Monday, June 19, 2017

On Popularity (And Indifference To Popularity) ...

This blog has become a bit of a wasteland, an infrequently populated place that was once quite a hub of activity. A lot of my thoughts are now boiled down to 140 characters or threaded if I have something extended to express.

But every so often, the impulse to share something in a tweet is overcome by the realization that there's simply much more to say, and so, here we are. A blog post. A rare blog post. The link for which I can tweet.

Today's post is inspired by this: Why Popularity Matters So Much—Even After High School.

It popped up in the Medium Daily Digest, an email that I scroll through each morning but which rarely contains headlines that inspire me to click.

So kudos to Mitch – or whomever wrote the headline – for capturing my attention which led me to read an excerpt from his book, Popularity: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World.

The post is interesting, so I expect the book is, too. And I love that Adam Grant is blurbed on the cover: "This book helped me understand why I wasn't cool as a kid, why I'm still not today, and why I shouldn't care."

Indeed.

I wasn't cool as a kid. I'm still not today. And, indeed, I don't care.

Which isn't to say I don't want people to like me. Being liked is nice.

But being liked and being popular are different things.

Moreover, my preference is more that people don't dislike me. I have come to appreciate that some people simply will not like me on principle. As a very wise friend says, "It is always the other person's shit, Beth. Always."

Well, maybe not always. If I have done something to upset someone in some way, I'd like to have the chance to address it and apologize for it if an apology is called for in that instance. Or perhaps what's needed is a clarification, a moment of "You misunderstood what I meant ... ."

But I hope I am conducting myself in such a way as to not give folk active and accurate reasons to dislike me.

Popularity, though? Meh.

I don't care about my number of Twitter followers. For a long time, I didn't accept connection requests on Facebook or LinkedIn unless I knew the person. Then I considered that perhaps I was cutting myself off from encountering some interesting people or people who might be folks I should know in order to advance some area of my life, some insight, some growth, professional or personal. And so I started expanding my circles ever so slightly.

But not much. I once knew a guy who was damn near obsessed with amassing friends on Facebook, never mind that they weren't really friends at all. They were local personalities whom I expect accepted every friend request that came along.

In his excerpt, Mitch quotes Daniel Clemens, a popular Yale student who has achieved much professional success: "We teach writing and arithmetic. We expect folks to do very well in science and reading from a very early age. But the ability to establish great relationships with others seems to be every bit as important to success if not more, yet it’s not taught in a formal way. We usually learn about relationships by trial and error — how to get along with peers and how to be popular. For those who can do it, great. But for others, it is a lifetime of struggling, never understanding why their peers have issues with them."

I have a knack for establishing relationships with others. Whether they're "great" is subjective. But friends have commented on it. One asked, "What is it about you? You meet these people and become friends with them."

He was referencing a few folks I know who are "famous" or perhaps "known."

Relationships don't form with everyone I meet. I interviewed Melissa Etheridge for a story some years back. She invited me to come to a show on her upcoming tour. I did. I met her very briefly. I'm sure she has no recollection of it and we haven't been in touch since.

Some encounters are fleeting – like the one with the mom in the parking lot of a store who was trying to load groceries into the back of her vehicle while her newborn baby, in a carrier on her chest, screamed his little head off; I helped her with her groceries and then returned her cart to the front of the store – while other encounters – with those "famous" or not – turn into friendships.

And the reason, as I see it, is pretty damn simple: I'm a nice-enough person.

I try to be kind. I try to be helpful. I try to be sincere. I'm not trying to game the system or scam people or engage for purely selfish reasons.

But forming substantive relationships and "popularity" strike me as different things.

When I was in school, "popular" seemed then as it seems now: largely superficial, rooted first and foremost in appearances. But, as I see it, it's also assigned. The most popular people I remember from school didn't strike me as striving for popularity. Popularity was placed upon them. Those who strive to be popular by definition aren't and, to my mind, can't be.

These days, I suppose popularity is often cultivated. Some are genuinely adored for their flamboyance or personality or artistry. But others have become successful in parlaying a glimmer of notoriety into an outsize following.

Which begs the question: why do so many follow?

But that is another topic for another post.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Really, Jayson? Really? Part XXIII ...

Not every Jayson post has included a Roman numeral in its title but this is indeed the twenty-third in a series, which began in 2011.

I tired of the Jayson posts for a time but now that the country has grown infinitely more ridiculous, the absurdity of Jayson feels like a well-worn blanket, a comfort, like home.

And so, over coffee this morning, I clicked over to visit the vintage and antique offerings. The go/no-go decision to draft a post rests with whether enough catches my eye to include. Some items are priced in a way that strikes me as sane. Some items are lovely and I'd consider including them in my home, if only I could afford them.

And then ... . Well, let's begin.

I actually rather like this table. I do not like the table offspring that are intended to sit atop it (you'll have to click through to see that magic) but I like the form of the table. I do not, however, understand the utility of a table that is a foot high and nearly 11 feet long. What is its purpose? I'd genuinely like to know. Angelo, my dear friend, how would you use this in a space? How big would the space be? Is it really just a platform bed for people who prefer to sleep end to end?

Vintage Long Table – $1,895

This 94" sofa hails from France and the 19th Century, designed by someone who, unlike the creator of the table (above), was never informed of the existence of straight lines.

Antique French Sofa – $7,495

Oh, my. What happened here? The description includes the phrase "upholstery as found." Found where? In an alley in Miami behind a community center where Dorothy Zbornak was taking a class in fabric painting and somehow ended up with a tab of LSD on her tongue? Why would anyone do this to a piece of furniture, let alone two? Why would anyone then buy them and try to sell them for nearly $1,000 apiece? Why were these not sacrificed into a volcano when they were found? They're clearly the gateway to an evil dimension. Someone took the time to create coordinated piping, for God's sake. No. No, I say. Stop. For the love of God, stop. Won't someone think of the children?!

Vintage X Bench – $995 (Set of two available, priced individually)




Thursday, June 01, 2017

A Memo To Donald Trump ...

June 1, 2017

To: Donald Trump
From: Beth Kujawski
Re: Everything

My mind labors to comprehend the depths of your malfeasance, and the damage you are doing to our country and to the planet. The consternation stems, in large part, from your blithe disregard for reality. You seem far too dopey to be any kind of evil genius. You seem far too incurious about anything that does not bear your name in 20-foot letters to be doing deliberate damage.

And yet, the havoc you wreak is immense. And daily. In a mere four months, you have shattered the standing of the United States in the world. The world openly mocks us and we, with you as our "leader," deserve to be mocked. In what insane realm does an braggadocio-afflicted confessed sexual assaulter, reality-TV host, and filer of multiple bankruptcies become the President of the United States?

We now live in this insanity, a world in which coal miners believe we as a country are going to turn back the clock 100 years and they will return to that golden era when they died too young of black lung if they didn't die underground, in which those who voted for you most fervently and earnestly are beginning to admit that you are not the president they thought you'd be but who insist they will continue to support you, even as you strip them of their access to health care … and treatment for addiction … and food, so incapable they are of admitting they were horribly, horribly, horribly wrong.

Bigots, racists, misogynists, and white supremacists are newly emboldened by your words and the permission they grant to those who are the most despicable among us. Yes, they are deplorable. By what possible measure are they not, scrawling slurs, hurling hatred, slashing throats in the name of "patriotism"?

Perhaps you suffer from mental impairment greater than narcissism and megalomania. Perhaps you are delusional. Perhaps you have dementia. Perhaps you are just dumb.

