Wednesday, November 02, 2011

So Crazy Right Now.

A friend writes to me the other day:

"so i am so addled and ridiculous and old school that i look at your
photo on fb and then GET ONTO EMAIL to send you a note."

A colleague says to me today something along the lines of:

"Here's how crazed and tired I am. I saw your IM from 10AM this morning saying you were going to call me for our meeting and I thought it was from you just now at 5:30 and that's why I'm calling."

And me? I just began scooping my dinner into my drinking glass instead of my pasta bowl.

Does it seem like every other conversation you have these days is about how "crazy" everything is? How busy everyone is? How there is no time? It kind of makes me sad that so many of us are feeling this way--out of touch, behind. Or "spread too thin," as my boss described his own situation to me today.

A long-ago acquaintance posted to Facebook:

"Several of my friends seem to have decided that a Facebook message, tweet, or e-mail is as good as picking up the phone for a bit of actual human contact. I do not approve."

Well, this seemed a bit harsh. And you could argue that if you really feel that way about a friend, then you should express it by picking up the phone instead of broadcasting it on Facebook. But, both intentionally and unintentionally, this message signalled that same -- what is it? Weariness.

Of course, being busy has its charms: less boredom, fewer chances to wallow, feeling engaged with something that presumably you decided at one point was important (say, kids). Ideally, you're sacrificing for a cause.

"I like being at battle stations" at work, one of my friends likes to say. He likes feeling like he's putting out fires.

I like feeling busy at work too, especially when I like my job, as I do now. I do not like feeling like I can't sleep, can't wind down, can't unplug from the screens and the lists, can't connect to the humans and the big picture.

How crazy are you right now?

Music: "Crazy in Love"

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Other Side.

Have you ever been able to reveal the weakest, most morally questionable aspects of yourself to someone, and never have it come back to bite you in the ass?

I didn't think so.

There's a window in a relationship when you can intimate that these flaws exist within your soul. This window usually lasts, oh, a few hours in the aggregate. It's a delightful time: The time when you feel you have found true empathy in another human being, the time when you feel loved no matter what; the time when you can open up and accept that your dearest beloved is not perfect, because you love him or her so, and if they had a reason to be imperfect, surely it was a very good one. Usually this reason involves parents.

Speaking of parents, this is also that moment of unconditional love: The feeling you spend a lifetime hoping to recapture, if you're lucky enough to capture it even once. From a parent.

This is why many of us find Lost in Translation so enchanting: it represents that stage of intimacy where all (or many) flaws are revealed and all flaws are Deep and Charming, and yet Not a Relentless Feature of One's Daily Reality. It is the ultimate union of flawed individuals, but it never really happens in reality, which emphasizes my point.

Most of us fear being rejected if we reveal our true selves, but not with our significant other, because we have already been through that fire and it is Okay. But then, disconcertingly, it is suddenly Not Okay. The foible that was considered cute for the purposes of dating is now considered questionable for the purposes of a real relationship. The vulnerability that was once the seat of true love becomes a wearisome liability in the business of caring, day in and day out.

Be very careful when you start in on such a foible with your loved one: It usually involves some aspect of yourself.

I think about this all the time: What could I really say, or should I really say, regarding the lesser aspects of my self, history, present and future? If I do, when or how will I be punished? Will it be like last time? And am I capable of being a trustee of everything I know about a person I love, without ever using it to punish?

And then I think, man: I could really use a karaoke session right now.

Music: "More Than This"

PS. The bf and I dressed up per above for Halloween. It went well. We are not like Bob and Charlotte. But we do have a karaoke history, and despite the post above, he's a pretty understanding guy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When Autumn Leaves...

Fall used to be my favorite season.

I loved the change in the air, the colors, and most of all the smells: smoke, cinnamon, warming dough, pumpkin, cider, dried vegetation. The crisp wind also signaled new prospects. The school year always brought another chance to be better, to stand out in some previously unimaginable way, even though the reality was that every move I made at school was oriented toward not standing out.

Several things have slowly chipped away at my welcoming attitude toward fall as an adult. During a particularly bad season, I learned from Kay Redfield Jamison's Night Falls Fast (you know, just some LIGHT READING) that the likelihood of suicide peaks in the fall.

I never forgot that tidbit as I walked through the ensuing banks of dying leaves and cheerless Halloween displays, hardening myself against the deepening chill and becoming fearful of how the darkness encroaching on daytime would eventually obscure whatever brightness survived inside me.

The last fall that I remember enjoying involved a corn maze and small towns and colorful drives. After that came a series of autumnless years in San Francisco, then a fall spent preparing for and recuperating from a surgery, then a fall spent driving to and from a job I utterly loathed. I did find love during an October, but it was disconnected from the colors and smells of the season.

By the time this past August rolled around, I was trying to ignore the rising sense of dread at summer ending. Hurricane Irene buzzsawed through my attempt to bid summer a proper farewell by the sea. The first day after Labor Day dawned cold and cloudy.

Now it's October, and I walk through the streets looking at my phone half the time, maybe turning my face to the sun a couple of times before going to soak up the rays in front of some glowing rectangle at the office or at home.

Ironically, I started thinking about maybe going on some kind of tech fast directly after reading a few obituaries about Steve Jobs (on my iPhone, natch). Taking a break from the screen on the train, I switched to magazines and read "Personal Best," an article in The New Yorker about coaching written by the surgeon Atul Gawande.

"Surgery is, at least, a relatively late-peaking career," Gawande writes. "It's not like mathematics or baseball or pop music, where your best work is often behind you by the time you're thirty. Jobs that involve the complexities of people or nature seem to take the longest to master: the average age at which the S&P 500 chief executive officers are hired is fifty-two, and the age of maximum productivity for geologists, one study estimated, is around fifty-four."

I felt a surge of hope reading Gawande's career analysis, thinking of all the late-blooming authors in the world and the idea that there was still time to become one of them. After all, writing (and, contrary to Gawande's analysis, pop music) does involve the complexities of people and nature. But then I thought of all the early-peaking authors and wondered if writing belonged with pop music in some ineffable space where you get a glimpse of human feeling and a brief chance to capture it, and then you're washed up.

Either way, what have I been doing to master writing -- or anything? To be honest, precious little. I've been screwing around and trying to avoid failure. Here I was reading about two people -- Jobs and Gawande -- who have arrived at significant contributions to society by being willing to fail and by engaging with the world (the one not on the screen). I have derived major personal benefits from these contributions to technology and medicine.

Of course, on the technological front, there are downsides. Here are a few things I do less since the iWeb became a daily fixture in my life:

- handwriting
- any writing
- listening to albums
- daydreaming
- watching people
- reading books
- doing crosswords
- socializing
- calling my mom
- looking long and hard at anything
- staring out the window

Technology is not to blame for this -- it's just an accessory. It does reduce the ability to pay attention to the real world, to the things that matter. The tool that makes life easier becomes a substitute for your actual life. The network that connects you to people also erodes the need for their presence. Distractions become distractions from distractions.

And now it's fall. The swirling leaves are as incontrovertible as the gathering lines around my eyes. It's a do-or-die kind of season. And it's not too late to master something, even if it is only turning my face to the sun. It's not too late to love fall again.

Music: "Autumn Leaves"

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Radio Silence.

"I dunno if you were following the hearings about Google yesterday," someone typed to me today. I was not.

