Category Archives: Ruminations

But, other than THAT, I really had a nice time. (Part 2)

(expanded the original!)

complain

Tomorrow, someone will ask me about the recent trip I took to visit my sister and her six-month-old twin boys in Houston, and I will say, “Oh my god, what a nightmare,” and I will proceed to explain in excruciating and somewhat exaggerated detail how I was forced to check my carry-on bag on the first leg of the flight, thus losing critical access to a sweater and a pair of old sneakers, (albeit briefly) and how the airline then lost my luggage (also briefly) upon arrival. I’ll lament how I was without my toiletry bag for most of the evening and compelled to use my sister’s face wash, which upon inspection, contained ingredients that may or may not have had the potential to irritate my skin.

Instead of waxing poetic on the sheer joy it was to hold my baby nephews in my arms, and reconnect with my sisters and brother-in-law, I will describe how on the way home, after waiting several hours for a delayed flight from Charlotte to DC, the flight was cancelled and I was forced to spend a grueling night in a Holiday Inn Express in Belmont, NC. Without a bar, even!  I will grieve the loss of the time I spent sitting in an over-priced neighborhood restaurant chewing on an overcooked steak, while the diner to the left of us, a self-proclaimed seventy-year-old horseback rider downing her second glass of light beer, attempted to feed my four-year-old son pieces of chicken and crispy strips out of her salad with fairly dirty fingernails. “I’m not the type to hurt little children,” she assured us, which was a relief to hear and certainly put any concerns to rest.

Initially, I will politely refrain from mentioning the name of the airline, but once pressed, will admit it was US  Airways and quickly relate the recent revelation that almost everyone I know who has flown them in the past three years has had problems (as I continue to relate this fact, the number of people affected and number of years will grow). I will explain that I have never had a problem flying them before but will avoid them like the plague going forward. I will shake my head and sigh at the abysmal state of customer service in every industry these days.

Never mind talking about the innovative children’s museum exhibits, or the fabulous aquarium or the authentic Texas barbecue; instead I will bemoan the exorbitant number of minutes it took to get a taxi back to my hotel once stranded in downtown Belmont. I will emphasize that my son announced as we were waiting that he had to poop. For humorous effect, I will slightly embellish a chastising I received on my cell phone from a cab driver I had initially called for a pick up after I took a second cab I found waiting instead – but only slightly.

Finally, after finishing a virtually endless litany of gripes and grievances, complaints and criticisms, I will roll my eyes and say, “But, other than THAT, I really had a nice time.”

Why do I feel the need to focus on the negative? What condition do I suffer from that prevents me from simply describing all the wonderful things that happened on my trip rather than focusing intently and descriptively on the terrible? I know I’m not alone when I say that for some odd reason, I love to complain.

I do have a couple of theories on why humans, and especially we women, feel compelled to launch into the depressing and downbeat rather than the cheerful and contented:

  1. It Makes for Better Story-Telling

It’s much easier to tell an engaging story of drama or comedy than one of well, contentedness. I love telling a good story and entertaining an audience – how can I possibly spin a yarn on how unremarkably pleasant something was?  Nobody wants to hear that boring sh*t. But relate a harrowing tale of delayed flights, tornado warnings and baby vomit, and you’ve got a captivated group of listeners. Throw in some food poisoning and a run-in with the police and you might get a book deal.

  1. Nobody Likes a Bragger

“Let me tell you what a FABULOUS time I had with my gorgeous sisters and my perfect nephews. Everyone was so well behaved, the cuisine was to die for and I had great hair every day.” Rolling your eyes yet? Obviously I’m exaggerating for the sake of humor (again), but how annoying is it to listen to someone boasting about an amazing weekend getaway or an incredible concert or tear-free first day of school, while you try to remember the last time you had a moment to yourself in the bathroom or your hands weren’t sticky with someone else’s food/vomit/poop/fill-in-the-blank. “Must be nice,” you mutter to yourself, as you mentally remove the child of this attention-seeking show-off from your kid’s next birthday invite list. You might not have read ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People,’ but it will come as no surprise that bragging is not the way to do it. We want amusement or commiseration from our audience; never irritation.

