Month: November 2015

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My Daughter, Our Amazing Grace

I have always had an extremely irregular menstrual cycle, and a few years before I married, an endocrinologist at Massachusetts General Hospital had told me that I would never get pregnant on my own. So after my husband and I had been married for a year and a half, and we were starting to think about having a baby, I made an appointment with a fertility acupuncturist as the first step in what I imagined would be a long process: February 16, 2002. But on Valentine’s Day, my husband’s father, John, was diagnosed with a rare and deadly disease, cardiac amyloidosis, which has a grim prognosis: it was likely he would be dead within a year or two. The next morning, still in shock from the news, I grudgingly did the pregnancy test for the fertility acupuncturist. It turned out I never saw the acupuncturist because that morning I saw two lines instead. And that afternoon, we told my father-in-law that I was pregnant. I had been against telling him (I was nervous and still …

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Flowers Before My Father’s Funeral

I opened the front door to let the yard guy in. “Come on,” I said. “Talk to my daddy.” He walked a few steps behind me as I headed toward the TV room where Daddy sits every day in his brown leather Barcalounger. “Daddy, this is… wait, tell me your name again?” “Austin.” “Right. Daddy, this is Austin. He just finished clearing out the gutters and stuff outside.” “How much do we owe you, sir?” Daddy asked. “A hundred and fifty dollars,” Austin answered. Then, as Daddy begins writing out the check, Austin said, “Are you a veteran, sir?” “That’s what they tell me,” Daddy said. “Well, thank you for your service,” Austin replied. He paused, and then, “What you watching there?” At this point, Austin, who looks like he’s in his thirties, was nearly yelling. He was following my lead, I suppose, since I, too, had been loudly shout-talking with my 85-year-old father even though I was just a couple feet away from him. But now that Austin was in on it — doing …

I Hit My Breaking Point and Asked for Help

I flipped my hood up and started walking, on my way to buy beer at midnight on a work night. I had gotten up from my desk back in the apartment when the panic set in that I wouldn’t have enough of what I called “my medicine” to get me through the assignment I was working on and then carry me on to maybe four hours of passed-out sleep. Where writing was concerned, I was sure I was much more productive then. Fueled by wine, adrenaline and a liberal shot of rage, words flowed out of the space between sober and drunk, a space where I spent a lot of my time. Whether the words were good or not is debatable, but I thought they were better — and only possible — with a few drinks in me. It’s a writer’s ego that values output over possible self-annihilation. Can’t do it if you’re dead or incapacitated, but what’s that small detail? Bless our hearts. That night, dwelling on my bullshit logic, I put on my shoes and …

Seeking “Irresistible Grace” in My 50s

Age is transforming me into a graceless buffoon. Case in point: I’m cooking a giant pot of soup. Tonight, it’s kale and beans, made with the leftover bones of a rotisserie chicken from a few nights previous. (I call it “Free Chicken Soup” — buy a chicken, get the soup for freeeee!) My cell rings, the dog barks, my son stomps by grudgingly on his way to practice his trumpet. I twist to the left, and my elbow sends the big wooden spoon flying off of the counter and into the forest of dog hair on our kitchen floor. In my mind, I swoop down in one fluid movement to retrieve the spoon, rinse it effortlessly in the sink with one hand while dispensing an encouraging booty smack to my son, then pluck up the cell while striding to the back door to let out the dog. In thirty seconds flat, the world is set aright. Soup bubbling. Client satisfied. Son and dog on track. But my mind has forgotten my knee. In reality, as …

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The Story of the Rescued Giraffe

As I headed down Broadway toward the gym, I passed a woman pushing a stroller. Its occupant, a boy of about two, was pitching a fit, crying, straining at the straps and attempting a jailbreak with all his might. His mother cooed at him, but he was not to be comforted. I smiled to myself; I’d been in her shoes. As the mother of two sons myself, I know that sometimes nothing can soothe a savage little beast in the midst of a howl fest. But a block later, I spied the actual cause of the boy’s conniption. There, in the middle of the sidewalk, lay a small stuffed giraffe. I scooped him up and turned to call after the mother, but she was gone. I trotted back to the corner and looked around. No sign of them. But something pointed me eastward, and I jogged across Broadway and up 93rd Street. There! A block ahead, I spied them. My jog became a sprint as I took off, my big gym bag bouncing against my …

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A Prayer for Everyday Things

