In Defense of Accountability: Taming the Angry Beast

December 14, 2014

I haven’t read the grand jury transcripts.  I haven’t followed the news coverage.  What I know about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, I’ve learned from reading what others have posted on Facebook.  Which is why I haven’t said anything about it—because I know that I don’t know.  I know that, before I’m qualified to issue an opinion as to whether Michael Brown’s death was the result of institutional racism versus the result of a police officer exercising his honest best judgment based upon his training and experience, I should educate myself thoroughly as to what actually happened.

Since I haven’t had the time to do that, I don’t think I have anything even remotely intelligent to say about this issue, because anything I could say would be based on nothing more than sheer speculation.  As a litigator, it’s a fundamental tenet of my work that “evidence” based upon speculation should never be considered by a jury because its probative value is so vastly outweighed by its potential for confusion and mistake.  I think this is a pretty good rule outside of the courtroom as well, so I try not to expound upon things I don’t know about.  Which apparently sets me apart from 98% of people who post things on the Internet, all of whom are certain (based upon re-tweets, Fox, Huffington Post, or wherever else they get their “news”) that their opinions are entirely accurate and utterly unassailable.

I don’t know what happened in Ferguson, except that a young man—who may or may not have been at least partially responsible for creating the situation that lead to his death—is dead, and a police officer—who may or may not have placed less value on the life of a black man than that of a white man—has now resigned (some would say in disgrace), his life forever altered.  But I think it’s important that I know what I know, and what I don’t know, because to the extent that there’s anyone in the world who gives a fig about what I think, I believe I have a responsibility to make sure that what I say is actually informed by verifiable facts.  Based upon what I see every day when I peruse the Internet, however, this would seem to be a minority view.

We’re roughly twenty years into the Internet era, and for all that this remarkable, amazing creation could be—a vast source of limitless information, enabling just about anyone to learn just about anything they might wish to know, from how to make an apple pie to the gross national product of Jakarta—what it has actually become is one part porn, one part cute-baby-animal videos, one part selfies, and one part uninformed opinion—and the more uninformed, the louder the opinion.  It’s distressing to me that something that has the potential to disseminate information worth having or connecting people across the globe in a positive way has mostly degenerated into one massive pile of wildly misinformed invective.

I’m not speaking exclusively about the “trolls”—those pasty-faced, under- or unemployed men moldering in their parents’ basements playing “World of Warcraft,” eating nacho-cheese flavored Doritos, and picking fights, for sport, on their laptops about things they don’t even care about—although one can easily conjure up thirty or forty thousand things that add greater value to the world, including infomercials and KFC.  I doubt there’s much disagreement that the hate-filled diatribes that litter the “comments” section of just about every online article that’s ever been posted diminish society in general and have rendered intelligent discourse virtually non-existent.  There’s no question that people say things online that they’d never, ever say at work, at a church social, or standing on line at the DMV.  But since the Internet provides as much or as little anonymity as we like, people feel free to express whatever they think, certain that the consequences of their words will never catch up with them.

What if that anonymity was gone? What if your user name was your actual name, along with some other identifying information, something that would make it a relatively simple matter for anyone so inclined to figure out that the guy who wrote that unmarried women who use birth control are whores is actually that seemingly nice fellow who owns the insurance agency on the corner, or that the woman who thinks President Obama is an “N” word fascist communist socialist who should be executed is actually your son’s second grade teacher?  Do you think people would ever say such things if there were a chance that they would have to look their neighbors, co-workers, or family members in the eye and admit that yes, in fact, those words were theirs?

The Internet makes it possible for us to say things we’d never say “in public,” but maybe it shouldn’t.  After all, most newspapers and magazines won’t accept for publication “letters to the editor” unless the author agrees to identify himself or herself.  That’s called accountability; it’s also called putting your money where your mouth is.  If you’re not willing to stand behind your opinions, maybe you should keep them to yourself.  At the very least, your convictions can’t be all that strong in the first place if you’re not willing to take ownership of them.  And while I guess people have a right to their opinions, whatever they may be, the older I get, the more I ask myself, before I let something negative, nasty, or hurtful slip from my lips, does this add beauty or value to the world? We all have to say difficult things from time to time, usually to people we care about very much, but is this one of those times? Is there a truly compelling reason for expressing something that may cause pain to some (or many)? I submit that, unless you can answer that last question in the affirmative, it’s probably better for everyone involved not to say it in the first place.

So maybe the Internet shouldn’t be anonymous. Maybe it should be impossible for people to drop their heaps of anger and spite and bile under the cloak of a user name that makes it impossible for the reader to determine the identity of its author.  Maybe when we make a sweeping generalizations based upon unfair and hateful stereotypes, or when we call people racists without ever examining the underlying facts or circumstances, we should have to take ownership of those words.  If nothing else, it would probably give people pause, and perhaps cause them to engage in a moment or two of reflection.  Would that really be such a bad thing?

But we live in a country founded, at least in part, upon the principle of free speech, a nation in which we are all guaranteed the right to express our opinions, regardless of how repugnant or stupid they may be.  Of course, the First Amendment does not confer an unfettered right to say whatever you want, whenever you want; our Supreme Court has imposed certain restrictions on what type (child pornography, for example), or under what circumstances (shouting “fire” in a crowded movie house) some speech may not be protected.  As well, when our Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment, they likely assumed that the exercise thereof would be informed by the inherent accountability attendant to most forms of expression available at that time.  Stated differently, I doubt Ben Franklin or James Madison ever imagined that it would be possible to blast one’s opinions all over the world in a matter of seconds without ever having to accept any responsibility whatsoever for those words.

But it’s not just those who spew their nuclear vitriol that concern me—in fact, they concern me a lot less than those seemingly “innocent” users that look just like you and me—the mild-mannered accountant, the sweet-faced Sunday school teacher, the innocuous co-worker, the pleasant-enough distant relative you see at a Fourth of July barbecue—a person of apparent credibility, a reasonable person, a person who generally exhibits good judgment in what they say or do.  I’m talking about when that person clicks “like” or reposts/retweets or forwards something that they maybe did (but probably didn’t) read thoroughly, without ever bothering to find out if it is actually accurate, or considering the agenda of the person who wrote/posted it in the first place.  All too often, if it conforms to our world-view, we “like,” or re-post, or re-tweet, never troubling ourselves with whether it’s true, or fair, or even grammatically correct.  It makes me crazy.

Why should I care, you may be wondering, what anyone says on the Internet? It’s easy enough to ignore the nonsense people post on their Facebook pages, or on Twitter, or on the comments section following a Huff Po article, so why does it matter? Well, in part because those unchecked tirades have fomented an atmosphere of downright hostility that has seeped into what used to be an unbiased news media that dispensed the facts and allowed viewers/readers to come to their own opinions.  These days, most “news” programs don’t even try to hide their agendas (I blame both Fox and MSNBC equally for this), and any sort of media “roundtable discussion” usually ends up devolving into a bunch of loudmouths screaming over each other, where it probably doesn’t matter that no one can be heard since there’s precious little worth listening to.

It also seems to me that there’s a direct correlation between the fact that it has become possible—and acceptable—to say despicable and/or unsupported things without fear of consequence and the extreme divisiveness we see in our government and in our society.  It’s a sign of my age, I guess, that I’ve lost all confidence in elected officials to work collaboratively, regardless of political affiliation, and I’m beyond discouraged by the manner in which we as a society have become so aggressively intolerant of any viewpoint that doesn’t precisely line up with our own.  Even our judiciary—the branch of government that is supposed to be free of political agenda or bias—has become the subject of much speculation in recent months as some Supreme Court justices appear to be nearing retirement, sparking concerns that whomever is elected to the presidency in 2016 will have the opportunity to stock the Court with politically like-minded jurists.  It’s offensive to me that an otherwise qualified Supreme Court nominee may be rendered unfit merely because he or she has espoused viewpoints which are contrary to the Congressional majority, but that’s the country we now live in.

I wonder how this nation will ever survive the vast gulf that now exists between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, whites and blacks, Christians and anyone who isn’t a Christian (and even men and women where reproductive rights and equal pay are concerned).  Perhaps one small step in the right direction would be for people to think before they speak, and then take responsibility for what they say.  That’s a wildly Utopian ideal, one not likely to take hold in today’s environment, but it’s one I’m urging, quixotically, certain in the knowledge that this blog is likely to generate comments along the lines of “shut up, you crazy liberal bitch.”  But it’s an ideal I’m going to try to adhere to myself.

