Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Science of Parenthood interview, or, how I became a brilliant cartoonist

Books. I own some. I've borrowed them from the library. I've ordered them online. I've listened to them "on tape" (kids, that's how we used to listen to Audible before the internet was a thing). 

So I'm a fan. And you should be, too, because "reading is fundamental" and other catchphrases from public media campaigns over the years. Hey, if a big red dog says we should read, we probably should. Hell, I don't want to alarm you, but you're reading right now. 

The million dollar question is: Nicole, what should I read next and will you be in that book? The answers are Science of Parenthood: Thoroughly Unscientific Explanations for Utterly Baffling Parenting Situations and no, I'm not in that book, but it's probably good anyway. 

But I am in The Bigger Book of Parenting Tweets: Featuring More of the Most Hilarious Parents on Twitter, which, along with the first edition of The Big Book of Parenting Tweets, are creations of the same comedic masterminds behind the new Science of Parenthood book. 

In other words, it's sure to be funny. Even without my contribution

But don't take my word for it (Reading Rainbow reference, if you're following along). I've interviewed Jessica Ziegler, the artist behind all three books, to tell us all about this newest creation brought to life by her and her writing partner, Norine Dworkin-McDaniel.

Nicole Leigh Shaw: So, books are still a thing and you've published one? 

Jessica Ziegler: Yes! It’s called Science of Parenthood: Thoroughly Unscientific Explanations for Utterly Baffling Parenting SituationsIt’s available now! Thanks so much for doing this interview, I’m excited to talk to you today about the book!

NLS: This is your third book, right? Because I'd like to point out that I was in your second book, The Bigger Book of Parenting Tweets that you published along with Norine (your Sun and Stars), and the Twitter maven Kate Hall. And I'd also like to point out that I was not in the first book and am I right to assume it's because you didn't want to shame the other contributors with my Twitter prowess?

JZ: It’s true. You weren’t in the first one. I blame Kate. The first book came together very quickly, and we didn’t have time to open submissions, which is why you weren’t in it. You weren’t even given a chance. If you were, I’m sure you would have been in it, I’m positive.

NLS: Well, your kingdom for a Flux Capacitor, am I right? What's different about the Science of Parenthood book, other than I'm not in that, either?

JZ: This book was actually written by us. We wrote bits and pieces of the Tweets books but the humor heavy-lifting was done by the contributors, such as yourself. 

In the new book we use math and science as a humorous lens through which to poke fun at everything that is maddening about parenting: unexpected diaper blow-outs, food tantrums, homework, etc. It’s full of our cartoons, as well as humorous essays, quizzes and fun science-y charts and infographics like Should You Have Another Baby and Where’s Your Phone?

NLS: How did you contribute to the new book? I understand you doodle.

JZ: I do. I’m a well-known doodler with an BFA in Painting. I illustrated the cartoons and other elements in the book, designed the cover and interior, and designed (and wrote most of) the charts and infographics. Norine did some things, too, I think. I don’t really remember.

NLS: Have you always wanted to be an artist who made cartoons about parenting? Like, at age 5, were you taking notes on your mother's behavior and sketching her holding a coffee mug and cursing under her breath?

JZ: No, though I should have been taking notes. I grew up with two younger brothers, so I really missed an opportunity to hone in on multi-child dynamics. My father is a cartoonist and, frankly, I always thought of that as his “thing.” Honestly, this is all Norine’s fault.

NLS: Did you know that I wanted to be an artist, too, but I'm from a broken home, so that's why I'm a humor writer instead?

JZ: I’m sorry to hear that, though I don’t think being from a broken home precludes being an artist. Could you not afford crayons?

NLS: Would you like to see some of my work or are you afraid I'll be a better artist than you are?

JZ: I’d love to see your work!

NLS: Here's my first sketch, I was inspired when I was helping my kids with math worksheets. It's okay to cry if you feel moved by the raw emotion. 

