Monday, February 29, 2016

Kerfuffle over open letter to Yelp CEO misses the larger point

Is anyone else annoyed by the kerfuffle over the fired Yelp employee’s open letter to CEO Jeremy Stoppelman? In case you missed it, 25 year old Talia Jane, a former Yelp employee posted, a clearly frustrated letter detailing her experiences living on minimum wage in Silicon Valley. Within hours of posting the letter, she was fired from the company. She says she was told her letter violated Yelp’s code of conduct, but Stoppelman has since stated, via Tweet, that her firing had nothing to do with the letter.

Talia Jane’s critique of her employer was harsh…

“So here I am, 25-years old, balancing all sorts of debt and trying to pave a life for myself that doesn’t involve crying in the bathtub every week. One of (my coworkers) started a GoFundMe because she couldn’t pay her rent… (Another guy) brought a big bag with him and stocked up on all those snacks you make sure are on every floor… If you starve a pack of wolves and toss them a single steak, will they rip each other to shreds fighting over it? Definitely.”

Her letter was also a bit whiny and the tone, unfortunately, came across as more “Entitled Millennial” than “Let’s Have a Discussion about This Very Real Issue.” Talia Jane has been raked over the internet coals by many, but the response that seems to have gotten the most attention is one from Stefanie Williams, a 29-year-old (SO grown up!) college graduate who responded with her own open letter harshly criticizing Talia Jane for her whiny entitlement and lack of work ethic.

The main thrust of Williams’ letter is comparing Talia Jane’s situation to her own, far superior of course, handling of a similar situation WAY back when she was over-educated and under-employed in her early twenties and struggling to find a job in her field.  Unlike Talia Jane, who wrote and posted a letter complaining about her situation, Williams swallowed her pride and got a job as a hostess in a restaurant. She then worked her way up to server and bartender, making enough money and sacrifices to finally establish a writing career more in line with her educational level and initial aspirations. Good for Stefanie Williams.

Williams lectures Talia Jane that “Work ethic is not something that develops from entitlement.” She’s not wrong about that, but is Talia Jane really Little Miss Entitlement or is she just frustrated and venting about a real issue. Without knowing Talia Jane, it’s impossible to know for sure, and Williams makes quite a few sweeping assumptions in her criticism…

“… you are a young, white, English speaking woman with a degree and a family who I would assume is helping you out at the moment, and you are asking for handouts from strangers while you sit on your ass looking for cushy jobs you are not entitled to while you complain about the establishment, probably from a nice laptop. To you, that is more acceptable than taking a job in a restaurant, or a coffee shop, or a fast food place. And that’s the trouble with not just your outlook, but the outlook of so many people your age.”

Whoa there, Stefanie Williams, that’s a lot to assume just because someone posted a photo of them self drinking expensive bourbon. And since when does a 29 year old get to refer to a 25 year old with the line “so many people your age?” (Newsflash: 25 and 29 are pretty much the same age.)

Williams makes some good points. I too cringed at the end of Talia Jane’s letter when she asked readers for donations to help her during her job search. Um, no. But, then again, I don’t understand the Go Fund Me culture that seems to be running rampant. Williams is right, entitlement won’t get you to success. There are no guarantees for success, but a killer work ethic will give you a better shot. If Williams really wanted to make that point by engaging with Talia Jane, it would have been much more constructive to acknowledge that there are good reasons to feel frustrated. According to an article that appeared on Vox:

“College-educated students are increasingly coming out of school with higher levels of debt — affecting middle-class minorities the hardest — and entry-level incomes in certain fields have barely moved in decades. According to a 2014 Pew Research study, real hourly wages in the US have been flat or declining since they peaked in 1973.

And the cities where labor markets are booming — San Francisco, but also New York, Washington, DC, Boston, and Seattle, among others — also have skyrocketing costs of living, in part because of their restrictions on building new housing.”

In light of statistics like those, I say go ahead and knock yourself out with a raging pity party, Talia Jane. Then, when it’s over, clean up the mess and realistically consider your options. And who’s to say Talia Jane isn’t planning on doing just that? Certainly not Stefanie Williams, who admits to crying in the restaurant’s private party room when she was humiliated to have to wait on former classmates. Was that not whiny? Is it OK to show emotion by crying in the party room but not by posting a rant about the bigger issue?

I saw that Stefanie Williams had the nerve to respond to an email from writer Sara Morrison who asked about Williams’ use of a crowdfunding campaign herself by saying “I love nothing more than taking time out for people like yourself who think they are so smart and snarky.” Well, well, if that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black. Self-righteousness is just as bad as entitlement in my book.

Williams has a lot to be proud of. She obviously faced challenges and made it through them. That’s great and it’s the kind of story that could be very helpful to someone currently in Talia Jane’s shoes. Tell her what you had to do, Stefanie Williams. Tell her how hard it was swallowing your pride. Tell her it was difficult to realign your expectations for your career and living arrangements. Explain to her how you sacrificed, but made it pay off in the end. Make it constructive criticism instead of a snippy lecture that’s really more about painting a picture of how superior you are than it is about the plight of Talia Jane and those like her.

This is where Stefanie Williams, and the majority of the discussion around Talia Jane’s letter, completely misses the larger picture. The real problem here is not the difference between whiny entitled millennials and pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps millennials. The real problem is a significant shortage of opportunities for the middle class (and particularly younger people just starting out), with more and more power and resources concentrated at the very top of the upper class – the 1% as we’ve come to refer to them.

Older generations spent decades gathering up a great deal of the power and influence in our society – they still predominantly hold the reins in public and corporate America – and they aren’t looking to let it go any time soon. The fact that Stefanie Williams has, at 29, become a shill for that generation’s vitriol for millennials is ironic.

The baby boom generation is fond of reminding us how they banded together; they had something to say as a collective. Why Stefanie Williams and Talia Jane aren’t following suit by uniting to discuss the much bigger societal problem for their generation is the question here – the real missed point.

