I think reading the Good Omens script book is helping me realize things about my own writing and how I’ve been sabotaging myself.
Of course, I understand, reading any and all books are helpful for writers in their own writing. But honestly, I recently realized that I’ve been taking myself too seriously. Not that I shouldn’t work hard. I need to buckle down and work more, write more, read more. What I mean is until about the last year or so, I’ve been imprisoning myself in a cage where my fiction has had to be one way because that’s the way.
For a long time, I’ve considered trying to publish humorous essays in the style of David Sedaris. His writing taught me that embarrassing personal experiences can make for hilariously good writing. My life is steeped in embarrassing personal experiences.
In the sort of “personal essays” I write for my blog, I use humor freely. My obstacle in my fiction writing is that I have been stuck in a mindset that I can’t be too silly. And to those who know me best, Donnell being not silly, is like “What the fuck?” Because the Donnell everyone knows is silly as fuck. There have been two things I’ve been told for a long time: That I’m funny and that I am good at story telling/manipulating language in a way that makes people want to read/hear my stories. It’s just that I’ve been too stuck the last several years on different editors’ submission requirements, and trying to shape my writing to fit particular magazines’/journals’ expected styles. However, reading Neil Gaiman using a phrase like “glares glarefully” and reading in his intro where he explains he added jokes into the scene descriptions that didn’t exactly amuse the TV production folks, made me realize I’ve been going about this all wrong for too long. I have been thinking this about my writing method for months, but reading the Good Omens script book has really opened my eyes about it. Of course, as always, there’s a Queen song that goes along with my story. (Because, in case I forgot to mention it a million times, I’ve been obsessed with Queen since I was a kid.)
“Oh, don’t try so hard. Oh, don’t take it all to heart. It’s only fools. They make these rules. Don’t try so hard.”
On the album Innuendo, recorded from March 1989 to November 1990 and released in February 1991, there is a song titled Don’t Try So Hard. Written by Freddie Mercury, when he knew he was at the end of his life. It’s an amazing song. For years I’ve listened to it and related to it in different ways depending on my current life situations. It’s been stuck in my head a lot lately. It’s been in my head on and off over the last 7 years during AJ’s illnesses and disabilities, thinking it was maybe telling me that I’m overworking myself in that arena- the role of primary caretaker. So many people tell me all the time how well AJ is doing and has done, and that it’s because of me. But, they also make sure to tell me to take care of myself, too.
In the last month or so, though, I’ve really finally opened my eyes to the idea that I’m hurting my writing by trying too hard. Don’t Try So Hard is a song written by a man who knew his life was ending, and who had one of the most prolific careers in entertainment ever. So what is the song telling me? Or more accurately, what is my unconscious telling me via Freddie’s voice right now at this point in my life? I really believe it’s that I have to relieve myself of the chains in which I’ve bound myself regarding my writing. I have to let my mind do its thing- be silly and tell stories. Not that I can’t or won’t write serious material anymore. It’s just that I’m not a dramatist. That’s not me. Comedy gets little recognition in entertainment, except from the audiences. I’m not writing for editors who want “literally fiction”, “speculative fiction”, and whichever of the other hundreds of preferred types containing some kind of deep meaningful societal dialogue; I’m writing for the audience. For you, the readers.
Monty Python has taught me that comedy can still make people think about deep shit.
You can laugh and contemplate the universe at the same time. Douglas Adams taught me that, too. And most recently, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens (because somehow I hadn’t learned of it until 2019, which I’m frankly embarrassed to admit).
Still there are times you just have to go in for the laugh, and that’s great, too. Laughing is fun. I love making people laugh. It’s probably my favorite thing to do while interacting with others.
I’ve realized I’ve been trying too hard, holding my own head under water trying to fit a model that I’m not. It’s time to remedy that.
I suppose with the cherub(s). The plural will explain itself later.
Unfortunately, because of Hurricane Katrina, I only have a few pictures left of Jennifer Elaine. No photos left from our childhood, when she truly resembled a creation of Raphael himself. The artist that is, not the archangel.
Three of us made up “the girls” of our block. We were the only kids who lived on the block the longest. There were others who came briefly and went. Some of whom I am still friends with in adulthood. But the three of us were “the girls.” Sort of like a more homogenous and smaller version of “the them.”
Donnell (myself), Jenny and Amanda. They are twins, fraternal but still very much identical to the human eye. We were the scourge of the 500 block of Community St. in Old Arabi – just blocks away from New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward neighborhood and minutes away from the French Quarter (where much of our teen years were spent). For all intents and purposes, that was our neighborhood. We decided who joined our band of merry miscreants and who didn’t. There were kids from other blocks who later became part of our friend group as teens, but as kids it was just us. We frequently had trouble with a group of boys from the next street over, and I will confidently say we always defended our territory with little effort.
The area from Community Park to the Lebeau Mansion (no longer standing) was ours. We owned it proudly. We rode our bikes to the Mississippi River levee and gazed upon our land. Even if there were other groups of kids who did the same, to us the dominion was ours.
All things pass with time, which I imagine is the natural order of things – if there were a natural order. As we became teenagers, our paths became a great deal disjointed. But we lived across the street from each other. Right across the street. We were still the girls, even if we weren’t always together causing mischief and causing Mr. Otis, the old man who walked his cat on a leash, bouts of agita.
By now you’re wondering where this rambling stream of consciousness goes next. Now I will address the next topic and major intermixture that will help make sense of the finale -my current Good Omens obsession. A novel that somehow I hadn’t discovered until 2019 when it was released as a Prime original series. And which since discovering have fangirled the hardest over in several years.
