Monday, November 24, 2014

Imagine This

Walking through Central Park the other night, I was all but chased down (if you’re ever walking around, minding your own business, earbuds firmly in place, music at full volume, it guarantees you nothing – anybody desperately wanting to talk to you will move hell and earth to do so) by 3 people standing just inside the 72nd St. entrance, 20 feet away from Strawberry Fields. The kinds of people who have spent tons of time in the Bay Area, but not San Francisco proper. The kinds of people who passionately pull strangers aside to sign petitions on behalf of the environment, but habitually leave lights on in unoccupied rooms. They belonged to a “leadership group” and invited me (along with several others they had just assembled) to announce my vision, around the John Lennon memorial. My vision for the world, mind you. I asked whether it would be videotaped, and they said no.

“Sure!” I eventually said, and as they led me (in the dark, in the cold) to the John Lennon “Imagine” circle, I stressed out about my vision, big time. It had to be good. (Any stress I may have felt about the possibility of getting whacked was slightly overpowered by a feeling best characterized as: “How bad could John Lennon lovers be?”)

One by one, we strangers of all ages, races, shapes, and sizes went around the circle, broadcasting our visions, really putting those visions out there. Of course, it was videotaped because how couldn’t it have been? “Leadership projects” like these were made to be filmed, and I have no problem imagining the organizers firing up the bong before they watch their handiwork on loop a few weeks from now.

When one organizer pointed the lit-up iphone at me, I looked into it and said my vision for the world is More Kindness and More Mindfulness. An updated version of my vision would be: more kindness, more mindfulness, and more people practicing what they preach more often.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Now I’ve Written About It

Oh, how some people dress for the airports. On weekends. On overnight flights. Some aren’t doing more than dropping others off, dressed to kill, dressed to be seen, dressed for world domination. They’re the same ones who mousse up their hair or squeeze into heels for a 5-block strut to the post office, I just know.

(I would dominate the world in a long black or navy cardigan, pink tank shirt, sterling silver jewelry, dark jeans, and pink flats. Pink is more of a power color than red, even looking and sounding more arresting, so similar to “punk.”)

From my experiences, and experiences retold to me, the higher the net worth you project, the more of a target you can become. A bulls-eye for everything. As an adult, I’ve lived in many apartments - the swankiest address I’ve had was the only one to have suffered a break-in attempt (or what I still describe as a break-in attempt, even though the ground-floor window the predator opened from the outside was protected by bars). 

The first time I ever tried boarding a plane in shoes other than sneakers or flip-flops, a customs person (interrogating passengers “at random”) pulled me aside to ask whether I traveled for business or pleasure, and how much cash I had on me. He said I seemed like someone with a lot of money and he needed to make sure I wasn’t bringing more than $10,000 onto the island. (Is this what Zsa Zsa Gabor has to deal with? I bet she dresses up to hit the skies.) When, because he asked, I told him I write, the questions didn’t stop - he asked if I would ever write about our conversation. “Maybe,” I said, and he flipped around the ID badge hanging from his neck so I could no longer see his name and picture. 

I haven’t worn my best shoes to an airport since. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Just Was Always Meant to Work in a Helping Profession

It happened again. I was in a public space, needing a few questions answered, and assumed the person I asked for help worked there, when it turned out she didn’t. I end up doing this to people all the time. People end up doing it to me all the time (I believe this is called karma). Making too much eye contact, while having Midwestern manners and wearing shirts with crisp collars, can be all it takes, from the hallowed hallways of Graceland to the produce sections of grocery stores, where I’ve skillfully directed those looking for bags of onions away from the aisles where onions are sold individually.

The difference between me and some of the others is that I don’t get too sensitive or defensive about getting mistaken for an employee because I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad place to end up.

At one boring conference downtown, I spent so much time idling around the kitchenette (where the coffee, tea, and continental breakfast items were spread out) by myself, attendees eventually assumed I ran the room, coming up to me, asking, “Can you give me more milk?” or “Has this fruit been sitting out for long?” or “Why is it taking so long to replenish the pastries?”

