Puppy Town

I’ve watched a lot of sunrises lately.

In the past, if I’ve seen a sunrise it’s been because I couldn’t manage to get to sleep, and I would frown and shake my fist as the sun clawed its way over the horizon. Or maybe I was talking with friends or working all night and the sunrise arrived unexpectedly, like the hiccups. 

I have not become a “morning person,” whatever that is. These days, we’ve been hanging out with a fourteen-week-old puppy, Junebug, whose waking hours skew about four hours earlier than mine.

 PRIME LEAF HUNTING HOURS ARE BEFORE DAWN, she reminds me daily. EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT, LADY.  EVERYBODY. WHO EVEN TAUGHT YOU HOW TO HUNT LEAVES?

PRIME LEAF HUNTING HOURS ARE BEFORE DAWN, she reminds me daily. EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT, LADY. EVERYBODY. WHO EVEN TAUGHT YOU HOW TO HUNT LEAVES?

It’s not so bad, though, this morning thing. Every day Junebug and I stumble downstairs, have a nice little chat over coffee, maybe piddle on the rug, take a walk and stop to marvel at every car that passes, and then once a week I trim her nails while she helps me out by clawing all of the skin off my face and neck. If I leave her alone for too long while I get dressed, she keens like I have died and she’s the only creature left in this cold, harsh world.

By this point it’s about 8:00.

She eats a hearty breakfast of raw salmon and politely offers me a bite, which I appreciate but emphatically decline. Outside, she tears through the yard like a gremlin, stopping only to hunt for worms and eat scat from whatever mystery animal prowls through our garden at night. A feral cat? A mischievous groundhog? Who knows. But it would seem that its poop tastes delicious. She offers me some of that, too.

“Oh, that’s okay,” I say. “I just ate…um…a beetle. Right over there. You didn’t see it, because of…the poop. But yeah, I’m all set.”

You sure? she asks.

“Yup,” I say, clutching at her collar as she strains to get back behind the trees for seconds.

Okay, weirdo.

Junebug has more than doubled in size since we took her home. I’m no mathemateer, but if my calculations are correct, we will have a Clifford situation on our hands by Christmas. Sometimes Bill and I will shake our heads over the size of her paws and whisper, horrified, Think of all the salmon.

Most of the day she spends playing with our other dog (her mama), which means she jumps on top of her and gnaws her ears and jowls until Halo knocks her to the floor with one giant paw. Then they clash together and begin to sing like two seals, their mouths wide open, their teeth clacking eerily. It is truly a sight to behold. And a sound to behear. Especially when I'm working.

Sometimes I'll read a section aloud to them over the ruckus. "How does that sound, ladies?" I ask them. 

But they just sing and sing. Without even a word as to whether the dialogue sounds contrived.

The dogs don’t call us Mom and Dad, instead referring to us as Monsieur and The Lady (their idea, not ours). Per their request, we in turn use the formal Sie whenever we speak to them in German.

They are very proper puppers.

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Getting up early wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t also wear myself out emotionally by laying all these cripplingly high expectations on myself. For instance, all the dog training books and articles and podcasts suggest that as long as you never let the dog pee in the house, you will have a perfectly house trained puppy in no time! Of course, I took that to mean that if she had even a single accident, I was Doing Something Wrong.

“If the experts with decades of experience can do it in a week,” I said, “then surely I, a first-time puppy owner, can do it just as fast! After all, I’ve read the books.

Two hundred thirty-seven clean-ups later, I’m beginning to reconsider.

But each accident sets her back a week in training! I warbled weepily to no one. According to the literature! In my sleep-deprived state, I was convinced I’d be cleaning up after this dog ten times a day for the rest of my life or hers, whichever came first. Yet here we are — after a month and a half of belly rubs and puppy breath and head tilts and floppy ears and big yawns and clumsy limbs and almost unbearable sweetness — and somehow, everything has worked out fine. She still has the occasional accident, but at this point, for a pup her age, it’s Good Enough.

Good Enough is not an easy concept for perfectionists to grasp, but I think I understand the theory. It’s like when I cook: I start out making a certain recipe, and if we don’t have a couple ingredients I make some substitutions, and maybe I'm tired so I take a few shortcuts, and before you know it we end up with something that looks less like the original recipe and more like a bowl of rice and beans, maybe with a little cheese on top.

