Thursday, May 31, 2007


So, this morning I was sending out emails to Brain, Child subscribers in Los Angeles and San Francisco. I want to meet these people, who I think of as my community; my love for Brain, Child and its readers is deep and real.

It is also apparently too big for the Verizon Online Abuse Team's liking. They suspended my ability to send outgoing mail for twenty-four hours and no matter what tone I took (in this case, a tone of I Am Displeased Yet I Also Understand That You Are Probably Helpless in the Face of the Corporate Giant For Which You Work, followed by the tone of I Am Shameless Really and Can't You Hear That I'm About to Cry?), no dice.

Anyhoo, if you sent me an email, I likely received it but I just can't reply. UNLESS you are the woman who sent the lovely email about speaking at a salon in SF--would you mind resending?

Well, back to trying to find someone who can free my Nigerian fortunes from that Swiss bank account, I guess.

The Mic Sounds Nice, Check One

As you might know, I love some karaoke, so yesterday when I was flipping through my Working Mother magazine and came to this headline--"How Singing Karaoke Launched My Career"--I had to check it out.

Can I be frank? I'm pretty good at karaoke. Sure, anyone can scream, "You got a nice white dress and a party on your confirmation!" but I can do "Love Shack." The Kate Pierson part.

You don't get to be looking for the love getaway by accident. There is some practice involved. There is learning how to project. There are weekend nights when your child plays his Gameboy and learns the contradictory lessons that only the good die young and that one should not go chasing waterfalls. Occasionally, when the song calls for it, there are dance moves.

[Let's pretend there's a segue here--do you do this? Reread your posts and realize they don't make as much sense as you thought they did?]

This is all to say that I'm fairly impervious to inspirational stories because any inspirational story worth its salt contains that moment when everything falls into place.

Take this, from "How Singing Karaoke Launched My Career": "I was taken completely by surprise. I thought, Where is that voice coming from? I didn't even know I could hold a tune."

For real? You didn't even know that you could hold a tune?

I just don't know why this sort of detail is supposed to be inspirational. If a talent is innate, then you're basically saying, "Hey, check out my good luck!" Of course the flip side is that there are no such things as talents, or luck, and with enough hard work, anyone can launch a career through karaoke. In my experience, it's a little bit of both.

Also in my experience? Almost anyone can sing this:

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Woman Vs. Navel

Have I said before that I went a little crazy during my self-help experiments? I did, what with the constant focus on my flaws, my actions, me, me, me.

So, with that under my belt, this is what I'm not doing:

Obsessively refreshing the Amazon page to find out Practically Perfect's ranking;

Obsessively reflecting on Barbara Kingsolver's new book and how everyone I know is reading it and how I myself have purchased a copy of it and how I know that many many people reading her book might like mine and why she is on the bestseller list and how she totally deserves it and, damn it, it's not a competition and this is why no one (okay, Brandon) likes to play Scrabble with you, Jennifer;

Googling self;

Flipping to the book review section of any of the three trillion periodicals that come to this house and scanning for one title (and we all know which one that is);

And reflecting on the careers and career timelines of writers I admire, as if my fate lies somewhere scrambled in this data .

I'm trying, anyway.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Tasteful Pictorial

The picture-taking? A little random. Erin and I popped out the camera whenever we remembered, but I, for one, was pre-occupied with remembering the fifty pounds of stuff I slugged around the city.

On the plus side, I can now share some very important lessons.

1. Make someone else in charge of the camera.

2. Do not feel compelled to be in every single picture, particularly if the weekend before you took a devil-may-care attitude regarding sunscreen at your son's baseball game, giving you the complexion of an alcoholic tomato.

3. It's never a good idea to be the one in the middle with your arms around people, unless you like to look like a person who wears a bra that requires 20 hooks.

Not things they teach you on America's Next Top Model.

This is me in front of the Barnes & Noble in Brooklyn. My publicist at Putnam, Yamil took this one. I have a picture of the two of us, but I'm afraid it's not flattering to either one of us and if I wanted to share unflattering pictures, I'd whip out the middle school archives.

This is the travelling companion divine, my sister Erin. It's been forever since just the two of us hung out. In this picture we're in front of the New York Public Library in Manhattan. No real reason we chose to document this (although if it were an elementary-school yearbook, the caption would be something like, "Fourth-grader Erin Niesslein checks out the NY Public Library.")

This is my agent Dan Lazar. If your dream agent is one who can work a mention of Karen Walker from Will & Grace into a bit of solid professional advice, then you know why I heart this man.

