Monday, December 31, 2007

Hello, Again. Hello.

So. It’s been a while since I posted. At first a few days went by, and I thought, well, I really should post a little something. Then a few more days, and I started thinking, God, what I post next had to be GOOD. And then I kept upping the ante until I had convinced myself that nothing less than the Best Post Ever Written could justify my absence from the blog. “Or what?” a reasonable person might ask. I don’t know. Maybe the terrorists win?

Anyhoo, here’s to a good end to 2007 for everybody. Me, I got from my fellas an amp for the karaoke machine for Christmas, and tonight we’re having a karaoke party. My mom got me a CD with “Fergilicious” on it. I’ve been practicing. I think I can nail it.

But I was remembering last year when my friend did “Tainted Love.” It was one of the first songs of the evening and no one was anywhere near tipsy yet. He started singing and was going along good, good, good. Until—and it didn’t even occur to me until the words came on the screen—that at one point the song gets really kind of suggestive. Touch me, baby, tainted love, he sang. All the lights in the house were on full blast, neighbors munching on chips and veggies, kids playing in the next room. He felt weird.

To avoid the same situation, I’m thinking I’m going to have to save telling my neighbors how tasty I am, how I put their boys on “rock rock,” how “I be up in the gym just working on my fitness” for later in the night.

But for starters this might work, huh?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Just in Case

Last night, while we were waiting for Brandon to finish brushing his teeth, Caleb asked me why I dye my hair. I explained that if I didn’t, most of my hair would be gray, and I’m not really ready for that.

He was a little horrified. “You’re not old enough to have gray hair,” he said.

I told him that, actually, I am and that on my dad’s side, people tend to get gray hair young. He asked if he was going to have gray hair when he was my age. I told him that I didn't know.

“When I grow up, don’t want to have gray hair.” He paused. “I want to have sparkly hair.”

“That sounds fancy,” I said.

“Maybe I’ll put glitter in it!”

I’m writing this down, in case he becomes one of those thick-necked high-schoolers, with the wrestling and the smugness, the copying of homework and obsession with the pecking order. I don’t think he will, but just in case, I have this in my back pocket.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Location, Location, Location

Jody tagged me for this location meme in which you write seven things about where you live. Go read hers. Especially #4. Okay—you back? Can I say I love where I live? And that even though your location is not supposed to make a huge difference in your happiness, being mildly dissatisfied in Charlottesville is a million times better than being mildly dissatisfied where I used to live? Here is Charlottesville for you:

1. I don’t know if it’s true anymore, but at one point in the last ten years or so, we had the most restaurants per capita in the U.S. We have three tapas restaurants alone (one Spanish, one Asian, and one, um, plain old). Weirdly, though, we don’t have a really good pizza and pasta place.

2. What else do we have? Apparently, and fairly recently, gangs. A few months ago, the front page of the paper announced that we have a franchise of either the Crips or the Bloods (I can’t remember which.) “Why is the Daily Progress teaching us how to throw gang signs?” I asked Brandon when I noticed the signs and the graffiti tags on the front page. We don't know why, but we know how.

3. Good luck finding your way around! When I was walking Caleb to school one day, someone stopped and asked for directions. “Well,” I said, “turn right at the stop light. The road will change names. First it will be Rugby, then Preston, then Market Street. If it changes into Avon, you’ve gone too far.” This was a matter of blocks.

4. If you move away from here, chances are excellent you’ll be back.

5. People don’t walk fast enough for my liking.

6. A lot of famous people live or have lived here, including William Faulkner, Sissy Spacek, John Grisham, and Jessica Lange. Jessica Lange took her pets to the same vet that I do. One of my roommates used to work there and reported that, in real life, my mom is prettier than Jessica Lange.

7. Before the property was sold, there were a bunch of cabins on the tippy top of a nearby mountain. Every year, the people who lived there would hold Kite Day. I got to go one time. It was both dizzying and breathtaking, seeing the sky all around.

If you’d like to, tag yourself!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Who Are You?

I’m reading Katha Pollitt’s Learning to Drive. I’m not done yet, but like everyone else, I was a touch surprised at the contrast between the Katha I know from The Nation and the Katha in the pages of this latest book.

But you know what? I shouldn’t be. This afternoon, I’ve been looking at the discussions of the parts of the current Brain, Child we put on the website. We have a flamer, folks. As my blog self, I’d be tempted to haul ass in there, and say, “What the fuck, angry anonymous? Why you gotta be like that, all disrespectful?” But as the Brain, Child lady, I’m gentler.

I don’t know. I don’t have meanies commenting here. Do you allow anonymous comments? Does it cut down on comments in general?

Also, have a read! There’s a call for Backtalk entries (acrostics, that thing where the first letter of each line forms a word); a terrific feature by Juliette Guibert about a movement that maintains high functioning “neuro-atypical” people don’t need curing, but a culture of their own; a funny and provocative essay by Heather Caliri about E.C.; and Donna Eis’s essay about finding community, online and in real life. Very meta, no?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Gift of Links

They keep on giving.

--Via Gretchen, The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks. My favorite is the Real Estate “Lady.”

--I read (the quite good memoir) But Enough About Me by Jancee Dunn, and tracked down her blog. Her father worked at J.C. Penney, and she happens to have been given an old Penney’s catalogue. Double your pleasure here and here.

--Via Galleycat, The Daily Coyote, a blog about a baby coyote after it was orphaned. So cute, you’ll want to brush your teeth extra good tonight.

Monday, December 10, 2007

My Lost Sunday

If you tend to get sucked into playing games on the computer, don’t read this post. Here, go look at this picture of a tiger underwater. (It makes that face to close off its ears and nose. True story!)

Okay. I found online Scrabble. At first, I thought you could just play it with friends, but no sirree, Bob—you can play against the computer. All I have to say is that I’m in big trouble because willpower is not my strong suit, and by the time yesterday was over, I had a sort of sick feeling from extreme overindulgence. I don’t even know why I did it for so long. Playing against the computer is anti-social; it’s bad for my posture and my eyesight; I don’t even want to think about what I could have done in the time I wasted.

After dinner, I stretched and said, “I’m heading upstairs.”

“Scrabulous?” Brandon said.


“Hey, at least you’re building your vocabulary.”

“I know,” I said. “And that’s going to be great for my college applications.”

But I slunk off and did it anyway. Today, the weaning began.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Holiday Cheer

Yesterday, Caleb’s teachers sent home his Thanksgiving project, a little folder with his story of our family tradition (we go up to my mom’s house for “3-5 days”) and pictures on both the front and inside. Inside, our extended family was drawn, with the curious exceptions of Brandon and my brother-in-law Mike. (Pity they couldn’t make it.)

On the front was a drawing of a turkey, a thought bubble coming from his head. I hope I don’t die like the other turkeys did. UH OH!

Uh oh, indeed. I’d best get cracking on some new traditions.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Befriend Me

I know that I’m famously bad at Facebook. I just don’t know what to do with it. I don’t what to write on people’s walls, and I’m not much of a joiner, even in regular life. I don’t know the difference between a “poke” and a “superpoke.” Just writing that feels a little porny.

But! I’ve signed up for, and I think I’m going to like it, possibly in an obsessive way. I read a lot, and I’m always looking for more to read. Sadly, I can’t find most of you. So, if you’re into the goodreads thang, too, add me as a friend?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Something New

I bought a new hair dryer the other day. My old one died a couple months ago, so I’d been using my travel hair dryer, which is small and snub-nosed. Apparently, I’d gotten too used to it because every time I’ve used my new dryer over the past few days, I’ve beat myself on the head with its longer barrel.

Oh, I like to think of myself as adventurous and always up for a little something new, but this whole week it’s been me, both literally and figuratively, whacking myself with the unexpected. I had to write some business material for Brain, Child yesterday, and I just couldn’t do it. I’ve been describing the magazine for longer than the existence of sliced bread, and I could not get my brain to think the new, improved way.

So eventually, I went downstairs and watched Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Love, Pray talk on Oprah. On the one hand? Enjoyable. On the other? Frustrating in the (of course, narcissistic) way in which I realized that if someone called on me to talk a little about divinity and happiness and the self, I couldn’t. Gilbert can describe a spiritual destination to her spiritual journey. The best I could do is offer a possible shortcut for agnostics. There’s a lesson about thinking in different ways here. (The more important lesson, though, should be that all professional jealousy gets you is a bad mood.)

