Mad Men, Why You Got To End Up That Way?

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Betty is “likable” now that she’s going to die.

(WARNING: SPOILERS AND RANTING AHEAD…also you must have some familiarity with “Mad Men”.)

Matt Weiner hates Betty Draper.  And his bile can only be surpassed by that of the critics.  Why? Because in a show about the lifestyle of lying, alcoholic, womanizing men in the advertising industry, Betty routinely gets labeled “self-absorbed.”  Ah, misogyny…

OH, BUT WAIT. SHE’S GOING TO DIE. SHE’S GOT CANCER.  Now, in the wake of last night’s penultimate Mad Men episode “The Milk and Honey Route,” Betty Draper is, finally,  according to John Swansberg (whose reviews I usually enjoy and agree with, but not this time), “likable.”  BETTY DRAPER IS LIKABLE?!  Why?  Because women are really cool when they die and just go away. *air thickens with sarcasm*

We’ve been here before, people.  I — like many female fans — adoringly sat through five seasons of Breaking Bad (WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU “COULDN’T GET INTO IT”?).  A show that I loved.  LOVED.  A show that blatantly fails the Bechdel Test.  For five seasons, I rooted for Walter, Jesse, Hank, Skyler and Marie only to see my quirky flawed (EQUALLY FLAWED) leading ladies face tragic, kind of pathetic endings (from which I only remember that they looked unshowered and mentally ill).  Sure, Hank and Walter died. But Skyler and Marie lost their mojo. After all — the show seems to say — THEY LOST THEIR MEN. *air thickens with irony*

I’m not saying that women like Betty Draper don’t exist; women who create a crusty artificial presentation of themselves, criticize their daughters, manipulate their husbands and make passive aggressive comments.  I know women like her, and I mostly feel a mixture of confusion, weirdness (if that’s a feeling), and sadness.   Yes, I feel sad because I have this perspective on women and what lies beneath anger and eye-liner.  I’m not saying fucked up people don’t exist. Hello, human nature!  I’m just saying that when it comes to Betty, the writers fail to hold the same standards of ironic distance about her character foibles that Don and Roger and the whole gang of boozy, dashing tailored suit-wearing Grandpas circa late 60s enjoy. In other words, there’s no love for Betty!  Betty Draper is Cruella DeVille, while Don Draper gets to be “lost.”

I am, if you can’t tell, a little upset.

I feel cheated.   I have sat patiently through seven seasons of charming quips and scandalous interludes. I bought Sterling’s Gold.  I have enjoyed the show, so even in my disillusionment, I can’t call it “peaceful hate-watching” (a term I first read in Emily Nussbaum’s piece about The Newsroom). It’s more like adoring fan sexism-overlook.   Any woman who likes art and culture and has worked in technology or medicine, or TV (or anything that is profitable, interesting or has caché), has to turn a blind eye to 80% of female characters if she wants to get her binge-watching, TV-coma, get-me-out-of-this-feeling entertainment fix.  If I only watched shows and movies, or read books that passed the Bechdel test, I’d still be watching watching Kate & Allie reruns and reading Nancy Drew mysteries.

I’ve hung in there, Matt Weiner.  I thought maybe you had something with Joan and Peggy, but I’m starting to think they are just stylized icons of femaleness, another way to pigeonhole women along the lines “Are you a Carrie or a Samantha?”  (I’m, clearly, a Peggy.) When Joan gave her feminist speech to Jim Hobart I thought Fonzie mid-air over a shark did far less to threaten my suspension of disbelief.  I’ve worked in advertising IN THIS CENTURY and I can’t imagine anyone giving my feminist leanings a passing glance, let alone create the look of fear on Jim Hobart’s face when Joan busted out her Betty Friedan/ACLU references.   You really think an agency head was afraid of Joan in 1970?!  I’ve never known any woman to accept a terminal cancer diagnosis like it was a UTI, but killing off Betty on Mother’s Day was just the last straw in a series whose ultimate statement is that Mad Men, in the end, was and always has been created by a man.

