Monday, October 9, 2017

Keeping up with the Savages

I haven't updated this space for a long time. I just checked to see what the last thing I wrote was, and remembered that I had uploaded my writing assignments for the creative writing class that I took.

I don't know what happened to blogs, but somewhere along the way I think most of them have become less about what is going on in peoples' lives and more about business or showing a sanitized version of our lives. Almost like a year round edition of those Christmas card letters we all send out. Sadly, I can only love those kinds of spiffed up summaries about once a year. Preferably after I've consumed large amounts of stale gingerbread house and watched The Muppet Christmas Carol to revive my faith in humanity. All this to say, I don't agree with perfection. I don't like, pretty much at all, the blogs with these long blonde-haired moms that dress their babies in sponsored clothes and feed them sponsored Blue Apron dinners, and breathe sponsored air. These consummate professionals know all of the right things to do. They never accidentally leave their newborn on their bed without realizing that said newborn will master the skill of rolling over (and off the bed and onto the floor) within the next two minutes. They would never feed their kids Kraft Mac and Cheese because the glowing orange color means that it is radioactive. And bytheway, it is totes normal for your four year old to have a matching mini-fedora to yours. Totes.

I guess you could say that I haven't a right to criticize as I have obviously given up the blogging medium. People, do you ever KNOW ME? I have never been a qualified criticizer in my entire life and it has never stopped me, and, god-willing, it never will. As Taylor Swift so aptly summed me up, "Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate." That girl, she just gets me. (P.S. Taylor, why does old Taylor have to be dead? Can't she just go on vacation and then come back? New Taylor is awesome but if we ever met, I don't think I'd tell her all of my secrets or share funny cat memes, like I'm pretty sure I would have with old Taylor).

Annnnyway. Today I am technically at work. We aren't allowed to use our cell phones while waiting for appointments, but hopping on one of the myriad of computers is just fine. (insert shrugging emoji here). Since I am having such a long, dry spell tutorial wise, I felt the pull to write-- just like I do most days. However, I am currently avoiding my book for a few days. I've finally hit the part of my book that I can no longer write without doing some actual research. Saying such a thing seems so official and smart--almost as if I might actually make something of this book and not just talk about it in a semi-secretive way. I just ordered said research material from Amazon, and I'm hoping it will give me a kick in the pants that I seem to need every few weeks to keep me writing. Want to know the title? It's hilariously studious sounding: Armada 1588: The Spanish Assault on England. I feel so smart, just having read the title (and bragged to you about it). I also feel like now we all have expectations. Let's not go too far.

So yes, I haven't given up yet on the book. I am loving my new job. I'm still strongly under-confident in my semicolon usage rules. In fact, I read the semicolon section of the MLA handbook every day at work, because I CAN'T REMEMBER and now I have officially given myself a block.
(Semicolons Connect Related Independent Clauses. Delete the Conjunction When You Use a Semicolon. Use Semicolons in a Serial List. Use Semicolons With Conjunctive Adverbs. Semicolons are trying to ruin your life; don't let semicolons boss you around.)

But honestly, being a writing tutor (that doesn't focus on grammar, praise be) is one of my favorite jobs. I tutored all during college, except when I worked in food service for a year or so. It is so enjoyable to be back, and the schedule has been perfect so far. I am pretty much at work while my kids are in school M-W, and then I get Thursdays and Fridays off. Because I am so part-time, I am not making five million dollars. This is the only sad part of my life. I have always wanted to make five million dollars from a part-time job. But I will admit that I am happy to trade that five million dollars for the excellent trade-off of being home when my kids are home and working with other writers on their papers. All jokeyness aside, I feel very, very blessed. I am so happy to get up in the morning and work with John to get the kids ready, and then head out the door at the same time as everyone else. I feel so useful and productive, and when I do have down time now, I let myself relax! I don't always feel the need to keep cleaning constantly and feel guilty. It has been an awesome change for me.

