Too Female for Comfort; or, How a Woman Becomes “the Other”

October 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Humor, Musings

So a man boards his El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv, but when he sees Elana Sztokman there in the seat adjacent to his, he refuses to sit next to her. 

Was she holding a howling baby? Did she have a hacking cough? Ebola, maybe?

No. Her offense? This person was a she. 

The man, an ultra-religious Orthodox Jew, was so certain that God didn’t want him to sit beside a woman that he demanded a seat change. Other Orthodox men on board took up his cause, and the ensuing brouhaha delayed takeoff until, finally, another seat could be found for him. 

51t1Hqayy2LSztokman just happens to be the author of a new book, The War On Women in Israel: A Story of Religious Radicalism and the Women Fighting For Freedom,  in which she calls for an end to “the religious extremism that is hurting women” in that country. 

Proving? That God, if he does exist, has a sense of humor. Or, at the very least, a deep sense of irony.

The outraged essay  that Sztokman wrote about the incident quickly went viral. 

Will this help Sztokman sell books? 

I certainly hope so.

Seating flaps like this aren’t unusual for El Al. It happens often enough that instituting gender-segregated seating on their planes has been discussed.  

And playing musical chairs with airplane seats, of course, is nothing new. It usually results when families who have been assigned seats all over the plane actually want to sit together. But seat shifting happens for other reasons too. To maximize legroom. To move away from a bathroom. 

I’ve quietly asked the flight attendant for a change when seated beside a woman so obese that she was crowding me out of my seat. Or in front of a child who kept kicking my seatback.  Flight attendants, I’ve found, will try to accommodate you if you’ve got a reasonable request. 

But was this man’s request reasonable?

Sztokman didn’t think so. “What offends me,” she wrote, “is the premise that sitting next to me is a problem. . . . After all, I had just spoken to hundreds of people about exactly these issues and the way women are made to feel like second-class citizens as a result.” 

My Facebook pals are also appalled, based on their comments to me about her essay: 

“He should have been shown the door and told he can fly when he grows up” 

“Shame on him for his lack of understanding and rigid misinterpretation of archaic rules.” 

“He needs a private jet to control his flying environment, but I guess it’s easier to try to control women.” 

“Make him walk.” 

“It’s an airplane, not a shul!”

“Let him sit in the bathroom where he can be alone with his deep thoughts.” 

“Maybe he should fly alone. Like, take a flying leap!”

As a single woman who usually flies alone, I’d rather sit next to a woman than a man, because women don’t hog the armrests. But when I find myself seated next to a guy, I don’t demand to be moved.  

I cope. 

But then, for me, it’s a question of comfort, not one of religious belief.

So where does it end? One section for religious men. Another for religious women. Well then, how about another section for secular humanist Jews like me, where we can nosh our non-kosher snacks and read the New York Times in peace?    

What about a section for anyone traveling with a screaming baby? Or a really bad cold? A section for folks who plan to feast on pungent food?   

A section for introverts only, to ensure that they won’t have to talk to each other?

A window-shades-closed section for travelers who want to nap through the flight?

A section for white-knuckled flyers, with special “This Plane Is Safe and Will Not Crash” affirmations printed on the seat-back cards?

And why not a special section for those restless flyers who bounce up every five minutes to stretch their legs, visit the bathroom, and schmooze with the flight attendants?

But this “woman, begone!” idea is way different from a mere benign preference (like the desire not to be near the bathroom). It is a serious attack on women’s hard-won right to equality in public accommodations. Travelers who see the entire female sex as “the other”—beings who are somehow too alien to sit in the next seat—should not get their way. This is a matter of standing up for every woman’s right to ordinary, taken-for-granted equality in normal public life—the very sort of equality that people of color spent the past century fighting for. To give a religious reason for the disdain, as Sztokman writes, “doesn’t excuse the insult.”

El Al, I trust, will eventually get this all sorted out. (Seeking a reality check, I spoke with a friend who is a Professor of Jewish Studies with Orthodox rabbinic ordination, who assured me that the vast majority of men in the modern Orthodox world have no problem working with women and interacting with them on a regular basis, including in flight.)  Either that, or people will begin to behave in the tolerant, kind way that most religions, when not taken to fanatical extremes, encourage them to. 

In the meantime, I’ve got an idea. Feminist Airlines! The very first airline to fly in accordance with feminist values. Every passenger will be considered equal and worthy, and all will be expected to treat each other with consideration and kindness. (And, of course, Gloria Steinem always flies for free.)  

Fly the feminist skies with me, Elana! I’ll see you at the airport.