By five, I was a little tired of all this stretching, of wrapping my head around something new. (Remember the hair dryer? Get it?) Stretching has its place. If I don’t do it, I will most certainly become unbearable. (WHO MOVED THE TEABAGS?!! WHY IS THE DISHWASHER LOADED LIKE THIS?! I CLAIMED THE RED TYPE FOR EDITING!!) But it was a comfort last night to watch Kathy Griffin’s new special, to just chill out with the meanness and humor to which I’m so accustomed and forget about new anything. She had a piece about Dr. Phil, and it is awesome.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Book Club

Warning, y’all: This is more of a reference post. And by “reference,” I mean “necessary self-promotion that nonetheless makes me feel uncomfortable which is why I could never be a politician or a professional wrestler.”

So, let’s say you belong to a book club. Let’s say it’s the sort that decides the whole year’s list in December. And let’s say the paperback of Practically Perfect in Every Way comes out in May 2008 (and in the winter issue of Brain, Child, there’s a super deal on the hardback with any subscription or renewal). You see where I’m going with this.

I’m pretty sure the paperback will not have a readers’ guide in the back, and frankly, it’s fine by me. Readers’ guides tend to smack of reading comprehension exams, and you know what? Ain’t nothing wrong with being a skimmer.

But, if you’re thinking that maybe PP could be your book club friends’ cup of tea, here are some topics addressed in the book that (obv.) interested me:

--Do you believe that, if one detail of your life was different, you could be living a completely different life than the one you have? Also, do you believe that consciously changing one aspect of the way you live could change you whole life?

--Do you believe in luck? (I do. Oprah, among others, does not.)

--What is happiness to you?

--Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do you think it affects your happiness overall?

--Can a person be concerned too much about her worries?

--Can a person concentrate too much on other people’s worries?

--Have you done any self-help? Well… what did you think of it?

That’s for starters.

Also, I understand that you might just want to sit around with you friends without my worming in to your party, but if you do happen to want to have me there (if you’re local to Charlottesville) or have me call in (if you’re not), we might be able to make it happen. Shoot me an email, okay?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fine Print

I’ve been meaning to post in a nice, cogent manner for days now, but this cold is getting me down. So it’s all SNEEZE and HACK and WHINE and weird dreams in which I pick a fight with Courtney Love, but she turns out to be stronger than I’d thought, then we make up and she gives me a dress, then my mom gets pissy because I took Caleb to Courtney Love’s party because it’s not appropriate, Jenny.

Stilll with me?

--I read this book that I love, love, love. It’s a literary mystery: Eye Contact by Cammie McGovern. It came out a while ago, but it’s new to me. Plot-wise, it’s about an autistic boy who goes into the woods, something traumatic happens, and he regresses. The perspective is mostly his mother’s. But really, it’s a novel for anyone interested in mysteries, autism, motherhood, and/or the way children interact with one another, in ways both kind and terrifying.

--Caleb brought home a diorama yesterday: a winter scene with a red bird hanging from the ceiling, the floor a winter wonderland of cottonballs. He wrote an acrostic (where the first letter of every line spells something) with it.

I think it’s cool

It’s hard
For life and death
Eat worms

Interesting juxtaposition of tone and content, sure. But what this makes this a ground-breaking acrostic is that the author actually considers the perspective of Life and Death—and then concludes with the unknowability of it all: Eat worms, indeed.


Dolly: awesome. Amy Sedaris: awesome. Lyrics: not my cup of tea. Because if I went to friend one Sunday night and was crying, and she responded by saying, “If I had a violin, I’d play” …I might suggest a place where she could put her cup of ambition.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Don’t Just Stand There. Bust a Move.

Over Thanksgiving, my nephew taught some of us how to do this dance:

I played the part of the audience. It looked really fun.

So fun, in fact, that yesterday, while I was waiting for dinner to finish simmering, I came upstairs and spent a good fifteen minutes looking up the instructions on how to properly dance to “Crank Dat.” I found them. I practiced for a little bit. I should mention that I was high on cold medicine.

I still might try to learn, even though I attend no clubs, even though I am in my thirties, even though I don’t have a best friend Pedro who might need me to bust out my moves when he runs for student class president. It’s good for a person to surprise themselves.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Cornucopia of Good Wishes

For as long as I can remember, every Thanksgiving, we go around the table and say what we're grateful for. (One year, Caleb horrified us by being grateful for ... President Bush.)

This year, if it didn't sound so stilted and strange to say it out loud, I'd say that I'm grateful that there are people in the world whose mere existence delights me--and vice versa. So I'm saying it here. And if you think I might be talking about you, you are absolutely right.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Buy Dress, Get Unflattering Silhouette Free

The local department store carries clothing in my size, but clothing that looks very much I should be out on the lanai, cracking wise about my incongruously tiny mother.

But a girl can’t wear the same increasingly shabby black sweaters every day, so I ordered some stuff online, including a nice patterned dress in the BabyPhat line. I got it the other day: red and black tiger stripes and a giant gold cat embroidered on it. (Brandon sort of choked when I showed him that.) BabyPhat owner Kimora Lee Simmons writes on the tag, “Baby Phat represents my dream of what every woman can be: stylish, beautiful, and ultimately—powerful.” Also, Kimora? Pregnant-looking in a way no Spanx can touch.

Every season, I dread what horrors await in fashion. And for the past several years, it’s been a whole lot of yuck: empire waists, babydoll dresses, jeans that taper, sweaters that end at the belly button. I’ve mostly been quiet about it. But last night, I read in the Columbia Journalism Review a review of Susan Faludi’s new book, in which she examines the way the U.S. responded to the attacks on 9/11: the hailing of the macho in men, the trend pieces about increased domesticity of American women.

It made sense to me, especially sitting there in the living room with the what to wear when you're expecting dress on the table to be returned. The empire waists, the skinny-legged jeans… it’s either the look of the pregnant or teenaged in fashion, both groups of vulnerable women. I’m positive Kimora Lee Simmons isn’t consciously participating in this fashion zeitgeist, but I’d like to go on the record here. Stop it.

Friday, November 16, 2007


--A few weeks ago, the mother of one of Caleb’s friends called. The talent show was coming up and her son was wondering if Caleb would like to be part of a skit he wanted to perform. “It’s a Monty Python skit,” she said. “It’s not funny,” she warned.

Last night was the talent show. This was the skit. The kids were adorable and well-rehearsed. No guts were busted.

--I’m probably the last person you should be taking health tips from, but I just discovered something to better my enjoyment of salads: Just dress the whole damn thing. That way, you’re not picking all the good stuff and dipping it in the globs of dressing, leaving you, in the end, with a bunch of naked spinach that you won’t finish. I stole this dressing recipe from my friend Janet, who’s the best salad maker in the world: Wisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a little soy sauce, a little mustard. Toss it in the salad bowl and work your magic with the salad tongs.

--The Book Meme! The lovely MemeGrl tagged me. (Also, check out her link to this—awesome.)

Total number of books I own:
Did you see Oprah yesterday? With that lady who’s a hoarder? I’m not making light of her situation, but let’s just say, I’m pushing the envelope. My bookshelves are two layers thick, and Brandon has been saying the word “library” in a tone might be described as “meaningful.”

Last book I read:
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. Sometimes, you need a mystery.

Last book I bought:
Jesus Land by Julia Sheeres because Kathy and Jessica told me to.

5 Meaningful Books:
Self-Help by Lorrie Moore: Before this, I didn’t know you could be funny and sad at the same time. (Like, in fiction. Real life, sure.) Also, the best opening line ever: “Understand that your cat is a whore and can’t help you.”

Jenny & the Jaws of Life by Jincy Willett: I love this for its own self, but it also made me believe that I might try to write fiction. (This is called either optimism or delusion.)

The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden: A book that brought hard facts, good research, and terrific writing to a vague idea that a lot of mothers were feeling.

I Can’t Remember What Anthology, But One That Has Both Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Welcome to Cancerland” and Jonathan Franzen’s “My Father’s Brain”: Two of my favorite essays, evah.

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt: I love the way he synthesizes ideas.

So, speaking of books, have any recommendations? (And, if you haven’t done this meme yet, consider yourself tagged.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Happy Birthday, Steph!

Love you, partner! Here's to a year of happiness and, uh, cheddar.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

You're So Vain

In the paper the other day, I read that Virginia leads the nation in number of vanity lisence plates. Yes. Way to represent, Old Dominion.

The weird thing is, it didn’t even occur to me that other states don’t have this mania. For my first car, I requested “Neato.” It was a phrase I used a lot back in the day (although I could have easily substituted “jeezu” or “cool beans.”) My dad sent the form in, and throughout high school, I drove a car that seemed to be named NEA TOE. (Presumably for my respect for the National Education Association, an organization of which my mom is a member. I am just a chip off the old block, a toe on the foot of the this educational union, people!)

My dad has worked in the car business for many moons now, and when I got to college and needed another car, he came up with a silverish Chevy Citation. It cost $500, but it ran like a champ. By the time I got this car, I was working at C-Ville Weekly, my first job that didn’t entail a nametag or a uniform, and my dad was proud of me.