And Talia Jane and Stefanie Williams don’t just have a generational problem to deal with; they also face the double-whammy of being women. I struggled mightily right out of college, just like Stefanie Williams and Talia Jane. I couldn’t make my rent and took a lowly retail job to make ends meet. I was also lucky enough to have parents who were able to help me, even though I found it humiliating to require that help. By 25, I had my foot in the door of a career I was excited about. By 29, I had worked my way up to mid-management level in my organization and was solidly established in my field. I felt like I was well on my way to a significant, senior-level position in my field. Now I’ve passed 40 and, like many women my age, I am acutely feeling the limitations of a society that still doesn’t take well to women in positions of authority and power.  
 Stefanie Williams and Talia Jane seem to be opinionated and articulate young women. They have a tough row to hoe with the operative words being both “young” and “women.” They would do a great service to themselves and others to work together toward affecting constructive change.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Trouble in Paradise

It’s January in Seattle and I’m dreaming of a tropical getaway. Maybe it’s the freezing temperatures. Maybe it’s the dark days after the Christmas lights come down and before the days start to get noticeably longer. Maybe it’s that I’m buried under a mountain of work that I can’t seem to budge. Whatever the reason, I’m fondly recalling last summer’s trip to Maui. I’m seeing beaches and palm trees. I’m riding waves and dipping in turquoise pools. I’m tasting fresh pineapple juice, feeling tropical breezes and smelling plumeria in my mind. Ah, Hawaii. As my succinct nine-year-old son Chester put it, Best. Vacation. Ever. The fact that it almost didn’t happen because of a balloon made it that much more sweet.

~ Part I: Beware Balloons ~

Yes, it’s true – a balloon nearly ruined my Hawaiian vacation. Balloons don’t really have a sinister reputation. You’re more likely to see them bringing a festive atmosphere to a birthday party than lurking threateningly in a dark alley. But I’m here to tell you, they’re dangerous – insidiously, treacherously dangerous.

Allow me to set the scene… It was the last day of school, a beautiful, sunny, early June day, only five days from departing on a long-anticipated trip to Maui. It had been a busy spring and we were in the home stretch toward some much-needed tropical relaxation. I dropped Chester off at school and took a photo of him smiling broadly in the sunshine, proudly displaying his interpretation of “Wacky Hair Day.” He was all set to attend a pool party afterschool and then baseball practice later in the evening. Matt was in China so I had a crazy “It takes a Village” plan pieced together, as I often do. A baseball teammate’s dad would pick three of them up from school and they would be allowed to crash an older sibling’s middle school pool party (so cool!) until I picked them up for transport to the Pee Wee fields after I got off work. What could go wrong?

Chester on the last day of 3rd grade - Wacky Hair Day

A balloon, that’s what. The assistant teacher in Chester’s 3rd grade class gave each of the kids a balloon as a fun little end-of-the-year treat. Why not, right? They’re balloons! They’re fun! They’re colorful! Yay, balloons! Chester and his buddies piled into the back of his friend Nate’s car and started playing with their balloons. Chester’s was apparently defective and exploded with quite a bit of force even though it wasn’t inflated very full. It was so fast and so bizarre that no one knows exactly what happened, other than the balloon exploded, the boys screamed, and Chester started crying uncontrollably. By the time Nate’s dad got them calmed down enough to take a look, the pupil of Chester’s eye was bright red.

Nate’s dad is a smart guy and immediately assessed the situation as being out of his “It takes a village” pay grade, which is exactly zero pay, and rushed Chester back into the school office where the sight of his eye was alarming enough to get the Head of School involved. I was in a meeting and missed her calls for about 30 minutes. (Of course.) By the time I got back to her, Chester had stopped crying, the pupil had turned from bright red to dark red, and Nate’s dad had decided to proceed with the original plan with an impromptu stop for milkshakes because everyone knows, when in doubt… milkshakes.

I raced to the pool party to find Chester swimming and Nate’s poor dad, chasing him around trying to keep an eye on him; periodically holding up fingers and asking “How many?” We all agreed much later that high doses of chlorine were probably not the smartest post-eye injury idea, but it’s nearly impossible to keep little boys out of a pool, especially one their friends are in.

I loaded the three baseball boys up and made a quick stop at the fields to drop off the two uninjured players before proceeding to Seattle Children’s Hospital through rush hour traffic. I debated taking Chester to a closer urgent care facility, but our pediatrician’s words echoed in my mind… “If he EVER needs after-hours, emergency care, go to Children’s!” And this was not my first emergency care rodeo with Mr. Chester. We’ve always gone to Children’s and we’ve always had great experiences. I mean, as great as you can have when your child is projectile vomiting every ten minutes or screaming in pain. So, I fought through traffic for an hour and a half, all the while peeking in the rearview mirror, trying to assess what was going on with Chester’s rapidly changing eye.

Fast forward several hours to Children’s Hospital where Chester is sobbing and not seeing out of his right eye. (There are so many things that are terrifying to a parent. If anyone out there is keeping a master list, please add hearing the following: “It’s all just white, Mom. I don’t see anything but white.”) Finally, after various dye-drop and light-assisted examinations and vision tests, a young doctor diagnosed Chester with a corneal abrasion and prescribed an antibiotic ointment to be squished into his eye several times each day. This didn’t seem right to me.

We got our prescription and headed home. It still didn’t seem right. I started the arduous ointment routine and it didn’t feel any more right. I told myself I was being crazy and paranoid, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. I woke up in the morning and crept into Chester’s room. I sat on the edge of his bed and waited for his eyes to flutter open. This has always been a favorite moment for me, from the very first time tiny Chester was placed in my arms and his big blue eyes popped open and looked right into mine. I waited for that moment and there it was… one beautiful, familiar, blue eye. But the other was a ghastly, horror-show pool of blood. It looked like a half-empty glass of blood. (Or half-full depending on how you look at things, but I can assure you, in this case, it was definitely half-empty.)

This is not Chester's eye, but this is exactly how his eye looked.

The plan for the day was changed, a sick-day was called in, and an appointment with the doctor was made. Our pediatrician is an exceedingly funny, jokey guy. He talks fast and his incredibly smart and expert medical dialogue is peppered with equal parts liberal-leaning political jokes and goofy, good-natured flirting. We adore him – partly because of his endearing banter, but mostly because he’s very, very good at what he does. And when the situation is serious, he gets serious fast.

