Talking To Strangers


I missed the memo about talking to strangers.

My son is a natural-born party crasher.  He’ll toddle up to just about anyone and introduce himself and immediately begin mooching toys and food.  I’m simultaneously proud and alarmed at this behavior.  And I cringe with recognition, because I think he gets this from me.

It’s really lovely to see how my son has no fear of rejection.  To him, the world is full of friends and the default is set to share.  It simply doesn’t occur to him to be inhibited or shy, even around people he doesn’t know.  When it comes to outings, we’re still in the don’t-take-your-eyes-off-of-him-not-even-for-a-second phase of his childhood, so I’m always supervising these exchanges with strangers, and so far nothing bad has ever happened.  But I know he needs to start appreciating “stranger danger” and it breaks my heart that I’ll have to break his heart in this way.

To all the people in the world who prey upon kids…you suck.  You give me nightmares and it makes me furious that I have to explain to my kid that people like you exist.  I know there aren’t very many of you out there, but there are just enough to make the world really scary. Just stop, already. 

So yeah, as a parent, one of my responsibilities is to teach my son to appreciate the gift of fear, to understand that there are real dangers in the world, and that some of these dangers come in the form of other people who mean to do him harm.  It’s my desperate hope that my kid, and every kid, can learn this lesson, grow safely into adulthood, and then forget it just enough when they’re  older and a bit more resourceful.

For defenseless little kids, “don’t talk to strangers” is perfectly sound advice.  Avoiding strangers is their best chance for avoiding contact with someone who might want to hurt them.  But what about us grown-ups?  We’ve got our cell phones and pepper spray, and those killer self-defense  moves we learned from watching “Kill Bill“.  We’ve got years of life experience and  have clocked a gazillion hours of people watching which informs our discrimination between axe murderers and non-axe murders.  This doesn’t inoculate adults against predatory behavior by other adults, but we’ve got more of a fighting chance. 

As a grown up, I’m all for talking to strangers.  I’m that lady who’s always chatting up the cashiers at grocery stores and striking up conversations with airplane seatmates.  As I go through the endless series of transactions that seem to form my life, I do feel a need to connect, to make an impression, to interact.  Sometimes it’s just small talk, but once in a while, there’s a spark of friendship, or even just a little moment of genuine communication.  I think it’s nice and I’d like to think it’s a mutual day-brightener, but I sadly estimate that I annoy a minimum of 37% of the people I talk to.  I can definitely take a hint, though, so if you crack open your Kindle or plug in your ear buds, I’ll shut up, I promise.

So as it pertains to my little party crasher, for now I suppose it’s one of those “do as I say not as I do” situations.  But when he’s older, I hope he’ll talk to strangers, too.  Memo received.

Advertisements

Style


I missed the memo about style.

I live in L.A., but in a rustic suburb where clothing choices tend to be more function and less form. In my neck of the woods,  I see a lot of boots–hiking boots, cowboy boots (worn by unironic people who actually ride horses), etc.  When I venture into the tonier corners of La La Land, I do see people who are fabulously dressed, but there’s usually something very deliberate and vaguely plastic about these folks.  As style icons, they leave me cold.

But when I go to San Francisco, I always notice that the people of the Bay Area have style.  Dressing with style seems like it’s simultaneously purposeful and effortless, bold yet casual.  If I were stylish enough to be wearing a hat, I’d tip it to these people who just go about their lives looking…interesting (and I mean that in a good way). 

During my most recent visit to San Francisco, I observed some pretty outstanding ensembles.  Most notably:

  • Unapologetically acid-washed skin-tight jeans, worn with over-the-knee, high-heeled boots.  By pairing this with a simple black top, the young woman in this outfit managed to not look like a hooker.  It was amazing.
  • A gauzy floral mini-dress, worn with both flip-flops and several cozy scarves. It was spring time on her torso, the dead of winter from the neck up, and the dog days of summer from the knees down.  Somehow, this outfit looked adorable.
  • Black dress pants, worn ironically short with gym socks, a gray T-shirt (pajamas? me thinks yes) and an impeccably tailored silver sport coat.  The jacket was what really pulled this outfit together–it was like this guy just rolled out of bed, but he just rolled out of bed with style.

From these and many other people I ogled on BART, I observed a few key principles of personal style:

  1. Matching is for amateurs.  Mixing patterns, colors, and textures adds a lot of visual interest.  You might end up looking like a hobo, but you’ll look like an interesting hobo.
  2. Accessories, accessories, accessories.  Hats, scarves, and necklaces, especially.  More is more.  Bonus points for unusual shoes. 
  3. Attitude is everything.   Remember how the woman in the tight jeans and the boots didn’t look like a hooker? That’s ’cause she wasn’t acting like a hooker.  She was young, and had a cute figure, so she was showing off a little, but she wasn’t for sale, that was obvious. 