I also did not watch the Emmys. Or the MTV Awards. I reasoned out of reading the entirety of last week's New Yorker except for the T.S. Eliot essay by telling myself, "All of these pieces will end up in some book at some point. You can read them then, if you're really interested." I only half-watched The Jobs Speech.

I haven't vacuumed. I haven't finished any good non-Twilight books that I can remember. "Seen any good ...?" No.

And, oh yeah, I obviously haven't been blogging either.

Which led me to ask myself today: What the hell have I been doing?

I've been exploding my brain on seemingly simple work-related blog posts such as this one.

I've been attending energy conferences in Aspen and fleeing Hurricane Irene instead of enjoying a long weekend at the Delmarva beaches.

I've been doing more listening and less talking, not necessarily because I want to, but because it seems like that's what's called for lately.

I've been worrying.

I've been getting some deals.

What the hell have I been doing?

I've been trying to Eat Right, which means spending amazing amounts of time chopping things for labor-intensive (but delicious) recipes like this one.

I've been deciding, some nights when I have a thought about posting here, that maybe I'm better off not sitting at the computer and plugging into my neuroses.

Then I've been going to bed and having epic, bizarre dreams fueled by said neuroses, nocturnal UncMos that involve rats, labyrinthine airports, and forgetting to check my phone with disastrous results.

I've been watching/reading things that I enjoy but that are completely irrelevant to the current culture: Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List and a collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami published in 2006.

I've been running about four to five years behind on most things.

In my time off from Eating Right, I have been Eating Wrong. This includes receiving instruction on making (and in the process consuming several) macarons.

I've been wondering what radio silence actually means, anyway, and looking it up.

I've been perfecting my losing streak in Scrabble.

I've been staring at my iPhone.

I've been taking in more and more info, but feeling like I know less and less.

I've been continuing to wade through the neverending sea of stuff that I have stored at my parents', finding chestnuts such as this in the process:

I've been realizing that I will probably never connect with my coworkers now the way I did in my 20s and part of my 30s and wondering whether this is just my own experience, or one of those many things about getting old that you have to figure out for yourself because no one tells you.

I've been blasting the knot in my shoulder with various healing techniques that, thus far, have not worked.

I've been meaning to answer that email.

I've been listening to this, this and this and I don't know what else. I've been wishing I could fall in love with an album like I used to, while acknowledging that I haven't really tried to.

I've been wondering what you've been up to and how it's become so long since we've been in touch.

What have you doing (or not)?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Grandfathered In.

Saw an old friend from an old job today after, I don't know, 10-odd years of living our lives and trading the occasional email. In the old days, we'd sit in the crappy Irish pub after work sometimes, drinking whiskey sours and talking about fiction-writing.

Today, we sat in a middling hotel restaurant at lunchtime talking about real life -- kids, jobs, real estate, book promotion (not that I have any kids or real estate or a book to promote) -- and yet, in a weird way, it was like no time had passed and we were still in the crappy Irish pub.

We talked about all the people we'd known and befriended from our old workplace. "The thing is," I said, "I don't really hang out with anybody at my job now. At The Old Network, I felt like I made real friends. Now, I'm not as interested. I don't go to happy hours as much as I should. I just don't care as much. There's a baseball game outing this month..."

"But it's all a lot of effort," J said.

"Exactly," I said. "It's like, I have enough of a hard time keeping up with my relationship, my family, and the friends that I already have. I don't want to meet any new people."

"Yeah, I don't want to meet any new people either," J said. He's married with two kids and lives by the beach in a lovely house in Connecticut, the lucky bastard.

"Maybe it's the stage of life we're in."

"It's the stage of life. It reminds me of this Sinbad routine where he says, you only need two people in your life: one to look in the window to make sure you're still breathing, and one to call 911." A Sinbad reference: impressive.

I laughed. "Yeah. Or, did you watch Six Feet Under? There's a scene where Brenda says, 'I always thought that as I got older, I'd have more people around me.'"

The actual scene I was trying to conjure goes like this (with thanks to this blog):

brenda: i always thought that i would have more people in my life as time went on.

billy: hmmph… doesn't work that way.

brenda: yeah. i’m starting to realize that.

billy: its almost like as we get older, the number of people who completely get us shrinks.

I've met my share of people who "get" me, along with my share of people who don't get me (or whom I do not get) but are grandfathered in because we met at a time of life when shared experiences, a certain sensibility and sheer availability threw us together.

I like to think that maybe (maybe?) there are a few more of both types of people in my future. They're just fewer and farther between.

Music: "Another Day"

Monday, July 11, 2011

Pound Foolish.

"Hey, can I interrupt for one second?" Coworker 1 approaches my desk, where I am sitting down and showing Coworker 2 something on my computer.

Coworker 1 wants to thank me for the help I gave her in setting up a hub for some space shuttle launch coverage.

"Oh sure, no problem. I hardly did anything," I said.

"No but you gave me the foundation for understanding the code and everything, which was hugely helpful," she said. "So, thank you so much."

She is about to turn and leave, but as she does so, she reaches out her hand (which also has a lace glove on it). She is loosely making a fist. I sit there and stare. I do not know this person very well, and would not have pegged her as the fist-bump type, but then she's wearing lace gloves, so she's already a game-changer here. Or maybe she's going for a "gimme five"?

I am terrible at interpreting gestures. Unless you're flipping me the bird or attempting to start a round of clapsies, there's only a 40 percent chance that I'm going to understand your meaning. High-five attempts terrify me. I can even mess up handshakes. Rather than express this in the moment -- pause, ask for clarification, offer a quizzical look -- I try to play along and inevitably err on the side of being embarrassing.

So despite the fact that I have no idea what's going on here, especially with the gloves partly obscuring her hands, I decide to be game and return what I deem to be a fist-bump. "No!" she says, shaking her hand and opening her fingers, and I realize that she actually has something in her hand that she is trying to give me. It's a souvenir from the shuttle launch.

So I have done two things: I have assaulted her with an unwanted fist-pound, and I also suggested that *I* am a fist-pound type, which I am NOT. And I did this in full view of a witness.

God that was awkward. That is going to haunt my Monday.

Update: I have been informed that this gesture is also called a dap. There are also other definitions of "dap" on the Urban Dictionary page for it that are similarly unappealing.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Too Much?

So, for the last 24 hours or so, I've been intermittently listening to a podcast called The Lavender Hour, which is basically what happens when two people say, OMG our conversations are so entertaining, we should just tape them and put them on the Internets, only instead of just talking about it, they actually do it.

I found it because I had just watched Duncan Trussell in Drunk History Vol. 6 and was curious about who he is. The Internet didn't really have an answer for this question, but it did have the Lavender Hour, which Trussell co-hosts with his comedian friend.

Do you ever find yourself mesmerized by a piece of entertainment without even knowing why? Like, I'm not really laughing out loud here, and I'm not sure I even get where these people are coming from at all, but this speaks to me on some unfathomable level (or, alternatively, I just need more of a life), so I am just listening to it anyway. It's like... company. That's how I feel about the show Portlandia: There are a few sequences that I find hilarious, and then the rest of it I just sort of watch because I just inexplicably want to be there.

So but the thing about Lavender Hour episode that I listened to was that at times, I had to skip through because they were working so blue that I couldn't take it. Like, jokes about malls and dad-wear and the Cheesecake Factory, of course. But jokes about rape and anal sex...oh my delicate ears.

It was my own fault that I turned from this to the show Louie in search of something a bit lighter. And once again I found myself alternately amused and nauseated. I hit "pause" at about the point where someone was talking about rubbing a "smelly little cock" all over a woman's "depressing tits."

