Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Is it ever too late to send a thank-you note? I sure hope not.

My blog turned five in May, and I did nothing to mark the occasion. I could say I forgot –after all, I’d gone to Atlanta earlier that month and surprised my nephew for his fifth birthday by springing out of an Amazon box –but I didn’t forget. The truth is, I neglected my blog’s milestone because I’d been neglecting my blog. It nagged at me, but not to the point where I did anything about it.

My dear friend and podcast co-host, Philippa, hadn’t written much on her blog of late, either, and it was bugging her, too. Like former athletes who’d become couch potatoes, each of us lamented our descent into writing sloth and wanted to get back into shape. Actually, that’s not quite true. We didn’t want to get back into shape so much as we just wanted to be back in shape. As writers, and particularly as indolent ones, we knew an active verb like “get” would require way more work than a passive one like “be.” As lawyers, Philippa and I felt compelled to spend at least a little bit of time looking for a loophole, but we came up empty-handed. Faced with the inescapable reality that you can’t achieve the writing equivalent of six-pack abs without a whole lot of sweating, we decided to confront it together.

We committed to meet at her condo and spend all of today writing. Over a lunch of caramelized fish, expertly prepared a day earlier by Philippa’s mom, I tried to explain why I hadn’t been writing.

“I think I just got tired,” I said.

And it’s true. When I started the blog in the summer of 2012, I wrote every day for a while. Then my writing tapered off to a few times a week except in November, when I would participate in NaBloPoMo and punish, er, reward my readers by writing every day. Outside of NaBloPoMo, I tried to write at least once a week, and I largely succeeded until last May, when I started a new job.

The change has been great, yet I underestimated just how much mental effort it takes to leave something you knew and liked for nearly nine years and embark on a totally different path. As my energy stores got low, my writing slowed to a trickle. And then the election came along, leaving an ugly, divisive aftermath that killed my urge to look for humor in everyday situations, much less write about it. It felt frivolous and impossible, which explains why, of the 395 blog posts I’ve written since June of 2012, I cranked out only 17 from the election until now.

To get back into writing shape, I’ll be posting at least once a week. I’m kicking it off by celebrating my blog turning five, which means writing a long-overdue note of gratitude.

A gigantic and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has ever read this blog. I know you have your choice of time-wasting vehicles out there, and I want to thank you for choosing mine. Whatever led you to this site– curiosity, insomnia, Google searches like “the coffin switched stations again” — most likely could have been cured with professional help, so thank you for not seeking it.

I owe the most colossal debt of gratitude to those who’ve been there from the beginning, including but not limited to Mom, Dad, Suzi, Lynne, L.J., Michelle, LC, Matt and Philippa. Some of those early posts really stunk. And I don’t mean day-old banana peel stunk, either; I’m talking rodent-died-somewhere-behind-the-drywall-two-years-ago stunk. Behind every good writer is a whole bunch of really bad writing she has to get out of the way to get to the good stuff, so thank you for supporting me in my perpetual quest to get to the good stuff.

And here’s to the next five years…

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To write off, or not to write off? That is the (dating) question

As co-hosts of a podcast about dating and relationships, Philippa and I sometimes receive messages from listeners seeking advice. To show that we take these questions seriously (a statement we can’t always make about the answer), I’ll address in this forum one we received recently. But first, a little background.

Our listener, “Lisa,” was visiting friends out of town when she met a Person Of Interest (“POI.”). Though they didn’t get to spend a lot of time together, Lisa and the POI really hit it off and agreed they wanted to see each other again. When Lisa returned home, she and the POI texted. During one of those exchanges, Lisa mentioned she’d found cheap airfare and could easily arrange a trip to the POI’s town. The POI said he’d like that but didn’t ask about dates or show other signs of enthusiasm. She volunteered a date. The texts began to decrease in both frequency and verbiage –he’d been busy, he wrote. He had not spoken of the proposed date. Then, a week or so after they’d last seen each other, he called her. It was a bold escalation in medium (or an act of aggression, if you ask Philippa). That date Lisa had suggested? Not good. He offered a vague excuse and, instead of proposing another date for her trip, said he’d figure out a time to come and see her.

