Superpower blues

I’m in a playful mood because tomorrow we leave for four days of camping in Shasta. Four days isn’t nearly long enough, but it’s what we could manage this year… and it’s way more than zero days, which is what I thought we were going to get, so I’m happy.

And in the mood for shenanigans.

Last weekend my husband and I were sitting out on the patio at a friend’s house. We’d just eaten dinner and it was beautiful out – clear, just cool enough to put on a sweater, the air musical with chirping crickets and croaking frogs. I remember noticing the beauty and being grateful for having noticed it, and that’s when our friend Gary said, “I sometimes think about unimpressive superpowers.”

(I adore my friends.)

“For instance,” he said, “what if you had the superpower to make people moist? Or what if you could mimic someone exactly, only you were able to do it a split second before them, like a reverse echo. You’d drive people crazy.”

(Did I mention we were drinking wine?)

Of course, I’ve been thinking about it ever since, how awful it would be if you were, in fact, “super,” but you’d gotten the seriously short end of the superpower stick. Like what if your super power was that you were totally immune to poisonous mushrooms? I mean, that’s cool, I guess, but it’s certainly not invisibility or superhuman strength. What if you could talk to animals, but the only animals that understood you were flies… and chickens? What if, instead of reading people’s minds, you could only read their spleens, or instead of being able to fly you were able to dig sizable holes in the ground really, really fast with your bare hands? What if your superpower was being able to shatter glass with your laugh, or jump into your shoes without untying them, or remember exactly what everyone was wearing the last time you saw them?

They’re all better than no superpowers, but wouldn’t you feel slighted somehow?

Apparently, I like to think about unimpressive superpowers too. In fact, it’s quite possible that dreaming up unimpressive superpowers is my own unimpressive superpower.

Wanna play? I would love you all to leave some unimpressive superpowers in the comment thread of this post. That would be so great to come home to (and I can join in the shenanigans up until we leave). When we get back, I’ll pick one to doodle and send it (with love!) to whoever thought of it.

C’mon. Don’t be shy. It’ll be fun.




  1. Becky on August 1, 2013 at 3:39 am

    Definitely the power to create and maintain the perfect shower temperature… you know, so you don’t have to stand there naked and shivering, tentatively putting your hand under the shower head to see if it’s okay and then, when you finally have it the perfect temperature, you get in and within a minute your body decides it’s cold so you start adjusting and you burn yourself then you freeze yourself and then when you have it just right, again, someone has the unmitigated gall to flush a toilet and you jump to the back of the shower only to have your backside scream from the frigid temperature of the cold tile and then your front side is being simultaneously scalded — yeah, that, the power to create and maintain the perfect shower temperature.
    (also the power to write the longest run-on sentence)

    • j on August 1, 2013 at 7:01 am

      Bad English major that I am, I LOVE a good run-on sentence!

      In the house we live in now (as opposed to all previous houses, condos and apartments) a flushing toilet has no effect on the shower temperature. Which means, I think, that our house has a superpower.

  2. Estrella Azul on August 1, 2013 at 5:59 am

    What a fun question! Here’s what instantly came to mind:

    When working in a place that has cameras, knowing when you’re being watched.
    You get a funny feeling, or there are signs even. Just the other day when I couldn’t take my lunch break, I was eating my sandwich while arranging things in the storage room of the shop.
    I went out and informed my colleague we’re being watched right that minute: someone was watching me eat, they made me drop the last bite! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • j on August 1, 2013 at 7:04 am

      And no power to stop the watcher from watching. Excellent unimpressive (and irritatingly impotent) superpower!

  3. Anna M (@helgagrace) on August 1, 2013 at 6:55 am

    In the book Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, there’s a whole family with this kind of superpower. The grandfather has the power to arrive late to appointments, the cousin has the ability to trip and fall, and Alcatraz himself has the power to break things.

    My power is the largely unhelpful ability to see what two celebrities look like whatever actor I’m seeing on the screen in front of me.

    • j on August 1, 2013 at 7:11 am

      I like the thought of there being a band of Evil Librarians.

