I’m now Santa.
I have moments when I realize the things for which I am thankful are merely components that add up to a more significant whole: My life is now and always has been laughably easy to navigate. My crankyfied list of the other day aside, I’m thankful for that whole. Last night I was watching Martin Scorsese’s excellent new documentary Public Speaking about Fran Lebowitz (sorry, it’s impossible to write that phrase without sounding insufferable) and in it she talks about the accidental luck of the circumstances into which we are born, and how that, more than anything else, determines our chances in life.
I had lunch this week with a friend who crossed into this country from Mexico when he was only 13. His first attempt failed after a guide, appropriately called a “coyote,” pocketed the $2,500 his family had saved for the crossing and left the boy and his brother stranded in a Nuevo Laredo motel with no money and no journey ahead to the family that waited in Kansas. (His mother had made her own journey into the United States through the desert on foot, carrying her 2-year-old child for two days.)
On his second attempt, my friend and his brother hustled as fast and as calmly as they could across a bridge left unguarded for only a few minutes in the dead of night, into El Paso. The boys walked into a plaza, empty and clean and orderly in the moonlight at 1 a.m., and he thought it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. In the days that followed, he boarded a bus and traveled nearly 800 miles to Kansas to find the rest of his family. In the years that followed, he taught himself English. He translated life for his parents. He applied for college and with scant documentation navigated university life under the constant threat of deportation. He became a legal citizen of the America he’d first entered at 1 a.m. in El Paso years earlier.
If you sat both him and I down and asked us what we’re thankful for we might say the same things. Loving spouses, beautiful children, supportive families and friends, great jobs. But the routes that brought us to our current lives are unrecognizable from each other. At 13, my toughest journey was to the mall.
There should be no guilt in living a life of relative ease, if it was obtained honestly. But in weeks like this one I give thanks for mine. I give thanks that on Thursday I’ll be sitting down to dinner surrounded by family and food and the trappings of a comfortable life, while thousands of miles away, men, women and children like my friend once was will be preparing to cross a desert, seeking those exact same things.
Photo: Wendee Holtcamp
My mother teased me the other day for being absentminded lately. “What did you decided to do about the book?” she’d asked, and under threat of bodily harm I couldn’t have told you what book to which she was referring. The book, the book… The book I’m writing at the rate of one chapter every year? The baby book I’ve yet to compile for Sabine? My blank look failed me. “The Grinch,” she said. Ohhhh, that book.
I’ve always been a doer, a juggler of tasks, but since becoming responsible for a new human being (who comes with her own lengthy list, at right) the anvil-load-to-the-head of tasks has gotten downright crankifying.
And the thing is, everyone who approaches you assumes the stuff they know about is your only stuff. At work I get roughly 200 emails a day, send that many myself, and at any given moment am traffic directing six articles and two development projects. Yet my intern skips into my office with the blithe spirit of youth and asks me the status of a story that I didn’t even remember she was writing for me, much less that I had it on my pile to edit. I stare at her blankly and she smiles back politely, then, sensing we’re at an impasse, cartwheels out to accomplish her only other to-do list item for the day: java chip frappuccino acquisition.
As a fun little exercise I thought I’d catalog the tasks currently on my plate. In the past week I have had to handle the following and this doesn’t include any work-related things that occupy roughly 45 hours of my week:
1. Bring in canned goods for Sabine’s daycare food drive.
2. Drop off daycare payment check.
3. Pay all other bills.
4. Set up doctor appointments for self and husband.
5. Cancel weekly dairy delivery due to holiday travel.
6. Call kitchen contractor about renovation status.
7. Go to Home Depot for A/C unit cover and winterizing supplies.
8. Go grocery shopping for the week.
9. Send to the bank the county tax bill that inexplicably keeps coming to the house.
10. Deposit checks at bank.
11. Find dogsitter for Dakota for upcoming travel.
12. Fix nutritious dinner every night for family.
13. Pack Sabine nutritious lunches. (God I wish I had it in me to do Lunchables and McDonald’s takeout.)
14. Return incorrect winterizing supplies to Home Depot.
15. Buy plane tickets for Christmas travel.
16. Go to vet to buy Dakota’s fancy shmancy dog food because heaven forfend she eat the grocery store kibble.
17. Balance checkbook.
18. Take clothes to drycleaners.
19. Laundry. Always laundry.
20. Drop book off with neighbor. (Yes, that was the decision on that.)
21. Arrange for lawn maintenance with the new lawn guy. Remember to leave him a check.
22. Remember to leave housekeeper a check.
23. Clean leaves out of gutters and add correct winterizing strips to garage.
24. Call art framer to see if our new piece is ready. Go pick it up if so.
25. Set up grooming appointment for Dakota.
26. Order one Christmas present.
27. Order another Christmas present.
28. Design and order Christmas cards.
29. Arrange for pick-up of new kitchen island; call dad with the directions to the place.
There are at least five other things I’m forgetting. Because that’s how it is lately. I need a nap. And another intern.