There’s a secular kind of prayer I make when I fear something in my life is about to be lost. It goes like this: Please, please, please, please. On an everyday basis, that thing is my phone and I am asking the Maker (of Apple Products) to reveal it to me as not lost after all. Please, please, please, please, I think. And there it is: my phone, tossed heedlessly into my bag, hidden in the black recesses among sundry other black things. I feel a little spangle of relief; it’s a company-issued phone, and I simply can’t tell the tech-support guy I lost another one. On most occasions, I remember to send up a thank you to the Maker that goes something like this: “You have saved me so much inconvenience (not to mention groveling) on this day, and for that I am grateful.” As a mother of two “children” now in their 20s, I’ve had far too many occasions to send up that prayer to another Maker, who, although not well known to …

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Stacy’s Note: Saying Grace

Gratitude we practice. Grace we are given. Sometime it appears when bidden. Sometimes it appears when it seems all is lost. And plenty of times, grace arrives on our doorstep even when we thought we had no use for it. We can be thankful for grace — and so many other things — as we head into this first week of the holiday season and prepare to sit down with our families (chosen or otherwise) and have the luxury of quibbling over who forgot buy the extra tube of rolls and who has to clean all the dishes, amid the plenty that surrounds us. But before we get to all that hubbub, the chaos and indulgence of our feasts, before we say grace at the Thanksgiving table, let us dwell on the very idea of grace and try to conjure this untouchable sensation that can lace the most quotidian of exchanges with the poignant call to: Stop. Breathe. Pay Attention. Feel the tingle of something you can’t quite explain run up your spine and alight …

Walking It Off: How My Morning Habit Helped Me Find Myself Again

I looked at the calendar and couldn’t believe it had been five months. Five months since the last time I had gone on what had been a daily, one-hour walk. I could feel the changes, too, and it scared me. My body missed the exercise: I was more agitated lately and having trouble falling asleep. During the day, my legs were cramping and I felt tired. Things just didn’t feel right, and I knew much of this fatigue and discomfort was caused by lack of exercise. I knew the importance of daily movement for health and emotional well being. But every day, something got in the way of my walk. Even if the first thing I promised myself when I woke up was that I would walk. But here it was, almost half a year since I had exercised. I have been active my entire life, which made it even harder to believe that I had become someone who didn’t move. For the first time in my life, the excuses were winning and it all …

I Can’t Quit Quitting

I consider myself to be a fairly successful quitter of the things. In my 48 years, I’ve managed to quit bad relationships, self-destructive behavior, credit card debt (mostly) and junk food. I’ve quit crap jobs, crappier friendships and — periodically — drinking. Heck, I would have even quit my own child after three straight months of colic and no sleep, but that’s illegal here in Canada. But smoking? Oh, smoking is a black-hearted bastard. Now, I’ve quit smoking too. Hundreds of times, in fact. I’ve quit for two days, two weeks, two months; I even quit once for two years. I didn’t touch a cigarette for the duration of my pregnancy, and I stayed strong during the postpartum period as well. Until… well, see above re: quitting my own child. The Modern-Day Pariah My 16-year-old son has no concept of a day and age where smokers weren’t treated as lepers. But when I grew up, smoking wasn’t frowned upon. Sheesh, it was a necessary rite of passage! Something you aspired to! I know for a …

Habits of the Mind: Beating Back Anorexia

I spent my youth despising the way I looked, from my (real or imaginary) pooch or my rounded thighs to the creases in my upper arms that skinny girls didn’t have. I took this obsession with my weight to the next level during my junior year of high school and went full-blown anorexic, taking the same mental traits that made me a classic overachiever — disciplined, conscientious, results-oriented — and turning them on my body. It takes a lot of discipline to ignore your body’s hunger signals — especially once it figures out you’re starving. Tracking my restrictions became the anchor habit underlying the anorexia, and I managed to whittle my total daily caloric intake down to 750 calories, starving my body but feeding my mind with goals reached and control expressed. Let’s be clear: Anorexia is not just a disorder of the body. To thrive, eating disorders require a perfect storm of mental, physical and environmental triggers. It’s complicated. Like, woah, complicated. It only took me ten years to realize the road out of …