Me (me again!) with my editor Jackie Cantor. It's probably unprofessional and/or creepy to say that you'd like to have a slumber party with your editor. So I'll just imply it.

And finally, me and the writer Carol Paik, who turned out to be just as cool in person as she is in print. (She's on the right and her friend is on the left.)

I wish I had pictures of a lot of other things: the excellent people who came out, for one; the little bar that Erin, Yamil, and I went to in Park Slope, for another. I saw my friend Roland in the audience, and we stayed in what really should be called The 25-Year-Old Businessman District. On the train, a man in front of us kept repeating into his cell phone, "BUT IS THE CLOCK TICKING ON THIS PROJECT?" (Call me a shut-in, but I didn't know people actually spoke like that.) To sum up? Good times.

Friday, May 25, 2007

I Need to Sleep

Oh my, a sister is tired. I got back from New York last night, and I think I've been running on adrenaline and cigarettes for the past few days. (Ooh, that sounds very Franny Glass, doesn't it? I meant to say, "on adrenaline, cigarettes, chai, beer, and copious amounts of restaurant food.")

I'll put up pictures as soon as I figure out what the red light on the camera means.

In the meanwhile, have a listen to Faith Salie's show, Fair Game. I happen to be on this one, but the whole program is just delicious.

Monday, May 21, 2007

It's Up to You, New York

On some level, I believe the following about New York City: I understand that its jarred salsa is subpar as compared to salsa made in Texas. Sometimes you'll go to a coffee shop with friends, and hijinx will ensue. Sometimes you'll go to a diner with friends, and hijinx will ensue. Depending on where you live, either Adam Gopnik or Brooklyn mama divine Ayun Halliday will be at any birthday party your child attends. Also, there is something about the sidewalks of New York that make it really quite comfortable to wear high heels.

I'm slowly replacing my pop culture knowledge of New York City with actual experience. My sister Erin and I are heading up there tomorrow. I can't tell you how excited I am, but "super-duper" might come close. We'll be at two events, one on Tuesday, one on Wednesday.

Otherwise, we'll be doing things like mooning about, having lunch with the excellent writer Carol Paik (yippee!!), and buying souvenirs for our kids. I cannot wait for the hijinx.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Tune In, Turn On

This afternoon, I'll be going to back to the town where we lived for seven years. It's a place where people say "might could," as in "I might could pick up some hot dogs for the picnic." This used to drive me crazy when I lived there. Pick one, for God's sake, I'd think.

But now--AND DO NOT TELL BRANDON THIS--from the distance of four years, I've come to appreciate the phrase, its extreme tenuousness. I might could pick up some hot dogs for the picnic, but don't count on it, okay? Chances are that I won't come to the picnic at all, actually. You probably want to ask around. What I'm saying is don't put all your eggs in my basket because my basket has a tendency to take a nap in the afternoon.

I'm going there for a radio program, Insight. It's a call-in show, so if you or your frends have some (easy) questions, lay 'em on me. I'll be on from 3 to 4. The call-in number is 1-888-967-2825, and Virginians can listen to it like so:
103.5 FM Charlottesville
91.3 FM Farmville
90.7 FM Harrisonburg and the Shenandoah Valley
89.9 FM Lexington
94.5 FM Winchester

Thursday, May 17, 2007

May 17, 2007

Today, someone will look at her egg carton and think, "May 17?! Maybe I'll make an omelette for dinner." Today someone set their timer to record the season finale of his favorite show. May 17 is someone's first day of her last period. Someone else will be wracked with labor pains, but in between contractions when her body has room for her mind, it will occur to her that she (please don't let me labor for more than 24 hours) knows the birthday of her new child.

There are people who keep track of dates, and years from now a couple will be at dinner with friends, or maybe some co-workers, and they'll be asked, "So when did you two meet?" And one of them, the one that keeps track of dates, will tell the story that has become part of their couple lore. We were at a party. We were at work. We were right in the middle of doing the hokey-pokey--turning ourselves around, right, honey? "It was May 17, 2007," that person will say and sigh the way people do when they're satified with their memories.

Today, someone will vow that she'll remember the date. Right now, someone is moving into a house. Maybe this person is newly divorced. This morning, this person went to the lawyer's and signed documents in which she wrote her name and May 17, 2007, over and over. At the end of the morning, she takes her keys and drives to the brick house. Maybe neighbors left a pot of geraniums on the porch or a bottle of champagne in the kitchen. Maybe she feels fragile yet hopeful. The window sills are dusty but the flowers really are a nice touch, she'll think. I'll never forget this day. The memory of that emotional state will stay with her, although the date itself will fall away, overwritten by new birthdays of people she hasn't yet met.