“Gooood enough!” I say, and I drench it in hot sauce and dig in while Bill thumbs wistfully through our many cookbooks.

It’s more difficult to apply this to creative projects. The book I’ve been working on for years now is done. I’ve spent almost a year editing, and I could go on editing it for decades longer, but after all these months of fiddling and tweaking and deleting and rearranging and messing with the font size, I think it’s time to stop. Tomorrow I am going…to let…another human…read it. Even though…it’s not…perfect. Even though it is only…Good Enough.

Oh, wow. I clenched my jaw so hard there I think I broke a tooth. Huh.

Maybe tomorrow Junie and I will wake up, stumble outside with our coffee, have a little chat, and then I’ll settle in to work on any one of the other twenty-six projects I’ve started, while she chomps sticks and the sun rises like an earnest promise over the trees.

Either that or I’ll just skim the book one more time, just real quick. Make sure, like, the voice is consistent or whatever. No big deal. It’s fine. I can stop any time I want!

Why YA?

Sometimes I still feel a little embarrassed to tell people that I'm writing a young adult book. 

"Oh!" they say. "That sounds...easy."

Does it? I want to say. Well it's NOT. Teenage audiences are VERY. DISCERNING. They have their favorite things which they adore and they think everything else is GARBAGE. And I cannot try for even ONE SECOND to be cool because they will see RIGHT THROUGH IT. It is a MINUSCULE LINE between being RELEVANT and being a JOKE. WHERE MY HIGH SCHOOL TEACHERS AT? YOU GET IT. YOU UNDERSTAND. YOU'RE THE REAL HEROES. 

But I don't say any of that out loud. Obviously. I don't want people to think I'm an insane person. Instead, next time someone asks why I write what I write instead of "real novels," I can point them to this handy list to explain WHY YA:

  1. DRAMA. There's a reason why Romeo and Juliet are teenagers--because who else would pretend not to be biting their thumbs at each other even though they totally were; fall in love with someone else when they were seriously JUST making out with poor Rosaline; disregard their families' weird blood feud or whatever; speak only in iambic pentameter; get married in secret after five minutes; and then, like, LITERALLY DIE, except not, except then yes? Teenage life is all tension. It's visceral and terrible and magnificent, expanding and contracting all at once. When we're young we feel everything, even if we don't understand or want to feel it, and all this internal struggle makes for some real compelling characters. I don't mean drama in a negative sense here, either; I think great stories feature people who care deeply (which is why The Catcher in the Rye can sod right off). Young adults care deeply about the world, their friends, their passions. Maybe it's easy for older people to dismiss young adults because we think they're hormone-addled nut jobs who will eventually grow out of their idealism and look back on their teenage years in shame and horror, just like the rest of us. Or maybe we're embarrassed to remember how tragic and foolish we seemed at that age. Despite how brutal and messy those years can be, however, it's a mistake not to respect teenagers--their lives, their stories, their potential, their eminent worth. Their problems are real. Their stories are important. They deserve to hear that.
     
  2. SELF-REFLECTION. I spent all of my teenage years (plus most-to-all of my twenties) intensely confused--about what I wanted, who I was, and pretty much everything about the world around me. The lessons teenagers are supposed to learn are so complex that I (and most adults I know) still struggle to internalize them--universal lessons like how to become a decent human being, or how to recognize your own worth, or what to do when the bassist of your band, Snakes for Feet, is fighting with the lead singer, and it looks like the band might break up but you really just don't have time to deal with this right now because you have to give a speech tomorrow for which you are wildly unprepared. Much of contemporary YA fiction features characters with a HOOK: they're dying, or their friend is dying, or they have to solve a murder mystery in space. Much of it deals with Very Serious Topics like bullying, or drugs, or pregnancy, or violence, or bullying pregnant girls into doing drugs but then they hit you. This makes for vital, gripping fiction that gets young people excited about reading and helps them deal with big issues, which is obviously SO GREAT. However, there's also the kid over there who looks sleepy and a little lost, and he's all like, "So I woke up today...and I have all these feelings...and I don't think I'm emotionally equipped to handle...well, much of anything, really. I certainly couldn't solve a murder mystery, even if it happened on Earth. I just want to be able to eat a taco at lunch on Tuesday without spilling the taco fixings all down my front." Them's m'people. Your concerns are valid, too, and I write for you, you sweet, awkward, confused, little chipmunks. Please teach me all the new slang, and in return I promise to use at least seventy percent of it wrong so you can laugh at me forever.
     
