Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Happy Hangover Anniversary

This week is my Uncle Richie & Aunt Carrie's 29th wedding anniversary. Which means that it's also the 29th anniversary of my first hangover.

I'll save you from having to do the math - I was 13. Just a touch under the drinking age.

This isn't going to be a bleak and sordid tale of teen alcoholism, so you can relax. It was 1983, and like many things that happened in the 1970s and 80s, it was a tale of adults not paying very close attention to the kids. With a bit of adults thinking, "oh, what the hell," thrown in there.

It all started during the formal photos after the ceremony and while the non-members of the wedding party were all at the cocktail hour. (I was a junior bridesmaid. The dress was lavender and floor length and incredibly tasteful for 1983.) The bride & groom had a lot of formal photos taken, and I'm sure it didn't help that photographers have no idea how to cope when the bride is a foot shorter than the groom. (There was a lot of making him stand in the gutter to lessen the height difference, but keeping their feet in the shot so that it was totes obvs.) This was a lengthy process that didn't require everyone's participation.

After a while, my Aunt Bea decided that the best way to pass the time was to introduce me and my cousin Kristen to champagne. (I'd had it before, but never in a "here, have all you want," way.) One hour and three bottles later, it was time to go down to the reception.

Where Kristen and I hung out with her two brothers and another cousin. Every time one of the guys went to the bar to get us drinks (3 beers and 2 champagnes), the bartender just handed them over. 

It was 1983.

It was also a yacht club, so it may also have been completely legal at the time.

I can tell you nothing about the food, the music, the first dance, any of those things that people remember about weddings. But the champagne? Yes, this is a thing that I remember.

The next day was a Monday and my parents had decided in advance that we wouldn't have to go to school since we'd be out late at the wedding. My mother had also concocted a nice idea involving going out for brunch.

At 3pm, she woke me up, furious that I hadn't gotten up yet, killing the whole brunch thing. 

Now, have you ever had a champagne hangover? It's not so much the alcohol, but the sugar.  I thought I was going to die, or worse - live. You know, all the cliches about first hangovers. 

And my mother did make me shower and get dressed and leave the house in this state. Because brunch. I'm also not sure exactly when she discovered that I was hungover. Because she didn't notice that I was drunk at the reception because I was off with my cousins the whole time.

And now we come to the part of the tale where you expect me to say that I never drank enough to get hungover again. I'd like to say that it was the last time I got drunk on champagne because of the sugar hangover, but there was a New Years Eve in my early 30s, shortly after I'd discovered Veuve Clicquot.

When was your first hangover?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fuck Diplomacy

Being nice is a habit from my corporate lackey days that I really need to give up. Not that I want to be a Malcolm Tucker type, screaming and cursing at everyone while still holding a job and getting promotions, and who the fuck am I kidding? I totally want to be like that. Not that I want to make everyone around me miserable, but I've worked in multiple places where I've been told, "we've spoken to Crazy Ted several times about his behavior, and he's just not going to change. He's going to keep working here and he's going to keep being crazy/rude/whatever to you, and you're just going to have to take it because standing up to him is unprofessional." (Note that in many instances, Crazy Ted is Crazy Tina. Obnoxious co-worker behavior is non-gender specific.) 

But my deep seated desire to be socially allowed to curse out people in the workplace is not what I'm talking about here.

What I'm talking about is spending an hour crafting and revising an e-mail over and over again so that I don't cause offense. Because that's what you're taught to do when you work with Crazy Ted. Managers insist that it's possible to avoid setting off the crazy if you just try hard enough. (I suspect that they don't really, really believe it. They just think they do because they lack the power to fire Crazy Ted.)

The problem is that you can't avoid setting someone off. Case in point, the reunion story. In which I made an offhand comment about how the cool kids had taken the online planning of the junior reunion offline and made some questionable decisions. In the resulting shitstorm, people started testifying to their own personal experiences with coolness and had no opinions on the decision to not bother tracking down the rest of the class, or illogical location decisions.

The people who'd made suggestions, or offered to help tie down locations said nothing. Which kinda undermines that whole "I've rarely regretted saying nothing" quote that's been going around. Way to let me take all the heat for saying, "hey what about so-and-so's idea?"

Only a true asshole thinks they're never to blame. But I'm starting to realize that how I phrase something isn't going to determine how someone is going to take what I'm saying.

As a writer, the realization that I can't write my way out of someone misinterpreting my meaning and jumping down my throat? Mind blown.

In college, I took a journalism class. The professor was a freelance investigative journo who was teaching one class just to have a steady income. He'd pretty much done it all - music journalism, celebs, politics. He had the grizzled no nonsense attitude that came with the ability to interview Mick Jagger and not be too intimidated to get a decent interview.

