Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The thin line between work and play

What I look like after a sleepless night. Kidding ... kind of [Source]

Lately I haven't been able to fall asleep at a normal time. And by "normal" I mean somewhere in the range of 11pm to 2am. I've always been a night owl -- I was raised without a bedtime and got to stay up late watching Jay Leno with my parents as a child -- but even with my amnesiac tendencies, I still fell asleep by 1 or 2am. Lately it's been more like 3 to 4am, and that's with waking up before 9am almost every morning.

I have a slight suspicion (that both thrills and scares me) about why I haven't been able to sleep "properly": My book is taking over my life. And now for the million dollar question: Is that really such a bad thing? Or am I slowly going to drive myself crazy and die some tragic death, anonymous and unpublished? Come to think of it -- wasn't that the inspiration for Jack Torrance's character in Stephen King's "The Shining"? Eeep.

I know I'm somewhat obsessive when it comes to hobbies and work and ...well, anything really. I obsessed about certain boys in high school (I cringe when I think back to writing "I heart boys" in blue nail polish on my school desk), certain rock bands in college (thank God I'm not a tattoo kind of girl - David Bowie's mug has better places to be than my upper back), and of course certain foods (watermelon, this one's for you).

It was -- and still is -- all or nothing when it comes to my likes and dislikes. I either love it or I hate it, adore you or despise you, without much wiggle room in between. This works great for some things, but I've known for a while that the world is not black and white, that we actually live in quite a gray sphere. So by that rational, it may be fun to be obsessive about TV shows and thin white rock stars from Britain, but it can't be healthy for the "real things" in life, say your job, can it? I believe the first step in recognizing you have a problem is admitting it, but I've never thought of it as a problem until now, when I quit my boring job and made a hobby I was obsessed with -- writing -- into my full-time career. There's no more "I can leave this at the office" or "I'll pick this up where I left off tomorrow morning", as I settle in to catch up on my Travel Channel shows.

No, not even Anthony Bourdain standing next to a glittering Eiffel Tower can distract my thoughts, which are always. thinking. about. my book. And if I'm not thinking about my characters or plot or setting or some certain passage, then I'm thinking about other novel ideas and short fiction pieces that would be so fun to write, so I jot down the ideas in my moleskin to remember them, or start braiding tendrils of story here and there but not for long because I can't wait to get back to finishing the first draft of my book manuscript, and Whew! This episode is already rolling credits? Where was I, and how did I miss everything Paris had to offer?

The same goes for when I'm having dinner with my husband (thankfully he doesn't mind listening to me banter on and on about my story arc), or when I'm listening to the Eagles in the car, or taking a shower, or shopping. You get the picture. I've created a monster that follows me around incessantly, begging for attention like my obese cat when she's craving her Iams.

The definitive line between work and play has been blurred. Writing, which was my "play" before, is now my work and therefore there is nothing else. It follows me into everything else I undertake. While I don't think it's a bad thing, I may need to set up a few boundaries before I become a full-fledged insomniac.

Take last night for example: I could only badger my husband to stay up with me for so long. At a little past 1am he started getting cranky, complaining for me to "leave him alone" because he "needed to wake up early". "So?" I yelled back, slathering moisturizer on my face. "I wake up early too. That's no excuse to go to bed right now." Then he insisted on griping that he was exhausted, and by the time I explained to him that he could "sleep all he wants when he's dead", he had already passed out. Sigh.

So I was left tossing and turning alone next to a slumbering husband, and naturally began thinking up a downright cool story idea that I began narrating to myself in my head. At one point I almost got out of bed to jot down my exact language -- I was that impressed, which doesn't come often for someone who is so self-critical about her craft -- but I couldn't muster the strength. I began to fall asleep ... by telling myself a story. This morning I wrote down as much as I could remember, but the good parts are forever banished to the land of shut eye.

So, how do you all do it? Not just the writers, but everyone? How do you find your balance?

I'm still figuring that one out, but for now I'll have another drink and reflect ...

