Personal Revelations

I think reading the Good Omens script book is helping me realize things about my own writing and how I’ve been sabotaging myself.

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Yes, it’s already taped in places. I really have no explanation for myself as to why that is.

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.

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The first David Sedaris book I ever read. I bought it on a whim because of the title, telling my husband this book was for me because I was actually engulfed in flames once. (More like struck with a flying ball of flame, but still burned nonetheless.)

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.

Affected

Photo c/o Microsoft Office Free Clipart

Little Joey found a bag in his back yard. Its contents were a book of matches, some rags, lighter fluid, and a Mickey Mouse hat. The air smelled like barbecue and burning plastic. Joey looked to his left. A plume of black smoke rose from behind the fence that separated his yard from his neighbors’. Particles of an unknown substance whirled in the haze, tumbling and performing somersaults as the fire below drove them upwards.

Joey didn’t trust Mr. Woodsburrow. He thought it was strange Mr. Woodsburrow hardly left the house, and no one in the neighborhood could remember how long since they’d seen Mrs. Woodsburrow. She’d stopped showing up at bingo over a month before, and she wasn’t at mass to help with the collections on Sundays, either. Mr. Woodsburrow told the pastor he’d had to sell her red 1977 Buick Century. Couldn’t afford the gas, he said. Joey was suspicious.

His mom said Mr. Woodsburrow wasn’t weird. She said he was still grieving over his missing grandkids. She said he was affected by their disappearance. She said the same about Mrs. Woodsburrow, and that’s why no one saw her anymore. “She’s in mourning,” Joey’s mom said. Joey still thought Mr. Woodsburrow was weird.

Joey was startled by a loud snapping sound; it sounded like the Black Cats he lit on New Year’s Eve. One time he threw them over Mr. Woodsburrow’s fence, and Mr. Woodsburrow came into the backyard. He stormed through the gate and grabbed Joey by the throat. He screamed and shook Joey until his mom and dad came out. Mr. Woodsburrow stopped shaking Joey then and put him down. Joey slumped against the fence, trying to catch his breath. He coughed and swallowed his spit to wet his throat. Joey’s parents talked to Mr. Woodsburrow; he lied and told them Joey threw the firecrackers at him. Joey protested and told them he’d just thrown the Black Cats over the fence, but he still got grounded for a week. Joey thought it was bullshit nobody even told Mr. Woodsburrow not to grab or shake him.

The snapping sounds made Joey curious, and he felt compelled to peek over the fence. He was afraid, because Mr. Woodsburrow was probably outside. He was always outside. If he saw Joey, there was no telling what he’d do. He’d probably come grab him again, and Joey’s parents weren’t home from work. Joey looked back at the bag he’d found laying in the grass. He looked to the fence and the plume of smoke and the particles doing acrobats in it.

Joey decided to look. He decided if he were quiet enough and didn’t stand over the fence by much, Mr. Woodsburrow might not notice. He went and took the white pool ladder from the garage. He didn’t notice his bike leaning against the ladder, and it fell onto its side with the sound of metal against concrete. Joey held his breath and hoped it wasn’t loud enough for Mr. Woodsburrow to hear. He replaced the bike and walked out of the garage with the ladder. The ladder wasn’t heavy, but it was long and bulky, and Joey had difficulty carrying it. The bottom of its legs almost touched the top of Joey’s sneakers, and he was preoccupied watching his feet as he walked. He ran headlong into something hard yet pliable. It wasn’t the fence, or the house.

Having released the ladder, Joey stumbled backward and landed on his behind. He looked up to see the hard yet pliable thing, but what he saw were Mr. Woodsburrow’s large, thick hands right before they grabbed him by the throat. Joey kicked Mr. Woodsburrow’s legs and knees, but he didn’t release the boy. He held Joey by the neck; his hands were covered in soot; his shirt smelled like barbecue and burning plastic. Mr. Woodsburrow shook Joey. He held him by the throat, and he shook him like a chicken thigh inside a bag of Shake ‘N Bake. Because no one ever told him not to shake Joey.

