A friend of mine posted the following photo on Facebook recently and I thought for sure that it must be something that the internet made up. And well played, internet, because that is hilarious!
Then I did a little investigating and discovered that this game is real. It turns out, it is not x-rated and despite it’s name and misleading drawing, involves neither vaginas nor blow jobs. In fact, a quick youtube search will show families of all ages, playing this game in all seriousness. In a completely G-rated way! I kind of want to ask my grandmother if she used to play this game, but don’t know if I could actually get through all the words necessary to ask.
It started with a love affair. Not that kind of love affair. He is happily married to Amanda Palmer and they are probably one of my favorite couples ever. Also, he and I have never met. It was a literary love affair that began our friendship. It was the kind that envelopes you with words and stories and it is the best kind of love. He filled my world with adventure and fantasy. His characters taught me how to be brave and he inspired me to make great art. His words provoke the “NOOOOOOOOOOO”‘s and loud plea’s to read “JUST ONE MORE CHAPTER!!!” from my students. He is ridiculous and serous and beautiful and dark and wonderful.
So I tweeted him.
AND HE RESPONDED!
I may have caused a slight scene in the cafe where I was meeting with a friend and the notification appeared on my phone. NEIL GAIMAN, the name that appears in at least 2 books currently on my bedside table alone. NEIL GAIMAN who I adore and love and who I am currently reading to my students!! My co-workers did not all understand, which was fine, because when I told my students the next day, they TOTALLY FLIPPED OUT WITH ME! Because they are the best kind of 10 year old nerds.
AND WITHIN 10 MINUTES HE RESPONDED! That’s just the kind of guy Neil Gaiman is.
What is so cool about this (there are SO many cool parts about this) is that this isn’t just some author. Neil is an author who’s work my students will read for the rest of their lives. They will learn to be brave from Coraline and bask in the silliness of Fortunately, The Milk and as they grow and age, they will continue to explore the worlds he has creates for us. They will have their own love affairs with his characters and stories.
Except I did start to worry that this was too good to be true. So I casually started tweeting directions both to be useful and also as a way of saying, “remember that time you told me you would donate your handwriting to my students and I am totally hoping that you really meant that?” I don’ know why I question the intentions of my best friend, Neil (I’m assuming he and I are now best friends), because he sent this.
And a week later he sent me this. It is unrealistically perfect and is currently in the process of being t-shirtified for the Phoenixes along with an amazing drawing to go with it.
I have done some strange things in my day, but nothing has quite contorted the faces of my friends as telling them that I was going to spend my Saturday night learning how to Taxidermy a mouse. I got a lot of “Ewwww’s” and “Don’t invite me to that” or “You have such an….interesting life.” In my defense, I am not the only weirdo out there intrigued by skinning and stuffing a dead animal. Taxidermy is hitting scenes (and more than just hipstery scenes, I think) and growing in popularity. I figured I would try it out and see if I could do it. Because I wasn’t sure I could.
For starters, the mice were dead when I procured them. They are feeder mice for snakes and I bought them in the freezer section of Petco. Not that I’m against the killing of mice (or rats), but that’s only when they are invading my apartment. I also read a lot of internet instructions and watched some helpful (and some unhelpful) youtube videos. According to the interweb, taxidermying a mouse is as simple as skinning it and then stuffing it. So I gave it a whirl. And you know what? I didn’t even get barfy!
Step 1: procure mice.
Step 2: Assemble supplies, most of which I already had in my nail care or sewing box, which was convenient. Supplies include small scissors, tweezers, cotton balls, wire, pins, and borax (which Target sells). I also covered my table with paper and used paper plates as a “work station”.
Step 3: Clean mice with borax. Because no one wants a bloody stuffed mouse, unless you are recreating the cast of Fight Club in mouse form, in which case, do not clean mice.
Step 4: Make mouse out of cotton balls, wire and pins (for the eyes).
Step 5: Cut open mouse. I used the scissors to cut along the back from neck to butt. The thing I found out about Taxidermy is that I thought it would be all blood and guts and my barf all over my kitchen table, but it’s just skinning and keeping all of the blood and guts intact. Sort of like cartoons where the animal unzips its skin, except you are unzipping it for them with the scissors you use to trim your cuticles. Then take awkward selfie with the skinned mouse because you aren’t sure you friends think you’re weird enough already. Also, proof!
