Music & the art of being uncool

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My head is full of thoughts this week. Thoughts I can’t quite articulate. Thoughts I can’t believe still need to be said. Thoughts I’ve said again and again to no avail. Thoughts muddled.

Instead, I’m going to talk about music. I love music. I love listening to it, pretty much all the time. I have a stack of mixed CDs in my Jeep (because it’s way too old for anything fancier than a CD player and even that’s an upgrade over its original tape deck). I have Pandora on the TV or the Chromebook or my phone most of the time I’m at home or out walking or trying to jog. Despite my hatred of iTunes, I haven’t switched because there’s 32 days worth of stuff in there. And it’s that small because my hard drive and my budget don’t leave room for much more.

That said, I have terrible taste. I’ve been told so by nearly every person who’s come into contact with me. Almost everyone who’s ever been a passenger in my Jeep. Almost everyone who’s come to the house and been subjected to my Pandora stations or, before, the 300 CDs on shuffle in the stereo or my iTunes playlists. This terrible taste goes back as far as high school when I discovered Little Earthquakes. Even Bitch Magazine will tell you listening to Tori Amos is hopelessly uncool.

Most off-putting to people seems to be the Japanese pop. Even the ones who tolerate Utada or even Ayu can’t get behind Nana Kitade. Even the friend who loves anime dislikes the tracks not associated with his favorite shows. (Beyond him, the closest any of my friends got to endorsing any of it was the girl who borrowed an Ayumi Hamasaki CD to drive across the state because “the screeching keeps me awake.”)

There’s the eye rolls from the guys (and my perkier, top-40 friend) about all the “angry lesbians” who aren’t all lesbians, for the record, and are not always angry. *crosses arms and gives side eye* There’s the atheist who can’t understand why I like Beth Hart. The classical pianist who doesn’t think anyone should listen to Green Day and that my having listened to them since Kerplunk is sure sign there’s something wrong with me. Then there’s the friend who likes the indie folk stuff, tolerates the pseudo-punk and the 90s rock, but hates the Chicane and Afrobeta, and Aesop Rock, and Sia, and anything that smells like dubstep. There’s the friend who adds hipster-y indie dude-bro stations to Pandora every time I leave the room because he heard about them from servers half his age at work and he very much wants to be cool.

And no one can figure out how Nneka (love her!) or Zazie or Anna Vissi or the Yoshida Brothers got in there. And they’ve all given up trying to figure out how it seems normal to jump from Front 242 to Lizzo. And I guess the answer is I’m just uncool.

Am I good enough yet? Does it matter?

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Am I good enough? Will I ever be? Should I quit now? What if no one ever reads my writing? What if no one ever likes it? What if no one ever likes me? What if? I suspect most writers wonder some variation of these questions at some point. I suspect many never stop wondering.

There exists a certain number of repeated themes among writers, agents, publishers, and their various fans and cheerleaders.

“Keep going, keep submitting. [Insert random famous writer’s name] was rejected [some large number between 20 and 90, generally] before being published.”

“If you aren’t finding an agent or publisher, if you get rejected ‘too much’ [some nebulous amount never quantified like the optimistic version], maybe you’re not good enough yet. Keep writing. Everyone has a ‘drawer novel or six.'”

“publishers want diverse books by diverse voices.”

“we like this, but we’re not sure how to sell it. Have you considered [making it less diverse in some way]?”

“Self publish only if you’re egotistical and want to see your name on a book because you’ll make no money and the only reader will be your mom. Besides, without a team of professionals, it will be of low-quality and destroy your chances of a real publishing deal.”

“Self publishing is the only way to really control your career and make money. Besides, [insert name of outlier success story] would have never gotten a deal if [he/she] hadn’t self published and sold [x] copies.”

“Write the book you want to read. That’s where the best ideas/writing is. You’re a reader, too.” “Don’t chase fads. Write what you’re passionate about.”

“When you’re serious about getting published, stop writing books for you and start writing books for readers. Books that sell.”

The overall message is less one of “there are multiple paths to success” and more one of “anything you do is wrong, but if you say you feel that way, you are whiny and unworthy and you just don’t understand.’ There’s also a lot of contradiction and a lot of ways to do something that will cause derision and snark to burst forth from industry insiders. There are a lot of ways to misstep and find oneself mocked, usually in a thinly veiled fashion, on the internet. There’s a certain level of snobbery that may be an artifact of New York life, of all those years getting MFAs or graduate degrees in 15th century poetry, or that same human behavior that causes formerly lower-middle class people to suddenly look down their nose at friends after a year of being married to a someone who can buy a Cadillac as a present. Once people find themselves on the good side of the door, they want to beat back those they think might steal their place, even if the notion is irrational.

Then, too, there are also a lot of well-meaning authors who offer well-meaning advice and have reached a point where they don’t fear the next people through the door, but whose careers started thirty, or even ten, years ago when they had a different set of rules and a different industry to work with. It’s not so different than the grandfatherly advice about working one’s way up at the factory into management or starting off on the sales floor at the local appliance shop and ending up retiring as the president. It’s advice that sounds so antiquated it almost drifts from lips to ears in a hazy, overly-warm Instagram filter. Toaster or Lord Kelvin, maybe. (Can we call well-meaning, but aged and useless advice Lord Kelvin? Does anyone even use that filter?)