3. But, Everyone Loves a Martyr

The idea of expounding on one’s own suffering as a way to prove one’s moral worth is as old as the Bible (Story of Job, anyone?) and perhaps a glimmer of that strategy weaves its way through when we lament our trials and tribulations. We are trying to connect with people instead of alienate. “Hey, I knew I just spent two weeks on holiday in Hawaii,” we want to say, “But, instead of being jealous of me, you should feel bad for me because my lei was too short and the pineapples not ripe enough – it was really awful.” Of course, that tactic can sometimes backfire – no matter how many times Kelly LeBrock told me not to hate her because she was beautiful, I still did.

4. It’s Cultural

Get a group of women together and you’ll hear a lot of complaining, explaining and self-criticism. Instead of accepting compliments, we feel the need to pass them (‘You think I look good? No, I look terrible. But YOU look great!’), downplay our accomplishments, (“Oh, well, it’s not like it was the Nobel Prize for Peace; only Chemistry!”) and start most sentences with ‘Sorry, but…’ Sadly, I think we’re still more comfortable communicating in this way, lest we be seen as something that rhymes with witch, but I’m hoping all those girls fighting for the right to go topless in public will help to change the way women’s accomplishments and attitudes are viewed in this country.

Whether it’s cultural, genetic, environmental, or psychological, almost every older relative I have takes ‘How are you?’ as an invitation to rattle off the negative results of all the doctor appointments they’ve had in the past six months. Maybe that’s really what the need to complain is all about – it’s a way of saying, “No matter what Mother Nature or US Airways throws my way, I survived and I’m still here.”

 

 

 

 

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Other Than THAT, I Had a Really Nice Time

complain

Tomorrow, someone will ask me about the recent trip I took to visit my sister and her six-month-old twin boys in Houston, and I will say, “Oh my god, what a nightmare,” and I will proceed to explain in excruciating and somewhat exaggerated detail how I was forced to check my carry-on bag on the first leg of the flight, thus losing critical access to a sweater and a pair of old sneakers, (albeit briefly) and how the airline then lost my luggage (also briefly) upon arrival. I’ll lament how I was without my toiletry bag for most of the evening and compelled to use my sister’s face wash, which upon inspection, contained ingredients that may or may not have had the potential to irritate my skin.

Instead of waxing poetic on the sheer joy it was to hold my baby nephews in my arms, and reconnect with my sisters and brother-in-law, I will describe how on the way home, after waiting several hours for a delayed flight from Charlotte to DC, the flight was cancelled and I was forced to spend a grueling night in a Holiday Inn Express in Belmont, NC. Without a bar, even!  I will grieve the loss of the time I spent sitting in an over-priced neighborhood restaurant chewing on an overcooked steak, while the diner to the left of us, a self-proclaimed seventy-year-old horseback rider downing her second glass of light beer, attempted to feed my four-year-old son pieces of chicken and crispy strips out of her salad with fairly dirty fingernails. “I’m not the type to hurt little children,” she assured us, which was a relief to hear and certainly put any concerns to rest.

Initially, I will politely refrain from mentioning the name of the airline, but once pressed, will admit it was US  Airways and quickly relate the recent revelation that almost everyone I know who has flown them in the past three years has had problems (as I continue to relate this fact, the number of people affected and number of years will grow). I will explain that I have never had a problem flying them before but will avoid them like the plague going forward. I will shake my head and sigh at the abysmal state of customer service in every industry these days.

Never mind talking about the innovative children’s museum exhibits, or the fabulous aquarium or the authentic Texas barbecue; instead I will bemoan the exorbitant number of minutes it took to get a taxi back to my hotel once stranded in downtown Belmont. I will emphasize that my son announced as we were waiting that he had to poop. For humorous effect, I will slightly embellish a chastising I received on my cell phone from a cab driver I had initially called for a pick up after I took a second cab I found waiting instead – but only slightly.

Finally, after finishing a virtually endless litany of gripes and grievances, complaints and criticisms, I will roll my eyes and say, “But, other than THAT, I really had a nice time.” 

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Late Bloomer

flower

I am a late bloomer.

I always have been. Each year on my birthday I receive a phone call from my mother to remind me of how long it took to get me out of her uterus.  “Oh, I remember where I was [fill in the birthday blank] years ago!” she clucks. “Enduring 10 hours of labor trying to give birth to you! God, I thought you’d never come out.”  I thank her for the call and suggest she send an ecard next year.

