Sunday, December 30, 2012

Navel-Gazing at Its Finest: A Year-In-Review Blog Round-Up


It feels more than a little bit masturbatory to do a top 10 year-in-review roundup of my own blog, but I've seen some other bloggers do it, & as a reader, I liked them a lot. Thus, I've compiled a rundown for you of some of my favorites from the past year, awarded arbitrary superlatives at my discretion. My all-time most popular posts continue to be the one about the time I met a porn star at my birthday dinner (2008) & the one about my showdown with JDate (2009), but all things considered, 2012 hasn't been a bad year for the blog.

Most Popular
"10 Things That People Who Work From Home Don't Want You To Say To Them" seems to have really resonated with a lot of folks who work from home like me, & hopefully it taught a few things to those of you who don't. Now, any time someone says one of these things to me, I send them the link to this post.

Most Unexpectedly Wise 
Sometimes I surprise myself! In "All Atwitter About Online Happiness," I talked about why I'd been avoiding Twitter & expounded on a revelation: that we just shouldn't follow people who we wouldn't like in real life, or at least that we "stop trying to mold people’s personalities into our own expectations of what makes someone follow-worthy."

Best Biblical Reference
A number of negative theater interactions inspired me to pen "The 10 Commandments of Movie-Going," instructions for polite being a polite attendee of the cinema. It inspired much debate about clapping in movie theaters, as practice I still vehemently oppose.

Most Cathartic
On the seventh anniversary of his funeral, I finally told the story of the days after my ex-boyfriend Dave died, aptly titled "Mercy Medical" after a song by his favorite band, Brandtson.

Best Political Rant
This post, "Stop Being Polite & Start Being Real," began as a Facebook status update, but my real-life friends liked it so much that I decided to share it more broadly by turning it into a quick post here. Love it or hate it, it pretty perfectly describes my sociopolitical attitude.


Most Emotionally Taxing
In "Words for Times When There Are No Words," written in February, I admitted to myself - & my mom admitted to me - that my grandmother was likely to die of the lung cancer she'd been diagnosed with just three months before. She passed away just two months later, & I was honored - but devastated - to give a eulogy for her.

Most Thankful To Those Who Will Never Know My Gratitude
Upon moving to New Jersey, I found myself in NYC a lot, especially as my office is located there, & sometimes I like not working from home. "It Takes a Village (to Get Into the City)," especially when your sense of direction is as shoddy as mine. Luckily, New Yorkers aren't as rude as the stereotypes claim they are!

Most Absurd Analogy
I think I must've been drunk when I brainstormed "An Analogy With Elephants & Stuff My Cat Has in Common With Patty Hearst" because it's truly ridiculous. But also, in my humble opinion, really funny.

Smartest Move
When I got to New Jersey, I had a few embarrassing run-ins with my building's maintenance man. In "The Importance of Befriending the Maintenance Man," I waxed poetic about this vital friendship. This post also inspired the Harvard Crimson to talk some light smack about me.

Most Nerve-Wracking to Press "Publish" On
A decade after I began college, I was still nervous as hell to share "Odd Girl Out: On Being Weird and Sad in College." You never know who's reading, who will be offended, who will return to accuse you of being a loser for writing something like this a full 10 years after it happened.

And there you have it, the 10 I like best, or that you seem to like best. Here's to a 2013 filled with many more stories to tell. I hope you'll stick around!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

GTL, with Serious Emphasis on the G

Maybe I should just change the name of this blog to "Overheard at Starbucks." Today, I was seated next to a muttery old man who spends about as much time there as I do, but mumbling angry sentiments under his breath, much like Joe Pesci's character in "Home Alone" but without PG nonsense words like "riggum frackin" & instead with profanity like "goddamn motherfucking shit fuckers." I spent an hour crossing my legs tightly instead of going to the restroom because I didn't want to have to speak to him to ask him to keep an eye on my stuff.

When he left, three girls (women?) a little younger than me took his place. They kindly watched over my stuff & ensured I was not robbed during my bathroom break; upon my return, I repaid them by eavesdropping on their conversation because that's my jam & because so many people here have Jersey voices that I just can't help myself.

One of the girls was a bodybuilder. I know this because the other two girls (who were sisters & decidedly not bodybuilders, if you catch my meaning, in much the way that I am decidedly not a bodybuilder) asked her approximately two jillion questions about it. Here's what I learned:
  1. Yes, being a bodybuilder is expensive – like, what-is-your-job expensive. Her trainer costs $500 a month, & the entry fee for her latest bodybuilding show is $400, plus the cost of paying for monthly testing to ensure that she's not Lance Armstronging the whole thing. That's already the cost of Nate's & my monthly rent. Ain't nobody got time money for that!

  2. Yes, being a bodybuilder is difficult. For some period of time before competitions, she only consumes liquid. Liquid everything. Protein shakes, smoothies, juices, & all the coffee she wants. Can you turn that spaghetti into liquid? Then OK, she can have it. No? You can't? Then kindly GTFO.

  3. Yes, bodybuilders miss real food. She has a "friend" who is fond of texting her photos of delicious desserts tiramisu, doughnuts, cupcakes! She wants the friend to stop because it makes her feel like crap, but she doesn't feel like she can ask her to without calling her out on being a huge B. (And yes, this part made me feel bad for her because bodybuilders are people, too, & that friend clearly sucks.)

  4. Yes, bodybuilders indulge sometimes. She ate flan as a Christmas treat, which "isn't that unhealthy, just loaded with sugar." So take that, dessert-texting frenemy! (PS: Uhh, flan? Some treat. Gimme some Reese's trees.)

  5. Yes, being a bodybuilder is worth it. If she wins the upcoming competition, she can "get a pro card" to keep competing. Because after all you've learned about it, doesn't bodybuilding sound fun?!? Best prize everrrrr.
Eventually, they changed the topic: "What did you get for Christmas?" one of the sisters asked the bodybuilder.

"UGGs," she answered, "and a new tanning membership."

Oh, New Jersey. You just make it so easy.


Pssst! Have you liked Suburban Sweetheart yet on Facebook?

Friday, December 21, 2012

"Jersey Voices" & A Potential Brush With Fame in a Suburban Starbucks

I am, by nature, an eavesdropper &, OK, a little bit of a gossip. I like to be in the know. When I was growing up, we had a neighbor who somehow seemed to know all the local dirt on the folks in our development; I secretly aspired to someday be such a person. While this quality (& my accompanying inability to keep secrets) has, at times, gotten me into trouble, it also lent itself well to my desire to be a journalist – someone who uncovers dirt & tells stories people about it for a living.

Alas, I did not grow up to be the journalist that my young "Newsies"-worshiping self once aspired to be, so this "skill" lies professionally dormant. It does, however, come in handy for overhearing interesting things in coffee shops.

Today, for example, I sort of wanted to throttle the three women sitting near me while I worked at Starbucks. They were very, very loud. Not on purpose necessarily, but they just were, you know? Those people whose voices that carry – Jersey voices, as I've come to think of them. You didn't have to be an expert eavesdropper to hear every word of their conversation, which was replete with, among other things, lots of raunchy references to getting it on with basically every man they've ever met. Pro tip, ladies: If you're gonna talk sex in public, bring it down a notch.

I digress. One of the women was particularly obnoxious, very tiny & pretty & louder than the other two, occasionally bursting into overdramatic song along the Starbucks soundtrack. In every other sentence she mentioned "the show," which lead me to believe she was a performer of some sort. Then, after admiring a particularly cute child, I heard her say, "You should see the adorable kids that come to the show, all dressed up for Mary Poppins on Broadway."

And just like that – activate celebrity sensors.

