I had a wonderful motherhood moment the other day, the kind of thing you hesitantly confess to during a baby shower. The expectant mother laughs good naturedly, but you quickly realize she’s thinking…what a psycho, I will not be that mother! Sadly, I never thought so either. Really, it’s quite amazing our children make it to adulthood with us mothers around. Or perhaps it’s just my children.
Now, when people ask, “What’s your worst parenting moment?” I can ditch my old stories.
All I ever wanted was a smoothie. And as usual, it was a hurry hurry early morning. And dear husband was gone. He had flown to Baltimore, had just called to tell me all about his morning run past the White House, Smithsonian, war memorials, a few members of Congress who were still not balancing the budget, past the Lincoln Memorial to do a few fist pumps. Hmff.
I, however, was having my own morning run. Fist pumps included. The same run most mothers have between the hours of 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. It is the one that looks like dear mother shaking shoulders, turning on bedroom lights, singing annoying good morning sunshine songs, putting cold hands on warm stomachs (it works well). And then down the stairs to stumble around, letting the dog out, making lunches and snacks, finding papers you never signed, calling up the stairs (no yelling!), calling down the stairs (yelling!), hurry up, let’s eat, bags packed, hair combed, backpacks found, shoes, underwear, feeding dog. …Yes, it was that kind of morning run, not the serene one outside by myself.
Life would be much better with the smoothie; it always is. So I grabbed all the fixings for a top-notch special: lime, beet, carrot, apples, pear, spinach, avocado, strawberries.
From the fridge I also grabbed a small glass cup of smoothie left over from the previous day when some sneaky child had put it in the fridge for “later.” I dumped it in the Vitamix and left it there to drain, to save every last nutritious drop.
To multitask I filled the sink with soapy water (yea, the dishwasher is broken AGAIN!!!), called up the stairs a few more times, told Paige that school really was fun, she just needs to find the fun, and please don’t cry because it was going to be such a fabulous day!
I peeled the carrot and the beet and threw them in the Vitamix, added everything else and finally, turned it on. Crunch, crunch went the frozen vegetables; whir, whir went all the fresh fruits. For some added benefit I added chia and flax seeds. In less than a minute, we had smoothie-liscious.
I pulled out the five glasses, filled them to the top, and told the kids to chug it quickly before the train pulled out.
Nelson gulped first. “Mom, I think you added too many chia seeds.” He licked his lips, made an incredulous face.
“Drink it,” I said. Don’t even think about foolin’ this Mama. She’s on to you and your crying wolf ways: ”Mom, this milk doesn’t taste right — it’s spoiled!” they say almost daily, after they’ve left it too long and it’s grown slightly warm.
There was that one time it really had spoiled and I had made them drink it anyway, before actually tasting it. Ooopsy.
Anyway, Nellie did what a good Nellie boy does and chugged his smoothie down.
Brynne was doing her hair in the bathroom so I brought her smoothie in and told her to drink up. “Hmmm,” she said, taking a drink. This is Brynne language for: some concoctions are just better than others.
I went back into the kitchen and took a large slurp from my large glass. Yum! Pause. Hmmm. There was definitely something a little off about this smoothie. It tasted…gritty. It felt like I was actually chewing on tiny little pieces of something. It tasted like…ocean sand. Like…glass. My eye caught the sink.
The last 10 minutes of my life flashed before me.
With horror I realized there was no small smoothie glass cup from the day before, sitting in the sink waiting to be washed. I suddenly recalled how I had started the morning smoothie: By putting the small glass cup INSIDE the Vitamix to drain.
And had never taken it back out!
I ran to the bathroom and lifted the glass out of Brynne’s hand. ”You don’t have to drink this,” I said.
“Um.” At this point I should have changed the subject, but the truth was just too delightful.
“Well…I accidentally put a glass cup in it.” Why I divulged this information I do not know.
“Nelson!” Brynne, the loudest child in the world, yelled. ”Mom put a glass cup in the smoothie!”
Nelson looked at me and back to his empty cup. “So I just drank glass?”