Other things, worse things, will surely happen on May 17, 2007. Someone will say something that he or she can't take back. Someone will get an injury that turns into a scar. Someone will get a troubling diagnosis. Someone will speak to a person she loves for the last time, but with all luck, she will have said what she always meant to.

I think the odds are pretty good that, somewhere in the world, this is how May 17, 2007 goes down for some people. Odds are better, though, that for most people it's a regular day, winding anonymously away, the fate of most of the calendar.

This is all to say that today is not all about me. But, on the other hand? My first book comes out today, and I can't help but basking in May 17, 2007.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Thing One, Thing Two

I'd fantasized about filling out this HotSeat questionnaire in The Hook for years, but I was still stumped on a few questions. Like "what people find most annoying about you." The truth is maybe that I start far too many sentences with "I read about this study..."

Yesterday, I read in Newsweek about this study that suggests that people who can recognize fear in other people's faces are more likely to be empathetic. "Those better at recognizing fear—but not other expressions—later donated more money and time to help a (fictitious) college student who, they were told, had recently lost her parents in a car accident. In a second study, participants rated the attractiveness of strangers in photographs. Once again, those better at recognizing fear expressions were more considerate of others' feelings: they rated people as more attractive, but only when they were told that the individuals would learn their scores—and could therefore be hurt."

Interesting, no?
In case I haven't repeated this in a hynotizing tone enough: I'm reading at New Dominion Bookshop tomorrow at nooooooon. Please come seeeeeee me.....

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Good Morning

If you ordered Practically Perfect through Brain, Child, then your signed copy? It's officially in the mail, hurtling through the United States Postal Service to you. That was the excellent part of my morning, the part that felt very rock star.

The other part of the morning I spent feeling like an S&M rodeo clown, standing topless except for a cape and little silver pasties, watching my breasts get the lock-down. It was mammogram morning, which turned into ultrasound mid-morning and ended, fortunately, with a clean bill of mammary health. "The doctor says it looks normal!" the technician told me. I was sort of hoping for "magnificent," but, really, I'm not complaining.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Monday Meatballs

I got a birth announcement from my mom on Saturday: Trudy, the dove with the blue eye shadow, had her baby. Jill has named her Mackenzie Grace.
I've been a reading fool lately. Over the weekend, I finished Allen Shawn's Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life. It's a good read--he combines his own story with a lot of really compelling research from psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology in an effort to understand his anxiety, panic, and phobias. If you have a phobia and think it's a good idea to avoid the situation that brings out the phobia, this book will cure you of that notion, tout de suite.

I also picked up Horseradish by Lemony Snicket because I'm exactly the sort of sucker that will purchase anything with Daniel Handler's or Lemony Snicket's name on it. Here's an example of why: "One of the world's most popular entertainments is a deck of cards, which contains thirteen each of four suits, highlighted by kings, queens, and jacks, who are possibly the queen's younger, more attractive boyfriends."

I also read a mystery I enjoyed quite a bit, but afterwards I felt as if it might have had anti-choice messages in it. (My political paranoia: ruining one book at a time!) However, I can recommend the silent-on-abortion mystery Dope.
A grateful shout-out to the ladies who came to the Mom Expo. I had an excellent time. If you missed it, this is the interview Steph and I reenacted. I got to be Lesley Stahl. Score!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mixed Nuts

Listen, I'm not one to pass up a holiday, particularly when I can score some new electronics. But I was just thinking about this Mother's Day, and it occurred to me that more than a few people I know are going to be experiencing mixed emotions on Sunday.

(Mixed emotions, sort of fitting for Mother's Day, no?

I'm as happy as a boy can be
Because I'll act like an insane monkey at brunch,
Yet Mommy still loves me!)

So, anyway, this is just to say that I'm thinking of everyone whose holiday will be bittersweet.
Confidential to Mamasan: Your fabulous gift from us is, apparently, "in progress," according to the internet. Until then, this is will have to do in the putting-a-smile-on-your-face department.