“Oh, I don’t work here,” I said, in the beginning, my mouth half full with a muffin, but I later couldn’t bear to miss a beat. After almost an hour in there, I had gotten a real feel for the place, knowing how and where everything went. Or should have gone.

“That’s quite a bit of dairy in 5 minutes, pal. Take it back, take it black, it’s better for you. You’ll have some cheese with the lunch that’s coming out.”

“Don’t touch that.” 

“Shouldn’t you get back into the audience, all ears to the panelists?”

“Come on over here fella, I gotta bunch of red grapes that will change your morning.”

Wow, is it an honor to be considered an approachable expert about certain subject matters.    

Monday, November 3, 2014

Oh Ho Ho No

When we were children, my best friend and I co-founded a club devoted to Christmas. At its peak, there were a total of four members – the two of us and our little brothers. Meetings began in July or August. We sat on floors and discussed all things (minus anything having to do with religion) Christmas. We called it The Christmas Club. When I brought it up a few years ago, she declared it the best club she’s ever been in, and I feel the same way.

Larger society has piggybacked onto our childhood initiative and formed its own Christmas Club. One that’s not as sweet and innocent as ours. This adult takeover of The Christmas Club is too much of something good, like binge-eating your once-favorite food to the point where you rarely crave it.

My first “holiday” party invitation came a few days before Halloween and I made a face at it. Radio City Music Hall’s tree and lights have been up since last week - and got the face too. And some of these chain stores. I salute the retailers and organizations creative enough to come up with other fall marketing campaigns. (Here, I’m talking about non-pumpkin-themed fall campaigns because I haven’t decided what’s worse – the Christmas marketing movement or the pumpkin-spice one.)

Santas on the streets and Christmas songs on the airwaves in October. Tween me would have been thrilled, vindicated! Thirtysomething me: (1) asks what harm there is in everyone agreeing to wait a few more weeks (here, I’m talking about an official embargo); (2) prefers Thanksgiving to Christmas; and (3) wonders why so many people obsessively focus on the future, on what’s next instead of what’s now. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Seeking to Hire an Unflappable Personal Assistant, Who Will Report Directly to Me

Method of payment: Popsicles (flavors negotiable) and the privilege of blossoming under my tutelage.

Benefits: See above.

***An internal candidate has been identified but (promises of popsicles notwithstanding) has not applied for the position - yet; thus, I am still accepting applications and will consider a handful of qualified candidates***

Responsibilities (Minimum 2 weeks of related experience):

*Short-order cooking, baking, tailoring, and document shredding.

*Starbucks, grocery store, and drugstore runs. And I mean that literally, especially on the way to these places. Your pace must be no slower than a steady, 11-minute-mile jog.

*Serving as the chief middleman between my super/landlord and me.

*Serving as the chief middleman between lots of other people (located near and far) and me, which will include answering my door every time the bell rings and, if the ringer offers a “Can the Dead Live Again?” pamphlet, gamely responding: “Damn right they can. Just the number of Jerry Garcia tribute bands on the Atlantic seaboard alone shows that the Dead is as eternal as Beethoven and Billie Holiday.”

*Treating my birthday as a national holiday (without expecting to get the day off) and profusely thanking me when I, in turn, treat yours as one.


*Spirit, guts (which are fancy words for confidence); remaining highly energetic, but calm, all at once.

 *Proficiency in not only rolling with the punches but in not hesitating to roll out some of your own, when the situation calls for it. I’m essentially looking for an unarmed version of Mikey from season 1 of The Sopranos.

*Must know CPR and best practices for nursing a wound after someone (who will go unnamed) has tripped and fallen on concrete, really scraping herself up again.

*Must never take an expression/concept like “dance like no one’s watching” all that seriously.

*Must have at least one big dream and an even bigger fear of not attaining it. You must be someone who will not settle for or limit yourself to popsicle stands for too long and will treat me to a few popsicles when your time comes.