Because the first statement has such a wide rage of numbers given — often for the same author as I’m not sure anyone looks these things up and I’m sure there’s an Abraham Lincoln quote meme to back this feeling up — and the second rarely has numbers at all, both are open to so much interpretation that those inside can be equally derisive of someone who has been rejected twenty times and quits as someone who has been rejected eighty times and keeps submitting to anyone with the word “agent” in their title even if they work for Southwest Airlines.

There’s a parallel catch here in that not all agents are equal and those who research them and their sales know this. Writers are warned off querying agents with questionable track records, Idaho addresses, poor websites, and are known scam artists. Writers are told to look for names of agents in the fronts of books they enjoy reading. Of course, some of the most venerated agencies have terrible websites, appear to be trapped in the early 1990s, or give off the impression that they will figure out email only in the afterlife. You have agents in Idaho with more publishing connections than the “agent” in his grandmother’s Queens basement. And in certain genres, you may only find four agents mentioned in a stack of fifty books.

When agents and editors say they want diverse books, diverse writers, diverse stories, many of them mean it. But agents and publishers are in the business of making money, not social justice. It’s great when the two intersect, but their primary concern is in bringing in as much money as they can. And we come to stories with our own notions, our own baggage, our own filters. Sometimes a “great story” gets that label because we relate to some part of it, and as much as we train ourselves otherwise, we often relate to things most similar to us. Things too different, too challenging, require more work. And when we look out at a world mired in outrage over tee shirts and celebrity nail polish, a world with politicians who not only look like interchangeable cardboard cutouts but have near identical nonsensical soundbytes, we worry the world isn’t ready to be challenged intellectually in droves. And droves equal money.

This may or may not explain why Hollywood has essentially given up on the concept of new ideas and instead is just recreating the 80s, why networks can announce reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with fanfare and eleventy-billion Facebook likes. People still watch Buffy because it fills a void. Sam and Dean Winchester are awesome and they fight monsters every week, too, but they have a limited supporting cast, the women all end up dead, and because everyone’s so busy being stoic, super stoic, or mega-ultra stoic, the arc of character development is low and long and moves glacially. Then again, still more original than Ghostbusters reboots and The Hangover 18.

Which is where part of the feminist outrage machine comes in. Yeah, there’s a lot of really white entertainment choices. And a lot of really dude-bro masculine guys being charming assholes. There aren’t too many options in the merch department for female superheroes and it’s hard to game a girl avatar or find a person of any color other than off-white. But I find I’m less outraged than bored.

I’m over the Lara Croft knockoffs, the short shorts and high kicks without substance. I’m over whisky-soaked, pill-popping angry men being angry about things because it hurts too much and gah! feelings must be solved with ultra-violence. I’m over the endless variation of chefs and dog walkers and artisanal chocolate engineers who find bodies in their soups and poodle poop. (This might explain why so many adults are reading YA these days. Not only are the books shorter and thus easier to “check off” in the face of endless busy, but that seems to be where a lot of the diversity, experimentation, and realness ended up.)

I’m tired of reading what feels like the same book, so I’ve been hunting all over the library (a cheaper way to read half a book and decide you don’t want to finish it than buying them new). I’ve been clicking random things on Hulu from time to time. (I found IZombie fun and sufficiently different from the endless zombie apocalypse stuff.) I haven’t been to the movie theater since Nebraska. I haven’t touched a video game since I almost finished Kingdom Hearts. But what I do watch and read, I tend to do in a bubble because it’s exhausting to try to be cool and keep up with what the other kids are talking about and be outraged about the right things and know when a spoiler is no longer a spoiler (is fifteen years long enough?).

There’s too much entertainment that’s all flash and little substance, too many times I’m seeing action movie trailers and thinking it wouldn’t matter if the aliens lost, all the insurance companies would go belly-up in the face of all that city-wide destruction, that the stock market reaction to that many televised explosions would be another mass recession or worse, and that if our reaction to a few buildings destroyed or damaged was more than a decade of war, rabid patriotism followed by a rash of anger, judgment, fear, and a kind of damning conservatism based on retribution…what the hell would be our reaction to the mess at the end of the last Avengers movie? Tell me that story. Better yet, show me that story because that sounds like the kind of thing I want to watch with popcorn and that sounds like a good use of CGI.

Instead, I’m going to get offered a meet-cute romcom set in the world’s last bookshop but with spanking! and whips! because Fifty Shades made money. #lesigh

I have, however, been told that I should anxiously await Sam Hawken’s Camaro Espinoza book that’s due in December. And I’m sure there are some other things in my pile that I will enjoy.

In the meantime, I’ll be writing to entertain my desk drawer.

Vegan Cheese-steaks

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The husband found this recipe online and thought it sounded awesome.

The recipe calls for a lot of chili peppers and cayenne, though, and the husband is prone to ulcers. (He’s a walking stress ball.)

Our version:

Oil (I cooked with a blend of canola/olive and drizzled olive oil on the buns)

Rolls/Hoagies (I used Portuguese rolls I found at the grocery store)

I also like any excuse to use my food processor, so I used the slicer attachment to chop the seitan into smaller bits — not quite “shredded” and not quite “chopped.”

I cut up half a leftover onion and tossed it in the pan with a blend of olive and canola oil and a few chopped up slices of jalapeno (the jar kind, which tends to have a different heat than the fresh and seems easier for him to eat).

