Friday, November 7, 2014

So You Want to Work in Advertising?

You do not want your creative director to give you this look. Ever.

I am an advertising copywriter. I write the words that appear in any kind of advertising you might see. Over the course of my career, I have written spam email, the junk mail that winds up in your garbage can, magazine and newspaper articles, catalogs, brochures, radio spots, online advertising, posters, print ads, billboards, packaging, video scripts, press releases, newsletters and a sex advice column.

A lot of people don't realize someone is paid to write all this crap. So the next time you complain about all the junk mail you've been getting, just think of my kids. You're sending them to college. (P.S. Thank you. I'm really hoping one of them goes to an Ivy League school.)

When I first started my career, I worked for a man who was notoriously difficult.* He was hostile. He was intolerant. He was addled-minded and vague. On top of all that, he didn't know what he wanted. But he was my boss and I had to please him.


Without any direction or supervision along the way. I was a mere flag in the winds of his ever changing mental state and cognitive abilities—which were sometimes so muddled and unreliable that he walked into glass doors like a confused bird.

I often tell the following story about him, especially when people express concern over giving me critical feedback. As a part of my job, I must submit to regular and widespread criticism. Everyone has to put their two cents in. The account people, editing department, legal department, product specialists and creative directors all make comments on what I've written—and all of that before the copy has even left the advertising agency. Then I get an entire round of client feedback. Each and every person who sees my writing will mention something to change, edit, alter, re-write or lambaste.

I take it all in stride. Unless the comment is proceeded by multiple exclamation marks or question marks. I mean, that's just rude. It's easier to write "Sentence fragment" than to write "Sentence fragment???" Am I right or am I right? And I happen to like sentence fragments. It's my way of taking creative liberties.

So there. (Go ahead and try to find a verb in that sentence. I dare you.)

Advertising copy is a process and no one really owns it. I mean, sure, the copywriter takes the public beating for the stupid headline, but everyone along the way has their hands all over it. It's not like I, alone, am responsible for the final product. By the time it hits the streets, it looks nothing like the original. It is truly a group effort.

And now you know why most advertising sucks.

Haha. I kid. I joke. But not really. My original ideas really are the best. Some day I will show everyone the sheer enormity of my creative genius and I will be vindicated for all of the multiple exclamation marks thrown my way.

*Shakes fist*

Let's go back, shall we? Back to my former boss, in the shadowy past, in the somewhat distant and fictionalized history of my mind. The difficult gentleman in question was a cigar smoker. Let's call him "Satan." Satan had a huge white office with white leather furniture. White walls. White carpet. All stained with a smoky beige tar. He would sit all of us—the entire team of fifteen people—gathered around a glass conference table in his office. The cigar was perpetually resting in the glass ashtray. It spilled smoke over our layouts and concepts, the paper absorbing the smell.

One day, he lasered his eyes at me across the table, my copy in his hands, smoke billowing over his head. I sat and returned his stare. I waited to hear what he was going to say, trying not to betray any emotion whatsoever. He made me wait while he took a long drag off that stinking cigar. He exhaled and gave me a withering gaze. I met that gaze with the enigmatic face of the Mona Lisa.

"Did you mean for this to suck when you wrote it?" he said, his eyes assessing me through the fog. All of my co-workers had gone silent. No one moved a muscle nor made direct eye contact with Satan.

"No," I said and gathered myself together. "What exactly would you like me to change?"

"I'd like you to change the fact that it sucks." He pointed his cigar at me like an accusation.

"Did you not like the headline, the body copy...," I began again, despite my co-workers urgent glances. I knew they were communicating one unified message of "SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!" But I couldn't stop myself. I wanted clarity. I demanded it through the stink of cigar smoke.

"I SAID I WANTED IT TO NOT SUCK!" he spat out his cigar and threw the papers on the table. Everyone continued to remain motionless, staring at the table. I pursed my lips and kept quiet. Finally, one of the account girls that Satan was particularly fond of changed the subject and moved something else in front of him to review.

When the meeting was over, we all collapsed into an office together and shut the door. Had we liquor, we would have passed around a bottle. Had we a joint, we would have smoked it like soldiers in a foxhole. Seeing as we had neither, we took a two-hour lunch and considered alternate careers which none of us ever pursued.

Despite this, I am grateful for the experience. It is why I can take criticism from just about anyone. Unless of course you use three exclamation marks. That may move me to curse you very quietly, under my breath. Beware the repressed fury of the lowly copywriter, my friends. We have blogs now and memoirs to write.

*Evil laughter*

*I have changed any identifying details about the man so he is unrecognizable. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I Was Raised by the Village

I’ve always been moved by the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Probably because I was raised by the village.

I was fortunate to grow up in a neighborhood that was filled with kind people. I spent as much time or more at my neighbor’s homes than at my own. I always knew I had a warm house to go to where the lights were turned on and dinner was on the table. I was a bit of a fixture at my closest friends’ and neighbors’ homes and I’m filled with wonder that they put up with me as much as they did.

It wasn’t always like that. I have dim-lit memories of a warm house of my own filled with a family—people, activity, food. But somewhere over the course of elementary school the people left and the house got dark. Rather than stay there alone or with a sleeping alcoholic in the upstairs bedroom, I’d run off to other people’s houses.

As an adult, when I asked a friend if her parents had realized that something was wrong at my house, she said, “No one called for you. My mom had to send you home every night at 9 o’clock. She knew something was wrong, of course.” That triggered memories of running home in the dark, winding my way across the neighbor’s lawns, through their bushes and across their patios on well-worn shortcuts. I ran past other houses with yellow windows to mine, which was dark.

I’d slip in the front door and call out, “Mom?” But no one answered. I’d flip on the kitchen light, go downstairs and start turning on lights in the family room, turn on the television for more light and sound, let the dog out who was tapping on his toes. Call for the other dog who was most likely inside the next door neighbor’s house. She too was raised by the village.

Now that I’m an adult, I wonder at their generosity. I never once heard, “We’re about to eat dinner. It’s time you went home.” Instead, it was always, “Would you like to stay?”

One of my friend’s parents, also a neighbor, even took me to Croatia one summer. I mean, it’s one thing for dinner every night and sleepovers on the weekends, but who flies some lonesome straggler off to Europe with their family?

My neighbors. That’s who.

Even in high school, I remember spending a week at a friend’s house when my mom went out of town. I awoke one Sunday morning to find an Easter basket in the guest bedroom, filled with chocolate rabbits, candy and a stuffed animal. I held the basket with the morning light streaming in through the windows and cried. I’d completely forgotten it was Easter and the basket brought back memories of the baskets I’d gotten as a child.

I had been loved.

I knew what it was to be loved.

You never forget that. I think if you had it once, you keep seeking it out. Maybe that’s why I kept showing up at the neighbor’s doorsteps? Even though my mother was no longer able to provide it, I knew that love was out there. Somewhere.

Maybe just around the corner.

This post is a part of National Blog Posting Month or NaBloPoMo. Today's post is inspired by the BlogHer's NaBloPoMo Prompt, "Tell us one time that you benefitted from the kindness of strangers." 

