J-Bo on Tour (#mywritingprocess)

15 Apr

Hi, friends. I was nominated by my blogging friend Middle-age Butch of The Flannel Files to participate in the #mywritingprocess tour, in which writers share insight into their writing process. Butch is really funny and is also working on a memoir. She lives in Philadelphia with her partner and kids, where she proudly perpetuates the stereotypes of wearing Doc Marten’s/flannel shirts/cargo pants, and playing softball and listening to Melissa Etheridge. She also recently invented the Sit & Stew, just in time for tax season.

Ok, back to me.

What am I working on?

An essay for Modern Love. A sequel to My Week in Pie Charts. A growing list of “Things I Like” that I keep on my iPhone for absolutely no reason.

I haven’t really done much substantial writing since the fall, when I finished the third?/fifth?/nine thousandth revision to the manuscript of what I hope will become my first book—a humorous memoir about my high school relationships and friendships aka the myriad ways I humiliated myself and had my heart squished repeatedly like a centipede up until the age of eighteen. Lately I’ve been putting most of my writerly focus toward trying to get it published, which consists of writing and re-writing query letters to send to literary agents, a process that alternately makes me feel like the most brilliant person on earth and completely and utterly ashamed of everything I’ve ever said and done. (If you don’t know what a query letter is, consider yourself lucky.)

How does my memoir differ from the content of J-Bo.net?

I usually don’t get too personal on my blog (especially after a client announced one day that he found “a lot of super embarrassing things” about me on the internet), whereas my book delves much deeper into my feelings and neuroses. For some reason I’m terrified to get too personal on the internet, whereas I have no problem sharing all my most embarrassing secrets and insecurities in a book that I fantasize about getting published for all the world to see. Also, the humor in my book is zanier.

Why do I write what I do?

I started a blog my senior year of high school (I’d link it here, but Xanga took that shit down), where I shared humorous anecdotes from my life, and I got a lot of positive feedback from friends at school. I’ve had a lot of momentum to write that kind of stuff ever since. I think real life is hilarious, and I like entertaining people—especially my friends.

How does my writing process work?

I spent two years writing my book, several months querying it/watching the rejections roll all over my naivete, one year trying to forget I ever wrote the freaking thing, a year revising it with the help of my awesome critique partner (during which time I completely deleted half of it and completely rewrote the other half), a few months doing more revisions per his advice, and then an entire summer focused purely on making it funnier. I don’t remember exactly, but I think I’ve been working on this thing since sometime around 1914.

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Next up on the #mywritingprocess tour are Ross and Jennifer:

**Ross Murray lives on the north side of the Quebec-Vermont border and has been writing a newspaper column up there for several years. He also contributes regularly to CBC Radio out of Quebec City and www.lifeinquebec.com. His blog, Drinking Tips for Teens, brings all these humor pieces together in one place along with whatever’s on his mind. What kind of humor? Real life mixed with lies, which may be redundant. Ross has also contributed to numerous humor websites, including McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies. In fact, he has a piece in McSweeney’s recently published “best of” collection. Ross has published two collections of his own work, You’re Not Going to Eat That, Are You? and Don’t Everyone Jump at Once, and is currently working on his first novel, but then who isn’t?

**Jennifer and her husband left the rat race and the city behind three years ago, and returned to rural life in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.  Her hope is to continue living simply and authentically in her beautiful province, doing all the things she has put off for too long. In addition to updating Jennifer’s Journal with everything she loves through poetry and photography, she recently finished writing a coming-of-age novel, Calmer Girls, and has started a sequel.

Sometimes You Have to Pretend to be an Idiot to Get Discounted Laundry Detergent

2 Apr

Sometimes you have to pretend to be an idiot to get discounted laundry detergent, and last night was one of those nights.

It all started when I suddenly realized I had to do four loads of laundry before tomorrow and had no detergent.

I hate when this happens, because it means I have to run to the Kum & Go (yes, that’s what our gas stations are called) and get the only kind of detergent they carry: a very small container of weird off-brand-eco-friendly stuff for a whopping $9.89.

