In an effort to remind myself what it’s like to socialize, I was revisiting an episode from This American Life that was published by Sarah Koenig years ago that discusses proper conversation etiquette (I think this was pre-Serial). Sarah’s mother, who is British, had a French friend with a strict set of rules when it came to etiquette and spent much of Sarah’s youth instilling in her a list of 7 topics that should just be off the table when it comes to socializing.
How you slept
How you feel
What you dreamed about last night
Route talk (what route you took to get to where you are)
The reason you don’t discuss these things is because nobody cares. Which is…correct.
And yet somehow, I came to realize, if my friends and I didn’t talk about these things, the only thing that would be left is….maybe our kids (which will inevitably lead to #s1, 3 and/or 4). Like, this list pretty much encompasses the entirety of what our daily Marco Polo discussions include. (Except for #5, and I break the rules all the time on #5. Because unlike everyone else, my dreams are fascinating.)
Also, clearly whoever made this list has never spent time in LA.
But seriously, when you are coming out of a year shut inside, with no shared experiences with anyone other than close family, WHAT DO YOU TALK ABOUT??? (Besides podcasts and books and shows that your friends should watch, which….I am so guilty of and part of me feels should be included on this list.)
The election was yesterday and there are no results so let’s ignore that and talk about books.
These have all been read in the past month/month and a half, and I really went after the Halloween vibe. So aside from the first one, this list trends a little darker than normal.
Very Nice by Marcy Dermansky A nice, soapy summer read. In fact, a lot of the story takes place around a pool during the summer. Think a modern-day The Last Picture Show/The Graduate set in an upscale commuter town in Connecticut. May not leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, but a nice, easy distraction from the serious shit happening in this dumpster fire of a country every day.
The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels When I talk to my friends these days about book recommendations, everyone tends to shy away from anything too heavy (see above). For that reason, given the premise of this novel (a young man dying of AIDS in 1986 returns to his home in the midwest following the death of his partner in New York City), I haven’t suggested it to many people. But man I really loved this one. When you feel like you’re in an emotionally stable place, I highly, highly recommend.
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey I was SO excited to get this book (from bookshop.org! Support small book stores!). It was right up my alley. A British murder mystery. Written in 1951, this classic has been heralded by many as the greatest mystery novel of all time. Premise: an investigator confined to a hospital bed pursues the truth about Richard III and the boys in the tower (if you’re familiar with The White Queen, or have any knowledge of the Tudors, you probably know a little bit about the backstory). It is a super interesting story and a real-life mystery that plays a huge role in our current understanding of the royal lineage. The New Yorker had an article a few years ago (prompted by the discovery of the former king’s remains under a parking structure) on the role this particular novel played in altering the public perception of Richard III. So it is through gritted teeth that I say that I found this book to be sort of….a slog. Maybe it was just where I was at the time, maybe my expectations were too high, but it just didn’t do it for me. Maybe I’ll pick it up again in a few years and see if I can become more invested. Because I really, really wanted to love it.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid Ooooooh this is good spoooooooooooky Halloween read. It’s dark. It’s creepy. It’s weird. There are articles upon articles written about the ending. They made a Netflix movie out of it (which I haven’t watched). If you don’t like ambiguous endings, avoid this one. If you like books that have a murky, sinister, wintery feel, go for it.
The Dinner by Herman Koch Another book made into a Netflix movie that I didn’t know about! This is a Dutch novel that was translated into English in 2013. The entire book takes place over the course of one meal (I’ll let you guess which one). Two grown brothers meet to discuss something involving their children. Secrets trickle out over the course of the meal, along with increasingly unsavory attributes of the attendees and, even more so, the narrator. Unlike Ending Things (above), there is no ambiguity or subtlety to this one. Just barefaced human ugliness. Not a warm fuzzy read.
I have more but 5 is enough for now. Back with more soon.
Targeted ads are devious, underhanded, and incredibly effective. Maybe they only work on the simple-minded, but if that is the case then it’s time I come to terms with my mental capacity. Because despite knowing exactly what happens when you click on one of them, I regularly fall victim to Instagram ads. Like, far more often than I am willing to admit publicly.
One thing continually pushed on me by the powers that be is meditation tools. Not just for me, but also for my children (clearly my phone is listening to what happens in my home every day circa 6pm). For pretty much all of these the concept is you designate 5 minutes once a day, anytime, to sit down with your kids and do guided activity.
My initial reaction is always a big fat eye roll when people instruct me to get my children sitting quietly for more than 10 seconds, let alone meditating (I often wonder if the parents that tout these apps have some herbal supplement that they slip their kids to help out, and if they’re willing to share). But I actually do think teaching kids mindfulness at a young age is a good thing. Lord knows I could have used it.
