30 November 2010

WTF, Hamsters?

I spent the last two days in bed, sick with what feels like strep but isn't strep. (Doctor: The good news is... it's not strep! The bad news is... I can give you a prescription for cough drops and tea and you're going to be sick all week. Sucka!) (Okay, she didn't really say 'sucka,' she was actually super nice and sympathetic, but still. Sucka.)

The point is: sick. And because I've been sick, I've watched more hours of tv in the last two days than I have in months. And because I watch tv on my laptop, I only get to see like three commercials, and I see them over and over and over again.

For example, I have seen this stupid Kia commercial like 600 times in the last two days, and I've had a lot of time to think about it. And after all that thinking, I have a couple of questions.

First of all, WTF??

So the commercial starts innocently enough, with a funky Digable Planets-type groove and a shot of two hooded rapper figures:

Kickin' it 1991 style

But then the camera spins around and the cool rappers pull back their hoods to reveal hamster heads.




Okay, this might not be surprising to you, because apparently these hamsters have been on tv for a while now. I don't watch a ton of tv, so I've been happily sheltered from these creeper hamsters. Or maybe I've even seen them before and just not registered them because I didn't have to watch the same effing hamster commercial 600 times in a row. By the time the crazy speeding baby commercial came on I was practically cheering just to see something new.

Anyway, the hamsters. They're hip hop hamsters, you see, and they have to greet their DJ friends:

Whut up, Hamster?

It turns out they live on Hamsterdam Avenue. OBVIOUSLY. The first time I saw the commercial I was like WHAT? WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE?? But by the sixth or seventh I caught this street sign, which explains everything.

Ohhhhhh, Hamsterdam Ave! WHY DIDN'T YOU SAY SO?

And there's this guy, who I actually dig. What is up with you, drummer hamster?

One stoned little hamster

Finally, after 18 seconds of establishing Hamsterland rapper shots, the commercial finally gets around to mentioning its product: a Kia. OHHHH, this is a CAR COMMERCIAL. How did I miss that before?? OF COURSE THE RAPPING HAMSTERS ARE SELLING A CAR.

Yo yo yo, we be driving the Kiaz. Also, WE ARE HAMSTERS.

So once the commercial finally gets around to making its point, it immediately begins to hammer you over the head with it. You see, according to the rapping hamsters, "The choice is yours. You can get with this, or you can get with that." In this instance, "this" is a Kia...

You can get with this...

...while "that" is a TOASTER.

...or you can get with that.

Really? Those are my choices?

You can have a car...

...or you can have a toaster.


...or toaster. THOSE ARE YOUR CHOICES.

I was talking about this in my class tonight, and one of my students pointed out that in the original hamster commercials, the cool hamsters drove a Kia, and the lame hamsters drove around in hamster wheels. This made some sense to her, and she thought it was cute and clever.

Because I had watched this commercial 600 times, I knew that there were some hamster wheels in the background somewhere:

If we have to choose between a stinky old wheel and walking, WE CHOOSE WALKING

But WAIT! There's another option! You can get with this...

Yes, yes, it's a Kia.

Or you can get with that:

A box.

A BOX?!?!?! I have to choose between a Kia and a box somewhat half-heartedly decorated to look like a hotrod bus?

Okay, next choice. This commercial begins to feel a little like the optometrist's office. A or B? A.... or B? One or two? One.... or two?

Except usually the difference is really slight and you're kind of just doing your best to choose the slightly clearer lens, whereas here your options are a car or A BOX. Would you like to drive a thing that drives, or A BOX?

You want more options? How about this one:


...or washing machine on wheels?


Washing Machine: Does not come with cool stereo. OR DRIVING CAPABILITY.

I think it was at this point that the commercial really lost me. Because I've had hamsters, and you know, it's kind of funny to put them on things and pretend they're driving them. Normal children might put the hamster in, I don't know, something that actually drives, but I could see putting the hamster in a funny box that looks like a car, or maybe even on a toaster if you were the kind of child who didn't consider the part where the hamster will poop into the same place where you cook your pop-tarts.

