I work as a Development Writer for a children’s home, and one of the cottages is getting their girls to work on creative writing projects this summer. I offered to help out in any way I could because I have lots of writing prompts and different creative writing exercises from back in the day. I remembered this writing exercise my high school English teacher used to have us do, and I think it could be a lot of fun for a group of tween and teenaged girls. I can’t remember what she called it so I’m just going to call it “Stories in the Round.” She would give us the beginning of a sentence, we’d each complete the sentence, and then pass our paper to the next person who would write the next sentence, pass it, and so on.
It was fantastically fun, especially considering the fact that our class was small (not even 25 people) and we’d pretty much grown up together. The stories always went somewhere random and there were lots of inside jokes. Our senior year creative writing class compiled a book of our stories, essays, and other creative writing projects, and it included a couple of these “stories in the round.” Because I am a pack rat and because that class was probably my all-time favorite, I still have the book. So tonight I pulled it down to refresh my memory of the exercise and I ended up going on a real trip down memory lane.
I’ve got to share one of these Stories in the Round. This one was the most hilarious to us, and as I read it, I remembered the day we wrote it. Good times. I’m going to re-type it here. In the original, each person’s sentence is in a different font. Remember, this was the late ’90s and we enjoyed some pretty wild typefaces in that era. I’ll save you the Dalmatian-dotted font, ransom-note-style lettering, and Papyrus’s Egyptian great-grandmother, but remember that every sentence was written by a different kid.
Now that Labor Day weekend is over…
The dog is happy to see everyone back at home again. For some reason, the dog ate the neighbors. Mandy, the only neighbor who survived the massacre, has now dubbed herself Powerful Queen Lizzie! Suddenly, she and Charles rule not only Quinlan, but the world! On Fridays, they take time out of their buys schedules to rid the world of crime. Jennifer laughs loud and picks hard!1 Whenever she sees the smooth buffness, she is overcome by awe.
“Awe shucks,” said a not so casual observer. How does Jennifer pick hard? After years of hard picking, her nose has taken on a mutant shape of its own and her finger has an odd, pencil shape. Pencils are TK’s favorite writing utensils. Lauren, the waspcha hater, uses pencils to kill waspcha: Do you? After killing the waspcha, she moves on, killing Benito; he is finally dead!
“Bite mee,” said Benito, “I weel leeve forever!”
I think I remember the origins of most of these inside jokes, but I have no clue where waspcha came from….
Anyway, I’m hoping the girls will enjoy this. This exercise is one of the only things I remember about high school…I mean, no…I use what I learned all the time, especially the trigonometry.
1. Yes, that’s referring to me and my affinity for talking about and pretending to pick my nose. I was a connoisseur of something I liked to call the “pick and flick,” a delicate move where I…well, you can probably guess. No real boogers were involved, but still, that should effectively settle the mystery of why I didn’t date in high school.
I’m just going to come right out and say it: I have the best mom in the world1. She’s always been there for me, supporting me, telling me that I’m fantastic and can do anything I set my mind to.
Also, she lies.
She lies, as she would say, “like a dog in the grass” – not about anything important or life-altering, just little fibs I like to call “Mom Lies.” In my many travels, I have learned that pretty much all moms lie to their kids. Mostly when they’re little, because who wants to try to reason with a three-year-old…or an eight-year-old…and for damn sure, not a 13-year-old girl, hormones all akimbo. My mom has always been a champion Mom-Liar, and I’ve always been quite gullible. It’s just how I’m wired. So she was at an advantage from Day One.
One Mom Lie that left a particularly strong impression on my young psyche was when she told me that she had to use my whole life’s savings to pay for the library book I lost. At 6 years old, I knew that my grandmother put money in a savings account for me on every birthday and Christmas AND I had won a $25 savings bond for my sweet clown costume (made by my Memaw) at the Halloween costume contest at Brookshire’s (the local grocery store) so I just knew that there had to be a fortune in there, at least fifty whole dollars. I tried to figure out why a book would have cost so much money. My imagination took over, and I was convinced that there was a special warehouse for library books, with their little plastic covers. And I suspected that the plastic that covered all library books was a special, scientifically-proven, book-protecting plastic. Once the belief took root, it remained in a corner of my subconscious, unquestioned for…well, let’s just say entirely too many years. When I finally asked her about it, called her on her lie, her only response was, “Well, did you ever lose another library book?” No. I did not. Well played, Mom, well played.