Like the world Don painted to the Kodak, Jaguar, Lucky Strike suits, the show is a fantasy.  We have not reached the point of progression to view the 60’s or even the present with anything resembling clear-headed historical perspective.  What about the domestic abuse and violence that was endemic of the 60s?  What about violent racism?

I’m sorry, Matt Weiner, but I can’t help but feel that Mad Men played us the way Don Draper did his clients; that is, fool us into believing he had a vision and not just an exciting pitch for an empty promise that, ultimately, just sells the American dream for a profit.   Cigarettes, make-up, cars and furs  never filled our soulless void. And Mad Men did little to really further our understanding of class, race and sex, except to get us to believe that it’s all going to be OK, in the end. Even death.  (Sure, Betty, why not wear the chiffon to your grave?)  Were we revisiting the 60’s from the 2000’s?  Or were we just sold a whole Vogue/Esquire-ish mystique of clothes, alcohol, cigarettes and style.  After all,  who will die in the season finale?  Don Draper? Betty?  Or Banana Republic’s clothing line?

Tell me who kicks the bucket next week.  I’m going to bed.

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Some Frank Discussion

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My all-time favorite picture of me and my mom.

(WARNING: SOME SADNESS AND A FRANK DISCUSSION DEATH.)
I have actually had a few “normal” feeling days.  If I can even qualify myself as someone who understands “normal.”  Maybe “upbeat” or even “happy” are better words.  Or the therapy favorite “engaged with life.”  Yesterday was such a day.  I participated in a friend’s podcast (ENOUGH SAID) and went to a sushi-making party.  I spoke my truth into a microphone, rolled spicy tuna, drank sake and ate ice cream…HOW COULD I NOT FEEL RIGHT WITH THE WORLD? It wasn’t until right before I fell asleep that I remembered, “Oh wait, my mom is gone.”

It’s been almost three months since my mother “passed away.” I prefer to say that she “died” but the “D” word creates a lot of downcast eyes, shuffling and weirdness in people.  Nobody discusses death except video game players and comics who, as a friend pointed out, regularly “kill.”  I’m kind of aghast at how alien death is in our culture.  I’ve noticed that a lot of acquaintances don’t mention anything. Some might say, “I know now is a hard time.” Maybe they are afraid I’ll burst into tears.  Maybe they don’t know she died.  (I might be narcissistic in assuming that people see my Facebook feed). But I suspect many people just don’t want to bring up the topic.  Other friends have kind of taken a step back.  Just disappeared.  I kind of decided to let them go.  I can’t blame anyone for not knowing how to handle the concept of Death when he or she has grown up in a culture that treats it like unique tragedy.

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My mom’s novel about central southern California agricultural workers will be published this Summer.

I have typed into Google things like “dealing with loss” or “dealing with death” and so I thought I would write about what has helped me.  Honestly, I can’t tell anyone how to act to the strangest, hardest, most inexplicable event in our lives. (Other than birth, puberty, or your first visit to the 99 Cent store).

Here’s what has helped me “deal.”

1) People reaching out.  When people ask, “How are you?” Oh, my God! I love those words! I think maybe technology and booty-call style dating made non-human greetings begin with things like, “Do you…” or “Can I…” or “Will you…” However, when people message me out of nowhere and just say, “How are you? I’m sorry. Just wanted to connect.” No agenda.  I LOVE THAT.

2) SLEEP. I love sleep. We all need more sleep. Always. But especially now.  I think during grief we’re engaged in some traumatic healing process that requires unknown reserves of energy that I only get from sleep.

