The Immortality of Navy Brats

 I missed the memo about the immortality of Navy Brats. 

I went to four different elementary schools, three different junior highs, and mercifully, just one high school.  I’m a Navy brat, plus my mom had a bit of intra-city wanderlust, so we moved a lot.  I was a professional new kid and as a consequence, I learned to cope with change.  I am freakishly serene at the prospect of even cataclysmic upheaval.  I just…go with it.

And thanks to NPR, I recently learned that I may be immortal. See, I probably have what’s called “adaptive competence.”  Adaptive competence is the ability to bounce back when life throws you a curve ball, and it’s apparently a strong predictor of longevity.  When you roll with punches, you get to keep rolling for a long, long time.

Since “nothing is permanent except change” I suppose it’s good to accept or even embrace change.  I remember a couple of years ago when The Adam Carolla Show was signing off after it was announced that their radio home was going from a fun all talk format to really insufferably bad pop music  (and this is coming from me, the chic who loves Duran Duran and Katy Perry…)

As fans were calling to bitterly express their outrage, Adam Carolla said something that was really comforting and really great.  He challenged his listeners to think about some disappointment they had experienced…like losing a job, or getting dumped, and then to take the long view about it.  At the time, it seems like the world is coming to an end, but once you’ve moved on a bit, you can usually appreciate that what seemed like bad change at the time is usually the starting point to some other good change.  You get a new job, a better one.  You fall in love again, and this time, it’s the real thing.   It’s the old saw about closed doors and open windows.   And so it is for Adam Carolla and his crew…successful podcasts, book deals, and all sorts of good things have come to the talented people who were working on that show.

Whenever I encounter a person who lived in the same house from birth to graduation, who went to school with the same group of kids for a dozen years, I do feel a little pang of envy.  After all, stability is safe, change is always a little scary.  But then I’m mostly grateful that I’ve seen a lot of the country and developed lots and lots of adaptive competence…but who wants to live forever?

Memo received.

Retainers, Laundry & W.B. Yeats

I missed the memo about retainers, laundry, and W.B. Yeats.

Seeing as how I was all grown up when I got my braces off, one might think I would have been mature enough to heed the counsel of my orthodontist when he told me to wear my retainers every night.   I think I lasted about three months.  I found my retainers the other day, in a box of cast off stuff under the bathroom sink.  On a lark, I popped them in.   These custom-made,  expensive bits of metal and plastic which once fit perfectly are now the stuff of medieval torture.   Despite my wishes to the contrary, I can’t keep my teeth in place by passive force of will; I do actually have to wear my retainers.

Similarly, despite my desperate pleas to the universe that laundry just stay clean, beds just stay made, and toilets just stay pristine, the natural tendency is for tidy things to become untidy.  This is Entropy! (note the exclamation point; try to say this to yourself the way Johnny Gilbert says “This is Jeopardy!”  Seriously…try it, it’s more fun…I’ll wait….) 

Entropy, in a very basic sense, is the natural tendency towards disorder.  It’s a law of the universe that my teeth want to revert to crooked and that my hamper runneth over. 

I think I was first introduced to the concept of entropy back in 7th grade science or thereabouts, but I didn’t give it much thought until I was studying “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats.  Egads, that poem gave me the heebie jeebies.  It’s beautiful, but the idea of a rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem to be born really spooked me.  And then there’s this line:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold

“Things fall apart.”  Holy crap.   I’m a pretty perky person by nature, so the casual, yet desperate negativity in this language really just blew me away.  But then a few years later, I saw this video, and I tried to lighten up

(“Things fall apart…it’s scientific.”  David Byrne has a way of saying things so I can understand them, kinda like Forrest Gump and his mama.)

So here’s what I think I’ve figured out:  Entropy sucks, but the more aware of it I am, the less it sucks. Doing one or two loads of laundry seems a lot less daunting than 5 or 6.  If I had been more consistent about wearing my retainers, my teeth would have stayed straighter, etc.  Maintenance is a lot less monumental when done in regular intervals.  Now, to overcome my inertia and start tackling all this entropy…OK class, that’s enough physics for tonight.  Memo received. 