Well this has been a really Jenn-centric post, but unfortunately I have to run now. Hopefully I will be back with more "Keeping up with the Savages" real life posts soon. In the mean time, how are you guys?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mid-life Crisis in the Craft Store

Again, I am knee-deep in my writing class. This past week's assignment was to write a personal essay about something we found in our junk drawer. I was decidedly uninspired by this, and that was the awesome thing about it. It forced me to work myself out of a writer's block using some techniques the teacher taught us.

I thought I'd share it here, because...well why not.

Among all of the cliches that mid-life crises encompass, mine took the form of budget paintbrushes and Liquitex paint bottles. It happened six months ago while I was in the craft store looking for brads for my daughter's fourth grade project.

You'd have thought that there would have been at least 1 half-bent brad from the 90's hiding in the back of my junk drawer. But, it turns out that I'd Maria Kondo-ed myself into a state of bradlessness. If you too have not shopped for brads since the 90's, you might be interested to know that they are one of those small and stupidly difficult items to find. Try it. Think of a store layout and picture right where you'd expect to find them. If you're like me, no doubt your first guess was with the office supplies. If you are at Walmart, you'd probably be right (though it pains me to give them points for efficiency in anyway). But if you are in a craft store, such logic does not exist. They are too creative for that sort of nonsense. Brads could be in the wedding supplies section. Or try the scrapbook area. No better yet, try ANYWHERE IN THE STORE.

I tell you all of this to show how blameless I really am in this, my own story. I didn't go looking for craft store trouble, it was forced on me by the beauty of their nonsensical "organization." And this is how, before a lifetime's supply of 25 brads ever made it into my shopping cart, I ended up with a reckless amount of medium-priced acrylic paints in there first.

I recall the moment with perfect clarity. I came upon the paint aisle and I can't even really tell you what swept over me. I suppose you have to have a midlife crisis to really understand it. One moment, you're minding your own business, wondering if you should have just gone to Deathmart instead, and really, why wouldn't staples work just fine for this project? And then the next, it's like you're back in first grade and your teacher shows you the art room for the first time. The colors all lined up like a new box of crayons. A touchable rainbow. Somehow I began to imagine the exuberant messes I could make. The sheer masterpieces I would create. I sat there, slack-jawed by the luxury of it all. Shelves upon shelves of tempting, squeezable colors. And the names. The names. Cadmium Red, Quinacridone Magenta, Cobalt, and Titanium White. And right next to the paints, there stood those painting knives things, the ones that Bob Ross used. I had vivid visions of all of the happy little trees that he had magically produced with those weird, angled knives! And before I'd gone two feet, I added an easel, and notebooks full of thick, canvas paper to my burgeoning collection.

Like any sensible person these days, I have a budget. And like any sensible person I thought long and hard about how I would justify the expense. I mean, I thought about it--I didn't come up with any answers, but I sure thought about it. What you must know about me is, that I have been the frugal mom shopper all of my life -- long before I actually was a mom. I grew up with a single parent, working a job to pay for my own school clothes, my band fees, sometimes offering to help pay bills when my mother's face looked a bit more worried than usual. These lessons run deep, and I'm not one bit ashamed of them. They have served me in good stead. So this is all to say that to me, shopping has always been something to fret over, something to haggle and bludgeon to death with a calculator.


I'll tell you, in that moment, with my cart full of completely unnecessary bottles of colors, my heart felt like a red-solo cup that was filled with giddiness and overflowing paint water. The extravagance of it, the spontaneity of it, the flagrant disregard of inexperience and dearth of talent of it. It charmed me into a soft, muted cocoon of not giving a flying fig. Me, mother of two, buyer of brads, maker of Stouffer's dinners, was also now Me, buyer of luxury art goods--Future artist of Quinacridone Magenta fame.

I somehow managed to suspend my practicality long enough to find the brads (scrapbooking area, you're welcome), and even long enough to swipe my bank card through the machine. I did google the coupon for 40% off, because, although still cocooned in cashmerey soft denial, I'm not an animal. I even made it all the way back to my house and unloaded the paints before I had the super adult mental conversation of, "What the crap, Self? I can't take you anywhere."

Dear friends, I am here to tell you how to know it's a real bona-fide mid-life crisis. Instead of loading those bottles back into their plastic bags, complete with receipt to return with minimal headache, I took the glossy bottles out, one by one. I lined them up in ROYGBIV order. My giddiness was increasing at exponential rates. I took out the receipt, and in a mania of rebellious spirit, I tore it in half. I hooted a great belly of a laugh to myself.

It is a fine thing to finally, preciously, place the power of your happiness back into the hands of your capable first grade self. Because, really, aren't we the most ourselves at 6? At the age when we run in swimsuits through the green grass, when we cry when we hurt, laugh until we ache, and refuse to eat food just because it's good for us. That fantastic, selfish, tyrant of happiness. That simpleton of wisdom.

 How great a kindness a mid-life crisis is. To know deep, deep down inside us, this place we have surrounded in stony walls, this spot that is vulnerable  and genuine, is still there. And not just there--it still holds a secret garden. To finally let myself back inside, was a revelation. There were flowers there, of every color, waiting to make a beautiful, unnecessary, technicolor masterpiece.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


I've been taking an online writing course. It's about creative writing, which I have always considered a weakness of mine. In the past I always prided myself on my academic writing because it seemed more serious and worthy of respect. But, when I began to try and write a book, I realized how much I really loved writing creatively. And how HARD it is. It is seriously difficult. So because of this (and the fact that I've stalled out on my book), and many other reasons, I decided to take this class.

It has been a game changer for me. In writing these small assignments, I remember a part of me that I had long forgotten--the part that loves to be a student. The part that loves to get feedback and craft pieces of writing. I have remembered my love for language! It is really freeing to become reacquainted with a part of yourself that you feared was lost or too dusty to be worth anything.

So. That said, I thought I'd start to share some of the things I write for my class here on my blog. I am fairly certain no one checks this much anymore. But if you see this, I'm glad you're here, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy. Maybe it will inspire you to get out your pencil and paper. It's been really cathartic and fun for me.

The first assignment was as following: Choose a color to write about. Use the thesaurus function on your software or a printed thesaurus at least ten times during this exercise. Work to focus your writing and write tight. Make the assignment no more than 250 words. 

You may want to write out the exercise in longhand so that you have a feeling of the paper as you write. This could be a tactile thrill needed to inspire your work. After you've finished the first draft, go back and discover new words to exchange for the more mundane ones.

Be creative with the color you use. Sure you could choose yellow, but you could also choose farm-fresh egg yolk yellow. You could select brown, but you could also write about the color of rusty corn or wheat fields in the fall.

To help you visualize a color, select a flower, a book, an article of clothing, or a food, such as an apple, and put it next to you during this exercise. Set your timer or pour on the chair glue for a minimum of five minutes. Now write about the color in the first person, that is in the I way, as if YOU were the color.

Here is what I wrote. See if you can figure out the color. :)
You misunderstand me so often. You pick me as your power tie color, hoping to hide your queasiness during the interview.
And I know that at first glance all you can see me as is blood spilt, rage, a comic book hero's cape. I wound you, I flash and wail all sirens and road rage. Taken for violence, surprise, energy, fire. I sigh, and must own my dark side. The molten fires of a volcano, I regret I must burn a crimson path before I am satiated.
But since I am me, I must resist as well. I would rather tempt you with dreams of ripe apples, warming innocently in the sun. Juicy, jewels of strawberries winking through swathes of green. I triumph as the gilded-scarlet chinese dragon's scales serpentine down the street under a navy sky. I am glowing garnet paper lanterns strung between you and the stars.
You want me fiery, explosive, angry. Flushing, blushing. But I also rest like a roseate prayer on your child's cheeks--feverish and lonely. And, tomorrow when the fever breaks and she comes in from the snow, I gleam her exultant spark--rosy cheeks on a blustery day, scarlet mittens your mother made.
Kiss my lips, lover, they are ruby. They are cherries.They are the wine-stained tellers of truths and lies. Sweet, sad, passionate, and (please don't resist, Darling), your bittersweet home.