      In Martha Beck’s latest book, she suggests that people with shaman tendencies often have trouble with their electric devices, something about the fields of energy getting all crossed and haywire. I have long had trouble with my cell phones, but now when mine turns itself on and off indiscriminately, or says it’s fully charged after being plugged into the charger for 30 seconds, or won’t get out of text mode unless I turn it off and then on again, instead of getting mad, I think, “I’ve totally got my shaman on.”

      I think that might have been her plan all along, to make me feel better about this irritating thing that keeps happening. That’s how those superpowers in AVTEL feel like!

      Your superpower, on the other hand, is awesome. I’d just keep pausing every time someone new came on the screen and say, “Do it again, Anna!” ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Leah on August 1, 2013 at 7:04 am

    An unimpressive superpower that would be, well unimpressive, but handy as hell, would be the ability to flush the toilet from any room in the house. You know, for when unexpected company shows up on your doorstep and they’re doing the pee-pee dance. You direct them to your bathroom HOPING that you remembered to flush after your last deposit….
    No? Not a good unimpressive superpower? This never happens to you? I guess this isn’t my gift. LOL!

    • j on August 1, 2013 at 7:17 am

      It never happens to me that I’m aware enough to worry about whether I flushed before… but now it will. Gah! (Which makes me think of the superpower of making people worry about preposterous things that never crossed their mind before you said them.)

      And actually the ability to flush a toilet from any room in the house is a perfect unimpressive superpower. I’d feel totally ripped off if that’s the one I got! (Laughing.)

  5. Leah on August 1, 2013 at 7:18 am

    Okay, now for my regularly scheduled post. I wanted to tell you that you are inspiring me with your 30 day (it is 30 days right?) challenge. I love the image of you sitting up at 10:30 at night doodling away, catching the spirit of creativity and flying away with it. Why do we resist the things that bring so much life to us? Rhetorical. I’m on vacation right now and I’m still writing. I plan on doing some painting with my granddaughter. What a treat!

    I also wanted to mention that I loved the Book Thief too. It was a great read.

    Have fun on your trip. Maybe conjure the superpower of gobbling up each moment like it was your lastโ€”oh wait, that would be impressive wouldn’t it? LOL!

    • j on August 1, 2013 at 8:20 am

      Yes, it’s 30 days, but I think I may do August too. I’m getting more (and different) out of this than I imagined I would. I was thinking about your resistance question when I was avoiding trying collage. Everything about it seems fun to me. Marking art from found things, the Mod Podge (which I love to play with), the wild, unstructured messiness… and still, it took me weeks after signing up for the class to actually do anything with a canvas. RIDICULOUS!

      I’m so glad you’re writing and going to paint with your granddaughter. Nothing like a child to remind us how all this art is supposed to work, right?

      I’m unplugging totally on this trip. No electronic devices. Just my drawing pad, notebook, and some pens and pencils (and a lake, and some trails, and my boys and my dog…) I anticipate much gobbling of moments!

      Hugs back!

  6. Karin on August 1, 2013 at 7:35 am

    Haha, what a fun idea.
    Hm–even with all those “unimpressive” superpowers, they still serve some purpose. And while I’ve always wanted to read minds or stop time, perhaps it would be more interesting to be able to talk to flies or chickens. Maybe even spiders–“Hey man, don’t scare me like that. Do you mind staying in your corner and catching those insects? Thanks.”
    What if you have the ability to levitate–but only a few inches in the air? It would be convenient for when you’re trying to get comfy or see if you dropped the remote control beneath you.
    What if you had the ability to make it rain–but only for a small area, like a garden size?
    What if you could recite an entire book–but only just the one?

    What if you had the ability to draw super amazing doodles? What if those doodles brought smiles to everyone who saw them? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Course, while that’s not useless at all, it’s definitely a superpower I think.

    The spleen picture is amusing too ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Karin on August 1, 2013 at 9:08 am

      Oh, and what about this–for every superhero/superheroine, there’s always a weakness.
      I think for a lot of us (or at least for me anyway), my weakness is the heart. If you appeal to my heart, chances are I will empathize or sympathize with you.

      Though I wish it worked the same way as these powers do—why can’t our weaknesses be cheesecake, ice cream, puppies, or butterflies? ๐Ÿ™‚

    • j on August 1, 2013 at 9:52 am

      I LOVE your unimpressive superpowers list! You and I could riff on this for days! (And what if the entire book you could recite wasn’t a book you liked? It would be like getting hooked on a song you hate but cannot stop singing!)