 

Doctor My Eyes: The Ultimate Cataract-Surgery Mix Tape

October 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Humor, Musings

With age comes wisdom. And, frequently, cataracts. (By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.) I’m having cataract surgery next week. Hoping to have a little fun with this particular rite of passage, I put out a call to my Facebook friends: 

 

“What songs should I put on my Cataract Surgery Mix Tape?”

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Within seconds, I had my first response:    

The First Cut Is the Deepest.

“Good one!” I responded, trying not to wince.

Then the next suggestion appeared. 

Doctor My Eyes. 

“Perfect!“ I replied. 

Blinded By the Light!” suggested a third.  “Because that’s what driving at night with cataracts is like.” 

Other titles soon followed:   

Private Eyes.

Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.

She Blinded Me with Science. 

My friends, many of whom have had cataract surgery themselves, offered encouragement and support along with their song suggestions.  

“Cataract surgery is a piece of cake! And you’ll be able to throw away your bifocals.” 

“The surgery is quick and you won’t feel a thing.” 

“It was amazing to have clear vision after wearing glasses for 50 years!’

Meanwhile, song suggestions were coming in fast and furious.   

I’ll Be Seeing You. 

See You in September.

I’m Looking Through You.

I’d Rather Go Blind. 

“Anything by the Black-Eyed Peas!”

And a classical music fan suggested Then Shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Opened, from Handel’s Messiah.

“From the 28,675 songs in my eyetunes—sorry, iTtunes—Library,” posted my friend Bill,  “I came up with more than 460 appropriate songs.” Rather then listing them all, he offered to burn me a CD. (Now THERE’S a pal.)   

And the hits just kept on coming:    

I Saw the Light.

Miss Me Blind.

Eyes of the World.

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. 

So did the encouragement: 

“Cataract surgery is a total non-event. I drove my mom to the clinic to have it done, and we went out to lunch afterwards.“  

“Like most unpleasant events, the expectation is worse than the reality.”

“Just breathe. Your eyes will be in good hands. “

One friend’s song titles were posted in a Question and Answer Format. 

Q: What’s the best song to sing to your doctor before cataract surgery?

A: I Only Have Eyes For You. 

Q: Once the procedure starts, where will your ophthalmologist be?

A: In Your Eyes. 

Q: What will you have once you’re recovered?

A: Bright Eyes!

Friends posted several other post-recovery songs:       

I Can See Clearly Now. 

I Can See for Miles and Miles.

Here Comes the Sun. 

And more encouraging words:

“You’ll be able to open your eyes in the morning and see clearly!” 

“I went from walking into walls to 20/20. Priceless.” 

“Good luck! You’ll recover quickly. But you can still laugh and dance (and sleep and nap) while you’re out of focus.“   

And so I will . . . With a Little Help From My Friends.  

 

Jasmine Tridevil’s Tale

September 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Humor, Media, Musings, Newsmakers

SEPTEMBER 23, 2014 Now that I’ve let my New York Times subscription lapse, I get most of my news online. When I logged on this morning, this headline caught my eye:

Woman Gets Third Boob Implanted, Wants to Be “Unattractive to Men.”

Apparently, one Jasmine Tridevil, a massage therapist from Tampa, Florida, was claiming that she’d just spent $20,000 to get a third breast implanted between the two she already had. Why? She was fed up with dating, she claims, and did it so that guys would find her unattractive.

The good news? She had to contact 50 docs before she found a surgeon willing to give her that extra boob. (Medical ethics! Alive and well! Who knew?)

But she ultimately did find a doc to do the deed.

Then she covered up, went home, and quietly lived happily ever after? Not a chance! Instead, she publicized what she’d done, complete with a photo of herself in a low-cut top that all three boobs are spilling out of.

Yeah, that’s exactly how to become uninteresting to guys. Flood the Internet with revealing photos that are all about your breasts!

As a mild-mannered 60-year old librarian, I could have given Tridevil some advice about getting men to ignore you. Stop leading with your cleavage! Dress modestly. Highlight your mind, not your body. (You will instantly become invisible to all but the best kind of guy.)

My favorite part of stories like this? The reader comments:

She thinks she has a hard time finding bras that fit now? Just wait!

Too bad she didn’t shop for a brain implant.

Someone should have told her that less is more.

She did this to become unattractive to men? She obviously knows very little about men.

She’d rather be attractive to freaks?

If tits were brains she’d be Einstein. But they’re not.

Why not put one on your nose? That would be novel.

If God had wanted women to have three breasts, he would have made men with three hands.

 Um, yeah. What? No.

She wants to be unattractive? Mission accomplished!

