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Wednesday
Dec072016

Ohana Means Family

I grew up the daughter of a working-class, high-school educated, divorced mother of three. If I were being nice, I guess I'd call us lower middle class. My dad never missed a child support payment, and he even voluntarily increased the check as my sisters aged out. I know he helped my mom out financially, and yet we still lived paycheck to paycheck. Mom didn't earn much as a secretary, and what she did earn didn't last long. I love the woman, but she was terrible with money.

The funny thing about growing up poor is you don't know you're poor until the kids at school make fun of your clothes or snidely refer to your neighborhood as the barrio. I didn't feel poor, probably because I usually benefitted from Mom's irresponsible ways with money. Sure, we never had name-brand clothes or summer vacations, but Mom always found a way to spoil us on special occassions. There were elaborate baskets at Easter, ridiculously large, chocolate-fllled hearts for Valentine's Day, and Christmases where it took us the entire morning and a decent chunk of the afternoon just to open all the gifts.

Christmas was Mom's favorite — she wasn’t happy until piles of shiny packages filled all the available real estate beneath the tree, spilled out in a massive ring around it, and then stretched out to reach the wall on either side. Piles of gifts flanked the tree, the stacks soaring so high it was a wonder we weren’t all buried beneath a red and green avalanche each Christmas morning.

I’m sure Mom knew she was overdoing it, but that never stopped her. She was determined to give her kids a magical Christmas each year, even if she had to spend the next twelve months paying off Fingerhut and Swiss Colony and whoever else was greedy enough to extend her credit at revoltingly high interest rates.

It’s not hard to figure out where Mom’s annual hunger for the Most Incredible Christmas Ever originated. A ward of the state, she grew up in an orphanage and endured a string of abusive foster homes until the age of nine, when she was finally adopted by a strict German man who revered frugality above all other traits. Fun fact: Grandpa had a kitchen drawer filled with twist-ties he’d saved from every loaf of bread he’d purchased. Ever. He once yelled at me for tossing one in the garbage, and I struggled for a delicate way to say, “You’re 92 years old, and you already own seventeen-thousand twist-ties. How many more could you possibly need in your lifetime?” In the end, though, I fished the twist-tie from the trash and placated him.

Grandpa did not pass his thrifty ways on to Mom (although she did save twist-ties; I guess some habits die hard). Money poured through Mom’s hands like it was made of water. I think that being denied so much in her formative years made Mom crave the sort of instant gratification that comes from seeing something you want and just buying it. Not that she bought much for herself — she was generous to a fault and got way more pleasure from lavishing others with gifts she couldn’t afford. This practice of living beyond her meager means forced her to make several awkward calls to Grandpa or my dad throughout the years, asking for a loan so she could pay rent or get her old, broken-ass car repaired for the umpteenth time. I remember how uncomfortable those calls seemed to be … yet never uncomfortable enough to effect any long-term change in her behavior. To Mom, money was meant to be enjoyed, not saved.

Here's the thing: I’m not entirely sure her philosophy was wrong.

In August of 2002, my mom was living in Phoenix when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. The disease progressed rapidly, and the chemo soon rendered her too weak to work, or to do much of anything, really. I quit my job to help care for her, spending every other weekend with my husband back in Austin. By Christmas, she was a shadow of the gregarious, aggressively generous person I’d known all my life. She slept for much of the day, and when she was awake the cocktail of cancer drugs and painkillers she was taking left her only fleeting hours of lucidity. Still, my sisters and I were determined to give her the sort of Christmas she’d always given us. We loaded up the tree, just as Mom had taught us, with zero regard to the future. Unfortunately, this meant there wasn't enough money for my husband to fly out and join us for Christmas.

It was shortly after breaking this news to Mom that we watched the movie Lilo and Stitch. I’d seen it before, and I was eager to share and discuss the poignant sister dynamic portrayed in the movie with my own sisters. I knew Mom would sleep through it; at this point she practically lived in her recliner in the living room, but I doubted we'd disturb her. Although she was rarely alert enough to watch an entire movie with us, I think she liked having her girls near. I didn’t think she’d caught much of the show, and so I was surprised when she asked me to fetch her purse the moment it ended. I complied, and she pulled out the $200 she’d received for her birthday the previous month. Other than some loose change in a jar by her bed, that $200 represented the sum total of her life’s savings — and she thrust it into my hands with more energy than I’d seen her muster in days.

