Yesterday, I found out that my former professor and mentor, Dr. Andrew Dillon, had passed away after a long battle with cancer. The news slammed me with steel door heft, although I’d begun mourning Dr. Dillon weeks ago, when I first heard that he was terminally ill. Recalling all his wit, insight, advice and encouragement over the years, I was driven to tears.
I’d planned to write him a letter, expressing how much he’d meant to me as an English professor, and detailing the impact his instruction and support had on my life. But the only words that would come were Shakespeare’s words of mourning: “Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!” Poems of lamentation followed, but the praise, the gratitude, the marrow of all he meant to me were drowned out by my grief.
And then, weeks later, there was no letter written. No time left. The final exam was over. The blue book was closed.
There were just these words:
For Dr. Andrew Dillon
frosted in strangled light,
of that day you stood in the bricked breezeway
shaped like a gravestone,
your fine white hair set ablaze
by the waning sun.
Even then, you seemed fragile, as if your bones
bore the weight of all tragic literature.
Still, you leaped like a mullet at the sight of the moon,
back arched, knees bent,
until your feet planted on the desktop
and Lear rolled off your tongue,
dripping the loss of Cordelia.
Now, cancer, guiltier than Regan and Goneril,
plots your demise and the chemo, follows suit
making promises it can’t keep,
in the sappy declarations you, our King Lear, long to hear.
And I fear I shall never again see the flames
that lit you from within:
Bill Stafford verse that made the vein in your temple dance;
the fictional, chicken-knuckled words you encouraged;
first stanzas you excised in bloody ballpoint;
their words trampled in a mad dash for the meat of it all.
Because, today, my constant star is dying.
I still see you there, a raging silhouette,
fists balled against the supernova,
and I clamp my eyes shut,
so as not to see the cruel moment,
when you become that strangled light
frosting the grass.
We’re all taught to be nice to others. To treat people as we would like to be treated. Bumper stickers proclaim “Mean People Suck” and “Mean People Are Mean.” And while not terribly eloquent and apparently created by four year olds, their message is dead-on accurate. Mean people suck. But without them, humanity will wither and, eventually, die.
Though some would disagree, many believe that people are becoming more pleasant. Particularly here, in the United States. The manner in which we debate politically evidences this fact. Our politicians actually sing, they’re so happy with one another. They call each other by cute nicknames like “Mitt” and “Newt” and “That Black Interloper in the White House.” One group of conservatives who seems particularly desperate to reach out to others calls themselves “The Tea Party.” Clearly, it’s an invitation. Come on over. We’ll talk tax cuts and why it’s nobody’s fault but your own if you don’t have health insurance, and drink a cup of chamomile (No English Breakfast Tea – they’re bloody Socialists, dontcha know?). I bet they’d serve cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off if you requested it.
This level of friendliness has also impacted the manner in which our country deals with other nations. When U.S. troops visit other countries – without their permission – and in large numbers, this is no longer considered an invasion or war, but an “Operation” – i.e. Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Desert Storm. We no longer kill our enemies, we neutralize assets using smart bombs and surgical strikes. I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I’m not sure if we’re running a war or a MASH unit or fixing kid’s cleft palates. The whole thing sounds so civil and professional and medical. Even when we lose one of our own, it’s often to “friendly fire.” Did the deceased soldier feel that the bullets or bombs that took his or her life were particularly amiable? He or she must have because, otherwise, a term like friendly fire would almost be insulting to the families those heroes left behind. And nice people don’t insult widows and orphaned children. It’s inherently NOT nice.
Overall, this may be one of the nicest decades in history. According to Steven Pinker, Harvard psychology professor and author of The Better Angels of our Nature, “Today we may be living in the most peaceable era of our species’ existence.” What? We’re less violent today, you say? That’s just crazy talk! We’ve got non-stop wars going on. We’re armed to the gills. Our ghettos are infested with gangs. Schools employ the use of metal detectors. Someone threw glitter at Newt Gingrich. Paula Abdul was canned as an X-Factor judge. Kim Kardashian has to travel with multiple body guards. Paris Hilton’s house is continuously burgled. Jimmy Fallon’s band insinuated that Michele Bachmann is a “lyin’ ass bitch.” It’s a cruel, mean world.
Au contraire, says TheNew York Times journalist, Nicholas D. Kristof, who recently examined the warm-and-fuzzy worldwide trend in his article, “Are We Getting Nicer?” Actually, he didn’t really say, “Aucontraire.” But he would – if he was here sitting next to me right now as I write this blog. Which he isn’t. He’d also say, “You know, it’s really late. Mind if I take a little nap?” What he did say is that in the 20th century, a time “notorious for world war and genocide,” only about 3% of all deaths involved “such man-made catastrophes.” By comparison, in Native American, hunter-gatherer societies, 13% died as the result of violence, and the 17th century’s “Thirty Years’ War reduced Germany’s population by as much as one-third.” Now either Kristof, like Bobby Fischer and David Duke, doesn’t believe the Holocaust occurred and is leaving out a whole lot of dead people in his calculations – or humans used to be much, much, much more violent. We were bad asses. A few centuries ago, “Oh, no she diddddn’t” was inevitably followed by the previously-referenced “she” person’s head being paraded around the town on a stick. Three hundred years ago, the Grimm brothers wrote fairy tales – for little children – involving cannibalism, the severing of various limbs, a talking dead horse head, kidnapping, murder, imprisonment in tall towers, and talking drops of blood. S&M wasn’t a sexual fetish; it was a religious conversion technique.
