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Friday, November 30, 2012

Theory of Relativity

Just over a week ago, we were sitting around tables talking about, or hopefully at least thinking about, the things we are thankful for. Family, friends, health, hair straighteners, etc.

Unless you were my husband. If you were my husband, just over a week ago, you came home in a bit of a grumpy mood, tired and excited to just crawl into bed and call it a day.

On that same day just over one week ago, if you were my same husband in his same frown-won't-turn-upside-down spirits, you then received a little talking-to from yours truly. That went something like, "FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, IT'S THANKSGIVING. YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE THINKING ABOUT ALL THE GREAT STUFF IN YOUR LIFE, STUFF THAT SURELY OUTWEIGHS WHATEVER IS GETTING YOU DOWN IN THE DUMPS RIGHT NOW."

And then on that same day, if you were my same husband....all right, enough already with this literary device.

Bottom line: my husband responded to my edict with the following: "I think about things I'm thankful for even on days that aren't Thanksgiving, so I'm allowed to think about things other than thankfulness on Thanksgiving."

I know. What an idiot.

Okay, okay. Of course my husband was right.

Hopefully you all spend more than just one day a year reflecting, however quickly, on the things in your life that you're grateful for. I know I do. I normally try to keep those things to myself, lest I lose more of the few friends I currently have. While I'm no expert, I'm relatively confident that preening about my luck at having fowl-to-table eggs directly delivered to my kitchen counter every morning isn't the best way to earn yourself a friendship necklace.

My internal monologue regularly includes exclamations that could be construed as expressions of thanks: The smile that hits my face when I see my son staring out at me from his crib in the morning. The peace I feel knowing my husband is more settled in our new Maine lifestyle. The heartbeat that skips when I come upon my kids making each other laugh.

Then big things happen. Tragedy strikes, frustrations loom, disappointments set in. And I realize that I should be thankful for even more things than I am already taking the time to appreciate

If those bad things happen directly to me, then I see how lucky I had it beforehand. A miscarriage makes prior failed attempts at getting pregnant seem, somehow, gentler. Juice spills on the couch and I no longer notice the fraying of the seams. My submission to a writing competition isn't selected and low readership on the blog for a few days doesn't sting as much.

If those bad things happen to someone else, then I see how lucky I have it generally: She can't get pregnant at all; I just couldn't get pregnant for a while. They lost their entire home; I can deal with a blemished piece of furniture. He lost his job; I just lost a lark.

I find that if I let myself go really "meta" with this train of thought, I begin to feel badly about ever feeling badly for something that's happening in my life. I feel guilty that I'm sad or disappointed, because someone out there certainly has it way worse.

While that's probably true, it also probably isn't healthy for me to excommunicate myself from the land of the Sometimes Unhappy. The range of emotions is at our disposal so that we can experience them all, at least in doses, and as long as they're not criminal.

But it is also probably true that (a) I should only let myself wallow in the unhappy thoughts to a point; and (b) a sure-fire strategy for bucking up is to consider how lucky I am, even in my disappointments, relative to what someone else is having to endure.

I sometimes struggle with how to feel about that tactic, though. In a way, it seems mature and perhaps even spiritual to take stock of where you (and your problems) stand in the big scheme of things, and proceed accordingly. Self-awareness and empathy are important traits, and practicing them more every day would probably leave to smoother personal lives, not to mention political circumstances (but perhaps less reality television).

On the other hand, it seems to exploit the misfortune of others. To get really philosophical about it, you could argue that you're using someone else's sadness to your advantage by leveraging it to end your own. In so doing, could it be said that you're validating -- or valuing -- someone else's suffering by putting it to positive use in your own life?

Ultimately, I have to believe that's not the proper way to look at it. Indeed, I have to believe the above perspective needs to be shifted just a bit. I have to believe that when bad things happen, there is a lesson to be learned. That lesson could be that we need to pay more attention to climate change or that we need to end a certain way of doing business or that we need to recognize the miracle of good health. By absorbing the lesson in a way that prompts us to better appreciate or lead our own life, I have to believe that we are not taking advantage of another's misfortune, but are instead acknowledging how deep and profound and worthy of attention that misfortune is. We honor the misfortune by learning from it, and by moving forward in our own lives with that lesson in mind.

