Monthly Archives: January 2013

Lessons Learned

Not even a month into this project and I already feel like I’m reaping some unexpected benefits.  I can actually feel myself being more polite, more interested in what other people are talking about, more tuned into what they’re feeling.

People–not just men–like to feel like they’re being listened to.  They like feeling like someone is treating them special, cultivating their feelings.  And more than just pretending to listen with a smile plastered on my face, I’m actually listening.

Fun Fact: Listening to other people distracts you from your own problems.  Even just listening to someone talk about what they watched on TV last night means you’re not thinking about all the garbage in your own world.  Do you have any idea how liberating that is?

In the last two months, my boyfriend almost lost his job, I botched a big story and we were briefly homeless.  I was getting so stressed that I had developed tremors.  But I kept being deliberately polite, smiling big at people who terrified me.

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Pictured: Being Nice

And it worked.  I didn’t show them that I was scared, I listened to what they were saying, and by the end of the exchange, I had the upper hand.  Sarcasm and aggression only put people on edge.  Heck, even Patrick Swayze, who ripped a guy’s throat out, knows that the first rule is to always “Be Nice.”

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How To Watch TV With a Man

“Draw out his ideas to which you can gracefully add your footnotes from time to time.” Arlene Dahl, Always Ask a Man

Bill, my father-in-law, is now one of the main men in my life.  Namely because he owns the house we’re staying in for the next six months.  So I decided to try this one out on him.

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I will watch anything, literally anything, Walton Goggins is in.

Bill watches a lot of TV.  That’s not unusual for a 60 year old bachelor in the middle of an upstate New York winter (last year for Christmas, we made him a wool snuggie, which he boasts is one of his favorite gifts ever).  And the one thing he likes more than watching TV is talking about TV.  He would often regale us with something he heard on the news or a funny bit he saw on a sitcom or a particularly gruesome episode of Criminal Minds, which is normally too horrifying for me, even the episode with Walton Goggins.

Thursday night we watched  two episodes of Mystery at the Museum, and I asked him open-ended questions about other episodes, gracefully adding some notes about my own experiences with history (like the time Matthew and I visited the site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre) when the opportunity present itself (they were showing a barber chair that Albert Anastasia of Murder, Inc was killed in).  But mostly I let him fill me in, because the man is an absolute history buff.

Last night he gave me the choice between Cold Case and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.  I am a huge SVU fan and have been since college (even though it has been terrible the last four seasons, and I think they should have replaced Chris Meloni with Michael Chiklis) but I remembered my quest and gently said, “Whichever one you like best.”  His logic was that Cold Case is only on one a week, so we watched that.

It was kind of nice.  Since we’re living in his house, I want him to feel like we’re not just taking over his life, and I think letting him dictate what he wanted to watch was a good way to do that.  Plus, I had never seen Mysteries of the Museum or Cold Case, and both were pretty awesome.

“A wife, if she is loving and smart, will get her husband back every time . . . if she doesn’t get him back, it’s because she’s lazy, blind or doesn’t want him”  Helen Gurley Brown, Sex and the Single Girl (1962)

This isn’t exactly ladylike, but it’s still early enough in the project to be a little coarse:

I hate Helen Gurley Brown.

She goes on in the chapter to say that it’s perfectly fine to date married men.  Their wives are horrible and stupid, so why shouldn’t you savor their company?

But Helen never mentions the kids.

This is the part of this project where I get all confessional and weepy.  My stepdad, who helped my mom raise me for 15 years (not that I didn’t have a dad, I did, he just didn’t live in the same house as us but was and is still awesome), who fathered my extremely awesome sister Beth, cheated on my mom with a nurse he worked with.  Apparently, my mom, who is awesome and funny and smart, “wasn’t loving” enough to “keep her man,” so he had to take up with some skanky nurse who still reads Twilight and cheats on him all the time

Pictured--still too classy to date my ex-stepdad's girlfriend

Pictured–too classy to date my ex-stepdad’s girlfriend

with dudes who would make Jimmy Buffet say “Whoa there on the pencil-thin mustache.”

When he left, our family fell to pieces.  I reacted by shutting myself off from everyone except Geena Davis in Earth Girls Are Easy.   We’re only now really getting ourselves back together, but the pain is still there, every single day.  One of my parents abandoned me.   His marriage didn’t work out, whatever, neither did my mom and dad’s, and both of them raised me just fine, stayed active in my life, loved me to pieces and, with major kudos, sat through way too many terrible high school musicals.   But this guy,  who coached my softball team, who helped me move into my first dorm, who I welcomed into my life even though I already had a dad, I just wasn’t “loving” enough for him to keep around.

(Mom, Dad, I love you.  Thank you for everything.)

That shit doesn’t stop hurting, ever.  And this is the first time I’ve ever been able to write about it, four years practically to the day from when I got that phone call saying that he’d walked out.  So thanks, HGB, for making me hate you so much that I was able to finally direct that rage.

Ice Station Bathtub

“Most women complain they cannot take cold baths.  Not because of ill health, but because the shock of the cold water is too much for them.  I have a way of getting into my cold bath that overcomes the shock . . .I grasp the sides of the tub and lower my body into the water so that the base of my spine touches the water first.  Then I lower the upper parts of my body until the water touches the base of my brain, at the same time splashing my chest and throat.  Then I let my feet down and am wet all over”  Edna Hopper Wallace, “My Secret of Youth and Beauty” (1925)

I’ve been dreading this one all week.  My apartment doesn’t have a bathtub, so I had to wait until I was in a hotel to try this one out.  A hotel, I might add, in Maine.  In January.