This experience -- of going from amused to perplexed to outright disgusted/traumatized and back again -- seems to be much more common now than it used to be. Remember when Eddie Murphy was edgy? It reminds of the moment at 1:28 in this interview with Charlie Sheen where he has just spewed out some craziness and breaks the frame for a moment to ask, "Too much?" It was such a genius wink at the audience in a time where everyone was just loving Crazy Charlie Sheen. But ultimately, yes, it was too much. Who wants to watch an id in overdrive for more than five minutes?

I don't know. It's not that I want everything to be squeaky clean. I would just like people to err on the side of restraint and be more creative rather than going for the shocking laugh, because these people are talented enough that they don't need it. But the real UncMo here is not the comedy itself but that a) I can't make this point in a sharper way right now and b) I sound like Grandma (or Bill Cosby). But I mean does anyone share my dismay?

Friday, June 24, 2011

When You're Explaining, You're Losing.

It's been awhile. That's not because I have lacked for Uncomfortable Moments. It's because I have lacked for discipline.

Tonight I was walking along P Street by myself, having deposited a check at the Citibank branch on Connecticut Avenue and 18th, and moving toward Whole Foods. Once again, it was past dinnertime and I was trying to figure out what to have for dinner on this Friday night alone.

And I was talking to myself. Sometimes an internal monologue becomes so strong that I have to mouth it to myself. I wasn't talking audibly, but that didn't make me look any less crazy. I was sensible of this and trying to confine my murmurings to points along the sidewalk where there was no one else around.

Until -- shit -- I failed to take in the periphery and saw that a twentysomething guy with a baseball cap on backwards had a perfect vantage point of my crazy from a stoop where he sat with a companion.

I looked up too late -- and immediately stopped my lips from moving. Acted like I was normal. Nothing to see here!

He smiled. I was busted. As if to make it worse, he said, "Hi," as I passed by. Like, "Hi, I totally caught you talking to yourself," was the subtext. "Hi, I totally know," was the subtext of my response. I moved along, mortified.

Why was I talking up such a blue streak? It started with "How Divorce Lost Its Groove," an article by divorce artist Pamela Paul, in The New York Times. A few related conversations later, I was revisiting my whole split. Again.

I find myself trying, over and over again, to tell my "story." Why did I get married? Why did I divorce? What happened?

I know his story is very different from mine. And that makes it even harder. Why can't our stories be the same? Can I see his story, understand it? Could there ever be a version that we'd both agree on?

I'm not even going to get into the Pamela Paul article. That's a whole other post. My ex hated Pamela Paul, and I actually found myself wondering what he would say. I will just submit that no one decides not to get divorced because it's not as cool as it was in the '70s (and I doubt it was really that cool in the '70s).

Anyway, back to P Street. I continued on, mortified and reminding myself that I really needed to get a grip. I told my significant other what happened. You know, the talking to myself part.

"It was a big moment in your life," he said. "Just let the feeling pass through."

That's when I realized -- and this is related to the Pamela Paul -- women are charged with explaining shit all day long. (Yes, I know, vast generalization, there are lots of exceptions.) There is a ton of accounting and judgment, no matter your relationship status. We analyze stuff with each other: There has to be a storyline. Justifications. Most of Paul's article involves women spinning their stories.

Guys don't explain anything. Do you think that, when a dude gets divorced, he sits with his friends over beers hashing it all out for awhile? Explaining what happened? I'm going to guess in most cases, no. Yet three years later, I am still confronting this decision and trying to account for it -- wanting to account for it -- with others, and with myself. But the story, with all its fine-tunings and new insights, doesn't change anything.

When I got to the store I bought some lamb loin chops on sale. I cooked those up for myself -- just me. My guy (damn, I hate the word boyfriend) doesn't eat lamb. I have heard people say that they don't cook very often because they're usually alone. I used to feel that way too -- and certainly if I wanted some nice cut of meat, I'd accept that it would have to wait until that far-off, undetermined day where maybe I'd be in a restaurant and maybe they'd have just what I wanted on the menu. I couldn't spend that kind of money/make that kind of effort just for myself.

Now I feel that being alone is all the more reason to cook. Because what are you waiting for? Make a gourmet meal for yourself, and talk to yourself freely. Who cares. Drink some very good wine. Slowly. Watch In Treatment, or Breaking Bad or The Bachelorette or some other equally dark, depressing show that no one wants to watch with you. Light a candle, because now your place smells like meat, and you have all these candles that you buy and never light. And try to drop the story.

So that's what I did. I don't know if I have cured myself from explaining. But I have started trying.

Music: "Dancing With Myself"

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Trouble With Women.

The no. 5 most-popular headline today at The Washington Post was "The Trouble With Men."

Well played, WaPo, well played. Even a media cynic like me, hardened as I am to cheap headline ploys, had trouble resisting such an invitation.

Sure, I have my own ideas about the trouble with men (chafing stubble; blind, universal devotion to Zooey Deschanel, AC/DC and Monty Python; cigars; a weird need to beat each other up, even when they like each other), but I wanted to see what someone else thought. (As an aside, I'm going to start using this headline technique more often, starting with the title of this post!)

It turned out that the column was as easy as the headline: Let's use the Schwarzenegger and IMF chief scandals to make generalizations about men and cheating, complete with a humdinger of an opening: "What is it with men and sex?"

As an intro to incisive social commentary, that seems comparable to "What is it with humans and breathing?" or "What is it with puppies and chew toys?" or "What is it with teenage girls and boy bands?" I mean, do you really need to break it down?

The troubles with this column are many. First of all, it lumps together consensual infidelity with an alleged (and it's important to say alleged, even though the column basically convicts "DSK" anyway) rape. The justification for that gross oversimplification is that both incidents supposedly demonstrate male abuse of power.

The fact that this "abuse of power" conceit was derived from statements by the writer's wife does not mitigate its inherent sexism. He lumps together Schwarzenegger, Mark Sanford, Bill Clinton, John Ensign, John Edwards and Newt Gingrich as examples of power abusers. Does anyone think that Rielle Hunter was "taken advantage of"? Or Mark Sanford's lover? Do we need to assume that, whenever a prominent man commits adultery, the women involved are powerless and naive?

Of course, men in power have a long history of exploiting women, either criminally or morally, which is why this line of reasoning is both facile and cheap. To blame these recent scandals on a disease of the modern "alpha male" is ridiculous. Chris Rock put it more succinctly and more scarily (at the 2:10 mark): "A man is basically as faithful as his options." The men Mark Miller cites were weak, and allowed circumstances to triumph over morals; but they weren't necessarily predators, nor can their lovers be characterized across the board as victims.

However, a recent study suggests that Miller does have reason to link power with infidelity. Apparently, both women and men who consider themselves to be the shit are more likely to be cheating fools. We just don't see this played out publicly as much among women in power. More often, we see women in power (Oprah, Hillary) portrayed as closeted lesbians or asexual.

Miller's column neglects to mention several mostly non-political scandals, such as those of Tiger Woods and Jesse James (or, if he wanted to cite criminal cases, Kobe Bryant and Eliot Spitzer). To me, what's salient about these stories is not so much that the men are cheating or the idea that they are abusing power. It's the fact that they have created such huge schisms between their public and personal lives, and also, in some cases, the apparent indulgence in unprotected sex. Dudes, why, especially when you are cheating, so much unprotected sex?