I missed the memo about validation.

When I was in junior high (and yeah, back then, they called it “junior high”), there was a kid in my neighborhood who thought it was really funny to respond to anything anyone said by saying, “So, what’s your point?” At the time, I couldn’t quite articulate why this bugged me so much, but I remember just burning with anger and embarrassment when he said it to me. 

A few years and a few psych courses later, I think I’ve figured it out.  I think it hurts a lot more to be dismissed than to be disagreed with.  It’s that whole “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference” thing.  It might chap your ass when someone doesn’t  see things the way you see them, but I think it’s more devastating when they don’t even care enough to look. 

It might sound kind of New Age-y, but I guess it’s called “validation”.  Even if you don’t agree with someone, you acknowledge them, you give them the right to have and express their misguided opinion.  It’s just a fundamental rule of fair fighting. 

I’m a recent devotee of the TV show “Parenthood” and I through the magic of Hulu, I’m working my way through past episodes.  One episode was poignantly entitled, “I Hear You, I See You.”

I don’t know the whole back story, but it seems as if a bit of distance had opened up between the patriarch and matriarch of the family, as played by Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia, respectively.  As part of their couples counseling, Craig T. Nelson’s character catches himself in little moments where he makes an extra effort to be mindful of acknowledging his wife’s feelings.  He turns to her and earnestly says, “I hear you, and I see you.”  It’s a little corny, it’s a little forced, but somehow, it’s everything he needs to say and every thing she needs to hear.   He validates her, and it’s lovely.

And since moving to Los Angeles, I’m become acquainted with another form of validation.   In some of the swankier parts of the city, it can cost upwards of $40 just to park your car.  Seriously, $40.  But if you’re lucky, sometimes you can get your parking validated.  When your parking is validated, the person or business is telling you that you had a good reason to be there.  They appreciate your visit or business enough to subsidize the cost of the parking.  It makes me feel worthy and important and it’s just so…validating.   Memo received.

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball

Petrels, Persistence & The Princess Bride

I missed the memo about Petrels, persistence, and The Princess Bride.

Back in the fall of 1990, I did just about the craziest thing I have ever done.  I applied to exactly one college and then casually went about my life as a high school senior.  I was  a fairly strong student (*cough* nerd) so it’s not like I didn’t have at least a few options.  Because I checked the little box on the SAT forms which invited all the glossy brochures from various institutions of higher learning, I was able to get at least superficially acquainted with lots of really good schools.  Somehow, though, Oglethorpe University (Ogle-what?) just stood out.  There were lots of tangible factors which made Oglethorpe attractive to me, but ultimately, I characterized my choice as kind of cosmic.  It just felt right.  Lots of my fellow Petrels told me similar stories.  We were like Richard Dreyfuss in “Close Encounters” ….we saw visions of neo-Gothic buildings and we just had to come.

At this point you may be asking yourself, “What the hell’s a ‘petrel'”?  It’s a kind of bird that I had never heard of before, either.   Indeed this was part of Oglethorpe’s charm…the mascot is the Stormy Petrel, and it’s a distinction which usually lands it on “Top 10 Weirdest Mascots” lists. Maybe you have to experience the place to appreciate this, but just trust me, having this tenacious little creature as the totem for Oglethorpe is amazingly apt.

Another Oglethorpe-ism that I especially love is the university motto:  Nescit Cedere. It translates to “He does not know how to give up.”  I always thought this was kind of bad ass.  To be constitutionally incapable of giving up…that’s like, Steve McQueen- in- Papillon-tough.

As a Petrel, I thought that I was pretty special in that I had somehow been endowed with this admirable brand of tenacity, but then my husband and Sonic the Hedgehog had to come along and pee in my Wheaties. 