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Other Woman

Some short (semi) fiction I wrote on a whim to sort through some feelings:

I see you there all sleek and toned, growing hotter the longer you're turned on, tempting the men around you to linger a while longer.

"Don't worry," my husband said, "She's just a friend. It doesn't mean anything." He kissed me and I relaxed ... a little, confident that you were out of the picture.

I'd be speaking to my husband at dinner, but our once sprightly conversations had been whittled down to one-sided chats with myself about the merits of TLC reality shows. As I chirped along about "Little People, Big World" I could tell he wasn't listening. He was thinking about you.

Yes you, with every spoonful of turkey chili I had so slovenly slaved away at that afternoon. I ignored it. Thought it might go away. But the ignoring got worse. The silence? Deafening. Now instead of perusing the romantic comedy aisle with me at Target -- which was our thing -- he sneaks away to "go to the bathroom", and I find him in YOUR aisle, mesmerized by all the games you two could play, all the disks he yearns to hand-feed you.

I tried to get rid of you, any sign of you, left like the proverbial lipstick on my husband's collar, but every time I was about to "accidentally" throw you off our two-story balcony, I held back. My husband had already spent so much money on you ... money I wasn't supposed to know about. Our jar of savings to visit Aunt Bertha, set atop the fridge as a reminder of our delightful plans to visit her in Duluth? Gone. Empty. Just like my heart.

I hope you're happy, with your seductive sensor remotes and optional nunchuks. Yeah, I may not offer a fitness package for an additional $89.99, but at least I can make turkey chili ... and let me tell you: That used to mean something. Then you came waltzing in just like you probably did to millions of other homes, but you can't fool me because there's a word for you: Homewrecker. Yeah I'm sure I'm not the first person to utter this nickname in contempt, so I suggest you get used to it. Instead of that slutty "W" tattoo on your side that you probably got in Mexico on some spring break trip in college (how original), all you should really have is a big red "A" across your chest, because that's who you are, my dear: Hester Prynne.

Don't look shocked. I know when my husband introduced us that you thought this was going to be a three-way thing, even though I swore I wasn't the type. I remember he made mojitos with bottom-shelf rum and tried to liquor me up to play with you and him like some sycophantic back-alley tryst in North Panama. At first it seemed fun, but on my third Bocador mojito I knew I just wasn't "that kind" of girl. And here we are now, you still in the equation. You, "that kind", the kind my husband lusts after.

This sick sadistic game climaxed last week, late one night when "the kids" were asleep. I could hear a clamoring of buttons from the living room, and when I followed the haze of flashing blue light cast from the television, I found him there, with you. He holding your goddamn nunchuks in his guilty hands. That was the final straw.

I'll be taking you out to our balcony ledge soon, when he least expects it, perhaps when he's out philandering with one of your sisters at a friend's house. But this time it won't be off our two-story patio. Oh no. This time I'm taking you all the way to the roof.

(alternate title: "Ode to the Wii"). Written on July 13, 2009 at 2:33am, out of sheer frustration!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Perils of the gym

I love those viral "Fail" videos that get passed around, but I think this one takes the cake. I've already watched it nearly 15 times and am still laughing out loud:

Like most guys at the gym, he's taking himself so seriously until his little mishap. Even more hilarious that his head gets hooked into the cradle of his knee as he falls over with the machine. So painful, yet so funny.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How we celebrated on the cheap

We had a lot of fun celebrating our two-year and the best part is we didn't spend a lot to enjoy ourselves. Since we're trying to save as much money as we can, we decided to do something low-key to celebrate ... so we rented a canoe! I wanted to try something I'd never done before and since it was a beautiful day on the Potomac on Sunday, we rented a canoe from a boat house in Georgetown and spent two hours paddling (well he paddled, I lazed in the sun and made conversation) up and down the river ...

The Kennedy Center (above) behind my paddle-crazy husband.

Yes, that's it. Keep paddling my love ...

We even got to watch the President's helicopter (Marine 1) pass over us on its way to the White House (above), carting the Obamas back from Camp David. That was Sunday, total cost: a whopping $8 an hour. Overall less than the cost of going to a movie for two.