But a washing machine?? NO. No child would ever put their hamster into a washing machine and pretend it's driving because IT DOES NOT MAKE ANY EFFING SENSE.

But don't tell that to this guy...

Whaaaaaaaa? You mean I don't have to drive A WASHING MACHINE ON WHEELS?

Should you choose the car?

Or the box? (Hint: DON'T CHOOSE THE BOX!)

Car? Or toaster?

Fine, Kia. You've got me. If I can ONLY choose between a Kia and a toaster, I WILL CHOOSE THE DAMN KIA.

Are you happy now, Kia? Given the choice between driving a thing that drives and driving a thing that doesn't drive, I choose the thing that drives!


Seriously though, Kia. In the immortal words of Bring It On, "I define being the best as competing against the best there is out there and beating them."

See, normally in a commercial, you would set out to prove that you are better than any other car out there, not any other household appliance. So yes, if the competition is between a Kia and a BOX, I will choose the Kia.


If the competition were between, say, a Kia driven by hamsters and a Toyota DRIVEN BY HUMAN BEINGS, I would choose the Toyota.

A car for humans! JUST LIKE ME!

But wait. This isn't just a car driven by humans, it's a car driven by humans who are looking for their runaway dog!

A car for humans with squeaky toys! JUST LIKE ME!!

A car for humans whose runaway dog is dig dig digging in the neighbor's yard! JUST LIKE ME!!!

A car for humans whose runaway dog is a naughty german shorthair pointer!?!? JUST LIKE ME!!!!

You see how that works, Kia? Give me a commercial I can relate to, and I will be all over it. So if I can get with this, or I can get with that?


16 November 2010

Chronicling My Infidelity

Let's skip the requisite apologies about how hideously neglected this poor blog is. Reader, it's not that I don't care about you, it's merely that I'm entirely uninteresting, and every time I think about writing a blog entry, the only topics that come to mind are things like "I like banana muffins!" and "Zia is a tiny angel baby!" You should probably thank me for not subjecting you to such things.

However, I must confess I have been blogging... elsewhere.

I know! I know. But in my defense, the StoryStudio blog has this (fantastic & brilliant) editor named Allyson who sends me emails about how I said I would write a blog entry by Friday and it's now Friday so maybe I should get on that? And then she suggests topics for me to write about, and then when I finally get around to writing what I'm supposed to write, she sends me nice emails about how great I am for doing the thing I should have done a week ago with no prompting. She's pretty great that way.

So here are a few things I've written for StoryStudio:

Twilight, James Frey's Factory, & YA "Production" In which I basically just rant about children's literature and some other stuff which may or may not include making fun of famous authors.

The Time I Did NaNoWriMo With a Bunch of Kids In which I discuss the time I did NaNoWriMo with a bunch of kids.

For Whom We Write In which I get all nostalgic about childhood and stuff.

KidLit: Don't Just Fall In - Jump! In which I complain about authors who just happened to write for children instead of setting out to write for kids on purpose.

Mad About Outlining In which I share pictures of my kitchen cabinets covered in notecards.

04 August 2010

When You Wish Upon A Blog

So an awesome (but sadly anonymous) commenter points out that instead of waiting around for big companies to create the products I need, I should just make them myself. To which I say, YES. I totally support that notion. I am all about making things, and if they end up involving slightly more duct tape than they might if I bought them at the store.... well, duct tape's charmingly punk rock, right?

However, in this case? Big companies have already made them! WHAT??

Bare Escentuals On The Spot

Andrea Eye Q's Make-Up Correctors Swabs

Two?? Two different companies already make this magical product? (Thanks to Erin & Kat for the tips... literally!)

What I have learned today is if I demand things on my blog, I will get them.

Exhibit B: Prop 8. I was demanding the overturn of Prop 8 years ago! (Or being sad and posting pictures of puppies. You know. Whatever.) And look! Prop 8's been overturned!

