Writing

On regret and anger and not being a part of The Cool Girls Club

Having been on an extended break from writing at Thematically Fickle, I’d forgotten how treacherous the blogging world is. It’s pretty great that we humans have this place where we can write anything we want, for anyone to read, any time they want to read it. The down side, of course, is that we humans have this place where we can write anything we want, for anyone to read, any time they want to read it. Once you put it out there—hoo boy!—there it will stay, no matter how much you might later regret it.

Case in point: Several years ago, in a piece I’d written for CityBeat—which was later published (with my permission) on the now defunct Women’s Colony—I wrote about WalMart shoppers in a sarcastic, satirical manner. At the time, WalMart and Amazon were in a bidding war to lower prices on books, devaluing writers everywhere by offering newly released hard cover books for $8.99. Here is what I said:

Now, I was as startled as the next person to hear this outrageous story. They can’t be fucking serious, I thought. Wal-Mart actually sells books? To whom? Do Wal-Mart shoppers even know how to read?

Oh, I heckle the Wal-Mart shoppers. Of course, they know how to read. And now, thanks to Extreme Price Slashing, The Corporate Edition, they will be able to indulge that first-grade reading level on the cheap: The former first gal of Alaska’s Going Rogue is among the 10 or so hard-covers being offered at black-market prices.

(The piece can be read in it’s entirety here if you really feel like it.)

I got a lot of positive feedback on that piece, and many people understood that I was joking. But there were also a lot of people who were personally offended; they wasted no time in grabbing their virtual pitchforks, and proceeded with a painful and public flogging. I spent nearly a week in fetal position. It was not a confidence builder, I will tell you that. And now—lucky me—these two sentences in a 1,000-word piece, have come to somehow define who I am for a few folks, as was made clear the other day when two different people, brought up the WalMart remarks in the comments section of my first blog post of any worth, in nearly two years. That was a tough re-entry. 

In particular were the remarks left by my friend, Joe, who was pretty much repelled by the way I’d written Ree Drummond Doesn’t Know Jack* About Teaching Diversity post. He pointed to the WalMart post as an example of…well…I’ll let his words speak for themselves:

I like your style when you write from a place of joy and enthusiasm — but the parts where you spout curse words and tell people how horrible they are as human beings (off the top of my head I’m remembering a post where you make fun of Wal-Mart shoppers mercilessly for being idiots with a 3rd grade education) for doing things you disagree with, it flies in the face of the zest for life, generosity, and kindness I have experienced of you, in abundance over the years.

That was a super thoughtful comment which gave me pause. After getting some other feedback from Joe’s eloquent, kind, diplomatic, sincere and open-hearted wife, Leah, I’ve been thinking a great deal about how I choose to say what I have to say. And I have something to say about that.

With respect to the WalMart shoppers dig specifically, I have come to the conclusion that I missed my mark. I absolutely think WalMart is evil for a whole bunch of valid reasons. But there are people who struggle everyday to stay afloat, who don’t have the luxury to be concerned about whether WalMart locks it’s employees in at night, or whether their business practices have a negative effect on communities, because they are busy figuring out how to make it until tomorrow. Of course they can read. They simply don’t have the luxury of choosing between WalMart and Whole Foods, or even Vons for that matter. What I said was classist and I wish I’d found a better way to say, Dudes: WalMart keeps it’s employees below the poverty level, and Sarah Palin has a 1st grade grasp of grammar. Ah, the missteps of being a writer on the Internet.

As to Joe’s other issue of preferring my kinder, gentler style, all I can say is: That’s great and thank you and I appreciate you reading. But the fact of the matter is that sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes when I write from anger, I screw up. But most of the time, I hit exactly the right tone that I am going for. It just so happens that, in my post about teaching diversity, I said exactly what I had to say, exactly the way I had to say it. I do not apologize for it. I do not wish I’d said it differently.

A series of recent events in my life have led me to what might be called an a-ah! moment, if it were only a moment. Instead, it is a prolonged evolution, an awakening, a metamorphosis, and I am angry. And what I am going to do with that anger is write from it. I’m going to point it toward injustice and call bullshit where I see it, even if the bullshit is coming from a World Famous Blogger, who is probably a perfectly nice person, but who has an increasingly influential platform that she used to write something that I find regrettable.

It’s not personal, it’s just personal.

I have nothing to lose by doing it, and I have everything to lose by not.

To be clear, I do not pretend or claim to be and expert when it comes to race. I’m only an expert in my experience of it. But this I know: The last thing the Internet needs is another polite, comfortable, palatable-for-white-people conversation of race in America, where nobody gets hurt, and nobody takes responsibility, and everybody feels like they’ve done their part, and nothing ever changes. Mocha Momma is right: It is not about cake. It is about so much more than cake.

I will not be changing the way I write, even if it means I sit on the outside always looking in. Even if it means I lose readers. Even if it means I lose friends. Because I couldn’t live with myself if I became the author of drivel like “The Help.”

Going Home: Planting my feet on familiar but not familiar ground

One of the perks of being a grown-up is that you can eat cupcakes before dinner if you feel like it. Hell, you can eat cupcakes instead of dinner; it’s totally up to you because you’re a grown-up. It’s the thought of this benefit upon which I rely whenever being an adult means dealing with un-fun stuff. Like when you have to make the trek back to where you came from because someone you love has died.

Such was the case last week when my mother and I boarded a flight together to mark the passing of one of her closest friends, a woman integral to my upbringing.

To say the journey was dirge-like is an inaccurate portrayal of what went down. Of course there was sorrow, but viewings and cemeteries just aren’t how my people roll. I come from celebratory stock, and there was no funeral. There was instead a celebration at an art gallery with several hundred people recounting memories of way back when.

