Later, gators

6034b519ff3da5d7a3b202db43fcfafbHeyyyyyyy.

It’s been a while, huh?

Sorry about that.

So, this blog was born around the time I took the leap into full-time freelance writing. I knew I’d be working my butt off to make ends meet, and I knew a lot of the stuff I’d be putting together for clients wouldn’t exactly be poetic or heartfelt or deep; a lot of it would be designed to sell product, generate traffic, and any number of other un-sexy, un-writerly things designed to, at the very least, pay my rent. So, I made a promise to myself to write something creative just once a week and publish it here. Today, looking back over the last three years’ worth of blog posts, I have to say:

No. No no no no nononononononono.

Uggggghhhhhhhh. [dives under blanket] [peeks]

Nope. Still no.  

Now, it’s not as if I’ve become some kind of Important Writer — far from it — and I’m not even sure how much I’ve grown in the past three years. But a lot’s changed since I started writing for a living without the safety net of a PR job neatly depositing a check in my account every two weeks. I’ve still got growing up to do and a lot of crap to learn, but I’ve picked up some valuable things so far, including a keen sense of what my weaknesses are as a wordsmith (and a sole proprietor, and a person). Lots of them are on full display here on this blog, and even in this post, where there isn’t an editor to correct me or a vast audience to call me out on my crap. There’s a bit too much myopic self-indulgence here, I think, and it’s kind of mortifying to come back and read it now with the benefit (if you can call it that) of hindsight.

This has always been an open journal for me to ramble on about whatever’s on my mind, and yet I haven’t had the nerve to cover the heavier stuff I’ve dealt with since I started it:

I’ve gained firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to suffer from panic attacks — sure, I’ve dealt with them in pockets before, in the weeks after a loved one died and in the first month of living in a new city, but before 2011, never at random and without warning. (Hot damn, they’re awful.)

I’ve sat in the waiting room of a cardiac wing while my dad had open heart surgery, and every day that week as I drove my aunt home from the hospital, I tried and failed to ignore the fact that we had to pass the cemetery where my mom rests.

I’ve all but come to a conclusion about whether or not I want to be a mother myself.

I’ve stood by, mostly helpless, as my friends have dealt with immeasurable pain under unthinkable circumstances.

These are all big things, but I’ve barely whispered them here. In so many of these posts, I’ve been too busy posturing and being self-conscious and writing silly sentences for the sake of filling pixels on a screen. Too consumed with being cute to write much of anything real.

It’s time for that to end, I think.

Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to write some things I’ll hopefully look back on in a few years and still be able to read with pride. I’m coming to terms with an inconvenient fact about doing this for a living: I’ll never be 100 percent happy with anything I’ve finished. I’ll always go back over old work and find ways to improve upon it. But I’m also learning that it’s kind of okay — it’s something we all do. It’s what keeps us honest; it’s what helps us learn and evolve. I feel fortunate to be in a position where I can a) hand over a stack of writing I’m stoked about when someone asks for a sampling, and b) actually give sound advice to people who are just starting out. I’ve had three talented writers come to me in the past month alone, asking for pointers on leaving their old jobs behind and launching into the world of working for themselves. It’s been a kick and an honor to have those talks. It reminds me how terrified I was in the beginning, and how lucky I am to have this life… not to mention how hard I’d better keep working, because there’s always someone more than happy to take my place.

So, as I turn the corner into year number four once the holiday season’s in full swing (yep, back when I quit my last job to work for myself, I absolutely did it between Thanksgiving and the end of that year, because idiocy), it’s time to pack it in and keep my ramblings private until they’re ready to be poured into something fully formed. Those things might be essays or articles, some long and some short, but they probably won’t be blog posts, and they probably won’t live here.

Future entries on this site will be infrequent, but when I do post them, they’ll likely focus on things I’ve learned as a freelancer (or a human being), written in the hopes that someone else can benefit from them. I’ll also share the things I’ve published that I think you might enjoy. For starters, in case you’re interested, here’s a small taste of things I’ve written in the past year that make me smile just thinking about the process of putting them together.

Built, Not Born – I’ve long been fascinated by the Texas Roller Derby — especially the rebel faction of it known as TXRD, the banked track league — and I’ve long assumed that the stories of the women within it were riveting. For Citygram Austin’s Reflect Issue, I thought I’d dive into the sport and meet some of its players to see if my assumptions were true. Turns out, they were. The ones about the women being badasses, anyway.

Be Here Now: The Wild Night Sky (Field Notes from Magical Marfa) – Also for Citygram, but this time for the Escape Issue, I put together a travel narrative from my first trip to the beautiful, quiet, otherworldly town of Marfa, Texas. If you ever want to leave your life behind for a minute and pretend you’re Stevie Nicks, then get in a car, drive to West Texas and book yourself a tent at El Cosmico. But if you litter, insult a local or otherwise act a fool, I’ll rip your face clean off.

Through Her Lens: Esther Havens – I was asked late last year to write a few pieces for Alternative Apparel’s blog, Common Thread. Although they only ran one, it happened to be my favorite: a quick profile on Esther Havens, a Dallas-based humanitarian photographer who’s worked for everyone from National Geographic and charity: water to Warby Parker and TOMS. She’s lovely and kind and exactly the sort of person you’d hope to find behind such pictures. I hope she inspires a generation of creative people to stop with the selfies, once and for all, and do something more with their lenses.

