How to Be a Woman in Twelve Easy Steps!

Women, amirite? This past year has been a banner year for feminism. From encroachments upon women’s health (abortion rights, birth control access, etc.) to privacy issues (nude photo hacking, street harassment, etc.), the Internet has spilled much proverbial ink about these topics, and I’ve obviously shown myself to be something of a lazy blogger. However, lately I’ve felt outraged every single day about something having to do with being a woman. Men, I’m not discounting your experiences or pressures (and I can gladly say that I’m not acquainted with any men who behave like sexist animals), but being a woman is exhausting. There are issues that affect us every single day that do not apply to you. Fortunately for everyone, I’ve come up with a handy, foolproof list on how to be a woman.

1. Be skinny.
2. Don’t be too skinny. So basically don’t be tall or flat-chested or anything like that. And muscles? So bad.
3. Don’t diet, and even if you’re not on a diet, don’t eat salad.
4. Be alluring and sexually available. Show off your body and bask in the attention you receive!
5. Don’t have sex. Ever. Except with that one guy. Otherwise you’re a slut.
6. Don’t take nude photos. Only self-absorbed whores take explicit photos of themselves.
7. But hey, show him your tits. Just one. For the road. Because he misses you.
8. Be flawless and ageless. There is no reason why you can’t look as good at sixty as you did at twenty.
9. Don’t wear too much makeup. At worst you look like a clown, and at best you’re just being deceptive.
10. Don’t use fillers or have plastic surgery. Why would you give in to societal pressure like that?
11. Never complain about your experience as a woman, because if something bad happens, you probably asked for it.
12. Smile! But if you forget this one, don’t worry, at some point a man will remind you that you’re much prettier when you smile.

In reality, there’s only one step to being a woman: identify as one. That’s it. Now if only we can remind ourselves daily to shrug off all the pressure, we can worry less about ourselves and hope that others mind their own business as well.

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Common Sense (Or “How to Be a Music Fan on Social Media”).

As a professionally amateur music blogger, I would say that most of the people I follow on Twitter have something to do with music, be that as a performer, a label, or a fan. Most of the time, this allows for a lot of interesting discussion, debate, excitement, and enticement. The Internet is very liberating when it comes to expressing yourself and following your interests. But oh. Oh, the pitfalls.

I was inspired to write this today when someone I follow (a manager, not a celebrity) asked for movie recommendations out of three possible choices. He settled upon viewing one. Someone didn’t like that, so rather than, I don’t know, taking a breath or doing something else productive, replied to him, “whatever kill yourself you retarded lard.” I’m not naming names or including links because I don’t want to give her more attention. When people started to respond to that aggression, she took two paths: being proud that she’d been noticed and being indignant that her “joke” was misunderstood. Maybe since I’m on the downward slope to 28, I no longer understand “the kids” and how they communicate with aggression even regarding people they’ve never met and whom they supposedly admire. Maybe the more popular celebrities are, the more likely these really weird messages. Have no fear, I have suggestions that will help you look like a saner fan in five easy steps.

1. Don’t use hate language. Why does this even have to be said? It’s the online equivalent of throwing rocks at your dad’s motorcycle or chopping off all your sister’s hair while she sleeps to get attention. Being noticed is a reward in itself, right? Um, no. Bullying is ugly and disgusting, and when you make “jokes” like telling, say, Groot to kill himself, Groot isn’t going to like that very much. Chances are Groot won’t reply to you over it (since his vocabulary is limited to “I am Groot” and all), but you might catch the eye of someone on a smaller scale or incite other fans to get upset. It’s just stupid. If a teacher assigned you homework you didn’t like, would you tell him or her to go die? No, because there are consequences. You don’t think about consequences online, but you should. Spoiler alert: You’re not going to be One Direction’s new best friend by being a dick to them online. Also, white people? STOP USING ANY VARIANT OF THE “N” WORD. You know what I’m talking about. I see teenagers banter with it on social media all the time. It’s not cute or ironic or reclaiming a word. Just shut the fuck up.

