So you don’t want to give your dog an ordinary name like Fido or Spot. And you love books. So, naturally, you turn to your favorite literary classics when it’s time to name the new puppy. The result? This list of actual canine names inspired by literature (from The Giant Book of Dog Names)
A chiwawa named Kafka? A pug named Nietzsche? Well, why not? Still, it takes a very special— or just very bookish—person to name her dog Voldemort.
Not that I have anything against literary dog names. In fact, we named our own Yorkie-poo Captain Colossal, after a character in a young adult novel by Daniel Pinkwater, thus going with both literature AND irony. Does Captain mind being saddled with a (gently) mocking moniker? Not at all.
He’s probably just glad we didn’t name him Mrs. Danvers.
We’re happy to report that Cartoonist Isabella Bannerman, whom we profiled two years ago, and whose work we’ve continued to feature, has just won this year’s Reuben award for “Best Newspaper Comic Strip” from the National Cartoonists Society.
Bannerman is one of the six female cartoonists making up King Feature’s popular “Six Chix” strip, which is syndicated to 100 newspapers worldwide (and is also available online.) Bannerman has contributed the Monday cartoon (and as well as many Sunday strips) to the feature since it began in 1999.
To be considered for the Reuben, Bannerman had to submit a dozen cartoons published in 2013, which were then evaluated by a jury made up of other artists. Her favorite of the batch? This cartoon about texting:
© 2013 ISABELLA BANNERMAN KING FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC. WORLD RIGHTS RESERVED
“I was concerned about the danger of texting while driving,“ Bannerman says. “Texting and walking is a lot less scary than texting while driving, so it seemed better for a cartoon. Everyone is familiar with “The Road Not Taken.” I liked the way the words of the poem fit with the sight gag.”
Another winning cartoon was this critique of a current bestseller.
© 2013 ISABELLA BANNERMAN KING FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC. WORLD RIGHTS RESERVED
“I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In—and just reading it made me tired!” says Bannerman. “Sandberg wants women to do more. Speak up more! Sit at the table! Lean in when we do sit at the table! She’s clearly a super-high-energy person—after all, the woman is a former aerobics instructor. While I have no problem with her message, for a less energetic person, all that pushing and leaning sounded exhausting. I decided to reference that old hair spray ad—’She conked out but her hair held up!’ Even as a kid, I found that ad weird and funny.”
Still another cartoon pokes fun at an aspect of contemporary life many of us will recognize:
© 2013 ISABELLA BANNERMAN KING FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC. WORLD RIGHTS RESERVED
“I’m old enough to remember when yoga didn’t require a lot of equipment,” Bannerman says. “Maybe, at most, a beach towel. So when I recently found myself in a crowded yoga class that involved hauling a small household’s worth of equipment to my spot, I found it funny.”
Bannerman was 38 when “Six Chix” began. Now she’s 53. How has her work changed? “I’m doing fewer gags about little kids and more gags about living with teenagers,” she says. “And more strips about aches and pains, going to the doctor, and trying to live in a healthier way. But her outlook has also changed. “These days I also do more editorializing about larger issues, like pollution and climate change,” she says. “When your kids are young you’re completely absorbed in the minutiae of their world. Now that my kids are older, I’m able to look around and take a broader perspective.”
The best thing about being a syndicated cartoonist? “I never take for granted that I have an outlet to express my thoughts and my feelings,” says Bannerman. “I love having the freedom to say whatever I want.” And an audience, including her fellow cartoonists, who can’t wait to see what she has to say.
I’m sure this has happened to you. You run into someone you know, but she isn’t where you’d expect to see her. Your yoga instructor . . . at the dry cleaner’s. A member of your book club . . . at the local Starbucks. Your mental wheels start to spin. “I know her,” you’re thinking. “But . . . who the hell is she?
She recognizes you. She smiles and greets you by name. You return her smile, desperately trying not to let on that you can’t place her.
Who the hell is she? Who the hell knows?
Welcome to my world.
I’m face blind. It’s real. There’s even a Greek name for it. Prosopagnosia. There’s a part of the brain (the fusiform gyrus) that is devoted to facial recognition. If you have prosopagnosia, that part of your brain doesn’t work.
Which is why, even if we’re friends, the next time our paths cross I may breeze right by like I’ve never seen you before.
Trying to tell one face from another, for the face blind, is like trying to distinguish one rock from another rock.
It can be done. But not easily.
Neurologist Oliver Sacks, ironically, is face blind. So is artist Chuck Close. I believe that I am too, although I have yet to receive an official diagnosis. Why bother? When news stories about prosopagnosia first began to appear, I was bombarded with emails from friends and family, saying, “Now we know what’s wrong with you!”
Brad Pitt recently “came out” as being face blind. (Which means that he and I have something in common besides our sexy good looks and charisma.)
As Brad and I have learned, there is no cure. You just have to cope.
The real problem with being face blind isn’t that you can’t recognize faces. It’s that people expect you to be able to.
If a library patron who has been bringing her kids to my story time for years comes up to the circulation desk to check a book out and I don’t recognize her, she doesn’t think: “Poor Roz. She must be face blind.”
Instead, she’s probably thinking: “All these years and she acts like she doesn’t know me? That Roz is one rude bitch.”
So we face-blind folks develop a vast arsenal of ploys and tricks to work around the perils of such social encounters. We learn to identify you by the sound of your voice. Your hair style and color. Your body language. The way you dress. In conversation, we’ll try to manipulate you into revealing your identity before you can catch on to the fact that we don’t know who you are.
Which isn’t to say that we don’t still make mistakes. Plenty of them.
When Karen, the mother of two terrific kids I used to baby-sit, came into the library recently, I asked, “How are the girls?”
When she just starred at me blankly, I realized that she wasn’t Karen after all.
Then there was the time I foolishly tried, on a walk with my pal Janet, to introduce her to one of my neighbors. “Janet, this is my neighbor Deb,” I said.
“No I’m not!” “Deb” protested. Because she was actually my neighbor Julie. Both women have short brown hair and live on my block. But Deb is 20 years older (and 30 pounds heavier) than Julie.
Was that embarrassing? Hell, yes.
So I try not to assume that I know who you are until you tell me something that nails it. And because I don’t know if you’re a close friend, a sworn enemy or a total stranger, I greet everyone with a smile.
