Today is National Eat Your Jell-O Day

by | Jonathan Cardew - February Day 1

Orange
Today is National Eat Your Jell-O Day. Jell-O is a gelatin dessert and gelatin a protein produced from collagen and extracted by boiling animal bones. People eat gelatin desserts at potlucks, picnics, and barbeques because people enjoy sweet, jiggly treats when they gather. Is there anything more beautiful than a peach slice suspended in sunrise-orange Jell-O? Or a maraschino-cherry-studded Jell-O salad made with a cloud of Cool Whip? They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and perhaps the alchemy of Jell-O and Cool Whip is proof of a merciful god.

Purple
As a child, I prefer everything purple and aspire to be a singing sensation. I want long hair like Crystal Gayle. Or a name like Crystal or Gayle. I will only eat Concord Grape Jell-O. How much gelatin does Crystal Gayle consume to keep her hair so long and strong? She looks like a fairy-tale princess in a purple dress. But does she get headaches? Does her hair get stuck in the spokes of bicycle wheels? Does it collect food debris? When she sleeps, do insects and animals roost and feed in that glorious nest?

Green
By 1983, I want to be Karen Carpenter instead. It no longer seems practical to have such long hair. I take a self-defense class to learn the ways my body can be used against me. I struggle to have a healthy relationship with my mother. We go on diets and eat sugar-free lime Jell-O. For her birthday, Mom makes a key-lime pie with two boxes of sugar-free lime Jell-O and zero key limes. This is the year Karen Carpenter dies of her eating disorder, and I want to believe she’s died for my physical shortcomings. My waist does not taper, and since I can eat and cry at the same time, I eat Jell-O and cry for Karen, but it doesn’t bring her back. That night I dream Karen lives in a domed structure made of Jell-O. Karen’s house is a safe place to explore dark feelings.

Blue
I spend decades eating gelatin desserts. When Jell-O quivers on my tongue, I feel like a god. Blue-raspberry Jell-O confers the greatest godlike feeling.

Red
Eventually, I don’t know what day it is. I miss the dogs I used to have. I wish I’d been a horse person. I long to experience a beach at sunset from the back of a galloping Appaloosa. Except I’m floating through the cosmos tethered to this bed. The vinyl mattress cover squeaks, and I need it. On bad days, I feel like a pickle lost in a dark, spicy barrel. I’m afraid. I’d rather be a strawberry suspended, even if I have to be sliced. I’ve rediscovered red Jell-O.

Yellow
I practice counting my blessings, giving thanks for what I have and have had: books on landscape photography, corduroy, and a mystery that keeps you going until the end. The artificial intelligence tells me there are twenty flavors of Jell-O. I never tried Melon Fusion or Cherry Lemonade. Lime still reminds me of my mother, and regret tastes like Pineapple; it’s the same yellow.

18 Comments

  1. Benjamin Niespodziany

    “They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and perhaps the alchemy of Jell-O and Cool Whip is proof of a merciful god.”

    “That night I dream Karen lives in a domed structure made of Jell-O. Karen’s house is a safe place to explore dark feelings.”

    Well DAMN. This is such a fun and original sequence. The colors and the flavors and the open questions and vivid dreams. There’s a sorrow here that works so well when talking about gelatin. Difficult to pull off and it seems so organic (and certainly not processed in a factory or a plant…) in this context.

  2. Al Kratz

    I love this one too. As an editor that sometimes sees a repeat in certain structures we use in flash, I wonder about trying to see how you feel about it with taking the color section titles out and the words driving the color progression on their own?

    • Wendy Oleson

      I’m definitely going to think about that Al–that’s so helpful to know that it would feel like a fresher structure that way! Thank you!

  3. Jonathan Cardew

    Wendy!

    I was thrilled to see your name on the roster! I still remember your workshop from a few years ago vividly–really brought out the fabulist in me.

    What a treat Jell-O is and what a treat this piece is. Fun, quirky, surprising. It is a feast! The surprise element for me is what draws me into a narrative and you do it so effortlessly: “…Or a maraschino-cherry-studded Jell-O salad made with a cloud of Cool Whip? They say there are no atheists in foxholes…” Maraschino-studded to atheism? Yes, please! You may get a kick out of this brilliant little craft piece from Kara Vernor (published in Bending Genres!) in which she talks about these kinds of leaps and surprises: https://bendinggenres.com/i-dont-know-about-you-but-by-kara-vernor/

    And then we come to the structure. I love this kind of sequenced flash with headers. You move us across Jel-O and time and animals and it never feels forced or awkward. You have the vehicle perfectly positioned to explore a number of moments.

    Overall, though, when I read a micro or a flash or a short poem, I want lines to remember. I want sentences that scream: “cut me out and stick me on a bulletin board.” You do it very, very, very, very, very well:

    ” Karen’s house is a safe place to explore dark feelings”
    “They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and perhaps the alchemy of Jell-O and Cool Whip is proof of a merciful god.”
    “I take a self-defense class to learn the ways my body can be used against me”

    Uh-oh, I’m starting to quote the whole thing!

    HOW ABOUTS:

    You could send this out right now and it would be snapped up. Like, right away. Still, here are some thoughts.