Chester’s doctor came into the exam room, took one look at the eye and got serious. No jokes, no corny pick-up lines, all business. Within minutes, he was on his cell phone to a top pediatric ophthalmologist, personally arranging an emergency appointment that same day. Several hours and lots of tests later, Chester was diagnosed with a hyphema, which is a pooling of blood inside the anterior chamber of the eye (between the cornea and iris) that covers part or all of the iris and pupil, and blocks vision.  It’s a serious injury and the absolute WORST thing we could do was touch his eye with anything. (Good thing I’d been jamming ointment into it for almost 24 hours!)

When I mentioned to the doctor, toward the end of the appointment, that we were scheduled to get on a plane to Hawaii in four days, he looked at me for a few painfully quiet seconds and then began a barely perceptible shake of his head. “We’ll see how it goes,” he said, “but I’d feel a lot better if it was at least a week out.” Chester and I made our way out to the lobby, quietly scheduled our appointments for daily check-ups, and got to the elevator before Chester burst into tears “I’m so sorry, mommy! I ruined Hawaii!” he sobbed.  

We tried to focus on the positive. The prognosis for a full recovery was good, as long as the injury didn’t re-bleed. If a hyphema re-bleeds, vision loss is likely. So, a plastic shield was taped over Chester’s eye and we were sent home with an array of eye drops and strict orders for ZERO physical activity.  

This sucks.

Now, anyone who knows 9 year old boys knows how difficult this is, and anyone who knows MY 9 year old boy, knows that it is regular-difficult times ten.  Fortunately he was able to watch TV - albeit out of only one normally functioning eye. I think the only thing that kept him down and submitting to all the eye drops was the fear of not being able to go to Hawaii if he didn’t heal quickly.

Fortunately, the hyphema shrank each day and Chester’s vision improved. And, because of Matt’s super-fancy-diamond-platinum traveler status, we were able to push flights and hotels out a few days to give Chester some extra healing time. A week after the dreaded balloon incident, the doctors gave us clearance to proceed with our vacation. It was noon and our flight was at 6:00, so we frantically finished packing and called a cab to take us to the airport.

Alas, the cab did not show up. First it was just a little late, then it was significantly late, and then it was really, really, ridiculously late. At that point, we made a last minute decision to jump into our car and race to the airport. It felt like the scene from “Home Alone” where the entire McCallister family is running through O’Hare Airport to catch their holiday flight to Paris. Except this was June, there were only three of us, and we were heading from Seattle to Maui. Just imagine “Tiny Bubbles” playing in the background instead of “Run, Run Rudolph” and add some extra pathetic points for the plastic eye shield still taped over Chester’s eye. Just like the McCallisters, we made it onto our flight. (Unlike the McAllisters, we remembered our young son.)

~ Part II: Blue Skies Ahead ~

The next morning, we woke up in Hawaii to a beautiful, ocean-front view. Things were definitely looking up. We just had to get through one more doctor-ordered day of keeping Chester low key before he could go crazy swimming and snorkeling and doing whatever his heart desired. So, we explored the property, walked on the beach, and rented snorkel gear.

We woke up on day two to find what you almost always find in Hawaii – sunny skies, warm breezes, and beautiful, blue-green waves. Chester could not get down to the beach to start snorkeling fast enough, which made the sunscreen application process akin to some kind of rodeo event involving wiggly baby livestock, half-hitched hooeys, and one very worn-out cowgirl (that’s me). With coffee consumed, sunscreen hurriedly applied, and gear gathered, we made our way down to the beach.

Chester approached snorkeling the way he approaches pretty much everything – wholeheartedly and with zero trepidation. We swam around for about 45 minutes, exploring the rocks, looking at neon colored fish, and feeling like we were in the world’s most beautiful aquarium. We got out for a break, and were just starting to feel like we really were on vacation. Matt and I were sitting on the sand. Chester was splashing in the surf. The sun was shining. The palm trees were swaying. It was the first exhale… That moment when we felt ourselves begin to release all the stress and tension of Chester’s injury and the uncertainty of whether our vacation would happen.

And then, two people came stumbling out of the water, dragging another person in between them, and screaming for help. The beach was busy and nearly everyone leapt to their feet. A few people managed to pull the woman onto the beach right in front of us. She was lifeless and blue. It was horrifying and not something I wanted Chester to see ever, much less on his first real day in Hawaii. I kept him at a distance while several people performed CPR. I have been through CPR training multiple times and I’ve certainly seen fake CPR on TV, but I think this was the first time I’d actually seen it performed in person and it was far more violent and upsetting than I realized it would be. Over and over, the chest compressions and breaths caused the woman’s limp body to lurch on the sand. It seemed like it took an hour for the paramedics to arrive. She was still a sickening shade of blue and not moving when they loaded her into the ambulance. I don’t know if she ended up surviving. After that, we couldn’t bring ourselves to get back into the water that day.

As anyone who has children knows, seeing your kids sick or injured leaves you feeling utterly helpless and out of control. As we sat there on the beach, watching Chester play, I realized how overpowering that feeling had been over the past week and how good it felt to begin to let it go. Unfortunately, seeing someone drown brought it rushing back very quickly. I felt as though danger was lurking on every sunny beach and waiting to pounce from behind every palm tree. It took me another day or two to let the worrying go.

~Part III: Just when you think it’s safe to go back in the water… ~

After the rough start, the rest of our vacation truly was paradise. Mostly. There was the episode where Matt, in search of a black sand beach, led us into a mosquito-infested swamp where I nearly lost my favorite flip-flops in knee deep mud and twisted my ankle in a valiant effort to save them. But that was only a minor set-back. The rest was fantastic… Except the unfortunate stand-up paddle boarding incident where I nearly knocked my teeth out, suffered a giant fat lip and cut my nose open. That also kind of sucked.

With Matt on a conference call, (Whatever happened to not working on vacation?) I took Chester out paddle boarding with me and, as we waded into the surf, I made the grave error of taking my eyes off the waves to keep my eyes on my child. For the record, I grew up on the coast and I totally know better, but apparently the maternal instinct is no match for life lessons learned, and trumps every other bit of knowledge ever gained. So, I turned my back on a wave and it did what waves do, which is pick my puny body up and slam it into the sand. And to add insult (and more injury) to injury, it also picked up the paddle board and slammed that down onto my face.