As the oldest of four girls, I should have been breaking new ground, but instead found myself still playing with Barbie dolls well into my thirteenth year. In fact, one of my younger sisters probably insisted we move on from them and I probably felt disappointed.

I didn’t get my first period until I was almost sixteen years old, a fact I hid from friends in order to maintain my street cred.

“Do you use tampons or pads?” I remember being queried one day in the eighth grade girl’s gym locker room.

“Oh, both,” I replied casually, trying desperately to impress, but not quite certain of how the logistics worked.

It didn’t help that I had the build and haircut of a pre-pubescent boy throughout most of my formative years. At school, younger boys, who still towered over me, would walk behind me in the hall, poking me sharply in the back and asking if I was male or female.  I didn’t answer, but glared and self-importantly adjusted my unnecessary training bra in response.

It was difficult to include pictures of me with a group in my middle school yearbook, as the area between the top of my head and the face of the person standing next to me made for an expanse of empty space.   Most of these pictures cut me off at the chin in order to include everyone’s head in the shot.

I didn’t lose my virginity until I was almost twenty. The idea of exposing myself on both a physical and emotional level terrified me. Not to mention the worry that a suitor would call during my favorite television show. In those pre-DVR days, I valued ‘Must See TV’ over the possibility of a long-term romantic relationship.

Although I started at the age of 17, I didn’t finish college until I was 36 years old. Granted, I wasn’t attending college for most of the 19 years in between, but it took me until my late 30’s to understand the value of having a degree. Also, having student loans makes me feel young and relevant.

As I stand on the precipice that is my 40th birthday, with a hand over my eyes to shield myself from the blinding light of my impending decrepitude, I am still waiting to discover myself creatively. I take comfort in the fact that there are many late bloomers. Colonel Sanders was 65 when he launched Kentucky Fried Chicken. Peter Roget invented the Thesaurus at the age of 73. Dr. Seuss didn’t successfully write children’s books consistently until his 40’s. I suppose I’m in good company as I continue to germinate.

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Why do people blog?

woman_typingI awoke recently to discover that everyone on the planet seems to have a blog. While I will admit that my recent retreat into somewhat Luddite territory online has rendered me fairly terrified of social media and the influential power it seems to possess over everything that is seen, heard, written, performed, whispered or belched, the startling notion that everyone wants to put their day-to-day life on display forced me to consider the value of doing just that. And whether I wanted to contribute to what could be described as a pandemic of over-sharing.

I am old enough to remember being an adult before the explosion of the online world that many of us now exist in for more hours of the day than otherwise. Back when people actually spoke the words ‘world wide web’ and ‘information superhighway’ and prefaced URL addresses with ‘double u, double u, double u…’. The idea of writing regularly on a ‘weblog’ that quite likely very few people would see, seemed like a silly idea. It was literally a virtual diary. I mean, why bother? Just go out and buy a pink unicorn-decorated fabric-lined notebook with a flimsy plastic lock like the rest of the world and keep your entries on how cheap your husband is or how annoying your three-your-old is to yourself. The idea of blabbing on and on about what was going on in my life before some kind of unseen audience seemed self-important and frankly boring. Who would want to read about my hangnails and baby’s diaper rashes when they had hangnails and baby’s diaper rashes of their own?

Although many early blogs rose to popularity because of controversial content (remember Dooce.com? The author got fired after writing about some of her co-workers. If that happened today, they’d just return the favor. Or maybe remove their LinkedIn recommendations….), and what I would consider ‘online editorials or journalistic content written by professional writers who get paid for it’ are sometimes referred to as blogs, the sheer number of people writing their own personal blogs, contributing to personal blog sites or tweeting, instagramming, vlogging and whatever the hell else you can turn into a verb these days online makes me feel…..overwhelmed.

Why do people blog?

Certainly human nature is somewhat narcissistic. We crave attention, and if we are intimidated by actual physical attention, even the most introverted of us can appreciate the idea of being….appreciated. It’s nice to know there are others out there who ‘like’ you, understand you or just give a damn about anything going on in your humble, mundane little life. (“Wow, she loves armadillos? I thought I was the only one!”)