People who have style aren’t afraid to be noticed, and I really admire that.  They put on something that teeters on the border between funky and freaky and just go out into the world. Perhaps red fishnets are less remarkable in San Francisco than they are in other parts of the world, but I still think it takes balls to wear them (and I’m pretty sure the person I saw wearing them had both the literal and figurative kind of balls…)

Being noticed can be kind of scary.  If people notice you, they might…notice you.  Taking notice of another human being can be pretty fraught…when I notice someone, I’m making a million superficial calculations about who they are, I’m sizing them up, and trying to figure them out.  Why would I want to invite this kind of  attention?  Aren’t I better off in my anonymous black trousers and tasteful twinset?  I’m not sure I’ve got this figured out yet, but maybe I’ll wear the funky shoes next time…and a scarf.  Memo received.

The Paralysis of Perfectionism


 I missed the memo about the paralysis of perfectionism.

Hello, my name is Jamie and I’m a Zumbaholic.   A few weeks ago, I attempted my first Zumba class and it was love at first shimmy.  In case you’re not familiar, Zumba is a group exercise phenomenon which combines elements of Latin dances, Swing, Hip-Hop, and just about every other kind of high energy dancing you can think of.  When I was a teenager, I seriously considered ditching my college plans to go be a Fly Girl, so this is my kind of exercise. 

Even though I have a blast doing all the crazy Zumba moves, I can’t do them all perfectly.  Today especially, I was having a lot of trouble getting my feet to do what I wanted them to do.   For a few seconds, I was getting pretty frustrated and there was a tiny part of my brain that just wanted to quit.  I mean, if I couldn’t get the steps right, then what was the point?

Well, perfect isn’t always the point, is it? Ever hear the expression “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”?  That’s something to ponder.  If I were doing rocket surgery, maybe there would be no room for even tiny mistakes. But in most aspects of my life, there are no meaningful returns on the investment it takes to get from pretty good to perfect.

Pretty good is usually good enough, especially when the fear of not being perfect would keep me from even trying. 

If you’ve never seen it, you absolutely have to see Kissing Jessica Stein.  Lots of memos in that movie.  One of my favorites was this scene between Jessica and her mom…

Tovah Feldshuh and Jennifer Westfeldt crying very believable tears…don’t worry, there are also lots of laughs.

Judy: Sweetheart, I will never forget when you were in the fifth grade and you were so excited when you got the lead in the play…  Do you remember that? “Really Rosie”?

Jessica: “Really Rosie”, yeah. I remember.

Judy: And you came home after the first day of rehearsal and you turned to me and you said, “Mommy, I’m not gonna do it. I quit.” Just like that.   I turned to you and I said, “Jessie. Jessie, my love, why?” And you said, “Because my co-star isn’t good enough. And if my co-star isn’t good enough, then the play won’t be good enough. And I don’t wanna be part of any play that isn’t good enough.” And I thought to myself… “Oy. This child will suffer. How this child will suffer.” And then they gave it to the “mieskeit” with the glasses.

Jessica: Tess Greenblatt.

Judy: Right.

Jessica: God, she was terrible.

Judy: Right. And you would have been great!  And you didn’t get to do it. You had to sit there and watch terrible Tess do it… with that guy you thought wasn’t good enough, who was actually quite excellent, wasn’t he?

Jessica: He was. He was very good.

Judy: And you know? I always think that you would have been so much happier doing that play, even if it was just okay. Even if it was great, just not the best ever. And maybe, just maybe, it would have been the best ever. You never know.

Wow, right?  If my perfectionism keeps me from even attempting something, and then I get stuck just doing nothing, that’s kind of weird and pathetic, isn’t it?  Perfect nothing is not better than imperfect something.  So let me go practice my cha cha cha.  Memo received.

Hedging Your Bets


I missed the memo about hedging your bets.

There’s a tiny but very vocal group of people who are going around saying that the world is going to end this Saturday.   Since the beginning of the world, people have been predicting the end, and since none of them have been right, I was pretty content to ignore this latest proclamation.  But then I heard this story, in which the true believers said that it’s somehow an affront to God to have any doubt about when Judgment Day will occur.   According to Harold Camping and his ilk, the end of the world is apparently all spelled out in a mathematical code in the Bible, thus questioning the validity or meaning of this calculation is tantamount to questioning the word of God.  This kind of thinking makes my head hurt really, really bad. 