At least, I hope so.

So today, even though it's not Thanksgiving, I am giving thanks. I am thankful that my worries and sadnesses and disappointments are what they are. Because relative to her or him or them, I've got it good.

And I hope you do, too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It's A Fine Line

I walked into our bedroom just in time to catch my husband sneaking out the window. Not because I'd finally asked him one question too many, but because our bedroom window provided the best access to the roof over our front porch. It was from that roof that my husband wanted to hang the final 50,000 white Christmas lights, arranged in an "icicle" formation.

I let out a sigh as his left boot landed on the roof alongside his right boot, and stifled a comment as he adjusted the camo baseball hat he bought at Wal-Mart in a fit of "blending in." He'd been working all day on decking our halls. There were lights on our picket fence, lights on our shrubs, and garland wrapped around everything else that stands still. He had left the house in fifteen minute intervals to buy "MORE WREATHS!," because apparently you can never have too many wreaths. Our stockings were hung from our staircase with care, for if we hung them from the mantel, our son would destroy them there.

In a way, I wanted the activity to stop. He'd been fully absorbed with it for hours, our tiny house was sagging under the weight of all that holiday cheer, and the calendar hasn't even turned into December. For a woman who ranks "disdain for drugstores that put holiday decorations out months before the associated holiday" as one of her character strengths, I was being dragged into some dangerous territory.

But I contained my heckling impulse because - you know what? - I thought the house looked great. There's nothing I enjoy more than well-placed white Christmas lights, and all the wreaths on the windows masked our prolonged failure to purchase curtains. And if my husband fell off the roof, well, I know exactly where our life insurance policies are and how much he's worth.

It's a delicate enterprise, though, the whole decorating-the-house-for-Christmas thing. You want to be on the right side of the blow-up manger scene on the front lawn. Indeed, my husband hails from the land of Animatronic Christmas Characters. The first Christmas I spent in Puerto Rico, I thought he'd taken me on a haunted sleigh ride when we pulled into what I later confirmed to be his neighborhood and I was greeted by a blow-up waving Santa surrounded by swaying carolers that looked distinctly New England-ish. To date, nothing on our front lawn hums under the power of a generator. I take that as a reassuring sign that we have not yet become the house people drive by to feel superior, even if just for a fleeting five seconds.

Fine lines are tricky things. You can flirt with a fine line and be considered brave or a visionary or fun-loving or Lena Dunham. As soon as you cross that fine line, though, you immediately jump from some shade of adorable to a distinct hue of crazy or bizarre or "no trick-or-treating at that place next Halloween."

And the biggest trouble with fine lines is that they're physically invisible. They are defined only by what the people around you decide is excessive. Which means you could cross a fine line without even knowing it. The news might be broken to you only when you short-circuit your home or a loved one pulls you aside for a heart-to-heart. Or maybe you'll never know, and you'll just be the happy schmuck drowning in a pile of tinsel and home-brewing egg nog.

Fine lines are the trip wires we're constantly navigating. Is that young woman wearing a scrunchie hip in an ironic sort of way, or is she woefully unfashionable in a me-in-middle-school sort of way? Are the Twihards who line up for the first midnight showing of every installment of the movie series endearing innocents, or are they unfulfilled housewives who need to embrace the fact that Robert Pattinson is neither vampire nor available? Should the Jolie-Pitts really try to have enough children to field their own soccer team?

Flirtatious or harassing? Buzzed or drunk? White lie or impeachable offense? Jay-Z or Donald Trump?

The only thing we know for sure is that the Chris Brown fans who launch death threats via Twitter against anyone who tweets a negative word about the singer need to expand their extra-curricular activities.