Nance and mom

I visited with the people my mother calls “the village of fools” that raised me, some of whom I hadn’t seen in decades. I caught up with people I never thought I’d see again, and some who, to be honest, I never thought about once I’d left: I chatted with old neighbors, parents of friends, friends, friends’ kids, former teachers, a woman who used to babysit me and even a woman I used to babysit.

“You showed me Michael Jackson’s Thriller for the first time and—Whoa!” she said as we toasted. “It scared the crap out of me, but it blew my mind!” I had no business caring for a child back then. Perhaps I still don’t.

Of course, parts of the trip were dreadful: We come from Utah, after all, where the only thing more dreadful than not being able to get a cocktail before noon is not being able to replenish the alcohol supply at a memorial service because the state-run liquor stores all close at 7 p.m.. That kooky old Beehive State. It makes Arizona look progressive.

every city should have one of these

As sad as some moments were, my trip to the homeland was a real-life version of The Twilight Zone, an adventure in the surreal. The heaviness of the experience was lightened by good stories, really good people and I think, if I remember correctly, some seriously good weed. Moral supremacists can pass all the laws they want, but people will find a way. Suck on that, prohibitionists.

Many things have changed since I left Salt Lake City nearly 20 years ago.

troy and gabriella forever!
The (still small) downtown is unrecognizable, with ongoing development causing us to take several detours as we strolled. Same goes for my high school, where Disney’s High School Musical series was filmed. There’s a stunning library—boasting architecture worthy of a city like Chicago—that was not just open, but filled with people.

My grandparents’ home was razed and replaced by a McMansion with three garages and a whole lot of black roof. And my beautiful, turn-of-the-(20th)-century childhood home that my mother worked so hard to restore, had a notice of condemnation taped hastily to the front door. This was especially unsettling, mostly I think because it seemed to mirror the implosion of my parents’ marriage and the unraveling of my nuclear family.

But other things were so unchanged that I felt as if I’d never left, an equally disorienting feeling.

mrs. backer's pastry shop

Mrs. Backers Pastry Shop, where my mother used to buy all of my birthday cakes, was as explosively pink and kitschy as always. The old glass cases were packed with cupcakes and cookies, and the smell of sugar as I pushed through the big glass door brought me to tears.

I wiped my eyes and told the girl behind the counter about how I used to freeze one flower—perhaps a dahlia or daffodil made of the world’s best butter-cream frosting—from my birthday cake each year and save it for a sweet tooth emergency. She just stood there and looked at me like I had 10 heads. But I didn’t care, because she had stiff claw bangs, which is way more permanent than my public display of nostalgia. Clearly, she did not fully appreciate the spectacularness that is Mrs. Backers’ butter-cream frosting.
best cupcakes in the world

Also unchanged was a popular restaurant where my family used to celebrate special occasions (Mother’s Day, graduation, the day I got my first period, what have you). The people on the wait staff looked vaguely familiar in a ruddy-ski-bum, college-y sort of way.

I ordered the world’s best eggs Benedict to a soundtrack of “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, followed by The Cure’s “In Between Days” and then “Big in Japan,” by Alphaville. I had to check my Swatch watch to see what year it was. I even checked my reflection in a nearby mirror to make sure I wasn’t wearing acid-washed overalls with one strap undone, pants legs tucked into two pairs of brightly colored socks, layered and scrunched down into lace-up ankle boots. Eighties attire must die.

Speaking of dying, I’m not super-experienced in dealing with death—a lucky streak I’m happy to maintain—so I’m still sort of wide-eyed from the shock of seeing how time can fly and also stand still.

pierpont artist studios
For the moment, I’m suspended in the life-is-short awareness, an acuity that will dissipate in a few days. I’ll be distracted by the minutia again soon enough, but not before I serve my husband and daughter Mrs. Backers’ cupcakes for dinner.

(As published today in San Diego CityBeat.)

Put Down The Glass: Kate Hudson inadvertantly sparks new legislation

Late last week, Radar Online posted photos of a pregnant Kate Hudson drinking a glass of what looked like red wine while vacationing with her boyfriend in Argentina. The comment section of the website had barely begun to overflow with its collective opinion broadly castigating “the little tramp” before outraged Republicans leaped into action.

Though it’s too late for Hudson’s baby—who will likely have small eyes and thin lips due to genetics, rather than some fermented South American grapes—the GOP plans to use one of the tentacle-like arms of its small government to help ensure all pregnancies, forced and otherwise, are safe for the baby.

“Drinking while pregnant is absolutely not acceptable,” House Majority Leader John Boehner told CityBeat in an exclusive Skype interview recently. Boehner wept as he spoke, his shoulders heaving, orange self-tanner dripping from his chin. “That’s why I have sponsored House Bill 1920. The bill’s number is a nod to women’s suffrage. I thought of it myself,” Boehner said, wiping his face with a white monogrammed kerchief.

“HB 1920 is referred to in committee meetings as the Pregnant Women Cannot Drink Anything But Dasani Bill. Now, we realize that’s sort of a tongue twister for those on Main Street, especially for the lady-folk who shouldn’t be trusted with anything more than casserole decisions. So, the actual working title is the Fund the Troops Bill, which even a retard can understand.”

If passed, HB 1920 will make “the ingestion of alcohol by pregnant persons” a federal crime, punishable by up to 25 years in prison or—depending on overcrowding—as a seventh-grade science teacher in Texas. The bill makes no exception for nail-polish remover being absorbed through the skin.

“Pregnant women shouldn’t be painting their nails in the first place!” Boehner exclaimed. “This bill is unambiguous.”

GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee offered tepid support in a recent radio appearance, saying the bill “is certainly a baby step—get it? Baby step?—in the right direction,” but that it falls short by not addressing the unwed-mother issue.

“First Natalie Portman, now this?” he asked. “It’s an epidemic! Just look at how Kate Hudson flaunts single-motherhood, wearing that string bikini, her baby-bump shiny and taut like Jim Cramer’s forehead. The woman doesn’t even have stretch marks! It makes me horny—I mean—it’s just not reality for most women, and to put that message out there is irresponsible.”

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, now living with his Argentine lover, had a slightly different take. “She [Hudson] should get married if she’s met her soul mate. But the wine? Well, they do things a little different down there.”

Murphy Brown did not respond to requests for comment.

Boehner laughed off Huckabee’s concern.

“He’s just so passionate when it comes to food and marriage. What I tell him is, ‘Whoa, slow down, Huckster. You didn’t lose 110 pounds overnight.’”

Indeed, Boehner privately calls this bill his “test-tube baby” because future legislation will be modeled after it. “If HB 1920 passes—and I feel confident it will,” he said, “we will criminalize the ingestion of soft cheeses, straining to poop and sex after the first trimester.”

To be sure, this bill is but one part of a larger tapestry to protect the unborn: Combined with funding cuts to Planned Parenthood, the repeal of healthcare reform, the decimation of the public-school system and changes to labor laws, Republicans hope to guarantee millions of fetuses the right to life but little more.

“What happens to the kid after birth is not my business,” Boehner said, his hands in the air. “We just want to get ’em here with a normal head circumference. I ask you: What’s more joyous than the moments immediately after the doctor sucks the mucous out of a newborn’s face with that turkey baster thingy? Nothing, that’s what. Nothing is more glorious than the ‘Wah!-wah!-wah!’ of a child taking his first breaths of fresh air.”

Nancy Pelosi balked in reaction.

“Whether that air is fresh is a matter of debate,” she told NPR, citing GOP demands that the EPA be barred from monitoring greenhouse gasses.

“Nancy, like all women, is no longer relevant,” Boehner said. “I’m speaker now, babe, so you can shut it and fix me a bourbon.”

While activists have expressed concerns about what happens to these children once they’re born, Republican legislators have offered more innovative ideas.

Missouri state Sen. Jane Cunningham points to Maine, Utah and Virginia as examples of out-of-the-box thinking. “Like mine, these states are doing away with child-labor laws so kids can work at age 14,” she told CityBeat.

“Let’s face it: Our schools suck and kids deserve other options. So, right here in The Show-Me State, not only are we opening the job sector for those under 14, but we’re also eliminating restrictions on the numbers of hours and days a child can work. Easy peasy.”

Boehner is elated by the prospect of Missouri’s contribution. “The tax cuts we extorted from the Democrats last December [for the wealthiest 2 percent], have resulted in an astronomical number of jobs added to our economy, which means a need for labor. So, to skeptics, I say, pshaw!”

For now, the focus is on preventing women from following in Kate Hudson’s footsteps. But in the long term, Boehner and his colleagues hope these little fetuses grow up as patriots who enlist in the military and fight America’s wars.

“Only a retard doesn’t want to die a hero,” Boehner said.

Want to commiserate over a cocktail? I don’t care if you’re pregnant. Write to aaryn@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.

The Palm Pilot: Who needs church when you have an app?

One of my daughter’s schoolmates walked up to me the other day, her blue eyes wide, and apropos of nothing, said, “If you don’t go to church, you can’t know God.” She was confident. I, on the other hand, was rattled, given that the outrageous remark came from nowhere, as outrageous remarks from 5-year-olds often do. Still, I’m not great when put on the spot, and my involuntary response ruled the moment.

“Well, that’s not true,” I said.

“Yes it is!” said the sure-footed little darling.

“Well, some people believe God is all around them,” I said. “And some people—.”

Some people, I thought to myself, don’t give their kids iPhones because if Little Miss Sure of Herself had an iPhone, she would know that in the age of new media, church is nearly obsolete.

Case in point: After consulting with priests, the co-founders of LittleiApps have developed Confession: A Roman Catholic App. The Pope has bestowed the app with his seal of approval, which is hardly surprising given he up and abolished limbo a few years back because, he argued at the time, limbo is just a “theological hypothesis.” Ahem. I mean, Amen.

Selling for $1.99, Confession became one of the top 50 most-purchased apps from iTunes as of late January, a boon for the developers, one of whom claims his tithing more than compensates for the profit he doesn’t admit making. The same goes for the suckers guilt-ridden among us: To be absolved of badness without setting foot in a church, for less than two bucks? That’s like an additional 50-percent-off clearance at Barney’s for the financially challenged fashionista. At that price, I could justify purchasing it to satisfy my curiosity. But I’m a Jew; recognizing a good deal is in my genes.

Concerned this purchase would be a donation to the Catholic Church—where the Grand Pooh-Bah wears purty dresses and protects the child molesters within its ranks (talk about a dude who need this app!)—I decided to buy some clown porn to balance the karmic scales. I got freaked out, however, by the still images on the producer’s website (if a photo of clowns fucking doesn’t do it for me, a moving picture is out of the question). Instead, I made a donation to Planned Parenthood.

After printing the receipt for my records, I opened my new app and readied myself to feel closer to God. Sure, there’s that whole I’m an atheist thing standing between God and me, but I’m not closed to the possibility that a phone can be a conduit for spirituality. Just the other day, a girl next to me in yoga class was texting from downward dog and her chakras seemed perfectly aligned. Why not an app to save my soul?

