Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Go ahead, make 2017 a year of forward-looking statements

I feel kinda sorry for 2017. Two thousand sixteen is a tough act to follow, and I don’t mean that in a good way. In a year when the proverbial stage desperately needed some Shakespeare, it got Charlie Sheen’s one-man show instead. This disappointing, laborious spectacle left audiences so hostile, exhausted and disgusted that no year in its right mind would want to take the stage after that. But 2017 is here, so we in the crowd might as well do what we can to help the newcomer succeed. How do we do it? The answer is simple: we give ourselves something to look forward to, every day, every week and every month.

Psychologists have long viewed the anticipation of a positive experience as a key to happiness. That’s great news, because we can choose to create positive anticipation, and that in turn means maintaining some control over our happiness no matter what presidencies, er, events are happening around us. Anyone who’s ever planned a vacation knows intuitively that looking forward to it gives you a boost long before you pack your bags. And, as a 2014 New York Times article points out, anticipating something great, and savoring that anticipation, not only increases the chances that the experience itself will be good but helps counteract any negativity that ensues if it doesn’t live up to the hype.

So let’s start off 2017 in a way that Wall Street would hate: by making tons of forward-looking statements. Here’s what I’m already looking forward to this year…

… by the day:

  • Sweating: I make a point of exercising nearly every day. Swimming, running, and going to boot camp not only make me feel good physically but also do wonders for my mental health, creativity, and overall outlook. That makes it pretty easy to get out of bed in the morning.
  • Reading a book: I wind down every day by reading at least a few pages of a book. It settles my mind and helps my writing. And if I wake up for long stretches in the middle of the night, as I am wont to do, reading eases my frustration.
  • My neighbors: I live in a great ‘hood, on a great street, where we all know each other, look out for each other – these unbelievable people shoveled me out from Snowzilla when I sprained my wrist last year – and enjoy the occasional front lawn happy hour. I see at least one of my neighbors pretty much every day, sometimes for only a moment as I drive past, but even just the exchange of a friendly wave makes me smile.
  • My family: Not a day goes by without one or more members of Team Yank calling, texting or emailing to say “hi,” send a photo or share a hilarious story. Many of their communications do all three.
  • My friends: My pals are fun, interesting, talented people who enrich my life every day in some way, including by sweating next to me, introducing me to cool places like Costa Rica, or keeping me apprised of such crucial current events as the dates of Barry Manilow’s farewell tour.
  • Music: I always find joy in music, whether I’m making it or just listening to it.

…by the week:

  • The podcast: it’s one of the most fun things I do, hands-down. The combination of hanging out with Philippa and talking about dating adds up to a whole lot of laughter.
  • Writing: not always one of the most fun things I do, but it makes me more engaged in my world, and that’s a great thing. Besides, I’m close to having a first draft of my second book, and I want to cross that finish line.
  • Walks with friends: my pal Bud and I do our best to take weekly walks together, even when it’s cold. I love the exercise, the camaraderie and the laughter.
  • Tuesdays with Larry: my comedy partner and I get together pretty much every week to throw around new material. Sometimes we get absolutely nothing done, but even those fails are successes, because we’re always laughing.
  • More meet-ups: My hike with the Capital Area Hiking Club was a rousing success, so I’m gonna try to do more meet-ups. It’s a great way to try new things, or to meet new people while doing stuff I already enjoy.

…by the month (presented in fragments because these aren’t yet fully formed):

  • January: Going to see Wicked with Mom, Lynne and Emily; taking a trip to NYC with my great friend, LC, and both of our moms; the Women’s March; taking Dad to lose a bunch of money at the new casino at National Harbor; resuming standup comedy stints.
  • February: L.J.‘s birthday; trip to Atlanta to see him, my sister-in-law, and the kiddos. More standup.
  • March: A Joe Bonamassa concert with two people I adore; UVA basketball and March Madness; the official arrival of Spring; the National Cherry Blossom Festival, and maybe even actual cherry blossoms!
  • April: Mom’s birthday; my parents’ anniversary; cherry blossoms! (And maybe the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler?) another chance to reprise my role as the neighborhood Easter Bunny; Opening Day for Major League Baseball!
  • May: Mother’s Day; Memorial Day = cookouts, outdoor swimming, front lawn happy hours, outdoor concerts, etc.
  • June: Father’s Day; a landmark birthday for my sister Suzi; my nephew J.J.’s graduation, followed by a two-week graduation trip with JJ to celebrate said graduation (the burden I carry as his aunt).
  • July: Celebratory graduation trip, cont’d!
  • August: The Yank family reunion; Lynne’s birthday; Dad’s birthday.
  • September: Steve Martin and Martin Short at Wolf Trap. (ALERT: I bought two tickets, so those who are interested in being my plus-one should start lobbying now!)
  • October: Hikes to enjoy the fall foliage; another chance to judge the neighborhood Halloween costume contest.
  • November: YANKSGIVING!!!!!
  • December: Star Wars Episode VIII! I don’t know how I’ll top 2016’s “I’ve gone further for less” Rogue One experience, but if I have to go to Hawaii to see Episode VIII, so be it.