I will continue to monitor my book purchases so that I don't go from avid reader to suspected stockpiling arsonist. I will try to wear less black, lest I become the world's first preppy-goth mom. I will watch Breaking Bad religiously, but won't allow myself to think it's a primer for adding to our nest egg.

And I will let my husband decorate our house to his heart's delight, but if I ever see prancing plastic reindeer on our lawn, it's lights out.

Image via

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sorry About That

Hey, Falcons fans.  Gather 'round.

Yesterday was kind of rough, huh? Not really the production we're used to seeing. There were bright spots, but we're growing accustomed to the entire thing being one big, sparkly bright beam of blinding light. I know, I know.

But you can stop reading all the doomsday commentary. You don't have to find a headset and start practicing your play-calling. Put down the pigskin.

Because yesterday? That was all my fault.

Actually, hold on. That's too harsh. The blame for yesterday falls squarely on the eight shoulders of my family. Including the 1-year-old's. Perhaps especially the 1-year-old's.

This is all really hard for me to discuss. I've got a knot in my stomach, a lump in my throat, and a guilty conscience sufficient for an entirely new brand of Western religious philosophy. And yet I'm going to woman-up and just come clean so that we can all move on, together, and rise up from the ashes of yesterday's performance to emerge clean and bright like a diamond next Sunday.

(Notes to self: "Rise Up" would make a great team mantra, and "bright like a diamond" sounds like the beginnings of a sultry, catchy-cool song. Should communicate these ideas to someone ASAP.)

Okay, so here's what happened.

1. On a typical Sunday gameday, I go to church in the morning and send up a little "please oh dear God just please please please no injuries solid play victory formation please seriously are you getting this please please please." It's all very eloquent and special and pretty powerful, which is thanks to the careful drafting and diligent editing I do of my religious haikus. Well, yesterday, I WENT to church but I couldn't really ATTEND the service because (a) I brought my son, who is a devil, and I introduced that devil into God's house which just can't be karmic; and (b) I taught Sunday school, so I missed all the praying parts. Ergo, God and I didn't really get a chance to talk, and apparently God is pretty middle-schoolish when it comes to a person withholding a chat.

2. My daughter made friends. This is a very uncharacteristic thing for a Diaz to do, and yes, she's still being evaluated. These friends of hers held a birthday party yesterday. What time was the party? IT WAS AT 1PM, PEOPLE! So while the Falcons were punt-returning, I was watching my daughter jump in a bouncy house shaped like a castle. That quarter of 3 interceptions happened while I fished her out of a pit of Styrofoam blocks, and ended at about the same time she turned her lips blue with artificially-flavored cake frosting.

So thanks, daughter, for desecrating the sanctity of the gameday time slot with your friendship-cultivating diversions. See what happens when you don't listen to me about confining your activities to the home and the dangers of smiling?

3. My son took a 3.5 hour nap. This fact makes me put the lion's share of the blame on my son's shoulders, because this is where our family karma really triggered some nastiness. You see, my son hasn't napped well since The Robert Pattinson-Kristen Stewart Reconciliation. And that has caused me major frowning. I complained about it so much that someone - that sly fox, God; Mother Nature; Doctor Spock, whoever - decided that yesterday would be the day my son finally slept instead of shrieked. In retaliation, though, He/she/he decided I had to pay the piper in some form, and so He/she/he hit me in my other soft spot (my psychic soft part; physically, I am nothing but soft parts), and he made the Falcons game a slog-fest.

(That paragraph was supposed to prove yesterday was largely my son's fault, but really it looks like it's all my fault again. (Which is exactly how parenting works.))

4. And really, maybe this whole thing is my husband's fault. (Which is exactly how marriage works.) My husband, who only watches games if a relative is playing in them and still doesn't fully understand what happens during a football game, somehow has some cosmic connection to games. He always - ALWAYS - knew, as soon as his feet hit the arena, whether my sister would play well in a basketball game and whether her team would win. He spent the rest of those games reading the Financial Times, so assured was he of her performance and the outcome. I can't think of a game he called wrong.