A hint! A clue! My Google skills went into overdrive! A member of the cast, surely. Right? Shortly afterward, I heard her say something about how her last name should be difficult to determine on Facebook & how she went on a date with a guy who, much to her dismay, discovered her real name & her work website. Despite her dating woes, my ears perked up, because... website? Obviously she was an (aspriring?) actress. So I Googled the cast, including understudies & ensemble... but I found no familiar faces. I conferred with my best Broadway experts, friends who obsess over the Great White Way. And then, between their sex chats, I heard one of the other girls refer to "Kelly's Dating Rules," so I Googled all things related to "Mary Poppins Broadway Kelly/Kelley/Kelli/Kellie." And when I couldn't find anything that seemed to match, I looked up the Playbook. And when I still couldn't find anything that seemed to match, I kept looking. Because I'm the kind of person who will spend three hours Googling something just so that I can return to you with breaking news. Which is, yeah, a little Asperger'sy, if you want to get clinical about it. 

This went on for hours, until I, the dejected former journalist, finally ran out of things to Google. It was only then that I heard it, my final clue: "At the show, we used to have to bring our own black, button-up shirts, & then they started providing us with them. Everyone at all of the theaters has to wear them now..."

It took three hours for me to determine that I was sitting next to a theater usher.

Damn you, NYC suburbs.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

I'll Make for a Great Old Lady Some Day

Some delicious panini I'll never consume
I go to Whole Foods for lunch a few times a week, often buying weird, healthy shit like seitan skewers because, you know... seitan skewers. Where else can you get those? I don't even know if I like those, but I get 'em.

I'm disappointed to report that in the three months I've been getting lunch there, I've discovered an issue. It's not a big issue, OK? I know it's not a big issue, so let's preface it with that & get it out of the way before you #firstworldproblems me (which I hate). This is a dumb issue, but this is often a blog about dumb things, so it's within the purview of my usual content to discuss this pressing lunch problem.

Behind the Whole Foods deli counter is a massive chalkboard. Each month, some talented staffer with lovely handwriting & a 52-count pack of Crayola chalk decorates this massive chalkboard with a beautiful advertisement for the supposed "Panini of the Month," always some delicious-sounding sandwich that I imagine to be oozing with fancy, gooey cheese. November's sandwich, for example, was grilled cheese on cranberry bread with taleggio & hot pepper jelly. December's is robiola with maple ham on focaccia. I cannot remember what October's was because it was so long ago & because it was never available. Wait, did you read that? Not available. And you'll notice that I say I "imagine" the ooey-gooeyness of these sandwiches... because that's the issue. In the three months that I've been attempting to order the respective paninis of the month, I have only been successful once. Why? Because the Panini of the Month is a freaking unicorn, that's why.

The one time I ordered the Panini of the Month with success was mid-November, & let me tell you, that sandwich was amazing. Weird, because there was fruit in the bread, but amazing nonetheless. Had I known it was my only time to eat it, I would've eaten it much more slowly, live-tweeted every bite. After that day, Whole Foods never had it again, which I know because I went in every day for a full week, & eventually the woman behind the counter recognized me & told me they weren't getting that bread anymore & didn't have the hot pepper jelly. (Nothing sad about being recognized at the deli counter, OKshutup.)

Today, I tried again with the December sandwich:

"Can I have the Panini of the Month, please?"
"Which is...?"
"Um, the one advertised on the massive sign behind you."
[Looking at sign] "Oh..." [To coworker] "Do we even have that?"

The coworker informed me that Whole Foods no longer receives shipments of robiola cheese, & thus no longer makes this sandwich. OF THE MONTH. Of this month! This sounds suspiciously like the cranberry bread & pepper jelly situation, no? Like some goddamn Panini of the Month conspiracy.

Something had to be done! I made my complaint official – no, not just by tweeting it but by taking it to the customer service desk, which I approached with a smile & where I prefaced my words with, "This is the dumbest complaint in the world, & I'm not actually mad about it, but..." The very friendly sales clerk, unnecessarily apologetic & seemingly as appalled as I was by the monthly lack of Paninis of the Month, immediately radioed for the deli counter in an attempt to right this wrong. I left feeling confident that the situation would be remedied, though I also feel confident I'll never learn what robiola tastes like.

On my way out, I bought lunch. No panini, of course, but a scoop & a half of antipasti, a KIND bar, & a BluePrint juice. When the cashier rung it up, it cost $20... and I realized I shouldn't be going to Whole Foods for lunch anyway, damn it.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

I've Got a City Love: A Tribute to the Strangers of Washington, D.C.

I spent last Saturday evening (also known as the first night of Hanukkah) at my friends Debra & Jonah's apartment in D.C. for a little latke-eating soiree. We ate other things, too, but mostly we ate latkes. A lot of them.

On the way there, my friend Allison lamented the number of strangers who'd recently made "Hello, beautiful" remarks to her. Not five minutes after that conversation, a man outside a Chinatown liquor store looked us over in that piece-of-meat way & exclaimed, "Ooh-la-la! Hellooooo, sexy ladies!" Dear men of the world: Has that ever worked on anyone, ever? Has any girl ever been like, "You know what? Yeah! Actually I'd love to go on a date with you, gross cat-calling rando!" Still, I gave him credit for the French twist & for proving our conversation true & relevant.

I left the party around 11:30pm, hopping on the Metro from Chinatown to Dupont Circle all by my lonesome. As I got off, a seemingly intoxicated man approached me, one arm outstretched. In his hand, he held a small, white flower, obviously picked from some poor person's garden or some company's immaculately manicured lawn box. He held it out to me, & I accepted. "Do you know what this is?" he asked me. "This is a pansy. And I'm homeless, so I wouldn't mind it if you gave me a dollar or something so you can keep this pansy." I was already holding the pansy, of course, so I was, how you say, a little bit boxed in. Still, I gave him six quarters, because quarters are heavy & pansies are pretty, & I went on my merry way, flower in hand.

I tried to drive my car from my office to the place where I was staying, but there was nowhere to park. I circled the block for nearly 30 minutes &, exasperated, finally gave up & returned my car to my office's parking lot. It was already 12:30, & I was too exasperated (read: tired, lazy, etc.) to walk home, so I hailed a cab. The driver, a friendly man with a slight Middle Eastern accent, asked me about my job &, upon learning that I work in social media, about my educational background. "Kent State!" he exclaimed. "Even where I'm from, we know of Kent State." He told me that his daughter, a senior in high school, plans to major in journalism in college. "Do you think there will be any jobs for her?" he asked me, mining my journalism-grad mind for insight. I assured him that nearly all of my college friends are actual journalists & that even the ones who aren't see their degrees as being a solid foundation for other work. I tipped him extra, & he told me to have "a blessed holiday."

When I returned to my friend Sean's apartment, I let out his dog, Max. As I stood outside waiting for him to do his thing, a couple walked by with their small pink poodle, Shibby. "Why aren't you out tonight?!" one of the men asked me. "It's prime partyin' time, girl!" I told them I was all partied out, & they laughed - their partying hadn't yet begun. "Any good bars in the area?" they asked me, & I confirmed that the one they had in mind didn't suck before Max & I excused ourselves to head to bed.

As I drifted off that evening, Max at my side & latkes in my belly, I realized: This is what I miss about the city. All these people. These strangers with their stories & small talk & quick conversations. I miss talking to people I don't know, sharing little bits of our days & our lives, never to make contact again but for those few short moments, when we gather someone else's story, & those interactions become stories in themselves.

I'm a suburban girl who appreciates suburban comforts. Hell, I've even started to like not hate New Jersey. But the city has its appeal, its certain allure, those things you just can't find anywhere else. And in D.C., in particular, the city feels smaller, like a friendly little town where it's OK to talk to people you don't know & accidentally buy a pansy from a grubby guy on the circle & talk about the club scene with two middle-aged gay men & their Manic Panic-dyed dog at almost 1am. Those are things that don't happen in the small suburbs, but they maybe also don't happen in cities that are bigger, more bustling.