Then on Monday (our real anniversary), we got all dressed up and went to a romantic Italian bistro in Old Town Alexandria for dinner and to exchange gifts. The restaurant was fancy, but with two entrees, salads and a bottle of wine, the bill came out to a little less than $100. Totally not bad, considering last year we spent a few hundred dollars on our anniversary dinner. We both also agreed that we wouldn't spend a lot on presents this year (with me self-employed the thought of spending $300 on Ferragamo cuff links -- which is what I really wanted to buy him -- just couldn't be justified). So I bought him a wallet instead, since his other was getting old and worn out. And, being the good husband he is, he bought me ... Mad Men Season 2!!! I was half-expecting it since it's no secret I am obsessed, but I'd also been hinting about wanting a vintage Royal typewriter to write with, like so:

(It didn't need to be pink, but I wouldn't have complained!) He told me later that a typewriter was his first choice, but all the functional ones on eBay he bid on had reserves of $500. Ugh. Oh well, someday. For now I'm beyond ecstatic about my Season 2 gift!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Employed vs. unemployed (and everything in between)

Today my best friend was laid off from his tech writing job at a large company in Silicon Valley.

It's actually not as bad as it sounds. He was working under contract and had already been there a few months over his term, so he saw it coming. Plus his boss likes him and secretly warned him a month in advance that it would be happening.

I've recently spent some time with him on the phone, talking him through his current anxiety. Not about losing his job -- he's actually happy about that as it seems his work was the model for "Office Space" -- but that he really doesn't want to work for someone else anymore. He's single and in his 30s, so he's been in the workforce a while and has very little debts, but he's beginning to feel like there's got to be more to life then giving 40 hours of it every week to a job that really doesn't make a difference in the grand scheme of things, other than pay his rent.

Well he texted me yesterday with "I'm going to spend my unemployment checking out Mad Men!" Naturally I was excited, as I want him to become a devout follower, but something about the text made me pause...

Why did he refer to it as "spending his unemployment" doing something he's been looking forward to and has had time to do previously while employed? Then it dawned on me. Why do we measure our time in one of two ways: whether we're "employed" or "unemployed"? I love working hard just like the next person, but I like to think that there's more to my life than simply defining it by one of these two black and white statuses. Just because I was on salary not too long ago, for example, didn't mean I was any more content or fulfilled with anything. It just meant I whored myself out for The Man because it was socially expected.

Isn't there more to life than just one's career? Is this an American thing? Why don't other life categories, such as "happy", "depressed" or "healthy" hold as much clout as whether you're employed or unemployed?

When my friends and I talk about Europe, one of the things we love about many of the Western countries is that the people seem more at ease with their lives. They take the time to literally stop and smell the flowers, and aren't really measured by their jobs or careers. It's understood that there's more to them as human beings than what kind of car they drive, how big their house is or how much they earn every year.

I find this refreshing, and often wonder why can't it be more like that here? When I brought this up, my brother-in-law had a good explanation of why it can't: Maybe, he said, it's because most of Western Europe (like Italy) has already reached the heights of their societies ages ago, back when there were empires and renaissances. By comparison, the United States is relatively new and it's no secret that we're currently a force to be reckoned with on the world's stage. Our identities -- just like they were in the 1950s with white picket fences and finned Cadillacs parked in the driveway -- are more intertwined with our occupations and social standings.

Ok. I get it. Move over Roman Empire, the U.S. has stepped up to plate. It's our turn in history to shine. But in realizing that, we can still evaluate ourselves as individuals, and not just as Americans. So ...

Is your work just something you
do, or is it who you are? Have you guys ever asked yourself this question? I suppose if you love what you do than of course your job is what you are, but many like my bff don't love what they do. Sure it's excellent money and blah blah blah, but we've all discussed to death the fact that money doesn't buy happiness. In his case, all he wants is time that belongs to him.