My license plate was: AUTHR.

I can be an asshole in many other ways, but I could not bear to tell Dad that the plates were just wrong on so many levels. As my friend Christina and I were talking about the other day, in Charlottesville, you might think you’re good at something, but chances are excellent that someone else here is not only better but has a genius grant to prove it. When I had the car, I was living in the same area as authrs such as John Grisham, Rita Dove, and Ann Beattie.

I putted around town in it. Its paint started peeling, and the cloth on the ceiling of the car hung about an inch above my head. I drove it to the grocery store, to clubs, to work. I parked it at work one day in the alley we shared with Snooky’s Pawn Shop. One man from the shop—perhaps Snooky himself—came into the office. He had an appointment and needed to get out of the alley. We walked back together. Then, stopping at my car, he cried, “Hey! Is that your car? My real name’s Arthur!”

I could have hugged him for thinking that I gave my Citation a kicky name, not that I was pretentious or insane.

These days, I go anonymous with the plates. I also try to be kind about plates I see--and I see many here. It could be vanity or jerkishness or any of the other things that might lead one to screw HOT GRL onto one's bumper. Or it could be just misguided love.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Go Find Yourself

I like having my numbers straight. Back when I was neck-deep in positive psychology, one of the equations that frustrated me was the one that laid out where your happiness comes from. According to Martin Seligman and his colleagues, Happiness = Set Range (your inborn disposition) + Circumstances of Your Life + Voluntary Factors.

Seligman tells his readers that the circumstances (what kind of government you live under, if you’re hitched or not, etc.) only account for between 8 and 15 percent of your total happiness.

So, that leaves at least 85% of your happiness to be parcelled out among Just The Way You Are and Things You Can Do to Change Your Life. No word on which gets more play. His book—about the voluntary things you can do—suggests that the voluntary actions make a difference. But my own experience makes me think the set happiness point shouldn’t be dismissed so easily.

Also, I’m starting now to think that he didn’t offer the answers because there aren’t any.

I just read Identical Strangers, a memoir by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, who are twins who were separated in infancy and adopted into separate families. I finished it a few days ago and I’m still thinking about it.

One of the book’s threads that’s been walloping my head is the issue of identity. When Schein and Bernstein meet each other—at age 35—Bernstein, in particular, is wary. Like most of us, she has thought of herself as unique and special, and she fears that knowing that she has a twin, someone with her exact DNA, will undermine that. More than once, she worries that if her parents had adopted Schein, and Schein’s parents had adopted her, they would have been each other. She doesn’t frame it as such, but she’s hoping for something that’s not nature (DNA) and not nurture either.

I’m fascinated by this sort of stuff, and ever since I heard about the epigenome (kind of like gene switches that can turn a genetic propensity on or off) and the role of microbes (bacteria that live in humans and may interact with our mental and physical health more than we thought), I’ve been looking forward to the day when Research tells us that the specific answer.

Today is not that day yet.

In the meanwhile, reading Identical Twins, I kept thinking of my sister Erin, who’s two years younger than me. She’s in my first memory; I’ve been in her life the whole time. We’re not twins. (Obviously—pity the woman who gives birth to twins twenty-three months apart.) And I always thought that we had very different talents, personalities, even looks. But the older I get, the more similarities I notice. Maybe it’s getting out of the nurture environment we shared as kids (a fab one, Mom!); maybe it’s just getting older in general.

But I wonder sometimes about that epigenome that we may or may not share. I wonder if you wait long enough, life will transpire and a flipped switch will toss you and your sister in the same boat, at last.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Stems in the Tide

Beth Kohl (of Embryo Culture and this post) has a great piece up on The Huffington Post about the possibility that science can get stem cells from menstrual periods. Writes Beth: “That sticky glop is brimming with the most valuable resource on earth. No, no. Don't swish it in a pan seeking gold nuggets or siphon it into your gas tank. But, thanks to Cryo-Cell International Inc., you can now consider it a rich river of stem cell juice.”

I loved the gas tank imagery. Whatcha doing in the driveway, hon? With, uh, the tube?

And… poof. There go my male readers.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Last night, I went up to UVA to hear Kristin van Ogtrop, the editor of Real Simple, speak. Her talk was in the Rotunda, which is very fancy. If you didn’t go to UVA or don’t live in Charlottesville, you might not know that the original Rotunda (it once burned down) was designed by UVA’s founder Thomas Jefferson. You can’t turn around in this town without seeing a photograph of it. The real thing stands, like a big marble tit, right on University Avenue.

(And this is totally off topic, but every time I hear about someone “speaking,” it seems as if it’s An Event, as if the person had previously taken a vow of silence, but now! Now we can behold the voice!)

Anyway. You can talk magazines to me all night. I’m all ears. And I had some white wine, so I was all fiery ears. In the Q&A part, someone asked van Ogtrop what sort of content Real Simple can and can’t publish. One thing, she pointed out, was that stain removal goes over really well with the RS readership. But basically, she said that they can’t publish anything that might make their readers’ lives more complicated. No complex recipes, no advice to clean the gutters four times a year, no insistence that a given solution will work for anyone (which is why I like the magazine). Every publication that has survived its first couple years, I think, knows its demographic, but I thought it was interesting to frame your content in terms of what would alienate the readership.

Also, she mentioned that the tactile experience of paper, at least for women’s magazines, have insulated them from the creep of the internet. This is something Stephanie and I have talked about quite a bit, and we leaned over and peered across the room at each other when van Ogtrop mentioned it. Paper! Hollah! It’s where it’s at!

I got to attend this shindig because Stephanie finagled me an invite. Steph’s on the advisory board of Iris, a magazine affiliated with the Women’s Center at UVA (who put the event together). Iris just got a fancy new redesign, by Anne Matthews, also Brain, Child’s designer, and tinkered with its own mission. They’re signing up people for free subscriptions to see how this whole re-do is working out, so click here if you are or know anyone who might consider herself a thinking young woman. Say what you must, but I’m down with any feminist publication that gives a shout-out to Go Fug Yourself.

Monday, November 5, 2007

This Old Ailment

The older I get, the more difficult I’m finding the life of a hypochrondriac. The world (in my head, anyway) is no longer this brand-new place, shimmering with the possibility of any number of maladies. It’s more familiar. I have winced this way before.

I have an unexplained pain in my upper left abdomen (don’t worry—I’m under medical supervision), and instead of ruminating about what rare disease I might be harboring, I’m thinking fondly of an old ailment.

The summer of ’92, I was waiting tables at a suburban restaurant—the kind that serves the same food as the chains, but without the chipper décor and level of quality. I was on break from college, and this is what I did: slept in, drank coffee and smoked endless cigarettes at work, came home, changed clothes, and went out with Brandon to drink filched alcohol. My diet was made up disproportionately of fries taken off the restaurant’s patrons’ plates while they waited under the heat lamp. I dipped them in the open containers of salad dressing and popped them in my mouth before delivering the plates.

Turns out, all of this—the hoisting of trays, the greasy fries, the coffee and alcohol, the smokes—contributed to a hiatal hernia. I had a G.I. scan, was given some medicine, and took a few days off of work.

The best thing about it—in fact, the only thing I really remember—is how relieved I was to get out of Fajita Night. Even now, I can’t smell fajitas without thinking, pain in the ass. The hot skillets, the many plates, the little tub of tortillas, that last squirt of lemon juice to make it sizzle as we lugged the trays across the dining room. The extras sidework of cleaning the fajita grease off the trays. The way the smell would stay in your hair and in your clothes. (The only thing worse than fajita night, in my opinion, was employment at an all-you-can-eat seafood place, meaning the lingering smell of crab legs and the hushpuppy fryer.)

My diet is better now, and I don’t drink coffee. I’m on the same sort of stomach pills. I still don’t quite know what that pain in my side is, but I think my hypochondria is dormant. These days, I'm thinking it ain’t nothing but an upper G.I. thing, and (knock wood) I never have to participate in Fajita Night again.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hello, New Zealand! (Now with Updates)

Sometime while I’m sleeping—hours before I start the day that you’re just ending (I think)—I’ll be on Campbell Live on TV3 at 7 pm. I’ll post a link as soon as it comes up. (Unless I’ve made an ass of myself, in which case I’ll try to distract you with other posts.)

Practically Perfect isn’t in bookstores in New Zealand, but if you’re interested, both Whitcoulls online and Seek Books carry it.

You can read an excerpt here, and more about the book here.

But most importantly: Was that thing under my eye (bug bite? impending pimple?) too distracting?

Hey, you couldn't even see the eye thing!

Here it is!