“Ohana means family,” she said, quoting the movie. “And family means no one gets left behind. Tell Markie to get his butt out here for Christmas.”

Thanks to Mom and her reckless ways with money, my husband was able to join us for the holiday that year. I wish I could say it was the Best Christmas Ever, but this is real life, not a fucking Disney movie. When Mom wasn’t sleeping in her recliner, she was fading in and out of conversations, often dropping off in mid-sentence. It was a bleak contrast to the frenzy of baking and chatting and last-minute gift-wrapping she’d normally be doing. But at least we were all together. That Christmas taught me that it was never about the mountains of gifts (or debt) for Mom — it was about making a memory that would last long after the final package was unwrapped.

Did she know that that would be our last Christmas together as a family? Did she know that she’d be gone less than a month later? Or did she just hate the thought of that money sitting there in her purse when she could be spending it on something that would bring us all joy?

I’ll never know. But I think, just maybe, it was all of the above.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

Wednesday
Jul222015

Welcome Back!

I haven't posted in a loooooong time. Looking through my old entries, I have to assume I was either abducted by aliens or kidnapped by some creeper in late 2013. Pretty sure I spent all of 2014 and the first half of 2015 being probed and/or tortured*, but I'm back now, baby!

*Technically, I was neither abducted nor kidnapped: I landed a new job in the tech sector. But the probing/torture bit still feels accurate.

You should be happy to know I have passed this time wisely, soaking up corporate culture and gathering plenty of demoralizing fun examples of how companies operate and why management is the best thing ever. I'm kicking off my triumphant return with ... a cartoon! But not just any cartoon, oh no. This one I created from scratch, just for your enjoyment.  

Yes, it's done entirely in PowerPoint, because yes, I suck at drawing THAT MUCH, and also I'm too cheap to buy a real graphics program. But when it comes down to it, I doubt I could have found a better way to represent modern American business culture than using the wrong tools to create an inferior product which I will now market on the worst platform available. The only thing missing is an intern on which to place the blame!

So here we are: the first stop on my path to COMPLETE INTERNET DOMINATION, MUAHAHA. The Oatmeal had better watch his back!

 

Monday
Nov042013

Careful ... They Bite!

Writers are weird. There's no way around it, no other way to say it. We're odd ducks. We prefer the people who live inside our heads to the vast majority of those we've met in the real world. It's a solitary profession, this weaving of ordinary threads into extraordinary tapestries. An isolation that is difficult to explain, even for those who live and interact with us daily.

But help is on the way.

Welcome to the first in a who-knows-how-many-part series on the proper care and maintenance of your typical writer, or scribus domesticus. We'll start with a handy guide on recognizing common behavioral problems. Look for future posts on grooming techniques, feeding requirements, and breeding tips.

Enjoy!

__________

How to Tell When the Writer in Your Life is Dying Inside at a Creative Roadblock

 

  • Their “To-Be-Read” pile of books no longer resembles a 1:4 scale model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
  • The DVR is less than 93% full for the first time in years, leaving nothing but eighteen episodes of Masterpiece Theater they’ll never watch but for some reason cannot delete.
  • They’ve become an overnight expert on current events, providing regular updates on Syria’s civil war, Iran’s nuclear threat, and whatever crazy shit Kim Jong-un is up to in North Korea. Your appreciation for their expanded worldview fades when they demand you play “Richard Engel meets Noori the Naughty Freedom Fighter” each night.
  • Dinner comes from the oven, not the delivery kid who spends so much time at your place he qualifies as a tax deduction. You're starting to miss him, too.
  • They mow your grass, trim your trees, prune your shrubs, and then replace all your fading annuals with perennials. Your apartment complex politely requests that, for liability purposes, they knock it the hell off.
  • They want an elliptical machine that you know will become an expensive storage device for dust and cat hair once they resume writing. (But you can’t say that without them accusing you of hoping they die young, probably so you’ll be free to sleep with that tramp from Accounting being unsupportive.)
  • The high-octane, double-espresso K-cups no longer disappear faster than fairy blood at a vampire convention. (Random shout-out to Charlaine Harris!).
  • You have trouble falling asleep, unaccustomed to them lying beside you any earlier than 3a.m. You long for the click-clack lullaby of their keyboard.

