Post 59 / Hour 65: A Humor Critique: Boys to Chimps (Part 1)
By Dave Fox and Colleen Landry
Singapore and Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada
There’s a huge advantage to taking a humor writing course over just reading a book on the topic. Interactive learning gives you hands-on experience. With weekly exercises and peer critiquing, your writing gets much better, much faster.
The old version of my online humor writing classes followed a six-week schedule, with weekly assignments and feedback from both me and fellow students. As my groups quickly discovered, you can learn a lot about your own writing by critiquing other people’s work. We often get too attached to our own words to recognize our shortcomings, until we spot those same habits in others. Then, our own patterns jump out at us. They become easier to catch and correct.
A couple of my previous students have graciously given me permission to post not only their class submissions, but my comments on those stories as well. I encourage everyone who takes my classes to read my feedback for other students as well as my feedback for them personally. Watching other writers’ work evolve supercharges our own learning process.
In that spirit, here’s a short humor column, submitted by Colleen Landry in week four of the workshop. Thanks, Colleen,for offering this to all of us as an example! In my next post, I’ll show you the suggestions I gave Colleen to improve this story.
As you read this, if you’re interested in humor writing, think about what you might do differently to make it stronger. Then, take a look at my next post (to be uploaded within the coming hour). Watch what you can learn by reading both the story and its critique.
Boys to Chimps
By Colleen Landry
I recently came across a jarring statistic which revealed teenage boys do 2.5 minutes of household chores/day, as compared with girls who do at least thrice that . It’s appalling I know, but the facts don’t lie: there are obviously mothers out there with clout! How the heck did they get their boys to identify a finger, much less lift it? I was really depressed after reading this because based on my calculations, though our boys do contribute the minimal 2.5 minutes of their time to our household…it’s on a yearly basis: on Christmas morning when in a dazed and blissful gift-bloated state, they help pick up discarded wrapping paper. I quietly hum Kumbaya when it happens but I struggle with the other 364 days. Wondering why chimpanzee boys are easier to train than human ones, I researched some expert advice on the topic and correlated it with my own experiences:
- Start early– I did. I prided myself on weekly task charts that were taped to the fridge when our sons were younger. Each boy had his name attached to different chores and they got stickers as rewards for their hard work. It worked beautifully..until the oldest turned two and started whining about having to clean the toilets. Naturally, his 9 –month old brother followed suit and there went the polished floors.
- Be clear– According to the National Institute of Health, teen boys’ developing brains contain more gray matter than girls’. Apparently, this limits their ability to fully process information because of the brain’s inability to make adequate connections. This makes it all the more important to clearly state what you expect from your son, and to include any hazy vocabulary that might trip him up. I tried this recently. I made sure I had his full attention and very slowly and clearly I said, “Alex, I would like you to empty the dishwasher within the next 10 minutes. Do you understand what I’m asking?” A film of confusion washed over his face and he asked, “What’s a dishwasher?”
- Set realistic expectations– Overloading your loin fruits will do nothing but overwhelm them and make them feel bad. Remember, no one should suffer here, except you. Making unreasonable demands such as asking them to close the front door behind them and put the milk back in the fridge may cause unnecessary feelings of inadequacy in your children. Instead, build their confidence slowly, one lilliputian chore at a time. Note**If they ask what a fridge or a door is, see above.
- Use a firm voice– It’s important to use a calm, firm voice that shows you are in control, but not controlling. Keep your tone even, and leave your emotions at the door. Personally, I have never ever ever resorted to such immature tactics as spittle-laced screaming at those I love most in the world: “ Pick your $#@!! clothes up off the floor before I hang myself with them!” However, I do have a friend who did this and she said it doesn’t work, so save your lungs.
- Stand over them until they do what you ask– This one can be exhausting, but don’t give up. Generally, when you ask your strapping, capable and athletic son to perform a strength and agility-challenging task such as taking out the garbage, their response will be: “J’sec”. This is code for “I’ll die first.” Try to block out the fact that you never say “J’sec” when they ask you for drives, money, or your spleen for hockey fundraising auctions. Just rise above the crippling anger and say, “I’d like you to do it now, please.” It’s best to have a good book and a vat of mocha javas handy; those boy-men can be very principled when there is a threat of muscle –pulling and other potential job-related carnage.
Well, the evidence is pretty clear. If you use the right combination of eye contact, consistency, clear language, and a firm but loving voice, you will have the same results as if you flushed your head down the toilet. Either adopt a girl or a chimpanzee and get a solid 7 minutes/day of free labor. If that doesn’t work, find your own dazed and blissful state. Studies show that rubbing alcohol is a quick and cheap favorite. You’ll find yourself humming Kumbaya for no reason at all.
The new format of my online humor writing course is on sale at a big discount until the end of this “100 Hours of Humo(u)r” blogathon. Writers of all skill levels are welcome. You can choose from a budget-friendly, self-guided option (which includes six months of unlimited peer critiquing in the “Globejotters’ Lounge,” our online humor lab) and a supercharged “Class Clown” package with five of my in-depth writing critiques to fine-tune your work. Find out more here!