Where the Mouth Is (My first ReadWave)

I tried a writing challenge on the site, ReadWave.com. It’s a cool idea — they give a prompt and a timeframe, and then everyone writes to it. The prompt here was a “lightbulb moment,” and this is what I came up with.

***

I thought I was opening the door for a man and a baby stroller. I grabbed the handle and motioned for him to go. A young mother followed, herding a 4 year-old boy. Once inside the restaurant, the man turned to me and asked, in broken english, if I could help him.

Because it was loud, and because he was repeating one english word in a slew of foreign ones, it took me a moment to get it: he was saying “food, food.”

“You want to buy food?” I pointed him toward the line to place an order.

No. As he continued to gesture, I understood: he wanted me to buy his family something to eat.

read the rest on ReadWave

French Retreat

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I used to love to go out — dancing, dinner, theater — bonus points for any time I could dress up! Then somewhere around my thirtieth birthday, I started to do it less. I didn’t care as much about getting out of my house. My favorite moments were starting to happen at home, or maybe I simply started to value comfort and warmth over social interaction.

Determined not to lose track of the other, more energetic me, I still make plans to do things, see people, dress up. I often find I have to talk myself into going. I never used to have to do that! But once I’m there, I am usually glad I got out.

So when a friend asked me to attend Le Dîner à San Francisco — a “flashmob picnic party” — later this week, I thought maybe I would talk myself into going. Inspired by a Parisian tradition of organized picnicking in the most unlikely places (think the Louvre courtyard and Nôtre Dame), the 3rd Le Dîner à San Francisco will take place at an outdoor location to be disclosed just before start time.

I like performance art. I like picnics. I like popups. I thought that this flash-mob picnic and I could be a match. Besides, it was an excuse to dress up and get off the couch, and I needed to do that more, not less.

I pulled up the event site, which promised:

a night of magic to our city and community; an elegant dinner party that each guest has a hand in creating.

I started imagining the trés bon picnic dinner I would bring: Humboldt Fog with figs and honey, some sourdough baguette, Calvastrano olives and rosemary marcona almonds.

I clicked through the event gallery. White table linens graced the long banquet tables, decked with crystal candelabra and a paper maché Golden Gate Bridge. The tablescapes were so pretty! I couldn’t wait to see what magic decorations would await me.

Then I read a bit further down that all of the decorations were brought in by the participants. So if I wanted a beautiful, white paper Golden Gate at my table, I’d have to bring it myself.

The website clarified:

We provide tables, CHAIRS!, entertainment, comfort amenities, and a spectacular San Francisco setting.

Well, I thought sunnily, at least the chairs and tables would already be there. And comfort amenities would be . . . portapotties? I heard homebody-me starting to grumble that it sounded like a whole lot of work. But I didn’t listen.

I like creative expression, and have been known to get a little crafty. And who doesn’t love a spectacular San Francisco setting? So what if I had to bring in my own table decor?

I remembered the DIY decorations I’d pulled off for my wedding: the glimmering tealights and the dark pink rosettes had been so pretty. I could organize with my friend, and we could pull something cute together. It might not be a paper machè bridge, but that wasn’t necessary, was it?

I kept scrolling through the pictures. It took seeing a few crowd shots before I registered that the participants were all dressed in white. The women looked a bit like thrift store brides: gussied in mismatched white separates, with downy feather fascinators in their hair.

The site explained:

Guests . . . are encouraged to dress elegantly in white.

This sounds like a lot, sweatpants-me protested.

But I shushed her up — boring old hag! I focused on a vision of chic me: my white dress, and large white sunhat. My white picnic basket under one arm, a baguette under the other. That was the me that had fun!

I wanted to be the lovely party girl in my imagination. Thirty-two is too young to become Grumpy McSweatpants. She didn’t worry about San Francisco’s foggy nighttime weather. Instead, she posed elegantly in a white flapper dress with an all-white hairdo and a pale, powdered face.

I like playing dress-up. I’m a former actress, for god’s sake; I like performing. I love instagram!

But even party-girl me had to pause at the ticket price: $34 per person? To sit at a folding table and bring my own everything?