When the onions started to brown, I dumped the seitan shreds in and shook on some Greek Seasoning and a bit of black pepper.

Once the seitan started to brown at the edges, I threw in half a bag of peppers and stirred them in with a bit more Greek seasoning.

Then I lowered the heat to low and dumped half a bag of Daiya cheddar shreds and let that melt while I toasted the bread and drizzled it with olive oil.

I don’t have pictures because he ate it all. He’s a super picky eater and he never cleans his plate so this is rather monumental.

Note: This is not a low-calorie meal, but I’m sure it’s lower calorie than the real deal from a diner or food truck. It also tends to taste more like “chicken” cheese-steak than beef cheese-steak, but that worked out for both of us as beef even grosses him out.

 

Vegan Alfredo Sauce

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We’ve tried this a few different ways. The version using avocados, lemon, and garlic is delicious but not very “alfredo-y.” The version using cauliflower was gritty and awful. Recently, we decided to try again and use a bean recipe. Yes, white beans. I followed the original with the addition of sundried tomatoes, but it was a bit too “bean-y.” When I reheated it later, I added more almond milk and more vegan butter. The additional creaminess cut down on the bean taste and made the whole thing more like alfredo sauce.

  • 2 cans white beans (we used one can of Northern and one of Navy)
  • 2 cups unsweetened, plain almond milk (add 1.5 to the food processor and add the last half when it’s cooking)
  • .5 cup vegan butter/margarine
  • Garlic or garlic powder to taste
  • Onion or onion powder to taste
  • Black pepper or peppercorns
  • Tablespoon or two of olive oil
  • Nutritional yeast (quarter cup)
  • Italian seasonings (oregano, basil, sage, rosemary, etc.) to taste
  • Sundried tomatoes

Add everything but the olive oil and half cup of almond milk to the food processor (drain the beans) and turn it into a pureed, creamy sauce. Pour into a pot or saucepan. Warm on mid-heat and add the rest of the milk and oil, stirring.

Cook linguine or fettucine to al dente. (We didn’t seem to have either so I used penne.)

Pour cooked sauce on cooked pasta and eat.

Book Covers: friend or foe

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Last week I went to a book signing up in Delray on the suggestion of a friend. Based on the cover, the book honestly wasn’t doing much for me. It looked like a cozy, and while I know those have some rapidly loyal fans, that’s not really my thing. The titles for the series made it sound like a cozy. And the whole package came across as VERY cozy. The description the author gave didn’t sound so cozy. It actually sounded like something I might read. I may even pull it out of the TBR pile and read it one of these days.

Which makes me wonder. Did the publisher decide to disguise it as a cozy because those sell well? Or did the cover designer just not get the right memo? Am I just not the target age group?

All this got me to thinking during my snot-infused week of sickness about what kinds of covers to attract me. What sorts of images draw me like a moth to a flame across a bookshop? What makes me click on a thumbnail online? What makes me want to know more? And what repels me?

I think it’s easier to say what automatically repels be because it’s maybe easier.

  • The old-school 80s black and blood splatter, colbalt blue and silver covers that scream “I’m the thriller you read in high school but with better technology” or “I’m the mystery with the serial killer who attacks pretty little blond girls for ‘reasons.'”
  • Bad clip art or badly compiled art. If it looks like a first grader made it with Pic Monkey, I’m probably not picking it up.
  • Anything that looks like a poster from a teenage boy’s bedroom — even erotica should leave me with the impression that the people involved are doing what they want and not having a seizure on the hood of a Trans Am.
  • Whimsical, cutesy stuff, curlicues, overly-fancy fonts, or anything that looks like it would make a good print on your grandmother’s favorite tote bag. Sorry. I may like the book, but you’re gonna have to talk me into it because the cover’s gonna work against it for me.

Things that tend to draw me in:

  • Grays or black and white photos accented with bold colors that aren’t blood red. Think teal or purple or that orange popsicle color that isn’t quite pastel and isn’t quite bright. In fact, if you throw an artsy black and white or faded color photo on the cover — something that looks more like it belongs on an indie album or the pop up gallery in the warehouse district — I’m going to pick the damn thing up.
  • Bright colors or bold hand-drawn doodles on a bright white background. Literary books do this a lot and I will pick up every last one of them only to find most of them are naval-gazing stories about a dissatisfied boy who wishes the girl next door wasn’t moving to China so he stalks her and discovers himself triumphantly by having an existential crisis after drinking too much gin with a woman who only exists in his head and may in fact be a tumor.
  • Thick academic tomes with good looking muted covers under their dust jackets. (This is not actually a selling device, it’s just what makes me leave the library with books about the intersection of neurophysics and geopolitical boundaries.

So, what attracts you cover wise?

Things I don’t understand: #planneraddicts

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I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around “planner” obsession for a while now. I’m not sure I quite have it.

Now, before you snap your fingers early-90s sassy sitcom style and tell me it’s a planner thing, I wouldn’t understand, let me explain. I mean, I have a windowsill full of pens. Full. Of pens. I have a mug and a jar devoted just to refills for said pens. I have notebooks. Two full boxes full of them, just waiting to be used. I not only have this many pens and notebooks, but I have preferences. That’s generally one of the signs of someone with a stationery store problem, an office supply addict, this preference for particular items. And piles of former favorites that he or she can’t quite part with in case that one becomes a favorite again. It could happen — at any moment.