JZ: Well. Yes. It IS very raw. That is an excellent word to describe it.

NLS: I know you didn't ask, but here's my next sketch where I really start to explore the essence of my character. Who is she? What motivates her? Does she wear earrings? I'll understand if you want to clutch your stomach because my talent has hit you like a punch to the gut. 

JZ: Wow, that is something alright.

NLS: I like how you're restraining your praise, very profesh. Now, here's a piece I started to develop when my art became craft, and not just a hobby. Don't worry, your cartoons are coming along and soon you'll also be a member of the elite guild of creators called cartoonists. Just keep trying, Jessica. 

JZ: Thanks?

NLS: I'm a patron of the arts, Jessica. It's my job to help foster less talented people, like yourself. No need to thank me. 

In fact, I've added one of your pieces of work here, titled Special Shoelace Relativity so that we can show my readers how nicely you're coming along. How long did this piece take to finish? Hours? Days?

JZ: Oh, geez, I think maybe an hour or so? Speed isn’t really the first thing I’m thinking about when I’m drawing. I remember it took a bit of time to figure out how to show the girl from above, it’s a bit of a tricky angle.

NLS: That's nice. I drew this in under 4 minutes. I know. You can't even believe what I'm saying right now.

JZ: Four minutes seems about right.

NLS: What do you think of my most recent work? It's just something I came up with one day, kind of just hit me. One never knows where inspiration comes from.

JZ: Well I have to say, that one is very familiar. Surely you remember the Mother’s Homework Prayer that we published last year? You must, part of it is right there in the picture.

NLS:  I'm pretty sure you're mistaken. This is not a "hacked kind of plagiarism that only the lazy and untalented would call art," as you just mentioned in the voicemail you left on my phone. I saw something like this on the internet and we all know that art and graphics and memes you find on the internet have no copyright protection and you can take it and do whatever you want with it.

JZ: --- 

NLS: I'm sorry you didn't feel it necessary to respond to my last question. With an attitude like that, I honestly don't know how you'll sell any books. If you think you can get by on hard work and talent, well, I'm afraid you'll be very unsuccessful, indeed. 


But, if the rest of you think Jessica and Norine are, in fact, talented, you can buy their book and follow them online. As for me, I'm feeling good about my chances of making it as an artist.

Science of Parenthood on the Web
Science of Parenthood on Facebook
Science of Parenthood on Twitter
Science of Parenthood on Instagram

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Moms, snoozing is how we do

If you give a mom a snooze button, she'll use it.

If she uses the snooze button, she'll run late.

If she runs late, the kids get granola bars for breakfast.

If the kids get granola bars for breakfast, they'll leave crumbs in the car on the way to school.

If the kids leave crumbs in the car on the way to school, mom will have to clean it.

If she has to clean the car—she won't. It's a minivan, not a wedding limo. It's like the crumbs have come home. You're home, crumbs! Welcome home! Just chill with the stale French fries and that sticky goo in the cup holder.

If a mom cleaned up crumbs from every damn thing the kids ate in the car, she'd have to care. Mom doesn't care. Mom hasn't had enough sleep to care since the doctor said "Push!" and she said to your dad, "I will end you if you try to tell me to breathe through this."

If she had been able to breathe through childbirth in a way that nullified pain, she'd be some kind of super hero, like Wonder Woman but not in a Jane Fonda leotard that got dressed up for the Fourth of July. Think Wonder Woman in jeans and tee shirt and a minimizer bra. And she'd use her powers to get to the school to volunteer, or get to the grocery store for milk, or get to work to make money to pay for more granola bars, or get back home to vacuum the living room because screw the car.

If she had the energy to do all of that volunteering and grocery shopping and job having, she'd save the last of it to help the kid that hops off the bus and announces a last-minute project he never mentioned and she'll stay up long after they go to sleep using a blow dryer to dry the volcano her son couldn't finish. Once that's done she'll clean something or pack a lunch or match socks or maybe none of the above.