Women are cheating, too. Are they also resorting to illegal and dangerous means? Why does anyone of either gender, -- in an age of supposed sexual liberation, gender equality, psychological enlightenment and oversharing -- still feel the need to commit such destructive clandestine behavior? To me, these are much more compelling topics to explore than the sadly well trodden ground of "hey, men sleep with underlings and commit sex crimes."

Music: "Creep"

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


Hello, friends. How is spring treating you?

I decided to usher in the season by: sneezing copiously, bitching about the unseasonably cold weather in D.C., wearing compression stockings (which is a separate post) and getting a "Sun Safety Kit" from Sephora. "Sun Safety Kit" translates to "lots of beauty samples that seem like a bargain but probably are not and yet are irresistible."

For those of you who have actually seen me, it might surprise you to know that I have a beauty product addiction. Nonetheless, it's true. It's built into my DNA. My childhood memories involve my mother transforming herself via drawers full of cosmetics before meeting my dad for their nights out at Houlihan's in Chevy Chase. Where Proust's key sense memory was of madeleines, I remember Oscar de la Renta perfume. I liked to waltz in while she was getting ready and say, "Hi, Tammy Faye."

To this day, she has drawers and carousels booming with products, and is a V.I.B. (Very Important Beauty Insider, i.e. prime spender) at Sephora. And though Sephora is truly genius at marketing products, my mom has sold me (a mere Beauty Insider) more things than any Sephora salesperson ever would or could. (Me: "I want this Tokidoki emery board set, but it seems so silly." Her: "Why? You know, that's about the same price as you would pay in the drugstore for emery boards. And you know you'll use them. Oh, I like that case!")

Yes, I'll do the frivolous Tokidoki and the high-end skincare products and the Nars makeup that somehow evinces a lifestyle I no longer live. But kits and "deluxe samples" are my drug of choice. They allow you to flirt with various brands without really committing. They give you the quick hit in a world of long, plodding commitments to lotions and powders that overstay their welcome and sit silently judging you for leaving them to languish in the drawer. "I cost $28 and you loved me two years ago! Why are you letting me go to waste? I won't be ignored, Christina..."

I wasn't always this promiscuous. For a long time, I felt very loyal to Shiseido. That's because, when I was about 15, my mom took me to the Shiseido counter at Woodward and Lothrop (or Woodies, as it was known) in Montgomery Mall, where we got a consultation and subsequently bought some products. I underwent the "Makeup Simulator," which was very high-tech in the olden times, also known as the '80s.

It was all so seductive. Firstly, it was adult. As a teenager, I was being invited into the world of mature secrets, which for women involves various sera, tonics and masques (that's with a "que") of indeterminate but significant value. Second of all, it involved transformation, which is something any teenager desperately, desperately wants, especially if her looks are plain and her bangs are -- well, you can see the picture. Third of all, there were many smells, which in my experience is second nature to women but seems to confuse men. Fourth of all, it involved lists and cataloguing: My needs were boiled down to checkboxes such as "enchanting eyes" and "a touch of color."

Shiseido was my first.

Everything about the brand corresponds to what's appealing about many Japanese things: simple, beautiful packaging; the evocation of purity, of being immaculate; not too little, not too much; a sense of science uniting with nature. (Similarly, Tokidoki, which is a Japanese name but an American company, represents the other side of what's appealing about many Japanese things: cartoony, childlike packaging; mini, mini, mini; totally artificial.)

That's why it's sad to find myself estranged from Shiseido now that we have more information about what we are putting onto our skin every day, thanks to the Environmental Working Group and others. Of the 50+ Shiseido items in EWG's Cosmetics Database, none falls into the "green" range. It has not signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, and apparently it conducts tests on animals.

To be honest, I haven't been super attuned to the animal-testing issue. I have been super attuned to the human-testing issue. I am convinced that the epidemic of cancer in women is linked to the beauty industry. I have no scientific proof for this. It's just common sense. The only way we can protect ourselves is to avoid products that we know to be toxic.

I bought my last Shiseido product several months ago. Unfortunately, we've grown apart, and it's time to break up.

Music: "Mirror in the Bathroom"

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tracks of My Tears.

This recent piece on crying in public in The New York Times struck a chord. In the past I have noted that one of the advantages to living in New York is that you can cry with impunity on the streets. No one will care.

The writer of the NYT piece, Melissa Febos, also raises another public UncMo: tripping on the street. The public wipeout elicits a different response from open weeping: you’re more likely to be ignored on the latter, and you want to be ignored; but with tripping, people usually reach out -- and if they don't, you feel even worse. Somehow, this unspoken rule makes perfect sense.

I don’t cry while going about my business in public these days as much as I used to. There are many possible reasons for this: I don’t live in New York anymore, I’m not an emotional wreck of a twentysomething anymore, I have developed a new inner strength, and/or some tender, precious part of me has simply died. Take your pick. But on a recent day, a freight train of tears hit me, and it would not be deterred by the presence of strangers’ eyes.

It started in a yoga class, at the very end. There is a part in many of the classes between the resting period and sitting up, where the teacher tells us to roll onto our right sides and pause there. This is where I’m mostly likely to tear up, or want to. It’s a fetal position, and to me, there are only two things you do in a fetal position: sleep, or sob.

On this particular day, I couldn’t hold it back at fetal time. I’d been fussing and fighting the whole week, and it all finally overtook me. I barely got my quivering lip through the last of the class and had to turn to the corner of the room at the end. Hard to tell if anyone saw me. If they did, they decided to let me alone.

The jag continued along P Street as I walked to the grocery store. I once again composed myself (sort of) before walking into the store (because somehow, crying on the street is more OK than crying in an indoor public place) and walked up to one of the counters to get some meat. The guy took my order, and as he was wrapping the meat, he said, "Are you OK?"

I hadn’t expected this – I mean I knew I didn’t look OK, but in a city (and especially if you’ve trained in public crying in New York), you aren’t prepared to be called out on it. "Yeah," I said.

This did not satisfy him. "Are you sure?" he said.

I repeated the lie, but by this point the tears were coming again, because my pitiful guts had been reflected back to me, and there was no stuffing them back in now. But I wasn’t exactly going to get into a heart to heart on the spot with the meat guy. I wasn’t even capable of saying, "No, it's been a rough day." So instead, I said the thing that was completely untrue, but also less likely to increase my visibility. Another rule of public crying: As long as you don’t make contact with anyone, or acknowledge that anyone can see you, you are invisible.

I took my purchase from him, corners of my mouth turned down, eyes watering, feeling that I was now not only pitiful, but a closed-off liar. I weeped on through the rest of the store, getting it together for the cashier and promising myself I would really let it out when I got home. And here's where another truism about public crying comes into play: When you're finally in private and have the freedom to let it all out, you can't anymore.

There are many times I’m publicly happy, too: laughing or smiling to myself while I’m alone. But I get more self-conscious about that than I do about crying or looking sad. After all, I don’t want to seem crazy or something.

Music: "Tracks of My Tears"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Week in Skirmishes..

Monday, 9:45 a.m. A random bumper lies forlorn on 16th St. near the Methodist Church and P. It looks like it's waiting to be picked up. By Wednesday evening, it will be stripped of its license plate, but still sit on the sidewalk as if it means to stay.

Tuesday, 9:30 a.m. A cop is directing traffic at 18th and Connecticut Sts. The World Bank and the IMF are meeting, so there are a lot of police blockades in place. People in D.C. are used to being interrupted by blockades and motorcades the way people in N.Y. are used to being interrupted by production assistants on film productions.