Further supporting the theory that society is becoming a kinder, gentler place is The U.S. Department of Justice’s 2010 report, Crime In the United States, which indicates a steady decline in violent crime over the last five years. Between 2009 and 2010 alone, there was a 6% decrease. And since 2006, the incidence of violent crime has dipped over 13%. If this is true, then surely – at this rate – we’ll all be dancing naked and banging drums around bonfires singing Kumbaya in another twenty years, and living in an Egalitarian society in which all food and goods are gifted to one another on the basis of need.
However, if you’re like me, you don’t trust the numbers. Former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, may have put it best when he said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Numbers can be manipulated and our country’s leaders are quick to point that out. For example, Rick Perry emphatically stated in his book, Fed Up!, that global warming and the science supporting it is “one contrived phony mess.” Likewise, fast-food expert Herman Cain recently weighed in on the same issue, calling the whole thing “a scam.” Granted, neither of them possess an actual background in climatology, but they’re wealthy men with good jobs – and they recognize manipulation when they see it. One of them has years of experience running a corporation in which lobbying, greed and corruption are not uncommon, so he’s familiar with collusion; the other is an expert in numbers manipulation himself, most recently with his 9-9-9 Plan (though I personally think he stole it from a Beatles’ song). Just as these political giants dismiss global warming, I’m certain they’d disagree with all these crazy statistics that claim our world is gradually becoming a nicer place.
Perhaps some anecdotal evidence would be more convincing. Halloween is a perfect example. Unlike the Seventies when children were encouraged to go strangers’ doors dressed in strange costumes and rudely scream, “Trick or Treat!” into homeowners’ faces on an annual basis, parents now shepherd their rugrats to the mall, where they now shout “Trick or Treat” into the faces of mall employees. Wait! Isn’t this evidence of the fact that parents are worried about their children’s safety because the world is NOT a nicer place? No. No. Not at all. This is merely indicative of the fact that parents have recognized the burden that Halloween places on the average person. How rude is it to allow your kids to bang on some old lady’s door thirty or forty times in one night and threaten her with a “trick” if she doesn’t give scary looking children (who, in her mind, might be demonic dwarves) candy that she really can’t afford on her fixed income? Especially when she’s trying to watch Hot In Cleveland. You can’t miss a second of that show ’cause Betty “Don’t Buy Me Green Bananas” White could go at an any minute.
By taking children to the mall instead, parents are attempting to mitigate the impact of Halloween’s expense and inconvenience on others. Unlike the elderly woman I mentioned, mall employees aren’t watching television, so the children aren’t interrupting them doing something important. And they’re paid to be yelled at. In fact, they’re hollered at regularly (though less than before, because we are getting friendlier) and they don’t have to bear the expense of the candy distributed to the ankle-biters to get them to run along and harass someone else. This cost is absorbed by Corporate America and I don’t care what anyone says, they aren’t people and I don’t have to be nicer to them.
Assuming the statistics and anecdotal evidence supporting the Amiable Argument, as I like to call it, are correct, how is this a bad thing? Won’t we, as a society, be happier? Isn’t this what we’ve been aspiring to as humans – evolving over the years into more civilized creatures capable of empathy and love? It looks as though we’re almost there. We’re right on the cusp of Utopia, ready to fall off the precipice into the gorge of universal peace.
Yeah, okay. Lemme know when you’re done huggin’ that tree and are willing to put the patchouli incense away. Please. It stinks. Oh, and that crystal you’ve been rubbing under your armpits – not working. It’s like being downwind of a pair of Larry King’s Depends first thing in the morning before his babysitter wife has changed him. Oh, and you – radical conservatives who doubt anything that God didn’t handwrite Himself in your translated-a-billion-times-over King James version of the Bible, I’ve got a question for you. If God created everything, then He created the metaphor, right? Why would the universe’s greatest super hero invent a linguistic tool, inspire one of the best-selling books of all time and not use a single metaphor anywhere in that very, very long book? C’mon – can’t we agree that maybe everything shouldn’t be taken literally? Maybe Christ wasn’t really a vine. Or a door. And maybe seven days is more like seven million years.
So back to why nice people will be the death of us all. Darwin. Natural selection. Oh, let me guess. That’s more poppycock, right? Darwin’s theories are up there with global warming and the Holocaust and the moon landing. Crazy talk! Fine, but the dinosaurs probably dismissed him as well and it didn’t turn out so well for most of them now, did it? No, I’m not saying that being amiable will be the catalyst for the natural disaster that will spawn another Ice Age – for which we are sorely unprepared.
What I’m saying is that when everything’s good, when everything’s easy-peasy, is when our DNA becomes complacent. Instead of developing opposable big toes like Beast in X-Men: First Class or the ability to communicate with one another almost entirely through pheromones like ants, we’re doing nothing. We’re letting our technology do our thinking for us, sitting in front of our computers all day while our muscle tone slowly dwindles, and our girths expand until width is the term used to describe one’s size, not height. I’m no wack-a-doo soothsayer, either. Pixar foretold this future a few years back in WALL-E.
