Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Judging the neighborhood Halloween costume contest: trick or treat?

Welcome to November and the daily blog slog known as National Blog Posting Month! This is my third year doing NaBloPoMo and my second with my pal/writing partner/podcast co-host Philippa. We wanted to honor the tradition but, due to scheduling and other insanity, decided to do it as a relay this time. I’m running the opening leg…look for her post tomorrow! 

My neighborhood goes large on Halloween. The same people who put on the annual Easter Parade in which I have twice starred as Lead Traumatizer do a Halloween processional featuring kids and their handlers decked out in trick-or-treat finery. The parade ends in a nearby park and culminates in a costume contest.

Like the Easter parade, the Halloween event depends on the time and effort of volunteers. My neighbor T, chair of the event, asked if I would be a costume judge. The “why not?” philosophy that has led to so many questionable decisions in my life caused me to say yes before I realized this job offered similar potential for inflicting little kid trauma as the bunny gig but without the anonymity. Uh-oh.

On Friday I got an instructional email from T. It contained some details I expected, such as where to be and when, and others that I did not, such as that one of the other two judges would lead the parade in his convertible and a tuxedo. A convertible and a tux? I planned to lead my own personal charge on foot and in yoga pants. The email also mentioned that prizes would be awarded in five categories and suggested that the judges might want to take notes as kids passed. This didn’t sound like a ragtag neighborhood assembly; it sounded like the Rose Parade meets Child’s Play.

I began to wonder whether I was qualified for the job, which I had assumed required nothing more than a set of working eyeballs. Would they expect me, for example, to be able to differentiate between homemade and store-bought costumes without inspecting for “made in China” labels? And in the way that I have a soft spot for mashed potatoes whose lumps mark them as unmistakably homemade, would I be allowed to reward a lumpy costume? Finally, would I have to enter the Judges Protection Program afterwards? That last one sounds like hyperbole, but even a kids-free type like me has read enough about helicopter, tiger and snowplow parents to be nervous about screwing up.

I voiced these concerns to my 12 year-old niece, Emily, during the annual Halloween party my sister Lynne and her husband hosted on Friday night. Emily’s friends had gone and the two of us were hanging out in her room, she in a zebra outfit and I in a dress right out of Star Trek.

I didn’t expect her to care about my plight, yet without batting an eyelid my niece said, “Can I come with you? Like right now?” Emily has an addiction to office supplies, so I should’ve known she couldn’t resist an event that just begged for a clipboard. I had every reason to say yes, too. I love spending time with my niece, and I also liked the idea of having backup. Emily is nursing a bum knee, so if an angry mob formed, I figured it would target the wounded zebra first. As soon as I gave the thumbs-up, my niece tossed a clipboard, two notebooks, several pens and a toothbrush into a backpack. The Trekkie and the zebra then went on the lam and made tracks for my home in Arlington.

On Saturday morning, Emily and I arrived at the appointed corner a few minutes before the 10 a.m. start time. The Arlington County cops were there, too, because no self-respecting neighborhood Halloween parade takes off without a police escort. We were soon joined by another judge who’d done this before. She told us to focus less on the prize categories and more on the costumes. The judges would circulate, meet as a group, reach consensus on the best costumes, and then figure out which categories suited them.

The parade got underway and I soon understood why we needed to take notes: costumed kids and their handlers streamed past us by the dozens.

The head judge, riding in on a white horse. Er, mustang.

The head judge, riding in on a white horse. Er, mustang.

Em and I found it impossible to see them all, much less take notes. We milled around the park in an attempt to achieve full coverage, but this was easier said than done, as many children had abandoned their parents, their costumes or both.

At 10:45, the judges congregated to compare notes and we handed out awards 15 minutes later. In the “group/family” category, a medieval royal clan tied with a Star Wars gang, led by a dad wearing an inflatable Jabba the Hutt suit. (Several families went the Star Wars route, but we thought the inflatable suit showed a special level of dedication.) Another family won some sort of prize for its take on NASA, which entailed adding cardboard wings to a Radio Flyer wagon, covering the whole thing with tin foil and plopping a spacesuit-wearing toddler in it.

An inflatable Jabba the Hutt costume: ya gotta want it.

An inflatable Jabba the Hutt costume: ya gotta want it.