3) Reverence for Death and Grief. Not to be creepy, but this shit is real and necessary. I think that being with my mom during her final hours was the greatest thing I’ve ever done. It has given me more self-respect and a sense of the sacredness of life.  Sometimes people – not to blame them – but will get all super casual about it. “How’re you doing with your mom?” It’s kind of like a reporter asking a victim, “How does it feel to lose everything?” Again, it’s our culture.  Grief is creepy. GET OVER IT.  (Is the thinking).

Bottom line:  I’m never going to be “at peace” with grief due to the loss of an important person.   It’s a big deal.  For once, you are dealing with a situation that falls in the category of “Life or Death.”  (Just FYI…the Mad Men season finale? NOT LIFE OR DEATH.)

4) Other people’s stories.  I love other people’s stories of loss. I don’t love that people lose people. But since we do, I want to hear about it.   I have some friends who have lost parents or close people.  It’s not just their stories or sharing, but the fact that they have gone on to embrace life.

5) Pictures. See blog below.

Other things that help are a Loving Boyfriend, Coffee, and Protein.

The truest words I have read about losing someone came from this pamphlet by Paula Spencer Scott.

To be sure, the passing away of a loved one can be almost unendurable. That in the end it is endurable seems to be both its blessing and its curse.

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Grief, Grandma and My Hacked Website – Two Months

It’s two months today since my mother passed away.

I wrote a blog at the one month mark, but it was lost when robots hacked into my site a few weeks ago.  A fact I learned only after several 4:00 AM hair-pulling hour-long conversations with my “hosting” company.  Since I pay my bills as a web site project manager, I understand how broken websites are the universe’s perverse reminder that we are all hanging by our fingernails when it comes to security, waiting for some weird energy to push our lame password protected information into the netherworld.  For example, at the end of last year, The Hackers got into my Yahoo account. (I know, my fault for having a Yahoo account).  I already felt overwhelmed by work and my mother’s illness during the holidays.  So, naturally, on top off that I had to explain to every person I’d ever met why I didn’t need them to give me $2,000.

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My grandmother, in a baby blue dress and pearls, gazes adoringly at my mom.

I lost a few blog posts about my mother and her passing. A part of me felt bad, but another part wondered if maybe she just didn’t like what I wrote.  I am a half-believer in the after-life and, truth be told, feel comforted by the idea that my mother and grandmother have special powers to control my world.   My grandmother will whisper to me to enter a store where a “cute top” awaits for me ON SALE.  Or, and this happened, NBC called to schedule an interview for the Late Night Writer’s Workshop.  (I didn’t get accepted, but THANKS MOM).

But my mom would never have my website hacked into and taken down because my mother loved my blog.  She loved everything I wrote.  I will never have a bigger fan. SO PLEASE EVERYONE CHANGE YOUR PASSWORDS.

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Grandma in an intense 70s pattern.

I’m allowed to have weird thoughts and beliefs these days.  My mother died two months ago today and I am, after all, a Pisces.  Everybody processes grief differently and if I need to contact mediums and blog and Facebook myself our of sadness, then so be it.

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My grandmother, far left, could be a phone operator on Mad Men.

I don’t know how people processed death before the invention of the camera.  And I am grateful that my family took hundreds pictures before we went down this creepy obsessive rabbit hole of selfies. Since my mother’s passing, I’ve started to see things in them I never saw before.  Like the evident love between my mother and grandmother.  They obviously adored each other. And I know they both had that love for me.  I grew up being loved by very strong women and I can’t help but believe that shaped me into the person I am. As much as I struggle there must be this core of security this gave me in my femininity.   I don’t know if I have the wherewithal to recall that without pictures to prove it.

My Grandmother loved clothes and was by all standards a fashion plate.  Look at her rock that 70s dress! (What is that pattern?)  She never graduated from high school, as she had three kids by the time she was 21.  But she was a very powerful person in my life and took great fashion risks.  I am going to write a separate blog post dedicated solely to her jumpsuits.

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Mom and Grandma. These two women made me who I am.