Thinking that you somehow know the unknowable is one thing, but further pronouncing that doubts are not allowed is quite another.  As a high school kid, I got quite a few memos from reading Paradise Lost and one of the biggies is that God so loved human beings that he did not want to enslave them, but rather gave them free will.  Free to eat the apple.  Free to mess things up.  Free to have doubts and questions.  I think God gets really annoyed when people tell other people not to think. 

I am not what you would call a deeply religious person, but I do believe in God.  On my own trippy path toward my current state of spiritual (mis)understanding, I had to find a way to make room for questions.   In college I got the memo about Pascal’s Wager and I remember feeling a lot of comfort when I thought about it.  For the uninitiated, here’s a visual over-simplification: 

Some might find the idea of betting for or against the existence of God a flippant sort of attitude to take about the fate of one’s immortal soul.  But for me, the comfort came in the idea that I didn’t have to have it all figured out, I didn’t need to know for sure.   I wanted to believe, and Pascal’s reasoning helped to buttress my belief with a bit of rationality.  I dug that.  So I’ll go about my life trying to be the kind of person who’s in God’s good graces, at least most of the time.  And if that gets me into heaven, all the better.  If not, then maybe I did some good on Earth and that’s OK, too.  Either way, I like my odds.

There’s stuff we can know, and there’s stuff we can’t possibly know.  Being certain and having faith are not the same thing.  These Rapture folks seem awfully certain, and that’s what I just don’t get.   The idea that they’re quitting jobs, divesting themselves of all possessions, basically doing a total life flush….this just doesn’t compute.  I don’t know if one can ever truly be ready to be sublimated into the sky, so I don’t understand how trashing your career and giving away all your stuff could make you better prepared for such an extraordinary occurrence.  If you believe, fine, you believe.  But keep some money in the bank and if you run out of milk and bread today, what the heck, go ahead and buy some more.  Hedge your bets, folks, hedge your bets.   Memo received.

Pretending To Be Tina Turner


I missed the memo about pretending to be Tina Turner.

A few years ago, Oprah did this thing where she lived out the dream of singing on stage with Tina Turner.  Oprah wore Tina Turner wigs and it was wonderfully goofy. I suppose when you’re Oprah, you can get away with this kind of stuff, but for an uptight white woman like me, pretending to be Tina Turner is a fairly ridiculous proposition.

But today in Zumba class, the instructor busted out “Proud Mary” for the grand finale.  And even though I was already an exhausted, sweaty heap, I enthusiastically shook what my mama gave me.   I channelled Tina and pretended that I was wearing some crazy sexy costume and that I had Tina’s wicked legs.  And for those few minutes, in my own mind at least,  I was a supernova of kinetic energy. 

So here’s what I think I’ve figured out…it’s not so ridiculous to pretend to be Tina Turner.  One of the reasons that we’ve made Tina Turner into Tina Turner is so we can put her in a white hot spotlight and then enjoy the glow.  The world needs accountants and electricians, doctors and street sweepers, and maybe even a few lawyers.  But as we go about doing all of our jobs which collectively keep the world humming along, we put aside that tiny part of ourselves that wants to be explosively creative, to be insanely fabulous and super sexy, to sing, to dance, to be adored and admired by everybody.  So Tina Turner exists so we can experience all of that vicariously for just a few minutes now and again.

Shaking a tail feather in Zumba class isn’t going to lengthen my legs or improve my dismal singing voice.  Reality is reality, after all.  Joan Cusack said it best:

But I can still pretend.  Memo received.

Unrequited Love


I missed the memo about unrequited love.

OK, I’ll admit it… I watched the royal wedding. I didn’t do anything daffy like throwing a tea and crumpets party in the middle of the night, but later that day, I watched a couple hours’ worth of  footage.  And unless Kate and Wills are fantastically good at fake smiling, they seemed genuinely happy.  Time will tell if theirs really is a fairy tale marriage, but I’d like to think it really is true love for them.  I think it’s interesting that we call happy, mutual love “true love” but what’s the opposite of true love?  Is there such a thing as “false love”?  I think unrequited love comes close.

While I have been happily attached for a long time, before I met my prince, I kissed some frogs.  And sometimes I wanted to kiss the frog, but he didn’t want to kiss me.  Making out with amphibians is an extremely hard way  to learn about love,  but since I learned well, I think, I’ll presume to impart some insight.

There are two forms of unrequited love:

“Thanks, but no thanks”

and

“Nevermind”

“Thanks, but no thanks” unrequited love is that situation where you’re falling for someone, but there’s a lot of ambiguity. You agonize, wondering if you should make a move.  I personally think there’s something really delicious about the uncertainty and anticipation in this situation, but this is coming from an old married woman who has probably forgotten the acute torture of playing the “he loves me, he loves me not” game.  

