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Welcome to Atlanta

October 29, 2014

I took two trips by airplane this year. The first was to Cincinnati in February and the second to Atlanta last week.

I’m always looking out the window as I land, trying to feel the city below me. In February, I was captivated by the colorlessness of the Cincinnati landscape in winter – from the plane, there was only white and black below me, nothing else. Atlanta, by contrast, was a solid wall of green. I had expected autumn, but it was like going to a dense rainforest of trees and lianas.

The hotel held a surprise. I was going to a company conference at the Omni Atlanta – a fancy schmancy downtown hotel. Shiny floors, rich wood, giant floral arrangements. The usual for a place like this, right? But then I walked into my room on the ninth floor, opened the drapes, and saw this:


My room opened onto an atrium and my balcony overlooked CNN world headquarters.

I should have brought my binoculars, because try as I might, I could not catch a glimpse of Anderson Cooper. I went down to the Starbucks kiosk in the lobby and tried to see famous people, but I came to the conclusion that they have minions to fetch coffee for them. Conveniently, they have a dry cleaners down there in the lobby, which must come in handy for pressing Anderson’s black t-shirts when he’s out visiting a war-torn country.

There’s a giant CNN gift store, too, but if I were going to buy gifts for my news junkie friends, I think they would come from the NPR shop, not CNN. I’m snobby that way. Sorry, Wolf Blitzer.

That glowing spot is a giant – it must be 30 feet across – TV screen that blares CNN – what else?- 24 hours a day. It’s a little annoying – like having a motel room next to an annoying guy who never shuts the TV off. So much for the fancy-schmancy – I have had quieter stays at the Best Western by the interstate.

At least the room rates are pretty good – I just checked – $129 a night and up. It’s certainly centrally located, especially if you have an interview at CNN. I just hope for your sake that it is with Anderson Cooper and not Nancy Grace.

In Which I Become Part of the Problem

October 27, 2014

I’m no Howard Hughes, but I have a germophobic streak that makes me rant about people who go to church sick, go to the gym with the flu, or especially who go onto a packed airplane while they are coughing and sneezing.

Cut to me last Tuesday morning, with a suspiciously sore throat and non-refundable tickets on Delta to the most important business meeting of the year. I tried to dismiss the sore throat. With my allergies, I often feel like I am coming down with a cold for weeks at a time – sore throat, headachy, runny eyes.

“I’m not getting sick, I’m not getting sick, I’m not getting sick” I chanted as I sat in the 10 mph traffic on my way to the airport, between panic attacks at missing my flight. Still, I stopped and stocked up on Hall’s Mentho-Lyptus drops, generic cough syrup and purse-sized tissues just in case.

I made the flight (“Cutting it pretty close,” commented the helpful skycap) even though I had to valet park my car, an action that I am sure will cause me endless grief when I submit my expenses for this trip. By somewhere over Texas, I was certain that my throat wasn’t just allergies. I was officially someone I had spent much time railing against, and there was nothing I could do about it. That’s ironic, isn’t is, Miss Germaphobe?

The one day I get sick is also the one day I have to fly across the country. THE GODS ARE MESSING WITH ME, AREN’T THEY? You can tell me.

To my fellow travelers who ended up with my cold: mea culpa. My deepest apologies. I hate myself a little, if that helps.

Life seems to be deeply invested in humbling me and teaching me compassion. Maybe that’s the meaning of this all. I don’t know. All I can say is: thank God for those mentho-lyptus. Those things are like magic.

Why I Hate People, part 3012

October 12, 2014

Abbie Lynn had some quirks when I got her. A waving flag overhead would send her into a crouch-run that lasted for six blocks or more. Other things that freaked her out:

  • School buses
  • Nail guns
  • Compressor noises
  • Tennis racquets
  • White work trucks
  • Trash trucks
  • The vacuum
  • Teenage guys

We have slowly worked our way through most of these. She’s fine with school buses (she sits so cutely and politely as soon as she sees one, waiting for her treat) and the compressor behind the local qwik-mart. White work trucks still make her lunge in fury about 20 percent of the time. I wouldn’t trust her with a teenage boy – she seems to want to challenge them and will leap up aggressively toward their faces – not attempting to bite, but more to knock them over.

The vacuum, I believe, is forever an enemy. Her brain completely short-circuits when it is on, to the point that I put her outside so I can clean the floors. Even then, when I open the door and let her in, she will come in and attack the now-silent vacuum cleaner.