Clearly this blog has some kind of incredible powers to make powerful change for the good. This is a huge responsibility! My blog wish is the world's command!


I wish.....

...for a dog...

...who also cleans my house!

Ready, world? Make it happen!

02 August 2010

A Public Service Announcement for America's Undereyes

Apparently it's August. I'm not sure exactly how this happened, other than the whole inevitable passage of time, clock slowly ticking toward death, blah blah blah. It has often been pointed out to me that I don't understand the passage of time, and my frequent exclamations as to people's age relative to the number of months or years since I saw them last ("When did you turn into a big grownup girl??" "Last time I saw you, you were still a tiny thing!" and other such Obnoxious Old Aunty behaviors, though I'm not to the cheek pinching stage... YET) only serves to prove this point.

Anyway, so it's August, which in the midwest is another word for humid. And humid, as everyone knows, is another word for "I looked fine at the beginning of the evening but all my eyeliner has since run off my eyes in tiny rivers of sweat, pooling in the huge bags beneath my eyes which explains why people keep joking about zombie raccoons and giggling."

Seriously. Do you just stop wearing makeup in the summer? Every single time I've attended some sort of professional event at which it seems remotely important to look kind of like a capital-g Grownup, I've spent the evening making sparkly, witty, charming conversation only to glance in the mirror toward the end of the night and realize this whole time I've looked like the Undead. And not in a sexy way.

Slight tangent: A billion years ago (well, like 10) I was in this magical poetry class with the Amazing Dan Beachy-Quick (who we lovingly called DBQ) and the whole class basically fell in love with each other. Or itself, as a collective. Either way, we decided we really wanted to get a bus and drive around the country writing poetry and hanging poems in random bathroom stalls and chalking it on sidewalks and Spreading the Gospel of DBQ. But in order to fund our Poetry Bus, we would need some cash. So one of the ongoing projects became thinking of Million Dollar Ideas to fund our Poetry Bus (which in my mind always looked a lot like that of The Electric Mayhem -- I mean OBVIOUSLY. What else would a poetry bus look like??) and our ongoing Cross Country Poetry Bus Adventures.

End tangent; begin segue.

So here's my latest million dollar idea. (Listen up, Makeup Industry!)

I need a little tiny box of Q-tip type swab thingies to carry around in my purse. But not just any Q-tips; I need Q-tips that have been premoistened with whatever magical solution is in Almay's magical eye makeup remover pads.


Just kidding, not that Q-Tip.




Seriously. You would buy that, wouldn't you? I know I would. I would carry those little almay-tipped-darts around with me and offer them to every summer-smudged sad-eyed woman in every public bathroom across America. I would be like the Robin Hood of gross summer zombie eyes, taking from my purse and giving to the Raccoon Faces.

And I would ride my Electric Mayhem Poetry Bus to National Hero Town.

12 June 2010

Lame Superpowers I Have Wished For

The ability to put every car on a block in neutral and roll them closer together in order to maximize street parking efficiency... with my mind.

The ability to talk to woodland creatures... so bunnies wouldn't have to hop away when I walk past them. Also so they would come clean my house.

Super hair that never needs to be washed.

The ability to shrink my car into a tiny match-box sized car that I wouldn't have to park, I would just carry around in my pocket.

The ability to instantly transport myself to any location in the world... so I can go home and take a nap.

The ability to stop time... also for napping.

The ability to read minds... in order to know if my dog really does think I'm consistently both the least interesting and most disappointing human she's ever met.

01 June 2010

Why, She's the Size of a Human Baby!

You know you're hanging out with writers when, in the middle of a conversation, someone spaces out and murmurs, "I should use that...."

My most recent "I should use that" was tonight when I was telling people about this song my family sings. That we made up. About how the Boston Terrier is the Size of a Human Baby. ("Size of a human bay-beee! Size of a human BAY-beee!") Because what family doesn't immediately turn inside jokes into songs?

