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Archive for the ‘clowns are evil’ Category

As you may have guessed from the wholly stupid title, I’m having the worst trouble trying to write this blog entry. I want desperately to recap my Young Writers seminar from Tuesday, but the more I try to write about writers and writing the more I sound like somebody who would be kicked off the school newspaper for sheer writerly ineptitude.

I love writing. I love almost anything to do with writing. I never feel more at ease than when I’m writing or discussing writing with other writers. That’s why it was a total slice of heaven to participate in this group. 48 middle schoolers from Williamson County met at the Franklin Ag Expo to talk about their writing. I got to meet with 18 of them in groups of six; each student read his or her work aloud and we all complimented and constructively criticised the papers.

Going into it I was nervous about the “constructive criticism” part. Writing is such a personal exercise, and middle-schoolers are at a vulnerable age. I went into the day deciding that we’d first go around the circle with everyone saying something they liked about the piece. I then asked if anyone had anything they would “add or change to make the piece stronger.” In groups that hadn’t yet built up the trust level to enable heavy editing and criticism I figured that was the most reasonable way to approach it. At the end of the day I was amused by several students who said they thought the “writers were too nice and didn’t criticise them enough so their work wouldn’t get better.”

I am rarely called “too nice” by anyone. Rarely. Almost never. Don’t get me wrong; I’m nice. But I’m also your classic INTJ. If there’s a way to fix something–even that which isn’t broken–I feel compelled to suggest it.

Really though, most of the work was excellent. There was only one piece which felt at all substandard to me. But the young person who presented it was so enthusastic about both the work and the process that I felt any harsher criticism about the work–especially in front of that young person’s peers–would be more devastating than constructive.

I found all of the pieces fascinating from a psychological perspective. There was a lot of wish-fulfillment…family homes turned into mansions, little girls owned ponies and flew to Paris to live for years. Depressed fathers who made their daughters sad were killed by the Nazis(!).

I saved one paper for nm to read, now that I think of it. One student wrote about the Holocaust, and in quite vivid detail. It even has a poem in conclusion.

The more I think about it the more I think I would enjoy being a middle school english teacher. If I could get out of bed every day at 6:00am. Since that’ll never happen, I suppose I’ll just hope they ask me back next year. One day a year getting up that early shouldn’t be too bad.

Funny bits throughout the day:

  • I got there early, and so I volunteered to pitch in with some of the set-up work. I got designated to make the coffee and followed the coordinator around the building looking for a sink. When she couldn’t find the kitchen she suggested to me that I fill the coffee pots in the bathroom. Those of you who know me realise that just about gave me a heart attack. I expected to find out that there would then be a clown for morning assembly. None of you will be surprised to hear that I filled both coffee urns from the water fountains.
  • Each table had a colour and a symbol in order to make it “funner”, I guess. There were 7 tables–instead of being numbered 1-7 or labelled A-whatever the 7th letter of the alphabet is I’m not gonna sing the song to myself to count it out, we were purple ferns or red stars or, in my case, brown paws. I was already wearing my James Thurber Dog reading a book shirt, so I figured I’d go with the paw print. It reminded me of my sister and “Brian’s Table.” (inside joke…)
  • Each table also had a basket filled with souvenier writing utensils. I think somebody’s husband is a doctor or pharmaceutical rep, because all of them were advertising a drug. I’m sure there were parents all over Williamson County on Tuesday night who were wondering why their 11 and 12 year old daughters brought home Ortho Tricyclen pens.

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I owe Sarcastro big time. I wanted “Tears Of A Clown” out of my head, and he obliged with a blog post which made me think of Highway 61 Revisited instead. I’d rather ponder on a Dylan brainworm any day.

But he wrongfully claims that the creepiest episode of Little House On The Prairie was the one with Pa Ingalls leaving his baby boy to die on a mountain.

That is clearly because our dear friend Sarcastro has forgotten the Raping Clown.

I had nightmares about that show for YEARS.

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I love all of you. Okay, maybe not all. But most, anyway.