So, I’ve got nothing to say about Ferguson, except that it’s tragic that a family has lost a son (just as it is tragic when any family loses a child, for any reason), that an entire community feels that their lives don’t matter simply because of the color of their skin, and that a police department that is probably made up of mostly good people and which probably does most things right is now subject to relentless scrutiny that may or may not be fair.  It’s tragic.  What’s more tragic, however, is that we don’t seem to be able to talk about or process what happened without resorting to name-calling and demonizing those with opposing viewpoints, but we have to try.  We have no apparent ability to feel compassion for whichever “side” we’ve identified as contrary to our own, but we need to start.  Otherwise, we’re all a bunch of trolls.

 

I Love HGTV

June 12, 2015

I love HGTV.  At the end of a long, stressful day, there are few things I enjoy more than kicking back with some rehab/design porn.  There’s almost nothing I won’t watch on Home and Garden Television, and it’s equally great whether you’re blow drying your hair, folding laundry, doing the dishes, or drafting deposition summaries.  Nothing on HGTV requires more than a preschool education (if that), and it’s family friendly – no F bombs or full frontal.  You can watch with your four-year old, your mother-in-law…you can even watch with someone whose political or religious views are diametrically opposed to yours without fear of fisticuffs or long, angry silences.  There’s nothing controversial, ever, on HGTV, and it’s enormously satisfying to watch someone reno an entire home in the space of thirty minutes – who doesn’t love that?

My favorite shows on HGTV are “House Hunters,” “Love It or List It,” and “Property Brothers.” Part of the reason—and I feel small admitting this—is because I find the homeowners so unintentionally entertaining.  A more demanding, unreasonable, and out-of-touch group of people you’ve never seen (unless you regularly tune into “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”), so, in addition to drooling over a brand new outdoor kitchen or high-end master suite retreat, I get to feel just a little bit superior, and that’s always sort of nice.

For those of you who have never watched “House Hunters,” the basic premise is that someone is looking to buy a new home and is taken to see three contenders.  The suspense builds (sort of, I guess) as the buyers mull over their choices, and culminates with the (drumroll, please!) announcement as to which property they’ve picked.  (Viewing Suggestion:  To make this fairly benign show more interesting, you can engage in some low-stakes gambling or, perhaps, turn it into a drinking game, though people who gamble and play drinking games probably aren’t the classic HGTV demographic).

What makes “House Hunters” so fun to watch (and keep in mind, as you decide just how much weight to give that assessment, that one of my favorite things to do, after looking at pictures of koalas, is reading about the Supreme Court) is that most of the home buyers appear to know as much about purchasing residential real estate as I know about automotive repair.  It never ceases to amaze me when our homebuyer, looking to buy a place in suburban Washington, D.C. with a budget of $200,000, demonstrates genuine surprise when told that his or her budget is not going to be sufficient to buy a restored townhouse in Georgetown with a gourmet kitchen and Brazilian cherrywood floors.

What’s more, when told by experienced real estate professionals (who, you just know, want to shoot these people in the head by the end of the show), these buyers always act as though it’s the agent’s fault that the most you’re going to get for $150,000 in Manhattan is a “studio apartment” the size of a handicapped bathroom stall.  I also love the sorts of things that seem to be deal breakers for these potential homeowners:  Walls painted a color they don’t like, for example; as my oldest has observed, it’s a shame you can’t do anything about that.

Another favorite show is “Love It or List It.”  Here, you’ve got a couple who already owns a home that one of them LOVES, and wants to redo, but which the other one hates, and wants to LIST.  Enter Hillary, a design professional, and David, a realtor; Hillary is given a budget to make the house they’re living in now more suitable to the couple’s needs, while David is charged with finding a new place within the family’s budget that will address whatever isn’t working in their current home.  Once again, unrealistic expectations abound as David and Hillary are given a “must have” list that will cost three times whatever money they have to spend.  As an aside, I’m not sure where “LIOLI” is filmed, though I think it’s somewhere in Canada, but wherever it is, the housing prices (even in Canadian dollars) are astronomical—like, $900,000 for a three-bedroom, 1,200 square foot row house—which is all the more reason why I find myself scratching my head over the disconnect between what the couple wants and what they can actually afford.

Instead of scaling back on their demands and adopting a workable plan based upon the realities of their budget, however, the couple spends the next hour in abject fury as Hillary tells them that she’s not going to be able to convert their cramped, poorly-designed mudroom into a spacious home office, add a guest bedroom, and completely redo the basement, all for $30,000, or when David can’t find them a home twice the size of their current residence for roughly what they paid ten years ago for the home they now live in, located in their current (criminally expensive) neighborhood, with stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, more bedrooms, and the all-important “open concept floor plan.”

To be fair, the couple’s outrage is sometimes justified; anyone who has ever been through a home improvement project knows that it can be an emotional, stressful experience and, as well, there’s always some surprise on LIOLI that you would have expected Hillary to discover before she gutted the entire downstairs or ripped off the back wall of the house, like, that the entire electrical system has to be rewired because it’s not up to code, or that the wall the couple wanted gone is load-bearing, and can’t be removed.  You would sort of think that before undertaking the massive overhaul that is always involved on this show that Hillary or her faithful sidekick, Desta, would have conducted some sort of inspection or other due diligence to see whether or not they were going to be able to pull off the reno, especially since there is an unpleasant, expensive surprise EVERY SINGLE EPISODE.  I guess that’s part of the drama.

“Love It or List It” ends with the couple being shown their old home, the remodeling of which has given them roughly half of their “must haves,” and then being asked to decide if they’re going to keep their current home or  else “List It” so they can move into one of the houses David’s found for them.  There’s some of the suspense of “House Hunters,” I guess, but when you consider that this beleaguered couple has just been through a major home improvement project which was about as much fun as prepping for a colonoscopy, it’s not surprising that most opt to forego the joy of moving house to stay where they already are, even if their home doesn’t have cathedral ceilings or his and hers vanities in the master bath (another feature about which some homeowners are borderline pathological).  I always feel sorry for these homeowners, because they never get what they were hoping for, but by the time the project is over, they’re just happy to have functioning plumbing.

My absolute favorite home improvement show is “Property Brothers,” because it combines all of the worst behavior you see on “House Hunters” and “Love It or List It,” including on the part of the hosts, Jonathan and Drew, whom, I think are twin brothers.  Drew is a real estate agent, Jonathan is a contractor.  Under the guise of helping a couple find a new home, Jonathan and Drew show them a gorgeous, perfect, move-in ready home which they (Jonathan and Drew) already know costs way more than the couple can afford—like, way more.  They walk the couple through this palace and allow them to salivate over the restaurant-grade appliances and walk-in closets that are larger than my first apartment.  The couple is over the moon—this is exactly what they’ve been looking for (and these are the only people on HGTV you will ever see who have an unreservedly positive reaction to a home they are shown)—which is when the Property Brothers reveal that the house is three times more than their maximum budget.

Our couple is crushed – their disappointment is palpable—but here’s what always gets me:  How is this a surprise? This is how the show always starts – always – so, if you’ve ever actually seen the “Property Brothers,” you ought to understand the premise and appreciate that Jonathan and Drew are going to show you a house you could never, in your wildest dreams, afford.  So here’s what I want to know:  Are these people agreeing to go on the show without ever having viewed a single episode? What kind of person signs up to be on a television show they’ve never watched, especially when it involves the biggest purchase most people will ever make?  And yet, the couple is always stupefied and, occasionally, just a little bit pissed.  Which is why it’s sort of hard to care that the duration of the hour is a study in watching someone’s dreams die as they slowly go bankrupt.

Then, when this couple is at their most vulnerable, Jonathan and Drew try to convince them that all is not lost, that they can find a crappy old fixer-upper and make it just as nice, for half the price.  Which is a total lie, because in the five years this show has been on the air, this has never happened—not once, and if in fact this were even possible, people would be doing it all the time, but they don’t, because it’s not.  But Drew and Jonathan (whose facial hair, it must be said, is sort of sketchy) are very convincing, and so they take our heartbroken couple to a bunch of woefully dated homes built during the architectural renaissance of the 1970’s; homes in serious need of repair; ugly, wallpapered, split-level, popcorn ceiling’ed homes that are screaming to be razed to the ground and put out of their misery.