I felt like I was going to black out, but somehow forced myself to remain conscious. I scrambled to my feet and turned to find Chester looking terrified. “HURRY UP! GET ON!” I yelled at him. He scrambled over to me, climbed onto the board, and I managed to paddle us out to calm water. As I sat, straddling the board, very gingerly touching my face to assess the damage, Chester cautiously looked over his shoulder and said, “Uh, mom, we don’t have to go ahead with the paddle boarding.” “Oh yes, we do,” I barked, “We ARE paddle boarding!” He was quiet for a few moments and then turned around a little further and said, “But mommy, you’re bleeding. Bad.” I asked him where it was coming from and it took us both a while to figure out that most of it was coming from the cut on the bridge of my nose and not as much from the inside of my nose and my mouth. “It’s just a little blood, no big deal,” I assured him as I repeatedly washed the blood off into the water. (I know, I know, cue the sharks. Luckily, the waters seemed to be shark-free that day.) We bounced back and enjoyed an hour of paddle boarding with Chester periodically glancing back at my face and saying reassuring things like, “Oooooh, mommy, you don’t look good,” and “Um, yeah, your mouth. It’s all messed up, mom.”

Who needs Botox when you can just slam a paddle board into your face?!

But seriously besides THAT, we did have a wonderful vacation and it really was paradise. We swam, we snorkeled with giant turtles, we hiked, we surfed, we boogie boarded, we paddle boarded, we ate lots of delicious meals and drank many Mai Tais. I really wish I was there right now, doing it all again; minus the dangerous balloons and drowning people and scary swamps and paddle board accidents, of course. But even with all that stuff, it was pretty great. Chester’s eye is completely healed, as is my face. The mosquito bites are gone and my favorite flip flops are still with me. I’ll take a little trouble mixed in with my paradise. I certainly wouldn’t want things to get boring.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Stop the "YOU GO GIRL!"

There are many things to both love and hate about social media. I love that I can stay in touch with old friends, keep up with colleagues who are scattered far and wide, read and share informative articles about topics I’m interested in, and even see my childhood friends’ kids growing up. That stuff is pretty cool. On the downside, because of social media, I know way more than I ever cared to know about some of my friends’ political leanings. I’m subjected to photos of food, and I’m bombarded by acronyms. So many acronyms. The LOLs, and the IMHOs. The ICYMIs and the FOMOs. Honestly, I can’t keep up. And don’t even get me started on paragraph long lists of hashtags.

My most recent social media pet peeve is an over-the-top “You go girl!” thing I’m seeing more and more often. Woman #1, we’ll call her Sue, posts an utterly mundane status on Facebook. Like she built a spreadsheet at work, or planted a rose bush in her backyard, or made a cute Halloween decoration. OK, great. Good for her. It’s not so much the initial status that bugs me. Social media is full of stuff I don’t necessarily get excited about, like the previously mentioned photos of food. I have searched the depths of my social media soul, and cannot, for the life of me, figure out why people insist on sharing photos of food. It always looks gross and I generally feel like most people don’t care what other people are eating. But hey, that’s me. There are obviously a lot of foodies out there who love sharing the food photos. So be it. Likewise, if Sue wants to show-off her latest work accomplishment or her pretty new rosebush or that totally adorable, friendly-ghost door decoration, that’s fine. It’s not as if every single thing everyone posts has to be exciting. We all go through our days eating and working. We hit the gym, we get pissed off in the long line at Starbucks, and we enjoy our hobbies, whatever they may be. Of course we’re going to talk about our day-to-day stuff. The responses are where the craziness comes in.

Sue’s initial status is followed by comments from at least a half dozen of Sue’s girl-friends and occasionally some guy (who I can only guess is trying desperately to get laid), and it goes something like this:

Sally: You rock, Sue!!!! (thumbs up emoji)

Michelle: OMG, you are amazing. You inspire me!

Crystal: Go get ‘em! Go, Sue, Go!!!!!!!!

Amanda: I am SO ridiculously proud of you!

Jennifer:  You are AWESOME!!!

Bill: Where’s the triple-like button? This is so cool!

Fiona: XOXOXO!!!!! (twelve heart emojis in rainbow colors)

Gretchen: Love it! Love YOU!!!

The whole thing is dripping in saccharin and always includes more exclamation points than anyone should use in a LIFETIME, much less a single Facebook comment. And then Sue dutifully “likes” and replies to each comment. There’s always the sappy “I love you!!!” person…

I LOVE YOU, SUE!!!!!!!
I love you too, lady!!!
“I Love you MORE, sister!”

Ugh. It’s embarrassing. It’s not like I’m anti-love. I have girl-friends that I love. I mean, I really love them. Not in a toss-it-around-on-Facebook-and-Instagram way. I deeply admire their accomplishments (the real ones, not that they made a nice grilled cheese sandwich for dinner) and who they are as people; they mean the world to me. Do I tell them that enough? Probably not, but I think they know it. And when I do say it, it sure as hell isn’t on Facebook, embedded in a rainbow of heart emojis and followed by a string of exclamation points longer than my arm.

What IS this? Why are people doing this? (Besides Bill, who I think we can all agree is just trying to get a date.) But honestly, does Sue REALLY “rock” because she built a spreadsheet. Does the ghost she made out of a sock truly inspire you? Are you seriously “ridiculously proud” because she planted a shrub? I’m all for women supporting women, and I have truly wonderful women in my life. Here’s the thing though: They’re all smart enough and amazing enough that they don’t need people blowing random sunshine up their asses over stuff that doesn’t warrant it.