It's the same with the Falcons. He ALWAYS knows, as soon as I fire up my parents' DirectTV or start cursing at ESPN's delayed "play-by-play," how the game will go. He sometimes can predict which players will have particularly good games. It's bizarre and also perhaps an untapped source of income for us that we haven't yet exploited, which is really unlike us.

Anyway, yesterday I was at the aforementioned birthday party and he was home doing yard work. AND HE COMPLETELY FORGOT THE GAME WAS ON. He didn't even remember there was a game until I came home with the fairly dismal report of where things stood as the 4th quarter ran down. He actually had the nerve to say "Oh my gosh, I completely forgot the game was on." To his credit, when he uttered those prophetic words, he looked like he was about to cry and/or vomit.

I am sorry, Falcons Nation. I promise to pray harder, to forbid my daughter from making additional friends, to zap my son with a toddler-friendly taser every time he seems inclined for shut-eye, and to have my husband so dialed in to future games that he will forget he ever even owned a rake.

Seriously. Sorry.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Dear Abby: He Cheated, So What?

Stop me if you've heard this one before:

Man marries. Man climbs political ladder. Man enjoys some power. Man cheats on wife. Man holds awkward press conference referencing grave mistakes, genuine regret, forthcoming rehab, and eventual memoir....

Okay, okay, I'm stopping!

General David Petraeus is just the latest in a long line of men to follow this path to perdition. If you don't know who he is or what I'm talking about, congratulations. Now go turn on your television or type "P" in your Google search box and catch up.

I'm separately writing in HelloGiggles about the merry-go-round nature of these cheating scandals and what can be done to stop them. Today, on this glorious little blog, I'm addressing a reader's question about what I think of the scandal, but through this lens: should we even care?

The general consensus on Petraeus is that he was a strong military leader, served as a capable head of the CIA (the Benghazi scandal notwithstanding), and had a promising career ahead of him. That same yellow brick road beckoned men like ex-Governor Spitzer and ex-Congressman Weiner and ex-human Edwards and ex-Speaker Gingrich. (I leave ex-President Clinton off this list because he (a) held onto the presidency; and (b) has managed to reincarnate himself as the President Many Wish We Still Had). All of those men, while perhaps not universally adored, had strong bases of support and a buffet of professional options at their fingertips. But then, in their "private" time, they got too handsy with a paid escort or a smartphone or their non-wife. They were forced off the national stage by a tsunami of media coverage, salacious details, and general hysteria.

Here's the rub: if the only "law" these men broke was the sacrament of marriage (even Spitzer was never charged for his solicitation of prostitutes), what's the big deal? Do we really have to lose a public leader because he's a private loser?

My initial reaction is that it should not matter. If the guy is good (enough) at his job, who cares if he's not good (enough) at his life? He's only human, after all, and if perfection were a job requirement, Washington, DC would be a ghost town and corporate America would be staffed by my mother, Julie Andrews, and Deepak Chopra. A politician's extra-marital diddling should be a concern only to his wife, his family, and his church (if any). The taxpayer money that gets funneled to "investigations" of infidelity and the attention that gets diverted to timelines of affairs could be so much better spent and effectively allocated.

Then I keep thinking about it, though, and I'm not entirely comfortable with where those thoughts lead me. Because I do think the brouhaha is over-played, and I do think the wasted money and time is a shame. That said, I don't think we should just be expected to look the other way or simply pass along the best self-help books when we discover that another leader is banging the nanny.

I've discovered that there's still some pie-in-the-sky left in me. I still believe that when a person is elected or appointed to higher office, he or she becomes the standard-bearer of his or her constituency. We put our faith in them to do right by us, and they take an oath swearing that they will.

The stakes become higher as the office becomes higher. The President is the person we anoint as the physical representation of who we are and where we want to go as a country. The Director of the CIA is the person that's anointed for us as the one who will keep us safe.