You have the unique opportunity to weigh in today on a topic of special interest to me: Whether or not I’m a total jerkface. Lest you find yourself with a preponderance of fodder for such a conversation, let’s focus on the specific ethical dilemma in which I now find myself.
A few days ago, our neighbor, a nice gent who’s made himself quite helpful to us since we moved here (and in fact it is his parents’ longtime family home that we bought), told me to come over and check out some stuff he had up in the attic. He said, “I thought you might want it for your daughter and if not I’ll just haul it to Goodwill.” That stuff included a couple toys, an old picnic basket and two books — an old dogeared copy of Cinderella and a copy of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Nothing spectacular but it was nice of him so I dutifully shlepped it across the lawn and piled it in our house, drawing a snicker from my husband who wondered why I was taking the neighbor’s junk.
Later that night I picked up the copy of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and out of habit developed at my favorite used bookshops (my husband and I are casual book collectors), I checked out the copyright page.
1957. First edition. First printing. Conservative estimate of value: a couple hundred dollars. Possible value: up to $2,500.
The neighbor clearly had no idea of the value when he gave it to me, nor did I when I took it. I’d have no intention of selling it; rather, it would just remain among our collection of prized books, which means putting it on a shelf out of range of baby peanut-butter paws Magoo. By bringing it up I risk hearing for the rest of our neighborly days, some irritating variation of “Well I did give you that book.” I’m a huge fan of taking the path of least resistance and in this case that very much seems like keeping the book, shrugging at a stroke of good luck, and saying nothing that puts our neighbor in a position of feeling like a stooge for handing off something so potentially valuable.
But on the other furry green hand, something about keeping it without at least offering him the chance to understand its worth and take it back (and recognizing that he very well may) feels a little off.
Convince me that my heart needs to grow three sizes this day…
Item: Animated Hearts Proximity Tees
The Pitch: Buy one for you, one for your sweetheart, then enjoy the magic. When you’re apart, only 2 1/2 hearts glow. Get within hugging distance and all 6 hearts light up. Perfect Valentine’s gifts, black 100% cotton shirts are fun to wear year-round. (Note: You must have at least two shirts or one shirt and transmitter pack for all hearts to light up.)
For $72.94 you and your significant other can publicly demonstrate not only that you’re ridiculously uncool, but that you don’t know how to manage money. I’m also skeptical of the implication in the sales video that a girl wearing one of these things would find herself with not one but two suitors. Because I’m guessing that these are sold almost exclusively to people who are ordering one of the shirts for themselves and eight others for their cats, Mr. Jinkles, Snowball, Snowball II, Lady Puffypaws, Brittney, Bootsie Collins, Q-Bert and Dumbledore.
Impeccable grammar, came by her Ivy League diploma honestly, a precise and powerful writer, pulls off an extreme pixie cut, possessed of a preternatural willpower when it comes to staying in shape, and totes an envy inducing contacts list in her BlackBerry. Two years ago, she had the audacity to display a work ethic and skill and win herself a spot at ELLE courtesy of the reality show Stylista. On a recent Saturday afternoon when I was headed to the DMV and Costco, Johanna was headed to the Metropolitan Opera with her way-more-famous-than-us actor gentlemanfriend. Then, as the ultimate sin, she wrote a denouement post on her blog A Serious Job is No Excuse a couple weeks ago, explaining in measured tones but with brave candor why she walked away from her junior editor job at ELLE to return to D.C.
It’s a modern Cinderella story of sorts, which means the vengeful stepsisters of the interwebs came out in force. Jezebel, where women once went to read witty, empowering writing, gave all the detractors a convenient forum last week, with its post “Stylista Winner Quits ELLE, Burns Bridges.” While many commenters noted that Jezebel’s writer seemed to have missed the control and humility with which Johanna navigated her post, there were of course, the rest.
* ThatDamnMonkey obsessively catalogues references Johanna made on her blog to weight and dressing to look one’s best, helpfully providing a litany of out-of-context segments. (In a particularly deft bit of pot-kettle acrobatics, the commenter decries Johanna’s “woman-on-woman hate.”) This charge is laughable, as evidenced by an email I got yesterday from a mutual acquaintance, blogger FreckledK, who self-identifies as on the voluptuous side, pointing out that claims Johanna is sizeist are ridiculous. “She had taken the time in the past to respond to several questions I’d sent regarding what to wear, and this was during the time she was busy slaving away for that magazine. It was very good of her to do so, and I’m always going to be in her corner because of it.”