(Sidenote: This song became even funnier when I was visiting my friends and their four month old baby, who was -- by definition -- the size of a human baby. You know, being a baby and all. She was also the Size of a Human Bay-bee! -- and incidentally, the size of a Boston Terrier -- so I taught her mama the song and then we added random cowboy-style hoofbeats, a Godzilla finale, and choreography. WIN.)

Anyway, my "I should use that" made me start thinking about family inside jokes. I'm particularly interested in family dynamics as a YA writer & teacher of YA writers, because so often teen books have parents who are either super evil or just dead. Dead and evil parents are very convenient for young protagonists, you see, being the impetus for many a teen's adventure. Or sometimes the parent is oblivious to the point of being neglectful, allowing our young protagonist to become romantically involved with the undead.

Of course, if you're a sixteen year old girl, it's often hard to distinguish between a truly evil mother and a mother who's not exactly evil but *is* a real pain in the ass, what with curfews and limitations and not letting you dress like a hooker and whatnot.

Because evil and kinda evil parents are so prevalent in teen fiction, it's always interesting to see totally non-evil parents. Ruby Oliver's parents in E. Lockhart's books (The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, and The Treasure Map of Boys) are among my favorite parents in fiction, ever, because they're 100% non-evil. They're just really, really, really embarassing. And actually, doesn't it seem so much more realistic to have super embarassing parents than super evil ones? I'm sure that a national poll would show a much higher percentage of us have embarassing parents than have evil ones.

If you're lucky, they're still embarassing you long past your teen years, like this weekend when I went to talk to my mother at work, and she introduced me to her coworker: "Rob, this is my beautiful daughter. DON'T LOOK AT HER BOOBS!"

Thanks for that one, Mom. I may have to use that one day.

Tonight as I was singing the Size of a Human Bay-bee song to my friend, I realized that most of our family's inside jokes come directly from trying to make my mother laugh. We compete for it. I think it was my sister who discovered the easiest way to make Mom laugh is basically to make fun of her. Hence the song, which all started when my mother picked up Megan's dog and cried, "Why, she's the size of a human baby!!" (When retelling this story, you must give Mom a warbly old-lady voice.)

Cherished family moments include: the time we made her laugh so hard she sprayed hamburger meat across the table. The time we made her laugh by talking about religious-themed sex toys during Thanksgiving dinner. That one Christmas when Megan wouldn't stop comparing Mexican hairless dogs to sweaty ballsacks. (Gross-out humor gets her every time. The SNL skit with the NPR ladies and Alec Baldwin and his "Schweddy Balls" makes her giggle to this day.)

Sometimes you can make her laugh just by telling her about a different time she laughed, like the time at dinner when she laughed so hard she peed a little.

I started wondering why I never use these, all these random hilarious moments that turned into family jokes. Most of the families in my stories are cranky and sad. They're never cranky and funny. Why not? When I was at Ragdale, I found myself telling story after story about my Dad, who is kind of bonkers, but in a nice way, and about whom I apparently have a billion hilarious stories. I was surprised by all the stories, because I never really considered writing about him, but at Ragdale I started to realize I apparently have some major Dad-stories in my arsenal, which I totally should use someday.

As I was thinking about my mom and all the ways we make fun of her, I started thinking about Mrs. Glass in Salinger's stories, specifically in Franny and Zooey when Zooey's constantly making fun of her. I always wanted to punch him and be like, dude, stop being a dick to your mom, but now I feel like I need to go back and re-evaluate. Did the Glass family torment Bessie the same way we torment our mother? Did she ever laugh so hard she peed a little?

Anyway, I'm always encouraging my students to write interesting, complex, complicated parent characters, and I suppose this is my way of encouraging myself to do the same.

Hey, remember that one time I didn't blog in like six years and then I randomly just started making fun of my mom? I should totally use that.