The couple, who is so emotionally beaten up from watching their dream of living in a mansion they can’t afford swirl down the sludge-clogged drain, allows themselves to be drawn into Jonathan’s vision of how he’s going to turn this eyesore with no curb appeal into an exact replica of the house of their dreams, and because they are either irrationally optimistic or else irredeemably stupid, they believe him.  With Drew’s promise that they will be able to buy the house for nothing more than a bag of magic beans and some pixie dust, the couple ponies up pretty much all they have to purchase a clunker of a house, but there’s always some catch:  There’s a bidding war, or else the seller refuses to accept the couple’s offer despite Drew’s not-so-expert assurances that the house is listed above market value and can be purchased a fraction of its asking price.

Thus, our couple ends up having to pay more than they originally anticipated in order to buy a shitty house they didn’t want in the first place, but now they’re so emotionally invested they can’t walk away.  They’ve drunk the Kool Aid and they believe that Jonathan is going to turn this crapbox into Buckingham Palace, complete with stacked-stone hearth and jetted soaking tub.

Then the renovations start, and it gets even better.

When I sit down to watch “Property Brothers” with my girls, each of us picks some problem – plumbing, HVAC, infestation, you name it—because something always goes wrong, and it’s always expensive.  Like, really expensive.  It’s sort of like what happens on “Love It or List It,” except on “Property Brothers,” the couple has no choice – they’ve already committed every penny they have into what almost always turns out to be a money pit, and what usually happens is that instead of a beautifully, completely remodeled home, the couple ends up with a house that still looks like crap but has a really nice kitchen.  The rest of the rooms have stained carpets, velvet-flocked wallpaper, and termites, probably, but at least they’ve got a tumbled marble backsplash, a large island, and custom cabinetry.  During the reveal, the couple feigns excitement, pretends they are not monumentally disappointed, and tries to forget that they’ve sunk a small fortune into a home that still needs massive amounts of renovation they won’t be able to afford for another ten years.  In addition to the fresh flowers and bowl of color coordinated fruit on the kitchen counter, Jonathan and Drew should leave a bottle of Xanax and the number of a good marriage counselor.

I think the moral of the story is that if you decide to go on a show on HGTV, there’s a good chance you’ll end up disappointed and disillusioned, which is also sort of sad, because a home is a lot less about four walls and a roof and far more about the people who live there.  A custom-designed en suite can’t make up for a bad marriage, and a gourmet kitchen isn’t much comfort when your daughter is 14 and hates you (trust me – I’ve been on that journey three times, and neither the double oven nor the second prep sink made me feel any better about the withering looks of contempt that were a regular part of each day).

So, while I can temporarily lose myself with the thought of a new home with a kitchen floor unscratched by too-long canine nails or walls that haven’t been dinged by laundry baskets or bookbags, while I can think of a few home improvement projects that would put a smile on my face (so long as they’re not being overseeing by Hillary or Jonathan), I remind myself to be content with the damp basement, to be grateful for the laundry room that would feel spacious only if I’d been locked in the trunk of a Honda Civic for six weeks, and the HVAC system that reliably guarantees a 20-degree difference in temperature depending upon which room of the house you’re standing in. I love my home, I wouldn’t List it, even if David showed me one of Jonathan and Drew’s Cruelty Houses and told me I could afford it.  After all, you never hear anyone say, “Home is where the granite countertop and brushed nickel drawer pulls are.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep Your Pants On: Guys and Their Junk

April 9, 2015

Last week in my hometown, a local physician was arrested for exposing himself to a young woman who was walking across her college campus, minding her own business and probably contemplating the lecture on thermodynamics she’d just attended, or perhaps working out the first draft of a paper tracing the vicissitudes of the American economy from the trickle-down economics of the 1980’s through the dot-com boom of the late nineties, followed by the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008.  Because that’s what rigorous women at college should be doing.  You know, thinking about shit and puzzling out thorny, complex issues.

Anyway, Dr. X (who hopes to have a career in plastic surgery, probably so he can see a lot of boobs whose owners want them enhanced) was apparently sitting in his car doing that thing you’re not supposed to do if you’re Catholic.  He spies our intellectually formidable young woman walking towards him, and he beckons her over to his car.  She responds and approaches, probably because she’s a trusting sort who feels relatively safe on her nice suburban campus, and probably because she assumes that maybe he needs help.  Which, apparently, he does (because when you’re sitting alone in your car on a college campus and you’re not wearing pants, chances are you’re in serious need of help in the form of psychiatric evaluation and treatment).  When our college student sees what’s going on, what she DOESN’T do is stride on over to the passenger side of his car, open up the door and say, “hey, guy, can you keep doing that, and can I keep watching?”  What she DOES do is contact campus security and have him arrested.  Which should be surprising to no one, except, perhaps, Dr. X.

This story got a fair amount of coverage in the local media, probably because the guy involved was a doctor, and we tend to expect just a tad bit more self-restraint from our healthcare professionals.  If the last several years have taught us nothing, however, it’s that some men, no matter what their station in life, find it difficult not to share their genitals with the rest of the world, whether the rest of the world wants to see them or not.

Think former congressman Anthony Weiner.  Think Green Bay Packer great Brett Favre.  Think NBA player Tony Parker.  What do these guys have in common?  Well, they’ve all been caught texting photos of their junk to women who hadn’t signed up to be on the Celebrity Dick Pics mailing list.  At the time these guys sent their X-rated communiques, they were married to women who, presumably, did not know, and were not pleased to learn, about their husband’s texting habits.  Although two of those marriages seem to have survived (only Eva Longoria was miffed enough to give her hubby the heave-ho), the conduct in question forced Anthony Weiner to resign from public office and cast an unseemly haze upon the legacy of Brett Favre, who, up to that point, was widely considered to be not only one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history but also a loving, faithful husband and all-around good guy.  Now, maybe not so much.

When you consider the fallout, one has to wonder why men so powerful, with so much to lose, would take such risks and behave in such an absurdly stupid fashion.  You could ask the same question about other men who have been embroiled in sex scandals – Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton leap to mind – and there are probably a lot of explanations, including that the rich and famous are used to doing whatever they want and often forget that they’re not invincible.

What fascinates me, however, is not so much that people in search of sexual gratification sometimes behave recklessly, but that there are men out there—a lot of them—who believe that there are women out there who want to see their dicks.

And so, on behalf of all women, everywhere, from the beginning of time to the present, let me say once and for all, so that it never has to be said again, ever:

Gentlemen, women don’t want to see your dicks.

There.  Are we good now?

Good.

To be clear, I’m not saying that we don’t want to have anything to do with, or hope never to encounter, male genitalia – there are plenty of us who do.  It’s just that before most of us are interested in seeing your junk, we’d probably like to know a little bit about you first, like, your name, for starters.  Some of us would even like to have shared an interactive experience with you before we get a peek at your twig and berries – you know, like, having a meal, going to a movie, or maybe chatting over a cocktail (no pun intended), so that WHEN it’s time for you to take off your pants (not in your car, sitting on a college campus trolling for barely legal co-eds), we know a little something about you, and trust me, we can wait – truly, we can wait – before we find out once and for all whether or not your circumcised or shave your balls.  Call me old-fashioned, but I think I speak for the majority of women out there.

I think some of the misunderstanding on the part of all those guys out there with a cell phone and a penis is that men tend to be more visual than women when it comes to sexual attraction, and men kind of figure that if they like seeing and are aroused by pictures of naked women, that the converse must also be true—that is, that women like seeing and are aroused by pictures of naked men.

Well, we’re not.  Not even a little bit.  Which is perhaps why “Playgirl” magazine is no longer in print.

There are some women, I suppose, who find the male organ attractive, and, upon receiving a text of some guy’s willy, are ready to rock and roll.  Perhaps getting a digital preview of the main event gets certain girls going, but most of the women with whom I’ve ever discussed this issue have been of a pretty similar mind, which is to say that the penis takes some getting used to.  There’s a lot going on down there, and it’s a lot to take in.  Opening up a text from someone with whom you’ve exchanged nothing more than some casual conversation and finding some full frontal instead is kind of disconcerting; you can’t just spring those things on us, guys, because let’s face it—your junk be weird looking, and we don’t need to look at it to know whether or not we want to date you.

