Peep Rejects (and other inspirations)

Laurie Frankel

sunlight-justin perkins

I’m always on the lookout for writing inspiration. When something, anything, strikes me as funny-odd-interesting-sick-creepy-fantastic-ridiculous, I take note. I have many quarter sheets of paper with cryptic phrases that at the time felt like the start to The Great Gatsby, but upon rereading seem more like the beginnings of a psychotic break. I have visions of accidentally stabbing myself in the jugular while logging brilliant thoughts behind the wheel, think Joe Pesci in Casino—and sorry AT&T, it can’t wait because my thoughts have the half-life of a neutrino.

I transfer the winningest of these phrases, ideas, cultural references, bumper stickers, interviews, etc., to a special blank-page book, where, the hope is, they will incubate between the hard covers and, I don’t know, leave home one day and get a job.

If an idea or line or concept rattles around in my head long enough, until I can’t ignore it, I try it out on the page. One good line leads to another and another until I have a whole paragraph, no two! and then, halfway down the page, the whole thing loses steam and goes off course like the poor Segway CEO who took an eighty-foot tumble while on one of his own motorized scooters . . . and died—you can’t make this stuff up.

Lately, the anorexic girl in my neighborhood has been rolling around in my head. I call her Anorexic Annie. I want to write her into a story but don’t want to harp on the obvious. I want to get at her sideways or tangentially or not at all. I don’t know where she comes from or where she goes but she walks with such purpose, as if her life depends on it which in a way it does. This woman sports a stack of Marge Simpson hair, only it’s solid black, and wears a matching T-shirt and short ensemble, purple one day, emerald green the next. She carries hand weights and pumps her arms up and down as if in time to some secret song. Her very tan arms and legs resemble those of a well-preserved mummy. Every time I see her I want to call 911 then give her some mac ‘n cheese, but instead I just smile and say, hi. We all struggle, some just more transparently than others.

Then there’s the guy who calls all his dogs Augie, adding a “g” with each successive dog. His latest is Augggie. Surely there’s something there, right? Or my late-sixty-something, hippie-dude neighbor who, at age fifty, went to med school and now sports a gray braid down his back and reads books while walking barefoot along the ocean. Pretentious blowhard, I think, and maybe that’s why I can’t get my pen around him. Too much judgment. Or not enough groovy-ness, one of the two. And there’s my eighty-year-old neighbor who gets drunk and shares that her son told her she no longer has to have sex with her boyfriend if she doesn’t want to. I ended up writing her, her son, his imagined pain-in-the-ass/bigoted wife and flirtatious daughter into a story about going on safari in Africa. In it the lily-white daughter made it with the black porter to everyone’s chagrin.

And now for a sampling of what’s made it into the no-longer-so-blank-page book:

There are conversation snippets. I call this collection, “Overheard in Starbucks:”

  • Remember when only pretty people flew?
  • She’s so talented, she’s in the school of Juliette.
  • I’m trying not to drink or cheat on my husband.
  • Is Ryan Gosling dreaming of dry humping me?
  • Put Brazilian in front of anything and it’s sexy.

And news articles:

And artists:

And interview tidbits:

  • The voice of Elmo, Kevin Clash, was not consulted on the “Tickle Me Elmo” toy. According to Clash, Elmo only refers to himself in third person, so the toy should have been called “Tickle Elmo.” —Fresh Air, NPR (and, for the record, Mr. Clash was cleared of all sexual abuse charges.)
  • “Well, ABC always felt sharp and acidic, for some reason, and NBC softer, and I’d associate or think of real moments in my life as being more ABC or NBC, as if they were adjectives . . . Television was my first real drug.” —Chris Ware, Paris Review.
  • “I must be doing something worthwhile,” cartoonist Alison Bechdel said upon winning the MacArthur Genius Grant. —Daily Beast

I often think about all the fantastically creative things people are saying and doing, all the beauty, both macabre and lovely, that’s already been created, all the directions in which I could take these inputs and quite quickly it’s overwhelming. I think, how is there room for more, how is there room for me?

Whatever the answer, it’s not like I have much say in the matter. Something inexplicable from within drives me. I do this seemingly endless dance where I seek, question, note, write, bitch, read, hike, sleep, swim, then circle back to the realization it’s the goddamn journey and try again.

Short-story writer and humorist Laurie Frankel knows pain is the root of all comedy and is thrilled her life is so damn funny. Her work has appeared in journals such as the North American ReviewAlaska Quarterly ReviewGulf StreamThe Literary Review, and Shenandoah. She is the author of There’s a Pattern Here & It Ain’t Glen Plaid”, “I Wore a Thong for This?!” and is currently at work on a memoir. Contact her at Laurie was featured in issue 296.3 of NAR.

Illustration by Justin Perkins, who graduated from College for Creative Studies. A freelance illustrator and designer, he teaches art in Detriot. Justin’s first illustration for the North American Review appeared in issue 298.4.