Yes, I'm a suburban girl who appreciates suburban comforts. But no matter where I may roam, that city & those people will always feel like one of my many beloved homes.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Six Signs Your Hometown Is Getting Sketchy

You know what? I only need one sign, & it came today in the form of this email from my local online news source. EEP!


Yet another thing to get paranoid about, am I right?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Making Spirits Bright

Working from home is weird. Like, don't get me wrong, it's also great – but it's weird, too. It's weird in that without an office to be at every day, I have to force myself to get up at a normal, adult time in the morning. I have to force myself to wear pants. I have to make up reasons to leave the house. And if I don't do that last one, I sometimes go days without seeing anyone who's not Nathan or coming at me all pixelated through a computer screen.

It goes without saying, then, that I am what you might call "isolated" – & without other people to keep me entertained, I have to think up ways to entertain myself, to keep myself from falling into loneliness ruts, to encourage myself to wear pants. I have to think of ways to keep my spirits high, to bring a little enthusiasm & energy to everyday life. They include:
  • Playing dress-up: I clean up kinda nice, but without an office dress code (in which "office" is "my apartment"), I don't necessarily need to clean up at all. Still, the days when I make the effort to shower & put on makeup & wear clothes I like & accessorize & just generally look nice are the days I feel best about myself & about my work, like I'm a real person & not some lazy asshole spending her days in sweatpants on Twitter. (I work in social media, by the way. I don't just fritter around online all day for fun. Usually.) 
  • Talking to strangers: Apparently this isn't a thing folks do in New Jersey. People always look at me like I've sprouted a third eye when I try to chat them up at places like the grocery store & in coffeeshops. I never want to have, like, in-depth conversations with them – stranger danger, y'all! – but I do like to try to make conversation with randoms, just to make those temporary connections & try to brighten people's days & let them brighten mine. Even stoic, brusque Jerseyans have been known to crack when subjected to my friendly Midwestern demeanor. The Ohio force is strong in this one.
  • Indulging in things YOU probably can't do: Can you take a power nap on your lunch hour (in your own bed, no less)? Can you have a quick one-woman dance party to de-stress when the workday gets tough? Can you light candles & incense in your cubicle for aromatherapy? Can you watch Netflix while you work? Can you, for that matter, wear leggings as pants to your office? I try to be grateful for the little luxuries that my work-at-home life affords me, rather than focusing on the less-than-stellar parts of it. Which brings me to my next point...
  • Appreciating what I've got: Each day, Nathan & I tell one another the five best things about our day. We started doing it a year or so ago, when he was underway in the middle of the sea & the only way we could keep in touch was by email, & we've carried it over into "real life" because it's a pretty good way to keep myself grounded & appreciative.
  • Planning the next big thing: Knowing what comes next not only keeps me sane – it keeps me entertained. I find that I'm always looking forward to some upcoming event, be it a vacation, a holiday, a day off, or a visit from a friend. When I don't have something to plan for, I find myself bored & a little bit lost. Plus, who doesn't like having something awesome to prepare for? PARTYYY.
Whether you work from home or not, tell me: What are your little tips & tricks for loving life just a little bit more?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Pork Roll: The Other White Meat's Bastard Brother

Have you ever heard of "pork roll"? Me neither. But apparently it's New Jersey's thing – aside from Snooki, jughandles, & being the butt of endless "How I Met Your Mother" jokes – so I decided I should probably give it a try.

I don't know about you, but when I first heard the term "pork roll," I thought of pork buns, à la dim sum. You know, these guys:


Oh, you light, fluffy, Asian bundles of pork-filled bliss! I was just delighted to hear that you were a Garden State staple! Except then I went grocery shopping & saw this on the shelves & got confused:



I felt confident that dim sum deliciousness wouldn't come packaged in cardboard & stored in the frozen foods aisle, so I turned to The Google, & The Google told me that pork roll is, sadly, not synonymous with pork buns. Rather, it is a processed meat product unique to New Jersey. It used to be called "Taylor Ham" until the government passed a law regulating food purity & determined that the item didn't meet the standards of being called "ham." Instead, it became marketed simply under the name pork roll, though a lot of places seem to still call it by the original brand name. My mom used to make me cover my ears when my uncle would talk about how hot dogs were made of "lips & assholes"; based on this bit of Wikipedia trivia, I suspect the same is true of Taylor "ham."

Furthermore, The Google also told me that this Jersey delicacy tastes like bologna-meets-Spam-meets-Canadian-bacon, which led me to believe that I'd probably hate myself for loving it. And hey, if you cut it like this, it's referred to as "Pac-Man bacon"!


So that's fun.

Tonight, Nathan & I went out for dinner in downtown Red Bank, in part because I'm leaving for a week & we wanted to spend some time together, but also because the whole town is dressed up in Christmas lights & feels a wee bit magical. Did you know that this Jew's a sucker for Christmas? It's true. Anyway, we ended up at an old-fashioned, 24-hour diner, the kind in an aluminum trailer-like thing, because that's another thing New Jersey does – diners. Lots of 'em. After confirming with our Jersey-native server that pork roll & Taylor ham were the same thing, I ordered a breakfast sandwich made with it, accompanied by American cheese & scrambled eggs on a hard roll... & then I waited. Nervously. Because did I just order a Spam sandwich? How embarrassing.

When it arrived, I was surprised to find that everything about it looked pretty normal. Curiously normal, in fact.


What a perfectly normal sandwich! This looks like, you know, a sandwich you'd get anywhere else, at any other diner, except with a vaguely strange hybrid meat product as its basis.

And it tasted normal, too. Pork roll is a little saltier than other breakfast meats, I'd say, & at least in this instance, it was significantly less greasy than other breakfast sandwiches I've consumed. I mean, it was still a diner breakfast sandwich, so there was no shortage of guilty disgustingness, but the pork roll didn't necessarily add to or subtract from that. It just tasted like... you know, breakfast meat. Ham or something.

The kind that's made with lips & assholes.

Thanks for the gastronomic initiation, New Jersey!




Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An Analogy With Elephants & Stuff My Cat Has in Common With Patty Hearst

When Nathan & I got back to New Jersey after a few days in Virginia for Thanksgiving (it was great, by the way, & not as emotional as I'd feared it might be), our cat, Whitmore, was just so excited to see us – like, meowing his little cat heart out & sitting in our laps. He's been weirdly obsessed with me ever since, doing things he never does, like sleeping in the crook of my arm & not destroying our home, both of which are really favorable.

The thing is that, prior to this, Whitmore was fond of acting like a total demon on a regular basis, tearing up our apartment & making me wanting to tear out my hair. Truth be told, I've had a tough time adjusting to being his cat mama, because while he's cute & all, he's no Stringer Bell, & I guess I'm just a crazy hermit cat lady who really misses her deceased feline BFF. But Whitmore's been so nice the last few days that I'm like, "Oh, hey, you're cute, let's keep you!" And this change in his personality got me thinking about housecats & about pets in general & about how they must sometimes feel so damn confused about how they ended up in this person's house.

Think about that.

Like, imagine that some massive creature of another species – an elephant, let's say – "adopts" you (meaning, imagine that an elephant come & takes you away from all the other people you see & hang out with every day) & takes you back to the savanna, where it lives with other elephants & no other people. And the elephant loves you a lot & regularly coos or grunts or whatever at you in some elephant language you don't understand, & it's clear that this elephant think you're its little elephant baby, but still, you know at heart that you aren't an elephant. And where are all the other people & why are you just hanging out in this savanna alone with a bunch of elephants?! So you scream & cry & throw things a lot, & it pisses the elephants off & they sometimes yell at you in their indecipherable language, but they're never, like, mean about it. Just grouchy. But hey, they can deal with it because they kidnapped you & this is what they get.