Think I’m crazy? Visit any Wal-Mart or grocery store and see how many of those scooters are now available for shoppers. Twenty years ago, they didn’t exist. They were called wheelchairs – and you brought your own with you. Because you were crippled – not fat and lazy. One upon a time, heavy-set people just waddled up and down the aisles like the rest of us. For us, it was shopping; for them, it was an aerobic workout, but it was better than sitting on your ass because you might get a tad out of breath. Now you have to be careful where you walk at a theme park because you’ll get run down by someone who can’t be bothered to get off their butt (or just wants to get to the next ride faster – those friggin’ scooters have some serious horsepower). And this is bad for us as a species. When apex predators get fat and lazy, they get eaten by new apex predators.
Without mean people, the human race will lose it’s only predator. As apex predators, we are remarkably similar to sharks and crocodiles, neither of which has changed much since the K/T Extinction Event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Still, a long time ago, both were quite a bit larger, but after being the big guys on campus for so long, they inevitably began to take it easy, evolutionarily speaking. Imagine an crocodile thinking to himself millions of years ago, “Wildebeest aren’t getting any bigger. I couldn’t probably lose a few inches of tail, spend a little less time at the gym and a work on my tan more often and still get plenty to eat. Same with sharks. For 14 million years, the 50-foot long Megalodon was, literally, the big motherfuckin’ fish in the big motherfuckin’ pond. Though some dispute that the Great White Shark is a descendant of the Megalodon and the reason for this monster’s extinction has never been determined, it’s possible that Mega Mouth just got tired of chewing (My husband often claims that it’s the most boring of activities) and filling its enormous belly. Maybe he thought, “If I dropped a good 35 tons, I could still rule this roost no problem and I wouldn’t have to feed all the darn time. I could take up Scrabble or write that novel I keep talking about.” And The Great White Shark was born.
Regardless, these apex-predators of the oceans and rivers are in trouble. The Great White is now more endangered than tigers. In the United States, alligators were endangered for years and are now a protected species. Numerous species of crocodiles across the world are currently endangered. Why? Ultimately, because we are the Uber Villain in the comic strip called, “Earth.” We hunt them, we steal and pollute their habitat, we make awful films about gimongous versions of them. Except, as we get lazier, spawn fewer evolved children and destroy our DNA with crystal meth, the chimps out there are eating well, throwing poo (a sign of intelligence and one step away from learning to use an uzi) and are fashioning and using weapons. Whaaaaaat? Weapons? Yep. Santino, a chimp in the Furuvik Zoo in Sweden, began creating disks out of concrete and collecting stones – even after hours – to throw at annoying tourists while the zoo was open. Scared yet?
So keep it up, Nice People. If you do, Planet of the Apes could be your future. Mean People keep you on your toes. They pick on you so that you’re too embarrassed to ride around on that scooter, hogging the damn cereal aisle. They mind-fuck you at work to keep your synapses firing, and cut you off in traffic to keep your eye-hand coordination intact. They beat you up in the playground to teach you how to defend yourself, mug you in the alley so you understand when to fight and when to flee, and steal your girlfriend so you learn to treat the next one like gold. Mean people make your books and films interesting. Conflict is what makes the world go round…not conservation of angular momentum. That’s just more science poppycock. Back me up on this one, Rick Perry.
As with all As Seen On TV! products, I was blown away by the revolutionary new baking craze that is sweeping the nation. Bake Pops. Yes, I know. It’s mind-blowing. Cake on a stick. ON A STICK! Certainly, a nuclear physicist or Nobel winning scientist was behind this invention. What are Bake Pops, you ask? Seriously? You don’t know? Some of us clearly aren’t reading Wired, Newsweek, Time, Popular Science or Woman’s Day. Bake Pops are small round cakes with a stick inserted into them so that they can be dipped in frosting or chocolate and decorated to your liking.
No more eating cake off a plate. Talk about a nuisance. If I had a dime for every time someone turned to me at a party and said, “Cristy, I’d rather have a root canal than eat this slice of carrot cake off a plate with a fork. What a hassle!” To begin with, you’ve got to have napkins, forks, and plates available – and in an economy like ours, that’s just not a given. I can’t tell you how often I’ve simply fallen to my knees and sobbed upon discovering that Wal-Mart was out of plastic forks…again. Have you any idea how embarrassing it is to ask your party guests to eat cake with their fingers? Their nails become sticky with frosting and then they need extra napkins. Like you’ve got plenty of those to go around. It’s not like paper just grows on trees. Suddenly, you’re a friggin’ napkin ATM machine.
As a civilized society, we’re expected to multi-task – particularly at parties. Despite the fact that everyone – our families, our employers, our friends, our Facebook friends, our LinkedIn contacts, our fellow bloggers, our Twitter followers, our co-workers, our former co-workers whom we avoid because they left under less-than-favorable circumstances, and people we pretend to like at Starbucks, but just so they don’t spit in our pumpkin lattes – expect us to be able to do more in less time, we still only have two hands and ten fingers (unless you’re a carpenter, in which case, make that eight or nine fingers).