Then, there was the time that we were on vacation in Galveston. We were staying at a hotel with an indoor pool that shared a wall of windows with the hotel’s restaurant. I was about five or six, probably. We had one of those awesome above-ground pools at our house, so I was a really good swimmer for my age. And I knew it. I flew past the “guppy” level at swim lessons, and power-stroked my way to “shark” in no time at all2.
Anyway, we were on vacation, and we were swimming in that indoor pool. I remember feeling like I’d been swimming for awhile, but still, when mom said it was time to go, I politely said, “Please, may I swim for a few more minutes?” No, wait, that wasn’t me. I whined, “Noooooooo…I’m not tired…I looooooove swimming…please don’t make me get out! Just five more minutes! Pleeeeeeeeaaaaaseeee!!!!” She looked around, towards the restaurant, where people were starting to show up for supper, then back to me with deep understanding and compassion in her eyes. She said, “I wish we could, but all of these people are coming to eat dinner. They’ll see you in the water and think you’re drowning because no one will be able to believe that a girl as little as you can swim so well.” I said, “Oooooh, well, I don’t want to scare people when they’re eating. Let’s go!” And I happily got out of the pool and dried off without any further argument.
I’m telling you, she’s good.
My friend, Laura, has great affection for another one of my mom’s Mom Lies, and by that, I mean, she loves to tease me about it to this day.
As a kid, I didn’t have much of an understanding of “indoor voice” vs. “outdoor voice.”3 I don’t know when she started it, but for as long as I can remember, when I was being loud, mom would say, “Be quiet. Don’t wake the baby.” Initially, I accepted this, saying “Oh, okay,” and lowering my voice. I thought I sure was being loud, and I would hate to wake up a poor little baby. By the time I was five, I realized there were no babies around us, and the exchange went more like this:
Me: “I’M TALKING! AND SINGING! AND LOUD!”
Mom: “Jennifer, be quiet. You’ll wake the baby.”
Me: “HA! I SHAN’T FALL FOR THAT AGAIN! THERE AREN’T ANY BABIES IN OUR HOUSE!”
Mom: “Well, somewhere there is a baby, and you are being so loud that you will wake it up.”
Me: “Oh, okay.”
This also remained effective for a little longer than it should have, and even after I figured out the truth, it stuck around, eventually becoming a joke. When we were in high school, Laura found out about “Don’t wake the baby.” It became one of her favorite things to say to me when I was being loud.
Well played again.
I look forward to the day, in the distant future, when we’re all getting around on jet packs, that I can use Mom Lies on my kids. Laura’s sister convinces her son to increase his protein intake by telling him that Buzz Lightyear can fly because he eats his meat. Laura’s got a daughter of her own now, and I know she’s going to use Mom Lies too. My husband said his mom had some Mom Lies of her own. Whenever he would beg to go to McDonald’s, she said, “They’re closed on Sundays.” And that answer satisfied him, even on Tuesday. Moms have skills, I’m telling you!
At this point, some of you might be thinking that parents should be honest with their children, tell them the reasons behind their decisions, and other hippie crap like that. And yes, most of the time, that’s probably true. But I’ll wager that someday, when you’ve got a whiny kid who just wants their way, and reasoning with the creature has failed on multiple occasions, and you just want to get to the part where they obey you, you’ll depend on a Mom Lie. Plus, “because I said so” is so uncreative and just plain lazy. And, moms, you’re better than that.
1. My dad is more awesome than yours too, but this is a story about my matrilineage.
2. That’s what he said. Heh.
3. Some might disagree with my use of the past tense here…
*Drumroll* I’ve returned to the world of blogging! What prompted this grand re-emergence, you may ask? Well, a few things: I’m married (i.e. no longer caught up in the swirling bridal vortex of wedding planning), mom’s cancer free and newly knee-ed, AND I’m reading the greatest book. Wait…I don’t want to build your hopes up so you’re expecting too much and get disappointed1. Soooo anyway…it’s this book…that’s not bad, not bad at all.
Adam told me about the book before he read it, and I was instantly jealous that I didn’t think to write this book first. Actually, we both were. It’s about growing up in the ’90s; being an evangelical, conservative Christian who grew up to be a postmodern Christian; and being a Christian music lover and a Christian music lover2, and if the blurbs on the back prove true, then he managed to write about his teenage self and evangelical Christianity and the CCM machine and how his faith perspective evolved with affection, compassion, and a great sense of humor. I consoled myself with the hope that Adam would read it, and it would suck, and I could still write my own version5. But he read it, and loved it, and you can read his review here.