Except one day, the elephants abandon the savanna, & they don't take you with them. They leave you with a supply of sandwiches & potato chips & other non-elephant food because they're good to you like that, but you don't speak Elephant, so you have no idea where they went or if they're ever coming back. Why have they forsaken you? What will become of you? Will you ever see anyone again? People or elephants? Those crazy kidnapping elephants were, well, crazy kidnappers, but they were nice to you! And what if you run out of sandwiches while they're away?!

But in a few days, just when you're about to reisgn yourself to life & eventual death alone in the savanna, the elephants come back, & they're so happy to see you that they twirl you around & give you more sandwiches & coo/grunt at you in Elephant like they missed you. And you realize that even though you'll probably never see another human being again, these elephants aren't actually so bad, & even if they're crazy kidnappers, they're your crazy kidnappers, goddamnit, & maybe you're not living such a terrible life after all. "Hey, elephants," you think, "I kinda like you guys! There, I said it. Maybe I won't scream & cry all the time anymore, OK?" But you still can't speak Elephant, so you can't tell them this; instead, you cuddle up close to one of those elephants & you live happily ever after, or something.

Here's what I'm trying to say: I think housecats have Stockholm Syndrome.

Monday, November 19, 2012

10 Things That People Who Work From Home Don't Want You to Say to Them

  1. "It must be great to wear sweatpants all day."
    Ohhh, you caught me. I wear sweatpants sometimes. OK, a lot of times. In fact, there are many days when I start working as soon as I wake up, then I wear my pajamas until noon & shower on my lunch break. But you know what? Wearing sweatpants all day is not actually great. It makes me feel disgusting, & I work a lot better when I'm wearing real clothes & feeling like a real person. So you'll forgive me if my response to you is that it must be great to have a reason to look nice all day.
  1. "You have time to grab lunch/drink coffee/go on a shopping trip. You work from home!"
    If you want to hang out on my lunch hour, I can probably make that happen
    , & I can probably even be flexible with the timing of that lunch hour. But after 45 minutes, I'm gonna have to get back to the office ASAP because I work. And also, just like any person who works, I occasionally find myself too busy to take such a long lunch break. In fact, in general, I probably take fewer & shorter lunch breaks than people who work from offices because it's easy to feel like it's not OK to spend an hour in the middle of the work day sitting on my couch & watching last week's Grey's Anatomy.
  1. "You're so lucky you don't have to commute."
    You're right, & I do feel quite fortunate that I don't have to commute. Because commuting sucks. Then again, you're so lucky that you don't live in your office. Think about it: I am essentially always at work, which means it's damn hard to say, "Sorry, I'm not in the office right now" if a coworker requests something from me – because I'm practically always in my office. So let's call it a draw maybe, OK? 
  1. "I hate my coworkers. It must be so nice not to have any."
    Oooh, this one fries me. If you hate your coworkers so much, I suggest you either find a new job or go into anger management or both. I actually really like my coworkers, & yes, I do have them; we video chat a few times a week & email/IM a few times a minute to ensure that we work well together even while I work from afar. But because I rarely go into the office (it's two hours away), I rarely get the day-to-day interactions with them that make up the typical individual's work experience. I miss them. I miss people. My cat is not exactly a coworker.
  1. "I wish I could watch Netflix while I work!"
    I wish I could interact face-to-face with other people while I work, so we're even.
  1. [Laughing at what time I wake up]
    "Do you know how early I wake up?" people sometimes say to me with judgmental disdain. Yes, I recognize that teachers get up at, like 5am, as does my military boyfriend. And OK: I usually wake up around 8:15am. And yes, sometimes I even wake up at 9am, launching into those in-my-pajamas-until-lunch days. I know that's a blessing, but let's be clear: I never work any less hard, & I'm often awake until 2am doing it. And also, you wouldn't have to commute, either, if you spent the night at your office every night
  1. "Must be nice."
    This one feels like a veiled insult. I only say "must be nice" when I think someone is being a lazy and/or indulgent bastard, basically. "You partied all night & slept until 3pm? Must be nice." "You blew $500 on designer clothes & can still pay rent? Must be nice." This statement insinuates that I am somehow a lazy and/or indulgent bastard just because my work takes place in my home & not in a cubicle, as though a communal office setting is the only plausible way in which a person could ever be efficient or hard-working.
  1. "Wow, your boss must really trust you."
    This one is weird because... yes, of course my boss trusts me. I'm a trustworthy person! Doesn't your boss trust you?! I assume that your boss doesn't look over your shoulder all day from the office; working from home isn't that much different. And because I do social media, much of the work I do is public, for anyone to see & check up on, so it should be fairly evident that I'm not sitting at home all day watching Grey's Anatomy. Except on Netflix while I work, of course.
  1. "I'd love to be able to work from home."
    Sometimes, guys, I'd love to be able to go into an office every day. I dig camaraderie & being able to drop into other people's cubicles to brainstorm & participating in impromptu birthday celebrations & things like that. Working from home is great, but it can also be incredibly lonely. I understand why people think my job is a thing to envy. I feel very fortunate to be able to work from home, to have a flexible schedule, to note commute, etc., etc., but A) there are downsides, too, & B), at the end of the day, it's still work. I wish people could recognize that
  1. "What do you do all day?"
    Oh, this one's easy: I work. A lot. What do you do all day?

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Ghost of Thanksgivings Past

This year will mark the first time in my whole life, ever, that I spend Thanksgiving away from my family.

My family & me last Thanksgiving on
the beach in South Carolina
For as long as I can remember, we've been spending Thanksgiving at my grandparents' house in Lima, Ohio, with very few exceptions. When I was 11, the year my dad died, we went to my aunt & uncle's house in Dallas instead; I locked myself in the bathroom & wouldn't come to dinner until my grandfather, arguably my favorite family member, persuaded me to. When I was maybe 13, we spent Thanksgiving in Williamsburg, VA, to connect to our pilgrim roots, or something, & I a bad case of the flu kept me from joining the rest of my family in the old-timey festivities. Again, it was my grandfather who stayed with me as everyone else explored a microcosm of colonial America.

And last year. Last year, my grandma was going through a number of medical tests to identify the lump in her lungs. We all knew she'd likely soon be diagnosed with cancer, but I don't think any of us could've imagined that in less than half a year, our mighty matriarch would no longer be with us. She wasn't up to hosting our Thanksgiving get-together at her home last year, so we spent the holiday at my aunt & uncle's beach house in Hilton Head, SC, instead. It was non-traditional a break from the norm, which meant that I loathed it; I spent the whole time moping about & wishing we were doing it the way we always do, back in Ohio. As it turns out, 2010 had marked the final Thanksgiving as we knew it, the final time we'd all gather together to celebrate at my grandma's home in Ohio. We didn't know it at the time, but it was the last time we'd do it the way we always did it, the last time we'd feel normal before a "new normal" set in – a normal that doesn't include either of my grandparents or the rest of us all being together.

A super stellar photo of my mom, aunt,
cousins, & me at my grandparents' house
for Thanksgiving in the 90s
This year, my mom, aunt, uncle, & one of my cousins are going back to Hilton Head; the other cousin is in London for the year, & my other aunt is spending the holiday with her partner's family. Nathan & I couldn't afford the plane tickets south, nor could we bear the 5am flight departure times, so we made alternate plans to spend Thanksgiving in Virginia with our mutual friend Anthony & his mother. I should note that I'm excited for this; I can't wait to see where Nathan grew up, to meet Anthony's mom, to try her renowned cooking, to spend the holiday with two people I love so much.