      Thank you on the spleen comic. It made me laugh. I always think that’s a good sign.

      And, for the record, I’m pretty sure cheesecake IS my weakness. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. aslansfireallaboutlove on August 1, 2013 at 7:43 am

    My superpower is actually an irritant to at least 95% of the people who have conversations with me. I’m gifted to think of all the possible scenarios others might not consider. I refer to it as the “Gift of What If”, but it can also be called the “Suppose Superpower.”

    For example, sitting in an office or participating in a conference call brainstorming session but most people only want to brainstorm in one direction and you’re sitting there, in your mind looking at everything unfolding in the directions they will not look. They get frustrated because they think you’re not on-task, or you’re disrespectfully trying to distract other attendees. Then, months down the road one of those things you saw pops up and it’s bad form to say, “I told you so.” Those who remember you mentioned it always react in one of two ways: (1) might begin looking at you with more respect or (2) avoid inviting you to meetings so they don’t have to be reminded that there’re other possibilities than what they had in mind. The first is rare, the second an almost-constant.

    • j on August 1, 2013 at 9:55 am

      Ha! My husband has a similar superpower in that he’s constantly asking , “Have you thought this” questions AFTER I’ve already decided. It’s maddening. (Even though he is often right that I should think about whatever he’s suggesting I think about.)

  8. DaddyFr0gg on August 1, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Getting to the doodle at the end brings memories of the movie “Mystery Men”. Paul Rubens played a superhero called The Spleen. Don’t ask about his unimpressive superpower.

    • j on August 1, 2013 at 9:56 am

      I thought I saw Mystery Man, but that doesn’t sound familiar. Maybe I should (re)watch it? (Getting to the doodle at the end was my favorite part.) ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • DaddyFr0gg on August 1, 2013 at 10:13 am

        It was an incredibly cheesy, bad, horrible, fun movie. I loved it. Most people I’ve heard mention it give it two thumbs down. So, (re)watch at your own risk! ๐Ÿ˜€

        • j on August 1, 2013 at 2:52 pm

          Nice disclaimer! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Lyn Girdler on August 1, 2013 at 8:56 am

    I’d the like the superpower to turn any place I go to get a coffee, produce the most perfect cup of coffee. I drink one espresso a day and I savor it and enjoy every sip. I don’t drink coffee unless I know it’s going to be good quality and only 3 places in my area have baristas that care about good coffee. Life is too valuable to drink bad coffee. It’s a super power that might not save the world, but it can save me!

    (I also like the superpower to be able jump in and out of your shoes without untying the shoelaces)

    Oh, I’d also like to be able to send messages to my friends across the world in clouds. So, my sister could walk her kids to school and they would look up in the sky to see a message from me.

    • j on August 1, 2013 at 9:59 am

      Well you would actually be helping mankind, because we would all follow you around and order coffee at the places you do. You’d have a superpower and an entourage! (Which might prove to be your downfall, now that I’m thinking about it.)

      I would love for you to have the message-in-the-clouds superpower, but it would be the absolute opposite of unimpressive. That would be superpowerdom at its finest. xo

  10. Rita on August 1, 2013 at 9:54 am

    This post made me unbelievably happy. The short end of the superpower stick? Digging holes in the ground with my bare hands? Spleens? I don’t even know what a spleen really is. ha! I love it! What if you had the ability to put people to sleep every time you kissed them? Oh man..that would make for such a boring love life. Make out sessions would get shorter and shorter.

    ha! I love this game!

    • j on August 1, 2013 at 10:08 am

      Ha! That made me laugh out loud. You’d have to establish a no-kissing rule, like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, except your rule would only be in effect for the guys you really did like.

      Such a confusing, wonderful, unimpressive superpower!

  11. Christie on August 1, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Never thought I would love a spleen picture but that doodle was beautiful! I think I fell in love with my spleen, especially if it can read my mind ๐Ÿ™‚

    Also, that collage was gorgeous…seriously I love it. I will be saving that email so I can look at it again and again ๐Ÿ™‚


    • j on August 1, 2013 at 2:56 pm

      i doodle a mean spleen, right? Thank you on the collage. I actually like it for reasons that have nothing to do with weather or not it’s good, but it’s nice to hear that you could like it from a more objective place. xo

  12. Nina Badzin on August 1, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    To never have to refill the toilet paper and paper towel roll again. Just never ending paper goods, I guess. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • j on August 1, 2013 at 2:57 pm

      “Never ending paper goods” as a superpower makes me laugh… which, of course, is the point of all of this! It’s perfect.