Those are important roles with long to-do lists attached. So does it become a big deal when we learn that carve-outs from "manage the country" and "protect the country" are made for "canoodling"? You know what, I kind of think it does. An affair - any secret, really - takes an enormous amount of energy, attention, and time. If we're going to talk about wasted resources, isn't it fair to consider the cheater's wasted efforts? We're paying him to do a job (that he raised his hand for) that is broadly accepted to be 24/7. Why should we accept time off for trysts if the man doesn't even get paid vacation days? I don't know about you, but if I had my hands on General Petraeus' daily planner, I would have made less time time for devising Gmail "tricks" and more time for trying to prevent terrorist attacks.

To believe that a public life can ever be effectively cordoned off from a private life may be as misguided as a Congressional inquiry into how many military boyfriends Jill Kelley manages at once. France is a country that loves to think of itself as progressive on this point. Untidy private lives are very c'est la vie when it comes to France's presidents and their ladies-in-waiting. But even France is consumed with a scandal all its own, as its current President, Francois Hollande, is being accused of ineffectively keeping his former mistress from going all Fatal Attraction on his former wife. Everyone knew about the girlfriend when he was elected, but now the girlfriend is threatening his very presidency.

It seems that no matter how "above the fray" a public can pretend to be, the fray eventually starts making noise - a disruptive, non-symphonic noise.

The question, it seems, could be boiled down to this: do we let go of our perhaps antiquated expectations of our leaders, or do our leaders let go of their perhaps antiquated notions of the trappings of power?

I'm tending to think it's the latter. Our leaders shouldn't be expected to be perfect, but when they're on our clock, I'd like to think they should strive to behave, yes, perfectly. I think it's pretty easy to say what side of the dividing line "conducting an affair" should fall on.

So come on, guys: Keep a zipper on it for the 2 or 4 or 8 years you're in office, then go be the lying sonofagun you were aching to be during your term(s). Okay, you don't think a private affair should prompt a public downfall, but please don't test the electorate's value system by going ahead and having the affair. And if that really feels like too big a limitation, too punishing of a sacrifice, then you have some re-evaluating to do. Professionally and personally.

The Governator. Mark Sanford. Anthony Weiner. Cheaters all.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

People, I'm Calling Your People

Today marks the official kick-off to the holiday season.

People Magazine announced its Sexiest Man Alive, Part 2012.

The winner is Channing Tatum, a/k/a This Guy:

Image via
Okay, so wow, People. Way to stretch the limits of creativity and trains of thought with this pick. Sexy man.....ohhhh look! There's the guy who wore a tie with no shirt underneath and some snazzy pants he could rip right off when his hips needed more room to gyrate! Let's pick him! Let's pick him! Where are my $1 bills? Let's pick him!
All right, so I'll admit it. I'll admit that when Dear John happens to be OVTN or TLC or PMS, I'll stop for a bit and watch Channing do Channing. He is the kind of man that makes you want to be the kind of woman who's waif-like and in some sort of Life Dilemma, hopefully with a douche of a dude that Channing can one-up and stare down. But he's also the kind of man who starred in The Vow this year, which is basically like Dear John Part Deux, only with Rachel McAdams playing hard to get after she miraculously comes out of a coma.  (Full disclosure: I haven't seen The Vow. Fuller disclosure: I don't need to.)
I know that People's favorite charade is to insist that they pick the guy who's "hot" because of what he's done in the past year, career-wise, and not just smoldering-look-wise. And so this year they point to all that "range" Channing demonstrated, between the Magic Mike strip teases and The Vow un-brain-freezes and the 21 Jump Street idiot cop formula-eezes. Not coincidentally, this has been the year that Hollywood Writ Large has declared The Year Channing Tatum Assumes The Mantle of The Next 'It' Guy.
Bandwagon, meet People magazine.
Channing seems like a nice enough guy and I am sure there are many ladies out there muttering things about him eating crackers in their bed and that being perfectly fine. His movies, it must be said, are generally entertaining. Also, his wife Jenna talks a lot about how he's so "spiritually open." I have no idea what that means, and she probably doesn't, either. The point is, we can all kind of assume there's some there there. He's not Ryan Lochte.
But I still cry foul, am sore from the head-scratching, and am kind of headachey from the eye-rolling. Were you not paying attention last year, People? Your people were up in arms that Bradley Cooper bested Ryan Gosling, and this year you don't even do us the solid of acknowledging your mistake BY CORRECTING IT?!?
Fine, fine, fine. The only movie Ryan Gosling was in this year was The Place Beyond The Pines, which I didn't even know about until I looked him up on IMDb. But that's because he was filming THREE movies for release in 2013, PEOPLE!!!! AND didn't you see him all over the place during the presidential campaign, in those memes about how he'd never put a woman in a binder and the PaulRyanGosling twitter handle? I mean, talk about range! A Hollywood elite being deployed in conservative schtick!
What's more, it's time for some big picture perspective. Not only does The Notebook best Dear John every day and twice on every day, but The Notebook is and forever will be the movie a gal watches when she really wants to feel insufficiently adored and totally under-appreciated. It's the movie she goes to when she wants to cry, when she wants to envy, when she wants to believe in love. That's right: believe. in. love. And it's all because of Ryan Gosling.