If there’s one thing there’s never enough of at parties, it’s chairs and tables. This is assuming you attend good parties. Now if the guy at work who picks his nose and keeps his boogers on a piece of notebook paper in his top desk drawer invites you to a party at his mother’s house, there is a chance that they’ll be plenty of places to sit and tables upon which to rest your paper plate. However, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, so the odds are that you’ll be standing around trying to juggle your plate, fork, and napkin in one hand, with your cell phone tucked under one armpit and a glass of punch in the other. And maybe Larry from down the street, slipped a little something into that punch. Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge. Which means you’ll be tipsy. Or sloshed.
As you know, this is when things spin out of control. Melanie, that fabulous hair stylist you’ve been dying to get an appoint with, is there and is willing to work you into her schedule. Scraping your cake to one side of your plate with your fork, you set your cup of punch next to it. Then, withdrawing your cell from your armpit, you attempt, one-handed, to enter Melanie’s contact information. But you’ve had more than a few sips of Larry’s mysterious brew. Your balance is a little off. The hand holding the plate shakes from the added and poorly-distributed weight of the punch glass, and the pink liquid splashes onto the freshly-mopped, tile floor. Your phone rings in the middle of entering the appointment date and time into your calendar and, as you struggle to answer it without having to re-enter the information, you slip on the spilled punch and fall. Landing on your back, you watch in horror as the plate flies into the air, then plummets towards your head. When it’s all said and done, you’ve got a plastic fork in your eye and your hostess is pissed off because of all the napkins you’ve used to sop up the blood. But thanks to Bake Pops, that will never happen again.
Nor will Granny break her good hip in the inevitable frosting slip ‘n fall accident. Every year, thousands of elderly people slip on icing at their grandkids’ birthday parties. Most will die in the hospital of pneumonia – a common complication. Is serving a cake the size of a coffee table worth Papa Joe lying cold and dead in a grave? Is writing out “Happy Birthday, Amber” on a pink cake with a unicorn theme worth the loss of fourteen more years with Nana Gertrude? I don’t think so. Preserve a future for your children with their rambling, incoherent and crippled elders by purchasing Bake Pops. You can dip them (the Bake Pops, not their elders) in pink chocolate and sprinkle them with silver (inedible) snowflakes for little Amber next year. It’s almost like the real thing. Not quite. But then, how will your children ever experience feeding their grandparents by hand – and wiping the baby food and spittle off their mouths – unless you convert to the new Bake Pops revolution? Would you deprive your parents of their second childhood? I think not.
Of course, every hostess is worried about one of her guests choking to death because, in an attempt to emulate the Man vs. Food host, one loser will try to cram an entire slice of cake into his mouth at once. Nothing’s worse than having to explain to the paramedics, the medical examiner and the dead idiot’s wife that the deceased inadvertently killed himself because he thought he could top the portly Travel Channel television host. “Watch me while I cram this entire cake into my mouth within the next two minutes!” he’d cried triumphantly. For the last time. Don’t let this happen to you. Why spend unnecessary hours being questioned by detectives, comforting the dead moron’s widow, and paying a cleaning crew to clean up the urine and other fluids that tend to ooze out of a body upon death when you can simply buy Bake Pops? It’s impossible for a drunken guest to squeeze an entire slice of cake into his mouth at once because Bake Pops are bite-sized.
In addition to preventing permanent disfigurement and death, this amazing new product will also help you avoid committing many of the dreaded, social faux-paux associated with cake serving and cake eating etiquette. For example, cutting the cake. Who does it? The birthday girl, the hostess, the guy with the Bowie knife in his sock? Do you begin cutting in the corner or, in the event that you’re serving the classic bikini cake, do you start with a nipple for the birthday boy?
How do you determine cake slice size? For example, do you give a translucent slice to the fat girl? What do you do if the fat girl passes her skinny piece to Nicole Ritchie (What? She doesn’t come to all of your parties? That’s ’cause you haven’t been serving Bake Pops!) and asks for the chunky, corner slice you’ve just plated – the one with all the frosting and three blue rosettes? If you were serving Bake Pops, this would never be an issue. Bake Pops are all the same size. Unlike cake slices, Bake Pops can be exactly the same. Not different, but equal. Yes, equal. If you choose, your Bake Pops can all be the same color, with the same sprinkles and the same number of rosettes. Or, if you’re planning a tea party, the vanilla Pops can be richer and taxed at a lower rate than the chocolate Pops…but that’s totally up to you.
A generous company, Bake Pops isn’t only committed to preventing blindness, saving lives and promoting portion-controlled diets, it is sincerely committed to recycling. In light of this fact, here are some other great ways in which you can use Bake Pops’s patented “stick” to bring even more efficiency, safety and enjoyment into your life.
1) Egg Pops: Tired of chopping your hard-boiled eggs using one of those uber-complicated, one step, egg slicers? Why not insert the Bake Pop stick into your egg instead? Save yourself all that sweaty, difficult, single-step slicing and let your teeth do the work for you! That is what your chompers were designed for.
2) Potato Pops: Try grilling these babies along with some New York strip steaks at your next pool party. Dip them in sour cream and chives – and your guests will be talking about them over the water cooler on Monday. Watch out! They can be a little warm in the middle.
3) Brussels Pops: Tell your kids that they’re cabbage-flavored lollipops – and serve them with plenty of butter. Kids love butter. And at their age, cholesterol really isn’t an issue, now is it?
