Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Decade: An Overview


As I recently noted, I love me a good year-end wrap-up.

So what better opportunity than the close of this decade to do a wrap-up of my own and hit a few of the highs and lows of the last ten years? I'm not talking world events here; I'll leave 9/11 and the tsunami to Time magazine. And trust me. You don't want to hear me try to explain the sub-prime mortgage thing. I'll stick to what I know.

I realized in the shower today that my tenure as a parent very neatly bifurcates the decade: I spent roughly the first five years without kids and the second five with. Or, more precisely, I spent the first half of the decade not appreciating how nice it is to sleep as much as you want and the second half wishing I had. And stepping on a lot of Legos.

On January 1, 2000, I was 31 years old. I lived in a rental apartment in DC's Dupont Circle, drove a ten year old cherry red VW Golf and still used a dialup connection in a pinch. I had been dating my boyfriend (now husband) for seven months, although I think I already suspected he was a keeper. But I still skipped my tenth college reunion that summer because I didn't want to have to hear myself say over and over that I was single and childless.

Let's see what happened next, shall we?
  • August 9, 2001: I finally go on my first European sojourn. Eschewing those traditional European starter countries like England and France, I go straight for the hard stuff and see Poland and Ukraine. While I am gone, my apartment is destroyed in a freak flood, prompting me to move in with aforementioned boyfriend. His friends still refer to the "flood" with a wink and air quotes. But it was real, I swear!
  • July 14, 2002: My debut in the pages of the New York Times Magazine. I wish I could say I wrote a clever "Lives" column or a brilliant profile of Jhumpa Lahiri. But no. It was my photograph that appeared in the magazine, along with my brother Daniel's story about our trip to Eastern Europe, which eventually became his award-winning best-seller. A photo of me...cradling my head and crying at a devastatingly sad story about the Holocaust. You know, because when I first appeared in the pages of the Times Magazine, I actually wanted it to be a picture of me sobbing. No, really.
  • August 11, 2002: Ending years of angst over my certain march towards old maidhood, much of it on the part of my mother's elderly cousin Trudy in Queens, I get married. As I once said in a Washington Post column, I was right to be jealous of my friends all those years: getting married totally rocks. You have a religious obligation to buy jewelry. And you get to register for lots of cool shit you want other people to buy you from Williams-Sonoma. And then you go to Italy and eat mozzarella and prosciutto. For breakfast. (The having a husband/partner/true love part is also pretty great, I must say. He also makes really good scrambled eggs.)
  • May 1, 2003: We move into our first home. Six and a half years later, I am still traumatized by the process of trying to pick paint colors. That school bus yellow in the dining room? It was supposed to be kind of a warm Tuscan umber. Oops?
  • September 2, 2004: I give birth to my first child. Without an epidural. And not by choice. Yes, yes, the ends justify the means and all that. But I really would have loved if the means did not have to involve spending 36 hours tethered to a hospital bed, enduring the misery of a failed induction that I was told was necessary because my baby could, you know, well, die. And then dilating from one centimeter to ten in 25 minutes. (Yes, I said 25. I know "My labor was suckier than yours" stories are totally cliche, but I must say I often win the cocktail party contests with that one.) And the ends? The ends are awesome beyond words.