So for all of these reasons, and because it was an Instagram ad, I bought it. And as most things go around here, while our intentions were good, our execution has been…not spectacular.
But one of the more effective activities has been a breathing exercise where children are instructed to breathe in deeply through their nose, like they are smelling a cake, then exhale slowly through their mouth, like they are blowing out the candles. Smell the cake, blow out the candles.
I don’t know if the kids like it, but I can tell you that I do. Because any time my seven year old starts to spin out of control because her brother “TOOK MY SPECIAL PILLOW AND I ASKED HIM TO GIVE IT BACK AND THEN HE TOLD ME THAT NO, IT WAS NOT MY PILLOW BUT IT IS MY PILLOW AND NOW HE WON’T GIVE IT BACK AND NOW MY FORT WILL NEVER EVER EVER EVER BE OKAY!”, instead of screaming back at her that she’s acting like a lunatic, I say to her,
“Okay, Mora? You need to calm down. Smell the cake. No, no…stop, and smell the cake. Smell the cake, blow out the candles.”
“I DON’T WANT TO SMELL THE CAKE!”
“Smell the cake…”
“I DON’T WANT TO SMELL THE CAKE!!!!!!!!”
…and then she starts smelling the cake and blowing out the candles at hyper-speed, which looks a lot like hyperventilating.
But here we are 5 days out from next Tuesday, a shadow that has been looming over us for four years. And as much as I have tried to busy myself with children and phone banking and writing post cards and disinfecting everything anybody touches and life in general, I still find it impossible to avoid the visceral reaction I experience in those rare quiet times, when there is space enough to think about what is hanging in the balance on November 3rd.
And while my knee jerk reaction continues to be abject rage and panic (because it feels so much more familiar and appropriate), I have found that following my own advice and taking even a single deep breath really does pause me long enough to slow, and sometimes even prevent, the routine spiral down that dark, angry, terrifying wormhole. And that alone is worth it. Because we’ve spent enough time down there already.
So if you can muster the strength, take a piece of sage advice from Headspace for children:
As next week comes hurtling at us, and we stare down the abyss of spiking COVID numbers and million acre fires and Supreme Court appointees that don’t believe in racism or climate change and hundreds of kids at the border with “lost parents” and proud boys with AK-47s intimidating voters at polling places and states tossing mail-in ballots based on laws passed less than a week before election day and and and and and and and and and and…………………………..
The air is getting crisp, those weird cinnamon brooms are in Trader Joe’s again, which can only mean one thing: that time of year is fast approaching……………
Time for the family photo.
Every year I force everyone to sit down and take one “nice” family picture. My husband calls it The Day of Tears. More than once the person in tears has been me.
This is not something I do to satisfy my masochistic tendencies (which, let’s be honest, I have).
It’s because way back in the day, the first year that we were married and living in Kentucky, I thought it would be nice to send a card to everyone back home letting them know that we were surviving marriage and…well…Kentucky.
So I started going through pictures from the year and found exactly zero–ZERO–of just the two of us looking normal. So I made us sit down, put the camera on timer, and take a picture of us and the dog.
Look how CALM everything is! How the lighting is just right. Sigh.
And there it was. The birth of the Day of Tears.
Yes it feels like a lot of effort for something so cheesy, but I know that when we get old(er) we will enjoy having a picture of all of us together each year. And so I power on.
I set a few ground rules:
1. We take the picture ourselves (I refuse to pay someone to watch my family melt down) 2. Everyone in the family has to be included 3. You have to be able to see everyone’s face 4. >=50% of us have to look happy.
Over the years things have become progressively more complicated.
Seating got a little tighter.
Then emotions got involved.
There ARE years where everyone appears relatively happy (or at least not hysterical) and is looking at the camera.
Those are special years.
As the years progressed wardrobe warfare has added an additional psychological element to the process.
And our bench is gradually beginning to collapse.
But I power on.
There are people who have accused me of staging our photos, or that we intentionally find a picture where one kid looks pissed.
To those people I say: you clearly have never seen the outtakes.
I also just realized that Eddie wore the same shirt two years in a row.
It’s been almost two years. A while ago WordPress did something weird and I couldn’t figure out how to post. I lost my password. I tried another host and tried to make things look fancier. It didn’t really fly. I gave up. My blogging life was part of the past.
Then a few weeks ago I got the reminder email that I get every year that my URL was going to expire. Given the fatalistic attitude I have towards everything right now I was like, whatever, who cares, none of it matters.
But the day before it was set to expire I clicked on the link in the email, just to make sure I couldn’t renew, and somehow it logged me in. Then I realized that it only cost me $16/yr to maintain over 10 years of stories from my life. Then I realized WordPress had GOTTEN THEIR SHIT TOGETHER (or maybe it was me, I don’t know) and…
HERE WE ARE.