Let’s All Go to Summer Camp with Amy Poehler - My favorite day of freelancing thus far was the one in which I got to spend a couple of hours at Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls Summer Camp. Specifically, I attended the campers’ final showcase, and it honestly gave me hope for the future. I wasn’t thrilled with the way the piece came out in Refinery29, but that’s my picky, selfish ego left unchecked; for a true sense of how fantastic this organization is, just follow their Facebook page (and forward it to a young girl while you’re at it). You won’t regret it, and you’ll probably start looking forward to their posts every day. They’re a bright spot, those folks, and a much-needed one at that.

So, it’s time for another hiatus from this little corner of the web, save for an occasional pop-in when I have good enough reason to share something.

Thank you for reading this. I’ll contribute more when I have something worthwhile to say. In the meantime, no more endless babbling. I’m going to try to be a better writer — and person — today than I was yesterday.

 

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[image via Skate Talk]

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Insomnia in the Pacific Northwest (or, I wrote a thing for The Hairpin and I’m super duper stoked about it)

SHE COULD BE A CRAZY SICK LUNATIC.

image: Tri-Star Entertainment

Can we agree that romcoms in all their traditional, predictable glory are sort of becoming a thing of the past? And that maybe it’s actually a good thing?

I’d say the old cookie-cutter boy-meets-girl storyline has undergone a few makeovers in the past decade or so and tried on some different looks — say, indie-esque (Garden State, 500 Days of Summer), irreverent (Knocked Up, Easy A) and genuinely almost great (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), but the formula’s mostly stayed the same, and it seems fewer and fewer are being made. At least, the tropes that acted as a common thread among them for so many decades feel like they’re (maybe?) fading and making way (I hope, anyway) for better, more real variations on the theme. I mean, I know zilch about movie making and have zero credibility when it comes to predicting film trends, but as a plain old movie-watching, critically-thinking citizen, I can admit to my former love of the genre as I look some of its greater offenders square in the face today with clarity of vision and ask them loudly, “WHAT THE HELL??”

So I wrote a piece for The Hairpin, a brilliant website beloved by literary-leaning folks primarily of the female variety, about my reaction to Sleepless in Seattle when I watched it again last month, more than 20 years after I fell in love with it at first sight. (And I mean LOVE love. Bridget-Jones-and-Mark-Darcy-after-the-blue-string-soup, Harry-and-Sally-on-New-Year’s, Mila-and-JT-during-the-Closing-Time-Flash-Mob-at-Grand-Central-Station-in-Friends-with-Benefits level love.) With all due respect to the very talented Ephron sisters, let’s just say my affections for the film have dimmed in the time it’s taken me to grow from a myopic 17-year-old into an (only slightly less myopic) adult. Ohhh, hindsight. Why you gotta be so smug?

Honestly, I’ll always love bits and pieces of that old Tom-and-Meg situation… but I confess those sorts of movies might have messed me up a bit in the lurve department, at least when I was younger. I’m more than a little mortified that I lapped up all those messages and internalized them for as long as I did. Give the essay a read, if you’d like, and feel free to tell me how crazy you think I am on a scale of one to Annie Reed.

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F*ck your f*cking Klout score

OMG TWITTER IS DOWNSometimes, I fear the internet is making me stupid and mean.

Before the web (in its current behemoth incarnation, anyway), there was college (for me, at least), and before college, there were books about the past and present — books I mostly ate like chocolate. But one afternoon in my junior year, one of my professors introduced a class full of Dickens-weary English majors to something that, back in the late 90s, few of us had ever heard of. Something that spoke of the future and how utterly crazy it was going to be. From that day forward, postmodernism grabbed us all and held us tight, from the opening pages of Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions all the way through the end of DeLillo’s White Noise where god knows what was even happening — seriously, that book was nuts. Our wee little twenty-year-old minds were blown.

Simulacrum? Yeah, that could maybe be a thing. And wasn’t it terrifying? “Who wants to stand in front of a church with a camera pressed to your face just so you can look at the pictures later and remember what it was like to look through the lens at the church, when instead you could have just maybe, I don’t know… looked at the church? With your eyeballs?” we wondered. What if we got to a point where no one was experiencing anything worth talking about anymore, but rather, we all just started blindly making records of things, drawing a dotted line around what would have otherwise been real experiences, all for the sake of telling other people later about things we never actually lived through because we were too busy planning the anecdote and framing the shot for later? What if we all started pretending we’d really lived inside of all these moments when we’d actually been standing on the outside, snapping away and documenting it all from the perimeter like a bunch of little journalists? What if we started to live our entire lives that way? What if we forgot how to live, how to communicate, how to be?

We were all pretty freaked about the idea of people taking pictures of things instead of just living in the moment… about people being more interested in the perception of things than in the actual things themselves. Somebody who wasn’t worried about this later invented Instagram, and now I know what you ate for lunch. (I don’t mind it, really, but back in the 20th century, we were bugging out over the idea that there would someday be no “now”; that there would only be “let’s just capture this for later.” Somehow, I guess we’ve adapted? Maybe, kind of? Or not? I have no idea.)

At the time, The Real World was about six seasons in, and its originality was starting to wane as glimmers of the future began to cloud the vision of network execs in the forms of Survivor and Big Brother, which weren’t yet on the air but were probably in the earliest stages of development. No one knew what twitter was, nor Facebook, nor even MySpace or Friendster. It was in many ways a much simpler time, or so it seems in retrospect. Life was life, entertainment was entertainment, and voyeurism wasn’t quite the bloodsport it is today. Also, I’m fairly certain all the Kardashians were still in middle school.

I’m not going to spend the following paragraphs complaining about how awful pop culture and social media are. Actually, I don’t think they’re awful at all. What’s awful is what we’re letting it do to us. What it’s making us into. Well, some of us, anyway… and others by extension. As in, people who give advice to aspiring writers, and by extension, aspiring writers ourselves.