I think I also missed a memo about being coy and playing hard to get, as when I found myself in one of these situations, I was pretty quick to just lay my cards on the table.  Perhaps it wasn’t particularly ladylike, but I felt brave and honest, and that felt good.  And when I got a “thanks, but no thanks” response, it actually wasn’t that bad.   I think the object of my affection was genuinely flattered that I was trying to put the moves on him, and I just had to trust and appreciate that he knew himself better than I knew him, and he knew that we weren’t a good match.  I didn’t get the guy, but I was still pretty pleased with myself because I had the huevos to just ask him; I totally respected that he had the huevos to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Believe me folks, you’d much rather get a “thanks, but no thanks” response than to find yourself in a “nevermind” situation.   A “nevermind” situation results from really unfortunate asymmetry in the depth of feeling between two people.  In my case, I once fell inexplicably hard for a guy, and though he was fond of me, he did not love me.  However, since I was reasonably cute and willing to afford him all the benefits of boyfriendhood without actually requiring him to be my boyfriend, he understandably hung around.  That is, until he fell inexplicably hard for someone else.  Everything that he had ever said or done that made me hope he might really love me too?  Oh, nevermind.

Sometimes when two people are together, one of them is in love, and the other’s just killin’ time. 


Avenue Q…so good…It’s like Sesame Street with sex and curse words.

So let’s sum up:  If someone makes you feel kinda funny, like when you used to climb the rope in gym class, just tell ’em.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Just don’t get too pissed or bummed out if  the response is “thanks, but no thanks.”  They’re doing you a favor and sparing you the heartache of a “nevermind”.  Memo received.

Pimento Cheese, Love & Whatever…


I missed the memo about pimento cheese, love, and whatever…

One of the few benefits of being born when your parents are both 19 years old is that your grandparents are proportionately young.  My grandparents were active and vital during my childhood and as I grew into an adult, it was fascinating to get to know them and appreciate them in lots of different ways. 

I was lucky to have my paternal grandmother, Mona Mills Walker, in my life for a long, long time.  She lived to see me become a mom and seeing her hold my son when he was just a few weeks old was a tender moment that I will never, ever forget. 

It’s been a couple of years now since my Grandma died and I think it’s taken me a while to really reflect on the legacy she left me.  One thing I’ll always remember is that she had some wonderful and traditional notions of hospitality.  When guests came to call, she was ready with her world-famous pimento cheese spread and a box of Triscuits.  Her cooking was amazing, but it was this simple snack that everyone always begged her for.  And when she sent you on your way, it was always with a sack full of snacks for the road, including an extra tub of that deliciously tangy, unnaturally orange cheese spread. 

Another manifestation of her hospitality was that she kept the guest bedroom in her house wonderfully appointed with just about anything a visitor could need.  There was a luggage rack in the corner and a hair dryer tucked in the drawer of the dressing table, just like a hotel.  And there were always baskets full of magazines and paperbacks for quiet moments and bedtime reading. 

It was during a particularly lazy visit to my Grandma’s house that I spent a great deal of time perusing all those paperbacks.  She had a copy of Leo Buscalgia‘s “Love” and I quickly read it cover to cover. 

Dr. Buscalgia died back in 1989, but in his day, he was a bit of a sensation with the PBS crowd as he delivered unapologetically positive messages about the power of love.  To our 21st century sensibilities, he might seem a little corny and over the top, but it was clear from his words that he absolutely believed that people have the power to heal a lot of what’s wrong in the world just by opening themselves up to love.  He might have been on to something.

Now, my Grandma was never particularly affectionate or effusive, and I never begrudged her that.   But when I realized she was a fan of Leo Buscalgia’s, I kinda felt like I was on to her.  She might have sometimes been a bit tough and cool on the exterior, but underneath, there was a tender heart.  And I know she loved me. 

And here’s one more thing…we sometimes teased my Grandma that her tombstone would be inscribed with one word:  “Whatever”.  My Grandma said “whatever” before saying “whatever” was cool. 

But here’s the thing…she didn’t say it in a rude, dismissive way.  When my Grandma said “whatever” it was usually after she had delivered a treatise on what she thought would be the most productive and appropriate plan of action for the situation at hand.  She was a master organizer and she was kinda pushy, but in a good way.   “Whatever” was shorthand for “I’ve said my piece, you know I’m right, but do what you want.”   I can’t begin to do this dynamic any justice, but there was something graceful about it….maybe it was the way she delivered the word in her wonderfully deep, raspy southern drawl.  It was just kind of adorable how she would order everybody around, but then take that little moment to soften the matriarchal tyranny with just one word.

It’s now my hope that I’ll someday embody some of the best of my Grandma.  So for a start, I better get crackin’ on a signature recipe and a catchphrase.  Memo received.