Despite this fact, there are men out there—a lot of them—who really, really, REALLY WANT TO SHOW US THEIR WIENERS.  Perhaps the impetus is as simple as that felt by a little kid who wants his mommy to watch him jump off the diving board, or perhaps it’s as insidious as the impulse which leads some men to commit more violent acts of sexual assault.  Whatever the reason, these guys can’t really be thinking that texting a woman a picture of their wing-wang is the surefire way into her heart (or her pants), can they?

If you are, guys, let me say it again:  It’s not.  It’s really, really not.

Now, let you feel I’m being unfair to the penis, I want to acknowledge that since the beginning of time, the male organ has given a lot of pleasure to a lot of people, including some women, but not because they were staring at one.  Men, we all know you’ve got one, and trust us, if we want to see it, we’ll ask.  But until then, please…keep your pants on.

 

 

 

 

 

Please Go Back to Greenbow, Alabama

March 15, 2015

There’s a line in the movie “Forrest Gump” in which Forrest, in Washington, D.C. to meet President Johnson following his meritorious service in Viet Nam, runs into childhood friend and love Jenny, who’s also in the nation’s capital, but for a different reason – she’s there to protest the war that Forrest has just been fighting.  After spending some time together, Forrest meets Jenny’s boyfriend du jour, an abusive jerk who smacks her around, causing Forrest to get up in his grille as he tells Jenny that heading to California with this idiot is a bad idea.  Rising to his full height, fists clenched, he tells her, “I think you should go back to GREENBOW, ALABAMA!” Which is where they both grew up, and which is where he’s headed, after he finishes playing ping pong and all.

Even though Forrest is talking to Jenny expressing his wish that she return with him to their hometown, we in the O’Connor Household have decided, for no other reason than that it’s fun to say, that when someone is being an asshole, they should go back to GREENBOW, ALABAMA.  If we had our way, Greenbow would be the current home of the 2013 – 2014 Seattle Seahawks, proponents of fundamentalist religions that don’t think women should be educated, and most Republican members of Congress.

Now, that’s a lot of exposition and back story for one little blog, but I think you’re going to agree it was worth it, because we here at the WRSO713 Blogspot (that’s me) are introducing a new recurring feature, and it’s called, “Go Back to Greenbow, Alabama, ___ (fill in the blank).”  It’s sort of like how Mike and Mike on ESPN used to have “Just Shut Up,” or Keith Olberman’s “Worst Person Alive.”  Not that I am half the journalist that either Mike Greenberg or Keith Olberman are (I may be half the journalist Mike Golic is, but he’s about 17,000 times the football player I am).  So, it’s a little thing we’re going to be doing from time to time, and when you see me telling someone to go back to Greenbow, Alabama, you will know that I think said person is an asshole.

It goes without saying, of course, that all of this is terribly unfair to Greenbow, Alabama (if in fact such a place even exists), which should not be forced to serve as the default destination for the world’s assholes.  But I’ve got one coming for you who, even though she is in fact an asshole, is very pretty:

I’m talking about Giselle Bundchen.  God, what an asshole.  Why, you may ask, is Giselle Bundchen an asshole? It’s not because I am a Denver Broncos fan and her husband plays for the Patriots and Bill Belichek (perhaps the most dishonest coach in NFL history, but we’ll let that go), or that said husband is currently embroiled in Deflategate (although that might make him an asshole, too – pity the couple’s children)?  No, Giselle Bundchen should go back to Greenbow Alabama on her own merit entirely.  Let’s explore why:

Giselle is a staggeringly beautiful woman, probably one of the most beautiful women in the world (not why she’s an asshole).  She’s made millions of dollars as a lingerie model (also not the reason we don’t like her, although she is partially culpable for contributing to the objectification of women and the ridiculous standards of feminine beauty that persist even today), and she probably wouldn’t be married to fabulously handsome and talented quarterback who also makes millions of dollars if she weren’t a staggeringly beautiful lingerie model (againm not the reason she should be packing her bags and buying a plane ticket to the Deep South).

Here’s the reason why Giselle Bundchen is an asshole:  Every bit of her great good fortune is exclusively attributable to the magnificent stroke of luck of good genes—a fact that should be impossible for her not to appreciate given the fact that she has a TWIN SISTER who, though pretty, is nowhere near the goddess that Giselle is.  Giselle’s success and wealth and privilege are the sole result of being beautiful – something she had absolutely ZERO TO DO WITH.  Sure, she has to hold still while some photographer takes her picture, she has to know how to turn her head to just the right angle, and she has to be able to walk on really high heels while wearing a diamond-encrusted bra and panties and angel wings, and I am sure that’s just as hard as, like, working in the Pacific Northwest in January building a pipeline or laboring as a roofer in Miami in July.  But let’s face it – she’s lead a charmed life for no other reason—none—than that she’s gorgeous.  AND THAT’S OKAY.

What’s not okay – at least as far as I am concerned – is the shocking level of arrogance and insensitivity this woman exhibits just about every time she opens her mouth.  One of the things she said that drew some fire not too long ago was this:

“I did kung fu up until two weeks before Benjamin was born, and yoga three days a week. I think a lot of people get pregnant and decide they can turn into garbage disposals. I was mindful about what I ate, and I gained only 30 pounds.”

Now, any OB/GYN will tell you that pregnancy is not a license to eat everything in sight and that you should strive to eat in a healthy manner, and sure, we should all do that, along with drinking 64 ounces of water a day, walking five miles, and eliminating from our diet anything that isn’t whole wheat or made of kale.  But here are a few things I’d like to point out to Ms. Bundchen:  First of all, if your job depends upon you looking fuckable three days after you give birth, if your marketability is entirely contingent upon being able to bounce a quarter off your butt, then making sure you don’t gain excess weight during pregnancy may be slightly more important than those of us who make our living the old-fashioned way (you know…doing anything other than being a model).  For the rest of us trolls, it’s not quite so simple, especially since GB probably had (and has) a personal chef who made sure the food she ate while pregnant was low-calorie and delicious.  Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I sort of think that anyone with the resources Miss Bundchen had available to her during her pregnancy is more likely to have access to the kind of pregnancy diet that puts no more than 30 pounds on your Victoria’s Secret body.

But Giselle was doing kung fu and yoga, and I guess I have to hand it to her that she made time for exercise.  When I was pregnant, I was wasting my time working a full-time job and taking care of other children, but yeah, kung fu would have been a good way to keep off those nasty pregnancy pounds.  Since Giselle’s an active girl, moreover, her childbirth “wasn’t even painful, not even a little bit.”  Because we all know that as long as you do kung fu and yoga during pregnancy, and as long as you eat right, you’ll have a painless delivery.

Giselle has also been very vocal about the importance of breastfeeding, and while I, too, am a huge advocate of this form of infant nutrition, I don’t think I would say something as insensitive as the following:

”Some people here (in the US) think they don’t have to breastfeed, and I think ‘Are you going to give chemical food to your child when they are so little?’”

I haven’t read the ingredients list on a can of formula recently, and again, I’m a proponent of nursing, but what Giselle apparently doesn’t realize is that some women can’t breastfeed, including women who didn’t give birth to their children, or that sometimes, formula is the only option.  But Giselle thinks it’s important to breastfeed, so much so that she had a photo taken of her getting her nails done while someone combed out her hair and someone else applied her makeup, and all the while…she was breastfeeding! So, you know, if you can breastfeed while four people are teasing your hair and doing your eyeliner, there is absolutely NO REASON AT ALL why all the rest of us lazy moms can’t get off our fat, non-kung-fu’d asses to nurse our babies.  What’s that, you say – you have to empty the dishwasher and fold the laundry and drive your oldest to preschool? No excuses.  Burn those fucking yoga pants and stained t-shirt, put on your goddamned lingerie, blow out your hair, and look beatific while your gorgeous infant sweetly suckles at your breast.  We don’t care if you don’t have live-in staff to make you a lunch of boiled chicken and quinoa – suck it up!

If Giselle Bundchen had been born ugly, no one outside of her family would have ever heard of her, and she would have no platform for her hopelessly out-of-touch nonsense.  Since she’s sort of an idiot, I will say this in small words that her atrophied brain can comprehend:

When you have managed to attain such a stratospheric level of privilege based upon nothing more than having won a genetic lottery, you don’t get to sit in judgment of the rest of us mere mortals.  You don’t.