The Necessary Hell of Exercise

I played rugby in college and was the captain of the team my senior year, but my time as a rugger was cut short when I tore my ACL and had to have reconstructive knee surgery. If I stopped here and didn’t say anything else, you might be left with an image of me as an athlete — and I wouldn’t mind being thought of that way — but my tragic flaw is that I am painfully honest, especially when it’s at my own expense. The truth is that I am not, nor have I ever been, athletic. I played one season of T-ball in kindergarten, and a highlight reel would consist of that time I stood too close to the batter and took a bat to the head and the occasion in which I slid into first base on my face. I did play volleyball in seventh grade, but only because my mom made me — and I quit two weeks later because I took a ball to the mouth. And I hated the …

I Have A Lot of Bad Habits…But I’m Working On It

I am an amassment of bad habits, all of them clinging together to crudely resemble a human female. I am a lady-shaped jumble composed of candy corn, terrible excuses, kitty-cat videos and wine. I’m nothing but bad habits, baby. I may be exaggerating a little bit. That’s another bad habit of mine. All right, look: I may have a number of bad habits, but I’m not all that different from anyone else. I’m pretty sure we share a bunch of these. Are any of us really getting enough sleep? Are we exercising as much as we should? Come, now. There may be a few virtuous types out there, the ones who win ultramarathons or help the poor while also following a gluten-free, sugar-free, cruelty-free diet, but I avoid those people. They’re not much fun at parties. I think. I actually avoid parties, too. The thing about most bad habits is that they tend to be fun and therefore hard to get rid of. Conversely, good habits are less fun, which makes them extraordinarily easy to …

Stacy’s Note: Breaking the Habit

In this brave new era of the quantified self — as we mine data about ourselves from sleep trackers, FitBits and productivity apps galore — one thing is frighteningly clear: We are the sum total of our habits. This is not particularly good news for many of us, as we teeter-totter on the seesaw of Good Habits and Bad Habits, trying to adopt the former and shed the latter in a way that will balance out, making us one step (or, okay, 375 FitBit steps) closer to our imagined ideal. The data we collect may tell one story — such as the symbiotic relationship between my recent weight gain and my also-recent inability to go more than one night a week without a drink or two with dinner — but it’s the other stories these habits tell that we are after this week at TueNight. The stories we tell ourselves as we wrassle with these habits. Such as… Lindsay Bell-Wheeler on never quitting…on quitting. Rita Arens on using the very mental tricks that pulled her …

The Most Important Part of My Job

As a Guidance Dean at a middle school in Illinois, my office life is very different from what it used to be when I was a classroom teacher. Meetings, phone calls and e-mails between parents and teachers and me seem to take up a significant amount of time. As far as being out of the office goes, I’m not in it all day, either. Each day a full hour and a half is devoted to doing lunchroom supervision. The lunchroom is where I do some of my best work. Though I will complain about that huge chunk of time when I’m not visiting classrooms where teaching and learning is happening, nor is it time spent in my office, it is uppermost in building relationships with students. If they don’t see me regularly, how will they trust me when they need a confidante? Now, more than ever, this important part of my job becomes known. My students are tech-savvy and all have cell phones with access to social media. Yet social media norms are something about …

A Girl’s Guide to Office Brocabulary

“Adorable” is the word Jennifer Lawrence uses to describe how women in business strive to sound. Wise beyond her years, the actress shared a story on Lenny Letter about how she was chided for speaking plainly to a male colleague. Her essay, a few weeks ago, kicked off a conversation about how “Woman in a Meeting” is a language all its own. Examples from The Washington Post, all of which I am guilty of: “This may be all wrong but…” and “Maybe? I don’t know? How does the room feel?” Lawrence’s story: “I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-bullshit way; no aggression, just blunt. The man I was working with (actually, he was working for me) said, “Whoa! We’re all on the same team here!” As if I was yelling at him. I was so shocked because nothing that I said was personal, offensive, or, to be honest, wrong. All I hear and see all day are men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the same exact manner, and you would have thought …

The Affair: Cheating on My Fiancé with a Work Husband

This is an updated version of a piece Lauren wrote at a previous employer, several work husbands ago. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’ve been cheating on my fiancé with someone from the office. Well, it’s not exactly cheating. And it’s not exactly a secret, either. I currently have not one but two leading men in my life at work. Alas, you may be a bit disappointed to know that my relationships with both of these men are strictly platonic. First and foremost, there is Frank, who sits next to me day in and day out at the office. Frank will HATE that I am writing this. He despises attention. But let me tell you, Frank is pretty much the most excellent person I know. I always say that if the building is burning, I’ll take Frank out with me because he is a Jack-of-all-trades who can solve any problem in the office — and often in life. Frank has helped me buy a computer, set up a new iPhone, …