Thanks to some of this advice, I worry sometimes that we’re doomed.

I was reading an interview a literary magazine did recently with one of the editors of a popular female-oriented website I sometimes skim — the one that made Cat Marnell famous — and in this interview, the editor’s talking about the awards she won previously for her writing when she starts forgetting which awards they were. The following conversation takes place after that:

Interviewer: What, you can’t even remember them all any more?

Editor: No, not at all. I haven’t had an award since college. I just don’t submit to them anymore. It’s a different world—who gives a shit about awards anymore? Now it’s all about Twitter followers and Klout Score. Honestly, no one gets hired because of résumés anymore. They get hired because of a Google search. They get hired because of a Twitter feed. Do you know what I’m saying?

Interviewer: I do know what you’re saying. Do you use Klout?

Editor: Yeah. The reason I was interested in it was when I read that it was this kind of empirical measurement, like a Q Rating that shows how popular an actor or actress is in Hollywood. I’ve always been a fan of hard measurements of soft sciences, so it’s fun. It’s fun, especially if you’re kind of a workaholic and don’t have a boyfriend and that’s just a big part of your life to see: oh, my Bing results went up. And: my level of engagement on Twitter went up.

Interviewer: It’s interesting that Klout looks mostly at engagement. With Twitter followers, you can even buy them if you want, but what’s actually gained from that?

Editor: I looked at it the other day to see what the breakdown was in terms of what my Klout Score measured and it was like 50% Twitter, 10% Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook…

Interviewer: It seems like there are a lot of people who are secretly concerned with their Twitter and Instagram and how they’re doing, but they don’t want to admit it. I think that’s part of why your whole personal branding series was so popular.

Editor: Yeah. I need to go back to that.

Yes. Yes, please go back to that.

Yes, please inspire an entire generation of writers to worry more about how many followers we have than how good we are at writing. Yes, please make sure we all spend as much time whittling snarky one-liners about our immediate reactions to shit that means nothing as we do working on our craft and doing something that might actually make the world a tiny bit better in some way. Yes, please let’s make everyone spend as much time, money and energy as possible on our own personal branding, because there’s not nearly enough of that already happening. Yes, please encourage as much on-the-nose, self-promotional narcissism as you can muster. Yes, please teach a class on how we can all sit around taking pictures of ourselves and blather online about how great we are, in a year in which ‘selfie’ physically made its way into the dictionary. Yes, please discourage us from having a single thought without broadcasting it immediately, from taking time to let things simmer, from remembering how to express ourselves with any measure of eloquence.

Yes, please help us to be shocking, to “learn how to be authentic,” to get more page views, to gain a following, to say ‘f*ck’ a lot and reel everyone right the f*ck in to see what the f*ck we’re gonna do next. Yes, please do your part to force us to live in a world in which who people think we are is more important than who we actually are.

Yes.

Yes. Please f*cking do all of these f*cking things and more, you f*cking f*ck. Please use your f*cking powers to turn us all into a bunch of f*cking incoherent babbling… f*ck, I can’t remember the f*cking point I was trying to make.

BRB. Need to step the f*ck outside and #scream. (93 characters remaining)

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Cool to be kind

image: Native Vermont Studios

Henry James once said, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” In honor of that sentiment, November 13 has been declared World Kindness Day – an occasion that hopefully inspires us to practice random acts of kindness when and where they’re least expected, and not just for a single day, but rather, as a typical mode of operation.

Here, five ideas to spark your imagination. Careful, though: these gestures may be habit-forming.

Buy the world a coke (or a coffee)

Event planner Robyn Bomar had the right idea on her 38th birthday a few years ago: instead of making the day all about her, she thought, why not make it about other people? With help from her family, she consciously committed 38 random acts of kindness, from feeding rows of parking meters and donating clothes to a homeless shelter to delivering homemade Valentines to an assisted living facility and giving gift cards to families in line behind them at the grocery store. Her blog post about the day created a stir, and then a movement; from it, The Birthday Project was born, encouraging others to use their birthdays for good as well.

Those same ideas are applicable any day of the year, and everything from leaving a huge tip on a small meal to putting a few dollars’ worth of change into a vending machine and attaching a note can bring a smile to someone’s face. Another act of kindness to consider: over-paying your barista on behalf of folks behind you, or using Starbucks’ new feature, @tweetacoffee, where you can sync a credit card and Starbucks account to twitter and buy a cup of joe for someone with a simple tweet.

Create a care package

A recent piece by The Atlantic posited that one in four Americans will have lived under the poverty line at some point before age 35. That sobering statistic serves to put a face on the problems of poverty, hunger and homelessness, and hopefully hits home for those of us in a position to help others.

While some may not be comfortable simply giving money to those asking for it on the street, a simple, practical gesture can go a long way: consider creating small personal care packages by loading up freezer bags with a bottle of water, a pair of clean socks and piece or two of fresh fruit and delivering them to folks who could desperately use them. Maybe go a step further and donate non-perishables to a food bank or soup kitchen, many of which could benefit from extra foodstuffs for the holiday season.

Spend some time

Even if you don’t have a dime to spare, chances are, you have at least an hour. Time is one of our most precious resources, and it can be easily wasted on social networks, in long commutes and on all sorts of mindless diversions. Consider getting outside of your comfort zone and volunteering your time, even if you start with one commitment that lasts, say, an hour or two on a Saturday. Check out VolunteerMatch to find a local opportunity that suits your interests, whether it’s helping pets at a shelter, kids in a hospital or elders at the local library. (Intimidated? Don’t be. Pair up with a friend and do something worthwhile in lieu of brunch this Sunday.)