At the moment, I have a Moleskine I use primarily for practicing lettering (poorly), sketching out things (poorly), doodles, watercolor play, and ideas that need a dot grid. It’s thin, flexible, and has a loop to keep it closed. I have a Paperblanks journal and one I drag around in my purse as a “brain dump” to catch snippets of dialog, plot ideas, deranged poetry, lists, scribbles, doodles, and nonsense. I have another one I use as a journal. I have too many Miquerlrius notebooks because I love the paper quality and I can reuse the poly covers for discbound notebooks (“arc” if you’re a Staples addict).

And, I have a planner. I love my planner. I am protective of my planner. It is beautiful. Because I didn’t want to buy leather, I put off investing in a nice cover until Levenger finally came out with the LevTex alternative to leather that looks like leather instead of looking like cheap plastic. (Until then, I used the cheap plastic.) Since I can’t quite afford Levenger, I haunted their eBay outlet until the right size (junior) LevTex cover came around and then lost three to stupidly-high bidders (like, bidding more money that it would cost to buy the thing on the Levenger site), and finally got a dark purplish blue one. Let’s be clear that I wasn’t sure that was the color I wanted, but I’m glad that’s the color I got. It’s like an indigo. Pretty. I started out with my 1″ Twilight discs, but they were too small, so I moved up to the 1.5″ Twilight discs I’d had on my old planner. For months, I used a daily calender I got on clearance because the year was ending and waited for Levenger to put the SmartPlanner refills on sale. Finally, enough of 2014 passed that I started having things to write in the SmartPlanner pages, put the first few months in the planner and enjoyed how much the little to-do lists, weekly goals, and week-on-one-page format worked for me. I added a section at the back with top tabs for the dojo, my writing, my candles, and “other.” I added a section for contacts. I kept some blank paper in the back. I added a pen to the loop.

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Ahh… Done. Really. Done. That’s it. I mean, for those who aren’t paper and pencil obsessed, they already slipped into a coma and wondered what the hell is wrong with me (probably not in that order). For the planner addicts, they’re probably wondering when I bought the washi tape; if the pen coordinates; if I use a rubber band or a headband to keep it closed; if I decorated the front with stickers or rhinestones; how often I change my dashboard; if I have a section for Project Life cards; where I keep the inspirational verses; how many specialty paperclips I have (the answer here is 9 but none of them stick up and all but three are little silver ones from Midori). A few of are probably also waiting for me to mention the other planners: the one for quotes or budgets or housecleaning schedules or… that’s the thing. I don’t know what else I’d need more planners for. That’s the thing I don’t get.

I’m pretty pragmatic. I mean, I have other “arc” notebooks — most of them actually have Levenger components because when the husband discovered Circa at the beginning of grad school, he went a little overboard — but I don’t call them “planners.” I call them notebooks. One has all the backstory notes for the main character in it. One has all the accounting paperwork for the GIS business in it. One has a couple of PDFs on small business and craft business success in it. One is mostly blank paper. One is, actually, a planner of sorts (it’s the old travel planner from our last road trip), but I just don’t see it as a “planner” so much as an archived itinerary.

So, maybe it’s partly vocabulary. What I call a “notebook,” other people are calling “planners.” Except, that doesn’t seem to fully explain the phenomena that confuses me so. I mean, I somewhat don’t understand the decorating aspect, but I think that’s because people keep calling it “planning” when what they seem to mean is “scrapbooking” or “decorating” or “crafting.” Then again, we are a society obsessed with The Future and Plans and Busy, so maybe in the context of that cultural need to feel like we’re always moving forward or drafting a map to get there, we’ve rebranded the fun of crafting and the nostalgia-drenched “waste of time” scrapbooking of old as “planning.” Seems a little like the swoops boomerangs and rocketships in Googie-era space age design. The obsession with future and progress turned boring old motels into concrete conch shells wearing sombreros.

The need for more than one, though, I’m having a harder time with. And, yeah, I get that I drag around the little Paperblanks brain dump and the indigo planner with me almost everywhere, but that’s it. If I’m actually using it for something, I might bring the Moleskine, but I’ll probably leave the Paperblanks behind. If I’m going to dinner or a party, I toss the Paperblanks or the tiny Circa jotlet in my bag (you never know when you’ll have an idea) and leave the planner behind. I don’t, though, have five Filofaxes in different colors or sizes. I don’t have a Filofax, a Midori, a Foxydori, a Kikki-K, an Erin Condron, an Arc, a Hobonichi, a Plum Planner, SugarPlum, and five other various things I got from eBay, Etsy, or Kickstarter. I don’t understand the constant switching contents and pages and refills and brands. I bought the thing I liked. Done.

I don’t get it because A) just the clutter of the windowsill full of pens is making me a little nuts at the moment and I’m probably about a week from sending most of them to live elsewhere; B) I don’t have the money to constantly buy new planners — especially since some of them run a hundred bucks for more; C) I use the planner to keep my shit straight so I don’t forget the things I’m supposed to do or the places I’m supposed to be. If I’m constantly changing the format, the container, the layout… How am I supposed to remember where things are? It utterly defeats the purpose for me.