So can we please stop with the disingenuous, out-of-proportion praise? It waters down the real stuff. It’s the adult equivalent of the participation trophy.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Swimsuit Issue

It’s February. Valentine’s Day… Whatever. President’s Day… Great, another week I have to worry about childcare less than a month and a half after the kids were off for the holidays. Super Bowl… I think the current weather in New England is evidence of how the Higher Power feels about the outcome of that. My dad’s birthday… Always an exercise in finding an appropriate card for a man who doesn’t golf, fish, or grill, but rides a bad-ass Harley and loves cats. Most of all February is the month I associate with the days finally starting to get longer… Sometimes I actually leave the office when there is still light in the sky! Until this year, I had all but forgotten about another February occurrence… The annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Sports Illustrated started publishing the Swimsuit Issue in 1964 to drive magazine sales during the typically slow time between sports seasons. Apparently it worked because, more than half a century later, the issue is still flying off newsstands. I saw somewhere on the internet (so it must be true, right?) that the 2013 issue sold more than 800,000 copies. Whether or not that figure is accurate, the thing clearly must be making money – both in sales and advertising – or they wouldn’t still be publishing it.

This is going to sound obtuse, but I don’t really understand why the swimsuit issue is so popular. I mean, I guess I do, on a really obvious level – it’s the old ‘sex sells’ axiom. But these days? Isn’t there this thing called Google, where, if one wanted to look at pictures of nearly naked (or even completely naked!) women, one could simply type in “naked women,” press “enter,” and magically have access to an abundance of the desired images. For free.

Why is this magazine still selling? Maybe partly because Sports Illustrated always seems to make sure there is some controversy that gets whipped up and talked about ad nauseum. They put Barbie on the cover (objectifying!). They’ve shot the photos in exotic locales and used people native to those places as kitschy props (racist!). (Apparently nothing says sexy like a bikini-clad model on a giant sand dune with a spear-toting, loin-cloth-wearing African in the background.) And of course, there’s always the controversy around how revealing the swimsuits are.

My introduction to this cultural phenomenon was in 1989 – the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. Instead of being at the beach wearing a bikini for most of that summer, I was hanging out around the house, taking care of the tiny Siberian husky puppy I begged my parents for. She was too little to be left alone for long periods of time, so I parked myself at home and watched a whole bunch of bad TV. One of the things I saw was an HBO special called “The Making of the Sports Illustrated 25th Anniversary Swimsuit Issue” featuring Carol Alt, Rachel Hunter, Kathy Ireland, and Elle Macpherson to name a few of the lovely ladies of the era. It was on a lot, and I watched it a lot. I was confused and oddly transfixed.

I didn’t understand what girls in bikinis had to do with sports, other than that boys liked both. I liked boys, so I felt compelled to watch and to attempt to understand. Plus, the swimsuits were cute and the locations seemed dreamy. Frolicking on a warm, tropical beach in a super fashionable bikini, and getting paid to do it was a nice fantasy compared to my reality of braving the freezing cold water of the Oregon coast in whatever swimsuit the local store carried that year, and then having to race to my minimum wage job at the movie theater.

Despite the repeated viewings and perceived glamour, something about the SI Swimsuit Issue still bugged me. I remember a very specific scene where one of the models – I don’t recall which – joked about how her years of ballet training paid off because she could manage wardrobe changes by balancing on one leg, in a make-shift changing tent, on the sand. I remember thinking it was sad. Sad that her years of hard work – mental, physical, creative – didn’t amount to anything more than standing on a beach and being photographed for a sports magazine that didn’t have anything to do with sports.

Time moved on and so did I; that was the last summer I spent watching TV and, while the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue clearly carried on as well, it was the last time I expended any amount of time caring about or even noticing it. I never could get the phenomenon to make sense into something that seemed right to me, but I don’t need to add my voice (at least in this particular blog post) to the on-going debate about whether the SI Swimsuit Issue (and countless other publications, movies, and advertisements just like it) are objectifying, and therefore hurting, women or celebrating their sexuality. It’s an old debate and one that we don’t appear to be any closer to settling.

I can’t really even remember the last time I noticed the release of the Swimsuit Issue, or any of the fanfare accompanying it. But this year, a new angle caught my attention. I was at the gym working out on the cardio machines located under a bank of TVs. CNN was running a story about this year’s Swimsuit Issue including an ad featuring plus-size (gasp!) model Ashley Graham. This is hardly news – even 30 seconds of it isn’t news. But it went on and on and on. They interviewed Ms. Graham, showed numerous images, and covered it for a good ten minutes. Thankfully, my hands were firmly planted on the heart-rate monitor sensors, because otherwise I probably would have gouged my eyes out.

The tag-line graphic across the bottom of the screen said “Era of the curvy girl” and Ashley Graham actually said, “This is the curvy girl era. This is what we need to be talking about right now.” Really, Ashley Graham? Is it really what we NEED to be talking about right now? Are there not bigger problems facing our world than plus-size models being included in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for body-positivity. Physical beauty is subjective and comes in all shapes and sizes. For one thing, I Googled Ashley Graham’s SI ad (See, I didn’t have to buy the issue!) and I think you’d have trouble finding anyone who would classify her as fat. But what bothers me about these women – larger than typical models – who feel they are outspoken advocates for women and positive body images, is that they are participating in the same body-objectifying activity they claim to be against.

Isn’t touting the “era of the curvy woman” setting waifish women up to feel bad about themselves? Why is it always a zero-sum game on this issue? Let’s just stop talking incessantly about women’s bodies. We don’t talk about men this way. I don’t see CNN running a news story on “the era of the short, round man.” It isn’t suddenly “the year of the receding hairline.”

And it isn’t just a focus on women’s bodies as a whole – curvy or skinny, small or large – our bodies tend to get picked apart into mere pieces. This year’s SI Swimsuit Issue cover girl Hannah Davis told Matt Lauer “it’s the year of the torso.” First of all Hannah, that isn’t your torso. (Bitch, please.) And second, don’t tell Kim Kardashian because I’m pretty sure she’s still working the age of the butt.

