Category Archives: Real Life

Leaving Louisiana Part 1: An introduction

It shouldn’t be so hard to leave. I’ve done it before.

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If you follow me on any social media platform, you’ve no doubt noticed a surge of posts with the hashtag #leavinglouisiana. I’m in Baton Rouge for the week, cleaning out my things as my parents prepare to move to a new city later this summer. It’s my last week in my childhood home. The last time I can walk from the kitchen to my bedroom in the middle of the night without bumping into something. The last time I might accidentally run into some childhood acquaintance in the grocery store. The last time I can pretend that this whole adult thing is a lark, that I can return home to my “real life” anytime, that I can come back.

I am heartbroken.

And in this modern day of the Internet and oversharing, I am of course documenting the crap out of this experience.

My mother wants it made clear that SHE is not yet leaving. She is still here, for a few months yet, and she would very much like to be included in your lunch and dinner plans. So, be advised and act accordingly. She has excellent manners and makes amusing comments when you least expect it. (Example: Me: I don’t think I should tell you about that. Mom: Tell me and then I’ll let you know if it was okay or not.)

I wanted to write one grand essay about leaving your childhood home, about losing the safety net, about the complicated feelings of being an adult, about the uniqueness of Louisiana. But I found myself paralyzed and unable to articulate what I wanted to say. Instead, I’m just going to write little snapshots this week. Little things, little insights I want to remember. I’ll continue to post on Facebook and Instagram, but I’ll post my longer commentary here.

Last week, my sister said, “Give the house a hug for me.”

I knew what she meant. This house is a bit like the silent member of our family. And since flinging yourself against walls or floors with your arms spread wide does nothing more than bruise your shin bones, I suppose writing about it is the best version of a hug I can do.

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The Year of AWESOME

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When I told my hair stylist that my birthday falls on the 22nd, he got very serious.

“You should look into numerology. Multiples of 11 are power numbers. Very big deal,” he said, his voice taking on the wise inflection of those tuned to the universe. He hesitated, like he couldn’t decide if he should say more, like he might disrupt some delicate balance if he revealed the truth. “Read up on it… you might learn something important about yourself.”

I perked up because who doesn’t like to hear they might be really special? No matter that my mother’s lips would go thin as chopsticks if she knew I was entertaining a form of divination.

“I’m also turning 33 this year… another multiple of 11.”

The scissors paused in mid-air, like a record-skipping. I’d dropped a bomb of numerological proportions. Kevin’s eyebrows shot up and brought my ego with them. “Oh, it’s gonna be a big year for you. Look it up.”

He went back to snipping layers into my flat hair.  I preened in the mirror, suddenly filled with the glow of distinction. I‘m the Chosen One. I’m basically Harry Potter. I’m Frodo. I’m Buffy. I’m Beyonce.  This is the year I change the world!

Unfortunately, all the numerology websites I found later did not back up Kevin’s claims. True that 11 and its multiples allegedly hold some mystical power of mastery and intuition, but being born on the multiple of an 11 means jack. There’s some mathematical equation involving the month and year, and basically I amount to a 4. That means I’m a worker bee, per the cursory numerology research I did.  Being a 4 is not nearly as cool as being an 11.  I’m doomed to a lifetime of mediocrity.

Well, Eff. That.

No offense to numerology, but this little worker bee is taking fate into her own hands.  I’m challenging the fault in my stars, and I’m officially declaring this The Year of AWESOME. I laugh in the face of pre-ordained life paths. I fly in the face of being Chosen. Who wants to be Chosen, anyway?  All the heroes who get “Chosen” ultimately dissolve into wailing and gnashing of teeth as they make terrible decisions and collapse under the weight of the world.

Me? I choose magic. I choose queso. I choose pajama pants and coffee dates and little miracles. I choose a year of high-fiving free will.

This is the year of seeking out happiness, of trying new things, of laughing as long and as loud as I can. It’s the year of seeing the best in the people around me and dancing crazy by myself in my home office. It’s the year of random acts of kindness, reading those classic novels I missed in high school, of being fully present and turning off the phone when we’re having lunch. It’s the year of saying no to waste and stupid stuff and  of letting go of the nonsense. It’s a year of not apologizing for liking things like young adult fiction or Taylor Swift. It’s the year of polishing up that manuscript to the point that it’s acceptable to submit to agents, finally.  It’s so close, y’all. I can taste it.

It won’t be easy. My natural state is sluggish and sarcastic and isolative.  And there’s a lot to be upset about these days. Being Awesome will be a challenge.  But you know what? Challenge accepted.

I’m taking my cues from cool ladies like my mom, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Dorothy Parker, Jane Austen, and the many friends who delight me all the time in real life. Classy and witty and kind and smart. I’m paying attention to all of you, I’m listening to your wisdom and learning from the best. All the Awesome.

There’s gonna be unicorns and breakdancing robots and cocktails with ingredients I can’t pronounce. Let there be day trips to the place where Cabbage Patch kids are born and cutting through the BS and mass viewings of Pitch Perfect 2.   I’m hosting the “Whine and Cheese” night I’ve always wanted to have, and I’m dressing up my dog to watch the DragonCon parade. Clothing with whimsical details. Sunday morning long reads with coffee. Glitter. Sharpies.  Writing down all of Grandma’s great stories. Ridiculous presents for my niece and nephew. Saying yes. DIY projects. And that fitted sheet? It will be folded perfectly. Mark my words.

I am sucking the freaking marrow out of freaking life, and it’s gonna be Awesome.

You know that feeling you get when you’re driving in your car on the open road with blue sky overhead, and then a catchy song comes on and it’s like the beat fills you up and your smile is starting straight from your chest and just beaming out every where until you’re just buzzing and bopping along like who cares who sees you dancing behind your steering wheel?

It’s gonna be a whole year like that. I’m deciding it now. I’m making it so.

Who’s with me?

#yearofawesome

Do it. Choose it.

Sticky

Recently, two of my friends have lost close family members. As I sit by and watch them mourn  in very different ways, I’ve been thinking a lot about grief.

Grief is a sticky thing.

I think grief is like The Smooze. Remember? From My Little Pony?

I think grief is like The Smooze. Remember? From My Little Pony? You can’t stop The Smooze

Sticky in the sense that it is stick-like. Long and pointy, Jabbing at you in the most sensitive places, beating you over the head.  Grief speaks softly and carries a  big stick.

Sticky in the sense that it sticks to you, covers you like you’ve been tarred and feathered, and it sinks into your pores. It sticks to your ribs like a cement bowl of oatmeal, hanging around on your insides, making you slow and tired.  Later, it’s like the gum on the bottom of your shoes, coming along when you least expect it to foul up your day.  It’s like a gelatinous goo, clinging to you in stubborn stringy bits, refusing to let you go, holding you down, taking all the space in your mind, and snapping you back into place when you manage to free yourself a little.  When people try to get close to you, it glues their feet down too.

And grief is  sticky in the sense that nobody knows what to do about it. It is a sticky situation for those of us standing by, watching our friend or family member get stuck in the quagmire.   Nothing we can say will clear the stickiness away. There’s no Goo-Be-Gone for grief. Some people think Xanax works like that, but it doesn’t.  We can’t clear it away in a day or a week or a month or maybe ever. We try to navigate through the mess, try to say helpful things or do helpful things.  So often, the grief throws it back at us. Sometimes it throws it back in anger.   Unfortunately, in this case, nothing seems to stick.