All in all, if I can be so immodest, not too bad. Especially when compared to a radio interview Stephanie and I did years ago on Nanci Olesen's Mombo show, on which I nervously repeated "You know what I'm saying?" What I was saying, dawgs, is that I was happy to take time out of my busy schedule smoking blunts with Snoop to chat.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Little Ditties

--Now they (and by they, I mean Newsweek reporters and their sources) are saying that your microbes—your bacteria, your little extra funk—can help determine your happiness. Oh, for cripes.

--Do you know that part in Practically Perfect where I’m throwing a party for two writers who happen to be in Charlottesville for a few days? And that it’s a literary salon? (And that I am about to hit you with a name drop?) They were Miriam Peskowitz and Andi Buchanan, authors and editors of many a fine book, but also the authors of the anticipated and brand-spanking-new The Daring Book for Girls.

--Yesterday, I dawdled on the porch swing with the music playing and Cathi Hanauer’s Sweet Ruin to read. I finished it this afternoon, and boy howdy, was I sad to come to the end. It’s a lovely, sensuous novel about marriage and passion and the roads that might be taken. Loved it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

House of (Minor) Horrors

Brandon, Caleb, and I were having a debate the other day about which is better: being a kid or being an adult. All three of us tend toward thinking adulthood is a way better deal. You can eat what you want, stay up as late as you want. You have money, and not just an accumulation of the $.75 you get from cleaning the windows. You can vote, drive, have whatever sort of pet you’d like. You do not have homework.

“But being a kid is good, too,” I reassured Caleb.

“How?” he asked.

I made up some marlarkey (because for real, adulthood rulez!), but I was thinking lately that Halloween is way better in childhood, sparkly and promising, the kind of season when terror is delicious and imminent. These days, to me, Halloween is blunted, dull.

My moments of horror this Halloween season have included:

1. The dogs got a squirrel. (Dead bodies!)
2. The pumpkin Halloween decorations on the door looked like, in the darkness before bedtime, the silhouettes of two small heads peering into our house. (Ghosts!)
3. A new CD to which I was listening alone while making salads featured a noise that sounded like a door creaking open—but nobody was there! (Poltergeists!)
4. I got sucked into America’s Most Smartest Model on VH-1 (I’m coming in there, Carol Ann!)

“Why aren’t you afraid of anything?” Caleb asked me that night.

Oh, ho, ho, I thought. War and famine, disease and accidents, the fires in L.A., the erosion of rights, panic, boredom, the knowledge that he will inevitably understand that I’m not at all fearless. These are the fears I best keep under wraps.

I was brushing my teeth, and he was waiting for an answer, so I thought of a recent time when I was afraid. A box was delievered to the house. It didn’t have a return address, and as I started opening it, I felt the cool metal of whatever object was inside. I became convinced that it was a gun and that when I removed the wrapping, it would go off. I picked that motherfucker up and took it to the garage. I called Brandon and my neighbor to inform them of this Code Red situation. It turned out, it was some camera equipment Brandon had ordered.

“I don’t like packages without return labels,” I told Caleb.


“Because,” I said. “It might not be a good surprise.”

“It could be poop,” he suggested.

“Yes,” I said. “It could be poop.”

That really would be scary, though, wouldn’t it?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Little Bits

If I worked for a consortium of blues musicians, instead of a magazine, I might be given the nickname Bottleneck Niesslein. Because, these days, anything that gets passed my way will get caught in the (relatively) small and (I remind myself) temporary bottleneck of work. I got them overwhelmed-by-professional-obligations blues. My sense of order up done and left me. The deadlines, they treating me mean.

In the meantime (while I let my tired old metaphors take a load off), some nuggets:

--Plumpynut. I predict this is the name that will launch a thousand seventh-grade current event reports.

--I was recently in the Pittsburgh area, and on the road from the airport, the signs struck me as a little passive-aggressive. “Beware of Aggressive Drivers.” “Watch Out for Drunk Drivers.” “DUI: You Can’t Afford It.” Pennsylvania knows that you would never lick the icing off one side of your sister’s birthday cake, but thinks you might have some ideas on how it could have happened.

--An interesting quote from an essay by Newsweek’s Kathleen Deveny. The essay is about correcting stranger’s kids, and here’s yer historial perspective: “Kids were not raised to internalize their own family's particular values, they were expected to share the community's values," says Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College. That began to change in the 1830s as class distinctions grew sharper. "Often it wasn't so much 'our family has different rules' as 'our type has different rules'."

--Via Julianne, this brouhaha over Jessica Seinfeld’s book (Deceptively Delicious) and Missy Chase Lapine’s book (The Sneaky Chef) seems bizarre to me. (The both offer recipes on how to trick children into eating nutrients.) There’s at least three forthcoming books with a concept similar to Practically Perfect. It’s just a weird Zeitgeist-y thing. It happens, and I fully expect the better-connected and dewier-skinned authors to get more press than I did (not that I’m complaining). As David Byrne taught us all, “Somebody somewhere owes us a favor—that’s how things really get done.”

Friday, October 12, 2007

Nine Is Fine

Gretchen has had a couple posts about whether or not kids make you happier. Research usually says no, they don’t.

I’m not so sure that there’s a straight answer to be had, though. True, I will never get back the hours, days, weeks, I spent pretending that I was a plastic oviraptor. (Brachiosaurus, are you my friend?) But as Caleb gets older, he just delights me more and more.

The other night he came inside and sat down on the couch next to me. “Well,” he said, “we have some new family members.” Crickets, he meant. Crickets that he caught and intended to feed until they got bigger and he could release them back into the wilds of our neighborhood.

Later that night, as we were falling asleep, he said, “Do crickets lay eggs or, you know, give birth?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “We can look it up tomorrow.”

“Because I want to be a breeder.”

“Mmmm,” I said.

“But I need to know if they lay eggs or not. I hope not.” He went on for a new more minutes before I reminded him that we really needed to get to sleep. Cricket husbandry would never have crossed my mind, as a child or now.

(Later, I found this website. From it, I learned that they lay eggs. Also: “The first question to ask is, ‘How many crickets do you want to breed?’" Duly noted.)

Today, he turned nine. I gave him his presents this morning, including some clothes. In the past, he’s been less than enthusiastic about clothes-as-gifts. (Once, when he was three or four, my mom handed him a wrapped present. I said, “Look, Caleb! Go-Go got you a present!” In a let’s-not-kid-ourselves tone, he whispered, “It could be a shirt.”)

But this morning he took the tissue paper out of the gift bag and exclaimed, “They look really comfortable!” He lifted up a shirt. “And stylish!”

And stylish. You see what I'm saying?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Champions, My Friend

I saw that the finalists for the National Book Award were announced today, via GalleyCat (a blog by Ron Hogan who is, among other things, a stunningly awesome headline writer).

Despite what I say about being moderately hopeless, there is a small ice cube in my little glass-half-empty heart that truly believes that it’s in the realm of possibility that Practically Perfect would be on the list. I mean, I’m almost certain that the National Book Award committee doesn’t rely on writers stumbling around on the internet to get informed that they’ve been shortlisted. But not 100 percent.

In other news: I’m a dork.

While I was there, I noticed that there is a category called “Young People’s Literature.” Which seems kind of quaint. I’ve heard of “young adult” or “children’s”—but “young people”?

I don’t know about that for the book club, Dot. That’s seems like young people’s literature. The kind they read when they’re listening to the rock and rock and playing on the world wide web.

I don't know. Maybe it's just me.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Attention, Shoppers

So, enough with the rock-batting debacle, huh? We may or may not have a record now (don’t mess with us—our son can throw stones!), and our credit cards took a hit, but I think it’s done.

So let’s talk about shopping! Elrena Evans tagged me for her meme on being a conscious consumer—i.e., thinking about our purchases. I have to say, travelling this summer really made me aware of buying, mostly because of the fifty pound weight limit on the luggage. When I had to carry or wheel around all my booty, I was forced to really consider if I needed what I was buying. A book for the plane? Yes. Loverly boots? No, damn it.

Sadly, these days, I do not walk the walk of conscious consumerism as much as I’d like to. Here is the meme, so I can show and not tell:

Here's how it works: post the directions on your blog, tell everyone who tagged you, answer the questions, and tag five or more people. That's it!

The purpose of this meme is to inspire some reflection about how we shop and what we purchase. The idea isn't that consumption itself is somehow bad, but that we all
could probably stand to put a little bit more thought into what we buy. And, of
course, it's supposed to be fun.

So here goes! Pick a recent shopping trip -- for clothes, shoes, groceries, doesn't matter. The only guideline is that it will be easier to play if you purchased at least a few things.

Now tell us, about your purchases:
1. What are you proud of?
2. What are you embarrassed by?
3. What do think you couldn't live without?
4. What did you most enjoy purchasing?
5. What were you most tempted by?
(This last one may or may not be an actual purchase!)

Proud of: I bought a minor thing at the drugstore for some friends who are going through a rough patch.