Click here to learn more and to participate on your own blog. If you've written a NaBloPoMo post, feel free to share it in the comments here too. 



Monday, November 3, 2014

A Moment With My Daughter

I had a moment with my daughter this weekend.

She's had a tough time lately dealing with her emotions. Earlier, when we had gone out to lunch, she was starting up a temper tantrum in the restaurant so I had to take her outside to chill for a minute. Only, she had no intention of chilling.

She raged at me. She yelled. She screamed. Told me I was a bad mama. Said this was a bad family. Said she didn't like any of us and no one liked her.

"We do like you. We love you," I replied. "I just need you to stop screaming so we can go back in the restaurant."


And so it went, back and forth.

"I'M COLD!" she finally screamed.

"If you stop screaming, we can go back inside," I said.


I didn't know how to navigate this storm with her. If I tried to wait her out, we might both freeze to death or starve to death. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but her will is strong. No matter how I tried to alternate between patiently waiting out her tantrum and then offering her an opportunity to go back inside, she would not relent.

When it seemed we had reached an impasse, I walked over to her, picked her up and hugged her.

She went limp in my arms.

"Do you want to go inside?"


"Are you all done screaming now?"


"Do you want pancakes?"

I felt the little head nod on my shoulder. And so we went back inside and she was perfectly lovely for the rest of the meal.

Later that day, we were playing in the house. She was laughing and adorable. All smiles, a tumble of blond hair and spindly four-year-old legs. I picked her up and held her at arm's length, both of us laughing and looking into each other's eyes.

And we held the look. Something in me connected to her in a way that almost merged us. So often people have told me that she looks like me and I haven't really seen it. But in that moment, with her head cocked to the side and her long hair spilling over her face, perhaps the angle of her chin or her smile—whatever it was—I saw myself in her. A little me. And my heart swelled with such empathy and love, for both of us. For the four-year-old little girl she is and for the four-year-old little girl I once was.

And it was good.

This post is a part of National Blog Posting Month or NaBloPoMo. Click here to learn more about it and to participate on your own blog. If you've written a NaBloPoMo post, feel free to share it in the comments here too. XOXO, Mandy

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Tremble in fear all you who behold these fearsome specters!

I thought I'd flex my creative muscles and get nice and warmed up for NaBloPoMo once again. For those of you who don't know, NaBloPoMo is an opportunity for bloggers to get back into the swing of things by committing to post once per day for the month of November.

It's the blog equivalent of NaNoWriMo which is National Novel Writing Month. The goal of that is for writers to write every day for a month and complete a 50,000-word novel in one month. I figure a blog post a day is much more realistic for me than writing over 1,500 words per day on a novel.

I also figured that one way to cope with writing a blog post once a day is to rely on a lot of pictures. See, look? Cute kids! In Halloween costumes!?! What's not to love?

My daughter Grace originally wanted to be Princess Leia because her best friend wanted to be Princess Leia. I tried to gently discourage her from completely ripping off her friend's costume, but four year olds just don't care. They want what they want.

So I did what any self-respecting Star Wars Fan/parent would do. I ordered her both a Princess Leia costume and a Queen Amidala costume. It's important to know your audience. I do this for a living in the advertising profession. And my four-year-old audience loves her some glam.

There was no way she was going to be into that dry white habit that Leia wears. She took one look at the two costumes and she was TEAM QUEEN AMIDALA! Or as she says it, "QUEEN AMIBLABLAH."

My son Max is the Grim Reaper. At 10 years old, he's taken a turn for the darker side of Halloween. I can't say I blame him. He says he's too old to be anything cute. Too bad that's what he is the other 364 days of the year.

Happy Halloween, friends. And get used to seeing more of me for the month of November. You may resort to calling me Queen of OMGBLAHBLAH by the end of it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Destructive Power of Change

When I was getting my teaching certificate, an Education professor told me that in order for students to learn, they had to go from a place of discomfort to comfort.

Think about that for a moment.

Most of us are perfectly content to stay right where we are, thank you very much. We want to believe what we believe, think what we think and stay where we are. Changing our thoughts and minds is upsetting. If we’ve believed that the earth is flat and someone comes along and says it’s round, we’re bound to be confused. Our worldview has literally been disrupted.

Now we are uncomfortable and agitated. We need to right ourselves again. Perhaps we go to Google and see if we can confirm what we already believed, or discover more evidence for this new information. Or we need to talk about it. Process it. And once we’ve read enough, researched enough, and/or talked to enough people and processed our feelings about this new information, we either accept or reject it. We either learn something new or stay where we are. But in order to learn, we have to go through this discomfort.

It’s what I did in my classroom with my students. An English teacher challenges you about what you read. An English teacher asks questions, teases out thoughts and responses, pushes you to consider something you may not have seen or challenges your interpretation. This can be a jarring experience. Students can rebel, argue or just be plain confused. But no matter where the students wind up, a good teacher is disruptive. A good teacher will challenge the students and make them uncomfortable.

In order to learn, we must change. We must go from a state of discomfort (confusion, fear, pain) to a place of comfort (understanding, acceptance, enlightenment). I’d even go so far as to say that change is not only difficult, it's ugly.

Consider the butterfly. We talk about the caterpillar transforming into the beautiful butterfly. But what about the process of metamorphosis itself? Isn’t it ugly? Isn’t it disturbing? Just look at the word “pupa.” That is one ugly word. Consider the process of shedding one’s cocoon or skin. Molting? It’s the stuff of horror films. Whether it be humanoids encased in jellied eggs in Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Jeff Goldblum’s face erupting into greasy insect skin in The Fly, metamorphosis is one ugly process.

It makes sense. In order to change from one thing into another, the prior self must be destroyed. Yes it is replaced with something far more beautiful and evolved, but the process of change itself can be violent and unpleasant.

I think it’s the main reason people avoid therapy. To change your inner self, to undergo the metamorphosis of the psyche requires addressing the ugly stuff that’s buried within that nice cocoon you’ve built. You’ve got to rip it apart. Chew your way out from within. Destroy everything you’ve known in order to be reborn.

Change is hard. We say those three little words as if it makes it easier. As though it’s easily summed up. Heck, I’ve used that phrase myself to help cope with it. For instance I’ve recently changed jobs. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t know it would be this hard. Yes, it is good for me. Yes, I was stagnating after staying in the same place for seven years. But damn, it’s really hard! I wake up from anxiety dreams where everyone at a meeting speaks a foreign language or speaks so softly I can’t hear them. I grind my teeth at night and my jaw aches. It’s only my second week at the new gig, so it’s not the end of the world.

But I didn’t expect it to be quite this hard.

I’m also in therapy and I’m working on a memoir with a writing coach. Those are acts of transformation. And they are harder than I thought they would be. Facing the truth about what I’ve been through and who I've become is incredibly difficult. We bury our pain for a reason. And I’m one to pull my finger away from anger as though I’ve touched something hot.