When you bombed Syria, you said it was in response to seeing the carnage inflicted by Assad. Were you pretending and lying or were you telling the truth? If you were telling the truth, if you are capable of being moved by the plight of others, listen to the people in our government who understand how our democracy functions and the role we must play in the world. Really listen. Don't dismiss them as holdovers from an administration you are intent on erasing. You cannot erase it. Yes, you have the power to undo much of the good that was hard won. But if you care not for the hundreds of millions of Americans, act in service of your own ego.

You are writing your legacy. This part will be mercilessly unkind and etched in history. As we revere the good of Abraham Lincoln, someday, as they read your legacy, our descendants will shake their heads with scorn.

You can change that.

Please change that. You have grandchildren. If you care at all for the children of Syria today, consider what your grandchildren will face as they grow. They will read about you. And they will ask why you didn't care.

You can start caring.

We need you to care.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Really, Jayson? Really? Misfit Atom Edition ...

Aw, the poor giant atom model.

Nobody wants it.

It's been reduced. Again.

Vintage Metal Atom Model

Vintage Metal Atom Model – Was $4,795, Then Was $1,999, Now $999

What I wrote the first time around:

It is, of course, from France. As most Jayson Flea items are, but "Huh," I thought. "That seems like quite a lot of money – even by Jayson standards – for a model of an atom."

And then I checked the dimensions.

Would you like to know the dimensions?

63"W x 55"D x 42.25"H

That's right, this model atom is more than five feet wide.

And it's not necessarily that old. It's listed as "20th century."

Do people in France have very poor vision?

Or did someone make a model of an atom that would be to scale if it were viewed from space?

I greatly appreciate the very precise height dimension of 42.25 inches. Because how upsetting would it be to get your giant atom home only to discover the perfect display space is a quarter inch too short?

I would like the meet the person who buys this big-ass atom. If that's you, please do drop me a line.


And then what I wrote the second time around:

Well, no wonder I never heard from the person who bought the big-ass atom. The big-ass atom is still for sale. And drastically reduced. Do you think it's occurred to someone that it would have been better to leave the big-ass atom in France?

It was "drastically reduced" the first time around. And now the drastic reduction has been cut in half.

I wonder if the giant atom model will ever find a home.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Really, Jayson? Really? Quickie Lighting Edition ...

I haven't written a Jayson post in just about a year. Part of me thinks, "Beth, you've beaten that horse beyond death. You've pulverized that horse. That horse has been reduced to atoms."

But part of me can't resist the lure of the ridiculousness. So I popped by the site again today after a long, long time away. And I found a couple things that made me sniff derisively.

And so here we are.

Ken, this one's for you.

Vintage Clip Lamp

Vintage Clip Lamp – $595

In case you've been to IKEA recently and thought, "$12.99? That's just too damn affordable. Why can't I spend 46 times as much on a small, clip-on lighting device?!", be comforted, kids. Jayson has heard your lament.

Of course it's French. Everything from Jayson is French. But what more do we need? Someday, when climate change has caused the seas to rise and the continents are nearly submerged, France and Jayson's retail location on Clybourn will be the only two visible landmasses on the planet. And still, Jayson will not lower its prices.

Vintage French Wall Lamp

Vintage French Wall Lamp – $3,495

And if, while you're at Jayson nabbing the $595 clip lamp, you find yourself thinking, "But I need another clear-bulbed lighting fixture so I burn the brightness of the filaments onto my retinas in record time!" or "$595 is less than I'd like to spend. Do you have something, say, six times more overpriced? I'm so bored with affording health care. Thanks, Obama," once again, Jayson's got you covered. Huzzah!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

On The Precipice ...

I wrote the post below the morning after the election. I ended with "Tomorrow, I may be able to think more clearly. Today, I'm numb." The numbness has subsided. It has been replaced with vast stores of disbelief and anger.

Our country is about to inaugurate a man who is not only wholly unqualified to lead but who is, literally, under investigation for possible espionage against the United States.

How did we get here? How did so many tens of millions of people cast their votes for someone who has never served in any capacity? Who refused to disclose the most basic of information about himself? Who lied constantly? Who insulted everyone?

I suppose FOX News and conservative media has succeeded at last, in convincing a large swath of the country that fiction is more plausible than fact.

I appreciate now that I have lived a life of extraordinary security and comfort. I have taken it all for granted because I've never known any other reality.

But the other day, I had this thought: "What is the blast radius of a nuclear bomb? Will I be vaporized or will I die slowly of radiation poisoning?"

At any other point in my life, that thought would have been ridiculous. Hyperbolic.

Today, it's not.

We're about to hand over the nuclear codes to a man with the thinnest of skins, who wonders why we have all these nuclear weapons if we don't use them.

As I type this, Rick Perry is sitting for his confirmation hearing to be the Secretary of Energy, a department he vowed to eliminate when he ran for president in 2012, a department which he may now helm, even as the
New York Times revealed yesterday that he didn't understand what function it served.

Today, during his hearing, he said, "After being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination."

The vast majority of jobs for the incoming administration have not been filled. In the immediate aftermath of the election, as Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner toured the White House, he was surprised to learn that President Obama's staff would be leaving.

I was grateful to read this morning that about 50 of President Obama's senior staff will be staying in their roles temporarily. They shouldn't have to stay. It's the responsibility of the Trump administration to have staff ready to assume responsibility.

This is absurd. I am livid at every Trump voter. I am livid at every voter who opted for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. And I am livid at every voter – 47 percent of them – who couldn't be bothered to vote on election day.

I fear for our country. We are much more vulnerable now. We will have a man making decisions who has the attention span of a toddler and doesn't like to read. His top advisors have never served in government. His cabinet, if confirmed, will work to undermine the very departments they will have been appointed to lead.

I can only hope – faint though it may be – that Republicans will finally put country over party and impeach this man who will be in violation of the Constitution from the moment he swears to protect and uphold our founding document. Even as he may have been colluding with Russia.

I do not want Mike Pence to be our president.

I want our country to hold a new election.

But in the meantime, I hope that too many lives will not be harmed.



My body knew.

As the evening wore on, the gnawing sense of dread gave way to actual shaking.

I held on to hope in spite of it, continued watching the returns, even as my mind whispered, "Remember 2004, when you thought that if you just stayed up late enough, John Kerry would prevail?"

About 12:30 a.m., I walked through the house and turned off the lights. I thought about 2008, as the economy began to implode and I lost my job.

Eight years later, I've held onto my house. And I've gotten out of some debt even as I've incurred others.

Now?

I have no idea what's next.

I've spent the last months and weeks and days reassuring my friends that Trump wouldn't win.

In 2008, I was sure McCain would lose.

In 2012, I was sure Romney would lose too.

So surely, in 2016, with the most reprehensible candidate imaginable on the ticket, America would make the upstanding choice.

And last I checked, a majority of us did.

But the popular vote does not decide our presidents.

I was opposed to McCain most of all for Sarah Palin. But at least Sarah has been a governor.

And I was opposed to Romney for a host of reasons. But I never had the sense that if he won, our country would be in danger.

That's what the shaking was last night, though: fear.

So much is now unknown. Will millions of people now lose their health care and once again be unable to afford insurance? Will some of them die as a result? Will women lose their rights to their own bodies? Will my gay friends' marriages be invalidated? Will my Muslim friends be safe? Will my Black friends be safe? Will the millions of Hispanic people who have built lives for themselves here be rounded up and housed in camps until their deportations can be processed? Will people with disabilities have access to care? Will the effects of climate change worsen more quickly? Will I have to pay tolls to travel on newly privatized roads? Will terrorist attacks occur more frequently? Will folks have money to live on who rely on Social Security and retirement savings that are invested in the stock market? Will we reverse so many of the jobs gains we've made in recent years? Will people once again begin to lose their homes? Will any of it matter in the face of a possible nuclear war?