  3. FRIENDSHIP. Let me tell ya, there is nothing goofier, funnier, or more formidable than a group of teenage friends. I'm obsessed with the way teenagers use and change language, and the quality of their friendships feels unique within society: So supportive! So expressive! So chock-full of stupid jokes and dumb ideas, like "Wanna see me try to do a front flip over this railing?" Friends I made in high school (middle school, really, but that's a different genre of books) are still some of my closest people, so writing about teenage friendships feels a little like hanging out with them again. So do I write YA because I'm lonely? I'd prefer not to answer that!
     
  4. INSPIRATION. The other night at an event I met a fifteen-year-old girl who is spending her summer helping out at the campaign of a congressional candidate she believes in. She wants to take a semester off school to keep helping them through November (she is of course the only one who thinks this is a good idea). Let me repeat: she's fifteen. When I was fifteen, I was trying to memorize all the words to "One Week" by Barenaked Ladies (side note: I succeeded! It's good to keep your dreams attainable, friends). My youngest sister just graduated high school, and she gives speeches. In public. To people. She's a talented writer with an inspiring blog, and she (unsurprisingly) wants a career that will let her help people. Every teenager I talk to is so smart, so self-assured and focused and shockingly mature. They seem to all want to change the world, work hard, and help others--and what's more, they already have a plan to achieve their goals. They're not waiting until they're older; they're starting now. So, of course I admire young adults. They're funny and smart and creative and enthusiastic and sad and messy and way overly dramatic--why would anyone not want to write stories about such an awesome group of humans?

Flirting Tips for Human People

FRIENDS. I realize that up till now I may have given the impression that I am more or less a misanthropic recluse who would rather chew my own leg off than spend time with other human people. This is mostly true. HOWEVER--as much as I fear and loathe social interaction, I do love watching other people interact with each other. In fact, through my observations, I've become something of an expert in the matter of flirting. The following represents the sum of my knowledge on the subject.

You are so very welcome.

Our scene is a party. Passed apps--something wrapped in rice paper, heavy on the cucumbers. Summer aperitifs--lightly fizzy, with a single red raspberry bobbing like a jewel among the bubbles. Human people--talking, laughing, mingling. The scene is ripe for romance.

You are there, a little sweaty, but not too sweaty, not like anyone will look you up and down and be like, "It wasn't supposed to rain today! I left the sunroof open on my Hyundai Sonata! Why does this always happen to me?" You're wearing that new outfit you bought the other day because the salesperson told you it made you look older. "Like twenty-five," she said. So, yeah, you're feeling pretty good. Your hair isn't doing that weird thing. You've managed not to drip any of the dipping sauce from those cucumber things on your shirt. AND, as if that's not enough, an exceedingly cute human person has made eye contact with you four times in the past seven minutes.

It's go time. This is your moment. Time to shine.

Remember: First impressions are EVERYTHING. And they happen before you say a single word to each other. So go ahead and give 'em The Look from across the room. You know the one:

Now that things are heating up, saunter on over and begin the flirting.