I looked through the details again. I thought I had to be misunderstanding. Surely $34 per person went toward something? The gleaming white china, perhaps?

No, the site was clear about that. All guests are responsible for their own china and cutlery. And, “out of respect for the elegant atmosphere” the use of disposables was discouraged. As was the use of automobiles.

The event does not have parking, and so the organizers encourage the use of public transportation.

For one last moment, I imagined the party-going me, pulling on her all-white outfit, packing her picnic, her cutlery, her china, her tablescape, and her tablecloth into a large white basket, pulling a white hoodie over her thrift-store gown, tottering down fog-whipped 48th Avenue toward the N-Judah. I saw her desperately balancing her load in her lap, making space for the other Muni Riders . . .

It was just too many things. Some events are worth staying home from. Even party-girl me had to admit that.

And so she did.

This post also appears on Medium.com

Trolling a Generation

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I first encountered this Time magazine cover on tumblr. So naturally, I thought it was a joke. Like, someone’s clever social commentary on how olds view the youngs. But this is a real magazine cover and a real article with the insulting yet  equivocating title, “The ME ME ME Generation: Millennials are lazy, entitled, narcissists who still live with their parents. Why They’ll Save Us All.”

Translation: Hey, Millennials! You suck! NOT! It also sounds a lot like a grumpy, jealous older sibling complaining that it’s not faaaaaair. (As a grumpy older sibling who often complained that things weren’t fair, I would know.)

“Lazy, entitled, narcissist? Me?” I thought I’d defend myself and my generation using my law-schooled rhetorical skills. I thought I’d slay this article with a stunning counteranalysis. I thought I’d submit it to HuffPo and become the Defender of a Generation.

I thought, Awesome, Mr. Stein. Let’s play ball.

So I clicked on the article and then I found out that I couldn’t read it without paying for a subscription to Time magazine.

I mean, I’d like to take Joel Stein’s article apart word for word and dissect it and all, but not enough to subscribe. I’m a millennial who lives with my parents, Time Magazine. Money’s tight. You should know that!

(OK, so I don’t actually live with my parents, but does it make any sense to indict a generation for being indebted and then ask them to pony up subscription fees? Particularly a generation who’s used to getting everything online for free?)

I tried to find the article somewhere online for free. But then I gave up. Don’t feed the trolls, I reminded myself. And this is really no different than trolling. It’s just that Time has a little bit larger platform than some blogpost comments section.

I don’t want a subscription to Time Magazine, no matter how many lame insults they paste on their cover. So rather than buying their hype, I’m going to write a defense to an article that I haven’t read.

I could go over to my grandpa’s house and read his copy (he subscribes to magazines because he’s 82), but I’m too lazy and I don’t believe in hard work — not even the work of driving to my grandpa’s to borrow a magazine.

So, judging an article completely by the cover, here’s what I have to say about these accusations:

1. Millennials are lazy. 

Just because we don’t all have 9-5, 40 hour a week employment doesn’t mean we’re lazy. That sort of 9-5 employment is harder to get because some other generations (hint hint) tanked the economy.

Not only is traditional full time employment harder to find because of a crappy economy, we’ve grown up in a professional work culture that expects free work or (usually unpaid) internship from pretty much everyone starting out. Want to be a writer? You have to write for free! Want to be a graphic designer? You have to work at a design firm for free! It’s widened the class divide because not everyone can afford to do work and not get paid.

2. Millennials are entitled.

I’m not sure what evidence Joel has of this rampant millennial entitlement complex. So here’s one example of entitlement I came up with: Some millennials believe that they shouldn’t have to pay back their student loan debt. They have the audacity to believe that they deserve a free education (or at least one that isn’t 1000% more expensive than the ones their older siblings and parents received).

Except I actually see this as progressive thinking. In case you missed it, most of the first world provides cheap or free post-secondary education to the people that qualify. (See: most of Europe, Algeria, Bhutan, Kenya . . .or this list here.)

3. Millennials are narcissistic.

In the small snippet of the article I actually could read (here), Stein says “The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that’s now 65 or older.” Ok, fine. But has the criteria for assessing NPD changed in the past 45 years?