Still, when I think of the Thanksgivings I grew up with, back in Ohio with my family all alive & in the same place, I can't help but feel like a chapter has closed – like part of my heart is gone. All those things I took for granted, those moment we'll never see again: The smell of my grandmother's house when we arrived & she had soup simmering on the stove, the way we'd all cram onto her scratchy L-shaped couch to watch whatever movie we could all agree upon, the Thanksgiving staples we ate every year, like the rutabagas we all hated & my Aunt Sarah's premade rolls we all loved. Sharing the fold-out couch with my cousin Grace, wrapping presents in the basement with Emily, arranging & rearranging our brightly colored gifts to one another in front of the fireplace to be opened the night after Thanksgiving. The bagels my grandma pre-toasted & left in a basket on the kitchen table so that no matter when we woke up, we'd have something to eat for breakfast. Peeling the potatoes with my cousins & plopping the naked spuds into a massive pot of water. Playing our traditional post-Thanksgiving-dinner Scrabble game, spending hours reading books & magazines on the living room couch while others watched football or cooked or kibbitzed.

Thinking about them now, it's like I can feel them, all those times I'll never get back. I miss my grandmother so much – every single day, multiple times a day. Before her diagnosis & her incredibly fast decline, she was so healthy that I almost literally never thought about what our lives would be like without her. Without her here, I fear we won't gather like that anymore, won't make the effort to spend time together, won't have that one time a year when we belong to one another. I feel my grandmother's absence regularly – when I want to call her & have to remind myself that I can't, when I see something she'd like & wish I could tell her about it, when I look at her painting on our bedroom wall & remember that she's gone – but this Thanksgiving will mark the first time I will be without her, without all of them, engaging in new traditions & tucking the old ones away into the corners of my mind.

My heart, it just hurts.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Girl, Put Your Records On... LOUDLY

It was a really, really bad day to forget my headphones.

I own about three pairs of headphones, & I almost always have one of them with me. As someone who works from home – which often means working from coffeeshops – I need them in order to take conference calls in crowded, noisy venues, & of course, they're great for blocking out the world around me & losing myself in Billy Joel while I work. Or, um, something cooler. (What are the kids listening to these days, anyway?)

When I got to Starbucks this afternoon, the only seat left in the place was at a shared seating area, squished between a woman in her 30s working on a Macbook & two women in their 50s taking up much more space than they required. What stood out about them was that one of the women appeared to have brought her own cutlery & a China plate from home & was eating an orange with a fork while snacking from a plastic party tray of dried apricots. While I've been known to sneak outside food into Starbucks (& the movies & basically anywhere else), there's something distinctly brazen about setting up your own meal & digging in for everyone to see. She was also drinking an eggnog latte, which, she announced loudly – & repeatedly – was "absolute rubbish."

It gets weirder. I briefly considered the idea that these women – or at least one of them, the more annoying of the two – might've had some sort of developmental delay (which would've absolutely kept me from writing this post, let's be clear), but it became pretty clear that they were just... weird. The lady with the orange switched back & forth between a normal voice & a squeaky, high-pitched baby voice, favoring the latter but using the former just enough to sound like a normal person every so often. They talked & talked, in a manner of conversation I can scarcely think to describe in writing, though I'm sure I could muster a good imitation for you. I want you to imagine, for example, a grown woman speaking in a squeaky baby voice saying things like, "You're so fannnncy, always going to fancy places like the Caribbean & leaving wittle old me at home!" & "I want the gweeeeen juice, but I already dwank a diffff'went juice. What should I dooo?" At some point, they began to discuss the possibility that Eggnog Orange Lady's friend had mice in her apartment; the friend said she'd round up all the mice & drop them off at a Chinese restaurant (racist much?), to which Eggnog Orange Lady exclaimed, "Nooo! Not the wittle meecers! We don't eat meecers!"

At one point, Eggnog Orange Lady took the plastic wrapping off of her apricot container & asked Mouse Meecers Lady to wear it as a crown. Meecers Lady put it on her head as though it were a pair of headphones, which made Eggnog Orange Lady positively gleeful with laughter. Very loud laughter. Baby-voiced laughter, if such a thing is possible.

In between these totally bizarre, ear-splitting interactions, the two reverted to totally normal voices & conversations, including a mean-spirited one about what a bitch one of Eggnog Orange Lady's coworkers is – like I said, enough to let me know that they were, in fact, "all there" & that they were just the most annoying. When Meecers Lady said she had to get going, Eggnog Orange Lady screeched (in baby voice, of course), "Noooo! No, no, NO! Stay here with meeeee!" as though she were a child being left at daycare.

Throughout it all, try as I might (& I did, desperately), I was helpless to block them out. I even went back out to my car to search desperately for a pair of headphones that might silence the unending cacophony of weirdness, to no avail.

My frustration just miiiight have been evident, because as she got up to leave, Macbook Girl turned to me & said, just out of earshot of our two fellow diners, "I wish I had another pair of headphones. I'd totally leave them for you."

Nothing like a baby-voiced weirdo to bring two strangers together.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

This Thanksgiving, I'm Thankful for Bad Music Videos

This video appeared today on my friend Sammi's Facebook wall, courtesy of her boyfriend, Dave, who wrote with it, simply, "Gettin' in the mood." Sammi tagged me when she commented on it, "First. I am so happy about this. Kate, have you seen this? Second. Turkey leg microphone. Third...why is that guy the only adult? Sketch."

That was, of course, all it took to entice me to watch.

 

In addition to Sammi's astute observations, I have a lot of thoughts about this video:
  1. Does this young musician know when Thanksgiving is? At the beginning of the video, she crosses November 28th off the calendar; this year, Thanksgiving is November 22nd.* And yes, the video was uploaded this year.
  1. "Fat Usher," as one kind YouTube commenter (aptly) dubs him, sings, "April was Easter & the Fourth of July." This is another critical calendrical error. Probably a bigger one.
  1. Fat Usher makes the creepiest appearance of all time, by popping up from the bottom of the screen during what appears to be a Thanksgiving dinner hosted entirely by tweens.
  1. I think this is stuffing's first appearance in a music video, ever.
  1. Nicole Westbrook is far too young to Dance Until Dawn.
  1. Mashed potatoes, AY!
*I originally listed Thanksgiving as being on the 24th. Because holidays without exact days are confusing, Nicole, I'll give you that.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Heart Of It All

Dear everywhere else: Next time you refer to the Midwest as "flyover states," Ohio & I will thank you to remember this evening.

I did not, of course, vote in Ohio today. I voted in New Jersey, & my boyfriend, who is a Virginian, voted in New Hampshire. Tonight, we were thrilled to see all four of our beloved states go blue. In fact, for the first time since moving to the Garden State, I found myself speaking the phrase "Jersey Strong" & really meaning it. Maybe tonight was what I needed to start feeling like a New Jerseyan – or maybe it was all I needed to remind me that I will always be an Ohioan. But whatever I am, I am an American, & I could not be more proud to have cast my vote for President Barack Obama.

My voting today experience was weird & unconventional. Not only did I not wait in line, I was, at one point, literally the only voter in the building. The seven polling staffers seemed confused & unprepared; one of them literally yelled at me when my cardigan briefly pulled open to reveal my Obama tee underneath. (I didn't realize it was illegal!) I cast my vote on a poster-sized touch-screen in one of only two voting booths in my polling place, & I listened to an old man answer the question "Where do you live?" with "I live where I live!" I was not given an "I voted" sticker, as is customary in my Buckeye State, & was instead told, "We'll have those next year," which is not a helpful answer. But I voted, & I didn't have to wait to vote, & I got to vote at the Jersey Shore, where so, so many of my neighbors are still reeling from the storm that ravaged this area just a week ago. I am lucky, & I don't need a sticker to remind me of that.

