Friday, August 30, 2013


I was planning on writing a short post about how I am going to back to grad school. But then it turned into this.

I started grad school about a decade ago and never finished. It has always bothered me. When I think of myself, I think of myself as someone with a graduate degree. Perhaps wearing a tweed jacket with elbow patches. Smoking a pipe. Wearing Birkenstocks. That sort of thing.

Haha. Just kidding about the Birks.

All kidding aside, I miss teaching. I taught high school English for many years before I went into the glamorous world of advertising. (Insert laughter here.) I miss having students. I miss feeling like I'm doing some good in the world, helping someone out, contributing to society, etc. That's not to say I haven't written some preeeeetty fine taglines, yes indeed.

But. You know.

There aren't a lot of older women in advertising. Everyone is young. Young and beautiful. Or old and quirky. And male. It makes me nervous. I'm not getting any younger. What will happen to me when I'm not young and beautiful and hip? (Insert laughter here.) Okay, maybe I've never been those things. But the reality is all around me.

Advertising is not a career for the old. And I would like a very long career, thank you.

I've always been attracted to the idea of being a college professor. Seems like such an unreasonable goal, though. Everyone says there aren't any jobs. But they say that about teaching high school and writing copy for an ad agency.

It seems everything I like or am good at is not an in-demand career.

A pox upon you, liberal arts degree!

I start my first class next week. I'm still working full-time at the ad agency. I still have two children. I'm still working with a writing coach on my manuscript. I still play mandolin, obsessively straighten my house and fold all the laundry for four people. And I'm still married. So yeah. I'm a little concerned about how that's all going to work out. But one thing I have noticed is that the busier you are, the more you get done. You've got momentum.

I may have to give up some of my recreational sports like mandolin, mani/pedis and obsessively working out. Or simply back off a little. I do have my eye on the 5:15 a.m. spinning classes though. I could fit those in.

Old people don't do this much, right?

I'm not old, really.

Not yet.

If only the university hadn't just sent me an email inviting me to the "Transitions Program" for older students.


I wasn't feeling insecure about going back to school until I received that email. Particularly for graduate school. I mean, I thought lots of people went back to school for advanced degrees later on.


When I hear the word "Transitions" I think of bifocals and absorbent undergarments. I think of senior living centers with support staff. I think: Menopause.

Maybe I need to have another baby?

Just kidding.

I wrote that line to scare my husband.

Anyway, this old lady is going back to school. Wish me luck. And let me know if you want to write any papers for me.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Dante's Forgotten Circle of Hell. Part 3.

Asexual Mandy in floods on left. Sexy sister on right.
This is part three in a series. Please click here to read Part One or here to read Part Two.

A kindly cellist tried to tutor me on the art of bangs. Apparently you were supposed to fluff them up. She suggested I try using a curling iron. We all know that didn't end well. A few second-degree burns later and I had decided to cut it all off. Short hair was edgy, right?

I ended up looking like Carol Brady.

I somehow summoned the courage to reach outside of my tight social circle of nerds. I needed hair advice and I needed to bring in the pros. I approached a rather gorgeous and friendly tall girl who had incredibly stylish hair. It might have been one of those asymmetrical short eighties wedges, you may recall. Something akin to A Flock of Seagulls. I figured perhaps we might share a sisterhood of the overly tall and she might take pity on me.

"What should I do with my hair?" I asked. "It doesn't look cool like yours." I laid my cluelessness at her feet and put faith in the kindness of tall girls.

"I love the short hair!" she said. "You just need to update it a little!" She smiled and this encouraged me.

"How do I do that? Where do I go?" I asked. I needed specifics. I needed a salon. I needed a hairdresser. I now had the right vocabulary all I needed was the right person to translate the artistic direction.

"Update it," I told the hair stylist at Mario Max. If I was straight and to the point, it's because I had no other words in my arsenal. But thanks to the beautiful and tall Claire, I had that much at least.