We face blind people are the friendliest people around. Since we don’t know who you are, we’ll always approach you with a cheery “Hello!” just to play it safe.
Every day when I’m out walking, a person I could swear on a stack of Bibles I’ve never seen before passes me on the street and calls out “Hi, Roz!”
Just once, instead of responding with a friendly “Hello!” I’d love to be able to stop and demand, “Who the hell are you?”
Or, better yet, require that, out of deference to my prosopagnosia, everyone have the courtesy to wear name tags.
Instead, I’ll keep trying to learn to recognize you. And, with time and plenty of effort, I’ll probably be able to. But if you change your haircut, a bad cold lowers your voice an octave, or you turn up where I don’t expect to see you, I may still draw a blank.
Last week I ran into a library patron at the movies—and, for once, oddly, I easily recognized him! “Hi, Karl!” I said, with complete confidence that this was Karl and not Bruce or Bob. I was even able to introduce him to my friend Mark without fear of embarrassment.
How did it feel? WONDERFUL. That lost, floundering-around sensation was gone. It gave me a glimpse of what I’d been missing. How splendid and satisfying it would be to go through life actually being able to recognize the people I know.
The next time I see Karl, of course, I’ll probably call him Steve and ask how his Chihuahuas are doing.
Yes, there are worse problems to have.
But if they ever discover a cure, I’ll be the first in line. Or the second in line, right behind Brad Pitt. Whom I probably won’t recognize.
Eschew this? Cake by Night Kitchen Bakery
I‘m processing books in the circulation office of the library where I work when I hear a sudden outcry.
“This is dreadful.”
“This is just terrible!”
What catastrophe are my co-workers, all middle-aged women, reacting to? Have the library’s computers crashed again? Has a letter from an irate patron just been posted on the bulletin board? Is there another new book by Joyce Carol Oates?
Nope. They’re talking about cake.
One of our patrons has baked us a scrumptious-looking chocolate cake, which sits invitingly on the counter in the circulation office. After taking a piece (“I really shouldn’t, but . . .”) I return to my work station and continue to eavesdrop as my co-workers respond to this thoughtful gift.
“Oh my God!”
“This is just evil.”
You’d think that eating chocolate cake was the worst possible kind of calamity.
“This is treacherous.”
“I’m in trouble now.”
“Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Oh, dear.“
I begin to wonder—isn’t anybody going to say anything positive? Like: “Chocolate cake? How cool is that?” Or “I love cake. I’m having a nice big slice.”
Not a chance. By afternoon’s end, not a single librarian has had anything nice to say about this unexpected treat. We’ve gobbled it down. But have we enjoyed it?
You sure wouldn’t think so, listening to us.
Last week, I helped celebrate my pal Lucy’s 40th birthday. As we all sang “Happy Birthday,” Lucy’s husband brought out a beautiful layer cake he’d made from scratch, lavishly decorated by Olivia, their 7-year-old daughter.
I try to avoid sweets, but I always make an exception for birthday cake. To turn down birthday cake, it seems to me, is just bad karma.
So I had a slice. And I enjoyed it, too. But my pleasure was undercut by the guilt I felt about consuming all those empty calories.
Lucy’s other friends also said yes to cake, invariably adding, “Just a small slice for me, thanks.” or “Just a tiny taste.”
But the kids at the party, a gaggle of little girls Olivia‘s age, had a totally different response. Drawn to that cake like moths to a flame, each child claimed as large a piece as she could get her hands on, then happily made short work of it.
Seeing cake, they weren’t alarmed. They were thrilled.
They were quite a sight, these little girls, beaming, with huge chunks of cake on their plates.
And yet, sometime between now and adulthood, they, too, will stop being delighted by cake and learn to fear it. Rather than taking a big piece and loving it, they’ll ask for a tiny slice and beat themselves up about eating it.
Is there a scientific name for this crazy cake phobia—the terror that strikes the hearts of otherwise sane and mature women when offered a delicious dessert? Yes, cake has zero nutritional value. Still, shouldn’t a grown woman be able to simply enjoy a piece from time to time?
Listening to my co-workers kvetch about our cake, and remembering how much those little girls loved eating theirs, I resolved to attempt to shed my own fear of delicious pastry and get back in touch with my inner 7-year-old.
Call it Radical Middle-aged Cake Acceptance.
When comes to cake, I’m going to give myself just two options. Either smile and say “No, thanks.” Or have a piece and enjoy it, without ambivalence or guilt, the way I did when I was a kid.
“Cake is not the enemy” is my brand-new mantra. (You can try it too. Just repeat after me: “Cake is not dreadful. Cake is delicious.”)
Is this an impossible dream?
Invite me to your next party and let’s find out.
If a Wellesley college student, walking across campus, spots a man her father’s age, wearing nothing but underpants, stumbling along, eyes closed and arms outstretched, she can call the police on her cell and they’ll be there in two minutes to remove him.
But if he isn’t flesh and blood but, instead, an über-realistic facsimile made of painted bronze, it’s a totally different story. That’s not some pervy stranger hanging around outdoors in his tighty whiteys. That’s art!
Specifically, that’s Sleepwalker, a sculpture by artist Tony Matelli. The Wellesley campus is currently running a show of Matelli’s work, and this Underpants Man is part of the show.
“Sleepwalker,” says the artist, is intended to evoke “empathy” for someone who is “lost and out of place.”
I don’t know about lost, but “Underpants Man” couldn’t possibly be more out of place than on the campus of an all-women’s college. Not only is he off-putting and unattractive, but a number of students find the sight of him alarming, reminding them of bad past encounters with other semi-naked older guys.
Concerned students asked that “Underpants Man” be moved indoors. When this request was turned down, two juniors began to circulate an online petition. Explaining that Sleepwalker was a source of “apprehension, fear and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault” for some students, they asked that the statue be relocated to the gallery where the rest of Matelli’s work was on display. There, Matelli’s fans could choose to enjoy it, and students repelled by it could choose to avoid it.
An appropriate response would have been an apology for being clueless and insensitive, followed by a prompt change of venue for “Underpants Man.”
Instead, Museum Director Lisa Fischman refused to move the statue, telling The New York Times that the situation provides the Wellesley community with a “teachable moment.“ College President H. Kim Bottomly backed her up, welcoming the debate about “freedom of expression and the significance of safe spaces.”