If none of the above, she'll just pour a second (or third—volcano drying is thirsty work) glass of wine and catch up on her shows because none of these damn socks have matches, anyway.
If she can't match socks, she'll try to sleep, but won't shut her eyes until midnight, and even then they'll pop back open because wasn't there a permission slip she needed to sign or a check she needed to write and good lord, what's that smell? How long has that one load been in the washer?

If, after shuffling into the kitchen to find the checkbook or into the laundry room to sniff the musty towels before deciding to rewash the whole load, she has any awake left in her, she'll lay in bed and mess around on her phone until very late, but, hey, she stays up late every night.

And if she stays up late, chances are she'll use the snooze button in the morning.

Monday, August 31, 2015

If Kids Made Internet Memes

I'm a professional humorist, as it happens. That means that I think deeply about human nature and make "a-ha!" observations that cause my readers to smile and nod and feel connected in our universal suffering of the same condition: The human condition. 
Just kidding. I make memes and retweet fart jokes. 
Just like a young boy of 10. Which inspired me to wonder, if kids made memes, what would they look like?
I spent 15, maybe 17 minutes trolling the Internet for some of my favorite memes and turned them into something the wittest 7-, or even 9-year-old might write. 
Toddler says,"I see you're speaking with tall people. I'll just need to stop you right there."

Third grade got you down, Sport?

Pretty sure I'm allergic to "baby trees," mom.

Oh, to be 6 and sippin' on a successfully punctured pouch of, well, I wouldn't call it "juice," not technically.

Every toddler knows that crumbs do not a cookie make.

Just think kids, when you grow up, you might have a career making the same jokes you're making right now! But grown-ups won't even let you operate the toaster oven without supervision. It's a fool's world, children, and the big secret of adulthood is that adults are still waiting to become grown-ups. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Ain’t no Awkward Like #MiddleSchoolAwkward

There’s a special time no one wants to revisit whose hallmark is breast buds and nocturnal emissions. In Dante’s Inferno, that time is a circle of hell. In America, we call it middle school.

Middle school is where children are tempered by puberty. There young people are plumped up then slimmed down, flat things get bumpy, faces get poxy. Junior high starts with adolescence and ends with menses (if you’re a girl) and with, I don’t know, boners in sweatpants (if you’re a boy). Both of which are fairly horrifying and at odds with your childhood expectations. But that's good because adulthood is pretty much a lot less of staying up late because you don't have to go to sleep and a lot more of falling asleep because you can't stay awake, so you might as well learn to handle disappointment early. 

But it’s not all pubic hairs and acne and ugly crying when a boy turns you down even though it's the Sadie Hawkins dance and girls get to pick their dates, Brian. It's also about defeating joy before it takes root, ruining dreams before they are dreamed, just like joining the adult work force does. Work life starts with a “promising entry level position with lots of opportunity to grow,” and ends with “three years working for this asshole.” Similarly, adolescence starts with hopes of slow dancing with Brian and ends with spending the second half of the eighth grade dance in the girls room with your friend and her epic zit, rejection for you and a potential facial scar for her keeping you from enjoying SaltNPepa on the dance floor. Holla back if you feel me, Lakeside Middle School Class of 1990.

There's a lot of change over the three or so years of tweendom. Middle school starts with Pokémon cards and American Girl Dolls and ends with jock straps and bras. Middle school introduces kids to higher level academics and the fear that failing pre-algebra will make your parents stop loving you. It begins with size-3 feet and ends with mom refusing to buy any more new shoes this year because, damn, that's a lot of rapid foot growth, Frodo. Middle school is when people rock trends that do not flatter their figures and try on personalities that are totally wrong for them.

Middle School, in other words, is an awkward time. A time of growth and exploration as uncomfortable as it is rife with boy bands. It’s for that reason (boy bands) that 100% of the people polled would rather surrender a limb than be forced to relive those middle grades.