All the pedestrians on the corner are waiting through the "walk" sign for the cop to give us the go-ahead when a lone bicyclist emerges and crosses Connecticut, ignoring the cop, who yells at him to stop. Whether out of cluelessness or hubris, the man on the bicycle has made a grave error in judgment, but he does not know it yet. He vaguely smiles as he passes the cop, which could indicate anything from "Fuck you, cop" to "Whoops, sorry, it's too late for me to turn around" to "I am autistic and do not react appropriately in certain situations." He is a vision of pale: pale skin, white shirt, khakis. Helmet and glasses. Extra weight around the middle. Not threatening.

The cop, who is also pudgy, breaks into a sprint after the cyclist passes him. The cyclist has no idea what's about to hit him. As the cop catches up, he brings the full force of his weight, via his front forearm, into the cyclist and knocks him off the bike and onto the cement just as he's nearing the other side of the street. The cop immediately cuffs him behind his back and makes him kneel on the sidewalk. The guy obeys, looking both sheepish and shaken. All of us on the sidewalk are appalled.

I'd expected the cop to yell at the guy, or maybe pull him over by the wrist and give him a ticket -- not slam him to the pavement, cuff him and call the wagon. "I have one in custody," the cop radios his cohorts, as an older lady asks the cyclist if he is OK. He nods, but he's not OK. He kneels in shame. It's clear from all of the bystanders' expressions that we're in disbelief at what just happened, but no one knows what to make of it. As I walk away, two cop cars are roaring up to the corner, and the poor nerdy cyclist looks as if he might cry. Meanwhile, traffic has backed up without anyone to direct it. The traffic cop has become distracted by his big arrest.

Wednesday, 3:00 p.m. The CVS on Connecticut and L Sts. does not yet have self-service checkout, and it's hard to revisit this period in our history once you have experienced the self-service. A sizable line is forming at the cash register, but one woman has decided that she is going to jump the line by decreeing that there is a second line. The cashier does not accept the rogue customer's decision, and a battle ensues.

"There's no sign or anything saying 'form one line' or anything like that," the customer argues. "If they want to stand over there, they can," she says, referring to the silent majority of customers who have agreed that one line for all registers makes the most sense. "I'm getting behind this woman right here. I'm starting this line right here."

The cashier is inaudible from where I stand, but apparently is unmoved. The queue-breaker gets more agitated. "I am a paralegal. I know my rights," she declares. "I want to see the manager." Apparently she is talking to the manager, or the manager is unavailable. "Well is there a complaint form I can fill out? I want to file a complaint."

At this point, the rest of us in the consensus line start laughing. The cashier keeps calling people up, ignoring the line interloper while she talks about filing a complaint and leaving money for her candy without it being scanned, a proposal that the cashier refuses.

The paralegal is STILL arguing when I leave the store. In other words, she could have been through the line in the time she took to argue about it. And remarkably, no one on the CVS side decided this bird was not worth the trouble and let her pay out of turn just to get rid of her.

These aspects of human nature are why today we still have problems in the Middle East.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Big in Japan.

Recent coverage in The New Yorker of the Japan earthquake and tsunami aftermath included a mention of song requests at Tokyo FM. It got me curious about which pop songs were speaking to the Japanese at this horrible moment in time for them. I remembered that right after Sept. 11, for some reason "Trouble" by Coldplay was the song that kept surfacing in my head, and then I turned on the TV and saw that it also happened to be the No. 1 requested song on MTV.

Yes, Coldplay, lame, haha. You can also laugh at the fact that the Japanese apparently love Cyndi Lauper, and that "True Colors" now sits at no. 29 on the Japan Hot 100 Billboard chart. But I think it's pretty awesome how pop -- however banal, ridiculous or beautiful -- can still unite people in ways that other institutions no longer can.

Here's a survey of what's going on pop-wise in Japan, near as I can tell.

"Samurai Soul," Ulfuls

This song isn't new, but was one of the requested songs mentioned in the New Yorker piece. The first thirty seconds of it is rough, but soldier through. This song is completely radical in every way. It howls triumphantly. The video is hilarious. The lyrics are touching. Listen to this and see if you aren't singing it for at least a day (to the extent that you can).

"Slow," Rumer

This British sensation's single is right behind "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga on the Japan Hot 100. My friend marceltr had already alerted me to her popularity in the U.K. Her other single, "Am I Forgiven," is a nice Burt Bacharach throwback, but "Slow" is the song that really has captured me, as it has Japan. What's fascinating to me about Rumer is that she defies pop convention in the sense that she has a very languid, seemingly mediocre alto voice, and she does not fit the superficial requirements of the pop machine (usually non-slender, average-looking singers only merit success if they are powerhouses like Adele), but she has earned comparisons to Dusty Springfield, Karen Carpenter and (from me, at least) Basia, not to mention a ton of play internationally. But is her voice really that much of a find? It must be, given the response she's getting. Call me a sucker, but I am sold too. Also, the harmony on this song mesmerizes me and I'm trying to nail it down.

"Shock," Beast

I can't really endorse this, but offer it as a sampling of completely ridiculous pan-Asian dance-pop (in the top 10 on the pop charts) and invite you to check out in the YouTube comments how controversial it is.

Other links, per The New Yorker:

"Sunshine Sunshine," Superfly

"Michishirube," Orange Range

"Flowers," Mr. Children (I think??)

And footnotes from TV sound:

Discovered kd lang's cover of "Theme from Valley of the Dolls" via Nurse Jackie. Love it, and Dionne Warwick's original. God, if this hasn't been employed in Mad Men, can it be soon??

Richard Marvin is my new Thomas Newman (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Six Feet Under title theme, this), in other words the person who composes quirky and/or haunting pieces of music for my dysfunctional white-people dramas such as "In Treatment" and "Six Feet Under." Thank you Richard Marvin. I want to go sailing on your halcyon river of piano calm.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thank You for Your Blood and Urine.

My new primary care doc conveniently has a lab located right in the basement of his office, which means no annoying, separate trip to a depressing vendor like Quest Diagnostics to get routine bloodwork.

Instead, I could go to a depressing LabCorp (apparently) vendor right down in the basement. In the white, laundry-room-like atmosphere (there was literally a washer and dryer on the way to the bathroom), a fortysomething woman sat in flower-print scrubs with a neon-lime manicure. She barely looked in my direction when I arrived.

"Have a seat in the gray chair," she said, took my labwork sheet from me without eye contact, and rolled back over to her computer to create my file. She thanked me, very properly, for every single thing I did: giving her my birthdate, checking the spelling of my name on the pee cup. I was curious to see if she could get through the whole deal without looking at me at all.

On the wall directly to the right, next to the computer monitor, was a hand-printed version of the Office Serenity Prayer:

Grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change
The things I cannot accept,
And the wisdom
To hide the bodies of those people I had to kill today
Because they pissed me off.
Help me to be careful of the toes I step on today
As they may be connected to the ass
That I may have to kiss tomorrow.

Handwritten. In print large enough for me to read a few feet away (and my eyesight isn't that good).

A LabCorp-branded centrifuge (at least, I think that's what it was) whirred loudly, like an air conditioner, on the counter. On the cupboards above the counter, three signs hand-drawn with colored marker hung in a row. One of them said, "Thank You for Your Blood and Urine!" and at the bottom had a rudimentary smiley face with the word "smile." A second one said "God Bless You" with the same smiley-face signature. I can't remember what the third one said, because I was too busy trying to also watch the person who was about to stick a needle in my arm.