Sharpies and Other Life-Changing Supplies

My last day at my last corporate job was gray, literally and figuratively. It was the end of October, and there was very little natural light coming through the windows. My boss, who suffered from stress headaches, required us to keep the overhead lights off, so I stepped from light pool to light pool to hug my coworkers goodbye. I was excited to manage my husband’s art studio, to peel out of this world and live a more bohemian life. But walking out of the building alone, my heels clicking for the last time on the hard stone floor, I was surprised by my heavy heart. I wondered whether I would miss The Office. All I brought home were my leftover office supplies. Being a practical gal, I boxed up everything in my desk that still worked: stacks of yellow sticky notes, a box of army green hanging file folders, branded notebooks from all-hands meetings. A thick handful of slightly used Bic pens and #2 pencils. Screen wipes. My everyday world. I had no desire …

Is Your Office Making You Sick?

Most of us spend the vast majority of our time (about nine hours a day, on average) at work, and for a large proportion of us, work time equals office time. Offices have evolved with our job descriptions, but the essence remains the same: Every day we leave our homes to join another group of humans in an environment that is not exactly tailored to our unique specifications but within which we must live (and live productively) for the largest part of our days. The first year I left academic research (working in a laboratory) for a corporate job (working in an office), I experienced a series of strange health ramifications. On the surface, one might imagine the laboratory environment, where I could potentially be exposed to various dangerous chemicals and strange bugs on a routine basis, would be less healthy than the open-plan office I moved to. But it didn’t play out that way for me. Within a year, I gained about 20 pounds and got sick more times than I ever had in …

How I Lost A Million Dollars: What Pay Equity Really Means

As a longtime journalist, I’ve covered what American society considers to be “women’s issues” for 40 years — including pay inequities, which were big news when I became a reporter in the 1970‘s. Unfortunately for all of us, the gender gap is still making headlines today, because female full-time workers earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. As if that weren’t depressing enough, the United States lags far behind many other nations in achieving wage equality. A new report by the World Economic Forum found that the United States ranks 65th among 142 countries. But we’ve heard about women’s lost wages for so many years that the actual figures take on a numbing familiarity. What they really mean may not fully register until later in life, when it’s too late to do anything about the longterm cost of such penalties. So let me tell you about how I lost a million dollars, how a young woman I know is on her way to losing millions more, and what that may mean for you. When …

Margit’s Note: Stories Out of Office

One of the nice things about working for myself, as opposed to working for Le Man, is that I can navigate my own schedule, all while wearing yoga pants. So when something pops up—oh, say, like, maybe a tennis-ball-sized ovarian cyst?— it’s a bit easier to schedule surgery. Well, at least logistically it is. But independent or not, I still have to find coverage for all manner of TueNight and Gyrate Media-related tasks. Consider this my out of the office message (or OOO, for you corporate bingo types). I’ll be offline for two weeks, recovering and — hidden bonus! — finally getting to watch House of Cards. * I’m sure I’ll eventually write about the departure of this little blob that has been hitching a ride on my right ovary for who knows how long. By that time, I can share whether I tossed out a few other things while my doc was poking around in there. “We’re going in anyway; you don’t need those tubes, right?” Ah, the indignities of midlife. But that is a …

Does This Slang Make Me Look Old?

Recently, I’ve had a lot of talks with friends my age (we’re all generally around 21) about getting older — something we know a fair amount about. Okay, I lied about the parenthetical part of that intro. We’re all pushing 40. And we’ve found ourselves in that awkward “not-old, definitely-not-all-that-young-anymore” phase. Well, not all that young unless we’re hanging out with, say, a random gang of 80-year-olds. Which I really should do more often because my skin would probably look amazing in comparison. Just kidding. That’s rude thing to say. Okay, not kidding. I thought it and meant it. I’m rude. Anyway, we’re deeply in that “woah, did you see so-and-so from high school on Facebook? How do they look so OLD” part of our show. Followed by the requisite pause… Then… “Do I look that old?” Then the rush of mutual assurances and “Oh my God, please, you look amazing,” various accolades doled out to our favorite Korean skin care products, agreements that the efficacy of moisturizer is directly proportional to how overpriced it …