“Yep, I think you did, buddy.”
“Great, mom. I’m going to die of internal bleeding.” Please not today. We have our last soccer game under the lights tonight…it’d be real inconvenient….
“Let’s go to school!” I said briskly.
While they found shoes and talked about drinking glass, I dumped the entire, very large amount of smoothie outside on the overgrown lilies. Oh, it hurt. You know how I feel about my smoothies. It was a slow and painful death.
What a beautiful beet color it was…carrot, avocado, apples…all wasted…blended with ground glass. I also paused right there in the kitchen to stare at the Vitamix. What a marvel — in 60 seconds a glass cup was pulverized!
Off to school we went. And then worry began to attack. My cheeks began to burn, my heart began to pound. It is a common technique in mystery novels to poison your guests with ground glass. Shards are far too noticeable and cut your throat and esophagus to pieces. Ground glass, however, is undetectable. By the time we arrived at school I was having a full-blown panic attack.
I said a hasty good-bye (school is FUN, Paige, it’s FUN! Find the FUN today!), wondering if this was the last time I would ever see them walking around like normal children should. I suddenly loved them even more. I especially watched Nelson walk away. He was the only one who had drank the entire smoothie. Was he going to keel over at any moment? What would husband say?
Should I go in and talk to the nurse? But how would I even start to explain? Hi, I just fed my son ground glass, is that okay? Like a coward I raced home, trying to comfort self that the glass had been spread amongst a large vat. He couldn’t have gotten very much. Run, Mama, run — find that Google search to exonerate self!
I found a blog post recounting how one boy’s mother had a mean neighbor who poisoned their pet dog with ground glass. They came home to find their sweet puppy dead, foaming at the mouth. This was incredibly unhelpful.
Then I found a snopes article explaining the origins of ground glass as a poison. Crush into fine powder, surreptitiously add it to something your victim will ingest and then watch your victim fall to the floor, writhing in agony. I could totally see Nelson doing this at school. I about pulled my hair out.
I began to recall all the accidents harried mothers had. My mother had always been so sure to tell me about these incidents — toddlers drowning in toilets, mothers leaving infants strapped into car seats in hot cars, mothers reaching into the backseat, turning their head for just a second — oh, I’ve heard them all. And all of them were accidents. Nonetheless, they were mothers who had just been too harried and busy.
Snopes quickly got to the point, thankfully, before I was fully hyperventilating and breathing into a brown paper bag. Fact or Myth: Ground glass is a poison. Verdict: Myth. Other quick Internet searches confirmed the same until I was finally breathing without the bag.
I watched the children carefully the next few days, especially Nelson, who, except for his normal moodiness, seems to not be suffering from glass poisoning.
I swear, I was just trying to make a healthy smoothie.
So, I have been an especially attentive mother ever since. I’m sure I will grow weary of such attentiveness. But for now, eyes are on the road. We are NOT in a hurry. We drink only cold milk. Floss? Check. No glass in smoothies. Crisis averted. For now.
— Amy Makechnie
Amy Makechnie is a freelance writer, sports nutrition consultant and the mother of four children who she tries to keep alive with nutritious vegetable smoothies. More of her amazing mothering skills can be found on her blog, Maisymak. She is in the querying stage of her first novel and collecting fabulous rejection letters for her thick rejection letter scrapbook. “It’s really lovely,” she quips.
I received a lot of really nice gifts for Christmas last year. I am still trying to get some of them open!
My granddaughter gave me a new curling iron. It was in a plastic box inside another plastic box. I borrowed my son-in-law’s pocketknife to try to open it but it wasn’t sharp enough. I grabbed the kitchen scissors out of the sink, but they had turkey skin on them so I gave that up for the moment.
After trying to open the curling iron and giving up, I unwrapped “The Devil Wears Prada.” It was on my “wish” list. We agreed to watch it after presents were all opened. The movie was in a box that normally holds 10 reams of paper so I wouldn’t guess what it was. Inside that box were several other boxes, some bricks and a bunch of old magazines! Way down inside I found the movie. Yay!! I love that movie! We set it aside to watch later.
