Monthly Archives: March 2014

It’s All About Me, Hannah

So the season is over for the HBO series “Girls.” If you watch it and haven’t seen it, then come back after you do. I love this show and I love Lena Dunham, but it’s only funny:

  1. If you are very comfortable with how awkward you were in your 20s.
  2. If you enjoy things that make you laugh and feel very uncomfortable at the same time.
  3. If you are kind of clueless on both counts and you think it’s funny because it has nothing to do with you.

Think “Curb Your Enthusiasm” for women. That I even watch it is a small miracle. I only have time to watch a few shows and tend to live under a nerd rock when it comes to what’s new in pop culture—when people talk about Kim Kardashian, I hear it as Kim Cardassian and I think Rick Berman is doing a new show (Star Trek folks help me out here). On the other hand, I can tell you about the 25+ year Zelda franchise and that Nintendo made a huge misstep by not producing enough games for its latest system, the WiiU. Don’t laugh—you live with a 15-year-old hard core gamer and see what you can talk about at parties.

So I give a big shout out to my friend Colleen who turned me on to the show. I liked it from the start, and one night as were drinking wine and eating her secret-recipe wings, she told me the Lena Dunham character, Hannah, reminded her of me. I laughed so hard I almost peed in my pants. Why? Because she was right. And I don’t mean that I’m like the talented and wise-beyond-her-20-plus-years Dunham. In no way did I have the perspective to frame my 20s while I was living them. I barely have it now. No, I’m talking about the writing struggles, the bad fashion choices (oh, god, soooo bad), the blurting out of awkward truths, the drifting away of college friends. The show is uncanny in how true it is and funny as hell.

This season hit close to the bone with the story line about Hannah and other talented writers taking jobs in the advertorial section of GQ only to realize it cannibalizes their personal writing. I am not a natural at the two most common jobs for serious writers—teaching and freelancing—so I’ve had traditional full-time jobs my entire career, and I always struggle to find the time and energy to write. I’ve often wondered would my writing career be farther along if I had taken a different path—Hannah’s path?  That path would have been the other story line that put an arrow through my heart: Hannah getting into the Iowa Workshop, aka writing Mecca. I, like every serious writer, considered applying. But I couldn’t see my way clear to leaving Boston, a city I love, or how to finance it and find my way back. I went instead to Emerson College in Boston for my MA (an MFA cost more and seemed too impractical). There I discovered my writing niche: personal essay.  Still, that accomplishment didn’t prevent me from holding a grudge against a former boss’s daughter who was my age and went to Iowa to advance her literary career, while I was stuck writing full-time for her mother. It was my first job, and I’m still a little scarred from getting handed writing assignments on torn paper stained with coffee rings and wrinkled cocktail napkins. But I’m not bitter. Well, not very.

Can you see how this show is messing with me? I was curious about how much of my 20-year old angst was apparent, so I asked Colleen what exactly about Hannah made her think of me—I’ve known her since high school, and we lived through our 20s together. I’ll admit asking her the question was very Hannah-like.

“I think the first thing was her pasty white skin!” answered  Colleen. Check. “Every part of her physical appearance reminds me of you – her hair, the shape of her body, her face.” Check. “She puts it all out there and not ashamed to do so – take it or leave it.” Half a check. Sometimes I did this, but not as much as Hannah or as much as I wanted to at the time. “She is not a typical beauty, but she’s gorgeous.” Well, thank you! “She’s hilarious, she’s a struggling writer, she’s creative.  I can picture having a conversation with her where she is analytical like you.” Yeah. That about sums it up.

Watching “Girls” for me is like Lena Dunham filmed my 20s and sold it to HBO. And they used Industrial Light & Magic to add in all the sex scenes, because I was boyfriendless during much of that time and was too earnest and Catholic-guilty for random sex.

So Lena, if you want to know what Hannah will look like in her late 40s, check me out on Twitter. I’d also like to tell you to get the hell out of my head and my life, but you’re too damn funny. Plus, how else can I find out how my life would have turned out?

Photo credit: http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/03/hannahs-rock-bottom-tee-on-girls-season-finale.html 

You Should Be Dancing

Last year, a good friend who was single at the time invited me to a GLBT breast cancer fundraiser dance. She invited another good friend of mine, also single, who she had recently gotten to know better — I was in heaven — a night out with my two favorite dancers. We are now well into midlife, but back in the day, I’d gotten to know them separately and had spent many happy hours dancing with each of them when we were still young enough to pull off a night out that starts at 11 pm. Still, we sounded like the beginning of a bad joke — a lesbian, a gay man, and a straight woman go to a lesbian dance…but what was the punch line?