And the artist himself? Matelli was “surprised and delighted” by the response. Anyone creeped out by his creation, he suggested, needed to “seek help.”
Would it be okay for a real middle-aged dude to wander the campus of a women’s college in his undies? I sure as hell hope not. So what makes Sleepwalker acceptable? I love art. But it seems to me that what this particular work of art expresses is hostility to any young woman who might not enjoy encountering a flabby, near-naked stalker as she goes about her daily life.
Had Sleepwalker been installed on my own college campus back in the ‘70s, I’m pretty sure that the radical feminist crowd I ran with back then would have quickly taken matters into our own hands and “uninstalled” him.
Although these days I am a law-abiding librarian who would NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, counsel a college student to break the law, were I to channel the idealistic rabble-rouser I was back then, this is probably what she’d tell her sister students at Wellesley College:
• Why not counter art with art? Taking “Underpants Man” down? That’s not vandalism, it’s a Performance Piece! Matelli is expressing himself with “Underpants Man”? You can Express Yourselves right back.
• Unmoor the dude and move him inside yourself. All you’ll need is a group of strong, motivated Lacrosse players and a few power tools and you‘re good to go!
• Install him in the gallery. If they put him back outside, move him back to the gallery. (You can call this particular work of Conceptual Art “Don’t Mess With Feminists.”)
• Better yet, move him into the college president’s private bathroom. Let’s see how much she enjoys encountering “Underpants Man” over and over again as she goes about her daily life.
If “Underpants Man” cannot be moved, mess with him a little:
• It’s cold outside. Cover him up! Clothe him in a heavy overcoat and warm hat.
• Dress him in a clown suit and attach bunches of brightly covered helium balloons to his outstretched hands.
• What would “Underpants Man” look like in drag? Find out!
• Consider him a giant Barbie doll! Try different looks for him. What about a cocktail dress? Or a tutu? Maybe a blond wig and some make-up.
• Hold a contest—the student who can make him look the most like Lady Gaga wins!
• Decorate him like a Christmas tree! Put a star on his head and festoon him with lights and ornaments.
• I’ve got two words for you—spray paint. Paint him blue. Or Black. Paint him like a rainbow. Paint him with your school colors, and write GO BLUE CREW! on his ass.
• Or slap a Groucho Marx mask on his face and paint a slogan on his butt: “Where The Hell Did I Put My Pants?” “Beam Me Up, Scottie.” Or “If You See Something, Say Something.”
Should you hesitate, consider the words of artist Tony Matelli; “Art is open and designed to solicit responses no matter what they are.”
I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like an invitation.
If the president of the college complains, just tell her it’s a “teachable moment.”
That, of course, is the advice I’d have given you when I was a young, idealistic rabble-rouser. The woman I am these days would NEVER counsel a college student to break the law by defacing public property (however repellent). But countering art with art? Not a bad idea.
Why not get a bunch of motivated art students together, construct your own über-realistic replica of a campus policewoman poised to arrest “Underpants Man” for public indecency, and install her right next to the offending statue?
Call her Shutting Down Sleepwalker.
Don’t have the funding to make this happen? Put out a call for Shutting Down Sleepwalker donations. I’d be happy to write the first check.
As I was reading Not Your Mother’s Book on Home Improvement, a new collection of lighthearted essays by (primarily) middle-aged female do-it-yourselfers, it became abundantly clear to me that, unlike the women who tell their stories here, I am not a do-it-yourselfer. How about you?
Take this simple test and see! The following statements are made by the handywomen in this book as they undertake projects from fixing a broken doorbell to building an addition. How many of these sentences can you imagine yourself saying?
Sweating pipes is something all women should know how to do.
I can fix just about anything.
We were building our dream house, which I had designed and drafted.
I’d memorized the recipe for perfect foundation cement.
My Mother’s Day gift was a weed-whacker.
I slathered the pipe ends with flux, inserted needed sleeves and torched and soldered until they ran red hot.
I am Ms. Fixit.
Several years ago, during a day off from work, I decided to convert a coat closet into a pantry. How hard could it be?
As I headed to my truck for parts, I tried hard to think about all the money I was saving by fixing the toilet myself.
My shelving lumber did not fit neatly . . . into the miter box.
I have purchased ball cocks at the plumbing supply place.
In an effort to break up the turd jam, I poured water into the bowl a little at a time to avoid overflow.
I could whip up a funky, modern coffee table out of reclaimed wood and tricycle parts in a single afternoon. Bring on the power tools!
I’m not complaining about being the one who did all the yard work.
I strongly believe that every girl should have a Five-Way Wonder Tool. (And no, she’s not talking about THAT kind of Five-Way Wonder Tool.)
How well did you score?
0–4 Put down that hammer before you hurt someone!
5–9 You can be trusted to change a light bulb, paint the powder room, or fix a running toilet. Otherwise, it’s Angie’s List for you!
10–13 Love the way you rock those power tools. Ms. Fixit. But there are a few projects even you can’t handle.
14–15 Congratulations! You are, absolutely and without question, a genuine Handywoman. Not only can you design, build, and fix just about anything, you enjoy the challenge. (Speaking of which, my attic needs rewiring . . . any chance you’d like to drop by?)
The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue just came out, and all over America librarians are flipping through its pages and rolling their eyes.
The swimsuit issue, which isn’t actually about swimwear at all but is, instead, about young, beautifully shaped female bodies, is the single most stolen item in any public library. Shelve it in your magazine section like any other periodical? It’ll vanish. Like magic. Always. But hide it behind the reference desk and make your patrons sign it out?
Is that just good sense? Or is it censorship?
Every year, the swimsuit issue gets a bit more lascivious—the bikinis skimpier, the poses more provocative, the expressions on the models’ faces less about “Look at my strong, healthy body!“ and more about “Do me! Now! Right here on the beach!
This year’s cover shows three stunning young woman, topless, their backs to the camera, smiling happily at the viewer over their shoulders, their gorgeous rumps more revealed that concealed by itty wisps of fabric.
Is this really what we want to display on our library’s magazine rack?
Of course, my suburban Philadelphia library’s collection contains all three books in the Shades of Grey trilogy, and numerous other examples of sexy contemporary “literature.” (And the sex scenes in the romances we circulate are hot hot hot.)
We librarians tend to be fans of the First Amendment. I’m a card-carrying member of the ACLU myself. I even subscribe to Playboy—for the articles and interviews, of course.
