Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

We didn’t shoot our eyes out, but…

As an antidote to a macabre few days that claimed George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in rapid succession, I figured I’d write a wrap-up of the Yank Christmas.

Before I do that, though, I understand why lots of people are shaking their fists at 2016 and yelling, “ENOUGH!” It’s been a Sith Lord of a year for many people in many respects. Losing in a twelve-month period those three luminaries, as well as the likes of Gene Wilder, David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, and John Glenn — people who dreamed and dared, who lived with sometimes painful authenticity, whose music, characters and sheer bravery inspired many of us during adolescence and upon whom we were counting to keep us company at least through middle age — has felt for some like insults heaped atop injury. I get it. If you ask me, the most constructive thing we can do is treat 2016 as a cast-iron-skillet-to-forehead reminder not to be complacent, not to take who and what we have for granted, and to be humble. (That last one could be very important for the President-Elect, not that anything can penetrate that forcefield of hair.)

Where was I? Oh right, the holiday wrap-up.

We who celebrated Christmas have had six days to tunnel our way out of the discarded wrapping paper avalanche, which means many of us are now in the process of completing the Retail Circle of Life by exchanging the “thoughtful” gifts we got for stuff we actually wanted.

I got to skip that process, because my Christmas featured everything I wanted: family, friends, love and laughter.

It began at my sister Lynne’s house. I spent the night there on Christmas Eve because, as one of the Roommates pointed out, I’ve done that since 2011 –when I was living in their basement because I was getting divorced –and it is now tradition. Those two sure know how to make lemonade from lemons. At 12 and 14, the kids don’t believe in Santa Claus but nevertheless get excited about Christmas because they know they still have a shot at getting something other than clothes. Even Buddy, the family dog, seemed excited. (Then again, Buddy views projectile vomiting as a festive occasion, so his excitement bar is set low.)

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Before (and tell me this isn’t a thing of beauty).

My parents live fifteen miles away from Lynne and always come on Christmas morning to join in the festivities. In years past, they arrived at Lynne’s house by 6 a.m. so as not to miss a minute of gift-opening action. The Roommates felt magnanimous this year and agreed to move the start time all the way back to 7. Mom and Dad showed up right on time and, like the Three Wise Men, came bearing gifts. Because not all hosts enjoy frankincense and myrrh, Mom instead brought three homemade pies: pumpkin, chocolate, and apple. All three could have done duty as Gourmet cover models, but Mom’s apple pie – a cinnamon-spiced, double-crusted, exquisite creature with lumps in just the right places- won the pageant. Mom put the beauty queen on the sideboard in my sister’s dining room, a suitably dignified place for it to bide its time until dinner that night.

They came into the family room and the gift-opening frenzy got underway. We were maybe thirty minutes into the festivities when we heard a loud thump from another room.

“Buddy!” Lynne shouted.

I made a beeline for the kitchen. Buddy tends to hang out where the food lives, so I figured that’s where he’d gone. Nothing.

The other half of the search party, my brother-in-law Paul, had headed for the dining room. There, he caught Buddy paying homage to A Christmas Story and doing his best imitation of the Bumpus Hounds on my mother’s beautiful apple pie.

For a tense moment, no one knew what to do. But then we all got dressed, hopped in the car and headed to a Chinese restaurant. Just kidding. We all looked at Mom, and she shrugged it off because her grandchildren, even the furry ones, get a pass for pretty much everything.

Buddy calls this "a good start."

After, or as Buddy calls it, “a good start.”

After we’d all committed to eat around the Buddy spots, the gift melee resumed and I opened a bag that held an R2D2 apron – a wink to my recent road trip – that I wore for the rest of the day.

I kept it on when I paid a visit to a dear friend whose mom passed away right after Thanksgiving. To maximize the effect, I had also conscripted my parents and made them hold up a “These are not the droids you’re looking for” sign. Our cheer bomb also came loaded with a plate of Mom’s incomparable Christmas cookies, and for at least a few minutes, my friend smiled. 15747358_10211426162756066_4574908933500634748_n

From there, the three of us went to see my friends Dave and Donna. I’ve known them since the fall of 1998, when Dave and I were first year law students at George Mason University. Circumstance drew us together – he’s wheelchair-bound and I was assigned to be his notetaker – and it’s been my enduring good fortune to count the two of them and their three kids among my closest friends ever since. Somewhere along the way, I became a part of their Christmas tradition. I show up, have a beverage, play a few Christmas carols on their piano, and then go on my merry way. I don’t remember how or why it started, but I’m glad it did. I’m also a little surprised, considering some of the things that have gone spectacularly awry when I’ve visited. Their three kids, who were wearing footie pajamas when I first met them back in 1998, are now all grown and launched, and all three were in residence when my parents and I knocked on the door last Sunday. Dave was in particularly high spirits because, in a nod to his Swedish heritage, Dave’s son had made a gigantic batch of a wine-based beverage called Glögg, a compound word formed by the union of “glue” and “slog.” Actually, I rather liked the stuff. And truth be told, even though it seemed to make my fingers stick to the ivories when the time came for the annual mini-concert, it’s really more like paint thinner than glue.