So what can we do when faced with the tenacity of grief? What can we do while our loved one sinks in the muck that clings to them like suffocating syrup?  Sometimes all we can do is let it hang around, let it wear itself out, let it lose its power as time goes by.   It’s not a satisfactory answer.

In the meantime,  we wait it out. We say kind things, we bring food, we sit in silence, we sit through rage, we say things that are hard, we wring our hands over the right thing to do, we sigh and wonder when this will end. We know it doesn’t actually end. But we wait for the new normal to start, to ooze up through the cracks.

We stick it out.

 

Bumpy: Scenes from a Life With Bad Skin

Caution: This is a more serious turn for my blog. Navel-gazing ahead. Or maybe I should say pore-gazing. Names changed to protect the innocent and the really mean. And this is really freaking long. Get yourself a drink first. Definitely read this while tipsy, actually. 

In seventh grade, Alex Doogle eyed me critically and said, “You’re one of those people who’s going to grow up and have really bad skin.”

It was a throw away comment to him. Something you say to the person you’re perpetually sitting next to or marching behind on the way to lunch, thanks to alphabetical order. He didn’t like me much because I would snap at him when he tapped his feet on the bar under my desk.

“No, I’m not!” I yelped. “Those are chicken pox scars.”

“Chicken pox?” Autumn Creedmore laughed from her spot in front of me. “All those are chicken pox scars?”

She exchanged a look with Alex and they smirked.  When the scabs from my chicken pox fell off a couple of months earlier, my face was still growing new red spots. They were right, of course. Seventh graders are more cruel when they tell the truth than when they lie.

I’m positive neither one of them remembers this exchange.  But it’s a flashbulb memory to me. It’s the first time I realized that other people were noticing my skin and thought it was ugly.

Unfortunately, two insecure seventh graders burrowed into my psyche and they stayed there forever.

****

I didn’t have any make-up, but my mom had an old cover-up wand and I used it to, well, cover up.  I covered my whole face, in fact, with no thought to matching skin tones. Mindy Dugan did a double take at our lockers that morning.  I must have looked like a refugee from the Jersey Shore, but we didn’t have Snookie back then and she wouldn’t have known the reference.

“Are you wearing makeup?” she asked.

We weren’t allowed to wear makeup at my Catholic middle school.

“No,” I blushed under the cakey orange layer. I was horrified at being caught both trying to cover my spots and breaking the rules. I also suspected that I didn’t put the makeup on correctly. I was right about that much.  I spent most of my adolescence trying to find a stain remover for a different kind of ring around the collar.

Mindy nodded, but her eyes were sympathetic.  Looking back, she had some spots on her chin too.

*****

We tried Retin-A first.  I got peely around my nose but my spots continued to bloom like weeds.  There were other gels and creams that burned my face and turned me pink like a sunburn.   They wanted me to try antibiotics.  I childishly couldn’t swallow pills yet, so my mother would break the capsules in half and dump the bitter yellow powder into a shot glass of orange juice.  I had to take it an hour before eating, so she would wake me early each morning to throw back my shot before I would get up for breakfast.   Now that’s love.

One morning, she came in with the pill and, half-asleep and frustrated, I gabbed it from her and swallowed it whole.  No more bitter orange juice, but the spots kept coming.

****

They found out I had scoliosis at the end of seventh grade, and I returned to school in the fall with a plastic brace around my torso.  Now that I was handicapped, people couldn’t make fun of my skin anymore.  At least not to my face.  That year, I had braces on my teeth and back, I alternated between glasses and contacts, and my skin was the Before Picture for a ProActiv commercial.  I wish I could say this was my awkward phase, but it was really only the beginning.

***

I started to be a make up artist, but I wasn’t a very good one. Mom took pity on me and we went to the Prescriptives counter to buy customized makeup. My skin was so pale and none of the regular brands had a shade light enough to match my tone.  The woman at the counter furrowed her eyebrows as she spackled on the creamy oil-free foundation.  The spots weren’t as red, but they were still obvious.  She told me I shouldn’t wear blush because it would, “attract attention to my face.” She didn’t mean it that way, but that’s how I took it.  I didn’t wear blush again until after college when a nicer counter lady told me that was stupid.

Later, Mom took me to see her friend who sold Mary Kay. She gave me a bottle of lavendar cream to layer on before my regular foundation. It turned my face stark white and gave me a “fresh canvas.”  The spots were like crusty ant hills scattered over my cheeks, forehead, and chin.  Once at my grandmother’s house at Christmas, I was tired of wearing all the makeup and I just put on the lavender layer. My cousin, years younger than me, wrinkled his face at me and said, “You’re pale. Too pale. Is something wrong with you?”

Yeah.

****

My dermatologist couldn’t figure out why nothing was working. I used face washes that smelled like sulphur, I slathered my skin with masks that made all my pores stand out like strange freckles, I had to fetch my night treatment from a tub we kept in the refrigerator, and I never left the doctor’s office without a a round of cortisone shots in my face.  She tried giving me acid peels too; the only thing that peeled away was the top layer of skin.

Underneath, the spots remained and even flourished.  They were like the cockroaches of my skin.  I suspected you could attack them with a nuclear bomb and they would still be there when the smoke cleared.

****

We did try the nuclear bomb, eventually: Accutane.  My lips turned papery and I walked around with three tubes of chapstick every where.  My skin flaked off and we found those little tabs with the crossed out pregnant ladies all over the house. I had to go on birth control even though I was 14 and felt confident I was too ugly for anyone to try to sleep with me.   You see, if you’re on Acctuane you have to promise you won’t get pregnant and sign a form saying you’ll use two types of birth control.  That’s the kind of stuff you’re putting in your body.   I didn’t care.  I even braved my fear of needles to have blood drawn every couple of weeks to ensure the Accutane wasn’t killing my liver.  The nursing students at the doctor’s office could never get it right the first time, and I left with bruised arms every time.

When the smoke cleared, the tiny volcanoes remained. And they were angry.

****

I went to an all girls high school where the girls had contests to see who could go the longest without shaving their legs.  In the absence of boys, we turned to slobs.  Still, I couldn’t bring myself to allow anyone to see my real skin.  While my classmates joked about rolling out of bed and driving straight to school, I needed an extra 30 minutes to make sure I looked minimally presentable.  I sat in class and stared at the smooth faces of the pretty girls in my class. I knew that if I suddenly met a genie who could grant me three wishes, I would wish for clear skin and then world peace.

One morning, Elaine Picard stopped by her best friend’s locker next to mine and huffed dramatically, “Look at it!”

Her friend looked at her, puzzled, “What?”

Elaine pointed to her noise, “A zit. It’s disgusting.It’s right in the middle of my nose where everyone can see. I’m so embarrassed.”

I couldn’t help myself; I looked out of the corner of my eye. There was a tiny red dot on her nose.  The rest of her skin was flawless and creamy. Her friend laughed at her, “It’s hardly there. No one cares. Whatever.”

They walked to class together. I thought about the mountain range that seemed to be multiplying on my jawline. I couldn’t look Elaine Picard in the eye for the rest of high school.

****

On Christmas morning, I wouldn’t go to open presents with my family in our pajamas until I put on my face.  I didn’t want them to take pictures of me in my natural state. I didn’t want my loving but oblivious father to choose a terrible picture of my face for the family collage.

I stopped going in swimming pools.  First, I didn’t want the water to wash off my face. Second, my hormones helpfully decided to spread their joy to areas other than my  cheeks and forehead. I found a racing suit from Speedo that covered the entire chest and back and came up to a turtleneck under my chin, but it still left some areas vulnerable to critique.