I gave my grandson a box of “army men.” He loves coming over to my house and playing with what seems like thousands of army men that he keeps in a box in the den. This Christmas gift added another very large platoon to an already large enough army to take over the world. We had to go out to the garage to get a hammer to loosen the lid and then inside the plastic box (that we almost broke) were a bunch of soldiers wrapped in yet another layer of plastic and foam. He, being a determined little kid, kept us entertained for about an hour while he managed to rescue his army men from their packing. I now have army men all over the house — little bitty army men that the vacuum cleaner doesn’t like!
When it was time to settle back and watch “The Devil Wears Prada,” my granddaughter opened the outside wrapping. Then she took the cellophane off the next layer of what I guess is protection from theft and slit some things on all four sides with her fingernails. Then she opened the final packaging. She tried to get it out to slip it into the DVD player and there was some kind of a snap thingy that held it in the packaging! She became totally frustrated and stomped off to the bathroom to try her new lipstick.
No one else wanted to watch the movie bad enough to wrestle with the snap thingy so we played a Josh Groban CD (opened the year before), lit the fireplace, had a cup of steamy hot chocolate and let the army men attack. We agreed to watch “The Devil” when we have the patience to wiggle the snap thingy until it releases the movie. Listening to Josh Groban was probably a better decision anyhow. Josh and the fireplace calmed our nerves and the evening was beautiful, even if we couldn’t get half of our gifts unwrapped.
But this year, all I want is a nice poinsettia to put on the coffee table! A tin of chocolate covered almonds would be great too! Nothing wrapped, please!
— Caroline O. Reid,
Caroline O. Reid, a writer in Bakersfield, Calif., retired twice — once from an executive administrative position for a major oil company and then from a part-time position in her daughter’s consulting business. She now spends her time writing, submitting queries and reading rejection letters. She has been published twice in Chicken Soup for the Soul and wrote a humor column for a now-defunct local newspaper called The Northwest Voice. She freely shares her opinion in many published letters to the editor in the Bakersfield Californian.
The first time I saw it, it was by itself, sort of brownish black in color. I was quite surprised to to have it attach itself to me, and I decided immediately it would have to go. There was enough going on in my life right now. For instance, getting old. The funny thing about that is that I don’t remember getting there. All of a sudden I was. Or am.
Sure, I had gradually grown used to being called Grandma from a number of laughing, wiggling little clones in perpetual motion that my children kept adding to their households.
The first time I got that title I was only 39, and no one considers that to be old. It was fun, in fact, when people thought I was the mother. But as I said, those years went so fast I didn’t see them slip away.
One of the signs of getting old that brought the truth to light was when I decided to stop coloring my hair and wear it short. In a little while I looked like a slightly melted snowball had permanently nested on my head. On the upside I noticed that my wrinkles didn’t seem as prominent as they had with my darker hair. I decided to keep the snowball for awhile. But all is vanity someone once said.
Maybe it was my imagination, but I began to notice that whenever I was driving, cars behind me seemed obsessed with racing to get in front of me even though I tend to drive a little bit over the speed limit like every one else. That never happened when my hair was long and brown. Do they automatically think white-haired people drive too slowly?
The next thing to bring my attention to this state of the elderly was that I could see better when the newspaper was several feet away from me, or even on the floor. After a while reading a book with my arms stretched out so far got a little tiresome. I succumbed to a pair of drugstore reading glasses, not wanting to admit or pay for an extravagance I was sure I would only need occasionally.
That, of course, changed the day I wore one navy and one black shoe to church. I also thought it particularly strange when the waistbands on my skirts and slacks all began to shrink while the length of the clothing items stayed the same. And the day I couldn’t see my knees while putting on my shoes, I seriously thought of changing my motto “Life is short — eat dessert first.” My sister unwittingly encouraged me by saying that fat was only deep skin. I decided then, that I could at least hang onto my backup motto, “A chocolate a day is really okay, but two is even better.”