"Do you want it spiky? Do you want it shorter in back? How do you like the bangs?" The handsome gay stylist moved my hair in the mirror and asked me questions as if I had any idea of what he was talking about.
"Update it," I repeated. "Do whatever you think will look good."

And really, what more does a hair stylist need to hear?

In hindsight, I am touched by the kindness of adolescent girls. I blush to think I so naively and without embarrassment sought the counsel of other girls. I was a rube and they must have known it, but they took pity on me still. I did find my fair share of mean girls in middle school and even found them amongst my own tribe of the misfit and the musical. I recall a school trip, to somewhere far. Some place that required a long bus trip, a friend to share a seat with, and a small group to ride the rides with. 

Clearly, a trip made for disaster.

I’d recently gotten in a fight with a close friend. I perceived this friend as more popular than I was. Okay, admittedly not an impressive feat. But I was taken aback by her friendship. Her interest floored me. She invited me over to her house. We had sleepovers. She wore brand-name clothes and lived in a big house. What on earth was she doing with a loser like me?

This practically popular friend and I had a falling out, and with that, my entire social standing bottomed out. I should have known better than to have had a fight with her just a week before the all-important school trip. I hadn’t factored in how it would affect my ability to find a group of four to join. At that late juncture, any and all friends I had were already neatly grouped to ride the rollercoasters built for four and no more. But the school said to break ourselves up into groups of four and to sign up as a unified team for the school trip on a list posted in the main hallway.

After the fight with my practically popular friend, my name was unceremoniously crossed off the original list. My eyes scanned the other groups of friends and near-friends to see if there was a threesome looking for a fourth to tag along. No such luck for an awkward tall girl trying to read the list without crying. 

Students filed past me as I stood staring at the bulletin board. Some friends stopped to ask what was wrong and I could barely get the words out without crying.

“I need a group for the school trip. Do you guys have any room?” I tried to sound casual but the stink of desperation was on me.

“No, sorry! We’ve already got four in our group. Have you asked so-and-so?”

All the so-and-so’s that might not mind a social anchor like me were all matched up into perfect sets of four and no more. My desperation grew stronger as the day went on. I had an end of the day deadline and a dance card to fill.

At one point I was talking to some friends in the hallway trying to strategize and brainstorm potential pairings for me when I espied my former best friend in the distance. Her collars were popped. She stood in profile and smiled and laughed while my social ship was sinking in plain view.

It was too much. My resolve, broken. The dam began to break and I felt the tears fall in the middle school hall. Tall girl down. And she’s going down hard. 

I ran down the hall to the pay phone. I called my mother’s office. It was a Hail Mary pass to be sure, but I was calling this one in to a higher power. I could only hope that the higher power in question was sober, just this once.

“Mom,” I started to speak and my voice broke as soon as I heard her voice.

I explained the situation as best I could, blubbering in noisy school hallway.

“You wait right there,” she said. I could hear the steel in her voice. This was a woman on a mission. Perhaps my tears and torment were enough to sober her up. Perhaps she didn’t drink at work. Who’s to say? All I knew was that my mother was on her way.

I stood by the front doors with my forehead pressed against the glass. I waited for my savior, the cause of and solution to all of my social problems at school. I knew she would fix it, somehow. I had faith in the magic that adults could wizard into the brutalism of youth, hocus-pocusing away our amateurish attempts at cruelty.