I instinctively wanted to talk to this woman. It's so great that this office has you right downstairs! Wednesday, huh? Did your kid do those pictures? I like your nails.

But she was On Her Grind and possibly not mentally stable. So I kept quiet.

She finally rolled over to me and (yes!) made brief eye contact with the barest, most perfunctory of smiles. "Make a fist for me." "Thank you." "Release." "Thank you." "Hold this for me." "Thank you."

I held the cotton while she labeled and stored the blood and grabbed tape as quickly as if it were a grocery-store transaction.

She rolled back over to me with the tape to secure the cotton ball over my arm. She was readying to make a plus sign: first, a strip across my elbow, then one vertically.

But before she put down the second piece of tape, she took out a magic marker and made exactly the same sloppy smiley face on the first piece as on the cupboard signs. I gave a little laugh. She gave me the quickest (quickest) of smiles and put the second piece of tape over it.

"Thank you and god bless you," she said as I headed back up the stairs.

"Thank you!!!" I said in a tone that at once relayed "Wow!" "Thanks!" "Godspeed!" and "We're OK right? Don't hurt me."

I really love that she drew a smiley face at my needle site, but unfortunately it is so diffuse (see photo above) that I have startled myself about three times since thinking that I am hemorrhaging from the arm.

Music, in Memory of Nate Dogg: "Regulate"

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Rise of "Really?"

This morning I was wondering why the interjection "Really?" has become so prominent in the last couple of years. Most recently, Bachelor host Chris Harrison invoked it to shame women who were piling onto Michelle during the "Women Tell All" installment. His "Guys! Like, really?" moment (visible at around the 6:35 mark in this clip, which is a stunning and revealing document of just how cruel women, or girls, can be to each other) echoes last year's Windows 7 phone ad, the title of a New York Times health column, an SNL Weekend Update sketch, and any number of conversations I've had or overheard lately.

It seems like there is so much over-the-top behavior out there, and so many dubious claims, that we as humans now need a phrase to distinguish the merely commonplace or entertaining craziness from that which crosses into complete disconnect from the rest of humanity. And apparently this line-crossing is happening so much that we often spend our time in sheer disbelief at what we are witnessing. We literally need to ask if things are real.

It's actually perfect that this latest language trend (which, to me, is a successor to "Oh no you di-ent" and "Get out" before that, only with more subtlety and cynicism) is in the form of a question, like so much of our speech now, especially among the kids today.

It's such a dead-on expression of how I feel so much of the time that, naturally, I'm now starting to apply it to all kinds of disappointments. The other salient aspect of our society right now, especially in the United States, is that we want everything to run smoothly and this minute. So when some piece of technology or service acts up on me -- a normally functional application starts delivering errors, or a doctor's office number goes to voicemail multiple times, or Amtrak stalls not once but thrice en route to New York -- my utterance is "Really?"

It's a response that somehow rolls childhood, adolescence and adulthood all into two bitchy syllables. We're incredulous, petulant and jaded all at the same time. We can't believe it. We're amazed all the time, but only in an OMG WTF LOL #fail sort of way, because if we were to react at the full throttle to the sheer volume of shit that demands our reaction on a daily basis each day, we would implode.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Revisiting Old Friends.

I felt like a real sham logging into "blogger" just now, because I have not been a blogger. I have been a shirker.

However, some things:

- I am currently blogging on another site about my attempts to reduce energy usage. Overall, it's a very cool project that also has participants from eight other countries. While you may think that phrases such as "energy diet" and "carbon footprint" are less than compelling (and you would be correct about this), in reality this blog involves lots of other matters that are undeniably fascinating, such as milk machines, sunflowers that dwarf children, going straight from a cross-continental flight straight to protest in Cairo and commuter pain in one of the world's worst cities for traffic.

- Prince is currently on tour, and I have not bought any tickets, nor do I have plans to buy tickets. My friends, who know (more or less) about my Feelings, have helpfully pointed out that he and I are going to be in California at the same time. He also was in NYC when I could have been there. And, well, I don't know. In NYC, ticket prices hovered around $150. They are lower in Oakland, but my time in the Bay Area is limited, and if he is going to drag Jehovah's Witness proselytizer Larry Graham out on stage, it's really best that I sit this one out. I'm excited that he's selling out arenas on short notice and still looks eerily the same as 20 years ago even though he's 52 years old, and that he's still rolling with Sheila E. But brothers and sisters, Prince is not even stopping in DC, and hasn't made an album I want to listen to in seven years, if I'm generous enough to include Musicology, which I am, but still. I refuse to acknowledge that our relationship is over, because he is Forever in My Life. But my affections have been sorely tested.

- Recently, I needed some reading material for the train and, a propos of nothing (well actually when I think about it it's because at my new workplace, there's a woman named Jo, which put the book in my subconscious, along with having read about the new Susan Cheever biography of its author), decided that I felt like re-reading Little Women. It seemed like the answer to my craving for characters and comfort.

As a child, I was given a whole library of abridged classics for young readers. I devoured 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Poe's stories ("The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Gold Bug," "Fall of the House of Usher") Treasure Island, Little Women.

Basically, I'm a sucker for any book that involves women sitting by fires, reading books, longing for excitement and anticipating "gay parties" or encounters with desirable gentlemen, maybe because that pretty much sums up my girlhood, except for the fireplace part. The March girls fit the bill.

When I took the Bantam paperback up to the register, the college-age cashier paused. "Oh, I read this when I was little," she said. "So did I," I said, a little surprised that girls now and girls then might still be reading the same things. "I thought I'd revisit it."

"Aw," she said in a way that suggested she thought I was kind of cute but also kind of sad.

Had I picked up a children's book? Was Little Women going to be less satisfying to re-read than, say, Jane Eyre or The Woman in White?

I'm sad to say it, but.... kind of yes. I've been struck by how Louisa May Alcott really hits you over the head with how wonderful and virtuous the girls are, not to mention with Jesus Christ.

The book opens at Christmas, when the four sisters are lamenting their fate of being poor and without their father, who is away during the Civil War. They know not to expect any presents, but their beloved mother (Marmee) promises that they will find something under their pillows in the morning.
[Jo] remembered her mother's promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going the long journey.

"Girls," said Meg seriously, looking from the tumbled head beside her to the two little nightcapped ones in the room beyond, "Mother wants us to read and love and mind these books, and we must begin at once. We used to be faithful about it, but since Father went away and all this war trouble unsettled us, we have neglected many things. You can do as you please, but I shall keep my book on the table here and read a little every morning as I wake, for I know it will do me good and help me through the day."

I have a pretty high tolerance for pious, ridiculously upstanding heroines (Clarissa, holla), but this and other elements of the book bummed me out a bit, to be honest. I just remembered the March girls as being more earthy, more real. But then, I read this book at a time when I thought the Brady Bunch and Olivia Newton-John were spittin' truth.

So yeah, it was disappointing to encounter a book that felt less authentic than the first time I read it. But then Jo meets the Laurence Boy, and the girls bicker, and I'm all swept up again. Despite Alcott's heavy-handedness with the characterizations sometimes, I can't help but be charmed by passages like this:
There were six dolls to be taken up and dressed every morning, for Beth was a child still and loved her pets as well as ever. ...One forlorn fragment of dollanity had belonged to Jo and, having led a tempestuous life, was left a wreck in the rag bag, from which dreary poorhouse it was rescued by Beth and taken to her refuge. Having no top to its head, she tied [um hello Louisa, dangling modifier much? -- ed] on a neat little cap, and as both arms and legs were gone, she hid these deficiencies by folding it in a blanket and devoting her best bed to this chronic invalid. If anyone had known the care lavished on that dolly, I think it would have touched their hearts, even while they laughed. She brought it bits of bouquets, read to it, took it out to breathe the air, hidden under her coat, she sang it lullabies and never went to bed without kissing is dirty face and whispering tenderly, 'I hope you'll have a good night, my poor dear.'