Embarrassed by: All of this shopping was done at big chain stores. I’d like to support the local stuff, but I wished they were grouped as nicely as the CVS and Kroger at Barracks Road Shopping Center. Like Melrose Place’s Amanda Woodward, I am a very important executive and do not have the time.

Couldn’t Live Without: Milk. Plain tea might as well be iced.

Enjoyed: The ingredients for a homemade mac and cheese in the Jamie Oliver cookbook—fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, ruffled pasta shells. It smelled good even in the cart. It made me anticipate dinner, as opposed to the usual dread of cooking it.

Temptation: I could wander around CVS for an hour, particularly in the seasonal aisle and in the lipstick section. I don’t even wear lipstick on a daily basis, but I associate it with going out and having fun, so I enjoy perusing the colors, although I feel like a simpleton when I realize that, like an infant, I’ve spent ten minutes staring at bright, shiny colors. Didn’t do it this time.

I’m not sure who to tag, but if you’re doing the meme, let me know, okay?

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Darnedest Things

It’s been a while since I worked myself up into a blind rage, but last night, kapow.

The three of us went out to a nice Oktoberfest dinner, and when we got home, there was a message on the voice mail from one of my neighbors.

Apparently that afternoon, four of the boys, including my boy, were playing baseball with rocks. Which is a bad idea, it goes without saying. Apparently, one of the rocks hit a house adjacent to our development. This sounds all nice and Americana, even shading into Norman Rockwell terrain, no? No.

The owner of the house calls my neighbor and claims that a window was broken. He wants us to “make it right by sundown.” Or, what? I’m thinking. He’s going to get his posse together and learn us a lesson?

So while I was enjoying my spaetzle and beer, three other mothers went to the guy’s house. He indicated that Caleb was “mouthing off” to him. He said, “I’m a Vietnam vet—don’t go there, kid.” He mentioned that he’s friends with police officers. Also, it turns out a window was not broken, but a screen was torn.

I talked to Caleb, who contends that he didn’t mouth off. He didn’t say anything at all, just ran home as fast as he could when he heard the guy shouting at them. When he ran, the guy called after him, “You better run.” (Again—or what?) The only thing the other kids said was, “I’m sorry.” One kid, the youngest, was especially shaken.

My conversation with Brandon went something like this:


Brandon: …


Brandon: …

It was already dark. I collected a bunch of rocks in a cup and walked over to where the boys were earlier that afternoon. I started winging them at the house one by one.

Lights came on. He stepped out. Before he could say anything, I started in.

“Here,” I said. “Here’s your chance. If you want to bully someone, bully me. I'm another adult.” I clenched the cup of rocks.

I’m kidding. I didn’t do that, but I really fucking wanted to.

I have methods for not getting into these kinds of rages, but sometimes, I have to just live through them. Eventually, I calmed down enough to try to understand the guy’s perspective. Before our houses were built, he had woods behind his house. The developer promised him things that he didn’t deliver on. The guy’s resentful of us anyway. Then there are these kids and their rocks on the camel’s back.

My normal impulse is to root for the underdog, and I know, I know, that he appears to be the victim here. He’s the one with the torn screen and the shitty backyard view now. But on the other hand, I know this type. And he better watch what he says. Or what? I'll think of something.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Matters of Linkage

I got nothing myself. Nothing but a bounty of links, that is!

--Beth is my pal and the staff artist for Brain, Child. We met in seventh grade when we both tried out for the school play and got steered to the chorus. (Our talents lie outside the dramatic arts, apparently.) The plan—my plan, anyway—is that she will someday move to Charlottesville. In the meanwhile, I have to make do with occasional phone calls and glimpses into her quirky, awesome brain via her blog. Does this rock or does this rock?

--If you think Body Mass Index guidelines are a bit F to the U-C-Ked up, have a look at this. Kate Harding matched up some BMI categories with photographic evidence. (Via Jezebel).

--Thought this was interesting in The Believer; it’s about morals and evolutionary biology. But then it gets all sexist and broad and shitty at the end when Frans de Waal (incidentally, the sentimentalist in The New Yorker article on bonobos) claims that women can’t be good leaders because we hold grudges. Really? I don’t know about the rest of the ladies, but I still love someone who told me he hated me and that I was a mean mommy, all the while I was cleaning fecal matter from his person. If that’s not forgiveness, I don’t know what forgiveness is.

--Give blood!

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Age of Realism

Caleb made his birthday wish list over the weekend. The third item on the list was $100. He paused. “No one’s going to give me a hundred dollars,” he said to himself. He crossed it out and wrote “nine dollars.”

Later, I took the list upstairs to email it to our relatives. He’d crossed out “nine dollars” and substituted it with “money.”

Because, really, who is he to restrict the generosity of his loved ones?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Speech Class

I loved the whining/whinging discussion, and it got me thinking about accents that have gone missing. Like this:

No one talks about progrums anymore. No one puts a fancy little lilt when pronouncing the L in “language.” I think this way of talking starting disappearing when I was but une jeune fille myself.

This simultaneously saddens and delights me. Faith Salie had a bit on her radio show about Wilfred Brimley and his calling out to help people with “diabetuss.” Sarah Thyre, in her book, Dark at the Roots, cracked my ass up describing the volunteer who talked about “ravioliss.”

I used to have a Pittsburgh accent when I was a child. I slowly lost it and all that’s left is the vestigial: pronouncing “our” like “are” (or “ARH!”), saying “house” in a vaguely Germanic way, reassuring people that I’m not neb-nosing. It would be fun to have it back. Maybe there’s a progrum for just this thing?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Ladies

The New York Times ran an article yesterday about the happiness of women as compared to the happiness of men. This is the sort of article that can careen right off the rails into Dr. Laura territory. Quit the workforce, ladies, because it makes you miserable! You won’t have time to track down your wandering uterus!

Thank you, Newspaper of Record, for not going there.

Did I ever think I’d find myself in agreement with something called the “hottie theory”? No, I did not. But have a look:

“[O]ne girl who had gotten a perfect 2,400 on her college entrance exams noted that she and her friends still felt pressure to be ‘effortlessly hot.’”

It’s not hotness pressure that’s so much the problem (this parenthetical was going to be about my being married, but I sort of like the ballsiness of implying that my hotness is NO PROBLEM, DAWGS) but just the sheer amount of responsibility. In the Times, the government and the menfolk get equal blame. I’d agree that we would sure appreciate some paid leave and universal preschool. And perhaps slovenly men should remain sequestered in their own filth.

But I’d make the case that it’s something larger that needs a fix: this whole cultural Zeitgeist (if I may) that shoves everything on the individual. That includes the government, the weird corporate set-ups where people move away from family and friends because their jobs require it, even the suburban architecture that hermetically seals up individual families. It’s not necessarily a gendered thing, but mothers bear a lot of the brunt of this isolation and effort of reinvent the wheel.

After Caleb was born, the hospital at which I delivered had a nurse come by the house, to check on me, check on the baby, check on the breastfeeding technique. It was a nice visit, I thought, just a week or two postpartum. Then the nurse took my blood pressure and it was high. Super high. I needed to check back into the hospital within the hour, she said. I got hysterical. I bawled as I packed my bag, bawled as Brandon packed his and Caleb’s bags, bawled as I walked her to the door.

It wasn’t the blood pressure that had me upset, but the idea that already, I had failed. I had been valiantly keeping up with this new situation in my life, Brandon and handling it, handling Caleb, all by ourselves like we were supposed to. And the hospital was defeat.

Eventually (somewhere while writing PP), I stopped buying into the idea that it was some sort of virtue to do everything yourself. It’s the dream of the toddler. That, and a dessert with every meal.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Body Moving

Did you see this? (I did via Jezebel.)

It’s a claim that exercise doesn't lead to weight loss because it makes you hungrier. Huh. On the one hand, I enjoy any public huzzah stressing that weight is fairly pre-determined. On the other hand, as much as I hate exercise—and I do, with the sweating and the red-facedness and the boob-napping bra—I don’t care if weight loss is a benefit. It’s good for the mood and good for the heart.

I’m still doing my walk that I started under Dr. Weil’s tutelage. I say “still” as if there weren’t a three-season gap. Anyway, I’m back on it and am feeling committed enough that we bought a treadmill. Because, truly, there’s about a two-degree span of temperatures I consider appropriate for outdoor exercise.

Also because, I walk with the iPod and it was becoming increasingly obvious that, if I wanted to go about my walk the way I wanted to (rocking and rolling and whatnot), I should steer clear of other people. I don’t have the breath, once I really get going, to sing along with all the lines, so I’d be walking past some students at the bus stop, muttering random lines from songs. Huff, huff, gooood, huff huff, cold and wet on the grass to me, huff huff, fucking people over.