4) Onion Pops: Talk about the perfect pre-date appetizer for your teens. No one’s gonna get pregnant at this Homecoming Dance. And no cooking required! Looking for a twist? Try it with a bulb of fresh garlic. Your eyes will burst into flames just trying to read a Twilight novel.
5) Poop Pops: For us dog lovers, we know nothing satiates our canine’s appetite more than another dog’s feces. Or, if your pooch is into the exotic, try using kitty poo – the litter tastes just like vanilla sprinkles to them! Don’t forget – nothing compliments an ass-kabob like a little au jus dipping sauce. Rover will lap it right up.
6) Soylent Pops: Looking to keep your carbon footprint as small as possible? Why not dine on your like-minded, green counterparts who, instead of dedicating their bodies to science, dedicated them to sustenance? To keep the cycle-of-life turning – and as green as possible – consider nourishing another human with your flesh and celebrate in the knowledge that no paper or plastic products will be used in the serving of your dead, cooked corpse.
7) Salt Pops: Why should a cow enjoy the ease of a salt lick whenever it wants, when you’ve got to concern yourself with seasoning your food or salting the rim of your margarita glass? Why rip open teeny tiny containers of salt or struggle with the hardened white mass stuck inside the restaurant shaker when you can carry your own discreet salt pop everywhere you go? What – you want to do shots? No problem. Lick your Salt Pop, slam that tequila and then suck on a slice of lime. Easily shared, Salt Pops will make you the favorite drunk at the bar.
For more information on Bake Pops, tune in to your favorite television station late at night when advertising is cheap or check out the demo on You Tube: Bake Pops Demo. Your kid’s eye could depend on it.
While I was studying poetry in college, I was forced to write a sonnet. Forced, you say? Was a gun held to my head? Did a professor surreptitiously slip a pinless grenade into my palm, step back cautiously and demand, “Write the damned sonnet!” No, but my instructor did string my GPA up by the neck with a thick noose and threaten to kick the desk out from under my GPA’s feet if I didn’t write the stupid thing. Even though I write free verse. Exclusively. Rhyming is not one of my super powers. People who’ve heard me attempt to rap know this. My instructor didn’t care. You apparently can’t be a well-rounded poet unless you master the sonnet. Kinda like those chefs who think you can’t truly call yourself a cook unless you can boil water. Snobs.
For those of you who have never written a sonnet, you’re lucky bastards and I despise you. That said, hang in there with me even if you’re not a huge poetry fan because I’ll be humiliating myself in a big way in just a few paragraphs. For those of you who have written a sonnet and who have also successfully repressed “the rules” of sonnet-writing, let me re-awaken the slime-dripping, fang-baring monster that likely haunted your every dream throughout the semester you were enrolled in Poetry 101.
Shakespearean Sonnet Rules
For my purposes, I will be referring exclusively to the Shakespearean (or Elizabethan) Sonnet.
1) A sonnet must consist of exactly 14 lines.
2) Each line must have exactly 10 syllables.
3) A sonnet must consist of exactly three quatrains (four lines) followed by exactly one couplet (two lines).
4) The rhyme scheme in a sonnet must be exactly as follows: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.
In English, this means that in the first quatrain, the first and third lines must rhyme and the second and fourth lines must rhyme. Same goes for the second quatrain, but it’s critical to note that the rhymes must be unique from the first quatrain – C and D can’t rhyme with A or B. Same goes for E and F and G.
Note: We haven’t even made it through all the rules yet, but the word exactly has already appeared FOUR times. Starting to see why sonnets and Satan both start with the same letter?
5) Each line must be written in iambic pentameter.
If your response wasn’t “Huh?” or “I only speak a little Spanish,” then you’ve clearly written sonnets before – and enjoyed the process. Before things get ugly, you should just muddle on over to the Mensa website because we won’t tolerate any of that Shakespearean-sonnets-are-the-bomb attitude here.
If you’re still going, “What the hell is an i-am-buck pentacle,” then you’re in the right place. First you have to know what an iambic foot is. Though it sounds like something a podiatrist would diagnose and prescribe a brace for, it simply means an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. da-DUM. Iambic pentameter consists of five iambic feet in a row: da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM. Or for those Dirty Dancing fans out there, remember that scene where Patrick Swayze tries to teach Baby rhythm by tapping his chest in time with his heartbeat? ga-GONG-ga-GONG-ga-GONG-ga-GONG-ga-GONG. Yes, Swayze was a hunk and his heart was a master of iambic pentameter. Basically, this is just one more thing that you have to worry about when writing a la Shakespeare – if the correct syllables aren’t stressed in the proper order, your sonnet’s pretty much crap.
So why did you need to know all this? Why did you read this far without anything really, truly funny happening? Because I am now going to share with you the World’s Worst Sonnet Ever! It’s horrible on so many levels, but before I go into detail, I will simply allow you to read it and let it speak for itself.
By the way, it is also my sonnet. Yes, I wrote it. Twenty-two years ago. I am responsible for this flaming pile of poo. Thus, there is absolutely no need to try to console me or assure me that the poem isn’t shit in your comments below because I fully recognize that I have made the world a far worse place by writing all 26 lines of the following sonnet. What? Twenty-six lines, you say? But I thought a sonnet had 14 lines. There you go…you’re already discovering why this is:
The World’s Worst Sonnet Ever
When I saw her, she was shrunken hollow
her body pressed to the back of the cage.
