People Still Have Babies

It's early Saturday morning on April 15, 2017, a date that will soon serve as the birthday of my first little niece or nephew (we're not sure which one just yet).  It's 1:25 A.M. California time and 3:25 A.M. Wisconsin time and the last I heard, my sister-in-law was 7cm dilated and 90% effaced.  I do not know what that second thing means, but I do know what that first thing means, and it means this: there is a real baby making its way out into this world as we speak. 

And what world is it that that little girl or boy or gender non-conforming human person is pushing towards?  Is it a good one?  Is it a bad one?  Is it one that's completely different from the one I forced my way into?  Or the one my mom or my grandma or any other person on this planet somehow managed to populate?  Is it really a new world full of anger and fear and hatred that I've been hearing so much about?  I don't ask these questions to make some type of grand point; I'm not trying to do a Won't Somebody Please Think of the Children thing here, I'm genuinely asking: is the world different than it used to be?  Is there a new world to come?  Or are we simply just cycling through our same old struggles with being humans on earth in a slightly newer way? I ask because I'm not equipped to answer these questions myself.  I'm only 27 years-old, and while my brother sent me messages from the delivery room, I wondered if I'd be able to pay for the dent I put in my landlord's garage now that I'm unemployed, and then I ate an edible and went to Marie Callender's for half-price pie and watched bad movies with my friends. I don't know shit about the cycles of the world and the picture of humanity as a whole.  But... I have noticed a few key observations. 

People still have babies.  They get to feel that same expectation and fear and relief and joy that humans have been experiencing for centuries.  I can't imagine those core feeling have changed at all over time.  How could they?  I am exactly 2,063 miles away from the delivery room where my brother and sister's baby is being born, and even I can barely process the entire event.  I know my brother is about to have an official little family of his own, I know my mother is going to suddenly be a grandmother when I wake up, and I know I am going to spend the rest of my life thinking about how best to love and protect and entertain that little kid. It's amazing that all of those major life changes will happen overnight, at the first breath of a person we don't even know yet.  Things seem bleak in the world, but I am glad people still have babies. 

People also still laugh.  They watch movies with their friends, bad ones and good ones and screenings of old ones in historic theaters attended by drag queens acting out crucial scenes. (I saw Whatever Happened to Baby Jane for the first time last night, and it is--rightfully--still on my mind.  Forgive the tangent). We laugh, then we remember something bad that happened out in the world, so we think we ought to stop laughing for a while, but then we can't help but do it again.  No matter how hard I've tried to be somber the last few months, thinking I owe it to the world to really process things seriously and get a handle on where we're going and what my part in it will be, I have (sometimes guiltily) found myself laughing.  I had the absolute gift of working on making something with tremendous amounts of heart that happened to be hilarious.  Despite how much I love and appreciate this thing we were creating, it was hard to focus on the work for me.  Besides worrying about friends and worrying about the future, I wondered if working in TV mattered at all, if I should go back to teaching or become one of those VERY RICH professional protestors.  But instead, I chose laughter, and I gave myself over to it as much as I possibly could.  So did the two-hundred other people who worked on that show.  Everybody chose laughter, and it was cathartic, and we watched a little but of what we had made at the wrap party, and I cried.  I am still not sure if they were tears of laughter or if I just felt overwhelmed about the fact that a bunch of human beings who all felt very differently about these perceived changes in the world came together and made something so strange and special and funny.  People still laugh, and we will always laugh, no matter what. 

And a last thought for tonight: people still move away from their families and find themselves alone at 2 A.M., texting their exhausted family members for any details of the strange new world that's being created two thousand miles away so that they can feel like a little part of the excitement, even though they're halfway across the country.  I wish I were sitting in that waiting room, talking to my brother about how he feels about the world he's bringing this baby into.  Knowing him, he feels optimistic.  I'm guessing he feels confident that his child is going to go through all the ups and downs that we did, and that that might be okay for the baby, because it was okay for us.  These are guesses.  I can't ask, because I'm very far away and I just have to hope I don't sleep through the call when the baby has finally made its way to the earth and a handful of people's lives will change very significantly.  But I can guess, because moving away from people I love and consistently having to find new people to love in new places has made me realize that even though the scenery changes, the feelings tend to stay the same.  We still feel lonely and homesick and excited and proud, just like people who have moved away from people they love have felt for centuries.