  13. careymjones on August 1, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Anne-Marie and I LOVED your examples of unimpressive superpowers ๐Ÿ™‚ You made our whole day! We came up with a few to add (we do not possess these powers, but would like to someday and officially put the request out to the Universe along with this post): 1) The talent to make balloon animals (instantly) with our bubble gum bubbles; 2) After sneezing, our hair would be styled how we want; and 3) The ability to train cats to sing our favorite songs by Meow.

    • j on August 1, 2013 at 2:58 pm

      I love your ideas, especially the sneeze one because you’d be restricted to actually sneezing, which is not easy to do by force of will. On bad hair days, you’d be sniffing pepper in an attempt to tickle your nose!

  14. Naomi Wittlin on August 1, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    There is so much truth to what you write about how a regular practice of creating art will dispel the fears. I need/want to do something similar to your 30 day challenge. You had me laughing out loud in this post! Unimpressive superpowers… there are lots of things I’d like to be able to accomplish with a snap (like in Mary Poppins): making my bed, doing laundry, straightening the living room every night, unloading dishes. When I was little, I wanted the power of invisibility so badly so I could go into a room where my parents were talking and listen. I have always wanted to be able to freeze time for a minute so I could go look something up and resume a conversation with amazing and impressive knowledge that I didn’t know a minute ago. (“How does a boat float? Well, it has to do with the displacement of water as well as buoyancy.”) Also, at night when I’m nodding off to sleep while reading my book, I would LOVE to somehow put a bookmark in the book, take off my glasses, and shut off the lamp without having to expend any effort. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • j on August 1, 2013 at 3:08 pm

      Naomi, I hope you do a challenge of some sort. I don’t have small kids anymore, so i know it was easier for me than it would be for you. That said, I’m astonished at how being absolutely committed to daily creation has fueled me… in ways I hadn’t even expected.

      Your freezing time to find answers reminds me of The Matrix, when Neo gets plugged into that machine and learns, just like that, how to be a ninja and fly a helicopter and dodge bullets. I always wanted a machine like that.

      Love, love, love your superpower that enables you to put a bookmark in, take off your glasses, and shut off the lamp without expending any effort. It’s perfectly unimpressive but I SO want to have it!

  15. Pam on August 1, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    I’m glad you’re finding the 30-day challenge to be great and surprising. It’s amazing to see what can happen when you open up your field of vision about what you might create.

    Unimpressive superpower? Remembering lyrics to 70s songs ad infinitum…but only while they’re playing. (Not a hypothetical unimpressive superpower, BTW.) HAhahaha….oy.

    • j on August 1, 2013 at 8:31 pm

      Great and surprising is exactly right. It’s absolutely my favorite 30-day challenge to date.

      “HAhahaha… oy” made me guffaw. <3

  16. catherineD on August 1, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    It’s even more annoying if you think you have an unimpressive superpower and you can’t get anyone to study it! (Well, I suppose that would make it more impressive if they did – an acknowledgment that it was in fact a superpower of at least SOME kind.) My unimpressive superpower was temporary. When I was pregnant, I could walk quickly several feet away from the freezer cases in grocery stores and smell all the meat that had gone bad. Some stores I could barely stand to go inside because the stench began from the door. That was back in 1996 and 1998. Had the morbid thought several years later (ah, the longing for an impressive superpower and aggrandizement takes one’s thoughts to places perhaps they should not go) that it might have been useful in NYC immediately after 9/11.