He can make hearts swoon, he can makes stomachs churn when he bashes in someone's skull with the heel of his boot, he can make a grown woman wish she were a plastic doll. It doesn't matter what he's doing, all that matters is that he's the one doing it.
Yet you won't give him a picture on the front of your glossy?
The only good excuse for this repeated oversight is that tomorrow you're announcing a new mantle whose working title is: Best Man in the Recent History of Hollywood and Perhaps All Professional Pursuits of the Post-Industrial Age (Second Only to Johnny Depp). And that you're honoring the title by publishing an issue composed entirely of pop-up photo spreads featuring Ryan Gosling posing, half-smiling, and holding his hands out to cup the reader's face.
I assume this is in the works.

And I assume my copy is in the mail.
It's faulty decision-making and questionable priorities such as those evidenced by the above that make a person have to move to Canada.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Riddle Me This

Yesterday, the Atlanta Falcons lost. It was their first loss of the season. Their record is now 8-1.

For Falcons fans, and I presume for the team itself, it was a tough loss. Not so much because it is the first blemish of the season, but because (a) it was to New Orleans; and (b) they could have won. Like, for real they could have won. With time winding down, they were within 2 yards of a go-ahead score. When they were unable to convert, they managed to get the ball back with enough time for the offense to do what it does and pull a win out of its playbook. This time, though, they ended up 2 yards shy of a huge Roddy White catch for another variation of glorious Atlanta Falcon Football Fantasticalness (it's a word).

And now the "L" column of their 2012-13 season doesn't stand for "Lonely" anymore.

As you can surmise, I have paid attention to the Falcons' season and to the attention that has been paid to it/them. I am puzzled to report that yesterday afternoon, for the first time I can recall this year, the Falcons' game was the lead story in every game break, game recap, and game psychoanalysis. THE FALCONS LOSE! THE FALCONS LOST! THE FALCONS ARE 8-1! NEW ORLEANS HELD OFF THE FALCONS! THE FALCONS CAN'T MOUNT A COMEBACK! HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES, MATT RYAN HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH?!?!?!?

It was the loss heard 'round Twitter, the goal-line stand to rival the last stand of the Battle of Antietam, and the crumbling of a wall slightly less monumental than the one that used to divide the Germanys. It's as if the world outside of Falcons' Nation heaved a collective sigh of relief, followed immediately by a "Yeehaw" and topped off with a (remarkably less mature) "I TOLD YOU SO!"

Until yesterday, the Falcons were the success story minus the story. They were the over-achieving child the parents kept locked in a closet. They were the precocious perfectionists everyone decided were best dealt with through an extended media timeout.

Until yesterday, the most consistent coverage the Falcons got was in the form of "yeah, but." Hey, they beat the Broncos! Yeah, but Peyton's neck is still tweaky. Hey, they beat that phenom you all liken to the love-child of a Steve Young-John Elway-Dan Marino threesome! Yeah, but they were losing until they beat him. Hey, they beat the Cowboys at home under that wicked huge, kinda scary tv! Yeah, but the Cowboys aren't really The Cowboys anymore.