I hardly realized I was holding my breath tonight when I watched the results roll in, but every time a progressive candidate's win was announced, I found myself breathing a bit easier. Claire McCaskill! Elizabeth Warren! Kirsten Gilibrand! Tammy Duckworth! Lois Frankel! Maggie Hassan! That's what we ladies like to call "shutting the whole thing down," y'all. And Ohio showed its love for the divine Sherrod Brown, & all of the terrible rape apologists went down in flames, & the Kennedys made their grand comeback & marriage equality made major strides, & when Ohio went blue, immediately followed by the announcement of Barack Obama's win, I found myself laughing & crying at the same time, sniffling & snorting & smiling all at once. We did this. We did it!

For the first time, I didn't feel like I needed to respond to any of the haters on Facebook. All I felt was relief & joy, a wavering faith restored, the return of a deep-seated hope that never really left but sure did worry there for a minute. "We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope." HAPPY FOUR-MORE-YEARS-DAY, America!


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Happy Election Day!

Four years ago, my friends & I took this photo at the end of a very, very happy evening in Washington, D.C. We'd been watching the election results roll in for hours, analyzing blog posts & news stories & social media as we tried desperately to determine where the race was headed. When Senator Barack Obama was announced as our next president, our reactions were mixed – but they were all reactions based in joy. There was shouting & laughing & crying & comically cartoonish jaw-dropping. Yes, we did.

That night, when I set out in the dark to make the walk home from Dupont Circle to Cleveland Park, there was extra bounce in my step & a giant smile on my face. Though I made much of the two-mile walk by myself, I never felt feel lonely or alone; in fact, the trek was a celebration in itself! Cars honked at one another as they drove by, & pedestrians blew party horns & whooped & hollered as they walked, waving & shouting at complete strangers. Someone from another country – Denmark, I think? – yelled at me from across the Klingle Valley bridge, "We're so proud of your country! You guys made the right choice!"

May we make it again today.  

Yes, we can.


Monday, November 5, 2012

In Sickness & in Health & Even in Hurricanes

Jonah & Debra's wedding was meant to be in Old Bridge, N.J., which is about 25 minutes from Nathan's & my apartment. What a relief, we said beforehand, to be invited to a wedding so close to home, one we wouldn't need to travel for! What a rarity! We invited a friend to stay with us the night of the rehearsal dinner, & we planned a bagel brunch at our apartment for out-of-town pals the morning of the wedding so we could all catch up.

And then there was a hurricane that destroyed the Jersey Shore, leaving Jonah & Debra's wedding venue & hotel without power, among other issues. Early Thursday morning, I got a text:
We are considering moving wedding to DC. Not sure if you could join but would work with you on getting a ride if you would be willing. I know it is a ton to ask.
We probably can't come, I said. Of course we couldn't come... right?! More than half of the Garden State was without power, & who knew what lay beyond Red Bank's borders! Fearing downed trees, gas shortages, & road closures, we doubted we could make the four-hour drive to the District. And besides, what if Nathan was called back to work to help restore the Coast Guard Base after the flooding it suffered in the storm? But when his boss called to tell him not to expect to return to work until Monday, we decided we'd try.

Save a few back-road detours along the way, we made it to D.C. with almost no problems – & we weren't the only ones. More than 200 people made it to the change of venue, & when we got there, we found a truly fantastic & unbelievably pulled-together replacement wedding. A few bridesmaids got stuck in Manhattan without gas – so Debra sent a friend to pick them up. Another bridesmaid couldn't reroute her flight from Israel to D.C. – so another guest drove to LaGuardia to pick her up & drive her down to the new location. With transit at a standstill, a few attendees couldn't make it out of the city – so they rented a shuttle to pick them all up & bring them to D.C. The band was shuttled in from flooded Queens; Macy's corporate headquarters sent a store manager with a building key to retrieve Debra's bridal gown from a mall that lost power. A lot of people made a lot of effort to get to this wedding, & the results were... God, I don't even know if I have a word for the results.

There was no bridezilla to be found at this wedding, no arguing or agonizing or stressing over the sort of last-minute details & minutiae typical of weddings long in the planning process. This was a wedding re-planned in 48 hours, a wedding that went without unnecessary decorum like fancy welcome bags for hotel guests & flowers decorating the aisles. This was a wedding intended to be grandiose & beautiful that was, due to circumstances, not the former but was absolutely the latter – because it was focused solely on love & friendship & creating a day that honored both. Together, with some of my favorite people in the world, honoring two friends who are so wildly in love that even a superstorm could not suppress their joy, we laughed & we cried & we sang & we danced & we celebrated, celebrated, celebrated, proving that there are some things Mother Nature can't control – like love, friendship, & stubborn, determined Jews. And oh, yeah: Their story made the New York Times!

Mazel tov, Jonah & Debra, & may you weather every storm together with as much grace & aplomb you did this one. We love you!


Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Five Must-Haves For Times When the Power Goes Out

I wondered whether it was insensitive of me to write a post like this while so many in the tri-state area are still without power & heat & basics like food & water, but I ultimately decided that this post is less about Hurricane Sandy, specifically, & more about some of the things I rediscovered/found new appreciation for when forced to look at life differently for a brief period of time.

I feel, of course, beyond fortunate to have been spared from the worst of this storm, & my heart (& wallet) goes out to those who are still suffering its impact. But in expressing my appreciation for my safety, I figured it couldn't hurt to also show some gratitude to a few of the companies whose products got me through our three days sans power in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy!
  • Yankee Candle
    Expensive? Lord, yes. But when you're planning for seven to 10 days without electricity, long-burning candles are a must, & Yankee Candle is simply the best. Also, the smelliest - & I mean that in a loving way. When stocking up before the storm, we snagged a Cinnamon & Spice candle for $15, which initially felt like a lot but was absolutely worth it when we found ourselves sitting in total darkness. Approximate burn time: 35-45 hours.
  • Target Leggings
    I confess that I sometimes wear leggings as pants when I pair them with a shirt or tunic long enough to cover my bum, but I'm still embarrassed that I do this because A) I am too fat for it, B) I am too old fir it, & C) leggings are not pants. But when you've got nowhere to go & nobody to see? It should go without saying that leggings are an absolutely suitable – & infinitely comfortable – substitution for pants.
  • Jennifer Weiner
    I have been embarrassingly terrible at reading books this year. In fact, I can think of only, like, four that I've completed in 2012 because my Internet habit is, how you say, out of control. With no Internet access, though, I pulled a few books off the shelf & got down to business. On Tuesday, I blew through this chick lit author's 2011 novel, Then Came You. It was a perfectly cozy way to spend an Internet-free fall day – & I've committed to doing it more often, even without a storm to force me to.
  • GoPicnic
    I bought six of these ready-to-eat boxed meals from Target before the storm hit, & what a relief they were when I got tired of snacking on other non-refrigerated things like, um, Pop-Tarts® & Halloween candy. While I found the plantain-chips-&-black-bean-dip variety to be truly disgusting, the others kept me sated & at least feeling like I tried to be sort of healthy in a world without refrigeration.
  • Hasbro®
    A few weeks ago, I picked up a Deluxe Scrabble board as a birthday gift to Nathan, the kind on a rotator with grooves to keep played tiles in place. Since then, we've played a handful of games (only one of which he's won!), but when the power went out, candlelight Scrabble seemed like the perfect solution to our technology-free boredom. I still won, by the way. Schwinggggg. 
Seriously, these four things saved my Sandy experience. I also: talked to Nathan a lot, drank a significant amount of Coors Light (it was going to go bad!), took the second-coldest shower of my life, slept in until as late as my body wanted to, & played with my cat. How do you stay sane/keep busy when the power goes out?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Sandy, Can't You See? I'm in Misery..."

