Overheard at our house, eighties nostalgia edition

John: “Did I just use ‘like’ about three times in a sentence?”

Me: “Yes.  But to be perfectly fair, you were talking about Men At Work.”

All the cool kids are doing it

“It” being responding in kind to this gorgeous piece by Elizabeth Eslami which asked this question: “If you could talk to your 16-year-old self, what would you say?  What advice, warnings, or encouragement would you give your younger self?”

Dale Favier responded in kind.  And then Jessamyn Smyth chimed in.  These are especially poignant to me now because I just signed up for my 25th reunion and I’m remembering that girl.  So here’s mine:

Oh.  Hello, you.  Mom must have just told you that letting your hair fall in your eyes makes you look like your IQ is plummeting.  I can tell because you dipped your head to encourage that shaggy blonde veil further downward.

You think you want to be more bohemian, but your native timidity and small budget means you’re wearing that sparkly, fringed Indian scarf with an inherited bespoke white men’s dress shirt of considerable antiquity, jeans, and boots I would covet even today.  You don’t really understand yet that these half measures of prep and boho actually add up to an individual style.  Or they will.  Eventually.

You probably wouldn’t recognize your dreams in my life.  Your head is full of theatre and art and music.  You’re looking forward to a life on the stage and you can’t imagine any other way to be.  It’s okay: the skills you take for granted today will be seen as unusual assets in the life you forge later.  But go ahead and continue violently rejecting the idea of a life that you would probably see as not for you.  That change will come with surprising swiftness and a sudden load of self-knowledge I am still sorting through to this day.

You’re not as angry as you think you should be.  Stop pretending.  Happiness isn’t weakness and cynicism isn’t intelligence.

I’m sorry you’re feeling that piercing pain of first love lost.  It will take a while to heal.  Let it.  Because decades later that healing will allow you to feel so much joy when he contacts you and asks for forgiveness.  You may find it hard to believe that the forgiveness will flow so easily and make you so happy, but it will.

Listen more.  Speak less.  You will start to like yourself a lot more when you can exist on the periphery of a group as easily as you claim its center.  As an added bonus, other people will like you better too.

Those people who terrify you with their confidence?  They will later tell you that they think you’re the one who has it all figured out.  But here’s the big secret: nobody has it figured out.  Anyone who tells you they do is either kidding or lying.  Avoid those people.

Stop looking around for the love of your life.  You haven’t met him yet, and you’re in for a lot of learning about love and relationships.  That’s okay too.  All that learning means he’s easier to spot when he does show up.

You know what?

Keep doing exactly what you’re doing.  It turns out pretty great in the end.

Reruns and earworms and holidays oh my

Since I have the execrable “Do they Know it’s Christmas?” in my head, I figured I’d post a lightly edited rerun.  You’re welcome.


Back in 2004, John Scalzi posted an invitation to fantasize: if you had the ability to expunge one highly annoying but popular Christmas song from the world, which one would it be? He posited “Feliz Navidad,” which is an honorable entry. It has the requisite parasitic catchiness, yet is definitely awful – it will stay in your head, annoying you quite effectively long past New Year’s. But I would have to say it is not popular enough, and really, not quite awful enough to make my list.

Others in the comments ganged up on “Do they Know it’s Christmas?” which is another effectively awful tune. “Feed the world/Let them know it’s Christmastime.” Er… feed the world, let them know it’s Tuesday, for crying out loud. Feed the world, let them see next week! But I don’t think it has enjoyed enduring popularity past 1984, so it wouldn’t make my list either.  Or… er.  It appears the cast of Glee has remade it.  Joy.  I haven’t listened to it, but I won’t stop you if that sort of pain is your kink.