So I don't know what kind of world this is that my niece or nephew is fighting into tonight, but I do know that it's one where people still have babies and laugh and move far away, and experience all the feelings that accompany all those different things.  This is something I can understand.  This is something we can look forward to explaining to our little ones. 

Update: It's a boy! 

Nice Things at the Women's March

I went to the Los Angeles Women's March yesterday and here are some nice things I saw: 

  • A little boy got lifted up on his dad's shoulders and yelled at the top of his lungs, "MY MOM IS A STRONG WOMAN!!!" Everyone around him cheered. 
  • Strangers chatting and commiserating and laughing and complimenting each other. I swear I didn't hear a single negative comment.  
  • A mom marching with her teenage daughter and three of her daughter's friends. Her daughter seemed very proud. 
  • New friends I made at a sign-making party the night before, carrying their posters and running up to give me a hug. 
  • A girl sitting alone by a tree on Olvera Street while her mom waited in line, with a very cool sign featuring Princess Leia and Wonder Woman that read "I can have a career because I have RIGHTS! Strong Girl Power!" When I asked if I could take her picture, she proudly stood up. When I asked if she wanted to see it, she said no and sat back down. I love her. 

It was a good day. It was the first day. Here are some thoughts I jotted down on the eve of Trump's inauguration that I think it might be helpful to share. Personally, I've had to work every day since his election to stay focused and not let my brain topple into a pit of despair, and it has been hard work. But I'm doing it! Do the work!

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Any challenge handled with grace adds value to your life. Donald Trump has no grace, so nothing he does will bring him any value. I pray that he starts looking for grace in his life. I assume he will not, and I am preparing for the consequences of that. We are all going to need to radiate double the grace to keep things in balance. We need to be kinder and more understanding and more vulnerable. We need to be fully ourselves. We need to have the courage to thrive and to love in spite of whatever ugliness is coming our way. We need to listen when someone says they're hurting and take our time to consider why. And, if we have any space in ourselves, we need to try to take on some of their pain, if only for a minute. 

 

 

Our period in history isn't any worse than it's ever been, just like the previous one wasn't any better. Humans are as complex now as we were centuries ago, and really, we are the only constant. We're going to be okay, in the broadest sense. Humans will live for a lot longer, and then, someday, we will not. People will continue to fall in love and have babies and laugh and tell stories no matter what. It's what we do. Yes, certain things will get a lot harder. Individuals will suffer and mourn and give up. But as a whole, we will be okay. Focus on the whole. Choose grace.   

Taco Bell

In high school I had a friend named Stacy and a love for bands I discovered via the Dashboard Confessional message boards. The bands were mopey and 'underground' and everybody else who liked them had swoopy bangs just like I did, so I would beg Stacy to go with me to see them play at all of the shittiest venues Milwaukee had to offer. She never really cared much about the bands, but she was always up for an adventure. She'd borrow her mom's town car and off we'd go. Our first outing was to see a since-defunct band called The Honorary Title that featured a mopey and cool, swoopy-haired lead singer named Jared who I may or may not have been in love with. His band was opening for sneaky Christian rockers Switchfoot, but because I was too indie for that band, I made Stacy and I buttons that said "We're only here for The Honorary Title." It's fun to shit on stuff other people like! 

We went to a Taco Bell to grab some food before the show, proudly sporting our buttons. And there, in line for a Crunch Wrap Supreme, was Jared. I quietly panicked, trying to figure out whether or not to say hi or ask for a picture or just melt into the background. Meanwhile, Stacy shouted at him. This is the kind of friend Stacy was and is: if there was something you wanted to do but were too scared to do it, Stacy would take matters into her own hands and force you along for the ride. So, mortified, I stood next to her as she showed Jared our buttons and asked him to dedicate a song to us. He seemed both delighted and disturbed, gave us some brush-off like "if he remembered" he would "try to" dedicate a song to us, and then brought his bag of beans and cheese back to his buddies. I was too excited and horrified to even eat my quesadilla. 