Then I started to do dumb things. I told myself not to tell my children lest they consider putting me in a nursing home. There was the time I stopped at a gas station, paid for my gas and promptly drove off to do errands. I had to do a bit of talking when I returned to the station to get the gas I paid for. On more than one occasion I put a cup of water in the microwave to make tea and upon opening the door found that I hadn’t even turned it on.
The worst one was when I left my billfold in the top of a grocery cart in broad daylight and didn’t miss it until I was all the way home. It was a total of 50 minutes from the time I left it and the race back to retrieve it, all the while praying it would still be there. The Lord blessed me, for amazingly, it was in the cart. I told myself these incidents were all due to preoccupation, but try as I might, I couldn’t think what I was preoccupied with.
Now, I had to deal with this unwanted visitor. My thoughts went back to when I was a little girl watching my dad shave. I never dreamed I would one day have the same nuisance in my old age. Whoever heard of a woman with whiskers? Except maybe Barnum and Bailey. Is this, too, a part of growing old?
It only took a second to pluck it, but as time went by it multiplied, and the task of removing them grew into a lot of minutes each day. I finally resorted to a razor. That was not the way to go. They grew quicker and with more vengeance. I now had an idea of what my dad went through, and I didn’t appreciate it any more than he did when on occasion I nicked myself and had to walk around with a tiny dot of tissue on my face. I’m slow breaking into new ideas, as a T-shirt of mine says, “Traveling 33 RPM in an Ipod World,” but I must check into something else to delete whiskers.
My sister laughed when I complained about it. She had been dealing with it herself. She said she just thought of them as stray eyebrows.
— Lenna C. Wyatt
Lenna C. Wyatt, of Scottsdale, Ariz., has written dozens of short stories, many with O. Henry-style endings. She’s nearly finished with a mystery and continues to work on an archaeological novel about the first 2,000 years of human history.
All of us have fond memories of Thanksgiving get-togethers with family and friends. It’s just like the old days, when we watched “Walton’s Mountain.”
People we have not seen in a year or more come over with an overnight bag and a side dish; then, we all sit around, eat, talk, bicker, bring up all the reasons we only see each other once a year; and actually fight over the Pope’s nose — “Naso del Papa,” also known as “the part that goes over the fence last.” I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a Vatican dispensation for calling it the Pope’s nose. I never broached the subject in a confessional. Why spoil everyone’s fun?
Murphy’s law kicks in, and someone forgets to add the egg to the pumpkin pie mixture and it turns out runny. We drink the recipe (in our case, a keg of beer in the garage), a fight breaks out, the Yorkie takes off with grandma’s dentures in its mouth, one of grandpa’s suspenders ends up dangling off the piano, somebody screams in the bathroom about sitting on cold porcelain, and Uncles Harry and Dick are still arguing about whether Canadians eat Bald Eagle, rather than turkey, for Thanksgiving — on a tip from Canadian humorist Gordon Kirkland, who originated the idea. This is a typical American traditional Thanksgiving party (and everyone worries about whether or not the kids will behave).
This year, in preparation for the annual holiday fiasco, Uncle Harry Googled all the Canadian web sites trying to find Bald Eagle recipes. “Their Thanksgiving is in October,” he said. “If it’s out there, I’ll show him!” he bellowed.
Here’s another interesting tidbit to add more fuel to the fire — the Enrique Iglesia half-time performance during the Miami vs. Dallas Thanksgiving Day football game last year. I can still see Uncle Dick in his Dolphins mascot hat, munching on a leftover wing, singing “I Like It,” while pouring himself and mascot “Flipper” a beer.
I was looking over Uncle Harry’s shoulder online today, and found something of interest — a video on YouTube, “How to Pick Out a Tender Butterball.” They were blindfolding folks outside Macy’s to pick out the tenderest turkey.
Watch yourself at the mall.
