nonBlog — November 2009

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Sexperts—Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It has been suggested to me by fully one-third of my six loyal and devoted fans that I should post a recap of the fall office romance scandal season, since it would seem that high-ranking men going where no boss has gone before appears to have become Helaine’s and my bread and butter.
We owe most of our recent heightened Q rating to two things: the fact that the media can always be counted upon to react to consensual sex between coworkers with shock and outrage, and the fact that David Letterman turns out, bizarrely enough, to be a poonhound.
Letterman confessed his self-professed “creepy” behavior on October 1st, whereupon all hell broke loose. Health care reform, Afghanistan, what do they matter to Americans when single people are sleeping with single people they met at work? My priorities are so screwed up.

At any rate, we missed an opportunity to weigh in at the Daily News, which we mourned for a second or two until it became clear that we’d be taking calls and appearing on radio and television until the Project Runway finale or until people moved on to the Steve Phillips scandal, whichever came first. AM New York interviewed Helaine, and interviewed me, getting an impressive number of quotes wrong. (Boss-subordinate relationships only blow up when public people are involved? I don’t think so.) I then logged my first appearance on CNN’s Headline News Network (Helaine did our op during the book tour), and had only a minor cow in the hours before I had to show up at the studio. Hell, it’s progress. Then I wrote a column about NOW’s odd condemnation of Letterman for the San Francisco Chronicle that landed me on a conservative watch list of progressive political writers, whose followers now send emails whenever I write something lefty so that I can receive 95% Republican flamery in response to every post. Charming.
Next Helaine was a guest on Chicago’s “Santita Jackson Show” on WVON talk radio. I was quoted in articles on about working with your spouse and in The Boston Globe about the spate of office romance scandals. Whereupon the Letterman thing blew—my apologies—over, and Helaine and I basically collapsed in a sex-coach heap.
The greatest paradox about publicity flurries such as this one is that they sell a grand total of about five books per story, max. The theory is that Office Mate is so overexposed that no one actually has to buy and read the book in order to hear what Helaine and I have to say; they just have to open a magazine or newspaper, or switch on the TV or radio, to find out what they should or should not be doing with the co-worker of their dreams. But really, I’m okay with that. I figure that only a few people get to spend a piece of their short time on this earth being sex pundits, and if I’m one of them, the least I can do is enjoy it.

Undeserved, At Least So Far—Tuesday, November 10, 2009

News flash: I am a best-selling author. You didn’t know that about me? That makes two of us; I didn’t know that about me either. Author-wise, I hold one or two distinctions. I’m an exceptionally tall author, for example. Also, an exceptionally blonde author. But when it comes to volume, I’d say I’m a somewhat-selling author.
But I know that I am a best-selling author nonetheless because the back of a new book says so. Kelly Stone, who quoted me in “Time to Write: More Than 100 Professional Writers Reveal How to Fit Writing Into Your Busy Life,” asked me to blurb her new book a few months ago. I read the manuscript and gave her a few lines to play around with. She thanked me. I got my copy, and I looked on the back of the book for my blurb. No blurb. Oh well, you blurb some, you lose some. I kept reading the back cover. Here’s what it says:
NO PAGES? NO PROBLEM! You can learn to harness the power of your subconscious mind to maximize your writing sessions. In Thinking Write, counselor Kelly L. Stone reveals proven techniques you can use to release the prolific writer within—just like such bestselling authors as Jacquelyn Mitchard and Stephanie Losee.

I felt this thrill race from the top of my head to the soles of my feet, followed by this knot in my stomach when I remembered that I hadn’t actually earned the honor. It must have been a bit like what Obama felt when they called to tell him he’d won the Nobel. It’s not that I don’t have designs on best-sellerdom. I’d just rather achieve it before being recognized for it.
I have no idea why Stone or her editor promoted me to this exalted position; we’re not friends. She doesn’t owe me money or anything. But after sitting with this discovery for a few days I have decided that the universe is throwing down challenges. Somehow Obama has to achieve world peace, and I have write a book that sells like hotcakes.

A Shift in the Mental Landscape—Tuesday, November 3. 2009

I woke up this morning having had the first dream in my life of my father in a wheelchair.

Given that he died February 10, 2008, and that he couldn’t walk for several years before that, this is a fairly noteworthy milestone. But in my case it’s not all that difficult to understand. I have long had two bizarre issues with my dreamscape. The first is that every dream I’ve remembered since I can remember has been a nightmare. Or at least their adult equivalent, an anxiety dream. Second, my dreaming brain is stuck in the past. After 20 years with Tom, I seldom have a dream in which I’m married, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the dreams I’ve had that include any of my daughters. At night I am in my childhood home with my sisters and my mother—my father is rarely in the picture—and in utter distress. Something terrible is happening and I want to leave, but I can’t.

