Friday, February 29, 2008

Again, With the Minor Parenting Snafu

Yesterday, Caleb came home from school and The Worst Day Ever. Apparently there was some bad behavior while standing in line and he had to write half a page on the topic of Respect in Line.

I’m realizing more and more that part of my job as his mother is to provide him with a little perspective. The little perfectionist takes on any punishment with some serious drama, so I try to instill the attitude of Okay You Messed Up and You Need to Take Your Lumps but For God’s Sake, It’s Not Like You Masterminded Some Really Horrible Plot.

So he started his half page on Respect in Line, and it turns out, there’s not a whole lot to say on the subject. “Don’t talk in line,” he wrote. “Don’t play around in line.” He paused then wrote, “Don’t get out of line.”

“What else?” I prompted.

He was still in high drama mode, and so he said, “Don’t die in line.”

“I don’t think anyone could help it if they died in line,” I said. And then I said the thing that I wished I could snatch back as soon as it came from my mouth. I said, “But you shouldn’t kill anybody in line.”

He started writing and I said, “Stop! Stop!” with visions of social services and guidance counselling darting around in my head. “I’m not writing that,” he said. “I put, ‘Don’t hurt anyone in line.’ ”

Thank God he has common sense. I toned it down and asked him what he thought about safety and repecting others’ personal space. I didn’t share the things that would take up at least half half a page.

Don’t strip down to your underwear in line.

Don’t throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just don’t care in line.

Don’t line dance in line.

And so on.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Doing Good, Thanks

On Sunday, I was reading the little USA Today insert that comes with the local daily. Usually, I just scan the inside front cover, where readers/publicists write in questions like, “I sure enjoyed watching Julianna Margulies on E.R.! What’s she up to these days?” I kept flipping and came across the paper’s Leap Day event: The story goes, you have an extra day during leap years—why not spend February 29 volunteering?

Later that day, I started reading A.J. Jacob’s The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Jacobs winds up both tithing ten percent of his income and trying through his actions to help his fellow man (in many ways, including working at a soup kitchen). It’s a lovely book—funny, smart, and sometimes poignant—and, in some ways, I think he tackled his bizarre project for the same reasons I tackled mine in Practically Perfect.

Sunday was also the day my piece in the Post came out, and I started getting lots of emails, some kudos and some, uh, not. The anti-kudos mostly said things like individualism is vital to living a good and solvent life. And I know that, if things are going smoothly, this philosophy works just fine. But I guess what I was trying to get at—and do get at in the book—at is that our country individualism has become Xtreme! (if I can get all nineties on you), and to temper it, we have to recognize that there is such a thing as luck and that there is such a thing as effort on behalf of a group.

Which is what both the USA Today insert and Jacobs’s Bible project are about. (See? Full circle, baby!!)

Anyhoo, speaking of effort on behalf of a group: I didn’t know what a community organizer was until I met one toward the end of my quest. Turns out, they’re people whose job are to connect others in hopes of achieving some goal. (Joe Szakos and Kristin Layng Szakos have written a book about community organizing, called We Make Change.) Joe’s the director of the Virginia Organizing Project, and I love feeling connected by working with this group. I haven’t done it in a while. I need to get off my duff.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Suggested Soundtrack

So. I was mentioning earlier that one of the things I’ve been rolling around in my head is a possible soundtrack for Practically Perfect in Every Way (strictly for my own amusement. Well—and yours, too.) I started out thinking that this would be a hoot, but by the end, I felt strangely earnest about every selection. You know why? It’s like making a mixed tape. So, in a Cusackian pose, boom box over head, I play you the following:

You give me a metaphor, They Might Be Giants, and I take it literally.

On the other hand, I go with this metaphor.

(The actual song starts around the minute mark.)

I haven’t listened to the lyrics carefully; please know I mean nothing untoward.

Positive Psychology:
Too bad it's such a great song for "Magnolia."


Like this one could have been anything else.