Except for one thing: hope. Like Pandora’s Box, middle school is filled with evils such as confusion about identity, fears about taking responsibility, and bra snappers. But it is also filled with the sense that, after surviving the middle grades, you can finally go out and become the person you were meant to become. You’ll have blossomed, as grandma will be happy to remind you, and even if you didn’t turn out to be a rose, at least you weren’t devoured by garden weevils.

So, high five, junior high. Thanks, awkward phase and headgear. It was a pleasure knowing you, B.O. and hormones. Without middle school, none of us would understand humility, the double entendre, or the power of well-timed sarcasm. Those are the tools for surviving adulthood.


I wrote this post as part of Nickelodeon's® sponsorship of The Blog University. They are sponsoring the #MiddleSchoolAwkward party on Saturday night at the BlogU15 conference. I will be wearing a Jesse and the Rippers tee shirt. (Why, yes, Jesse and the Rippers is the fake band in the seminal TV show "Full House.") So, your jealousy is well-aimed. The series "100 Things to Do Before High School" premieres on June 6 @ 8pm on Nickelodeon." You should watch it. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

If I only had a penis, I'd be funnier

I'm listening to the PG Comedy channel on Pandora (kids in the room, got to limit their vocabulary to "aw, shucks!").

I'm on the tenth comedy track and I've heard some great bits, but not one of them by a woman.

I heard a man make a joke about never thinking he'd have to tell his kids not to bite the dog.

No woman could deliver that punchline. It's just somasculine.

I heard a man joke that his 15-year-old mentioned he'd be driving next year and the comic hasn't slept in two weeks worrying about that reality.

Too nuanced for a woman to have written, you know, because her vagina might get in the way of her brain function. It happens. Don't believe me? Look up the meaning of the totally legitimate mental disorder called "hysteria."

I've heard from favorites like Brian Regan and Jim Gaffigan. And I laughed because they are funny. And probably because they have penises, which, well, funniest genitals on the planet, am I right?
But I haven't heard a single female voice. Because, ladies, I guess it's time we face facts, WOMEN JUST CAN'T DO COMEDY.

Everyone knows the only things women *can* joke about are having periods and saggy boobs and menopause and why we don't like sex.

We can sometimes joke about parenting, too, but let's leave that to the men, shall we ladies? Because when a man talks about being a parent it's hilarious and when a woman does it's just "lady humor."
Because women's humor isn't relatable. Sure, women comprise half of humanity, but, unlike jokes about having penises and wanting to see breasts---which are funny to every single human---jokes about things exclusive to the female gender are inherently less funny because, um, I'm sure there's a good reason.

That reason must also be why, of the 24 comedy channels on Pandora radio, only 3 have pictures of women in the preview thumbnail. Those are: the "Women in Comedy" station, the "LGBT Comedy" station, and the "Ridiculous Relatives Comedy" station. No thumbnails of the ladies in the various comedy channels dedicated to particular decades or ethnocentric genres like the Latino or the Asian channel.

Women's humor lives in the "Women of Comedy" station, primarily, so decent humans can avoid hearing their shrill and depressing sets. Imagine if a woman comic popped up on a non-female channel! Would the world spontaneously ovulate? Would men grow breasts and storm the drug stores in search of Midol and an US Weekly? CHAOS.

I've been writing humor, almost exclusively, for the last 4 years. I write satirical humor, 140-character zingers for Twitter, professional humor columns for my local newspaper and---so far---humor essays for 4 humor anthologies.

I write humor columns for local magazines. I wrote a humorous marketing screenplay for a local company's annual meeting.

I've been on NickMom and Lifetime Moms and Mamalode and Bonbon Break writing humor. I've been on Scary Mommy and Mommy Shorts and The Huffington Post (Women, Parents, and Comedy).
I've read two humor pieces live on stage. Pieces I had to audition for before they'd let me tell jokes to an audience.