When I do dream about my father, he is always young and always walking. So it was really something new to have a dream in which his wheelchair not only appeared, but posed the central problem. We were in a seaside town where I wanted to take my father to one of two remote beaches I adored. That’s no surprise; my childhood and my father’s entire life revolved around the shore. He was an ocean lifeguard, a swimmer, a surfer, a sailor, and later, when he became disabled, he was devoted to his condo’s seaside views. But isolated beaches aren’t wheelchair accessible. I insisted there must be a way to get my father to one of my hidden spots—he just had to see them. “But I can’t walk,” my dad said. “Did you forget?”

My heart was beating hard; I could actually hear it. Maybe I could recruit a couple of really big guys to pick my father up and carry him to the sea? Then I remembered that he could not be lifted, because at the end of his life he had no knee in his left leg—just cotton packing. He couldn’t even turn in bed without assistance.

I woke up with a terrible feeling of having been squeezed, as if I were a wet towel and someone had tried to wring the water out of me. Then Ava, who has swine flu, woke up crying. And after I comforted her, I wrote these words down as fast as I could.

Turns Out You Can Go Home Again—Sunday, November 1, 2009

To look at my dormant blog, you’d think the last two months were without incident. Actually, they were so action-packed and transformative that it’s taken me this long to process them.
I spent the four weeks following my most recent entry in a state of anticipatory trauma, because in late September I was going to my 25th high school reunion back home in Cold Spring Harbor, NY.
For some people this event would be a matter of little consequence, but not for me. The minute I was done with school, I pretty much ran away from home and never returned. As readers of this blog are aware, my father had a breakdown when I was 13, and my high school years were lost to his alcoholism, prescription drug addiction, and multiple crippling back surgeries. My mother cared about appearances above all else, so she forbade me to speak of it to anyone. I don’t remember it this way—I’m sure I must have disclosed something—but according to my high school sweetheart, Derek, I didn’t even tell him what was going on. And we dated for three solid years.
As a result, I think of my high school self as a liar and a geek, often behaving oddly but unable to say why. It gets worse. I was ignored by the Mean Girls and mocked by the popular guys, a group of whom actually laughed me out of a Friendly’s in 12th grade when I was there with the other editor of the school newspaper, a brainiac boy even less cool than myself. I took solace in chocolate, which only caused further anguish. I was merely chubby, but my mother told me that men don’t like fat women and that no one would ever marry me. The school big mouth asked Derek, who was lean and well-built, if he minded my weight. (He said he didn’t.)
To add insult to reunion misery, the event was being held at my childhood beach club called—you really can’t make this shit up—The Lloyd Neck Bath Club. I am pale as a fish, but I was forced by said mother to go there every day of every summer until graduation. I probably don’t need to tell you that walking around in a bathing suit at a beach club populated by the same skinny, hipless Mean Girls from school was really more than I could handle on a daily basis. (To tell you the truth, they were not actually mean. They just kept to themselves, and the head Mean Girl had this way of unfocusing her eyes and looking off into the middle distance when I said hello to her, which my mother forced me to do at least once each summer.)
Thus my escape, which included allowing myself to fall entirely out of touch with my gang of friends, a Big Chill-type group of mostly boys who were some of the best people I had ever met. The only one I kept was Derek, and he was a distinctly unmotivated ex. I would call him every couple of years and have the sort of conversation in which you talk so much and so fast you trip all over each other. (Or at least I would talk too fast and trip all over Derek, who talked slowly but with great verve.) Then Derek would apologize for being out of touch and vow not to drop the ball again, after which point he would drop the ball again. But at least I could claim I still knew one person from high school.
I appreciate that most people with this level of post-traumatic high school disorder would simply skip the whole thing, which is what I did when we had our 10th reunion. But I couldn’t do that again, because I have this unnatural relationship with fear. Example: I was once on an ice cliff climbing at 12,500 feet with my weight-bearing foot turned at a 70-degree angle so that my crampons could grip the slope; there was a 2,000-foot drop and my ankle was failing. My reaction was to look down casually and think, “Hmm, I could die now. This is interesting.” By contrast, certain non-life-threatening activities that put me in front of an audience, like appearing on television, flood me with anxiety. My reaction pisses me off, so the more nervous I am, the more likely I am to force myself to confront it. (I admit this trait may make me somewhat difficult to live with.)