What I’m saying is that I’m all for pornography.
But there’s a time and a place for porn. I wasn’t sure this was the time or the place. I’m in charge of processing and then shelving incoming magazines. Before putting this one out on the floor, I decided to consult my supervisor.
Carol and I perused the issue together. “OMG!“ “Would you look at that?” “Yikes!” “Do you even SEE a swimsuit in this picture?“ “Oy!” “I hope her mother never sees that shot.”
This was pretty hot stuff.
We were inclined to stash it behind the reference desk, along with the other stuff that patrons like to steal. The Thursday “Science” section of The New York Times. The Morningstar weekly stock market updates.
But first, we brought the issue to the head of the library.
Our boss took a look, then said, “Just shelve it. Don’t treat it differently from any other magazine. It’s no worse than what they can see every day on television.”
That woman sure loves the First Amendment.
And, of course, the truth is that we’re living in an era where anyone, of any age, can view all the naked tushies they want, whenever they want, online.
“Put a security tag on it, of course,” she added. Although we all know how easy it is to remove those tags.
Before I shelved it, my co-workers passed it around. The consensus? We weren’t exactly shocked. But we weren’t exactly thrilled either.
We’re all middle-aged women. Many of us are grandmas. Still, in our heyday, we too were hot chicks. But you can be a hot chick and not want to share that aspect of yourself with the entire world. The kind of young woman who is drawn to library work is rarely the kind of young woman who ends up spilling out of her bikini on the cover of a magazine.
We librarians don’t tend to let it all hang out.
Which means that we are, increasingly, at odds with our culture. Modesty? How retro is that? Dignity? Forget about it.
Still, we proudly stand behind the First Amendment. Perhaps to a fault. And while I wasn’t exactly elated about adding that little touch of smarm to our quiet reading room, I went ahead and shelved the swimsuit issue just like any other magazine.
Within 24 hours, it was gone.
Cartoonist Liza Donnelly has said that her goal is “to write and draw in a way that makes people laugh and think.” With her new book, Women on Men, a collection of cartoons about what goes on between the sexes (and, occasionally, between the sheets) she’s done just that.
Donnelly—a New Yorker staff cartoonist with more than a dozen books in print, who has been married to fellow cartoonist Michael Maslin for close to two decades—has both the life experience and the cartoon chops to take on this enticing topic.
The collection is divided into chapters like “Let‘s Get to Goodbye“ (dating) and “The Idiot I Married” (matrimony), each of which begins with an on-topic riff in the cartoonist’s own handwriting, giving the book the fun and informal vibe of a good pal dropping you a line.
The cover art sets the tone. Just two faces, one male and one female. The woman, who is (naturally) on top, looks down at her partner, happy and confident, as he, underneath, gazes up at her, intrigued.
The women in this book are empowered. Strong, sharp, and funny, they’re fully capable of expressing (or defending) themselves with a wisecrack. But they’re caring and vulnerable too.
They endure the nightmare that is dating:
© The New Yorker Magazine and Liza Donnelly
But, undaunted, they continue to look for love:
© The New Yorker Magazine and Liza Donnelly
They often come up short in their search for Mr. Right:
© The New Yorker Magazine and Liza Donnelly
Married life is often bliss. Other times, not so much.
© The New Yorker Magazine and Liza Donnelly
And let‘s not forget the topic of divorce.
© The New Yorker Magazine and Liza Donnelly
Although there’s plenty of frustration and hostility on these pages, the tone throughout remains friendly. Gently mocking. Nothing over the top or out of control. These are civilized people. Everyone has excellent manners. And Donnelly pokes as much fun at herself and as at the men in her life.
You could criticize Women on Men for its lack of diversity. These are all well-educated, high-earning New Yorkers, hanging out in nice apartments and going to cocktail parties. But let’s be realistic. Donnelly cartoons for upscale venues like The New Yorker and Forbes. This is her beat, and she covers it well. It works because she tracks her own experience with wit and honesty.
And Donnelly herself is well aware of the world beyond her own community. She’s both a charter member of “Cartooning for Peace” and the founder of WorldInk.org, a showcase for political art from around the globe, and she travels the world as a cultural envoy for the U.S. State Department.
My own favorite Donnelly cartoon is, unfortunately, not in the book.
© The New Yorker Magazine and Liza Donnelly
In Women on Men, Donnelly confides to the reader that she loves to dance but her husband does not, which means that when he popped the question, decades ago, she had to ask herself: “Do I like this guy more than I like going dancing?”
She decided to give up the dream of a dancing husband and say “yes” to the man she describes, in the book’ s dedication, as “my husband, friend, lover (and) muse.“ (Good call!) Nevertheless, years later, via this cartoon, she’s given herself (or at least her alter ego) that dancing husband after all.
It’s an intriguing glimpse into how the creative process works. And a great way for a funny woman to get the last laugh.
Growing up in the sixties, I looked forward to a future in which I’d get to eat like The Jetsons, whose cuisine consisted of little tablets that magically turned into full-sized meals.
Which is to say that I’ve never been much of a foodie. Call me a “fuelie.” Food, for me, isn’t about enjoyment. It‘s about sustenance.
I don’t get a kick out of cutting-edge cuisine, fabulous new restaurants, or creative food combinations. Sitting around a table for hours, ordering innovative entrées, tasting each other’s food, and yakking endlessly about what we’re eating as we gobble it down? I have more fun vacuuming the living room.
Check out that amazing new bistro?
No, thanks. I’d rather stay home and open a can of Campbell’s.
One reason that Mark, my sweetie, and I get along is that we’re both perfectly happy always eating at the Same Dam Chinese restaurant or, even better, staying at home to enjoy vegan chili, made from the recipe Mark has used for decades.
When I’m on my own for dinner, I’ll either pick up something nutritious from the neighborhood gourmet take-out place or fix myself a salad. Or, on rare occasion, indulge my sweet tooth with a serving of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies (a serving being, of course, an entire sleeve).
“Don’t you ever feel like cooking?“ people ask.
Not I. There isn’t a meal in the world I enjoy eating enough to want to actually cook it. I use my stove not to cook, but to store the pots and pans that I’m not using.
Which is all of them.
So when I first heard about Soylent, I was thrilled.