“Most original” went to a three-headed, four-armed, multi-eyeballed monster who came up with the idea and design all by himself and then handed it over to his parents to execute, which they did with aplomb. We gave the “cute and sweet” award to a sprinkled donut: an adorable little girl wearing brown, round seat cushions festooned with colorful strips of ribbon. Two siblings dressed as popcorn and Coke–the red Coke cup fashioned from a red plastic trash can–rounded out the field.

The turnout for the Easter parade was big, but it can't compete with a pagan holiday.

The turnout for the Easter parade was big, but it can’t compete with a pagan holiday.

If there were helicopter, snowplow or any other heavy-machinery or lethal animal-type parents, I didn’t see them. Nor did we notice any homemade costumes so elaborate no one could possibly make them without taking a sabbatical. People were just there to have fun, rendering all my worries moot. Even so, if I’m asked to judge again next year, I’m not doing it without my zebra.

The hardest working zebra in show business.

The hardest working zebra in show business.

 

Hidden Meaning

In a throw-down between “actions speak louder than words” and “the pen is mightier than the sword,” which cliché wins?

I say neither, and also both. (I think Philippa would agree.)

Ultimately, speech and action are just two different ways to express ourselves, and the success or failure of each depends as much on the recipient as it does volume or force.  No matter how loudly you act or how powerfully you write, sometimes the message you intend isn’t the one that’s received.

My recent foray into online dating illustrates the point.  I posted my profile on PlentyOfFish.com this past Sunday just to test the waters.  I figured activity on the site would be low heading into the holidays, since starting to date someone at this time of year could mean a trip across the gift expectations minefield.  This dangerous terrain causes thousands of relationship casualties each year, not to mention the purchase of millions of Yankee Candles.

I vastly underestimated the number of men who were willing to throw themselves on the scented candle grenade, because correspondence flooded my in-box right away.  (This has less to do with the appeal of my profile than the fact that fish love fresh chum.)

Because laughter matters so much to me, I made sure my profile included references to movies that I find funny, like Airplane! and This Is Spinal Tap.

Many men sent brief messages that picked up that thread and ran with it, to the point where if another man calls me “Shirley,” you just might have to dust for vomit.  [I just lost the people who haven’t seen these two movies…]

http://youtu.be/Agpo9-EUjKI

But I responded to every single one of the movie quote guys because it was clear they’d at least read my profile.

For every “I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue” guy, there were at least as many whose entire message to me consisted of: “Hi”

I was tempted to respond to these men with the gentle suggestion that they upgrade to POF’sFull Sentence Package (“Now Featuring Real Punctuation Marks!”), but I didn’t.  I just sent those messages to the trash.  Why bite on a hook that has no bait?

Plenty of people will think my approach is unfair and that a two-character message is meant merely to create an opening.  Maybe so, but to my eyes, those two characters were loaded with a completely different meaning.  They said, “I’m not really trying, here.”  For all I know, the “Hi” Guys sent the same message to every woman POF claimed might be a match, without even reading her profile.

If I put this online interaction in real-world terms, it’s kind of like a guy who walks into a crowded room and just gives a wave.  Maybe he’s waving at me, but I’m not going to assume he is.  And unless he comes over and says something that signals his interest in me, as opposed to any female in the room, I’m not about to curtail the conversation I’m having with the guy who asks me if I like David Sedaris.

Am I judging too harshly? Missing out on good guys?  Maybe.  But to return to movies for a moment, this isn’t Jerry Maguire, and you don’t have me at “hello.”

 

Shop-ocalypse

On this Black Friday, I, along with millions of Americans, hopped out of bed at 3:00 a.m.

But instead of trekking to Wal-Mart, Toys R Us or a mall, I went to the bathroom, then made a U-turn and promptly went right back to bed.

Of the quintessentially American things that embarrass and confound me, Black Friday ranks pretty high, meaning somewhere behind Las Vegas but waaaaaaaaaaay ahead of “Duck Dynasty.”

I just don’t get it.  (And I don’t think Philippa does, either.)

We spend the entire month building up huge stashes of gratitude, practicing it and seeing it on the news, on Facebook, and in blogs, only to blow it all in gladiatorial battles for half-priced TVs.  Even worse? We’ve let our love affair with bargains overwhelm the one holiday that’s supposed to be meant for gratitude and togetherness.

I’m not saying that I don’t experience powerful cravings to buy stuff, as anyone who’s ever seen me in a piano warehouse can attest.  Or that I don’t like to save money on the things I buy, because I do.  But none of it’s worth trampling people or cutting Thanksgiving short.