And maybe that's my bff's problem -- that even though he yearns to break free of the chains of 9-5, he's still subconsciously thinking about his life in terms of being "employed" or "unemployed", evidenced by his text yesterday. He's an awesome guy, and is defined by more than that to me. It's stunting his ability to truly figure out how to make "his kind" of employment work for him or take the time to find out what he loves to do, and not just go to work (again) for some giant global conglomerate, where he'll serve (again) as nothing but a cog in what Pink Floyd dubbed "the machine".

Which always brings me back to one of my key points: Figure out what you love to do, what you're passionate about, and don't settle. You won't be happy if you take that high-paying job just because the money is too good to pass up. There is more to your short life than being employed just for the sake of being employed.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Some random facts about me

I got tagged by Carolyn over at Hang on Little Tomato (thanks mon petit!) with a MeMe blog award to share seven random facts about myself, so without further ado:
  1. When I am deep in thought or stressed out, I incessantly pick at my nail polish, both on my fingers and toes. My husband doesn't think it's that charming when he finds little flecks of red polish on our coffee table, but I told him he married the whole package. ;)
  2. My favorite book is Les Miserables. I think it is one of the most perfect stories ever written.
  3. I used to ride horses regularly, and was pretty good at it. I rode English dressage and especially liked the knee-high boots, black velvet hat and riding slacks I got to wear.
  4. I live for raw brownie batter. If I'm having a bad day, a giant bowl of brownie batter and a Golden Girls DVD will make me happy again.
  5. I'm almost fluent in Farsi and am working on becoming fully fluent. I can understand about 90% of Persian conversation, but can only currently speak about 45 to 50%.
  6. I didn't pierce my ears until sophomore year of college because I am terrified -- I mean terrified -- of needles.
  7. When I was little, there was no gum allowed in my elementary school. Seeing this as an entrepreneurial opportunity, I snuck packs of gum (aka my contraband) in and sold individual pieces to my classmates as my own black market business venture. I was a bad kid.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

So wrong, yet so right -- in 1959

Because I'm obsessed with all things retro (I really think I was born in the wrong decade), I came across these vintage ads a few days ago and thought I'd share:

This first one (above) is advertising "Chase & Sanborn Coffee", but it looks more like an ad about the consequences of having an affair with your gardener. Apparently if your husband ever found out that you weren't "store-testing" for fresher coffee on your weekly grocery trips back in the day...well, you'd better watch out! You may be relinquished to a firm slap on the bum just like your 4-year-old caught red-handed in the cookie jar.

This second ad is supposed to be a Mr. Leggs slacks ad, but looks like more like a living room rug advertisement with its photo and corresponding "It's Nice to Have a Girl Around the House" tagline. The faceless man with his foot on the woman's head? Seems to symbolize that the hunter has finally dominated and caught his trophy of a wife, just like the moosehead he no doubt has on the wall of his study. The smaller print is harder to read, but it says:
"Though she was a tiger lady, our hero didn't have to fire a shot to floor her. After one look at his Mr. Leggs slacks, she was ready to have him walk all over her. ... If you want your own 'doll-to-doll' carpeting, hunt up a pair of these Mr. Leggs slacks."
I laughed out loud when I first saw these, as they are hysterical caricatures of all that 1950s male chauvinism we poke fun at. But the ironic thing is that these weren't at all un-politically correct back then -- in fact, they perfectly epitomize the gender stereotypes in the 40s, 50s and early 60s. Crazy, huh? Now they're quite laughable and even shocking, but can you imagine living in a world where these kind of ads wouldn't even elicit a second glance? That they accurately represented everyday life for men and women, husbands and wives? It seems unfathomable to me now, but this was reality not that long ago.

Wonder if the Sterling Cooper team would approve of these ads? For some reason, part of me thinks yes, especially since they mocked up this sleek and savvy Playtex ad in 1962, asking us bra-wearers whether we're Jackies by day and Marilyns by night:

'Cause you know...there are only two categories we fit into as women. Me? I'm a, actually more a Jackie. Wait, scratch that, I mean more Marilyn. But then somewhat of a Jackie. Oh you get the point. ;)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mad the mall?