Trick question, Stein! It doesn’t matter whether you say yes or no, because either way there’s a gaping hole in this theory. If the criteria has changed, then it’s an apples to slides rules comparison (and we all know which generation is the apples, sucka). You can’t change the definition and then be surprised that the number of people that meet the new definition is different.

And if the criteria hasn’t changed, that’s equally problematic. Millennials interact through social media networks that are rife with constant narcissistic cueing. Facebook prompts you to share what you’re doing the second you sign on, and every online community (from dating sites to tumblr to twitter) has a profile page that asks you to tell the community about yourself. How could anyone escape the conclusion that people are interested? Especially someone who grew up in an environment where they’re being constantly asked as though it’s fascinating.

Social networks make money off of advertising, and the advertisers want to reach the largest possible audience. (Evidence: Super Bowl ads cost a lot; infomercials run at night when everyone’s asleep.) To make money, social networks need a lot of participants, and the best way to get someone to hang out with you is to be interested in them and ask them lots of questions about themselves.

If the criteria hasn’t shifted to reflect our changed society, then we’re again stuck with an unfair comparison. Of course millennials would exhibit more narcissistic traits than the generations before — we’ve been told since we were small that everyone is interested!

4. Millennials will save us all.

Not until you stop flinging spaghetti at us across the table! Mooooom!

Atro-Feed: How the Social Network Ate My Heart Out

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been writing personal essays inspired by my weekly podcast conversations with Nick. I’m thrilled to announce that this morning, Unmanned Press became the first website to publish one.

On Monday, April 15, I was sitting at my desk, absently scrolling through my feed. A friend I hadn’t seen since high school posted a status update about the bombs in Boston. Another friend posted an article. Another posted a vine clip of the blast at the finish line that I watched without volume. In 6-second loops, I watched the flash and smoke and crowd surging away from the blast over and over. And then, I went back to my feed/dash/stream/email/chat/writing/day.
 

My September 11, 2001 began when my radio alarm clock woke me with the sounds of my favorite local morning show. It took my newly awake brain a moment to realize that they were talking about a plane crash in New York. Then another moment to realize that it wasn’t a radio comedy bit; it was actual news. I shook my boyfriend awake and we both stumbled out into the living room.

Now I use my iPhone for an alarm clock, which means I don’t wake up to any DJ’d morning show. And anyway, it was the middle of the day when I heard about Boston.

You can read the rest here.

They don’t have a comment section, so please comment here for me!

Deactivated

I quit facebook two weeks ago. Actually, Matt and I quit it together, but I found out that backstabber went and reactivated his account two days later. So much for solidarity.

That’s ok, I don’t need him. In fact, since I’ve quit facebook, I’ve realized that I don’t need anyone at all. (Jokes! I need you. Really.)

But I don’t miss facebook; it had become the source of a strange anxiety. I would post things, and then fret about how many likes it would get. If something I posted didn’t get enough attention, I would question my decision to post it. Talk about first world problems! When I found myself depressed for the umpteenth time about posting something I loved and not seeing sufficient comments and likes, I decided I needed to stop. Facebook was supposed to connect me to my community, and I felt more alone than ever. It took me 5 minutes to deactivate my profile, and although I still type the url into my browser by force of habit sometimes, I haven’t been tempted.

I’m still a social media girl (you can find me on tumblr, twitter, instagram, pinterest, and here on wordpress). But none of these other platforms create the same attention anxiety for me that facebook did. I’m very happy with my decision, and I plan to write more about it soon, as part of the series of columns I’m writing in conjunction with the Dirty 30-Something podcast.

And yes, in case you haven’t heard, I’m podcasting. My longtime bestie and cohost, Nick Dothee, and I are having a weekly discussion about how we feel utterly lost in our 30’s. Ostensibly, we’re at an age when we should be ready/willing/able to take on adult responsibility. But as it turns out, we haven’t been as successful in our adulthood as we once imagined we would be.

Evalyn Baron, one of the talented women in my writing group, suggested that I write some editorial-style columns about the topics on the show. It was a great idea, and I’m happy to say that this week, I placed my first one! It’s going to be published at some point this month — I’ll let you know the details when I have them, of course. My goal is to find this column permanent home, so if anybody has leads or ideas about this, please email me.