What would I pick? There is a lot of awfulness to choose from out there amongst the holiday fare, so it is a difficult task to pick just one. As it was, as I plowed through my mental inventory of dogs barking “Jingle Bells,” “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” (John’s personal pick for least favorite), Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” (Clarence has been waiting for that new saxophone for a very long time now), and “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” which is hateful because it is so repetitive and interminable, I was able to narrow my hatred down to two selections:

1. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” There is so much to hate in this song, it is hard to know where to begin. It is syrupy and swoopy. Its subject matter is disturbing. It tends to be sung by treacly choirs of little kids doing basic choreography in time to the music (I should know – I was in one many years back). It seems exploitative and deeply, deeply wrong. Bleah. *Shudder*

2. “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” I may get some John Lennon-loving backlash here, but I can’t stand this song. It sounds like someone bleakly going through the motions of optimism. It is, in fact, wrong (“War is over now” – hah.  Really? Magical thinking in a holiday pop song.  Cute). But the crowning achievement of awfulness is Yoko Ono’s strangled yowl, aggressively commanding everyone within hearing range to have “A very merry Christmas/And a happy New Year/Let’s hope it’s a good one/Without any fear.”

You better watch out, indeed.

Take this narrative and…

Making the rounds of news and blogs is this shocking new study: The Generation X Report.

What makes it so shocking?  Well, apparently those of us who were born between 1961 and 1981 are not the “insecure, angst ridden” underachievers everyone expects us to be.  We’re not “detached and melancholic.”  And we are not, as a group, “slackers.”

Here’s the thing – in my experience, we never were.

Insert the standard caveats about how the plural of anecdote is not data and how this is just my experience, but let me lay the early 90’s out from my own perspective.  I, along with almost everyone my own age that I knew, was having a really hard time finding any sort of “meaningful” work – for the values of meaningful that include: interesting, somewhat secure, decently paying, and carrying any sort of benefits.*  So what did we do?  We worked whatever way we could.  We took jobs as temps, waiters, and bartenders.  We often worked two jobs or more.  We added whatever seasonal jobs we could on top of that.  We made every effort to prove ourselves, to wedge our way into something resembling a decent opportunity.*  Some of us, including me, went back to school to try to improve our chances of getting decent work and hopefully to wait out the bad economic times.*

For this, the media labeled us “slackers.”*  I really don’t know if it was because the generation(s) before us didn’t like the fact that we were overwhelmingly employed in the service industry (most of us didn’t have a choice) or the fact that a lot of us resigned ourselves as best we could to the lifestyle we had at the time (we did have a choice about that, but the alternative was to be miserable).  Most of us didn’t seem to react much to the “slacker” label either.  Maybe that irritated the prior generation(s) as well.  But why should we care what names we were called by the very people who pulled the treehouse ladder up behind them?  Or maybe we were just working too damn hard at our 2+ jobs and worrying too much about getting sick and having to declare bankruptcy from our medical bills* to be worried about whether or not the editors of Time magazine thought us lazy.

So, I’m glad that a longitudinal study says that the majority of us are “active, balanced, and happy” these days.  But it doesn’t surprise me overmuch, considering most of us were at least active and balanced and working on happy during the very era we were painted as a bunch of disaffected, mopey losers.


*Does any of this sound familiar?  Current, even?

Overheard at our house, modern technology edition

John: “The news says lines for the new iPhone are wrapping around the block.”

Jill: “Wait – were you thinking of finally getting a smartphone on launch day?!

John: “I had thought about it.”

Jill: “Are you high?!

John: “Quite possibly.”

From the rerun file: scary dudes edition

Occasionally, I remember something I posted on the old, hard-to-navigate, version 1 of this site and reproduce it with some edits. Today, I am reminded by my friend Arvind of the epic discomfort that can be caused by men who won’t take no for an answer. So, from the rerun file I pull “Scary Pick-Ups” and originally posted August 11, 2004.
I believe I have the humdinger of all bad pick-up stories, and I thought I would share. It starts in 1996.

Having immured myself in more-or-less rural fastness for some time, I went to Boston with a “friend.” I put quotes around friend, well, you will see why as the story goes on. We were set to meet some of her friends at a bar downtown. Upon getting to the bar, I was approached by someone with a standard sort of get-to-know-you line (“What’s your name?” or one of its cousins). It was fairly clear that he was on the make from his body language (standing too close, staring too hard), but I’m reflexively polite, and I smiled and made some sort of response that was intended to say, “Not interested.” He tried to continue the conversation – doing one of those conversational gymnastic things some guys do where they immediately tell you that you’re attractive and they want to get to know you better (note: this might work only when more than one sentence has passed between the two people in question, or if the woman just really wants to sleep with a stranger. Neither of these were true in this case).