And the number one way to tell when the writer in your life is stuck?

  • They write stupid lists for their blog when they ought to be working on their novel.

 

Thursday
Oct032013

I Don't Think That Means What You Think It Means

I spend a lot of time on the road, much of which is spent sitting in traffic. Having banned in-vehicle cell phone use after I nearly rear-ended someone while watching a Ricky Martin video (the irony, y’all!), I’ve been forced to entertain myself in other ways.

Mostly, I pass the time plotting deliciously fiendish ways to torture the characters in the books I ought to be writing. But every now and then I take a moment to observe my fellow drivers. And I've noticed that people who buy certain vehicles tend to have a very specific idea about the image they’re projecting. And in many cases, they’re dead wrong.

To combat this tragic case of perception-myopia, I’ve devised the following guide.

You’re welcome.

 

What You THINK Your Vehicle Says About You

vs.

What Your Vehicle ACTUALLY Says About You

 

HONDA CR-V

What You Think It Says:

I love every minute of my crazy-busy life. Not only am I a star at work, but I also shoulder most of the responsibilities at home, thus allowing my spouse more freedom to crap up the garage with his latest haul of ridiculously overpriced homebrew equipment. I even find time to volunteer for the PTA and the food pantry. Whether it’s taking the kids to soccer practice or rushing to meet with one of my three book clubs, I know my vehicle reflects the sort of smart, reliable person I am.

 

What It Actually Says:

I am one divorce away from owning ten cats and starring in an episode of Hoarders.

 

"I tell ya what, Sheryl Sandberg: you lend me your nanny, and I'll lean in more."


 

JEEP WRANGLER RUBICON

What You Think It Says:

I’m a free spirit who loves the feel of the wind in my hair. When I'm behind the wheel, no road is too steep and no mountain too high. I love a good dare almost as much as I love being spontaneous. Off-road or in-town, I’m always ready for the next adventure!

 

What It Actually Says:

I have an STD.

 

Smells like freedom. And antibiotic ointment.

 

 

CHEVY SUBURBAN

What You Think It Says:

I’ve been blessed with a large family and enough disposable income to blow fifty grand on a four-wheel drive mobile mammoth that spends most of its time idling in city traffic. The 4.1-mpg this baby gets doesn’t worry me at all, since I’ll be claimed by the Rapture long before we finish raping the Earth for fossil fuels.

 

What It Actually Says:

I vote Republican.

 

Suck it, Al Gore! 

 

 

AUDI R8

What You Think It Says:

Everyone wants me — man or woman, straight or gay, young or old. Hell, even Fido does a double take when I stroll into a room. Remember when JT was bringing sexy back? Well, I’m the one who stole it, babe.

 

What It Actually Says:

I am the doucheyest douche in Doucheville.

 

 All aboard the Doucheville Express!

 

 

JAGUAR XK

What You Think It Says:

Unlike love, you can’t buy class. My Jag gets me pretty close, though, from the handcrafted wood veneers and smooth metallic trim of its posh console to the leather headliner designed by renowned Italian furniture house Poltrona Frau. I added the limited-availability Portfolio Pack, because nothing says wealth and exclusivity like premium carpet mats. Jealous?

 

What It Actually Says:

I’m putting my mechanic’s children through college.

 

 You're only a douche if you pronounce "Jaguar" with three syllables. (I'm looking at you, England.)


 

KIA RIO

What You Think It Says:

Labels and brand names aren’t important to me — I’m just looking for the maximum value I can get for every dollar I earn as an assistant manager at McDonald’s. Sure, a Kia’s resale value falls roughly between that of used sweatsocks and a Sony Discman, but by the time I’m ready to sell I’ll have won the lottery and it won’t matter anyway.

 

What It Actually Says:

My credit cards are all maxed out.

 

 Fifty-eight more payments, and she's mine!

 

 

BMW (all models)

What You Think It Says:

I appreciate the superior engineering and obvious devotion to quality that goes into manufacturing each and every BMW. My car is the perfect amalgam of sport and luxury, a product of that rare synergy found when obsession meets fanaticism (which isn’t a particularly new thing in Germany). Anyway, if it was good enough for Julia Roberts’ rich boyfriend in Mystic Pizza after she dumped fish in his Porsche, then it’s good enough for me!