At the show, crowds of trendy Christian teens who did not seem to know about The Honorary Title (LOSERS!!!) gave us the side-eye as Stacy elbowed her way through the crowd so we could get a spot up front for the opening sets. This was fine for her, because she is a spunky and tiny red-head who is never in anyone's way, but I am and have always been six feet tall (since birth. google it.) I felt very uncomfortable and awkward and just the essence of a fourteen year-old girl, basically. But then Jared came out. And the first thing he said was: "This song is about some girls I met in a Taco Bell. I mean, it's not really about them, but I guess it could be." And then we screamed and I felt dizzy and everyone around us seemed even more confused than before. We danced and sang along and I did not care about the people around me. After the show, we chatted with the rest of the band, agreed to friend them on MySpace, and left. I loved having Stacy as a friend because she was fun and unpredictable and wild, but that night I was so grateful to have someone to jolt me out of my self-imposed awkwardness. It turned out to be a gift that kept on giving. 

For several years, Stacy and I went to every Honorary Title show in the Southeastern Wisconsin area. And every time, we would find Jared and he'd go, "Hey!! Taco Bell!!" He'd give us some buttons or take a picture with us, and we felt important and valued. It was very sweet. Eventually, The Honorary Title went on their own headlining tour, and Stacy, her older brother Jacob, and I drove down to Chicago to see them. We didn't get tickets in advance because we figured it was their first headlining tour--no way it's selling out. But alas! We weren't cool and underground anymore! The Switchfoot people had grown up and caught on or something! The tickets were sold out, and we were stuck in Chicago with no show to see. There wasn't even a Taco Bell nearby. In a last-ditch effort, Stacy sent Jacob (the only one of us over 21) into the bar to try to find Jared and relay a message that the Taco Bell Girls were outside and they needed HELP. I did not think this would work, and I was reliably mortified. But a few minutes later, out came Jacob with Jared in tow. 

He told us his guest list was full so he couldn't get us into the show, but he wanted to do something nice since we'd been there since the beginning. "Follow me," he said. And we did. Because when you are 17 and a swoopy-haired lead singer tells you to follow him into his van, YOU DO IT. We sat in there with him for 15 minutes while he played solo acoustic versions of a few Honorary Title songs, and some new ones he was working on. (They always have to play the new shit). We left with a hug, got some hot dogs, and drove back to Wisconsin. That was the last Honorary Title show we attended, but not the last time Stacy would shove me out on a ledge toward some unattainable goal, promising to hold my hand and dance with me the whole time. We'll always have Taco Bell. 

Stacy on the left, our sweet friend Kate, and me. Such swoopey bangs. 

Stacy on the left, our sweet friend Kate, and me. Such swoopey bangs. 

Nice Things at the Airport

I flew home to surprise my mom for her birthday and here are some nice things I saw at the airport on my way back: 

  • This little girl having the most fun in the world with two blankets that turned into whips and dresses and capes and a water bottle that was actually a space ship. 
  • Everyone around her smiling warmly and laughing together at how fun it is to be a kid and hide in between the chairs, and how little she cared that our flight was an hour delayed. 
  • Someone else's grandma pulling out her own dolls and toys to offer to this girl--our little ray of sunshine. The girl was excited about the dolls and the new friend, but eventually went back to her own magical blanket and bottle, as kids with big imaginations tend to do. 
  • Solo travelers offering to move so that families could sit together. 
  • Another grandmother lovingly running her fingers through her granddaughter's hair. 
  • A woman leaving a happy birthday voicemail for her mom, full of love and well wishes. 