I shouldn’t care about how I come across while exercising, but even I could see I was about one fist shake and two bad teeth away from being a person to whom one gives a wide berth.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


You know what I love about editing? It’s like the working girl’s grad program. You get to duck into someone else’s language and figure out what makes it good or different or even beautiful. I don’t really do the beautiful, the difficult, the complex of structure in my own writing—I have reasons, or maybe justifications, for this—but I’d almost forgotten the geeky delight I can take in just the right word. “Rakish” is awesome.

Other words, I will never ever use.

1. “Whinging”—It’s the new “whining.” Some people can pull this off. Others come off the way Madonna comes off with her new accent. A little too fahncy in the pahnts.

2. “Full disclosure:”—Occasionally, people actually are providing full disclosure. Mostly though, it’s a nice of way of saying “Name-Dropping.” (Full disclosure: I was once in a television green room with the writer Ann Brashares.)

3. “Inexorably”—It means “unyieldingly.” It’s just kind of ugly.

4. “ Webinar”—For real? People say this with a straight face?

5. “Natch”—I finally figured out that this is slang for “naturally,” but it still makes me, inexplicably, think of pubic hair.

Give me your tired, your overused, your pet language peeves yearning to be set free in the comments section!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Working Gal

So, I'm back at Brain, Child. And can I say how much I'd forgotten how much work it is? And can I worship at the alter of Stephanie, Tracy, Elizabeth, and Clover for the jobs they've done the past couple years and continue to do? And can I have a beer?

Whew. I'm whipped. All the funny has been whipped out of me. (That sounds like a good Southern mama phrase, doesn't it? "Raphine, you wipe that grin off your face before I whip the funny right out of you!") But I had to share this, for those of us with early bedtimes:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Something Strange Afoot at the Circle A

I read this very interesting piece by Christopher Hanson in the Columbia Journalism Review. He critiques the magazine Men's Health. I don't know Men's Health (or men's health, really), but Hanson basically throws out a charge that could apply to many service magazines: that they're only offering up half the picture by devoting all the space to what people can control.

Hanson says:

"Imagine a Venn diagram with two circles that barely intersect. Circle A represents such health challenges as obesity, high cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. A Men’s Health reader can generally overcome these on his own with sound nutrition, diet, exercise, and other disease-prevention routines. Circle B represents systemic national health risks, which a reader acting alone can’t defeat. These threats include tainted food imports, drinking water laced with dangerous chemicals, employee health benefits slashed by corporations, and private health-insurance policies that cost more while covering less."

He goes on to say that Men's Health is almost entirely confined to Circle A, and even within Circle A, the experts promise much more than they can deliver. Mostly by promising "instant" fixes. In a larger sense, the magazine gives the illusion that an individual can fix whatever ails her or him. (To which I say, Excuse me, sir, but that's my soundbite.)

But it's interesting, I think, is that this is finally creeping in, in a noticeable way, to service magazines targeted to men. Women, and mothers in particular, have been getting it for ages. When I was picking the experts to test for Practically Perfect, the hardest part was narrowing the field down.

And you know what occurred to me later, after Brandon got a job here in town and was able to stop the insane commute and just be here more? That a lot of advice from Hanson's Circle A is really a kind of distraction. Sure, I could throw on some lipstick before my man got home, or we could sit around deciding which animal the other most resembled, but it was the Circle B stuff—the commute, the job insecurity, the long hours—that was really the issue in our marriage. Some of the other issues I looked at were equal parts from each circle (health, say), but it really struck me what an impact the less controllable parts of our lives had on our marriage.

Interesting stuff. Go ahead and have a look-see.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hello, U.K.

If I ever go to the U.K., I already know what I'll do. I'll sit and eavesdrop all day long. I love the accent, love the slang, love the different words (Amazon will "dispatch" books!). I love how the questions are not really inflected as questions, are they.

This came out in the Times of London today, and thank God because I could barely hold my breath about it any longer. I had a great conversation with the reporter, Carol Midgley. When it was over, she said, "Brilliant!" (It took me a sec to understand that she meant it in the way that I mean "Excellent!" Which is to say, "I'm done! Let's stop talking!") Still, I was tickled that I briefly believed that I had been a brilliant conversationalist.

I can't even begin to describe how rock star I felt at the photo shoot. First off, check out Shahar's website. Then, understand that I changed my clothes three times. Then, imagine how excited I was to learn that all those hours of watching America's Next Top Model paid off in a small way! I did different poses! Sadly, I forgot to be 100 pounds or even remotely "fierce."

Let's Talk

The fall issue of Brain, Child is now officially out (or in the mail, if you didn't get yours yet). And now we're doing something a little interactive: a comments/discussion page for the content we put up online. (I'm saying "we," as if I weren't out gallavanting around this summer when the issue was being put together, but as of today, I'm officially back.)

Anyhoo, have a gander.

There's Tracy Mayor's feature on what role mothers will play in the 2008 election. If you do nothing else, read the first part of it. If that's not one of the best openings in the history of magazine features, I will be a monkey's uncle.

There's also Dawn Friedman's piece on doing her African-American daughter's hair. It's called "Textured," and when you read it, you'll know why people are all over Dawn's blog: the thoughtfulness, the working through sticky issues, the loverly voice.

There's Kory Stamper's essay "Alma Mater." She was a married twenty-one-year-old, attending a prestigious, feminist university, when she got pregnant and decided to become a mother. It both burned my britches and got me thinking about how my feminism has evolved over the years.

And there's Elisabeth de Vos's "Close Encounters with Kindermusik," a fabulous essay about many things, one of which is mothering with OCD. What I love most about this is how tangled everything is, how you can't always separate your own ish (OCD, depression, panic, ahem) from strong beliefs or even regular parenting.

So, read and comment! Comment and read!
And because we are wily folk, not everything is on the website. Have a look-see at the table of contents, which are just as tasty as the above articles. There are benefits to paper, is all I'm saying.

A Shout Out

A couple days ago, Gretchen Rubin tagged me for the W List. (More on that in a future post.) I met Gretchen when we both became aware of each other's projects: that is, experiments with self-help advice in order to become a better, happier person.

It's one of those projects where a million people could do it and you'd wind up up with a million different stories. Gretchen's site is The Happiness Project, and I go there every day because I like the lady's perspective. I love her fascination with St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I also love the everyday stuff. Take this sentence: "You don't want to exercise…" Before PPIEW, I'd finish it by writing, "…so you purchase larger clothes." Gretchen would say, "…but you do it anyway."

We're not even the only ones out there with this project. On Amazon, I stumbled on this book by Beth Lisick due out in January, and there's a guy, Tom Chiarella, who recently got a book contract to do his own experiments. Gretchen turned me on to Brangien Davis's blog, the Petri Project.

Someday, we should form a posse, travelling the land with our collective wisdom and conclusions, shining a light into book festivals far and wide. Or at least, you know, all hook up via email.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Thank you for coming back. I understand that many of my recent posts are not in the least amusing. I've temporarily lost my flow, people, that thing that makes work gratifying. I think this might be because I'm spending all of my time watching and rewatching Rock of Love with Bret Michaels. Help me.

Help me stop rooting for Heather.

Help me stop watching Bret, who is a rocker yes, but also a womanizing gossip who should have stopped Heather from getting his name tattooed her neck.

Help me to cease coveting Jes's hair and getting drawn in by what Bret is looking for in a lady. (That list includes an interest in rocking, in motorcross, in football, in partying, and in "passion" generally.)

Help me remember that I wasn't into Poison the first time around.

Help me with the stray thoughts that wander into my mind, like "I wonder what Sam is doing now."

Help me to get off the Internet, so I'll be unable to answer that Sam is finishing up her Master's degree.

I'm afraid it's too late for this series. But I have to conquer this problem before Flavor of Love Season III starts. I have work to do.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


As you might know, my mom is a first grade teacher, and every year before school starts, she spends a few days taking classes. This year, one class she took was all about education, race, and class. The idea is, that for some teachers, maybe raised in the upper middle class, there are sometimes hidden class or race codes that, if you're just sensitive to it, might explain why a kid has trouble grasping certain concepts or subjects.

Mom and I find all of this stuff fascinating. In her class, the instructor had the teachers split up into different groups. One of the markers of people raised in the lower middle class is probably having to pay your own way through college, she told me. I remember my own first weeks of college and how startled I was when I realized that the women in my first-year suite had, without even meaning to, segregated ourselves into our class stratae. All my friends, like me, were on scholarships and had hefty student loans. We hadn't been to private schools, and when break came, we worked.

I was nervous when Practically Perfect came out because I thought that the class issues in it were too naked. People would certainly see the sort of raw discomfort that I felt about money, authority, the sense that it all could go away at any minute—in other words, having some issues with class mobility. I thought that people would call me on it. Yo, chickee, it's a book about class and you're not even addressing it.