One class, he was talking about some little bit of ethics. Not making up sources, probably. "If you do that, people will think you're a jerk," he said. And, of course, jerks don't get hired.

Everyone in the class got it. We did not want to be thought of as jerks.

Last week, a writer acquaintance of mine did a blog post that broadcast her own ignorance about something writing related. (I'm being deliberately vague here because I'm not looking to publicly embarrass her or call her out for her later actions.) I thought it would be ungenerous to let her continue broadcasting her ignorance since she's a pro writer and was intending to continue in this vein in a larger venue than her blog. So I sent an e-mail saying, hey you probably don't know this, but here ya go. 

She responded saying, essentially, I don't need to know that, I'm a hack.

Instead of writing her off, I replied saying as gently as I could, yeah, you do need to know that and why are you disrespecting yourself and what you do? I spent an hour I could have spent on my own paying work trying to encourage someone else and give her a pep talk. 

And that's when she accused me of being condescending. This has been followed by nasty comments on Facebook including one from a complete stranger who seems to think that insulting my lipstick is part of a valid argument.

So fuck this. 

His Awesomeness told me not to bother. He told me it would only lead to aggravation. I have allowed him to do the I Told You So Dance. How is it that he's the kinder, gentler one of the two of us, but I'm the one who refuses to learn that people are eager to take offense? 

I don't think I can stop trying to pay it forward to people. I've gotten great unsolicited advice and I know I'll need more along the way. I've made so many mistakes in my life that if someone told me that I was making an ass of myself, I'd probably roll my eyes and say, "Oh, what did I do now?" without even bothering with the kneejerk defensiveness.  

But it's just not in me to decide that someone less experienced than I am is hopeless and unworthy of help.

But I'm done wasting time trying to be non-confrontational. 

Because the people who will get it, will get it. Whether you say, like my teacher, "if you do that, people will think you're a jerk," or if you spend an hour looking for the gentlest words known to mankind. Crazy Ted in the office is going to find some excuse to cut loose, so why spend time trying to avoid it?

What's your policy on advice? Do you let people sink or swim on their own? Or do you give a helpful word when it's warranted/welcome? And how do you judge when that is? Please no comments on the recent sitch - people have been blocked on social media and it should die down soon. This post isn't about that. It's about how we don't actually have the power to prevent people from getting mad at us. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Time I Was Almost Assaulted By An Off Duty Clown

The Clown
Photo credit: Doug Hay
The problem with Gerritsen Beach, the neighborhood I'm from, is that it's a pretty uneventful place. There's a coupla bars and not much to do. So nothing much happens. Until something does. Like almost getting fucked up by a clown.

Let me back up.

That evening there was a fundraiser for the local Catholic school. A card party. You don't play cards at a card party, although I suppose at some point in the misty past cards were played, hence the name. Nowadays, you eat a catered meal - something nice but not extravagant like chicken francese with a potato croquet and side of green beans or some veggie - I don't remember. 

You get a bunch of raffle tickets with your entry fee and you can buy more. The raffles are for different prizes - mostly stuff for the house. I won a basket of liquor one year. There's a cash bar to bring in some extra money and because things can get a mite tedious. One year the priest reading off the raffle winners got a bit slap happy and started making fun of one of the prizes - a world clock that was a little bit god awful and little bit nice, and someone donated two of them every year. The poor woman who'd actually chosen the first of the two clocks was mortified that the priest was mocking her new clock because no one else had  picked the other one. But she also thought it was hilarious. 

You know, the power of wine.

So anyway, one year, a bunch of us went to a local bar after the card party to see a local band play. And some of the card party attendees came as well. Including the priest and an off duty party clown who I will not name because the neighborhood only had one and I want to be able to go back home without risking getting my ass kicked.

At one point, Drunky the Clown actually stepped up to the microphone to sing What Child Is This? in honor of the priest and Christ Almighty, why didn't her friends take her home? And why the hell can't cover bands take a set break without someone trying to jump into the act?

Not long after that, I went to use the ladies room. As one does. Drunky the Clown appears outside the stall, peeks through the space between the door and the wall and sees that I'm buckling my belt. She orders me to get out of the stall because I can do that outside. She spouts some crazy shit about not being able to wait because she has kids. Which, OK, clown needs to do some kegels. And get to the ladies room a little sooner because there are plenty of intoxicated leaky moms who don't try to order people out of the toilet stall.

That's right. Tried to. Because you know I didn't budge. I am not about to be pushed around by some crazy drunk off-duty clown even if she has a hundred pounds on me. Because I'm more stubborn than smart.

