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Archive for February 2012

NPR Here I Come! And Homonym’s Suck

My Great Grandmother Mae Whatlastname and the swollen legs that I am lucky enough to have inherited. And my dad and uncle (on her lap). They don't have last names either.

Update: A few blog posts ago I wrote that I had pitched a story to NPR’s This American Life. As of last Wednesday I learned that my pitch had been chosen. The story I plan to tell effects my whole family (and as a side note, has made it imperative that I learn, once and for all, the difference between “effects” and “affects” which I tend to trade in and out at random). The story is about a genetic mutation that impacts all of us in different ways, but one of the ways it unifies us is in that it make getting insurance and life insurance a total drag.

So, yesterday I sent out an email to the family in order to get emails back from those e/affected so that the doctor who is studying us can speak to me legally. Everyone was okay except (oh crap, accept?) for one person. The one person not okay with the story, was also a little bit bitchy about not being okay. His father passed of the illness when he was very young. He, however, was lucky enough not to get the gene. He was, however, unlucky enough to get the name of the people largely a/effected. In other words, guilty by association.

His argument, although presented in such a way that made you want to slap him, was sound. All of us could run into major insurance problems should this name get out and be traced back to us. Since this is a blog about naming things (genius topic, if I do say so myself) it seems sort of remarkably appropriate that a name is at the root of the problem.

I already have a problem getting insurance so I’m a little bit indignant about the whole thing. But understanding that my problems don’t need to be everyones problems, I am going to keep the name of the family out of it. In fact, I may even move forward with the project using my married name– which is a whole `nother blog with a whole `nother series of a/effects/affectations/effectiveness/effervescence — again, about naming things.

At the end of the day, what’s truly important is that I sold a story to NPR’s This American Life. Hopefully in the process, I won’t break up the family. But if I do, did I mention that I’m gonna be on NPR?!?


Angry Birds On Prozac and How We Can Do Better

Hot dogs with a shout out to one of man's greatest accomplishments: Stadium Mustard.

The other day, as I lay in an MRI tube that looked eerily similar to a human duplicator from the 1964 classic, Jaws of the Alien, I had an hour and a half to myself to truly ponder how little we’ve advanced since we invented the wheel and the game, Twister.

First of all, have you ever heard an MRI machine? remember the scene in the movie Splash where Daryl Hannah breaks those television sets telling Tom Hanks her name in fish language? That’s what it sounds like.

I suppose I should start by explaining how I found myself inside one of those medical hot dog buns to begin with: Lately I am undergoing some tests. As I mentioned recently and will likely mention a whole lot more in future blogs, my family has a gene, whereby I mean we have a lurking little sonofabitch that is hidden by row after row of genetic coding. The only thing the doctors can agree on about it is that it seems pretty certain that no one beyond our extended family has it.

It isn’t simple, being one of only a handful of people (literally somewhere between 9 and 12) who have this gene. And part of the problem with undergoing tests for it is that no one really knows what they are looking for, so by the end of any given procedure I feel poked, prodded and mildly crappy, but rarely like anything has been accomplished. This is particularly lame when I go in feeling well rested and healthy only to come out with a whole series of useless aches and pains that make me want to go to sleep.

I know that MRI’s help people. I’m not knocking them. They save lives. I realize that the human animal for the most part, can now live well past the age of seventy and the MRI has something to do with that.

But seriously, pharmaceutical-machine-building-people? The fish language? People laying in those tubes are probably already contemplating their mortality in some way shape or form, if only because they are the hot dog in a hot dog bun metaphor. Must you also terrorize them by overlaying a shrieking mechanism over the quietly playing song that Pandora chose for them after they suggested REM, which is very likely Baby I’m-A Want You by Bread? Must you?!?

This brings me to my real point. They say that we have put people on the moon and brought them home again, and yet there is still no bra for girls of Eastern European descent that doesn’t itch, drop `em or leave track marks like the Mars Rover over the Northern Borealis Basin. Which leads me to observe that while we can put a radio controlled rover on Mars we can’t get food to people in Somalia, much less Appalachia. We can however get Diane Sawyer to Appalachia to interview starving children, but we can’t do anything about that guy from the band Poison, just generally.