Oddly enough, it was “I’m getting divorced.” We three share the same sense of humor and we use it liberally to get us through the indignities and unfairness of life. So we riffed off one another all night. As L and M recounted their bad dates and online dating photo and profile exaggerations, I contributed “I’m getting divorced.” I don’t know why it was funny, but it was — we weren’t even drinking (that much). M lamented that many men his age had gone to seed, and L countered with the observation that many lesbians our age are either partnered or live in the suburbs. Again I added “I’m getting divorced.” And again we laughed, perhaps at the absurdity of it all, of finding ourselves in a place we’d never intended to be and the opposite of what we’d hoped for at this stage of our lives. And we’d discovered the galling truth is that it’s just as awkward and difficult to be unpartnered now as it was when we were 20. Maybe we thought age and wisdom would make it easier, but that’s turned out be a bunch of midlife propaganda. Instead, we turned to the wisdom of our 20-year-old selves, and danced away the hurt with heart and soul. By the end of the night, the long scarf I’d brought as a dance prop had both coiled and floated playfully around L and M and had steadied M as he gracefully came out of a back bend on the dance floor. It was glorious.

We came, we laughed, we danced, and for one night it didn’t matter that M had pretty much chatted up every single woman there and we still hadn’t found L a viable date. It didn’t matter that I had a mountain of divorce paperwork to sift through at home. It didn’t matter that neither L nor M had gotten messages from their respective love interest. I was getting divorced, and while we danced, it just didn’t matter. 

photo credit: http://www.smouseproductions.com/

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Bollocks!

I’m only Irish by way of being a Boston area resident, and Irish story telling is a hard act to follow, but what the heck. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s my Irish story. One summer when I was in college, I met a lovely Irish lass. She was in college too and had come to Boston for the summer. We slaved away at the same deli, slinging sandwiches and grilled meat, and always left the place smelling like baloney and pickles. We quickly wanted to learn about each other’s cultures, by which I mean we asked about swear words. I, being a Sex Pistols fan, made her porcelain white skin bright red when I asked her what bollocks meant. Of course, being Irish and a sophisticated Dubliner to boot (she used to make fun of her “bumpkin” Irish roommates here), she quickly recovered. She tossed her glossy short, black curls, looked right at me with her crystal clear blue eyes, and replied, “There’s no translation, but it’s like saying ‘mother fucking cock sucker.’ ”

I was delighted.

From then on we had our pet names for each other: I called her Bollocks and she called me Mother fucking cock sucker. We worked a lot, drank more, and laughed constantly. She even taught me a song called “Young Willie McBride,” a beautiful song about, of course, resting on his grave. She left at the end of the summer, and after exchanging a letter or two (how quaint, I know), we lost touch. So, happy St. Patrick’s day to you, Bollocks, where ever you may be. Ta for a very fun summer. Fondly yours, Mother fucking cock sucker.   

Me and My Super Freak…Acne

Last night, there were two suspicious red areas on my chin. This morning I have three raised acne bumps and one hurts like hell and looks like it means business. Big deal, you say. I. Am. For. Ty. Eight. Years. Old. 48. More than two scores. Nearly a half century. Almost half a Ben Franklin. I have slowly made peace with fact that this is a time of transition. Perimenopause, life assessment, aging parents, raising a teen, facing old emotional baggage. And on a good day, I can spin much of this into an almost noble undertaking, as if I’ve chosen personal growth, rather than getting dragged to it kicking and screaming by Mother Nature. But acne? Really? There is no spinning that. It sucked when I had it as a teen and it sucks now. Do you know what’s even more mortifying? I have a bathroom cabinet full of acne products, and only one belongs to my teen-aged son.

But it’s more than that. Not only was I not told about this possibility, I was told the opposite by the dermatologist who treated my scar-inducing cystic acne when I was 20. He said I’d have beautiful skin at 50. I guess he assumed the excessive oil production causing the acne would have declined  by 1) the passage of time and 2) the drug I was taking, Accutane*, which cuts down oil gland production. His prediction meant very little to me at the time — at 20, I could hardly imagine being 25, never mind 50. But over time I came to depend on the promised beautiful skin. As I got into full-on perimenopause and my hormones were acting like drunken citizens during Prohibition, I clung to the fact that at least I wouldn’t have to deal with acne. Maybe my body was sweating randomly and plaguing me with odd aches and pains, but dammit I was going to have amazing skin!

I should have realized to not take his predictions too seriously. He also confidently and inaccurately predict I would only need two Accutane treatments. “Hardly anyone has needed two, and no one has needed three.” To be fair, Accutane came out in 1979 and I took it first in 1984. Probably no one knew how many treatments it should take, especially for my super freak acne.