Eyes enormous, spittle wetting the hair
beneath her blond muzzle, six months of age.
Driving her home, our pygmy Lassie peed
on the plush velour seat and my bare skin.
I laughed. She shrank further inside my arms
and froze, ears perked, a doggy mannequin.
She learned to sit, roll over, beg and jump
on command. She could climb up my knees, legs,
elbows and shoulders to the top. Her paws
on my head, eyes open, ready to beg.
She never learned how to play dead until
last week. It took fifteen years to teach her,
fifteen years of loyal love and wet licks
on my hand, as I softly stroked her fur.
Every girl’s dream come true was my Daisy,
even as she aged and became a weight
upon our shoulders, a burden to scorn,
a family member we grew to hate.
Alone I cry as Mother speaks of cysts
which invaded her body like Martians,
feeding it death as they grew in numbers,
her life chained to a grave by Lilliputians.
Daisy plays dead now like an Oscar nominee
As she lies wrapped in sheets beneath our dogwood tree.
I’ll give you a moment to recompose yourself. Take a second. Wipe the vomit off the front of your shirt. And, you, stop ROFLing all over the carpet. Nobody really ROFLs. An LOL would have been satisfactory. Have some dignity, man!
Yes, I wrote this poem about my dead dog, Daisy. I remember trying to write the darn thing about at least ten other topics like flowers and forests and unrequited love because that’s the kind of crap that sonneteers, as they were called, wrote about. But let me clue you in – these aren’t things I spend much time writing about. Really? But that seems so unlike me, right? I’m all about spending 14 lines of poetry to describe the curve of a rose petal and the sharpness of its thorns as they pierce my fingers – and metaphorically, my heart. Here, let me hand you a bucket. Keep that thing handy, would ya?
As the author of such gems as “Amputee,” “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar” (about a transgendered person involved in a standoff with the police), and “Upon Seeing Jesus Christ in the Dollar Store,” flowers and unicorns rarely find their way into my verse. Since I detested – no, loathed – all the rules and sonnet regulations, I found the only way I could get through the process with an ounce of sanity was to pen a poem about something I actually cared about. In the process, I ended up with the worst tribute in honor of a beloved pet ever written. In fact, it’s so God awful that Daisy now haunts me like Jacob Marley, weighed down by the forged steel links that the Lilliputians used to chain her to the grave. She claims that if I don’t repent my poetic sins and buy some lame dogs a turkey that they can rip apart at Christmas, I’ll die forgotten and alone. As if my sonnet hasn’t already assured that fate.
Why My Sonnet Sucks
1) It’s Bad! You read it, right? It’s just bad. Really bad. So horrendously bad that it’s the Lindsay Lohan of poetry – a train wreck so terrible that you just can’t look away from the carnage. You’ve got to re-read it again and again to reaffirm that it’s as heinous as you initially thought. Don’t do this to yourself. It doesn’t get any better and you’ll get acid-reflux from all the puking. Or rug burn if you’re one of those people doing the whole ROFL thing.
2) Abominable Descriptions and Similes:
“our pygmy Lassie peed” – Daisy was a Sheltie. You’d think I could have used the word Sheltie and avoided the word pygmy – which makes people think of short Africans, not miniature Collies. And she peed. This may have been the inaugural usage of dog urine in a Shakespearean sonnet.
“a doggy mannequin” – Really? This was the best I could come up with?
The entire second octave – Could I have listed more body parts? How did I leave out breasts, collarbone and ears?
“Alone I cry as Mother speaks of cysts which invaded her body like Martians” – You know those Martian cysts, right? They’re black, can only be destroyed by the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator, and will make you “very angry, very angry indeed.”
“Her life chained to a grave by Lilliputians.” – What do little people who live in a fictional land have to do with this? Maybe if Daisy had been named Gulliver this would have worked. But then she would have likely had gender issues or people would have called her “Liver Lips.” You can’t put a dog through that just so you can use a word in a poem after she dies.
“Daisy plays dead now like an Oscar nominee” – Though I’m sure that Meryl Streep can play a corpse like nobody’s business, the hard fact is that Oscar nominees don’t win awards for lying motionless on film. In most movies and television shows, extras and unknown actors play dead people. Dogs who can play dead in the movies may, in fact, deserve Oscar nominations, but the Academy does not yet recognize the contribution of canines to film.
“As she lies wrapped in sheets beneath our dogwood tree.” – For the record, Daisy wasn’t buried beneath a dogwood tree. It just sounded ironic – or what I thought was ironic at nineteen. I don’t actually remember what kind of tree it was. The truly ironic thing is that it died too. Good dog; bad fertilizer.
3) It’s Not Really A Shakespearean Sonnet
It has 26 lines and six quatrains – What part of ” a sonnet must have exactly 14 lines and three quatrains” did I not get? Why would I write 12 lines more than I needed to? I must be a masochist. Or maybe I was punishing my professor. You gonna make me write this crap; I’m gonna make you read a lot of it, a whole fucking lot of it. It will feel like it’s never ending, much like the Star Wars franchise. Perhaps the first three quatrains are actually the prequel for the final three quatrains. And the couplet, that was the animated version. You don’t like it; blame George Lucas.