Soylent, the creation of software engineer Rob Rhinehart, is a new food substitute that can supply 100 percent of your daily nutritional needs, costs next to nothing, and takes no time to prepare. Using himself as a guinea pig, Rhinehart was able to thrive on nothing but homemade Soylent for three months. After which he crowd-funded it to the tune of $1.5 million. And then the venture capitalists moved in.
The original recipe is being tested and refined, and the first orders (including mine) should ship in early 2014.
So what does it taste like?
“I’m not trying to make something delicious,” Rhinehart said in a recent Gawker interview. “There are already a lot of delicious things. It’s all about efficiency. It’s all about cost and convenience.”
Which is to say that it tastes like Glop. Or, according to one Gawker staffer, like “the homemade nontoxic Play-Doh you made, and sometimes ate, as a kid. Slightly sweet and earthy with a strong yeasty aftertaste.“
“Perfectly balanced nutritious sludge that you can live on instead of preparing delicious meals?“ I thought. “I’m in!”
When he named his creation Soylent (after a foodstuff central to a movie whose tagline every Boomer knows by heart), Rhinehart was being ironic, although a few of the folks who posted responses on his website claimed to feel betrayed. “If it’s called Soylent,” one huffed. “It had better be made out of people!”
Let’s hope he was kidding.
I can’t wait to mix up my first batch. I’m excited at the prospect of thriving on a nutritionally perfect, hassle-free diet.
It might even catch on! Maybe 2014 will be The Year of Glop.
I’m dreaming of a Soylent-centered Christmas for 2014. No hours of preparation. No groaning board. No overeating, then sinking onto the sofa in a ham- or turkey-fueled stupor. And no mountains of dirty dishes to wash.
Instead, friends and family sit around the table enjoying witty, literate conversation as we cheerfully sip our Soylent. (Perhaps, for the holiday, we’ll spike it with a little vodka.) We’ll donate the money we’ve saved to charities that fight world hunger.
Then, on to coffee and pie! Having satisfied 100 percent of our nutritional needs, we can indulge in a bit of food-as-pure-pleasure.
Okay, so that probably won’t happen. But aren’t the possibilities Soylent offers, at the very least, food for thought?
As for me, it may have taken five decades, but I’m finally going to be able to eat like Jane Jetson!
Now, where’s my jetpack?
I’ve enjoyed so many things in my life. Books and music. Friends and lovers. Children, cats, and canines. Not to mention doing work that I love. But at 59, there’s one thing I know I can always rely on to make me happy.
A good night’s sleep.
I wake up each morning refreshed, then glance at the clock. “That’s eight solid hours!” I’ll think happily. Then I’ll turn right over and head back to dreamland for another hour. Sometimes two.
Sleeping in. It’s my favorite cheap thrill.
When I was in law school, I was up every morning at six, studying. When I was a young mother, I was up every morning at six with the baby. But at this point in my life, there isn’t a reason in the world for me to awaken at dawn and leap from my bed.
So I don’t.
Nine hours is my sweet spot. Twelve hours, which I achieved on a recent spa vacation, is my personal best.
I just love the way it feels to wake up, refreshed, after hours and hours of delicious, soul-satisfying, care-unraveling slumber.
My friends feel the same way.
“I don’t just enjoy sleep,” says Stacia. “I wallow in it.”
“Sleeping rocks,” agrees Gloria.
“It’s my happy place,” adds Gill. “I just hope death is as satisfying and comfortable.”
“Just give me eight hours and I’m good to go,” proclaims Deb. “Unless it’s a weekend. Then give me nine. At least.”
Science backs us up. Sleep-deprived people get sick more often. They eat more. too. Want to drop a few pounds? You can lift weights, speed-walk, or hit the gym and climb those crazy fake stairs.
Or just go to bed on time. And stay there.
To crave sleep isn’t always good. Oversleeping can be a sign of anxiety or depression. If I woke up with the blues each morning, instead of bright as a goddamn buttercup, my love of sleep might be cause for alarm, not celebration.
But catching lots of zzzzs is definitely working for me. So I’ll dream on.
Not that my dreams are anything special. Given that I can do anything I want—fly! perform miracles! have tawdry sex with my favorite celebrities!—my dream life is one big yawn.
Say I’m planning to take Amtrak from Philly to Manhattan tomorrow. All night, in my dreams, I’ll walk to the commuter rail station, take the commuter train to 30th Street Station, purchase a ticket, then board the New York–bound train. Or I’ll begin my walk to the commuter rail station too late and miss the train. Or start my walk with time to spare, but wander around endlessly, unable to locate the train station.
Sometimes I’ll arrive at the station on time and wait for a train that never arrives.
It’s not as if I need to stay asleep to continue to experience that. (In fact, I’d love a dream upgrade. If anybody knows how I can transform my dreams so that instead of shlepping to the train station all night, I could wing my way to the Big Apple on the back of a unicorn, or fly there in the arms of Superman, please get in touch.)
“Can you remember when you didn’t want to sleep?“ comic Paula Poundstone asks. “Isn’t that inconceivable? I guess the definition of adulthood is that you WANT to sleep.”
When my son was a toddler, he needed a daily nap, but he always fought sleep. When I put him in his crib, he’d stand up, sobbing, and plead for me to rescue him. Too soft-hearted to just let him holler, I learned to trick him into falling asleep with motion. If it was sunny out, I’d pop him in his stroller and walk him around until he conked out.
In bad weather, I’d bundle him into his car seat and hit the road, telling him, “I’m driving around until one of us passes out!”
(It was never me. I don’t crave sleep so much that I’d ever indulge when behind the wheel.)
Now that he’s 25, Tom no longer naps. Like most people his age, he gets up early, stays up late, and is utterly unconcerned about how much sleep he’s getting.
By the time he’s my age, though, I’m guessing that he’ll have finally discovered the joy of napping.
My desire for lots of shut-eye means missing out on certain things. Staying up late! Dancing till dawn! Enjoying an intense, soul-baring 2 a.m. conversation. Attending a midnight showing of Rocky Horror!
In my youth I enjoyed all those things. Now I’m happy to trade them all in for a good night’s sleep.
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” some folks announce proudly.
Not me. I’m going to grab nine hours right now.
What finally gets me out of bed in the morning? Birdsong? A good-morning kiss from my beloved? The promise of a glorious new day? Nope. It’s the lure of the one thing I crave even more than sleep.
Image from Flickr via.