But you can’t look at where you’ve been and what you’ve become—and not have to cope with whatever it is you were hiding from in the first place. In my case it's anger. I don't like to be angry and I don't like conflict. I'd rather shove it all deep within my belly and not deal with it. If you're familiar with that strategy of dealing with trauma, you'll know that it's not particularly effective. When you bury all the hurt and anger of being abused and neglected as a child, that sort of pain festers. You haven't eliminated it at all. Instead, you've let it metastasize within you and it will consume you. It will make you sick. If you root it out and deal with it in the light of day, no matter how painful that process, you've at least got a shot at healing. At transforming even.

And all of this is ugly. It is destructive. And it makes it difficult to write here. It makes it difficult to cope with the aftermath of writing about my eating disorder on the Huffington Post. When all you have ever done is work to hide such things, it is indeed difficult to reveal them.

It’s ugly.

It’s destructive.

And yet I want to fly.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My First Huffington Post Piece

I'm finally dipping my toe in the wide world of publishing outside of the comfortable little nest I've created here.

Hold me.

Just kidding. But do check out my very first piece on the Huffington Post. They liked my write up on my experience with battling an eating disorder. I'd love for you to comment there and share it so I'm not all alone there with my very first post. It's a little intimidating.

Thanks for your support! 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Lost in Thought: A Week Without Wifi.

We rented a cottage on Lake Michigan last week. The cottage was "rustic" in that it was made of actual logs and was located down a winding, dusty road, far from neighbors or the hustle of a city. It was also "rustic" in that it didn't include wifi and had no cellular reception.

It was excellent timing to see how I did without being connected to technology for a week. I'd just read an article in the New York Times about how necessary it is for your brain to unplug. In the article, "Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain, " Daniel J. Levitin discusses the brain's two dominant modes of attention. While one mode is for focusing on tasks, the other allows our minds to wander. He explains the significance of this latter mode:
This brain state, marked by the flow of connections among disparate ideas and thoughts, is responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight, when we’re able to solve problems that previously seemed unsolvable. You might be going for a walk or grocery shopping or doing something that doesn’t require sustained attention and suddenly — boom — the answer to a problem that had been vexing you suddenly appears. This is the mind-wandering mode, making connections among things that we didn’t previously see as connected.
I've noticed the lack of daydreaming in my modern life. The more plugged in I am, the more busy my mind is. My mind is one that naturally likes to daydream. As a child I was frequently gazing out of windows, imagining another life, another world and new stories for me to inhabit. Though I spent much of my childhood alone, I found a way to cope with that by listening to the voice in my head that I called "The Narrator." The Narrator has been my constant companion. I can have imaginary conversations with The Narrator. The Narrator composes my stories before I sit down to actually write or type.  The Narrator describes what's around me in interesting and complex ways. The Narrator fantasizes, dreams, works out and puzzles over everything it sees.

But I can't hear The Narrator when I'm reading the phone, typing on the computer or watching TV. The Narrator's voice and observations are drowned out by the millions of voices vying for my attention in every Facebook status, tweet and Instagram photo. By constantly reaching for my phone, my laptop or some form of distraction, I am not pausing long enough to hear what The Narrator has to say.

And The Narrator is the voice of my inner mind talking to me. The Narrator gives me the greatest insights, the most interesting stories and the most magical combinations of words. The Narrator sings to me a lullaby that makes this world sweet. By driving five hours north and resting on the banks of Lake Michigan without the ability to connect to the world via the Internet, my mind was once again full of that symphony of words that only The Narrator could share.

I sat on multi-colored rocks along the beach, dazzled by the soft pinks, light grays and dusty whites of nature's interior decorator. I watched the sunlight sparkle and dance on the water. I stared at the tiny struggles of a winged ant that tried to carry a spider to its lair for dinner. I watched the patterns he made as he repeatedly worked over and over the general area of where he dropped the spider, not realizing that I had buried it in order to try and save it in some misguided attempt at heroism. The rocks along the beach were suddenly bustling with life and drama, a tiny metropolis which I'd been wholly unaware of as I stomped across it to dip my toes in the lake.

I don't know how much of this I would have seen if I'd been able to connect to the Internet on my phone and read articles on the New York Times as I sat on the beach. There's nothing wrong with reading articles on the New York Times, of course. I've gained wisdom and insight there. But by forcibly disconnecting from technology, it enabled me to reconnect with the real world and very the real drama that was unfolding right before my very eyes, or right beyond my cellphone screen.

My mind was able to buzz and dream and narrate once again. I felt a peace that seemed to resonate right down to my very bones. I felt the warm sand under my feet. I touched the smooth rocks along the beach. I watched my daughter dance in the waves. I was filled with beauty within, without and all around. I felt the hum of the earth and I was one with it.

It was good to come home again. It was good to reconnect with The Narrator. If you're involved in any kind of creative endeavor, whether it be writing a blog, a memoir or advertising copy as I do, you need to allow your brain to switch back to this neutral mode. Technology captures our attention and keeps our brains on the active mode for too long. It's important to remember to turn off the phone. To close the laptop. To reconnect with the dreamer within you, so you can let your mind sing with the world around you.

Like we were born to do. We were born to dream. We were born to connect. And while technology enables us to connect with a much broader swath of the world via social media and the Internet, we also need to connect with the inner world of our own minds. Let's make sure we make time for both kinds of connecting, connecting within and without, and returning to the mesmerizing world of our thinking, dreaming, synapse-firing minds.

Photo credits go to my husband, who was using our pretty sweet Canon EOS 70D.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When I Stopped Being Skinny and the World Fell Apart.

The first time I was called fat I was actually told I wasn't fat. That may be a strange way to begin a blog post about the first time I was called fat, but there it is. It was a boy who said it and I had a major crush on him. I was 14 years old, tall and still reasonably thin despite the onset of puberty.

"You're not fat," he said, answering a question I hadn't asked. "You just need to tone up."

I stood in my first bikini at the lake's edge and froze. I felt naked and exposed. I wished I could sink into the sand and never re-emerge.

Having been skinny my whole life, the observation was in itself shocking. I'd always been the tall skinny girl who ran through the neighborhood in short shorts, legs and arms windmilling down the street without a care in the world.

Adults often commented on my appearance. I got a lot of praise for being tall, skinny and blond. Grown women would grab my chin and turn my face back and forth in their hands, admiring me.

"Such gorgeous cheekbones," they said.

"Do you know women pay a lot of money to have blond highlights like those?"

"When you get older, you'll love being so tall and thin. You'll look like a model."

I was Tall and Skinny. Long and Lean. It became my identity more than I realized. In fact, I didn't realize how important it was until I lost it.

I stopped wearing shorts after The Crush told me I needed to tone up. Sure I wore the polyester uniform basketball shorts when I played on a team, but I tugged at them during the game and ran to the locker room afterwards to put on sweats to cover how my body was changing. My once stick-like legs were becoming curvy and strong.

"You could be a plus-size model," a girl told me at lunch one day.