Use of the word “Lilliputians” put me over my syllable limit – For 23 lines, I stuck religiously to the 10 syllable rule and then I broke it so that I could use the most ridiculous word in the entire sonnet. Seriously, Lilliputians? Sounds like stooped-over, little old ladies who collect Lilly Pulitzer dresses and meet for tea on Worth Avenue.
Final couplet has 12 syllables per line – Just couldn’t shut up, could I? Drag the agony out a little bit longer.
My Rhyme Scheme Uses Most of the Alphabet – If you recall, the rhyme scheme should follow this format: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. My sonnet’s rhyme scheme is as follows: ABCB DCEC FGHG IJKJ LMNM OPQP RR. Now I know my ABC’s, next time write a longer sonnet so we’ll get to Z.
I thought iambic pentameter was B.S. – To be blunt, I just didn’t even try. It was too much work, and it became clear very early on that this sonnet was a box of hardened fudge nuggets wrapped with a decorative Shakespearean ruff. Editing this monstrosity would have been a futile exercise in turd polishing.
So now that I’ve borne my soul naked and bare for you, sharing my most embarrassing writing endeavor with the world, I ask you to do the same. I would love and appreciate your comments on The World’s Worst Sonnet Ever, but I also invite you to share your worst poem – sonnet or otherwise – right here on my blog. Just post it into the comments section. Let’s make this a celebration of suckiness. Let’s make a pact to strive for mediocrity so that one day we may post The World’s Most Average Sonnet Ever.
As I await your responses, I’d like to dedicate this post to my dear friend, Evan, who loves “How Ironic.” In fact, he claims that it’s his favorite of all my poems. Of course, he eats babies for breakfast, lives in Portlandia and thinks he’s a trickster God, so what do you expect? Anyway, yesterday was his birthday. Happy Birthday, you freak!
Many people who know me would be surprised to discover that I dearly loved someone who used to scoot across the Everglades in an air boat, not to point gators out to tourists with cameras, but to hunt them (the gators, not the tourists). Their eyebrows might shoot up to hear that I’ve seen a deer skinned and many a hog smoked. My grandfather – who was more of a Florida cracker than a redneck – gifted me with dozens of boar tails during my childhood, without even bothering to clean the congealed blood off the severed ends first. I’d wrinkle my nose, thank him, and then stick them in a drawer until our visit ended and I could dispose of them properly.
You see, I’m Southern. I’ve had kin living in one part of Florida or another for a good 150 years. I take my tea sweet and my grits cheesy. And I don’t have to be drunk for my accent to emerge. Yesterday, at my uncle’s funeral, the y’alls and fixin’ tos started creeping into my vocabulary, and my syllables began stretching out like a long country road meandering through the mountains. This is tough for a loquacious chick like myself – when surrounded by Southerners, it can take me forever just to ask for another piece of pie. My husband doesn’t know what to think about my transformation at these family get-togethers. Suddenly, he’s married to Reba McEntire, but despite this, it doesn’t make him any richer.
I’ve never been a fan of Pentecostal Southern funerals with their open-casket visitations and absence of alcohol. Having visited with Uncle Danny only a couple months before his passing, I was anxious to preserve that happy memory of him and avoid having it replaced by the image of his pale body in a gleaming steel blue box. We’d laughed and chatted that afternoon in November. He’d teased his wife, my Aunt Kay, in the way that people who’ve been married to one another for forty-five years tend to do. As my uncle had quite the sweet tooth, we’d eaten a carrot cake I’d picked up at Publix (to have attempted to bake him a cake might have brought about his death much sooner). It had been a nice day.
Visiting my Uncle Danny in his natural habitat was like visiting the Hall of Mammals at the National History Museum. He’d sit there, sprawled in his well-worn lounger surrounded by his victims: a wild boar with its tongue lolling over its teeth like a thirsty labrador; several eight and ten point bucks – the largest of which served as a hat rack for Danny’s collection of trucker caps and his solar-powered pith helmet; and an otter. Unlike the other animals, the otter was in possession of more than just it’s head and actually stood upright next to a chair, its front paws frozen in mid-air as though it should be wearing a chef’s hat and holding a chalkboard sign with the evening’s specials listed on it.
Mounted on wooden placards around the vintage 70’s paneled living room were at least eight or ten stuffed bass, their mouths gaping, gills frilled, and tails bent in final, desperate swishes. As you perched nervously on the sofa (and who wouldn’t be anxious with a dozen or more dead animals glaring at you, vengeance on their minds), each largemouth bass would watch you, unblinking, with its single, bulging eye. Every fish had a story that may or may not have been true. For my husband, whose favorite t-shirt reads “I Make Stuff Up,” my uncle was an immediate compatriot. Even though he only met him a handful of times, Matt enjoyed Danny’s stories – told in a raspy voice that tuned up into a whine as the story became less and less likely. Like everyone, my husband wasn’t always sure what to make of my uncle’s tales – were they tall or just average in height? But Uncle Danny used to say that there were only three kinds of lies:
1) Whoppers: Lies that were so outlandish that everyone knew they weren’t true. (Know how I caught that gator? I tied Junior to a fishin’ line and told him to go swimmin’ in the swamp.);
2) White Lies: The lies you told others to avoid hurting their feelings. (Nah, those cowboy boots don’t make your ass look big.); and
3) Fishing Lies: These weren’t lies at all.