2. Don’t “COME TO (INSERT COUNTRY HERE).” You know what’s incredible about tours? The fact that they are scheduled months in advance because venues, equipment, crew, and more must be arranged in order for everything to work. When you shriek about being denied tour dates, what you’re saying is basically, “I have no interest in what you’re doing right now. Mememememe. You don’t matter to me unless you’re in front of me so I can try to steal the shirt off your back.” Try to imagine having a conversation with someone like yourself. (All examples are chosen at random, and I have nothing against people in said regions.)

Friend: Have you seen Guardians of the Galaxy yet?
You: COME OT ARGENTINA!
Friend: What does that have to do with anything?
You: WE LUV YUO IN MILAAAAAN!
Friend: That’s not even spelled right.
You: IF YOU DON’T PLAY IN LONDON AND MAKE IT ALL AGES ILL KILL YOUR GF’S DOG.

And so on. Going directly to the source isn’t going to get you jack shit unless they specifically ask you where they should do something like busk or if they decide to have a social media Q&A session. I understand your pain, I do. I grew up in West Virginia. Do you know who toured in my town when I was a kid? 98 Degrees. That is it. Did I see any concerts as a teen? Not until college. Now I sometimes get to go to shows for free! You can live the dream one day. Be patient and stop using your location as a greeting.

3. Don’t spam. I don’t know how this started to get popular. Is it because of trending topics? Maybe I should blame hashtags. Mostly, I blame people. If you set up a separate Twitter account simply to bombard someone else, you are a Grade A asshole. There’s really not wiggle room here. Celebrities do not have the time to read every single tweet/message/smoke signal. They might not ever answer, or they might just answer a select few. Resist the urge to just send out a constant stream of the same fucking thing in order to be seen. Your idol will not think Wow, I simply admire this person’s tenacity and adoration! They will think something more along the lines of Haven’t I seen this before? This is annoying or I’m getting way too many messages. Fuck this. I’m going to go be famous now with other famous people. You screw over others and yourself, and you’re the one left looking stupid.

4. Don’t ask them to follow you. This is such a weird, modern bragging right of sorts. As far as I can understand, the more famous a person is, the more elite it is to be followed by them. Beeeecause why? They might see your embarrassing, hysterical tweets of ‘hOGM TAY LOR IS TWET ING IRHT NOW!” (You should really not act like that either, for what it’s worth, but I know that I don’t have enough brain bleach to go around.) Despite infinitesimal chances of mere plebs being followed by the stars, people still ask for this. People who are followed offer to spam the inboxes of the mighty with lists of more people they ought to follow. (Does that ever even work?) Twitter or Facebook will never make them leapfrog into your actual, personal social circle. It translates to nothing of substance outside the screen. Let it happen if you are a magnet of awesome, but don’t ask for it. You are not distinguishing yourself as worthy if you have to beg.

5. Don’t be fucking creepy. I thought I’d end on a note as obvious as my first. Sometimes people have good intentions. Misguided ones, good ultimately good. They find inspiration in a person’s writing. It changed/saved/brought meaning to their life. In return, they just want to share a bit of this changed/saved/meaningful life with the person who made all this possible. And so every tweet tags a musician and is directed to them like a protracted poem of longing. Here I am in Florida, and I am without you, Fabio. Look at this bacon, Lou Bega, for it reminds me of your smile (yes it does!). Tapping into who I really am. Corsets rox. Thx 4 the confidence B*witched! On the one hand, it’s a little oblivious and sad, but on the other, we really should know better. Responding to posts in a topical manner is great and encouraged! Interact to your heart’s delight. The occasional quip thrown their way or even a heartfelt message can be fantastic. Just don’t make your online life all about one person/group and one person/group only. It’s like standing outside someone’s window and drawing pictures in the condensation left behind by your breath. Friends, no one likes a mouth breather. Just think, okay?