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What I’m supposed to wear.

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I started pontificating about what I’ve been told I should and shouldn’t wear over the years in my newsletter this past week and I keep finding, utterly by accident, other blogs about taking back our own sense of style, in various forms.

As I mentioned in the newsletter, I used to like super-girly clothes as a kid, but much to my mother’s displeasure I wanted to climb trees, jump ditches and play in the mud while dressed like a princess. As I got older, I thought I had to dress more like a boy to be taken seriously, to be thought capable of science and math, and to show that I didn’t care if no one thought I was pretty enough to befriend or date. (And even then guidance counselors still pushed me toward business instead of anything we now call STEM despite my having taken five science classes in high school and four maths, including calculus. Did they not have access to my records in guidance?)

In advertising, I was supposed to dress in cutting-edge designer fashion, but made poverty wages, so that never worked out. As a teacher in a correctional facility, I wore dark colors (because the place was filthy), cheap things I could wash a lot (because the place smelled terribly), and baggy pants with boxy jackets (because I was aiming for androgynous and needed pockets).

And I’ve spent a lot of years not wanting the “girly” thing because I wanted to be equal. But you know, bedazzled cases don’t make phones work less well; purple ink doesn’t make a message less powerful unless the reader let’s prejudice in the way; pretty notebooks work just as well as ugly ones; a pink skirt doesn’t make a mind any less sharp; lipstick doesn’t decrease competence but too often we think it does.

And we think it does because that’s what we’re told. In movies where the “tomboy” knows how to fix trucks but not how to pick out a lipgloss and her friend has a closet full of frocks but can’t work a screwdriver. By our peers, professors, and bosses, who tell us to grow up, to put our hair up, to use blue or black ink, to dress in staid colors, to be “professional’ when they mean “masculine.”

But we’re also told the “girly” gets the boy and we’re told that’s supposed to be our primary directive. Because the girly girl will find a boy to fix her truck and besides, lipgloss is easier than fuel injectors. *hair flip* *eye roll* *more eye roll* *even more eye roll*

We have a hard time accepting women as dimensional people. But we’re getting better, slowly. This review points out, specifically, a scene in which the women of the family (on Jane the Virgin) put together a piece of furniture with tools they own and call by name without any of the silly nonsense so often put forth in TV as comedy. Mindy Kaling’s character on The Mindy Project dresses in bright colors, florals, and patterns when having meals or meetings or engaging in comedy shenanigans, but she’s never “othered” in ridiculous scrubs in hospital scenes. When it’s time to actually act like a doctor, she does and she’s portrayed as competent, even successful. (Granted, she can’t seem to work a screwdriver but New Yorkers (and to some degree, Bostonians and Chicagoans) can be a bit odd in the stuff they never had to learn to do because public transportation, landlords, and a densely-packed environment never made it necessary. (It’s why the “city slicker” stereotype exists and it’s often played for laughs against the “rugged woman” trope — ha ha, that blonde can shop wood and you can’t, don’t you feel less of a man? *rolls eyes* *rolls eyes again* *hurts self rolling eyes so hard*)

Yet, that trope relies heavily on the idea that “pretty” and “competent” are opposing ideas. Part of the reason it’s played for laughs is because the audience is supposed to assume that the hot blonde can’t do anything menfolk can do, so when she shows up the “city slickers,” it’s supposed to be a bigger insult to their manhood. Yet, as women, we’re never allowed to forget that our primary duty — aside from birthing lots of babies and raising them in a dark hole somewhere so no one can see us breastfeed or messy or fat or without makeup — is to look good. To smile for strangers to make them happy — don’t worry those strangers will tell you if you’re not smiling and get angry if you don’t want to. Even our TV “ugly ducklings” are prettier than most of us see ourselves as being.

But, for me, it’s time to stop trying to be what makes everyone else happy. I want to wear lipgloss while camping in the desert? I don’t need your approval. I don’t need the snide remarks about how dumb that is. Lipgloss does two things: it makes you feel prettier and it moistens the lips (that second one is key in the desert). It also often has SPF in it. Bonus. I want to run around town with my hair looking a hot mess because I don’t have windows in my Jeep? Hey, I like my truck. It’s fun. Way more fun than an Audi or a Toyota. I want to wear pretty dresses or leggings with loose tank tops or flip flops or heels or yoga pants to everywhere but yoga? Done. And I like playing with makeup — love Halloween — but I don’t like messing with much of it daily. I’m a mascara and lipgloss kind of woman and I’m never going to figure out “contouring concealer.” I’m more likely to learn Ruby. Or Chinese.

And I’m going to try to stop feeling bad that I can’t fix my own damn truck, but I’m going to find that damn Chilton manual I misplaced just in case magic happens.

Oh, and if you want to bust out of your routine and find some “happy” with a silly, super-girly thing you can pair with cowboy boots and tell the world “fuck it” in, Sarah Sapora of the SarahPlusLife blog is running a tutu giveaway.

How to talk to women & not be a tool — Part 3 (guidelines)

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Here, finally, are my guidelines. They seem pretty easy to implement.

