Irreverence Entry #1: Born Awkward…Just Like Everyone Else

Irreverence Entry#1: “Born to be Awkward,” a photo/comedy book, by Mike Bender and Doug Chernack

borntobeFrom the authors who brought you Awkward Family Photos, Awkward Family Postcards, Awkward Family Holiday Photos, and (yes!) Awkward Family Pet Photos comes a new addition: “Born to Be Awkward.” If you liked any of the variety of Awkward Family photography mentioned above, you won’t be disappointed with the new arrival, as it follows in the same format and invocation of our intrigue with looking at photos that remind us of our own awkward families. But this time…there are babies.

It’s a short “read” of mostly pictures with small captions, and I breezed through it in about 30 minutes during some quality family time in which my brother and his girlfriend watched football, and my dad phubbed us all as he checked the Facebook feed.

“Born to be Awkward” is composed of the best of Awkward Family Photos of the wee little ones, babies, spawn, etc. And who doesn’t love babies? Well, actually quite a few people…but who doesn’t love pictures of babies looking terrified, being distressed, and generally failing hard at being a small human? Right! That’s more like it!

Why do we enjoy looking at awfully composed photos of families that we don’t know? Why do we laugh when we see parents in Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore costumery with their progeny in the middle of traumatic childhood scaring photographic evidence? Why will we scroll for hours through AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com to see children screaming on the laps of Donnie Darko-esque Easter Bunnies or glamour shots that remind us painfully of an era where our shame paled in comparison with the size of our teased hair?

Photos themselves capture our essence at any given moment in time. Even a bad photo, selfie, or glamour shot is still a record, a documentation, of us. Everyone has heard the idea that photographs steal a piece of our soul, and this is true at the most basic level, because photographs are, undeniably, an impression of us that will most likely (especially in the digital age) survive our physical bodies.

Photos also allow us to see ourselves through a different eye than that of the mirror. Sometimes we glimpse ourselves in a way we have never considered before. In this way, photos reveal a part of ourselves that is otherwise inaccessible.

More to the point though, why are the Awkward Family photo book series such a hit? My theory is that in addition to photos providing proof of our existence, and allowing us perspective, photos (of the nature in the Awkward books especially) allow us a shared experience with humankind on a larger scale.

In some capacity or another, we all have families. And our families sometimes do things that make us groan, or laugh, or gasp, or any other manner of reaction. Having photographic record that these emotions extend beyond ourselves and are part of the larger human condition is a relief and a fun way to relate to humans for even the most antisocial of us out there.

To say it another way, family is a lot like poop.

Stay with me here please….

On Facebook the other day, I was commenting on Burger King’s Halloween Whopper (that monstrous meat-thing with the black bun) and how it turns your poop a terrifying shade of green. Subsequently, I got a more than average response on this post from friends who could relate to the topic at hand. People were telling me of times they had green poop, or how they liked to study poop for health concerns, or other foods that turned poop colors. In short, everyone poops and everyone has a family. It’s a common ground on which we can usually form a minimalist human connection. This is the connection that forms the bridge of small talk that leads to the ground where we become friends, lovers, etc. Relatable moments within family groups (and poop) brings us closer together as a species.

Anyways…the photos that I could relate to in “Born to Be Awkward” were the ones that I enjoyed the most. It’s a little known fact that sometimes newborn babies are not very good looking. They take a few days to sort of “pink up” and adjust to the conditions outside of mom. I was definitely one of these unattractive newborns, with my wayward punk rock assemblage of black hair, my arms covered with rolls of fat like the Michelin Tire mascot, and beady, souless eyes that give me the shivers even to this day. Seeing some of the other bewildered and frazzled babies in this book make me feel better about being a late bloomer.

Comedically speaking, it’s not that hard to get a laugh out of me. The pictures of toddlers in mid-freefall, hovering inches above the ground because they were squireling around when the cameraman was adjusting, and are about to pay the price, are gold. And “Born to be Awkward” provides plenty of these within.

There’s some sibling shots I can definitely relate to. Namely the ones where the older sister is pushing the brother out of the shot or clamping a hand over his mouth, eyes, all airways, etc. Oh yeah, I totally did that. And the re-creation shots with side by side photos of the childhood pose and the present day subject in the same pose are good for a chuckle.

What I considered a big negative of this book was the last chapter; 11 pages that contain no photos whatsoever, but rather glossy photostock pages of photo frames where you can chronicle photos of “My Awkward Baby.”

Look, if I’m going to pay full retail price of $15 for this book, I do not want 11 essentially blank pages to include the product of my reproduction skills (baby) with this lot of clown babies that have been offered up for the amusement and scorn of the entire world. Those photos of my own (hypothetical) child are sacred, and to be kept within the photo album and away from the harsh, laughing world. These photos are for my family and I to look upon and fondly share the inside jokes, and flaws we have grown up with and taken an entire childhood to make peace with. These photos….these photos are OUR AWKWARD.