If, however, you want to continue to level your ridiculously out-of-touch opinions at the rest of us, here’s what you have to do first:  Fire your chef, maids, nannies, housekeepers, drivers, dressers, stylists, and personal assistants, move into a split level, do your own grocery shopping and scrub your own toilets, and then – maybe – you can tell the rest of us about how we should be exercising on our way in to the delivery room for our pain-free labor.  Until then, maybe you can limit yourself to criticizing your husband’s incompetent teammates, or maybe, maybe…you could GO BACK TO GREENBOW, ALABAMA!

George Bailey Day

February 19, 2015

I’m having a George Bailey kind of day.  You, know, George Bailey, the main character in the classic move, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

In case you’re one of the thirty-eight people over the age of 40 in North America who hasn’t seen this movie, here’s a brief synopsis: George Bailey is this really smart guy with big dreams, living in a sleepy little town in upstate New York.  As a teenager, he can’t wait to escape the confines of his boring old home town, but through a series of events, most of which involve him making sacrifices for others, George ends up staying in tiny Bedford Falls, a slave to the tired old Building and Loan where he carries on the family business and is a frequent target of the mean-spirited jabs of Bitter Old Mr. Potter, who has lots of money but no soul. George is mostly happy with his life – he’s happily married, and the father of four lovely children, but he sort of feels like life has passed him by as he realizes that all those dreams he had way back when are never going to happen.

 

Because George is a nice guy, he’s never fired his Idiot Uncle Billy, who’s absent-mindedness lands George in a pickle so desperate he concludes that the only solution is to kill himself.  I know, I know, I’m leaving out a lot of important exposition, but this is a 1,500 word blog, so….Utterly hopeless, George decides to throw himself into the river.  Before he can end his life, the Big Guy Upstairs (you know…God?) intervenes in the form of Clarence, an angel third class, who knocks some sense into George by showing him what the world would have been like if he’d never been born.

 

And of course, George sees how he has made a difference for a lot of people and that he has made the world a better place in ways he never imagined, even if he’s never left Bedford Falls or worked in the Argentinian oil fields or built a skyscraper.  In the end, George runs through Bedford Falls so happy to be alive he doesn’t care if he gets arrested and spends the rest of his life in jail, which, of course, he doesn’t, because the whole town pitches in to help him, and everyone is happy.

 

I love that movie.  I do.  We watch it every Christmas Eve, and I try to stay up for the whole thing, because it’s such a wonderfully affirming message that just about everyone who’s made it to middle age can identify with.  I love how George always does the right thing and is (mostly) content to step aside while others benefit from his sacrifice and rise to levels of glory and recognition that George will never know.  At the same time, though, I feel his aching desire to have done more, to have had a bigger life.  Sometimes, I feel that way, too.

 

Now, before all my Facebook friends (who are the only people who ever read my blog) leave comments on my wall telling me what a great person I am, and how much I have to thankful for, believe me – I know.  Well, I know how much I have to be thankful for, anyway.  But sometimes, I ache, too.  I think about all those dreams I had back when I was in college, and seeing as I’m now well into the third act of my life (with the gray hair and creaky bones to prove it), I have accepted that those dreams aren’t gonna happen.  I’m never going to be an Oscar-winning film actress, I’m never going to backpack through Europe and Thailand and Kenya, and I’m never going to have a cover-of-the-magazine, best-of-the-best, award-winning Big Time career. There was a time that I believed that I was going to be a mighty conqueror in whatever profession I chose, that I would rise to the top of my ranks, whatever they were, and would be internationally (or, at the very least, regionally) recognized as the best at what I did, whatever that was.  Well, that hasn’t happened.

 

I’d probably feel less bad about this if I weren’t so well-educated.  By that, I don’t mean that I’m necessarily all that smart or intellectual, but I was given the great gift of an outstanding education, and while I’ve managed to eke out 25-plus years as a fairly adequate attorney, I can’t say I’ve set the world on fire with my legal brilliance.  Probably the best I can hope for in the decade or so that remains of my professional life is a partnership that will afford me little more than the continued opportunity to draft motions, justify my time entries to a claims adjuster, and fret over meeting my billable hours until I’m too old to wear a bikini.

 

I can point to many reasons why I haven’t exactly made much of a mark in the legal world. For one, I took a number of years off to stay home with my kids, and for another, my career has always taken a backseat to my husband’s, a decision I have wholeheartedly supported, just as my husband has always supported my career right back.  As well, although I’m a good-enough attorney, I have the insight to appreciate without feeling bad that I lack the sort of legal brilliance that lands people jobs on the federal bench.  Most days, I’m okay with the fact that I haven’t had a career that includes a corner office, Learjets, or frequent appearances before Justices Ginsburg and her posse, because I have a lot of other things in my life that make me happy and fulfilled.  Like a really, really great husband, and three really, really great kids, and two really, really flatulent dogs.  I have a happy marriage, a happy home, and I’m healthy.  There’s more, but you get the picture: Not much to complain about, unless you’re sort of spoiled and horrid.

 

But today, I’m feeling spoiled and horrid, and today, I want to matter more.  I want to have made more of a difference in my career.  I want to be more important, to be recognized as really, really good at what I do (as opposed to being the world’s oldest associate).  Just once, I’d like to feel like I’ve achieved some modicum of the promise of my education, that I have made good on the imperative of my beloved Mount Holyoke that presented me with “the challenge to excel” all those years back.  Yeah, I’ve raised good kids, and yeah, I’ve done a lot of things right.  But have I excelled? Doesn’t feel like it.

 

As luck would have it on this George Bailey day, having suffered the slings and arrows of another ten hours toiling in the soul-nourishing world of insurance defense litigation, I came home to find my Alumnae Quarterly awaiting me and was once again made aware of the many ways in which my fellow alums have excelled – they’re all out there forming non-profits, sitting on boards, starting their own businesses, or working in the Obama administration (and even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, you have to admit, that’s kind of cool).  No one ever writes in to the Alumnae Quarterly, “I drive my kids to karate and I go to the grocery store and I draft really boring briefs that no one reads and I fold laundry.  Also, I have bingo wings and the beginnings of a turkey neck.” Maybe we should.  I don’t tend to share with my former classmates the ups and downs of my life as a brown-polyester attorney living in Suburbia, U.S.A. amidst the big box stores and chain restaurants.  What’s special or important about that?

 

But here I am, at the ripe age of fifty, old enough to know that while my life is by no means over, there’s not much chance that I’ll be shaking the cobwebs off those pie in the sky dreams of thirty years ago.  One of the most poignant lines I’ve ever heard is the following from Bruce Springsteen’s “The River:” “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?”  Bruce, who always gets it right, also talked about the “fear so real you spend your life waiting for a moment that just don’t come.”  It’s hard to imagine Bruce has ever had occasion to experience either of those particular emotions, but I have.  All those dreams I had as a woman with a flat stomach and knees that didn’t pop when I walked up the stairs, are they lies? And all those moments that haven’t come – what am I supposed to do with them?

 

Yeah, I’m a spoiled brat.  There are people out there who are battling cancer, who have lost a spouse, who are out of work and don’t know how they are going to feed their kids. There are those struggling with mental illness, who lead lives of quiet desperation, who are lonely and sad and have no hope.  I’m lucky, and I know it.  Most of the time, I know how much I’ve got to be thankful for, just like George Bailey did, but still, that didn’t stop him from occasionally thinking about running away from it all, from his lovely wife Mary and his adorable daughter Zuzu and all the rest of his kids and Idiot Uncle Billy.

 

Sometimes you want to just set aside all the responsibilities and have-to’s and dirty dishes and field trip permission slips and time sheets and oil changes and depositions and say, “I’m going to pursue my dreams and do what I want to do, and I don’t care how my kid gets home from soccer practice or how we’re going to pay for her braces.”

But George Bailey didn’t do that; he didn’t run off to Mount Bedford (or anywhere else) with Violet Bick.  He found a way to be happy working at the Building and Loan while his brother became a college football star and was a war hero who killed a lot of Nazis and then went on to have a brilliant career as a glass manufacturer.  Which is a lot to compete with, even if you are married to Donna Reed and have a really neat house.

