Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Greet 2018 with optimism, and maybe also some hand sanitizer

Many people like to celebrate New Year’s Day with traditions, like eating black-eyed peas or taking a flying leap into frigid water. I kicked off 2018 with a time-honored tradition of my own: a travel delay, courtesy of United Airlines.

When I arrived at Charleston International Airport at 9 a.m. on January 1, ninety minutes early like you’re supposed to, I learned from the departures board that my flight was delayed an hour. Most airlines would have texted or emailed this news immediately, but not United because, really, who wants to find out while they’re still at the hotel that they could steal an extra hour on New Year’s Day? It’s not like most of us were sleep-deprived after staying up late the night before or anything. And who wouldn’t prefer to spend extra time in the airport rather than in Charleston itself? Forget Rainbow Row, the Battery, and Fort Sumter: give me Gate 2B.

As the delay continued, United communicated with passengers only through the departures board, which, as reliability goes, more closely resembled a ouija board. Ultimately we left three hours late, and I found myself repeating a familiar refrain when it comes to my travels with United: at least we left.

After landing at Dulles, I headed to the above-ground garage at my office, where I had parked my car four days earlier. Because the temperature, like Trump’s approval ratings, was plummeting with no bottom in sight, my car quite reasonably decided it didn’t feel like moving under these conditions. I called roadside assistance. An hour later, they arrived, revived my car, and sent me on my way. I got home at 6:30 p.m., six hours behind schedule.

My Italian ancestors –people who believed eating pork on New Year’s Day would bring you good luck –might have seen these mishaps as an inauspicious start to 2018, but I didn’t. (Though I did eat bacon at breakfast, because you shouldn’t leave some things to chance.) Overall, I felt quite lucky: while at the airport, I knocked out a tedious work project I’d been dreading. Roadside assistance came pretty fast, especially on a holiday, and I waited for them in the warmth of my office, with snacks on hand in the kitchen. And though the delays caused me to miss the traditional New Year’s Day dinner with Mom and Dad, I still got home faster than it would have taken me to drive the whole trip. In sum, a few things went wrong, but they went wrong in all the right ways, so I’ll call that a win.

Some of you might read the preceding sentence as proof that, if 2017 taught us anything, it taught us to lower our standards. You could be right, but that’s not what I took away from last year. Yes, I despaired with everyone else at our country’s polarization, at the surfacing of murderous racism in Charlottesville, at natural disaster in Puerto Rico and Houston, and at the potential for manmade disaster because the U.S. head of state is an impulse-fueled narcissist who really puts the “twit” in Twitter. But 2017 also reinforced a belief I have long held: the best way to counter what feels like large-scale negativity is through small-scale action and small-scale optimism.

I went into last year conscious of all that I had to look forward to on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Those sources of happy anticipation really delivered, and a few unexpected ones popped up, too.

I made three trips to New York: one in January with my dear friend LC, her mom and my mom, ostensibly to see the Roundabout Theater Company do “Holiday Inn,” but it also gave us a chance to check out One World Trade Center and have afternoon tea with champagne at the Plaza Hotel; a second in October with Mom and my brother to see Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, something I’ve wanted to do for years; and the third in November with my sisters and parents, to see “Hamilton” and put a happy exclamation point on our celebration of Suzi’s 50th birthday.

I participated in the Women’s March in DC on January 21 with Mom, LC and my good friend Tricia. One of 2017’s most memorable phrases describes the march’s impact best: still, it persists.

In May I flew to Atlanta for my nephew’s fifth birthday and, with my brother’s help, surprised the birthday boy by popping out of an Amazon box. His younger brother will be in therapy for life as a result, but we all agree it was worth it.

My eldest nephew, J.J., graduated high school in June, which gave me an excuse to impart some words, or at least a word, of wisdom and to take him to Greece for two weeks, because that’s the kind of selfless aunt I am. We spent a week of our trip on Crete, where I became friends with someone who reignited my love for writing actual letters.