  • September 22, 2004: The book I helped write comes out and spends one glorious week on the Times bestseller list. Because I have a six week old, and spend most of my time shuttling between nursing, weeping, and actively second guessing the decision to procreate, I am too petrified to try to travel to New York to attend the book party. In my next life, I will totally go and look kickass awesome. Like Mary Louise Parker at the Golden Globes that one year.
  • October, 2006: I survive my 20th high school reunion without a single person laughing out loud at the fact that they voted me Most Likely to Succeed. I consider this a success.
  • August 17, 2007: I give birth again, this time with an epidural. Labor? What labor? I laughed. I lounged. I read People. I think I might have gotten a pedicure and an aromatheraphy facial, too. I mean, seriously. This was labor? If the first one had been like this, I could have given Michelle Duggar a run for her money. Plus, I ended up with this. What could be bad?
  • December 7, 2007: Oh wait. I know what could be bad. Four month old Alec wakes up 12 times in the course of a 12 hour night, shattering all records previously held by his notoriously sleepless older brother, who I was certain was unbeatable. Call it my own personal Pearl Harbor. The next night, in desperation, I decamp to my inlaws'. And second guess the decision to procreate. Again.
  • November 11, 2008: I turn 40. I still have no idea how this happened to me and walk around in a depressive fog. Wasn't it just last week I was all dressed up in my goomie bracelets on my way to see Madonna's Like a Virgin Tour at Madison Square Garden? Actually, even though I am in denial, I celebrate with a long weekend in Bermuda with my two dearest friends. I'm not complaining. Except for the part where, for the first time in my life, I was actually told by a gate agent that I simply could not get to my destination on the day I was ticketed to do so, not on USAir or any other airline. (Weather-delayed flight, missed connection, etc etc.) There were tears, people. And that was from the agent I smacked upside the head for suggesting that maybe I "just wasn't meant" to go to Bermuda that day. OK, I didn't really hit her. But I wanted to. This trip was far too long in the making. I was 40 fucking years old. I was going to Bermuda that day, missy. By some incredible stroke of good luck, my hairdresser had just told me about USA 3000, a cute little charter airline that flies about three places out of BWI, and one of them happens to be Bermuda. And because they're a charter, they aren't part of the system that the USAir agent was using to search for available flights. I called them. They got me to Bermuda that day. Direct. For like $150. And USAir gave me a refund. I think I actually made $10 on the transaction. When does that ever happen? OK, I take it back. Being 40 might not be so bad.
  • January 1, 2009: I launch this blog, which quickly becomes a national sensation. I'm using the loose definition of "national sensation," of course, which means, "the most popular blog at my parents' split level on Long Island." The rest, as they say, is history, right?
Happy New Year, everyone. Here's to a new decade filled with many, many bloggable moments.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Virgin

You thought this post was about Kevin Jonas, didn't you?

Nope. It's about how I'm relatively new to the bloggy/twitter world. A newbie, really. But I've always secretly coveted one of those invitations to participate in some cool meme. It seemed so deliciously insider-y. You like me! You really like me!

And now (excuse me while I sniff back tears) I've actually gotten my very first one.

My friend Becky Sain just sent me this:



What is it, you ask? Why, it's an invitation to be part of a cool meme! I only have to "do a post where I ha(ve) to reveal three things about myself that no one (or hardly anyone) knows." Now I happen to have noticed that Becky was tagged by Judy, who cut the list down from seven things to three. I was originally going to compromise and do five. But who am I kidding? A chance -- nay, an actual, bona fide invitation -- to talk about myself? I'm going for all seven. (Number eight, by the way, would be, "I really really really like to talk about myself.")

I hope you're sitting down. And taking notes. Here we go.

1. I feel incredibly awkward wearing any kind of name tag, particularly the sticker ones where you have to write your name yourself. If I'm given one to wear, I usually try to see if I can get away without putting it on. If the powers that be insist, I slap it on my pants. But something about having my name sprawled across my chest, especially in my own handwriting, really creeps me out.

2. I have surprisingly strong opinions about seemingly inconsequential design matters like fonts and wrapping paper. It actually bums me out when people I like send an invitation or a holiday card with a font I find unattractive. (My favorite font, should you, say, want to make me a birthday card next year, is Bickham. But only the top version, in green; the others are way too swirly.) And I will actually go to another store rather than buy wrapping paper I don't think is pretty, even if it's just something that's going to be torn to shreds and thrown away. I care, people. I care.

3. I am (ahem) over 40 (but just barely!) and I have never been skiing or camping. I don't ski because I have a) a strange fear of not being in control of my feet and b) a pain-in-the-ass medical condition known as Raynaud's phenomenon, which can make being outside in frigid weather for extended periods of time truly unbearable for my hands and feet. The camping I'll blame on my parents, who instilled a love of many wonderful things, like classical music and books. We're Jewish intellectuals from New York. Sleep outside? Appreciate the outdoors? Not so much.

4. I absolutely loathe parties that also include the sale of anything, even the "There's no pressure! Really! Just come drink wine!" ones. If there will be orders taken for cutesy kitchen gadgets, pocketbooks, jewelry, or organic home cleaning products, don't wait up for me. (This one isn't entirely a secret any more because I posted it in a Facebook list of things I hate. But I thought it bore repeating.)