But what's weird? Nobody noticed at all. (Which is why, I suppose, they offer classes on race, class, and education in the first place.)

Do you remember that series that the New York Times ran a couple of years ago about class? They collected the whole shebang into a book—Class Matters—that I somehow missed when it came out. I just ordered it, and I'm looking forward to reading. It seems messy and interesting and crazy, in a good and possibly helpful way.

Speaking of that, do you love an online quiz? Well, here you go.

Friday, September 7, 2007


Maybe someone who knows their astrology can explain this, but this hasn't been the most stellar year for many of my beloveds. Me, I'm okey doke, other than this morning's revelation that girlfriend needs a sports bra, stat. (The skeevy-man-leering-at-the-bosom count was noticeable.)

In some cases, there's nothing I can do. In some cases, there's nothing anyone can do. I Google. I work my Merck Medical Manual. I make cheery phone calls. I think good thoughts, although I'm not a believer in the healing powers of my own vibes. I think about what I learned in the last chapter of Practically Perfect, the one about the soul.

I go to You Tube and I alternate between these two songs, depending on how optimistic I'm feeling.

Even though I know very well that it is a big thing, all of these things are big things, I still want to believe in the happy-as-possible ending, that I will be pressed into service or not, that there will be some redistribution of the good luck, and maybe everything will be all right.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Ringy Ding

So, I see the Do Not Call registry is back in the news. The list is expiring, and we all have to re-up if we don't want the telemarketers ringing us.

When the registry first started, I wrote this piece for Alternet about the time I spent working at a telemarketing center with my sister Erin. When I wrote it, I felt vaguely worried about what happened to the other women at the center. It was a bad job, but it paid better than retail or fast food. These days, I'd be surprised if the center still existed—or any comparable job.
In other Newsweek-reported news: a profile of Republican presidential primary candidate Fred Thompson. I quote: "He was smart; everyone knew it," says Chunky Moore, a former classmate. "He just wasn't real interested in school."

If I am ever famous enough to have a profile written about me, I pray that my intelligence will not be assessed by a grown person named "Chunky."

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What I Did This Weekend

Thanks for the requests for Brain, Child! They’re mostly in the mail. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I said just leave a note in the comments. That I would get in touch with you via Sylvia Browne, who could tell me in her trademarked sugar-and-ice manner what your address is? (Sweetie, she’s in Indiana.) Yeesh.

If you haven’t sent your mailing address yet, give me a shout at Jennifer at practicallyperfectbook dot com.
Oh, what else. It was a busy, busy weekend. On Sunday night, we had a karaoke party and tested out this drink (the winning one), which totally knocked my socks off. The karaoke was fun, fun, fun, too. There may have been one too many vodka drinks, in retrospect, retrospect being the place where you suddenly recall a vision of yourself taking the microphone from a friend who didin't IMMEDIATELY jump on "Ice Ice Baby" and then rapping in semi-public. Word to my mother.

The kids were there, too, running around half-feral. At one point, I realized that they'd stripped one of the beds and were sliding down the stairs into a pile of bedding. It seemed to me to be ripe two unfortunate end scenarios: 1) someone hurting themselves on the stairs and 2) possibly more laundry, so I put a stop to that and they danced and watched Garfield and other things.

They still must have been up late, the whole crew of children, because the next day, Caleb came home from playing outside with a few friends and said, "I don't want to die."

"We're all going to die," I said. "But probably not for a very long time."

"I'm going to die tomorrow," he said. Even though I know he can be dramatic (in the way that the Pope can be Catholic), I got shivers.

I looked at him closer. His eyes held a miniscus of tears and he pressed his lips together.

"What happened out there?" I asked. "Did someone get hurt? Is someone in trouble?"

He didn't want to tell me, but I cajoled and pressed and urged. Finally, the story came out.

"We found this stuff outside and we took a little tiny part of it and ate it," he said, demonstrating the tininess of the serving with his fingernail.

"What was it?" I asked.

"I don't know!" he cried. "I don't know what it was and now we're going to die!"

"What did it taste like?"


"What did it look like? Where did you get it?"

"Like black powder." It turns out, four of the kids had put their fingers on a mysterious substance found on a car's tire and licked. (Ewww.)

"Why did you do it?" Caleb shrugged. I knew this sort of shrug. It's the kind you given when you know you did something stupid and inexplicable. (Once, when I was a teenager—teenager!—I stood in my mother's closet behind her clothes. No good reason. But then I heard her approaching the closet and realized, with panic, that there was nothing to do. No matter if or when I spoke up, I'd still scare the crap out of her. So I didn't say anything and when she parted the clothes…it was me! Crazy, sexy, weird!)

"Did you think it'd be interesting?" I asked. He smiled and nodded. "Okay. You're probably not going to die"—niiiiiice mommy, with the probably—"but don't do it again."

He looked sheepish and mildly reassured but I think we're clear on the ingesting-mystery-powders front, for now anyway.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

And Another Thing!

I know. Two posts in one day? Wild woman.

I’m working on getting the Brain, Child name out there more. I’ve been working on the magazine for close to a hundred years now, and I sometimes can’t believe that there are people who haven’t heard of it, but, you know, new mothers are made every day and all that.

One idea I had was to send a copy of the magazine to people who blog. If there’s something in the fall issue that inspires a post, excellent. If not, no harm, no foul.

The fall issue should be out in the next couple weeks, and it looks mighty good. There’s a terrific, thoughtful essay by Dawn about doing her African-American daughter’s hair and the significance of that. Tracy penned a feature on the death of the soccer mom (i.e., backlash against the married woman voter with kids.) There’s an essay by Adrienne DeAngelo called “Two Lesbians and a Eunuch” that I love, love, love. Plus, various content about assisted reproductive technology, parenting with OCD, Kindermusik, how colleges treat students who are mothers, parenting a jock, and more.

Anyhoo, if you want an advanced copy, let me know, either by commenting or dropping me a line at Jennifer at, and I'll pop one in the mail as soon as I get them.

Community Center

Five years ago, you probably couldn’t have convinced me that there was a huge benefit to belonging to some community. As P.W. Herman once said, I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel. As my time in Harrisonburg taught me, I can entertain myself perfectly well in my own home, what with the books, Internet, card games, drinking, etc.

We moved here four years ago and, thanks to especially my neighbors Julie (hollah!) and Steve, we became part of this friendly, close-knit neighborhood. It doesn’t require much effort, really. A couple weeks ago, Brandon and I sat on the porch with some beers while Caleb showed the other kids his new jaw harp. One thing led to another, and at eleven o’clock, there were five of us in the living room, shouting along with the karaoke machine. Oh, the suh-uh-uh-mer nights. Good times.

I think what I dreaded about the idea of community was the small talk. (Do you that Kids in the Hall sketch in which the punchline is “I’m just not good at small talk, you prick”? I just spent twenty minutes on You Tube, and it’s not there. Damn.) Anyway, part of my quest in PPIEW was to get better at making casual friends, which sometimes involved small talk. It was draining.

This morning, I opened the paper and there was my neighbor Ed on the front page. He’s working on a book about dog fighting, and they had a Q&A with him. I like Ed immensely anyway, but I had no idea this was his latest project. Just read this quote:

Q. What is one thing that might surprise people about the history of dogfighting?

A. One surprising thing that I found out was that sometimes fighting dogs were matched up against monkeys in fights.There was one very famous fighting monkey named Jaccco Macacco, who fought in London in the 1820s. He figured out a way to defeat the dogs. What he would do is jump on top of the dog’s back, where the dog couldn’t bite it very easily. Then he would reach around with his teeth and bite the dog’s jugular vein and kill it. He became famous. He found his way into a novel called “Life in London.” He eventually died in a fight against a dog. Actually the dog died too. The fight was so bad they both died after the match. So that was surprising. A monkey became one of the most famous dog fighters in history.

It got me thinking: There are probably awesome stories like the one about Jacco Macacco in everyone. Maybe instead of working on making small talk, I should have worked on learning the right questions to ask in order to unlock the black boxes that are strangers.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Happy Karen Niesslein Day

Presenting one of the major ways I got lucky:

HBGF! We'll always have Carrie Anne/Carianna.
Confidential to Caliente: Happy sixteen, lovah.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Where Is My Mind?

There's something about a furniture store that turns Brandon and me into amnesiacs. A couple weekends ago, after much consideration, this is what we settled on: a tangerine leather couch with white whip-stitching and two ice-blue recliners. How much would the microsuede cost on the chairs? we asked. How long will it take to deliver? And, also, if you find a sense of reality lying around the store here, would you mind sending it to us? Because it's probably ours.

We came home and remembered about that child and those two dogs and non-leather-lifestyle we have.