That trip was not all fun and games, mind you: it fell to me to teach the kid that you brush your teeth before you go to breakfast in public. Naturally, when December rolled around, J.J. got my name in the annual Yank Christmas gag gift exchange and got me a backup set of toothbrushes and toothpaste. Which I will absolutely pack when I take my nephew Casey on his graduation trip this year. (Destination: Iceland!)

Over the summer I started getting together with my friends Bud, who plays the guitar, and Vlada, who plays the violin, to collaborate on old jazz standards and some pop tunes. As much as I enjoy playing piano solo, nothing beats the joy of making music with friends, so I hope we get to do a whole lot more of it in 2018.

Our family celebrated my dad’s 75th birthday in August and gave Dad tickets to the Nats’ first playoff game, which I went to with him in September. We should’ve spent a little more and bought a victory, but Dad and I had a blast anyway.

And speaking of having a blast, in September, I took a trip with my boot camp pal Diane to see our friends and former boot-campers, Ted and Martha, who had moved to Durango, Colorado, a few months earlier. (Some people will do anything to get out of burpees.) Even if the altitude hadn’t left me breathless during our hikes, which it did, the gorgeous aspens and stunning vistas would have. I can’t wait to go back.

In November, electoral sanity returned to Virginia. (A bit of electoral insanity showed up in the Commonwealth this week when a tie in a House of Delegates race was settled by drawing names from a hat, but we won’t dwell on that.) And by way of teasers, something else really good happened in November that I might talk about on the podcast at some point.

In December, I got my parents’ console stereo fixed —one of my prize possessions –just in time for the voice of Johnny Mathis to make a Christmas cameo.

In sum, I experienced my fair share of joy in 2017, and I owe all of it to my friends and family. Those same people send me into 2018 with a healthy dose of optimism. And a flu shot, and Vitamin C, and copious hand sanitizer, because those things never hurt.

I hope 2018 brings you more than your fair share of joy. And may anything that goes wrong for you this year go wrong in all the right ways.

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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.

When art imitates life, does it have to do such a good job?!

My friend Philippa and I met this afternoon to work on our podcast (read: conscript two of our dearest friends into filming another Dating Public Service Announcement since Dating PSA #1 went over so well). She also invited me to join her afterwards at the Signature Theater in Arlington to see a play called Sex With Strangers.

“It sounds relevant to our demographic,” she said.  I hadn’t heard anything about it yet, and the last time I went to a show without knowing anything about it, I got a whole lot more than I bargained for, but I agreed to go for the sake of the show.

As it turns out, the show was relevant not just to our listening demographic but to the two of us.

The Signature Theater website synopsizes it as follows:

A raging snowstorm traps strangers Olivia, an unsuccessful, yet gifted, thirty-nine-year-old writer, and Ethan, a tech-addicted and wildly successful young blogger, in a secluded cabin. Opposites instantly attract, undeniable chemistry ignites and sex is imminent. As the dawn rises, however, what could have just been a one-night-stand transforms into something more complicated when online exploits interfere with their real-life connection.

I later learned the show is based loosely on a book called I Hope They Serve Beer In Hellwhich of course I’ve heard of because my book lives in the same sketchy neighborhood on Amazon.com.

Shortly after the characters meet in the opening scene, Ethan freaks out when he learns the cabin does not have wireless. I actually snorted, having lived out a very similar episode this summer, not with a handsome stranger but with Philippa. She and I were at the DC Arts Center, doing a live recording of our podcast, when Philippa’s phone began to malfunction.

“My phone’s not working,” she said.

“That’s okay, mine is,” I said,  thinking that Philippa’s concern was having a device to record the audio portion of our show.

“But my phone’s not working,” she repeated, only louder and slower this time, as if she were a foreigner visiting my country for the first time, found us natives stupid, and hoped to overcome our ignorance by cranking up the diction and volume. I decided to go native.

“I…know…Mine…does.”

“But I can’t get on Facebook!” she said.  Ah, she wasn’t worried about the show so much as the loss of access to cat videos. A crisis of epic proportions.

“Maybe it’s a good thing,” I said. “You can enjoy being unplugged for a bit.”  When Olivia said something similar to Ethan he reacted  with a glare so icy we got frostbite in the third row. I couldn’t bring myself to make eye contact with Philippa but I could feel her looking at me.