 

I’m not going to run off, either, because for one, I love my family and would be lost without them, and for another, where am I going to run, and what is there, that would be better than what I already have?  Nothing, really.  The high-power career as a $700-an-hour attorney with the Big Important Office and really fabulous shoes wouldn’t make me any happier than I am now; in fact, I’d probably be a lot less happy, since $700-an-hour attorneys with Big Important Offices don’t get to spend much time with their flatulent pets.

 

I guess I’m just going to have to power through today and hope that the gratitude that usually infuses most of my days will be waiting for me when I wake up tomorrow.  If I’m lucky, by then, I will once again feel in my bones all the joy, satisfaction and contentment

that my family, friends, and, yes, even my job has brought me, and I will happily tuck my dreams of grandeur and fame back amongst the cobwebs where they belong.  After all, even when I’m feeling spoiled and horrid, it’s a wonderful life.

In Praise of Hypocrisy

January 7, 2015

So I understand that Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, after “challenging” married couples to “take a happily married picture and post it” on their Facebook page, have now removed photos shared by gay married couples. Apparently, this “challenge” came as the result of some raised eyebrows following a photo posted by their newly-married daughter, Jessa, on her Instagram account showing her and her new husband (the one she famously was not allowed to kiss, and was only permitted to “side-hug,” prior to their nuptials) locked in a steamy embrace (okay, it was actually a pretty tame, and, frankly, sort of awkward, closed-mouth smooch). Because of the internet, this has now become a bit of a thing, which I suppose I am only serving to perpetuate by posting this blog, which is something worth thinking about—later, that is, after I’ve said what I have to say about this particular issue.

As an initial matter, the Duggars certainly have a right control the content of their Facebook page, and the rest of us are free to support or oppose their words and viewpoints, or (perhaps the better choice) to simply ignore them altogether. After all, I’m not sure that any of us gain very much from paying too much attention to reality television stars whose fame is premised entirely upon the fact that they’ve been very successful at procreating.

As well, since I’ve watched their television program for a grand total of about fifteen minutes, I’m not sure I feel qualified to render an informed opinion about who the Duggars are or what they stand for. From what I did see, however, Michelle and Jim Bob seem to be loving, caring parents who have taken full economic responsibility for their many offspring and live within their means by making careful financial decisions and doing themselves what many of us hire other people to do. (It doesn’t hurt, of course, that they are featured on a wildly popular television show, the earnings from which probably go a long way towards feeding and clothing those nineteen children). They also seem to have raised thoughtful, creative, kind children who appear to be well-adjusted and happily help in the work of running a large, busy household (and who each also play a stringed instrument). Perhaps somewhere down the road one of the kids will pen a “Mommy/Daddy Dearest” sort of tome, and we’ll learn that things weren’t so rosy in the Duggar household after all; from what I can tell from my admittedly limited knowledge on this point, however, the Duggars seem to be making it work and setting an example of a close, loving family that is a sort of refreshing thing in today’s world where it seems that every time I log onto Huffington Post, I read about some man killing his pregnant wife or some mother leaving a newborn in dumpster.

But now the Duggars have officially expressed their opposition as to gay marriage (which I guess anyone with half a brain could probably have anticipated), and in support of that stance have offered the following from Rick Warren: “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. Second is that to love someone means that you must agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

I agree with Rick Warren, whomever he is, and I don’t fear or hate the Duggars simply because they have (not surprisingly) espoused a position I find repugnant, nor do I believe that they should be pressured by anyone to change that position. Perhaps we should even congratulate the Duggars for remaining strong in their convictions, even though I doubt they will be faced with much opposition within what I gather is a fairly tight-knit, like-minded community, such that it’s probably not all that difficult or brave for them to promulgate their beliefs. It would probably have been a lot more difficult, and would have required a lot more bravery, for them to have joyfully accepted and welcomed gay couples in their celebration of married love, but anyone who is surprised that they didn’t is sort of naïve, and to get too riled up about their behavior is kind of stupid, not to mention a waste of time, since in the history of the internet, I don’t know of a single instance in which someone read an viewpoint contrary to their own, considered it, and then said, “maybe I should rethink my position on this one.” Instead, it seems we do just the opposite by figuratively sticking our fingers in our ears and running around the back yard shouting, “I can’t HEAR you” like a three-year-old. That’s pretty much where we’ve evolved in the age of the world wide web.

Neither do I believe, moreover, that loving someone means you have to agree with everything they believe or do (just ask my husband), and I suppose this statement is encouraging, because it suggests that the Duggars do in fact love all gay people despite their gayness. I suppose this is something of an improvement on groups who just flat-out, and unabashedly, hate gay people and are proud of it (Westboro Baptist Church, I’m talking about you), even though the “love the sinner, hate the sin” attitude is just a tad bit condescending, communicating, as it does, “I’ll love you even though you’re defective.” I’m just not sure that it’s terribly “compassionate” to exclude an entire segment of society from your Facebook page celebrating happy marriages in order that your “convictions” remain uncompromised, but, then, I guess that pretty much sums up what’s been going on in our country since, like, forever.

As I noted above, the Duggars’ position on the issue of marriage equality is hardly surprising, but I find myself disappointed nonetheless. I’m not a religious person, but I do have tremendous respect for people whose lives are a testament to integrity, honesty, kindness, and love in the name of their faith. My mother- and father-in-law are such people, and so are the Duggars, I think, and so I guess I would have hoped that when they saw the photos of gay couples on their website, even if those photos made them uncomfortable, they would have celebrated the love they saw as worth celebrating. I would have hoped this especially given how blessed Michelle and Jim Bob have been by the recent marriages of two lovely daughters whose weddings were showcased in People magazine as the joyful celebrations all married couples hope to experience on their wedding day, but which are still denied to same-sex couples in about a third of our United States. It would have been so wonderfully inspiring if Michelle and Jim Bob had just left those pictures on their Facebook page for everyone to see, and if anyone said a word about it, would have urged their critics to embrace their brothers and sisters in Christ, or Allah, or Mohammad, or Zoroaster, or whomever, and say, “there are two people who are trying to make it work. Isn’t that great.”

I guess I was overly optimistic, and if I’m disappointed by people to whom no one would pay any attention if they’d had only two kids, instead of 19, then that’s on me, and I’m an idiot. And who knows; with nineteen children, the oldest of whom are already at work on creating their own double-digit families, there’s bound to be at least one child or grandchild who’s gay, and perhaps that child or grandchild will be the impetus for some soul-searching and an opportunity to rethink the party line.

I don’t think Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar are monsters, I don’t think they’re hateful, and I have a feeling if I met them, I’d like them just fine. But I would have liked them better, and respected them more, if they’d been able to tolerate a harmless picture of a same-sex married couple on their Facebook page. Since they didn’t, I’d like to invite any married couple—gay or straight—to post their “happily married picture” on mine.

Are You Mad at Me, and Am I Getting Fired?

April 8, 2015

I’m an anxious person.  I’ve been an anxious person for as long as I can remember.  No matter how good things are, no matter how well things are going (sometimes, precisely because of how well things are going), I worry.  If there is something for me to fret about, I will find it, and if there’s nothing even remotely troublesome going on, I’ll make something up.  I used to think I was just sort of neurotic.  In recent years, I’ve come to understand that I suffer from anxiety disorder.  I’m not sure I feel better about it now that I have a name for it; it hasn’t made me any less anxious.

This isn’t going to be one of those blogs that gives Helpful Information by listing the signs and symptoms of, or providing recommendations for living with anxiety disorder, because pretty much, it comes down to this:  Do you worry a lot for no good reason? Yes? Is it, at times, all-consuming? Also yes? Do people tell you that you worry too much over nothing? Uh-huh? Well then, you’ve probably got anxiety disorder.  Wanna know what to do about it? The truth? Medication and therapy may help, but mostly, you’re just going to have to learn to live with it.

There.  That’s all the Helpful Information you’re going to get.

I have some idea of the roots of my own anxiety-related issues:  Raise a painfully awkward child in a less than idyllic setting where life alternates between rigid order and total chaos, add to that a parent who is a demanding perfectionist, then send said child to law school, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to end up with someone who’s going to worry.  A lot.  If said person also happens to be sort of bookish, bespectacled, and bad at sports, well, you might as well buy stock in Pfizer for all the Xanax you’re going to need to get through the rest of your life.