My fellow Mad Men fans, the time has cometh!!

With Mad Men Season 2 about to be released on Tuesday, and Season 3 premiering on August 16th, my year is starting to look a whole lot more mad -- in a good way.

Banana Republic just announced late last week that they will be partnering with AMC to bring Mad Men-esque garb to malls across America. *Clasps hands in glee.* Now you, too, can dress like Joan, Betty or Peggy, even if you couldn't afford those Michael Kors ready-to-wear pieces last year. And if you've been wanting to get your guy into a Don Draper suit...well, they're going to be offering those too. (Swoon.)

Reuters is reporting that Banana Republic will be dressing all its mannequins in classic early ’60s styles and even offer a “Mad Men” style guide. (A little part of me just died happy.) As far as I'm aware of, the marketing event will start on July 21st.

I have a tendency to become obsessed with things I love, and this show has been my obsession du jour for the last year or so. With such little marketing merchandise out from AMC (I do covet this Sterling Cooper mousepad on Cafe Press, though. I know I'm such a nerd), I can't wait to get my mitts on a paper version of the Style Guide. And of course, I can't wait to check out the '60s styles in Banana Republic, which Reuters reports will be all about sharp suits, wide skirts, form-fitting sheath dresses, fedoras and pearls.

For a PDF version of the Style Guide, click here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Nothing lasts forever

The other night my husband got a call from his brother. Josh was finalizing his ticket to fly out from California and stay with us for this upcoming week. I was and am excited, as we don't get a lot of friends and family visiting us often, but the more I thought about it the more sad I got. Not about my brother-in-law visiting (that's fabulous), but that I really miss "my people" back home -- especially my parents.

I feel the older I've gotten, the closer my parents and I have become -- strange as that may seem -- and I always envisioned myself at this age living an hour or two away from them so I could pop by whenever I felt like it (when I wasn't out traveling the world months at a time). Family has become increasingly important to my sappy, sentimental self, who before took my time with the people I cared about for granted, as if we were all going to live forever.

When we moved here and that time was taken away, it truly dawned on me how short life is, and how all we really have at the end of the day are the relationships we cultivate with family and friends. Now I know that three years here in the grand scheme of things is barely a blip in the span of my lifetime, but what cemented this notion was the passing in 2008 of both my family dog, Tiger (who I'd grown up with), and my grandfather, who I regretted not saying "goodbye" to properly the last time I visited him three months before he died. And that's the inherent problem: I didn't know it was the last time I would ever see him again. I didn't know my grandfather as well as I would have liked, and after he passed away I regretted not getting to know him better, always thinking I could do so "later". All I have left are pictures, some 8mm footage of him holding me as a baby and letters/stories he wrote to his parents while fighting in Europe during WWII.

My dad's side of the family, circa Christmas in the 1950s. My grandfather is on
the left, while my dad is seated on the floor next to his sister.

Both my parents are in good health (thankfully), but I notice now when I fly home to visit that they are slowly getting older, which reminds me they aren't going to be around forever. To be completely honest, this freaks me out because I don't want to regret wishing I had spent more time with them as an adult. I've got a younger brother and sister (both in their early 20s), and we've always been a close family traveling through Europe together and doing all the "family" things that families do, but as I said earlier I feel like I'm finding out and understanding new things about my parents that I wasn't perceptive to when I was a teen. I can't believe I'm admitting it publicly but I'm so, so terrified that something horribly unforeseen like a heart attack will suddenly happen to them or other family members, and I won't be there to say goodbye. Perhaps it's the curse of being the oldest child, as my brother and sister think I worry too much, but I can understand where they're coming from. In my early twenties I wasn't thinking about these things either.

My husband pointed out last night that if all goes well, he and I have six more decades. Six decades. That's nothing. A pittance. And that's only if we evade any deadly accidents or diseases. It really put everything into perspective. I guess I just have to get used to the fact that nothing lasts forever and life is fleeting, as hard as that is to come to grips with. We can't be everywhere at once, so as cheesy as it sounds, we must value the time we spend with those we care about. After all, time is the one thing none of us have enough of.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Anatomy of a Fall

Have you ever made a fool of yourself in front of one of the most powerful people in the world? I have. (All right, maybe not one of the most powerful people, but he was president of the world's 12th largest nation for six years and so that spells powerful in my book.)

