Tweetspeak Poetry never runs an ordinary workshop—the classes are always smart, fun, or life-giving. Often, all three.
The graphics above are from demo sites in Tweetspeak’s Build a Powerful Author or Writer Website workshop.2
Tweetspeak Poetry never runs an ordinary workshop—the classes are always smart, fun, or life-giving. Often, all three.
The graphics above are from demo sites in Tweetspeak’s Build a Powerful Author or Writer Website workshop.2
One day my mother came home from the interior decorating shop where she worked, very upset about a young man who had come into the store with his mother.
“You wouldn’t believe what his T-shirt said!” my mom cried. “‘Better Dead Than Red!’”
I asked her what it meant.
“He’s making fun of redheads, of course!” she lamented, her curly, fiery hair aflutter. “Why would anyone wear such a thing?”
It was the early eighties, in the thick of the Cold War, but I had yet to learn about Communism. It didn’t occur to me for another decade or so that the shirt that would pierce her to the core was merely calling for the demise of Soviets. But that memory has always defined my mother and her abiding personal connection with her hair, something the rest of the family would never fully understand.
I didn’t inherit the red but passed it on to my middle daughter, whose hair stops people cold in grocery aisles and brings elderly Irishmen to tears. We have fielded questions about her hair since she emerged with the carrotty fuzz nine years ago. Almost without exception, it’s the first topic of discussion when she meets someone new. It’s made for some pleasant talk but also some awkward situations, such as when she is praised as rare and beautiful just inches from her brown-haired siblings.
Not long ago I asked my daughter what she thought about her hair, and she said, “I like it. In the sun, it’s shiny, and underwater it looks all coppery. But talking to everyone about it gets annoying.”
Redheads live in a complicated world. A recent college grad I know said that starting in sixth grade, boys teased her about her hair. She felt ugly, that she didn’t fit in, and eventually dyed her hair an even brighter red as a way to prove to herself that she was strong enough to handle the alienation. Now she embraces her hair but acknowledges it has impacted her confidence and personality for life.
Red hair is challenging to grow up with. But when middle-aged women color their hair (myself included), they often go for redder shades, as if trying to capture some essence of life they imagine that color suggesting. And even though boys can experience an even harder time growing up ginger, we can’t imagine Van Gogh or Prince Harry without those tousled autumn shades. Conan O’Brien built his comedic empire, to some extent, on his flaming waves. Better dead than red? Or is red the key to a richer life?
Like it or not, our physical traits define us in ways others will never understand. As a 5’11″ woman, I’ve never bought “normal” pants, stood in the front row for pictures, or earned the descriptors “cute” or “spunky.” In high school, the majority of boys weren’t in my dating altitude. I’ve answered a lifetime of cloying questions about basketball, volleyball, and modeling (three things I’m not qualified to do).
Most people who get to know me on Facebook first then meet me in person can’t help but exclaim, “I didn’t know you were so tall!”
The land of tall has been lonely at times. But I can’t imagine living elsewhere.
A few months ago, my mother said she had to tell me something very important, something about Becca that couldn’t wait.
“Remember when I told the doctors I was in excruciating pain while waking up from surgery and they didn’t understand why? I understand now. I think I woke up during surgery.”
“What does that have to do with Becca?”
“I read in an article that redheads are less responsive to anesthesia. She needs to know that before getting surgery, if she ever needs it. She might wake up.”
I wondered why my mother felt the need to share this information so urgently, but then I realized that she needed to nurture this connection to Becca, the only other person in the family with whom she shares the fire. Red hair had been a source of frustration in her life but also a source of pride. Now that she’s been gray for so many years, she lives with the memory of her red hair and still, apparently, experiences its physiological effects.
And now I will admit it: I’m no longer 5’11” but 5’10 ½”. The last couple of times a nurse has measured me, I’ve insisted there must be some mistake. While I’ve always said I’d like to know what it’s like to be average, or even just a couple inches shorter, now that I see the numbers shrinking, I want to hold on.
Tall is who I am. When I’m having an unconfident day, I see myself as a lumbering giant, all accusing eyes on me. When I’m feeling secure, I see myself as bold and striking, all adoring eyes on me.
In Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel Middlesex, Callie celebrates a new redheaded student with lush lyricism: “There was something richly appealing to her color combination, the ginger snaps floating in the milk-white skin, the golden highlights in the strawberry hair. It was like autumn, looking at her. It was like driving up north to see the colors.”
It’s a gorgeous description. But do redheads find these romanticized images patronizing and overwrought, the hair, as always, overshadowing their identities? Or do they feel at home with these words, proud of their extraordinary place on the earth?
Ninety-eight percent of us will never know.5
[on a scale of wit to whimsy: funny]
Some people think the world of themselves and believe everyone else does too. In this amusing Harry Potter fan video, Dolores Umbridge thinks “everybody loves me.”
Video by Sonia Joie.3
This actual Hot Pilates episode has been recorded by Hannah in the style of Craigslist Yoga Mat Guy. Note: Some names have been changed to protect the satirized.
[4:15pm] We arrive: Auntie Kim, Sarah, and me. It is an 80-degree day and we are already sweating. Sarah and I are accompanying AK to her hot Pilates class out of a combination of bribery (dinner and froyo after, if we survive) and blackmail (“I bought you shoes last week; I can take them back.”)
[4:20pm] We walk into Yoga Vibe. The receptionist has us sign something – a death waiver, I’ll wager, by the fine print.
[4:28pm] After putting our shoes and other belongings in lockers, we equip ourselves with mats and towels. AK grabs three face towels, which troubles me. I take four. We enter the studio. It is stifling. “How about the back corner near the door?” I suggest too loudly and too hopefully.
[4:30pm] Val the instructor walks in, swinging her muscular, tanned arms. She cranks up the heat. I am faint already. Dehydration or fear? I cannot tell. The music starts and we begin.
[4:33pm] Perhaps I will evaporate before my will does.
[4:37pm] Any sweat collecting on my abdomen is getting squeezed out by the sheer amount of crunches and core work. The redundancy of a “warm-up” routine becomes too clear.
[4:40pm] It is ninety-flipping-five degrees. The last of the ice in my canteen has melted under Val’s fiery gaze when she catches me lying on my back, not doing leg lifts, huffing and puffing out my last will and testament.
[4:44pm] Epiphany. I could pay off my student loans by selling Febreze outside the studio.
[4:47pm] Planking on my stomach counts as planking. IT’S ALL I HAVE.
[4:49pm] As we do tricep push-ups I stare at my reflection in a puddle of sweat on the floor. Why is my reflection someone I don’t know? She is so…red and angry-looking. The conditions under which I am able to observe such details elevates my level of nausea even more.
[4:51pm] I see mirages in the rippling heat. A Jamba Juice goes sailing by.
[4:53pm] I can no longer see through the film of sweat on my irises. I grab something and wipe my face with it – a soggy tortilla? Nope, just Towel #3. Sarah has long ceased to return my pained glances. Her eyes are unfocused as we do modified burpees. We should have worn our swimsuits and scuba gear.
[4:55pm] Mountain climbers, hips close to the ground. I try to pretend I’m mountain-climbing to Yogurtland. I pity the fools who wore makeup to class.
[4:58pm] Tell me more of this Joseph Pilates so that my kin may avenge me.
[5:00pm] We’re barely halfway done and I already smell the strong stench of defeat. And feet.
[5:02pm] The girl on the mat in front of Sarah must often be mistaken for Jillian Michaels. If she takes a break, I’m automatically entitled to five.
[5:03pm] My flesh is melting off like Raiders of the Lost Ark.
[5:05pm] A woman in a magenta racerback tank top gets up and leaves. We all subconsciously lean towards the door for the draft of air.
[5:08pm] Val announces we will be doing several rounds of 15-second intervals of high knees, jumping jacks, butt kickers, and jump squats. I think mean thoughts.
[5:10pm] Magenta Racerback Tanktop returns from the restroom. What does that make her? Not very smart.
[5:11pm] As I run in place I wonder if we are like the citizens of Pompeii, running from impending ash suffocation and Vesuvian heat.