On the advice of another of my brilliant writing group companions, Claudine, I’m reading The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. Godin says that we’ve only been told the part of the Icarus myth about flying too high. He says the other warning was not to fly too low. He says that we’ve been indoctrinated into a system of manufacture and keeping our heads down, and that what the world needs now is artists. He says to make art that is brave and compassionate and most importantly, the art you want to make. He says popularity is a bunch of noise, and that people are drawn to authenticity, and he says all of this in a way that I can hear — not too self-helpy or new agey or woo woo. I’m enjoying it, and I’m pushing myself to make the art I dream of, instead of worrying so much about what other people might like.

So that’s the news from me. I realize that now that I’ve disconnected from facebook, you might find it harder to keep up with me. If you’re concerned, I’m going to suggest you subscribe to my blog using the button on the right — I’ll keep updating this space with writing and rants and links to what I’m doing, and you’ll get my news right in your inbox.

Mnemonic 3: Run Into Happiness

March got lost in the excitement of a new project (my Dirty 30-Something podcast.) This morning, I’m proud to post the 3rd Mnemonic poster, Run Into Happiness. Better late than never, right?

It’s been almost 2 years since I started running in earnest. I never imagined I’d be the kind of girl that laces up her sneakers and runs 3 days a week. I was the girl who walked the entire cross country racecourse in gym class. Every day. I hated running, and I thought people that liked it were just crazy or more athletic than me.

As a young adult, I tried multiple times to get into running, but it was always in a gym on a treadmill — I had no idea that the outdoors could make such a difference until I moved out to the beach and decided that running was the only form of cardio I could do that took full advantage of the beautiful area I live in, and didn’t require me to drive 45 minutes to work out for 30. (I have a hard time commuting for exercise.)

Funny thing about running is the way that it’s both addictive and intimidating. Addictive because there is really no better moment than when I finish a a run. Intimidating because athletic conditioning is so fragile — I learned this the first time I got really sick after I started a regular running program. It took so much time to get myself back to where I was before I got sick.

One last thing — I’ve never experienced the legendary “runner’s high” probably because I’ve never run for longer than 30-ish minutes at a time. But I do find that sometimes, out of the blue, I will run myself straight into the most grateful, joyous feeling — I look around me at the fog burning off the leaves in Golden Gate Park, or at the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean and I feel gratitude for my healthy body, for my wellbeing, for the beautiful place I get to run through.

On Easter Sunday, I had a moment like this — running in the rain, no less. I came home and wrote this poem and Matt incorporated it into our 3rd poster. I hope you enjoy it.

***

Before leaving, march. Grapevine, then plank,
then roll.
Go downstairs and out the door.
Turn left, then left; cross lower Great Highway.
All access trail.

5 minutes walking warmup.
30 seconds dashing.
30 seconds walking.
Repeat.

At the foot of the park, turn right, then left, then right again.
Run up the stairs that look like they go nowhere.
Run down the secret trail behind the trail.
Beware of vagrants in the forest. Not afraid, just aware.

Run past the Park Chalet.
Run through the tunnel.
Run up through the park, maybe Chain of Lakes, maybe not.
See how hard your heart is beating, and decide.

Loop home:
30 seconds dashing.
30 seconds walking.
Repeat.

Mnemonic 2: Super Psychic Children

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Mnemonic 2: Super Psychic Children

I am so excited to post the second poster in the Mnemonic series I’m working on with Matthew. The memory that inspired this mnemonic was a drive we took one morning, heading from my parents’ house in Mount Shasta back home to Portland, Oregon.

There was a specific area of this drive, just north of Medford, and south of Grants Pass, where a particular old country station would come in. We’d listen to Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Gene Autry, Patsy Cline, and Merle Haggard. It was great.

On this particular morning, I was also reading to Matt while he drove. The author mentioned “the super psychic children” without explanation, and a catchphrase was born.

I hope you enjoy this Mnemonic as much as we enjoy the memory behind it.

The text on the poster reads:
Where mountains slouch into mountains,
and the 5 snakes into the wild green.
Over the static of country classics
Slides silver on wheels
Found: super psychic children