    • j on August 2, 2013 at 6:48 am

      Yikes! That’s kind of a terrible superpower, and, in the grocery store, not even useful if you’re vegetarian like me! In other words, it’s a PERFECTLY unimpressive! ๐Ÿ™‚

      • catherineD on August 2, 2013 at 2:31 pm

        Yeah – it doesn’t help when you’re already nauseous with morning sickness to one day open your freezer door and start gagging and nobody else can smell a thing! I’m thinking it could have been useful in caveman days to protect the next generation from their moms eating bad meat. Or maybe made it worthwhile for these cavemen to keep slow pregnant women around – we could have been like the canaries that miners use to test for bad gasses when it came to deciding if a dead thing was still fresh! lol

        • j on August 6, 2013 at 11:17 am

          A superpower that’s just about 600,000 years too late! ๐Ÿ™‚

          • catherineD on August 6, 2013 at 11:36 am


  17. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) on August 2, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    This is hilarious. Okay, I’ll play. How about the power to make squirrels fall asleep?

    • j on August 6, 2013 at 11:18 am

      Lexi thinks that superpower is not unimpressive at all. She might actually catch one if it were sleeping! (Maybe.)

      • catherineD on August 6, 2013 at 11:38 am

        I don’t know…get someone to film you putting the cute little squirrel to sleep and you could become a youtube sensation!

        • j on August 6, 2013 at 1:19 pm

          Excellent point. And whose goal ISN’T to become a Youtube sensation?!

          • catherineD on August 6, 2013 at 3:16 pm

            Well if your goal ISN’T to become a Youtube sensation, you should get a USEFULL superpower – only useless superpowers make it on Youtube.

          • j on August 6, 2013 at 9:12 pm

            I need a “like” button for comments.

  18. […] Clement Wallย is having a conversation about ‘unimpressive superpowers’ on her website:ย  Go join in the […]

  19. Ann MG on August 6, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    I can throw a laundry basket down an L-shaped flight of stairs and get it all the way to the bottom. To top that, I’d like to be able to match all the socks in the first pass (wait a minute–you said unimpressive).

    • j on August 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm

      Wait, I have questions. Does the laundry basket bounce off walls to reach the bottom, or do you just throw a mean curve ball… er, basket? Also, is it full or empty when you toss it? If it’s full, do you do it without dropping any clothes?

      Your socks comment reminds me of why I hate folding whites. Wouldn’t it be cool if your superpower was that the socks come out of the dryer matched and folded? It wouldn’t make for an interesting comic book, but I’d totally love having that power.

      • Ann MG on August 6, 2013 at 3:39 pm

        Empty laundry basket–we have to fight gravity with the clean load. You have to aim at the right place on the corner so it bounces out and down rather than back.

        • j on August 6, 2013 at 9:14 pm

          Here’s why that meets the requirement of this inquiry. If you were playing pool, and sinking a bank shot that well, it would be a totally impressive superpower. But doing it with an empty laundry basket…

          (That said, I am secretly impressed.)

  20. sophylou on August 6, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    My family has long had two unimpressive/annoying superpowers:

    1) We bring weirdly extreme weather whenever we go on vacation. Locals will say, “We NEVER get this much rain!” And we apologize. Once my parents ended a drought in the area I was living in even though they had to cancel the trip… just their planning to come on a certain date was powerful enough. And I was born in a snowstorm so extreme that my mom went to the hospital in a National Guard tank

    2) We have an uncanny ability to have the exact same good birthday/Xmas present ideas. So there have often been duplicate gifts. Holidays are preceded by surreptitious phone calls: “Mom? Curse question. Did you get XYZ for Dad?” Amazon Wish Lists are a big help for us….

    • j on August 6, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      1. I LOVE those superpowers, both of which made me laugh aloud.
      2. I laughed at “good” in your description of the common gift ideas. Are they “good” in that everyone loves what they get (though perhaps not multiple times) or “good” in that all the givers think it’s an excellent gift. (The latter choice is a more UNIMPRESSIVE super power.)
      3. Thank you for linking to your amazing, wonderful, funny origin story. I just subscribed to your blog via Feedly.

      • sophylou on August 7, 2013 at 6:59 pm

        Generally, it’s that the person with the multiples likes the gift. We’ve gotten better about checking with each other, but that kind of reduces the surprise factor. We also have to convince my dad not to buy things for himself starting in November (his birthday is in November) because with him specifically there’s a lot of “Hey, this is great! But I bought it for myself 3 weeks ago when I heard about it!”

        I agree that the latter option would be more unimpressive and a lot funnier. “Whoa, *everyone* thought Dad, the retired accounting professor, would like a bright purple motorcycle helmet?!?”

        Thanks for the following me! ๐Ÿ™‚

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