The players insisted they didn't mind this short shrift. Fine, good for them. Not only are they far superior athletes than me, they are far superior perspective-keepers. I thought the begrudging, back-handed attention being paid to the Falcons was annoying. But I didn't really care enough, because the Falcons were winning. Which was kind of the best comeback to any and every variety of "yeah, but."

Yeah, but yesterday the Falcons lost. I don't think they are going to make a habit of it. What the loss showed me most immediately was that my nagging suspicion that the Falcons were the team everyone loved to root against was not misplaced. It was the sports-world equivalent of "na na na boo boo."

Sports is a weird world for lots of reasons. One of them has to be that it is a world where you're allowed to hate a person you'll never meet, a team you could never make, and a city you may never go to, just because. Just because he rivals "your" guy. Just because they might beat "your" team. Just because you've made it "your" city since you were born there or your dad was born there or it's the city with the name you learned how to spell.

Remember how the Green Bay Packers were undefeated for a while last season? I looked back at THEIR first 8 games, and they didn't beat a single team with a record over .500. In fact, several of the teams they beat were well under .500. And even as they continued their march towards perfection, the best team they beat were the Detroit Lions, whose record was 7-3 going into the game. Yet throughout that run, I do not recall their 8-0 record, or the perfection they maintained until a surprising loss to Kansas City that put them at 13-1, being tainted or downgraded or "yeah, but-ed" the way the Falcons was through yesterday.

What is it about the Falcons' franchise that inspired the tepid reaction they received? Why the fawning over Green Bay and the flailing over the Falcons? What's the difference between the Packers beating "average" teams and the Falcons beating "average" teams?

Sports is a fickle business, a petty pastime, a dangerous mistress. Maybe the difference between the Packers then and the Falcons until yesterday was the point differentials. Maybe it was the highlight reels. Maybe it was Aaron Rodgers coining a dance that would make for some great State Farm commercials, and Matt Ryan sticking with less Hollywood fist pump.

Or maybe the difference is just that people find the Packers a team they can more universally get behind. And that would be their loss.

The world beyond Falcons' Nation is missing out on a fun, talented, admirable team. So their loss is way more painful than the loss the Falcons experienced yesterday.

And something tells me the Falcons will learn much more quickly from theirs.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Dear Abby: Page Turners

I have not written about what I have been reading in a while, and I've been asked for an update.

The truth is, I have been reading fewer books lately. My warped little brain decided to set up a home-schooling effort, if you will. I make the assignments, do the work, and give the grades. Kind of an awesome way to go to school.

My well-articulated goal has been to "get smarter." Because when I go to motivational speakers or listen to Suze Orman, I pay attention when they repeat ad nauseum to be specific and precise about your goals so as to ensure their successful achievement.

In my quest for "getting smarter," I have embarked upon the following:

  • I subscribed to The New Yorker (because I learned that all my smart friends read it).
  • I subscribed to Vanity Fair (because I learned that all my smart cousins read it).
  • I subscribed to the New York Times (because I learned that Katie Couric reads it and I still have an inexplicably passionate girl crush on her).
The Times subscription I opted for was just the Sunday paper and unlimited digital access. The New Yorker also only comes once a week, and Vanity Fair arrives once a month. Still, with the Sunday Times weighing more than both of my children combined and The New Yorker being a big fan of unlimited word counts and miniscule print, it's all I can do to keep up.

Plus, I've done some tweaking of my book learnin' too. In the days of old, I read mostly fiction, and it was usually of the contemporary variety. Which was all well and good, but when people started debating classic Russian fiction and I couldn't even spell "Dostoevsky," I just started feeling badly about myself.

