The Disaster of the Cranky Crankie

So Lady Gaga had just gotten back from space and was wearing a hotdog costume.

Hitler came up to her and said, “You look like a Wiener Schnitzel.”

She says to him, “This is a bad romance, Adolf.”

But I get ahead of myself.

It all started when Hitler, Mitt Romney, Obama, Hans Solo, a fried egg, and a boy named Mychal decided to make a crankie together. A crankie is a scrolling paper movie, but this was The Disaster of the Cranky Crankie. It was all going fine until Mychal decided to draw a tree.

“NO TREES!!!” cried Romney. “Money!” Then he and Hitler got in a big fight about it that went pretty much like this:

Hitler: “Nature!”

Romney: “Money!”

Hitler: “War!”

Romney: “Money!”

Hitler: “Art!”

Romney: “Money!”

“Noooooooo/neiiiiiiiiiiiiin!!!!!!”

Meanwhile aliens were landing.

“Help me, help me!” cried the fried egg, running straight towards the Tower of Mordor.

Obama and Hans Solo went to greet the alien, who turned out to be Lady Gaga in her hotdog suit.

“I’ve just come back from Uranus,” she said.

A giant slug slimed out of a tree and across the entire crankie. “Yuck, slug slime,” said Squinchy. Then the giant slug climbed onto Lady Gaga’s head.

No one was working on the crankie. Hans Solo was playing holographic chess with Chewbacca and the politicians were still fighting about trees. Mychal decided he would have to finish the crankie by himself. Squinchy wondered when he would be done so they could go play frisbee.

Hitler, Romney, and Obama finally came to an agreement: there would be no trees. Obama was sad about the compromise and nobody saw anything of him after that.

“Hey guys,” said Mychal, “I finished the crankie, and I added a bunch more trees.”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

“NEIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN!”

Their heads were enormous, their eyes bloodshot, and they were suddenly missing most of their teeth.

And off flew the giant slug on Lady Gaga’s spaceship.

“Now can we play frisbee?” asked Squinch.

That’s the plot summary of the crankie my campers made last week. Can you see why I like my job?

Rising with our Peers

Sometimes its too easy to think of everything as a competition, whether it’s blueberry picking, writing, or art, or love. And while I don’t mind a good blueberry picking race (especially with my cousins and my sisters and my Nate), really the point is that we eat as many berries as possible and get whatever else we pick into the freezer so someone can eat them later. And the point of creating isn’t to compete on a judged scale of betterness, but to create the truest, wildest, most mysterious humanity we’ve got.

Last winter, at the AWP conference, I attended a workshop about being a good literary citizen — about promoting your friends’ work and helping build a strong literary community instead of just tooting your own booty all the time. They talked about the idea of “rising with your peers,” and I’ve been thinking about it all year. I thought about it at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, where it seemed to be the unspoken spirit. Instead of being a week of jockeying and ego, it was an intense immersion in exactly what it sounds like it is — a writers’ community. It was the kind of place where Richard Ford shows up to my friends’ party, and everyone knows who he is. Where we had endless exciting conversations (which we all understood) about long lines of tension and things being on the nose. Where you tell perfect strangers the most shameful thing that ever happened to you and they write it down and that is ok. Also Gail Tsukiyama gave me her sandwich. I left feeling exhilarated, like I was rushing forward towards authorness in a great mass of allies, instead of running like the lone child towards the red rover line.

I thought about it again last week when I saw The Way Out, an acrobatic/dance/theater show my high school friend Terry Crane directed. When I met Terry, he was always popping out of hollow logs in a pointy hood, like an elf, and I was always wearing my mother’s old Goretex coat, which I thought made me look mysterious (it also had a big hood), but statistics suggest actually made me invisible. Then we both went off to college, and Terry got into circus arts and I started writing. Now Terry and his crew has made a show that is indescribable. I left different than I came in. The world is different than it was before that show, or at least it is to me. I feel so excited to have an old friend making art like this. Terry taking his art seriously gives the rest of us permission to do this too. It makes our artistic community that much richer.

Besides, who wants to be the only awesome writer or aerialist or blueberry-picker, anyways? That would be one boring cocktail party.