Lisa is in her 40’s and not a dating novice, so she interpreted this to mean he’s seeing someone where he lives. The drop in text frequency and quality fit that theory, and she was ready to chalk it up as a loss. (I would have, too.)  Then, last Friday night at 9 or so, the POI sent her a “hey hot stuff” text. That might not have been weird if his other messages had been like that, but they hadn’t. In fact, there hadn’t been many other messages at all, so she figured “hot stuff” referred to someone else –I would have, too –and didn’t respond.

Two hours later, he texted again: “Nothing? I figured I’d at least get a laugh.”

A laugh? Why? Because she’s not hot stuff? Lisa scratched her head and responded that she was at dinner with a friend. Almost exactly 24 hours later, POI sent another erudite text: “hey hot stuff.” I suspect by then Lisa was hot. She didn’t respond. (I wouldn’t have, either.) He texted Sunday night to ask if she’d written him off.

She saw it when she woke up Monday morning and, before her caffeine had a chance to kick in, wrote, “No, just didn’t think those texts were meant for me.” She probably expected an explanation of some sort in response. (I would have.) Instead, she got: “How are you today?”

She wrote, “OK, *now* I’m writing you off.” Actually, she didn’t. That’s what I would have written. She’d already responded with a benign, “Fine, thanks” before she turned to us, so that golden opportunity was blown. Leaving that aside, the fact that Lisa came to the two of us for counsel -one of us a humorist and the other such a ghosting expert someone once referred to her as “Casper Hughes” –tells you a lot, namely: she came to the right place.

As a human being, I feel obligated to give her practical advice: I don’t think she owes the POI anything, not the benefit of the doubt or responses to future texts. They’ve spent little time together and don’t have the same level of interest in keeping something going, so it seems like a lot more trouble than it’s worth. Let it die of natural causes.

But as a humorist, I say: KEEP THE TEXTS ALIVE! And respond only in haiku, releasing one line at a time, every few hours. Had she followed that advice, she’d have responded to “how are you?” like this:

Fine! How you doing?

Wait, I meant *who* you doing?

Wait, who are you, yo?

So, Lisa, thanks for asking. We wish you the best of luck in dating, and remember those three little words: hey hot stuff.

If you can’t say something nice, just make sure you’re anonymous

Last Friday my friend Philippa and I co-wrote a piece for the Washington Post’s Solo-ish feature about the pursuit of love in your 40s. The article presented an excerpt of a much longer email conversation the two of us had about how our perspective on finding a partner has evolved with age.

In case you didn’t read it, the article noted that I’m happy with my life and am fortunate to have a loving family and wonderful friends, but I’ve always wanted a partner, someone to share the proverbial foxhole with me. I mentioned a “companionship clock” whose tick I’ve been hearing since my 20s. I also observed that it seems to be gaining volume as I age, not because I fear being alone or aging alone but because I’ve been around long enough to know three things:

  1. I enjoy my favorite experiences just a tiny bit more in the company of the right partner;
  2. the presence of a great partner can ease some of the burdens of aging, like ailing parents and failing health; and
  3. the partnership pool shrinks with age, no matter who you are and no matter whether you, like me, cut a wide age swath when it comes to dating. On that last point, I admitted being concerned about hanging on to my appearance, I acknowledged the possibility that I’ve become invisible to younger men, and I joked about chest wrinkles.

Overall, I offered serious thoughts laced with a dose of obvious humor. Or possibly not so obvious.

When you write an article for an online publication, you hope people will read it. With the fulfillment of that hope, however, comes the possibility that readers will comment on the article and the likelihood that some of the commentary will be nasty. After all, gutless cruelty thrives where anonymity and the internet intersect.

By Friday afternoon, our hopes had been fulfilled and Philippa and I found ourselves awash in possibility and likelihood.