I am immersed in politics, in the deepest end of the civilian pool. I know more than most. Some might say too much.

But did the people who vote for Trump or vote for Johnson or Stein not think of any of this?

My mind won't stop reeling even as the shaking has subsided into a tremble.

Tomorrow, I may be able to think more clearly.

Today, I'm numb.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

This Is Not The Post I Thought I'd Write Today ...

My body knew.

As the evening wore on, the gnawing sense of dread gave way to actual shaking.

I held on to hope in spite of it, continued watching the returns, even as my mind whispered, "Remember 2004, when you thought that if you just stayed up late enough, John Kerry would prevail?"

About 12:30 a.m., I walked through the house and turned off the lights. I thought about 2008, as the economy began to implode and I lost my job.

Eight years later, I've held onto my house. And I've gotten out of some debt even as I've incurred others.

Now?

I have no idea what's next.

I've spent the last months and weeks and days reassuring my friends that Trump wouldn't win.

In 2008, I was sure McCain would lose.

In 2012, I was sure Romney would lose too.

So surely, in 2016, with the most reprehensible candidate imaginable on the ticket, America would make the upstanding choice.

And last I checked, a majority of us did.

But the popular vote does not decide our presidents.

I was opposed to McCain most of all for Sarah Palin. But at least Sarah has been a governor.

And I was opposed to Romney for a host of reasons. But I never had the sense that if he won, our country would be in danger.

That's what the shaking was last night, though: fear.

So much is now unknown. Will millions of people now lose their health care and once again be unable to afford insurance? Will some of them die as a result? Will women lose their rights to their own bodies? Will my gay friends' marriages be invalidated? Will my Muslim friends be safe? Will my Black friends be safe? Will the millions of Hispanic people who have built lives for themselves here be rounded up and housed in camps until their deportations can be processed? Will people with disabilities have access to care? Will the effects of climate change worsen more quickly? Will I have to pay tolls to travel on newly privatized roads? Will terrorist attacks occur more frequently? Will folks have money to live on who rely on Social Security and retirement savings that are invested in the stock market? Will we reverse so many of the jobs gains we've made in recent years? Will people once again begin to lose their homes? Will any of it matter in the face of a possible nuclear war?

I am immersed in politics, in the deepest end of the civilian pool. I know more than most. Some might say too much.

But did the people who vote for Trump or vote for Johnson or Stein not think of any of this?

My mind won't stop reeling even as the shaking has subsided into a tremble.

Tomorrow, I may be able to think more clearly.

Today, I'm numb.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

At Long, Long Last ...

Dave – L.A. Dave as he's known to most in my world – was the most – I mean the most – die-hard Cubs fan on the planet. Also, he knew everything about everything. So I am very confident that Dave could have sat across from any fan in any bar, nurse a root beer (he didn't drink), and win any trivia contest any day of any week of any year.

He also owned about 400 Cubs hats. Hey, we all need a vice.

The day he died – in 2009 – I wrote a post about him that ends with these words:

"He never saw his team win a World Series. But I’m rooting for him, this year. For them. With Dave up there on their side, how can they not go all the way?"

His family asked if they could use the post as a eulogy at his memorial service. I was beyond honored and touched.

One of his Cubs hats was included in one of the floral arrangements that day.

His mom mentioned that the family wanted some of his friends to have some of his hats and gave me one that day.

I wore it on the 3-Day that year. But mostly, it spends its days on a shelf in the closet by my front door.

Last month, when the Cubs clinched the pennant, I posted this to Instagram and included, "Here's to adding tonight's to the cosmic collection, my friend. Wish you were here."

I didn't know if I could watch the game last night. But then I thought of Dave, looking at me from the great beyond, saying, "You didn't watch?!"

So I watched. And I watched. And rode the roller coaster with all the other Chicago fans. And pondered sleep but stayed awake.

And then, that final play. That throw to first.

And tears.

I remembered a photo that's been in a pocket of my purse for years and years.

This is Dave. In one of his many, many, many hats from his beloved Cubs.

The Chicago Cubs. The 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.

At last, Dave.

At last.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Men, Understand This: Every Woman Has At Least One Story ...

The following post has been lingering in my email Drafts folder since November 8, 2011, hence the reference to Herman Cain. As you read, swap in "Donald Trump" today. Nothing has changed.

It happens all the time.

If I were a betting woman, I'd wager that every woman I know has been sexually harassed at least once. Beyond the bounds of catcalls from construction workers and the like, obnoxious though those are. But by someone they know well. Someone they work with, perhaps.

I was.

I was 21 or 22. He was 57 or 58.

I was hired, ostensibly, as his assistant. I was only expected to come in when he needed help. It wasn't a full-time thing. But I remember sitting with him, my first day after having been hired, working on whatever it was we were working on that day, and him asking, out of nowhere, "So, are we going to have an affair?"

I looked up to see if he was joking.

He wasn't joking.

He was 36 years my senior. And he was paying me to be there. And he was asking me if we were going to have an affair.

I seem to remember saying, bluntly, "I don't think so."

I definitely remember not going back there again.

Maybe he suddenly no longer needed an assistant.

Or maybe he didn't need an assistant who shot him down. Not that I would have gone back if he'd called.

And maybe you're saying, "That wasn't sexual harassment. That was a proposition."

To which I'm saying, they're one in the same.

proposition: an offer of sexual intercourse made to a person with whom one is not sexually involved, esp. one that is made in an unsubtle or offensive way.

Men and women are having very different reactions to what's going on with Herman Cain and his accusers. And that makes me think that that is because men and women exist in very different worlds.

Men, I suspect, have never felt the surge of unease that comes with, to use Cain's word, "inappropriate" behavior.

I once had a superior ask if I would date him. It caught me off guard, and I tried to be polite in my response even as all I could think of was a way to get out of the room. Which was stupid, since I had to return to the room later. We were at a client's office. And then we were at an airport. And then we had to return to the client the following week. In the days in between, the surprise that he would ask gave way to anger that he'd put me in that position. I negotiated my contracts with him. I needed to work.

But I wondered if I had somehow given him the mistaken impression that I wanted to pursue a relationship with him. If I had, I wanted to know about it so I could adjust my demeanor accordingly.

So I asked.

No, he said. I was always very clear that we were just friends.

So why had he asked?

Because he wanted to ask, he told me.

Which made me even angrier. If I had given him no indication that I had any interest in him romantically, what right did he have to put me in the position of having to turn down an advance from him?

I pointed out that he was my boss.

He disagreed.

"I negotiate my contracts with you," I said.

He had never considered that part of it, that he was the man who determined whether or not I worked with that company and/or that he was the man who decided how much I earned.

To him, it was an innocuous question, asking if I would date him.

To me, it was anything but innocuous. It changed the way I related to him.

I'm reading a lot about "political correctness," as if women are simply too sensitive and men are always to blame.

No, women are not simply too sensitive.

The man who was 36 years my senior, who hired me to help him around the office, who was married, had no business asking me if we were going to have an affair. What part of me filing papers suggested that I welcomed his sexual attention?

Just as the man who was the one who negotiated my contracts had no business asking me to date him.

Men may see no connection between their ability to grant employment or otherwise offer assistance and the suggestion that women enter into a sexual relationship.

Women do.