My husband pointed out that it’s more courageous when you do know how to give up, yet still persist.  He may have a point.   And then there’s Scratch and Grounder, Sonic’s nemesi …after being frustrated yet again in their efforts to capture the crafty Sonic, they have this existential exchange:

Grounder:     Sometimes I wish Dr. Robotnic hadn’t made us so persistent.

Scratch:         He made me  persistent, he made you too dumb to quit!

Oh, snap!  I suppose there is a point where persistence veers into stupid.  And then sometimes stupid veers into heroic….

If The Princess Bride isn’t one of your all time favorite movies, then I think it’s best that you and I just part ways here…

There is something to be said for knowing when to quit.  And there’s also something to be said for knowing when to quit, but then not quitting.  Memo received.

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball


I missed the memo about Spring.

In my little suburban corner of Los Angeles, the mercury hit 92 degrees today.  It appears that Mother Nature didn’t get the memo that it’s only April.  With apologies to Joe Walsh, when it comes to weather in Los Angeles, I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do.  And my major complaint was captured in a catchy chorus…

After almost 10 years in L.A., I have recently convinced my self that I am just about cool enough to listen to the music programming on KCRW.    A week or two ago, I heard a track from The One AM Radio’s new album and I was blown away by the blasé melancholy…it was just soooo L.A.

A City Without Seasons

It’s hard to measure time in a city without seasons
The smog makes gorgeous light, but you can never let the breeze in
I’ve been waiting for so long that I forgot the reason
It’s hard to measure time in a city you don’t believe in

By virtue of my Navy brat pedigree, I am actually a native Californian, but with my formative years spent mostly in Virgina and Georgia, I’ll probably always have an east coast soul.  While I marvel at the convenience of having good weather so many days of the year, it is in fact very hard to measure time in a city without seasons.  Holidays sneak up on me now.  I forget birthdays.  Once, I even forgot how I old I was. In the land of perpetual summer, it’s easy to accept the delusion of perpetual youth. 

While most transplants don’t miss harsh winters, we almost all miss the seasons.   There is something disorienting about it being 80 degrees in January.  Maybe it offends a hard-wired sensibility about the natural order of things.   In the words of Pete Seeger (by way of Ecclesiastes and made famous by The Byrds):  To every thing (turn, turn, turn) there is a season…

Without traditional seasons, perhaps I’m a bit adrift.  We do have roughly four seasons in L.A.:

1.    Rainy and a bit chilly
2.    Nice
3.    Regular  Hot
4.   “Are f*%$ing kidding me?” Hot

I suppose I should quit my bitchin’ and just enjoy wearing flip-flops in February.  But I still miss Spring. Turn, turn, turn.   Memo received.

John Taylor & Paul Reiser (Nice Guys, Redux)

I missed the memo about John Taylor & Paul Reiser.

(The devastatingly handsome John Taylor, whom I wanted to marry when I was 11; and the utterly adorable Paul Reiser, whom I wanted to marry once I wised up a bit.)

My dear childhood friend, Krista, and I were recently plotting to attend an upcoming Duran Duran concert.  Our friendship had been forged in our shared fanaticism for Duran Duran, which dates back to the early 80s.   She loved Simon LeBon with an unfathomable ardour, whereas John Taylor, with his highlighted hair, soulful brown eyes, and pouty lips…he was more my type. 

When we figured out that our schedules weren’t going to jive to attend a show together, I sent Krista this text message:   “Don’t stress…after JT, Paul Reiser was my next true love and his new show also premiers that night.  Stay home with you bebes; we’ll hit it next time!”   Apparently, this message was a bit confusing, as a few days later, Krista sent me this reply: “It has taken me several days to wrap my head around your Paul Reiser thing.  So now I must ask, how does one go from John Taylor to Paul Reiser?!?” 

