Category Archives: attitude

You Are Who You Come From

Grandmom Edith

“Sorrow found me when I was young/Sorrow waited, sorrow won/Sorrow that put me on the pills/It’s in my honey it’s in my milk.” -The National

My grandmother and I never got along. In fact, when she was dying her last words to me were, “I’m going to haunt you.” Grandmom Edith knew that I was easily freaked out, especially by the paranormal. I replied: “Good.”

I never understood how or why my mom’s mom got along with all her other grandchildren except for me. She and my cousin Jenny exchanged letters full of sweet “I miss yous” and “you’re such a good girl,” but her directives to me were always along the lines of “go get me another beer.” I was nine.

I wanted my grandmom to be like all my other friends’ grandmothers–to spoil me with candy and homemade cookies. But no such luck. My parents used to leave me with her for entire weekends when they needed some alone time. Here’s how the weekend usually went:

Friday night: Grandmom presents me with my beloved Party Mix snack–that delicious junk food potpourri of chips, pretzels and cheese balls in a bag. I eat it and she asks how I could possibly eat so much.

Saturday: Edith makes a huge breakfast–steak and eggs. I can’t finish it. She is offended and shocked– “How can you not finish that? There are starving kids in Africa!” We make a run to her liquor store where she picks up a six-pack of Old Milwaukee beer and a 12-pack of Parliaments. Then back to the apartment to watch Dallas and old made-for-TV movies.

There was no story time with my grandmom, no walks to the park or special trips to the toy store. With Edith, there were beer mugs in the freezer and witticisms I was too young to understand, spoken between cigarette puffs.

Exhibit A: Letter to Edith from her criminal grandchild.

I was no ideal child, don’t get me wrong. I challenged everything and everyone as much as possible. If my next door neighbors had toys that I wanted, I simply “borrowed” them when they were not home. I also had no problem stealing on Easter. The holiest day of the Catholic year and I stealthily put a pack of colored pencils in my jacket after my mom refused to buy them. And then at home, cool as a cucumber, I opened the pencils and started coloring in front of everyone. Edith asked me where I got them. “From the store,” I said.

Lots of kids steal things, but usually their parents drag them back to the store and embarrass them so profoundly that they learn a lesson. My mom just rolled her eyes and I got what I wanted without punishment. Jenny never would have done something like that.

But bad kid or not, my dad’s mom and I got along famously. (It was possible for me to get along with others.) Grandmom Marge was nice and sweet and funny and affectionate and she cooked Italian food. She was the best. (I still believe she’s my guardian angel. We all deserve one.) So what was wrong with me and Edith?

Today, my mom calls me Little Eddie. She says the older I get, the more I remind her of her mother. Great. So I’m the wicked witch of the west. There are certain attributes Edith and I do share: I have her nose, the shape of her face, and I scrunch my nose, close my eyes and show my top teeth when I laugh, just as she did. I’m also full of wit. (Not charm.)

My mom loves sharing her mom’s sayings, such as: “When money doesn’t come through the door, love goes out the window,” or “Never tell a man everything he doesn’t want to know,” and “What’s in the marrow comes out the bone.” We could write a book full of Edithisms. Her old quips make us laugh and we know there is truth and wisdom in them. We have our theories on why Edith was the way she was. We’re all a sum of our experiences. And she had some brutal ones.

I’m still mad at my grandmom though. She’s won our war; she haunts me.

Call An Ambulance

Whenever I hear an ambulance go by (which is often by the way, when you live in Manhattan) I get jealous. That’s right. Jealous. There goes someone who’s obviously getting the attention and care that they need. Their problem won’t have to wait long. And then I get pissed off. Not only is this person getting help, he or she is also making it obnoxiously known by holding up traffic and assaulting my ears.

I have a thing for ambulances. I have this fantasy that one day the sirens will come to my door and take me away. Let me explain:

There were times in my life when I knew I was dying. Like that day in the summer when I forced, yes forced, my mom to take me to the hospital because I was sure I was having a heart attack. See, I had consumed close to 10 cups of coffee that morning because I didn’t realize it would do anything other than wake me up. Well, one emergency trip to the hospital and a hefty insurance bill later, I realized I wasn’t dying. Or having a heart attack. Just as my mom had assumed, I had too much caffeine. But you try telling a teenage me that I’m wrong.

Then there were the times in my life when I wanted to die. Those post-grad years when I was making $15 an hour running errands for editors. Suicidal poets and writers like Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Elizabeth Wurtzel were my heroes. I, too was a tortured soul! I actually admired the ability to stick one’s head in the oven. But I’m bad at being suicidal. If I take a bottle of pills or stick my head in the oven, I’m going to ask someone to call an ambulance.