I made it back into the bar unscathed and told my friends what had happened. I was just all, bitch is crazy. One of my friends is the one who started laughing and shouting that I'd almost gotten my ass kicked by a clown. 

Because the only things that seem to happen in Gerritsen Beach are kinda lame or incredibly bizarre. Like clown assault. 

Or a really hot guy showing up at the bar dressed as Christopher Columbus, but it's not Halloween. Or Columbus Day, if I'm remembering correctly. But that's another story.

Monday, September 16, 2013

On Infertility and Longing and I Still Don't Want a Baby

Baby Shoes
Photo credit: Playingwithbrushes
In the past, I've ripped into 30 Rock for doing such a crap job of portraying adoption. Yes, it's a workplace comedy and Liz Lemon's personal life not being the focus was kinda the whole point. But Tina Fey's general awesomeness means that she gets held to a higher standard than everyone else. Which is also one of the things that sucks about being a woman. 

Around the same time, How I Met Your Mother did an episode that did an amazing job of addressing infertility. For some reason, I didn't write about it at the time. I've decided to change that because Entertainment Weekly recently named it the best HIMYM season 7 episode (though I'd argue it's the best, period). Also His Awesomeness and I watched it this weekend and even though it was the, let's say fourth time I've seen it, I bawled my eyes out. Again.

I'm talking about Symphony of Illumination, available on Netflix streaming. Instead of Future Ted narrating the episode, we get Future Robin narrating to her future kids. Robin has a pregnancy scare and celebrates like crazy when she finds out she's not pregnant. Then she gets called back into the doctor's office. It turns out that she can't get pregnant. Ever. 

She never wanted kids, but she's still upset. It's one thing to never want something, but it's another to be told you can never have it if you change your mind. And she can't tell her friends because she knows them well enough to know that they won't react in any way that will help her. And Lily is pregnant, so of course they have to go to a baby store to help her register for the baby shower. Twice.   

In the end, we discover that the kids Robin was talking to are imaginary and it's hasn't been Future Robin narrating, but Robin Robin sitting alone in the park working through this.

For some reason, I also cry my eyes out at the end, when Robin returns home to find Ted who's determined to comfort her even though she refuses to tell him what's wrong. He's decorated the apartment with Christmas lights programmed to flash in time with AC/DC's Highway to Hell, which makes perfect sense with the B plot.

And Robin finally cries.

The best thing about all of this? Several episodes later, Robin tells her boyfriend about her infertility and he figures that adoption is still an option. But no, even after discovering how much it hurts to lose the possibility of something she didn't want, Robin still doesn't want it. She hasn't changed her mind - she still doesn't want kids. And so they break up.

I love that they let her have complicated feelings about the issue without changing her mind. She can look at babies and think they're cute as fuck, but still not ultimately want one of her own.

And I'm right there with her. I wasn't never that hung up on the idea of gestating my own young. So when I couldn't get pregnant and we turned to older child adoption, I rolled with it. And then the attempted adoption went all to hell. Now the sight of a pregnant woman annoys the hell out of me. Hearing that a hopelessly infertile blogger I follow is now knocked up makes me want to smack her with jealous rage. I can cry my eyes out because a sitcom character is infertile too. 

But once my tantrum is over, I don't want a baby. My life choices haven't changed just because I experience griefquakes (TM OV Hawkins)  over the twin losses of the child I couldn't conceive and the child I tried to adopt. The Kid's rages and compulsion to fight me every single second of the day make me long for a baby because kids you raise from birth will not try to run away several times a week, heading for the fire escape when you have the front door blocked and what the hell are you supposed to do if you have more exits than adults to block them? 

But the truth is that there are children in the foster system who have experienced less trauma than The Kid and are therefore easier to parent. Because ultimately, The Kid didn't want to be part of a family. It was too painful and upsetting for her. As soon as she let herself get comfortable, she exploded.

I'm glad that we've had to delay starting the process again until after the one-year anniversary of The Kid leaving us. So much still reminds me of her. There was an annual street fair near our apartment yesterday, so of course I remembered last year's fair, when The Kid was with us and not the other years.

I hope that once we pass the anniversary of her last, horrible night with us, something in me will be exorcised. I hope that something will be gone. So that I can be some other kid's mother without constantly bracing myself for a violent tantrum. Intellectually, I know that we're not going to repeat our experience with The Kid. But I don't feel it in my bones yet.