Step 6: (optional) Decide that a mouse skin would make a great finger puppet…FOR NIGHTMARES!
Step 7: Stuff mouse with cotton ball mouse and sew up. Celebrate with less terrifying selfies with your mouse.
I might have left out a few details and descriptors, but you can find all of that with an easy google search should you decide to gather some of your best and weirdest friends and stuff some mice. I’m not sure I’ll make a habit of taxidermy, but I loved trying it out and discovering another skill I am capable of.
For a long time I have wanted a scooter, both for practical and whimsically romantic reasons. So I bought one. It is both wonderful and whimsical, almost always practical and makes me wildly happy….most of the time. Sometimes it does not make me wildly happy and it has forced me to learn new things and venture into experiences far outside of my comfort zone.
(I wrote this bit a while back)
“A few weeks ago I bought a scooter with a broken battery and possibly some other problems, but maybe it’s because I’m the kind of person who said to the fella selling it, “Wow, this is perfect. It’s totally badass but also something Audrey Hepburn would drive. I’ll take it!” Because that’s what I look for in a scooter. I ended up going with a faster kind of scooter (a Yamaha Vino 125cc) because it seems like it would be safer to actually keep up with traffic on the roads or be able to speed up to avoid precarious situations, but it also means obtaining a motorcycle license, so last weekend I signed up for the class. I was admittedly terrified going into the weekend. Pretending to be Audrey Hepburn and imagining Gregory Peck on the back of my scooter as I buzz around Rome (or Austin) is one thing, but riding a genuine motorcycle? Scary. I had nightmares of terrible crashes or just standing there while the bike dropped to the ground next to me and they were all “PICK IT UP!!” and I was all “IT’S TOO HEAVY!!” and then they all stared at me as I struggled with a million ton bike until I woke up.
As it turns out though, I’m kind of awesome at motorcycles. They are not entirely as complicated as I imagined, I didn’t drop or crash a single one (or even come close) and I totally get the thrill. Because it is such a thrill! And I passed my class (with flying colors!) and felt like a total badass!! BECAUSE I AM A TOTAL BADASS.
Except there was still the situation of my adorable scooter –sans battery.
Still high off of the thrill of my class, or the maybe the fumes from the bikes, I decided to take on this battery situation myself. I also didn’t have anyone else to call. No matter, I could do this! I didn’t need some handy boy to do it for me! I googled the manual, busted out my tools and within no time, had that sucker switched out! HELLS YEAH!
But it still didn’t start. And despite how awesome I was feeling about my mechanical abilities, I had this terrible feeling that maybe it was because I didn’t actually know how to turn on my own scooter, which is different than a motorcycle and I felt totally embarrassed sitting in the middle of my parking lot not turning on my scooter over and over again. I consulted my manual and made some adjustments. It sounded like it wanted to start, but it wouldn’t. It couldn’t. Then I called my mom crying, and once she had helped me pull myself together, I asked her to pray to all of the magical fairies and unicorns with me and I gave it another go. It sputtered and revved and then it rumbled and started!!”
Then I spent the summer riding around with a giant goofy grin on my face. BECAUSE SCOOTER!!
Except, on occasion, my scooter still doesn’t like to start, and praying to all of the magical fairies and unicorns doesn’t always work. So I learned how to replace the spark plug (after googling what a spark plug is and still only vaguely understanding it) and it wasn’t so bad and I thought to myself, I AM SO FUCKING HANDY! And it felt good to feel so fucking handy!
A few weeks ago I was out riding in my neighborhood when a good portion of the handle that is responsible for connecting the clutch and brakes suddenly came loose. My investigations while pulled over to the side of the road found that the metal had completely broken, which doesn’t seem like something that my manual or a youtube video was going to help me with. Certainly not all the magical fairies and unicorns. Fortunately, I had taken to carrying a screwdriver in my seat and I was able to sort of wedge it loosely back into place. I am also a total cheapskate and had repaired the ever growing tear on my seat with black duct tape. THANK GOD! I tore bits of my classy repair job off and began wrapping up the handle and made it all the way home. I’m muthafuckin MacGyver!
My scooter is still being held together with duct tape. I reinforced it when I got home and I don’t venture further than the grocery store a few blocks up the road. One of these days I will leave my job before 5:00pm and take it to the welders to be permanently patched up and she can go back to being my practical and whimsically romantic scooter that I will ride while imagining Gregory Peck on the back.