From there our fearsome threesome went back to Lynne’s house for Christmas dinner with the Roommates, my brother-in-law, and two people who long ago transcended the “friend” category and are full-on family. The nine of us spent the next five hours telling stories, laughing ’til our sides hurt, and assaulting the eardrums of innocent bystanders with a sing-along that featured Christmas carols and such old standards as “You Light Up My Life” and Barry Manilow’s “Mandy.” It was enough to make you beg for Glögg.

I hope your holiday was, if not as loud, at least as merry. And may the Force be with you as you head into 2017.

 

 

RIP, Prince: In this life, we’re on our own

Prince was right: life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last. But he had hosted one of the most impressive, inspiring, weird, imaginative, wonderful, come-as-you-are parties this world will ever see, and it should have lasted far longer than 57 years. 

On Thursday afternoon, I had given a talk about careers to my nephews’ marketing class at Glen Allen High School (now there’s a tough room). The looks on the kids’ faces, the questions they asked, the undercurrents that ran between them, all of it left me reflecting on how difficult the high school years can be and how I’d never want to repeat them. That thought was at the front of my mind when I glanced at my phone and saw that a friend had tweeted the news of Prince’s passing. I couldn’t bring myself to absorb the words, no matter how many times I read them.

Like millions of people, I was a Prince fan. I appreciated him as a true musical genius, a prodigy, a prolific and never-derivative creator, a gifted songwriter, a bender of genres, a guitar virtuoso who mastered literally dozens of other instruments, and a possessor of one of the highest talent-per-pound ratios of all time.

Music lost a titan when Prince died. And I lost someone who wrote in indelible ink on the pages of my adolescence.

My first concrete Prince memory was formed in 1984, when I was a terribly un-cool seventh grader at Lake Braddock Secondary School. A school dance loomed large, and though I wanted to go (or at least wanted to want to go), the knowledge that I didn’t know how to dance terrified me. It wasn’t the kind of thing I could admit to my mother, and she couldn’t have done a thing about it anyway. Mom was, and is, a fantastic dancer, but she knew dances like the Twist and the Mashed Potato. I couldn’t see the Mashed Potato playing a role in my first middle school dance unless I happened to trample an errant tater tot on the cafeteria floor.

My then-best friend, Liz, must have had similar fears because we somehow wound up deciding to confront them by practicing some dance moves with her sister and her mom in their living room. Despite the safety of the environment, I hesitated to move. And then “Let’s Go Crazy” –a dance commandment if ever there were one –came on and I was heeding it before I even knew what I was doing. For four glorious minutes, I rose above my self-consciousness and felt cool. That’s what Prince’s music was: a force strong enough to make even the most awkward teenager let go of the walls to which she clung and let loose on a dance floor. And that’s who Prince was: someone who could make anyone feel cool, even if only for four minutes at a time. He wore his weird on the outside, issuing the world an invitation to treat uniqueness as a source of pride rather than shame. Long before he wrote a lyric that’s now comically dated about not needing to watch “Dynasty” to have an attitude, his music, his unclassifiable and ever-changing aesthetic, and his very purpleness had made that point with eloquence. 

After reading the news, I got into my car last Thursday, turned on the radio and was greeted by a barrage of Prince songs. I wasn’t ready for it. Complex, emotional, evocative, and passionate, Prince’s music was all about life and living, and in that moment, I couldn’t access any of that. All I had was numbness. I lasted only seconds before I turned it off. I needed comfort, so I turned to Shel, an incomparable friend, the biggest Prince fan I’ve ever met, and the person who made it possible for me to see him live three electrifying times. (She also gave me this fantastic door decoration.)

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Shel was taking it harder than I was and understood perfectly my unwillingness to approach Prince’s music in a state of emotional paralysis. That music is so remarkable, funky, and resplendent that I didn’t want to hear it until I could bring it some of the joy it deserved.

On instinct, I reached out to my brother next. I didn’t remember ever talking to him about Prince–L.J. is four years my junior so his adolescence probably featured a different soundtrack — but music affects the two of us in such similar ways and to such a deep extent that I felt certain he would get it. I sent a one-line text: “I’m heartbroken about Prince.”