By then I was still tall and fit, but I had developed more of an athletic build rather than a slight willowy one ... which is a perfectly acceptable thing to be. But I was surrounded by tiny girls who talked about weighing tiny petite girly numbers. Wearing tiny petite clothing sizes. Inhabiting bodies with such tiny petite bones. I was starting to feel like a linebacker. I'm sure the girl was trying to say I was pretty … but all I heard was that I was fat. She had no way of knowing that I was descending into an eating disorder that would hold me in its grip for decades.

You see, being imperfect was unacceptable. If I wasn't perfect, no one would love me. If I could just attain perfection, then everything would get better. My mother wouldn't drink. My dad wouldn't leave. My brother and sister would move back home. A boy might even like me! I'd make more friends. Get better grades. Everyone would love me and no one would criticize me. The kids down the street wouldn't yell, "Your mother's a drunk!"every time I walked past their house. If I could only be perfect enough, then everything would be okay. I just knew it.

And so the refrain played over and over again in my brain. Look perfect. Feel perfect. Be perfect. Anything less means you're trash. A loser. A disgusting piece of filth that no one will love. If you  allow yourself to eat, if you eat your feelings and shove food down your throat like the love you crave, then you've ruined everything.

It became a vicious cycle of trying to starve myself thin so I could be lovable, binging on the food/love I so desperately craved, and then trying to erase the whole messy affair by vomiting. It was a brutal cycle of failure and disappointment. Which left me alone in the darkest hours of the night when I was at my loneliest … and then I'd do it all over again. I knew with 100% certainty that I was a disgusting beast who no one would ever love. I believed I deserved everything that I got, which was loneliness and despair.

The irony is, 30 years later, I don't think I'm fat but do think I need to tone up. But it's not the end of the world. I know you love me anyway. And I sorta love me too.

Of course I have therapy to thank for that. It took a lot a lot of work and a bit of courage too. For so long I was imprisoned by the shame of admitting I had this problem. That's another great irony of this disease. The shame of it keeps you silent, but the silence keeps you sick. What I learned in therapy was that when I was finally able to let go of the shame, I was able to let go of the disorder too.

I've been in recovery for over ten years and yet I rarely talk about it. Shame is a funny thing. It sticks and clings to us like a dirty scent we're afraid other people will notice. I still battle with trying to appear perfect. I'm afraid that by admitting that I have struggled with an eating disorder, you'll find me disgusting and unlovable.

But I know that's not true.

Nobody ever loved perfect things. Perfect things are scary. You're always afraid you'll drop them or break them or scratch them. We're so much more comfortable with worn things. The chipped glass. The stuffed toy with the missing ear. The girl with the imperfect past.

We can relate to imperfection.

Perfect is a mirage. You can chase it, but you'll never attain it. And if you think you have to wait to be perfect to be loved, you'll spend your entire life alone. It's funny, the more imperfect I've allowed myself to be, the more full my life has become. Now when I sit down, I instantly have two kids, a cat and a grown man all vying for space to get the closest to me on the couch.

"You know what," my husband commented the other day, looking at me with a kid sitting on each side and a cat on my lap. "You have the thing you always wanted. To not be alone."

I may never have attained perfection, but I did attain love.

This is a response to a writing prompt hosted by the indomitable Brittany, Herself. To participate in the August Writing Prompts, click here.

Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Be Happy in the World of Social Media.

I read a truly wonderful article by Arthur C. Brooks in the New York Times the other day entitled “Love People, Not Pleasure.” The gist of the article is that our drives to be wealthy, famous and powerful are the precise factors that can make us unhappy. If we were to focus more on the quality and closeness of our personal relationships, we would be much happier.

That’s an over-simplification, of course, and I encourage you to read the article for yourself. It is dense with insight. One particular insight that I’d like to focus on today is the use of social media and specifically, blogging. For example, Brooks, says this:

“Consider fame. In 2009, researchers from the University of Rochester conducted a study tracking the success of 147 recent graduates in reaching their stated goals after graduation. Some had 'intrinsic' goals, such as deep, enduring relationships. Others had 'extrinsic' goals, such as achieving reputation or fame. The scholars found that intrinsic goals were associated with happier lives. But the people who pursued extrinsic goals experienced more negative emotions, such as shame and fear. They even suffered more physical maladies.”

I can certainly relate to this in terms of my own life and in terms of blogging. I’d always hoped to one day publish a book. Of course I’ve even fantasized about becoming popular and of one day reading my own book reviews on the New York Times. I’m human. But a long time ago, I found that the greatest pleasure in life comes from personal relationships. I get a lot of satisfaction from my marriage, from my children, from the friends and family I have. I’m lucky to be surrounded by caring, smart, hilarious people. It’s an embarrassment of riches, quite frankly. And I’ve spent a lot of time tending to these relationships. Touching base. Inviting people over. Going to get my nails done with a friend. Stopping to talk rather than hurrying off. Planning a girls night out. Going to lunch. These things bring me the greatest pleasure.

Don’t get me wrong. I still work with a writing coach. I still post when I feel like it on this blog. It is important that I do this work and spend time on my passion for writing. But the key is not being attached to the results. Do I need this blog to be hugely popular in order to be happy?


Do I need to publish my book when it's done to make me happy?


Would those things be nice?

Damn straight they would.

But what do I know for a fact gives me happiness in my current life, as it stands? Writing this post is making me happy at this precise moment. It is an end unto itself. Puzzling over the New York Times article and wondering how it applies to my life gives me a sort of intellectual stimulation, which makes me feel good. Is that odd? Is it strange that this is enough, right here? Maybe so.

But why post it on the Internet for all of you to see? There must be some pleasure in sharing it. And there is, of course. I'd be a liar to say it isn't part of the whole thing. I enjoy your comments. I like seeing what your reactions are to what I have to say. Even more magical is if we connect. If you get it and say, “Ah yes, me too!” For a moment I am not alone in this vast universe of existential loneliness and despair. Okay, perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit, but it does feel good to connect. It’s nice to know I'm not alone with these thoughts. I assume there's some pleasure in it for you too, otherwise you wouldn't be here.

Do I need 100 people to connect? 1,000? 10,000? Or am I satisfied with 1? Oddly enough, it feels good to connect one-on-one, even if it is on the Internet. When I share a post on Facebook and my friends comment on it and laugh, it feels good. I don't really think it's a matter of numbers, but more a matter of quality.

Do I need to be famous, do I need a 100 likes on every post? No. I do not need fame in order to be happy with this pursuit. I do know myself that much. Perhaps that is why I’ve been able to blog as long as I have. I think I started my first quiet little blog on Myspace as far back as 2006. I started with just one new friend who started commenting … and then at the peek I had hundreds of comments every time I posted. It was crazy. And with that came the negative stuff we’ve all heard about or experienced first hand. The trolls. The ridicule. The cruelty. Nasty comments for no damn reason.

So I left it all behind and I returned to a quiet blog with few comments. Familiar friends came and went.

And it made me smile.

This is enough for me, I've decided.

The article seems to suggest that I am an oddity:

“It makes sense. What do you post to Facebook? Pictures of yourself yelling at your kids, or having a hard time at work? No, you post smiling photos of a hiking trip with friends. You build a fake life — or at least an incomplete one — and share it. Furthermore, you consume almost exclusively the fake lives of your social media 'friends.' Unless you are extraordinarily self-aware, how could it not make you feel worse to spend part of your time pretending to be happier than you are, and the other part of your time seeing how much happier others seem to be than you?”

I must be extraordinarily self-aware because Facebook doesn’t make me feel bad. I’m aware that everyone’s lives are much more complicated than the glimpse we get in status updates. I know we all struggle. I know I struggle. I blog about it occasionally here. I see a therapist. I go to marriage counseling. I take an anti-depressant. I’m a work in progress. I suppose I don't experience any of this as "fake."

So maybe there’s hope for us all. This article was a nice reminder. It’s good to know what will yield happiness and what will not. It’s good to know that my instincts are right. It’s not the possessions I accumulate (although I do enjoy shoes). It’s not the amount of wealth I accumulate (although I am very fortunate, I know that). It’s not the popularity that I may or may not have (I have this little blog and I have a lot of Facebook friends). None of those things make me happy. I know this.

It’s the little moments. It’s when you leave a comment and I respond. It’s when we make each other laugh in a comment thread on Facebook. It’s when you come to dinner and I cook for you. It’s my writer’s group, gathered around the coffee table. It’s the friends I’ve made at my daughter’s preschool. It’s the friends I’ve had since high school, since my first teaching job, my first advertising gig … and the friends I have at my current ad agency. It’s when my husband and I get through a really tough marriage counseling session and we hug outside when it is over. It’s when my ten-year-old son tells me it’s been the best week of his summer because he spent it at home with me.

I may not be the most popular blogger. I may never publish a book. But when I die I'll know I led a good life. A meaningful life. And it’s because of all of you. All 3 of you. Or all 30 of you. The numbers never made a whit of difference. They may have given me a momentary high, but it quickly faded. I could either chase that high again and be deflated not to have attained it, or I could let go of the pursuit.

It’s nice to have this reminder. Every so often I think of quitting blogging, like so many of us do. But then I wonder why? It's here if I want it. But I am free to ignore it too. It requires nothing of me and yet it gives me pleasure when I want it. I must remember that, above all else. The next time I don't get very many comments or I see a blogger friend has been published on Huffington Post while I have not, I'll say:

"It's the connection, stupid!"

It always was and it always will be. If we can remind ourselves of that, we'll be much more happier for it. I just know it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Not-to-Do List.

I'm sick. I'm also tired. But I refuse to say that I'm sick and tired because that sounds so negative.

But I am sick. I've been nauseous since April. And no, I am not pregnant. Ha ha. Very funny. And yes, I've taken a pregnancy test. Or two. But I'm definitely not carrying another child THANK BUDDHA. It turns out that feeling nauseous is actually a sign of getting an ulcer. Who knew? I thought it would be more of a burny sensation. So apparently being an anxious/stressy person can cause your stomach to eat itself. I learn something new every day!

So until I get this acid situation under control with medication and dietary changes, I'm trying to reduce stress. Part of that is doing decidedly less than I have been doing. I'm allowing myself not to do anything if I don't want to instead of forcing myself to do it all.

I don't want to take any grad classes this summer … so I'm not.

I don't want to work out. So I'm not …. not every day at least.

I don't want to write my book … so I'm editing instead.

I don't want to write in my blog … so I'm not. Well, not much.

I don't want to practice my mandolin … so I'm not.

I just want this summer to be about being lazy. Sure, I'll go to work but I don't want to do anything after work. I don't want to do anything on the weekend. I don't want any responsibility besides my husband, my children and the things I want to do.

Things I like doing:



Watching Orange Is the New Black with my husband.

Drinking sparkling water.

Watering the flowers with my kids.

Spending time with friends.

This all feels so indulgent. But I think I'm tired, stressed out and I need to rest. I need to soak up time with my family. Time being outside while the weather is nice. Time sitting in temple with my sangha.

So that's what I'm gonna do. If you need me, you'll probably find me lounging on the couch or watering my front yard. Be sure to stop by and say hello, because suddenly I find I have some extra time.

More of this.

Less of that.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Detroiters Love Their Classic Cars.

Here's a fun blog post from my friend and former co-worker Bill. Today he's featuring a photo of my dad's Ford Mustang circa 1975-ish. If you're a car nut or love looking at old pictures of cars and hearing the stories of people and their sweet rides, be sure to check it out at Attic Autos.

Click here to see today's post with a picture of me and my older sister Beth standing in front of my dad's Mustang.

This post was inspired by a bunch of photos I'd posted on Facebook last week after my dad sent me a bunch of old slides from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. The majority of them feature people posing in front of cars, planes, boats and motorcycles, in case you were wondering how an automotive engineer in Detroit stages his photo shoots. 

My sister just found this gem this past weekend. Look real hard. 

Cousin Debbie, brother Charlie, sister Beth, cousin Jimmy and baby Mandy.

You've got to love the 1970s. We don't need your stinking bike helmets, your 5-point harness seat restraints or your gun safety. Survival of the fittest, baby!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

For All the Things That Husbands and Fathers Do.

Fred with a newborn Grace.
I've shared some thoughts I had after listening to a Father's Day talk at my temple this past Sunday. It opened my eyes to all the things that fathers and husbands do without much fanfare or glory. You can read it here. Thanks!

Friday, May 9, 2014


This year I celebrate Mother's Day and my birthday on the same day. It's a two-for-one deal for my family. I'm getting totally robbed, of course. Those jerks should have to treat me like the Queen of Everything on more than one day.

Just kidding. I'll make them celebrate me all weekend.

And possibly into next week.

So I'm turning 43 on Sunday.

I can't believe I typed that and put it into the atmosphere for people to consume and digest how horrifically ancient I am. Actually, this is quite an achievement. It has taken me three years to admit that I'm in my 40s. I really hated turning 40. So much so that my son still insists I'm 38. For a while I think he really believed it, and then I felt guilty and corrected him, but then he kept insisting to anyone who asked that I was indeed 38 years old because he's just that wonderful.

But I'm 43 this week. For real.

I thought I'd be a grown up by the time I was in my 40s. But I look at my face in the mirror and there's still something wide-eyed and childlike about my appearance. Or maybe that's just me seeing the me I know me to be? Maybe strangers see a 43-year-old suburban housewife.

I see Brigitte Bardot.

But whatever. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I'm going to behold me as looking young. Notice I did not say, "for my age." If Madonna can be in her 50s, I can be in my 40s. And neither one of us looks "good for our age." We just look good, thank you.

Perhaps I'm okay with being in my 40s because I'm happier with myself at 43 than I was at 40? I'm married to an incredibly smart, handsome and hilarious man. He's also rich. Just kidding. I just said that to make him laugh. When our daughter Grace was born, I used to quote her a line from the Tina Turner biopic, What's Love Got To Do With It? Ike Turner says to his newborn son, "Why you cryin' baby? Don't you know your daddy's rich and your mama's good lookin'?" So that's how I describe us to my husband and he finds it amusing.

I also have a beautiful and kind son who is ten years old. TEN YEARS OLD! I have parented for a decade! He came into my world and changed my life for the better a whole ten years ago. I can't even believe it. And I have a beautiful and feisty four-year-old daughter. FOUR YEARS OLD! She's no longer a toddler or a baby. She's practically a big girl. She can put on her own pants and everything.

These are things to feel good about. I'm raising two tiny human beings to put on pants and flatter people. If that isn't success, I don't know what is.

And I'm in grad school and I'm writing a book. I think I felt pretty bad about not doing either of those things three years ago … so maybe that's why I'm finally okay with being in my forties? Perhaps I feel like I'm accomplishing stuff. Maybe I feel successful even though I don't have the final evidence quite yet. It's in process. The wheels are in motion. I've got two classes down for the Master's degree and I'm over 250 pages into my first book.

Yeah. Not too shabby. I'm going to stake a claim on it and go ahead and feel good about myself.

It's been a long road to 43. Let me tell you, 33 was hard as hell. I was not in a good place. I was a single mom and scared. I was trying to create an entirely brand-new career out of thin air. And I was full of doubts about my abilities. Maybe I'm a late bloomer? I spent my twenties in a marriage in a bubble. I spent my thirties living the life that you're supposed to live in your twenties. Trying to find myself and trying on all kinds of roles and men. Making lots of mistakes and trying to find my way back to normal.

And 40? What will I do with this decade? I feel like I'm going to get shit done. All the dreams and frustrations of the previous forty years will be answered. I'm doing the work. Burning the midnight oil  that I avoided all those other decades.

40 is better than 30. And 30 is better than 20. And 20 was better than 10. At this rate, I can't wait to be 50 and 60 and 70 and more. Life is good. Being alive is a gift. I'm not going to waste it anymore. I'm going to do things that matter. I'm going to make a difference and connect with people. I'm going to be brave and honest. I'm going to learn to like myself a little more. And I'm going to be nicer to old people and jerks. Maybe even be a little less self-critical and ignore that internal monologue that says "I can't" instead of "I can."

And I'm not going to be embarrassed about how much life I've lived. I've earned it. I'm on my way. And you haven't even seen the best of me yet.

This is how I do 43, bitches.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spinning Tomatoes

Grace: "Do you like tomatoes?"

Me: "Sure."

Grace: "Do you like them in the sky? In the wind with the sun?"

Me: "Sure. Tomatoes need the sun to grow."

Grace: "You like when they spin around?"

Me: "Tomatoes spin around?"

Grace: "Uh huh. In the sky with the wind."

Me: "Tomatoes spin around in the sky with the wind?"

Grace: "Uh huh. And we have to hide like this (puts hands over head) when the tomatoes spin in the sky but I really want to see a tomato."

Me: "You mean a tornado?"

Grace: "Yeah. A tomato."

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Every Day Is a Gift.

A beautiful tribute to Meg.

A friend passed away last week. It was sudden. She was too young. And she had two lovely children and a husband who loved her very much. She was hilarious. She was quirky. She was zany. She was exuberant in her love of parties and giving gifts. She had Halloween parties where she and her husband built a trebuchet to launch pumpkins across the backyard. She bought my daughter Grace a designer jacket for no reason. She played pranks on her co-workers and left little gifts on our desks at holidays. She hosted parties for artists, jewelers and craftsmen to come to her house and sell their goods. She entered art and logo contests and won them. Just for fun. She adored her children and they adored her. I'm sure she had every intention of watching them grow up and now she doesn't get to. 

I haven't been able to write about any of this because I am still so sad and mad about it. It's all so brutally unfair. I didn't think I could put any coherent sentences together that anyone would want to read. But then I think of the balloons we launched at her funeral. We watched them sail up into the air and it was beautiful. The sun was shining. Children were smiling up at the sky. The sound of their little voices having only just sung, "You Are My Sunshine" was still ringing in my ears. 

And so I went home and I spent time with my husband and children. Normally my husband and I take turns walking the kids to the park. Normally one of us does something with the kids while the other one gets work done at home. But this weekend I got up off the couch, I closed my laptop and I went outside with my children and husband. We watched them play and basked in the presence of all of us being together. The heavy feeling in my blood and body began to lift just a little. 

And maybe that's yet another gift from my friend? Maybe I honor her by appreciating these moments. I'm sure she would tell me to do something fun and creative. Jump on a skateboard. Do a handstand. Draw pictures on the driveway with chalk. Have a water balloon fight. All of it. 

That's what I'll do. That and leave little gifts on my co-workers' desks. May the pleasant surprises remind us all of Meg. May she live on in these moments of joy.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Are You Sure?

Before the Forsythia Blooms.
Perception is everything. There are often times when we're convinced that we are right and someone else is wrong. That perception drives our behavior. It drives our mindset. And it can often lead us to feel upset, judged, imposed upon and abused. It can even lead us to judge, impose upon and abuse. And then sometimes we get some new information. Sometimes we talk things out. And then every once in a while, we realize … our perception was completely wrong.

To read more about perception and how it can negatively affect our lives, check out my latest post on Buddha Mama Sans Drama.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Life Without Drama?

The first signs of spring after a long winter.
I'm posting over on Buddha Mama Sans Drama today about the possibility of living a life that is free from drama. Stop laughing. I know it's not exactly reasonable to expect that one could live a peaceful and harmonious life, free from emotional upheaval. But still. It would be nice, wouldn't it?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dear Writer: Keep Writing.

I received my 4th rejection letter. Though kinder than those that came before, it was still a rejection.

Hi Mandy, 

Thanks again for submitting to [Name of Journal]. Sorry it took us a little while to get back to you. For our current issue, we received nearly 1,100 submissions. Of these, we were able to publish about 5%. Regrettably, then, we are unable to publish "Middle School: Dante's Forgotten Circle of Hell" at this point in time. 

This being said, thank you so much for sharing your work with us--let alone even writing something in the first place--and helping us build a stronger literary community. We are currently accepting submissions for the next issue, and we look forward to seeing more work from you soon. 


[Name of Journal]

See? A very nice rejection letter. That took the sting out a bit and it also hurt a little less the 4th time around. But still. My heart began to falter. I began to wonder if I might not be "literary" material. Perhaps I'm a "popular" writer? If so, I can adjust to that. I began to rethink my vision of my future. Sure I was banged up, but still in the fight.

Then I got round-housed at work. Advertising is not a kind and gentle world. My writing was described as "underwhelming."


So it was a bad day.

Had me feeling pretty low. Felt like the collective in my ad agency had taken to me with bats like an angry gang in an alleyway.

And then, in the midst of all of this, an email.

*Cue the angels choir*

Another email from the literary journal that rejected me just the day before. Only this time it read:

Hi Mandy, 

Just a quick follow-up on your submission, "Middle School: Dante's Forgotten Circle of Hell." Though we shall not publish this story, we are impressed with your writing ability, as it is extremely articulate and reflective. Your story is realistic, accurate, has a strong voice, and makes us remember the travails of adolescence. 

Thanks again for submitting to [Name of Literary Journal]. We hope you will consider us again in the future with new work. 


[Name of Journal]

And there it was. A moment of grace in an otherwise crappy day. I don't know why they wrote it. Yet there it was.

A glimmer of hope.

And I clung to it. God damn. I cling to it still.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Dear Sucky Writer: I Hate You and Your Sucky Sucky Words.

No love for you bad writer!

I've heard that some writers hang their rejection letters on the wall.

After I received my first rejection letter, I opened up a file in my email inbox and titled it, "Rejection Letters." I decided I would put all of my rejection emails there and keep them as a matter of pride. You know, a testament to how many times I put myself out there and how plucky I was to keep on trying to get published.

I'm not gonna lie. The first rejection letter stung quite a bit. It still stings. I'm not happy about it at all. I don't really have anything optimistic or philosophic to say about it other than it sucks and it still makes me mad. And no, I have no intention of ever submitting anything to those people again.

*Sticks out tongue*

As you can see, I've decided to opt for the mature route to handling rejection.

And then today, I received my second rejection letter. It read:

"Thank you for sending us  your story. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not for us. We wish you the best on placing this elsewhere."


If that isn't curt, I don't know what is. But there it is: Rejection #2. Let us behold it in all its glory. I do have to say, however, that rejection is a little bit easier the second time around. Maybe as I fill up my Rejection Folder, I'll get more and more immune to it all. Maybe it will sting less? Perhaps I'll just immediately re-submit the rejected piece to another journal. Some day I will be bad ass like that, I just know it.

But not today.

Today it sucks. I'm not going to lie or sugarcoat this. It feels just like I feared it would. I've avoided putting myself out there in the literary world because I feared just this thing. I feared discovering that I do not have the talent. I am not good. And I feel embarrassed that I even submitted anything at all.

It's just like Middle School all over again. Only I have a car and better clothes.

I'll be fine. I've got other pieces out there. I click on my email inbox every day, hoping to see a response from one of the other literary journals. I'll keep doing it. But maybe I'll get a thicker skin as I fill up the rejection folder. Maybe Rejection Letter #3 will bum me out even less than #2?

The trick is to keep trying, I suspect. To not give up. Though the voice of doubt still whispers in my head, "Oh who do you think you're kidding? You're not good enough. You don't belong. You're just a loser."

Loser. Loser. Loser.

The taunts from my childhood still echo in my head.

But I'll shake them off. That's what grownups do. Especially grownups in therapy.

What's the point if you don't pick yourself up and start all over again?

And I will pick myself up again and be little Miss Optimistic again.

I swear I will. But maybe not just yet.

I hope I don't lose faith in myself. Maybe someone will like my writing some day? Maybe someone will connect with my stories and want to share it with other people? I know too many good writers who gave up after being rejected and I can't be that person. It's not the person I've worked so hard to be.

I don't want to end my life with feelings of, "If only …"

But trying and failing does kinda suck. I'm here to put that reality out there. And all the motivational/inspirational mumbo jumbo doesn't always own up to the fact that sometimes rejection hurts and is going to go on hurting for a while.


God damn, I wish I had an Etsy shop. I'd slap that motto on a coffee cup.

*Flips off everyone in a 360-degree radius*

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Ache & Desire & the Pain of Adolescence.

This is me smoldering, people.
I'm currently working on a couple of chapters in my book that have to do with the first time I ever fell in love with anyone (or fell in lust). Oh my god those feelings. Sometimes when I'm writing I have to close my eyes and try to will myself back to the ages of 16 or 17…to see in my mind's eye how the object of my affection looked. How he moved. How he made me feel. The way my mouth went dry and my heart beat faster whenever I was near him.

Do you remember that? Do you remember when you wanted someone so badly but had no idea how to get them? Do you remember that ache? My god such sweet pain. When you remember that, how can you not have anything but empathy for those poor teenagers.

Oh that hunger of adolescence. It was physically painful. And then when your heart was broken. How on earth did we survive it?

Tell me about your first love/lust. I want to hear it.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

On Paying Attention.

From my Buddha mantle collection.

It's funny how once you start paying attention in one area of your life, you find you're paying attention to all sorts of things. It picks up momentum like a rock going downhill or a bird taking flight. Click the link below to learn more:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Evil Twin Chic.

I Dream of Evil Mandy.

One of my co-workers just informed me that I look like I Dream of Jeannie's evil twin. This delights me of course. If I could purposefully cultivate a signature look, it would definitely be of the evil twin genre.

If you would like to hear about my non-evil-twin side, you can read about my attempts to do 90 prostrations and 99 chants to make up for my slackerism. And then you can watch a short demonstration video by my three-year-old daughter. We're getting all multimedia up in hurrrrrrr.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

On the Muscle.

Welcome to the gun show, suckers.
Yesterday I was at the gym in the free weight area. I sort of hate working out in the free weight area because it's all big burly dudes … and me. I try to be as inconspicuous as possible and not make any eye contact with anyone, but still, I'm uncomfortable.

Fortunately, I usually get one of the benches on the end of the row. Yesterday was no different. I picked the bench on the end. I selected a couple of sets of weights and put them by the bench. I commenced doing my sets. I stand to do the bicep curls, lateral raises, shoulder presses, etc. I sit on the bench while I do the triceps extensions, bench presses, etc. I do push ups, squats and lunges on the floor next to the bench. I repeat this three times. You get the drift.

In no way am I any different than the long row of big guys doing their exercises next to and on their benches. And mind you, mixed among the big guys are also empty benches. So there I was, completely minding my own business, trying to get my three sets out of the way so I could get the hell out of the free weight area as fast as humanly possible because I'm not entirely comfortable there.

And then some dude walks up to me.

"Are you using this bench?" he points at the bench that I am standing next to, on top of which rest my weights and my warm-up jacket.

"Yes," I say and smile. He gives me a disgusted look.

"I mean, are you using it for anything other than putting your weights on?" he is snide and looks at me as if I'm some addle-minded chick who doesn't know what I'm doing. What the hell, I think. Can't he see how ripped I am?

"I'm doing presses on it!" I say and smile, even though inside I feel like ripping into to him. He gives me another disgusted look and then marches off to another area of the gym. I have no idea why he's so pissed and I have no idea why he asked me of all the people in the long row of benches. Was it because I was the only woman? And why didn't he simply go to one of the empty benches?

I continue doing my exercises, but while I do, I feel myself getting madder and madder. I feel regret at covering up my anger with false joviality and friendliness. I mean, I couldn't even be curt and short with this guy. I covered it up with a smile and a friendly tone of voice. I suddenly realize that I am angry at myself.

I'm mad at myself for being mad in the first place. Why do I have such big emotions over such small stuff? And then I get mad at myself for faking being pleasant and nice to this guy when clearly he's an asshole.

So I'm torn.

Should I have put this guy in his place and shown him that it's not nice to pick on the only girl? Should I have pointed out that there were other empty benches for him to use? Should I have not felt offended to be singled out like that in the first place?

I mean, maybe he's writing his own blog post right now about how some dumb chick wasn't even using her bench other than to put her weights on it and it was so rude of her not to let him use it. Maybe he didn't want to work amongst the big burly guys either?