* DizietSma talks with a bitter sigh about Johanna’s “sense of entitlement” so rampant among her generation and then weighs in with similar sentiments about today’s darn kids in roughly 35 follow-up comments. Her prolific nature helps push the item to well over 300 comments, including those calling Johanna “despicable” and “awful.”
* Several assert they know exactly who the editor is described in her piece. They are exactly wrong.
* And rounding out the bunch, GirlsLikeWords writes, “I’m honestly surprised they kept her after the reality show quit paying her salary. The way her blog reads to me, it seems like she was treated unfairly/didn’t learn the power structure due to the fact that she was there because of a marketing stunt pulled by Elle to get more readers, not genuinely give someone a job. If it’s a job “a million girls would kill for,” clearly competition is fierce. Someone who walks in like that wouldn’t be welcomed. IMO.”
It’s all so painfully predictable. IMO. But it’s that last one that really got me. I clicked through to GirlsLikeWords’ blog. She seems nice. Pretty blond hair. Went to school in Oklahoma, which means she crossed paths with Johanna in days gone by. They both love writing. Both appear to be into fashion, in their own way. But GLW opines with breezy authority that Johanna must not have made enough of an effort at ELLE, had attitude and didn’t deserve to be there anyway because her success came from a marketing stunt.
It’s so easy, isn’t it? To think that the Johanna pictured in the publicity still above is the whole story, with her confident stance and dress that costs half our rent payment.
It’s not easy though when you’re one of the ones who got the phone calls during her time at ELLE, tears evident as she grappled with ridiculous personal treatment. And no, it is not as some commenters asserted (again, many with no inside knowledge whatsoever) a mandatory part of the game in the ladymag business.
I interned at Harper’s Bazaar in the late 90s. Yes, I interacted with a bitchy junior editor or two in my early weeks there. One dispatched me to fetch Immodium when her tummy roiled with hungover displeasure. But the senior editors there followed the lead of the late Liz Tilberis and treated their staff as professionals and not sorority pledges. The woman who became my immediate boss for most of my time there, design features editor Melissa Barrett Rhodes, was patient (I was a total collegiate rube wearing pink Gap twinsets in a world of Calvin Klein modernity), encouraging and egalitarian. When she had to go to a gallery opening, she’d invite me to tag along. I ate my first oysters and met my first Beastie Boy under her tutelage.
Coming from that environment, ELLE‘s juvenile circus (my words, not Johanna’s, for those of you concerned about the fire-retardant limits of the bridge) is unrecognizable. No sitting in the empty chairs even after you’ve been told to do so by another editor, the now-infamous “get me something c—ier” shrieking, etc.
And now she enters another juvenile circus. Flogging on the internet by those who don’t know her. The ones who don’t know that she thoughtfully picks out the perfect birthday gifts for her nieces and friends’ children. The ones who don’t know she immerses herself in fashion but is never happier than when chucking it for a Michigan sweatshirt and sweatpants and cuddling on the couch with her pup Monte. The ones who don’t know that what gets written online gets read by her mother and father, who aren’t quite sure why strangers are calling their daughter “despicable” and “awful.” The ones who don’t live lives interesting enough that they will ever need to understand that there’s only so much publicly flung, digital shit one can handle.
The great philosopher Ani DiFranco sings, “God help you if you are an ugly girl/’course too pretty is also your doom/’cause everyone harbors a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room/God help you if you are a phoenix and you dare to rise up from the ash/a thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy while you’re just flying past.”
That’s my daughter in the photo above. I hope the internet is a kinder place by the time she can read it.
The Matt Lauer interview of George W. Bush was a total Rorschach Test. You saw what you wanted to see in it.
Think Bush was an unfairly maligned, decisive leader faced with unprecedented challenges who did the best he could while staying true to his core beliefs in Jesus Christ, ‘merica and family? It was the interview for you. Think he was an incompetent, accidental president controlled by his team of greedy, racist war criminals who led thousands to their deaths needlessly, tanked the economy and oversaw the worst bureaucratic debacle in American history? Have I got the interview for you.
Highlights of the interview, intended to sell Bush’s forthcoming Decision Points:
* Bush tells Lauer that he was the dissenter on the Iraq War and he opposed using force. Pity he couldn’t find the guy in charge to convey that. Someone like the commander in chief of the United States armed forces. Or the President of the United States. Maybe tugging on Dick Cheney’s pant leg to make your point isn’t the best approach when you’re the leader of the free world.