And, what was once merely a way to post droll pictures to illustrate the bad humor of your cat, increasingly CAN also make a you rich and famous (see previous cat reference) or at least enhance your salary on the side. Get enough followers and you can make a tidy sum from advertising. Get enough rapid fans and you can create an online revolution or a book that debuts on the New York Times bestseller list.

As someone, who long ago, made a living as a writer (of sorts), the idea of making money using an instantaneous publishing machine seems commonsense. And yet, the sheer volume of content that floats out in the solar system of the internet makes wading through the space junk  somewhat exhausting and painful. I’m not quite sure I want to be another ‘mom with a blog’ who recounts the antics of her precocious and snarky kiddos in list form (‘Top Ten Ways to Distract Your Children When Attempting to Have Sex with Your Husband’) while dealing with the realities of approaching middle-age disappointments with copious amounts of Starbucks lattes and glasses of chardonnay (I want to DO that, but I’m not sure I want to broadcast it).

Like everyone else, I want to be different.

As I am writing this post on my blog, I am either a hypocrite or attempting to make peace with the idea that perhaps blogging CAN be an art form – it can contain well-crafted pieces of illuminating elegance on the human condition. It can be a reflection of one’s inner tormented soul with a word count. It can be thoroughly spell-checked and grammatically correct.

A blog is merely as eloquent and artistic as its author.

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Top Four Reasons Why I Hate Blog List Posts

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I hate blog lists. Well, let me be more specific – I’m not talking about funny or sarcastic lists – I’m talking about sincere and earnest inventories of advice written by amateur authors on any number of arbitrary subjects that you find when you Google phrases like ‘Most Lucrative Ways to Earn a Living as a Writer’ or ‘Why Does My Heart Feel Weird?’ or ‘Will I Ever Find Love?’ (I MAY or may not have Googled all those phrases.) If you have a problem, chances are, there is a blog list out there with 20 of the top ways to fix it.

Reason #4: They Make Everyone an Expert

Anyone with a mission and access to WordPress can now spout their wisdom about whatever they want – from the proper technique for making water balloons to serious advice on relationships and child rearing. No matter your level of expertise or qualifications, for some reason, if you write a list of helpful hints on a topic, people will read it as the gospel. You could be a psychotically disturbed prisoner typing on a felt-covered keyboard from the corner of your padded cell, but if I see your name (which happens to be ‘LoveyMom68’) attached to a list of the ‘Top 20 Ways to De-stress After a Vacation With Your Kids’, I’m going to believe you know what you’re talking about.

Reason #3: They Assume the Reader is a Complete Moron

Look, I’m sure many of the lists that are posted out there include some valuable information. Stuff that could actually help me become a better wife, mother, etc…..well, if I was really interested in doing that.  But, when I make the effort to click on a list titled “Best 15 Ways to Prepare Your Children for School this Fall” only to read that #12 is ‘Pack a nutritious lunch’- um, I feel a bit patronized. Especially when #8 is ‘Make sure they’re wearing pants.’

Reason #2: Sometimes, I Don’t Agree With Them.

This one is related to Reason #5 in that when you have a lot of different types of people giving their opinions on how to do things, you wind up with a lot of different opinions. Opinions that work their way into lists on the internet that other people read and perhaps follow. Perhaps UNWISELY follow. I do read lists that I don’t personally agree with, which is fine, but when I start thinking about people who may be basing their actions – sometimes actions with consequences – on these blogged lists of bad advice, I get very annoyed. They make me want to track down the author and demand a retraction.  Well, almost. I’m very lazy.

Reason #1: They Contribute to the Dumbing Down of America

So, here’s where I turn into a pretentious preachy asshole. I understand no one has any time these days between jobs and families and responsibilities and the veritable onslaught of social media sites that seem to multiple faster than you can download the apps for them. Numbered lists and bullet points make for easier reading, especially online. We can scan through a list much more quickly than a long drawn out number of paragraphs and move onto the next list or sound bite or Vine video or animated meme or kitten photo or Facebook post or Twitter feed. But, sometimes I worry about the continued diminishing state of our knowledge-gathering and retention skills that get lost in the process. Unless it’s strictly for entertainment purposes, maybe gleaning advice from blog lists is a poor substitute for investing the time in finding real answers to your problems. Like talking to your loved ones. Or researching career options through an online university. Or taking a class on investment banking. Or maybe long-term cognitive therapy.