Picture it. Downtown DC. October 11, 2007. I was just settling in to my new job as editor at the financial publishing house that hired me when I arrived from California (yes, that one I left two months ago). My office was conveniently located near four Au Bon Pains and a spattering of Starbucks within a half-mile radius, so whenever I was in need of an overpriced $10 salad and $4 mocha frappuccino, I silently thanked God my urges could be pacified and my wallet emptied. But one of the best parts of my workday was strolling over to a Border's no more than two blocks away on my lunch break and spending money just because I could use one of those snazzy Border's Reward coupons emailed out on, oh, a weekly basis. I know, I fall for their marketing every time.

Anyway, one fateful day while exiting Border's with yet another F. Scott Fitzgerald book, a poodle pencil sharpener and a copy of Bread's Greatest Hits (I rationalized these latter two purchases with the fact they were on clearance), I noticed a sign in the front window boldly proclaiming that Vicente Fox -- the ex-president of Mexico -- would be holding a book signing right there, in that very Border's, where mere minutes ago I was postulating the merits of a pink plastic pencil sharpener for my office desk. I was floored, and here's why.

Ever since I can remember I've been fascinated with Mexico, and I mean the real Mexico, not just the parts you see on Mtv's Spring Break specials. Its culture, language, customs, politics -- everything about the country has always deeply compelled me and is the setting of the book I'm working on now as a result. A while back I visited Mexico City for a few days and instantly fell in love with the place, and prior to that I'd taken roadtrips from Northern California to Guadalajara. It's a poor country and I saw many heartbreaking things, but its people are beautiful and culturally rich. Point is I love it, therefore it was inexcusable not to meet Vicente, who worked his way from ranch hand and truck driver to being the youngest CEO in Coca-Cola history (then later, of course, president of Mexico).

It was a cooler day, so I wore a burgundy cap-sleeved blouse tucked into gray tweed wide-leg slacks with black pointy toe pumps. Classy, sophisticated but fun. I wanted to make a good impression in front of Vicente, and perhaps compel him to invite me down to his mansion in Guanajuato or offer me a job in his post-presidential cabinet. Normal things like that.

Two of my coworkers and I made our way over to Border's on our lunch, bought Vicente's new book to get signed and waited in a long line that snaked through the stacks, all of us wearing our yellow wristbands. After nearly an hour, we finally got up to the front signing table, which sat on the basement floor facing the staircase that took customers to the main upper level. I caught sight of Vicente, who was bigger in person and donned a healthy black mustache rivaled only by Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit. He sat surrounded by his private guards, guys who wore dark sunglasses indoors, that's how badass they were. I began to perspire, not only because I was excited but because it was blistering hot down there (what is it with Border's and their lack of proper air conditioning?).

I stepped ahead of my friends and opened my book out to him, leering at him slyly like I knew a secret he had yet to find out. He grinned back. We locked eyes, smiling, and he put out his hand to shake mine. "Hello," I said provocatively, like a young Blanche Devereaux. We shook hands. "Hola," he said in a grisly voice. Our hands lingered in the shake, or maybe I just thought they did, since this whole part happened in slow motion. "Muy bien," he smiled seductively, finally letting go and taking the book from my other hand. He scribbled his signature on the title page, never breaking his smile or eye contact, and handed it back to me, thanking me. I turned on my heel, turning bright red and breaking into a hysterical fit of giggles. We had a moment. The ex-president of Mexico...and me! My friends followed behind and we gossiped about what had just transpired, rushing up the the stairs to get back to work with our signed books when....