The one thing I did not anticipate having to socialize her about, though, is a bicycle with a toy squeaker as a horn. What? Yep, we encountered this yesterday – an old dude on a bike who had hooked a squeaker, like the kind found in dog toys, to his handlebars like a horn, and was repeatedly squeaking it at every dog he saw.

I don’t think he meant malice – I think he thought it was funny. Abbie, fortunately, just gave him a good hard look, being a not-particularly-squeaker-focused dog. I can imagine other dogs completely losing their composure, though.

I didn’t walk over and talk to him, but I was seething with fury, something I believe he saw in my face as I gave him the death glare. I could ask “What is wrong with people?” but I don’t know if anyone could properly explain that behavior.


October 3, 2014

So it has been hot. I know those of you from Houston or anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line or pretty much anywhere that isn’t here are yelling “SHUT UP” at me right now, but have some sympathy, will ya?

It’s not even so much the heat (it has been about 95 degrees, which isn’t bad unless you live in a tiny uninsulated box that traps heat and you work at home), it’s OCTOBER. Everyone else is talking about pumpkin spice lattes and casseroles and boots and making fallen-leaf crafts. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in front of the fan, drinking iced Pellegrino and mopping my menopausal brow.

I hear other menopausal women have hot flashes that last a minute or two. Not me – of course I’m special. Every day, starting about 5 pm, I have a 90 minute hot flash. This timeframe coincides with the evening dog walk, so I imagine my neighbors think of me as terribly out of shape, as they see me red-faced and sweating while ambling along with Abbie Lynn, who proceeds at a sub-1 mph pace, smelling every blade of grass and eating every wayward cat poop (I TRY to stop her!)

If I don’t walk the dog, I go to yoga, where the hot flash is great for making my brow rain sweat all over the inside of my glasses when we do forward folds. I see these Lululemon ladies, with their tiny little butts and their perfect messy ponytails and I feel like the GIANT SWEATY HORSE YOGA LADY. Beware or I will tip over on you. No, I’m not joking. I could break your ribs. Please step back.

That’s all the news I’m willing to type right now. I gotta go buy more Pellegrino. Did I mention that it is hot?

Here’s my favorite picture of Abbie lately. No, I have no idea what was going on in her head.

Abbie Lynn shocked



Things I Learned from Putting on a Speech Contest

September 22, 2014

This post is mostly for Kat, who is also a Toastmasters Area Governor, so I know she’s going through the same thing as I have been recently.

One of the chief duties of an area governor is to put on two speech contests a year for your clubs. I have six clubs in my area. Putting on a contest is a highly formalized, bureaucratic affair, with tons of paperwork. The process is complicated by having virtually no budget, and by being surrounded by longtime Toastmasters, who are both helpful and a little frightening. The frightening part is the formality and the absolute insistence on sticking to the rules and to the way it has been done before.

Normal people get a contest chair who organizes the contest. I got one, but my chair dropped out because I thought I was helping her and she thought I was too controlling. Maybe a bit of each. Anyway, I spent a month trying to find a new chair, all the while doing most of the work myself. By the time I got a new chair, everyone had gotten used to me doing everything, so I was de facto chair and my new guy was great, but in truth, I did 70% of everything by myself.

So, what did I learn?

1) Some people will just never respond to any communication, ever. Ever. I don’t know what they are doing in a communication club, but there you go.

2) No matter how much you communicate or how clear you try to be, 70% of people either aren’t paying attention or don’t care. There’s  a reason advertisers repeat everything 1 million times – so maybe people will listen once.

3) Some of the people you thought would be lame are great, and some of those who seem like Steady Eddies will totally flake on you. But that lady who organizes the food deserves Sainthood for her efforts, let me tell you.

4) That Square or Paypal thing you can attach to your phone to take credit cards is like magic.

5) “Let it go” is a perfect mantra for event planning.

6) It’s not at all about you, even though you might think it is. In the end, you’re just the wallpaper for this great thing that gets built in front of you.

7) Being organized may not be the secret of life, but it is close.

The contest went great. The competitors were magnificent. The speeches were funny, touching, poignant, smart, well-thought-out. I could not have been more proud if they were my children. We even made a couple bucks.

So, Kat, how did you do?