All of this is to say, thank you, Pandora radio! Without you, I'd have kept at it! Imagine me, a woman, creating jokes that are undoubtedly not funny in the least.

Why, I might have seen my friends laughing and thought they were laughing with me, when they have most certainly been laughing to mask their disdain and shame. Oh, how they must pity me!

I might have read favorable comments and reviews and thought that I'd made people literally experience the internet phenomenon known as LOLing. I see now that their "hahahahahahahahahas" were nothing more than a lie to protect my fragile, imagined persona: comedienne.

No humorist, I. Just a woman. A woman who may listen to the jokes men tell, but never make them herself.

Pandora, you've saved me. I'll go back to my rightful place, which is in the audience, laughing at men's jokes.


Books I'm in that you can buy 
that I mistakenly believed were funny, 
one of which is a 
New York Times Best Seller 
because we fooled thousands and thousands of consumers 
into thinking it would make them laugh

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Parent Bus

There's magic in that big yellow bus. The most powerful of which is that I don't have to drive the big yellow bus. When it pulls up to the curb, my kids stand in line until the doors whoosh open, and poof, like Cinderella off to the ball, they are whisked away, all while I wave, still wearing my PJs.

But there's magic on those big yellow buses, too. Kids chattering and laughing and picking spitballs out of their hair. (Is that still a thing or did it go out sometime in 1954?) They do all that bonding and social development and wishing they'd peed before getting on the bus.

Sometimes the bus takes them to other exciting places like pumpkin patches and children's museums. Or it takes them to snooze-fest City Hall where someone drones on about the history of the town and, really, if you're going to have a stomach bug, City Hall field trip day is a good day for rotavirus.

City Hall and spitballs aside, I wouldn't mind a big yellow bus for parents.

It could take us to parent school, where we'd learn about how to ensure the kids will still visit once they've left the nest and when it's time to clean those pee-pee sheets and when it's better to burn them. I don't care how much detergent you use, there comes a time when the best cleaning measure is immolation.

We'd have field trips to coffee houses where we'd press our noses up against the glass and drool over butter croissants and ask to smell the espresso beans.

Instead of puppet shows, we'd be driven to movie matinees where we'd watch an R-rated movie and no one would ask to "go potty" during the most pivotal scene.

We'd get bused to Target. The kids would have packed our returns into our backpacks the night before and slipped a fiber bar into the little side pocket for a snack. They'd hand us an envelope with a few dollars in it so we could all get slushies and visit the Dollar Spot before leaving.

If parents got on the bus, we'd chatter about sports and piano lesson scheduling conflicts and the last time we had a date night. Someone would pick an errant fruit snack out of our hair for us.

The Parent Bus sounds wonderful, and full of exciting possibilities. But none so idyllic as the the bus ride home, during which we'd all nap.

This bus day dream has helped me to remember that kids and parents aren't so different. We want to go fun places, be with friends, learn cool stuff, and all of us wished we'd peed before getting on the bus.

Now available, the follow-up to the NYT Best Selling I  Just Want to Pee Alone, is the hilarious and heart-warming, and pore-cleansing I Still Just Want to Pee Alone. Not only is it a great read, it's also a book I'm in, so you can see why I'm keen for you to buy it. My essay, "Let's Piss Off the Babies," might very well be the funniest thing I've ever written. That's what my mom told me.

Here's where to buy I STILL Just Want to Pee Alone:

CLICK HERE for Kindle
CLICK HERE for Paperback via Amazon
CLICK HERE for iTunes/iBooks
CLICK HERE for Nook or Paperback via Barnes & Noble

Monday, March 9, 2015

The next book you won't be able to put down, The Unraveling of Mercy Louis

I'm reviewing the novel The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen. You should read the review, but if you don't, let me tell you in plain English. This book is probably the best novel I've read in years. Buy it. 