Friends. I missed this. It’s good to be back.
The weird thing is, I don’t even know who these “friends” are. I am not part of some blogging community. I don’t know who even reads this. But man, it feels good to be sitting down writing something on here. I don’t know why. It makes no sense. At all. But it does. And right now I’m holding on to anything that feels good (within reason) and running with it.
I started this in January of 2010. Facebook was different, Instagram didn’t exist. Tumblr did exist (and apparently still does, I’m surprised to discover just now). I just spent the past hour looking back through old posts, realizing that they a.) aren’t as great as I imagined them to be in my mind, and b.) OLD. When I started this blog I had juuuuuust purchased my first smartphone (the Droid, complete with a slide-out keyboard). I was using a Motorola RAZR a month before we started this thing. I still had a myspace account. THAT’S how long it’s been.
Back then blogging was big, but also already felt like it was maaaaaaybe on the way out? The pioneering bloggers started in the early augts. Now with social media and Medium and just the fact that there is too much of everyone’s opinion EVERYWHERE, plus the fact that I’m creeping towards 40, blogging seems a little…dumb.
But when has being dumb ever stopped me.
Case in point: this post.
OK well I’m glad we just took that journey together. If you hang in there, I promise there is more to come.
It has come to my attention lately that I may listen to podcasts more often than the average person. There are a few reasons I like podcasts:
They are free
There are a million of them
You can do them while you do any number of other activities
They are free
I have earphones in for probably about half of my waking life. I listen while I cook, while I clean, while I water the garden, while I run, while I try to block out whatever crisis is happening with my children…
(side note but relevant: this morning, I strapped the kids–my three and one neighbor–in the car to go to school and ran back inside to feed the dogs (because I can’t feed the dogs when the baby is around because the baby likes to eat the food and pour the water all over the floor and one of the dogs snarls any time the baby so much as glances in the direction of the bowls) and while I am inside the house I hear these God-awful, bloodcurdling screams coming from the car. I get in the car and have this conversation:
Me: OK, I don’t know what just happened, but screaming like that is not alright. Neighbor: THAT WAS EDDIE SCREAMING Me: I know. And I don’t know what you guys were doing to him to make him– Eddie: BUT I WAS JUST SITTING HERE HOLDING MY CAR AND MORA SAID– Me: I don’t care what she said, there is absolutely NO reason to scream like that unless someone is killing you. Mora: But Eddie IS killing me!
Point being, I spend a lot of time with headphones in my ears. It’s probably not good for what I am convinced is my declining hearing (I already yell a lot when I talk, and I feel like as of late I’ve been yelling “WHAT???” a lot more than I used to), and some people may say I have a problem. That I should be more connected with my surroundings and paying more attention to my children and my husband while they are swarming around me in the kitchen as I try to finish preparing dinner. That I shouldn’t be blocking out the world all the time.
I call it self-care. Or preservation. Po-tay-toh, po-tah-toh.
Anyway, it’s the holidays, people will be traveling, and once again I am gifting you some podcast recommendations:
IF YOU ARE INTO POLITICAL HISTORY:
Slow Burn – Season 1 is all about Watergate, which was informative given our current situation. Season 2 is about the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal, which I found even more interesting because I am of the generation that was alive for it and remember it well, but am slightly too young to have understood everything that was going on.
Bag Man – All about what happened with Spiro Agnew. What I remember and knew about Spiro Agnew going into this was the way my parents used to say “Ooooh, Spiro Agnew…” whenever he somehow came up in conversation (…which couldn’t have been that often..) But a super interesting piece of history that I knew absolutely nothing about. By Rachel Maddow (so if you don’t like her, don’t listen)
IF YOU DIG TRUE CRIME:
My Favorite Murder – A lighthearted podcast, just two girls sitting on a couch talking about murders. I started listening to this podcast at the very beginning and it has been pretty incredible to watch them COMPLETELY blow up. Self-categorized as a “true crime comedy podcast,” may not be for everyone, but if you’re into that stuff highly recommend.
Believed – A look at how Larry Nassar, the Olympic doctor convicted of sexually assaulting 499 gymnasts, got away with it for so long. Hard to listen to because they go into details of the abuse, but a good look at the power dynamic between athletes and authority figures and the tactics used by predators.
Bear Brook – A fascinating story about the journey of law enforcement to solve the mystery of four unidentified bodies found in the woods in the early 1980s. Goes into the evolution of using familial DNA to dig up answers to decades-old crimes.
The Dream – A deep dig into multi-level marketing schemes. I am super into this podcast, finding it so interesting and really informative.
Standoff – The story of Ruby Ridge (again, a story I knew something about, but not much), how it spiraled so out of control, and the long-term effects on the views of the modern right and their relationship with power and paranoia.