Whaddya know, the same things that make me happy every day – family, friends, exercise, outdoors, laughter, and music – pop up regularly in my weekly and monthly lists, too. Another cool thing? I know the list will only grow.

Try making your own list and I bet you’ll not only make the same discoveries but find that the simple act of making the list sets a perfect stage for 2017. Happy New Year, everyone!

Stand and deliver, and try not to get booed off the stage

Emboldened by the 2016 Presidential election, which has taught me that any unqualified fool can grab a microphone and say outrageous things in front of a crowd, I decided to try stand-up comedy.

I made my debut on July 17 with an outfit called StandupComedyToGo.com at O’Sullivan’s in Clarendon, having had no real training beyond an improv comedy class I took in 2006, taught by the incomparable Shawn Westfall. As great as the class was, the skills didn’t really transfer because improv and standup are kind of like baseball and golf: beyond a few surface similarities — copious whiffing, profanity and beer — the two don’t have all that much in common. Though I lacked formal training, I didn’t go into this thing cold (c’mon, people, I may have a weak attachment to my dignity, but I’m not a complete moron); I’ve been working up to it for the past two years, with the help of my friend Larry. Larry and I first crossed paths at the Westover Beer Garden in the summer of 2014, when I was wrapping up the manuscript for Good Luck With That Thing You’re Doing  and he was hanging out enjoying an IPA. We bonded right away over humor, and when I mentioned in passing that I’d always wanted to try standup, Larry, who has a background in comedy, made it his mission to help me.

We started meeting on Tuesdays to toss back a few beers and a lot of ideas, leading Larry to call our weekly get-togethers the “Spitball Sessions.” Larry brought his notebook to every SBS and jotted down any line that made us laugh. We figured someday we’d take the best of our SBS notes and whip them into shape until they resembled a decent standup routine. It was a fine plan, except that I’m 45 and Larry is 61, and we don’t whip things into shape anymore so much as beg, plead and cajole them. And even then, the things need a compelling event. We didn’t have one, so I manufactured it by signing up for a 3-minute set on an open mic night two weeks out. And that was all it took because, as regular readers know, nothing spurs me to action like the threat of public humiliation.

Larry and I started culling through our SBS notes, which was like corralling sea monkeys. I wrote a rough draft, Larry edited, we kicked it around 85 more times, and then I started testing it out on unsuspecting audiences, like my brother and sister-in-law in Atlanta. I knew I could trust those two for honest feedback: we have the same last name, so the risk of humiliation by association was real. They watched the video I sent and then called to give me their assessment. Both of them work in Corporate America and understand the importance of encouragement, so they delivered their comments in the form of a “feedback sandwich.” They didn’t call it that, of course, but I work in Corporate America too, so I knew what it was as soon as I heard it. For those who haven’t ever dined on a feedback sandwich, the stuff you did well is the bread and the stuff in the middle is what you really need to work on, so you usually care most about the middle. You hope for something positive, the equivalent of PB&J, and you live in fear of liverwurst. (Unless you’re my sister Lynne, who adores not only liverwurst but also split-pea soup, leading me to believe her taste buds were removed at birth.) My Atlanta consultants, who are standup connoisseurs, went heavy on the bread and light on the filling, buoying my hopes that I might be able to pull it off.

I made a few changes based on their advice and then performed it live for Larry, who serves up a different kind of feedback sandwich. He left out the bread altogether, and the filling consisted of: “You just need to suck less.” I choked on it at first, bitter and tough to swallow as it was, but it was what I needed. And I had to admit, it was the best line of the day. I went back to the drawing board, and after just 74 additional run-throughs, I thought I might be ready.