 

Copyright Donnell Jeansonne. All rights reserved. Reproduction or duplication whole or in part not permitted without permission and credit to the author.

Encumbered

20120412-125512.jpgThree o’clock. Merrill stares at the fragmented red numbers on the digital alarm clock. Two hours until it’s time to get up, and he hasn’t slept but maybe an hour, between the end of Frasier and the beginning of paid advertising.

Sherrie rolls onto her back and grunts, inhaling a gulp of air that sounds like it will choke her. A Breathe-Right strip dangles from the bridge of her nose. She closes her mouth, smacks her lips, and rolls onto her side. Merrill wonders how he will tell her.

The ceiling fan wobbles in uneven, squeaky rotations. Merrill sighs and watches as its dust-covered blades make the same circular movement over and over again. “This is it,” Merrill could say. “I can’t do this another day. Another hour. Another minute.” Sherrie would call him a coward. She would remind him of his pension. And that her insurance already covers the kids.

Porterhouse’s legs kick in a running motion. His eyes twitch; his lip curls into a snarl. Merrill decides dogs dream about real or imagined adventures-chasing neighborhood cats, bouncing up and down on the furniture, being fed treats. Merrill envies the dog.

Sherrie snorts and coughs and rolls onto her other side. Merrill never sleeps when she goes to bed first. He thinks about what he’ll do, how he’ll say it. He envisions himself leaving home, walking out the door with his half of their economy class luggage. But he couldn’t abandon the kids, and he doesn’t want to leave Sherrie, even though he’s thought about it. He’s thought about it a lot. Merrill knows he can’t because after their last big fight when Sherrie went to stay with her sister he dreamed about her all night and woke up crying.

Merrill toys with the solid band encircling his finger, turning it around and around in sync with the ceiling fan’s wobbling rotations. He sits up and decides to get a drink of water. Plus he read once that it’s better to get out of bed when you can’t sleep than to lie in bed thinking of not sleeping. Or something. He wonders how he’ll make it through another day.

Four o’clock. Merrill sits on the sofa with his feet on the coffee table flipping through eighty channels of infomercials. He thinks he wouldn’t miss the cable, if they had to make that sacrifice. The kids only watch the same Spongebob DVD’s all the time. Sherrie spends more time at work than home. Losing cable seems an insignificant forfeiture.

Sherrie would still need her phone for work, and Merrill doesn’t want to give his up for a cheap, boring one. He thinks with time he’d become accustomed to not having it, though. But the mortgage isn’t going anywhere, and even after making ten years of payments, the principle has barely decreased. Damned interest, thinks Merrill. Damned banks.

Merrill knows a lot of people, friends, out of work. He should be grateful. But he decides it isn’t normal for a man to want to drive into the lake everyday during his morning commute, so he feels it’s for the best. He could find another job. Even though he didn’t finish college because it became too expensive after Sherrie had Alexis. Then came Isabelle, then Daniel. And his is a good job. Decent pay. Benefits. What kind of man would give up reasonable employment?

“The kind who drive their cars into lakes during their morning commutes,” Merrill says to himself.

Four-thirty. Merrill lies on the sofa, arm crooked over his eyes, just another hour to close them and he’ll be all right. But he’s had too much water, and he has to pee. Merrill watches his stream create bubbles in the water and he thinks about what he’ll say. He imagines going out with a grand farewell. Telling them all how he feels. Then he thinks he should be more realistic. As if it’s not enough he’s going to do it. He is this time. And he could have the last laugh even without going down in Sumbalinx history as the guy who finally told Fat Larry to go fuck himself. He could.