Reading that, and knowing what happens to Beth, well bless my own heart, I have to keep going, because this is where Louisa May Alcott becomes a cross between Beverly Cleary and Charlotte Bronte in capturing the young and the female Sentiments. So now I am more than halfway through Little Women, even though it makes me want to say "capital" instead of "great" and may be even more embarrassing to carry around than a Twilight book. But I do not care.

Music: "Old Friends 4 Sale"

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Uncomfortable Moments With Putin.

Clearing your cache can lead to some unexpected discoveries. Tonight I meant to go to my blog and typed "uncomfor" --

and lo, what do you think comes up in Google's auto-suggest? It isn't UncMo, my friends. It's Uncomfortable Moments With Putin.

My hat is off to this site, a compendium of awkward national leadership rivaled only by Kim Jong-Il Looking at Things.

The search term "uncmo," fyi, brings up a lot of inscrutable results from UNCC, such as UNCC Moodle. I don't know what a moodle is, but I respect that the good people at University of North Carolina Charlotte came up with it, and thus captured search results for uncmo.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


How did you first come to understand what death is?

I can't remember the answer to this, myself. It probably involved a goldfish. But I can remember experiencing, for the first time, being lied to about death.

My grandmother had a golden retriever that I absolutely loved when I was a kid, maybe 5 or 6 years old. Cindy was one of the highlights of my visits. She was furry and let me ride her and was my friend.

Then, one visit, Cindy wasn't there. Where was Cindy, I wanted to know? I was informed that Cindy had gone to the vet.

Cindy was at the vet for a super long time, but that was OK. I would simply wait until she came back.

But it took a really long time for Cindy to come back. I was on this story like Geraldo Rivera. Was Cindy back yet? When was she going to come back? Why did she go to the vet, anyway? WHERE THE FUCK IS CINDY?

I never got a satisfactory answer. Cindy never came back. Eventually I, the most Gullible Child in America, figured it all out.

It was (and is) not my mom's style to lie to me. However, it was my grandmother's style to lie, and she insisted that the situation be dealt with in this manner.

It seems like parents get kind of stressed out (I sure would) about this moment -- the moment when death must be explained somehow. I'd like to come down with a firm verdict and say that being lied to scarred me forever. It did not.

I advocate honesty. But whether you're straightforward, roundabout or downright deceptive, our culture tends to be severely fearful of death, and you're not going to change that in one instant.

This post was inspired by a friend's comment on Facebook about how she dealt with this same situation:

"[I had] to explain to J. yesterday that a dog he knew died. ...This dead dog has been dogging me since September!" she wrote. "It belonged to the physical therapist J. sees twice a week, and he'd fed him treats before. When we came back after the summer break, there was a photo of Freddy posted, and a message saying he'd passed away.

"And now, in January, the photo is still there, so naturally J. has started asking when Freddy is coming back. I decided to use the word "died," but now he is working it into everyday conversation and saying "so and so died," which is usually untrue, but kind of jarring to hear!"

My mom -- though she lied on behalf of her stepmother to me about Cindy -- taught me more about death than anyone, because she experienced it so harshly and so soon. Her mother died when she was 9 years old, and her father died as she was rounding her 20s. She also lost her beloved grandmother too soon. She communicated this loss in the way she talked about those loved ones after they were gone, and in the way she hugged us and said "I love you."

In college, for a sociology of religion class, I decided to write my final paper on belief systems around death. I thought (and still think) that the way religions and cultures explain death is fascinating. I was printing out my paper (dot-matrix) in the university lab and encountered a student from Israel who asked what it was about.

As I told him, he looked confused and dismayed. "Why would you write a paper about something like that?" he said. He had served in the Israeli Army and had witnessed a lot of death. He couldn't understand why anyone would dwell on this subject willingly, make it an academic topic. A paper.

I felt, in the moment, like a dirty voyeur, because that's what I was. At the heart of my academic interest lay a desire to find an coping mechanism that would work for me when death inevitably came my way.

I liked the idea of no mirrors. I liked the idea of setting a time limit on mourning. Other than that, not much insight. Because you can't prepare.

The first time I had to face death -- for real -- came when my grandmother died of colon cancer. It was the first time I'd ever seen a person on her deathbed.

It was horrifying. It was horrifying not only to see my grandmother, so beautiful and proper, reduced to a rattling skeleton where she lay, but also to see my father hunched over her, weeping, clasping her hand and telling her what a good mother she had been.

I remember being very angry. I was angry about what happened to her, and then about the fact that we were all asked to convene at the restaurant Grandma liked to visit for her birthday dinners.

What the fuck? Why would we go to the RESTAURANT where we celebrated her BIRTHDAY after her DEATH, as if she were here? That was, like, a cruel joke to me. I ran and ran on the treadmill that day, dry-eyed, trying to work it out. I never did. I just had to accept that that's what her kids -- the ones who mattered -- wanted to do.

If someone could tell me a good lie today, as an adult, about death -- if I could somehow revert to the child I was, and believe that lie -- I daresay I'd prefer it.

Music: "Sometimes It Snows in April"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

No Thank You.

So, I faithfully watch The Bachelor franchise. I do not expect your support for this decision. It is a Personal Life Choice for me.

Those of us who watch The Bachelor know, and fully anticipate, that certain ridiculous words and phrases will recur throughout each season. The show knows this, the people on the show know it, and we in the audience wait for it, so that we can wince (or drink) accordingly when we hear:

"on this journey"
"soul mate"
"here for the right reasons"
"most dramatic/controversial/etc season EVER"
prince/princess metaphors
"I came here to fall in love"
"this process"
and many others

But the phrase that struck me on Monday night's show came during Brad Womack's one-on-one date with Jackie. To me, there was a clear dealbreaker on this date for Brad, and it wasn't Jackie's supposed cautiousness in love or the irksome amount of times she confirmed that she felt special.

It was how she kept saying "thank you."

I am all for being polite. My mother is a please-and-thank-you Nazi, and I admire her for that and (yes) thank her for training me to be a polite, appreciative person.

As a child, I learned to say thank you early and often, both verbally and via handwritten notes, which are probably about as common as five-year diaries these days.

But you can say thank you too much.

Let's say you're in a long-distance relationship, and your bf/gf comes to visit you. Let's say, like Jackie, you're on a date, and the other person signals that he's interested in being with you by kissing you, or making a general effort. Let's say you're going through a hard time, and a friend listens to you.

In moments like these, saying thank you is more insulting than polite. Certain actions are part and parcel of real relationships. You don't say thank you for them, as you would to someone who doesn't owe you these things. To say thank you in such a moment is actually a way of putting distance between yourself and the other person. You don't mean to do this, because you're busy being grateful and proper. But that's the effect.

Have you ever been thanked for something you considered it obvious to do in a relationship? It feels a little surprising and overly formal, doesn't it?

Still, my thank-you indoctrination has been complete and overly successful. Once, after a night out, one of mom's best friends gave me a ride home after a concert on her way out of the city. It was a no-brainer ride -- literally on her way.