Then I went to the Standupcomedytogo.com website. It’s run by a nice, supportive guy named Curt whose noble, and slightly insane, goal is to enable newbies to break into a sometimes cliquish local comedy scene. I scrolled down to the five tips for first-timers. They were great except for #3, which was one-half super-practical (“bring water and your set notes on stage with you”) and one-half unintentionally subversive (“Your mouth will go dry and your mind will go blank within the 1st minute”).

We newbies also had to bring five hostages, er, friends to the performance, and that’s the part that really made me nervous. I don’t mind embarrassing myself in front of a room full of strangers, but in front of people I love and whose opinions matter to me (one of whom, Janice, drove four hours one way for my three-minute set)? That’s terrifying. When the time came, I did as Curt instructed and brought my water and cheat sheet up with me. I tucked the latter into my bra, figuring that if all else failed, I’d at least get one laugh if I had to pull it out.

The minute I got onstage, the nerves began to dissipate and I just enjoyed myself. And fortunately for all concerned, I got more than one laugh without ever having to reach into my bra. I was told the lion’s share of the laughs came from the stranger faction because most of my loved ones, and certainly Larry, were too terrified on my behalf to laugh.

And the feedback I got from Curt was all bread: I’ll be back at O’Sullivan’s on August 14 to do a five-minute set. The show starts at 7, and though I don’t have to bring hostages, I’m hoping some of you will surrender yourselves to the cause!

A Terrible Case of PPD

Like all good coups, the one at Camp Boob began when the oppressed citizens woke up one day and said, “Wait a minute, we don’t need this couch-surfing yutz anymore!”

 The patient’s surgical drains were removed on Wednesday, one day ahead of schedule.  Once those were gone, nothing remained for me to do except administer drugs so I knew I wouldn’t last long.  Time and again, history shows that nothing incites a people to rebel like the prospect of unfettered access to muscle relaxers and Vicodin.

So that’s how Philippa and the cat came to toss me out on my keister today.

(The truth is, they didn’t throw me out.  I self-exiled and went into hiding when Philippa posted this blog, complete with what I can only describe as a “payback photo.”)

As I left the No Dignity Zone of Camp Boob with only the clothes on my back (and also in my garbage bags), I felt mixed emotions.

The Hefty Collection, for Louis Vuitton. (Admired by Louie the cat.)

On the one hand, my departure meant that this friend whom I love so dearly is not just on the road to recovery but in the express lane.  She’s one of the lucky ones and I can’t celebrate that enthusiastically enough.

On the other, I will miss the convalescence that we turned into a writing retreat, the daily lunch and dinner parties courtesy of Philippa’s wonderful friends (who have claimed me as their own along the way), and most of all, the side-splitting laughter.

Make no mistake: Philippa and I don’t depend on adversity for laughter.  We know we have plenty of hilarity ahead of us, and we’ll be thrilled to find it beyond the dark corners of a battle against breast cancer.

But our laughter over the past ten days occupies a rare place in my heart.

To back up for a moment, when Philippa and I met nearly twenty years ago at a wedding where her then-husband and my then-fiance were singing, I never would have imagined that she’d end up with  breast cancer or that I’d be her main caregiver.  Either idea on its own would have been the height of absurdity.

Yet last Tuesday, we found ourselves thrust into the very absurdity our minds lacked the capacity to fathom.

As if by tacit agreement, we chose not to fight it and instead we just went with it.  And before we knew it, we were playing absurdity poker and rather enjoying ourselves.

I started the bidding by doing ridiculous things like taking bets on the surgical drains every time I went to empty them.

“Number 4’s been strong and steady, but two is looking awfully hungry today.  I’m gonna double down,” I’d say.

And when I was supposed to monitor drain output for changes in color, I offered my analysis by reference to popular beverages.

“You’ve gone from Hawaiian Punch to Tang,” I announced proudly Monday morning.

Not to be outdone, Philippa saw my ridiculous and raised it a wacky.  She instructed me to cloak the husband in one of her unused surgical bras. “Every husband likes lingerie,” she pointed out.  And then she insisted on choosing her own outfit while floating on a cloud of Vicodin. We all know how that turned out.

In sum, she and I both expected ten days of abject misery that would strain our relationship.  What we got instead were ten days spent enjoying each other’s company, laughing, worrying, healing, and looking forward together.  I can say without question that this time yielded the most terrifying, intimate, intense and beautiful –yes, beautiful– experiences I’ve ever had with someone I love.

Small wonder, then, that tonight finds me suffering from a terrible case of Post-Philippa Depression.  What a wonderful, perfect thing.

Philippa’s friend Sarah brought the patient pastries one morning and me this gluten-free orchid, also a wonderful, perfect thing.

Who Needs A Husband, Anyway?

My friend Philippa had cancer surgery six days ago and I’m staying with her during the post-op recovery period.  Though we have to dedicate some of every day to monitoring and medicating her, we spend enormous amounts of it laughing.

We do it not because we think cancer is funny, or because we underestimate it.  We do it precisely because it’s terrifying and overwhelming.

Laughter gives us a way to wrest a modicum of control from a disease whose power requires no explanation.  Laughter helps us pass the time in between the surgery and the return of the pathology results. We can’t shorten that time, but we can make sure that worry claims as little of it as possible.

Laughter reminds us of who we are at a time when physical and psychological trauma threaten the way we see our world and ourselves.

And laughter heals, except when Philippa laughs so hard that it engages her chest muscles in a medically un-recommended way.

So while Philippa and all who love her wait, we laugh.  It might not be what everyone would want, but it’s what she wants.  And she and I combine that with another shared love: writing.  Now, with the Sunday Sermon out of the way, let the blogging duel resume!

As Philippa prepared for surgery, support poured in from all kinds of sources, including women she’d never met who’d had breast cancer.  These amazing ladies offered Philippa a unique and vital kind of empathy.  And they flooded her with pragmatic post-surgery advice and gear.

One of these newfound friends knew that the surgical drains make it difficult to rest, so she handed off what Philippa described as “a big pillow with two arm thingies.”

Based on her description I knew exactly what it was and said, “Oh, that’s a husband.”  Philippa cracked up.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“I locked my husband in the trunk,” she said.

Since its arrival, like husbands the world over, this one has proven a bottomless source of material.  Philippa and I are both happily divorced so we won’t go anywhere near the husband, but I’ve still found plenty to love about him. (She has thoughts about the husband, too–click here to read ’em):

  • He doesn’t argue.  At most he puts up a tiny little bit of resistance before submitting.
  • If I’ve given him shelter, he’s happy. He doesn’t make any other demands.
  • He doesn’t care if I’ve been in bed with someone else.
  • He appreciates it when I take him places and never criticizes my driving, my taste in music, or my climate management.
  • He doesn’t mind my snoring and thinks my nose stickers are hot.
  • He has yet to make me late.
  • He won’t push me out of bed even after I’ve had garlic fries with garlic aioli and a side of garlic for dinner.
  • He’s perfectly content to sit at home in the corner while I go out with the girls.
  • I’ll never hear him say, “Honey, you’ve got spinach on your front tooth,” but I also don’t have to worry that he’ll roll out with, “You’re wearing that?”
  • Seeing me parade around naked doesn’t make him act all crazy
  • He is well aware that, while I’m glad to have borrowed him and might someday like him enough to want one of my own, I’m getting along just fine without him.
  • The lonely husband, waiting for us with open, and as yet unused, arms.

The Uneasy Way Out

Before I pick up where yesterday’s post left off, I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year! Thank you so much for spending some of your precious reading time with me.  If you feel like wasting, er, “spending” even more of it, click here and vote for the best splat of 2012!  And with that I return to the coverage of Friday’s bad date, already in progress…

Being in closer proximity to Sam and his hair dealt another blow to the second date’s chances.  Without having to use any of the intel Jessie gave me, I could see that the issue I spotted when I met Sam at a party a couple weeks before was not confined to the sides after all.  It was more, um, “systemic.”

I know I shouldn’t criticize anyone for vanity– especially since I had spent $150 and two hours that same day to make my hair look its non-natural best– but I think men who are losing their hair look most  attractive when they just embrace the baldness. (Men, if you think women should embrace the gray, please be sure to speak up before I waste two more hours and fork over another C-note.)

Hair issues aside, our conversation flowed quite naturally, though it lacked the witty banter that had first attracted me to Sam.  Eventually I asked him about his Christmas.

The topic had come up the evening we first met.  He’d told me that night that his pending divorce meant that he would be without his kids on Christmas for the first time.  One doesn’t have to be a parent to appreciate how wrenching that must be, so on Christmas Day itself I sent him a text to wish him a good day despite the circumstances.  He’d sent a “thanks” in response but otherwise gave no indication of how the day had gone.

“It went better than I expected, even though I was alone,” he said. “That text you sent meant a lot.  It’s pretty unusual for someone to be so thoughtful and caring.”

“You’re nice to say that but I hope it’s not unusual.  I figured most people, especially us single types, think about things like that during the holidays.”

“I don’t think they do, Karen,” he said.  “Even if we never go out again, which I hope we do, I want you to know that I think you’re great.”

He had referred to a possible second date approximately 2,487 times over the course of the evening.  Only our waiter’s name got mentioned more often.  (When Sam said, “Mike, if she wants to see the dessert menu, does that mean she likes me?”  I didn’t count it.  I assumed the two references canceled each other out.)

Though Sam seemed intent in continuing the drive down Lover’s Lane, I had begun to look for an exit ramp.  Picking up the tab is my standard way out of a date that’s going poorly.

Mike reappeared with the bill in hand.  I got ready to reach for it, fully prepared to dislocate my shoulder if necessary.  Sadly, I never had a chance because Mike handed it directly to Sam.

I reached into my pursue, took out my wallet and asked Sam if I could contribute.  (After the Groupon thing I figured I had a decent shot.)

“No way, Karen.  You can get it the next time. Or maybe I can cook for you, and we can have a really nice bottle of wine.  And you could play the piano.”  The piano was a topic that had come up in our initial encounter, too.  I’d told Sam that night, and reiterated as Mike took the check, that playing for others makes me self-conscious unless I know them quite well.

“Well, pretty soon you might know me very well,” he said, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

With one tiny little facial gesture, he’d simultaneously annihilated any chances for a second date and guaranteed that we would never know each other on the level he was implying.

“Um, about that,” I said, twisting the cloth napkin in my lap.  “I really appreciated dinner and enjoyed our conversation but… I don’t see us dating.”

“Why not?” Sam said.  I had no socially acceptable response to his question even though I probably should’ve anticipated it.

“Whoops, that’s what I get for not thinking two conversational steps ahead.  Heh heh,” I said, stalling.  Sam didn’t chuckle along with me.  He just sat there, stone-faced and silent, waiting for me to continue. “It’s hard to explain…” I worked the napkin into a ball.  “I just don’t think we’re… a fit.”

He said,  “I agree completely.”

“Really?”  A legitimate laugh escaped before I could stop it.  “Ha ha, that was easy!” I said.  And if I’d have stopped speaking right then and there, everything would’ve been great.  Instead, the word “why?” managed to sneak right past security and out of my mouth.

Sam answered as if he’d been waiting for this question all night.

“For starters, you’re not my type at all, Karen. I mean you’re attractive, but I couldn’t imagine kissing you.  And then there’s this whole, I don’t know, affect about you.” He wrinkled his nose as if in response to a passing skunk.  Before I could stop myself I burst out laughing again.

I couldn’t help it.  It was hilarious to me that the same man who’d cleared the kissing hurdle moments earlier now found me repulsive, and that he was suddenly dismissing as an act the thoughtfulness he’d just praised as unusual.

I dialed my laugh back to what I hoped was a gracious smile and said, “Well then it all worked out perfectly, didn’t it? Shall we?”

Sam stood up and exited Lover’s Lane with the kind of speed I haven’t seen since Usain Bolt won the hundred meter dash last summer.  He had reached the front door while I was still in the alcove, putting on my scarf and coat. I think he would have left me altogether but for the presence of the maître d’, who knew we were on a date because Sam had announced it when I’d arrived.

As I neared the front door Sam’s face showed that he was still smelling skunk.

We had both parked in the same garage across the street, it turned out.  Sam’s car was one space away from mine, which meant he couldn’t avoid me altogether.

As he opened his car door he said, “Take care and happy new year,” without so much as looking at me.

The absurdity of it all caused another wave of laughter to crest and spill out of me.  When it abated I said, “Um, I guess so, if that’s how you’d like to leave it. But we’re not complete strangers.”  Nor are we five years old, I wanted to say but didn’t.

His shoulders drooped and he said, “I just don’t know how to do this whole dating thing.”  Ah, we had something very much in common after all.  Leaving his car door ajar, he came over and we hugged.

“Thanks, Sam,” I said. “And happy New Year.”

He wished me a happy new year again, and this time I picked up the faintest whiff of sincerity.  It lifted my spirits, as did the knowledge that, thanks to our 6 p.m. kickoff,  I still had plenty of time to salvage my evening.

As soon as I got home, I donned the woobie pants, lit a fake log in the fireplace, and put on some Ella Fitzgerald. I basked in the blue-orange glow cast by the flaming pressed wood and in the joy of writing my own happy ending.