Rather go big? Start making plans to book a volunteer trip through Cross Cultural Solutions or Me to We. Your memories will last a lifetime, and so will those of the people you help.

Make your money talk

We live in crazy times. Think about it: any material object we could ever hope to own is likely a few clicks away. When it’s a choice between buying two similarly priced, equally cute and useful objects, one of which is ethically made and benefits a great cause and one of which isn’t and doesn’t, the decision should be an easy one to make. Sometimes, though, we don’t have all the information we need.

Sites like SHFT, Ethical Ocean, Uncommon Goods, Sevenly and TOMS’ new multi-vendor marketplace make those decisions easier; they only carry products that are ethically produced and environmentally conscious and/or have a proven social mission. Whether it’s a gift for a friend, a fun indulgence for yourself or daily basics like toothbrushes and chewing gum, you can impact the world in a positive way simply by making a more informed choice and putting your money where your heart is.

Put pen to paper

Pop quiz: When was the last time you sent an old-fashioned thank you note or a handwritten letter to someone you care about? In this era of tweets, texts and divided attention, it’s too easy to forget that a well-placed, self-penned word of encouragement or gratitude can brighten someone’s day or even boost them through a rough patch. It only costs the price of a postage stamp and a few minutes of your time, but it can make someone else feel like a million bucks, even if only for a day. That’s a return on investment that can’t be argued with.

However you choose to celebrate the day, any act of kindness is better than none at all. For more ideas on making a positive impact, check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. (Yes, there’s actually a non-profit org called the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. There just might be hope for us after all, people.) Obviously, we’re not going to solve all the world’s problems simply by being kinder to each other for a day (or even all the time), but for those of us willing to take the first swipe at making things the tiniest bit better, we could stand to heed the words of legendary Grand Slammer Arthur Ashe:

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

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ps… In case this post seems a little formal compared to what’s usually found here, it was actually pitched to and written for the website of a print magazine, but they ended up not running it. So, blah, I thought I’d share it with you kind folks instead. 

pps… hey, ‘member this?

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Cover to cover

image: Pamela Fugate Designs

When I was little, I wasn’t really much of a troublemaker. In fact, I was as straitlaced as a kid could be: reading was my addiction, and it was the only thing that regularly got me in trouble. I didn’t backtalk, I didn’t beg for attention — I just stayed up late almost every night, reading into the wee hours of the morning, or as long as I could get away with it before my mom would catch me. And book reports? Girl, I could bust a move on a book report. Believe it.

In college, though, I hit my limit. The summer of my first big breakup, I began the tradition that would carry me through every rough patch thereafter: I threw myself into work to get through each day. I took four accelerated summer courses all at once — those two-and-a-half-hours-a-day, four-days-a-week kinds of classes, and all of them together were supposed to satisfy my major’s literature requirement. I’ll just lose myself in the worlds of all these books, I thought, and then I realized what I’d done: I’d signed up to spend half the summer reading four books at once, one stack after another, week after week.

FOUR BOOKS AT ONCE. Have you ever tried that?

If not, don’t. If so, you’re crazy. CRAZY.

It took a few years after that for me to pick up a book again for the sake of pure pleasure. In fact, it may have taken about ten. Somewhere in my twenties I decided I was just too busy to read (Too busy doing what, exactly? Watching VH-1?), but now that I write for a living, I’ve rediscovered my addiction and fallen completely off the wagon. Stephen King’s been quoted as saying, “I am always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they ‘don’t have time to read.’ This is like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy any rope or pitons.”

So, I’ve been stocking up on rope and pitons lately. It hasn’t been the most well-read year of my life, but I’ve torn through some satisfying stuff. I don’t usually squawk a lot about what book my nose is buried in, but I think I’ll do that today. Here’s a rundown of the pages I let myself get lost in this year, plus a few I’m about to dive into… because isn’t that feeling of connection half the fun of reading, anyway?


Girl Land by Caitlin FlanaganGirl Land by Caitlin Flanagan — It’s been an interesting year in Texas politics, and our national — no, make that global — conversation (or is it more of a screaming match?) about gender equality is far from over. Girl Land, a brief but writerly glimpse into the world of being something/someone between a girl and a woman — you know, that space Judy Blume always captured so well — tackles the topic without making me cringe, which is kind of a tough thing to do. The complexities of being female in what’s long been a man’s world are deeply personal, and it’s easy to get defensive when we’re presented with viewpoints that differ from our own, but look: the author has been on staff at The Atlantic, The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal, and it shows. It’s worth a quick glimpse to remind ourselves of that part of our lives when we first started figuring out who we were and why. Those things, I think, are worth talking about with intelligence.


Paris by Janelle McCullochParis: An Inspiring Tour of the City’s Creative Heart by Janelle McCulloch — I went to Europe for the first (and absolutely not last) time in my life this year, visiting London, Paris and Barcelona over the span of a week and a half. I could have spent the entire time in just one of those cities and been happy as a lark, but even in the short time I spent in the City of Light, this achingly gorgeous book helped me get a feel for the arrondissements (that’s fancytalk for “districts”) and find some tucked-away places I would never have known about otherwise. Lush and detailed, this whimsically-written guidebook is a love letter to the city itself.



The Great Gatsby by F Scott FitzgeraldThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald — F*ck Baz Luhrmann. Seriously, f*ck him and however you spell his stupid name. (Oh, sorry… didn’t realize I had so much rage pent up still). See, I’ve loved The Great Gatsby since I first read it in school, and last spring, I was looking forward to a fresh cinematic take that got it right. So much for those great expectations teetering precariously on the director’s decades-old Romeo + Juliet cred. Regardless, I’ll always love the narrative voice in this Great American Novel, and I’ll always find Daisy detestable, but that last part’s okay — I’m not alone. Such a quick read packed with so much social commentary. It’ll never get old, no matter how many more auteurs try to butcher it.