A few minutes later, when Olivia was lamenting that the novel she’d written years earlier didn’t sell well because of how the publisher marketed it, Ethan suggested that she self-publish.

“Are you kidding?” she said, and went on to note that self-publishing is the refuge of “hacks.” I reached into my purse for the rotten tomatoes I keep handy for just occasions and hurled a piece of overripe produce at her head. Or perhaps I just inched down in my seat until my shoulder blades were resting on the cushion.

I’d like to tell you that was the only moment that made me cringe, but the show is full of uncomfortably authentic dialogue on all sorts of topics, and the excellent acting enhanced it. It’s also packed with insight into how most of us humans wage a constant battle between logic and impulse.

And one of its minor themes –the idea that a book has the power to make readers fall in love with its author–stuck with me long after I left.  I hope that’s right, because as regular listeners of our podcast know, I’ve had just about enough of OK Cupid.

Philippa and I snapped a post-show photo with the stranger himself. No wonder Olivia did what she did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The silent treatment: somehow it speaks volumes

Last week Philippa and I responded to a question we received from a gentleman who listens to our podcast, Women of Uncertain Age. “Why do nice guys finish last?” our man had asked. Or so I thought. Shortly after we posted here and here he politely informed me the actual question was, “Why do people give the silent treatment?” (No wonder our listener corrected me. The first question is as similar to the second as apples are to umbrellas.)

Dear listener, I know exactly why daters give the silent treatment: because it’s cheaper than a restraining order.

I’m kidding, though I have crossed paths with and/or married at least one person with respect to whom silence and total disengagement were my best, and ultimately only, options. But let’s assume a non-extreme scenario in which both daters are relatively sane, even if this requires me to become a writer of fantasy.

I might not be the best person to answer our listener’s question because I don’t use the silent treatment unless I have to. I find it cruel and can’t stand it when someone does it to me, which happened somewhat recently.  I had met a Person Of Interest one Saturday afternoon in August and then saw him again at a dinner party in September. The POI seemed to hit it off at the dinner party, after which he sent an email that vaguely suggested getting together again. My response picked up on the vague suggestion and went concrete by mentioning a party to which I’d been invited and could bring a “plus one.” He wrote to say he couldn’t make it that night and to ask if I’d like to get together that week. I said yes and included dates that were open for me. A day went by, then two, and then a week.  He never responded.

I found baffling, not because I had anything invested in it but because getting together again had been *his* idea. Whether he was insincere, changed his mind, or fell into a combine, I will never know. (Actually, I do know. We have a friend in common and I’m pretty sure my pal would have said something if there’d been an unfortunate agricultural mishap somewhere in Northwest D.C.) At forty-three, I no longer take this stuff as personally as I once did, but I find it poor form and still don’t think silence is golden when it comes to dating.

When I go out with someone and don’t see another date in our future, I say so, sometimes right on the spot. I speak up partly out of respect for the other person, and, less heroically, because I’m selfish. Not answering a benign and sane communication from a date I just didn’t connect with makes me feel like a jerk. I don’t want my conscience weighed down with that when it has other pressing things to feel guilty about, like that day’s chocolate consumption.

So I respond. The amount of information my response conveys, and the medium in which I provide it, varies directly with the length and quality of the relationship. If we’ve gone out once, my response probably won’t relay much beyond my personal belief that we’re not a fit for dating. I don’t need to say, for example, “Not only did you extoll the virtues of smooth jazz, but you did it while your mouth was full of jambalaya.” Most men thank me for the honesty and move on.

Since it’s a school of thought I don’t subscribe to, I can only speculate about causes for giving the silent treatment. I suspect some people do it because they view an overt communication of rejection as more insulting than a passive one. They see my oh-so-respectful “we’re not a fit” as a verbal slap in the face and figure the other person would just rather not get hit. And maybe they’re right.

Some do it because they fear the other person’s reaction or can’t stand conflict. I understand this, too, having wished on at least one rather memorable occasion that I’d kept my big mouth shut.

Some people do it because they don’t care, they like to be in control, they want to hurt you, or possibly all of the above, in which case you should silently thank them for showing their cards now.