The only early bird special I saw this morning was a squirrel’s assault on my Halloween gourds. Clearly I don’t believe in cutting holidays short.

(I know there are people out there who can’t stand spending time with their families and, therefore, love companies like Macy’s that offer them a reprieve by opening on Thanksgiving night. To these people, I say even if Macy’s stayed closed, you could still escape your loved ones using the same tactic the Pilgrims did: a trip to the gas station for fuel and lottery tickets.  The “cheap” gas station –every family’s got one – is always at least half an hour away, so this buys you a minimum of 75 minutes of freedom.  Not that I’d ever do such a thing, ahem.)

If someone I love has got to have Skylander action figures this Christmas, I’ll be happy to get ‘em, but I refuse to face Target on Black Friday.

I’ll buy them on Amazon, where I might very well pay full price and will do so happily because I’m shopping on my love seat while wearing my woobie pants.

If you braved the stores last night or this morning and are someone who just has to have your Black Friday retail fix, think about doing it on your laptop next year.

As I like to say, why bust a door when you can crash a server instead?

[Only one more shopping day ’til NaBloPoMo ends!!!]

 

Thanks, and Giving

[On this day meant for giving thanks, the regularly scheduled splat has been hijacked by sincerity. What can I say, maybe Philippa is rubbing off on me.  But don’t worry, the splatting will resume tomorrow.]

When I made the decision to end my marriage after just ten months, I knew my friends and family would have questions.  I braced myself for, “Are you sure you tried everything?” and “Did you really give it your best shot?”

Sure enough, as soon as I made my news public, questions came pouring in.  But not a single person asked me if I’d tried hard enough.  Instead, the people who love me flooded me with countless variations of one simple question: “How can I help?”

It came to me in forms like:

  • Do you need a place to live?
  • Would you like me to listen?
  • Can I remind you that you’re special and wonderful?

The very people who didn’t wait for me to seek their help didn’t wait for me to answer their questions, either.  They simply gave.  Their acts of generosity showed up as:

  • A finished basement to live in and the world’s best (and youngest) roommates to keep me company
  • Shoulders that shook as we cried together
  • A hilarious getaway to Gettysburg to ride horses and scramble for a place to stay when the TraveLodge turned us away
  • Ears that listened without fatigue and with complete faith in me
  • Lovingly prepared dinners
  • A lockbox and real estate advice that helped me survive For Sale By Owner
  • Couches and guests rooms in all kinds of places
  • Phone calls
  • Letters and cards
  • A “Do-Over” 40th surprise party
  • Laughter, in unlimited quantities

When I tried to express my gratitude for this unsolicited outpouring–the thing that made the worst time of my life somehow also the best — my loved ones told me they were thankful for me, for our relationship, and for a chance to give back.

As a result of that experience, I’ve begun to equate gratitude with generosity.  The best way I, or anyone, can show appreciation for what we have –walls and a roof that shelter us, clothes that warm us, food that fuels us, and, most important of all, relationships that sustain us – is through generosity, especially of spirit.  Give things that no one could ever have too much of, like smiles, the benefit of the doubt, encouragement, your full attention, and your gratitude.  Give whatever you can, however you can, as often as you can, simply because you can.

White with foam

Philippa and I have spent a lot of time writing about our gratitude for the incredible support systems in our lives, but we overlooked one crucial thing that literally keeps us moving every day: the foam roller.  It has changed our lives.

A very good friend convinced me to get one when I complained that running –something I did without incident in my 20s and 30s–had begun to cause soreness in my IT bands.  He happened to have one of these rollers at his house and promptly provided a demonstration.  He laid atop the foam on his right side and moved himself across the cylinder as if he were upside-down pie dough.

“Just doing that a few times every day will fix your IT band, Karen,” he said.

Swayed by his testimonial and demo, I bought one of my own.

My piece of foamy white goodness

As soon as it arrived, I went for a run and then decided to stretch on it.  I attempted to emulate my friend’s technique, but unfortunately, I didn’t roll across it like upside-down pie dough.  I was more like a drop biscuit. But I kept at it, doing it every day, for a little longer each time.  I began to feel improvement in my IT bands, and I soon realized my friend was right: the foam roller was pure muscular magic.  It worked on my quads and calves, too.