Elise is My Spirit Animal

August 21, 2014

Stop what you’re doing. If you know anyone who has ever dated, ever wants to date, or ever might date, they need to watch this episode, (episode 2) of Bachelor in Paradise, because this is like the Rosetta Stone of dumb girls in relationships. I am not joking. Men, women, boys and girls, sit down and grab the popcorn. Take notes. This is important. No one else will give you the real scoop the way this show does.

Plot synopsis:

Meet dear Elise, a 20-something young woman with an ever-changing array of skittles-colored bikinis and a bad case of vocal fry.

Elise and Dylan have been trapped in tropical paradise for a very short period of time (a couple days max) with a dozen other fabulously attractive people, Chris Harrison and about 100 sweaty, underpaid, overworked crew members. The mission, as always with these bachelor things, is to Find True Love.

Elise has Found True Love Right Away, the very best way to find it. She has decided a mostly baffled-looking guy by the name of Dylan is her Prince Charming. She just knows he will be the father of her young ‘uns, even though he has shown his manifest unsuitability by wearing a macrame man-necklace.

But wait, trouble is afoot. Even though Elise feels that she and Dylan have an “amazing connection.” During a deep conversation about her astrological sign (“I’m a Pisces, which is a fish, which is why I like water!”), Dylan drops this turd into her emotional punchbowl:

“I’m open to meet other people,” he says, his abs glistening under a layer of sunscreen. “If you were to go on a date with somebody else, I wouldn’t be upset. Just like the whole point of being here is to meet new people,” he says.

Elise’s brain short-circuits.

Is she wounded by what Dylan has said? Yes, for a whole 8 seconds or so. Then the dim settles back over her like a soft, furry blanket of love.

She shakes off his words Taylor Swift shakes everything off in her new video. She’s not hurt – she’s merely frustrated, because she knows better than to believe the words coming out of his mouth. She loves him. He obviously loves her, but he’s just afraid! So he wants her to go out with someone else so she can come back to him. He’s just testing her, because that makes perfect sense, right? No? Well, in Elise’s petite brain, it does!

So Elise goes on a date and tries to give Dylan what he wants by throwing herself at someone other than Dylan, the man of her dreams. She drags a dimwitted guy out into the surf and does the oceanic version of dry humping (wet humping?) in full view of all the other tropical bachelorites.

The next day, in the glaring light of morning, Elise says “I’m 100% in with Dylan.” Which, is, of course why she had her legs wrapped around another guy’s neck in a 2 to 4 foot westerly swell the night before. Mmm hmm.

She tells him. “But I was thinking about you the whole time.” Oh, Elise, honey, that trick never works.

Dylan is a little miffy – his kinda-girl did just do things in the ocean that would make her and the other guy legally married in 35 countries – but he’s mostly relieved.

Our girl Elise isn’t seeing it though. Raised on romantic comedies and positive thinking, she knows this is just a bump in their relationship. A roadblock. An obstacle to overcome, just like all the best rom-coms have. The obstacle is not an obstacle. It is PROOF they are moving toward their bright future, which will happen in Act 3, just like Sleepless in Seattle.

At every new roadblock Elise doubles down. He takes her best friend out on a date (aside – if your best friend goes out with the man of your dreams, she’s not your bestie), and Elise just doubles down again. The girl is so doubled that she’s like a relationship club sandwich.

Dylan tries to spell it out for her.

“You’re an awesome person. I love hanging out with you. But that’s really about all it is…it’s a friendship,” he says, after urging her to date other people.

What does she say? What? “He’s sending mixed signals,” she whines. MIXED FREAKING SIGNALS? No, sister girl. He is not sending mixed signals. He is sending pure and simple signals which equal YOU ARE NOT HIS GIRLFRIEND AND YOU NEVER WILL BE. NEXT!

Elise is the dim girl who will never get the message. She’s every BFF you have spent hours with on the phone, dissecting and parsing every word a guy says, every glance he gives her or another woman, every ignored text message he doesn’t answer. He can come right out and say “I don’t want to date you,” and she’ll STILL say “But he didn’t say ‘I never want to date you!'”

We have all met Elise. We have probably been Elise – I know I have. Even you guys, because sometimes guys are Elise, too. Elise is the composite of every stupid thing anyone has ever said about a relationship-that-is-not-a-relationship, trimmed down to fit into a 90-minute show. This is pro-level dating folly.