At the beach, my healthy brown cousins called to me to join them in the ocean to cool off. I huddled under the umbrella, sweating in a t-shirt.

“No, I’m trying to stay out of the sun. I’m too pale.”

I haven’t properly jumped into a pool since I was 11.

****

We tried Accutane again. No dice.

****

The summer before I turned 19, I had back surgery. For some reason, this cleared my skin. I could barely walk more than a few minutes at a time, but my face was finally smooth. I returned to college that fall and gleefully left the house without makeup.  I pulled white shirts over my head with no fear of an orange line around the neck. I boldy hugged friends without frantically checking their shoulders for powdery cheek prints. I looked with sympathy at my classmates who continued to struggle with acne. I knew their pain. So what if I couldn’t lift more than 20 pounds at a time and my grades were slipping because the pain from my surgery still left me exhausted all the time?  I finally had the skin I always wanted.

It was too good to last.

Half way through the semester, they started to creep back. They were only hibernating. I went to the student health center and let a doctor and his resident look me over. They prescribed another sulfur solution and they doctor commented, “You have nice skin, it’s just covered up.”

That still makes no sense to me.

****

I wouldn’t stay over with any boys at college because I didn’t want them to see what I really looked like in the morning.  I didn’t really want them that close to my face anyway. I hadn’t figured out how I was going to date someone without kissing them, but it wasn’t like boys were banging down my door anyway.  Years later, I would drunkenly confide in a quasi-boyfriend that I didn’t  want him to touch my face when he kissed me because I was embarrassed about my skin.   He told me that he never noticed anything wrong with my skin and that I was beautiful. It was a very nice thing to say. We didn’t actually go out again after that.  But I think that was probably my own fault.

****

My college friends assured me that my skin wasn’t that bad.  They said I was my own worst critic and that it wasn’t noticable, and who cares anyway?  “M,” one of the males in our group said, “Any guy who’s hooking up with you will be so  psyched he’s getting action that he won’t care that you have a zit.”

“You look fine,” my other friend would say, “It’s totally not a big deal. You’re a pretty girl.”

But I watched some of my lady friends lean toward the mirror examining their poreless, porcelain faces. I listened to them huff over tiny blemishes on the sides of their faces and heard them sigh heavily about how annoying those little dots could be.

If it was no big deal, what did they care about one spot? I had more than I could count on two hands, so what did they think about me? It was no use telling me people didn’t notice when I knew they did.

I have a friend with roseacea. We would exchange murderous glances when our friends whined about their tiny baby breakouts.

“I have a mirror, I know what I look like!’ I raged at one well-meaning friend, once.

She didn’t know what to say.

****

We would go out late and stumble home, and my friends would fall across the sofa and pass out without washing their faces.  No matter how drunk, I always washed my face and put on my gels and creams. Every night.  It didn’t seem fair.

****

Once, I had to take a plane some where and made the mistake of packing my foundation in the checked bad. It got lost. I cried.

***

Have you ever tried microdermabrasion? They tell you it feels like a cat is licking your face. That’s actually pretty accurate.  I saw a technician named Sugar, and she didn’t recoil when she saw my face.  This was something that the ladies at the makeup counters always did when they wiped off my protective layer, and I hated it when people couldn’t hide their pity for me.  Sugar was all business and even introduced me to mineral makeup that didn’t leave an orange ring around my jawline.

The microdermabrasion helped smooth away scars, and my terminally unobservant father even told me that I was looking better. I felt good about it. But then I had a bad breakout and Sugar said we couldn’t try it again until things calmed down.

They never did calm down.

****

Accutane a third time, while in Europe with two friends with lovely complexions.  This time, my skin rebelled and great cysts started to colonize under my skin.  Green puss oozed out and I was horrified that everyone could see me. One time before the trip started, a small sack came out of my skin, and I flipped out. I ran to my mother’s room and showed it to her on a Kleenex. She seemed bewildered about why I was upset. “Isn’t it a good thing that it came out?” I was just so disgusted that my body was growing things like this without my persmission.

In Europe, I volunteered to wake up first every morning so I could shower and put on my face before anyone could see me.

When we hiked the Cinque Terre, my friends leaped into a crystal blue lagoon to cool off half way through the hike. I told them I couldn’t jump in because someone had to watch our things and, anyway, I couldn’t risk my sunscreen wiping off my ultra pale and sensitive skin.  I sat in the glaring sun, sweating through my t-shirt and journaling about how jealous I was of my pretty friends.

I missed out on a fantastic life experience because I didn’t want two of my best friends to see what I really looked like.

They already knew, of course.

Later, when we pooled together our pictures of the trip, I volunteered to sort through them all and distribute them to everyone. I painstakingly went through each photo and used the iPhoto tool that blurred the pixels to wipe out all my obvious acne. I was generous; I smoothed out oil slicks and red drunk faces on my friends  too. If you look at the pictures from that trip now, you would have no idea that I spent those two weeks agonizing that I was terribly ugly.  In fact, I have absolutely no photo evidence of my skin issues for this blog because I photoshopped all of my digital pictures years ago. The worst of the non-digital offerings are packed up in photo boxes in my parents’ house.

****

I went to see a new dermatologist in Atlanta. She frowned and suggested some light treatments. “You know,” she said, “you’ll probably just have to get used to always having moderate acne.”

Acne is a sign something is wrong, right? Something internal isn’t functioning well.  So, there should be an answer, right? I stopped seeing her.

****

Milkweed.

Eliminate Diet Coke.

Eliminate sugar.

The Wonder Bar.

Juice Plus.

ProActive.

Murad.

Mario Badescu, mailed from NYC.

Zeno zit zapper.

Blue light treatments.

Oil washes.

Vinegar washes.

In the end, the spots and cysts outlasted everything. They were starting to be my oldest and most loyal  friends.

****

My endocrinologist told me I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and gave me metformin and birth control and said that, in time, it would cure my face.

A year and a half later, my GI system was furious with me because of the metformin, but my little red friends were completely indifferent. They yawned and invited me to Bring It.

****

I gave up on the prescriptions and pills. I started to see a nice little Asian lady who believes in natural treatments. My friend who had occasional flare ups but now sported glowing skin raved, “She just gives you this magic soap, and you clear right up!”

Kim took one look at me and said we needed to be more aggressive. She sold me a couple of fancy French products and signed me up for facials every few weeks.

This was no relaxing facial with soothing lotions and massage. This was a pore by pore extraction process followed by a stinging acid peel.  Kim would cluck as she prodded and squeezed. She would sometimes show me what she extracted. It was disgusting but also fascinating.

I noticed things were actually getting worse. I stopped.

***

I cruised the Acne.org message boards looking for suggestions for a new acne-safe makeup brand. My eyes caught on other subject lines and I was sucked into a world of people just like me– people desperate to find the solution and exhausted by the previous countless attempts.    Those people were intense. They gave up all kinds of foods and had elaborate regimens, but they were still not clear. Some of them claimed they found magic cures, but then other posters would immediately swoop in and call it all snake oil.

Finally, I did a Google search for the best dermatologist in Atlanta.  It was my last hope, I decided. After that, well, so be it. I’d just be ugly.

***

Two years after starting to see Dr Schaen, I can finally touch my face without finding a new bump brewing beneath the surface.   She was aggressive, making me return every few weeks for check-ins. Where other dermatologists would tell me, “Give it time. It’s just bringing it all to the surface,” Dr Schaen would purse her lips and hand me a sack of new samples to try.