Well you’ve had your 5 minutes of fame. Now what, hon?

So glad you asked, Commenter! Tridevil revealed in a radio interview that her “biggest dream” is to have an MTV reality show. Is her family on board? “My mom won’t talk to me,” she says.  “She won’t let my sister talk to me. My dad . . . is kind of ashamed of me . . .”

Terrific! A freaked-out family that doesn’t talk to you plays much better on reality TV than a sane, supportive and loving one.

I, of course was brainstorming a show this dimwit could star in— “Who Wants to Be in Therapy?”

Start with the three-breasted lady. Add a couple of Kardashians and those NFL players who keep getting away with beating their loved ones. Include a surgeon who’ll do anything for a buck. Top it off with a few rabidly anti-gay politicians caught cruising local bathrooms for gay sex. Then throw in a top-notch psychotherapist. I might even watch that.

Did the whole thing turn out to be a big fat hoax? Well, what do you think? Snopes, the myth-busting website, got on the story and revealed that  “Jasmine Tridevil” appeared to be a domain name owned by one Alisha Jasmine Hessler, a Florida massage therapist whose website proclaimed her to be a “Provider of Internet Hoaxes since 2014.” Not only that, Hessler had recently filed a stolen baggage complaint at Tampa International Airport that listed a ‘3 breast prosthesis’ among the items lost! (Nor, when questioned, could she produce a doctor who’d back up her story.)

Busted!

Tridevil, it seems, is not a 3-breasted lady after all—only a two-breasted liar who wants her own TV show.

The sad thing is, she’ll probably get it.

As for me? I’m re-subscribing to The Times.

JASMINE_TRIDEVIL_3048540bJasmine Tridevil. A chest shot of the three-breasted lady? Too gross for comfort. Photo: Facebook

 

How to Break Your Toe in One Easy Step

August 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Humor, Musings

6964403180_9bc2c7c646_zImage from Flickr via

Life is hard and toes are fragile, which means that by the time you reach our age, you’ve probably broken one. Or two. I recently broke a toe when I got out of bed in the middle of the night and tripped over a shoe. When friends and family consoled me with their own Toe Break Tales, I learned that there are more ways to break a toe than you could possibly imagine. Intrigued, I turned to my Facebook friends. “Have you ever broken a toe?” I asked. “Tell me how it happened.”  Here’s a sampling of their responses.     

 

Are You Active?  Watch Your Toes! 

I broke my pinky toe sliding into third base. 

I broke my toe playing Frisbee outside with friends barefoot. Was alcohol involved? Maybe. 

I used to exercise by dancing around my house. I twirled too close to a stone table. Ouch. 

 

Athletes Break Their Toes. But Intellectuals Do, Too. 

I broke my toe when I tripped over my two=volume slipcase edition of The Riverside Shakespeare. 

Running barefoot down a basement hallway at a writers’ workshop, I broke my right big toe when I caught it in the bottom of my trouser leg.  

I broke my toe in a car crash on the way to the library. 

 

Gravity Is Your Toe’s Natural Enemy

I dropped a can of Progresso minestrone soup on my big toe. 

I opened the freezer door and a 10-pound roast fell out onto my foot. 

A jar of Salsa fell on my toe from the top of a cabinet. 

I dropped a terra cotta pot on my baby toe. Yesterday.   

I removed my suitcase from an airplane’s overhead rack and dropped it on my little toe. 

 

For Some People, Broken Toes Are a Way Of Life:

I’ve broken the little toe on my right foot so many times I’ve lost count. 

I’m barefoot on a boat for most of the summer and am always breaking or stubbing toes. 

I’ve broken the same baby toe three times!  

I seem to have found my Superpower—hooking my toe on a piece of furniture while momentum works its magic, keeping the rest of my body moving forward. I’ve done this many times.  

 

There’s No Good Time To Break a Toe . . . But Some Times Are Worse Than Others

The morning of my son’s First Communion, I dropped a pizza stone on my foot. 

I dropped a large flashlight on my big toe as I was getting ready to go out to dinner on Valentine’s Day. 

I smashed my toe into a laundry basket three weeks before running a half marathon. 

 

A Toe Break Can Contain a Valuable Life Lesson

I was carrying a large basket of dirty clothes and tripped over the small bathroom garbage can I’d forgotten I’d put at the top of the stairs in the hope that someone else would carry it down. Lesson learned? Do it yourself!  

I was about to carry a basket of laundry down the stairs in my stocking feet when my husband said, “Put your slippers on, you’re going to slip.” I ignored him, slipped, and broke both my big toe and my pinky. Next time, maybe I’ll listen.     