As frustrating as all of these breaks and tears have been, I have also sort of loved them. I might have at one point thrown my screwdriver across my parking lot and screamed, “WHY DON’T I HAVE A FUCKING BOYFRIEND TO DO THIS FOR ME??” because sometimes it would be nice to have a boy around to fix broken things and open that pickle jar that is still sitting unopened in my cupboard. But I also like that I have learned how to do it myself and discovered that I am more handy than I ever gave myself credit for. I never would have learned if there’d been someone there to do it for me. The satisfaction of being able to change a spark plug or battery or successfully duct tape my clutch back into place is as giddy inducing as when I am cruising down the road with the wind in my face. She looks a little worse for wear, but then again, sometimes so do I. It makes us a little bit perfect for each other.
And someday I’ll make my boyfriend bring me a cold beer while I am fixing up whatever the current ailment of my scooter and he will pray to all the magical fairies and unicorns with me when it almost wants to start but can’t.
Like any good literary nerd, I keep two stacks of books on my bedside table. The first is a stack of my current reads and can range anywhere from 3-9 (or more). It is a constantly rotating stack of fiction, teacher books, children’s literature, etc. The second is a stack of favorites that have taken up permanent residence both on my table and in my soul. They are the books that I reach for when I need inspiration or a good literary fix. They are works I crave, words I need. My current stack includes short stories by Pam Houston and Neil Gaiman, poetry (because every bed side table should have poetry), and Lincoln. Because Lincoln. The Tim Burton poems are my favorite and I have been known to bust them out to read aloud to overnight guests, which is only sometimes appropriate. Oh, and on top I keep a Sonic Screwdriver. Obviously.
I started writing in a journal the other night. I regularly start journals and rarely write in them for more than an entry or two. I am wretched at journaling. I’ve tried every combination of journal and writing tool, hoping the right blend will inspire me to fill shelves full of journals with chronicles of my life and bits of creativity and genius. I tried moleskins because those are cool and literary feeling and I think I heard somewhere that’s what Ernest Hemingway used. I’ve tried cute journals with drawings on the cover, school spirals, small notebooks, large notebooks, digital journals. My current journal is a composition notebook because I am a teacher and have a cupboard full of them. I am writing with a Bic blue ballpoint pen because that is ALL I can write with these days.
Except I am still crap at journaling.
I have realized that the problem isn’t so much the medium on and with which I am writing, but what I am writing. I have a crippling fear of actually extracting the thoughts in my brain and putting them on paper. Writing my thoughts gives them voice and makes them real and when they are real they can be judged and that is terrifying. I once went through all my old diaries and partial journals from my childhood and burned them because I was so afraid of someone finding them and reading about the crush I had on Peter when I was in the 7th grade or reading what was going through my head while my body went through puberty. Because that shit was crazy. While I wear so much of my life out loud, I deeply guard so much of myself. With really big chains!
So I am trying with this new journal. I am trying to step outside my fear and write every day. I am going to write ideas that are terrible and write stories that are honest. Maybe this time I will fill a journal, and even someday, a shelf. My mom will always call all of it genius.
Update: I have totally been sticking with this new journal. Maybe it’s only been 3 days, but I am going to celebrate small victories in the hopes that I keep going. I have, however, taken to hiding it in my apartment when I don’t have it with me because I have a completely irrational fear that my few friends with keys to my place are going to call up each other when I’m not home and be all, “Hey, let’s go hang out at Amanda’s and catch up on her latest journal entries because that shit is Bravo TV style crazy. I’ll bring the wine.” It’s probably more TLC style crazy because I haven’t had enough plastic surgery or wear a wig (except in a few weeks at comic con) and at least one of my entries is about pooping.
Last year I sat on the carpet with a fresh group of fourth graders and with marker and paper in hand, we began the tradition of brainstorming what our class name would be. “Miss G’s Giraffe’s” and “Miss G’s Gerbils” made the list, but nothing seemed worthy of making the cut. Alliteration is fine and all, but this was to be our identity for the year and we needed something that felt right. And then one student raised her hand and said, “How about the Phoenixes. I mean, we aren’t always perfect and we definitely mess up and have bad days, but just like a phoenix, we always get to start over.” Throughout the year, I watched as the Phoenix allowed us to forge incredible bonds and become so much more than the design on our shirt. We took risks, faced fears, looked out for each other, celebrated successes and offered encouragement and helping hands. We had each other’s backs because we were all in this together. We were Phoenixes.