On the Road by Jack KerouacOn the Road by Jack Kerouac — I have an admission. Try as I might, I never finished this book. I know it’s a (mid-century) modern classic. I know it’s got that beautiful line about the mad ones and the yellow roman candles, and I know it’s got a lot of other beautiful lines, too, but there’s just so much mania between them all. That’s not to say I’m not up to the challenge, or that I have to be spoon-fed, but let’s be real: reading this guy’s prose is like riding in a car with no brakes. He typed it up on a scroll — a scroll, mind you — because changing the pages in his typewriter supposedly damaged his flow, for god’s sake. Still, I won’t be bested by this beatnik. I’ve picked the damn thing up twice and given it the old college try. I’m hoping the third time’s exactly as charmed as all those rumors swirling around it suggest.


Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy KalingIs Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling — With chapter titles like “I Forget Nothing: A Sensitive Kid Looks Back,” The Office (which I love) writer-plus-cast-member and Mindy Project (which I can’t get into) star nails countless perfect witticisms of a hard-working girl who’s sometimes prone to abject laziness, narcissism and materialism but who always comes through in the end. Her rant about the fact that John Cougar (Mellencamp?)’s ode to the unburdened liberty of youth, “Jack and Diane,” is patently awful and ought to be changed to “Nguyen and Ari, a little ditty about a hardworking Vietnamese girl who helps her parents with the franchised Holiday Inn they run, and does homework in the lobby, and Ari, a hardworking Jewish boy who does volunteer work at his grandmother’s old-age home, and they meet after school at Princeton Review” is… well, c’mon. You laughed, right? Me, too.


The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan EvisonThe Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison — Whoa dang. I made the mistake of reading the first half of this novel on a plane. Oh, the crying. Actually, to be honest, some of the crying came from the author’s note at the end of the book, which I skipped to during a key scene because something struck me as familiar. Turns out, Evison wrote the tragicomic book in an almost involuntary attempt to deal with the loss of his sister, which makes complete sense given his adeptness at toeing the weird tightrope grief puts us on, balancing gallows humor in one hand and real, profound sadness and rage in the other. I found myself letting go of some of my own baggage while reading this work, and I’m sure lots of other readers did as well, so here’s hoping the crass but elegant writer behind this book was able to move forward a little bit, too, while he was putting its pages together.


Farther Away by Jonathan FranzenFarther Away by Jonathan Franzen — So, apparently I had a July full of Jonathans. Two of them, anyway… one full of heart, and the other, not so much. I chose this book by chance from a shelf at Powell’s Books in Portland last summer after perusing the Essays section and haphazardly landing on a page dealing with the ethics of writing about family members, loved ones and other people who are in a position to get super pissed off about what’s been committed in ink about them. It sat on my nightstand and in a carry-on bag or two for the better part of a year, and then I finally dove in. Increasingly agitated as I trudged through his collection of essays, eulogies and commencement addresses, I finally declared, “I hate this guy.” and abandoned the book about two-thirds of the way through. A few weeks later, a link to the article “A Handy Guide to Why Jonathan Franzen Pisses You Off” popped up in my twitter feed, and I felt vindicated. I didn’t even know being pissed off by Jonathan Franzen was a thing until I’d been there myself and then realized it’s a universal thing, like loving bacon or cheese or Bill Murray.


Wild by Cheryl StrayedWild by Cheryl Strayed — Oh man. This one. This one stabbed me on page 38. Stabbed me in the ribs and kept me bleeding until the end. It’s easy to get lost in Wild and think you’re reading a work of fiction because the willpower, discipline and grit displayed by the protagonist is practically otherworldly, and yet at the same time, it’s impossible not to empathize with her. I’ve read quite a bit about how the boys’ club that is the literary establishment didn’t seem to want to let Cheryl Strayed in when this book sold like hotcakes last year. Personally, I think they’re intimidated… that’s why they tried to relegate her to the ill-fitting (for her) and utterly irrelevant chick lit section, even though she was caked in mud after hiking 1,000+ miles of the Pacific Coast Trail alone. Chick lit, my ass. This woman’s the truth. If I meet her someday, the Snapple’s on me.


Sister Mother Husband Dog by Delia EphronSister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) by Delia Ephron — Full disclosure: I read this book as research for a Q&A I got to do with the author for a Citygram feature. Good thing I fancy myself a writer but not a journalist, since the tiniest anecdote about taking BBQ onto a plane can apparently win my affection in less than a third of a second. Anyway, this memoir by an acclaimed screenwriter, playwright and essayist (and incidentally, Nora Ephron’s sister) hit home for me in a number of ways: it deals with the subject of profound loss, it finds beauty in the tiniest of things, and it exposes the inner workings of a worrier who writes for a living. Check, check and check. Delia: you had me at “Sister.”



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What have you been reading? What’s up next on your nightstand? On deck for the holidays, I’ve got The Fault in Our Stars, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky and Brave New World (nope, I’ve never read it, nor its 1958 follow-up, but that’s about to change) and a whole bunch of essays. It’s so nice to delve into parallel worlds for a while to help us learn a little something about our own. Here’s hoping next year I’ll have a whole new mess of worlds to talk about with you. Maybe even one of mine.