So I was standing in line at the K&G with my detergent and a ten dollar bill. There were two people ahead of me, and I was getting a little impatient thinking of all the laundry I had to do while listening to the first customer ask the cashier personal questions about her love life/potentially abusive relationship.

Customer: “Did you and your boyfriend have a big fight yesterday?”

Cashier: “What do you mean?”

Customer: “I heard him outside complaining that you just don’t understand.”

Cashier: “Oh, that’s because we have this weird thing where he’s older than me and thinks he’s always right and tries to be my dad.”

(This cashier alwaysovershares. She’s kind of famous for it. At least among Doug and I, who always rush home to tell each other whatever weird detail we just learned about her urination schedule).

Next up was a guy who kept buying scratch-offs. He kept asking for more and more and more.

“I can’t afford to stop now, because it’s the only way I’ll dig myself out of this hole I got myself into at the casino,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s good logic or if it’s a warning sign,” he wondered out loud.

“Warning sign,” I heard myself answer.

Finally he left and it was my turn.

The cashier scanned my detergent and said, “Two sixty five.”

“Two sixty five?” I asked, stunned. I knew that was way low. I know that shit is $9.89 like I know I went home for Christmas three years ago to find my parent’s basement filled with naked blow-up dolls.

“Two dollars and sixty five cents,” she said. “I’m sorry, I should have clarified. Not two hundred and sixty five dollars- that would be crazy!”

I realized, in this moment, I had two options.

A)   Point out that I knew she meant $2.65 and was just shocked it was so low, thus saving face but risking her realizing her mistake and charging me full price.

B)   Pretend I actually thought she meant $265.00, thus looking like an idiot but gleefully walk out of that store $7.24 richer than I had planned (that’s enough for four mango iced teas at Taco Bell, yo).

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” I said. “For two hundred and sixty five dollars, it would have to be, like, ridiculously high quality detergent.”

“Right!” she laughed. “Your clothes would be clean for years!”

We both chuckled as I took my change, stashed it in my pocket, and exited the Kum & Go as stealthily as I had kum come.

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Coat up, Kids.

30 Mar

It’s easy to spot the undergrads in this town; they are the ones who don’t wear coats.

(Ok, so it’s easy to spot the undergrads in this town for several reasons: they are the ones drunkenly yelling at past and potential lovers in the middle of the street, falling over in six-inch heels, cracking their heads on the pavement and being loaded into ambulances, wandering the PedMall in identically-dressed, gender-segregated groups, and swarming the bars like flies to a hyena carcass). 

But also, THEY DON’T FREAKING WEAR COATS.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but um, it’s been a bit chilly this winter. All the sane people (non-undergrads) have been wearing pants under their pants and hats under their hats. I stopped shaving my legs for the extra warmth.

My hat was frozen to the ground for five days straight:

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Even the trees had to wear sweaters:

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No matter.

The boys traipse around in thin button-ups, and the girls never have on more than a tank top. (Even the girls who are sane enough to bring a light sweater don’t actually wear it- they just sling it over their wrist as they shiver along with all their other tank top friends). Everyone looks miserable.

They actually think nobody will have sex with them if they are seen in a jacket.

I’m going to say that one more time: They actually think nobody will have sex with them if they are seen in a jacket.

When I walk past them on weekend nights, sporting my coat that is so bulky and warm that a friend has termed it my “astronaut suit,” I am never happier to be 27.

If I could impart just one bit of wisdom to these Millennials, it wouldn’t be to advise them to care for the environment or to warn that their student loan debt won’t pay off (or get payed off) or to caution against the dangers of combining vodka with six-inch heels.

I would simply say: wear a fucking coat.

People will still have sex with you. 

I promise.

Quotes From my Boyfriend 3

29 Mar

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Me: Who was your favorite Backstreet Boy?

Doug: What were their names? Crumpet? Dimsby? Thadwhacker? Dobe? I guess I liked Dobe.

***

Doug: Yesterday I was sitting underneath some trees and these little bits of seeds and pollen were falling down. It was very enchanting until later when I realized that a bunch of them were stuck in my hair and that the trees had essentially ejaculated on my head. And that by only noticing them later and shaking them around I was participating in the sexual processes of plants. Does that count as cheating?