I tripped. On the stairs. Falling onto my hands and face. Right smack dab in front of Vicente Fox. Down I went, like the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in 2003. My purse flew a few feet ahead of me, the contents of which tumbled out onto the carpet. It suddenly got quiet as everyone turned to look at me, Vicente's guards tensed for a split second but then relaxed after seeing that the scuffle was not an assassination attempt, but merely an overzealous fan who'd tripped over her wide-leg slacks. Oh yes, I didn't just trip on the stairs -- I tripped because the pointy toe of my left pump got stuck inside my ginormous left pant leg, like so:Instead of helping me up, the first thing my charming friends did was laugh hysterically and point at me splayed out, cutting the sudden silence in the bookstore after my epic fall. I didn't blame them; I was laughing too. How could I not? Not only was half the financial district also in Border's, donning suits and browsing books on their lunch breaks, the second-to-last president of Mexico had just witnessed me make a fool of myself. This, after we shared a moment.

I quickly stood up, laughing and blaming my friend for "tripping me". Weak excuse that no one bought, especially when he loudly denied it. I dusted myself off, grabbed my bag off the floor, and continued walking up the stairs and out the front door. I couldn't bear to look back. I wanted to remember the scenario as it originally was, pre-fall, when my dreams of high-profile cabinet jobs and Christmas parties at the Fox's still seemed (slightly) attainable.

I'm delectable

Well, my blog is at least. Delectable Swank did a quick interview on me as a "Delectable Blog of the Week" and it's up over at her website. Some fun, different questions were asked, so if you want to know more about me or are just dying to know what my favorite cocktail is, check it out. If you could care less about my personal life, still do check out Delectable Swank's blog. I recently stumbled across it and immediately bookmarked it. She's a fantastic writer and I enjoy her intriguing insights on life.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

From a concerned reader, with love

A lovely email from a (ex!) reader I got this afternoon:

Dear Crystal,

Just FYI: Writers need to be able to accept criticism. If and when you are able to publish, be prepared for editors to second-guess a lot of what you wrote. You deleted my comment because I didn't agree with you. That's your right because it's your blog. But you'd better spend some of your time off from work growing a much thicker skin, or editors will eat you alive. You can't simply tune out (delete) the criticism/editing that doesn't agree with your point of view. You have to answer it -- by defending what you wrote and convincing the editors that it's right. Book publishing is nothing like print or online journalism. Trust me on this.

Deleting comments that get in the way of the accolade buzz generated by your equally snarky readers is lazy and also intellectually dishonest. By pretending that everyone agrees with you, you're stifling discussion and also avoiding defending your point of view.

Again, that's your right -- it's your blog. But allow me to extend a piece of unsolicited advice: Grow up. This isn't a seventh-grade newsletter. It's a blog that could potentially be read by millions of people. That's unlikely -- most blogs are seen by very few readers -- but it could happen. Thus you'd be promoting classism, sexism and veiled hate speech in the form of "humor."

Crystal, you are ridiculing people without the slightest clue of what's going on in their lives. Here's an example: Picture yourself in 20 years as struggling with a serious thyroid problem. You feel awful most of the time and you've packed on 40 extra pounds. Does that mean that you would no longer have any value as a human being? That your friends could laugh at you and your husband could dump you because you no longer are thin and adorable? Nope, I didn't think so.

Additionally, when you make fun of heavier women or women with facial hair or women who simply don't look like you think they should look, then you are participating in the system that has fifth-grade girls going on diets (for God's sake!) and wondering if they're pretty enough. If one day you are lucky enough to have a daughter, do you want her to consider bulimia and plastic surgery as a potential lifestyle because she's been told (explicitly or implicitly) that she's not thin enough or busty enough?

I have relatives who dress "like extras on 'Roseanne'." They dress that way because they are poor, dammit. Some of them are poor because they had to quit school young to help support the family. Some of them had children who are also poor because of the complex socioeconomic system in which they lived: Impoverished area (highest unemployment rate in the state), lousy teachers, no encouragement, no culture, and everything they saw around them pointed to, "Quit school at 16 and get a job at the glass factory because it's a steady paycheck." But the thing is, the glass factory closed some years back and there they were with spouses and kids of their own and rent that had to be paid. So they struggle to find other low-paying jobs just to keep food (not much of it) on the table. No one comes to them and says, "Hey, I know what: I'll put you through college and support your family while you study so that you can get a job as a writer and then quit it to write the Great American Novel and crank out a blog on the side."