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Hey jealousy

image: University of Wisconsin

image: University of Wisconsin

Growing up, I always hated the phrase “green-eyed monster.” Suffice it to say monsters are generally frowned upon by children, but moreover, I have green eyes — hazel, really, but mostly green — and the idea that I was a naturally jealous person because of my eye color just didn’t sit well with me when I was little. I think it was somewhere around third or fourth grade when I realized it was just a figure of speech.

Jealousy’s a funny thing. I used to assume some people were naturally predisposed to being jealous creatures while others just let the world spin past, unfazed by what everybody else was doing. I used to count myself among the latter set, but now, I can’t figure out what I was thinking. I’m jealous. I’m small. I can’t keep my eyes on my own plate. I’ve got all kinds of green eyes, and they tend to focus on stuff that shouldn’t even catch my attention, much less get under my skin.

I’m not talking about the don’t-look-at-my-man sort of jealousy — the clingy girlfriend kind, the Housewives of Such-and-Such-County type, the fly-off-the-handle-on-a-lark variety. In all honesty, I think that brand of insecurity lives mostly on TV; when I look around at the people in my life, at least, not one of them falls into the get-into-a-firefight-and-call-somebody-names category. I’m talking about the quiet, insidious kind of envy that creeps into the back of your head as you’re scrolling through the web each day — the kind that doesn’t have anything to do with real life in the first place. The kind that nobody suspects is there because nobody talks about it. The kind that presses down on our sternums, making it hard to breathe, telling us to stay put, lay low, get it perfect… measure up.

In my line of work, it’s my job to be online, scouting for information… inspiration… story ideas… trends. Here’s a trend that makes me ill: we’re so busy checking each other out that we’re forgetting who we are, or maybe even starting to turn into one another. At least, sometimes I feel like I am.

“Garbage in, garbage out,” the saying goes, and I know I’m caught red-handed. The more crap I take in, the more crap I spew out. And round and round it churns.

“What assholes,” I found myself fuming when I read about Foxygen’s freakout at ACL’s first weekend. I’d already decided upon my hatred for them weeks ago with one scant glance at their bio, in which they claimed to be “the raw, de-Wes Andersonization of the Rolling Stones, Kinks, Velvets, Bowie, etc that a whole mess of young people desperately need.” (Both members are 22 years old, incidentally, born the same year Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up” topped the charts.) And when I started skimming the back story of their previous meltdowns at SXSW and listening to a bit of their music, my irritation went from a simmer to a raging boil. I shot an email to someone I knew would have a laugh over the idiocy of it all, and then kept clicking through concert reviews and bits of gossip about the band’s apparent inability to show up to things. And then I realized: here I am, a grownup with pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted in life, spending a beautiful Sunday stewing over people I’ve never met and never will. Why? Because these two dudes, these kids who maybe fancy themselves as little rock gods and who probably need to lay off the pills, are getting paid to travel the world and do what they (ostensibly) love at a younger age than I, and okay, so maybe they’re not working very hard at it.

Oh, the outrage. Which member of Congress should I write?

What’s that? They’re not in the office today?

Oh.

Making a living as a writer sometimes feels like an endless uphill battle, and other times feels like swimming in a cool, calm lake on a crisp, clear day. On those in-a-groove days, I feel so much gratitude, it’s probably irritating to be around me. On those uphill days, though, it takes nothing — nothing — to spiral me into a hate-reading frenzy, pissed off to the high heavens that I haven’t finished a book yet, that I haven’t written for the Times yet, that I haven’t reached all (or even most of) my goals. A glaring typo in a usually-well-crafted magazine or a flippant, vapid remark from someone on Twitter makes me instantly irrational, questioning the balance of right and wrong in the world. Taking a break from doing actual work — i.e., being lazy — I find myself infuriated at musicians I’ve barely heard of over their… laziness. Off I go, worrying about other people’s business when we know it’s none of mine.

Or maybe it’s completely about mine.

“Why do kids in Haiti have to starve while this [beep] gets to sit around all day, snapping selfies and snarking about what people around her are wearing? Does she even have a job?” I’ll fume over a stranger’s vanity on a social network, but then I have to ask myself: How long has it been since I did something about kids in Haiti?

Ah, right. Yes. About that.

Sometimes I think there’s validity in the notion that the things we hate the most in other people are the things we hate about ourselves. Another angle, I think, makes just as much sense: the things that infuriate us the most about other people are the things we fear exist within us. I think the reason I can smell a narcissist a mile away and instinctively veer in the opposite direction is that I’m terrified of being one myself. (My finely-tuned sense of smell, by the way, was only developed through decades of trial-and-error involving several real-life Regina Georges. I wouldn’t recommend it.) People who don’t seem to work very hard drive me up a wall, and when I say out loud that I’m (still) working on my (first) novel, I hate the way it sounds.

So, I think I’m done — at least for a while — consuming junk media, clicking on link bait and paying attention to the ephemera out there just for the bruise-pressing pleasure it gives me to compare myself against other people and see how I stack up. I think the next time something trivial frustrates me about “the world,” I’ll stop and ask myself why I’m so hot and bothered, and then maybe back away from the screen a bit. Let in a little fresh air. Between hitting work deadlines and living real life, there’s a gap to be filled — spare time to be killed. I think I’ll stop killing little pieces of my soul along with it. I’ll maybe just feed it instead.

Envy, repulsion, boredom, lust… it’s all so entwined, isn’t it? I guess instead of wasting time feeling blue about not having done this or that, I’ll go do this and that and stop shuffling about.