***

**When there was a bad smell in our bedroom**

Doug: Did you dump the bed? Symptoms include big pajama pants full of dump.

***

**After grabbing the book I’m reading and scanning the last page**

Doug: Oh, it has a happy ending. Unless this is about the bad guy. In which case the ending is very, very dark.

 

J-Boetry (J-Bo Poetry)

26 Mar

Nothing ever happens the way I expect

 

Once I got online to Google how to open a tube of Orajel to spread on my sore vagina

But instead found out my ex-boyfriend was engaged

 

Once I listened to a Voicemail telling me my grandpa had died

Two seconds before the junk yard man knocked on my door to haul away the car I’d had for twelve years

 

I’ve been on too many happy, nostalgic tours of my life

Going back to the places I used to have fun with the people I used to have fun with

It’s too easy

I know what I really need is to take a tour of the history of my sadness

Drive alone to the places that used to make me cry

And let myself feel sad all over again

 

I hate when people “knock on wood”

I don’t like when people name their babies heaven spelled backward

Please don’t say “Pretend you like each other” before taking my picture

If another 20 year old boy calls his girlfriend his “Old Lady,” I will rip out my hair, weave it into a sweater, and scream into that sweater until my throat dries up

 

I can’t read books where nobody is crazy

 

Long-term travel only appeals to me when I feel lost

 

It’s taken me this long to admit I’m not that interested in learning things

(not the type of things most people like to learn, anyway)

 

There are only two things that still hold my attention on Facebook

One is the profile of a boy I knew years ago

His paranoid statuses make it clear he’s experiencing a psychotic break

It’s both terrifying and fascinating to watch it all unfold

 

The other is a game I play with myself

I look at the pictures on my news feed without looking at the names

And try to figure out which Facebook friends are in them

I’m wrong a shocking 72% of the time

Who are you people?

Awkward Conversations I’ve had with Hy-Vee Cashiers as they Scan my Groceries

26 Feb

I recently found out that the cashiers at Hy-Vee are required to ask customers at least three questions at the check-out line. So after “How are you doing today?” and “Did you find everything alright?”, this leaves one wild card. And Hy-Vee tends to hire well-meaning, awkward high school boys, which makes the wild card really wild. Below are three recent conversations I’ve had with three different cashiers.

**On a particularly rainy day**

Cashier: It’s pretty wet outside.

Me: Yeah, it is.

Cashier: Do you know what rain spells for me?

Me: …What?

Cashier: MONEY!!

(I still have no fucking clue what he meant by this. He mumbled some kind of incoherent follow-up but I was too startled to ask him to repeat it so I just smiled and nodded and puzzled over this for days afterwards. At first I was thinking “maybe they get more customers when it rains so he gets paid more?” but then I realized that makes NO sense, as cashiers are not paid on commission).

**On a day I was feeling particularly dark**

Cashier: I’m really excited to almost be done with high school.

Me: Oh, so you’re a senior?

Cashier: Let me rephrase that. I’m really excited to almost be done with my junior year of high school.

Me: Oh, well enjoy it now. Don’t wish the time away, because once you’re out of school you just have to get a job and work all the time and never get to see your friends anymore.

Cashier: Ok.

**On a day I was buying cat food**

Cashier: So what types of cats do you have?

Me: Uh… one is orange and white, and the other is black.

Cashier: So, do they get easier to raise as they get older?

Me: I mean, I pretty much just leave food out.

In Defense of Not Climbing Volcanoes

16 Feb

volcano

The ten-thousand-foot volcano leered at me those first three days my friends and I spent rafting, horseback riding, and resting in the hot springs of Pucón, Chile. On our fourth and final day, we would climb it.

I must have been asleep or trying to remember how to conjugate verbs or peeing in the hot springs when my friends decided we would climb the volcano (volcán, as it’s pronounced in Spanish, which I feel more accurately portrays its personality). Because, honestly, climbing a volcano sounded about as appealing to me as ripping off my eyelashes with hot wax.