The thing with ambulances is their immediacy. Their efficacy. There’s a problem put on rush and solved as soon as possible. No one tells a gunshot victim that time heals all wounds. That’s how I wish life would be–here’s my injury, it’s severe, fix it. NOW.

If I were to call 9-1-1 right now it would go something like this:

Operator: “Hello, 9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

Me: “Hi yes, I’m on 9th St at 5th Ave. and I’m afraid I’m never gonna get married and have children and land a high-paying job and–

Operator: “Wait, slow down. Calm down. I can’t make out what you’re saying.”

Me: “–and I’m almost 30 and I can’t breathe and I need someone here right away!  Hello?”

Operator: (click. dial tone.)

I’m not sure when this whole instant gratification thing took root in me. Maybe it’s because I was a spoiled kid, always getting what I wanted. Or maybe my impatience is genetic–one of my grandfathers actually shot someone in the ear to get him out of his restaurant. He actually had a gun chest for situations like this. And then my other grandfather pulled a gun on my grandmother in a jealous rage, the same grandmother whose attitude in life was “is this all there is?” and smoked cigarettes like other grandmas baked cookies. It could also be anxiety passed down from my mother who, in her 50s, couldn’t drive over bridges without Prozac. Or, from my father who rushes us out of the house to get somewhere early. I mean, clearly I come from a solid line of insanity. I’ve certainly sent quite a number of therapists’ and psychiatrists’ kids to college with this genetic legacy of mine.

But before you go call 9-1-1 on my behalf, rest assured that should an ambulance actually come to my door, I’d probably ask for a cab. I mean, red flashing lights and sirens? How gauche. I know very well that my emergencies aren’t anything an EMT can fix, even if he was a psychology major.

The truth is that I just don’t like to wait for anything. I rarely go with the flow. I prefer plans with backup plans. I like to feel the water before diving in. So when people or situations enter my life without answers, plans, or guarantees my brain cells go all Code Red. What is this unknown and how can it be known?

I’m never gonna stop being me. (Fortunately for the mental help profession.) And I’ll never be fixed–not in one place or time or thought. So maybe patience will come naturally the older I get. I mean, I don’t rush to the hospital anymore convinced I’m dying. And I certainly don’t want to bake my head. But until I sit lotus style and breathe like Buddha, does anyone have a good prescription?

“Because I will be your accident if you will be my ambulance
And I will be your screech and crash if you will be my crutch and cast
And I will be your one more time if you will be my one last chance” – TV on the Radio

Confidence Lost

If confidence is lost, did you ever really have it?

Born to write. Born cursed.

Friday, April 23rd, 9:31 pm. I’m sitting on my couch, on the phone with my mom for the third time in one day.

Me: “Do you remember when I was little?”

Mom: “Of course I do.”

Me: “Tell me your favorite memory.”

Mom: “Oh here we go again.”

Me: (laughs) “Come on, tell me something funny I did as a kid!”

Mom: “I don’t know. I can’t think right now. You woke me up.”

Me: “Sorry. (pause) Do you remember when I used to put shit in your bed?”

Mom: (quietly exasperated) “What?!  No.”

Me: “I cannot believe you don’t remember this. Whenever I was mad at you I’d put potpourri in your pillow case and under your sheets so it would poke you and make your bed smell.”

Mom: “I probably liked it.”

Me: “You’re crazy. Go back to bed.”

End scene.

You know things are bad when you call your mom for a mood lift. There are so many things wrong with this. For starters, moms are meant to annoy. No matter how much I resent her self-help b.s., she somehow always convinces me to drink the Kool-Aid. Tell her you don’t want any and she’ll give it to you anyway.

Secondly, moms are blinded by bias. Of course she’s going to tell you you’re qualified to be an editor-in-chief at 29 even though the closest experience you have for this job comes from bossing around your stuffed animals and dolls from ages five to 11. Or 12.

Lastly, moms are bad with the tough love. When my mom tries to tell me to suck things up, I just want to put potpourri in her bed again. I demand my bottle, my bath and my bedtime story please.

So clearly my mom can never win (as her daughter, it’s my job to set her up to fail), but I still love her and this is all beside the point. The point here is that I’m so desperate for a confidence fix that I’m searching between the couch cushions for it.

How did this happen? I’m the girl who’s famous for the line “clankity clank,” which is short for “pull out your brass balls and fight for your right.” Let those mo-fos in charge know who you are.