Some people do it because they’ve tried to break it to you gently and you just won’t buy it, in which case, well, a little self-awareness would go a long way.

If you’re on the receiving end of the silent treatment, you certainly don’t have to like it–I know I never have — but at a certain point, you do have to accept it. And if you’re really afraid the other person died, then go read the obituaries, for heaven’s sake.

Silence might sting, sure, but it can also teach you if you let it. It might be telling you that someone who “communicates” that way isn’t for you. Or maybe it’s saying you’re two texts away from earning stalker status. Either way, listen up.

 

Podcasting in the City of Angels: It’s a Little Bit of Heaven

Last weekend, my friend Philippa and I went to Los Angeles for the annual LA Podcast Festival.
As co-hosts of Women of Uncertain Age, we thought it would be a great opportunity to engage with our peers in the podcasting community. I’m wielding the term “podcasting community” with great confidence now, but the truth is we went into the weekend more than a little concerned that the “community” might consist of ten people, nine of whom still live in their parents’ wood-paneled basements.
I made arrangements to arrive in LA on Friday morning and leave Sunday night.
When I mentioned my travel plans to a friend who used to live in LA and loves it, he said, “Wait a minute, let me get this straight: you’re going to LA for two days? And you’re spending those two days at a podcasting conference? Are you crazy?”
“Why else would anyone go to LA?” I said, and I meant it.
Lots of people love the City of Angels, but I had never counted myself among them. Based on a few prior visits there, I liked the weather and the beach well enough, but I just didn’t connect with the place. I like cities you can get to know on foot fairly easily, and that ain’t LA. I love cities that abound with green space and tall trees, whereas LA abounds with concrete, broken up by the occasional palm tree.
LA also has a particular aesthetic, and it doesn’t quite fit me. On my best day, I’m less “fashion-forward” than “fashion-running-in-place-and-trying-desperately-not-to-fall-off-the-treadmill.” No one seems to notice or care in D.C., but in LA I stick out like a sore thumb, a problem Los Angelinos would solve by simply hiring the thumb a stylist.
Then there’s the whole body thing. I’m 43 and all of the parts on my person are original equipment. In some parts of the country, that would get me put on a pedestal. In LA, that’ll get me put in a museum.
But I went out there determined to keep my mind open and ready to be converted, since my last visit was over a decade ago.
Shortly after I arrived and before the podfest got underway, Philippa, who’s a huge fan of LA, took me on a long walk through the Beverly Hills neighborhood near the festival venue. She even convinced me to relax my firm anti-shopping policy so that I wouldn’t miss out on a chance to buy a $400 cat t-shirt in one of the boutiques. I took in the scenery, soaked up the sun, and genuinely enjoyed myself.
The podfest started a few hours later, and it was a thing to behold.
The fact that it was held at the Beverly Hills Sofitel should have been a pretty big hint that my nerdfest assumptions might be a bit off the mark, but I had to see it to believe it. As we mingled at the welcome reception, we met one professional comedian after another. These people were managing to make a decent living doing standup and improv and had expanded that into the world of podcasting. The attendees included headliners like Mark Maron, Aisha Tyler and Whitney Cummings. I’m pretty sure they haven’t lived in their parents’ basements in a while.
We spent the better part of the next two days laughing, learning and meeting all kinds of amazing people. One of the things we learned is that nearly 90% of the podcasts out there are hosted by men, so we have a terrific chance to help change that. And we convinced one of the amazing people we met to be a guest on our podcast and offer the male perspective on Philippa’s latest date gone awry. In sum, the podfest exceeded my wildest expectations, and I can’t say enough good things about it.
I fully expect to go again next year, and I won’t mind making a return trip to LA. To be clear, the sights still don’t enthrall me, the aesthetic still doesn’t speak to me, and I still have no need for juice bars that sell concoctions with names like “The Pipe Cleaner.” But I loved being surrounded by creative people finding ways to pursue their passion. I find that aspect of the City of Angels truly heavenly.

As Philippa pointed out, the wings are a nice touch, but I’m still no angel.