So when I feel baby jealousy or baby longing, I haven't changed my mind about dirty diapers or lugging a stroller on the subway. It's just my desire for a non-disastrous parenting experience. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Class Pictures - Because School Isn't Awkward Enough

Camera van (Maker Faire)
Photo credit: Logan Ingalls
One of my most vivid memories from 5th grade is having my school picture taken. We were all herded down to the gym where we each took our turn sitting on a stool in front of a lame backdrop while a photographer snapped our picture. Afterwards, we were supposed to get up and go to our left. For whatever reason, I got up and turned right. 

This completely ruined my class picture and it had to be retaken. Because...I got nothing. There is no real, actual reason for this to be the case. Maybe the crazy bullshit of Catholic school rules permeated the camera. I dunno.

I had just switched schools and was having a really hard time of it and I was nine, so there was no way I was going to turn to the photographer and call bullshit. If it had happened in the first month or so, I might've said something, because I was in a haze of WTF for weeks because that's what happens when you switch from someplace laid back like Montessori to someplace with regimented, mandatory insincere prayer 2-3 times a day.

It's not like there was really any hope of a flattering picture since our uniform was green, gray, black and yellow plaid. 

It was just as ugly as you are imagining. Which is why I'm not even going to look for a picture to scan.

My husband went to public school because his parents were much less interested in screwing him up than mine were. In second grade, his mom let him wear his Star Trek uniform t-shirt for his class pictures. Because it was his totally favorite shirt. And he was the cutest thing.

His mom also saved the class picture and there were other kids all dressed up for picture day in nice sweaters. In the 80s, you just know that a kid showing up for picture day in a Star Trek tee would've led to nasty gossip. In the 90s, possible re-shoots of the class photo. In the Aughts, dozens of fraught e-mails and photoshopping.

But it was the 70s. I'm sure everyone just rolled with it. If any mom was annoyed that her dream of a perfect Norman Rockwell class picture had been besmirched, she probably just grumbled into her bourbon and had a smoke. On the way to the obstetrician. 

Got your own school picture stories? Share 'em in the comments. Wanna read about other people's school pictures? Check out this week's Remember The Time Blog Hop.

RTT new

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Those Fashionable Nazis

To the British Troops
By The National Archives UK (To the British Troops)
 [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons
I know, right? Exactly the sort of thing I usually write about.

As you may have heard, Russell Brand (who manages to look sexy while also looking like he could really use a bath) was at the GQ Awards, sponsored by Hugo Boss and just had to say something on stage about how the company's founder, Hugo Boss himself, designed uniforms for the Nazis

What he said was, "The Nazis did have flaws, but, you know, they did look fucking fantastic, let's face it, while they were killing people on the basis of their religion and sexuality."

Oh yes, he did.

The appalling thing is that he's right about how great they looked. Those uniforms are iconic in fashion and influence movie costumes decades later. Think of the Empire in Star Wars.  And whenever a modern fashion designer says that they're inspired by WW2 uniforms, they don't mean just the Allies' uniforms, although they're too smart to admit it.

Other artists left the country when the Nazis wanted them to work for them (director Fritz Lang, for example). But not Hugo Boss. 
Schülerzeitung Hilf mit Titelseite April 1936
By Heinz-Josef Lücking (eigenes Foto)
 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And now I'm wondering how it would've affected the war if the Nazis hadn't looked so damn stylish and intimidating.

I mean, just look at that fucker rocking his Hugo Boss designed uniform. There's plenty of speculative fiction focused on WW2, so what if the Nazis couldn't find anyone with a decent sense of style to design their uniforms? Would Hitler have been able to create such a cult of personality if he was dressed a little schlumpy? Can you create effective propaganda without a decent outfit?

We all know that old saw about teams who wear dark uniforms being perceived as more aggressive. What if the alternate universe designer had put the Nazis in a light-colored tweed? They would seem much less terrifying, right?

Would that correlate to less votes, and less power, and therefore no genocide? I have no idea. I'll have to leave that one to people much smarter and more versed in menswear than I am. But I can't even imagine writing a speculative fiction piece in this vein, because the Nazis are nothing without those uniforms. I can't separate the two in my mind. Can you?


Monday, September 9, 2013

The Horror of the Baby Shower

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a baby shower for my cousin. Now, I'm pleased that my family is expanding, but the baby shower is an especially horrifying ritual. 

Exhibit one is the diaper cake.

Let me repeat that. The diaper cake. I don't remember when this became a thing, and I'm not even going to try to figure out WHY it's a thing. But it's a thing. You gotta have a diaper cake. Or in this case, three diaper cakes because one of the grandmas-to-be wanted to learn how to make them, so they both moseyed on over to my mom's house (because she's the one who knows how to make these things--yes, the same mom who went to Burning Man) and they each made one.