“A-maze-ing Laughter” Sculpture, by artist Yue Minjun, China. Vancouver Biennale 2009-2011. Image from Flickr via Louise Gadd
“How do you manage to remain so cheerful?” people ask. “Your job can be so stressful, and yet you’re always smiling. What’s your secret?”
It isn’t that I was born a perpetually happy camper, or that I’ve finally found the right meds. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
It’s because I’m a writer.
I work at a public library. Everyone is welcome, from polite, friendly, reasonable folks to hotheads, scoundrels, and absolute lunatics. Our regulars include not only moms, toddlers, and retirees, but folks who take orders from their toasters and a dude who claims that he can read your future by examining your feet. At the end of the day, do my friends want to hear about the adorable tots who enjoyed my story time or the pleasant people whose reference questions I answered?
Of course not! They want to hear about my run-ins with Toaster Man and Foot Dude. Because challenging encounters make for good stories. Or, to paraphrase (and slightly distort) Nietzsche: What doesn’t kill you gives you great material.
I used to endure my problematic moments with the public. Now I cherish each one. Why? Because I can turn them into stories.
Yesterday a woman went ballistic when I refused to cash a hundred-dollar bill so she could pay a 25-cent fine. An hour later, an elderly gent called me a string of unprintable names because I wouldn’t let him check out Dora the Explorer (to watch with his granddaughter) until he paid us the $90 he owed us. I can take these little flare-ups in stride, not because I’m emotionally made of Teflon, but because I’ve learned to experience life not as a hapless victim but as a humor writer.
When things go well, I enjoy them. When things go to hell, I write about them.
(By the way, Grandpa Putz did return later to pay the whopping fine. But not to apologize.)
You don’t have to be a writer to play this game. Telling a story about a crappy experience so that you come out on top is something anyone can do.
Has anything happened to you within recent memory that made you want to weep, scream, roll your eyes, or throttle someone? For a normal person, that’s a bad day. But for a writer it’s story fodder. Readers adore conflict. (As long as it isn’t happening to them.) The more exasperating the experience for you, the more readers (or your friends) will enjoy hearing about it.
Next time you’re talking back to Julie, Amtrak’s automated agent, or your boss is hollering at you for something that isn’t your fault, consider the silver lining: Give this the right spin and your friends will die laughing when you tell them about it.
So what’s the right spin? As your boss continues to blather, you might think about how you can “punch up” his rant (and your response thereto) to emphasize how gracious, sane, and long-suffering you are, and how bat-shit-crazy he is. You’re not Lois Lane, and this isn’t the 6 O’Clock News, so feel free to embellish it a little. Exaggerate for comic effect. The sky’s the limit!
Not only that, but when you tell the story later, you’ll be able to include all the snappy retorts and devastating zingers you come up with after the fact.
I’m not talking about tragedy. Leave that to Shakespeare or Eudora Welty. I’m referring to the story-telling goldmine that is everyday frustration and annoyance.
Entertaining people with a story isn’t just fun. It’s good for your mental health. Talking about something that’s driving you nuts enables you to vent, which will make you feel better, and to shape the material, which lets you regain some control over the situation.
Can good times make great stories too? Absolutely. I’ve published essays about my son’s Bichon Frisé–themed wedding, the hilarious colonoscopy mix tape a pal just made, and the time my sister and I got an upgrade to first class on a flight to Chicago.
But I also coped with my sweetie’s window-rattling snoring by publishing a humor piece about it in the Christian Science Monitor.
One thing I’ve learned as a writer is that there’s nothing more satisfying—for both you and your audience—than a well-told revenge story. Getting back at somebody who has put you through hell (or, at least, heck) is especially gratifying.
I was once kept waiting for close to an hour in a chilly examination room at a doctor’s office, wearing the usual flimsy cotton gown. When the doc finally showed up, he was rushed, perfunctory, and totally unapologetic about my long wait.
I left with the antibiotic prescription I needed. But I also left feeling angry and humiliated.
When I got home, I wrote “Outpatient,” a short story about a woman who endures the same experience, but I added a plot twist that enabled her to triumph over the situation. Not only did I feel better after giving that uncaring physician his comeuppance, if only in fiction, but the first magazine I sent “Outpatient” to grabbed it and sent me a check.
The story has since appeared in two anthologies and is currently included in med-school course materials aimed at helping doctors-to-be relate better to their patients. My little story not only enabled me to let off steam and made me some money, but might just stop a few future docs from being as terse and snotty with their patients as that doctor was to me.
Which is so much better than if Id just gone home and stewed about the experience.
When “Outpatient” was published, did I send a copy to my doc? With a little note saying, “Thanks for the inspiration!” And did that little gesture put a big fat smile on my face?
What do you think?
The questions we ask ourselves define who we are as a culture. “What is the meaning of life?” “Is there a God?” “Does anybody really know what time it is?” “Where the hell did I put my car keys?”
To see what America is asking itself these days, I checked a dozen popular magazines out of my local public library, from Martha Stewart Living to Sports Illustrated, and scoured the ads for questions.
So what’s on your mind, America? Here’s a sampling of the questions I found.
What’s the Gecko’s favorite yoga pose?
What do you hate most about vacuuming?
Why do we love football?
What’s your dinner made of?
Unexpected zit from hell?
How pure is Purified fish oil?
Is your stomach making you sad?
When’s the last time you were this excited to get on a plane?
On the go?
What’s so wrong with a bald head?
Your secret ingredient?
Ready to sparkle?
Is your cholesterol at goal?
Your litter may control urine odor. But what about feces?
Is it demanding to want it all . . . in two minutes?
First rule of taking the world by surprise?
What does a water balloon tell us about strong, healthy skin?
How long has it been since you gratified all your senses?
Can your deodorant do this?
Can you visibly shrink your pores after just one use?
Is your life a work of art?
It’s 5 o’clock. Is your make-up still fabulous?
So, how does the Man of Steel shave?
There are no bad questions, the saying goes, only bad answers. Or in my case, sarcastic answers. Here are a few of my own responses:
What do I hate most about vacuuming? Vacuuming.
What’s your dinner made of? Whatever I can phone in..
How long has it been since you gratified all your senses? Twenty minutes.
Unexpected zit from hell? Not at my age.
What does a water balloon tell us about healthy skin? If water balloons could talk, I doubt that’s the topic they’d choose to address.
