think is hotter- Johnny Depp or Robert Downey Jr?
6. What’s your astrological sign? Do you believe in astrology?
I was born on the Virgo/Libra cusp. I’m a little of both and a little of neither. I lean more toward the Libra in me. For entertainment purposes only.
7. How many countries have you been to? Which ones?
Four not including the USA. Mexico, St. Maarten, the Bahamas, Grand Caymen. Also the US Virgin Islands which I didn’t count because it’s the US.
8. Have you read 50 Shades of Grey? Opinion?
9. Which decade do you feel like you belong in? Why?
The Seventies. I could see all the cool bands, man.
10. Do you garden? If yes, what kind of gardening do you do?
Does watching my husband mow the lawn count as gardening? Then yes.
11. What blows your mind more- outer space or life as we know it?
Outer space, man! Seriously. The universe is fucking awesome.
Now that that’s finished, here are eleven things to know about moi:
1. When you’re on fire you don’t remember to stop, drop, and roll. I know this from experience.
2. I say fuck a lot. But not as much as motherfucker.
3. I think if I had a British accent I’d be much funnier.
4. I once tap danced in front of the Cabildo and made $11-true story. Also, I can’t tap dance.
5. I’m pretty sure I’d make a successful psychic. I can’t see the future, but I’m pretty good at bullshitting people.
6. I like the Regular Show.
7. Me and my bestie once played Spider-Man for Playstation 2 for twelve straight hours until we finished because we didn’t have a memory card.
8. I’m fairly jolly for a person whose life’s in the shitter.
9. I am a book hoarder. I buy books I never read, some I do read, some I read multiple times. I am addicted to buying books.
10. Anyone who’s ever heard my name knows how much I love Queen and Freddie Mercury.
11. My fantasy destination in Phuket, Thailand.
And here are the next award winners of the prestigious, glamorous, delicious Liebster Award. Drumroll please……..