I swept through my twitter feed this week and cut out a lot of the stuff I’ve been wasting my time on. There was nothing wrong with most of it, really — folks with great senses of wit, blogs with interesting articles from time to time — but if it didn’t help me grow or often made me sneer, it’s not on my feed any more. Talented writers, sharers of knowledge, kickass people who actually are doing something about kids in Haiti… they’re all still there. It’s the other stuff I had to let go of. The people I don’t know, whose lives I shouldn’t be peering into. The blogs and celebs and personalities I don’t even like, which I need to stop rubbernecking over. The brands selling me stuff I don’t need, which I need to quit thinking I do. The ones who don’t teach me anything (except PrinceTweets2U. HE STAYS.)

I’m saving me from myself. And to the folks I unfollowed, as if you even care: hey, listen.

It’s not you.

It’s me.

Just me and these green eyes of mine, trying to stay on my own plate.

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Just a girl

what i've succumbed to / is making me numb

Image: Etsy

This week, a teen mom from a trailer park did something all kinds of fantastic.

Take this pink ribbon off my eye…

Tying on a pair of sneaks (and possibly an adult diaper?), Wendy Davis took the floor of the Texas Senate at 11:18 am on a Tuesday and proceeded to kick up some dust.  Since I’m no reporter, I won’t rehash the details here… let’s leave it to the professionals to refresh us on what happened, and let’s leave it to a fellow writer, also named Amy, who also lives in Austin (hello, spirit animal) to tell us firsthand of the shenanigans leading up to it. (Fun fact: if you live in Texas, one of your legislators would prefer to sit around playing Candy Crush — in plain view of you — on your dime instead of listen to what you have to say. Others like to enjoy salty snacks on the House floor while poking their colleagues in the butt. Just a day in the life, you see.)

I’m exposed, and it’s no big surprise…

A funny thing happened — and a rare one, too — as the self-made college graduate, lawyer, and legislator stood up and refused to sit down for twelve hours straight.  At age 50, she’d come quite a long way from her life three decades ago, when she’d married at 18 and had a child that same year, then quickly found herself living as a single mother, but she hadn’t forgotten the struggle.  In an unprecedented moment, her state — much of it, anyway —  took notice of what she was doing and decided to stand along with her… or at least sit still and stare.

I’m ashamed to say I knew nothing of the filibuster until it was actually happening.  I used to spend a fair amount time in the Texas Capitol, having worked for a year with an association whose members would routinely knock on lawmakers’ doors and beg to have their voices heard.  I once hit my head on a frame in Senator Duncan’s office while trying to get a photograph of our members having a discussion with him.  I live not 30 minutes from the building, and I’ll get as heated as the next girl about women’s health care issues, yet I had no clue what was going on this week until it was well under way.  

I have no excuses worth uttering.  But along with more than 100,000 other people, I crouched into my laptop Tuesday night, watching the drama unfold on the screen and trying to catch up.  I compulsively clicked back and forth between the Texas Tribune’s live stream and my own meager twitter feed, paying special attention to tweets from people in the building who were personally witnessing the chaos.  And as riveted as I was, I felt a little like a fraud.

Don’t you think I know exactly where I stand?

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I had plenty of strong female role models to look up to.  I fell in love with Audrey Hepburn, UNICEF’s first female goodwill ambassador, when I saw My Fair Lady at age five.  Madonna, Janet Jackson, Cyndi Lauper and Salt n’ Pepa comprised my childhood soundtrack alongside a few male counterparts and a dash of Debbie Gibson (who, let’s face it, was essentially Taylor Swift before Taylor Swift was Taylor Swift).  I discovered Judy Blume around age nine and decided I wanted to have her life or something like it when I grew up big and strong.  And throughout high school and college, I was always drawn to strong, smart women in the public eye; I never felt like I had to look too far to find them.  I had plenty of male heroes, too; in fact, I never thought all that much about gender growing up.  I just lived my life, like most of us do, day to day.

My influences weren’t only external: my mom was paramount in my life.  She led by example: rarely preaching the gospel of feminism, she just lived it as best she could.  She put herself through college after having three boys with my dad, and finally had me in her late thirties, soon going back to work and educating something like a thousand children over the decades to follow, urging them all to become informed, independent citizens of the world.  My dad, too, was (and still is) a strong guiding force in my life; unlike most of my friends, who were shuttled back and forth between one divorced parent and another with nary a polite exchange during each dropoff, I got to enjoy the affections of both at the same time, plus their love for one another.  I loved “helping” him paint houses and go fishing, and nothing was better than falling asleep to his bedtime stories.  I never felt the void of parents who couldn’t stand each other, who didn’t speak.  I always felt the security of two people telling me I could be whoever I wanted.

So needless to say, as much as I love a cute dress, I know that it doesn’t define me.  As many romantic screw-ups as I’ve had, I’ve never let any of them break me.  And as much as I loved that super-catchy No Doubt song about the woes of being a little baby hen in a rooster’s world, it took me years to really get what Gwen Stefani was singing about.

This world is forcing me to hold your hand…

The first time I recall feeling a twinge of true sexism was when I worked for a man we’ll call “Bob.”  He had an all-female staff, to whom he referred as “gals” (It is Texas, after all) and also to whom he never paid any real attention.  Right from the start, it felt as though I’d broken through the ceiling most of the other women in the office couldn’t seem to clear themselves, but I never gave it much thought — I’d worked for Bob’s brother before moving to Texas and figured I must have had some sort of insight into his personality that gave me an advantage into working well with him.  As time wore on, though, working with him became a rarity, even though one of my primary responsibilities was to edit his writing.  Bob’s the one who was leading the discussion in Senator Duncan’s office on the day I bumped my head.  It was one of those rare occasions when he actually showed up to work.  Mostly, he couldn’t be bothered to come into the office; my guess is that he actually worked an average of ten or fifteen hours a week in return for his six-figure salary.  And as for the “gals” in the office, they had a strange love/hate relationship with him.  In fact, I’d never seen so many people cover for just one soul in all my days and then grumble so much about how insufferable he was.