  1. There's no point in striking up a flirtation unless you have something to offer to the other person. Are you smart? Funny? Good-looking? If so, these tips are not for you. Surely you've got enough going on. You can go ahead and keep doing what you're doing, which I assume consists of leaning in doorways and looking aloof yet wry.
  2. The rest of us will need some interesting or valuable skills to snare the attention of that special someone. Can you do impressions? Or parallel park on the first try? Are you an accomplished bow hunter who could provide for them if you were stranded together in the wilderness? Do yourself a favor and drop your credentials into the conversation as soon as possible, e.g. "GOOD EVENING MY NAME IS MILTON HAVE I MENTIONED I HAVE A BLACK BELT IN THE DELICATE ART OF FOLDING TABLE NAPKINS?"
  3. Don't neglect your personality, though. If you have a good one, it'll shine right through and you have nothing else to worry about. Proceed to Step 5.
  4. If, however, you have a bad personality, you're gonna need to do some work (ask your friends if you're not sure, and if you don't have friends, there's your answer). If this is you, leave the party now. Go home and have a long think about your life. But save that outfit. You really do look great in it.
  5. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a seek out a magic opening line. You don't have to engineer a meet cute or finagle a fake chance meeting. You don't need to do anything. If it's meant to be--and I think it is--you will simply find yourself, suddenly and mysteriously, in deep and scintillating conversation. There, wasn't that easy?
  6. Keep things playful. Creep up behind them, pull a burlap sack over their head, and whisper, "Guess who?" If they scream and elbow you in the gut, it just means they like you. Honestly.
  7. Mirror their body language. This tip is backed up by SCIENCE, which says that humans love looking at themselves, so the more you can trick them into thinking they're actually looking in a mirror, the more they'll like you. We're like birds that way. In fact, I see no reason not to follow that out to its logical conclusion: Go ahead and style your hair like theirs. Show up in the same outfit. Make a plaster mold of their face. Retreat to the bathroom to finish crafting your mask. They won't be able to resist you once you look exactly like them. Ignore the shouts of the other party-goers as they pound impatiently on the door. Their bladders will have to wait. Love is on the line.
  8. Speaking of body language, make sure yours is open, inviting, and confident. Like a starfish. Spread your limbs out to all sides so that you look like a giant X. If you feel comfortable taking it to the next level, dribble your drink into your mouth from high in the air, like you're a reverse fountain. Hey, look at you! You're flirting! 
  9. Not sure what to talk about? Ask a question you can connect over, like, "Should I get bangs?" This is a great one because it makes the other person focus on your forehead, which we all know is the sexiest part of the human form.
  10. Excuse yourself to go to the restroom, and as you pass by them, slap 'em on the butt like a football player. If they protest, say, "Whoops! I thought that was my butt!"
  11. Actually, don't do that. It's weird. Keep your hands to yourself. Forever. In fact, stand way over on the other side of the room and do a little close-up magic. If that doesn't entice them over, then it's time to move on, friend.
  12. Some people will tell you that the ideal amount of eye contact in normal human conversations is 60/40; roughly, that translates to three seconds on, two seconds off (HOORAY FRACTIONS!). But I would posit a ratio of 100/0. I mean, can you really have too much eye contact? Caaan yooou? 
  13. No. You cannot.
  14. If there's music playing, get that sucka out on the dance floor and bust every one of your very best moves. Really put on a show. You are a bird of paradise, flaunting your glorious plumage! You are a sage-grouse puffing your chest up with air until it pops! You are a hooded seal proudly inflating your face balloon! Communicate only with your body--your twirls and shimmies and shakes--that your entire life has been leading up to this moment, this one right now, with the flashing lights and the thundering bass and the sweat of a thousand strangers soaring through the air like so much confetti. OH, ISN'T IT MAGICAL!
  15. Before you part ways for the night, it's polite to offer your flirtee an offering of some sort. Sashay up to them, take their wrist gently, and drop the dead mouse you've been carrying in your mouth right into their palm. They will be overcome by your generosity, and from that moment on they will be yours.

Ah, well done. Congratulations, friend, on doing a flirt.

I DON'T MEAN TO RAIN ON ANYONE'S PARADE, BUT...

At last.

The summer solstice has come and gone. Today we commence a steady march toward darkness, the descent after a long, heady rise. Labor Day creeps toward us as the summer days slip away like beads from a necklace.

Every day, a little less sunlight.

Every night, a phantom chill in the air, lurking at the edges of your patriotic barbecues and your beach bonfires.

The Sweaty Season has barely begun, with its blinding, glaring sunshine and its thick, heavy air and its bugs - all those bugs! - yet it will meet its end all too soon. 

So catch your fireflies, summer children; hold them in a jar. Drink your margaritas, you sunshine-addled darlings. Wring the sweat from your clothes before snapping your post-hike selfies, you masochistic lunatics. Tell me you're having a good time as you sniffle and sneeze and the ragweed dances around you in a midsummer nightmare. Go on. Tell me.

As for me, I will abide. I will pick the gnats from my teeth and smile. I will slather my body in calamine lotion till I look like a newborn rat. I will shave my legs and watch with satisfaction as the blood flows down my calf when I inevitably nick my kneecap. I will wait this season out without complaint because I know that soon, autumn will be here, that elegant lady richly adorned in cinnamon velvet and fire, to take you in her arms and soothe your fevered body, your heavy limbs. 