To add a more current anecdote, I was recently behind a car that was pulling into a gas station. I, too, was going to pull in. The car in front of me stopped just after turning, leaving me with my car half in the street. I don't know if the driver was deciding whether to park or to pull over to one of the pumps or if he had stopped to talk with the guy in the pickup truck who was leaving. All I knew was that I was going to be blocking traffic. I said, rather loudly, "Oh, for the love of God," as if to say, "Move!", immediately after which the guy in the pickup truck drove past me and screamed, "Fuck you, cunt!" The memory of that moment still makes my heart race a bit.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Middle-Age Discovery ...

I am rarely ill. Pollen seems to be messing with my sinuses this season but – knock wood – I haven't had the flu in years and I rarely catch a cold. I use hand sanitizer regularly and yes, I use those pop-up wipes on the handles of grocery carts.

Every so often, though, I end up with a cold. Which happened sometime in the past year or so, and so my mom popped by with some orange juice, which sounded like a very good idea.

And ever since, I've been buying orange juice, to have a small glass each morning, along with my water and coffee.

It just makes sense, then, that when it's on sale, that I buy a back-up carton. The date is usually well into the future. I've never noticed how long it takes me to go through a carton but orange juice doesn't linger for long in my fridge.

The other day, at the store, I bought two cartons, as I was almost through the current carton and this way, when I opened one of the two, I'd still have a backup waiting. Also, I had a coupon, so I made my own little sale.

Yesterday, I polished off the current carton. And I nearly polished off my coffee goo. (I have very few vices. Coffee goo is one.) So this morning, I knew I needed to grab a new carton of orange juice and I knew I'd need to open my fresh coffee goo.

And it was as I was reaching for the goo that I spied ... the backup carton of orange juice that I'd bought a couple of weeks ago, stashed in the back of the fridge on the middle shelf.

Which means, if you're counting, I had three full cartons of orange juice in my fridge: two purchased the other day and the forgotten carton.

I had thought, when I was at the store, that the carton I knew was almost empty was the backup carton.

But no.

All of which is to say that I discovered this morning that I might share my father's genetic inability to look all the way to the back of a fridge.

I don't seem to suffer from that affliction when I'm at their house. But Mom, very smartly, buys freezer-on-the-bottom refrigerators. My freezer is on the top. Which means that the shelf in question in this post is well below eye level. And the older I get, the less inclined I am to stoop. Voluntarily, anyway. Here's hoping osteoporosis doesn't have other ideas.

Anyhoo, Mom, if you're reading this, I promise to do everything I can to fight this scourge. At the very least, the next time I go shopping, I'll do a little inventory. And bother to make a list.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Revelation Of Morning Light ...

I was awake before 5 a.m.

There's a lot swirling in my brain these days – none of it good – and so sleep is an ongoing negotiation.

But I'm grateful for the permission of darkness. I take the time to read and to listen to podcasts and notice the world come alive as the light appears and changes.

This morning, walking through my living room, a room in which I do not do much living, I spied cobwebs between two chairs.

I literally stopped and stared at them. I should have thought to snap a photograph but instead, I fetched my vacuum. And as I sucked them up, I thought, "Well, there's a metaphor for my life. You are way too static, kid. Too stationary. Nothing moves in you life. There's just sameness, day after day."

I also thought, "I bet Angelo never finds cobwebs." He's always moving things around. We are perfect opposites in that way.

So here's to movement. Here's to change. Here's to noticing. Here's to doing. Here's to shifting into Drive.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Tale Of Two Coffee Goos ...

I am the Peter Pan of coffee drinkers. I cannot drink coffee black. I can drink espresso – hyper-uber coffee! – with nothing in it but I can't drink coffee black. Go figure.

And so, for many years, I have been a regular purchaser and consumer of flavored coffee creamer a k a coffee goo. "Cream" is a bit generous, really.

But I know it's not the best thing for me to consume. I drink a full bottle of water every morning – filtered water, BPA-free bottle, set on my bedside table the night before – then I chase it with a travel mugful of coffee lightened with hazelnut goo.

At the store the other day, I stood before the case of goo and assessed my options. Fall and winter specialty flavors are already stocked, by the way. I've cut grains out of my diets but I'm still very much a fan of dairy and sugar. Still, I've noticed goo made with almond milk and considered making a change. And hey, there's a hazelnut option! Sold!

I brought my new goo home and vowed to use up my current goo and then make the switch.

This morning, with not enough current goo left for my mug's complement of coffee, I reached for the almond goo.

I shook it.

Huh. It's more difficult to shake. Thicker. Maybe it settles, like paint?

I unscrewed the cap and pulled off the seal. I licked the bit that remained.

Huh. It doesn't taste like hazelnut, really, and yet it doesn't taste like almond either.

I peered into the container.

Huh. It's an interesting color, kind of earthy, kind of ... chalky.

I poured it into my mug, to the point to which I always pour goo.

Huh. It looks like self-leveling cement.

At that point, I was having my doubts.

But the coffee finished brewing and I poured it into my mug and ... the color changed from very, very dark brown – as is true of black coffee – to ... very dark brown.

That seemed like a sign of nothing good. With my usual goo, the color changes to a lovely caramel hue.

I took a sip of this new concoction.

It tasted like ... coffee. With some unidentifiable flavor making a pathetic attempt to be noticed.

Well, shit.

I grabbed what was left of my usual goo and dumped it into the mug and gave the whole mess a stir.

It's drinkable now.

And later, I shall go to the store and procure more of my usual goo.

And this not-inexpensive almond-milk goo?

Maybe I can pour it into a bowl and set it on the counter and let the moisture evaporate and try using it as spackle.

I wonder if anyone is a repeat consumer of this almond-milk goo. I suspect not. I suspect everyone is like me, intrigued enough by the possibility to try it and then scarred enough to never buy it again. Eeesh.

Dear Usual Goo,

I'm sorry to have strayed. I know better now.

Love,

Beth

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Adaptation: Brownie Edition ...


Last July, I finally got around to posting the recipe I use for brownies. Angelo refers to them as "crazy drug brownies" and they are indeed rather addictive, in a "I can just have one more little one" kind of way ... and then you realized that you've whittled down the contents of the pan to next to nothing and it dawns on you that, singlehandedly, you've consumed more than a stick of butter and enough sugar to make you yearn for compression stockings.

As it happened, last July was also when I finally cut grains out of my diet. And brownies, being made with flour, became a casualty.

Until yesterday.

I'd been meaning to pick up an alternative flour and try a test batch. And lo, yesterday I was tooling down the baking aisle on my way to the dairy case when my brain stepped up and said, "Look at flours!" I backtracked a few steps and glanced back and forth: almond flour or coconut flour? Coconut flour is more like flour. Almond flour might have better flavor. But almond flour might have too much moisture. But the brownies are super moist anyway.

In the end, it came down to price. I was more inclined to risk $5.49 than $9.89. Coconut flour it was. Into my cart it went. Shopping continued.

Last night, done with work, I ventured into the kitchen to bake. I figured I'd just swap in an equal amount of coconut flour for the usual all-purpose flour. Everything else about the recipe remained the same, ingredients-wise.

The batter was thicker than the original recipe yields.

I smooshed it into the greased pan and figured the heat of the oven would level things out.

Nope. So, lesson learned: next time, smooth the batter.

Given that it was such a stiff batter, I thought the baking time could probably be knocked down a bit. So I stuck the pan in the oven for 20 minutes.

Yup, that was enough.

I frosted them when they were partially cool, as I do with "normal" brownies." I could have frosted them a bit sooner. My frosting didn't end up with its usual sheen.

And while I planned to let them cool fully overnight and then try one this morning, impatience got the better of me and I tried one while the pan was still warm.

Tasty, for sure. But the texture was difficult to gauge.

So I had another one this morning.