I hate it when doctors say the medication should “bring things to the surface.” Shouldn’t it kill those villains in the hole and make them vanish? The point is to keep them off the surface.

My friends and family compliment me. They marvel at the change.  My hair dresser can’t greet me without saying, “Girl, your face is amazing now.” People ask me what finally worked. I read out my regimen- a face wash that smells like baby poop, a fancy gel, another fancy gel, an off brand blood pressure med,  expensive non-generic birth control, French sunscreen, and a partridge in a pear tree.   That’s just the current regimen. There used to be more, including a foam I had to wash off after five minutes and an antibiotic that made my PCP raise her eyebrows.

Dr Schean says my skin will get used to being clear and we can start to ease back on some of these things in a few months.  She says once I’m clear for a year, we’ll look into skin re-surfacing for my remaining scars and pitted skin.

I told her I don’t care what she wants me to do and that I’ll rub dead dolphins on my face if she thinks that will work.

I was mostly kidding.

She uses my “Before” and “After” pictures in a binder of pictures to show new clients. She brought them out for me to see when I went for my last check-in. I stared at my Before picture in horror. Pitted, red, almost Freddy Kreuger-esque. The new nursing assistant looked over my shoulder and whistled. “It’s like a miracle. I told one of the other girls to check you out when you leave today. She couldn’t believe these were both you.”

That felt good to hear. But it also felt terrible.  That’s true for all the complements I get now.  I love hearing that the change is so great. But I don’t like pondering what people used to think about me. I’m being self-centered, if course. Doesn’t the old saying go that we wouldn’t worry so much about what other people thought of us if we knew how much they didn’t?

Now when I pass by adults with acne, I want to slip them Dr. Schaen’s card and tell them to have hope.  But  I know that most of them just want what I always wanted: not to be noticed.

***

Last weekend, I went to the farmer’s market with my neighbor at 9 AM. I started to squeeze some of my Internet-purchased mineral make up on to the anti-bacterialized foundation brush, but then I stopped. I looked up at my face, blemish-free but reddish and uneven thanks to years of angry cysts and ill-advised picking on my part.  I didn’t end up wearing make up that morning.  My friend didn’t blink when I arrived at her door.  The farmers didn’t stare. Children didn’t point.

***

I wish I could end this with something about beauty being skin deep. I wish I could say that once I stopped caring what people think, my skin magically cleared up.  I know there are people who will read this and feel disgusted by my  total self-absorption over this issue. They’ll remind me that there are real problems in the world and there are children with worse diseases and people that die for no reason. I have a childhood friend with cancer, and she must see things like this and wish this was as bed as it gets.  There are people who will tell me that they never noticed I had bad skin. My mother will tell me that I was always beautiful.

But the other people out there with Bad Skin? They’ll get this.

It’s stupid, right? It was just my skin. It was literally a superficial, surface-level issue. The people in my life, the good and true people in my life, never even saw my skin.  When I zeroed in on the part of the picture where my skin looked like pizza, I missed the scenery where everyone was laughing.  In the paraphrased words of Henry Drummond, when I look back on my life, the moments that I truly lived were the ones when I forgot myself and my stupid face and did things in a spirit of love– when I thought about other people instead of myself and my bad skin. I’d like to tell my younger self to jump in the clear blue water on the hot day and to get some extra sleep before school and to stop crying in the hotel bathroom. I wish I could say that I came to this conclusion before my skin got better because I am really mature and I’ve had plenty of time to realize What Really Matters in Life. But the truth is, it all got a lot clearer when my skin got a lot clearer. That’s embarrassing to admit.

Teenage M is still lurking in the back of my mind and she’s hissing that it’s easy for me to say all this since I’m no longer playing connect the dots on my face.  She’s always going to haunt me, the way our teenage selves do. She’s always going to have minor panic attacks when a blemish starts to brew or when I forget to wash my face before bed.  The thing is… Teenage M isn’t in charge anymore. And I have to keep reminding myself of that.   I’m guessing you struggle with your teenage self too, but for different reasons and because of different issues.

So maybe this isn’t just a navel-gazing essay about my Bad Skin, though if you read it and didn’t feel so alone, then  I’m glad.  Maybe this is really an essay about putting aside things from your childhood. Maybe this is an essay about finally growing up in your 30s.

I guess I can end with this: we all have things that hold us back, things that take over and keep us from seeing the whole picture. We use these things as excuses, reasons to sit out and avoid scary situations. We start to use our flaws like a shield when they were the real enemy.

My skin wasn’t keeping me out of the water; I was.

 

Mom’s Guide to Functioning in Society

You’ve already heard Dad’s life advice, and now it’s my mother’s turn.  Happy birthday, Mom!

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Mom looking particularly pretty with grand-daughter G. 


My mom grew up on a farm in south Georgia with older relatives who would revere Emily Post as a hero if she wasn’t born a Yankee. Mom always emphasized the importance of writing thank you notes, answering the phone appropriately, and using the correct fork at dinner.  Once, she threatened to buy my sister a silver food pusher because she couldn’t seem to keep her fingers off her plate.

Image from the website Ruby Lane.  This would a device of shame in my mother's house.

Image from the website Ruby Lane. This would a device of shame in my mother’s house.

Mom always says the point of etiquette is to make other people feel comfortable. In that spirit, I’m giving you the highlights of Mom’s Guide to Functioning in Polite Society.

You attract more flies with honey than vinegar.

Mom showing grand-son Jack how to see the world from a different perspective.

Mom showing grand-son Jack how to see the world from a different perspective.

When a customer service rep on the phone tells you something you don’t want to hear, you can either spout off some strongly worded language or you can kill them with kindness. Though I’ve heard my mother’s assertive voice many times, she always starts with the Sweet Southern Belle Sneak Attack.  You don’t have to start negative; people are more likely to want to help you if you’re friendly and nice to talk to.  This also applies to meeting boys, or so says my mother.  “But, M, were you nice to him? You should be nice to these boys. They don’t like sarcastic girls.”

Yeah, right, Mom. Of course, I am still single. So maybe she’s right. Again.

Pretty is as pretty does. 

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Here’s Mom being pretty outside and inside with Dad.

Mom stole this one from her Granny, and she used it most when I was a cute moppet with attitude problems. She would costume me in sweet smocked dresses and brush my hair and then I would say something nasty and roll my eyes and she would coo, “Now, now, pretty is as pretty does.”  This expression would come back later in life when I would cry that I was ugly and the other girls at school teased me for my skin or my clothes or whatever. Then she would remind me again that beauty is only skin deep and if the inside doesn’t match the outside, that’s beauty that won’t last.

To have a friend, be a friend.

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Mom being friendly with her mother and her sister.

You may have figured out that I was not a popular kid. I tended to be shy and wrapped up in my own imagination, but then I would be upset when other kids didn’t want to come over to play. Mom always liked to remind me that you have to go out when other people invite you, you have to ask people how they’re doing and write them notes, and you have to treat other people the way you want to be treated.  You can’t just be a taker; you have to be a giver.

The world would be a better place if we all used mouthwash. 

Mom, me, cousin Brian, and sister Allyn... practicing making the world a better place.

Mom, me, cousin Brian, and sister Allyn… practicing making the world a better place.