I grouped reader responses into four categories. I’ve given each category a descriptive title in bold that I think summarizes the contents of the comments, followed by a sample of the most popular comments in italics (based on number of “likes” generated) and my response to those comments:

  1. My sentiments exactly!

Interesting read. I’m a single guy in that same boat. Basically happy with my life, but concerned about facing older age alone. The thing is, who wants to buy a used car and have all the hard repair work without getting the good years out of that car, and hence having the GRATITUDE? I’m still in decent shape, but I’m not what I was at 30. If I find a wonderful woman when I’m 55, she’s taking quite a chance partnering with me, and me with her. What if I have cancer or a stroke at 60? If she had 30 good years with me….raised children….saw the good times and bad times through with me, then I’d expect that although it would be tough, she’d do right by me with a heart full of love and compassion. If she’d only been with me for 5 years and I begin really falling apart, there is no “gratitude glue” there to make her want to stay and help me through those difficult times. Gratitude builds over time, and time to generate a history of love and gratitude in the heart of someone else is the very thing I’m running out of. You may say “What kind of shallow women are you dating?” Well….I’m just going on what I’ve seen going on around me in my life. Often, without a very strong bond developed over time, when the going gets tough, the “not so deeply committed” bug-out. Sad to say, but true. (5 likes)

People like this got it. They laughed at the chest wrinkles. They understood we might be happily single but still want companionship and they didn’t read the piece as being about solely about women. (Men certainly don’t fret about their appearance as they age. They use Rogaine purely recreationally.) Perhaps those readers realized that Pips and I wrote from the perspective of two women because, well, we’re women. Cat’s out of the bag, folks.

  1. You two are a disgrace to women. And possibly also feminism. (Assuming there’s a difference, because if I’m being honest, I’ve never really been sure.)
  • This is shameful (7 likes).

I don’t quite know what to say to this one, except to give it an Achievements in Vagueness Award. Not that this person would show up to accept it.

  • I’m sorry, but this is disgusting. You have totally bought into this idea that women over a certain age are likely to lose out in the relationship market. Why would you peddle that crap to your readers? I am a 50-something woman (that’s right! 50-something!) who is extremely happily re-partnered and I met him in my 50s. So have many of my friends – several of whom have remarried or are happily cohabitating well after their 50th birthdays. Some of us look young for our age, some not so much. But is that really what leads to lasting love and companionship and, ugh, your “person”? Because if you’re worried that no-one “hot” will love you when your (seriously?) Asian skin starts to age a bit, you have bigger problems than a lacking love life. Be single, date, look for love, enjoy hot guys, fine. But get a grip! What you need for a successful relationship comes from within, ladies. (7 likes)

First, I am delighted to hear that someone over 50 is still alive. Who knew? Philippa and I thought life ended at 40, possibly sooner. But what is this “from within” place she speaks of? Philippa and I only care about without. As in, we are without a fine-looking dude and that, my friends, is a full-blown crisis. This commenter implies we might encounter a hot men shortage after we’re 50, in which case I just don’t know if we’ll be able to go on. But overall, I really appreciate this commenter’s concern for us, as evidenced by her hope that we get a grip. I’m concerned about her, too, because if the number of exclamation points is any indicator, her grip just might need a little relaxing.

  • You both sound ridiculously superficial. Like your entire chance of finding a partner is based on whether or not you have wrinkles. We live in such an ageist society and drivel like this just perpetuates the idea that it’s all about the superficial (6 likes).

Why would I care what this person thinks? Obviously s/he is ugly.

  • [More from the same person, whom I picture raising a finger and saying, “And ANOTHER thing!”:] I’m glad I’m not dating either one of you, but you wouldn’t be interested in me anyway, what with me being a 51 year old with some gray hair and wrinkles. I guess we can both count our blessings. (6 likes)

He’s right. I would never date someone who’s 51. That’s only 7 years older than I am, and history says my interest isn’t piqued unless you’re 12-18 years my senior, at which point there’s a good chance I’ll marry you. Count your blessings, indeed.

  1. Suck it up and get a dog.

Why does it have to be what all the men want? Can you just live your life & try Match.com or other dating venues? I’m 60, though I have a boyfriend. If I were single, I would not care about finding a partner, I am too busy with my life. I don’t care who is looking at my wrinkles. I do go to the gym regularly so I’m in shape. I’ve met some really nice men at the gym. Get a rescue pet. They are more likely to love you unconditionally than some man. (4 likes)

I love everything about this comment, beginning with “though I have a boyfriend,” (translation: whatever you do, don’t dump me into that bucket of losers who don’t have a significant other!) and ending with “Get a rescue pet.” Though, based on what Philippa wrote in the article about intimacy, I’m a little worried about what kind of relationship this person wants me to have with my pet.