Adam told me that I had to read it. I read the introduction, and I got annoyed that it was so funny and true. I put the book down and swore never to read it6. But it sat there. On the coffee table. Staring at me. Calling to me with its siren’s song references to Sixpence None the Richer, Hoi Polloi, Smashing Pumpkins, DC Talk, Sufjan Stevens, and Death Cab for Cutie. He even mentioned Morella’s Forest. Unable to resist, I started reading the book yesterday, and I love it. I’m amazed at how he can feel so much affection for his teenage self, for Jesus Freak, for Michael W. Smith’s “Place in This World.” He writes about True Love Waits cards and 7Ball magazine and James Dobson, and it’s funny without being mocking7.
It makes me feel simultaneously inspired, envious, and intimidated. But mostly, I feel inspired. Thus, this blog post about a book when I’ve only read 3 chapters of it. I’m looking forward to reading about the rest of his journey.
And it makes me think that, with a little more perspective, I can write about my journey, because that’s what I wanted to do with this blog in the first place. So, we’ll see where it goes. I already have ideas for another couple of posts8. So maybe by the end of 2011, the post count for this blog will be up to 5! #aspirations
1. Thanks, everyone who saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World before me.
2. The italics are his way of making the distinction, and it’s so apt that I am copying it shamelessly here3.
3. The incessant footnoting, I’m shamelessly copying from postmodern writers everywhere. Although I have a feeling that scrolling back and forth on this blog post is a little more annoying than looking at the bottom of a page…but less annoying than end notes4.
4. Infinite Jest, I’m looking at you.
5. I definitely earned some bad writer-ly karma there.
6. Essentially telling the book, “Screw you guys; I’m going home,” like the mature 30-year-old that I am.
7. Well, not too mocking.
8. “Mom Lies”! And Viper Petting Zoos!
The story I am about to tell you is probably my all time favorite high school story and the closest thing I have to being an irresponsible, daring teenager. But before I can tell you Our Truck Story, I have to tell you THE Truck Story.
My best friend Laura’s dad was the high school science teacher at our small Christian school. He was (and still is) one of the favorite teachers at that school. He could make science interesting and he had certain traditions that were legendary. (Making peanut brittle in chemistry? Awesome!) The Truck Story was one of them. There is absolutely no way I can do the story justice, but I will attempt it.
In addition to being a science teacher, Mr. W had a dairy farm. On this farm, he had an old truck that he used to get around on the farm, move hay bales, and other, uh, farm-ly duties. (I may be from the country, but I’m quite ignorant of actual farm life.) Over time, different parts of the truck wore out, but it still ran. You just had to do certain things differently. For example, in order to crank the engine, you had to actually go under the hood and start it with a screwdriver. It was something he’d done a hundred times, but one day, something different happened. He opened the hood, started the car, and another problem reared its head. The throttle got stuck and the engine roared. Nothing too out of the ordinary, so he slammed the hood, and then yet another problem emerged.
The clutch tended to slip the car into gear sometimes, and when he slammed the hood, the car slipped into reverse, and since the throttle was stuck, the truck took off, barreling backwards across their yard. Then, it hit a pole, shifted into drive, charged Mr. W, and then veered off into the pasture. The last thing he saw was the truck, continuing to accelerate, going over an embankment and through his neighbor’s fence. He eventually found it a half a mile from his house, through five fences and a swamp. It had climbed a utility pole and was quietly idling.
It’s so much better to hear him tell it, and over the years, he has really refined the story. It became one of those legendary traditions, and every year, all of his classes begged to hear it. We heard it in 7th grade Life Science, 9th grade Physical Science, and 10th grade Biology.
The summer after our 10th grade year, Steve, Cody, Laura, and I were hanging out at her house, and we decided to go for a ride in the legendary truck. Laura and Steve were in the front, and Cody and I were in the back. Over the years, a hole had worn in the middle of the bed of the truck, and some barbed wire to repair fences was stored in a loop around the hole. I didn’t think much of it and took my perch on the side of the truck. Laura took off into their huge open yard, bouncing over dips and bumps and continuing to accelerate. She kept going faster and faster, sharply turning left and right.
I went from sitting on the edge of the truck, to sitting on the tire hump, to eventually bouncing on the bed of the truck, trying to avoid the barbed wire and the huge hole in the middle of the bed of the truck, and Cody was no help at all. He was in the same situation on the opposite side of the truck. I was screaming, Cody was yelling, and we were both holding on for dear life. At this point, Steve stuck his arm out the passenger side window and sprayed something at us. Since I was screaming, it got all in my mouth. Then, mercifully, Laura slowed down. I scrambled back onto the tire hump and away from the barbed wire, and she banged on the side of the truck. I knew exactly what that meant…it was the signal to her old dog, Lady, to jump into the bed of the truck.