I watched her walk from her car to the school. I saw her face through the reflection of my own in the glass and noticed we both looked set and determined. There were moments that I could rely on my mother. Moments she broke through the fog of alcoholism, or depression, or passivity or whatever it was she had going on — not that I could divine any of it at 13. 
But this was one such moment. Not unlike the sun breaking through the dark gray cloud that hung over the concrete school. Mother’s love was like Michigan sun. Rare and all the more stunning because of it. 
She came through the doors and she looked fierce. You did not fuck with my mom when she was pissed. She walked over to me with a firm and set face, and she hugged me hard, yet briefly.
I sobbed. The tears started rolling as soon as my eyes had set upon her. She indulged my tears for a moment and then she pulled me away and looked in my eyes.
“You stop crying now. It is going to be okay. We are going to figure this out.” She looked into my eyes like she meant business and I believed her like religion.
I nodded my head and sniffled.
“Don’t let them see you cry,” she said. I let my eyes stray to the hallway where I could see a collection of girls watching us.
I sniffled again and widened my eyes in order to dry them.
“Okay,” I said.
At that point, a friend had walked up to us with some other scared-looking friends behind her. They had the “Oh Shit Her Mom’s Here” look on their faces that nice girls will adopt as soon as an adult is present.
“Hi Mrs. Fish. Mandy, what’s wrong?” my friend asked and turned towards me.
“She’s fine,” my mother said. “Just trying to figure some things out.” And with that, my mother and the friend managed to figure out a way to get me on that bus with a completely brand-new threesome of friends. How they conjured a group of three teenage girls out of the atmosphere to befriend and ride with me, I don’t know. But my mother and that kind girl made it happen.
Later that day, the friend I’d been fighting with, the friend who’d kicked me out of my original group, came back and offered me a spot with her on the bus.
“Mandy, you can be in my group. I didn’t know you were so upset!” she said. I had no way of knowing whether she was sincere, whether my own insecurities had conjured this perceived outcast state, or whether it was the cruelty of teenaged girls at play. Both and all are possible. But what I did know was that she would never know it. I would never let her know she’d hurt me or that I cared.
I flipped my hair. Shrugged my shoulders.
“No, it’s fine. I have a group. No problem. My feelings aren’t hurt at all,” I  said and tried the lie on for size. 
I vowed to keep at it until it fit.

That's the end of the chapter, "MIddle School: Dante's Forgotten Circle of Hell." This is just one chapter in a longer work, a memoir of my childhood. Hopefully I will finish the collection by 2014 and will keep you posted on my work with getting an agent and getting it published. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sexist Acura Ad Compares Bending Woman to Folding Chair.

I just saw this online ad while perusing the site:

Woman arching her back. Tres sexy.

The dark image of the bending lady in the black dress slowly merges into an image of a folding chair. Lady = Object. Nice going, Acura. Who are the copywriter and art director that thought this would be a good idea?

This chair is easy to bend over — just like that lady!

I get that sexy cars = sexy ladies. It's a trope in advertising, albeit a rather out-of-date one. But what really got me with this ad was the way that the woman was so thoughtlessly merged into an object. We are so numb to women's bodies being objectified that such images line the columns of our liberal magazines without comment. It's depressing as shit. I'm sorry I'm using bad language but I'm not a journalist. I'm just an opinionated bitch from Detroit.

Never forget who the car is made for ladies.

And....end scene. Acura is more than happy to objectify a woman's body to make a point about ease and comfort ... and flexibility? But they don't want us to forget who this car is made for. That's right. It's made for a man. Ladies, no Acura MDX's for you.

Forgive my little advertising/feminism rant in the middle of my middle school series but this was just too much for me. I work in the industry. I've worked in advertising and specifically, in automotive advertising, for over a decade. If you think sexism is a thing of a past, try working on a car account. At one point in my career when someone with less education, less experience and less skill than I had got a raise above my own salary, I was informed that he "had to make a man's salary." Yep. Why would I, a senior level with a degree and a child to support, need to make a "man's salary." I'm just a ladywriter.

Let's take a little tour of the history of sexist advertising in the automotive industry. Just for funsies.

Women are soft and gentle, but they hit things. Like sexist assholes, for example.

Oooooh! You get to clean the vinyl buckets! Don't let that Dodge-driver go, ladyfriend.

You know you're not the first. But do you really care?
Stay classy, BMW.

This is the face I make when driving over chauvinist pigs. Tee hee!