Now, friends, you are a bit more socially aware! Go forth and tweet smarter, or stay brilliant if you already are. Just don’t direct any hate at me, particularly if you aren’t able to embrace your backspace or shift keys.

Embrace Quitting. Alternative Title: Fuck It.

Summer in New York City has been mercifully mild as far as the heat goes, but a dense humidity has kept most of us scrambling from air-conditioned building to air-conditioned building, forever packing a cardigan just in case. My apartment can feel like you’ve been wrapped in plastic and left to sweat no matter how closely you sit in front of a fan. The pressure of hazy days gives me a headache that makes me prone to distraction, and no matter how I want to start writing, I can’t seem to get my brain in order for the job. It’s been a laborious summer of tiny setbacks and frustrations, but I’m powering my way through a gloomy day headache here and now. 

I can be a stubborn individual as well as someone wedded to routine because there’s comfort in familiarity. I’ve been struggling with writer’s block on a project because I’m not sure if I should stay close to the characters or make a Grand Political Statement with a dystopian setting. I’m a huge lover of dystopian literature, and now seems like a great time to take a stand with the way women’s reproductive rights have been routinely attacked in America as of late. But I’ve also never written anything while deliberately thinking, “Here, THIS is my theme!” As an English major, I always felt like a bit of a fraud when writing essays picking out those strands because I could hardly envision the greats wanting to say something deliberate more than simply tell a story. Now I have the urge, and I now I have to approach the writing with more care than my usual, haphazard “write it and never look again in shame” style. If I go that path. I’ll get past this fork in the road, but it’s okay to fail at it for a while.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately: the act of quitting, the ending of things. A friend of mine recently gave me a book called Fuck It. It’s “spiritual” in the sense that it borrows much from Eastern religious practices, but the main idea is to say “fuck it” to the stresses and unimportant hangups of our lives. Some things aren’t quite as simple as the book makes it out to be, and you can tell that the author isn’t America since nowhere does he address the lethal consequences of abandoning your student loan debt and pretending it will just go away. Still, even if I think some of his ideas are a bit too pie in the sky (most of us can’t just quit a job or move to another country just because we feel like it, because money), it’s a smart practice to apply every day. The MTA has messed up yet again? Fuck it. People in New York are rude? Fuck it. Work was stressful? Fuck it. I can’t remember the last time I went to the gym and feel guilty? Fuck it. I’m a sadder, more anxious person than I let on, but it does help to at least try to remember the power of perspective.

Right around when I was finishing that book, I received news that a dear friend of mine is facing a health scare of sorts. I won’t go into detail to respect her privacy, but we talk on a nearly daily basis, so I care very much. It’s awe-inspiring to see someone take this news and, yes, struggle, but also come to the best choice for her body and her quality of life while planning other things in her life, things meant to bring joy. She keeps coming up with these ridiculous things to do soon and while on the mend: paddle board yoga, a party, a tattoo, an ’80s movie marathon. Nothing really brings life into perspective like those big issues. When life itself is on the line, it really doesn’t matter if you wear the same pair of pants two days in a row.

This week, a friend lost her grandfather, and then I arrived home to the news that Robin Williams had taken his own life. There is no shortage of grim, depressing, overwhelming news every day, but Robin Williams really hit home for me. Aladdin was the first movie I ever saw in theaters, and so many of his films were important to me as a kid: FernGully, Hook, Jumanji, Jack, Flubber, Popeye. He struggled with demons, as the saying goes, for so many years, and even bringing such joy to so many people through his warmth and humor wasn’t enough to balance out the effects of his illness.