I love you, you amazing lady. See you in a couple weeks!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Listen Up

Lately, I've been standing in front of the microwave timer, talking out loud. Simon and Luna, my dogs, respond to this by scampering around and looking hopefully from me to the treats, the treats to me. Maybe this is a new code, I can see them wondering. Maybe when she says, "I'm Jennifer Niesslein" or when she says, "And now I'm going to read..." a fake bacon strip might follow.

Sorry, dawgs. I'm practicing for a couple of events, and if you're in Charlottesville, I'd love love love for you to come to one or both.

On Saturday, May 12, Stephanie and I will be talking at the Mom Expo at the UVA Hospital from 1 to 2. It's mostly a Brain, Child event and we'll be talking about motherhood in the media. I've convinced Steph to reenact with me something we saw on TV, so watch out for the acting chops!

On Thursday, May 17, I'll be doing a reading for Practically Perfect at New Dominion Bookshop at noon. It's the official release date of the book, and if you think a pleasant way to spend your lunch hour is in a sunny bookstore, followed by lunch on the Downtown Mall, then I'm here to tell you that you're absolutely right.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

On the Other Hand...

...maybe a smidge more moderation would have been a good idea. I pulled a muscle on my back. Yes. That is how hardcore a move-buster I am.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Get Used to It

Who is that woman at the concert screaming the lyrics the entire time? Why, it's me!

Brandon and I are going to see They Might Be Giants tonight. Concerts seem to me to be close to the platonic ideal of a good time in that they combine many things I love: singing, beer, dancing of the vaguely dirty kind. As a bonus, They Might Be Giants tends to perform songs under five minutes long. I'm not a fan of the "jam."

(Brandon used to be in a band, Baaba Seth that, while very good and enjoyable, could spend, like, twenty minutes on one song. All right, guys. My beer's getting warm and I apparently didn't warm up properly. Can we get back to the chorus?)

Anyway, I'm excited about this upcoming pleasure. Research--that is, psychologists--has found that we tend to habituate to any given pleasure so, in order to increase the pleasure, we should try to spread out pleasurable experiences. In other words, if I went to a concert every night, I probably wouldn't enjoy it as much. It's the old everything-in-moderation argument.

It's likely a good idea and dovetails nicely with the parenthood lifestyle. But what I find more pleasurable than one beer at a concert? Downing one beer, then ordering another quickly before it's time to start my audience singing again.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Tag, You're "It"

I've about given up on trying to figure out what the various things on Practically Perfect's Amazon page mean. Because at this stage of the game--ten days before the book even comes out, not that I'm completely OCD about counting down the days--I'm pretty sure that a lot of what's on there means nothing. The "tags," for example, mean that someone might have pre-ordered my book and also ordered other books--those books' tags are what show up. Maybe. I don't know for sure.

Last Friday, I checked out PPIEW's page and found the many tags that were assigned to "books like" mine. What sort subtitle could make these tags appropriate?

The tag, "Wife of gay man," for instance. Practically Perfect in Every Way: Except the Way in Which I Get to Have Sex With My Husband

"Boring." Practically Perfect in Every Way: A 962-Page Catalogue of The Findings from the Author's Latest Dermatological Examination

"Useless apology." Practically Perfect in Every Way: I'm Sorry If You Feel That Way

And my favorite: "homegrown." Practically Perfect in Every Way: Recipes That Will Taste SO SO Good, If You See What I'm Getting At

Friday, May 4, 2007

A Quiz That Will Help No One

Eight-year-old boy or a stereotypical cranky old man? TAKE THE CHALLENGE!
  1. When presented with dinner, says, "Peas? Who told you I wanted peas?"
  2. Has a special name for occurrence when one only has to wipe once after moving bowels: "Lucky poop."
  3. Has little use for babies.
  4. Before entering bathroom, announces, "I might be a while."
  5. Has a particular word used in the same situations and with the same inflection as other people might use with the F-word.
  6. Has no compunction about telling people to turn the music down.
  7. Very interested in own savings.
  8. Tooth loss.
  9. Occasionally accuses loved ones of stealing belongings.
  10. Likes to wear pants up high. Real high.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Bod

Tuesday, I had two appointments for the bod, the annual GYN exam and the dentist. I have a question: Why does everyone else talk about placque-gone-hard as "tartar," but the dental folk call it "calculus"? (I'm not complaining: I like the idea that every six months my teeth have been been working out complex equations all over my enamel while I've been watching Charm School with Mo'Nique and mastering online Tetris.)

Goodness. Already, I digress. I also got a tetanus shot, and believe you me, I've been milking the sore arm for all it's worth, which turns out to be: beer delivery from Brandon, an excuse not to tickle Caleb, and a general license to moan.