She taught me always wear a nice outfit on the airplane.  OH, PEOPLE HOW FAR WE HAVE FALLEN.  She also told me that “being young” was the worst thing in life.  I took that as evidence that she, if not loved, at least enjoyed being “old.”  She certainly didn’t let it stop her from laughing, dancing or looking sexy.  I can say that she was right.

My cousin insists that my mom and grandmother are together now. I can’t imagine that, if possible, they wouldn’t be. I guess it’s hard to recognize the truth in the people who loom so large in your life.  But it’s clear to me now that my mom and grandmother could not stay apart and be happy.

I miss them both so much.

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My Site Was Hacked Into…

…but now it’s back up!  We’re still working on pulling it back together, but some posts were lost. *pulls hair out*

Please bear with me.

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Ten Tips For Buying A Car

65196464_151336938“Let me go talk to the guys in the back and see what they can do for you,” said Ben the Car Sales Rep at The Dealership. (Not his real name).

This was the fifth or sixth time Ben had gone to “talk to the guys in back” about my possible impending purchase of an automobile.  I imagined guys dressed like stock brokers surrounded by receipts and studying my facial expressions through a camera or one-way mirror.

I had just told Ben that his dealership advertised a brand new car for what he was asking for a two-year-old car.

“No, that is impossible,” he said, dead serious.  “Look, I want to give you a good deal.  I want you to be happy.  But I don’t know if the financial guys can make it work.”

Do I look like I’ve been living under a rock?  First, he pulls the “guys in the back of the room” routine like I’ve never seen a movie before.    Then he assumes that neither I, nor anyone I know, understands how to use the Internet.  But I decided to go with it.  Use the innocent look to my advantage.  I had no choice.  I was in the game.   Ten minutes later he returned.

“Weird. They told me that you CAN get the new car for that price. That’s so weird that I didn’t know that.”

“Wow, that is weird!”  *slices room with sarcasm*

I ran this news by my Dad who happens to be a Car Guy, a guy who understands these mechanical things that we sit in to go places.  I had him on the phone.  Which brings me to my first Tip For Buying A Car.

TIP #1: Bring a Car Person. (Or keep them on the phone).

If you don’t know any Car People, then bring some testosterone.  Testosterone?  What?! Yes.  If this sounds sexist, well, try working in the high levels of anything.   A thirst for blood and dominance rises to the top. Despite all rational thought, ultimately I wanted Ben to like me.  I wanted a positive relational experience.  He was willing to eat me for dinner.

I held out for two hours.  I wrote numbers down on a piece of paper and slid them to him.  Finally, he gave in to my terms.

“The guys in the back said we can do it.”

He said it would be a few minutes and offered me some coffee. It had already been four hours and I was starving.

TIP #2: Bring some snacks.  It’s going to be a long night/day.

And then I made my first mistake and reveled in my victory.

TIP #3: You’re not out of the woods. You’re never out of the woods.

“So, have a told you about the Pro Pack?…it comes with the car.”

“No, thanks. I’ll pass. I’ll just take the base car.”

“You have have no choice. They put it on all the cars.  It’s in the MSRP.”

(It’s not in the MSRP).

TIP #4: Get a hard copy of the MSRP.

“It’s $12000.”

“Why didn’t you just make that the final price of the car?! That’s FALSE ADVERTISING.”

“Let me talk to the guys in back and see what I can do.”

Fifteen minutes later he came back.

“For you, we can do it for $600.”

TIP #5: Refuse to pay for the Pro Pack!

And here is when my resolve began to break down like a styled coif in a hurricane.   I was hungry.  Dehydrated from too much Keurig coffee and into my fifth hour of playing telephone with “the guys in the back.”

TIP #6:  Buying a car is a war of attrition.  Bring reinforcements.