Happy Anniversary

I moved to L.A. two years ago today.  One night right after I moved, when I was still nannying full time for a nice family in the Hollywood Hills, I was driving home from a comedy show I had gone to watch by myself.  It was late and there were almost no other cars on the street. I drove down Melrose, past bodegas and storefront churches, and I listened to families dancing and smelled their smoking grills. Without meaning to, I started crying.  It felt like I had already made it. I had somehow wound up in this new place, and right away, I knew it was exactly where I was supposed to be. That night on Melrose, I just knew I was in for something.

I had no idea how good it would get. Since that night, I’ve

  • gotten okay at yoga
  • performed in some amazing clubs (the types of places I had always felt existed in a completely different universe from myself)
  • met a bunch of nice dogs
  • worked for and with some of my heroes
  • fallen in love at least once, possibly twice
  • worked on something that challenged and fulfilled and inspired me
  • taught myself how to poach an egg
  • had my heart broken at least twice, possibly thrice

It has been so good, but it has also been so hard. I have spent long stretches of time sick or unemployed or very, very sad. I didn’t think about moving home because that felt (feels) impossible.  But I did wish I could be somewhere else for a while. And during all those stretches, the times I was crying in a dentist’s office about money or literally passing out at improv class because it was ALL JUST TOO MUCH, the only thing that pulled me through was people.  Co-workers and family and nice people at comedy clubs and real friends in LA and real friends everywhere else.  The greatest gift LA has given me (and it has given me many), was the realization that there are good people everywhere, and it’s scary at first to go out looking for them, but you never, never come back empty-handed.

Last weekend I drove home from doing my first feature set (read: I actually got paid) at a comedy club.  It was a club in the upstairs of a shopping center/antique mall, and the entrance was next to a knitting shop that also doubles as some old ladies’ apartment. I did some jokes about dissociative identity disorder and the time my therapist fell asleep on me (another thing that happened during these past two years), and a lot of nice, normal people on date nights laughed politely.  I got paid in nachos and forty dollars, ate some frozen yogurt with another comic, and then drove the hour home.  And that’s when I really started crying.  Because I realized that I didn’t know how good it could get when I got to LA two years ago, and even before all of this life happened, I was still bubbling over with happiness.  I never thought this fantasy life I laid out for myself could actually be realized, but I figured I might as well try, just in case. And here I am, looking back on that leap of faith, and marveling at how things are starting to come together.

These two years have been overwhelmingly beautiful and utterly exhausting. And last weekend I wept in the car because I was happy and tired and hopeful and also very, very scared. I’m scared of going after my own happiness when things for so many people around me seem so horrible.  But when we rise ourselves up, we make it easier for the people around us to do the same. Maybe it doesn’t seem so scary to be kind or vulnerable or brave if we see someone else doing it first.

I don’t forget that two days after I set foot in L.A., Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in my heart's old home. So much has happened since then. So much is still happening. Last year, I couldn’t really celebrate my own LA-anniversary, because the looming anniversary of Mike Brown’s death seemed to eclipse it. I think about the two years in a different way because of him, and my own little bits of personal growth and hardship and happiness seem insignificant in every way.  

But this year I’m celebrating.  I’m celebrating to remind myself that with the tragedy comes great hope and joy. That if the last two years were harder than ever and better than ever, I can only imagine how much harder and better the next few years will be. I will take every challenge and blessing with equal amounts of gratitude, because I know once I start zooming out and looking at the big picture, things have a way of coming together.  And that way is usually so beautiful and good and generous that you’ll wind up driving alone late at night, crying at the weight of it all. Just maybe pull over if it seems like you're a risk to yourself or others on the road, you know??

I love you, Los Angeles. You are a weird city built on faith and delusion and I hope you never ever change. 