The Soul:
Love the song.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

An Opinion

My piece that will be in the Washington Post’s Outlook section on Sunday went online this morning! I’m a whole lot of excited.

I also got an email from Laura Schlessinger, whom you who might know as Dr. Laura. She read it. She wanted me to know that she earned her Ph.D. in physiology but also has many other credentials and that I should have included them in my piece “for the purposes of journalistic integrity.”

I’m hoping this attention from the good doctor means I’m officially in the cabal of left-wing media types. If so, will someone please teach me the secret handshake? I’m waiting.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

This Will Be Quick. And Freaky.

There are things a plenty going on, but I’m guessing that no one wants to hear about the fascinating way one makes PDFs of a magazine to upload the the old FTP.

Am I right, or am I right?

I went to the eye doctor this morning and quickly realized that, during my visit, I’d gotten Paranoid Vision, which is (obviously) one of the lesser types of super vision. Driving home, with my eyes fully dilated and a deeply tinted piece of plastic between my eyes and my glasses, I got the intense feeling that I was about to be T-boned at any minute. I’d tenatively brake, then flail my head around like one of those dogs that, for no good reason, jumps up and starts attacking its own tail. It was like having ghosts in my peripheral vision. WHO’S THERE! NO T-BONING, YOU! WHERE IS OTA MAY BROWN WHEN YOU NEED HER?

I was almost home before I realized that cars passing in the fast lane were making some sort of reflection in the aforementioned plastic, making me believe that instead of passing me, they were on the verge of careening into me. Not so much Paranoid Vision as an optical illusion. Next year, you best believe I’ll have an escort.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Linkies, Scoob

--My pal Carol Paik has a fabulous essay in Newsweek this week about being mistaken for other Asian women and the slippery nature of (perceived) racism. You like, yes? Then check out this essay about playing Scrabble with her kids. I love it.

--I read David Shield’s The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead. It’s a strangely uncategorizable book—part memoir, part biology writing, part rumination on life and mortality. I liked it quite a bit. (The super-minor quibble I do have—that it’s fairly male-oriented when, in someone else's hands, it might not have been—is part of its fabric, the fabric being a blend of father/son stuff. Hey, the fabric of his life! Although not mine! And that’s okay because it’s his book!) Anyhoo, he quotes Woody Allen, and I enjoyed it:

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don't want to to live on in the hearts of my countrymen. I would rather live on in my apartment."

--BrenĂ© Brown over at Ordinary Courage has a super post on Unilever, the company that makes both the Dove products (with the lovely feminist commercials) and Axe (with the ridiculous male-fantasy commercials). Have a read, have a look. I’m thinking that it’s always going to be the nature of a big corp, that they’ll never stick to one set of ideals, although the people working there (or doing a given ad campaign) may be genuine. But hey, I’m an avowed feminist who nonetheless nurtures an addiction to Rock of Love, so take that for what it’s worth.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Events Leading up to This Picture

I’d planned to take my visiting family out for some teppan yaki when they came down this weekend. Because who doesn’t love a gigantic high-sodium meal prepared with unfunny jokes that we’d all heard a hundred times already? So on Saturday night, we piled in the car.

I entered the restaurant and went to the hostess stand. I asked for a table for seven. I was told the wait was fifteen to twenty minutes. Then a man tapped my shoulder. “Excuse me,” he said. The expression on his face was that of a person with his panties in a painful twist. “You just cut in line in front of us.”

“You were just standing there,” I said. He was. He and his family were just mooning about in the lobby. Just as if a family might do if they had already put their name on a list.

He huffed and puffed and blew up with righteous indignation.

Meanwhile, fifteen minutes became forty-five as the restaurant hosted The World’s Slowest Eater Contest. We left. “SAYONARA, STUPID RESTAURANT!” Caleb yelled as we pulled out of the parking lot. On the way back to the house, I called a pizza place to order two large pies. They were not making pizza that night.

Caleb was starving. My niece Amara had fallen asleep at the bar and woke up, angry that she would not be getting McDonald’s. Brandon called another place. We got the last two pizzas they had. They were not delicious.