Clearly, they had primed me for this moment.  Away from food, rest and friends and worn down by the effort of using my poorly developed negotiation muscles, I began to lose my footing.  Had I been in a better state of mind I would have refused to pay for the Pro Pack on the sheer basis that I still did not know what it is.  But I just wanted to get out of there.  Another hour later I signed my life away.  But not before Ben gave me a hundred different options for an extended warranty.

“It’s normally $2,000 but let me talk to the guys in the back and see what I can do.”

TIP #7: Stop talking to “the guys in the back.”

“I’m too tired to make a decision. Can I decide later?”

“If you want the deal, you have to do it tonight.

TIP #8: Say no to everything that has to be decided TONIGHT.

Finally, I drove the car home.   It didn’t have car mats, but I was too tired to care.

I woke up in the middle of the night in a panic. What have I done? WHY DID I GET THE PRO PACK?   The next day I drove back to the dealership and Ben introduced me to The Guy In The Back.

“You got a very good deal.,” said a beefy looking guy with a crew cut.   “Just do a some comparison pricing and you’ll see. You should be very happy.  You could have said no to the deal.”

SHIT HE’S RIGHT.

“But it was bad customer service.”

TIP #9: When you’ve got nothing else, pull out the “bad customer service” card.

“How about we get you some car mats?”

They bought my forgiveness with car mats.  (Btw, they cost $190…yes, I know you can get them at the car wash for $19.99 but car mats are made out of “leather.”)

I think Ben was secretly sad when I left. We’d been through a lot together in the past 20 hours.  I drove home so happy to have a car that’s safe and new and to not have to speak to a car dealer for at least five more years.  I’m pretty sure drug trafficking is more regulated than car shopping.

TIP #10: Let it all go and be happy with your car.

Posted in Car, The Man, The Truth, This Los Angeles Life | Tagged | Leave a comment

Wandering Around Target

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I feel like the Indiana Jones of Target.

I went to Target last week because I needed to stock up on shower liners and S.O.S. pads…Ok, fine, I went because I just like wandering around Target.   It’s disturbing that I relax inside Target, but so very true. There’s a hushed sense of awe, cathedral ceilings, a screaming kid and halo around that shoe organizer or shower rod…it feels holy.

Yes, I hate that the employees don’t get health insurance or, as one Target cashier told me once, are forced to work when sick. But I still find something universal about going to a store because we all need to wash our dishes or shampoo our hair.  We go because we’re we’re messy humans and have to take care of our shit.

So I was wandering through the cleaning products aisle with My List when I saw a woman standing and studying the ingredients in a bottle of detergent. For some reason I thought to myself, “she’s avoiding the pain of loss she feels about (INSERT UNIVERSAL HUMAN STORY HERE).”  I never used to look at people and think something empathetic or compassionate.  I was a normal self-obsessed narcissist living in LA.  In fact, I thought everyone had better lives, happier? lives…more REAL lives than mine. And not only was everyone on some trajectory of fulfillment but they were shoving it in my face. Even the woman at Target with her scientific study of laundry detergent chemicals.  “Oh, so Ms. Fancy Health Lady wants to know what chemicals she’s bringing to her house…” I might have thought.

But on that day I thought about how she might have a divorce under her belt or maybe she was sick and couldn’t tolerate our toxic environment… and then I realized that pretty much every human alive has sad stuff to live with.  Everyone has problems. WHAT A CONCEPT.

And THEN I realized that this activity of wandering around Target was just a cover-up for my OWN feelings of fear and anxiety about the fragility of life.  I wanted to get on the intercom and announce, “Existential breakdown in Detergent aisle!”

And that’s when remembered that I needed some plant-based body oil and a paring knife.  So, I wandered off into the kitchen area and everything was fine after that.