Can we just take a second to say thank you to Mark Bittman for his Kitchen Express? I used this cookbook back in…San Francisco, Kentucky, I don’t even remember…it got lost in one of the many moves, I gave myself 2 years to find it, it never showed back up, so a few months ago I invested in a new one. This is the best FREAKING cookbook on the planet.
Know what I love about it? There are no measurements. There are no haughty instructions, no fancy cooking words, no obscure ingredients that you need to buy a $15 jar of for one teaspoon and then left to sit in your fridge for another year and a half before you find it again and are like, “What the F is agar-agar?”
The recipes are all like, “season the meat with xyz, chop up some onion, carrot, and celery and heat it in olive oil and garlic, throw the meat on there and season with chili powder, or don’t, who am I to tell you what you like to eat.” I love it. And everything comes out tasting DELICIOUS. And they really do take like 30 minutes to cook. Even for a total kitchen/meal destroyer like myself.
Case in point: I just opened the book and read one recipe (which is only 4 lines of text). Here is an excerpt:
“…mix in a handful of chopped parsley, salt, pepper, a teeny bit of garlic, (optional) or shallot (or red onion, or scallion, or whatever), and if you have it, a sprig of rosemary.”
Found this book in the Little Free Library around the corner from our house. I love those things. I read the back, thought, “This should be an easy read”, and went into it expecting a sort of in the Ruth Ware/Gilly MacMillan genre. Murder mystery/beach read deal. But no. Oh no. It was not. This book was…dark. The well-intentioned but destructive actions of family members towards one another, the misinterpretation of acts of love, the fallout of all of that…oh man. It was sad. I wouldn’t read this if you aren’t feeling particularly stable.
That being said, the book is good, so go ahead and read it if you feel up for it. (I know, I should go into sales.)
(Note, I did not take the above picture. I stole it from here. Let’s not pretend like I have my shit together enough to do a citrus photo shoot to match my book cover.)
Another LFL book! This book was chosen for a bookclub I was once in where the book choices veered into the relationship/love/woman-centric novels most of the time, which isn’t always my cup of tea. So when it came up for book club I read the synopsis, was like, “meh”, and just skipped it (but attended book club anyway).
Turns out I should have read it the first time around because…I liked this book a lot. I really did. It spans multiple decades and basically follows the members of a mixed family. Not super plot driven (as I mentioned, I wasn’t compelled by the back cover copy), but a great read.
Oh I loved this book. I went in having no idea what it was about. I finished the last page still not entirely sure I understand what it all means, but I so, so loved reading it. The story is like Roald Dahl meets Ray Bradbury meets Madeline L’Engle. It is dark and fantastical and scary and warm and confusing and beautiful all at the same time. It’s a book I never would have picked up if I had read the synopsis, reads like YA, and one that I was sad to see end. Haven’t read any other Neil Gaiman, so can’t speak to how it holds up to his other work. But give it a try.
Staying at home has turned me into a connoisseur of political podcasts. I think because at times being home can seem isolating, I feel an almost compulsive need to stay in touch with what is happening in the world.
But two weeks ago I hit an inflection point. Domestic politics got too depressing, I had to take a break. Even the best true crime podcast couldn’t lift me up.
I needed something trivial, innocuous. A brief mental break from all the ugly stuff going on. And this is what I found:
I binge-listened to this podcast on the drive to Palm Springs last weekend. It’s the story of the US Men’s National soccer team from 1994 to the disastrous 1998 World Cup. While I did play soccer once upon a time long ago, I am not a die hard soccer fan. I probably couldn’t tell you the name of a single guy who plays on any team in the US (aside from David Beckham, but he has to be retired by now…right? I mean the Spice Girls broke up in like 1998.) But this story is less about the sport and more about the soap opera that was the Men’s National Team during that period. I mean, the DRAMA. Also, it’s hosted by Roger Bennett of Men In Blazers (a great podcast for real soccer fans), who has a fantastic accent and is just wonderful on all fronts. It’s seriously so good.
From The Ringer podcasts, this is basically a bunch of film nerds sitting around going over the most rewatchable movies ever made. The films they discuss range from critically acclaimed to awesomely bad (criteria that make a movie rewatchable is NOT the same as what makes a movie Oscar material. Though there is definitely some overlap). Lighthearted. So fun.
This podcast is two 30-something women talking about serums and drugstore mascara. So far from anything heavy. So refreshing.
I get excited every week when I see a new Keep It in my feed. I’ve been listening to this podcast since the first episode and it has yet to disappoint. This pop-culture podcast is part of the Crooked Media world, so it definitely veers into the political, but the hosts are great and it’s just really enjoyable.