And I love the events where we all come out of our Fortresses of Introversion and do the whole “I want to talk to you, but I’d rather do so over the computer” thing. Because we always have such a good time. It’s like you WANT to be shy and then you remember you’ve heard all about this one’s surgical procedure and that one’s embarrassing date and Grace’s, er, activities. So what do you REALLY have to be embarrassed about, right?

But I’m sorry. I could not go to the picnic today. I had a good reason, in that medical science has now proved I am part vampire. Or one of those creepy children from that Nicole Kidman movie where they’re all dead but they don’t know it yet. Whichever–I can’t be in the sun for very long.

Oh, and I really don’t like picnics. They make me feel awkward, because there is no food there which isn’t either messy or vaguely phallic. And then there are bugs. It all just makes me want to go inside and read a book.

I was feeling really bad about missing today’s festivities. Because I like you all enough to brave ants and bean stains on my boobs. And then I found out about the kickball.

ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY FRAKKIN’ KIDDING ME?!? THERE WAS KICKBALL?

KICKBALL?!?!!!!!!

Next time why not bring clown ventriloquists and Mrs. Miller, my 8th grade typing teacher? Then it would be a perfect re-enactment of Kat’s Own Personal Nightmares Of Hell.

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Why Newscoma Rocks

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Any woman who deftly pays tribute to both my recurrent insomnia and my coulrophobia while bringing me tokens of joy is the utter bomb.

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I’ve had this argument before, most memorably with Jason and again with Aunt B.. I generally think that outside of an epic novel context, it’s a bit strange to have people apologising on behalf of someone else to someone who accepts the apology on behalf of yet another person. Sure, it makes for good storytelling when you’ve got Peter Smith apologising to Paul Jones for Peter’s grandfather taking Paul’s grandfather’s land back in chapter six.

In real life, though, I think it’s an arrogant thing to do. Because if you are apologising on behalf of another person, what you are really doing is saying “look at how bad that fellow is, and how good I am instead! Why, I’ve got such a finely-honed sense of honor that I will apologise on behalf of THAT guy over there! Aren’t I something?”

I bring all of this up again because my fellow Mennonites are just tickled pink over an apology they received from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. When I first read the headline–“Mennonite Church USA accepts Lutheran Apology”–I thought there was some interesting skullduggery involving a co-opted pavilion and dueling carry-in dinners. But no. It’s the Lutherans (in America) apologising to the the Mennonites (in America) for the persecution of Anabaptists (in Germany and Switzerland about 400 years ago.)

Even more appalling is that

From 2002 to 2004 a liaison committee with four individuals from each denomination met five times, charged in part with the task of seeking ways to heal the memories of 16th century conflict.

Please. Just please. We’re all supposed to be Christians. Frankly, I’m embarrassed at the thought of other Mennonites who are still dwelling on the Martyrs instead of forgiving in Grace those who persecuted us in the past. I’m embarrassed at the thought of there being an actual COMMITTEE who sits around and ponders these things. But most of all, I’m embarrassed that there may be people on both sides of the issue who think that they personally can right the wrongs which are four centuries old. That they need to continually look backward and inward instead of looking outward to heal our present communities.

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There are now no fewer than 8 topics I wish to write about here on the blog but cannot address for fear of offending someone. Part of this stems from the fact that it seems that nearly everyone I know now reads my blog. My parents and extended family included. I cannot now say “ass” without fear of retribution over Christmas pie. (No. We don’t really have “Christmas pie.” But I like the word “pie” and am striving to use it regularly.)

And suddenly I think I’ve stumbled over the truth behind the truth about writing. Many of history’s Great Writers have had horrible family lives. Sucks for them, but they get great books out of it, I suppose. After all, what would The Great Santini have been like if it were not for Pat Conroy’s hell-for-leather father? I know people talk about how the pain fuels creativity, etc. But frankly I think it’s just because the people with Bad Families aren’t afraid they’re going to piss someone off.

I didn’t have a Bad Family. And I’m afraid of pissing people off. That’s why one of my best entries has been stagnating in the back of my head. My mother forbade me to mention it “on that Blog!” because she thought I would be making fun of the uncle in question. Yet here I sit, realising that I must-must-must tell about How My Great Childhood Enemy was finally vanquished.