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Blazer Casual

I have to be somewhere and look like I care. A little, not a lot. I stare deep into my closet, until I find that thing that pulls it all together and says, “I’m fun…but still kind of serious….and very Fall and a little East Coast.”  A blazer is not to be confused with a “suit,” “cute jacket” or even a “sweater coat.” It’s fitted. It has lapels. It does not keep one warm, per se. It just sets the mood. like a briefcase or glasses (before they became an accessory).  Unfortunately, not all of us work in a professional environment in which we can casually and coolly introduce the blazer into our everyday lives. BUT WE MUST TRY.

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I don’t know if Mila Kunis said anything interesting but she did rock the black blazer.

The second the weather tipped below 70 degrees (and after it went up to 80 again) I put on my blazer.  And then I took it off.  I’m not interviewing for jobs anymore.  I live in LA.  Where can I go in the Blazer Casual style and not look weird? I came up with a list.

A List Of Where To Wear A Blazer In LA:

1) Norah Jones concert
2) Digital networking events
3) Standup comedy!
4) Drinks with people you met after networking event who you will never see again
5) Meet and greets (if these really exist)
6) When you’re meeting your friend’s boyfriend’s friend for Indian food in a casual non-date kind of way
7) Art openings on Abbot Kinney (sorry, that’s a whole other blog)
8) Panel discussion (never been on one either)

To be honest, I just can’t always own the blazer casual look.  Some women can wear it in a way that says, “I’m in a very confident place in my life, but don’t really need to impress you with the details.” But who are these women?

A List Of Women Who Rock The Blazer:

1) Elizabeth Warren
2) The Girl Who Works At The Bank
3) Miss Piggy
4) Francis McDormand
5) Mila Kunis
6) The 19-year-old intern at any job

Ultimately, if you feel it, wear it.  You can always mix it up with the Blazers, Jeans and Boots look.  In other words, Serious, Casual, Bad Ass.  The only thing that might get pricey could be the boots, if you want to invest.  Otherwise, go H&M all the way, or even Tar-gae.   I hope this helped someone.

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Let’s Talk About Carol From “The Walking Dead”

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Carol is bad ass.

WARNING: “The Walking Dead” spoilers ahead (if you think a TV show storyline requires a warning label).

Last Sunday’s episode of “The Walking Dead” (“Strangers”) begins with a lot of couples kissing, jabbering and walking in the woods…DEATH IS NEAR.  It’s very clear that Bob will soon buy the farm.  BUT WAIT….he lives….while some fine young cannibals snack on his amputated leg (mmmm, delicious fire-roasted calf).  It’s not the living dead we fear in post-zombie apocalypse culture, but our very own human brethren. OH, THE IRONY.

“Walkers” no longer pose the greatest threat to humanity because well, they’re just very slow and uncoordinated and while their bony hands can get a good grip on your neck, their heads have the consistency of a cabbage (according to the sound FX) and their demise only requires the energy it takes to slice a watermelon.  Not to mention, in the absence of any certified therapists, a quality zombie stabbing session can provide a great emotional release. (I’d like to try it).

Yes, these “walkers” could learn a few things from the World War Z zombies who mysteriously have super speed.  But let’s talk about Carol.  No, actually, let’s first talk about Carol’s hair. I live in pre-zombie apocalypse times with a job and presumably access to some affordable hair cuts and, yet, never look nearly as rockin as Carol, who hasn’t stepped into a salon since the first season. She and Daryl, who looks ready for the cover of Esquire in his hipster coif, must have stocked up on styling gel and mouse during one of their scavenging missions because for people who sleep outdoors and never bathe (that I’ve seen) they kill zombies in style.