Nice Things at Sara's House

Last night, my friend Sara had a bunch of ladies over to eat leftover snacks. I had never met any of the women except for Sara and normally that would have me running for the hills, but I powered through my self-diagnosed social anxiety and it paid off. Here are some nice things I saw and heard: 

  • A sweet dog named Sophie eating everyone's cute shoes, and nobody seeming bothered at all. 
  • Sharing of everything from wine to snacks to smokes to stories about the specific ways we were all tragic in middle school. Yes, even those groups of gorgeous, cool ladies you see roaming the streets of Silver Lake were complete horror shows at one point. Special shout-out to the girl who copped to wearing Houston Rockets jerseys with floor-length skirts every day of sixth grade. 
  • A very compassionate and honest discussion about Donald Trump between two Midwesterners and a Swedish girl that somehow turned into the declaration that Harry Potter is our generation's saving grace. No matter how confused you feel about other people's beliefs, know that we are all united in the humanity and decency taught to us by good old J.K. 
  • A speech about how this night happened to fall on the first night of a new moon, which naturally led to writing down intentions or things we want to leave behind and symbolically lighting them on fire, because this is L.A., and what would we be without some new-age-y crystal work?? 
  • A party guest informing us that that night also happened to be Rosh Chodesh, a Jewish holiday where women gather to celebrate the arrival of the new month by taking a break from work or chores and sharing conversation. Serendipity much?? 
  • A string of texts the next morning with the names and contact info and funny/beautiful/artsy selfies of all the girls in attendance, so we can keep this accidental ritual going every month. I googled Rosh Chodesh this morning to figure out just how timely and necessary this holiday is, and here's what I found: Rosh Chodesh "celebrates the monthly renewal of the moon, after it wanes to the point of disappearance. Thus Rosh Chodesh celebrates the concept of perpetuity--notwithstanding life's peaks and plunges.  And it is the woman who--through her steadfast faith--ensures our nation's survival; it is she who ensures that no matter how much we wane, we will always be renewed." 
    • Ladies, start celebrating Rosh Chodesh with your friends. All you need is snacks and the moon. LA HIPPIE VIBES OVER N OUT!!! 

Good Shit

In college I was in a sketch comedy group that consumed 75% of my waking hours and 95% of my mental energy (the other 5% was devoted to some particularly special chocolate chip cookies). My sophomore year, I got hired along with my dear friend Tien to write a bunch of standard presenter jokes/monologues for our film department's annual awards show. The ceremony had always been a circle jerk for our tiny film program--a few professors would get up and pretend they were funny, the handful of film majors would show clips from their films where naked people wore animal masks and covered themselves with honey or some shit, they'd win "art" awards, and we'd call it a day. 

Our comedy group usually just showed up drunk and over-dressed to laugh at the pungent self-importance in the room, so Tien and I took on the assignment without much fanfare. But when we walked in to meet with the ancient faculty advisor who ran the awards show, things changed a bit. "You're women!!" he exclaimed when we sat down. Uh, yes. Indeed we were and continue to be women--apparently the first to ever be hired to write jokes for the show in its 5 year history. We could tell right off the bat that he was skeptical, that he thought there must have been some type of mistake, that maybe all the much funnier men in our comedy group had died in a fire and we were all that was left. But his hands were tied, and he sent us off with our assignments, clearly not expecting much. Tien and I left that meeting with a new determination to write the best jokes that knockoff Donald Sutherland had ever heard. 

So we sat in her dorm room for hours and we laughed so hard our stomachs hurt. That was when we invented the term "funny sweats" to describe the euphoria that comes from vibing super hard in the pursuit of comedy. We wrote double the monologue jokes we had been asked for, we came up with remote bits, pre-taped bits, things no one had ever been ambitious enough to suggest for the simple awards ceremony before. There was a red carpet, damnit, and we were going all out. When we sent the jokes to our advisor, he set up another meeting. We were certain he was going to be a real dick about it, make us re-write everything, fire us, tell us to tape our boobs down and start binding our feet, something. But when we were sitting across from him at the table that second time, he put our jokes down and said simply, "This is some good shit." He invited us to the faculty cocktail party before the ceremony. 