Before I heard the news, I was struggling with the idea of dropping a book I was reading. I was over three hundred pages in, but I just wasn’t enjoying myself. I am a fan of the snarky read and the hate read, but this was neither. I appreciated nothing but knew that some friends enjoyed the book. Every page made me avoid reading rather than face it. I went to The Strand after work to pick up some new novels I promised myself I could have once I was through with my chore. Then there was that stark reminder that life is a short, unpredictable journey. Why make it harder? I gave up. It happens. I’m reading a new book now (The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit by Graham Joyce, who is a wonder if you’ve never encountered him), and my day started out with so much more energy and joy because of it.

I guess what I’m getting to, sorely neglected blog, is that we have no guarantees in life. Sometimes we just have to indulge ourselves, even if that means walking away from stories until we’re sure we can get them right. We’re really the only ones in charge. Take your time, if it means you aren’t going to waste it.

The one rule of Kurt Vonnegut.

“There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

In some ways, Kurt Vonnegut was a lovely, grumpy old man, but he was also as insightful in a way that most of us will never even hope to accomplish. Vonnegut was (and is, let’s be honest) one of my favorite authors, but this quote has always lingered in my mind. I love the juxtaposition of “God damn it” with “you’ve got to be kind.” His frustration and urgency cannot be neglected. We live in a frustrating, frantic world, and greed is the name of the game in the Western world. It’s all too easy to get caught up in our own feelings and curse those who stand in our way, particularly when they are powerless or faceless, someone you’ll never encounter again. It ems easier to vent those frustrations (and hopes) at infants who can’t understand rather than confront the adults who simply refuse to follow some damn good advice.

Part of my job involves answering phones. Most of the time people are polite, if a little confused. Occasionally, they’ll get condescending when they hear a woman answer the phone, because all we’re paid to do is file our nails and stand between the public and what they want, am I right, ladies? I happen to bite my nails, in no short part due to the stress caused by people like this, so I don’t even need a nail file, thank you very much. But there is one injustice so egregious, so deplorably uncalled for that I couldn’t resist ranting. That, my friends, is the indignant telemarketer.

I would estimate that my place of employment receives at least five sales calls a day. Of those, almost all involve someone saying, “Can I speak to the person who handles your phones?” No, no you cannot. Firstly, we are under contract for our phone services for years. Secondly, if your phone number comes up as “PRIVATE” on my caller ID, chances are that you are not contacting me from a reputable company. Third, unless you’re brand new, you generally don’t have to call people to solicit business. People don’t like that. They’re generally busy at work, or they’re worried that you could be pulling a scam. (At least three times a day, we get automated “THIS IS NOT A SALES CALL” messages that are, yes, fraudulent sales calls about cruises or Google listings.) I usually say sorry, we are not interested/are under contract, and I hang up. There is no need to prolong the conversation.

Only three have I had someone call me back. The first time, a telemarketer called me back just to hang up on me. Touche, brother, touche. The second time, a man was screaming that I didn’t know what I was fucking talking about because I’m not the fucking boss and he’ll fucking report me to the fucking Better Business Bureau, profanity profanity profanity, so I transferred him to my boss, who promptly put him in his place. And then there was today.

INT. OFFICE BUILDING

Casey settles in to sort out some issues after arriving to work twenty minutes late due to train delays. She is frazzled but preparing to make a cup of tea. The phone rings. Casey greets the caller with the firm’s name.

CALLER
Hi, how are you?

CASEY
I’m doing well. How can I help you?

CALLER
Could I speak to the person who handles your phones?

CASEY
I’m sorry, we’re not interested.

Casey hangs up the phone. A moment later, the phone rings again. She notes that the caller ID says “PRIVATE” and braces herself as she says the firm’s name.

CALLER
Can I speak to the person who handles your phones?

CASEY
I’m sorry, we’re not interested. We’re under a contract.

CALLER
You’re going to save money!

CASEY
Sorry.

Casey hangs up the phone again. When it rings, she dutifully repeats the firm’s name in her mind that it is the same person on the other end.

CALLER
You. Little. Bitch!

CASEY
Excuse me?

The caller does not respond. Casey hangs up. End scene.

The rational part of me says not to be offended. That woman probably has people hang up on her all day long, and some of them probably say particularly caustic things to her, just because of her job. On the other hand, what happened to self control? What happened to kindness? It’s easy to spew profanities at someone over the internet or on the phone. There’s no accountability when your only tag is “PRIVATE.” The fact is, we could all consider others more. We could all do better. God damn it, you’ve got to be kind!

I’m an emotional person, and I cannot always make myself feel less just because I know it’s silly to respond to senseless cruelty. I can’t undo the weight in my chest or that dread of what might be looming around the corner today. But I can be kind. I can make sure that the asshole behavior directed at me does not make being an asshole contagious. I will be a better person, not better than that woman on the phone, but better than who I was this morning. I challenge everyone to do the same.

Unless you weren’t a little bitch before, in which case carry on.

Pauline.

She didn’t know she had grown up poor. How could she? In her neighborhood, everyone was the same. Sometimes the land was generous and allowed you to make a little extra money, which was meant to be hidden in the house, not trusted to the banks that had harmed so many so recently. She worked her husband’s farm, and when land and animal were generous, they were able to sell what little excess they had to buy what they could not grow. She had not been married long before she came across the plight of two young boys. They were in grade school. One was her cousin. Neither child’s family had the means to care for yet another child, so she and her husband decided to take the boys in for a short while. They stayed for more than a half a year.

I won’t pretend to know her full story or even more than a small fraction of it. She’s just a few years away from making it to a century on this earth, and though her body is slowing, subject to a thousand tiny mutinies, she still lives in her own house, though years have passed since she has become a widow. To me, she is the woman who hosted nearly every holiday, including the Thanksgiving I passed out behind a sofa and no one could find me. She is the woman who once irritated my grandfather when he discovered that she was still hiding money around her house, stashed in books and other clever spaces. She is the woman who refuses to let a conversation pass without offering to feed you, even though you’ve just arrived from lunch and no, please, chicken isn’t vegetarian, yes, it is meat. Today is my great-grandmother Pauline’s birthday, and she is 96.

I find it significant that today is International Women’s Day because we so often get caught up in the big stories, the headlines, the impersonal. Sometimes we forget that women can do extraordinary things by just surviving in this world. Heroism can be waving a flag, working toward a cure, refusing to be denied services for your gender, but it can also be taking care of two little boys because they don’t have a home. I interviewed my great-grandmother when I worked for The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register. It was the beginning of our economic downturn, so the idea was for me to speak with people who lived through The Great Depression to get their views on what was happening. She was reticent to talk, not because her life was immune to the impacts of the Depression but because you made the sacrifices necessary for survival. People helped one another. “Everyone was the same,” she said. A simple sentence, but it stuck with me.

So on this day when we honor the struggle of women around the world, think about the women in your own life and the sacrifices they will never boast. And give someone a hug, because you have no idea how long they’ll be in your life.

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Writer’s block.

It’s easy to retreat into a crab shell existence. Work is eight hours a day of sitting in front of a computer, answering a phone, enduring the berating of the entitled and the sob stories of the hopeless. Halfway through the day, I have my “lunch” break, when I invariably restore myself with a cup of coffee and some reading if I have no pressing errands to run. My commute is roughly forty minutes each way on a good day, but when anything from a one to ten minute gap between trains during rush hour is considered “good service,” there are rarely good days. I’m away from home roughly eleven hours a day if I go straight back to my apartment, and combined with the onslaught of polar vortexes, Netflix looks pretty damn tempting to fill the three or so hours before I try to sleep.

Lately I’ve noticed that I’ve suffered a fit of writer’s block. I’ve put off writing reviews until they pile up (perhaps the fault of Netflix and binge mentality, or my desperate attempts to finally get through tv shows like “Breaking Bad”). I’ve left stories in the brainstorming phase and told myself that I just had to wait for the right inspiration, the right mood music, the right shower that would bestow upon me all of the ideas lacking.