I presume Krista meant no disrespect to Paul Reiser, but perhaps an explanation is in order.  I talked a bit before about how I had gotten a memo about nice guys from Alanis Morissette.  I apparently got another from Cosmo.  They once ran an article (described to great effect here) which identified that there are two kinds of husbands:  There’s the “boyfriend husband” and the “husband husband.”   These are fairly intuitive categories; the “boyfriend husband” is more of a bad boy, he doesn’t settle easily into domestic life, he keeps you guessing.   The “boyfriend husband” can be pretty exciting, but he can drive you crazy.  Whereas the “husband husband” is more fully committed, a bit more predictable, totally loveable and doesn’t make you nuts.  

When Paul Reiser’s hit show “Mad About You” premiered back in 1992, I remember watching him and Helen Hunt and thinking…”That…that’s what I want…I want a nice guy who loves me and makes me laugh a lot.”  Paul Reiser, as the character of Paul Buchman, was definitely a  “husband husband.”  I’m guessing that John Taylor, who is now a married man these days, is a perfectly good husband.  But I’m also guessing he’s a “boyfriend husband”—a globe-trotting pop star, recovered cocaine addict…yeah, definitely a  “boyfriend husband”.  

So instead of John Taylor, I married Paul Reiser, albeit in a slightly taller, slightly blonder, slightly more gentile incarnation.   He slays me with his silliness and I revel in his goodness. 

(My husband, whom I will not forsake, not even for John Taylor or Paul Reiser)

My “husband husband”  does indeed make me laugh a whole lot, and sorry JT, I love him more than I think I ever could have loved you.   Memo received. 

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball

Philosophy and….Philosophy

I missed the memo about Philosophy and ….Philosophy.

Like most freshmen at my liberal arts-y college, I took an Introduction to Philosophy course.   The class was hard, but it helped that the professor looked like something out of Body Heat

(Seriously…slap a tweed sport coat on William Hurt and you get the school girl swoon-worthy Dr. Philip Neujahr.  I had a very unorginal crush on him.)

One of Dr. Neujahr’s favorite transitional phrases was/is, “Firm grasp of the obvious? Yes? Yes? Yes?”  It was a cute and reassuring way of checking in throughout his lectures just to make sure he hadn’t left a gaggle of gobsmacked teenagers in his intellectual dust.

But it was an interesting choice of words.  A lot of the ideas we wrestled with started with something obvious and then we were challenged to reconstruct the cerebral scaffolding that supported concepts that really only seemed obvious.  It was trippy. 

I can’t pretend to have been a truly serious student of philosophy, but the coursework I did undertake did help me to appreciate that there’s a lot more to the human experience than meets the eye.  If we’re tired, or lazy, or things are really, really bad, we can function on a pretty animalistic level.  But given our cranial capacity, we’ve got the option of swimming around in the world of ideas.  Sometimes we figure stuff out, and sometimes, we figure out the stuff we haven’t figured out, and that can be good, too. (I know that’s a bit “Bill & Ted“-ish…but when it comes to my own efforts at doing philosophy, that’s all I got.)

Perhaps it was the affection I had for Dr. Neujahr and all the things he taught me that inspired my adoration of the Philosophy line of skin care products and perfumes.  

I’m a sucker for a well-conceived and well-executed branding campaign.  They had me at “Hope in a Jar“. I mean really, what are beauty products about if not hope?  I don’t  know if Philosophy products are the best thing on the market, but I think they’re the most charming.  And when I go about my day wearing a perfume called “Pure Grace,” maybe, just maybe, I’ll be inspired to actually exhibit the characteristic for which the perfume is named. 

Think deeply and smell good while doing it.  Memo received

How to Lighten Up

I missed the memo about  how to lighten up.

My mom likes to say I was “born 30” and I think that’s code for the fact that I am congenitally uptight.  I’m “Type A”, judgmental,  a rule follower, a worrier, a planner…so it’s no surprise that I’m often told to lighten up. 