I know the Ashley Grahams of the industry are well-intentioned, but continuing to talk about women’s bodies in the same misguided way isn’t doing anyone any good. We need to STOP TALKING about it like this. Can’t women just be women without it being about fat or skinny, or butts or breasts, or a certain era of one or the other? If we really have to “an era” of a single body part, I’d like to nominate the brain. I think it’s time.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Dark and Stormy Night

It was a dark and stormy night… (No really, it actually was.) Chester and I had been cooped up in the house most of the afternoon, so we decided to go out for dinner. By the time we finished dinner and stopped for some frozen yogurt on the way home, it was, as weather reports predicted, getting very windy. We dodged a number of tree branches that had already fallen in the streets. As we rounded the corner toward our house we were rocking out (appropriately) to “Rock You Like a Hurricane” by the Scorpions. I was telling Chester that my dance team did our competition routine to the song when I was a freshman in high school. He was hanging on every word as I told him how cool we were for performing to the Scorpions while all the other teams selected upbeat, squeaky-clean, pop songs and oldies. (Actually I don’t think he was listening to me at all and, if he was, he probably didn’t believe the part about how cool we were. He did like the song though, so that was encouraging.)

We started to make the turn into our driveway and immediately something did not compute. “Here I am, rock you like a hurr . . . what the heck . . . ?!” There was a giant piece of plant life where there had not been one before. Was it an enormous, spontaneous hedge? A spur-of-the-moment shrubbery? No, neither of those options made sense. Pretty quickly my brain turned off the Scorps and got down to the serious business of figuring out what was going on in my yard. It was our tree – or at least a huge piece of it – fallen across our front yard and into neighbor Carol’s driveway. I told Chester to stay put, jumped out of the car, and rushed toward Carol’s house to make sure her car was not squished under the tree. En route, I clothes-lined myself on some sort of cable – one end was still attached to the corner of our roof; the other end was pinned under the tree. (The good news is that Carol’s car was not.)

I froze. My parents instilled in me a very healthy respect for electricity. By the time I was a toddler, I was pretty sure electrical sockets were portals to all the evils of hell. Despite my fear of electricity, I seem to always find myself tangling with it. Like the time our basement flooded and I realized, as I was standing knee deep in sloshing water, watching the freezer begin to float by, that it was still plugged in. My immediate reaction was to jump aboard the floating freezer to get out of the water and reach for the power cord to yank it out of the wall. I have no idea if this was the best course of action, but it turned out alright. (The basement flooding was not alright, but I did not end up getting electrocuted, so I’m counting it as an ultimate win.)

This time I backed slowly away from the cord and noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that another loose end was dangling in the street, whipping in the wind. By this time Chester had gotten out of the car and retreated to porch, where a large gust of wind lifted our scary, life-sized Halloween skeleton out of the chair he was lounging on and sent him flying through the air, boney arms outstretched toward Chester. “MOM!” Chester screamed. A creepy black-feathered wreath flew off the door and a piece of fake bloodied fabric sailed away to who knows where. Grave stones and gargoyles were clattering down all over the place. A stick hit me in the face. Or maybe it was a bone from our front yard graveyard. It was like Night of the Living Dead, Twister, and Deadliest Catch all at the same.

From the relative safety of the house (I say relative because we all know zombies and tornados will not be stopped by a 1925 craftsman), I decided my first order of business was… Wait. First of all, does anyone care to venture a guess, at this point in the story whether Matt was home for this apocalyptic evening or in some distant land? (Spoiler alert…. Not home.) So… my first order of business was to call him in China or Dubai or wherever the hell he was. I honestly don’t know. The relevant fact was that he was not here and, I’m starting to suspect, doing this on purpose. It is common knowledge that the list of domestic disasters for which Matt has conveniently been halfway around the world is too long to detail here. In case you’re just tuning in – broken hot water heater/flooded basement, broken furnace/coldest week of the year, kaput sewer line/flooded bathroom, innumerable flat tires, violent Chester puke-fests, mysterious Chester rashes, Chester head injuries followed by all night visits to ER. You get the idea. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that the day after Big Blow-pocalypse, our neighbor Randy decided we need a block watch warning for whenever Matt is traveling. Some sort of alarm that sounds and sends each resident a text message that includes a little “danger” emoticon and says, “Batten down the hatches everyone! Matt is out of the country!”

So anyway, I called Matt. (I like the way he can tell now, just by the way I say his name when he answers the phone, that something is wrong.) Between my describing the scene to him, neighbor Carol’s son coming home and giving the cable a few ill-advised yanks to hold it up to his face in the dark, and Chester realizing that his iPad didn’t have a connection, we determined that it was not a live power line, but the cable line. So that was good. (Unless you’re Chester. He feels that being deprived of an internet connection is akin to a heinous form of torture.)

And so, since there was nothing more to do until morning, I began the saga of calling Comcast to report the snapped cable line and ensuing outage. The nice customer service man kept me on hold for 45 minutes “running diagnostics.” Now I’m no cable genius, but I’m pretty sure I had accurately diagnosed the problem. I kept trying to explain … “No, wait… I don’t need diagnostics… I know what’s wrong! No… wait… there’s a giant tree down in my front yard. Yes, a tree... It’s on top of the cable. The other end is dangling in the street.” Just about the time I was sure I was getting through to him, he’d ask questions about my equipment, whether or not things were turned on, and then kindly say, “Ma’am I’m just finishing up some additional diagnostics, please hold.” Finally they were able to “diagnose” that I needed a service guy to come to the house. Brilliant.

After the wind, and tree drama, and flying skeletons (not to mention, worst of all, a night with no Netflix), Chester was scared to death and insisted on sleeping with me. Between his version of sleeping, which feels more like a mixed martial arts brawl than it does sleeping, worrying about what else was going to come down in the continued howling wind, and trying to figure out what to do about the tree in the morning, I didn’t sleep much.

Sunday morning dawned, still somewhat drizzly, but no more wind. After filling up on coffee, feeding Chester breakfast, and setting him up with an old school DVD (Oh the horror!), I bundled up and headed outside, convinced that my Southern Oregon roots would serve me well. After all, I spent my entire childhood playing in forests while my dad cut firewood, and traipsing around our wooded property while he cleared and burned brush. “I can do this!” I told myself. Granted, I’m somewhat scarred given that these childhood scenarios nearly always ended with vast quantities of blood and trips to the ER. My dad was either chain-sawing his knee-cap, or nearly setting himself on fire, or impaling his leg on a pitchfork. No matter; I wasn’t going to be using a chainsaw or a pitchfork – I was safe! (In fact, I don’t own a chainsaw, but I will admit that when I went to the hardware store to obtain more yard waste bags, I ventured down the chainsaw aisle and gazed longingly like it was a wall of Louboutins.)