There's just a hint of graininess to them but the flavor is practically identical. They're not coconutty, as I thought they might be, as coconut flour really smells like coconut. Go figure.

I'll try a batch with almond flour someday, too. But in the meantime, I'm back in brownie business!

Coconut-Flour Brownies

1 stick butter (I use salted)
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
3/4 cup coconut flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Walnuts (I toast mine first in a 350° oven for 13–15 minutes then let them cool)

Melt the butter, stir in sugar and cocoa. Add coconut flour. Mix. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix. Stir in walnuts. (I dump some into a Ziplock bag and press on them to break them up a bit first.) Spread the mixture into greased 8x8 pan (I spray it with PAM) and level it with the back of a rubber scraper. Unlike a traditional brownie batter, this one won't level itself in the oven.

Bake at 350° until done, about 20 minutes. (Start checking a little before then, as ovens vary. You may need to go a smidgen longer. It all depends.)

Cool on a rack until warm but not hot (10 minutes, maybe), then frost with:

Equal parts of butter and cocoa (For an 8x8 pan, you might use 3 tablespoons of each, maybe 4 tablespoons; depends on how much frosting you like)
Powdered sugar
Milk

It's hard to give people the recipe for the frosting, as it's just a taste thing. Melt the butter and stir in the cocoa until the mixture's smooth. Dump in some powdered sugar and a little milk and stir. Keep tweaking until you get desired sweetness and spreadability. Add the milk in smaller increments than seems reasonable. You can always add more. If you add too much, pour out a bit into the sink. If you thin the frosting too much by mistake, you'll have to add more powdered sugar to recover the consistency and you may end up with frosting that's too sweet for your tastes. So add milk in small amounts.

Double the brownie-proper recipe for a 9x13 pan. Frosting-wise, though, don't double the frosting. For a 9x13 pan, use 5 tablespoons to 6 tablespoons each of butter and cocoa and add powdered sugar and milk accordingly.



Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Birthday Sablés! ...


I have been baking sablés for a long time, more than five years, turns out. My first foray into these wondrous French butter cookies was for Angelo, as a nod to The Gnome.

I have made many variations since: dark chocolate, espresso, cheese. Oh, yes, cheese. As cookie doughs go, it's an excellent base for all sorts of additions. Toasted coconut would rock!

But I digress. My point is that it took me more than five years to think to add sprinkles into the dough to give 'em a bit of festiveness.

And so, I finally did.

I would prefer if the sugar would not melt, please, if the colors would not bleed. Alas, the rules of the natural world apply. Moisture + food coloring = a less-than-perfect confetti effect.

But the idea was there, suitable for sharing. (If these had turned out more garish, I would have whipped up a plain batch instead. If I'm going to share something with someone, I must meet my own standards first.)

To up the festive factor, I pulled a collection of bright colors from the drawer that holds my spools of curling-ribbon compulsion and I made up wee bundles of cookies and beribboned those suckers until the cookies were barely visible.

And then I boxed them up and sent them on their way.

I shall bake these again. They make a fun little birthday gift but I can also use them for favors the next time party favors are called for, as I may have outgrown all the tchotchke plastic trinkets from the party store.

Or maybe I'll just send folks home with both. Who doesn't need a plastic camel pen topper, too?



Sunday, July 31, 2016

'Brain On Fire': An Appreciation, Not A Review ...

The phone rang, a month or so ago, at an hour when most people don't call, and a number appeared that I didn't recognize.

I let it go to voicemail.

It was my friend Kris in California. He started his message saying that it had been a long time since we'd talked. Indeed. It had been so long, I didn't recognize his number. Or maybe it had changed.

But we had been trading comments on Facebook, so he thought he'd pick up the phone, because he wanted to tell me about a book he'd read that I had to read: Brain on Fire.

He talked long enough that my voicemail cut him off – Kris, if you read this, know that I'm chuckling about your loquaciousness – and a few days later, I heard my mail arrive with a louder-than-usual thud.

The book had arrived. I opened the manila envelope, read his sticky note, and added it to my "someday" pile. I had a book languishing from the library that I wanted to finish first.

Yesterday afternoon, though, in the mood to read, I grabbed three contenders from the pile and plopped myself on one of Angelo's chairs in the dining room, and opened Susannah Cahalan's book, flipped past the lengthy table of contents, and began with the Author's Note.

I finished it a little while ago, here on Sunday night, having slept 10 hours last night – uncharacteristically – and having devoted a good portion of today to not reading, which is to say, this book is riveting. And you should read it.

It's a fascinating memoir of her medical journey – "blood brain barrier, sure," I said, wondering if Dr. Keith Black would end up on her team. Nope, he doesn't, but I knew of his work because I wrote a short feature about him for the Tribune 20 years ago. Susannah's a journalist, so that aspect of her work felt relatable, too, though my newspaper days are well behind me. But it also broaches the subject of medical care in this country, of how many patients go un- or misdiagnosed either out of ignorance or expediency on the part of physicians – they need to see so many patients, many can't devote the time necessary to individual cases nor stay abreast of every new development – or simply from a lack of resources. We're making strides in insuring more people here but universal health care should be the goal. (That's my opinion, not hers, at least, not overtly stated, but I wouldn't be surprised if she agrees.)

It will set you to wondering if some people in your life have been misdiagnosed. Folks diagnosed with a host of conditions – from autism to schizophrenia – may in fact be going through what she endured.

It's a serious book and it contains a fair amount of science, yet it reads quickly because it's so well written. I had heard about it before but for whatever reason, it didn't register as something I should read at the time. So thank you, Kris, for sharing it with me. Your reason for sending it was spot on, but it was so much more important beyond that.

As the title of this post proclaims, this is an appreciation, not a review. I've stopped reviewing everything, intentionally, anyway. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone nor do I want to dissuade. What I love may not be what you love and vice versa. But when I read something I love, the least I can do it add my voice to the zeitgeist so, perhaps, others will read it and love it, too.

And speaking of love, I read the acknowledgements, as I do. It feels like the right thing to do, to acknowledge – albeit it in a different way – the people who help an author with a book's journey. Occasionally, I see a name I know and that's nice. So I read Susannah's, though none of the names connected.

Until I arrived at the penultimate line: "And thank you to Preston Browning, who offered me a place to write at his charming Wellspring House, which has become my second home."

I burst into tears, because I am an enormous sap.

And because Preston was one of my favorite professors in college. I love that Susannah has the privilege of knowing him, too. He's extraordinary.

(I had to Google him. An article about him ran at the end of June. The man hasn't changed in his activism and ideology, and I swear to God, he looks younger than when he taught me more than two decades ago.)

But I digress, though anyone who knows Preston understands. The man is digression-worthy to the Nth degree.

Find Susannah's book. Devour it. Or savor it. But do read it. It, too, is extraordinary.



Saturday, July 23, 2016

Makes Beth Happy, July 23 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

Grand!
It's become my go-to adjective. For a while, I was prone to using "lovely." Then "delightful." These days, "grand."

The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day are:

Blackberry Cheesecake Galette
Blackberry. Cheesecake. Galette. Three of my favorite words, together!

And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

Tufted Bench in Velvet Aubergine
I don't need a large, gorgeous tufted bench. But I love this large, gorgeous tufted bench. And really, I'm more drawn to the green (although the pewter is also very pretty) but given that my home contains so much brown and green (and grey), I figure I should opt for another color every now and then.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Roundabout Reminder From The Universe ...

I love Twitter.

Some folks profess to not understand it but Twitter is the most amazing conduit ever conceived. In what other way do any of us have real-time access to such a vast array of people? None. Twitter is it.

Now, granted, tweeting at someone doesn't guarantee that they'll see your tweet. And you are far more likely than not to never hear from the tweetee.