My particular form of anxiety disorder tends to take two distinct themes:  Half of the time I’m convinced that someone is angry with me.  Something my husband used to hear a lot, until he told me to stop asking, was, “are you mad at me?” “Trust me,” he finally told me, “I’ll tell you if I’m mad at you.”  Given that most of the people in my life who have ever been angry at me have never had a problem making their unhappiness known, you would think I’d would just assume that unless I’m told otherwise, there’s no reason to worry.

But I do.  I worry that I’ve said or done something hurtful or offensive, or that I’ve failed to be sufficiently attentive or available.  Never mind that I am, by and large, an extremely thoughtful, considerate person who tries to be sensitive to the feelings of others, sometimes to a fault.  If I text someone and don’t hear back within a few hours, I assume they’re mad.  Not that they might be busy, or that (unlike me) they don’t feel compelled to check their smartphone three to four times a minute, or that they got my text, read it, didn’t think it required a response, and didn’t give it another thought except, “that Wendy sure is nice.  I wonder if koalas are as soft and cuddly as they look?”  I worry that people will read things I’ve posted on Facebook and think, “she’s awfully full of herself,” or, “did I ask her about her opinions on gay marriage?” or “yeah, we know, Wendy…Wegmans is a zoo on Sunday.  We get it.”  That I have the fortitude to actually start a blog is mostly due to my assumption that nobody will ever read it; if I thought otherwise, I’d probably have to be on a Valium drip.  You know, in case my opinions were wrong.

Most of the time, then, I’m pretty certain that I’ve managed to piss someone off and, as well, that if someone is angry with or disappointed in me, they’re probably justified in feeling that way.  I try to remind myself that all those people I’m worrying about being mad at me probably don’t give me much thought at all, and there’s not much chance they are fixating, as they drive to work or fold laundry, on whether or not I am upset with them.  But I worry nonetheless.

When I’m not worrying that someone is mad at me, I’m worried that I’ve made a critical error at work and that I’m on the verge of being fired.  Mind you, I’ve never been fired from any job, ever, my entire life.  In every job I’ve ever had, I’ve consistently gotten excellent evaluations (which probably has more to do with the fact that I’m relentlessly conscientious than to any real talent).  But despite a record that should give me some level of confidence that I am a valued, respected employee, I obsess about the one comment in a hundred that is anything other than unreservedly positive, and I worry that the smallest error is going to lead to termination.

When you factor in that my profession (litigation attorney) is, by definition, adversarial in nature—where any weakness is blood in the water to be leveraged for a more advantageous result—it’s not surprising that you won’t get many of my colleagues to admit to anything other than utter certitude in the correctness of their position.  I don’t meet many lawyers who will cop to a lack of confidence, and so I try to hide my own lest others perceive me as weak or ineffectual.  So, in addition to worrying that I’m not very good at my job, I worry that others will interpret my worrying as a sign that, in fact, I’m not very good at my job.  It’s exhausting.

Even my dreams are anxiety-filled:  Whereas my husband has fun action dreams in which he’s a Jason Bourne type character involved in international intrigue and adventure, I have dreams in which I’m walking over glass barefoot being pursued by someone, on my way to the final exam in the calculus class I haven’t attended all semester.  Or I’m trying to make an important phone call and keep messing up the digits, or I can’t open my locker at school, or I’m falling over a cliff into a ravine, or I’ve promised a friend I’d look after her pet while she was away for a month, but forgot to do so.  Some nights I’m so tired I don’t dream, and that’s a blessing, because I don’t have the kind of dreams where good things happen.  Ever.

Over the years, I’ve found ways to combat the anxiety.  Therapy has helped enormously.  In the past, medication has, too (self-medication, not so much).  Exercise has been my savior, as has my tremendously supportive husband (the one who isn’t mad at me…at least for now).  Getting older, too, is a factor; there are a lot of things I’ve stopped worrying about (like not having six-pack abs, a foreign luxury automobile, or a firm grasp on what’s going on in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Russia), and that’s been really liberating.  I hope that the older I get, the less I will worry about things I know, objectively, to be ridiculous.

But for now, there are many white-knuckle days in which I simple have to gut it out, and I do, for the most part, by telling myself that 99% of the time, my worry turns out to be baseless, that most of the people in my life like and respect me, and that as long as I show up to work every day and make a solid effort, I’ll probably have a job until I’m ready to retire.  Some days are better than others, and there are the rare glorious days where everything is right with the world, and I feel sanguine, peaceful—optimistic, even.  I’ve learned to treasure those days when the nagging sense of dread subsides for a little while and I can feel silly and light and carefree.

Unless you’re mad at me right now.  Are you?

Disarming the F-Bomb

March 28, 2015

When I was a kid, my dad cursed a lot.  A LOT.  His mastery of profanity was so exhaustive and such a part of the fabric of my childhood that for a time, I actually believed that the complete name of the deity many believe to be divine was “Jesus Goddamned Christ.”  My dad freely swore like a stevedore, even in the presence of his children, and it is from his example that I learned most of the vocabulary that informs my language when I am experiencing heightened levels of stress or frustration.

My mother didn’t curse (at least, I never heard her), and because she didn’t like foul language we kids would get our mouths washed out with soap if we did.  My mother’s example notwithstanding, however, I grew up believing that cursing was one of those things that was verboten to kids but somehow became permissible once you got older (like eating brownies for dinner or choosing not to make your bed), and I looked forward to the day that I, too, could let rip certain words with impunity.  I imagined that there were age milestones at which you could no longer get in trouble if you said a particular curse word.  In my own 8-year-old brain, the hierarchy of bad words went something like this:  crap (acceptable at age 10), bitch (age 12), bastard (also age 12), goddammit and Jesus Christ (both age 14), asshole (15), shit (16), sucks (17, and mostly because my mother really hated that word), and then the granddaddy of all bad words, F*** (you had to be 18 at least, 21 if you wanted to be absolutely sure you wouldn’t be gagging on a bar of Irish Spring).  Back then, the F word was bad with a capital B.  That was the kind of word that got your grounded for a week, with no dessert or trips to the library.  It was such a bad word that even my dad didn’t say it—much, anyway; no one did.

Things have changed a lot since I was eight, and nowadays, people say the F word about as freely as they eat a hamburger or get their oil changed.  I routinely hear the F bomb being dropped in the workplace, and mind you, I don’t work on a loading dock or an oil rig (and my apologies to those who do but still manage to keep their language G rated).  I work in a law office, perhaps one of the last places you’d expect the casual (and frequent) invocation of a word which, if uttered by a presidential candidate, would probably be enough to prevent him or her from getting elected.

I hear people use the F word waiting on line at the grocery store, trying on jeans at Old Navy, and over soup and broth bowls at Panera.  You’re not allowed to say it on network television or terrestrial radio (though it’s pretty obvious when an NFL coach throws down the F bomb whilst fighting with a referee), but if you have cable television or Sirius, all bets are off.  If you did a shot every time you heard the F word in the typical R-rated movie, you’d be drunk inside of twenty minutes and dead by the end of the first act:  Consider the “F-Count” for the following movies:  “The Wolf of Wall Street” – 569; “Casino” – 422; “Goodfellas” – 300; even “Good Will Hunting” used the F word 154 times – that’s a F*** every 1.22 minutes.  And don’t even get me started on comedians or rappers, who use the word so prodigiously it’s almost as though it’s a verbal tic.

So it’s out there, and everyone says it, so much so that it’s become kind of acceptable (or, at the very least, no longer all that shocking) to pepper your speech with the F word in all its various forms.  I’ve been known to use the word – a lot.  I’ve used it in front of my kids—when they were younger and I lost my temper, and even now that they’re older, because sometimes, they use it, too.  I mostly use it when I’m angry or frustrated, or to add extra emphasis to the point I’m trying to make.  I’ve never used it in a professional context, and I generally only use it with people I’ve known long enough to be assured that they won’t be offended if I do.  But it is a word I use, in spite of myself, and I won’t even try to justify my usage of it, because when it comes right down to it, it’s offensive, unnecessary, and lazy.