1) Don’t yell (or hoot, or whistle, or bark, or honk, or make suggestions) at women you see on sidewalks, roadways, or other public places. There are two caveats to this and both are predicated on you knowing this woman ahead of time. The first is if you are supposed to be meeting this friend, date, etc., and you see her but she doesn’t see and you call her name to get her attention. Note: I said “call her name,” not shout “hey, bitch, bring that big ole ass over my way.” There is a difference. The second caveat is if you and this woman have a previously agreed upon role play deal whereby you pretend to be a jackass and she enjoys it. Outside of those two caveats, barking out of a car window is only acceptable if you actually need heartworm pills and annual rabies shots. Yelling out of passing cars generally makes women assume that you are either a psychotic rapist or a deranged child-man who is going for his first car ride. Neither is likely to get you a date. Just fucking stop it.

2) Learn to read body language and context. I typed this all out and it was great and then WordPress lost it so just assume this makes as much sense as the last version. The lost version. (That should be the story of my success: The Lost Version because somewhere out there is a version of my life that makes sense but it’s not here.) Look, if learning how to read basic body language and situational context is too hard for you, don’t talk to women, don’t talk to men, join a monastery or cult or buy a trailer on a mountain in the desert. Women are not from Venus. They are not a separate species. All that is bullshit the media told you because separatist comedy is easy and they need to sell magazines or books brokered on the celebrity of a sex video or some other nonsense.

Some women want to be told they’re beautiful. Other women would prefer you compliment their dress or shoes or necklace because they feel like your standard of beauty is out of their control. I’m in that second group. When people who aren’t my husband or my best friend tell me I’m beautiful or pretty or attractive enough not to scare small children (note: I regularly scare children), it makes me feel like a lamp or a piece of hotel artwork. I have some issues with esteem when it comes to shit I know how to do because in my head, if I can do it, it’s easy and no big deal so I don’t see it as a skill no matter how many people tell me that’s insane. When strange men at the grocery store tell me I’m pretty, I hear, “I would hang you on the wall over my couch and not get remotely bored until all the smoke from by bong got you dirty and I left you out by the road for poorer neighbors. Thus, I make a face appropriate to envisioning this rather than saying “thank you” and smiling like a beauty contestant. If you’re reading body language correctly, the right response is to accept this and leave. Inappropriate responses are to scream, stalk, threaten, or tell her she’s a stuck up bitch.

Context is key:

  • At a fancy gala where everyone’s dressed up? Telling a person he or she looks great (respectfully) is fine.
  • At work on Tuesday? Probably creepy unless your relationship with the person goes beyond work. (If you haven’t been to this person’s house as a guest, it’s probably creepy to complement the person rather than the clothes or shoes. And if you’re the boss, keep the complements professional and vague and neutral. Things like “sharp” instead of “sexy” You’re not stupid, you know what I’m saying.
  • Strange, harried woman at the grocery store? She’s busy so if you complement her and she acts like she doesn’t hear you or offers a quick thanks and runs off, don’t get all flustered and upset and shout that she’s a racist crazy lesbian bitch down the chip aisle. Get ahold of yourself. She’s got other problems at the moment. Sorry if you think she’s the girl of your dreams. If she truly is, you’ll probably run into her again when she’s less busy. Trust the universe or something. Or just chill.
  • Strange, relaxed woman at the grocery store? Let’s say she’s smiling and making chit chat with the woman in front of her in line and everything about her says she’s approachable. Fine. Complement away. However, if she says thanks and turns back to the woman in line or smiles and nods and shifts feet like she’s waiting for you to go, don’t stand there offering your number and describing your favorite sex positions. Also, she might just be in a good mood that doesn’t change the fact that she’s in a relationship or she’s not interested or she’s visiting and doesn’t want a one night stand or anything long distance or maybe she just doesn’t feel the say way about you and that’s okay. Move on. She is not all women. The next relaxed smiling lady you see at Trader Joe’s may offer you her number and tell her she’s super into your favorite whatever.

3) Be respectful. Be polite. Unless you know this person really well and you have the sort of relationship where “you look banging in that dress” is an accepted form of communication, don’t say that to strangers. Pretty much, don’t say shit to strange women that you wouldn’t want to say to your mom or grandmother or the pastor/pastor’s wife depending on your denomination. Again, context is key here, too. Also age. And the ability to move on. “You look smokin'” to the girl at the nightclub at 2am is maybe okay if you’re both in your early twenties and a little drunk. “I’d totally hit that” is just not right no matter what. I’m sure there’s a woman out there with low enough self esteem to think this vague comment that implies you’re potentially fuck-able with the connotation that there are conditions attached. There is no reason to encourage her terrible self-esteem unless you, too, have an awful self view and this comment does nothing for either of you.

If you think “I’d totally eat cupcakes off that ass” is polite or respectful, please buy that mountaintop trailer now.

By the same token, commenting on body parts makes you a creepy asshole unless you’re complementing the body parts of a person you are already in a good personal relationship with. Your wife’s breasts can be sexy to you. The woman at the laudromat? Keep that shit to yourself.

4) Keep your hands to yourself. No touching. This is partly cultural and if you live in an area where several cultures converge, you’re going to have more trouble navigating this than if you live in the same town with the two hundred other people you’ve known since birth. I have a friend who likes to kiss people. On the mouth. She claims it’s cultural, though her mother and brother both seem to know that kissing strangers on the mouth is a good way to get slapped. Point here is that if your culture has a form of greeting that you just don’t see a lot of people on whitebread media doing, maybe explain yourself to your friends and coworkers before doing it to them and if they aren’t comfortable, don’t force it.