But climbing volcán was the thing to do in Pucón, according to the posters plastered across the storefronts of the various tour companies we kept walking past, each of which offered its own guided all-day hike to the top. Once in a lifetime views! An incredible experience you will never forget! If the point of these posters was to make me feel as though not climbing this one volcano in this one particular tourist town in Southern Chile would be the biggest regret of my life, then they were working. Suddenly my entire life’s worth seemed to depend on conquering volcán.

But when I thought about actually climbing it, panic and dread consumed me.

On one hand, I knew that I absolutely hate climbing things. This fact is as true about me as anything: I used to have an extra bone in my right foot, MTV’s Carson Daly was my first true love, and climbing steep landforms makes me want to set my legs on fire. I know this, because every time I find myself accidentally climbing a mountain or hill or particularly nasty wheelchair ramp, I make a point to stop and make a mental note: YEP, THIS STILL SUCKS. NEVER AGAIN!!

But on the other hand it was a volcano, and a volcano is practically a mountain, and we live in a society that is completely saturated in metaphors that equate mountain climbing with courage and integrity and success. Julie Andrews says Climb Every Mountain. Miley Cyrus says It’s the Climb. If an alien plopped down in the middle of an American high school and read nothing but the inspirational posters on the wall, it would come to the conclusion that our entire worth as human beings is based solely on our willingness to persist in climbing protruding objects into the sky.

It’s a lot of pressure.

Every voice in my head chimed in that week as volcán continued to taunt me.

My Don’t-Miss-Out-on-Anything Voice said, “You will only be here once! Do you really want to be known as the only young person who came all the way to Pucón and didn’t climb volcán? You will spend the rest of your life thinking about what might have been!”

My Die-Alone Voice (which traces my every decision back to how it could possibly result in me dying alone) said, “What if your friends have the best time of their lives climbing volcán? What if the experience bonds them so profoundly that they forget about you and you never make new friends and you die alone?”

My I’m-on-Vacation-and-I-Just-Want-to-Be-In-A-Pool-Dammit Voice said, “You don’t have to take your own life into your hands just to have a memorable vacation, you know. You could just go to the pool. Pools are so fun and safe! Hardly anybody falls off of them and dies.”

My voices and I clearly couldn’t resolve this on our own, so I decided to consult TripAdvisor.com. I really, really hoped that I’d come across some jovial reviews from senior citizens stating that the climb was “surprisingly easy!” despite their asthma/lung cancer/amputated limbs.

What I found instead were a slew of reviews with titles like “Beautiful, but not for the faint of heart” and “Holy heck batman that was steep!!!” all of which emphasized that the climb was difficult not only on the body, but also on the psyche. (My personal favorite: “Many people giving up in the middle of the way… you feel cold… some pain in your back… fast breathing… your feet, hands and nose freezing…”)

Two hundred and twenty seven reviews later, I announced to my friends that I would not be climbing volcán.

Bevin looked confused, and disappointed. “Why not?” she asked.

“Because it sounds scary and not fun.”

“It doesn’t really sound fun to me either,” she admitted. This startled me. She’d been the one really pushing it.

“Then why do it?” I asked.

She shrugged. “I guess I just want to prove to myself that I can.”

And then I suddenly realized something so simple and obvious that it had evaded me completely: climbing a literal volcano is completely irrelevant to exactly 100% of my life goals. Climbing it would prove absolutely nothing to myself.

Maybe, for me, climbing a volcano meant trusting my gut enough to be able to silence all the voices that tell me my life will be meaningless if I opt out of certain experiences or that I have to do things I hate so that I don’t die alone or that I have something I need to prove to myself or anybody else. Maybe “climbing the volcano,” for me, meant not climbing the volcano.

That moment was the most freeing moment I’d had all vacation.

I was absolutely giddy at dinner that night. I was completely loopy and drunk with the joy of having conquered volcán. I felt like dancing and singing and throwing all my clothes into the river. After dinner I packed lunches for my friends to take with them the next day and wished them an amazing day of climbing before slipping off into the most peaceful sleep I’d had all week.

And as I waded in the pool the entire next day, I knew for sure that I was the happiest person who ever came to Pucón and didn’t climb that ridiculous volcano.

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