22 March 2010

Crushing on Writing; or You've Lost That Mudpie Feeling

When I was 23, I moved to New Mexico with my truck and my dog and my laptop and a bunch of notebooks. (And, you know, underwear and stuff.) At the time it seemed pretty straightforward, like of course I'm moving across the country without a job or friends or any kind of particular plan, what else would I be doing at 23? In retrospect, I'm fairly impressed with myself, even though it didn't seem like a big deal at the time. In fact, when my friends from college were picking up and moving to Ecuador and Namibia and Lesotho, Albuquerque seemed pretty tame in comparison.

It took me a few weeks to get a job, and then I was only working four days a week, so I had these loooong 3 day weekends every week, and almost nothing to fill them. I had no friends, no hobbies, no real obligations... one would think I'd be reading all the time, but I don't actually remember going to the library until a few years later, when I was living up in the mountains by myself (and then I was at the library every few days). I'm sure I wasn't buying many books, seeing as how I was terribly poor (though at 23, books seemed just as important as food. This is slightly less true today, but not by much). So what did I do?

I taught myself a slightly fancier version of html code so I could build a slightly fancier website for myself than the one I'd built when I first taught myself html at 19. I started blogging. I mopped every Sunday while listening to This American Life. I researched ways to kill cockroaches. I wrote in my journal. I played with Zeke.

But mostly, I taught myself to write short stories.

Today, I will tell you that I can NOT write a short story to save my life. I can't even TELL a short story. But back then, in 2003, I was determined to learn how. I'd spent the previous nine years writing poetry and journaling, but fiction had never been a strength. In fact, I'd written some short stories that were so awful, I still blush to think of them (and even worse, I studied with the amazing James Alan McPherson, and I actually workshopped one of these hideous stories with him! SO embarrassing, in retrospect. Actually, I think it was even embarrassing at the time, though JAM was such a genius he could make the most sophomoric drivel seem profound).

(There are, I should say, two surviving stories from that time that I love fiercely, even though everyone else thinks they suck. I don't care; I still love them.)

Anyway, the point is: my goal was to write one short story a month. I had no idea how to write fiction, or short stories, but I didn't care, because I was determined to figure it out by doing it. And every month I'd write some bizarre story about dead fathers or bats or young teachers or unhappy relationships or raccoons, and then I would send them off to my friends! Because I was so proud of them! Even though I knew they weren't great, I could feel myself getting better with every story, and that was so exciting. And my friends were incredibly supportive and excited about these crappy stories I kept sending them, possibly because they were also 23, and possibly because they appreciated the sparks of excitement and newness that shone through the pages.

And what's important about that time is that I kept going, even though I kind of knew I sucked, because I could feel myself improving with every story until I finally wrote a short story that my MOM liked (she's a great reader and a very tough critic, so I didn't care that none of my friends liked this particular story -- my mom did! Plus, writing it taught me a little about non-linear timeframes).

And what's also important is that feeling of giddy beginner's luck, that first sense of wonder and the desire to say "Look what I did!"

I was lucky enough to sustain that giddiness through the very first draft of my novel, partially because I still had friends who were excited and impressed and would email me demanding more, and partially because here I was, writing a NOVEL! Who knew I could do that? Not me!

After that, writing started to feel less like playing in the mud, and more like a job, particularly as I started to acquire serious grown-up things like an agent and suggestions for revision and deadlines. I've come to love revising -- really! -- but it definitely doesn't have the same "Woo! Look what I made!" feeling, especially when you know your agent or editor is going to zip the manuscript right back to you with enough nice comments to keep you from defenestration, but also a million more suggestions.

But. But! Recently I've been working on this weird thing that may or may not fit into my current WIP, but it's so weird and unlike anything I've ever written and so far beyond anything I ever thought I could write (it's historical fiction! seriously! I know nothing about history but I'm totally loving making it up. I keep pausing to go, wait, when did the Korean War happen? I have no problem fudging historical details as I go because I've promised myself I'll find some history savant to read through it sometime in the future) and it is SO FUN. And I have been so excited to show my friends -- for the first time in YEARS I am emailing people going "Look what I made! I don't know what this is, but isn't it neat?"