As sedentary as he was in the latter months of his life (cancer sucks the life out of you…literally), Uncle Danny had always been one of those feisty, mischievous men who was quick with a joke and always up to something. Over the years, he’d operated an auto body shop, raised gopher tortoises (“Mmmm! Gopher soup is goooood,” he used to say) and, finally, ran a plant nursery with my aunt. If he wasn’t puttering around his property, puffing away on one of the cheap Grenadier cigars he stored in a box in his front shirt pocket, or eating breakfast at Granny’s Restaurant as he did every morning, then he was hunting or fishing or being a devoted friend, father and husband.
At the funeral, the pastor shared a story about my uncle that summed up the kind of man he was. There’d been a bad storm. A tree had fallen, ripping gaping holes in the roof of the church. Now, my aunt, she never missed a church service. Sunday night, Wednesday night, choir practice, Bible study – church was and is her life. Uncle Danny – not so much. He had no problem with his wife and son’s devotion to their church but, for him, that was time that could be better spent doing pretty much anything else. However, the day after the storm, the pastor and a couple other members of the church were struggling to remove tree limbs and repair the damage before the rains came again. Suddenly, a ladder banged against the roof and a man’s head rose above the roof line. As the pastor recounted, “This was a man I didn’t know.” But Uncle Danny knew all about him and, more importantly, had been informed that help was needed. So he was there.
On the surface, it may have seemed that Uncle Danny and I were very different people. He was a Tea Party Republican and I’m a bleeding-from-every-possible-orifice liberal. He shot animals with a rifle; I shoot them with my camera. Rural life felt natural to him, whereas I start to break out in hives if I can’t throw a rock and hit someone while blindfolded. He drove a pick up truck with a horn that sounded like a duck call. At least, I think it was a duck call. I mean, how would I know? I drive a hybrid. My ringtone is “So What” by Pink. Uncle Danny watched fishing shows; I watch shows about nerdy physicists who are obsessed with super heroes and video games.
But at our core, we were extraordinarily similar. Both strong-willed, religiously rebellious and prone to humor in uncomfortable situations, I’d swear we shared genes even though he was only my uncle by marriage. At the cemetery, the folding chairs meant for immediate family members were covered in a bright blue faux fur. I kept thinking that if Danny had been alive, we’d be giggling over the fact that it looked as though someone had skinned Cookie Monster and his entire family in order to cover those chairs.
Over the years, Uncle Danny was confronted by many people about everything from his hunting to the manner in which he raised his hunting dogs (outside, in a cage – they’re work animals, not pets) to whether or not he had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Up until the very end, this last question was the one which consumed Aunt Kay’s pastor, so much so that his entire funeral sermon focused on Danny showing up fashionably late at Heaven’s Gates, waiting until the last second to become a Christian. While he may have finally done it because he sensed his life had grown shorter than a Kardashian marriage, or to make Aunt Kay happy, I suspect it was the only way to get the pastor to talk about something else. Regardless, much was made of Uncle Danny coming late to the dance, which was a disappointment to me. Though I’m sure it pleased him that his wife and son were certain he would one day see them again in Heaven, I doubt he would have wanted the rest of the congregation to know about his personal struggles with his spirituality. I doubt he would have wanted them to know he’d caved. Because, like myself, Uncle Danny was wholly unapologetic about who he was and what he believed.
My aunt told me that Uncle Danny had wanted jokes and laughter at the funeral, but I can’t say I heard much of either. At one point, while the coffin was being lowered in his grave, I stood with my family watching solemnly. Aunt Kay and Jason embraced one another, their eyes bleary with tears. For some reason, I felt an inexplicable need to sing “Amazing Grace” in order to break the heaviness of the moment, but I didn’t. I feared that it might be one of those situations in which I started singing…and no one else did. I’d be left trailing off and then everyone would talk about the weird niece who began belting out a hymn at the graveside. You know, stealing the grave-lowering thunder. The fact that I only know the first verse of “Amazing Grace” could have also been problematic.
The most difficult part of the day for me and my husband, however, was it’s start – the open-casket visitation and the funeral. Even though I knew the body in the casket was dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt with a trucker cap resting next to his bald head, it felt as though an intruder masquerading as my uncle was in the sanctuary. I couldn’t look. From my second row seat in the “Family Section,” I could just make out a nose peeking out above the white satin and I didn’t recognize it. When I hugged my aunt and cousin at the front of the room, I averted my eyes from his body, burying my head into their shoulders and focused on squeezing all my love and sympathy into their bodies.
At the beginning of the pastor’s sermon, he mentioned Uncle Danny’s penchant for jokes. Smiling to myself, I felt the anticipation grow inside of me as I waited for the pastor to launch into a few of my uncle’s classics. But he didn’t. “I was gonna tell some of his jokes, but y’all knew him. You already know all his jokes,” he said. But at that second, I couldn’t think of a single one. I still can’t. It’s as if when he died, they went with him into that cold casket. C’mon, just one joke, I begged the pastor mentally. I was certain that one would serve as the chink in the proverbial dike and the rest would come flowing through. I never got my joke, though. Uncle Danny took that last laugh with him.