This is surprisingly specific advice coming from a woman who usually operates in general maxims.  I remember my mother telling me this matter-of-factly while I was getting ready to go to a dance in high school. Maybe some girls got the sex talk or the drunk driving talk, but my mother plunked down a bottle of Scope and told me to sing “Happy Birthday” in my head twice while swishing it around in my mouth. I suppose if you’re going to be in a position to need the other kinds of talks, first you have to be tolerable for close contact with other people.

And now I’ve saved the best for last.  Truly, Internet, I am revealing one of my great life secrets, so listen well.

When you don’t know what else to say, say “How nice for you.”

We look good, right? How Nice For Us!

We look good, right? How Nice For Us!

I have a sharp tongue and that can get me into trouble. My parents warned me against bragging when I was very young, and I was easily irritated when other kids started listing off their great vacations or their fabulous new clothes or their amazing weekend plans.  I would whine to my mom that it wasn’t fair that they got to talk about the cool stuff in their lives and no one told them how rude they were being.  I’d already been chastised for attempting to be the etiquette police. My mother made the mistake of arming me with the single most passive aggressive response one can use: “How Nice For You.”

“If you don’t have anything nice to say back to them, just say, ‘how nice for you’,” Mom told me. “You’re not saying you’re happy for them or that you approve of what they’re doing. You’re just telling them want they want to hear.”

She didn’t know what she was starting. At the time, I’m sure she just wanted to give me something to say that would end the bragging conversation and appease the other person.   But in my mind, when I was saying, “How Nice For You,”  with a poisonous smile on my face,  I was taking great pleasure in secretly telling the other person to Eff Off.   I started to abuse the power. It became less of a tool for dealing with rude people and more of a thing to say when I was terribly, terribly jealous.

“Oh, you got a great, well-paying job after your first interview out of college and you love your co-workers and it’s everything you ever wanted? How Nice For You.”

“Your successful husband got a job overseas and you got to hang out and travel for a couple of years and you accidentally made contacts there who set you up to run your own successful business when you returned to the US? How Nice For You.”

“You don’t have to blow dry your hair for thirty minutes with a roll brush and then spray the roots with lifting spray and continually fuss with it all day? Your hair just dries naturally that way? How Nice For You.”

“Despite slacking off in school and making fun of other people who did work hard, you used your social contacts to get a great job with flexible hours and ridiculous pay? How Nice For You.”

“You wrote a terrible book about sparkling vampires from your dreams and some how touched a cultural nerve and now you never have to work again even though you’re not even a good writer? How Nice For You.”

I should note that it’s not a mistake to capitalize the first letter of each word in the expression; it’s meant to be said that way.  Also, the emphasis is  on the “Nice.”  How NICE For You.

Other people in my life started to pick up on my little trick. My high school friend Diette would tell me about a bitchy former classmate’s incredible wedding and wonderful husband and four page spread on her charming new house in a local magazine, and I would growl over the phone, “How Nice For Her.” And Diette would laugh and repeat back to me, “Yeah, how nice for her.” It was shorthand for all the awful things we really wanted to say.  My friends from college made me a video for my birthday one year in which they identified my secret power as “Polighning”- I could disarm an army of mean sorority girls with my use of extreme etiquette and my favorite expression.  I got a good laugh out of that, but my mother wasn’t so amused.

“I didn’t mean for you to use that as a way to be mean to people,” she cried. “It was supposed to make you nicer! It’s not supposed to help you to be more bitter.”

But it worked, Mom! I don’t say the mean things I’m thinking, and the use has actually now expanded to situations when I’m not jealous at all but I think someone is making big mistakes.

“Oh, he’s getting married to his stripper girlfriend even though he’s cheated on her at least twice and now she’s pregnant and they’re moving to Florida to start fresh? How Nice For Him.”

Also, I really have started to use it when something is nice for someone and I really don’t know what else to say.  It’s losing its power of passive aggression.

“You re-arranged your pantry and alphabetized all your canned goods  and used your labeling gun to organize the shelves…. How Nice For You?”

Whether you’re using it to defend against jealousy or fill the silence, you are preventing discord in conversation, and didn’t Mom say that the point of etiquette is to make other people feel comfortable? I rest my case.  I encourage you to spread the Gospel of “How Nice For You.” Let these words speak for you when you don’t have anything nice to say but the situation won’t allow you to say nothing at all.  Sure, it would be better if I just didn’t get jealous at all and found my own personal fulfillment, but in the meantime….

Mom and Dad toasting to how nice their life is.

Mom and Dad toasting to how nice their life is.

Happy birthday, Mom. You’re a classy lady, and I’ve always aspired to be like you even though you’re much kinder and more naturally good. Eventually, I’m going to say, “How Nice For You,” and really mean it. I promise. 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Dad!

To honor my father on his birthday, I’ve collected some of his best advice to share with the online world.  He’s a smart guy; take heed.

“He who hasn’t traveled has seen but one page of the book.”

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Actually, I think he stole this from St. Augustine, but it’s still true and he says it on a regular basis.

A related piece of advice, “Get to the airport two hours early. Consider three hours if it’s an international flight.”

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This might seem excessive, but I’ve almost never felt nervous about missing a flight and if you have loads of extra time, that’s just more time for cocktails. Plus, if there’s a problem with your flight, you’re first in line to fix things.

“A credit card is a convenience, not a way to borrow money.”

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Dad is huge on personal financial responsibility, and I’ve been paranoid about paying my credit cards immediately since I was in grad school. I hear some horror stories, and I’m grateful Dad drilled this one into my brain from the beginning.

“The key to happiness is to find something you love doing and then trick someone into paying you to do it.”

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Personally, I’m still working on this. But all the evidence shows he’s 100% accurate.

“When you’re anxious about doing something, just act like you know what you’re doing and no one will bother you.”

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Fake it til you make it, basically.

“Have a firm handshake. No one likes shaking hands with a dead fish.”

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Again, this is completely true. If someone has a weak handshake, I make snap judgements immediately about their character.

“You’re thinking about this too much. You can’t let stuff gunk you up.”

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Dad didn’t have the easiest childhood, but he’s some how flourished into a successful and loving adult.  I suspect he accomplished this by always looking forward and keeping a good attitude and refusing to dwell on the unhappy parts.

“Keep the Triple A. You will never regret having Triple A, but you will definitely regret not having it.”

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Thanks to my last year with my Jetta, I can attest to the truthiness of this statement.

“And be KIND to each other.”

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He stole this from a priest who finished every mass by booming this expression with relish at his congregation. Dad likes to say it when people are starting to snipe at each other, but I think he generally thinks we should be all practice kindness all the time.

“Always fill the gas tank at the three quarters empty mark.”

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I’ve tested this one, and I’ve learned the wisdom.  You always think you’ll find a gas station on a road trip, but then you’re sweating it when you travel a long expanse of country highway and your gas gauge is slipping closer to the bottom.

“It’s important to show up. People remember who goes to weddings and funerals. You have to make the effort to see people.”

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This speaks to Dad’s value for family and friends. All vacations and holiday travel for us revolved around visiting people. You’ve got to see people or you drift. It can be a sacrifice in some ways, but it’s better for your heart in others.

And one more to round us out today…. “Big dogs make big poops.”

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This is why we always had small dogs growing up. Just as loyal, but with less waste.  My current dog weighs 9 pounds, and her poops are tinier than chicken nuggets.

This certainly doesn’t contain all the wisdom of Dad, but it’s a good sampling.  Hope it’s another great year, Dad!  Let the advice continue!