— Rose A. Valenta
Rose A. Valenta is the author of humor books, Sitting on Cold Porcelain and Dueling Microphones, and a weekly humor column called Skinny Dipping — the skinny on current events, life, sports, and politics from a humorist’s perspective. She is the membership chair of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC), a director of the Robert Benchley Society and a regular attendee at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
Sometimes teachable moments come with wigs and fake mustaches.
For those of you who know me personally, it may come as a surprise when I say that up until this weekend, I’m pretty sure my husband and I hadn’t yet mortally embarrassed our son, Tony. Sure, there’s been lots of “Mom, would you please stop (dancing, singing, being generally goofy, etc.)??” After all, I am me. But this weekend brought a little more significant mortification potential.
A dear friend’s birthday party was also a costume party, and Mike and I knew it was our calling to attend as the ’80s pop duo Hall and Oates. The look came together pretty nicely and included a mullet wig for Mike/Hall and a black, curly wig for me/Oates.
Mike grew some sideburn chops for his look, and with a little coloring help, they blended right into his mullet that was fanned out into a coif of ’80s glory. Daryl would be proud.
My Oates’ wig could also serve as the wig Jan Brady wore in her attempt to get noticed over Marcia in the Brady Bunch movie parody, as well as Groucho Marx or Mr. Kotter (at least that was the word on the street). To complete the rockin’ look, I sported a groovy ‘stache that just may have looked like a newly born puppy snuggling on my upper lip.
We looked authentic, as some people might say. Others might say other things.
Since the party was a surprise (and kids were included), we kept our son out of the loop so he wouldn’t spill the beans, and when we did finally explain, he was apprehensively excited. “You’re going to wear those?” While he thought it was very funny, he also had the nervous laugh of someone who didn’t know if he should run away from home now or later.
When we donned the full look and got into the car to go to the party, Tony’s mortification settled in. He was wearing his Halloween costume which, though it was a biker skeleton dude, was still much subtler than his parents. We all enjoyed pulling up to stoplights and seeing people notice us, but the idea that people we knew and loved were going to see us making fools of ourselves was unsettling to him.
We reassured him that it was going to be better than all right — it was going to be downright fun. Over the course of the ride, he accepted that he was going to live through whatever the night might bring.
He is our kid, after all, and he does have a very big silly bone. But he is also at that stage of weighing what other people think and deciding how much all that matters — and sometimes that doesn’t make it easy to embrace your inner silly.
At the party, there were people in varying degrees of costume — some full-blown participants and others who had a little something on in the spirit of things. I think I’m safe in saying most people were amused at our look. From the bad hair to the increasingly moist ‘stache (how do you mustache wearers eat and drink with that thing?!?!), there were lots of giggles to be had. Let’s just say Hall and Oates kissed a few times. Let’s just say it was weird.
Over the course of the night, Tony went from being embarrassed to wanting to wear my mustache and wig. He realized that it was more than okay to be silly — it was a whole lot of fun. Fun for us and fun for others. Sometimes you just gotta let your hair down. Or your fro out, so to speak.
I hope the lesson sticks for him, but I know it will be a lifelong journey of knowing that it’s okay to let the silly out. Luckily, he’s got a mom and dad who can be pretty serious about being silly.
The wigs are put away for now, but they can be ready at a moment’s notice…
Lisa Ancona-Roach works part-time in one world, tries to write in another, manages a household in yet another, and, finally, tries to be present in her various relationships, including wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, co-worker…and whatever else she’s forgetting. She calls it living the Juggle Struggle.
We wash our clothes expensively, that’s how! At the moment I’m ready to try beating my clothes against a rock in the river.
It was still as dark outside as my six o’clock mug of coffee when I heard an annoying high-pitched beep. Every three minutes the sound interrupted my morning solitude. None of the usual culprits was guilty, not my tinnitus-affected ears, nor cell phone, dishwasher or microwave. The beep came from the laundry room. My washer’s control panel was lit up like the instrument panel on an airplane. The machine was frozen on “Express,” a setting I’d never used in 15 years, and I hadn’t done any laundry in three days. The darn thing wouldn’t run, nor would “stop” make the lights go off.
I pulled the plug.