Before I could properly confess, I had to register: The app asks for a Name (iSinner), Sex (doggie style, pls! Er, I mean, female) and Birthday (1998—priests like minors); there’s a required and oddly limited pull-down menu for Vocation (single, married, priest, religious) and Date of Last Confession to be updated with each subsequent use. The brilliance of technology will keep the confessor honest in the way a priest on the other side of a thin partition can’t; there’s no fudging the date of your last confession here.

After setting my password (I’ll let you imagine that one), I went to the Examination of Conscience page and reviewed the Ten Commandments. Some people need an e-reminder that killing, cheating, stealing, lying and screwing your neighbor’s husband are no-no’s. I’m good to go on the How to Behave as a Human Being because my mama raised me right, so I skipped to the confession.

“This app is intended to be used during the Sacrament of Penance with a Catholic priest only,” reads the disclaimer. “This is not a substitute for a valid confession.” Ah ha! I get it. This app is a shortcut, like a “Sabbath” setting on an oven.

So there I sat at my dining room table, talking to my iPhone. Not talking on my phone, but to my phone.

“Are you there, God? It’s me, Aaryn,” I said, recalling one of my favorite Judy Blume books. “Uh. Last Friday, my in-laws took my daughter for the morning so I could write. But instead of writing, I—masturbated.” Just saying the word “masturbated” made me kind of horny. Is it bad to be horny during confession?

Holding my phone, I continued: “And as long as I’m confessing, God, well, last Monday, I told a 5-year-old fan of yours that some people don’t believe in you.”

My iPhone then did what I imagine lots of priests do: It went to sleep. I felt a little offended that I had to log back in to finish up. Not to mention I was trying to hurry so I could masturbate before I had to pick my kid up from school. Alone time is precious in these parts.

After my confession, I was prompted to read a little ditty called “Act of Contrition,” which I did, though I have to admit I kept getting distracted by the sound of my eyeballs rolling to the back of my head. I didn’t feel all that sorry. In fact, I was kind of bored. But I said “amen” and waited for my absolution.

For $1.99, I felt nothing but amusement.

Spend the money if you want, but, in my opinion, there’s only one way to know God and it has nothing to do with showing up at church or iConfession.

(As published in San Diego CityBeat.)

Why Fight It?: How to grow old with flair and no apologies

“I’m not depending on fashion because what I do is very individual and this is mine and I enjoy it. That’s all. Nobody else has to like it as long as I look in the mirror and—Ah!— this is me, you know?“—Ilona Royce Smithkin, 90 years old

Without making an itemized list of my various physical and psychic ailments, I’d like to offer this thought on aging: It’s sucky. And just to get in the proper frame of mind for writing about how much I’m not enjoying it, I decided to employ the writer’s version of method acting and listen to some smooth jazz for a bit. That’s right. The words you’re reading have been strung together with country-club-foyer music as inspiration.

“Why smooth jazz?” you ask.

Because smooth jazz is like the McRib and Kathie Lee Gifford: It reminds me that there are things more dreadful and way less stylish than the inability to read a menu in dim light, standing-induced jolting knee pain and the eventual and permanent retiring of all high heels. Be still my heart.

Now, some things can be tackled. Like, when your daughter insists on repeatedly counting your forehead wrinkles, you can create bangs. Or when the Almond Roca and bourbon you consumed during the holidays permanently affix themselves to what was once your waistline, you can use an elastic hair band to button your pants (big shout-out to my once-pregnant friend for that tip).

But “That’s the Way of the World” by Earth, Wind and Fire re-mastered as a piano-and-trumpet convergence by someone named Kim Pensyl? That’s a travesty that can’t be fixed with a nylon zip tie. Becoming irrelevant is small potatoes compared with that, and it is this knowledge that keeps me positive in a fake-it-’til-you-make-it kind of way.

In my efforts to shrug off my disdain for aging and come to terms with the inevitable, I started searching the Internet for inspiration. Obviously, I’m not the first woman to go down this path, and there isn’t very much originality in dreading—or worse, complaining about—the aging process. I knew there was something out there that would stir my aspirations. I simply had to find it.

And find it I did. After suffering the usual plethora of mommy blogs (blech and double blech), I turned to my favorite fashion blogs, most of which are aimed at 20-somethings. But it was through these ladies and a complex labyrinth of links that I struck gold—or rather, Bakelite—when I stumbled across Advanced Style.

Hosted by Ari Seth Cohen, a young street photographer in New York City, Advanced Style is devoted almost entirely to the stylish older woman (though Cohen includes some very dapper men, from time-to-time).

And by “older” I mean “senior.” Cohen has a tab at the top of his home page called “I’m proud to be __ years old,” and all of the stylish women featured on that page proudly claim more than 80 years each. Not only that, but they also make being old look way more fun than any of this “prime of our lives” bullpuckey.

Cohen’s site is filled with wonderful photographs of vibrant, relevant women of very diverse and yet similarly concrete individuality. Most recently, he’s teamed up with a videographer named Lina Plioplyte of Teenage Peanut, to make videos of these women, shorts that are both inspirational and indescribably moving.

One of my favorite stylistas is the oft-featured and wildly bohemian 90-year-old Ilona, who has an insatiable thirst for color and no time to fret about age. She has short, bright-orange hair, the clippings of which she used to make a set of fabulously long false eyelashes that she’s worn like a trademark for 40 years.

“I’m in very good relationship with them, just like with my body. I talk to it. I say, ‘Now listen: I’m very nice to you, be nice to me,’” she says in her video.

We should all be so kind when we talk to our bodies.

Jean and Valerie of Idiosyncratic Fashionistas were recently launched to international fame after Cohen featured them on his site. During their interview, Jean extends an arm stacked with red and black Bakelite bracelets and squeezes—between fingers also adorned with Bakelite rings—Valerie’s homemade stress ball necklace. Their motto is “Growing old with verve.”