On the go? Probably not.
Ready to sparkle? Maybe later.
Your secret ingredient? Lunch meat.
What’s the Gecko’s favorite yoga pose? Standing by the Coke machine asking if anyone can break a twenty.
When’s the last time you were this excited to get on a plane? During my anxiety attack.
Can your deodorant do this? No, but you should see it write on mirrors.
Got milk? Not since I was 12.
First rule of taking the world by surprise? Two words: Invisibility cloak.
Is it demanding to want it all . . . in two minutes? No, but it could be Bipolar.
Is my life a work of art? Not yet. But I’m working on it.
How does the Man of Steel shave? He gets Batman to help him.
“At the end of the day,” Zen guru Leo Babauta has written, “the questions we ask of ourselves determine the type of people we become.”
I guess this makes us a nation of football-loving, fish-oil-gobbling folks who love to sparkle but hate to vacuum.
But at least our make-up is fabulous.
Retired cantor Janice Woltag Cohen just turned 50. We boomers all know what that means. It’s Colonoscopy Time!
Colonoscopy! That fabulous 50th birthday present you give to yourself. Yes, it’s yucky. But it’s absolutely necessary. (It could save your life.)
As kids growing up in the 50s, we joined the Mickey Mouse Club. Now that we’ve hit the half-century mark, it’s time for the Colonoscopy Club.
Looking at a day filled with poop-inducing “cocktails,“ lots of clear fluids, maybe a little Jell-O, and a million trips to the bathroom, Cohen decided to have a little fun. She needed some distraction. Not to mention something that would get her in the right mood for that very special procedure.
So she logged onto Facebook and posted a question: “What songs should I put on my colonoscopy mixtape?”
Cohen has 1,412 Facebook friends. Most of them are boomers. And, apparently, all of them are smart-asses. They were on it in a flash:
The first suggestion?
“Ring of Fire, by Johnny Cash. Duh.”
Following which, Cohen’s pals quickly came up with:
The Long and Winding Road
Baby Got Back
Looking Out my Back Door
Back in the Saddle Again
Fixing a Hole (The Beatles)
“Hilarious!!” Cohen responded. But her Facebook friends were just warming up. If Cohen needed some tunes to help her through this boomer rite of passage, then that’s what she’d get. How about:
Like a Virgin
Little Brown Jug
Turn, Turn, Turn
Bad Moon Rising
Coal Miner’s Daughter.
Dirty Work (Steely Dan)
Then they really started to get into it:
“‘Tush,’ by ZZ Top!”
“How about my fave Springsteen tune—’Thunder Road?’”
“James Taylor’s ‘There’s Something in the Way She Moves.’”
“John Cougar Mellencamp’s ‘Hurts So Good.’”
“Paul McCartney’s ‘Let Em In.’”
“’The End,’ by the Doors.”
“Anything by the Butt Hole Surfers!”
“Anything by Hole!”
Even a classical music fan got into the act, with: “Beethoven’s Last Movement!”
One friend posted: “Another man might suggest ‘Don’t Touch Me There,’ by the Tubes. But I have too much class to even suggest that.”
Several folks suggested the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers classic “Cheek to Cheek.” One even linked to the video.
Another linked to a music video called “Colonscopy: It’s Not That Bad,” from the Stop Colon Cancer website. (The song is a hoot. Listen and laugh.)
And the titles continued:
I Wanna Be Sedated
That Ain’t No Way to Go
Black Muddy River
Highway to Hell
Friends in Low Places
Foggy Bottom Breakdown
The final suggestion? “Classical Gas” (Mason Williams).
Janice ended up receiving 125 comments in just two hours. (One pal pointed out that actually playing through all the songs would last much longer than the procedure itself, which usually runs around 30 minutes.)
Janice, laughing, posted: “Thanks for making Baby’s First Colonoscopy fun!“
With any luck, she’ll drift off under anesthesia with “Moon River” echoing in her ears, and emerge, after a quick and painless procedure, with a clean bill of health.
Happy 50th birthday, Janice. And welcome to the Colonoscopy Club!
Winik recounts her quest for love at age 50 in her new book, Highs in the Low Fifties: How I Stumbled Through the Joys of Single Living, and no matter how tumultuous or misguided your own love life has been, she’ll put you to shame.
The healthiest relationship she describes is with first husband, Tony, who, when they met, was a “penniless gay bartender who had recently lost his job as an ice-skating coach due to his drug problem.”
Winik fell hard for this guy. Why? “Having a beautiful gay man change his life to be with me was like getting the Nobel Prize for lovability,” she explains. Plus, the man could “cook, bartend, devise and execute wall treatments, garden, iron, arrange flowers, set a perfect table and professionally cut and color my hair.”
That almost made me want to marry a gay guy myself.
They got hitched, had two sons, enjoyed some good years and endured some bad ones, before Winik’s husband died of AIDS.
And, romantically, it’s all been downhill from there.
Winik, to be sure, brings her own challenges to the romantic table. She describes herself, in a self-deprecating moment, as “an alcoholic, manic-depressive slut.” She’s also an ex-junkie. And she smokes.
But she writes like an angel. (With a wicked sense of humor.)
Winik, who has published nine books, makes a good living writing about her unconventional life. She writes for The New York Times, she’s a regular on All Things Considered, she blogs for Baltimore Fishbowl.com, she’s a professor at the University of Baltimore’s MFA program, and she’s been on the Today show, Politically Incorrect, and Oprah.
Solid career success hasn’t stopped her from establishing a track record, in her personal life, of passing up great guys to throw herself at losers.
Some women enjoy being courted over a quiet, candlelit dinner. Winik goes for edgier stuff. A typical seduction? “He led me to a floodlit, garbage-swept concrete parking lot surrounded by a chain-link fence . . . with no further preliminaries, a furious make-out session was in progress.”
Winik, it turns out, is a woman in her 50s who dates like a hormone-drunk teenager. She may be looking for love. But what she finds, instead, are thrills. And when she finds them, she shares every juicy, peculiar, hilarious, and humiliating detail with her readers.
I hate to see a smart woman make a foolish choice, and yet I loved this book. Why? I’m a sucker for a good sentence, and Winik couldn’t pen a boring line if she tried. Her love life may be a mess, but it’s great material, and she makes the most of it.