But here I am all this time later with acne that isn’t quite Accutane worthy, but is more than just a dainty “blemish” — a stupid word if ever there was one. I never thought I would actually be able to say a positive thing about having acne as a teen, but as severe as mine was, at least plenty of kids had some kind of acne, and it’s an expected teen thing. Now I get to go to work meetings and try to be professional with a bunch of angry red bumps on my chin—or on my nose or in my ear if I’m super lucky! That’s wicked fun, let me tell you. I almost envy the women who are sweating and ripping off their suit jackets. I happen to work with a lot of people in that age group, so it’s not as freakish as if you worked in say, a start-up with 20-somethings. Although, now that I think about it, they might have some acne. I should definitely check that out as a career move. At least until get my fabulous skin at 60.

*I just want to acknowledge Accutane has since become a generic drug and has had come controversy around side effects: severe birth defects and suicidal depression. I had a positive experience with it. My doctor told me flat out, “If you get pregnant on this drug, your child will have deformities and may not even have a head.” I was scared into compliance, and it did not affect my son who was born a number of years after I stopped taking it. And as far as depression, it was the really bad acne that was depressing me, and when it cleared up (after three tries), I was a new woman. Well, at least until now.

Photo credit: http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-chinny-chin-chins-5/

Radishes, Carrots and Kale, Oh My!

Photo credit: Something GUD

I believe in the benefits of farmers markets and community-shared agriculture (CSA). I really do. But there is one tiny problem. I’m not an adventurous cook or eater. So that puts on extra pressure if I’m signing  up to get large amounts of random vegetables, many which are unfamiliar to me or I don’t like (I’m talking to you acorn squash and eggplant). And, when it comes to farmers markets, I admit I can be lazy and forgetful. I either forget the farmers market days, or I remember, but it’s off the path of my routine commute. And even if I were delusional enough to think I could turn over a new leaf, my friends’ story about getting inundated with CSA parsnips for months scared me back to Stop and Shop. But then I read about a new start-up in the Boston area called Something GUD that seemed like the answer for culinary scaredy cats like me. They offer small shares of different kinds of foods—vegetables, dairy, meats, breads—all locally sourced. The free delivery (in a cooler you leave out) and an offer of a reduced-priced trial convinced me to try it. Finally I was going to be able to get rid of my guilt about not supporting local farming!

And then the box arrived. I found:

  • Homemade granola (delicious)
  • Fresh yogurt (made my stomach feel funny, but everyone said it’s because it’s fresh and you have to get used to it—how do people know these things?)
  • Fresh mushroom ravioli (to die for)

So far so good. Then I pulled out the vegetable bag and panicked. If pressed, I can tell you they were root vegetables, because I could see their roots. I recognized a couple of carrots which I clung to like long-lost friends. There were six or seven whitish, purplish round and oval things I have never seen before. A search on the internet seemed to narrow it down to turnips or radishes or both. My inadequacies as a cook and eater came flying at me full force. What the heck was I going to do with this stuff? I took a deep breath and decided that a root vegetable is a root vegetable, so I found a slow cooker recipe, chopped up the lot, threw it in, and pretended I was a celebrity chef. It was edible, but started to wear out its welcome after the third night. Did I mention I also just cook for myself? But I decided not to give up, and ordered the organic vegetables share for the next delivery, thinking I’d have more variety and a better shot at recognizing something. Rookie mistake. While I did find a better recipe, there were way more vegetables than I could use and there were still some I didn’t recognize. But the new recipe was a much better fit and I happily ate my “I’m a do-gooder” stew all week. I skipped a couple of weeks to use up the rest of the food and next decided to try the smaller, regular vegetable share. I also added the Iggy’s Bread and the fresh Nella Pasta ravioli. I finally got the vegetable part right, but as I pulled out the ravioli, I paused. It was kale and currant. I actually made a face like a junk food kid being served a bowl of broccoli. I busied myself with making the do-gooder stew and let the weird ravioli sit for a few days. Finally, though, my practicality set in. I couldn’t let it go to waste. Perhaps guessing that people would wonder at the flavor, the text on the box says that the slight sweetness of the currants counters the bitterness of the kale, making it appealing even to kids (and adults who mimic them, I would add). So how was it? It was insanely good. I can’t even describe what it tastes like, because my taste buds don’t get around a lot. So thank you Something GUD for giving me a chance to face my food and cooking fears and shine my community support halo. And if anyone needs to identify a watermelon radish or purple dragon carrots, my rates are reasonable.