I told her she could just drop me off a few blocks away. I get extremely uncomfortable at anything that might put someone out on my behalf. I generally avoid asking for rides, loans and most favors in general. She insisted on dropping me at my exact location. I thanked her.

At that point she got offended. "Of course," she said, shutting me up. She was understandably annoyed. The woman had known me for some 25 years; we were just at a concert together; my place is right on her way home. Of course she's going to drop me off at my door. To suggest otherwise by standing on ceremony and thanking her excessively is to cast doubt on her status as a real person in my life.

To this day, I have problems with this. Some of my loved ones are the same way. We thank each other too much: Thank you for listening to my crap. Thank you for coming out with me. Thank you for coming to visit me.

You do not say thank you for this stuff. It is part of the territory.

My thank-you heritage hit me one day after I'd been hanging out with my nephew, who was maybe 5 or 6 years old at the time, at my parents' house. At the end of the day, as he was about to leave, my mother urged him, "Say thank you to Neena for playing with you today." He dutifully thanked me.

My heart was broken in that moment. I tried to break the cycle there. My mom meant well. But I looked at my nephew and said, "You don't have to thank me. You never have to thank me for playing with you."

Music: "Thank You"

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Cab Chronicles.

"Hey, you paying in cash, right? I don't take credit cards."

That was my first indication that this NYC cabbie was not like the others. Most of them have the credit-swipe machines and the TVs in the back that play light news reports and late-night talk show snippets. This guy had a gray screen and attitude.

I winced and got out. But fortunately, UncMo's Favorite Person was standing there seeing me off, and had cash for the fare. So back into the cab I went.

Like many cabs in NYC, this one was driven by an Arab gentleman. Unlike many cabs in NYC, it featured a soundtrack of Shinedown. At first, I thought it was just the radio, but no -- this guy was rocking the full CD, skipping songs he didn't like and humming quietly to the ones he did.

This cabbie was angry-lite. He alternated between humming to the power ballads, cursing other drivers ("The sign says Monday through Friday asshole! I'll kick your ass!") and inquiring about my relationship.

"Where are you going? Can I drop you off at Seventh?" he asked.

"Amtrak," I said. There was silence. "Seventh Avenue is fine, whatever's easiest."

"You can get Amtrak from any entrance," he said, which was clearly a "you are dumb and I don't care" statement, because any cabbie knows that "Amtrak" means "Eighth Avenue or as close as you can get to it." I did not respond.

But now he wanted to know: "You going to New Jersey?"

"No, D.C.," I said.

"Oh. That's where you from? Was that your boyfriend?" he asked. Mr. Shinedown had gone suddenly from angry to inquisitive.

I answered him. Long-distance relationship? Yes.

"Looks like it," he said coldly. I wasn't sure what that meant.

"My girlfriend is in New Jersey, and sometimes that's too far for me," he said. "Sometimes I just don't feel like going out there.

"She wants to live together, but I say no. I come to see you, and you come to see me, and that's it. You live together, and that's when the problems start," he said.

"Maybe," I said.

"Unless you get married, that's something else," he said.

I kept quiet.

We pulled up to the LIRR entrance to Penn Station, which was about a block and a half from where I needed to be.

"Is this OK? You can get to Amtrak from here," he said.

This cabbie was a d.b. I knew this, but actually ended up giving him a really good tip, because my a-la-minute math skills were not subtle enough to calculate the exact amount that says, "you weren't terrible enough for me to stiff you, but you don't deserve a good tip, so I'm giving you this middling amount," but also because he had managed to remind me that even though I was bummed in that moment to be leaving NYC, I was still a lot happier than, say, this guy.

He drove off and I trudged over to Eighth and 33rd, half annoyed and half amused.

Music: "Call Me"

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Dear Diary.

The last time you shopped for a five-year diary, which may have been just last month or perhaps December of 2005, or perhaps never, you probably did so with some trepidation, knowing that five-year diaries -- and well, even the concept of writing anything down on paper -- have become increasingly obsolete.

I just filled my sixth five-year diary (yes, friends, that multiplies out to 30 years of crazy) and needed a new one. Not getting a new five-year diary was not an option. I've come this far in chronicling every damned day of my relatively boring life, and am not about to stop now. Contrary to what many people believe about a new year, it is really an opportunity to affirm that change is bad.*

Despite the fact that many of my five-year diaries have metal locks on them, or embossed script, or gold-edged pages, they are devastatingly unspecial and banal. They more often resemble an accountant's ledger, if you will, of my life.* Take a sample day: Did I work? Did I go to the gym? Did I eat at a restaurant? Did I have some notable sex? Did I watch a movie? Did I finish a book? Did I talk to my mom? Did I meet a new person? Did I have a generic, oppressive emotion? Wow, yeah. What's on television?

Still, the diaries are a handy reference point for me. Every once in awhile, I will thumb back to that vacation, or that holiday, or that date, and get a useful thumbprint sketch. Occasionally, phrases capture slow shifts and sudden revelations: "I feel sort of stateless, [my mom] and I have a new gap in understanding." "I broke down and said I wasn't feeling like I could try." "I'm sort of addicted to his presence in my life right now." (Note: When circling grand proclamations, it's prudent to use the words "Sort of.")

To me, journals are different than diaries. The word journal, post-1990s, is a little icky. It sounds like a yoga retreat assignment (to be expressed in the verb form "journaling"), or a positive-thinking exercise. I love yoga and positive thinking, but would just as soon leave journals out of it. The best journals do not have structure, themes, or self-aware labeling.

I was faithful to a system through my teens and twenties: journals were for long-form and diaries were for short-form. The long-form is now a Word document on my computer, rather than a book. But the short-form remains handwritten. I still believe there is value in putting a pen to paper every day, even if it's only for five or six lines.

So imagine the warm and happy surprise of coming across this five-year diary. I literally almost wrote a fan letter to the designer of this book, Tamara Shopsin, and apparently I am not alone.

First of all, Shopsin's diary simply revives the form. It looks clean and alluring, rather than antiquated and inexplicable. It has six lines allotted for each year, rather than the customary four or five, which, as it turns out, is just the right amount of space to make you feel more expansive, to make you share more, to make you try, when you're writing about your day.

It has the requisite ribbon for saving your place.

And -- I love this, because I used the "notes" space at the back of my last diary for this very same thing -- it has a BOOK LOG section at the end.

Do not let your days slip away unmarked. Someone -- your spouse, your child, your parent, some alien in a museum, maybe even you -- will want to hold onto something and look back at you someday, will want to find you through a looking glass.

* My sister, a propos of nothing, recently sent around a link to a Meyers-Briggs test. A former boss of mine was obsessed with this test. I'd taken it once for her, and then another time in my latest round of kareer konfusion, and yet I still could not for the life of me recall which type I am supposed to be, though I had a hazy memory that I'm an INTJ, so I took it yet again. My result was ISTJ, aka the "Duty Fulfiller," aka the most Boring Spice of all possible personality types. ISTJs are also not known to love change. Among the recommended occupations for ISTJs: Accountant. However, the test indicated that I was one percentage point off from INTJ. So do you know what I did? That's right, I took the test a-fucking-gain to PROVE that I was, in fact, an INTJ, or "The Scientist". What is the personality type for someone who doesn't like her result on a stupid personality test, and so takes it again so she can prove she is a different type of nerd than what the original results indicated?

Music: "The Scientist"

Photos by sirmchin