We are still phoenixes. Another group has joined our classroom nest and we are once again sitting on the carpet with marker and paper in hand. Only this time, it is to come up with a Phoenix slogan and decide on important details like color scheme and font. One student lamented today, “I wish we could get it in Neil Gaiman’s handwriting. That would be better than any font” And suddenly the room was filled with the cacophonous agreement of 19 ten year olds all shouting (because 10 year olds only shout) “YES!! That would be the best!”
These kids are that cool. They are literary nerds and book worms. They totally get why I have a full size TARDIS door in my classroom and think I should frame the tweet you sent me last week and hang it on the wall. These are kids who come from all kinds of diverse backgrounds and academic levels, and who see the world in so many different and magical ways. They will try every plea and bribe hoping I will read “Just one more chapter! PLEEEEASE!!” of whatever story I am reading aloud. This week we are in Coraline’s world. We will enter many more Gaiman worlds before the year is over.
So, from 19 amazing ten year olds who are daring to face fears and take risks, knowing that failure and success are all part of the academic journey, we are wondering if you would lend us your handwriting for our t-shirts. They have decided to go with the chant we say at the end of each day:
”Rising From The Ashes, Phoenixes On Fire!”
It will be accompanied by a stellar drawing from one of the students. We promise to send you one of the shirts and dub you an honorary Phoenix. Even if you don’t, we’ll still probably dub you one anyway. We’re a pretty welcoming crew.
Thank you for your consideration, your creativity, and your stories.
Ms. G and the Phoenixes
UPDATE: Neil is the BEST and responded within minutes! My students and I totally flipped! What a top notch guy!
When I want my students to listen to directions (ALL of the directions), I tell them that they cannot move until I finish and say the magic word. The first time I said this they immediately wanted to know what the magic word was. Truthfully, I had no plan and was totally bullshitting. And when they made me stop and think of it, I didn’t want to tell them any old word because then they would start moving without my finishing directions and they’d be all, But you just said the word! Because 10 year olds are all about semantics. So I said, You’ll know it when you hear it.
When that time came I realized I hadn’t actually come up with a word, so at the top of my lungs I shouted out the most magical thing I could think of. UNICORN!!!!! And then I got my unicorn figurine from the bin of toys I keep behind my desk (but don’t let my students play with) and put him up on the screen with the projector.
Now my students won’t do anything until the unicorn dictates it. Because magic. And pooping rainbows (which sometimes I will scream in class, just because).
Last month my appendix decided it no longer wanted in on our relationship and it was decided that it should be removed. It was a terrifying experience and one that I was entirely unprepared for. I had driven myself to the emergency room thinking this was going to be an expensive way for a doctor to tell me it was nothing or that I just needed to fart. Instead, they told me they would be removing an organ from my body and they were prepping the OR immediately. It was overwhelming and scary and lonely and I couldn’t help but cry. Maybe a lot. I assured the nurse that I was being brave, even though there were tears on my face. She told me that I was definitely brave. That made me cry more.
A friend of mine showed up to hold my hand and tell me that everything was going to be all right. I’m not sure what I would have done if he hadn’t been there. For sure it would have involved many more tears than there already were. But even he couldn’t be there for all of it. At some point, they make the kind friend go to a waiting room and then wheel me down a long, scary, fluorescent-lit hall way to an operating room.
I assume that everyone channels someone or something when they are scared and being forced into bravery. Maybe it’s a person or a mantra. Mine was Coraline Jones. Spunky, blue-haired literary character who faces evil “other mother’s” while wearing yellow rain boots. That entire ride down the hall and up the elevator and down another hall, I kept thinking, I’m going to be brave like Coraline. I’m going to be brave like Coraline. I’m going to be brave like Coraline. And I was. Or at least I felt braver. When I got onto the operating table, they were plugging me in and getting everything ready and I told all the doctors and nurses, I’m totally being brave like Coraline right now! The nurse laughed and agreed.
And then they gave me the drugs.
I have decided to dress as Coraline at this year’s Comic Con. It is my homage to the literary gem who helped me be brave, even when I was afraid.