I know there's always another side to things, another perspective. But I'm still pissed.

I asked my therapist about it and she pointed out that it's not a problem that I have these emotions. It's a problem that these emotions feel so big and that I feel the need to conceal them. So in that regard, this little incident is useful. It reminds me that I still have some work to do on Big Emotions.

I'm not a Buddha quite yet. At least not at the gym.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Dreaming of Paris and the Life of an Artist.

Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod.
I'm on vacation this week so I've read two books. Reading, when it's good, puts me in a dreamy state. Really good words put me in a trance and make me want to put my own words on paper.

The two books I've read are The Paris Wife by Paula McLain and Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod. I'm a bit of a Francophile, if you didn't know. I took a good ten years of French between middle school, high school and college and I spent a summer in Paris as an exchange student. I've often fantasized about sitting in the caf├ęs of Paris and writing like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. So you can imagine that reading two books about writers running off to Paris to live the life of artists has completely enamored me and made me fitful and dreamy.

I find it encouraging to remember that Hemingway worked tirelessly on his drafts. I also find it encouraging that he wrote entire novels that he didn't publish or that he started over and recreated from scratch. I'm a bit of a perfectionist myself and I feel relieved to see that you can be a perfectionist about your work and want it to be the best it can be. You can't trust anyone else's opinion about this. Right now I'm just laying down the first draft of my first book. I'm in the final quarter of the book and that really means nothing to me as far as when it will be finished. As soon as the first draft is done, that's when I'm going back to the beginning to revise, add in, delete and tear asunder. I want this book to be the best it can be. I can only tell this particular story once.

I also find it fascinating that The Sun Also Rises was basically the truth. It was Hemingway writing about an experience that he and his friends had in Spain, during the bullfighting season. He changed names and some details, but the heart of it was real. I debate doing that with my memoir. It seems fiction gives you so much more freedom. I've already changed all the names in my book. Why not call it fiction and give myself creative license to do what I want with it? It's tempting.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.
Hemingway and his first wife also threw caution to the wind and ran off to Paris with very little money and nothing real to believe in except his talent. They didn't have a score of published works to rest on. And in the same way, Janice MacLeod quit her advertising life and ran off to Paris to live the life of an artist. She was a bit more responsible in that she saved up for the trip, but she essentially did the same thing. Sold everything. Quit her job as an Associate Creative Director in an ad agency and took off for who knows what?

It's all damn inspiring. I don't know that I can quit my job and run off to Paris, of course. I've got two kids and a husband. My life is tied to Detroit. But hey, Detroit's the Paris of the Midwest, don't you know? Okay, stop laughing. But I can be an artist in Detroit. Hell, the town is full of hipsters and artists and a creative spirit. I can be a part of that. I can write anywhere.

But to do it. To really do it. That's what I admire in both Hemingway and MacLeod's lives. They really quit the rat race to focus on their art. MacLeod gives me an instruction guide to do this. What if I saved like crazy? What if I had $60,000 in my savings account to take a year or two off and focus on my writing? Bet I could do it.

MacLeod says it all began with cleaning out her underwear drawer. A small step. Getting rid of the pairs she didn't wear anymore. That led to getting rid of all the extra, all the waste, everything that was tying her down. She also stopped shopping and simplified her life radically so she could save money.

I want to go home and attack the linen closet/medicine closet in our upstairs hallway. I could start there. I want to stop shopping. I want to save and simplify. I can't necessarily quit my job and maybe I don't even need to. I'm not an ACD so I don't have the level of responsibility that MacLeod has. My life is a little simpler as a humble copywriter. I can do a lot with my time. My nights are mostly my own. I can tap away at the computer and write my book. I can save money so that if need be, I could quit. I can get rid of more and live more simply in order to create more room for the artist's life.

I'm inspired dammit.

What more could you ask for from a week's vacation and two books? I recommend all three.

Sweet freedom. Grace really knows how to live.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Talk Constitution to Me, Baby.

Happy Valentine's Day to this guy.
My husband is a lawyer. He's also really smart. And hot. That whole combination makes me weak in the knees. Smart. Educated. Aggressive. Hoo boy. 

*Fans self*

Me, I'm not so aggressive. I'm sort of passive unless you go after someone I love. Then I can get all up in yo' face. But my preferred mode is conflict avoidance. My husband, on the other hand, is a conflict-embracer. At least when it comes to work. His style of arguing could be described as "Scorched Earth."

And I find it extremely attractive. He's like a cerebral gladiator. He often sends me his briefs or his motions or whatever other legalese he's been writing or fighting over. I don't know what they're called, but you get the idea. He's an excellent writer. He writes the most entertaining and succinct briefs. Sometimes they are poetry. Sometimes they cut through bullshit like a knife. And I love that. Of course he's never satisfied with them and that's why he'll find this whole post ridiculous and embarrassing.

But damn he's smart. And he's verbal. Did I mention that already? And he comes down like an axe on a felled tree when he's defending someone. It's his entire M.O. His raison d'etre. I suppose he felt unprotected and abused as a child so he has spent his entire adulthood and professional career protecting people who feel helpless and threatened. Some might say that a corporate litigator is not a protector. People are always joking about how evil lawyers are, but now that I'm married to one, I see it differently. If you think about it, he is protecting people who are risk of losing everything they've built. Their companies, their livelihood, their wealth. And he comes down like the angry hand of god and strikes fear and terror in the enemy.

And his clients love it. They feel protected by him, and I in turn, feel proud of the work he does. I write advertising slogans. I try to sell people stuff they don't need. Fred protects people and fights for them. And people make fun of lawyers? Jeez. There should really be way more copywriter jokes than lawyer jokes.

So you have me, the seemingly peaceable Buddhist, the conflict-avoiding gentle spirit. Him, the scorched earth spewing, rage inducing, verbally spry, argumentative fighter. In some ways we seem like we're opposites. But really, we're alike.

We both felt unprotected as children. While I sought out that protection from others, he became that protector himself. I know that for as long as I live, if anybody ever fucks with me, they will have the full fury of an angry, talented, smart, lawyer coming down on them with the full force of the law and a lifetime of pent up wrath over injustice.

He grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and he saw people who were helpless to defend themselves before the law. Now that he's on the side of the law, no one is going to abuse that power. It's funny to me, because he's a lawyer who hates cops. Despite his fancy education, he still carries the distrust of the po-po that he got from watching the police abuse that power in his neighborhood. Rather than feel cowed or frightened of power, he has seized it and he carries it around like Thor's hammer.

And I admire the hell out of him for it. I find people who defend the rights of the unprotected heroic. I find the guy who will stand up to the bullies admirable. I find him brave and strong. And so when he starts spouting off about the Constitution or some Supreme Court decision, I feel my neck get hot.

"Tell me more about the Bill of Rights," I say, my heart beating faster.

It's a lot like A Fish Called Wanda but with less foreign language and more constitutional law.

This is my way of saying, Happy Valentine's Day, baby. I feel protected and loved with you on my side. You're the best lawyer and the best husband I've ever had.