Oh, my dear, sweet Internet! It's been ages, hasn't it? No? Well, it certainly feels like it has. Seventy-two hours without you is far too long, my love.

In case you didn't hear, there was a hurricane. A big one. It made landfall just a couple hours south of where we're living on the Jersey coast, devastating the entire area &, I'm told, as far west as Cleveland & as far north as Toronto. We stocked up on food & water & alcohol, fully preparing to lose power. We took showered late & filled our (leaky) bathtub with water. We watched everything on our DVR assuming we would soon not be able to watch anything at all.

Our power flickered a few times, went out & then came back, & finally bit it for good (or at least for the duration of the storm) around 4pm on Monday evening, right before Sandy made her grand appearance. Nathan of course fell asleep at 8pm, just as things got crazy bad, so I stayed up with the cat until about 10:30, just sitting in the dark & shaking & hyperventilating & hoping for the best. There is absolutely no hyperbole involved when I tell you that I've never been so scared in my life.

When we woke up on Tuesday morning, all was quiet. Like, eerily quiet. When you fall asleep to the sound of winds as loud as freight trains & jet packs, anything quieter than that feels like both a relief & a concern. It looked safe outside, though, so we walked downtown to see what the damage looked like. Though it definitely looked like a storm had passed through, Red Bank seems to have escaped any severe damage.

Our backyard sits on the Navesink River, where a number of small docks were severely damaged in the storm. The worst one is on the left, crumpled like a... really crappy nautical accordion. The one on the right seemed fine except for that newly created drawbridge that, you know, doesn't go down.

There was a downed tree in our backyard, along with some pieces-parts from aforementioned docks. The fence you see was significantly damaged, & the matching one on the other side of the yard  disappeared completely, leaving an open pathway from our backyard to the hotel next door.
 
 
These trees have definitely seen better days.

Part of this nearby boathouse toppled onto some of the boats nearby. I don't even know what kind of boats these are because I am an indoor kid. Kayaks, maybe? Whatever they are, I think they were originally stored in a boat rack of some sort, which was in pieces a few feet away.

Across the street, a billboard of some sort blew across the top of an apartment building, & the wind shredded it to pieces. At the time of this photo, its splintered wooden spine dangled precariously over people's decks.

It wasn't just the billboard. Some other things were in places where they didn't belong, too.

Of course, nothing downtown was open yesterday, as nobody had power. A few places had taken pre-storm precautions & boarded or taped their windows, but there was very little visible damage to any of the storefronts.

This was actually the only instance of broken glass that we saw, where the large window of an empty storefront shattered all over the sidewalk. Weirdly, everything around it was intact. I guess nature knows no order.
 

Some of the worst damage we saw was on the road outside our apartment building , which was closed around a downed power line &... our neighbor's roof, which blew straight off their condo & into the street, atop a downed power line. See that picket fence on the left-hand side? Our cars are back there, & that's a dead-end road.

We initially thought our cars would be trapped back there until the mess was cleaned up, but glory, hallelujah! We discovered a secret passageway of sorts from a nearby business's parking lot out to the street. Upon realizing this, we set out for an ill-fated drive north to see if the local mall was open (um, it wasn't), in which we got stuck in mad amounts of traffic due to downed trees & literally hundreds of cars lined up on the highway waiting for gas at the few open stations. People lined up on foot, too, & while we were stuck, I of course snapped a few photos.
 

Despite our power company's estimated seven- to 10-day restoration timetable, our lights turned back on yesterday evening - & our heat & hot water came back with them. We're just about back to normal. But here's a little twist: Nathan & I were supposed to attend the wedding of one of my very best friends in Iselin, N.J., on Saturday, but because of storm damage, it's been moved... to Washington, D.C. In the wake of widespread disaster, I have no idea if we'll be able to make it there. Are the roads open? Are there enough gas stations operating along the way? Beats me, but we're going to try.

Above all else, we feel fortunate to be safe & dry & together - but of course, we realize that for many others, this was not the case. Now that we have TV & Internet, I'm learning more about what's happening, watching the news, reading the stories, & it makes me sick to my stomach to see how this storm has affected others, how it's taken lives & wiped away livelihoods. Yes, we were so, so fortunate - but so many others were not. If you are so inclined, PLEASE consider donating to an organization like the Red Cross to help our East Coast & Midwestern neighbors who were less lucky.

How'd you fare in the storm, friends?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Odd Girl Out: On Being Weird & Sad in College


If I ever want to have a good bout of being emo & just generally make myself feel really shitty – because, you know, sometimes you want that?* – all I have to do is reflect on my sophomore & junior years of college. Being as helpful as it always is when it comes to comparing our lives to the lives of others while simultaneously checking in on people who’d rather we forget all about them, Facebook has upped the emo ante, making it even easier for me to click through to see the faces of the people who bring back the harshest memories. I've defriended them all, over time, but they're never more than a click away on the rare occasions that I find myself surfing pictures of girls who are still friends with one another but have long forgotten the time when I was one of them.

Maybe I haven't mentioned it here: I was in a sorority. I don't mention it often or, like, ever because the truth is that even now, nearly 10 years later, thinking too much about that period of my life is almost unbearably painful. It wasn't a good time for me, to put it lightly; I have never been in a worse place, emotionally, than I was at 19 & 20. My freshman year of college, I became particularly close with three girls: my roommate, a girl I'd met at orientation, & a girl that girl had befriended. We were inseparable that first year, slowly adding other girls to the mix but remaining closest to one another. We called ourselves The Clovers because "there [were] four of us & we [liked] to get lucky." Of course, this also lent itself well to what became our motto, "Best friends are like four-leaf clovers: Hard to find & lucky to have." We had nicknames & inside jokes, a broomball team & visits to one another's hometowns. They joined a sorority with me, the sorority I'd chosen because I already had a friend in it. The summer after freshman year, five of us got tattoos together, small four-leaf clovers to remind us of our permanent bond.

Ahem.

My sophomore year, not long after joining the sorority, I began to suffer from crippling depressing & low self-esteem, from a level of anxiety so high that I sometimes couldn't function in public. I began to feel as though I only truly had friends when I was drunk, like the girls I'd become close to didn't like me when we were sober. In truth, I now recognize that most of this was in my head, a side-effect of extreme self-doubt – but it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I thought they didn't want to be around me, & so they didn't. They said I had become too emo & backed away; my boyfriend of a year broke up with me, saying the same. In the middle of my sophomore year, my roommate (the same one from freshman year) told me she was moving out of our shared room; she took a single down the hall but spent most of her nights at the sorority house crashing with our sisters. By that point, they felt like anything but sisters to me.

The worst part was that they were right. I was “too emo,” but I didn’t know how to not be. Every day felt like swimming through pudding, forcing myself to try to move despite a weight that wouldn’t lift, a haze I couldn’t see through. When no one was around, I cried & wrote in my journal & took razors to my skin in places where no one would see the scabs & scars. As I continued to drown, they continued to look the other way, calling me overdramatic & depressing; no one wanted to deal with me, & I suppose I can't say I blamed them. After all, isn't college supposed to be fun?