We’ll probably pull them out years later when the girlfriend/boyfriend comes over to the house though. I mean…it’s only fair. Because some family traditions are worth relating.

File Under Awkard in the thesaurus: amateurish, rude, stiff, all thumbs, artless, blundering, bulky, bumbling, bungling, butterfingers, coarse, floundering, gawky, graceless, green, having two left feet, having two left hangs, incompetent, inept, inexpert, klutzy, lumbering, maladroit, oafish, stumbling, uncouth, uncoordinated, unfit, ungainly, ungraceful, unhandy, unpolished, unrefined, unskilled.

I received and reviewed a complementary copy of this book as part of the Blogging For Books program.

This is the first entry in a new blog effort called Irreverent Thesaurus. Please visit and follow irreverentthesaurus.wordpress.com for more.

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Mired in the Lovecraftian Landscape

In a fit of sudden rage, I just flipped my computer to the floor. As its ruins smoke upon the floor, I can’t say I’m missing this device that, as of late, has functioned more as a Blue Screen countdown roulette game as opposed to a tool for my job search or quest to view all the cat videos. Tablets are where it’s at anyway. 

Now, it wasn’t just the constant cut to blue that made me decide to take this piece of hardware down. This has been a long time coming. And by a long time, I’m refering to really the past week that has tipped the scales where machinery murder doesn’t seem so immoral to me anymore.

The first strike came from the slew of engagements and baby announcements I have had to scroll through to get to my funny news stories and cat videos on the Facebook. First, my former best friend got engaged. My other former bestie congratulated her in the most self-serving manner possible, with her own Facebook status on how happy she was for her “best friend of 7 years.” Ugh. I liked the post. I’m not into those sour grapes. I’ve got a soft spot for how happy you are when you “find the one.”

Then it was a co-worker who got engaged. She’s only been dating this guy (a Buddy Holly smarmy type character she met at work) for maybe a year. But ok, yay for her too. Like. Then yesterday, my high school sweetheart announces his engagement. And looking through these pictures, I see that he did the same photoshop sappy writing over picture thing he did for me when we were dating IN THIS PROPOSAL. Yet, even still, I like this status. He’s a good guy, she’s a good gal…they’re gonna make each other pretty happy. What made this the first strike in my resentment towards my computer though was that it seems like all couples do in the winter months is get engaged and make babies, and then they run to the nearest smart device to post their bliss. And what’s up with all my exes meeting their future wife right after dating me? I’m gonna have to admit that maybe I’m doing it wrong (or right?). 

I understand, cold weather makes you stay inside. Two people inside can lead to engagments and/or babies. But, c’mon, break out a board game or something. All these engagments and the shoving of matrimony down my throat by proxy is getting my grinchly ire up. Marriage is just so…mainstream. Not to sound hipster or anything, but the engagments and announcements are starting to just plain bore me. Where’s the creativity in this life? What are we doing for mankind besides shacking up with one another? Ok…enough of that. I’m sure I’ve tweaked someone’s nose with that. Checking that one off the daily list.

Speaking of this weather. I can’t decide if I’m enjoying it or not. On the one hand, I do like the overcast, windy atmosphere that really brings out the crows on powerlines. It really sets a kind of Hitchcock/Lovecraft vibe that I dig. Because, most days I’m secretly (not so secretly) hoping that I’m a semi-protagonist in the next great horror. (I’d like to make it to the credits too if the man at the typewriter is listening.) Yet, this cold also takes that lonely dime-sized hole in my heart, works its finger into it and just starts to expand it from there. Every cold night of just giving up on the day and crawling into a cold bed is a sobering thing. It’s a thing that everyone has to go through, I know, but all these engagments and holiday cheer don’t make it any easier. Maybe it goes back to my roots as a Floridian. I want to be warm, in a bright place with a wide open sky. Maybe I’m just another non-unique human who someone let at a keyboard…Nah.

The second strike that led to the computer flipping was just plain ole annoyance at the extravigance of humankind, and how our local newspaper loves to report on the non-news that this is. I found, on the Facebook feed again, this news story of how a new restaurant…that’s actually being built across the street from me, will feature a “flaming waterfall and a 400 gallon fish task.” What the what? What restaurant needs a waterfall that is literally on fire? What’s the point? Why do I want to see this thing in the flesh? Let’s not report on their food or the jobs they are bringing to the area, let’s talk about this fish tank. This just gets on my journalism nerves. Not at the writer of the story, but at the human brain. People are much more likely to read a story based on a headline that talks about flames and fish as opposed to jobs and progress. And this is why we journalists have to search for bizarre tags to entice readers. I guess we are all just looking for a bit of trivia and a laugh to get us through the day. Bleak. 