Finally: I know two amazing women. One is a PhD and a university professor who has affected many lives both in the classroom and at conferences. Another is a minister at the United Church of Christ (our president's church, you may recall) who works tirelessly for social justice when she isn't counseling struggling parishioners or holding the hands of the dying. Both of these women might have at one time, as you put it, waited for the second coming of Lilith Fair. In other words, they're both gay. If you are one-tenth as intelligent, caring and flat-out wonderful as these women, then you'd be one lucky gal. Chances are you're not fit to shine their shoes -- yet you feel superior enough to criticize lesbians subtly, snarkily, with remarks about shoes and facial hair. (And believe me, if you saw the university professor, you'd want to date her. She's tall and gorgeous and she radiates a kind of intellectual aura that makes people want to follow her around and listen to everything she says.)

Perhaps you're thinking, "It's just satire. It's just humor. It was just a joke." Please remember: Words have power. The words you use can harm. It wasn't that long ago when people could tell coon jokes and Jew jokes and everyone laughed. Now it's not OK to do that, but somehow it's OK to make fun of the poor, the overweight and gay people.

I'm disappointed that you've bought into that kind of hatred. Perhaps one day you'll look back and feel embarrassed that those words ever made it onto your blog. I hope so. I also hope that day is soon.


Donna Freedman


Let me clarify one thing: Rarely do I delete comments. I've received critical comments before, and I appreciated them, leaving them as is. I welcome criticism if it makes me better. But there's a difference between being critical of my writing and personally attacking me in a patronizing tone just because you don't agree with something you've read. You don't know me in the slightest, so yes, in that case your comments will be deleted.

In every humorous piece there will be those who are offended, who somehow fit a stereotype that is being mocked and feel insulted as a result. There are a long list of humorists who employ this tactic for comedy's sake. Ever heard of Dave Chappelle or Russell Peters? In fact, at that very same reading that night, Sedaris made myriad jokes about Muslim women from Afghanistan. In reference to the book Three Cups of Tea, he asked "Really, why do those women need diplomas? What are they going to do, wipe their asses with them?" He continued with the derogatory statements about Muslims and what it must be like to be an Afghan woman. Now I could have gotten offended, as my mother is a Muslim woman from Afghanistan and a university professor at that, but they were jokes and so I laughed along with the whole room. Though he perpetuated stereotypes, he did so for humor's sake, thus I did not suddenly peg him as a Muslim-hating man who was in someway prejudice against middle eastern women.

No, I don't hate "gays, the poor, the overweight or people with thyroid problems" - in fact, I have friends in all these categories. (Shocking, I know!) Ironically, my own husband has stories of growing up with a single mom on welfare that I think give new meaning to the word "poor". Being married to him and hearing about his experiences, I know all too well about the "complex socioeconomic system" in this country. But I'm sorry, if you're a woman and have a mustache, no matter how poor you are -- and my previously-poor husband agrees with this -- it's a detail that can be addressed with a pair of 50-cent tweezers from the dollar store.

A good writer can make light of situations and cull together subtle details that paint the humor and/or irony of a situation. That's all I attempted to do. And to make my job easier, I didn't even need to embellish the details from that night because they were exactly as observed. No, having a mustache does not automatically make you a lesbian nor does it make you poor, and I never wrote that. It simply makes you a woman with a mustache. (Hello Lauren Conrad.) Same with amphibious shoes. No, you're not a lesbian and you're not poor, but you're still wearing ridiculous (and I should also note expensive) footwear. And those "extras from Roseanne?" Probably not that poor as I saw many walk to their Lexus and Mercedes SUVs parked outside.

So please, lighten up, people. And if you're unable to, there are millions of other blogs you could read besides little ol' me. I promise, I won't be offended. ;)
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