  1. Huh?

Dumbest article I ever read. Actually, I only got half way through. Can I please get my 40 seconds wasted on this back? (1 like) Okay, I admit this was nowhere near the most popular comment based on likes, but it’s my favorite by miles. Sure, pal, contact the Post to get a refund on those 40 seconds. But the ones you spent writing this comment? Those are on you.

I’ve written this whole post with tongue planted firmly in cheek, in part to make the point that some people seemed to take not just me and Philippa but themselves far too seriously. If I could, I’d invite these people to join me for a beer and to say to my face, the face of someone they don’t know at all but purport to, the things they wrote. I don’t mind that they made those comments, I just doubt they would say them to my face. Whereas, if I were sitting opposite them holding a beer, I know I would respond exactly as I did here and laugh, because that’s how you’re supposed to respond to jokes.

And then maybe we would all take ourselves a little less seriously.

The headshot that appeared with the article. Wait a minute, are those crows' feet?!?!?!

The headshot that appeared with the article. Wait a minute, are those crows’ feet?!?!?!

 

Of birthdays, bonfires and birthday suits

My dear friend Philippa’s birthday was on October 13. We made a huge deal of it last year because she had just received a breast cancer diagnosis, was staring down a double mastectomy, and was more conscious than ever of making the most of the life you’ve been given.

A dozen or so of us marked the occasion by holding a good ol’ fashioned bra burning.  The goal wasn’t to free ourselves of societal constraints but rather to show of solidarity for our friend who would no longer need the famously female undergarments. (Unlike standard-issue boobs, fake ones don’t need a restraining device to keep them from migrating south late in life like anatomical retirees.)

Philippa had never really cared for bras, so on the one hand she wasn’t sorry to set a bunch of them ablaze. On the other, whether she liked ‘em or not, those undies held up a part of her that undoubtedly formed part of her identity as a woman. I can’t imagine what it felt like to let go of them and what they represented, and not by choice.

When I try to think of a single word to describe this gathering that blended support, concern, love, determination, optimism and fear, the one that comes to mind is: reckoning. Being on the cusp of a long, difficult journey made Philippa take stock, and I think it had that effect on the rest of us, too.

A year later, Philippa’s physical recovery was complete. But I still broached the topic of birthday plans with care, recognizing that emotional recovery goes at its own pace. My friend said she was torn, and I could understand why. She survived an ordeal–clearly something to celebrate—but was forever altered. What type of gathering commemorates that?

After thinking about it for a few days, Philippa said, “Let’s have a beach bonfire.”

“Sounds great,” I said.  Of course, I would have forced myself to react with great enthusiasm to anything she suggested, including a quilting bee, but another big burn sounded like it could be therapeutic.

A slightly smaller group than last year’s trekked from DC to Dewey Beach on a beautiful Sunday morning and were rewarded with clear skies and temps in the 60s. We spent the afternoon on the beach and then came home, put on some music, and  started making dinner.  After a few minutes of cutting up vegetables, we decided to cut a rug instead. Yes, a dance party broke out right there in the living room in broad daylight. (I say this as if the dance party acted alone, but it had an accomplice: the apple cider/rye concoctions that had quenched the group’s thirst while out on the beach.)

There I was, dancing in the living room of a beach house with mainly middle-aged people, belting out Michael Jackson songs, when suddenly “All About That Bass” came on.  You might not have thought Meghan Trainor’s bubble gum ode to bubble butts would appeal to our demographic, but the whole room sang it loud and proud, especially Philippa. After a year that was all about her treble, I guess she was glad to focus on the bass for a change.

Because we’re all about that bass.

When the sun had sunk and with it the mercury, we bundled up and returned to the beach.  This bonfire was far less somber than the previous one.  But it did have some things in common with last year’s.  It, too, had a strong “letting go” theme.  And it also involved reckoning, as in Philippa and a few other people reckoned they should let go of their clothing. (I reckoned I would keep mine on, thank you very much.)

And off went a small and very merry Birthday Suit Brigade, dipping the skinny while the rest of us stayed on shore and chewed the fat, thrilling in watching our dear friend live large.