The third strike that resulted in emminent computer death was my morning job search. There are no jobs in town for an English or a biology teacher. There are no journalism jobs in town. The jobs that are suggested for me by my career search Web sites are all server, hostess, and retail gigs. And even the retail managment openings want 5 to 7 years of manager experience. A receptionist position at a local veterinary office wants 2 years experience in a vererinary career. The only people calling me for interviews are Army/Navy recruiters, and the temptation to leave it all, sign my life unto the great unknown and at least pack-in some more writing experience is getting to be overwhelming. And then, as far as getting more higher education, a two year degree towards a ASL interpreter job won’t do much good without another bachelor’s. A one year technical program in the medical field requires a previous medical related degree. I’m just beating my head against all the ceilings it seems, and no one cared to tell me while I was spending a decade pursuing my worthless degrees that all I’d get from this is writing experience! 

So…during this exercise in futility, as my very inconsiderate neighbor continued to rev his muscle car for 20 minutes in the parking lot, and then gun his car a few feet, stop and repeat the process, I got a little cross. I flipped the computer to the floor, threw open the window and shouted down at him, “NO ONE IS IMPRESSED WITH YOUR TINY PENIS!”

I doubt he heard me as he gunned his bucket of nostalgia off into the wind tossed autumn leaves. All of you who were betting that I’d lose my cool on my other neighbor who likes to go to his porch as soon as I lay down for the night and talk for hours in a loud foreign tongue, lost that one. It was muscle car man this time that got the pent up Christmas-boloney-life-hack overflow, but I’m warning the world now that no one is safe. I’ve got two servers trying to start beef with one another over a failed dating experiment, and if they bring that weak sauce into my realm, they can expect nothing but stone cold smackdown. I’ve got a holiday season to get through, and retail takes no prisoners. Stop fighting over proper cup codes, and covering shifts, and who’s the boss…I’ll clear it up for your real quick: I am. I can tolerate a lot of things in my work place, but drama isn’t one of them. The buck stops here.

And now, a short comparison on the relationship Lanks and I have and the Twitter. I feel this is neccesary because I’ve never been in something like this, and I’ve had a few readers ask how I can be in a “relationship” with Lanks and still go on “dates” with the likes of Stumps and Blue. Well, here it is, in all its metaphorical glory. Lanks and I, like the Twitter, update each other once or twice daily with clever one-liners of less than 140 characters that usually involve how witty we are or how we like to complain that we should be better treated by life in general. Like Twitter, we check the feed a couple of times a day, perhaps hoping that our clever discourse with our other has been passed on to friends, or “retweeted” if you will. We know that our discourse with one another is “favorited.” That’s unspoken. And like Twitter, we both know on some level that our connection, just like this social media form, will go the way of the Dodo when something better comes along, to fill our time, to entertain us from the boredom, something with a better emotional return.

Like today. Our communication has been thus…Lanks: “I thought avoiding work would make me feel better. I was wrong.” Anna: “You were what? I don’t understand the word in that context.” Lanks: “Yeah, I know.” Anna: “You’re shaking my worldview. Hope you feel better soon.”

There’s a 75% chance that’s all we will say to one another today.  

That’s not to say that “Deadwriter” by RJD2 doesn’t play in my head when Lanks skips up the stairs to my cafe, because it does, and as he would say, “You make me feel…something. And that’s something.” I’m just saying that if Blue turns out to be a gentleman who wants to take me on a date that doesn’t involve me driving him to the used bookstore, I more than likely will take him up on the offer. Really, if I’m being honest with the Internet (which I more or less try to), I’m just trying to hold onto this buoy until the storm that is this year settles OR at least kicks up where I can catch a brutal wave to some kind of rocky island. Either is fine. I’m in a sort of limbo right now, and I can only hope it moves quickly to my next harrowing adventure or that I can use this time to find which door I’m supposed to take on this long hallway. (I know, I’m waxing a bit poetic on the metaphors today.) Either way, as I’ve said many a time, (and it’s been said better than I by others): This too shall pass. 

Only hours from now, I will be trying a very new, scary, and all together different experience in my first rock climbing excursion with my best friend Rachaele. And hey, I might brreak my neck and fall to my doom, but I’m not getting anywhere playing it safe. The Rope Swing incident of ’08 certainly wasn’t a good indication of my  balence and outdoorsman skills, but 5 years later I’m here to say: I’m willing to try again. Because everyone falls. It’s what you do when you get up (Lord willing you do get up) that makes the difference on where you’re going to end up. I’ll save the exact details of the Rope Swing Incident of ’08 until next time, but I’m sure you can imagine some great details in the meantime. Share them! I may work their factual/fiction into the post. 

Until then, if you find yourself in a windy and deserted, darkening parking lot and a shadow is looming from the trees…go all super Lovecraft hero and roll with it. Go check out that disembodied voice and find yourself some piece of mind on just what kind of protagonist you are.

-Anna R. Kotopple