Let’s start with the obvious – that it’s a word that, despite its ubiquity, many still find distasteful and vulgar, even people who aren’t in their seventies.  On its own, that’s probably not a good enough reason not to say something.  Given the fact that the F word has historically been considered pretty much one of the worst words you can say, however, there should be at least some fleeting recognition, before the word flows off one’s tongue, of the potential to cause offense, followed immediately by the exercise of some impulse control if the level of offense is likely to be considerable.

I also believe that in a civilized society, some effort should be made to behave in something resembling a civilized fashion, and to my mind, that means that it’s not necessary to use the F bomb in 98% of one’s communications.  You don’t need to say it when you’re describing an interaction with a co-worker (even if the co-worker is a jerk), you don’t need to say it when you’re talking about your boyfriend (even if he’s a lying sack of horse manure), and you don’t need to say it when relating your most recent trip to the laundromat (although the only pleasant experience I’ve ever had in a laundromat occurred in Florence, Italy with my husband, and mostly because it had been preceded and was followed by the consumption of large quantities of pasta).  Most of what you need to tell anyone at any given time can be conveyed perfectly well and coherently (even more so, I’d wager) without the use of the F word.

But we say it because we’ve gotten used to saying it, and because we’ve gotten used to saying it, some of the shock value has eroded.  Then, too, the F word is only shocking because someone decided a long time ago that it was, indeed, shocking (probably because it was a crude reference to the sex act, which you weren’t allowed to talk about back then, whenever “back then” was).  So, there are a lot of people who are no longer offended by the F word, or who think that no one should be offended by any word, because, after all, it’s just a word.  I think most people would agree, however, that the F word is still at least a sort of “bad word,” as evidenced by the fact that you’d be shocked if you heard that word coming out of the mouth of a nightly news anchor, a third-grader, or your grandmother.

Since the F word is sort of a “bad word,” shouldn’t we, at the very least, be judicious in our use of it? In part so as to avoid offending others for no good reason, in part because if you use a shocking word all the time, it sort of ceases to be shocking.  The reason I most wish people would say it less—myself included—however, is because it’s lazy.  When you’re angry or have a high degree of emotion about something, it’s easy to say, “he’s a f***ing idiot!” or “she totally f***ed everything up!” or “I can’t stand that motherf***er!”

What’s harder is making an effort to express yourself without relying on the nuclear option, such as “he’s as dumb as a bowl of chocolate pudding,” or “she so thoroughly failed to properly discharge her duties, one could make a strong case that she is well-suited to no purpose other than to expel carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” or “I dislike that man more than anyone else who has ever drawn breath, with the exception of Adolph Hitler and the 2013 – 2014 Seattle Seahawks.”  I think we would all agree that those examples are a lot more creative, and much more interesting for the listener.

I wish I used the F word less frequently, and it’s something over which I am constantly kicking myself; every time the word comes out of my mouth, it feels like a small failure, and I mentally remind myself that it’s not a word I want to be in the habit of using, even if my mother-in-law isn’t in the room.  I’m not proud of myself when I use the word, even if I’m justifiably angry to such an extent that finding a more articulate way to express myself isn’t a priority.  There are times when I hear myself, or someone else, use the F word, and I want to say, “Aren’t we better than that?” And by that, I don’t mean, more educated, or more privileged, or smarter, or more sophisticated.  I just mean, can’t we do better than a four-letter word someone coined a long time ago to describe the process of inserting certain body parts into certain other body parts?  I think we can.  I really f***ing do.  So, I’m going to try, starting today, to rid my vocabulary of the F word.  Because even if 21 is old enough to say it, maybe 51 is old enough to stop.

Applause for the Audience

May 17, 2015

On Friday, I attended my daughter’s end-of-the-year chorus and handbell concert at school.  The talent of the various singers, the ringers, and the stringed instruments was pretty impressive.  At one point, two students played a piano duet that was absolutely brilliant, and I experienced two emotions simultaneously:  Delight at the wonderful performance that had me grinning from ear to ear, and regret that I can’t play the piano like that.  It didn’t bother me that I can’t sing or play the cello, because I’ve never been able to sing or play the cello.  But I did used to play the piano, and so, because I’m me, I took it as an opportunity to beat myself up.  You know, because I can’t play the piano like that and, obviously, I should.

I started playing the piano in second grade and continued through college.  I picked up the basics pretty quickly, but though I had marginal talent and a good ear, I never practiced enough, and my technique was deplorable.  As a music major in college, I was required to take performance every semester.  After two years, I switched to harpsichord, and then organ, because I get bored easily, and because the harpsichord/organ instructor was a lot less demanding than my piano professor.

So I was an adequate pianist, but not a great one.  Then I went to law school, got married, and had kids, and I really didn’t think much about playing the piano.  It was all I could do to make a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese for dinner and sign off on the kids’ homework assignments, and this was before yoga pants and the internet were invented, mind you, so you can see why I didn’t have a lot of time to work on my Mozart.

Later, we bought an old piano for $100 from a bar that was looking to get rid of it (mice and all), and later, after my oldest had been taking lessons for several years, we bought a better model that now gathers dust, un-tuned and untouched, in the living room.  I sit down about once a year to tinker around a bit, and I have good intentions of finally mastering the Alla Turca or this Bach fugue that I’ve been working on since college, but billable hours, laundry, and driving my kids places sort of gets in the way of a regular practice schedule.  I’ve mostly accepted that I’ll never get around to that book of Chopin preludes that’s been sitting in the piano bench since 1985.  There have been other more important things to attend to.

Listening to those two young men perform on Friday night, however, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed playing, back when it was something I did regularly, but within three seconds, I knew that I’d never been as good as those high school students were – not even close.  Having studied piano for as long as I did, and having attended many, many concerts over the years, I know a good pianist when I hear one – again, I’ve got a really good ear.

So, I knew that these young men had more talent that I ever did (and, to be fair, probably practice a lot more than I ever did).  As I sat there, I imagined the concerts they would play in the years to come, formal and informal, and I thought of all the joy they would experience when they sat down, opened up the sheet music, and got it just right.  It’s a wonderful feeling.  It made me happy for them, and sad for me that I don’t get to do that anymore.  There’s not much time for creative pursuits these days; I’m pretty much tapped out attending to the immediate needs of work, family and home.  Because I’m me, I felt bad about that; if I were only somehow better, I would have found a way to fit in two hours of practice every day over the last 15 years—you know, between working upwards of 50 hours a week, taking care of my kids, scrubbing the bathroom and folding sheets.  I hate folding sheets.

But then, I had a teeny tiny epiphany – I’ve been having more of these lately, which I suppose is a worthwhile tradeoff for the increasingly frequent word retrieval issues I’ve been experiencing since turning fifty.  It occurred to me that art is a two-way street:  All of us volunteer to be the audience every time we go to a movie or a concert (whether it be Beethoven or the Rolling Stones), or buy a ticket to an art museum, or perhaps even when we pick up a book (unless it’s “Fifty Shades of Gray” or anything written by Danielle Steele).  We do that to be entertained, or edified; to learn something; to feel something; to watch someone do something amazing; to see something beautiful.  We the audience seek out and benefit from art, that much is certain.  But while the creative process itself is likely fulfilling to the artist regardless of whether anyone else ever listens to or sees the finished product, I think there’s some validity to the notion that ultimately, an artist needs an audience – at least some of the time, anyway – and that being that audience has some value as well, especially when the artists are our kids, who benefit from our attendance and encouragement and applause.

Perhaps this is a massive rationalization – me trying to find some meaning in my role as a suburban mom in jeans and DSW ballet flats clapping from the third row and remembering my own end-of-the-year concerts all those years ago when I took for granted my mother’s faithful attendance.  Perhaps I need to face the fact that playing the piano well is just one more thing I’m going to have to add to the list of Things Wendy Meant to Do But Didn’t Get Around To (and Never Will)…you know, like learning Italian or reading “Democracy in America.”  Suddenly, all that time I thought I had to read the great classics or become a serviceable tennis player has passed me by.  George Bailey knows what I mean.

I’m pleased to say that as I turned over these ideas in my mind, I decided that instead of feeling bad about the fact that I can’t play the piano the way I wish I could, I would congratulate myself on being an appreciative audience, which every artist needs, at least some of the time, especially when that artist is your kid, who probably doesn’t give much thought to the fact that you’re there, but would certainly miss you if you weren’t.

I can’t play the piano the way those young men can, but you know what? I’m a hell of a good audience, and at this point in my life, that’s enough.