It’s all very surprising really, to understand how far we haven’t come, how close we remain to our caveman ancestors. I wonder if there is some part of us that fears our own potential greatness. Where once Rosie the Robot was the docile buddy who would one day take over our household duties and C3PO was the brave communicator between all worlds, now robots look more like murderous super computers and Arnold Schwarzenegger on a Harley. In so shifting the image, it seems we have stopped everything.

Maybe, in a future world, we can do even better than Twister!

Okay, maybe it wasn’t The Arnold’s fault. But doesn’t it seem like we are so afraid of change that we are suddenly moving, not so much forward as “alongside” accomplishments that have already come? (Think movie sequels, the iPhones 1-20, all the non-Apple knock-offs, and Lady Gaga.) And this fear of change, I worry, might be causing us to backslide.

There is a lot of room for human greatness still to come. I don’t think that Angry Birds is the best that we can do, nor is Angry Birds II: The Girls on Prozac. We should avoid at all costs romanticizing “a simpler time” or a less simple biblical world where we lived to the average age of twenty-four and shit in holes – metaphorically and otherwise.

Our world is great, arguably the greatest it has ever been for human beings. You can say what you want but if our parents had been told in the 1960’s that they wouldn’t be nuked they would have saved a lot of time and energy building go carts instead of end-of-the-world bunkers.

So I suggest we appreciate what is and not get caught up in all the what ifs. Because what if it ends up being Rosie the Robot and not The Matrix, then how lame that we worried and even lamer still that we did nothing?

I’ll say it again: Our world is great. But I think there is a lot of room to make it even greater. We don’t have to start by teaching our MRI machines to play the Bread song louder than its internal fishy squeal, but I’m not gonna lie, I don’t think that’s a bad place to start.


Improve Your Social Standing By Dying!

Is it legal for me to use this picture?

I am not going to disparage the dead, except, seriously, American Media? For years now you have been telling us what a disaster Whitney Houston had turned into since the days of her seriously awesome work with frosty pink lipstick and hoop earrings. You’ve never missed a single opportunity to tell us, the American public that she is a diva, a drug addict, a bad mother and an even worse role model. You have laughed at her, taunted her and finally destroyed her career with rumors and criticism.

If she sang poorly, you made sure everyone heard it. You pointed out her raspy voice, her sweaty upper lip and her lack of breath support. You wrote about it, you laughed about it and then you repeated it.

Then she dies – face down in a bathtub no less, and let’s face it, you Media were the first to see it coming, had been prophesying it for years. You practically wrote the words, “Mark my words…Face down in a bathtub!” But rather than rolling your eyes and shaking your head with an I-told-you-so sigh, what did you do, Media? That’s right, you started crying like a Westerburg High Schooler after Heather Chandler’s suicide.

And once you were crying you couldn’t stop. Suddenly you were lining up to profess a lifelong love affair with this 80’s pop diva. You called her an icon. You lost all the sweaty, raspy footage and replaced it with bouncy hair shots and an inarguably well executed Star Spangled Banner.

I’m not here on behalf of the sweaty, raspy Whitney because I was totally fascinated by that train-wreck myself. I’m just experiencing a little whiplash from your swift 180, Media. I know I shouldn’t be. It hasn’t been that long since Michael Jackson went from child molester to ButHeWasMyBestFriend!!! And don’t get me started on poor Christina Agulera (I know she hasn’t gone on to the sweet hereafter, but landing on a TV show with Cee Lo Green can offer similar results).

And that’s the thing about death – and let me say I’ve had some experience with this: It makes you so much better than you actually were. It’s a really great thing about humanity, this Blue Flash Memory Eraser known as “death” that happens to everyone we knew in life once we’ve bought the proverbial farm.

My father died when I was twenty-two and in life he was as embarrassing as any other dad who owned Speedo’s in multiple colors and thought he was a really good dancer. Postmortem, my father became iconic in his perfection. And thus has become really hard to write about. Which is even harder, because lately I am trying to write about him.