 

 

A Christmas Story

I believed in Santa Claus much longer than appropriate.  A good one or two years beyond most of the kids in my elementary school. I’m not saying that I totally bought into the idea that a fat man squeezed down our chimney and that he flew to every kid in the world one night a year. I wasn’t a total dummy and I definitely recognized my father’s handwriting on the tags on our presents every year. And how come poor kids in Africa didn’t get presents at all? It seemed kind of jerky for Santa to skip them just because they didn’t have chimneys.  No, I knew the story didn’t go quite like they told us.  But I knew there was a Santa Claus and I knew he lived up north and he had something to do with the magic of the season.  Santa was like Queen Elizabeth II and my parents were like the English Prime Minister; Santa was more of a figurehead while my parents did all the dirty work.  The pieces were all there. I just refused to put them together.  Theoretically, reading obsessively should have made me smarter as a kid, but it really just made me especially imaginative.



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Then one year, the week before Christmas break during our school lunch, one of the Cool Girls in my class made an offhand command about Santa being make-believe. I don’t remember precisely what she said, but I remember pausing over my Handi-Snacks Cheese and Crackers and thinking, “What? Wait….. NOOOOO.” Like that, the bubble burst. Never mind the countless TV episodes that straight up implied Santa was fake or the lack of photographic evidence or the ridiculous notion of a man wearing a fur coat in the South in December. All it took was one one thoughtless elementary school kid and the veil of childhood slipped off my eyes.   There was no Easter Bunny, no Tooth Fairy, no Santa Claus, and I was probably never going to find a portal to a secret kingdom that would declare me princess either.   Pardon my French, but this was some BULL Shit.

I was pissed. I stormed home and directly asked my mother for the truth. She gave me the “Yes, Virgina, There Is…” speil, and I was briefly mollified before deciding that I just got Kaiser Soze’d…. there was still no Santa Claus. Why wouldn’t she just tell me the truth so I could get on with things? You see, I understood about Santa Claus, but I also still believed my parents were the final word on everything.

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I stewed over it for a few days, and a plan started to form. Every year, my older sister and I left a list of questions for Santa Claus. We knew perfectly well that my dad answered the questions, thanks to his distinctive barely legible penmanship. We all played along with the charade, but this year I would put an end to the madness. I would force us into honesty about the holiday. My sister wasn’t hard to convince; she’d been affably playing along with the Santa stuff for years by that point.  She was still feigning belief to keep the present train rolling, but I think she figured the gifts would still show up since the non-believers were still getting them.

We spent every Christmas at my Grandma’s house on a farm in Georgia. To paint the scene for you: Grandma had one of those satellite dishes that you could use to dry your laundry, and we still only got about three watchable channels. It’s the kind of city where people have names like “Bug” and where your closest neighbor may be a mile away.  There’s  no 24-hour convenience  stores or malls or cute boutique gift shops. There are chicken houses, those irrigation systems that look like alien centipedes, and pecan groves.  I planned to use theses facts to my advantage.

After Christmas Vigil mass, we made a show of reading The Polar Express and our mom gave us meaningful looks when the kid talked about the bell ringing for him well into adulthood. Around 11 PM, we finally put out a plate of cookies and milk, and then we sat down to write our yearly list of questions for Santa.  We wanted to trap our parents, force them to shred the list of questions and sigh that we bested them in the stand off over Santa.  We wanted to be right.  And so we lured our faux Claus into a false sense of security by asking the usual puff questions like, “Who’s your favorite reindeer?” and “How many cookies did you eat tonight?”  And then we capped it off with the kicker, “We just read The Polar Express and we would like a sleigh bell from your sleigh to prove that you are real.”

At the time, it seemed like a BOOM MIC DROP moment.  In retrospect, it would have been fairly easy for my dad to answer something like, “Ho, ho, ho, can’t give a bell to everyone who asks!”  Or, “Wish I could leave you one, but we gave up bells years ago so we could use stealth mode.” But as we crawled into bed that night, we were smug and certain of victory. There was no way they could produce a sleigh bell in the middle of the night in the middle of no where. They had no choice but to concede defeat.

The next morning, we raced to the living room and, I kid you not, there was part of an effing harness.  We didn’t get a silver sleigh bell; we got five perfect shiny bells on a smooth leather belt.  The note to Santa now had a post script that read, “Rudolph wanted to give you the whole thing!”

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We were dumbfounded. How did they do it? How did they miraculously pull sleigh bells out of the air at midnight in Nowheresville, USA? We knew Santa didn’t leave those bells, but we couldn’t think of a reasonable explanation.   You might argue that a farm might happen to have a harness in storage, but by the time we started visiting there, it wasn’t a livestock farm, and those bells didn’t look like they’d been lying around collecting rust for a few years. Did Grandma randomly keep silver bells in her attic? Did they anticipate the request and have the bells on standby?  Did some miraculous neighbor just happen to have it in his or her garage?

Over twenty years later, and I still don’t know what happened that night.  I’ve asked once or twice, but only half-heartedly.  I don’t really want to know. The story leaves a sparkle in my parents eyes, and I can only assume that they have a great story about that night.  But the real gift that night was not the bells; it was a little crack  in the door that lets magic have a fighting chance.

As adults, we are faced with the cold hard facts of gun control, fiscal cliffs, terrorism, tax season, and countless other reality checks.  I’m not advocating that we ignore hard issues or wallow in ignorance, but I’m hoping we can all still find a little magic in the world. I hope we can still take small delights in unexpected happiness and find ways to surprise each other in magical ways.

So even though I know the weight of science and fact, I choose magic this time. I choose the better story, and I choose the happy ending.  We don’t always get the choice, so I’ll take it where I can.

And yeah, the bells still ring for me.

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Where Are They Now: An Update Post

I’ve written about a lot of things this year, and a few of the stories have epilogues all of a sudden.  Here’s a quick round up.

1) Just last week, I told you about my neighbors and their mysterious yoga mat that wouldn’t go away. The very day I posted my blog with my possible explanations for the situation, the yoga mat vanished.  Neighbors, do you read my blog? Are you embarrassed? Don’t be! I think you’re both super cute and nice and I wish my dog would quit barking at your dogs so we could all hang out and drink wine and watch The Mindy Project. 

Observe the yoga-less front step!  Observe the sheath of wheat is also gone, lending credence to my theory that the yoga mat was a modern interpretation of a wheat sheath.

2) Remember my neighbor and friend who found out she was pregnant last spring and freaked out and took, like, 9 pregnancy tests?  And was convinced the pollen was causing her to have a false positive?   She had her baby! And she’s completely smitten by it and is already a natural with motherhood.  Luckily for her, the baby is not ugly.

3) I tried on a lot of navy blue dresses for my friend Diette’s wedding. A lot. I posted the winning dress deep within the post about being a Maid of Honor, but some of my fans (read: family members) requested a more explicit reveal of the dress.   This is it! The J Crew Sloane dress in navy!

Not the best angle of it, but there you are. 

 

4) I made a list of 31 Things to do during my 31st year of life.  I’m making some slow progress!  I haven’t written posts about all of them because they’re not all great stories, but here’s the list of items with a big check mark:

  • Item 19: Meeting the neighbors! Already had two successful wine nights with the girl next door, and I worked up the courage to confront the guy on the balcony facing mine to tell him he’s really loud on his cell phone on Sunday mornings.  Both were pleasant. Social interaction success!
  • Item 26: Go to a book convention! Went to Decatur Book Festival! Met Meg Cabot!
  • Item 28: Found a make-up artist and learned to put on my face like an adult.  My boss has a cosmetologist daughter, and she came over with her magic box of  paints and potions and tutored me in looking like a girl.  I learned about correct eyeliner application, highlighting, and contouring; and she made me buy red lipstick like Taylor Swift.