When I was a kid, my sister Hilary, our friend Lando and I used to do Polar Bear Jumps at the Hidden Lake girl scout camp in the Adirondacks   We’d get up at 6 a.m, sing a Polar Bear song, then jump into a freezing cold mountain lake and swim until our lips turned blue. Maybe three summers worth of that explains why, as I edge up on 30, I still occasionally get carded for R-rated movies.

Matthew, my assistant/writing partner/BFF, helped fill my bathtub my hotel ice and cold water.  I followed Edna’s instructions carefully, and ten seconds later was screaming “TAKE THE PICTURE TAKE THE PICTURE TAKE THE PICTURE!!!!!”

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The Blogger, Wet, Miserable and Possibly Insane

I have never been so cold in my entire life.  I don’t care what Edna said, easing my body–no matter what part first–into a bathtub filled with ice water cannot be not-shocking.  My core temperature immediately dropped to absolute zero.  I felt like my flesh was being scraped off with a vegetable peeler. I catapulted out of the tub, grabbed a towel and stood shivering in the elevator until I could get to the hot tub, where I shivered for a good two minutes until my body temperature rose back up to just above freezing.

On the plus side, Matthew did say I had a nice glow in my cheeks.  I thanked him through chattering teeth.

Dinner Challenge #1–Gritty’s.

“In a restaurant, let your mate or date do the ordering. It’s more fun to eat hot dogs with a man than caviar by yourself. You may know more about vintage wines than the wine steward, but if you’re smart you’ll let your man do the choosing and be ecstatic over his selection, even if it tastes like shampoo.” Arlene Dahl, Always Ask a Man

“I’m going to take you to Gritty’s,” my BFF/writing partner Matthew said.  “Because I want you to feel like you’re at home.”

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If I had a Pop Tart right now, I’d eat it in the bathtub!

Matthew and I are up in Freeport, ME for our annual graduate program alumni meeting and he is the subject of tonight’s study in having men order me dinner.  Here’s the thing: I like food.  A lot.  Eating delicious food is one of my greatest joys in life, and Freeport has some of the best food in the world.  Great seafood chowder, amazing lobster rolls, Wicked Whoopee Pies in Red Velvet and Orange and Gingerbread, and Gritty’s pork fries with maple sour cream, (which I will NOT be smearing on my legs.)  And beer.  Oh the beer!

Matthew and I travel a lot together, and he knows what I like to eat, so I put him in charge of picking where we were going to go and ordering for me tonight.  He hemmed and hawed over some menus and decided on Gritty’s.

Once there, I didn’t even look at the menu.  We were seated at the same long table as a father and son.  The dad complimented my herringbone cap.  I felt very pretty.  I wanted a glass of water, but everything was up to Matthew, so I didn’t say anything.

“This is nerve-wracking,” Matthew said, pouring over the menu.  “Do you like mushrooms?”

I let slip and said no, because mushrooms are gross.  Oops.  I would have pretended to be ecstatic if he’d ordered something with mushrooms, even as I silently gagged on them.  For drinks, he ordered us two Red Claw ales, which I had never had.  Normally at Gritty’s, I get the 21 IPA, or, in the summer, Vacationland.  For dinner, he ordered us each a pork shank with ginger, because he had never had one either.  

“I wanted us to have the same thing because I wanted us to be on equal footing,” he said. We really are partners.

The beer was excellent and the pork was delicious.  Perfectly seasoned, but way too much of it. We probably could have split one and still had leftovers.  The bacon hash on the side was a little much, probably could have gone with potatoes or something a little more carb-y.  But all and all, a genuine good pick, and I’m not just saying that because Arlene told me to.

 

A woman working in one of the erstwhile masculine strongholds, such as a newspaper office or a printing house, may find strong language an ever-present help in getting action. — Helen Valentine & Alice Thompson, Better than Beauty: A Guide to Charm, (1938)

I am a second-generation journalist.  My dad ran The Daily Editor for a good chunk of my childhood, and I always thought he had the coolest job.  I got a B in journalism in college, but still somehow managed to get an amazing job with a local paper, where I get to interview cool people (including The Amazing Kreskin, the women who inspired A League of Their Own) and, when I’m really lucky, listen to people bicker at meetings.

But my office is anything but masculine.

The only man in the office is Jim, the owner, editor, publisher and Greatest Boss Ever.  Everyone else–the sales team, the graphic artist, the office manager, the associate publisher . . . all women.  Ian is the photographer, there’s a columnist named Tom and the computer guy, Shawn, but none of them are in the office.

And needless to say, there is no “strong language.”  Things occasionally get a little heated, and once I heard my boss say the word “Chippendale,” (we were talking about The Amazing Race; The Beekman Boys are from our area and we were all discussing how awesomely they were going to win, which they did.).  But otherwise, we keep it pretty PG, even on press nights.

Sometimes Jim tells stories of his old newspaper days, when everyone kept a bottle bourbon in their desk and once someone died at their typewriter.  Now I love swearing (and I’ll be giving it up for Lent!) and I can’t help but picture myself in that office, with a fashionable hat and red lipstick, calling out for more typing paper and a cup of coffee in a loud Lauren Bacall voice.

If anything, my plain office means that I don’t have to change my tone when I return home . . . if anything, my tone changes when I go into the office.  I’m a little meeker and a little modest, trying my best to be charming and polite even when I’m exhausted from the long toil of the newspaper work.  But you really do catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Point is, it pays to be charming.  Man or woman.  After all, George Clooney is far more charming than Kanye West.  No one likes a loudmouth for long, even if it does help you “get action.”