Water splashes out of the steel basin and onto the granite countertop. Merrill dries his hands and opens the mirrored medicine cabinet door. He observes Sherrie’s bottle of Xanax, a brand new prescription. To the left of it is an old bottle of Vicodin from when Merrill had his tooth pulled last year, and to the right is a bottle of Tylenol P.M. Merrill picks up all three bottles and contemplates the outcome, but his life insurance wouldn’t pay out, so Merrill puts the bottles back and closes the mirrored door. Merrill’s reflection smirks at him. Wouldn’t it be a hoot, though, when Sherrie found him prostrate in the bed, maybe in a puddle of puke like after that one Super Bowl when she got so pissed off because he was on her stupid decorative throw pillows?

Five o’clock. Merrill jumps in his sleep when he hears his alarm clock bleating from the bedroom. Sherrie glares at him as he trips over his shoes and his face nearly lands on the corner of the nightstand. Merrill slaps the snooze button and apologizes to his wife. It’s time to get up anyway, she tells him. She asks him to get the kids out of bed.

Alexis and Isabelle’s sleepy eyes roll open, and they groan as light from the hallway creates long rectangular shapes across their beds. Alexis wants five more minutes.

“No now,” says her father. “Your mother is getting your breakfast ready.”

Alexis sits up from her pillow, auburn curls mashed to one side of her head. Isabelle stretches and pushes back her covers revealing pink and green Tinkerbell pajamas. Merrill thinks of their last vacation to Disney World. He thinks about explaining to them why there won’t be another one.

“Get up,” he says.

He remembers Daniel during that trip, just turned one, his face a permanent mask of excitement. Before the hospital, the nebulizer, the constant trips to the pediatrician.

Daniel lets out a sigh and rolls on his side. “Hi,” smiles the boy.

“Hey, buddy, you ready to get up?”

“Yeah,” says Daniel nodding his tiny head.

“I love you so much,” says Merrill into the rolls of his son’s chubby neck.

“I yuv you,” says Daniel.

Five-twenty. Alexis and Isabelle sit at the kitchen table scooping Fruit Loops into their mouths, tinged globules of milk drip from their spoons. A few of the multi-colored rings have fallen on the floor. Sherrie curses when she crushes one through the fabric of her pantyhose. Daniel mimics her in his high chair. Merrill raises an eyebrow at Sherrie who wipes her heel with a damp dishtowel and tells her toddler not to repeat after Mommy.

Six o’clock. Sherrie hustles the kids out the door. They’re all encumbered with their own respective loads. Sherrie with Daniel on her hip carries her briefcase, purse, and Daniel’s diaper bag while the girls both struggle with too-full book bags, lunch boxes, and thick coats. Sherrie asks Merrill why he isn’t ready for work. He tells her he will be.

“You have to leave by at least six-thirty,” she reminds him.

He knows. He can’t forget. It takes approximately fifteen minutes from the house to the interstate. Then it takes approximately fifteen more minutes to drive from the on-ramp to the bridge. Every morning at approximately seven o’clock a.m. Merrill Steppler imagines plunging his red Nissan Sentra into Lake Pontchartrain. But it probably wouldn’t even break the concrete rail, he thinks.

Seven-o-five. Merrill sits on the couch still in his pajamas sipping coffee from the Father’s Day mug Sherrie bought him the first year after Alexis was born. He stares at his cell phone sitting on the table. He’s running out of time.

“Larry Berginger’s office.”

Fuck you, you smelly fat fuck! Merrill thinks. “Hey, Lare? Yeah. I’m not going to make it in today,” he says.

“Why? What’s the matter?”

Merrill hates Fat Larry’s questions. Why couldn’t he just assume Merrill was sick and shut the hell up?

“Not feeling well. I was up all night . . . not feeling well.”

“All right then. See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” says Merrill. “See you tomorrow.”