And then there’s Debra Rapoport, an expert thrifter with a pink streak splashed through her asymmetrical white hair. She takes us shopping in her video and tries on a black leather dress that zips down to there and up to here. She throws an orange boa over the top (“Nothin’ like an orange boa! You know how I love orange! Orange is neutral”) and the ensemble instantly underscores her magnetic personality. With all this, plus a body to die for, Rapoport is gorgeous, sexy, smart and wonderfully au courant. I want to be her when I grow up. Scratch that. I want to be her right now.

Perhaps the most refreshing thing about Advanced Style—The Best Website Ever Invented—is what you will not find: Women puffed up by collagen injections or boob jobs; women attempting to deny age; women wearing labels for status; women following rules (you should see the number of 60-somethings wearing skirts above the knee). You will not find Kathie Lee Gifford here. You will not find smooth jazz.

But, someday, if I’m lucky and if I stop my whining and really take to heart the message the ladies of Advanced Style are sending, you may find me.

(As published on January 19, 2011 in San Diego CityBeat.)

Hypothetically speaking: Resolutions that I’m not going to make

As far as I’m concerned, New Year’s resolutions are for other people. You want to make enough of them to fill a Torah-length scroll? Good for you. Way to be ambitious. I, on the other hand, never make any. I don’t need that kind of pressure. The way I see it, failure hurts less when you aim low. If it’s suffering and self-flagellation I want, I’ll let eight weeks slip by between bikini waxes.

However. When a flight attendant offered a free cocktail to the passenger with the most creative resolution during a recent flight, I whipped out my pen. It may have been disingenuous to participate, seeing as I had zero intention of actually seeing mine through. But I’m competitive and I wanted a whisky. Mostly, I’m competitive.

The judging resulted in a four-way tie.

Two people promised to feed the homeless and do good for the downtrodden and blah-dee-blah—fairly vague and accountability-free goals, if you ask me. Another winner planned to travel on Alaska Airlines 50 times during 2011. Clearly, this lady was the class suck up, the one who always sat in the front row with her hand up and a ready answer. She was the one who volunteered to help the teacher pass out the exam sheets.

And then there was the woman in seat 9B who promised “to be more compassionate toward all the mutants who seemed never to have been through an airport security check point before, like the sedated lady with a lapcat and two teenage traveling companions who—more concerned with the perfect placement of their Justin Bieber coifs—couldn’t be bothered to help their molasses-impersonating basket case of a mother unload her 17 bins of crap.”

Is it wrong to quote myself ? And so it was—as Sam and I sipped on free Crown Royal during the last hour of our flight, basking in the glow of my win—that I proceeded to compile a list of resolutions I would make if I were a resolution maker. Which I still am not. But if I were, 2011 would be the year that:

• I would be on time for everything, including bill payment, starting my period and deadlines (waves sheepishly to editor).

• I would brush my teeth and floss after every meal.

• I would open and sort through my stack of mail on a daily basis rather than piling it up on every household surface indefinitely.

• Instead of running on fumes, I would fill my car up with gas whenever it gets down to the quarter-tank mark so that when Armageddon or Rainmageddon or Whatevermageddon happens, I’d be prepared.

I might even stock my trunk with a gallon of water, a flashlight, an emergency blanket and some canned beans. I’d be sort of like a Mormon, only without the magic underpants and self-righteousness.

• Speaking of beans, I would stop kvetching about how the taco shop screwed up my burrito again, even as I ate my burrito. Instead of ruining the meal for everybody, I would take it back to the counter and ask for it to be fixed.

• I would ask nicely.

• I would try to pretend, for the benefit of my friends who insist on owning them, that I like cats.

• In addition, I would quit making remarks about how the best place for cats is cuddled up next to a bunch of stones in a burlap sack at the bottom of the San Diego River.

• I would respond in a most heartfelt-regretful manner to hate mail from cat lovers.

• I would donate the proceeds of every future column to the Feral Cat Coalition.

• (Ha ha ha ha ha— yeah, right. That totally isn’t a resolution I would ever make. Fuck the Feral Cat Coalition.)

• I would swear less.

• Rather than secretly enjoying the melancholy for the angst-riddled teenage days of a simple country girl mocked by cheerleaders, I would change the dial on my car radio whenever a Taylor Swift song is played.

• I would put more money away for my daughter’s future.

• I wouldn’t regale the telemarketer from the Democratic National Committee with an itemized list of reasons why I’ll never donate another penny to the Democrats while also antagonizing her with repeated requests for a donation to my child’s college fund.

• I would simply hang up on her instead.

• I wouldn’t hold a grudge against our college neighbors for taking the parking space directly in front of our house.

• I would buy only one pair of shoes all year. OK, probably two. It’s good to be realistic when writing resolutions.

• I would believe in unicorns and the fundamental goodness in all humans, even greedy bankers and those who shop at Michael’s—like the woman in front of me this past holiday season who waited until her subtotal flashed on the cash register before holding up the entire check-out line while a manager procured for her the green spray paint she forgot to grab.

• I wouldn’t, in such situations as the one above, take a photo of the annoying person hemming-and-hawing over which hue of spray paint to purchase, send it to my only Christian friend and tell her she was right, there is a hell after all and it is called Michael’s.

• I would resolve to never set foot in a Michael’s again.

• I would give my husband more blowjobs. The annual birthday / anniversary / Christmas schedule really is phoning it in.

• If I did that, I bet I could revise my previous shoe resolution to one purchase a week.