When the rest of the world woke up, I placed a mayday call to Dan, the repair superman I found several years ago. Dan can fix any major home appliance. He came as soon as he could, carefully performed a number of tests, then shook his head sadly. My washer had spun out for the last time. A new printed circuit board and power supply would cost more than $300, labor not included. I could buy a new washer for that. The dryer still worked, though barely. The rational me said, “No new dryer” — I hang most things outside to dry in the sun or, during bad weather, in the basement — but the fussy me whispered, “Matchy, matchy.”
After a quick recce to “kick the tires” on what I thought would be my pick, I came home and logged in to Consumer Reports. Should have done that first, of course.
I spent hours comparing features and benefits. No, I do not want to communicate with my laundry while I’m playing canasta with my friends. No, I do not want a dryer with steam option that would necessitate a water line to an appliance that is supposed to be drying my clothes. Maybe that’s a good thing, but it seems counterintuitive to me. I’m just sayin’.
Some of the newest washday appliances will let you link to the manufacturer via an app on your smart phone. You can select your equipment’s symptoms and get a diagnosis before the repairman comes. Not only that, you can phone your washer to check on the status of your delicates while you’re visiting the in-laws.
Just what I need! Another set of commands to learn, more passwords to forget, oh, and a smart phone to buy. Note to Maytag, GE, Whirlpool, Samsung et al: I’m doing laundry here, not launching a submarine! When someone invents a machine that moves the washed clothes into the dryer, and a dryer that matches socks, folds towels and puts everything away…then we’ll talk.
Satisfied with my choice at last, I clicked on “user comments.” Some were enthusiastic, but most were not suitable for a G-rated blog! I’d spent a gorgeous autumn weekend researching laundry appliances, and I was no further ahead than when I’d started.
And the laundry hamper overflowed.
Oh yes! Cost! That printed circuit board/power supply replacement suddenly seemed a bargain. Some of the highest-end appliances cost more than $6,000 for a washer/dryer combo. My first car didn’t cost even half that much.
Who needs a “smart” washer? I’m a smart washer.
I’ll get my DublHandi washboard out. These primitive “appliances,” first manufactured in 1938, are “ideal for silks, hosiery and lingerie or handkerchiefs.” Plus, at 8.5″ x 18″ they’re “just the right size to fit a bucket, pail or lavatory.” They “pack easily into suitcase or traveling bag,” too. What’s not to love?
FYI, DublHandi washboards are still manufactured in Logan, Ohio. They sell for about 23 bucks. If you’re interested in a cost-effective option to a smart washer, click here and here for some nitty gritty info.
— Judy Clarke
Judy Clarke is a wife, mother of two daughters, grandmother to two grown grandchildren, reader, writer and blogger in southwest Virginia. Her two non-fiction books, Mother Tough Wrote the Book and That’s all she wrote, can be found on her friends’ and family’s shelves, and she’s working on a novel, But why? (That’s the title of the novel, not a question to self).
As any writer can attest, getting on a creative roll is one of the best feelings in the world. When I want to, it’s easy. When I have to, it’s hard. And those times when I’m suddenly faced with the fact that the writing well is dry, I become even more moody and broody.
So today I’m going to turn the tables on that textual dysfunction and write about writer’s block instead.
The Five Stages of Writer’s Block
During the first stage of writer’s block I can still pretend nothing is wrong and rationalize that I write for work, no one really cares if I blog or not and that I just posted a couple of days ago. And after all, it’s possible that a bird might fly into my head and then BAM! Instant blog post. No need to worry.
But after a couple days without writing, the denial really starts to kick in. Someone will be talking to me and I’ll be thinking about how I wish a bird would fly into their head so that BAM! Instant blog post. But when that doesn’t happen, I can no longer deny and I move onto the next stage.
Here I spend time pacing and blaming any small interruption for my failure to even produce as much as an account of going to the ATM. I get annoyed with people who can write funny posts and wonder why the cat purrs so damn loud.
But anger takes a lot of energy I would rather channel into navel gazing, so I move on to the next lovely stage.