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Phtoto credit zirconicusso via FreeDigitalphoto.net http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1857

A Little Something About a Bunch of Nothing

My son Scoots, aka Doodles, is still sick. He’s been habitually sick since last year when he entered day care- DUN DUN DUN! That microbial house of horrors. It isn’t that I feel the day care is negligent in their cleanliness. I know they aren’t. I’ve witnessed them cleaning the place in the evenings when I go pick up Doodles. It’s not the day care personnel who are spreading the germs. It’s the other kids, and my kid, and all kids everywhere. They aren’t to blame. Little children have no concept that it’s not so great to wipe one’s nose then hold his/her friend’s hand. They like to hug and show affection and that’s fantastic. Except that at least 8 out of 10 of them are harboring some type of bacteria/virus/infectious disease. I am currently at the office secluded in my own Lysol generated force field beside a 40 0z bottle of Germ-X and a bottle of Clorox wipes.  Because Doodles loves his mommy and he loves to give kisses and cough on my face. It’s okay, I surmise. Hopefully, just hopefully, he’ll remember it when I’m past the age of independent living and I require round the clock care. Maybe he’ll pick a real nice home for me. Maybe.

Yesterday we had another trip to the pediatrician’s office; we’ve had so many in the last year that I’ve come to text messaging the nurse to make an appointment. The doctor decided she wanted an x-ray of Scoots’s lungs since he still sounds like he’s brewing espresso.  I’d decided not to wear my work shirt-since I was leaving straight from the appointment to go there-and instead wore a regular t-shirt, assuming that if anything were to get dirty while at a doctor’s appointment with a 2 year old whose facial orifices were leaking all sorts of nasty it would be the article covering the top of me. The lab is next door to the doctor’s office and getting there requires walking through a grassy area that at first glance seemed completely dry, but halfway through it, I realized I was up to the ankles in sloshy mud. Thank you Eris.

Needless to say, I had to go to work with muddy wet shoes and muddy pants, however my shirt was completely clean-thank you very much. You may ask why I didn’t just go home to change, but that’s because my house is 30 minutes from the doctor’s office and my job is 60 minutes from my house. And I was already 2 and 1/2 hours late. Really I should have just gone home and hid in my bed.

On the up side I didn’t spill ALL of my drink on the floor of my vehicle when I pulled into the parking lot, and my shoes only stayed wet for a little while.

An Undefined Number of Reasons in No Particular Order About Why I Envy Spongebob Squarepants

If I had to pick a number one reason why I envy this yellow and permeable cartoon character it would be because he loves his job so #^$%& much.

- Makin' Krabby Patties

I want to love my job that much. Everyone should be so happy just to have a job. Most of us aren’t, although we’re all quite aware that we would be living in cardboard boxes without our jobs. Even people with good jobs hate their jobs. But not this guy. Considering most of us spend more time at work that with our families, we should all be so damn elated to go there. He flips burgers and loves it. I’ve worked in fast food. I’d sell my body before I’d go back to it. It’s miserable. But somehow he loves it. He doesn’t even care that he’s mistreated by his boss.

-Spongebob Squarepants

I guess number two can be that he is happy about every damn thing all the time. Rarely is Spongebob presented in a bad mood. Except for that once when he got an abrasive side . . . . He is the picture of glee, we should all take a leaf from his book. Of course most of us can’t without the aid of prescriptions-which help, too. Any day is cause for celebration in the life of this sponge who appears to have gone down someone’s kitchen sink and drifted to the bottom of the ocean.

-Not Spongebob

The third reason is he’s a very crafty bubble blower. Yesterday my son and I sat outside blowing bubbles, and between the two of us maybe got five whole bubbles. Mostly we just blew strings of bubble solution at each other.

- Porous Pockets

My final reason: he’s super popular and his career is far more lucrative than mine will ever be!

But I don’t begrudge this sponge. I only wish that I could share his positive outlook, find beauty in simple things, and be so grateful for being alive. Although he isn’t. Because he’s a cartoon. But still.

(Spongebob Squarepants, created by Stephen Hillenburg, is a trademark of Viacom International Inc.)