Tien and I showed up in $10 dresses from the 70's that we had bought from the thrift store. Mine had a built-in cape, and I showed it to everyone who would look. That night felt like a triumph, and not because we wound up winning a statue that I have since misplaced, but because I knew we had changed somebody's mind about what ladies were capable of. We had a cocktail, received some praise on the jokes, and left to join our friends who had never once expressed surprise at the fact that we were both funny and ladies. 

I live in Los Angeles and work in comedy now, and Tien is getting ready for her first tour as a performer with the Second City. People still assume I'm not as good as my male counterparts, as I'm sure is true for Tien, but we were lucky enough to learn a long time ago that people's low expectations of you are irrelevant when you know you've got the good shit. 

Our co-comedian Fitz, me, and Tien

Our co-comedian Fitz, me, and Tien

Nice Things at the Movie Theater

I saw Ghostbusters yesterday at the Vista in Silver Lake and here are some nice things I saw: 

  • Lines around the block consisting of: couples, groups of girlfriends, dudes, older gay men, old ladies, little boys, and so many lucky little girls who get to see versions of themselves leading a movie and supporting each other and kicking ass, without any discussion of their appearances or romantic lives. YES YES YES YES YES YES
  • The owner dressed up at the entrance in full ghostbusting gear. As he ripped people's tickets, he said, "Enjoy! It's really really fun!" He was right.
  • A theater full of people clapping and cheering throughout the movie, especially when any of the old Ghostbusters crew showed up, and ESPECIALLY when Kate McKinnon got the most epic slow-mo montage in recent memory. I may have released a single tear at this point.  
  • Groups of people excitedly standing around the theater afterwards talking about how much they loved the movie and how good they felt. Media is important and the stories we tell are important and I'm just excited for kids (girls AND boys) who get to grow up quoting this movie at sleepovers. I AIN'T AFRAID OF NO GHOSTS!!!

Nice Things at the Hollywood Bowl

I went to see Garrison Keillor tape his final episode of 'A Prairie Home Companion' at The Hollywood Bowl last weekend. Here are some nice things I saw: 

  • An enthusiastic mom handing out nutella sticks and juice boxes to her very young kids, who were doing an incredible job at being well-behaved while their parents nerded out to something they had absolutely no interest in. 
  • Couples of all ages and make-ups resting their heads on each other's shoulders as Garrison capped out 42 years as host with a string of simple, sweet and mournful duets with his favorite ladies. (listen to the whole episode here. It really is lovely). 
  • A young guy coming in from intermission, casually sitting down next to his girlfriend, and then telling her about how moments before, he literally saved an old lady from rolling down a hill. Apparently he had been walking behind an elderly woman, she tripped and started tumbling, and he ran in front of her and stopped the fall. He made sure she was okay, got her to where she was going, and then came back to enjoy the second half of the show. Somehow the people in our section didn't immediately throw him a parade, but I'd like to turn this blog post into a craigslist missed connection for his everyday heroism. You: a HERO WHO SAVED AN OLD LADY'S LIFE AT A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION. Me: Would like to buy you an Applebee's giftcard as a thank you. 
  • This little bit of wisdom that Keillor snuck in the middle of his monologue, the only takeaway this humble, ego-free dude seemed to have for his swan song: "Long live the jokes. Who cares who wrote them?" 
  • And, as his encore, a 73 year-old man from Minnesota leading 17,000 people in a stream of consciousness sing-a-long of tunes that make you feel more human and connected and part of something. We sang hymns and Swing Low Sweet Chariot and Fools Rush In and we laughed and we (I) cried as the sun set over the Hollywood Hills. I thought of my Aunt Ruth and how we would listen to A Prairie Home Companion on Saturdays when we made apple pies. It's been a good four decades. Thanks, Garrison. 
Photo by  John Autey

Photo by John Autey

Coke Floats

When I moved out to L.A. two years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to first drive to Boston, pick up a dear friend without a driver's license, and then make a two-week, ten city trip across the country in my Toyota Corolla, with all my belongings covered by an ugly pink fleece blanket or strapped to the roof of my car.  We knew people to stay with in about six of our ten stops, so the rest of the nights were to be spent in weird tents or kitschy hotels in the middle of ghost towns or on the couches of strangers who were (supposedly) friends-of-friends. Ah, to be twenty-four and reckless. 