I actually do drive a Jeep. Because that's what dirty four-wheelin' feminists drive.

*End rant.*

Sorry folks. Now we can go back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Dante's Forgotten Circle of Hell. Part 2.

Are you there, God? It's me, Mandy.

This is the second part of a series. If you missed the first part, please click here.

As it turned out, the Summer of Rehab wasn't half bad. Mom dried out and stayed sober until Christmas. That summer unwound in the soft golden light that only the Kodak film of the time can accurately capture. My feelings were the same butter yellow, soft and mellow, as the sound of seventies soft rock playing on the radio in the kitchen while my mother simmered ground meat in a pot of Ragu spaghetti sauce.

My mother even took me on a shopping trip before school started. We didn't have much money and if I hadn’t been so damn tall, I probably could have worn more of my older sister's hand-me-downs. It was with pride and care that I selected two new pairs of jeans. I was quite certain that wearing jeans that weren't too short for me would propel me into popularity in the seventh grade. There would be new kids and new opportunities. Things were going to be different, I could feel it.

I showed up at middle school that fall, the only girl in straight-legged denim. Somehow, over the summer, every other girl had gotten the memo that both puberty and the eighties had officially occured. I don't know why I wasn't on that mailing list, but there I stood — braless, flat chested and woefully out of date. Tapered jeans and pinstriped denim had appeared overnight and I was standing at the bus stop in a pair Lee Easy Riders.

Not one to be easily overcome by obstacles, I resolved to win over new friends with the sheer force of my personality. I was the youngest child of an alcoholic. I was scrappy. I had wit. I had chutzpah. I loved attention. What could go wrong?

In elementary school the most popular people had two things going for them: 1) They were nice and 2) They were good at sports. I had both of those things. I was just too darn shy. I simply needed to hurl myself out of my usual reserve and strike up conversations with people, I reasoned.

So it was that I sat down in my first class, in front of four kids who are all talking and joking around in the desks behind me. Here was my chance. New Outgoing Popular Mandy was going to make her appearance. I overcame every alarm bell that was sirening off in my head and turned around to chat. I slung my arm over the back of the chair, super casual-like, and crossed my legs.

"Hey! What are you guys talking about?" I flashed them my toothiest, most Popular Girl grin.

"Turn around," a sullen, acne-faced boy replied.

"I'm sorry?" I cocked my head. "I was just asking what you guys were talking about." I tried the super popular girl smile once more, in case he hadn’t noticed it the first time.

"Turn around," he said again, this time circling his finger around in the air in case I was a complete moron.

"Okay," I slowly turned back around. I heard their laughter as my back was turned and felt my face turn hot. I secretly vowed to hate that spiky-haired, pizza-faced, pop-collared wanna-be for the rest of my life.

Unless he decided to talk to me. Then we would be totally cool.

It seemed that Antoine de Cadillac had somehow telepathically transmitted the message to every adolescent boy at middle school that I was a Grade-A Loser. Or perhaps my Lee Easy Riders were doing that for me? As I looked around, I noticed that in addition to bras and pinstripes, girls were doing their hair. They wore headbands. They had curls. Frosted lipstick. Accessories. Somehow over the summer they'd not only gotten their hands on the hormones that started breast development, they'd also done summer internships with John Casablanca. Clearly I needed a clue and a rich daddy to bankroll it.

Unfortunately I didn't have either.

It's not that I didn't have friends, mind you. I was in orchestra with all of the other socially clueless kids who were still waiting to get their periods and the ability to style hair. My hair up until that point had been a source of annoyance rather than pride. I somehow gathered in the fifth grade that the bowl cut was really over so I started growing it out. It was my nod to femininity. I mean, it would be nice if a boy liked me, but even better if they would at least stop ridiculing me. I thought long hair would help. And maybe I needed to ease up on the plaid flannel shirts.