And here I am. Stuck. In my own mud. Sure, I can blame getting laid off a year ago. I can blame my current mind-numbing job. I can blame myself and I often do. There are plenty of culprits in the lineup for confidence robbery. But at a certain point, I need to pull out of this mental quicksand and pull out my brass cojones. If there’s one thing my mom’s personal PSAs have taught me it’s think it and you’ll be it. But how can you believe in your talent without the success?

I know, pray to Buddha, right? It’s not all about the material recognition. Fuck that. Look, I’ve prayed to Buddha and Jesus, to Rolling Stone and Fleetwood Mac. I’ve paid for therapy and medication and opened myself up to love. I’ve given up security for the chance of something better. And the only thing I can tell you is that in America, success matters. It’s measurable. And I want it. But first, I need my confidence back.

Wristcutters…The Movie. And, The Meaning of Life.

I just finished watching the film Wristcutters (2006), written by Goran Dukic. The movie is about a bunch of people trapped in a dreary purgatory created specifically for those who have “offed” themselves. The people who run this purgatory are referred to as the P.I.C., for people in charge (how great is that?!). They decide who got there by accident, who gets to leave and who has to stay. In purgatory, as in life, there is an order that doesn’t make sense.

Sounds like a real upper, doesn’t it? Well, although you’d think I’d need to keep a box of Kleenex and my therapist’s phone number nearby, the film was actually funny. In a dark way, of course.

I’ve always seen the darkness and the humor in almost everything. It’s either my god-given talent or a severe mental malfunction, but that’s neither here nor there. What touched me about the film was the main characters’ desire to figure out the MEANING OF LIFE and how they fit into the whole mess.

Everyone with a brain can relate to the desire to understand LIFE. But not everyone can relate to wanting to die. Anne Sexton, who offed herself in 1974 and is one of my favorite poets, wrote:

But suicides have a special language. Like carpenters they want to know which tools. They never ask why build.” –Anne Sexton, “Wanting to Die”

I’ve been there–at that confusing point in your journey where nothing makes sense, where lines cross and goodness is blurry, and the option of jumping off the train is more appealing than staying on the ride. But luckily, unlike the characters in Wristcutters, unlike my favorite poets, I didn’t have to kill myself to realize that death isn’t THE GREAT ANSWER.

The thing is, none of us are above getting lost. None of us are above needing something to believe in. Something to hang onto. All I can say is that I’m glad I’ve stuck it out so far because it feels like every five years or so I experience a rebirth (I think they call this maturity?). The longer I deal with this life thing, the more I learn to shake my head, laugh, and say to the P.I.C., ‘what have you got for me today?’

Today’s musical companion is “Home,” by The Engineers.

“Home/Is this my home/Been starting over/Bathe in the water/Time/Time after time/I’m feeling so sorry/I run out of words to say/Relieved/I’m so relieved/The tables are turning/Don’t sacrifice this feeling/Goals/There are no goals/There is no order/Paid for in laughter/Home/Is this my home/Been starting over/Bathe in the water.”

Then We Came to the End…A Question of PTSD

Then We Came to the End, written by Joshua Ferris, is a book about getting laid-off. And it’s fucking hilarious. Except getting laid-off in real life–as I was around this time last year–is not so hilarious.

Instead of being able to smugly shrug off the fact that I got canned (without warning, I may add, like a goddamn terrorist attack), I freak out on a daily basis that I’m going to lose the job I have now at any minute. It’s that survivalist mentality
(you know, of people who actually lived through terrorist attacks and war) that it’s going to happen again!

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as: “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.” OK, so maybe I don’t technically suffer from PTSD–losing my job wasn’t exactly a physical trauma (but I do have flashbacks, mmm…k?). But seriously, for someone who places so much importance and pride in the work I do, getting let-go, laid-off, fired, canned, axed, was traumatic. I became a victim of sorts. As Ferris writes in his book: “Every lovelorn jerk is the victim of bad timing, good intentions, and someone else’s poor decision making.” Yup. One day you walk into your job and walk out never to return.

The point of no return for me came right before I was supposed to have my six-month review. I was called into HR the day before my review was scheduled and was told that I just wasn’t the right fit. (I’ve since learned that this meant I didn’t fit into the budget anymore.) If you want to know the nitty-gritty details of what happened on that fateful day, just check out an “anonymous” post I wrote titled “The Editor and the Cockroach: A Tale of Karmic Retribution. Or Something” for my friend’s blog, Your Unemployed Daughter.