The most dramatic season is coming, my little nectarines.

And then we shall be queens.

EXCUSES (A Conversation Between Me and Me)

ME: Yo. Do I REALLY need more friends?

ALSO ME: Yes.

ME: Really?

ALSO ME: Yes!

ME: But, like...it's so much work. I'd have to put on pants...and have conversations...and do something with my hair. Have you SEEN how much hair I have? 

ALSO ME: Don't care. You need friends. You're like a sad, wilting house plant without them.

ME: But, I mean, I already have at least seven people I would consider close-if-not-best friends. That seems like enough, right?

ALSO ME: Best friends who you're afraid to call?

ME: Um, first of all, it's whom? And I'm not afraid to call them. It's all the talking once they pick up that scares me.

ALSO ME: You know, that "whom" thing might be why you don't have more friends. Now go talk to people. And quit correcting their grammar, ya goober.

ME: Okay, but what if they don't like me?

ALSO ME: Oh, you delicate flower. I think you'll survive, somehow.

ME: What if they just put up with me because they like spending time with Bill? He's a delight! Whereas I just sit there quietly observing people like a spooky cat. And sometimes my face makes weird expressions that I don't mean for it to have! How can I navigate new social situations if I don't even know what my face is doing?!

ALSO ME: Your face is fine. Well...it's good enough. I mean, it's not awful. That is, I'm sure there are worse faces. And other people are weird and awkward, too. Quit worrying.

ME: Quit worrying? Hi, yeah, have you met me?

ALSO ME: Your excuses are pitifully flimsy. Go talk to other humans. HUMANS. If you come home saying you made ten new friends and it turns out they're all neighborhood dogs again...

ME: That was ONE TIME.

ALSO ME: Once is too many times.

ME: Okay. All right. Look. Here's the thing. It takes 50 hours to go from acquaintance to friend. That means if I see someone an hour a week (which, let's be honest, is pretty generous), that's an entire year before the scientific community would consider them a friend. Then another 40 hours on top of that to become a close friend. AND 200 HOURS TOTAL FOR BEST FRIENDSHIP. 

ALSO ME: Better get started, then.

ME: I dunno. It still seems risky.

ALSO ME: How? From where I'm sitting, you only have something to gain.

ME: Well, switch seats with me, then, because it is scary. Sure, it'd be great to have local friends. I know some people, and I'd almost consider them friends, but something in me, deep in some dark, oddly muggy pit in my gut, keeps whispering that they don't actually want to be my friend. That I don't have anything to offer. That I shouldn't impose on them. That I'm not wanted and never will be.

ALSO ME: Oh, yeah. The gut pit voice. What a jerk. But you don't really believe that, do you?

ME: ...

ALSO ME: Oh, come on!

ME: Gut Pit Voice is very convincing! You don't know.

ALSO ME: Look, I hate to be blunt--

ME: You love to be blunt!

ALSO ME: --but you're not special. You don't get to be the one person in the universe who is exempt from the horrors of vulnerability. If you heard someone else saying all the things you're saying, what would you tell them?

ME: That they are very wise.

ALSO ME: ...I kinda walked into that one.

ME: I don't have enough interests yet. How will I connect with people? First I have to learn everything about music, books, obscure cinema, art, philosophy, sports, international cuisine, world events, and falconry. 

ALSO ME: Why falconr--you know what? I don't want to know. These are terrible excuses!

ME: Okay, well, how about the fact that there are no karaoke bars in the entire county? How am I supposed to spark a friendship if not over a moving rendition of "Tubthumping"? It is impossible. Plus, I need new clothes. All my shoes are literally falling apart and I still wear shirts I bought in eighth grade. And I need a haircut. Maybe if I get bangs, people will like me.

ALSO ME: Your clothes are fine, you should definitely NOT get bangs, and maybe you could buy your own karaoke machine. You've always wanted one. And you already have a smoke machine. 

ME: That's true.... Ooh, and I could make the attic into a ball pit! And maybe we could get a slip 'n' slide!

ALSO ME: Yes! Do it!

ME: AND A FALCON!

ALSO ME: Y--what? Hold up--

ME: Wait, but then how would I know whether people actually liked me or if they just wanted to slip and/or slide?

ALSO ME: Oh, good lord.

ME: Better not risk it.

