Discover more from Exploding Unicorn by James Breakwell
The Dark Arts
My kids are crafty in every sense of the word. I’ve always had to watch out for their classic brand of deviousness. When they were little, I had to keep a close eye on the location of all markers and scissors. Now that they’re bigger, not much has changed. Various walls upstairs are still tagged by some child who signed her own initials. We’ll have to bring in Sherlock Holmes for that case. A few days ago, I also discovered that my eight-year-old, Waffle, is missing a large chunk of hair. She claims to have no idea what happened. Maybe she’s being sincere. She could have cut it months ago and forgotten all about it, or perhaps she’s innocent and was simply accosted by a rogue barber in the middle of the night. Whatever happened, the location of the scissors is once again being monitored closely. That’s unfortunate because the kids need them for the other kind of craftiness they’re into.
At any given time, there are roughly a thousand different arts and crafts projects going on in my house. I’ve long since given up on keeping track of them all. Every once in a while, one of the girls will emerge from their rooms with a masterpiece they’ve been working on for hours, days, or weeks. I’m always impressed by their dedication. There are bracelets made out of rubber bands, portraits pieced together from plastic beads, and animals crafted from yarn. There’s also a whole genre of poorly spelled, vaguely threatening signs that line up with any of the kids’ various versions of playing store. Most of their make believe games involve running a specialty shop and then screaming at each other, which more or less lines up with all of my real life shopping experiences. The kids love nothing more than to create, even if the most common thing they create is a mess.
Exploding Unicorn by James Breakwell is a reader-supported publication. It’s like PBS, but completely unhelpful and slightly evil. Join today!
If any of their art projects were neat and self-contained, the girls would immediately lose interest. The Rainbow Loom is an especially egregious offender. My eleven-year-old, Mae, has a plastic board with pegs that she uses to twist tiny rubber bands into bracelets. I’m positive they’re the same kind the orthodontist used to put on my braces a million years ago. Apparently they couldn’t make enough Ferrari payments from my teeth so they started selling the rubber bands as toys as well. The rubber bands haven’t entirely left behind their torturous origin. While they no longer cause me physical pain, they cause me mental and emotional distress by being literally everywhere in my house. There isn’t a single surface that doesn’t have a tiny, brightly colored rubber band on it. I can pick up enough of them vacuuming a single room to make an entire bracelet. Not that my kids notice the rubber bands they lose. They come in kits of eight thousand. I have to swap out the engine on our vacuum every two hours like it’s a Formula 1 car.
The rubber bands aren’t even the worst form of craft debris. That honor goes to Diamond Dotz. It’s like paint by numbers, but instead of applying acrylics to a canvas, you pop tiny bits of plastic into a grid. Imagine glitter but pointy and you’ll have a good idea of the size. They get everywhere. The only way to get rid of them is to move. A thousand years from now, the only sign my house ever stood on this spot will be all the plastic bits my kids leave behind. The ground will be a hazardous waste site until the end of time. At least my crew got some cool pictures from the deal. I especially like the one of a kitten.
Mae also makes squid or jellyfish out of yarn. I’m not sure of the difference in stuffed animal form, which is an embarrassment for a guy who, like every other former fourth grader in the country, used to want to be a marine biologist. I can’t remember the specific act that describes crafting yarn into an animal. I use the terms knitting, crocheting, and cross stitching interchangeably, even though they’re completely different things. Whenever I say one, someone in this house counters that I should have said one of the other two. I think they’re just trolling me. Like leggings, yoga pants, and tights, they’re all the same thing. The only difference is the marketing. Before you send me hate mail, let me retract that last sentence. I support whatever you want to call any and all forms of leg coverings. As for me, I just call mine pants, which eliminates all confusion—unless you live in the UK, where the word is trousers. It’s so weird how the English don’t understand how the English language works.