Mostly, though, I’ve found myself abandoning writing here, because I have had that obnoxious voice in my head insisting You have nothing interesting to say. The logical part of me knows this is silly on multiple levels, because the people likely to read this are friends who would read just about anything (thank you for being supportive), and if people abandon reading something, it’s not like I will know. But the longer you go without sharing a word, the harder it gets. The more you want to be perfect.

Winter’s probably the most stressful time for that sensation. We’re cooped up in our homes, sick of the cold and snow and ice and bullshit, but it’s still early enough in the year to feel the pressure of new year, new you, new regrets! Some stores already have bikinis out. The 14 Street-Union Square subway station is plastered in advertisements for Macy’s right now, with each inelegant, hideous, monochrome outfit draped over the slender, bored models with care. The only common theme seems to be that the poor girls are swamped in cloth, which doesn’t seem to matter since the crop tops show off their perfectly toned abs. (I accidentally wrote “ads” at first. Freudian slip.)

The other day I thought it would be an interesting experiment to write down every ad I saw out in the world. New York probably bombards more eyes than most, Internet aside. What did I discover? Well, that I forgot to look. I am so used to seeing naked people running on the beach (Equinox), women posing in lingerie (Chicago), and insistence upon change in order to love oneself (YMCA) that I no longer take it in consciously, intelligently. I absorb these messages, and many of them intrinsically make me feel like shit about myself. I spent more time looking at ads in a day than I do at my own face or words, and that is an alarming setup for self-sabotage, a need to retreat into the fiction that’s already been provided for me.

So this is my attempt to find the words again. To spend more time with my voice and build it up, to push back against the negativity of winter. I joined a gym for $10 a month, and even though I only go a couple of times a week, I am sure I will have stories to share, like how all the women who change directly in the locker room seem to wear thongs and nothing else for underwear. My friend Allison and I are trying to co-write a crime novel of sorts, and I will spend more time actually working on that rather than obsessing over who/what The Yellow King is in “True Detective” (aka the best show on television right now, making me a firm believer in the McConaissance). I entered a writing contest and had to write a romantic comedy about a limousine driver and “anger,” so I may share that when I inevitably fail to make it to the next round (not because I think I suck since I’m so rusty, but because I’m kind of a dude and have no idea how to rom com).

But most importantly, I’ll cut myself some slack. After all, the Oscars are Sunday, and that requires wine-infused hate-watching.

Top Ten of 2013: Tired Pony.

1. Tired Pony – The Ghost of the Mountain

This is a surprise to absolutely nobody who knows me, I’m sure. I have a lot of friends who are fellow Snow Patrol fans, and their feelings on Tired Pony’s album vary. For me though, it hits all the right notes to be my album of the year.

As far as the music itself goes, I like that it’s a bit more experimental than The Place We Ran From. A track like “I’m Begging You Not To Go” can be delicate and acoustic, while “The Creak in the Floorboards” can have that ’80s-infused synth sound. Everything is rooted in melody, and all of the players on the album are talented enough that they can build an album full of ideas that are complementary enough to hold together.

On top of sounding good, the lyrics bring me back again and again. I suppose I am a writer, in the sense that I write things (like this blog), and I’m also an avid reader. I love the central conceit of these songs being about a couple whose past is steeped in blood and controversy. The title track reminds me of part of the Stephen King novella “1922,” in which a man becomes cursed after murdering his wife. His young son, who was his accomplice in the crime, impregnates his girlfriend and runs away with her, leading the pair to an ill-fated life of crime.

Of course, the plot isn’t laid out clearly, but I think that is to the music’s benefit. The story is as much in what is said as what’s between the lines, as questions are raised about love, madness, and longing. Being unapologetic fiction, the tale could go anywhere, and I look forward to any future chapters.