 

What It Actually Says:

I was cool once. I think.

 

 Honk if this movie still makes you cry.

 

 

Prius/Insight/Leaf

What You Think It Says:

I care deeply about the environment and the long-term effects our dependency on foreign oil will have on our future, both morally and geopolitically. I want to leave the smallest footprint possible, which is why I love how well my reusable grocery bags and drinking cups fit in the roomy(ish) hatchback. I truly believe that together we can make the world a better place.

 

What It Actually Says:

I don’t have sex very often.

 

 "Is this thing running, or not? Seriously, my vibrator makes more noise."

 

 

TOYOTA YARIS

What You Think It Says:

I only listen to obscure indie bands, many of which I’ll trash on my hugely successful blog once they get too popular. I spend my days in coffee shops and my nights in art-house theaters, watching foreign films. I see myself as a modern-day Kerouac, a techno-age iconoclast raging against the very machine that makes my existence both possible and purposeful. I bought a Toyota to be ironic.

 

What It Actually Says:

My mom still does my laundry.

 

 "I only go to SXSW to lament the early days and snark about MySpace."

 

 

FORD ECONOLINE CARGO VAN

What You Think It Says:

I’m friendly and courteous, a hard-working, blue-collar guy who’s happy to help fix your flat tire. You ran out of gas? No problem — I carry a spare gallon in back. I’ll hold the door for you while you fetch it from the depths of the roomy cargo hold. Did I mention how pretty you are?

 

What It Actually Says:

There are assorted body parts buried in my backyard.

 

 Run away!!!!!!!!

 

 

 

 

Monday
Sep022013

Torn Between Two Lovers

This is serious. I’m having a relationship crisis, and I don’t know how to handle it.

I’ve never felt this way before.

As many of you know, I’ve been in love with the same man for more than twenty years. He’s an amazing guy, and he gives me everything I’d ever need. He makes me laugh so hard I had to institute a “no talking while I’m drinking” rule so I’d stop snorting coffee out my nose. But he’s more than a great joke, well delivered. He engages my mind in unexpected ways, making me care about things that would be so easy to dismiss. He inspires me to be a stronger woman, a more engaged parent, and a better steward of this world we all share. I can honestly say I’m a better person because of him. And there’s no one I’d rather have supporting me through a crisis. He always knows exactly what to say, the perfect blend of kindness and clarity. He soothes my spirit, eases my grief, and gives me hope in even the darkest of times.

Is that a giant sword in your hand, or are you just happy to see me?

You can see why I love him so much. Anyone with a lick of sense would.

I thought my feelings for him would never change. And I suppose they haven’t, except

Except someone new came into my life a few months ago. I’d met him before, but I never had any reason to spend time with him until this summer. He was just a casual acquaintance, a friend of a friend. I liked him well enough, but I’d never thought of him in that way, you know? Not until I started seeing him every day. And now …

Man, this is hard. I never imagined finding myself in this sort of situation. I’m not that kind of girl! At least, I didn’t think I was. But this new guy, well … I just couldn’t stop myself from falling in love.

 

 

Quick-witted doesn’t begin to describe him; his mind works so fast it creates a slipstream that sucks in everyone he meets, making them sharper and funnier just by virtue of proximity. I’ve never met anyone like him before. He’s so ridiculously talented that he deserves to be arrogant or at least a bit proud, and yet there’s not an ounce of conceit in him. He’s the first to poke fun at himself, the first to offer some self-effacing quip that has me laughing my head off even as I’m falling more deeply in love with him. Plus he has this amazing English accent that makes me swoon every time he opens his mouth.

Ugh, what am I going to do? I never meant for this to happen.

My only consolation comes from knowing I’m not alone. I can’t be the only one going through this right now. Surely there are others who, like me, are completely conflicted about the return of Jon Stewart to The Daily Show tonight.

Haha, you thought I was talking about a real guy, didn’t you? (Not that John Stewart et. al. aren’t real. This is The Daily Show, after all ... not Colbert.)

Yeah, because the consideration of infidelity is totally something I'd confess on my blog. Mmkay.