We need some new furniture. We've needed it for years, but you know how broken things just become invisible after a while? And if you put a blanket over them, it's somehow okay? And then when you go shopping, you lose your mind, either with the tangerine couch, or with this sense that nothing is right, that furniture makers have somehow become desperately stupid and/or greedy in the years since you were last in the market for a new couch?

That's where I'm calling from, the unmarked territory between Who You Are and Wouldn't It Be Nice to Have.

Monday, August 20, 2007

More Tuesday Tidbits

Hey. Roxanne, Heather Annastasia, and Chipper Beaudrot--email me your mailing addresses, would ya? (jennifer at practicallyperfectbook dot com). I have some prizes for you.

Everyone else, your prizes for the New Dr. Phil Homespun Phrase Contest should be in the mail. They're books. I've read them all and liked them (what, like I'm going to unload the real clunkers on you?), but I read freaky fast, freaky fast enough enough that Brandon has accused me of taking Bill Cosby's speed-reading course, and I thought I'd share. If you don't like them, or have already perused, there are ... things you can do with them, but as someone who is hoping very much that future royalty checks will keep her in chai latte money, you're not going to hear about these things from me.

In any case--thanks for playing!
Did you read this in Newsweek? The basic gist is that an editor reads a smattering of recent motherhood-themed books that fail to float her boat, and then decides that she's sick of reading about motherhood period. As my seventh-grade industrial arts teachers used to say, "That don't make no cent, son." I mean, axing an entire category of human experience? Yeesh. I wrote a letter to the editor. Because that's how we stick to the man around these parts.
I don't know what category of happiness this would fall under--maybe Forgotten Knowledge Happiness? My friend Janet and her daughter recently came back from France after spending a year there. I took five years of French; I can tell my sister Erin to clear off her desk; she can tell me to empty the trashcan. (We shared the illicit French/English dictionary that translated "Fuck off," so we can also tell each other that. Or, more literally, "Go make the fuck to yourself.")

Anyway, Janet and her daughter sometimes still slip into French, and I knew what they were saying--and it had nothing to do with trashcans, desks, or making the fuck. The surprise of being able to understand--it kind of made my whole week.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Last Hurrah

It's been a long August here, with no camp for Caleb, insanely hot outside. I'm not always sure to do during these long, formless days. We wind up with scenarios like this:

Caleb (reading from a fast food bag): What's all over the house?
Brandon: Dust.
Me: Dog hair.
Caleb: No. A roof. [Frowns]. Obviously.
Caleb: What always ends everything.
Me: Death.
Brandon: [Raises eyebrows.]
Caleb: The letter "g."

We can barely stand it.

Call me a rigid old wingnut, but I've realized that I'm happiest when I know what I should be doing. This week is the last before school starts and the parenting is easy. We've been shopping for clothes (poor child has had a growth spurt, bursting out of his size 7s like the Incredible Hulk), snatching up school supplies (he insisted on getting his own tape so let wouldn't have to rely on the teacher's), and getting in what time we can at the pool.

Someone in the neighborhood set up a Slip and Slide the other night, and all the kids were out late while the adults milled around with our drinks. The air definitely had that last hurrah feel to it. It was buggy and we all had stuff to do, but we lingered out there because this wouldn't last much longer. Less than a week, and we'd be be forcing the kids into showers and laying down the law with bedtime, but this night, we could be loose, with our beers and our slippery kids and the knowledge that we were in the right. This is what you do when, and because, summer ends.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Embryo Culture

So my interview with Beth Kohl is up on Salon, right here.

The book is awesome. As far as I know (one try at pregnancy, one kid), I'm a Fertile Myrtle, but I found the book hard to put down. For one, Beth is a terrific writer, both funny and thoughtful. For two, the whole world of IVF is well (and empathetically) researched. And for three, I love a book that both has a narrative thread and a facts to take in--the best of both worlds.

EC also made me squirmy in parts. Specifically, the part when she starts talking about when life begins, how embryos should be treated, all that. I am, as you may know, a person who pledges money to Planned Parenthood for every picketer they get; the cash supports the Women in Need fund. (Good deeds by the vengeful!) You know the pro-choice spiel. So does Beth. And in fact, we both believe in it.

I think what made me squirmy was her voicing in public what a lot of us feel: Abortion, whether in terms of an unplanned pregnancy or selective reduction, can be a complicated emotional package. For some of us, there will be sadness at the potential lost, sadness that coexists with knowing that the abortion was the best choice. For some of us, there will be a lot of hand-wringing.

What made me squirmy is that knowing that there are people who will take this private moment and use it for evil, whether it's to further erode Roe V. Wade, or to come up with some bogus study that finds that women who've had abortions are irreparably damaged, or even to point to a woman after the fact and use her complicated emotions to convince her that what she did was wrong. It's hard to be vulnerable in a politicized context. (How's that for a women's studies sentence?)

But, really, those people are out there anyway, and in the end, Beth's honesty shouldn't be kept under a bushel.

And I just did what I told myself not to do, which is let the abortion issue highjack her lovely story about God, baby-making, and the test tube. Oh, here, ladies, lovers of the truth--buy the book. You'll like.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


I was reading Dawn's post about sales, and I think we're in the same boat. My dad is also in sales (if you're in the market for a used car...), and he's also good at it. This lot is his very own and he's getting good word of mouth, which is remarkable for a car lot, given the reputation, too often deserved. (Once Brandon and I bought a car, and one of the guys went into a spiel about how we could take out a loan and invest the cash we were going to spend on the car in a CD. "Do you know how I know this?" he asked us. "Because you're the F&I guy?" Brandon asked him.)

Anyhoo, I didn't get the gene. I was standing around last Friday with a bunch of mothers I didn't know. My neighbor Julie mentioned Brain, Child. Another mother said, "What's Brain, Child? Should I know about this?"

I just shrugged. I couldn't read her. Was there a trace of snarkiness there? Or actual curiosity? Or just neutral chit chat? Someone good at sales might have at least described the magazine instead of turning into a three year old who takes everything literally. I don't know you, I thought. I don't know if you should know about Brain, Child or not.

The correct answer is: Of course she should. She should also know about PPIEW. I couldn't be the one to tell her, though, because I haven't yet figured out a way to drop it into conversation without fully morphing into a self-aggrandizing asshole. I'm already loud and ruddy. I already deliver a mighty firm handshake. What I'm saying is: There's not a lot of room to play around here.

I'm happy, though, to promote other things. Recently I've been liking:

--One Story. Do you know this publication? You get a little booklet with one short story every two weeks.

--Embryo Culture. I interviewed the author, Beth Kohl, for a piece in Salon (not sure when it'll be up). Kohl wrote about her struggle with both infertility and the moral questions that fertility treatment raises. It's both witty and well-researched.

--Blueberry tea. A person can't drink beer all of the time.

--Anything by Kristin Kovacic. We ran an essay by her in the Summer 07 B,C, and I've reread it many a time.

--Jezebel. I killed a whole weekend afternoon watching their Lady Bunch clips.

--Starr Hill Jomo. A person can drink beer some of the time.

--Winner of the National Book Award. I believe I've gushed about Jincy Willett's Jenny and the Jaws of Life? This is her novel.

--The first Rentals CD. I played the hell out of it when I was but a lass, but I recently dusted it off. Good-bye, Virginia--WHOO HOO!--with your lousy style! Oh, it makes slapping together some BLTs go much faster.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Fun

Holy Relationship Rescue, that was fun! You all had me even before the Jean Nate shout-out, even before Pussy Rush. I'm sending prizes to all the entrants. As Barbara Card Atkinson once said, I can't promise that you'll like your prize, but I can promise that I'll send it. (Or something like that.) If you entered, email me your mailing address, okay? It's Jennifer at PracticallyPerfectBook dot com.
Oh, I might get distracted by the penis-equipped female hyenas, but I do love my New Yorker. In the current issue there's a long piece about a rare genetic disorder, Lesch-Nyhan, that causes those afflicted with it to mutilate themselves, even while they're terrified of doing so. It's not online, but I loved this passage, a quote from Johns-Hopkins neurologist H.A. Jinnah, addressing what all of us can control and what we can't:

"Many people bite their fingernails. They'll tell you it's gross and that they don't want to do it--'Sometimes I get nervous and start biting my fingernails,' they'll say. There are people who chew their lips nervously. Now let's turn up the volume a little more: some people bite their cuticles. Turn up the volume a little more: some people bit their cuticles until they bleed. Now let's turn the volume way up. Now you have someone biting off tissue and bone in his fingers, biting off the whole finger, and chewing his lips off. Where, in this spectrum of behavior, is free will?"
I added a site feed thing to the blog, over there, the blue button to the right. Sign right up, if you understand what it means.