When Philippa stayed with me this summer, she saw me rolling across it after a run.  She looked skeptical, but I sang its praises and made her try it.  Like me, she drop biscuit-ed at first, but she got the hang of it pretty fast, and when she left my place, she got some foam of her own.

So today we decided to celebrate the foam roller, that unsung hero of 40 something athletes everywhere.  My tribute is modeled on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43, commonly referred to as “How Do I Love Thee?”

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I roll thee to the stretch and pull and twinge

My calf can reach, when feeling oh so tight

And desperate to avoid a bandage Ace.

I love thee though you level me every day,

With my Band IT, my buns and hamstring tight.

I love thee oddly, ‘cause at times thou art a blight.

I love thee deeply, tho’ thou sets my quads ablaze

I love thee with thy mashing, put to use

On my old aches, and ‘gainst my mid-aged waist.

I love thee, and the pain thou leaves.  I loose

Spandex restraints. I love thee with the best

Burpees of all my life; and, if God chose,

I shall but love thee better with some rest.

Toes In The Water…

Yesterday, Philippa and I gushed about our guy friends.  She said she’s got such great guy friends that it would be almost impossible for her to date anyone seriously.  I know what she means.

I have an armada of awesome dude pals, too, but that’s not the reason I’ve spent most of the past two years on the dating sidelines.  (My experiments in speed dating and professional matchmaking being notable exceptions, of course.) I just hadn’t been ready to attempt a relationship.

But it’s been a year and a half since I finalized my divorce, and it’s time for me to get serious about Meeting Someone.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met men just by doing stuff I enjoy – hanging out with friends, taking trips, playing sports, and going to various events – but most of them aren’t available.  I decided a more targeted approach was in order: online dating.

I soon learned that the online dating world is vast, and there are sites for practically every age, preference and interest group. In fact, there are even sites for inmates and the people who want to date them (inmate.com and WomenBehindBars.com).

An article reviewed these two prison dating sites and noted, on the plus side, that “[m]ost of the ads include the prisoner’s release date, so you can make long-term plans.”  Because no one deserves to have a gap in life sentences.

Since every pro has a con (ha!), the review criticized the sites because they don’t provide much information about the crimes.  Here, I part company with the reviewer, because I think this omission makes perfect sense.  After all, everyone knows that details of your conviction are second date material.

Anyway, given the sheer number of sites available, I didn’t know how to choose so I consulted one of my guy friends who’s done multiple tours of duty in the online dating trenches.  He’s smart, attractive, funny, successful, and roughly my age, so I trust him.  He suggested PlentyOfFish because, based on his experience, the male-to-female ratio was at least five to one.  Since the odds in D.C. are practically the opposite, those numbers were reason enough to check out POF.

Before you can cast a line on POF, you have to create a profile yourself by answering a series of questions.  I was cruising down the virtual dating superhighway, answering easy questions like “Smoker? Y/N,” and then I ran smack into a jersey wall: body type.

POF lists five categories: thin, athletic, average, a few extra pounds, or big and tall.  I’m a bit over 5’7”, and weigh 128-133 lbs, depending on the prior day’s chocolate intake. On a height/weight chart, this puts me at the lower end of normal.  Depending on who you ask, this might make me thin or average.  I didn’t know how to choose.  Since I also swim, play tennis, run and do boot camp, I though choosing “athletic” would be an elegant solution to the dilemma.

I was bragging about my savvy to a friend over dinner at Ghibellina tonight.

Her Montepulciano practically erupted out of her as she said, “Wait, you chose ‘athletic’? No no no no no! Don’t you know this is all code? ‘Athletic’ doesn’t mean you’re fit! It means the Bears drafted you in the second round. YOU HAVE TO CHANGE IT!”

I did.  And then I posted a photo.  I considered going the ultra-honest route and choosing one similar to the nose-sticker ad.

I’ll go ‘athletic’ before I let anybody photograph me in the nose stickers.

But ultimately I settled on a flattering photo that my sister took of me on our trip to South Beach last fall.

With that, my submission was complete.  Now let’s see if I get any bites.

 

Line ‘Em Up

Your friend lineup –the list of non-family types you really count on – has to include people of the opposite gender, regardless of whether you’re male or female, gay or straight, single or married.  These people fill a vital perspective gap, at the very least, and they often do much more than that.

During my stay with Philippa, for example, I watched as her guy friends did things like drive her to the hospital, make her smoothies, keep her stocked up on flowers, and whip up a brilliant Bolognese.