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I’m So Vain; I Probably Think This Post is About Me

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Recently, I divulged to a friend that I had undergone a cosmetic procedure several years ago, a secret that I had only revealed to a small group of inner circle confidantes.

She shrugged, seemingly not fazed in the least by my confession. “Well, you’ve always been vain,” she commented casually.

Naturally, I was taken aback by her remark, not to mention a bit hurt. I did not think of myself as vain. Vain people, especially women, are villainous, self-obsessed and narcissistic – willing to stop at nothing to maintain their physical appearance, even if it means killing close family members that rival their own beauty. (See Snow White and possibly many other fairy tales…) Certainly I was no two dimensional cartoon character, but the exchange forced me to examine my own thoughts on what it meant to be proud versus conceited and where that line was drawn.

Like most little girls, my ideas on beauty came initially from my mother, who would drag me and my sisters to Macy’s and spend what seemed like hours trying on lipsticks and being up sold on eye shadow quads while my sisters and I languished at the Clinique counter playing with that weird slate/slide thing that determines your skin type. (“OK, now move it to ‘Tans, Never Burns’….) My mother wasn’t much of a clothes horse, but her sense of self was absolutely linked to how much eyeliner she was wearing.

She never split hairs (pun intended) when it came to her ideas on beauty and passing them along to me. She gave me a tutorial on shaving my legs when I was ten and advised me at the age of 11 that I ‘might want to do something about that mustache’.  For years, we bonded during bleaching sessions in the bathroom. In fifth grade, when I was first allowed to wear eye shadow for a birthday party, I clawed through the powdery old cosmetic bag of my mother’s left over makeup past the mauves and beiges to pull out a slightly cracked baby blue shadow single. I smeared it over my lids keeping them half closed throughout the entire party which made me alluring but dangerous, as it was difficult to see in what direction I was roller skating.

Though some might disagree with the approach, I eventually came to terms with my mother demonstrating a preference for a certain level of artifice. Her lesson was: whatever your definition of beauty, it’s achievable with the right tools. And, certainly looks were not valued over intelligence or other internal qualities. I didn’t have to be smart OR pretty. I could be both.

Unfortunately, I was soon after hit by a debilitating and crippling illness that ravished my looks, emotional well-being and outlook on life.  Adolescence. The killer of confidence and deliverer of doubts. As I watched many of my friends blossom into lady shaped flowers while I remained a tiny scrawny weed, my insecurities mounted and my identity as an emerging woman took a hit. I was teased and told I looked like a boy.  I was called “Sweetchuck”, which apparently is a character from the Police Academy movies that I must have resembled because we all know how accurate teenage taunts are. Middle school is rough but it gets even rougher when you hear the phrase ‘The Young and the Chestless’ echoing through the hall and you know it’s directed at you.

It took some time, hormone surges and training bras to get me back in the saddle of feeling good about myself again. But, as I began to maneuver my way through my early twenties, I discovered what a little eyeliner and lip gloss could do and fell back on my mother’s training. I never rolled out of bed in the morning looking great, but I always had a plan on how to get there. I liked the feeling of ‘suiting up’ to look good and in turn looking good made me feel more put-together, more powerful, smarter, funnier, cooler, sexier.

At the risk of sounding horribly politically incorrect, I have to admit that I take a lot of pleasure in making myself look pretty – or whatever my interpretation of pretty is, I guess. I enjoy dressing up and being told my hair looks good and catching a glimpse of myself in a mirrored store front and liking what I see.  I go to the gym and skip carbs mostly to stay trim, I wear sunscreen religiously to avoid wrinkles and make-up is my crack and Sephora my crack den. I work hard to make sure that my inside is as pretty as my outside, but they are both areas of pride. Whether that makes me vain is up to you.

This year I will turn 40 and no one needs to tell me that being an aging woman in this country brings its own unique set of anxieties and insecurities.  We all know our society is obsessed with youth and I struggle with an evolving sense of what looking good in an age-appropriate way is for me.  I’m no super model. I have cellulite and fine lines and bunions. I certainly don’t want to dress like I’m 25 anymore. But I do want to look as good as I can for as long as I can. Which I’m hoping to do for the rest of my life.

 

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