• I would definitely, definitely hang the oversized glass dreidel ornament from my mother-in-law on the Christmas tree, front and center, before her arrival, instead of keeping it packed away “in case of breakage.”

• I would not let more than four weeks pass between bikini waxes. Oy, the suffering that could be avoided.

(This article ran in San Diego CityBeat on January 5, 2011. I’m a little behind in posting.)

Pre-resolution inventory

I was going to take photos of my gym socks for y’all to see how well I’ve been doing on un-resolution number 5, but my husband has already washed, folded and stacked on my dresser the four pairs I dirtied in pursuit of my un-resolution number 4. He’s such a mensch! I totally should have included weekly blow jobs on my list, and I thought about it at the time, honest! I mean, how hard could four fellatios in four weeks be, right? It’s not like I’m married with a kid or anything hurdle-ish and daunting like that.

No, the goals I set were wholly do-able. So it’s surprising to note that I’ve ganked nearly all of them as spectacularly as Brett Favre’s spiraling career. Let’s take a look:

1.This past week, my fastest Sudoku time was longer than all my days on earth. Maybe because I fell asleep while playing?

2. Not only did I not say no to spearheading, I am now spearheading the communications for my kid’s kindergarten class, exactly the opposite of no spearheading. Never mind that I still have to write and send the first communiqué and am suffering angst over not having done it yet and worrying about it hanging over my head and oh! that’s the damned reason I said NO! SPEARHEADING! in the first place! What is wrong with me?

3. About that daily writing… I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

4. I’m coming in this close [] on the 5-workouts-a-week thing and though I could seal the deal by going to Pilates tomorrow night,  I have to go to the day job first, where I’ll come face-to-face with the insane supervisor who I hung up on today. Later, I’ll race out of there to meet with a principal, then rush across a few blocks to confront a school board heavy, and pay lots of devoted attention to my child.  Pilates or cocktails with friends is my choice for the evening hours and…well, look. This one isn’t my fault: There are goals and then there are methods of maintaining sanity that do not in anyway align with keeping goals.

5. I covered this one in the intro but let’s celebrate properly: HUGE SUCCESS! GYM SOCKS! RIGHT! SIDE! IN! HUSBAND HAPPY!*

6. I’m swearing like a woman who’s school board is going to eliminate all the janitorial staff, nurses, counselors, office personel, librarians and busing at her school, and I’m paying twenty-five cents to the child every single time she hears me. She may be illiterate—save for a few choice expletives—when she pops out the other end of this California Public School/How To Fill Our Prisons For Years To Come Experiment. But she’ll have herself a nice little community college nest egg. And anyway, who really needs fucking librarians?

7. That whole two-spaces-after-each-sentence thing is for the nerds. I never did want a doctorate anyway.

As for The Rejectionist? Well. She’s failed in more than one area too, which made me feel less alone. But she’s held fast against the Maker’s Mark and written all up and down and sideways about it. I have to congratulate her on a fine success with a formidable goal. Go forth, I say to her, and spread lovingkindness if you must. But, Madame, if you start parroting SARK and asking policemen to arrest your inner critics? Do NOT blame the Internet when we restrain you and pour bourbon down your throat. It will be for your own good.

*But not as happy as he could be.

I quit, part two: Life before Facebook is better than I remembered it

I think it’s official: I’m a curmudgeonly old person. I listen almost exclusively to NPR. I recount, daily, how there were naps and no homework when I was in kindergarten. I sometimes drink coffee with my lunch. I can’t see well at night, and while I don’t have to put my teeth in a jar before going to bed, I’ve decided that Facebook is the Devil.

And so it was that without much pain at all, I found and hit the “deactivate” button on my account a couple of weeks ago. I was promptly bombarded with a well-executed, if ineffective, guilt trip: Rachel **** will miss you if you leave! Steve ***** will miss you if you leave! Joe ***** will miss you if you leave! And so on and so on.

I was unmoved: As it happens, I was going to be drinking beers that very night, live and in-person, with all the friends who were going to be missing me. At least they’d have the opportunity to pine for me face-to-face.

Less than one week after freeing myself of the cloying self-promotion, inane inner dialogue and regurgitated thoughts that define Facebook, I heard Mark Zuckerberg talking on NPR about his latest endeavor to take over the world. Of his new e-mail-ish method of communication, he said: “All your IMs, messages, e-mails, SMSs go into that, and you have one history, and you can kind of go through it forever, right? And that’s going to be really cool because five years from now, you’re going to just have this full, rich history of all of the communication that you have with each of your friends and the people around you.”

A “full, rich history of all of the communication that you have with each of your friends and the people around you”? “Really cool”? Oh my God, you guys. Humans are so doomed.

Who wants a transcription of their life?

Not me, thanks. The transcribed existence is not cool. What it is is thoroughly disturbing. And let’s face it: Zuckerberg, of all people, should know that the only folks interested in his version of a “full, rich history” are lawyers.

Here’s the thing: What makes life full and rich is not a public announcement of every headache, twitch, itch, crane, peacock or firefly pose successfully (or not successfully) accomplished. Namaste.

It is not the status update about your sit-ups, push-ups, break-ups, breakdowns, kisses, orgasms, orgies and subsequent afterglow (and tagged photo documentation of all of it).

It’s not the countless wasted hours of swirly-eyed reading about all these things done or not done by your friends or “friends” or boyfriends or exes or childhood playground playmates whom you haven’t seen in 30 years.

It’s not the quick, heartfelt posting of “Happy Birthday, You!” on the wall of a friend whose memory in your mind’s eye is, more often than not, way better than the reality of who they turned out to be, the poor schmuck.

It’s not the use of what Grant Barrett of A Way With Words calls “paralinguistic restitution”—those little clues also known as <3 and J and LOL—in an endless effort to convey that which would otherwise be conveyed through a conversation held by two people in the same physical space.