Sometimes it’s not that I don’t have anything I could write, it’s that I don’t like anything that I write. I’ll sit in front of my blank screen and think, “Oh, hell. Maybe I can just write something short or do a picture post with some jokes thrown in for fun. Just getting down notes is a start.”
But then I remember I don’t have pictures and the only thing I’ve written is a to-do list that says, “write something.” So no matter how simple the writing goal, my bargaining will fail. There is no bargaining with writer’s block here, which brings us to the next stage.
Convinced that I will NEVER WRITE ANYTHING EVER AGAIN, I crash on the couch watching TV while taking shots of garlic hummus. In my mind, I relive all of the good times I had writing. I think of the people who told me that something I’ve written made them laugh or changed the way they thought about something — all five people.
Now with my writing days behind me, I am left with a couple books and hundreds of blog posts to my name. Some day, years from now, I will pull up my dusty blog and show the cat how I misspent my late 20s and early 30s.
Now that I know I’ll NEVER WRITE ANYTHING AGAIN, I wonder what I’ll do with the rest of my life. I start by doing activities I enjoy — Swiffering, feeding my feelings, exercising and watching videos of skateboarding hedgehogs.
I go online and do a Google search to learn how to teach a hedgehog to ride a skateboard. After all, I’ll probably be doing a lot of that now that I’LL NEVER WRITE ANYTHING AGAIN.
But then the new non-writing me has one of those rational thoughts that I’ve heard so much about and decides to give writing a shot once again. After all, if a hedgehog can ride a damn skateboard, I can write a damn post.
Bring me my cape and my keyboard.
There is work that needs to be done.
(And we circle back to denial…)
— Abby Heugel
Abby Heugel is a professional writer and editor of trade publications for employment, but a neurotic humor writer the rest of the time for enjoyment. She runs mental marathons in yoga pants and blogs her brilliant insights. She makes you feel normal. She’s the author of Abby Has Issues and Abby Still Has Issues.
You can’t force funny writing. It helps to look for the absurdities in everyday life, make fun of yourself and, like the best comedians, learn how to set up the punch line.
When we recently polled our Facebook audience of writers, dozens offered tips on how to improve humor-writing skills. Here’s their best advice:
Pamela Burger: “Be able to laugh at yourself first.”
Mary Catlett: “Read funny things, hear funny things, learn the cadence and rhythm and word usage. Take improvisation classes — (because) every moment you are writing.”
Nancy LaFever: “Don’t try too hard. When I read humor, it always jumps out at me if someone is trying to be funny. It’s difficult to describe, but real, organic humor appears to be effortless. (Even though we KNOW it isn’t!).”
Bruce Stambaugh: “When making a joke in my column, I only make fun of myself.”
Lisa Crandall: “Don’t take life so seriously. There is humor in everything, everyday. (You) just have to be open to seeing through the mundane. Laugh more, even if it is at rather than with the crowd. Just stay real, not mean.”
Nettie Reynolds: “Writing funny is in the details. It’s those little moments, the ones that Erma captured so well and that we all aspire to.”
Sarah Hunt: “Be real. Read everything.”
Christine Birney Wans: “Honesty. The more brutally honest, the better.”
Barb Best: “Surprise. Delight. Exaggerate. Play. Tease. Tickle.”
Barry Parham: “I like Woody Allen’s advice: if it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, that’s not funny.”
Kathy Frederick: “My blog wouldn’t exist without a healthy dose of self-deprecation.”
Alyson Rennick Herzig: “I write my funnies exactly as I think them. (It’s) more authentic, with crazy interwoven.”
Kathy Turski: ” You should read the kind of humor that you like, the kind you want to write. Soak it in like a sponge — the style, the cadence — and think about what it is that makes you laugh. I’m not saying copy the work, but learn from it. My other advice is to write humor the way one should make a pie crust — with a light, deft touch. Work either one too hard and you end up with something stiff and stodgy like cardboard. Handle it lightly, and you’ll have something delightful.”