But you never know, do you? About seven years ago, I tweeted at Angelo after seeing the best reveal in the history of reveals and today, he's a dear friend. (Hi, dear friend! Octopus!)

Occasionally, I have a fleeting interaction with someone interesting – Mia Farrow and Lizz Winstead spring to mind – and sometimes, I try to be helpful. As was the case on Friday.

Dan Pallotta, for whom I have great respect, tweeted a link to a shortened version of his first TED talk, which you should really watch in its entirety. Surely you can spare 19 minutes.

Alas, when I clicked, I landed on a page that informed me "The link you followed may have expired, or the page may only be visible to an audience you're not in."

So I tweeted at him, so he could check to make sure the video had been made public. We had a brief exchange. "re-posted. videos and facebook and me not a good combo," he shared. Later, I saw that he had posted the YouTube link. I clicked. "This video is private." I mentioned that to him, too.

But in the meantime, now that Pallotta was on my mind, I thought back to my first 3-Day, which was a Pallotta TeamWorks event. Dan created the AIDS Ride and the 3-Day, and it truly took me just a few minutes of experiencing the world he created to decide that I wanted to work for him.

Alas, Pallotta TeamWorks was not very long for this world. Which is very unfortunate, because the world was a better place with Pallotta TeamWorks in it.

Happily, Dan is still very much about making a difference.

On that first 3-Day, though, I reconnected with my friend Adam. He and I had met in college but had lost touch. I knew that he was working for Pallotta, though, and I hoped to see him. But with thousands of people, how likely was it that I was going to be in the same place at the same time as my friend?

Very.

And, as is often the case, it happened when I least expected it.

I was done with my Day 0 duties – once upon a time, kids, the Internet was not as robust as it is today, and some things could not be accomplished online; I know! It's difficult to fathom, isn't it? But we had to do some things in person – and was walking back toward the coaches that would shuttle us to our hotels for the night. I was walking down a road in the park where we'd kick off the next morning, walking with some new friends I'd made, and he was just ... there. Off to the side. He saw me. I saw him. We screamed and hugged. Kismet.

The crews on 3-Days work their butts off and so I didn't see him a lot during the event but on the second night, he found my tent and climbed inside. It was chilly that night, unseasonably chilly for Atlanta, but the tents are not big. He wasn't going to be there long, though, and Pat, my walking partner and tentmate, didn't seem to mind the extra coziness for a few minutes.

Adam presented me with a little care package of Pallotta swag (I don't spell it "schwag." "Schwag" looks schweird.) including a waistpack, which I would use on every 3-Day thereafter, but also a note, written on the back of a Pallotta TeamWorks flyer.

On Friday, I remembered that note. I remembered that I would take it out of my waistpack before the start of every 3-Day and read it. It was an invocation of sorts, and Adam's kind words would carry me into another event, another trek, another 60 miles.

The waistpack is still in the same place though I haven't walked in years. But on Friday, I pulled it out of the drawer and retrieved Adam's note and unfolded it gingerly. (It's a little worse for the wear after so many years of folding and unfolding and getting wet more than once.)

I've been struggling with some things lately. But on Friday, I was reminded, as my friend Nona would say, that I can do hard things. I have done hard things. "Hard" is relative, of course, and I may well face even harder things in the future. But Adam's note reminded me that hard things are rarely accomplished alone. If we are fortunate – and most of us are – we have lovely people around us, believing in us, supporting us, cheering us on. Or lending a hand or a shoulder when we need to steady ourselves or lean.

My friend Gemma's sister Devereaux once said, "I want to live in the 3-Day universe."

Indeed. It is a place of extraordinary kindness. Dan created that universe. On Friday, he reminded me of it. And reminded me of Adam. And reminded me that I can do hard things.

Here's to the next of life's treks.

Thanks, Twitter. Thanks, Dan.



Sunday, July 03, 2016

Mysterious Behavior ...

I don't know what comes over me on days like today.

It seemed normal enough, upon waking. A reasonable hour. A reasonable amount of rest.

I made coffee. I made my bed. I poured juice.

I made my usual rounds on the Internet. I was pleased to see that someone had read my wee-book.

Then a voice told me to read it again and I spied a sentence missing a word.

How had that happened? I had proofread the file several times back in the day and I had a friend proofread it, too.

I decided to upload a corrected file but first, it made sense to read the whole thing.

So I did. And I spied an extra word. And several stick apostrophes. I made the corrections and uploaded the file.

I hit the button on the garage-door opener before heading outside to retrieve lawn chairs for tomorrow. But my mom stopped by then, so I paused for a spell, but then, while we continued to talk, I did up the few morning dishes and scoured both basins of the kitchen sink.

When she left, I followed her outside and retrieved chairs and put them in place.

I headed across the street to chat with a neighbor I mostly talk to during winter, when we take a break from shoveling.

I returned and chatted briefly with my next-door neighbor – the one with the immaculate gardens – about the 4th of July.

"I think I'll pull some weeds for the occasion," I said.

And then I did.

Huh.

There was a time when I was limber. There was a time when I could sit on the floor with my legs stretched straight out in front of me, together, and touch my forehead to my knees.

That was a long time ago, not long after man discovered fire.

Yet I was bending over and pulling weeds and then – and this is the more miraculous part – standing upright without grunting like a pro on the court at Wimbledon returning a volley.

And so it went: bending, pulling, standing, tossing, over and over until the front beds looked slightly more presentable.

And then I grabbed the smaller of my two rakes and raked up a bit of detritus in the beds. And raked out the grass I'd dumped last year, to help it decompose a little more quickly now.

And then my brain was telling my body that it was time to stop.

So I put the bag of weeds by the garage and removed my gloves, but then thought that I should sweep the front walk and the front stoop and a few cobwebs I'd spied near the front door.

And so I did.

Seriously, my brain said, go inside.

And so I did.

I don't remember now what made me go for the vacuum but I found myself headed back out to the garage to grab an attachment from the vacuum I keep out there for cleaning my car. And then I was inside again. In my bedroom. Kneeling on the floor. Vacuuming underneath my bed.

I stopped to empty the canister on the vacuum.

And then I began again. To reach better, I laid down on the floor. On my stomach. Yet I was using my arms. It was almost like ... exercise.

Finished, I stood up – again, no grunting – and proceeded to vacuum everything I could think of to vacuum with the wand and attachments – apparently, it had been quite some time since I'd thought to vacuum the vents near the ceilings in the bedrooms – and then I tackled the floors.

I paused now and again, to answer a text, to retweet some tweets, but I kept looking for things to do.

Having tackled the weeds in front, I decided to start on the weeds in back.

And so I did.

I remembered the wind chimes in the garage that I haven't hung up for several summers, so I retrieved those and hung those up. And I proceeded to pull some impressive piles of weeds.

I heard the phone ring. Mom had said she'd share dinner with me tonight, so I finished my most immediate weeding and headed inside to check messages. Yep, she had called. My keys were in my car from the morning, when I pulled it out of the garage to retrieve chairs, so I shut the front door to head to Mom's.

Wallet. My wallet was still inside. On the other side of my now-locked front door. So I grabbed the keys from my car, returned to the house, let myself in, grabbed my wallet, locked the door, and got on my way.

Home, I ate – everything; thanks, Mom – and watched the second half of "Close Up with the Hollywood Reporter." (It's good. If you don't watch it, check it out some Sunday.)

And then I tried to get off the couch.

Ha!, my muscles said. Did you really think you were going to be mobile all day and we wouldn't protest?

There seemed to be nothing to do at that point except ... go outside and pull more weeds?