Nice things did not happen at all of our stops--miraculously, you are not guaranteed extraordinary acts of kindness just because a stranger agrees to put you up in his or her living room.  So when my traveling companion Steve arranged for us to sleep on the couch of a friend-of-a-friend on our night in Austin, I was expecting a nice hello, a blanket, and maybe a recommendation for good barbecue. That would have been more hospitality than we were entitled to, but that was not all we received. 

We got to Austin late--around ten that night.  Our hostess had already fallen asleep after a long day at work, but she came out of her little cottage and gave us great big hugs at the curb.  She welcomed us in and showed us her chicken coop in the back. She offered us fresh eggs. She led us to two cozy little beds she had already made up on each of her couches in the living room, and she put on some records and asked if we wanted water. We were tired, she was tired, so we politely refused, assuming she wanted to head back to bed and get these two random and moderately dirty strangers out of her home as soon as possible. Then she asked if we wanted coke floats.

DID YOU READ THAT RIGHT?? A person we had never met, who was already letting two complete strangers sleep in her living room because a different person she had met a handful of times told her we were nice, offered to make those strangers delicious floats of pure Mexican Coke and Austin's best vanilla ice cream. People, you are never too tired for coke floats. We stayed up for a few hours with our hostess, happily spooning floats and listening to music and sharing stories about our trip. We fell asleep to the sounds of chickens and the soft bubbles of carbonation.

That trip was full of kindness and hospitality, from people we knew and people we didn't, but something about those coke floats stuck with me. It may have been how happy she was to get to share something weird she loved with a couple of new faces, or it may have been how comfortable I felt in a completely new environment as I faced an even newer, scarier environment just a few days down the road. Either way, the effect was the same--every time I see a coke float on a menu now, I get it. And I spoon it down, feeling comforted and cared for. People are good even when they don't have to be. 

I didn't get a picture of our hostess, but here's Steve the next day, enjoying Austin's best BBQ (because of course, she had a recommendation for that too.)

I didn't get a picture of our hostess, but here's Steve the next day, enjoying Austin's best BBQ (because of course, she had a recommendation for that too.)

Nice Things at the Craft Store

I wandered around JoAnn Fabrics for a while today and I bought some muslin and saw some nice things: 

 

  • This young guy was walking who I assume was his grandmother into the store. She was put together and coordinated in the way that only older ladies who rarely leave the house get dressed up. She was so slow, and he walked next to her the whole way, except for when he ran ahead to open the door for her. I wanted to see what they were going in to buy, but I figured photographing them from the parking lot was probably creepy enough. Nevertheless, she seemed grateful he was taking her, and he seemed happy to do it.
  • A teenager and her mom were at the fabric counter buying black leather and stuffing so that they could make the girl her own biker gloves. She had short hair and was dressed in a style that I would have proudly called emo back in 2004, and her mom was wearing capri pants and a little mushroom cut and every other suburban white lady mom marker you can think of. The daughter was so, so excited to make these gloves, and her mom was right there with her. The two of them looked like they were walking out of different movies, but they had a common goal: a pair of badass, handmade leather gloves.

Big Picture Optimism

Hopefully after hours of combing through news sites online and refusing to click on all the articles that make me feel like the world is ending, I'll be able to find one story per week that gives us a little bit of hope. I'm not talking the "man's dog waits at his grave every day for a year" stories--while I have been known to click the shit out of those and get tears all over my iphone, I'm looking for large scale, positive change that's happening in the world and proving that we are not existentially doomed. This week I found an article that sums that point of view up for me, from a smarter person than me. 