The experience brought me fresh appreciation for my man-friends (“The Dudes”) and the realization that there are certain guy-friend types that I simply can’t live without.  Without further ado, I bring you my very own, personal Dude Roster:

The SubDude: Your “plus one” when you need a date, this purely platonic pal adheres to the Arm Charm Manifesto, keeps you entertained, and is socially savvy enough to know when to give you a little space.  Bonus points if he looks smokin’ in a tux. (It’s ideal to have more than one of these at any given moment.)

The Sidekick: This guy is equal parts fun, fearless and adventurous.  He’s the dude you want riding shotgun when you make a last-minute decision to roadtrip.  Or when you need a guest co-host for your radio show, hypothetically.

The Work Hubs:  This husband hasn’t seen you parade around the house wearing nose stickers, but you and he work so closely that he’s witnessed the office equivalent and he still likes you.  Most of the time.

The Flagman: Like the guy who halts traffic for roadwork, the Flagman points out hazards you might not be able to see and tries his best to get you to slow down or, in extreme cases, detour. A co-worker of mine, “Scott,” does this for me.  Scott earned this job as a result of some doodling he did on a white board one day while I was telling him about a date I’d gone on the night before. As I yammered on about how my date was basically nice except for his tendency to bring up exes who seemed unable to get over him, Scott was drawing this red triangular thing that sat atop what appeared to be a pole.

“Do you recognize this?” Scott said.

 “It looks like the pin for the 18th hole. Are you drawing a golf course?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s just as I feared. I had a feeling you wouldn’t see it, Karen, because you have Red Flag Detection Disorder. Best-case scenario, this guy’s insecure and has an endless need to have women adore him, and to make sure you know it.  Worst-case scenario, he’s not over his ex.  Either way, do NOT go out with this man again.”

I did not heed Scott’s advice, mind you, but a second date proved that he was right.

The Broker:  This Dude traffics not in financial instruments but in honesty.  About everything.  It’s critical to have at least one of these on hand at all times, preferably two or three.  The Broker, for example, will tell you what he really thinks of your clothing choices.  If asked, he’s one person who won’t treat, “Does my butt look big in these pants?” as rhetorical.  I once posed a variant of this question and he said, “Hmmm…if butts were states, I can’t say yours looks the size of Rhode Island in those pants, but it’s not Texas, either.”  The Broker tends to own Kevlar.

What does your Friend Roster look like???

 

More of the Write Stuff

Yesterday’s post found me and Philippa verbally flailing around as we fielded questions from Paulette Beete, poet(ess?) extraordinaire and professional interviewer. Philippa and I sort of forgot the professional interviewer part when we asked Paulette to do this.  We won’t make that mistake again.  You can find my first set of answers here, and Philippa’s here. Now put on a seatbelt, ’cause the rest of this ride might be bumpy.

What’s your bio–if you had to deliver it as a performance art piece?

I’m at a swim meet, preparing to race in the 100 meter fly.  I’m seeded in the second-to-last heat, in Lane 4, which means I missed racing against the very fastest by just one spot.  One hundred yards of fly is at the outer limits of my stamina.  I know I’ll complete it, but I worry about finishing well.   Maybe because a good finish is on my mind when the starter says, “Take your mark,” I dive in before the buzzer sounds.  False start.  A second one means I’m out of the race.  I know I have to be careful the second time, but I have to take a bit of a risk if I’m to come out ahead.  At the sound of the buzzer, my legs launch me off of the blocks and I plunge, fast, into the water. My entry is so fast it knocks off my goggles.  But I keep going.  At 75 meters, fatigue has set in.  I have leaden arms, concrete feet, and a goggles necklace.  But I’m still going.  I do a little bit of competitive sightseeing and am pretty sure that the woman in Lane 6 –the slowest spot in the seeding—has edged past me. (I can’t be entirely certain, since my goggles are providing clear vision to my neck instead of my eyeballs.)  I have to try to catch her.  At 97 yards, I find a burst of adrenaline and finish strong.  I can’t tell if I won, but I can see that my time set a personal record.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received and how does it apply to your writing life?