“Me too…This hits me harder than it should,” he wrote.

For the next two days, I kneaded this sense of loss I didn’t entirely understand. I traded texts with Shel and L.J., and that helped. My brother put it well when, after watching Prince’s star turn with the Muppets, he noted that only Prince could write a song about breakfast that would top the charts musically. Though otherworldly in so many ways, Prince somehow belonged everywhere he went, whether it was the set of the Muppets, a rain-soaked stage at the Super Bowl, or the interviewee chair on “Larry King Live.”

While riding the stationary bike at the gym on Saturday and still unable to immerse myself in Prince’s music, I re-watched that Larry King interview from 1999. Prince made a comment that he didn’t like to look back or reminisce, and that really stuck with me. Though I enjoy thinking about the future and have a healthy sense of optimism, I love to reminisce and re-live. How could someone who’s produced such musical brilliance as “1999” not want to gaze back on it in wonderment? The answer hit me while I was out walking the next day: for a creative genius of Prince’s magnitude, maybe the idea of an apex didn’t even exist. Maybe he, unlike most of us, never felt tempted to scan the past and freeze it on achievements and moments of perfection because he knew he had plenty ahead of him. Prince was nowhere near done and he wasn’t ever going to be done. Death simply stopped him, and I’m still having trouble accepting that. 

I think I need to feel sorry for myself for a few more days. And maybe then I’ll be able to act my age, not my shoe size.

Kiss and Tell

As many of you know, my friend Philippa and I host an internet radio show-turned podcast that used to be called “The Van Gogh Sessions.”

The name sprang from an inside joke involving an ex-boyfriend of mine, but it caused most people to assume the show had something to do with art.  Since anyone who’s listened to our show knows that it has about as much to do with art as “Dogs Playing Poker” does, we knew we needed a new name.

This piece can be yours if you go to www.asimplertime.com. I bet they can meet your Velvet Elvis needs, too.

In the interim, we referred to our podcast as “The Show Formerly Known As The Van Gogh Sessions,” but it’s hard to pull off the whole “formerly known as” thing unless you’re Prince.

After months of deliberation, we finally have a new name! We changed up our format, too. We had to do an hour-long show when we recorded in a studio, but now that we’re podcasting, we’ll be presenting much shorter segments, making it easier for you to eavesdrop on us.

Without further ado, and just in time for Valentine’s Day, Philippa and I are proud to bring you “Women of Uncertain Age.”

We think it sums us up nicely: two chicks who are technically in our forties but still pretty much just making it up as we go along, talking about our life experiences and inviting you to listen in on the whole thing.

In keeping with the whole Valentine’s Day theme, we recorded a show on the topic of kissing (listen to it right here.).

As single women, Philippa and I take this issue very seriously.  The public does, too, we soon learned.

We spent a Sunday afternoon walking up and down 14th Street in DC, stopping people who didn’t look like they’d take out a restraining order on us, and asking them the following questions:

  1. What makes someone a good kisser?
  2. Do you think you know beforehand whether someone’s going to be a good kisser?
  3. If the person turns out to be a bad kisser, can you teach him/her to be a good one?

Each question yielded a variety of answers, almost all of which were comical.  Some common themes emerged.  You’ll hear those if you listen to the podcast, and I’ll summarize them here as well:

  • Don’t be a “darter.”  While responders had all kinds of touchy-feely answers about what makes someone a good kisser—an instinct for the right moment, good timing, being on the same page –they were nearly universal, and rather violent, in their hatred of smoochers who made them feel like they were kissing a lizard.  As one woman put it, tongue “should be a player in the mix, but not necessarily the quarterback.”
  • Don’t judge a book by its lips.  Most people we polled said they can’t tell someone’s kissing potential just by looking at him or her.  According to one guy, it doesn’t hurt to have a great set of smackers, but another woman told us that doesn’t necessarily mean a thing.  The guy with skinny lips and an underbite wowed her.  So even if your lips are thinner than two spaghetti strands, you’re on equal footing with the pouty mouths out there.
  •  Bad kissing can’t be fixed. Or can it? The jury’s out.  The first two guys we spoke to were adamant that good kissing can’t be taught.  But then another guy claimed you can teach just about any aspect of a relationship.  We loved that answer, along with the guy.  Or we did, right up until he told me and Philippa that we’re not in his demographic.  He’s dead to us now.  That aside, plenty of people shared his optimistic view of bad kissers, including his pal who claimed to have made kissing “serviceable” in some situations.  And all of the women we spoke to were willing to try to overcome less than stellar smooching.

Care to weigh in? Share your thoughts here, or on the new “Women of Uncertain Age” Facebook page.  We hope you’ll tune in!