The hell?

So I did. A lot of weeds. Tall weeds. For quite a while. I have a big yard.

I could have kept going but the bag for yard waste was full. And it seemed like a good time to stop. So I put everything away, including my car.

And I came inside and washed my hands and filled a large plastic tumbler with ice and poured a glass of lemonade and plopped down on the love seat and here I am, a bit bemused.

I planned on getting the chairs out today. That was as far as I'd thought.

I hope tomorrow's more boring.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Eating More Vegetables! ...

My mom jokes that she's part rabbit. Indeed, growing up, the sandwiches she'd make for us were ridiculous towers of lettuce, leaf after leaf of iceberg folded to fit within the confines of the bread, but never a toothpick to hold everything together, so, often, the compacted lettuce would expand and the top slice of bread would fall over onto the plate.

Mom makes the best sandwiches. Of anyone. Ever. But I've been off of bread – and grains in general – for about a year now. But my lettuce addiction has never waned. I make ridiculously large salads for myself. But lettuce is mostly water. There's very little there there. And I love cramming forkfuls of food into my maw. It's a good thing I didn't grow up in a time or class that called for dainty dining. Dainty dining. Pffft.

Pasta, of course, is excellent for maw-cramming. But Pasta = Grain.

Enter spaghetti squash.

I've eaten it in the past. It's fine. Whatever. I've never been a huge squash fan. Zucchini is good, though I preferred it baked into a quick bread. Yellow summer squash is oddly nondescript. Acorn, butternut, and the like were never part of my diet growing up. But spaghetti squash is novel, at least.

Mom shares my appreciation for spaghetti squash, so I shared this post with her. And Mom, because she is awesome, made it this week and shared.

We agreed from the get-go that it needed more bacon. Because everything needs more bacon.

And she included an extra hunk of goat cheese when she shared it because she thought I might like more goat cheese. Because everything needs more goat cheese.

I had some Parmesan in the fridge, already grated, so I added a healthy flurry of that to the dish. Because everything needs more Parmesan.

I can report that it's very tasty. It works very well for maw-cramming.

And best of all, it's vegetables! Look, there's spinach in it, too! Granted, it's vegetables with bacon and two kinds of cheese, but it's vegetables!

Mom and I decided that some mushrooms would be a fine addition. I'd brown them in a bit of butter first, then add them. And some toasted pine nuts might be nice.

And some extra spinach would be good, too, to make me feel more virtuous.



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Yet Another Nudge From The Universe – And This One Has A Name ...

A month ago yesterday, I wrote this post, "Another Nudge From The Universe."

That nudge was the discovery of Dani Shapiro's Still Writing and a particular passage that "brought forth a stunned-silence, tears-streaming revelation," to quote my own post, which feels rather obnoxious. I plead journalism. Accuracy above all else.

I follow Dani on Twitter now, so perhaps that's how I decided to read Devotion. I was aware of it but hadn't yet read it. But then I did.

And yesterday, wouldn't you know it? Another passage knocked me out.

I tweeted:

And that passage is this (click to enlarge):


I read that and surprised myself when I whispered, "I don't want that to be me."

I've been uttering things involuntarily of late. It's as though my thoughts want me to be sure to take notice.

And I do.

Oh, how I relate to Dani's mother. My office isn't "a museum of unrealized ambition" (a damn fine bit of writing, that) in the literal sense – I don't have the stash of artifacts Dani packed to give away – but when it comes to notions and plans, I am a hoarder metaphorically.

I have some starts of things. I once printed out the pages of my "screenplay," such as it was, not so much a script as a collection of anecdotes that I might want to use someday, and punched the holes and fastened the pages together – top and bottom holes only – and held it my hands.

But it was merely a prop, not an accomplishment. Maybe someday, right? Maybe someday. All those scribblings on pieces of scrap paper that I've collected, moments when I've scrawled down a bit of dialogue that popped into my head, might hold together as a story or be germs of ideas.

I once tried my hand at fiction in an intentional way. As I've mentioned before, I do not have the fiction knack.

But I have been writing more this year than in years past. I am fortunate to have some very good nudgers, Dani now among them, unbeknownst to her.

Though I am grateful for the conduit that is Twitter, grateful that I can tag her and she sees my appreciation:

The notion that I might write something someday that will help someone in turn is what propels me, a moment of connection or recognition, the relief in knowing that someone else has felt the same way. I keep that in mind as I write. I don't write toward that end. I do my best not to contrive. But those moments do arrive. And for now, the someone I end up helping is me.



Saturday, June 18, 2016

Love Is Love, Indeed ...

I came of age in the '80s. It was a different time. Fashion trended toward neon. Bracelets were rubber, well before Livestrong. I alone was responsible for the depletion of a good portion of the ozone layer. Aqua-Net was my dear, dear friend. Sorry about that.

Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." was every bit the phenomenon people remember it to be today but The Cure was also huge. And Duran Duran. And the B-52s. And New Order. And Big Audio Dynamite, though BAD was born out of an earlier era in music that was even better. And Alphaville. And Ultravox. And so many more.

I found my niche in the speech and theater department, though on the edge of that niche. Really, I've never thrown myself headfirst into any social realm. I prefer to be alone or in conversations one on one. I've never been one to mingle.

I was drafted onto the speech team out of need. The star radio speaker would be graduating in a year – or was it two? – and she had no acolyte until Mr. Benjamin tapped me to try. I learned the ropes. I did OK. Performance anxiety and all that. Even alone behind a mic. But I appreciated Mr. Benjamin's encouragement. Years later, I would briefly pursue voiceovers as a vocation. I can't imagine I would have done that if it hadn't been for Mr. B.

I took a Theater Arts class because it seemed like a good way to spend a part of my senior year and Mr. Sweeney was my homeroom teacher for part of my high-school stint, so I took it. And I let myself be convinced that I should do a couple of interpretations in competitions. Interpretations. As in interpreting scenes. As in acting. With partners. In front of people. Me, the girl who prefers to be alone. We did not place well. Apologies to my acting partners.

But Mr. Sweeney was an early encourager of my writing, one of the first to help me to see that there was some talent there. Indirectly, I am not a doctor because of him. As a pre-med major, it had been my intention to find the cure for cancer – make no small plans, eh? – but instead, you're reading this post.

I was happiest in the auditorium. I have always loved the view from a stage. Performing appeals to me and terrifies me in almost equal measures. Terror has the edge. I was on stage for one high-school play. I had very few lines. And I couldn't commit even those to memory. Which, of course, hampered the performances of those on the stage with me. Acting is like tennis: you have to lob the ball over the net in order for your partner to return it. I lobbed balls smack into the net too many times. Once again, I plead performance anxiety. Once again, I apologize.

And so, it made sense for me to work on crews, to putter on the stage and in the wings and in the workshops but to leave the acting to those who could act. And so I did. And I am glad. Because my mom would drop me off early on Saturday mornings – crew days – and Mr. Nerius would show up with a cup of coffee and we'd sit on the edge of the stage or at the table on the stage if a table was part of the set. And we'd talk. I like one-on-one conversations, as I've mentioned, and I've always gotten along better with folks who are older than me. So chatting with Ner, as we called him, was one of the best parts of my high-school experience.

Today, I call him Rob, as we're both grown-ups. He most assuredly, me ostensibly, though somehow I'm the only one with grey hair.

Which brings me to the reason I sat down to write: being a part of the theater realm, however peripherally, was being a part of a microcosm of the world. As James Corden said in his introduction for the Tonys, the theater has always been a place where everyone's accepted. And so it was that I got to know, in some small measure, the first of my classmates I learned to be gay. But we already had theater in common, the intersection of our Venn diagram. And so "gay" was just a trait of each of those people, not the people themselves.

