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.