My kids get their craftiness from their mother. Lola spends all of her leisure time cross stitching. I’m positive that’s the right term in this case because it’s the only one of the thread arts in which she partakes. She went online and bought PDFs of hundreds of patterns. It takes her most of a year to complete one of the big ones. She’s amassed more designs than she could possibly complete in a lifetime. I have the same problem with all the great TV shows people have told me I absolutely have to watch. I only have so many viewing hours left. My frequent surgery punch card indicates I’ll probably be dead by forty. The good news is my next major operation comes with a free snow cone. Realistically, Lola could complete another fifty or sixty patterns in her time on earth, which is humbling when patterns are sometimes pennies for the dozen. That’s what happens when literally any picture can be turned into a pattern by a simple computer algorithm. With so many options to choose from, the best of the best are truly epic. She’s currently in the middle of a Lord of the Rings one that will be roughly the size of the Bayeux Tapestry. Her favorite way to spend her nights is cross stitching while watching all those Netflix shows I’ll never live long enough to watch. She’s tackling two unfinishable tasks at once. Recently, she took a break from her three-acre dragon design to tackle some micro projects. She’s making small patterns of birds, flowers, and, for some reason, sushi rolls, all of which are only a few inches across. Each one is in its own little wooden circle that can be used as a key chain or Christmas ornament. If you’re friends with Lola, have met her in passing, or have ever seen her from a great distance, she’s likely to put one in your stocking this Christmas. She’s made more than she can ever possibly give away. It’s the apple pie ordeal all over again. Her desire to create exceeds her capacity to gift. She needs to meet more unsuspecting people on whom she can dump her wares. It’ll never happen, though, because she’s too busy cross stitching.
All of these art projects make me the odd man out in my house. That’s my comfort zone. I’m always odd, and I’m sort of a man. In this case, I’m definitely out on the whole crafty thing. I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. That’s good because artistic ability doesn’t come from bones. I’ve never heard someone say they have a very creative femur. I can’t draw, as is proven by my thousands of stick figure comics. It’s saying something that my style was inspired by the universal symbols on the doors of public restrooms. I can barely even use a pen. My handwriting can best be described as a chimp on a lethal dose of caffeine. Some people have to go to medical school to write this illegibly. I pulled it off simply by being unable to figure out how to hold a writing implement. At least I’m a prodigy at something.
With all that being said, I’m only deficient at the visual arts. I’m okay at the ones that only exist in my head. When you read one of my books, all the action takes place in your imagination. That means any problems you have with the visuals are on you. In my brain, the dystopian hellscape of The Chosen Twelve is positively breathtaking. Just don’t ask me to translate that into a cross stitch pattern. It’s probably for the best that I can’t. Lola will still be working on Smaug until well after we both retire.
I’m not the only one in the house who specializes in the invisible arts. The rest of my family couldn’t let me be the best at something. I’m surrounded by musicians. My thirteen-year-old, Betsy, does choir like her mother, who sang in college on a scholarship. How Lola ended up with me is still a total mystery. It’s probably because she didn’t get LASIK until after we got married. Mae plays the saxophone, but only at school. She almost never brings the whole thing home. The only part that typically makes the trip here is the top section, which her teacher calls the goose based on what it sounds like when played by itself. The instrument version of geese are every bit as terrible as the flying kind. The only upside is Mae’s goose doesn’t poop. Mae also loves to play her old grade school recorder. It was a mistake to buy it instead of renting. It was cheaper to get one for all four kids to share, but we failed to take into account the true cost of always having it in the house. Mae plays it often, especially when she’s supposed to be doing chores. It’s hard for her to argue she’s staying on task when, from three floors away, Lola and I hear a jazzy rendition of Hot Cross Buns.
The creative gene must be dominant, which is unfortunate. The kids are considerably less work when they’re consuming content rather than producing it. It’s pretty easy to keep them alive during those parts of the day when they just lie down and watch terrible YouTube videos. That is until they fight over watching the same screen, even though we have four times as many devices as people in this house. They’re even creative when they battle. Those rubber band bracelets are dangerous projectiles just waiting for the right finger gun to launch them. My kids aren’t just making art; they’re crafting weapons of war. They’ve even built defenses. Each of those scattered batches of Diamond Dotz are basically mine fields. I’ll be wearing shoes in this house long after all the kids move out.
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. Catch you next time.