When I finally got around to watching Girls, the Lena Dunham vehicle on HBO that has masses of women glued to their screens, it was as engrossing as it was disturbing. It tells truths about being a young woman that I'm not always sure I want the world to know. The uncomfortable place I find myself in when watching Dunham’s show is a lot like worrying at the sore spot in your mouth where you’ve bitten your cheek. It hurts so good.

I got the same masochistic thrill reading Keija Parssinen's newest novel, The Unravelling of Mercy Louis. Except where the end of every Girls episode leaves me twisting in the wind, Mercy Louis let me fly at the finish.

Parssinen’s book is set in the fictional Texas town of Port Sabine, whose residents rely on the local oil refinery for employment and the girls’ high school basketball team for enjoyment. When an unsolved crime brings a wave of national media attention to Port Sabine, the town’s character and morality is hung on the reputation of its young women.

In the years since the accident at the oil refinery that injured the residents and the resident economy, the winning girls' varsity basketball team has buoyed the people of Port Sabine. At the center of the team is star player Mercy Louis. The history of Mercy Louis is crowded with bayou legend, religious fervor, repressive heat and repressive morality, scandal, voodoo, broken families, and a strange and unexplained affliction that fells the local girls one by one. Combines to make a mystery that nearly boils over with details that turn out not to be distractions from the plot, but the point of the story.

Mercy Louis, the titular character, is both pawn and queen. She’s manipulated by her evangelical grandmother, her self-interested basketball coach, and her needy, flawed friends. But Mercy also moves the town according to the accuracy of her shooting arm and purity of her character. The novel’s agency is in Mercy’s capable, but recently unreliable hands.

Mercy’s story is paralleled by Illa Stark—the anorexic, marginalized team manager for the girls' basketball team. Illa is a shadow and a sponge, a young woman who sets her worth by the inattentions of others, soaking up the fleeting notice of Mercy Louis. Illa is also the girl who cares for her ailing mother and reveals to Mercy truths about her estranged mother’s attempts to make contact. Illa, ultimately, directs Mercy’s steps as well as her own.

The author gives us a spectrum of experience, one woman at a time. There’s shame and privilege and first love and assault and expectation and revelation. There’s disappointment and rapture, both sexual and divine.

Throughout, Parssinen preaches a feminist’s lament, that the worth of our women is only as important as their public image, their perceived purity, and their willingness to be the sacrificial lambs for the public sins. Hers are women who must struggle, forced to fight their way through the needs and impositions of the people in their community and at home.

This dark and emotionally urgent novel is chockablock with metaphor. Often, the language Parssinen uses is more poetic than prosaic.

In the bathroom mirror, I notice that the skin around my mouth is pinkish from the friction of Travis’s stubble. I brush my teeth, gargle twice. The taste of his tongue persists. Here is what I feel: I’m walking close to cliff’s edge, a beckoning sea spread out to the west. I want badly to feel the weightless in the cool water. To experience that pleasure, I must dive off the edge, break something in the fall. And I know: this is temptation.

At the book’s onset, the figurative language feels heavy-handed and distracting, but as the pages turn, the layered meanings become vital to the telling. The layered metaphors keep time with the changing self-awareness of the characters and ultimately help to turn the comparisons back on the reader. I wasn’t drawn into the book so much as the book reflected my understanding of becoming an adult woman in a society that expects its ladies to shoulder social and moral responsibility.

The novel has a slow burn. It heats up at a steady pace that traps the reader in a satisfying, tense read. The raw and disturbing crime Parssinen sets up at the novel’s start has nothing on the fraught drama of Mercy Louis’s coming of age. This is a book I was riveted to in the most literal sense, carrying it from room to room so I could steal into the pages during odd moments. Its magnetism is in its realism and relatability and the smudged and dirty hope we get to polish into something precious at the novel’s close.

The Unravelling ofMercy Louis is the next novel you won’t be able to put down. 

Author Keija Parssinen's first novel is The Ruins of Us.

If my review didn't convince you to buy The Unraveling of Mercy Louis
see what these fine writers have to say.