"Why does your arm hurt?" Caleb asked.

"Because I got a tetanus shot," I said.

"What's that for?"

"Well, if I step on a rusty nail, then the shot makes it so I won't get a blood infection," I told him.

Caleb raised his eyebrows. Clearly, he was trying to imagine a situation in which his mother would encounter a rusty nail.

"It could happen!" I said. It could happen if a band of dip-tet enthusiasts broke into my house and left a bed of rusty nails right next to where I was sleeping.

I go to the doctor because I'm convinced that something terrible--something statistically unlikely--will happen to me. Did you know that there is such a thing as cancer of the sinuses? Do you know all the warning signs for meningitus? Have you gotten the email about the breast cancer that shows itself simply by making your nipple look crusty and wilted?

Have you noticed that your mate has moved the Merck Medical Manual to the back of the pantry?

Weirdly, though, I have a blind spot with the normal aging process. This is such an excellent article in the New Yorker, but I have to say, the beginning freaked the shit out of me. I talk an enthusiastic game with the neuroscience, but really? I want my mind and my body to be just passing acquaintances. I left my heart with Des Cartes.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

E. All of the Above

For one of the quizzes I took to gauge my happiness, I had to assess how much of each emotion I was feeling: Happy? Sad? Anxious? Frustrated? Joyous? Angry? Smug? Irritated? Wry? Brave? Sexy? Fragile? Exhuberant? Afraid? Silly? Nostalgic? Nauseated? Pretty? Pity? Charming? Oh-so-charming?

And so forth. One of the things I wrote about (although the section didn't make the final cut into the book) is how it's normal to experience a variety of emotions at once, that there's rarely pure, medical-grade happiness or any other emotion.

Take this weekend. I had such a good time that I can hardly describe it without swearing for emphasis.

We'll get to the goodness soon. But there was a chunk of time on Saturday afternoon when I was talking to my mother and Krissy (about something I can't write about without spoiling the end of Practically Perfect), and I was just ... sad. Here I was, on this increasingly rare occasion when we're all together, and I couldn't help but feeling sorry and sad with a soup├žon of afraid, all at the same time that I was feeling relaxed and happy.

At one time, I might have beat myself up over this. Did you ever do this, this thing where you're at some event that you've been looking forward to forever and you thought that when the time came, you'd be ecstatic? And then you look around and you're happy enough but it still occurs to you, Oh. I'm still me.

Luckily, and if I can get neuroscience-y on you--and I think I can--our brains seem to take the imprint of the most intense experiences, and this weekend, the fun totally overrode the sadness.

When we got to Mom's house, she had a gift bag waiting on the counter. It was fancy and black with names of la-dee-da cities on it. I pulled out the wrapped box and unwrapped it. Inside was a large leather box that opened from the middle to reveal the most gorgeous pen I ever saw, lying on white suede. It was for me to sign copies of Practically Perfect.

I closed the box, and it made a satisfying thwack. It was the best gift I've ever received.

"This was the fanciest thing I've ever done," Mom said, laughing. She got it at a place that was about the size of her kitchen, the sort of place where prices ARE NOT DISCUSSED. Good god, I love my mother.

(Unfortunately, I did not seem to inherit her knack for gift-giving. Later, Krissy opened her birthday presents; from us, a small schmorgasboard of gifts. One was a compilation of of eighties' love songs, that, for the low, low price of $5.99, seemed chock full of bang for the buck. Bang like "Keep on Loving You" and "Need You Tonight" and "Sexual Healing." Jill brought out the CD player and we popped it in. The music started up and something seemed, well, off. The phrasing. The music.

I grabbed the CD case. In small letters at the bottom: "As performed by The Countdown Singers." Waiter? This isn't the cheese I ordered!)

Years from now, when I think about this weekend, I know I won't remember that little chunk of sadness. I know that I'll think of Krissy's 30th and remember my niece singing a song that she wrote and performed at her school talent show; the shaking of the booty with Brandon at the bar; the four of us in a group hug; Erin calmly ordering another round of shooters; the singing at the top of our lungs, the sleepwalking story; Mom making pancakes with the kids; Trixie; the best gift I ever received.

I'm counting on my brain playing this little trick. When it's some year like 2047, I will look around at the kids on their hoverboards with their robot dogs and say, Listen up, whippersnappers: Back in 2007? Those were some good times. Pure and simple.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Be Back Tomorrow

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