It's pretty awesome.

So here is my advice to you -- and more importantly, to myself -- learn to love revisions, but keep an eye out for that mudpie feeling, too. And when it comes, follow it, relish it, and live inside it as long as you can. Gather ye mudpies while ye may, my friends, and don't forget that you're doing this because you love it.

25 January 2010


Hang out with dog people long enough, and you will hear tales to take your breath away and freeze the blood in your veins. I don't mean Lassie stories of daring rescues or tearjerkers about loyal little pups who waited faithfully by their masters' graves. I'm talking about the dog lover's version of the famed fish story: the most repulsive, upsetting, and offensive story possible involving a dog, what he rolled in, what he ate, or where he pooped. And we will tell you these stories whether or not you ask for them.

Take my friend Adrienne, for example. She had one simple question about her newly rescued dog Paul, an affable fluffy little dude who may be part chow. Did she ask us for our horror stories? Did she invite us to rehash the worst and smelliest moments of our lives? No. She just wanted to know why Paul had a poopsplosion in the front hallway.

Dog lovers, I hear you. You are already frothing at the mouth to tell me about the time your dog ate a partially decomposed squirrel and then thoughtfully barfed it back up on your brand new carpet. Or the time he got mad at you and decided to teach you a lesson by knocking over the garbage can, methodically spreading the egg shells and coffee grounds and used kleenex across your antique Turkish rug, and then – just so you wouldn't miss the point – pooped on it.

Non-dog people, I hear you too. What is wrong with us? Dogs are smelly and slobbery and hairy enough on a daily basis; why must we rehash the times our dogs outdid themselves on the scale of disgustingness? And why do we sound so giddy about it? Why are we laughing??

Here's why: When my dog Zeke was dying, I would sometimes give him warm baths to relax his muscles and soothe his constant joint pain. It was kind of a hassle to lift this 55 pound, arthritic, lumpy, tumor-ridden old guy into the tub, but the doggy smile was totally worth it.

Until that one time.

The tub was probably three-fourths filled with lovely warm water, and Zeke was relaxing, and his old bones didn't hurt as much, and I was starting to rub doggy shampoo into his doggy scruff, when it happened: my happy, relaxed, disgusting old dog had a poopsplosion of his own. In the tub. And it went everywhere.
Suddenly the bathtub was three-fourths filled with warm soupy dog poop and I was doing my best not to add vomit to the mix as I screamed “HE DIARRHEAD ON MY ARMS!” I tried not to breathe at all as I lifted the old man out of his poo stew and carried him cradled against my chest, my poopy swamp monster, into the backyard and dropped him in a kiddie pool, where I hosed him down to get rid of the worst of it. And then I got to go back inside to plunge my arm through the sewage water, pull the drain plug, and begin one of the most repugnant cleaning jobs of my life.

A half hour later, I refilled the tub with lovely warm, clean water, and gave Zeke another bath.

Non-dog people, I hear you screaming WHY? WHAT IF HE POOPED ON YOUR ARMS AGAIN?

Yes, I was facing a risk of enormous magnitude. I might not survive another bath. But I put my dog in the tub anyway, because somewhere between lifting him out of the brown ooze and making the long journey from bathtub to backyard, across the endless kitchen, through the screen door, with brown slime dripping down my arms and legs and my happy dirty dog resting in my arms, I realized: I still love this dog. This is what unconditional love feels like. He just subjected me to the most nauseating moment of my entire life, and I still love him as much as I did before that fateful bath. Maybe even more. In fact, his poop is currently drenching the front of my shirt, and I actually feel empathy for him, poor old guy! He could poop on me again, and I would STILL love him!

And any experience that allows you to feel, with sudden, extraordinary clarity, the incredible depth and potential of your humble little human heart? When you suddenly realize you're capable of much greater and purer love than you have even previously dared to imagine?

Well, it's a moment of grace.

Even if it does smell like crap.