But seriously, let’s talk about Carol. She begins her journey as the downtrodden wife of Wife-Beater Ed who (guess what?) becomes zombie food after he smacks her around and lectures Andrea (remember Andrea?) on how she needs to do his laundry because it’s “women’s work.” (Season 1 Andrea was cool).  Then Carol’s daughter, Sophia, goes missing and after they find her zombiefied, Carol loses it (as did I), goes into a PTSD coma and, along with Shane, looks prime for death.  But she doesn’t die.  Slowly but surely, Carol becomes bad ass.  She learns how to use knives and guns.  She kills some sick members of the camp because she fears they might infect the community.  For that arguably severe act, Grimes sends her away to fend for herself, but she does just fine.   She regroups with Tyrese to care for her adopted daughters, Sociopath Lizzie and Codependent Mikah, and when Lizzie offs Mikah (more PTSD) she does the right thing and shoots her…? (as logic dictates in this world).  Then she saves the Grimes Crew from becoming human jerky by single handedly blowing up the Human Meat Packing company, and then acts all, oh, I was just in the neighborhood, NBD… She’s more badass than Michonne who really kind of peaked in Season Three and now that she’s lost her sword has become weirdly smiley, peaceful and zen.  WHERE DID MICHONNE GO?

And, yet, through it all Carol has evolved, grown stronger, tougher and maintained the same short cropped hairstyle that requires AT LEAST a cut every three weeks.  WHO IS CUTTING CAROL’S HAIR?

The other great thing about Carol is that she has kept her hair grey. (If they can find styling gel in the post-zombie apocalypse, then surely someone can pick up a box of Natural Instincts).  I love that Melissa Suzanne Mcbride embraces her character’s age, and her own, and let’s her be a mature badass.  No wonder Daryl has the hots for her.

Interestingly, TV Version Carol has appeared in the most episodes of any female character, and is the only female character who has appeared in every season. In the comic book version she not only can’t fight or handle weapons, but she kills herself in the prison.    The TV show writers clearly have more respect for Carol (and maybe women…this is a comic book, after all).  Or, perhaps, Melissa McBride infused her character with so much strength that they had no choice but to keep raising her status in zombie world.  I don’t know what else to say, but I REALLY WANT CAROL TO LIVE.

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A Little Heart Heavy…

cloud-hiI had a breast ultrasound on Friday.  (For more info on my dense fibrous breasts and how I feel about mammograms click here.) I’ll cut to the chase and say I’m fine.  The cyst has shrunken.  Cancer doesn’t usually get smaller.  I didn’t chat with the radiologist with my boobs showing this time, so it scored lower on the excitement scale.   However, approaching this appointment I had imagined every possible horror scenario and was ready to spend the day in surgery.  People get diagnosed with cancer every day and my heart goes out to all of them.

Not that there’s a convenient time for a cancer diagnosis, but now would be really bad.  I don’t know how I would handle my mother’s cancer and my own.  It would be a like material for a one-woman show I would never want to put up.

Just when you think you have a handle on things (i.e., not sleeping alone), life gets a little harder.  Sorry to get all heavy and dark.  I just needed to get it out.

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In Excellent Sheep’s Clothing

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I lived in this building (in Berkeley college) sophomore and senior year.

I went to Yale. There, I said it. It happened.  I didn’t say I was a genius or particularly well informed. I just attended a competitive college.  Since I’m not a Kennedy or anything, it’s a little unnerving to admit at times.  Now you expect greatness. Or excellence. PLEASE STOP.

William Deresiewiczs taught at Yale for many years (not in my era, though, cuz that’s how old I am) and wrote the well-titled book, “Excellent Sheep.”   I didn’t read his book, but I did read the piece he wrote for the New Republic called,  “Don’t Send Your Kids To The Ivy League.”   In his years of teaching undergrads at Yale he found that “most of them seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them….The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk.”

Not exactly a compliment.    Younger New Yorker writer Nathan Heller took issue with this stance in the September 1st New Yorker article “Are Elite Colleges Bad For The Soul?.  Heller claims we no longer live in a world where a noblesse oblige (old money) class can enjoy quoting Keats (didn’t read) or where the average competitive middle/upper class kid (new money) can discover his soul through Paradise Lost (overrated).  College as a “discovery time” was never a thing except in the minds of some hippy professors in the 70’s. In Heller’s opinion, Deresiewicz is being very dated and impractical with all his whining about “opening up the soul”  We must compete to survive in our global economy.    If you’re not bleary eyed from how many hours you worked, you’re simply not doing it right. (I have discussed how I feel about this here).