ALSO ME: ...I...just...okay. You win. You can make dog friends. For now.

ME: Ha-HA! SUCCESS!

ALSO ME: ...Why are you like this.

How to Survive Your High School Reunion

My ten-year high school reunion is coming up. 

Just writing those words makes me want to throw up a little bit. 

It's not that I hated high school. I wasn't popular or anything, but nobody stuffed me in a locker, either. Nobody turned my backpack inside out or stole my clothes out of my gym locker or stuck magnets to my back. Still, that didn't stop me from spending the majority of my high school years like this:

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You know how sometimes you regress when you visit family or see your friends from childhood? What I regress to is a shy, anxious, uncomfortable weirdo who played slow jams way too loudly in my car and skipped class to spend foggy mornings at the beach by myself and sewed my own prom dress and cut my own hair and sometimes wrote poetry. I also used humor to avoid getting close to people, which was great for me when I was sixteen and constantly, secretly freaking out during every interaction with a human person. I mean, great in a self-destructive-defense-mechanism way. Not so much in the making-genuine-connections way. 

Honestly, though, probably everyone felt like an uncomfortable weirdo as a teenager, and now we just want to be ourselves. We're all of us older, hopefully wiser, presumably kinder. So is there really any reason to be afraid of former classmates now?

Yes. The answer is yes. Because every conversation will inevitably go the same way: "You seem familiar," I'll say, trying to play it cool, a queasy smile fastened to my face. "Did we have a class together?" And they'll be like, "Nope," even though um, yeah, bud, I sat behind you in French class for four years. You copied my homework every day. That is froid comme la glace, dude.

In any case, I'm not going to my reunion. But you might, at some point, go to yours, and I wouldn't want to leave you without a long (very long...maybe too long...) list of questionable advice for How to Survive (And Maybe Even Enjoy) Your High School Reunion:

  1. Go with a buddy. Michele walked into her reunion without Romy, and look how that went for them. It was only after they teamed up again that they were able to perform that magnificent routine to "Time After Time" and fly away in Sandy Frink's helicopter.

  2. If you're like me and not that many people knew you in high school, count all the different ways they will get around not knowing your name, e.g. How's it goin', buddy? or Hey, you! Fill out a Bingo card and see how long it takes to get five in a row.

  3. Dress the way you did in high school. For me, that means tank tops in every color of the rainbow and too-long jeans with the back hems all chewed up from walking on them, plus a bra that definitely does not fit me right. For you, it might mean head-to-toe Tillys and Avril Lavigne hair, or jean skirts and flowy maternity tops for days and days. Did you wear Uggs in 2008? DID YOU? Of course you did. Put them on at once and feel ashamed, you monster.

  4. If you really want people to recognize you, get the same haircut you had in your yearbook photo. Have braces put on temporarily, if applicable. Ditch your contacts for those old wire-frame glasses. Draw that funky S symbol on your wrist in Sharpie. Paint your nails with Wite-Out. Then fashion a white frame with a dingy blue background around yourself so that people can get the full effect and recognize you right away. "You haven't changed a bit!" they'll shriek. And you'll be like, That's the point, Deborah. "What a scream!" Deborah will say. What a scream, indeed. 

  5. Do a lap. See if there's anyone you actually want to talk to. Act like you have somewhere extremely important to be right now, but tell them to come find you later. This makes you seem mysterious. DO NOT ASK ANYONE WHAT THEY'VE BEEN UP TO SINCE YOU LAST SAW THEM. What a crappy question to answer thirty times in one night, especially if your answer is "Not much, you?"

  6. But because you will definitely be asked that question thirty times in one night, bring a stack of brochures featuring your Personal and Professional Highlights of the Past Decade. If you're anything like everyone else there, your brochure will list about three items: an international trip or two, your most interesting job so far, any advanced degrees you're still working on, and maybe a cool celebrity sighting. Plus maybe you got married. But only mention your spouse if they have an interesting job or also count as your celebrity sighting. Do not mention your kids. Seriously, we're all on Facebook. We know all we need to about your kids, Trevor.

  7. Or just make stuff up. That's always fun. And then you'll be that mysterious person everyone gossips about afterward, like, I heard she was legally dead for fourteen minutes and then found out that the doctor who revived her was her long-lost sister. Or, Well, she told me she's taken vows of poverty, chastity, AND silence. Had to write it all down on a cocktail napkin. Or, WELL I HEARD SHE HAS THREE THUMBS BUT THE THIRD ONE'S NOT WHERE YOU'D EXPECT. 