And a full, rich history is definitely not navigating the dangerous quagmire of drama that arises when the <3s and Js fail to fill in the blanks after a simple status update is woefully misinterpreted.

What it is—this “full, rich history”—is what you build with the people in your real life, with whom you spend real time, to whom you send real birthday cards and for whom you buy real cocktails. It’s what you have with people who know your phone number—if not by memory, then by contact list—and use it.

It’s what you have with a person you can (and want to) touch and hug and laugh to the point of tears with over some joke that isn’t going to be recorded for all eternity, and, believe me, that joke isn’t going to be half as funny five years from now, with a few emoticons tacked onto the end reminding you to LOL.

A full and rich history is what you build when you look a friend or a neighbor or a parent or a child in the eyes and connect and discover and truly understand the complexity of being human. What makes life full and rich is the exact opposite of Zuckerberg’s wonderfully, permanently, litigiously tracked “forever” interactions. The brilliance and glory in a full and rich life is, of course, the fleetingness of it all. The impermanence of now. It’s the knowledge that there is an end in store for all of us, even—though they would deny it—for those who live today in prostration for an eternal tomorrow, an endless string of sunny days to be spent at the Great Big Shopping Mall in the Sky.

>It’s all temporary, so you’d better get busy and smell the roses. Or, spend your time texting to your Facebook wall, “I’m at the zoo with the monkeys!” while the monkeys fling shit at your oblivious face, turned down as it is, focused on your smart phone.

This constant exposure and revealing and sharing and recording and general vomiting of every single second of our lives—an ongoing habit shared by 500 million of us with a now-insatiable need for constant validation— isn’t meaningful. It’s gross.

And that’s why I quit. Because I want to be less gross. So far, so good. But we can revisit this status update when my teeth begin to fall out.

(As published yesterday in San Diego CityBeat.)

Dedicated to the Katherine Sweetman’s of the world, who dare to leap, no matter the consequences

I Quit: Or, like so many, I wish I could

It was during the afternoon of the day I experienced my first-ever anxiety attack—while driving to work—that I sat, parked in front of my friend’s house, and took the About.com Should I Quit My Job quiz.

The chest pains, sweating and shallow breathing I’d experienced earlier that morning excluded, I was a bit of a wreck. I had a canker sore in my mouth and the beginnings of what has been a lingering cold, and I’d thrown my lower back out a few days earlier while sneezing. Not weight lifting. Not screwing. Sneezing.

Fuck 40, is all I can say about that.

I sniffled and winced and then wallowed in self-pity as the first question loaded on my iPhone: “Your job is making you ill, True or False?” Well, duh. I systematically answered all of the questions, about 20 of them give or take, and after hitting submit, the following result appeared:

“You have many problems with your job and you should consider quitting soon.”

It was in red text, as alarming and urgent as a test of the emergency broadcasting system on late-night television. It might as well have said, “Girlfriend, the call is coming from inside the house!” Even though making life decisions based on an Internet quiz is about as reasonable as basing them on the predictions of a Magic 8 Ball or the words of a charming palm reader near the Spanish Steps in Rome, I decided right then that I was going to quit my job, benefits and money be damned. I imagined tossing my beanie high into the air on my last day, strutting out the door to the theme song from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

I cannot describe the weightlessness I felt at the decision. My husband was unquestionably supportive. “You can create something,” he said. “You’ll have to hustle, but I know you can do it.”

For an entire week, I was floating, soaring, buoyed—except for the searing back pain any time I bent to put on my underwear, a problem easily resolved by not wearing any. I became the Yes Girl at work, committing to anything and everything I was being asked to do in the coming year, since—ha ha!—I knew I wasn’t actually going to be there in the coming year.

I had a definitive date on which I would submit my resignation, and I would finally realize my dream doing something I love. Ours would be a household with two self-employed people, a terrifying leap, but a breathtakingly exciting one, too. And I knew such a decision would result in an improvement of my mental and physical health. I waited for my ailments to resolve.

But then: Blasted reality took hold in the form of an insurance broker. One conversation—complete with a patronizing lecture about the devil otherwise known as universal healthcare, and the assessment that, Oooh, basal cell carcinoma? Yeeeaaah, insurance companies will view you as Lingering Death’s first cousin—and suddenly I was slammed back to earth, my body hitting the pavement with a tremendous splat and bounce, brains and organs and limbs everywhere. It was ugly. Good thing I have health insurance and can see a doctor about fixing the mess.

The broker—who I’m pretty sure was busy stroking his little capitalist-happy wiener as we chatted—made it clear that the open market would not be amenable to me. It appeared that a COBRA plan costing nearly $1,700 a month would likely be my family’s cheapest insurance option. Insert a loud Chris Berman Whuuuuuut?!? right about now. That’s more than my mortgage.

I’m not the first American to go down this treacherous road; I know I was only exploring that which millions of work-hating drones, self-employed, under-employed and unemployed folks have explored before me. But that doesn’t make it any less infuriating. Having no outlet for the outrage really smarts, too.

The problem of obtaining adequate health coverage for my family as I faced the reinvention of myself was startling enough to give me sleepless nights, stomach aches, two more canker sores and an additional upper-back spasm that made right-side lane changes impossible. If you pass me on the road, you’ll notice I’m still going in circles to the left.

The choice can be summed up thusly: Stay in a miserable job that kills me slowly so I have access to affordable medical care to treat said dying. Or! Leave the job that kills me in lieu of doing meaningful work that brings me improved health and fulfillment and hope to hell no one in my family gets so much as a spider bite, because one serious health issue could ruin our credit, decimate our life savings and cause us to lose our home. In short, seeking happiness could cost me everything.