[5:13pm] Quasi-Jillian-Michaels pauses for one breath; I collapse with a wet smack on the floor. I am covered in white towel fuzz like a newly-hatched chick.
[5:15pm] Are these tears or rivulets of sweat?
[5:17pm] More disconcerting, whose sweat and tears are they? The vigorous jump squats have prompted an unwelcome projectile-exchange of salt water.
[5:20pm] Val instructs us to lie down. As if we had a choice anymore. We do the bicycle exercise on our backs and pedal to the next ring of Inferno.
[5:22pm] The foam exercise brick goes between our knees for side crunches. If that brick falls, Val warns, everyone does 10 burpees. If that brick falls, I respond mentally, she’s getting an IOU. Good thing the brick is plastered to my skin.
[5:24pm] We are told to set the bricks aside. My aim is unlucky and misses Val entirely. I try to wrap my arms around my knees and pull them to my chest as instructed, but my skin is so slick with sweat that I nearly end up punching myself in the nose.
[5:26pm] Are those…angels twirling above me? Praisellujah, Val has turned on the ceiling fans!!!
[5:28pm] We end up in the child’s pose. I use the moment to wipe the waterfall streaming down my face on the towel beneath me, so it appears that I am shaking my head facedown in utter despair.
[5:30pm] Val turns down the room temperature. My pores shrink so quickly it’s almost painful. I grab my saturated towels and mat and swim towards the exit.
[6:00pm] I have showered and drunk an adult rhinoceros’s body weight in water, but I am still sweating.
[8:00pm] I spend the rest of the evening trying not to agitate my abs—no laughing, crying, moving, or breathing. And I google a lot of… Arctic wallpapers.
This is a modified reprint of af a post that first appeared at sandhannahtizer.tumblr.com. Reprinted with permission.
Photo by Robert Bejil, Creative Commons, via Flickr.7
[On a scale from wit to whimsy: lol]
Insurance humor. One wonders who it’s really for: the insured, or the insurers. Maybe a little bit of both.4
It was an ordinary, summer day. Several friends had generously given me a gift certificate for a free pedicure, and I planned on taking advantage of it.
I strolled into the salon-that-shall-not-be-named, expecting a therapeutic experience. After all, I was/am the mother of two energetic, crazy boys who sometimes act more like chimps than children. (There’s my husband, too, but he’s another story). I DESERVED pampering. Yay verily, I desperately needed it.
I might have guessed that the pedicure would not end well when the woman who greeted me brusquely asked what color I wanted my toes painted. When I answered, “pink,” she pinched her face up and parroted, “PINK? Why PINK?”
Dear reader, is it not my choice what color I want my toes to be? Pink is my favorite color. Would the salon employee get a commission if I instead picked cerulean or ochre? Her reaction left me flummoxed, not relaxed. I decided then and there that my hostess would have been more at home in a court of law than courting customers.
After the color war, my assigned anti-pamperer’s foot care could only be described as rough (at best) and tortuous (at worst). I know the sides and back of my feet have callouses as big as Kanye’s ego, but the Salon Defense didn’t have to try digging to China to make her case.
Finally, I was instructed to put my feet under the sun lamp, to dry the contested pink polish, but because The Defense talked as quickly and quietly as my teenage son, I didn’t understand what she was saying. She rolled her eyes and clucked her tongue, and I knew I was going to completely lose this case of therapeutics.
Listen, lady, I wanted to say, I’m not one of the high-rise Hollywood elite; I seldom have the extra money or time to pamper myself. When I do, I’d much rather get a massage than a pedicure (especially now). There’s no need to take me down!
But I smiled my biggest, sweetest Texas smile and resolved to talk to her boss. Maybe she read my mind, because as I was giving her the gift certificate, she talked to the other employees (again, too low for me to hear). Her gestures and body language told me all I needed to know about what she thought of me.
Sigh. My spirits were not quite pretty in pink. And I simply had no desire to re-create a Seinfeld episode.
Perhaps she was just having an off day. But shouldn’t the customer be queen, not criminal?