Forget sex ed movies. Every teen should have to watch this, and then wear a rubber wristband stamped with the words DON’T BE ELISE stamped on it. Because no one should be Elise.

This show is a Holy Public Service, and Chris Harrison is its saint. It could save people YEARS of stupidity. Watch and learn, people. Watch and learn.

PS Someone said that they were feeling sorry for Elise. Don’t worry, friends – by the end of episode 3, which is about 3 days after this, Elise has moved on and found her happy ending – she leaves the show with another guy to go back to his home city with him. Ah, true romance!

Knowing Our Worth

August 19, 2014

When I took self-defense classes, there were more important things I learned than the value of a good elbow strike (though delivering a nice solid elbow to the head is very satisfying). The very first lesson we learned was NO. We did role playing with a variety of people asking us for things, more and more insistently, and we had to answer no. Over and over until we got it.

It was surprising how hard it was to hold our ground. We were all women, most of us young, but even the older women had absorbed messages that made it difficult for us to refuse requests, no matter how coercive.

The messages we had gotten from society were the same as women get everywhere. Be nice. Don’t make waves. Go along with the program. People won’t like you if you aren’t nice to them.

Learning NO – first spoken, then yelled – was the first step on the road to valuing ourselves. As part of the class, we examined how we had denied our true worth, how we had given pieces of ourselves away, how we had said yes when we meant to say no in all kinds of situations.

To learn to defend ourselves, we had to learn our own value. To have the energy to dig as deep as we needed to fight hard, to not give up in the face of overwhelming odds, we had to feel it. We had to know, absolutely know, that we were worth defending. Only then could we trust that we would use our new-found physical skills with all the power we would need to fight assailants who were bigger and stronger than we were. We needed to know it so we could react appropriately at the first sign of danger, rather than waiting.

After that class, I started treating myself a lot better in many ways. It may seem ironic, but I didn’t take as many risks.You’d think having great fighting skills would make you bolder, but it actually made me more cautious. I quit getting tipsy in public, even in my safe little town. I kept a much better look out for danger. I had felt my worth down to my core and I began acting from that belief.


The other night I was at the gas station when three young black men came into the mini-mart. After I paid and was pumping my gas, I watched them, dark-skinned and wearing black short and t-shirts, dart out across a busy street that was three lanes across on each side. Traffic there travels 40 to 50 miles per hour. It was a dark night. It was bold, foolish, careless and quite possibly deadly. They made it across.

I had left my twitter feed earlier that night and it was full of Ferguson, and I knew I would return to an even worse situation than when I left the house.

Sometimes as we watch the events in Missouri, I feel like all of white America has the look that Mike Myers did when Kanye said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” on the Hurricane Katrina fundraising special.

We look sideways out of our eyes and think “What the hell is going on?” It takes something like this to make us ask that question. I don’t think black people even have to ask. They know what is going on. Nobody has to tell them.

I remember being with my sister Laura when I was a teenager. There were some cops frisking a couple young black guys against a fence.

“I wonder what that’s all about,” I said.
“In Santa Barbara, they used to call that ‘the n***er on a sunny day’ arrest,” she said.
“What does that mean?” I asked, even though I had a feeling I knew.
“You know. Any excuse to harass people so they know they’re not welcome here. Get out of town. Don’t let the sun go down on you here.”

At the time, it just seemed like an offhand remark, but then again, I had never had to get out of a town by sunset, so I had never had to think what that felt like.

I was never followed, stopped, harassed, hunted. I was never locked up on suspicion and then let go, never roughed up, never made to feel like I didn’t belong.

I got some bad messages about my worth as a woman, but there was never anything like that.

That conversation happened 40 years ago.

Now it’s 2014 and young black men are getting killed by police while sitting on the floor in public transit stations. Choked to death for selling cigarettes. And now shot to death and left in open in the sun for four hours in Ferguson.

My Facebook feed fills up with people trying to make sense of Michael Brown’s death by blaming Michael Brown. He was a criminal, they say, a thug, one of them, you know. Violent. Animals. Gangsters.

I don’t know who Michael Brown was, though people said he was supposed to start college that next day.

I see the young black men at the gas station wearing black clothing, out running foolishly in the dark, acting crazy like young men do, and I know they don’t know their true worth. Why would they, with what they see, with how they are treated? How could they know? Not here. Not now. Not yet.


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