I rummaged around in the garage, came up with a handsaw and some heavy duty clippers, and set to work lumberjacking the hell out of that tree! I sawed; I clipped; I ripped; I pulled; I stuffed bags and bags and bags of yard waste. I felt like Paul Bunyan, minus Babe the Blue Ox. About seven hours after I started, with nothing more than my handsaw and clippers, the tree was gone, except for a seven or eight foot section of trunk. My neighbor and his friend came over with a little electric chainsaw (it didn’t look nearly as dangerous as my dad’s giant ones, but I still stayed clear) and reduced what was left to a pile of firewood-sized logs. I filled our big yard waste container, our neighbor’s yard waste container, two additional standard garbage barrels, and something like 17 or 18 yard waste bags.

By the end of the day, I could barely move. Everything hurt – my back, my legs, my arms, and especially my hands and wrists. I have a split in my thumb and my hands are still too sore to grip anything very tightly, but I didn’t clip any fingers off or saw into any portion of my body. And given that likelihood is definitely in my genes, I’m counting this as another win.

The yard waste guys came Monday morning and hauled everything but the chopped up logs away. They said they can take those next week if I tie them together in small bundles. I’m hoping if I put a “Free firewood” sign on the pile, someone will take them off my hands before then. In the meantime, I’m listening to the cable guy working away on the porch, nursing my aching body, and dreaming of chainsaws and designer heels, in that order amazingly.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Boogie Man

I’m tired. Not just a little tired, but really tired. I know this is not unique. Pretty much everyone I know is some degree of tired these days; it seems like most of us are burning the candle at both ends – juggling too many things and just trying to retain sanity and stay awake until bed time. Normally the fatigue level of a typically busy life is manageable, but sometimes it crosses over into something else. After a month of conferences, and late work nights, and school starting, and soccer practices, and single parenting, and just WAY too little sleep, I’m there. I’m bone-weary, muddle-brained, zombie-eyed tired.

There is always one dead-give-away sign that I’ve crossed over into this overly-tired territory – well, one sign besides the weary bones, non-functioning brain, and zombie eyes. When I’m really, ridiculously tired, I become oddly paranoid. I start attributing weird explanations to things I actually see and hear, as well as to things I only think I see and hear. In my mind there is some sort of Boogie Man lurking in every situation – murderous Boogie Men, thieving Boogie Men, dangerous wild animal Boogie Men!

Once, I became convinced that a pack of wild, rabid coyotes had gotten into our basement, upending boxes and furniture. As it turned out, the hot water heater had broken and flooded the basement. The boxes weren’t so much upended as they were floating. In this case, I would have preferred the wild, blood-thirsty animals.

Then there was the time that, while rocking Chester to sleep, I kept hearing a ringing phone. It rang and rang and then stopped, and then rang and rang and then stopped. No one ever answered. After putting Chester to bed, I spent a good half-hour tip-toeing around the house, stopping in various spots, listening intently. I was absolutely certain the ringing was coming from our basement. Clearly a serial killer that would come to be known far and wide as The Cell Phone Psycho was in my house, waiting to strike. This was the only logical explanation. Surprisingly, that was not the case. It was my musician neighbor, having returned home from a holiday gig dressed as an elf, attempting to find her lost cell phone. I got roped into helping her look for it and found it, in the snow, under the front driver’s side tire of her car. Now honestly, isn’t the Cell Phone Psyhco explanation more plausible than an elf’s lost phone?

This morning, as I was washing my breakfast dishes, I saw, in my peripheral vision, a large, dark figure move across the window in the back door. I froze and slowly turned my head to look more closely. Whatever it was had moved out of sight. It could have been a bird or maybe a cat walking on the deck railing, but those are the likely explanations, and when I’m tired, my mind does not default to likely explanations. What is far more plausible to my exhausted brain is that a crazed, violent criminal is in my backyard. I mean, it’s a lovely, sunny Friday morning. I’ve just returned from yoga, and I’m washing a glass. It only makes sense that it’s a psycho murderer, right? Right. So I end up creeping around my house, peeking out windows, around edges of blinds, trying to be as quiet as I can, because if I’m super-quiet then maybe the crazy man in my backyard won’t break in and kill me.

Finally I decided I was being ridiculous and that it really WAS probably a bird or a cat. I must have had a moment of real, clear, non-ridiculous thinking because I even got in the shower, and everybody knows you wouldn’t DARE get in the shower with a crazed killer roaming around, casting shadows in your backyard. So I took my shower and everything was fine – no Norman Bates, no creepy Bernard Herrmann score. I was even to the point of chuckling at myself, until I turned off the water, pulled back the shower curtain, and reached for my towel. There it was… writing in the steam on the bathroom mirror! I froze mid-reach, my heart pounded, my mind raced, I squinted at the writing. What did it say?! “Redrum?!” Oh my God, did it say “Redrum?!” I couldn’t quite make it out. The only explanation was that the post-breakfast shadow actually was a murderer who snuck across my deck, waited for me to get in the shower, broke into the house and then quietly crept into the bathroom to write a creepy message in the steam on the bathroom mirror. And now, at any moment he would spring out and get me. Never mind that I have an 8 year old son who consistently insists on putting his sticky little hands on and in everything. In fact, just last night I caught him swirling his finger around in a side of ketchup in a manner I reserve only for attempting to retrieve chunks of delicious pineapple from Mai Tais in Hawaii. It couldn’t have possibly been him writing on the mirror! No way. That’s simply crazy, outlandish thinking.

My all time favorite was actually not me, but my very tired husband, being paranoid. I like to call it the Great Toilet Paper Heist and I’ll probably get into trouble for writing about it because, to this day, my very tired husband does not find the story nearly as amusing as I do. The Great Toilet Paper Heist occurred when Chester was toddler-aged. He still wasn’t sleeping through the night or any later than about 5:00 a.m. and we were deliriously tired. It was a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and we had returned from Target with a bunch of typical Target stuff – paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning products, diapers, etc. and were in the process of putting it all away. I was bustling around and Matt stopped me to ask where I’d put the toilet paper he had left at the foot of the stairs. I told him I hadn’t done anything with the toilet paper and attempted to continue along my way. He asked me if I was sure. I assured him I was.