5. I have a soft spot for the rumpled, vaguely college professor-y older man. He's pushing 70, but I still think Sam Waterston is sexy. And I've long had a thing for Newsweek's Evan Thomas.

6. As a kid, I was obsessed with the paranormal, and one of my first career ambitions was to be a parapsychologist. (The others were writer and anthropologist, for those keeping track at home.) I've lost the obsession but still maintain a wholly out-of-character firm belief in things like ghosts and psychics. I'm also ridiculously superstitious.

7. I am the furthest (farthest?) thing from a Luddite you could imagine. But I insist on having a paper calendar rather than an electronic one. I also don't own a Blackberry or an iPod. Which means that if I'm blogging or tweeting, you can picture me doing so in a room with four walls, with my butt planted firmly on a chair. Refreshing, isn't it?

I also really like the smell of hardware stores, don't like onions or chicken on pizza, have been to Ukraine and...Oh wait. It's time to stop now, isn't it?

OK. Now, part of the fun is that I'm passing on the fleurs and the obligation to post about them to some bloggy friends, who must in turn pass it on. And apologies if this is something you've already done, like, years ago; I'm new at this, remember? Be gentle.

My taggees, in random order:
1. Brenna of The Real Bean, who I hope isn't too uncomfortably pregnant to play along!
2. Max Weiss of Hey I'm Maxthegirl, my compadre in all things Long Island, cello and pop culture
3. Ashley of Ashley, Unscripted. If there's a wittier pharmacist on earth, I've yet to meet her.
4. Wendi Aarons, who regularly makes me spit out my coffee
5. Laura Zigman, from whom I may have been separated at birth
6. Julie Klam, whose hilarious memoir I am in the middle of.
7. Brian Shields of Dada-ism, in hopes it will get him to blog again. :-)

Ready? Set? Go!

Monday update: Anyone who would like to play along and share some things about themselves in the comments is more than welcome! It's like a revelation free-for-all around here. Yeeeeeehah!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I Know, I Know...

there are far more pressing matters facing the world today.

But can someone please invent a sippy cup...



that you can put cocoa in?

(Why yes. That is cocoa in his left eye. Thanks for asking.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Challenged

I've always been a sucker for the year-end wrap up.

Hopelessly sentimental, there's nothing I like more than those end-of-the-year issues of magazines, with their tidy accounting of the annual best and the worst, all that assigning of highs and lows. I love seeing the pictures of the year. The stories of the year. The songs of the year.

With 2009 drawing to a close, I'm being asked to participate in my own wrap up, of sorts.

Just about a year ago, I was asked to be part of a challenge to do something extraordinary in 2009. Something bigger than a typical New Year's resolution, but smaller than a midlife crisis stunt.
"Somewhere between losing that extra five pounds, and winning a Best Director Oscar," read the invitation.

Sure, I thought. I can do this. The person whose aspiration was deemed the coolest (and who actually achieved it) wins a $50 bottle of booze, not to mention the satisfaction of a job well done. I put forth three proposals. And now it's time to submit my essay explaining why I should win.

So let's have a look at how I did, shall we?

1. To play the cello in public again

Can I just write a big fat FAIL and be done with it? As I write this, I see my cello sitting forlornly in the corner, bathed in dust. The cello that was once so central to who I was.
The cello I played for hours each day for years and years, and lugged with me on planes and trains and subways. The cello whose physical presence -- the literal feeling of the calloused flesh of my fingers on its strings and wood -- was what I missed most desperately at first, like a phantom limb. In 2009, I didn't even get as far as opening the case. Play in public? Uhhhhhh.....no. Ain't gonna happen. Next?

2.
To have a byline in the New York Times

See, this one is interesting.

I've never written for the Times and still fervently hope to. For years now I've had a vague idea that I could write a piece for "Modern Love," the wonderful column in the Sunday Styles section. It's where my friend Ayelet Waldman secured a berth on Oprah by declaring -- PC parenting police be damned -- that she loved her husband more than her children. It's where writer Amy Sutherland placed her now-famous "Shamu" piece. And it's also the place where one of the most devastatingly moving personal essays I've ever read, Ann Hood's "Now I Need a Place to Hide Away" appeared. (Warning, not for the faint of heart.)