I submit to you Exhibit A, an inscription in my senior year book:

(“Blockhead”…I had forgotten about that…this guy didn’t appreciate my strong jaw and truly exquisite bone structure, but check it out…back in high school, my face was nearly a perfect square…this was my serious debate team face…)

I used to bristle at the suggestion that I ought  to lighten up.   Telling someone to relax when they’re obviously having a hard time relaxing usually has the effect of making them even less relaxed.  Isn’t it funny how that works? 

But these days, I try to take the suggestion to heart.  I’m starting to understand that when I start to get rigid, it’s usually because I’m scared, anxious, or just really, really annoyed.  The world of rules and structure is my safe zone, and I retreat to it when I’m having a hard time coping with anxiety and uncertainty.  As an attorney, this is awesome.  When I’m stressed out about a case, I can go look up a statute and figure out what the rules are, and the rules make me feel a little more grounded. 

In real life, however, there isn’t a universally applicable rule book.  Some might say go look in a Bible, and that’s of some comfort, but the Bible unfortunately did not contemplate a rule for how I should conduct myself when my husband forgets to push down that little doohickey that makes the water come out of the faucet instead of the shower head and I get doused with cold water…again.  I suppose there’s something in The Good Book about husbands and wives honoring each other, but that’s not a complete prescription for how irritated I’m allowed to be in this situation. 

The thing I’m trying to learn is that when I’m asked to lighten up, it doesn’t mean that I’m not right, as I am  just about always right, just ask me.  Rather, it means that I need to keep some perspective.  Right at what cost?  When I tense up, dig in, and fight about something inconsequential, what good is served?  I talked before about my hair and the trouble it causes me, so in the aforementioned shower scenario, it kinda is a big deal as getting my hair unintentionally wet can seriously ruin my day.  OK…there I go again…”ruin my day”?  Really?  A little perspective, please. 

I still hope my husband gets the memo about pushing down that  doohickey, but if he doesn’t…memo received. 

 © 2011 Jamie Walker Ball

Dessert & Upward Mobility

I missed the memo about dessert and upward mobility.

When I was in college, the young woman who lived in the adjoining room, let’s call her M, was a real sweetheart.  She came from a good family, and they were a little protective, so they came to visit often.  When her folks came to town, M could round up her friends and M’s parents would treat the gaggle of us to a nice dinner at a restaurant near campus.  This was wonderfully generous in and of itself, but it gets better. 

I had the good fortune of being invited along on one of these dinners and as the extensive dessert menu was presented, M’s father took a quick look and decisively said, “Just bring us one of everything and we’ll pass them around.”  As a great lover of desserts, I was absolutely delighted by the largesse of this gesture. 

I grew up in a working class-ish family and when I went to college, I started catching glimpses of how more “privileged” kids had grown up.  Part of me recoiled at the idea of having a housekeeper or spending money on a luxury car or a designer purse…these kind of things were a little offensive to my slightly socialistic sensibilities.  I convinced myself  that people with money were soft and self-indulgent….whereas people without money were sharp and resourceful.  At the time, this was probably a healthy bit of defensive thinking, I think, but it threw up some roadblocks in the way I connected with some of my more well-off peers and it limited my imagination of how my life might ultimately be different from my parents’. 

But when M’s dad ordered all those desserts for a giggling gaggle of co-eds, I thought, “OK, wow, this is why it’s good to have some money.”  Money can buy stuff, but it also buys experiences, and I think that was the real lesson for me.  M’s dad wasn’t trying to be a big shot, he just wanted his daughter’s friends to have some fun and enjoy a fantastic end to their meal.  And he didn’t seem to worry about how much it cost. 

Until I finish paying off law school, I really won’t have a pot to piss in, so for now I’m holding pretty tenaciously to most of my frugal, working class sensibilities.  But theoretically, I’ll be ascending the socio-economic ladder a bit in the coming years.  I’m no longer so afraid that having a bit of money will make me soft or self-indulgent.   Even if I have some money, I can still be liberal.  I can still be low-key.  I can still be me.  No one is going to force me to buy a  Bentley or a Prada handbag.  But maybe I will buy all the desserts.  And pass them around.  Memo received. 

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball