Insomnia (humor column)

(photo courtesy of Pixabay)

In yesterday’s blog post about the free writing exercises I did in a session with Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, authors of Queen of Your Own Life, at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, I mentioned a column that had run in Refreshed Magazine that won a 2015 Evangelical Press Association Award. I’d been surprised to learn about the honor, because I didn’t even know the column had been submitted to the contest.

In fact, the column had originally run in the Christian Voice Magazine, I think, and was reprinted in my book, “What the Dog Said“. It was borne from a free writing exercise; I set a timer, wrote, and hoped something wonderful would come out. Success.

(Side note: I’m not really big on awards, but I will say that I am really proud of the fact that this column won an award from a religious organization, despite the fact that there is zero religious content. It’s just a general, humorous piece, and it got a perfect score from the judges, proving that humor doesn’t have to fit into a box to resonate with readers.)

I realized today that the link to the column reprint was no longer working, so here, here’s the column. This was pretty much what I wrote in the 10 minute writing sprint. See, you don’t have to be a genius to be a writer. You just have to write.

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INSOMNIA

It’s after midnight and I can’t sleep.

I have a column due in the morning and I have no idea what I’m going to write about, so I keep turning over thoughts in my head. The problem is that the column ideas are being pushed aside by weightier items demanding my attention.

Take the fortune cookie I ate today. Continue reading

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Erma, Fiction, and Free Writing with the Queens

One of the sessions I attended at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop a few weeks ago was with Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, best friends and authors of the book Queen of Your Own Life.

My year started with the rug being pulled out from under me, and while the shock of betrayal definitely threw me off course, in the end I realize I’ve been given a gift: the chance to pursue the things I feel like I’m supposed to be pursuing, and learning to become the human I’m supposed to be.

This is a year of change, of healing, of forgiving and being forgiven, of saying “No” to others and saying “Yes” to myself, and to demanding that people who say they love me actually treat me with respect – and, I’m realizing, learning to respect myself.

In other words, I’ve been given permission to put myself first.

But enough blathering about me.

Erma. The workshop session. So…

Kathy and Cindy gave us all timers, and we did 10 minute burst of free writing using prompts. I always say that I don’t write fiction, that I don’t know how to write fiction, as if  you have to have been born with some magic talent for making sh*t up. What I got out of this session? I can do anything, if I just stop thinking about how much I don’t know how to do it.

A lesson for life, in this year of discovery and change.

Here are the three writing exercises, and what my brain banged out in each 10 minute burst. I actually love free writing, and have used it to create some great stuff. I won an award for a column I once wrote, which was basically a free writing exercise. (An award, I might add, for a contest someone else entered on my behalf. This fact will become relevant in a minute.)

Kathy and Cindy gave us four elements, and the only guide was that the elements should be in whatever we wrote. I’m posting what I wrote, with almost no editing (in fact, I didn’t even fix the places I’ve spelled the names wrong), but I can see nuggets of stories that could be explored, hints of how these fictional women are becoming the queens of their own lives.

So who knows. Maybe I do write fiction. Or maybe I’m learning fiction has a bit of fact nestled inside. Anyway, timers ready? And, write… Continue reading

Back To Work (No Kidding!)

photo courtesy of Pixabay

(This column originally appeared in Refreshed Magazine, February 2015)

People always tell me that I’m good with kids, usually after I’ve entertained their three-year-old by asking stupid questions like “I like your sparkly shoes. Do you think I could borrow them sometime?” and “I can’t seem to find my tail. Have you seen it anywhere?”

The ironic thing is that I’m not actually good with kids. I like kids, one or two at a time, in a supervised environment, for a limited period of time. Put a bunch of kids together in one room and my anxiety level quickly shoots into the red zone. Add in a few babies, and you’re guaranteed to hear screaming and crying.

And the babies aren’t usually very happy, either. Continue reading

Musings on political (un)affiliation

October 11 was National Coming Out Day, and while I didn’t have anything to share on that day other than support for friends and family in the LGBTQ community, I do have something to confess today, something that does, in a manner of speaking, redefine my identity.

I’m coming out of the political closet.

When I first registered to vote, way back in high school, I chose a political party based on….well, I can’t really give you any other reason than I’m fairly certain my father recommended I register with that party and I said okay. And, for the most part, I was quite content with that decision for many years. My political affiliation was a reflection of who I was and what I believed.

But then time passed, and the party changed, and I changed, and I went out searching for more. I stepped across party lines to get to know the other side and found that they weren’t the evil fiends they’d been made out to be.

It was eye opening, and educational, and I grew as a person as I explored these people and views that had been touted as “wrong”. But over time, I was dismayed to find that the other side held the same “us or them” mentality as the party I’d grown up with. Their views really weren’t really that different and the way they shared them wasn’t either.

Both sides exhibited generosity, compassion, and service to their fellow man.

Both sides exhibited bigotry, hatred, and hypocrisy.

Both sides were unwilling to budge, always insisting that they were right and the other side wrong, even when both sides were a little bit right and a little bit wrong, and everyone might be better served if they just met in the middle.