So, with impending indigestion, we made the best of it, as is the Niesslein way. We played Blokus. We made a house of of cardboard boxes. We sang some karaoke. We had some drinks.

We found some lipstick I’d purchased under the delusion that I could pull off clown make-up. We applied it. We gave each other big smackeroos in the cheeks.

We took pictures. This is Jill and I.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Bullet Points

--Hey, did you hear about this study in which the researcher found that, over the course of a life, people are generally happiest at the beginning and ends of their lives? The middle age, not so much. Says the study author Andrew J. Oswald, “It might be useful for people to realize that if they are low in their 40s that this is normal. It is not exceptional. And just knowing this might help.” Which I thought was a very nice way of looking at it. [via the Washington Post]

--I just finished Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End. I love this book so much, it makes me want to go to my Goodreads list and rejigger all my other reviews. It reminds me of a Christopher Guest mockumentary, that snarky-sweetness.

--I’ve been thinking about putting together a soundtrack for Practically Perfect, a song per chapter. (No, I’m not being sly with any news—the film options are indeed available if’n you’re interested—but a woman has to procrastinate doing her actual work in some manner.) It’s harder than one might think. On the one hand, if you listen to a song in the right mood, you’ll almost always find a way in which it could relate to a chapter. On the other hand? Listen a little harder and you’ll find that you might be suggesting something about yourself that’s not exactly true. Go ahead. Try it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


On Friday, Caleb had an impromptu part-ay. It got to be around dinner time and we had a bunch of his friends at the house. We try to eat out on Friday so les chefs don’t get all resentful and burned out, but it was rainy and nasty. So we rustled up some pizza and the kids hung out here, playing Uno Attack (thanks, Aunt Kathy!) as if it were poker night.

Caleb’s the age now that I can remember being. It’s a weird thing, and I can imagine it older gets weirder when your kids are teenagers, or adults themselves. When I was Caleb’s age, my best friend was Michele Davis; she had red hair and glasses that I coveted. Her mom, Julie, babysat my sister and me after school, and it was in this way that I became better acquainted with The Guiding Light. (It guided me to a love of cliff-hangers.) Michele’s older sister was Lisa, and I was so jealous that she had homework. One night, Erin and I spent the night at the Davises, and we listened to records. All four of us started sobbing when Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” came on. What can I say? She came and she gave without taking.

I’ve been feeling a little bad lately about now keeping up with my friendships. I value them, but it’s been all work and furtive, late-night play for me. I never got around to the January party I’d planned on throwing. In two weeks’ time, life will be back to its far-away deadlines, but perspective? I miss ya.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Missives from Virginia Departments

We had an ice storm overnight in Virginia. It knocked our electricity out for six hours (I swear we’re on the weiniest circuit in the city) and caused a two-hour delay for the school kids. One of the headlines on the front page of the paper today was “VDOT: Stay off roads Friday if icy.”

Thanks, VDOT. I will also remember to wash hands after using bathroom and turn cell phone off at movie theaters.

In other news, our dog Simon got a letter. Actually written as if Simon were reading it. (“Dear Simon, You recently visited Georgetown Veterinary Hospital and received your rabies vaccination…”) Apparently Virginia recently passed a law where vets have to inform the city when they give a dog a rabies shot.

On the one hand, the law makes no sense to me. We’re supposed to pay four bucks to register Simon, or they’ll let Animal Control Services know that an unlicensed dog lives here. And what? They'll take our elderly dog to the overcrowded shelter? Meanwhile, all the wingnuts who don’t vaccinate their dogs pay no money (in vet bills or licensing) and go unreported, yet pose the greatest risk for spreading rabies.

On the other hand, I love that the letter was addressed to Simon. That’s someone who’s making the most of his or her job. And he or she showed some nice restraint, too. If I were in charge of the letter, you best believe that there would be at least one line in there in which the city wonders “who’s a good boy? who is it? WHO'S THE GOOD BOY?”

It’s Simon. That’s who.