Let me take an aside here and tell you a little bit about Lady. She was a hound dog mutt that they had reluctantly started feeding a few years back. I loved dogs, and I was always very affectionate with Lady. She was sweet, if somewhat dim. She seemed to be perpetually pregnant, but she was a poor mother. In an effort to protect her pups from the hot Texas sun, she would carry them off, hide them, and bury them in the dirt, where they were almost always suffocated before anyone could find them. She also had the largest…well, my mom called them “dinners”…that I had ever seen. They sagged nearly to the ground and were generally leaking. Sorry to be so graphic, but the mental picture is essential to the story.
So…Cody and I were in the back of the truck. Lady jumped in too, and Laura took off again, seemingly going faster than before across bumpy pasture land. Of course, Lady was excited to see me, and when I started screaming again, barbed wire still poking my butt, she licked my face and essentially got to first base with me. I screamed at Cody to help me, but he shook his head, mouth shut tightly, trying to avoid Lady’s advances as well as the barbed wire and whatever Steve was spraying at us.
Eventually, the truck ride ended, and that’s when we found out Steve said he would give Laura $5 if she could throw one of us from the truck. He sprayed tire sealant at us in an attempt to help her out.
Twelve years later, Cody, Steve, Laura and I are all still friends, and, whenever we are all in town at the same time, we almost always rehash this story. Usually, it’s me telling the story because I still get so animated, so outraged that tire sealant was sprayed in my mouth, that barbed wire poked my butt, that a dog gave me my first kiss. It’s been a good way to initiate the significant others who have come on the scene. The last time we revisited that night, telling Steve’s now-wife about our crazy high school shenanigans, I looked around at my friends and realized that we’ve all changed a lot, and our friendships have changed too. But we still laughed at that story like we’re hearing it for the first time.
Life has settled down somewhat. I’m still planning a wedding for July, but I’m no longer afraid that one of the people I love the most in the world is dying…so I’m ready to start this blog. I know I said I’d post a “found story” to center the theme for several posts, but those really take a lot of work on my part…and a lot of reading, something I don’t have as much time for as I would like. And a big part of the point of me doing this was to get me writing again in my own words, not just rearranging other people’s. In calling this blog “Found Stories” I feel that I’ve freed myself from being constrained to chronology so I’ll just be telling the stories as I think of them (or find them, if you will).
I don’t have a lot of stories about youthful hijinks like a lot of people. I pretty much colored inside the lines and often acted as an ostrich, burying my head in the shelter of the black and white world that is really easy to find in evangelical circles1. A wild weekend in my world might have consisted of toilet papering a house or playing a rousing game of dominoes until 2 in the morning with my friends and their grandparents2. Or if I was feeling really daring, I’d drink a lot of Dr. Pepper and drive around our small town, letting my friends stand up in the sun roof of my car while I drove at 30 miles an hour3.
I might get into telling some stories of growing up at a conservative, evangelical Christian school and ending up a potty-mouthed Jesus-lover with hippie tendencies and lots of questions about the world. But really, I created this blog with the intention to look back and tell the stories about that well-meaning girl, her friends, her family, and her hometown.
1. I’ve since learned that not all evangelicals see the world in black and white, but after 15 years entrenched in that subculture, I think it’s fair to say that there is a lot of that flavor of Kool-Aid, if you want to drink it.
2. I don’t mean to sound like I’m mocking that. Those are actually some of my favorite memories. I learned a lot from them. Now that I’ve been a city-girl for several years, I realize how lucky my friends and I were to have grandparents around all the time. A perk of staying in a small-town, I suppose, or maybe just always staying close to home.
3. There’s a little bit of mocking here. I hated that my friends wanted to stand up in the sun roof. I was always afraid I would drive under a tree and they’d get beheaded or something. Yes, I’m a little crazy.
Due to family situations, work situations, and life situations, I will not be starting this blog for at least another month. It’s a good thing I’ve only told my fiance about it. I’d hate to disappoint the legions of readers I know I’ll have upon my “official launch.” In short:
Wedding Planning > Blogging
For now, at least.
I will be officially starting this blog on January 6th, 2010. In the meantime, you can visit the About page to get an idea of what to expect.
Thanks to my wonderful boyfriend for encouraging me to write down the stories I’ve been telling him.
Thanks for stopping by!