They are constructed out of unused diapers, ribbon and baby paraphernalia. Because.

My mother got the project out of a magazine in the I want to say 90s, but maybe it was the 80s. I'm fairly certain that Martha Stewart had nothing to do with this. And now this is one of those things that thou shalt have at thy baby shower.

And really, I just hate anything mandatory on principle. Like the drill team songs where everyone has to go through certain mandated motions instead of just dancing. 

But diaper cakes are just disturbing.

And you know what else is freaky as all get out?

The blanket babies.


Tell me those don't look like something that will come after you in your nightmares. You can't. They are, of course, dolls fashioned out of blankets.

Because having to listen to everyone's childbirth horror stories isn't terrifying enough.

This time, I avoided that pleasant little ritual, but one time in my teen years...well, let me back up and explain that my Aunt Bea is a nurse and my mom was an EMT, so they were both qualified to deliver babies. So one time at a baby shower in my teen years, my Aunt Bea turned to be, pointed to my mom and herself and said merrily, "We want to deliver yours."

Not big on boundaries, my family.

What are your baby shower horror stories?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mingling For Shy People

Singles Networking Event 18
Photo credit: Freelancers Union
I've been going to a lot of networking events lately looking for freelance writing clients. The great thing about events that are meant to bring strangers together is that there's no need for social anxiety. EVERYONE there is alone, and at risk of feeling like the odd man out. 

But that doesn't mean people still don't have anxiety about situations like this. 

Early in my career I went to a cocktail work thing with a group of people who needed to be working the room, convincing everyone there that to like us and be happy that we'd been hired to do the job we were there to do. Most or all of these people complained about how much they hate these things on the way there, and declared that they'd put in an appearance and leave as soon as they could. In fairness, they were probably overwhelmed because their first day on the job involved flying out to Chicago and this was only a day or two later. But I decided right then that I wasn't going to be afraid of a little mingling. Because I felt nothing but scorn for those people and I wasn't going to be like that. Ever.

So I got a copy of The Art of Mingling (it's since been updated, so possibly the author has invented new mingling techniques) and became a mingling gladiator. (I got #4 from the book, but I can't remember any of her other tactics.)

So here are my tips:

  1. Find someone who's alone and go talk to them. This is the single most important mingling tip ever. Use it everywhere--parties, networking events, etc. In such situations, it it universally acknowledged that anyone not in possession of a conversation partner is in need of one. They'll be so relieved to have someone to talk to that they'll just love you to pieces.
  2. If you can't find anyone who's alone, break into a group by standing next to them until someone notices you and invites you into the conversation. This is easier in a networking event than a party, but it works.
  3. Make your way towards the bar. Or anywhere else where it's too crowded to move. It's not pleasant, but you can start a conversation by catching someone's eye and saying, "I can't move. Let's talk!" Also, this gives you a purpose--first, you're moving towards the bar, then you;'re trying to get away from the scrum. 
  4. Have a few opening lines/conversational tactics in mind. In most situations, I start with, "Hi, I'm Jen," and go from there. For business networking, I have my business pitch, explaining what I do, and I ask the other person about their business. At some events, people put their industry on their name tags, so maybe I'll tease them about how vague theirs is ("tech startup" "finance") and ask for details. Or I'll ask a question based on it, like "What do you do in fashion?" A lot of people see that I have "Writer" on my name tag, and will ask what sort of things I write. Comments on how loud and/or crowded the event is also make good conversational lubricant. If you're at a birthday party where the only person you know is the birthday girl, you can ask everyone, "How do you know Tracy?" If the birthday party is at a bar, don't be surprised if they don't know Tracy, but go ahead and ask anyway. I was at a party where I would've sworn everyone there knew the birthday girl, but when I asked the guy waiting behind me on the line for the bathroom, he had no idea what I was talking about.
  5. When someone hands you a business card--Look at it! I have made the rookie mistake of not looking many times. Then later on, I look at the card and have no image of who gave it to me. Searching Linked In helps, but I've also been left wondering if someone handed me someone else's card by mistake. Also? Commenting on their card is something else to talk about. I designed my own cards and love getting compliments on them. 
Another great networking tip, given to me by pro organizer and networking maven Amy Neiman (and old friend of my cousin), who I ran into at my first networking event, is to categorize the business cards you've collected on the way home. 1 or A for leads, 2 or B for connections/potential referrals and so on. I keep my cards in the box from my old business cards, separated by cards with wee tiny clothespins from the dollar store. I have a third category for blog contacts and a fourth for clients (whee!).

Any questions? Got any networking/mingling tips that I missed? Share 'em in the comments.