I don’t disagree with Mr. Deresiewicz.    I worked hard in high school and did what I had to do to graduate in one piece, but my parents didn’t program me for uber-success. I think they’re still blown away that I went to Yale. I made friends and socialized with relatively chill kids and waited to graduate so I could take a nap.  (I took plenty of naps in college).  But I met those who never loosened their grip on the reins.  Must. Be. Awesome. YOU ARE A MACHINE OF SUCCESS.   Except for a few alcohol and/or drug- induced expressions of rebellion (my therapist would call it “acting out)” they strode confidently down professional tracks.  While I deliberated and signed up for open mics they received degrees, wrote books, and and all kinds of kick-ass Ivy League things.   Eventually, I decide that I am a spare tire Yalie and that’s OK.

old_campus

All freshman lived on old campus.

More than a few Yale students expressed fascination with the fact that I and my friends (I had a Berkeley posse at Yale) came from Berkeley. (People grow up there?) The future banker–ish types majored in econ, listened to rap and reggae and smoked a lot of pot.  I, of course, didn’t understand what the fuss was about.  My boyfriend tries to help me understand that for most young people growing up in suburban US life affords less creative or intellectual stimulation than in Berkeley. So, I can not judge.   We had a early familiarity with pot, politics, socioeconomic and racial diversity and an independence unheard of in this time of kid-chauffeuring (I started taking public transit when I was 10).  I grew up feeling like there weren’t any adults around.  So, yes, it’s  hard to feel sorry for rich kids deprived of soul. But nobody cares if the CEO has street cred or not.  My favorite Ivy Leagers are the ones who own it. White. Privileged. Staying That Way. No apologies necessary.

New-Haven-The-Home-of-Yale-University-Vanderbi

I lived in this castle freshman year.

Maybe I failed at being a “Yalie” but I loved my teachers, going to class, and the  experience of coming out of a Shakespeare lecture feeling like I’ve had a religious experience.   But to be honest, I had a similar experience with teachers at Berkeley High.  Maybe I just loved learning or was one of those mushy people upon whom a teacher could leave an impression.   I was some things that qualified me for a school like Yale, but excellent wasn’t one of them. Then again, I never stood drunk and naked next to a cow in the middle of winter and took a secret vow to reproduce my family’s class and lifestyle.  (I was never in a Secret Society, but I have heard some interesting stories)

graduation

I never said I had no fun.

In recent years I have found myself day dreaming about what it would have been like to go to a state school.  I wouldn’t have met a lot of great people, become acquainted with real pizza, slipped on ice in my Ann Taylor dress on my way to a ball in single digit temperature, or understood the meaning of the term “townies.”  However, I would have had more room to explore among less excellent sheep. I might have tried things that I wasn’t good at, like acting and guitar. I might have taken time off…But then again, I might have ended up in the exact same psychic space upon graduation time: tired, lonely and lost.

I’m still not sure college matters that much in the grand scheme of life.  My Yale degree has helped make up for some employment gaps, but, as it turns out, you don’t need a Yale degree to become a standup comic/playwright/blogger.  I often wonder if a fancy Ivy League-ish place satisfy a parents ego more than a students’ edification.

If I had children I would want them to explore their intellectual curiosity without the oppressive piano-sized weight of achievement on their shoulders.   I’m sure that a high percentage of Ivy League students have accepted an obligation set by their family with a stoic resolve. And that’s not a bad thing. However, I feel sad for anyone entrenched in his life as an investment banker if he really wanted to pursue African drumming or just build website and design music for goth films.

I used to think I was averse to a certain type of arrogance and aggression that generates excellence.  Now I think though I just got tired and wanted to have more fun…which we all should.

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