P Shane McAfee: “Sit back and observe. Most of the stuff I write about actually happens. Then I just put my warped perspective on it.”
Ruth Hanley: “Be around humorous/witty people and read humor (good humor). I find that it inspires me to ‘speak the language.’”
Georgia Vallejo: “Don’t force it.”
Susan Bloch Leach: “If you are not funny, leave it to the funny people. Comedy writers need the work. Bad humor just makes us cringe.”
Meredith Bland: ” If it makes YOU laugh, it will make other people laugh. Try to put it into words in a way that captures what you found funny. If you read it back and you smile or giggle, you’ve done it.”
Abbie Gale: “Practice finding the humor in everyday. This is why there aren’t successful 18-year-olds. They haven’t had enough “everydays” to be funny. You have to live to have the experiences, the perspective.”
Vikki Claflin: ” Write about what makes you laugh. Have fun doing it. And a little personal humiliation never hurts.”
Paige Kellerman: “It has to make me laugh first. If it doesn’t, I scrap it.”
Amy A. Mullis: “When something happens to me, I think, ‘If I were going to tell this to people, how would I embellish or twist it to make them laugh?’ The light globe fell off the fan in the kitchen narrowly missing me last night. My story will be, ‘The kitchen is trying to save the world by stopping me from cooking.’”
Lisa Kanarek: “Don’t try to be funny. That never works. What you write should feel natural and not forced.”
Mike McHugh: “Don’t always accept the first thing that comes to mind when trying to come up with something humorous. Sometimes lightning will strike, but more often, I have to spend a few minutes thinking through possible punch lines to come up with something good.”
Terri Lehr Spilman: ”Humor is so subjective. Naturally funny people have a certain rhythm, intelligence and point of view that can’t be taught. They can only be studied.”
Carol Band: “It’s not a funny situation — it’s how you view life, everyday situations. It’s a distinct voice, a fresh personality, a perspective that brings people together in the understanding that they are not alone in this absurdity that is life.”
Linda Lohman: ”I was once attacked on the street by another woman. In looking at the stud in the indentation of her neck I thought to myself, ‘Doesn’t she know that’s dangerous? Someone would only have to push it in, just a little…’ Unfortunately, I didn’t think of this until the next day. That NIGHT I was thinking of two Margaritas. I think perspective and exaggeration can make things more light-hearted.”
Jane R. LeBlanc: “Rhythm and timing are the keys to humor. Watch comedians on stage. Notice their rhythm and timing, and make an effort to find that in your writing. Your writing can be much funnier if what you say is set up properly.”
Lisa Romeo: “Read the great humor writers and STUDY what they do. Take a comedy class (stand up, sitcom writing, anything). Pay close attention to rhythm, timing, the pause between phrases. It has to sing. The ‘Rule of Threes’ is a simple, time-tested technique. Always be the one who gets the bum rap in your humor pieces. A little self-deprecation goes a long way.”
Beth Hickman: “Don’t try to be funny. Be subtle. Let the readers ‘get it’ on their own.”
Lindsay LaVine: “Find the funny in real life — be observant, study pop culture. The funniest stuff, I find, you can’t make up.”
Jerry Zezima: “Bang your head against a wall three times. If this gives you a funny idea, write about it. If it gives you a headache, write about that. Take two aspirin and go to bed. Don’t write anything else for a couple of days.”
Alexandra Rosas: “Specific visualizations do wonders. ‘She had a screechy voice’ is okay, but ‘she had a voice that children and dogs love’ even better.
Andrea Monroe: “No — she had a voice that children and dogs RAN from is funnier.”
Tara LaVelle: “She had a voice that only dogs and children could hear.”
Marcia Fine: “Work on the punch line. That final wind-up to the story matters.”
Carol Merrifield: “Write it just like you’d say it, awkward silent moments included.”
Charlotte Johnson Jones: “The best stories are the ones that made me the angriest or craziest when they happened, as in ‘You won’t bu-leeve what your mother-in-law did today.’ Big emotions can make for big laughs.”