    1. Al Kratz mentioned removing the color subheaders, and while I am really into this structural configuration, it may be worth trying (though I would still keep numbers or something).

    2. I’m a big fan of technical details and research. Could you bring some more of this into play? Maybe a section in which you describe the manufacturing process behind Jell-O? The chemistry?

    3. I see a linked collection! Could you write about spam and other such innocuous, gelatinous foods? Mine the processed foods?

    VENUES:

    I see this in so many places! You know the places! Chris at Jellyfish Review loves humor and quirk–I could see this one landing there.

    Thanks so much for sharing this piece! Jell-O, anyone?

    Cheers,
    Jonathan

    • Wendy Oleson

      Dear Jonathan,
      THANK YOU! This is such amazing feedback!!! Holy wow! I’m so digging the idea of a collection of food product pieces and a section about the chemistry and manufacturing related to the dessert product! LOVE both those. And will def play with structure. Also, thank you for this class and your flash “Rock Pools,” which I’ve watched several times now. I haven’t had a good chunk of time today (Sat) to spend a lot of time in class, but I’m hoping to get plenty of time on the boards tomorrow! Thank you for so much brilliance and inspiration!!!
      My best,
      Wendy

      • Jonathan Cardew

        Ah wonderful, Wendy! Thanks so much for this note. I’ll look out for any more you send today.

        Also: BOOTH for this piece!

  4. Len Kuntz

    Hi Wendy,

    Gosh, you are such a master of structure. This begins like a tease, or foreplay, before the big middle and crescendo, whereby it’s a bit aloof and straightforward at first, then you wonderfully layer in all sorts of subtext, one bullet to the heart after another. Jell-O is such a great metaphor, and you use and extrapolate that so artfully with your use of color and form. The ending is perfect. I really loved this piece. Brava.

  5. John Steines

    Hello Wendy. What a surprise this is. I love the color components to paragraphs. I can imagine how integrating color into content rather than entitling is another way, but in a piece about jello, I don’t want to work that hard. You make me work hard enough because the jello here is not all about party. I totally love the first paragraph where you go into the detail of what jello is, and make me question why I would ever eat it, but I did (though I didn’t know or didn’t care)!

    Buried within Purple: ‘Does her hair get stuck in the spokes of bicycle wheels?’, and then Green – Karen Carpenter. When I see the word Blue, alone, Joni Mitchell’s voice came to me, so the connection to god-like sends me somersaulting. You tiptoe into some darkness, hint at something related to your mother (lime), and give nothing about that away. Not touching on it, but mentioning it, leaves me contemplating, and rather than go there, you pass over back to topic at hand – ‘yellow jello’. In my re-read, this sticks out as meaning more than anything: ‘I practice counting my blessings, giving thanks for what I have’. Very interesting. I want to more about what you write. Cheers.

    • Wendy Oleson

      John! I’m a huge Joni Mitchell fan! How did I not see that! Blue, indeed! Thank you for this! I love that you’ve brought up where I can push a little more and give a little more. And yeah, why did we eat so much Jell-O? Ah, youth!!! Thank you so much for reading and commenting!!! My best, Wendy

  6. Robert Vaughan

    Wendy, this has all of the maestro elements- color, humor, structure, innuendo, oddness (and just the right amounts and perfect placements of lines). Huge fan of innovation, and your writing always strikes me as pleasurable, and full of unique surprises. Did we all grow up eating Jell-O? I’d have to think any child of the 60s or 70s did. OMG, Tang. Gross. Horses Hooves. I think you can weird this one the fuck up? It can even fly further out there.

    • Wendy Oleson

      Robert, you have reminded me that I used to get out the Tang tub and dip my finger in repeatedly while I watched television! There’s definitely more room for weirdness (and probably a flash about Tang). Thank you so much for reading and commenting!!!! -Wendy

  7. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Wendy,

    Beautifully structured piece of color, taste, movement— doesn’t jello jiggle nicely– moving through decades. I love the way it turns reflective on itself through Red and Yellow. This is just a so well-written piece of fantasy. A pleasure.

  8. David O'Connor

    Wendy, I have often wondered if jell-o is healthy or not, is it good for us? Regardless, this jiggling piece is. I love the structure and story and each sentence, so ready, so good. I’ll take another serving please!

  9. Wilson Koewing

    Wendy,

    Love that foxholes line. This is such a clever procession of tiny vignettes. I generally don’t love list pieces, but you have perhaps converted me to some extent. I believe the Jell-O is perhaps doing the heavy lifting. I can’t say no to Jell-O. I thought it was masterful the way you weaved it throughout. So many excellent details. Highly original stuff.

    Wilson

  10. Kristin Bonilla

    Wendy, this was such a fun read! “They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and perhaps the alchemy of Jell-O and Cool Whip is proof of a merciful god.” Wow, fantastic line.

  11. Lisa Alletson

    Wendy, this is brilliant. My favourite line, “I take a self-defense class to learn the ways my body can be used against me.” Although I loved the lost pickle, too.

    I didn’t grow up with Jello-O. When we emigrated to North America, my mother asked a stranger in a restaurant, what is the jiggly thing in the self-serve bar. He shook his head sadly and walked off saying, “Poor kid, never had Jell-O.” It’s become a family saying.

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