Lifetimes ago, I had a rather colossal romantic disaster of my own, one with all sorts of nuances I suspected would make for perfect Modern Love copy. I've long wanted to take ownership of that experience and write about it. I've had a number of false starts over the years, but, spurred on by the idea that I might actually meet my 2009 goal and place it in the Times, I finally got to work on it in earnest. I spent a long time painstakingly crafting that column.
I became a little obsessed, to be honest, revisiting what was undoubtedly the most wrenching time of my life, re-reading exceedingly painful journal entries from that period and dredging up some very unpleasant -- and surprisingly unresolved -- feelings. I found myself writing and re-writing the piece in my head at all hours, to the point where I could quote it almost from memory. And I finally came up with something I really thought captured precisely what I wanted to say.

I let a select few people read the piece, and the response was overwhelmingly favorable. My agent said simply, "Wow."

Would the Times have accepted it? I don't know. And may never. Because ultimately, I decided not to submit it. Perhaps one day I'll feel differently, but for now, I've come to the conclusion that it's a pot best left unstirred, an intensely personal story better left untold.

Case closed, right? I'm 0 for two? On to number three?

Not so fast.

Because a funny thing happened in the wake of writing my erstwhile Modern Love piece. Literally the moment I got the column into its final form, and then made the decision to hold onto it, a calm came over me. Through the very process of writing, of forging the jumbled soup of my inner life into a stream of words that could stand on their own and tell a meaningful story,
I made my peace with whatever vestigial ghost of that experience was still haunting me. Any residual hurt I may have held onto was entirely exorcised by the writing process. Vanished. Gone. Poof. Done. It's like it never happened.

I know how therapeutic and empowering the writing process can be. But I had never seen it work quite so transparently before. All that writing and re-writing? Duh! I was...working it out. Literally.

So the New York Times isn't going to happen for me this year. But I'm calling this one a victory nonetheless. It's just not the one I was aiming for.

3.
To build a loyal following for this blog that actually includes people I don't already know.

OK. So here we go.

I know there have to be people reading this blog that I didn't know on January 3, 2009, when I posted those words. Because I simply didn't know enough people to match the numbers of hits I'm getting, even if some of them do get here by googling odd things like "diaper love story." (Don't do it. Please. Just trust me.) Besides, my mother doesn't know how to use a computer. My post about experts was recently quoted in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, by a reporter I a) swear is not my mother and b)
swear I did not know at all on January 3, 2009 and c) swear I did not pay or sleep with. My "Showtime" post got named one of the best of the week by the Five Star Friday blog. (See aforementioned a, b, and c.)

So yes, I did manage to accomplish this goal, technically speaking. I'm not sure how stickler-ish the judges will be when it comes to proving my readers are loyal, or when it comes to what constitutes a "following" per se. So let's have some fun, shall we?


At the risk of totally humiliating myself by what could be deafening silence, I'll ask: Are you a regular reader of these pages? Did you know me prior to January 3, 2009? Can you attest to your loyalty to Clever Title TK in a comment here, or, if you prefer, an email to blogmail@jenmen.com?

Perhaps you've got the blog name tattooed across your chest? Have a photo of yourself wearing a CTTK logo t-shirt at the top of Mt. Everest or Machu Picchu? Named your baby "CleverTitleTK?" (BTW, a Twitter friend just told me about a kid on the playground named "Treblinka." If that doesn't win every bad name anecdote contest from here to eternity, I quit.) Perhaps you suggested that NASA put one of my cogent analyses of American Idol in a Mars probe, just in case there's intelligent life out there? Didjya? Didjya?

OK, I'm kidding. I'll take anything you've got, even if it's just a simple declaration that you've been here,
(Just write, "Present!") only because you were searching for diaper fetish photos. (See? I told you you didn't want to know.)

C'mon. There's booze at stake! Not to mention my honor. So help a girl out, won't you?

Update: December 30. I've just been named to a list of the 50 best mommybloggers who didn't make the real list of 50 best mommybloggers. Granted, all I did was reply to a tweet asking if any moms who blogged had special talents, (mine is that I can always tell how something's going to taste just by looking at it) but I'm taking it. Followers? I got followers. Yay!