She describes swapping spit with, among others, a construction worker who beds her only to hit her up for cash; a young ex-student who already has an age-appropriate girlfriend; her own second husband, years after their acrimonious divorce; and a dude whose personal ad claimed he’d only ever been with two women— his ex-wife and her best friend.
Winik thought he was joking. He wasn’t.
Ironically, while all this was going on, Winik was writing an advice column for a national magazine.
Fans of Winik’s earlier books know that she’s not only an engaging writer but a good mom and a good friend. She deserves to find a great guy! But it’s clear to the reader of this new volume that the chances of that happening are slim. (One hint: the book is dedicated, not to a dude, but to that ever-reliable bed partner, her miniature dachshund.) Still, you keeping hoping that this clever chick with the appalling blind spot when it comes to sussing out good guys will finally come to her senses and fall for a mensch.
There’s a touch of schadenfreude in the pleasure you get from this book. (Not to mention a heap of comfort for those of us whose own romantic choices have been less than fabulous.) It’s fun to watch someone else screw up, as long as it’s played for laughs. (I Love Lucy, anyone?)
And if there’s one thing Winik excels at, it’s laughing at herself.
She’s not afraid to play the fool. And she shares everything, from her Match.com profile (“Sassy, sensual and smart”) to the absolute wrong way to seduce a gay guy (“I sexted him a picture of me lying on the couch in my bikini underpants.”)
We’ve got front-row seats to even the most embarrassing encounter.
And yet, as the writer who chronicles these events, it’s Winik herself who has the last laugh. She let her bad dates fact-check “their” chapters prior to publication, and she’s changed a few names, but she’s retained the power to present her life as she sees fit.
The key to Winik’s continued success is that she’s, ultimately, so likeable.You wince at her mistakes and despair at her decisions, but you can’t help rooting for her, despite the fact that she can’t stop leading with her libido, and seems never to have met a Stupid Choice she didn’t want to make out with in a midnight parking lot.
But then, she isn’t really looking for Mr. Right. What she’s seeking is a man whose kisses will make her forget all reason.
And when she finds him, thankfully, we can rely on her to tell us all about it.
If you’re a girl and you’re a boomer, one thing is certain—you grew up playing with Barbies.
Whether you lived in a mansion or in a trailer, you spent hours as a little girl playing with America’s favorite foot-tall plastic fashion plate. You dressed her up in stylish clothing (remember “Silken Flame?”), complete with tiny matching shoes that were always falling off and getting chewed up by the dog. You sent her off on dates with Ken. You staged pajama-clad heart-to-hearts with Barbie’s best pal, Midge.
Barbie play was designed to prepare you for the wonderful world of romance and dating. And that future was always wholesome and bright. (There was no Unplanned Pregnancy Barbie or High-School Dropout Barbie.)
Of course, the edgier kids could always improvise. I know one girl who, after seeing the movie Gypsy, had her Barbies perform strip-teases for her Kens.
(Okay, so it was me.)
And I know of at least one future lesbian whose Barbie enjoyed marathon make-out sessions with Midge.
Barbie has been updated and modernized countless times since she first came on the scene in 1959. (Although her shoes still fall off and the dog still chews them up.) These days, Barbie doesn’t just don cool outfits and go out on dates. She has a career!
Teacher Barbie! Pop Star Barbie! Airline Pilot Barbie! Brain Surgeon Barbie! Rabbi Barbie! Porn Star Barbie! (Okay, I made that last one up.)
But one thing about Barbie never changes. Her age. While the little girls who once played with her have grown and matured, Barbie hasn’t aged a day.
Now that we boomers are middle-aged, we’ve discovered that it’s time to play Barbie again, this time with our granddaughters.
This gives me idea.
I think we need a new kind of Barbie. A Barbie who, like us, HAS grown up. When we get down on the floor to play with our grandkids, instead of a fresh-faced know-nothing who is just starting out, why not introduce the kids to a Barbie that reflects both our lives and their future.
Middle-aged Boomer Barbie!
What better way to signal to our granddaughters that there’s more to life than what outfit you’ve got on? And that while teenage dating is great, so is being a mature woman with a rich, full life?
This new line of AARP-aged Barbies could include:
Happily Married Barbie
Now that the kids are grown, Silver Fox Barbie and Slightly Balding Ken can re-focus on each other. Includes a Dream House with a paid-off mortgage, a zillion frequent-flyer miles, fat 401(k)s and matching Medicare cards.
Happily Divorced Barbie
After Barbie catches Ken and Midge making whoopee in the Dream House mudroom, help her kick him to the curb and jump back into the dating pool. Assist Barbie in crafting her Match.com profile, then dress her up in tiny Eileen Fisher outfits and sent her out on exciting dates!
She may be in her 50s, but she loves those younger dudes. (For her date, just borrow Ken from your regular Barbie. She won’t mind—he’ll come back to her a much better lover.)
Never Married Barbie
Includes a Xanax prescription, a tiny plastic vibrator, 3 cats, a library card, and a tenured position at an Ivy League University.
Comes with 4 mansions, 3 ex-husbands, a private jet, a personal trainer, an unscrupulous investment adviser, and an offshore bank account.
Out and Proud Barbie
Help Barbie and Midge shoot their “It Gets Better Project” video! Includes a rainbow flag, a Massachusetts marriage license, matching white tuxes and a Provincetown time-share with a signed Alison Bechdel original in the foyer.
Every Boomer Barbie is slightly shorter and plumper than Original Barbie, and comes with at least one ailment (bad knees, a bad back, cataracts, etc.) to kvetch about with the other Boomer Barbies. (The deluxe model has genuine hot flashes!) And all of them talk, saying things like “Where did I put my glasses?” “Is it hot in here? “Can you repeat that?“ And “At least I have my health!”
The best Boomer Barbie of all, of course, will be Grandma Barbie.
What better way to enjoy playing with your beloved granddaughter than for the two of you to help Grandma Barbie play with her beloved granddaughter?
Grandma Barbie reads books, sings songs, plays pretend, makes cool snacks, and gives great hugs. If you’re lucky enough to be her granddaughter, you know there’s nobody Grandma Barbie loves more than you. And shouldn’t a cool grandma who loves you to bits be just as much fun for a little girl to play with as a vapid teenager who gets dressed up and goes out on dates?
Not only that, but Grandma Barbie’s stylish yet sensible shoes will never fall off and get chewed up by the dog.