The story of my father’s death is actually a really interesting one when a girl doesn’t get too caught up in how unbelievably shitty it was to live through. He died of a gene that began as a mutation in my great-grandmother. The resulting illness poses as great a threat to humanity as Cystic Fibrosis or Marfan Syndrome do. But because we know who has the gene, and we know what the gene is, there is a chance to stop it.

I know all of that sounds dramatic. But it’s true. And what’s more, when talking about death and dying, drama it seems, is the way to go. (Take young Bobbi Kristina’s recent emotional breakdown. Can we get a chorus of “Awws” please Media. There you go.) So I’ll keep trying to write about my dad with some degree of honesty, but that “honesty” has been hit hard with the Blue Flash Memory Eraser, almost as hard as the one that hit the American Media after Whitney Houston was found dead this past weekend.

Media, I get it: It was all Bobby Brown’s fault and Houston’s comeback was imminent. Just like in death no one wore a Speedo like my dad and let’s just say, no one before or since has ever bopped with a confident white man’s overbite as well as he.


Naming Your Age, Acting Your Shoe Size

My grey roots in the part between my pigtails.

This morning I put my hair in pigtails, which, if I can start with this, is an incredibly unflattering way to refer to hair. I remember as a child telling my mom I wanted “ponytails.” When she produced a hairstyle that resulted in one “tail” at the back of my head, I balked.

“I said, ponytailSSS!!” I tried again, hissing that last S for good measure.

“Oh!” she replied, “I always thought it was one ponytail and two pigtails.”

Turns out, she was right. Pigtails is the totally illogical plural of ponytail. Don’t say I didn’t ever teach you anything. However, because my hair was brown and not pink, I decided that throughout my childhood I would call them ponytails, because right? Ponytails are nice and long and swingy. Pigtails are…coiled.

Now that I’m old I figure I should just get over it and call them pigtails. Or…well…truth be told, now that I’m old I shouldn’t be calling them at all. Not only shouldn’t I call pigtails, I sure as hell shouldn’t wear them. But despite the happening of my thirty-achew!-birthday last Sunday, I think that I can actually go out and un-ironically (and without yoga pants) get away with my hair looking like this:

Me with pigtails

I have a friend my age who said something wise two summers ago, which would have made us both thirty-achew!-years-old minus two. She said, “You know, when I hang out with my friend’s fifteen year old daughter and I’m wearing my hoodie and my koala zippered backpack you’d think we were the same age.”

This quote was later modified and heatedly contested: Had she said from behind as she later claimed (several witnesses were pretty sure she’d said from the front)? Had she really mentioned the koala zippered backpack or was that a later revision?

But the sentiment was the same. My friend did not feel like a thirty-achew! woman, she felt fifteen. Even though her sentence had included the words, “My friend’s fifteen-year-old” and not “My mom’s friend’s fifteen-year-old,” there was just this thing about aging that was really hard to reconcile with not just what you wore, how you did your hair or what kind of stuffed animal backpack could best hold thirty+ years of emotional baggage, but how you felt about your age.

We all know people who defy age and I’m not just talking Madonna at the Superbowl. (But seriously, that was some sci-fi shit, right? I mean, it’s like a Saturday Night Live skit from the `80s about “Future Madonna” and how she would be preserved to within an inch of her 53-year-old life. Amazing.)

There are all kinds of reasons we are stunted or just think we look extra fancy in pigtails. Some of us for example don’t have kids and let’s be honest, the longer you are around people who are much younger than you the older you feel. I spent an entire weekend with a twenty-two-year-old over New Years. She was really cool, impressively mature and super fun. The super fun part was the problem. “Twenty-two super fun” vs. “my age super fun?” Not so similar.

Let’s just sum up by pointing out that after the clock struck twelve my husband and I high-fived that we were still awake. She was at a Phish show. That’s another thing that makes me old. I have a husband. Once you have one people think it’s weird when you disclaim it each time you refer to him by expressing, “I mean my new husband—you know, I didn’t marry in my twenties,” because that’s just sad. Not that you didn’t marry in your twenties, but that in your thirties you are still disclaiming your life choices for better or worse.

Pretty soon I’ll be in my forties and I can pretty much promise you that there will be pigtails in that decade as well. It won’t be because I think I look like a person who can wear pigtails but because I feel like one. Or maybe even a little bit because I don’t.