The best advice I’ve ever gotten was: Don’t push the rope.  Meaning, don’t try to control that which you can’t, and have a little patience.  The friend who imparted this advice to me was referring to my love life (where I’ve taken his advice a step further and let go of the rope altogether), but it applies very directly to my writing life.  Write because you love it and because you have a story to tell. Write for yourself, without regard for whether anyone wants to read it.  Write your story well, and then see where it takes you.  The fact that I get lost all the time probably means that I let my story do the navigating a little too often, but that’s okay.

You work a lot with humor. How did you arrive at that particular style of writing?

Pretty much all roads led me to humor writing.  First, I’ve been a klutz ever since I can remember. My clumsiness made me really self-conscious until two things dawned on me: 1) Hardly anyone noticed because, though I should have been the center of everyone’s universe, I wasn’t;  and 2) When people did notice, laughing with them instead of feeling frustrated with myself changed the interaction. It went from alienation to connection.  Second, I love to laugh not just at myself but at life in general.  It relieves stress and, at least for me, is a tremendous coping mechanism.  Third, I spent an appalling amount of time watching 1980s sitcoms, most of them God-awful (Benson, anyone?), leading me to believe that life came with a laughtrack. That belief died right after Santa and the Easter Bunny.  I accepted the death of those last two but was less ready to let go of one-liners and constant laughter so I turned to humor writing.

What can you achieve writing with pronounced humor that you might not be able to achieve otherwise?

Poop jokes.  On a more serious note, humor offers an unparalleled opportunity to shift your own, and perhaps others’, perspective on what might otherwise be a serious situation.  For example, very little about my divorce was objectively humorous (except for when the prospective buyers of the new house backed into and decapitated the $400 mailbox my ex-husband had insisted on, a feat I’d accomplished myself just two months earlier), but I looked for humor everywhere I could find it. And there was plenty of it, as there is in most situations if you seek it out.

What’s your ideal writing space? And where do you actually write?

My ideal space is the oceanfront balcony of Room 309 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kitty Hawk North Carolina. Oh wait, was I not supposed to be that specific?  The truth is I will write absolutely anywhere: in airports, on a break at work, at my aunt’s house, on the train, and even while I swim.  Though I can’t put the ideas on paper in the pool, I hatch and nurture them underwater all the time.  The writing spot I frequent most is the little white love seat in my family room. It’s where my favorite blankie lives.

Who’s your pie-in-the-sky dream collaborator and what project would you work on together?

I would love to collaborate with Gene Weingarten on anything, even the Tax Code.  Especially the Tax Code, now that I think about it.

 

 

 

The Write Stuff

Philippa and I have lots of writing friends, including the fabulous Paulette Beete.  Paulette can write the pants off of some prose, but she really shines when she writes poetry. In fact, her poetry is so good that people ask her to read it in public. It works in reverse for me: I have to make public pleas to get people to read my writing.  Anyway, a few months ago Paulette invited some of her writing buddies to interview her. Philippa and I jumped at the chance, and Paulette published her responses on her blog. This week, we decided to return the favor by having Paulette interview us.  This is part one of a two-part interview in which we field the same questions and go off in all kinds of different directions, not unlike our radio show (which will be back…soon!).

What’s the first time you remember engaging with a piece of writing in a meaningful way?

I’ve always loved to read, and I loved the books that introduced me to memorable characters, like Holden Caufield, or transported me to places I couldn’t wait to visit, like James Herriott’s beloved English countryside.  But it wasn’t until ninth grade English that a piece of writing really resonated with me.  It wasn’t The Great Gatsby, Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men, or any of the classics Mrs. Duffy had assigned us.  It was “Bang The Tupperware Slowly,” an essay from Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits.  Never before had a piece of writing made me laugh, hard, from beginning to end.  If you can write something that makes a person burst out laughing over and over again, you’ve really done something.  I knew right then that I wanted to do that something.

Several months ago, we all participated in a book swap where we gave someone our favorite book. If you had to do the same thing, and couldn’t use the same book, which book would you swap and why?

I would bring White Teeth by Zadie Smith because it not only entertained and moved me, but it also helped my writing (good reading being critical to good writing, of course).  Smith draws characters so vividly that you become attached to them in the very first chapter.  You find yourself hoping you’ll bump into them at the bus stop.  And then you remember you live in Northern Virginia, not London, and you’re more of a car and Metro person.  But still.  She exercises impeccable judgment when it comes to language use.  She doesn’t shortchange the reader on details, but she doesn’t give us so many that it slows down the story or takes our imagination out of the transaction.  Her writing also reminds us that we should always let our voice shine through.  Unless you’re Gilbert Gottfried or The Nanny.