I have another friend who kisses people on the cheek and hugs them. I’m not a big fan of touching. We’ve worked our way up to this form of greeting and I’ve adopted the quasi-fake air kissing thing when I’m around other friends and acquaintances who participate in cheek kissing. I also have long arms so it makes it easier to keep them at a more comfortable distance. Note I said friends and acquaintances, not random strangers who just came up to me in a bookstore. I don’t know you and you’re getting a handshake at best. Sorry.

As a subset of this, listen to people when they tell you not to do something or that they’re uncomfortable. There’s a guy we’ve known for years because he’s semi-attached to some work people we occasionally run into. He’s a complete misogynist, something he’s proven again and again with comments, attitudes, hiring decisions, and just about everything else he’s ever done. He’s also terribly classist and sees himself as better than just about everyone including the British royals. Over the years, I’m sure I’ve told him, politely, rudely, drunkenly, with body language, with glares, and with mild violence not to touch me. I don’t want him stroking my arm or putting his hand on the small of my back or on my shoulder. I don’t want a kiss or a hug or that weird standing-too-close-rubbing thing. Yet, if I were to just flat out elbow him in the throat, people would say I’m the one in the wrong. Don’t be this dickhead.

Understand that there are approximately a million reason why someone doesn’t want you touching them ranging from their own cultural upbringing to PTSD to germ-phobia to just being covered in something sticky from the table they were just sitting at or from changing their kid’s diaper and running out of hand sanitizer. Just accept it and move on. Sure, there’s a chance the person really is a racist, homophobic lunatic who hates fat people, but honestly, that’s only one possibility out of the other 999,999 so why shout that down the chip aisle like you’re off your meds.

5) Accept no. Accept go away. In other words, stay polite. If this person you’ve engaged for whatever reason does not want to talk to you, doesn’t want to keep talking to you, or turns and runs the other way, just accept it. Does rejection hurt? Sure. But you’ll heal. It’s not a sucking chest wound. It’s not a stab wound to the femoral artery. It’s just No.

And again, most women have spent their whole lives being told men are a dangerous species and before meeting you at seven o’clock on the subway platform, she’s probably been whistled at like an errant dog, shouted at by a dude at the corner store, told her breasts look nice in her suit at work, and followed two blocks by a kid in a jacket too big for the weather. Are you all these other people? Maybe? Sometimes we’re just tired of trying to figure it out and want to be left alone. Sometimes we’re in a relationship. Which, on the one hand, many of us don’t want to have to tell you because it annoys us that you don’t hear “no” from us as people but you accept if we’re someone else’s property. And on the other hand, sometimes you don’t listen to anyway. If I tell you I’m married and your response is to tell me I don’t need him, I need you instead, what you’re actually saying is “I’m a big dickhead who never grew ears so all I hear is the sound of sperm floating around in my head. It’s like the ocean.” Sometimes we don’t want to be in a relationship or meet new people. Sometimes we’re focusing on us or we’re in a dark place and acting remotely normal takes more energy than you can understand. Sometimes we have two jobs and three kids and an ex-husband who calls six times a day to beg for forgiveness and we just can’t deal with your bullshit. Sometimes we’re just not attracted to you or you sound boring or whatever. It happens. Sorry, again, you’ll heal.

And yeah, maybe the woman you just hit on really is just a racist, classist, sizist lesbian who hates men and has a part time job as a serial killer. It’s a possibility. It’s just not the most likely and shouting insults at her doesn’t make other women want to date you. Shouting insults to random women tells the world you have the emotional maturity of a tadpole and that a relationship with you would be like dating a young teenager. Note: though there are plenty of creepy men who like the idea of dating teenage girls, I have yet to meet a human woman over the age of seventeen who wants to date any guy under the age of twenty and I’ve never met a woman old enough to drink who wants a guy too young to.

 

Wearing whatever the hell I want

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There are approximately 18-eleventy-billion times six blogs, vlogs, articles, magazines, zines, images, tutorials, advertisements, listicles, podcasts, telling women what to wear and not wear. What to wear if you’re a teen and want to be cool. What to wear if you’re in your twenties and want to be hip. What to wear in your twenties if you want to be taken seriously. What to wear in your thirties. What to wear when pregnant. What to wear postpartum. What to wear in your forties. What to wear in your fifties. What to wear to work. What to wear to prom. What to wear to interviews. What to wear to conferences. What to wear to weddings. What to wear at your own wedding. What to wear to dinner parties. What to wear to happy hour. What to wear to work functions that aren’t really work. What to wear to picnics. What to wear to the beach. What to wear while mining gold. What to wear if you’re hiding out from the law in a stolen Airstream twenty miles from the last known pay phone. What to wear if you’re kidnapped by scofflaws in a beat up 50s Caddy. The list is literally endless. About the only thing more plentiful on the internet are porn and opinions about Marvel v DC.