My brother (WHO IS IN MENSA, HE'S A CERTIFIED GENIUS, PEOPLE ARE STILL GENIUSES), heard I was trying to be a lil more hopeful, so since he's a good brother, he sent me an email to help with that lofty goal. Click here to read what he sent over, but here's the summary: 

-We're going to be okay. We are eradicating deadly diseases. We are getting less poor, less sick, more educated, and safer. It may not feel like it, but that's because we're stuck in our own little chunk of the graph. Pull back a few hundred years and look at the larger scale progress we've made. Perhaps this helpful graph about education will help you do that: 

Believe me, nobody can opine about the state of our education system more than me. But the fact that more people are getting a seat at that table, however rickety the legs, is undeniably good. We're getting somewhere. 

Here's some more sweet graph action to make you feel okay! 

There are lots of other, more comprehensive graphs over on that article to give you an even wider look, but fear not: if it seems like we can't stop killing each other, violent crime rates both domestically and abroad are actually going down. That's not to say we don't have a real problem on our hands, but the human race is not devolving into chaotic monkeys with guns. We're going to be okay, guys. 

Martin

My first year teaching sixth grade, I ran a raffle as a reward system in class. Kids got tickets for doing homework or giving really smart answers to questions or not calling me a bitch. Four kids won the first raffle, and our prize was a weekend trip to the St. Louis Science Center. 

None of us had ever been before, and I wasn't sure if they'd be into science stuff or if they'd get along all day, but damnit if those four twelve year-olds didn't tear around that place like bats out of hell. They wanted to do all the experiments. They volunteered for all the demonstrations.  They were excited and kind and joyful, and I was proud to be there with them--this random group of kids who weren't even friends having such unabashed fun together. But that's not even the nice thing! 

The nice thing was at the end of the day when we were roaming through the gift shop and whining about how the day was over and we didn't want to leave.  One of my students had been given ten dollars from his mom to buy a souvenir, but none of the other kids had any money. As a whole, my group of students was pretty low-income, so they were used to not being able to buy anything extra for themselves, and they weren't bummed about it. They asked Martin what he was going to get and were psyched to help him pick out something cool. 

But Martin didn't want to buy something for himself if nobody else got anything.  So instead of buying one big thing for himself, he bought four little dinosaur finger puppets -- one for everyone. He was thrilled.  They all were.  Nobody told him to do that, nobody guilted him into it, he just wanted to do something nice for his friends to make a good day even better. That act of selflessness came naturally to Martin, and all of the kids felt the joy of that little gesture immediately. These kids are all about to be juniors in high school now (!!!), but something tells me they've still got those dinosaur finger puppets tucked away in a drawer somewhere, hopefully reminding them of a nice day and a nice person. Thanks, Martin! 

That's Martin on the left. He is a prince and I love him. 

That's Martin on the left. He is a prince and I love him. 

Nice Things at the Coffee Shop

I sat at a coffee shop for a few hours and here are some things I saw that made me feel good: 

  • A man came to meet a woman and he brought her a bouquet of dusty pink roses that matched her sunglasses. It wasn't a date. He was thanking her for her help with a project. She loved the roses and took a picture of him smiling and holding the bouquet. They sat and talked and laughed for a long time. 
  • A mom came in with her two lil twin sons. They had R2D2 thermoses (thermi?) and goldfish. She got a glass of Sangria and sat on the couch and helped them do crossword puzzles. They were weird and funny and ran all over and she just smiled at them lovingly. Every time she caught me looking at them she smiled at me too, and it was a look that I can only assume meant, "Look at these cute kids! I made them! It's hard raising two but it's also fun and sweet!"
  • An old woman who looked to be about 80 sat in the corner of the bar on a high top chair with a comfy pillow on top of it. She was alone and I'm not sure how she got there.  She had two fashion magazines and she sat there reading each one cover-to-cover while enjoying several glasses of cold white wine. She would stop to look around, much like me, and I caught her listening in on my conversations with the waiters. She would smile and raise her shoulders every time I caught her laughing at somebody else's joke. I think she was saying, "It's nice to be here around all these people, isn't it?" She was there when I arrived and was still there when I left three hours later.  By all accounts, this old woman who was all by herself seemed to be very, very content.