“You probably already took it upstairs,” I said.
“No, I didn’t!” he whispered, his eyes darting back and forth.
I tried to speak in a normal voice, but was immediately shushed.
“Why are we whispering?” I asked.
“Because someone is in the house,” he hissed. “Someone has got to be in the house, I DID NOT move the toilet paper from the stairs!”
“So you think someone broke into the house and stole the toilet paper?” I attempted to clarify . . .  “While we were here?”
“YES!!! Or moved it!”
“Moved it?” I quietly and incredulously inquired.

Turns out, there was no emboldened toilet paper thief, which is really kind of disappointing when you think about it, because that’s some good stuff. The kind of stuff you can’t possibly make up; unless of course you’re really, really, ridiculously tired.    

The good news is, I managed to escape and get to work this morning, but I’m pretty sure the killer is still hiding in my house, lurking, waiting to write on the mirror again, to leave a closet door open, to stop the washing machine after I’ve started it, or to hide something important. That’s what Boogie Men do.  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

It’s not a fire . . . b#@ch! (Or, “How a very hot shower turned me into Jesse Pinkman”)

So, I had kind of a bad morning. Nothing terrible happened; definitely first world problems, but still not good. I live in a “charming” old house. In addition to its old house charm, it has old house issues, which I’m pretty sure I’ve covered in past blog posts – sliver-prone wood floors, bizarre and malfunctioning fixtures, ugly kitchen cabinets, peeling plaster, and plumbing issues that have created permanent psychological trauma, just to name a few. (I didn’t even write about the recent basement flooding as it was simply too painful to rehash.)

Another issue is lack of ventilation in the upstairs bathroom. Unless you count the nearly century old windows that you can pretty much feel the wind whistling right through at any given moment. Unfortunately that doesn’t provide enough ventilation to keep the whole second floor of the house from steaming up when someone takes a particularly hot shower. That “someone” is always me. I can’t help it; I love hot showers. Anything short of nearly scalding is too cold for me. And, while our house is desperately in need of updates in almost every possible area, the one exception is safety. The architect in the house is nothing if not life-safety-oriented. We have top-notch smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in nearly every room, hallway, nook, and cranny.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for safety. But the combination of zero bathroom ventilation and my penchant for super hot showers makes the upstairs hallway “smoke detector” actually a “steam detector” disguised as a smoke detector. On an ideal day I remember to take the thing down before I get into the shower. On a good day, I don’t bother taking it down, but firmly close the bathroom door, which generally (but not always) prevents the steam detector from going off. On a not-so-good day I forget taking it down AND closing the door, and it begins going off once I’m out of the shower and mostly dried off.

Today was not an ideal day. It was not a good day, nor was it a not-so-good day. Today was a bad day. Today I neglected to take the steam detector down and I forgot to firmly close the bathroom door. As a result (and because the steam detector hates me), it started going off about halfway into my shower when I was all soapy and covered with shampoo and home alone. 

This is a new-fangled “smoke” detector that not only emits eardrum-bursting, head-splitting alarms, but alternates the evil sounds from hell with an obnoxious female voice that periodically declares, “Fire. Fire. Fire.” Despite being subjected to the most irritating, panic-inducing sounds in the world while in a vulnerable situation, I stayed calm. I rinsed off as quickly as I could and then gingerly stepped out of the charming old claw-foot tub – that desperately needs refinishing – so as to avoid injury. (Did you know that the most common place in the home for serious injuries and even deaths is the bathroom? That’s right; safety first, people!)

Once I felt confidently not-so-much-dry-as-non-slippery, I raced through the deafening cavern of sound that was my hallway into Chester’s room to retrieve a kiddo-sized chair on which to stand to reach and remove the blaring device. Typically once removal is achieved, I wrap the wretched thing securely in a t-shirt, a jacket, a pair of jeans – any clothing item that is definitely not mine and toss and/or stuff it angrily into a closet that is also not mine. I hate its small electronic guts and I will have it nowhere near me.

Typically removal is quick and easy – one small twist and down the steam detector comes. Today was not typical. I twisted . . . nothing. I turned . . . nothing. I pulled . . . nope. I twisted, turned, and pulled in all manner of twisting, turning, pulling combination, but it would not budge. At all.

I spent a good 15 minutes standing naked, wet (but not slippery) and progressively angrier on a tiny toddler chair attempting endless variations of twisting, turning, and pulling before a strange thing happened . . . I inexplicably turned into Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. I think maybe it was the annoying female voice saying “Fire, Fire, Fire” every few seconds that especially pissed me off, but I started yelling at the smoke detector like I was in a life or death argument with Walter White about who lost the keys to the RV meth lab . . .

“Stop. Stop, stop, stop . . .” I begged. “Stop it . . .

. . .

. . . Bitch!” (It felt surprisingly good to throw that in, so I really went for it.)

“STOP!!!! . . . .Bitch!”

“Come down . . .Bitch!”

“It is NOT a fire . . . Bitch!”

“It’s a shower . . . Bitch! A SHOWER!!!”

“NOT A FIRE . . .

 . . . BITCH!”

And suddenly . . . silence. It worked! My steam detector speaks Jesse Pinkman! I was bewildered and thrilled and also now deaf, but who cares because it finally stopped. Sweet Jesus, Vince Gilligan, and Aaron Paul, it stopped! 

I can’t wait to try speaking Jesse Pinkman to other malfunctioning household items. Sink clogged? “Unclog, bitch!” Bam, unclogged. Toilet overflowing? “Stop overflowing, bitch!” Done. Furnace not working? “I need heat, bitch!” Ask and you shall receive. Based on this morning’s experience, I’m almost certain this will work.

I suppose it’s possible that my horrible smoke detector finally stopped blaring for some other reason. Like maybe the steam finally cleared up enough for it to stop detecting it? Or perhaps it screeched itself out and just quit from sheer exhaustion? Possibly, but I think it’s far more likely that my smoke detector is a big Breaking Bad fan . . .bitch.