One of my uncles was a travelling preacher who also had a television show. On that television show he played a pirate. Now, many pirates have parrots or peg-legs or patches over their eyes. Those are things you expect from faux buccaneers. Not my uncle. He had a dummy called Seasick. Now, I really do like this uncle, because he’s expansive and flamboyant–qualities I myself have been known to possess. However, I think he woefully misjudged his 4-year old niece when he showed her the dummy corpselike in a box underneath her bed. I promise you that as creepy as a dummy is when it’s chatting away on the ventriloquist’s lap it is a dozen times more horrifying laying in a box. Its lifeless body stares up at you with a malevolent grin; its box a tiny coffin full of form-fitting foam rubber.

I think my Pirate Uncle thought he was giving me a treat by giving me a backstage pass to his act. Sadly, that is not the way it played out. Unaware of my clown phobia and my general creeped-outness from baby dolls, he presented me with the ultimate in terror. A clown doll-baby. Heaven help my heart.

Anyway, 33 years later I was riding down a winding road with my parents and sister, talking about the this and that of life when all of a sudden my mother drops the glorious fact in my lap. My Pirate Uncle actually burned Seasick the Dummy. Not touching-the-hot-stove-burned, but blazing-conflagration-burned.

Huzzah.

No, I don’t have a bad family. But I think my Good Family is how many families happen. My uncle was dealing with me under the best of intentions. He didn’t know I was crazy, and despite his good intentions he left me frightened. But he left me with a good story, and I suppose for a writer that’s better than the best intentions could ever turn out to be.

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On my visit to Indiana, my parents treated me to a night of regional community theatre. Now, I love theatre and once hoped to make a living at it. Then I realised I didn’t want that life, so now I just content myself with going to plays and jealously critiquing the performances. There’s nothing quite like an evening of “I could do that SO much better”, coupled with chocolate and softdrinks.

But I’m not here to discuss the play. I’m here to discuss the people behind us–the peanut gallery.

This was a small town theatre in the heart of Indiana, and the contingent from my little family seemed to be the only people that didn’t know absolutely everyone else in the room. I told my mother and sister afterward that I felt as though I’d fallen into a Shirley Jackson story and was afraid we’d all be tied up in a wicker man or something. At several points throughout the evening I felt like we’d walked into a heartland version of Twin Peaks. It’s not that the town and theatre weren’t nice–they were lovely. It’s just somewhat discomfiting to find yourselves in a crowd where everyone else seems to know everything about everybody else who walks in the door.

The row of people behind us were no different, and their main topic of conversation seemed to be the departure of the teenagers behind us for various branches of Indiana University. The boy was going to Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne (IPFW to those in the know) to major in “er, computers” for “I dunno”. His girlfriend was going to IU-Bloomington to major in Theatre, even though she had recently fallen in love with Fashion Design–so much so that she bought a dress form! (The dress form was big news. Me, personally, I’m creeped out by dress-forms. They’re sort of like the Venus De Milo of Ventriloquist dummies.)

We heard all about how they were going to allow their relationship to be open, since they were going to be so far apart. (It’s like a 2.5 hour drive…) But the part that got me right between the eyes was when Ms. Dress Form began to talk about her roommate.

I don’t know who it is. My mom said I’ll probably get stuck with some fat twerp. Which would be bad, because I run every morning.

Now, pardon me, but that whole sentence struck me as about the equivalent of saying “I’ll probably get stuck with some n—-r. Which would be bad because I don’t eat watermelon.” Or “I’ll probably get stuck with some f–, which would be bad because I don’t like Barbra Streisand.” I’m fat, but I’m only occasionally twerpy (I can give you the list of days each month which are forecast for “heavily twerpy”) and I work out almost every day. So Dress-Form clearly has a pile of prejudice that perhaps college will help educate out of her.

The funniest part? The woman she was talking to was fatter than I am.

Maybe what Aunt B says about IU students is more true than I realised…

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