 

When I first heard Stewart would take a break from the show this summer to film a movie, I admit I was disappointed. I’ve watched him for nearly two decades now, all the way back to his early days on MTV. Still, I knew there was (and is) an entire cast of talented writers and producers who make The Daily Show the stimulating piece of infotainment it is today. I wasn’t worried about the quality or content changing. I just thought the show might lose some of its comedic punch without Stew-BEEF at the helm. And when I heard John Oliver would be taking over, I got a bit nervous.

Don’t get me wrong — I love John Oliver. Anyone who’s read my book knows I’m a sucker for English guys. And anyone who’s met my husband knows how much I enjoy a man with a big ol’ schnoz in the middle of his face. (You know what they say about guys with big noses, right? The bigger the beak, the larger the … Breathe Right strip? Not sure where I was going with that ...)

 

Sexy! You got a license for that thing, buddy?

 

Moving on …

I think John Oliver is abundantly talented, and I was looking forward to watching him host the show. My only fear was in the delivery. Here's why:

The Daily Show works best when pointing out hypocrisy, whether in politics, media, or America in general. At their core, successful segments more or less consists of the same three parts:

1) Here’s what’s happening,

2) Here’s why it’s so ridiculous, contradictory, and self-defeating that it’s funny, and

3) Aren’t we silly to elect these clowns/put up with this poop?

It’s a proven formula, and I didn’t want them to change it. But I was afraid the last part, when voiced by a Brit, would come off less as “aren’t we silly” and more like “you are all so fucking stupid.”

Hear ye! Hear ye! Americans don't do irony!


While it’s never easy to hear the hard truths about one’s country, hearing them spoken in a foreign accent can be downright demoralizing. It might make some people feel a bit, well … defensive. It’s like when your younger brother gets threatened at school — you know very well how evil the little soul-sucking demonspawn can be, but you don’t sit back while some kid beats the stuffing out of him. That’s your job.

 

He started it, Mom!


As it turned out, my fears were groundless. John Oliver was perfectly humble, with a swift sense of humor that’s as clever as it is unassuming. Sure, he was a little stiff during his first few guest interviews, but he quickly hit his stride. His final week more than proved he has the chops to host his own show. He pulled no punches with Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), grilling her about the conflict of interest inherent when those in charge of reforming the financial industry owe their position to campaign contributions from the very institutions most in need of regulating. From the show on August 8:

 

You were the number one recipient of money from Goldman Sachs from 2011 to 2012 for all sitting congressmen. JPMorgan was your number two corporate donor over the last five years. What I deeply want to know is … what do you have to do for that? What is required of you for that money? […] Are there opinions that you have on Wall Street? Do you get the money because you already have those opinions, or do you need those opinions to get the money?

 

Rand Paul (R-KY) was on the show the next night, and Oliver did a good job of keeping the conversation focused on the Affordable Care Act (and the many times Congress has unsuccessfully attempted to repeal it). It was a refreshing change, as the non-fake news programs seem far more interested in speculating over the senator’s 2016 presidential aspirations than anything else. (When they’re not educating us on the Very Important News of Miley Cyrus twerking for Beetlejuice, that is.) 

 

Reports indicate over a thousand people, including 426 children, were murdered in the mass poisoning in Damascus last— oh, wait! Look! Disney kids behaving badly!

 

Oliver’s penultimate interview with Regis Philbin, followed by Simon Pegg on his final night, were shining examples of how comfortable he’d become in the host's chair. He did a fantastic job this summer, but that only makes it harder to say goodbye.

And that’s why I’m so torn up, y’all.

What started out as a summer fling has turned into something I never want to end. I tell myself it’s wrong, that I have to let him go. Yet how can I just walk away after everything he’s given me these past few months? Seeing him around the studio will be torture. How can I pretend it never happened, that he means nothing more to me than any of the other correspondents, when my heart aches for the times we were together?

Yet how can I betray my first love? He was only gone a few months; I’m sure he never expected me to stray. It was the furthest thing from my mind — I actually believed his absence would bring us closer, in the end. And I guess it did, because I still love him. I missed him when he was gone, and I’m glad he’s coming home. It’s just that … there’s no way things will ever be the same. Because there’s no way I’ll forget my summer romance.

Why, oh why, can’t I have them both?

Won’t someone please tell me what to do? This is killing me.