Monday, October 20, 2014

What Nine Out of Ten of the Best Writers I Know Have in Common

My reaction to finding out today is National Day on Writing:  

                                   Image courtesy of           

Malala Day is one thing, but National Boyfriend Day was October 3rd? Can September 17th or 18th be International Fizzy Water Day? That’s around the time, one year ago, I started falling hard for the stuff.

At least a few times a year, and most recently last Wednesday, people ask me for specific writing advice. What makes a good piece of writing? How can they improve their own writing? They’re not aspiring creative or professional writers as much as those who have come to realize that strong writing is as marketable a skill as tech-savviness.  

I give them a few small practical tips, such as getting rid of all unnecessary words and sentences to help keep the final product as short and streamlined as possible. I can think of several good books that could have been great books if the total word count had been chopped in half; and dozens of brutally rambling e-mails I would have taken more seriously if even two paragraphs had been knocked out.

But here’s my #1, big-picture, tip: avoid “how to” manuals on becoming a better writer and become more of a reader in general.

Many say those with solid liberal arts backgrounds (lots of coursework in English, history, philosophy, etc.) make the best writers – and, from my experiences, these people usually do write noticeably well. But one of the most effective writers I know is a former trophy wife who didn’t make it past the 7th grade and grew up on welfare. She’s just always read tons of great books, short stories, essays, and articles, which is why: she has impeccable grammar and storytelling chops; her vocabulary could match that of any Oxford don; and it’s upsetting to think of how many more opportunities would have come her way if she also brought formal “coursework” to the table.

Ninety percent of the most talented writers I’ve personally known would put reading for pleasure toward the top of their list of hobbies. They’re rarely without reading material during subway rides and might listen to the audio versions of books while driving long distances alone. They read during commercial breaks and long customer service hold times. They read to calm down and to rev up. It’s how they’ve rolled for years, if not for the better part of their lives, to the point where they have gradually absorbed what strong writing looks and feels like, producing strong writing of their own becomes second nature, and “National Days on Writing” become four more unnecessary words. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

An Earful

Someone’s dog once jumped on my lap to kiss me and, before I could kiss back, sucker-jumped my ear, ripped out my earring, and ate it. All in less than 10 seconds. I wasn’t mad at the dog. I could never be mad at an animal. I’m mad at the dog’s owners. Instead of an apology or an effort to make amends, I got, “Oh, how funny! He wants what he wants,” before they changed the subject, never speaking of it again. I didn’t think it was funny. Looking back on it, 15 years later, it’s not something I laugh about, it’s something nobody should ever remind me of, unless they want a 10-minute tirade that usually concludes with, “and I’m still owed a minimum of 14 karats.”  

I just sorted through the earrings section of my jewelry box. I’ve had and lost so many. They’re like socks and boys and drinking buddies and ideas. One minute they’re there, making me giddy; the next minute they’re missing and I smirk at how well I can live without them.

Back and forth, back and forth. That’s where I go whenever I think about whether I should throw out a pair of studs a hippie jeweler in New England sold me years ago. When I told her I was looking for opals, she said opals are a sad stone and bad energy, it’s a sign that I’d lost one of mine, it was time to change courses. That in jewel metaphysics, imperial topazes are good energy, so I should buy a pair of those. She also mistook me for a marathoner – there was a marathon in town that weekend, and she implied that I looked like someone who could easily hold her own in one. Not long after that, I pulled out my wallet and said, “Opal who? I think you’re onto something, imperial topazes are my next logical step!”

But opals are my best stone, my birthstone, and it’s OK to be sad. No opal has made me as sad as I was when these imperial topazes started looking funky after a few months of use. The topazes have become earrings I wouldn’t be caught dead in or posting a picture of. Before I retired them, people having a conversation with me would suddenly stop talking, furrow their brows while staring at my earlobe, bring their heads closer to my head, and ask, “Is there even a stone in there?”

I’m keeping them. I’m treating these topazes the way I treat retaliatory e-mails – as evidence. I loathe imperialism.