The three of us, the girls – myself, Jenny and Amanda – discovered Queen at quite a young age. Part of that was probably because of my parents’ vinyl collection from which I acquired several albums. One of them being the original Jazz album with the iconic Bicycle Race photo on the inner part of the sleeve, sadly yet another victim of Hurricane Katrina.
Did every cassette we had turn into Queen’s Greatest Hits? Well, there wasn’t a car to be had as we were children, but my bedroom oddly seemed to work the same magic. There were albums to be listened to and cassettes to be played and CDs didn’t exist yet. This was the Before Times, people. The 1980s.
We even had a mascot, Freddie Flamingo, which was a plush flamingo I’d caught at a Mardi Gras parade and was rather good at singing Don’t Stop Me Now.
Queen was a big part of our lives then, and still. Mine and Amanda’s anyway. . .
On November 18, 2003 my cherub, Jennifer Elaine, went to sleep for the last time. She and her twin both suffered epilepsy. She had a seizure in her sleep and it was her final seizure. Death does come like a thief in the night.
As kids we were all three inseparable, but I would be lying to say I hadn’t shared something with Jenny that was different than what I shared with Amanda. Neither of those being the lesser or greater. Just different. Love for them both, and I wish I could say unconditional because this is where the regret part begins.
But first, I will get to our song. It will clear up a lot to anyone familiar with the Good Omens Prime series, which is very close to the book but has new elements that I connected with on levels much differently.
One of my fondest memories from our childhood was of myself and Jenny, playing without Amanda this day for some reason. She would get mad at us because we tended to gang up on her unnecessarily sometimes. (Sorry, Amanda!) Probably she had had enough of our shit and went home to play Nintendo.
Jenny and I were running around like the little 10 year old maniacs we were in my backyard, around a table my grandparents had under a patio, listening to what I imagine would be considered an “antique” cassette player. I lived in a double. New Orleans people are familiar with the term if others might not be. My parents and I lived in one side, and my grandparents lived in the other side. Basically a duplex, but in New Orleans everything is different than the rest of America. And our housing conforms to our way of life.
We were listening to my Queen’s Greatest Hits cassette, if you can even imagine it, and the song You’re My Best Friend was playing. (This was the Greatest Hits with the purple [or red?] cover that came before the Greatest Hits II with the dark navy cover that included more songs from Queen’s later albums.)
Jenny stopped running, looked straight at me with all the sincerity a person could have, and said to me “Donnell, you’re my best friend.” I don’t recall my response verbatim, but I imagine I said to her that she was my best friend, too.
I only started being able to listen to that song again in the last five or so years. Since Jenny’s passing in 2003, I had skipped over it whenever it came up on my playlist because I couldn’t bear to hear it. That was our song.
As I stated earlier in this piece, once we reached our teens, we grew apart a bit. Boys that weren’t worth it got in the way and stuff got really complicated. My two best friends had always gone to a different school than me, so we obviously had friends from school that were not part of our Community St. gang.
Jennifer was always such a fan of mine. Jenny and Amanda both always had the utmost confidence in me, and Amanda still does. I don’t know why. But before I started writing this, I prayed to Jennifer and asked her for some of that confidence now. This is the hard part. A lot of things happened, memories that I will keep in the sacred tabernacle of my mind. My cherub was tempted down a terrible path. And not by me.
Everyone pretty much accepted I was the evil one. It was known. Jenny was influenced easily, and I was normally the one who did the influencing. But at a point, I distanced myself and someone else came and took my place. Someone truly wicked, not just slightly evil in a cheeky, devilish way. Not someone who’d just sauntered vaguely downward. In our youth, I might have taken advantage of the fact that I could get Jenny to do certain naughty things. If I dared her to do a thing, she did it. She trusted me.
I failed her.
Soon things were cascading out of control, and I didn’t know what to do. None of us really did. But by God, I should have done more. I do hold myself accountable in so many ways. We weren’t angels in our late teens/early-20s. I was a fool. I should have been more assertive with her. Aggressive even. But I felt betrayed for reasons, and we parted ways for a while.
Just days before she passed, I saw her and talked to her for the first time in a long time. I asked her to come over – from my front porch. Her grandmother was ill, and she said she couldn’t at the time but maybe soon. I said OK and went on with life. All I had to do was walk across the street. I could have easily gone over to her house, if she’d have let me. I was foolish and stupid.
That same week she died.
“Love of my life, don’t leave me…”
My Obsession with Good Omens
Let me first start with explaining that I am very prone to fangirling. Already mentioned: The Vampire Chronicles (When we first saw Interview With a Vampire as young teens, we decided I was Lestat and Jenny was Louis, because as I’ve stated, everyone knew I was the more tarnished one.) and The Phantom of the Opera.
Most recently, obviously, Good Omens. It doesn’t take much of a stretch to imagine that when I saw this trailer I was instantly interested (also a friend of mine who knows I love Queen brought it to my attention):
Did I read the novel twice in the last month? Yeah. I did.
Have I watched the series thrice in the last two months? Yep.
You know what an almost forty year old woman who still fangirls over things like a teenager discovered? Good Omens animatics on YouTube. I didn’t even know that was a thing. It is. I’ve watched many of them.
I know if she was still here, we’d be all over this. Even as adults. And every time I watch a scene with Crowley and Aziraphale, I think of her.
I think of how we’d both read the novel together, and maybe watch the series together. Although at this point in life, we would both be grown with our own families. I can romanticize my imaginary scenarios. They are only imaginary after all.
Because in the series, Crowley tells disincorporated Aziraphale that he lost his best friend, but **SPOILER ALERT** his best friend returns.
There is no magical happy ending in real life. Real life is raw and uncut. There are no edits. Things we lose are gone. Only to live on in our hearts and memories.
So make it count.
(This blog entry is dedicated to Jennifer Elaine Lapara April 2,1979 – November 18, 2003)