I put those thoughts aside and ruled against making a pedicure scene. But I decided: in the future, I’ll take my tootsies elsewhere or pamper them at home…where I can watch my favorite Seinfeld and exfoliate in peace.
Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography. Creative Commons, via Flickr.7
[on a scale from wit to whimsy: Um, this one goes off the scale ;-)]
Colbert declares war on Amazon, due to loss of book sales through his publisher Hachette. Close your eyes and ears intermittently if you have a delicate cursing constitution. Otherwise, laugh out loud. Colbert is funny, even if book sale declines are no laughing matter.3
If you want to write funny, you may have to let yourself indulge in wrongs…
1. The apple pie you made without sugar (You didn’t? I did. I assure you it was a terrible wrong on Thanksgiving day.)
2. The alarm clock you set for precisely one hour before you would secure your child’s stunning grade on the SAT.
(But then you stunningly slept through the wake-up call, jeopardizing your child’s very future. You didn’t? I did. And only time will tell just how wrong it was to sleep through the possibility of a sane morning, a sane arrival to the test, and the proper use of a hairbrush before leaving the house.)
3. The Facebook audience you built with hard work, time, and attention (and maybe some hard-earned money), only to see Facebook unethically hold your audience for ransom, just because they thought they could.
(You did. I know you did. If you have any social media history at all, you did. Now comes the waiting—to see who the joke is really on: you (and me) or them.)
If you aren’t funny, it might be because nothing’s wrong with your joke. Maybe you were raised not to complain. Too bad. Because a good complaint is where you need to begin. You need to see the wrong, make it obvious, then get set to…
I know. Mitigate is a big word. And one of the rules of good humor is to keep it simple. But I like the word mitigate, so I am going to break the rules (which is another rule of good humor. I mean, breaking the rules is another rule, so you see how it all works out in the end).
McGraw and Warner don’t use the word mitigate. They are more cooperative with the universe. (Pete even wears a sweater vest.) McGraw and Warner say that we must make the wrong benign. And when we do that, somebody somewhere laughs.
Here is the good news for your bad kitchen (and bad alarm clock) days: If you are a master of complaint, you are poised to be the next Colbert. All you need to learn is the art of mitigation. Not the maternal art of mitigation, “Oh, Honey, everything’s going to be all right.” But the amusing art of mitigation. “Oh, Honey, you need a faster hairbrush and a sexier clock alarm.”
Righting a wrong with a comic eye, McGraw and Warner discovered, is not as simple as it seems. There’s no solid science, after all, to making the pie go down with a late spoon of sugar. Still, you can read more about the art and science of comedic possibility (including the surprising power of Venn diagrams, red velvet curtains, and hiring the right people to laugh at your jokes) in The Humor Code.
Let us know if break it. The code, not the clock, that is.5
Over the last two years, I’ve taught myself to cook, and while I would no longer qualify for Food Network’s “Worst Cooks in America,” I won’t be hosting a food show any time soon. When my 10 year-old asked me to make him lunch the other day, he said: “Mom, can you cook a grilled cheese—you know, the kind with the black on the bread?”
I finally discovered that the secret to cooking is to follow the recipe until you know what you’re doing (this might seem easy to you, but I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda gal). Now that I have some experience, I enjoy substituting ingredients and coming up with my own food creations. I’ve even made a few meals that all three of my guys liked enough to ask for second helpings. Score!
Last night, after a generous neighbor brought over bounty from her garden, I chopped cherry tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and okra and mixed them together in a large bowl. Grabbing the olive oil, I ladled two tablespoons over the vegetables and then sprinkled it with salt and fresh-ground pepper. Finally, I stirred everything together and spread the bright green, red, and yellow mixture onto a sheet pan. It all went into a pre-heated (425 degree) oven for fifteen minutes. And it was a big hit with my family.
This new hobby came about because I began eating more of an almost vegetarian diet. As someone who’s struggled with an autoimmune disorder and fatigue for most of her adult life, I’m continually searching out ways to feel better and increase energy. After quite a bit of research, I decided to add more fruits and vegetables to my diet and limit my consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs. It was not a decision I made easily; after all, I’m the daughter of a cattle rancher.