Here are the items in progress:

  • Item 4: Catch up on unread book list.  I made myself an Excel spreadsheet and I’ve giving myself monthly reading themes to stay motivated. Unfortunately, my friend J is making the list longer by continually giving me books to add to the list.  J’s an enabler.
  • Item 9: Donate $31 monthly to charity.   I’ll admit, I’ve not been great about this.  This month,  I did donate to my friend Marcie and her St Jude Give Thanks Walk.   I need to catch up on the other months, though. Charity starts in the home.
  • Item 12: Post to blog four times weekly: Okay, it’s not been four times, but I’m okay with that because I have actually been working on the big item on the list to write a novel. But I’m here now, aren’t I?
  • Item 17: Make all Christmas presents.  I’m working on it. Saving crafts on Pinterest, accumulating glue guns and sequins. It’s going to be awful.
  • Item 31: Write a novel. I’m working on it! Brainstorming an outline, reading books about the writing craft, attending a writing workshop, and texting like mad with my writing pal J (also the book enabler).

 

5) Back in June, I posted about some shows that should be on Netflix Instant that were not at that time.  Freaks & Geeks is now available and it’s a virtual Who’s Who of  20/30-something stars captured in their awkward teenage years or in the early stages of their Hollywood careers.  James Franco! Jason Segal! Busy Phillips! Seth Rogen! Shia LaBeouf! Rashida Jones!  That guy whom you recognize from that thing! And so on! It’s a dramedy taking place in 1980, and it’s like The Wonder Years meets The Breakfast Club.  I’m really enjoying it and I highly recommend it.

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That’s it for the moment.  And now I leave you to browse the bookstore and talk myself out of accumulating new books.

Reasons Why There is a Yoga Mat Outside my Neighbor’s Door

Down the hall from me, two girls and their two dogs live in an apartment.  I don’t know them well because our dogs have determined themselves to be mortal enemies for reasons I don’t understand, and so all of our interactions are punctuated by loud and threatening yipping barks and minimal small talk.   They seem nice enough, though. About three weeks ago, a hot pink yoga mat showed up outside their door.  It hasn’t moved since then and I’ve been wondering why.  Here’s some reasons that occurred to me.

 

1) One of them has a glandular issue and the yoga mat just smells terrible from all the sweating and they leave it out there in between uses, and I only happen to be walking by when they’re not using it.

2) It belongs to the ex-boyfriend or girlfriend of one of the roommates. The Ex called up to say he/she would be coming by to get it, but they’re really irresponsible and still haven’t stopped by.  The roommates sit around over glasses of white wine and fuss that Ex will never change and this is totally unsurprising, but OHMIGOD would he/she hurry up and get it so that this can just be over?!

3) The dogs like to chew on the mat and it’s stored outside in between uses. One would think the mat could be stored on a high shelf for this purpose, but I suppose the dachshunds could be very wiley.

4) The roommates are actually dating each other and they are out of town right now. One of their friends borrowed the mat and left it on their stoop, but they just haven’t returned to move it.

5) It’s a decorative statement that I am missing for some reason.  It’s a mod umbrella stand? A futuristic sheaf of wheat to contrast with the real one nearby? It’s an odd accent table?

6) The roommates are engaged in a passive aggressive battle of wills related to the mat.  One of them put it out there because the other one left it in the middle of the carpet instead of putting it away. And now the second roommate is pretending not to notice it every day and the first roommate is silently fuming and texting her mother about it.

7)  Come to think of it, I haven’t seen the brunette roommate in a while. Maybe she moved out a forgot the yoga mat.  The blond roommate is still there and she hates her. So, she left it out there for her to pick up, but every day she walks by and tells herself she’s going to throw it away, but then she doesn’t because she’s always in hurry.

8) One of them is a a grad student for social psychology and they are conducting a social experiment to see how long it will take for one of the neighbors to complain or leave a passive aggressive note on their door or steal it.

9) Maybe they DO want someone to steal it. Maybe they feel guilty just throwing it away and they’re too lazy to bring it to Goodwill, so they’re just hoping someone will silently walk away with it in the middle of the night.

10) They put it out there for some reason and they’re just really lazy and now they don’t even notice it when they walk inside.

How to be a Maid of Honor

For Diette on her birthday. 

Congratulations! One of your best friends has asked you to be her maid of honor! Here’s what you do.

Diette and Mark at their beach engagement

1) Start planning for this in high school. Save all notes passed in class, letters sent from summer camp, and embarrassing photos. You will be glad to have these for speech planning purposes and slide shows.  If you are not a natural archivist, go back in time and tell your high school self to get organized. She might be surprised to see you, but she will also be pleased to see that your skin has finally cleared up.

From a memory book we passed back and forth one summer in college. Surprisingly accurate.

2) When your bride says her wedding will be in a few months, don’t act like this is crazy. Don’t remember your own sister’s wedding and the months required to test cakes, find a dress, sample food, haggle with the florist, try on shoes, and so on. She says she does not care about all that stuff!  Tell her this will work out totally fine.

The bride and groom looking like a J Crew ad.

3) The wedding will be at the beach? No big deal. Invest in sunscreen for your transparent skin. Resign yourself to looking sweaty in all photos.  After all, it’s not about you. Make this your mantra, “IT’S NOT ABOUT ME.”

Aim for evening events. Wear sunglasses anyway. The sun does not go down on a badass.

4) Try not to have five other weddings in the same year.  If you must have five weddings in the same year, try not to be single. If you can’t help being single, try to have some of them in the town where you live. If this is out of your hands, get used to apologizing to people about missing their weddings.  Also, you should really have started budgeting for all these weddings about two years ago. Remember that time machine from step one? Use it again here.

Here I am at one of the assorted weddings.

5)  As long as we’re on the subject of being single, you should start bolstering your self esteem now.  Make a playlist of upbeat girl power tracks and get yourself a spirit animal or whatever.

My spirit animal is a shark dog. What’s yours?

6) When you go with the the bride to try on wedding dresses, take pictures of every dress from a couple of angles.  Take notes about price and reactions.  Also, make the bride take some goofy pictures too to keep up her spirits. Later, you can use these photos for your own amusement.

This is the same face from her vows.

7)  The ladies at the dress shop will try to push champagne on you. This is s a dirty trick to either get you drunk so that you like everything and choose the most expensive dress OR a ploy to make you spill on a pricey dress that you will have to buy.  Sip on one glass only.  This is an order!

8) When you attend the out of town engagement party, you will meet a lot of people. These people will all remember you, but you will remember about three of their names.  Start teaching yourself memory tricks now. Note: “the one with the camera” will later turn out to be a bad memory device.

Look! It’s a guest book from the party! Made from shutterfly and pictures of the happy couple. Melissa did the rest of the work, but I managed to help this much.

9) Get friendly with the other bridesmaids quickly. You’re going to need their help planning stuff and (spoiler alert!) getting the dress to zip up on the big day.  These ladies are with you in the trenches and it’s better for everyone if you can all play nice.

Look how well our outfits match! Even the sunburns and drunk flushes go together! Sympatico!

10) Ask the bride what she actually wants for her bachelorette weekend. I know we all want to be drunk and embarrass the bride in some way, but you actually do want her to have fun.  Hopefully, she wants something that is not lame.

Hopefully she wants to drink at the beach. If so, make sure you have a mixmaster in the bridal party like Christina.