Unfortunately my hair styling included asking my mother to hack off the bangs every once in a while so I could see. Grooming meant I remembered to pull a comb through my hair before I rode my bike to school. I'll be honest, most days I didn't remember. A couple of my friends had gently tried to help. I remember the sweet-natured Elisha recoiling in horror at the sight of me in a ponytail and twin barrettes when I showed up on the bus for picture day.

"Oh no!" She gasped. "You can't wear a ponytail in your school picture."

"Why not?" I said, confused by her reaction. I was wearing hair accessories. I was being girly. I not only combed my hair, but I put two barrettes it and a ponytail holder. This was me at my fanciest.

"You'll look like you have no hair. You can't see a ponytail in a school picture." My god, it was like the rules were a constantly moving target. One minute you have things figured out and the next you're Dick Cheney. Thanks to Elisha, we managed to remove the ponytail and left the two barrettes in place. When I look at that photo now, I see a sad plane of bangs lying straight across my brow. I had so carefully combed them straight down my forehead so they looked nice and neat. In reality, I looked like a total goon. I didn't need a French witch doctor to hex my social life. I was doing a fine job of it myself.

To read the conclusion click here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Middle School: Dante's Forgotten Circle of Hell. Pt. 1

Can you feel my 13-year-old sex appeal?
I concluded my elementary school career by attending group therapy at my mother's rehab facility. To say I was ill equipped to handle middle school would be an understatement.

I recall telling my three closest friends that my mother was going away to a hospital for a while and she had a disease called "Alcoholism." I thought having a sick mother with a nameable disease would somehow normalize my life. What I didn't realize was that there were acceptable diseases — like cancer — and then there were the things one wasn’t supposed to mention.

A few days later, one of these three friends informed me that her mother said she wasn't allowed to play with me anymore. It is without malice that I now mention that her mother was quite possibly more pickled than my own, but I digress.

It's not like it was a surprise to the neighborhood that something was awry at my house. For several years the catholic school punks down the street had been heckling me on the way home with taunts of, "Your mother's a drunk!" When I was younger I hadn’t known what a "drunk" was, but I did know enough to be ashamed and to find a new route home

In the sixth grade I had already acquired a bully of my very own. For some reason, the quiet, awkward, tomboy that I was had inspired rage in this particular bully’s pre-adolescent mind. He went after me with the full-throated screams of a zealot on the playground and with whispered threats during class. We'll call him Antoine de Cadillac because his name was French and I'm from Detroit.

Antoine alternated between finding me repugnant and wanting to grab my ass amongst the book racks. It was too early for me to understand the kind of sullen loathing a pre-adolescent boy could have for a girl. This type of creature also mistakes being "unpopular" for being "easy." I would encounter more of his type later on in high school. 

However, my lack of dating opportunity never quelled my fervent desire to be choosy and to have the same blue-eyed dreamboat of a boyfriend that the popular girls had. In fact, I thought popularity was something that fell upon you like winning the lottery or getting hit by an asteroid. Although I believed it was out of my control and not likely to happen, I still felt it was within the realm of possibility.

So it was that on one golden June afternoon while all my peers were full of summer hopes and I was preoccupied with dreading group therapy at Mom's rehab, that the slope-foreheaded Antoine de Cadillac grabbed me by the collars of my off-brand Izod shirt and pinned me against a brick wall at school.

"You are a loser, Mandy. You will always be a loser. I know people in middle school and I know that you’re gonna be the biggest loser there," he said, his spittle hitting my face like tender drops of summer rain.

I managed to save face by shoving him off.

"No! You're going to be the loser, Antoine! I know people in high school! So there," I said. But I was shaken by the Frenchman's prognostication. It had the ring of a hex about it. I worried that he could either see me more clearly than I saw myself or that he had somehow French cursed me into a life sentence of unpopularity.

To read Part 2, please click here.

*This is an excerpt from my memoir, from the chapter, "Middle School: Dante's Forgotten Circle of Hell."