See, I used to be super girly. And climb trees. I was totally the kid who wanted to wear my favorite purple skirt and a pink shirt with boots so I could dance in the rain on an old dirt road. I was the girl who wanted to wear her pretty pink polka dotted nightgown out to climb trees so she could pretend to be the princess who saved the village by hiding out looking for nefarious types and jumping from the highest branches on their imaginary heads. (She always made me wear shorts, but in my head…pink nightie because it was the ruffliest thing I owned.) For the record, I don’t know why I never broken anything leaping out of tree tops into ditches, but the point is, I wanted to be the warrior princess before Xena existed, before Buffy existed….hell, before Donkey Kong and Mario Bros.’s boring-ass princesses existed. (Well, AROUND the time Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. were new and shiny and hadn’t quite made it to my small town, so for all I knew, they didn’t exist. And, yes, I’m old.)

And somewhere along the way, I was taught that I needed to wear serious colors and serious clothes if I wanted anyone to take me seriously. Except I couldn’t afford any of that. So I bought a couple of suit jackets on clearance that weren’t long enough for my gorilla arms and some skirts that were entirely too short because this was still in the era when no one had heard of “tall” women or girls so my skinny, 5’9’ish behind had to shop a lot of petite sections. And I got harassed a lot. And then I got lectured a lot for reacting with a brand of smart-ass instead of giggling and smiling. I never did learn not to talk back.

I did learn to stop buying short skirts. And wearing colors other than navy and black and brown. Although then I got lectured for not looking friendly and approachable or for wearing the same jacket all month because I worked in a place at the time that smelled like an abandoned psychiatric hospital crossed with a boys locker room and a Louisiana swamp. (Why the hell would I want anymore of my wardrobe to smell like that than absolutely necessary.)

When I left the last terrible job, I realized I had no clothes. Karate kicking and age had made my thighs too big for the pants I’d once worn. Almost everything I’d worn at my last job was either falling apart or fit poorly (or had a smell that needed to be shot into the sun). My dresses and suits all dated back to 2005 at the latest. And most of my shoes were flip flops or hand-me-downs.

So, I’ve been rebuilding. And it’s been hard. Because I don’t make much money right now. So I feel like I don’t deserve nice things. At all. And I’m trying to filter out all the noise about all the things I’m not supposed to wear — like leggings because apparently they are for People of Walmart or hookers — and all the things I want to wear — like pretty dresses and leggings because the solve the damn thigh problem, thankyouverymuch.

In other words, I’m learning to say FUCK YOU to both the voices in my head and the voices in the universe who want to keep me down. For the record, these leggings are hella comfy and that dress with the crinoline and the carnations is hella pretty. And if think either will stop me from climbing a tree or kicking some ass, you better watch out.

What are you wearing? What voices are you listening to that you shouldn’t?

How to talk to women & not be a tool — Part 2 (where other women are coming from)

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Part 1 is here.

Let’s start out with the assumption that your reason for wanting to talk to women is like one of my friends and that you are friends or want to get to know one without coming across as creepy or worse.

So, let’s also start with where women are coming from when you think they’re being bitchy or standoffish or mean or whatever. This Tumblr post does a pretty good job of explaining it, but in case you’re the sort to not click links or hate Tumblr or whatever, I’ll summarize. (Note: link and summary indented below might be triggering. Proceed with caution.) 

You’re a fairly small, not-so-athletic guy who’s spent his whole life hearing prison rape jokes, gay jokes, and the homophobic fears of men bigger, older, and stronger than you. You get sent to prison for some minor nonviolent offense. Or maybe you get sent up for a crime you didn’t commit or didn’t knowingly commit — say you’re driving your college buddy home and didn’t know when he said he was going in the store to get something that he planned to rob the place but you get charged as an accessory.

So you find yourself in prison with all these guys you’ve heard so many horror stories about and while you know they can’t all be rapists and murderers, but you know a certain percentage are and so you’re on edge all the time trying to make sure you don’t do anything to set one off and you’re always on the lookout for clues, you try to avoid being alone with anyone you don’t think you can trust — and then sometimes you find out that trust was misplace anyway.

That? That’s how most women walk around through life. We grow up with stories and warnings about pedophiles and rapists hiding behind every bushes, and men who want to steal us and cut us into pieces. We grow up with friends who’ve been molested, who are confused by the teacher who touched her when she handed in her term paper, who’ve been raped by dates with “nice guys.” We have elders who fill our heads with horror stories and then we see those stories come true around us. (Just like that skinny guy in prison.)

We also have ample examples from the media and from peers of how not seriously this whole problem is taken. Just like the skinny guy in prison, women are taught — explicitly or indirectly — that if anything happens to them, it’s their fault for being where they were, for being with the person they were with, for wearing what they wore, for not being bigger, for not fighting back hard enough, for being too trusting, for being near the wrong person, for falling asleep or passing out in the wrong place…

Men are everywhere. And it’s not that women think most of them are rapists and murders so much as we’re looking for clues to tell us which ones are. We’re looking for some behavior that will tip us off.

You not taking no for an answer when she says she doesn’t want a drink? Tells her you won’t take no for an answer in the bedroom either.

You following her around the store working up the courage to talk to her feels like you showing how you’d go through her messages when she’s asleep, follow her when she goes to brunch with friends, or stalk her digitally.

You catching up with her after a presentation on a medical technique to tell her she has a great smile says you did’t listen to a damn thing she said and probably won’t take her seriously. (The smile comment is fine if, after you’ve discussed the professional topic for a bit and she invited you to talk with her further at the conference bar — time and place, people.)

Which leads to Part 3 (guidelines)

 

 

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