Refusing to hook his computer into the network, he’d occasionally breeze in and email me an electric razor receipt or washing machine rebate voucher, instructing me to stop whatever I was working on and print it off for him.  I’d roll my eyes and do it anyway, then get back to editing his slipshod ramblings so they’d maybe make sense to someone.

“Where’s the harm?” I thought, even though it felt sort of… squicky.

Over time, the board noticed critical work wasn’t getting done.

They started asking questions.

Bob swiftly put on his Boss Hat and took immediate action.

I suppose I should thank him for cutting me loose; it’s one of the five best things that ever happened to me.  But it doesn’t make it right, and it wouldn’t have happened if I were a man.  Why, you ask?  Because he never would have hired me in the first place.  Men were his equals, his bosses; women, his inferiors, his servants.  That’s just how Bob rolled.

I wonder who’s printing his receipts these days.

I’m just a girl, oh little ol’ me, well don’t let me out of your sights…

Growing up in a sprawling but still small navy town on the Florida/Georgia line, I’d never really thought much of terms that, to some, feel pejorative.  I sometimes pepper my speech with “honey”s and “sugar”s, although it’s usually for comedic effect and not so much out of habit… but for much of my life, I’ve been surrounded by people who are out-and-out Southerners.  Technically, I guess I’m one too.  There’s sweet tea in these veins of mine, and sometimes I forget that it’s there.

It’s easy to neglect our own biases, our own ways of becoming accustomed to things, our tendency to let the world around us just happen because “that’s the way it is.”  I, for one, was never meant for suburbia, and I may not be meant for motherhood either.  Where I come from, that’s just insane.  Luckily, I’ve got a strong enough sense of self to have figured things out for myself, and I’ve managed to sidestep the sorts of obligations that some people just can’t, even if they desperately want to.  It’s frightening to me that there could be a future where nobody has a say in the matter.

There’s a difference between being old-fashioned, or set in one’s ways, and refusing to see things for what they really are.  While I don’t doubt the sincerity of so many people who genuinely believe in the wrongness of abortion under any and every circumstance, our democratic process doesn’t only represent them.  As flawed, imperfect, and ever-changing as it is, its beauty lies in the fact that it gives us all a chance to have our say.  But that’s the thing: if we don’t say anything, we don’t count.

I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite, so don’t let me have any rights…

I’m guilty of getting distracted.  I’m guilty of being naive.  I’m guilty of just charging through the stereotypes and doing whatever I damn well please… well, actually, there’s no guilt to be had there whatsoever; I’m proud to blast through those walls without a second thought.  But I’m so oblivious to some of them —  I’m not even sure why, but I am — that sometimes the thrill is lost on me (and isn’t that how it should be? …eventually?)  And there’s danger in the fact that it’s so easy to forget how we don’t all have the same privileges, the same advantages, the same edge.

If I’d grown up among people who didn’t foster my curiosity about the world, in a place where my education was barely a priority and where birth control was scarcely available, do you think I’d be writing this fancy little blog post right now?  Given the sad state of sex ed, the lackluster quality of access to birth control (and decent health care in general) for women in low-income areas, and the time it took to develop life-saving HIV therapies (note: people in America were still dying of AIDS while I was living it up at the number one party school in the nation at the time), I wonder if I’d even still be alive.  Fortunately for me, here I sit in an air-conditioned space, waxing poetic into a blog I have time for about a Senate bill I knew little about before this week.  Others aren’t so lucky.  That’s why people like me… and like you… have to pay better attention.

I’m just a girl / What’s my destiny? / What I’ve succumbed to is making me numb

When my mom was the age I am right now, she was pregnant with me.  That’s a crazy thing to consider.  If I were to find myself in the same place today, at the admittedly ripe age of 37, I’d still be crazy unprepared.  “There’s so much still left for me to do first,” I’d be panicking. “What about the book?  What about the traveling? What about the world-shaking?”

Now, that’s not to say a mom can’t be a world-shaker (or a novelist, or a traveller).  On the contrary; some of the best ones are.  But I don’t have that deep yearning for motherhood like so many women do.  Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I don’t have it yet. I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the last year or so in general, and certainly throughout this week’s events, but no single, shining answer has made itself clear to me as a result.  Refer me to a therapist if you’d like, but I’m actually pretty okay with being undecided, and I realize there will come a day when the decision will be made for me, by nature itself, whether I’m ready or not.  And maybe that’s where adoption comes in — or perhaps it comes in beforehand — but that’s another conversation for another day.  For now, I appreciate the beauty of the fact that, for the most part, I can choose the way I want my life to go.  It’s served me well so far, and it’s happened because I’ve had access to the education and resources necessary to stay healthy and, frankly, not pregnant.  The sixteen-year-old sophomore who doesn’t even have a diploma yet, the grown woman who made a mistake or got screwed by statistics and isn’t ready to sign up for the full-time job it obligates her to for the rest of her life, the rape survivor who didn’t sign up for anything — they should have the privilege of choosing, too, in whatever form that takes.

Whoa-oa-oa-oa-oa / I’ve had it up to… here

People like Wendy Davis are critical to the health of low-income women — and really, women in general — a population that likely won’t be served by the special session beginning on Monday as the result of a governor’s scorn.  Those of us who care should pay attention to what she’s doing and help her defeat the status quo in any way we can.  Because as far as I know, and from what science and history both tell us, our only way of “shutting that whole thing down” is to do something that’s not nearly as easy as it absolutely should be:

Let her speak.

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