11)  Choose a theme for the bachelorette weekend. If you are lucky, it will fall the same weekend as the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics and you can use this in many puns to your great advantage.  Let the Games Begin! Olympic Rings!  And so on!

Here’s what you got for showing up to the bachelorette weekend. We were the best hosts ever. High five, Marcie!

12) You are allowed to embarrass the bride at least a little bit. I suggest a leotard and cut offs for maximum effect.  Glitter should be involved some how.

The leotard says, “Stick It,” FYI.

13) For a good night out, enlist the support of strangers. Get them on your side by bringing them gifts. Stickers and medals work well in my experience. Hand them out.  You want everyone in that bar to be sporting a sticker with your bride’s name. You want the other maids of honors for the other bachelorette parties to feel embarrassed by their straggly boas and genital-themed head gear.

Even the bouncer got a sticker and a medal.  He loved us. Also- photobomb!

14) Choose a bar with the kind of music you used to hear at frat parties.  This will usually be a hole in the wall.  But… the drinks are cheaper and people are actually dancing. WIN.

The bride did not love this moment, actually.

15) Things you definitely want for the weekend of the bachelorette party: multiple people with cameras, a lot of water, at least one person who is extremely motivated to go out, something that will make the bride cry, someone who is willing to give your conservative bride some lingerie that will make her blush, snack food you would not eat sober, and nasal decongestants for yourself because you will have an extremely powerful cold because the universe hates you.

Also, you need to take one of these terrible junior high gangsta photos.

16) Good news: your bride is totally low maintenance and will not register or pick bridesmaids dresses! She does not care! At first, this will sound like good news.  But then you realize you are actually going to have to pick a gift and a dress on your own.  Look, just engrave something for the gift and be done with that. For the dress, make a game out of it for yourself.

Here is the winning dress, for those of you who have been asking.

17) The wedding is almost upon you! Quick: start telling yourself that the bride is always right.  In the coming days, she is going to be irritable even though she says she is totally cool and definitely does not care if things go wrong.  She says this but she is currently delusional and you need to remember that you are dealing with someone with an altered mental status.  I’m not saying she is crazy or even a bridezilla, but she will be more anxious than usual and she will snap at you when you say something totally innocent. For example, you might casually mention that she’ll need to eat something before the wedding, and she will act like you’ve said this thirty times already and you’re being really obnoxious. And you will be tempted to snap back and tell her to calm the eff down and how dare she speak to you like that, but you need to let that shizz go.  For this little season, she gets to be right. She gets to be snappish without consequence. You will get your turn. Smile and nod and keep your mouth shut.

At the bridal luncheon. One of us is wearing sunscreen. One of us does not care.

18) A corollary for Point 17…  find your happy place. Go to that place in your mind when you are tempted to get puffed up and self-righteous.  If the bride is really being unreasonable or abusive, you can deal with that as needed. But if she’s just straight anxious, you need to find your happy place and stay there.

My happy place is among the books. Where’s yours?

19) For your speech at the rehearsal dinner, write it down. I know, I know– you just need to write down the high points and you want to appear casual when you speak so you don’t want to write it word for word. And you’re going to make fun of the Best Man when you realize he was serious about using a teleprompter app on his iPhone.  But when it’s your turn and everyone is staring at you, you’re going to lose your place in  your notes and stumble over your words and suddenly the Best Man will look like the smartest man alive. WRITE IT DOWN.

That’s me in the red, without a teleprompter.

20) For the day of the wedding, have a survival kit prepared. Include: the bride’s favorite candy, a sewing skit, band aids, a Dr Scholl’s Rub Relief Stick for uncomfortable shoes, Listerine Pocket Mist, chalk (it helps with stains on the dress… who knew?), Pums or pepto Bismal, Advil or Tylenol, tissues, nail polish remover, a nail file, moisturizer, lip balm, deodorant, anti- bacterial spray, nail scissors, double stick fashion tape for dresses, and this deodorant removing sponge that will help with some other stains too.  A bridal playlist is also appropriate.

Here I am trying to wipe grime off the hem of the dress with the magic sponge. Just call me Cinderella.

21) While the bride is having her hair done, insist that she make a list with you of things that need to happen before you all leave the hotel.  She will act like you’re being a little silly, but you’re going to be glad you have that checklist later when you’ve had too much to drink and can’t remember what you were supposed to do. Things you might consider: is there a priceless family heirloom attached to the bouquet? Does someone need to make sure it’s given back to the bride’s mother for safe-keeping?  If the bride and groom are leaving for the honeymoon the next morning, how is their stuff getting home?  Does someone have the cake knife? What about the veil and the dress?  You need a plan! Make it now!

Hey! It’s Grace! She took the pictures!

22) Get the bride a drink. Just one.  But still. This will benefit everyone.

The bride drinks beer and pineapple based drinks only. So… beer it was.

23) Get your own hair put up, unless you’re one of those really annoying people with perfect, thick, glossy hair.  The rest of us normals are better off with a mountain of bobbi pins and hairspray shellacked on something simple and classic that will definitely not move for 8 hours and will look nice in pictures.

My hair will never be this well coifed again.

24)  You might think that since you were trained as a therapist that you will be very good at calming anxious people. This training is worthless when you are also anxious and in the wedding. Just have a drink and keep your mouth shut and do what the bride says.

The bride and her dad. They just look really cute.

25) Carry a hanky wrapped around your bouquet. When the bride starts crying during her vows, try to be graceful when you hand it to the groom to give to her. You won’t be graceful, you’ll be awkward. But try.

THE BIG MOMENT

26) Oh, you should have done this earlier, but if you’re picking your own bridesmaid dress, choose one with pockets.

27) You are now free to enjoy the reception! When the bride and groom have their first dance, have your camera or cell phone poised to record the whole thing. Chances are they’ll just do that awkward and really long slow song dance that makes everyone bored, but they might do a choreographed dance that they didn’t bother to warn anyone about and it will be hard later to find the whole thing from start to finish.  Just get in position and hope for the best.

28) Keep your eye on the cake. If it’s humid at the wedding location, it might start leaning. The bride will probably not care, but it makes a better picture if the cake has not collapsed already.

The cake survived. Until we ate it.

29) You have to set an example for the other guests and dance. Do the awkward bobbing head thing if you must, but the reception is better if people dance and you need to get that ball rolling.

The groom did his part with the dancing. He even brought props.

30) Suggest early on that the bride not throw the bouquet.  We’re 31 now and that is some BS.  Instead, suggest she give it to the woman married the longest.

My parents were only second longest. But aren’t they cute?

31) Look for quiet sweet moments and snap away with your camera or cell phone. The photographer will get most of these anyway, but the bride might hoard the pictures and not show them to you because she’s computer illiterate and so you will need to rely on yourself.

31) After the reception, get late night pizza with the bridesmaids and assorted significant others.  Resist the urge to tell them this is just like the end of The Avengers where they all went for chicken shawarma. You’re a huge nerd and these people probably already know that, but they don’t need to know how big of a nerd you are.

32) Book a flight the next day that will be at a reasonable hour.  Do not pick off all your nail polish in the airport lounge. Take the next day off work and spend the day alternately sleeping and watching crappy TV.

Happy birthday, Spaghetti. Your wedding season was a great time and I loved spending so much time with you this year.  Here’s hoping 31 will be equally awesome!

A final word of advice: do not let the groom near sharks on the week leading up to the wedding. If you think I am kidding, check out his bandaged finger.