 

Your House Is Out to Get You!

I fell down a flight of steps and broke my big toe. 

I caught my pinky toe on the edge of a door. 

I rammed my toe into the metal leg of a radiator.  

I slammed my foot into a wooden stair riser. 

 

And Watch Out for the Furniture! 

I broke my toe on a glass coffee table.

I stubbed my toe on a bedpost.  

I stubbed it on the dining room table of a vacation rental. 

I broke the same baby toe on the same dining room chair chasing different toddlers in different years.

 

Things Left on the Floor May Be Hazardous to Your Toes   

During our last move, there was a pile of packing paper on the kitchen floor. I ran into it and broke my pinky toe.  (Who breaks their toe on PAPER?) 

I caught my little toe on a toy my grandson left on the hallway floor.   

 

Follow Your Bliss—and Break Your Toe! 

I broke my toe on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. 

I broke my toe when I went outside, barefoot, to admire the stars and stubbed it on a rock. 

I broke my middle toe in the dang pool. (I told my husband I was going to start wearing combat boots, even in the pool.) 

 

Horses and Toes Don’t Mix

I broke my toe horseback riding when I was 12.

Two different horses, ten years apart, stepped on my pinky toe and broke it. 

 

Your Toe Can Break When You Least Expect It

I broke my big toe coming down from a headstand. 

My mother-in-law broke 3 toes putting her shoes on. 

I broke my toe at chapel when it got caught in a folding chair. 

My baby toe broke when my husband dropped his crutches on it. 

 

The Worst Toe Breaks of All? The Ones with Added Angst 

I tripped over a concrete barrier and broke my toe on the way into the pharmacy to pick up drugs to treat a yeast infection. Insult to injury, for sure. 

I broke my toe when I stubbed it on a chair as I rushed to answer the phone.  It was an obscene phone call.   

 

And Keep in Mind That Karma Is a Bitch

My friend kicked her husband and broke her toe. 

 

The Only Way to Avoid a Broken Toe?

Stay home. In bed. With your shoes on. Which is no way to live.  So go out and embrace life! You’ll probably break a toe. But it will heal.  

And remember this: A broken toe is no fun. But it beats having a broken heart. 

 

Dog Names

July 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Humor, Musings

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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)

 

Auntie Em 

Bandersnatch

Bloomsbury

Boo Radley

Byron

Chekhov

Dr. Watson

Galsworthy

Gatsby

Gunga Din

Hemingway

Ibsen

Jeeves

Kafka

Kilimanjaro

Mrs. Danvers

Nietzsche

Romeo

Sam Spade

Voltaire

Voldemort

 

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. 

 

She’s the Top: Isabella Bannerman, Feisty Cartoonist

June 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Humor, The Arts

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: 

 SCC20130415© 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.   

 SCC20130513-1© 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: 

  SCC20130722© 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.  

Prosopagnosia! I’m Face Blind. Who the Hell Are You?

May 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Humor, Musings

3678459707_8ddb257498_zI’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.        

Oops. 

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.   

 

Radical Middle-Aged Cake Acceptance: A Modest Proposal

April 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Humor, Musings

IMG_0407Eschew 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.

“Oh, no!”  

“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!” 

“Uh-oh.“ 

“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. 

Undermining “Underpants Man,” the Tony Matelli Statue

March 22, 2014 by  
Filed under Humor, Pleasures

sleep

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. 

 

Are You a Handywoman? Take This Simple Test and See!

March 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Humor

18249085As 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: Lewd in the Library

March 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Beauty, Humor, Musings

Sports Illustrated

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

Books: Cartoonist Liza Donnelly’s ‘Women on Men’

February 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Humor, Musings

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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:

do not call list© The New Yorker Magazine and Liza Donnelly

 

But, undaunted, they continue to look for love:  

enigmas© The New Yorker Magazine and Liza Donnelly

 

They often come up short in their search for Mr. Right:

180© The New Yorker Magazine and Liza Donnelly

 

Married life is often bliss. Other times, not so much. 

almost_finished© The New Yorker Magazine and Liza Donnelly

 

And let‘s not forget the topic of divorce.

 that_idiot_I_married© 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.

LD_marriage_in_trouble© 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.

 

 

 

Soylent! It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

January 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Food & Drink, Humor, Musings

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.  

soylentSoylent, 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? 

At 59, What’s a Cheap Thrill?

December 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Health, Humor, Musings

3476476973_b3190de817_zI’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.

Coffee.

Image from Flickr via.

Zen and the Art of Enjoying the Last Laugh

November 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Humor, Musings

4184208236_bb9fd6730b_b“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?