Now, close to a year later, I’m still freaked out about losing my job whether it’s babysitting or editing. People tell me I should be proud of myself and the fact that I never went a day without work, even after getting laid-off, and how that proves how talented I am. But in my mind, there’s a difference between surviving and excelling. I survived. It was instinctual. But I always imagined I’d be an accelerator, running fast up that ladder to the tippy top. This is my post traumatic stress disorder: I’m haunted by failure. The vision I had of my career path hasn’t quite materialized. Instead, I’ve been on this unpredictable ride where there are terrifying delays and entertaining rest stops with some lucky opportunities in between. I once knew where I wanted to land, but experience has taught me to stop looking so far ahead. In the meantime, I wish I knew how to avoid hearing the bombs of fear go off in my head.

We hated not knowing something. We hated not knowing who was next to walk Spanish down the hall. How would our bills get paid? And where would we find new work? We knew the power of the credit card companies and the collection agencies and the consequences of bankruptcy. They put your name into a system, and from that point forward vital parts of the American dream were foreclosed upon. These were not Jeffersonian ideals, perhaps, on par with life and liberty, but at this advanced stage, with the West won and the Cold War over, they too, seemed among our inalienable rights.” -J.F.

Today’s musical end note is provided by Led Zeppelin. “Ten Years Gone” is my favorite song of theirs, for good reason.

If you’re too lazy to listen to 8 minutes of brilliance, at least check out the lyrics here.

The Power of Oprah Compels You!

Oprah, the new messiah

All right, look, I’ve watched The Secret, I’ve highlighted inspirational quotes in self-help books; I’ve even enjoyed visiting quotelady.com and thinkexist.com for famous words of wisdom (and still do sometimes). And yes, there was even a time when I enjoyed watching Oprah and reading her magazine (it’s a good magazine and I’m not writing that because I’m afraid of her). But when I opened my mail yesterday and saw an issue of O magazine with my name on it, I felt a burning sensation of rage.

Now I know how satan feels during an exorcism. The dude just wants to be left alone with his misery and his mischief. You can’t cancel a subscription if it’s a gift from someone!* (You know, kind of how the devil can’t fight against a crucifix.)

Who would violate me like this? My mother. She’s always trying to push self-help literature on me. Some of the reading material she’s left in my room or in my bag over the years: Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man (Steve Harvey), The Essence of Attitude: Quotations for Igniting Positive Attitudes, and for my recent birthday, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be (Paul Arden). So basically my mom thinks I’m a negative, unambitious, lesbian. Does she give this crap literature to my brother, the married surgeon who gave her grandchildren? Nooooo. Just leave me alone with my misery and my mischief! I’m happy being a malcontent. Honestly. It’s a safe space. Do you get that, Jesus? Mom? (Um, Jesus, if you’re reading this, I do love you. I truly fear you just like a good Catholic girl should.)

As for you mom, I love you too. But here’s the thing: Yes, I’m jaded. I’m cynical. I can count the people I trust and truly love on one hand (fine, almost two).  And that’s OK. I have best friends, I’ve found the love of my life (it’s a man!), and, well, I kind of have a career (freelance doesn’t mean unemployed, no matter what dad thinks). And the truth is I don’t care to be the greatest or the best, I just want to keep my job. Books aren’t going to teach me how to be in a relationship, my boyfriend will. And I don’t need inspiration. I do what I gotta do and that’s great enough. So, please, cancel your 12-month subscription to Oprah in my name because I don’t want to live my best life according to Oprah, or you, or to anyone else.

And because all of my posts need to end on a musical note:

*But you can change your address and have the magazine shipped to the gift giver instead, mwah ha ha.

Be Careful Who You Look Up To: A Cautionary Tale

Time magazine you cover “Nobody can be you as efficiently as you can.” -Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking

I was a fat kid. I embrace that, now. But back then I was miserable. I understood the power of cute and I knew I didn’t have it. To sum up my psychosis, I had a low self-esteem. (I know, call the WAHambulance.) Anyway, my theory is that having a low self-esteem made me this kind of super fan. Any teacher or coach–hell, anyone–that believed in me became my superhero. Get made fun of enough in life and anyone who doesn’t do that to you is AH-maz-ing. Even after I lost weight and became “cute,” I never felt comfortable with my own power. I was already comfortable giving that power to other people. If Coach puts me on varsity, then dammit I am a golden god! If Coach uses me as a bench warmer, then god damn I suck.

Now you can imagine that as I approach 30, I’m pretty exhausted by obsessing over what other people think of me. After all these years of looking up to people, my eyes hurt. It’s easier to look straight ahead nowadays. (Cue Michael Jackson “Man in the Mirror” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgtWIx2zLtk.)

It’s cool to look up to people, don’t get me wrong. We all need a little inspiration. Just don’t do what I did and invest all your proverbial eggs in that basket. If one boss says you’re a gem and the next boss lets you go, c’est la vie.  Take what you will and make like Frank Sinatra and do it your way.