writing assignment

This week I took my first class, of a six session series, in humor writing, and it was hard. Yes, italics hard. The teacher presented us with in-class exercises, both of which left me using the phrase, “Pass.” That’s right. I couldn’t do it.

First we were challenged to create our own Droodle. Where you take an almost obvious, very simple, line drawing, and write an unexpected caption. Example:

CAPTION: “Ship arriving too late to save a drowning witch”

We were charged with drawing our own, then writing the caption. On the spot. Five minutes. Go.

My brain got diarrhea.

First thought: a man sitting on a sofa, holding a purse. With the caption: Loehmann’s
Not funny. No turned expectations. Fail.

The classroom was actually a Kindergarten class, so I looked for inspiration in my surroundings. I saw the book series “Frog and Toad” and immediately I thought of a caption: “Why Frog & Toad are no longer friends.” But what would I draw? What would two frogs fight over? The last lily-pad on earth? Over a fly? Then I found myself sketching a frog version of Lady & The Tramp, in lieu of a spaghetti strand, it was two long forked tongues locked together with a fly between them. What the fcuk am I doing?

I drew the image of a woman tied to a railroad track and gave it the caption: Damsel Desperate to Marry. You know, as if she tied herself there, waiting to be saved by a white knight. When you have to explain, it doesn’t work.

“Stephanie, anything?”
“Pass,” I said, which really ought to be changed to “Fail.”

Next, we were asked to write a mock film or book review from the POV of a critic who was clearly overlooking the obvious, missing the whole point of the work. I do not think fast on my feet when it comes to funny. I have to bang on it. The pressure to pick a film or book. A few people chose the bible, 50 shades of shit, Hamlet. I thought of two things, neither of which I could manage. Superman and Cinderella. With Superman, I could only think of his tailor and how impractical the cape was. But I couldn’t quite sell it. Cinderella, I kept thinking of the lack of cleaning, how there’s no product placement, how can one expect to learn to clean the fireplace, any beauty tips for what to do with the cinders? Yes, for those of you still with me, another fail. Not at all funny. How does one write a clearly clueless book or film review of Cinderella?

It came to me, by way of Phil’s suggestion at our Sunday night family dinner, days later.

The Motion Picture Association of America has assigned Disney’s Cinderella with a rating of “G.” It is, in fact, suitable for General Audiences, so long as the audience is generally into light bondage and specifically into balls. While the film centers around a young abused girl, stripped of honor and identity when she’s made a servant in her own home–Her mother is dead, and her father has abandoned her, leaving her in the care of her slanderous stepmother and belittling stepsisters–the film’s most fitting genre is not of domestic drama but of soft porn. The opening image is a mildly veiled attempt to conceal an obvious phallic symbol–do you mean to tell me the Disney Castle doesn’t look like a dick bouquet? And just look at those little friends closest to her: “gerbil play” anyone? Countless scenes devoted to foot-fetish are outmatched only on occasion, specifically when the occasion requires Cinderella to enter through the “back door.” Two thumbs up, and down, and up, now faster.

Homework assignment, due in two days. Pick one:
1. Write a fundraising email
2. Recount the first day of school, in first person, as if you’re a famous writer or personality. Parody Joyce or pretend you’re Woody Allen, for example.
3. Write a first person account, delivering bad news.

Since I hope to re-purpose these writing exercises, I plan to do #3, writing about a time in my life when I’ve had to deliver bad news. Go ahead if you wish, play along with me. Choose one and post it.



  1. Funny – first thing that came to mind for assignment #2 (first day of kindergarten) was e e cummings and something about colors and crayons.

  2. Ick. I thought your initial thoughts on Cinderella were a lot funnier. The one you wrote up into a paragraph goes for shock value but isn’t really funny.

    Cool that you’re taking a writing class!

  3. “A snake? Seriously?” I have never been a big fan of

    Mike (my ex-husband) loved nothing more than to catch me
    off-balance. He took the kids every other weekend, and they would come
    home with the most interesting tales, tastes, and one weekend, a creature.

    We had a new pet. Mike decided it would be fun to send my
    son, Chris, home with a snake…thinking I’d freak out, get rid of the snake
    and he’d have a ‘yep, there goes your hysterical mother’ moment. Instead, I rose to the occasion and suddenly ‘Cyprus’, a 2 foot ribbon snake moved in.

    The day after Cyprus came home, I went to the pet store. “I need some crickets for the snake my ex sent home with my children.”

    After the appropriate exchange of ‘he didn’t!’ and ‘oh yes,he did!’ and ‘that rat bastard’ and ‘you’re telling me!’, the saleswoman said, “hate to tell you this, honey, but snakes like live fish. Get a few gold fish, put them in a cereal bowl of water and the snake will eat when he’s ready.”

    I could have died.

    I’m the woman who didn’t know that cows had hair until I was
    18 (my leather boots weren’t hairy nor were my Tonka toy cows). I’d never been exposed to the whole “eat or be eaten” philosophy. Nor had my children. However, we had a hungry snake at home, and I was not about to let it perish at my hand. I bought 3 ‘feeder fish’ for a total of 30

    I got home, gathered my courage and the darlings up and with great pomp and circumstance, prepared the bowl, discussing the circle of life, the Lion King, the theory of survival of the fittest. After quite a long philosophical discussion (that can only be had among 5, 7, 8 and 32 year old moms), the darlings and I had come to an agreement. It had to be done. Cyprus must be fed. We processed down the stairs from the kitchen to solemnly lower the bowl into the lair. “Okay,” I breathed as my hand shook, “maybe he’s not hungry.”

    Meanwhile, just barely outside of the perimeter, my youngest
    daughter Annie had fallen madly in love with the goldest of the gold feeder fish, coining him ‘Lucky’. She, in her earnest and sweet five year old way, right before the lowering of the bowl, went to her trusty blackboard and drew his picture, wrote his name over it, and fantasized about Lucky being rejected by Cyprus and becoming the family goldfish that would live with us in peace and tranquility forever.

    “Come now, honey…” I cajoled. “This is just the circle of life. Lucky will probably be Cyprus’dinner. Cyrpus needs to eat too. We can’t get too attached. He’s just a gold fish. It’s okay.” I didn’t really believe it would
    be okay, but didn’t have anything else to say.

    The fish fantasy lasted about 15 minutes.

    Cyprus the snake casually eyeballed the entertainment in the cereal bowl. He slithered around the base and then carefully (and I think smugly) rested his chin on the edge of the bowl. Smiling, suddenly, his head submerged in the water bowl, and Lucky was seriously compromised. Cyprus chomped him in the middle, turned him around on his slithery tongue and swallowed him whole.

    Chris cheered, I gasped, and Annie dissolved into a puddle of tears…wailing, weeping…beating her tiny breast. It was a tricky, tricky mommy moment, fighting my own repulsed fascination, while trying not to laugh and/or barf, trying to explain the inexplicable of buying a live creature to feed to another creature, trying to quell my own distaste at the entire culinary/life and death experience…

    She wept…I comforted. Chris laughed. Cyprus digested. Mike drove home.

    Finally, Annie got up from my lap, straightened herself up and went to her chalkboard and very solemnly crossed out the picture of Lucky and wrote the letters ‘UN’ before his name.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.