  8. Alternatively, just tell them the truth about your life. "I sometimes stay in my pajamas for weeks at a time," you'll say. "Last week," they'll reply, "my boss asked me to go to her house and pick up her dog's poop because she had guests coming. And I did it." High five over your mutual misery. Then move on to making fun of your former chem teacher, just like the old days.

  9. Should you find yourself with a lull in the conversation, try some of these interesting ice breaker questions:

    1. So which teacher did you have a crush on in high school?

    2. Do you feel like you missed out on any opportunities while you were here that would have changed the course of your entire life? Please be specific.

    3. What do you regret most about the way your life is right now?

    4. How do you suspect you will die?

    5. I am bored with you now. (Not actually a question, but useful if someone tricks you and starts talking about how CrossFit has changed their life.)

  10. Alternatively, spend some time with all the lonely, left-out plus-ones and make up outlandish stories about what their dates were like in high school.

  11. Find the person who came with a PURPOSE. There's always at least one, someone who's hoping for a second chance with their long-time crush, or someone who was wronged and is looking for vengeance. You'll recognize this person by the hyper-alert scan they make of the room every twenty seconds, waiting for their target to arrive. This is where the drama's at. That is the person to watch.

  12. I should have mentioned this earlier, but make sure you develop a Reunion Voice in advance. Something that conveys confidence and success, but is still blandly approachable. Mine falls somewhere between Suburban Mom at Book Club and Kristen Wiig as The Target Lady. Keep your eyes open wide and never blink. Blinking's for nerds, which you are not. Not anymore, Kyle. Not...any...more.  

  13. Take up smoking. Or, if you already smoke, keep smoking. It is impossible to have anything resembling a real conversation in the midst of an event like this, so if you actually want to talk to people, just tell them you need a smoke and ask if they want to come with. (This is a useful excuse for any situation you might wish to escape. Sometimes if I'm feeling anxious, I'll say I'm going outside to smoke and then just stand there doing nothing. It's weirdly comforting.) But be forewarned -- you are obligated to say things like, "God, I hated this place," and "Why did I come back here?" and stare off into the distance for a while. But then after that you can have like a normal conversation or whatever. 

  14. Okay, enough with the coping mechanisms. Time to TAKE CHARGE (the way you never did in high school, so that Becky R. was always the one in charge of your group projects in history and she made everyone else do all the work while putting herself in charge of the frickin' bibliography. ARE YOU KIDDING ME, BECKY? THE BIBLIOGRAPHY?!! YOU DIDN'T EVEN CITE YOUR SOURCES IN MLA FORMAT AND WE ALL GOT A B- BECAUSE OF IT! GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE). It all starts with a game. Just three or four people sitting around a table playing a game: Never Have I Ever, Truth or Dare, Would You Rather, Two Truths and a Lie (which I think is especially appropriate for a reunion), etc. Do not bring an actual game. That means no Risk, no Settlers of Catan -- not even Cards Against Humanity. Those games have their place, and that place is Not at a High School Reunion. (Seriously, I'd rather listen to What's-Her-Name's husband Chad try to sell me life insurance for an hour and a half. Harsh, maybe, but if you walk out of your reunion thinking, "You know, that was fun, but it would've been more fun if we had played a strategy-based board game," then this post is probably useless to you, anyway. But good on you for being who you are.)

  15. As things get rowdier, more people will leave their boring conversations and join you at The Fun Table. In fact, it might get so crowded that you have to expand to sitting on the floor, and what naturally happens whenever a bunch of people sit on the floor in a circle? 

  16. That's right. Duck, Duck, Goose. The flirtiest rainy-day classroom game. Aside from Heads Up, Seven Up. Obviously. 

  17. Down By the Banks can also be fun for circle time. Or Spin the Bottle, I guess (but if anyone shouts, "What happens at the reunion stays at the reunion!" the game is over).

  18. By this point, people should be loose enough to dance, and this is where it really starts to feel like high school again. You'll have couples making out in bathroom stalls, four different people crying for no reason, and you will discover who has learned to breakdance over the past decade, and who thinks they can still breakdance even though they haven't tried since they were eighteen. It will all seem strangely exciting, yet you will feel oddly detached. Maybe you're just growing up. Try not to think about it too much. This is no time to be introspective. You should have gotten that out of the way on your smoke break.