My ever-supportive husband, Carey, promised to join me on the plant-strong venture. Both of our fathers had open-heart surgery in the last year, and we want to be proactive about our own health. Plus, we’ve each needed to lose seven to ten pounds for the last seven to ten years. We knew changing our beef-heavy habits, especially in the Lone Star State—the land of big hats, big hair, and big steaks—would be tough. The day before we began eating to live instead of living to eat, Carey said, “Dena, I really need your support. I can’t do this without you.”
He lasted a week.
At the time, though, he worked as a marketing director for Chick Fil-a. So I forgave him. And Carey’s always been an all-or-nothing kind of person. Around here, we call him “extreme boy.”
In Rachel Ray’s magazine, I read about a vegan gentleman who hadn’t cheated on his diet in eighteen years. That’s a long, long time. Then again, he lives in California.
The last time I ate at a restaurant with friends, I almost succumbed to temptation after my server brought me a cold, limp veggie burger that looked like a moldy hockey puck. My friends had a field day, making Texas-sized fun of my choice. But I’ve gotten used to the good-natured ribbing (pun intended). So instead of ordering something else, I sent the bean burger back to the kitchen—to be cooked instead of served straight from the freezer. It came back sizzling with little black lines, and I loved it.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t eat perfectly; far from it. There are times I indulge in a steak, ice cream cone, or pork chop. Much of the time, though, I live contentedly without too many animal products—not because I’m particularly Pro-Chickpea—but because I simply feel better eating this way. And if I burn the grilled cheese, it’s cheaper than burning a T-bone.
Wasabi-Pea Encrusted Veggie Burger Photo by Janet Hudson, Creative Commons, via Flickr.4
How to Prepare Your Student for the SAT
1. No studying. If a lifetime of education can’t get a person through the SAT, then… whatever.
2. Have the student prepare everything the night before the test:
-set aside high protein breakfast in fridge (plain yogurt is good)
-pack a bag of snacks, ID, ticket, calculator, extra batteries and no cell phone
3. Make student go to bed by midnight (instead of the usual 2 am fare that keeps him/her sleeping until ten o’clock in the morning)
4. Go to bed late, because you are up trying to get student to go to bed by midnight. This will make you extra sleepy. So important! Set your clock for one hour before student is to arrive at test. You are to arrive no later than 7:45 am.
5. On the day of the test, sleep through your alarm. Get out of bed at exactly 7:44 am.
WAAAAA! [take a private Good Mother moment with the universe, then jar your student out of bed with a loud announcement of the final 30 seconds now available to show up on time. Take note of the uncanny speed with which your 17 year old is actually capable of moving. Save that knowledge for later.]
6. Race to the school (only 1 minute away, thank your lucky stars), try to enter by the wrong door, be chided by security, go to the right door with a hairstyle that would make any student proud of his mother, and deliver student to the SAT.
It’s all good. Student is awake (that counts for something) and couldn’t eat the plain yogurt in the car, because you forgot to sweeten it. You will, for the sake of expiation, accidentally eat the yogurt upon returning to your home (accidentally means the yogurt was sprinkled lightly with granola that has almonds, to which you are—not fatally—allergic).
That’s it. You are officially a good mother, who has successfully prepared your child to take the biggest exam of high school life.
Photo by Deborah Austin, Creative Commons, via Flickr.4
[on a scale from wit to whimsy: Funny]
Loki lovers will appreciate the drama of Mozart’s Requiem paired with Loki’s absence at the shawarma table.2
“I’m a Democrat,” my seven-year-old claimed as he climbed in the car after school.
“Oh, yeah?” I looked around to see if anyone had heard him. I’m not a rabid Republican, but we live in Texas, after all—land of Bush and Perry, the cattlemen who sued Oprah, and lots of anti-donkey bumper stickers. And people here carry guns.
“We’re learning about elections,” Jackson explained. “We picked our parties out of a bowl.”
I thought that seemed strangely similar to how people already pick their political parties, but I kept quiet.
Turns out, the second graders at Jackson’s school were involved in a week-long election unit in which “Democrats” decided between the Cat in the Hat and Arthur the Aardvark as their candidate, while “Republicans” debated the virtues of Franklin the Turtle and Curious George.