* Bush calls Kanye West’s “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”/Mike Myers’ punch-to-the-stones reaction shot the most “disgusting” moment of his presidency. Not the horror of Hurricane Katrina and his botched, race-based federal response. What a rapper said about him on the playground.
* When Bush asserts waterboarding is legal, Lauer asks if that means an American soldier is fair game for waterboarding in another country. His response? “I’m not going to debate the issue, man,” becoming, for one glimmering moment, The Dude. He adds in his refusal to answer, “I want people to read my book,” and then he breaks out his “heh heh” face. I guess this means a copy of Decision Points will be as useful as a copy of the Geneva Conventions for soldiers deployed to war zones.
* Bush defends the TARP bank bailout, saying it was essential to take taxpayers’ money (his words) and prop up the banks to stave off the next Great Depression. He is immediately decried as a socialist by Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. I’m just kidding about that last part of course. They called him Hitler.
* Lauer points out that half of the American public incorrectly thinks Barack Obama authorized TARP. Bush responds with another “heh heh” face that indicates he too saw the sign on the right at the Fear/Sanity rally and thought it was hilarious:
* He closes the interview telling Lauer that his 30 percent approval rating when he left office meant nothing to him. Didn’t care. Throws in an “eff you” shoulder shrug for good measure. See, Kanye, there’s no need to take umbrage on behalf of black people. George Bush doesn’t care about any people.
Oh and ten bucks says Bush had crayoned in Decidering Points as the title of that thing, requiring some poor junior editor dispatched by Random House to start a conversation, “Um, sir…”
I certainly hope that the American public delivers him 30 percent approval ratings in their book purchasing this fall.
Item: $50,000 child’s birthday party
Source: Bravo TV
The Pitch: “After spending $50,000 on an over-the-top tea party, to celebrate her daughter Kennedy’s fourth birthday, Taylor is upstaged by her husband who brings in an even bigger birthday present.”
“Oh my stars,” you’re probably thinking. “What ever did her husband bring? A unicorn coated in gold, led by her very own miniature servant jockey?” No, he gave her a puppy, which was the most normal part of this spectacle. Because the party also included: hired fairies and Alice in Wonderland actors, nannies to watch the kids so their parents didn’t actually have to put down their champagne, a tea leaf reader, topiary floral arrangements, bajillion-dollar tablescapes, $1,700 necklace “favors” for the little girls in attendance, a band commissioned to perform a theme song for the birthday girl, a professional photographer, and it was all held at the Houdini Mansion, which costs $10,000 to rent.
“Well in Beverly Hills they’re probably pretty extravagant for the sweet 16 parties, right?” Wrong. The birthday girl was four. Which, the jeweler selling her mum the necklaces for the favors helpfully explained was the exact age that a little girl deserves a big diamond. To her credit, the four-year-old in question appeared to be the only one aware that her party was why the terrorists hate us and she appeared suitably miserable the entire time.
Today on Twitter, women proudly proclaimed in 140 characters or less that they had an abortion. Started by blogger IAmDrTiller, the proponents of the #ihadanabortion hashtag said it was an empowering step toward removing the stigma from abortion. Example: “Sometimes twitter is so inspiring. The #ihadanabortion hashtag is beautiful to see. Yeah ladies!” Another woman chides a critic of the abortion hashtag hoedown by likening having one to getting her wisdom teeth extracted.
(bangs head on desk in frustration)
Let’s get this out of the way: I am an avowed pro-choice advocate. I donate to the cause. I thank the clinic escorts at the Planned Parenthood near my office when I walk by at lunchtime. I vote on this issue. I dutifully bitch in my Facebook status when the patriarchy belches forth things like the Stupak Amendment.
But the word “yeah” in proximity to an exclamation point in proximity to someone touting their abortion with a hashtag is where I draw the line. And all of it in proximity to Twitter, where today users deemed the second-most important use to be welcoming home Lil Wayne from jail? Fail. If you believe that abortion should be kept safe and legal, yet cannot also acknowledge that it represents a drastic and tragic confluence of circumstances and that the result is not on par with having one’s molars removed, you’ve reduced the nuanced complexity of the pro-choice movement to the lowest form of T-shirt screediness.
I wish I could say I had the best assessment of how unsettling this whole business was but I have to give that honor to RIChris, a commenter on a Salon piece published this afternoon as the hashtag was trending. He writes: “It’s unfortunate that while the Supreme Court upheld a woman’s Constitutional right to privacy, so many women choose not to exercise it by keeping it private.”