So I decided that not only would I attend the reunion, I would help plan the fucker. And on the theory that—crazy though I may be—I cannot possibly be the only one who feels at a loss to walk into that room cold, I would create a reunion directory. It would list everyone’s whereabouts and photos and I’d send it out before the date so we’d all have something to go on. I put together a short Q&A. It had contact information, sundries like kids and partner and profession, and questions like “Most mortifying high school memory” and “Biggest source of reunion dread.” At first the responses trickled in slowly, and for a moment I wondered if it was because no one wanted to be associated with the gawky likes of me. But the ones who answered were so happy I had taken on the project that I concluded the others were just busy. I bugged them. They caved. Soon the directory was 25 pages long, then 39, then 64. Their answers were stunning. People had grown and changed in ways that impressed the hell out of me. One of the popular boys said that his biggest source of reunion dread was seeing people he hadn’t treated well in high school. And, it seemed, some people hadn’t changed at all. The head Mean Girl sent along her responses without actually addressing me, somehow managing to send me an email without acknowledging that she was sending me an email.
I bought a dress that wouldn’t hike up, slide down, or make me otherwise miserable. Soon I had the bracelet, the earrings, the belt. I worried vaguely about looking old. I thought about, and rejected, the possibility of getting Botox. I thought about, and rejected, the possibility of getting Restylane. I didn’t think about going on a crash diet, however, because I had lost the extra pounds years earlier. But I still couldn’t picture walking in alone. I called Derek and asked if he was going. In typical Derek fashion, he said he wasn’t sure. (At this point, the deadline for sending in your 85 bucks had passed.) I asked him very nicely to please buy a plane ticket. He said maybe he would.
On the day of the reunion I was such a basket case that I swallowed a two-year-old Xanax that a doctor had given me when my father was dying. It must have expired, because I drove to the Bath Club with shaking hands. Stepping out of my car, I fully expected that people would point at me and start laughing. I collected my name tag, which had my sad-eyed, round-faced high school yearbook photo on it, and decided not to wear it. Then I caught my heel between the floorboards and flew into a panic. Of course I would break my shoe ten seconds into the reunion; it would only be fitting. Gina Costello, fellow reunion plotter, came to my rescue. “Don’t force it,” she said sweetly. “Wiggle it out.” The shoe came loose, heel intact. Gina smiled at me. “You look beautiful,” she said. I told her I was so scared to be there that I had rendered myself incapable of walking. She laughed. “Get yourself some champagne. It will make you feel better.”
I got champagne. I looked around the room. No Derek. I felt lost. Then all at once, people were coming up to me. They thanked me for creating the directory. They said I looked better, rather than older, than I had in high school. They told me they’d been following my bylines for years, which I found shocking. (I had been a nerd; why would they be interested in anything I’d done since?)
Then across the crowded room, I saw Derek. I hadn’t seen him in ages. The lean boy was gone, replaced by a grown man with a fuller face and shorter hair, both perfect stranger and oldest friend. We danced to cheesy ’80’s music, and for the first time since we met in math class I wasn’t worrying that he minded my weight. A man as nice as Derek had married me after all; his name was Tom and he was home at that very moment with our three daughters, generously holding the fort so I could go off and confront my demons, which were vaporizing with every passing minute. I looked at the spot on the beach where I used to huddle in a towel, and told my old self that one day she would come back here, and feel better.
One by one, the members of my old gang arrived. I had long regretted letting them go, and had tried to find several of them repeatedly. But they all had Google-proof names like Ingrid Hansen, and I gave up hunting after contacting several Ingrids who politely told me they were not mine. (It is Google, and only Google, that finally helped me appreciate having an unspellable, unpronounceable last name like Losee, which makes me easy as pie to find.) Seeing them again was as healing an experience as I have had in my whole damn life. I realized that just because high school had been a terrible time, not everything about that time was terrible. With my eyes I entreated, please have me back, and with their smiles they replied, heck yeah.
When the evening was nearly over, the head Mean Girl said hello.
And suddenly, it was 1:00 in the morning. The reunion had passed in what felt like 15 minutes. The music turned off; people were snapping on the lights and cleaning up. It was raining. Derek walked me to my car and said good-bye, and I drove back to my sister Sandy’s house and returned to my story, which felt re-written. The old gang is making noises about reuniting again a year from now, just us. Derek promised to hit the ball back from now on. I went home again, and I lived to tell the tale. Our 30th can’t come fast enough.

New, or Practically New

  • Fame and Fortune: Currently working on, and shocked to find I’m making headway with, the latter. Partly because of a bit of movement on the former. Perhaps endurance is the key to everything after all.