  19. If things get a little too crazy for you, go up on the roof with your closest high school friends (I'm assuming, of course, that you are somewhere with a roof and that you can access it [and also that you had friends]). Reminisce about the old days. Resolve to see each other more often. Maybe send handwritten letters. You might follow through; you might not. But it's nice to talk about, either way.

  20. Know when to leave. You don't want to be standing there all alone after everyone else has left. Not like prom night. Not again. Depending on your personality and how the night has gone, this may involve pulling an Irish Goodbye with a couple friends, or crowd-surfing to the exit and leading a parade of nostalgic twenty-somethings out of the venue and over to a karaoke bar where the night will continue. Whatever you decide, get out of there early. "Later, jabronis!" you will shout, as you squeal out of the parking lot. "See you in another ten years!"

Numismatrimony

"What does your husband do?" people ask me.

This is how it starts.

"He's a numismatist," I tell them, with a knowing smile that says, Don't worry. Nobody else knows what that means, either.

"A wot?" they say.

"He catalogs ancient Greek and Roman coins for an auction firm."

And suddenly, as if my words have put them under a spell, they could not be more fascinated. I have never met someone who didn't think Bill's job was sooo innn-teresting. No one's ever like, "A-HAAA, WHAT A NERD." (Except me, obviously. I can't let him get a swelled head. I don't think he realized how cool people would find his career, like he's a mix between Indiana Jones and Scrooge McDuck. If he ever figures it out, he'll drop me for sure!)

This happens all the time -- in airports, at the park, in the grocery store checkout line. Even this morning, while I was cringing through a gynecology exam, my doctor told me about the time she and her family took a trip to Jordan, and the people there were just digging things up out of the ground and selling them, so she bought some ancient coins. 

"They're probably not valuable," she said, "but maybe I should ask your husband about them!"

I didn't want to tell her that, more than likely, her coins were fakes. I really like my doctor, and I didn't want to disappoint her. Plus, she had me in a bit of an uncomfortable position, and I was irrationally worried that she'd take my clothes and run off. Not that those gowns aren't flattering (and so freeing!), but it's 38 degrees outside.

"If I give you his email," I said, "could we maybe get back to the exam? It's...well, it's a little cold in here."

Then, desperate to change the subject, I asked what she did for a living and she was like, "...This." So all in all, one of my top three gynecology exams ever.

The Spring of Our Content

Apparently, Pennsylvania has decided that this year, spring looks like this:

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People are pretty riled up about it 'round these parts, but I'm fine with it. To me, spring means walking barefoot on the cold, mossy concrete in Southern California, and even though the day may look like any other because California doesn't believe in seasons, there is a very specific quickening of the blood and a yielding softness to the air. So anything else is just like, what? Flowers? Mud? Mmkay. Sure. Whatever you say.

Although it's been snowing for two days straight, spring's arrival has aligned with my own renewed optimism: I'm proud of the work I've done over the past year; I'll be finished with another draft of my book by April and ready to send it into the world. My nephew will be born any day now, the first boy of his generation in the family (and his five aunts have no idea what to do with him. Do boys like hedgehogs? Should I get him a hedgehog?). And, after a year of particularly bad anxiety and weird health stuff, I am finally starting to see the way to claw out of this terrible hole I've been living in. You know. Like a woodchuck coming out of hibernation to stretch its little woodchuck limbs and do its little woodchuck things. 

 Like get a manicure, because  damn.  Got those hibernation hands.  (  via )

Like get a manicure, because damn. Got those hibernation hands.  (via)

Spring has been persistent this year. We've had countless thaws and frosts, chasing one after the other like squirrels playing tag. Last week, snowdrops peeked shyly out of shady corners of the yard, and the Stars of Bethlehem stood up tall and bold, ready to burst forth in flower. The snow has them all covered up now, but they'll be back soon enough. And that's how I feel this year: Storms will come, but they won't last. I feel good. Resilient. Ready.

So that's why today I put on makeup and shaved my legs for the first time this year. I pulled on a sundress and snow boots with no tights. Then I stood outside in snow up to my knees to welcome in the spring. For about six seconds. Screaming all the while.

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