I went on to college and my experiences expanded. And friendships formed, many that endure to this day, some friends who were gay as gay could be – assuredly gay – and others who either weren't yet entirely sure or who weren't yet ready to make it known.

In this week post-Orlando, as I've seen too many allusions to hatred – secondhand glimpses in my Twitter feed mostly – I've been wondering yet again about why some people fear "otherness" so profoundly. Why all the vitriol? Do they simply not know anyone who's gay? But how can that be? Doesn't everyone know someone who's gay? But perhaps not. Perhaps I've once again fallen into the thinking that everyone's experience mirrors mine, even though I know that that can't be true.

But then I think about today's generation of younger people – because I am old enough to use a phrase like "today's generation of younger people" – and it appears that, incrementally, we're moving toward a human experience that's much more loving and appreciative of our differences rather than judgmental and divisive. There is still judgment and division, to be sure. But I have friends on Facebook who share stories about their kids' good hearts and I see the shift, post by post. And then I multiply that in my mind by all the posts that I don't see, by all the people whom I don't know. And it's there.

I don't mean to exclude anyone. I don't know any trans folks, for instance – at least, I don't know if I do – but Jenny Boylan, if you happen to see this, if you're ever in Chicago, I'd be delighted to buy you a drink.

I love that marriage for all is the law of the land. I love that I'm seeing discussions about the meaning of gender and that "binary" in some contexts is becoming a four-letter word. We are who we are. Difference is just difference just as red is not the same as blue. Whether I want someone in my sphere comes down to a simple yes or no: are they a good person? It's the guiding principle by which I live my life. I try to be a good person. Some days are better than others. But the overall trend is to the good.

I know that great challenges persist. I know that many resist in their hearts and minds.

But change lies in another simple query: What would love do? It applies universally, to every choice. In the end, everything is either love or fear. May we all do our best to choose love.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

What I Wish Republicans Would Say ...

I suppose I will be baffled until the evening of November 8.

How anyone, let alone Republicans in elected office, can willingly cast a vote for Donald Trump is beyond my comprehension.

And I can comprehend a lot.

Senator Rubio is the latest in a string of politicians who have denounced Trump in no uncertain terms only to pivot 180 degrees and work to elect him.

As President Obama would say: Really?

During the New Hampshire primary, Governor Christie said that Trump was unfit to be president of the United States.

In embarrassingly short order, Christie became a shill. Anything for a sliver of limelight, eh, governor? Even if the price you pay is all of what remained of your credibility?

I admire Senator Sasse for refusing to fall in line behind a man who's been called a "con man" and a "fraud" and a "liar." And a litany of other terms. I'm sure you've seen them everywhere. If not, check out my Twitter feed.

Sasse is a Republican and an evangelical Christian. We don't have a lot in common. But we share a belief that Trump should never be the leader of the free world.

I admire Governor Romney – now; I didn't admire him when he accepted Trump's endorsement in 2012 – for likewise refusing to get on board. He helped create this mess but at least he's refusing to participate in its spread.

I (tentatively) admire Speaker Ryan for not immediately flocking to Trump's back side. (See: Christie.) I don't suppose he can withhold his support forever but that would be nice to see.

This is what I wish Republicans would say:

We apologize. We've ruined the party. We never took the long view. For decades, we've been opportunists. And we've lied. We've driven people apart instead of bringing them together. We've promised you changes we knew we couldn't deliver. We've created policy we knew would favor the few. We've stayed silent when we should have spoken out. But now that we're here, at this place in American history, we have to say 'No more.' We have to put country over party. No, we do not like Hillary Clinton but we cannot allow Donald Trump to become the leader of the free world. To do so would be reckless, the height of irresponsibility. We know better. We all know better. Vote for Gary Johnson if you're so inclined. Yes, he will split the Republican vote and we will lose the election but we have to concede this loss. And yes, if Hillary wins, she will likely win a second term. But we have done grave damage to our party and even eight years might not be enough time to right all of our wrongs. Our total obstruction of President Obama was wrong. We inflicted great harm on our country. We must vacate our opposition and begin to work with Democrats again. And we know that that will anger you further. And you have no reason to trust us but you'll see: compromise will lead to solutions that will benefit us all.



Friday, May 20, 2016

Another Nudge From The Universe ...

There was a time – a period that lasted for many years – when I was able to convince myself, again and again, that buying anything related to fitness counted as a commitment to wellness.

Books. (Nothing says "fitness" like sitting on one's ass, reading.) VHS tapes. (Tae Bo. As if.) DVDs. (Honestly, I do not have a suitable room in my home for all that reaching and jumping and kicking. Who does? Don't other people own furniture? Do they not have standard-height ceilings?) Equipment. (A Health Rider is fun ... for exactly seven seconds.)

I finally owned up to my folly. I finally stopped spending the cash. I did, at one point, join an honest-to-God gym and work with a trainer. I didn't like it but I showed up. And wouldn't you know it? Results followed.

Then all hell broke loose in the fall of 2008 and my trainer was the first expense I cut.

My point is, I got to a point where I believed that doing the work is the only thing that counts as doing the work.

And for the most part, that's true.

Which is why I own a rather extensive collection of books about writing – some purchased, some received as gifts – but I haven't read most of them. Reading about writing is like reading about fitness, right? The results come from the work.

True. But that doesn't mean I'll never have to shop for athletic shoes again. The ones I have are dead, dead, dead. I need to buy the shoes that will support me as I get back into the habit of walking some distance every day.

Likewise, the universe has perked up with my recent commitment to writing. It's been dozing in the corner, waiting. And waiting. And "For the love of God, would you please figure it out already?" waiting.

And I've finally come around. And it's perked up and offered helpful gifts. Nudges. At what have turned out to be rather regular intervals.

You need a writing partner! Here, reconnect with a long-lost colleague! Yes, you didn't know each other that well then, but you're perfect for each other! Really!

You need inspiration! Here, step into the orbits of writers you otherwise wouldn't have met! Look at what they've accomplished! You can do this too!

You need reassurance! Here, listen to these podcasts, even though you've never been inclined to listening to podcasts before! Here's one from a writer who's new to you! She knows things you need to know! Find that book they're mentioning! Neither of your libraries house it in their collections, but there exists in the world a marvel called inter-library loan! Request it! Read it!

And so I have. It is due back today. I've just finished it. Dani Shapiro's Still Writing.

I was charmed when I retrieved it from the library. It's wee. And that felt right. As if there shouldn't be that much to say about a writing life. The writing speaks for itself, right?

But oh, the power of this little tome.

It brought forth a stunned-silence, tears-streaming revelation. Which would be enough. But it's also provided many other moments of connection.

This morning, sitting on my love seat, I read a sentence and laughed out loud. "Uh oh!" And then added, "This book is a diagnosis."

And it is. For me. And a prescription. And a support group.

After many years of buying books and then never reading them, I made myself stop. I made myself check out books from the library and read them and then decide if they deserved a place on my shelves.

I look forward to owning Still Writing. And I look forward to suggesting it to folks who ask me what books I recommend about writing. Stephen King's On Writing is one. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is another.

And now Dani's.

And perhaps I'll dip into the other writing books I own. Perhaps there is more to be gleaned. Well, of course there is.

The difference is that these days, I'm writing, too. Reading such books isn't a substitute for writing. It's an enhancement.

It makes me slightly woozy, entering this realm with intention. I've been writing since I was 3. But I've only recently owned it as my work.

It's nice to be able to steady myself so I can keep walking. It's good to have mentors and guides.



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