Smiley Poop, Unicorns, Middle Fingers: What We Talk About When We Emoji

“Look at my taco emoji,” my friend said last week. “Look at it!” “I can’t see it. I’d have to upgrade my phone. The last time I did that, the battery life on the device I use to do every important task in my life dropped to nothing and I’m scared to try it again.” “A taco emoji, Laurie. And a unicorn. A middle finger.” And this is how I came to spend last Monday night watching the Apple 9.1 upgrade fail twice, appear to turn my phone into a terrifying brick and then, suddenly, magically work five hours before my alarm was due to go off. Tiny text tacos and unicorns and profane hand gestures – such are my priorities today. It’s fine. I can own it, along with the truth that the first emoji I sent when the phone came back to life in the morning was a unicorn. And it was very, very satisfying. I was a relatively late adopter of emojis, Japanese symbols that are meant to clarify meaning in text. They’ve been …

A 9th Grader “Bros and Hos” Dance? You Must Be Kidding

Tina Fey said “Bitches get stuff done,” and I couldn’t agree more. I always say, if you want something done, ask a stressed out mom. She’ll growl at you — but she’ll do it. Just don’t actually call her a bitch when you ask because most of us are still coming around to that word as a term of endearment. There’s one word, however, that’s been trying desperately to work its way into the parlance that most of us will never, ever accept. Ho. I recently moved out of center city Philadelphia and into the countryside of Central Jersey. When I wake up in the morning and open the blinds, I spy bald eagles soaring over tall pines rather than crack vials scattered over someone’s emptied-out purse. I sort of hate it, but I’m getting used to it. I came here for my son. He’s in 6th grade now and totally blown away by the amenities of his new middle school. He comes home with wonder in his eyes: “Mom, I ran on a track …

Bye Felicia — It’s Not Your Slang Anymore

“Terry Gross is bae.” “Trey Gowdy’s contour game is on fleek.” Those are two bits of slang I read on social media this week. If you can’t tell, the sentences in which the slang words appear are somewhat dubious. Supposedly, one would do best to use slang words as an instrument, not as a crutch. [pullquote]Slang is the new hip-hop now that hip-hop truly belongs to everyone.[/pullquote] Slang dropping is not like name dropping. Name dropping is: “I was talking about trans-racial adoption with Angelina and Brad the other day…” Slang-dropping is: “I swear, one of my coworkers thinks she’s slaying the email game. But if she ends one more message with ‘Make sense?’ acting like she’s the only one who has a clue, I’m gonna write back, ‘Bye, Felicia.’ I try to be cooperative, but I’m low-key losing all my chill. I am not the one to communicate with like I’m a three-year-old up in these internet streets.” Who knows when or why some words cross over and become slang-stream (slang mainstream), like: Bling: (noun) …

Cockney to Canadian: The Perils of a New Patois

Some epiphanies hit you gently, and some are starkly exposed, like the time a drunk girl on the bus shouted that my eyebrows were “so on fleek” and I had to quickly text my sister for a definition. Did it mean that my eyebrows were so offensive due to my overplucking? Or so on point? (Which, in fact, is what it does mean.) But in asking my Gen Y sister what this word meant, I realized what a relic I had already become. It didn’t help that the moment was memorialized when she Instagrammed it with the hashtags #YouOldAsHell and #Duffer. It wasn’t always like this — I had prided myself on my unusual accent and slang when I moved from London to Vancouver. I was popular for that fleeting first week where new kids are novelties, especially ones with a built in repertoire of British words. I was asked to say “rubbish” almost eleven times at recess while my new friends copied my pronunciation like a wobbly Gwyneth Paltrow in any English film. I …

Margit’s Note: We’ll Be Your Bae If You Tell Us What it Means

Long before Mean Girls tried to make ‘fetch’ happen, a coworker of mine was determined to make us all say everything was ‘box.’ “Huh? That is the worst word ever. No one will say that,” I said. “Yes they will. You are so ‘box.’ It is so ‘box.” “First of all, box already means like three different things,” said another coworker. “An actual box. The shape of a dress is, say, boxy. And I’m pretty sure it’s already slang for lady parts.” “Whatever. Box.” Here we were in our little Philadelphia cubby of an office, and my coworker had such lofty, zeitgeisty ambitions. Needless to say, it never took off. Over a decade later, I asked him about his botched box: “I realized the word had to be fun to say.” Slang is nothing if not fun to say. You’re part of the “in-crowd” (’50s slang!) when you know what bae means. (By the way, what does it mean?) And it’s typically the marker of the young. Sadly, you won’t find too many olds inventing new …