And so I’ve spent several years sitting on a fence, watching from the sidelines. Continue reading

Big Knockers, Fringe Festival, and Local Characters

When my friends Abby DeVuyst and Kerry Young first told me about their show “Big Knockers: Debunking The Fox Sisters”, which would be performed at the 2017 Rochester Fringe Festival, I did a little dance of joy.

The show is a spoof on the Fox Sisters, often credited with founding the American Spiritualist movement thanks to their claims that they could communicate with the spirit world via a system of rappings or knockings.

If you read my blog or follow me on social media, you know that for the last couple of years I’ve been researching and writing a book about…well, it started as a book about Mt. Hope Cemetery, but it’s now rabbit trailed all over the place as I’ve encountered fascinating stories about Rochester’s history and the unknown residents who lay buried, often in unmarked graves, not only in Mt. Hope but other local cemeteries.

I’ve got piles of research notes, chapter drafts, and half-written blog posts on everyone from Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody to American aviatrix Blanche Stuart Scott, from clairvoyant physician Mrs. Dr. Jennie C Dutton to murder victim Emma Moore.

So when I offered to provide Kerry and Abby with some research that might help them put the Fox sisters in context with local history, they told me to send along anything I wanted. I went through my files and then inundated them with stories about local inventors, mediums, and clairvoyant physicians. I sent newspaper clippings and wrote rambling paragraphs outlining crazy stories that have fascinated me for years. I spouted facts and dates. I sent links to stories I’d already written.

And then I apologized a hundred times for overloading them with information.

And then they thanked me, and told me that they used what I’d sent them to help form the characters and stories in the show.

By that time, I’d already auditioned for and gotten a part in “Big Knockers”, so I was over the moon that these people who have lived for years in my head and in file folders would have their stories heard. But even better? I got to bring one of my favorite women to life: I play a notorious local madam named Matilda Dean.

While the “Big Knockers” writers obviously had to take liberties with dates and story lines in order to make it all work for the show (and add the humor), the characters actually are based on real people, and much of details they share about themselves are true. [update: here’s the review in City Newspaper] So for those of you want to know more, here is the “Big Knockers” backstory. Keep in mind that these are just small snippets of information; much more lies in folders piled up on my desk, waiting to find a home in blog posts and book chapters. Or who knows? Maybe on another stage?

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The Trouble With Technology

The state of the art fridge has a camera that lets you see what’s going inside the fridge, without opening the door.

Dear readers,

Last week, our clothes dryer died and, while shopping for a new one, the salesman, after enduring my constant exclamations of “For god’s sake, I just need it to dry my clothes, not cure cancer”, gleefully took me to the refrigerator section to show me a model that not only connects to WiFi so you can surf the internet (from your refrigerator door), but also has a camera that allows you to see the inside of your fridge without opening the door. That way, while you’re standing in the middle of Wegmans thinking “Do we really need milk?”, you can just use your smart phone to look inside your fridge and get the answer. With a price tag of $3185, I think you’d have to avoid purchasing a lot of extra milk before that fridge paid for itself. But as my friend Tammy says, some people have too much money.

The fridge of the future, complete with a WiFi connection.

Anyway, apparently our refrigerator saw the dryer go out the front door last week and, not wanting to miss out on whatever fun it imagined the outside world holds for aging appliances, yesterday decided it was also time to retire. I spent an entire day shopping for a replacement that would fit not only our budget but the weirdly shaped kitchen in our 90 year old house.

Needless to say, we won’t be getting the $3185 model the salesman demonstrated for us last week. I just want a refrigerator that keeps milk cold and ice cream frozen; if it has a working light inside? Bonus. (True story: I actually forgot that refrigerators have lights inside, so I was pretty jazzed about that feature. The salesman, recognizing the depth of my technology ignorance, added, “And it’s LED, so you don’t have to worry about buying those expensive light bulbs.” Wait. You can buy replacement refrigerator light bulbs?)

These recent appliance adventures reminded me of a column I wrote a few years ago called “The Trouble With Technology,” so I thought I’d share it again. It’s a bit dated…or is it prophetic? You decide. I just got an email reminding me that my car is due for its annual inspection.

oxoxo
Joanne

PS: “The Trouble With Technology” appears in my book, “What the Dog Said“, .the royalties of which will pay for a half-gallon of milk to store in my new refrigerator.

Continue reading

Dance of the Jingling Multitasker

This is NOT what I looked like belly dancing. (Image courtesy of Pixabay.)

I’m trying to make a pie crust, which isn’t easy to do when you’re also trying to write a column. It’s not that I’m a terrible baker or a terrible writer. I’m pretty good at both tasks (although my presentation of words is much prettier than my presentation of pie).

No, my problem is that I’m a terrible multitasker.

When I was a kid, the running joke was that I couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. I probably couldn’t run and tell a joke at the same time either, but we’ll never know. When I was in kindergarten, I got run over by a classmate doing laps in the gym. That pretty much put me off running for the rest of my life.

I used to feel inadequate because of my lack of multitasking abilities, until I learned that multitasking isn’t the ability to do two things at the same time. It’s the ability to quickly switch back and forth between two tasks. That’s a little better, but not much help when the tasks you’re doing need to appear as if they’re simultaneous.

Like when you’re belly dancing. Continue reading