Why do you write?

Because I’m riveting and hilarious and people should want to read me. Was this a trick question?

Why do you read? And what do you read? And what should you read but you just haven’t gotten to it yet?

I read because I enjoy it, but also because it makes me a better, more careful writer. Since my reading time is so limited, I try to consume only good stuff, like just about anything by Nick Hornby or David Sedaris.  But even when I come across bad stuff, it helps my writing by making me ask: What doesn’t work and why doesn’t it? And then, can it be fixed?  (Answer: Yes. Throw in a bunch of bondage scenes, call it Fifty Shades of [Noun], and you’re set.)

As for what I should read but haven’t yet, my mom was a librarian so I may have to go into the Reader Protection Program once I post this: I have never finished anything by Ernest Hemingway. Ernie has been on my list since Mrs. Duffy put him there in 1985, and we didn’t get along at all.  But at some point I’ll give him a second chance, as I so often do with dudes.

You’re both working on long-form projects in addition to blogging. Can you please share a little about your book projects, and also talk about if and how your short-form and long-form projects inform each other?

Ah, the dreaded elevator speech. I thought I could dodge it by just taking the stairs.  My book is a compilation of humor essays that loosely chronicle my life from 2002 (when I bought my first house) to 2012 (when, after having demolished and rebuilt the house, my ex-husband and I sold it).  As you might guess, the house is both a character and a metaphor.  Structure and style-wise, this book is somewhat similar to David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Though I hear many voices in my head, I use only one in my writing, so my blog and book sound largely the same.  The blog, which I began on a lark, has been hugely helpful as I write the book.  For me, blogging is like going to the gym.  Though I dread it sometimes, I do it regularly, I sweat, I feel better afterwards, and it increases my fitness for the longer stuff.  And I figure if I go to the gym a lot and work really hard while I’m there, maybe more people will check me out. (Wow, if I don’t stop this analogy now, it just might kill again.)

Tune in again tomorrow for Part Two: Paulette Strikes Back! 

Philippa and I road-tripped to Baltimore and hunkered down at a coffee shop to tackle Paulette’s hard-hitting questions. And some green tea. Lots of green tea.

That Lovin’ Feeling

The other day, a friend asked Philippa when she’d last gotten a love letter.

Like anyone who’s been handed a verbal hot potato, Philippa immediately threw it at me because, what the heck, we might as well all get third degree burns.

I had to put a fair amount of thought into this one.

In theory, the last love letter I got was in September of 2011.  My then-husband handed it to me a month or so after we separated, when we had agreed to meet to discuss the sale of our house.  The card contained heartfelt declarations of love and spoke of his hope for reconciliation.  I did not share that hope.  This prompted an immediate retraction of the heartfelt love stuff and its replacement with heartfelt non-love stuff.  I don’t think that card counts.

Though this is perhaps the most common packaging, love letters can come in all kinds of forms.

I’m not dating anyone at the moment, but if I apply a fairly expansive definition of “love letter,” I got one just yesterday. (This message was even better than the note I got from an old friend on Wednesday.)

The love letter I got yesterday traveled electronically instead of by snail.  And it’s not from a present love interest but a former one.

We dated briefly a decade ago, and I now count him among my closest friends.  We call and text occasionally, but email is our main medium. The sight of his name in my in-box always makes me happy.  It means that a great read awaits, and I know it’ll be as insightful and funny as the author himself.

Yesterday’s note included the expected catch-up fare, but after the “news” segment, there was more.

I won’t repeat his exact words, but suffice it to say that my cherished friend expressed profound gratitude for the fact that I think enough of him to call him my friend.  These words floored and touched me.

I should have been relaying that very message to him, given his constant support and presence when my marriage was ending and, more recently, when Nana passed away.

And then, because this friend is really smart and knows a love note recipient won’t believe you unless you temper the flowery stuff with reality, he wrote that the years have enabled him to see my strengths and weaknesses, and to love me for both. I know he meant every word.

But believe it or not, that stuff isn’t what made it a love note for me.  It was the very last thing he wrote, the thing that made me laugh–hard — and then smile for hours:

Our romantic ship has sailed but our friendship ship is sunken in the harbor like the Arizona…leaking vast amounts of oil, probably, but it ain’t goin’ anywhere.

He couldn’t have said it better, and I definitely felt the love.