On the recommendation of About.com, and with the support of people who love me, I scootched right up to the edge of that cliff. I let my toes extend out over the edge, raised my arms akimbo and tilted my face to the sun as I leaned forward against a horizon-less abyss. Then I got a bad case of vertigo, chickened out and resigned myself to the only realistic, if depressing, option there is.

I’ve found ways to make my current job tolerable and am staying put for the time being. I’m not giving up on that other possibility, but it will have to come with more preparation and in a less dramatic, Steven Slater-y sort of way. The silver lining is that I can afford to have the deep tissue massages that are—hopefully—going to resolve the seizing of my back. I hope to be wearing underwear again very soon.


(As published today in San Diego CityBeat.)

Not in my house: Don’t plan to come over here and watch commercial-free TV

It’s quite possible that my household is the last one on the planet without a DVR. I keep lobbying for one, but my pleas are met, every time, with counter arguments superior to my much weaker begging points.

I made my most recent pitch the day after fumbling for the remote during a commercial break on Monday Night Football. I had been less than graceful in my attempt to protect the delicate eyes of our 5-year-old from seeing the gun-and-bomb violence advertised during what Palin-fawning Americans insist is a family pastime. Never mind that she’s watching football, the contemporary version of gladiators. As far as I’m concerned, a knee bent in reverse might as well be a pastie-clad nipple compared with those military-recruitment ads or spots for certain video games.

“We’re not getting a DVR,” Sam said to me when I mentioned I was going to call about getting one. “We don’t need it. We don’t even watch any shows besides Mad Men, and there are only two episodes is only one episode left in the season.”

“But—the insufferable Meg Whitman ads! You know you hate her hair!” I countered, mouth agape. He wasn’t moved.

“Election season is almost over. And a DVR just means I’d have another piece of electronic equipment to figure out and manage and program. And I’d have to listen to you bitch about how it’s ‘broken’ when I accidentally erase a show you weren’t ready for me to erase.” I shut my mouth as he continued. “And then I’ll have to call Cox when it goes wonky—because it will go wonky. You know our track record with electronics.”

He had me on this point. And then he added: “It’s not a big deal. I’ll just skip Monday Night Football from now on.”

If you felt a violent jolt last Tuesday evening shortly after dinnertime, that’s because the entire universe came to an abrupt halt as that last sentence was uttered. Apparently, my man is so staunchly in the anti- DVR camp that he’s willing to give up Monday. Night. Football.

I stood before him, arms crossed, one hip thrust forward and one eyebrow raised in my hard-earned Hope Brady impersonation (she’s still on Days of Our Lives).

And then I threw in my best oh-no-you-di’unt neck-wobble when I challenged him: “Even when The Pack are playing?” I had to resist the urge to tap my foot.

He stared at me. I stared at him. There was a little twitch near his left temple. A tumbleweed blew by and it was nothing but crickets up in our house until Ruby broke the tension with the cutest little fart ever. “Excuuuuse meeee,” she said, giggling. With this diversion, I felt the debate shift in my favor. I was getting closer to that DVR by the second.

After a little pre-battle mantra chant on Thursday morning, I dialed Cox Communications—from memory. Like 363-TILT, the phone number of the first boy I ever kissed while sitting on a blue swing at Reservoir Park, 262- 1181 is with me forever. Only, unlike Mike Allen, Cox isn’t cute in that pre-pubescent, disproportionate-facial-features kind of way. And while Mike Allen’s braces didn’t lock with mine as I had worried they might, I am inextricably bound to my cable company.

You see, Sam isn’t the only one who has Cox on speed-dial. I call regularly to find out why our OnDemand isn’t loading or why our modem isn’t working or why our cable bill is escalating. Each time I’m forced to call, I have visions of being on the evening news as the woman who went postal on the cable tech. It’s a good thing they’re usually based out of places like Iowa and Delaware. A flight to their offices would really diffuse the impetus to kill.

The automated lady picked up the phone and chirped directions at me. “I see you’re calling from 619….” Yeah, yeah. I entered all the digits necessary to get to the main menu, and then I pressed zero to speak to a representative. Because that’s what I wanted to do: speak to a human being. But did it get me a human being? No. Communication breakdown: “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand you. Please enter 1 for…” I felt my blood pressure rising.

Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.

I pressed zero again—and was looped around again. After the third time at this little game, I held the receiver in front of my face and yelled at the automated lady, “What part of ‘press zero to speak to a representative’ do you not understand?!?” In customer-service training manuals, this particular customer reaction is commonly known as the Belfer Method. It is completely ineffective.

I hung up and called back, starting the whole process again, only to have the automated lady say, “Due to the high volume of calls, your wait time is 11 minutes. Would you like to have someone call you back?” Why, yes, automated lady, yes I would. I selected this option by pressing the key I was told to press. I held it down extra long just so they would understand my request, and then I hung up. More than 11 minutes later, my phone rang. And, wouldn’t you know? It was the automated lady: “Please wait for the next available operator.”

Nam-Myoho-fuck-this-shit!

After another few very long minutes, a human lady came to the phone. But by that time, I’d exchanged my silly mantra for vengeance. I was so pissed that I’d have been more likely to vote for Meg What’s-With-Her- Yoda-Hair Whitman than give Cox a penny toward one of their stupid DVRs.

“We don’t even watch television anyway,” I told the human lady. “It’s just another piece of equipment that won’t work properly,” I said. “So, you can just keep your crummy DVR.”

And we’ll see just how many Mondays go by before the discussion begins again.

(As published—mostly—on Oct. 13th in San Diego CityBeat.)