Every day after pickup, Jackson gave me updates on the process. He became adept at pontificating about political parties and the priorities for a successful leader—through playing with storybook characters.
Did I mention I love his teacher? This is the dear woman who made Jackson stand on his desk and apologize to the girls in the class after he burped the alphabet. I wonder what she’s doing next year…and the year after that? (One thing I know for sure: she’s not paid enough. Remind me to write my senator about that.)
“We chose Arthur,” he announced on day two, slinging his backpack over the seat. “He’s smart.”
“So, no Dr. Suess for you?” I asked.
“Nope. The Cat in the Hat is too silly.”
I gave him a thumbs up. “Sounds like a good decision.”
When he told me the other party had nominated Franklin, I asked why. “Because Curious George gets in trouble all the time,” he said.
From the mouths of babes.
On Friday of election week, my son and his classmates gave speeches about their nominees in front of the fifth grade, and the older kids decided the winner.
I waited impatiently to find out who would prevail: Franklin or Arthur. It was a tough choice. The Republicans had put forth a gentle turtle with patience and strength of character. The Democrats had nominated a smart, witty aardvark who kept a cool head in times of crisis.
“So?” I asked at the end of the week. “Who won the election?”
“Franklin won,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “Can we go get ice cream?”
I nodded yes and voted for vanilla. My son had learned an important political truth: ice cream, by the bowl.6
First it was the cats. Now, it’s the dogs.
Dogs are writing poetry. I am not making this up.
Don’t believe me? Try “Another Bag”:
True, unbridled love
Is looking at what I just did
On the sidewalk
Then picking it up in a bag
I can only imagine as a treasured keepsake
Wow, the collection you must have by now.
Only a dog could have written that. I know that for a fact. We had a dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, for 14 years. We used 16,000 plastic sandwich bags in assembling our collection from the sidewalk. He also considered it an honor for us to pick it up.
Or, if it’s not coming out of a dog, it’s what going in. If there is one most favorite thing in the entire canine universe, it’s not loyalty, or companionship, or playing fetch. You know what it is:
Food food food
Food food food food
Who says a dog
Can’t write a love sonnet?
Our spaniel would eat anything. Anything. He’d leap at fireflies and Japanese beetles, loose pepperonis from a teenager’s pizza party, paper, and anything—anything—found on the floor. His favorite time of the day was dinner time—our dinner time. He’d station himself in front of the refrigerator, pretending to be asleep but actually looking for anything that might accidentally hit the floor. He had a three-second rule—if we couldn’t pick it up within three seconds, he owned it.
What he did for cats, Francesco Marciuliano has now done for dogs: I Could Chew on This: And Other Poems by Dogs. It could have been subtitled “The 14 Years of My Life Spent with Cody the Spaniel.” Marciuliano knows dogs. He must have known my dog. In this collection of poems, he thinks like a dog. I’m half-convinced he is a dog. The other half of me is convinced he’s a cat.
Dogs write poems about you going on a trip. (We had to hide the suitcases from ours, and sneak him off to the kennel so he wouldn’t realize what was happening). Dogs write poems about having anxiety attacks while you’re in the bathroom. (Ours did.) Dogs write poems about taking a bath. (After you taking a trip, baths are likely the most hated things by dogs.) Dogs write poems about stampeding to the door when the doorbell rings (Pavlov’s dog, part deux). Dogs write poems about smelling everything (everything). Dogs write poems about dog breath, and divorce, and licking, and sitting, and biting, and chewing, and going to the vet.
Dogs even write poems about meeting your date for the first time, as in “Hello”:
I’m sorry he’s out of breath
I’m sorry he’s in such distress
I’m sorry he’s in a fetal position
Sobbing on the floor
But you know if I could
I most certainly would
Give a head’s-up by yelling “CROTCH!”
Before greeting your date full-speed
at the door
Yes, Marciuliano knows dogs, and knows them well. And I’m amazed he got this group to stay calm long enough to write their poems down. But he did. And they’re wonderfully funny.
And every one is true.
Browse more poetry humor2