The actual progression of this dialogue was fairly tedious in a surreal sort of way – he tended to respond to my ramp-up from polite but repressive through increasingly agitated variations on “What part of ‘NO’ don’t you understand?” with standard conversation-starters, as if he was actively trying to fail a Turing Test. One such interchange consisted of me saying that my “friend” (who had been standing by, watching this wacko’s efforts at courtship with ill-disguised amusement and ignoring my intermittent looks of mounting panic) and I were going to go now and look for our other friends, goodbye. He responded (ignoring my full beer) with “Can I buy you a drink?”

“No. Goodbye.”

“Can I have your phone number?”

“NO. Goodbye!”

Further discussion on my part (as he followed me around the bar) went from, “Leave me alone,” to “I will get the bouncer to chuck you out,” to finally “If you don’t leave me alone, I will call the cops.” This last threat triggered a sea-change from pursuit to verbal abuse, which was somehow easier to ignore, especially as the live entertainment had started to ramp up in volume. He finally went away.

Fast-forward to two years later. I was in DC with some work colleagues, at an outdoor bar in Georgetown. Suddenly, I hear, “Don’t I know you?” I turn around and immediately recognize my nut-case from Boston. Semi-frozen, but with enough sense to say, “No,” I responded to his next conversational gambit with, “I’m sorry – I’m really not interested.”

Note to men: “What? I’m just trying to be nice,” is an attempt at emotional blackmail. I don’t go on guilt trips, but I do resent being presented with a ticket. I told him I didn’t ask him to be nice, go away and be nice to someone else. I could see he was on the verge of pursing the sledgehammer tactics with which I had become far too well-acquainted in Boston and started looking around for a bouncer, when my work-colleague Jessica spoke up from my side: “I don’t think you understood – the lady said she’s not interested.”

He turned on her and actually snarled, “What’s it to you?” (I know this sounds like a bad movie script, but it’s the absolute truth).

Jess didn’t even hesitate. “She’s with me,” she said calmly. As our friend the fruit-loop stood back and contemplated the implications of the significance which Jess placed on the word “with,” I leaned over (with body language that was intended to communicate intimacy) and whispered to her that yes, indeed I had met this guy before and he’s crazy as a loon – thankyouthankyouthankyou for helping me out, Jess!

Predictably, uninspired verbal abuse followed (and was ignored). As a post-script, I actually saw this guy in action again, but from a distance. I was at another DC watering-hole a couple of months later, but happened to have the good fortune to be talking with a man when this freak of nature walked into the bar. I pointed said freak out to the man I was speaking with, and we watched him trail around the bar, bouncing from woman to woman (even moving in on one woman when her date went to the bathroom). He didn’t even appear to see me: I presume it was because I had my male friend as an invisibility shield.

I still felt pretty freaked out for a week or two.

Augmentation, not alternative

My mother sent me a link to a piece by Jonathan Franzen in the NYT today, with this quote specifically included (italics hers):

This is not to say that love is only about fighting. Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.

It’s a well-written piece, and the quote my mother cites is lovely, but (unsurprisingly) I completely reject its central thesis which seems to say we can either surf superficially and easily through life with tech or embrace the difficult struggle that is a profound relationship with another person but not do both:

To speak more generally, the ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that’s indifferent to our wishes — a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance — with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self.

Wow.  It’s like Stephen Fry’s evil twin has come to town.

No. This is not an either-or world. I relate and laugh and disagree on a daily basis with people who are sharing the same air I do. I also am able to connect joyously and articulately with someone who lives in Singapore – a relationship that would not be possible without technology, as Arvind and I “met” one another on Facebook through our discussions on a mutual friend’s Fb wall (and she is someone I initially “met” online in the pre-Fb era and then was able to see in person years later. Rana and I are good enough friends – not “friends” – that she invited John and me to her wedding).

Additionally, I see arguments and hard discussions all over my friends’ walls. I don’t usually engage in them because Fb is something I reserve for fun, but that says more about me than it does about Fb – lots of people go to church to be soothed, only some go to be challenged. But that doesn’t necessarily say much about church in general: it says something about the people who attend it and the reason they attend it.