My junior year was just as bad – worse, maybe. Our chapter's rules required each member to live in the sorority house for one year, so I moved in with a friend from high school who was well-liked by the other sisters & had just finished serving as president of the chapter. After a healthy summer at home, I felt like maybe I was on the emotional upswing; I felt hopeful about the opportunity to reconcile with my old friends once we were all living in the same place – but they wanted nothing to do with me. After that realization, being in such close proximity to the friends who'd just declared me a social pariah wreaked emotional havoc on me, erasing all my summer hope. Unable or perhaps unwilling to contain my bitterness, I got into arguments with my old friends – sometimes the real, yelling kind, but more often the kind that  college girls are so prone to, speaking passive-aggressively to one another's faces & then ripping each another to shreds behind one another's backs.

I tried to move on, to befriend a new batch of girls, but at that point, I seemed to have a reputation for being a depressing weirdo, so nothing stuck. Truth be told, I have no idea how those girls saw me. All I know is how I saw myself – analyzing too much, digging myself deeper, struggling to stay afloat, planning my own suicide for lack of a better way out of the thoughts that dragged me down – & the way I saw them – annoyed & apathetic at best, judgmental & disgusted at worst.

And then Dave died. Dave died, & I found an escape, an excuse to leave the school I'd grown to hate with people I'd long ago begun to loathe. I've never felt like such a failure, moving back in with my mother & enrolling in the college everyone from my high school seemed to attend – but I also felt relieved to have a legitimate reason to leave what had become a daily hell. My new campus wasn't nearly as beautiful as the school I'd just left, but the opportunity to start anew at a place where no one knew any of my stories or misdeeds was infinitely more appealing than any visuals could've been. At my new school, I joined the campus newspaper & immersed myself in the culture of working for a college daily, praying that the other students who worked there would find my quirks, well, quirky, instead of intolerably depressing or weird. I was lucky; they did, & my story from there on out is largely a happy one.

I didn’t keep in touch with my old friends. Why would I? What would I say? As Facebook grew to include photographs, so grew my lingering bitterness about those ruined friendships. Every so often, despite my contentedness at my new school & with my new friends, I’d flip through the old friends' photos & take a long-distance peek into their collective lives without me – the parties, the vacations, the holidays together. Sometimes I’d let myself cry, imagining what my life would’ve been like if we’d been able to take a magic wand to those broken bonds & clean everything up all shiny & new; for a long time, I think I still believed it could happen. But every time I was hit by the realization that these friendships were never coming back, & I’d ask myself, over & over: How did I mess up so badly? What did I do wrong?

I still don’t know the answer. I mean, I guess I do. The answer is that I was sick & that they couldn’t help me & that I shouldn't have expected them to. I was sick, & I didn’t help myself until I absolutely had to. The answer is that before I realized how sick I was, I did some really stupid things that hurt people & basically screamed to the world, "I am a toxic individual, somebody with serious issues who is to be avoided at all costs!" The answer is also, I think, that perhaps I didn’t have much in common with them to begin with, & that trying to keep up with the collegiate Joneses led me to some of that depression & anxiety in the first place. My self-esteem was at that point so low that I’d always felt surprised & flattered that these high school “popular” people called me a friend, like I’d somehow sneaked into a party I wasn’t invited to but still been welcomed with shots & Natty Lights. I never felt totally comfortable around them, never felt like I was being my whole self for fear of being revealed as an imposter – as a loser. And again, that became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have never felt more pathetic in my life.

I haven’t talked about this in… God, ever? Maybe in passing a time or two, in a conversation here or there. Why would I? What would I say? No one likes to relieve their darkest moments, right? I guess that’s normal. Part of me has kept from telling this story in this space for fear that one of those girls would somehow stumble across & think, “It’s been a decade & Kate is still obsessed with us!” which is, I would like to clarify, not the case. But recently, my old roommate got engaged, & I found myself looking through some of her photos on Facebook – photos that included all of those other girls, still best friends with one another, my own face long ago blurred from memory. I’m not obsessed with them, but I still can’t help thinking, sometimes, about who I was then & what I did & how I managed my own life (or, as the case may be, didn’t really manage it at all). Most of all, I let myself get caught up in thinking about what college would have been like for me if I'd had that experience that so many others have, if I'd walked away with a close-knit group of lifelong friends instead of innumerable missteps & more than a handful of, yes, regrets.

I still think about what it all taught me – what did it teach me? – and who I am now & whether that sort of thing could ever happen to me again. I know the answer is no, but I get scared sometimes, scared that somewhere inside, I’m still just that depressing, emo sorority sister who doesn't fit in, who went off the deep end & turned herself into a loser just by trying not to be. 

It scarred me, & it’s hard not to obsess over our scars sometimes, hoping they'll disappear. But that's the thing about the deepest & most painful wounds. They heal, but they don't go away.



*No? Just me? Maybe I’m still depressing/depressed after all…**
**I’M KIDDING.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Not Those Kind of Friends!

Life in New Jersey has been significantly better since I identified a few coffee shops that I like working from. There's a Starbucks less than a mile from my apartment, but I quickly learned that it was in no position to become a favorite of mine. It's small & cramped, & only two of the tables are near electrical outlets. Worse, it's practically next door to a high school, so come 2:30, it's swarming with chatty, squealing teenagers who do asinine things like FaceTime their absent friends into very loud public hangouts. So no, thanks.

There's a Starbucks five miles down the road that I like a lot more. Friendlier baristas, bigger space, more outlets, zero hoards of kids - now that's what I call a work space! What I like even more is the cafe I discovered just a couple of blocks from my apartment - entirely walkable with the world's friendliest staff. And they play a radio stations with American music & Danish commercials. Quirky!

The staff is equal parts hipster 20somethings & middle-aged Scandinavian men, all quite nice, & I've already identified a few regulars, people who spend multiple hours there on their laptops like me. I'm determined to befriend a couple of them, though I'm not sure how to accomplish this. "Hey, can you keep an eye on my stuff while I run to the restroom?" does not a friendship make.

Earlier this week, just hours after I tweeted my friend-making intentions, I had a run-in with a dude who, thankfully, I've not seen there before today. He sat down just as I was packing up to leave, talking very quietly & making some hand gestures that I assumed meant he was asking me whether there were outlets nearby for him to plug in his computer. I pointed him toward them as I got up to leave, which was when he got slightly too close & whisper-talked, in a smooth voice with a thick accent, "Take me out for café, you are amazing"& slipped me a tiny piece of paper with numbers on it. And then I mumbled, "I have a boyfriend, sorry" & almost literally ran away. 

What? That's not even a suave move, guy. Ain't no shame in tryin' to have a little game, but if you're gonna try to seduce a lady, give it some goddamn effort. Chat a girl up - & pantomimed requests for directions to the closest electrical outlet don't count. Also, let's not throw around words like "amazing" when we're talking to strangers, OK? I mean, what are you able to deduce is amazing about me? The fact that I'm wearing leggings as pants & successfully balancing a heavy computer bag & a half-full mug of cold tea? My post-bronchitis hacking cough? The fact that I am able to give you directions to the closest electrical outlet? Low standards, dude.

If that's what I get for wanting friends, I think I'll stick to the loner life.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Stop Being Polite & Start Being Real

I'm sick to death of people saying that we need to respect all opinions. Look, I absolutely respect your right to have an opinion that differs from mine - but that doesn't mean I have to think it's an opinion that's necessarily worthy of respect.

I refuse to be so polite that I cease being principled.

I believe that a woman should have full & total control & the final say in all decisions pertaining to her own body. I believe that anything less than full equality for LGBT individuals is institutionalized bigotry. I respect the fact that others are allowed, under this great democracy, to disagree, & I can still show respect for individuals who have differing opinions - but I do not have to respect views that are oppressive & harmful.

Don't let anyone tell you that you're close-minded for refusing to "respect" bigotry, discrimination, or oppression. Stand for something. Speak up. Be respectful, but stand your ground. I would always rather be a principled agitator than a polite blank slate.


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