I see people all over being perfectly likable – striving to be so, in fact – in their everyday lives with colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers. That doesn’t mean they’re false or hollow or emotionally crippled – it means they’re being polite. And the majority of one’s friends on Fb are actually acquaintances. But what was Fb supposed to call them, anyway? They could have gone with the prolix: “People I know,” the sterile: “Contacts,” or the twee: “Buddies.” “Friends” is both largely accurate and brief. And I’ve found personally that people still recognize the differing levels of friendship and layers of knowledge that exist in human relationships both online and off (I know X more than I know Y, but I know Y’s sense of humor and mine intersect precisely in just such a way…) The technology of Fb doesn’t have to characterize those differences – the people involved do that automatically.  The organic human recognition of the subtleties of specific relationships doesn’t have to be perfectly mirrored or duplicated by the technology.

Sites like Fb and “sexy” new Blackberries and titanium laptops are not intended to replace – they are intended to augment.  And I reject the idea that I have somehow sold my connection to humanity by extending my reach to other human beings.

An adventure is merely a narrowly-averted disaster

Sunday evenings in our household are not particularly original, often being compounded of the three D’s: DVR, dinner, and denial that Monday morning exists.  Last night we added a few other elements that are not as alliterative: panic, flashlights, and one small, acrobatic feline.

We were about to go to bed when John remarked that he hadn’t seen Milo in a while.  Ever since the upper deck on our house was made self-contained (that narrowly-averted disaster was a diagnosis of “possible sudden catastrophic failure” of the stairs connecting the upper and lower decks – total removal was deemed preferable to replacement), we’ve casually let the cats wander around up there.  Simon is the only one who really likes to go out there, and he pretty much eats the plants that live there or sits under the chair that is on the side of the deck that doesn’t even remotely connect to anything.  Since he’s elderly and the fact that the non-Simon-favored side of our deck doesn’t really connect to our neighbors’, we believed that there was little possibility that a confirmed inside-only housecat would decide to wander.

So I didn’t really think much when I noticed Milo, wee Milo, baby of the house and generally pampered feline, step delicately out onto the deck when John was out there grilling.  Then sometime later John noted he hadn’t seen Milo in a while.  We looked all over the house.  We rattled treat containers.  We started to panic.  And when I went door-to-door down our row of townhouses, our neighbor Patty informed us that yes, she’d seen a small, orange cat on her upper deck.  She tried to get him to come to her, but he startled and ran away.  That was about a half hour ago.

Oh.  Oh my.

Thus it was confirmed that Milo had gone all Digory-and-Polly on us and threaded his way delicately across at least four dodgy and dangerous connections between various upper decks in our row.  Anyone who has had a cat go AWOL can imagine the kissy noises, the treat-rattling, the “heeeeeeeeeeerekittykittykitty” and other neighborhood disturbances that ensued as darkness fell.  And I admit it, I went a bit mental.  Every rustling in the woods was a marauding fox, every car that slowly circled the cul-de-sac was a potential cat-murderer.

Finally, my cell phone rang.  John had located a pair of shining eyes under Patty’s deck.  He was going in.  And ten minutes that felt like two hours later, John came walking grimly up the sidewalk, both hands clamped onto an unresisting and wide-eyed wee ginger sight-for-sore-eyes.  After dumping him inside, John (who was exhausted and muddy from army-crawling under our neighbor’s deck) said, “I’m going back for my flashlight.  I need a shower and a drink.”

This morning, wee ‘Lo was not a penny the worse for his adventure, though possibly even more cuddly than usual.  And the Smiths will be observing strict security protocols for the back deck.

Overheard at our house, classic rock edition

Following a brief precis of the drama that created the album Rumours, while listening to same:

Me: …and with all the interpersonal crap they created and dealt with, it’s amazing that the band not only didn’t implode, they arguably created  their masterpiece.

John: Wait, I thought this was a greatest hits album.

Me: Nope.

John: ::Boggle::

Overheard at our house, canine edition

John: “I have to stop talking to our dog like he’s a human.”

Me: “You’re figuring this out… now?”

John: “Ummm…. yeah?”