So now my book-ing follows a pattern:

  • Non-fiction (of any variety, including my favorite...memoirs!);
  • Classic fiction; and then, finally,
  • Contemporary fiction.
My most recent tour through that trio included:

Don't Get Too Comfortable, by David Rakoff. I am ashamed to admit that I only heard of Rakoff after he died (in August of this year), a loss people lamented on Twitter. Rakoff is an essayist who I would compare to another David: David Sedaris. The Rakoff version is a slightly-watered down humorist of the Sedaris version. Where Sedaris is at his best when he is at his most outrageous, I found Rakoff to be at his best when he was at his most (subtly) caustic. This particular collection of essays takes a look at our general self-absorption and self-importance, but does so from entirely unexpected angles. For example, one essay is about joining a tour of a Brooklyn park hosted by a food forager, and another is about a juice fast Rakoff participates in for 30 days. The essays are spectacularly written, ingeniously nuanced, and very easy to tear through.

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. Yes, that Lolita. The book about the dude that falls in love with his teenaged step-daughter. Another admission: much of this book just grossed me out. I mean, I don't typically consider child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, remotely in the realm of "entertainment," "education," or "edification." But if there's a reason this book is a classic, I'd wager to say that it's because you somehow stomach the horror of the subject-matter thanks to the glory of the writing. I've never before felt like I was swimming through words, but somehow Vladimir (whose native tongue was Russian) manages to do submerge the reader in a current of (English) words that carries you along from chapter to chapter. I'd recommend this book if you can let literary value overtake actual storyline. Don't feel badly if you can't.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Yes, that Gone Girl. The one you've probably already read and the one I just finished because I'm always behind the curve. This book is pretty exceptional. It's divided into three sections, and I'd say the first section is by far the best. It is there that Flynn sets the stage: she describes Nick and Amy's early relationship, which led to their marriage, which led to them hating each other. She tells the story through Nick's first-person accounts and Amy's diary entries, and it's enthralling. Flynn's telling is so authentic and so not-cliche that you feel like you're reading a Dateline NBC Friday night special. Once the stage is set, Flynn lets loose. It is not a spoiler to tell you that Amy disappears, Nick is suspected of her murder, and every crime novel or Nancy Grace broadcast you've seen plays out in stereotypical format. Here, the book degenerates a tad, just because of, well, the stereotypes. But then it takes a turn back to the original as you start to see what really happened. That reality, while original, is also a bit in fantasy land. So while it's still a good, gripping read, it doesn't enjoy the same uncanny insights as the first section of the book. All told, though, this is a must read. If you aren't already on the bandwagon, jump on.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Oh my goodness. I am feeling frazzled and frenzied, with a dose of fired-up. My poor eyeballs are totally over-stimulated, what with all the articles and posts and tweets they've had to read in the past 36 hours. It's one thing to witness history; it's another to absorb it in every shade of pixelated, digitized, character-counted madness.

My guess is that you feel the same way. My guess is that if you read one more thing about politics, the election, or poll trends, you risk spontaneous combustion. My guess is that, like me, you still have 514 CNN Breaking News alerts to sift through.

So I'm going easy with today's post. I can't muster the energy for commentary, and I don't think you need it. And yet writing about almost anything other than what went down last night seems kind of odd.

All I'm going to do, then, is preen and gloat a little bit. Because Maine made history last night, and it's the kind of history I'm proud to be a part of.

For the first time in history, a popular vote - of the people, by the people, for the people - led to the approval of a gay marriage initiative. The people of Maine legalized same-sex marriage last night.

Six other states and the District of Columbia have same-sex marriage laws on the books, but those were the result of court decisions or legislative acts. Great result, but slightly less awesome path to get there.

By filling ballot boxes with more yes's than no's, Maine men and women went over and above their resident judges and legislators to extend the state's recognition of marriage to Mr. & Mr. and Mrs. & Mrs. Hurray. And also, finally.

Maine's state motto is Dirigo, or "I lead." Last night, we did.

Come join us, won't you?

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Live From My Living Room

Do you ever get the feeling that you're entirely misunderstood?

You watch people interact with you, listen to the things they say to you, and think to yourself, well gosh, this person doesn't know me at all?!?

I feel that way a good 60, maybe 70, percent of the time.

Unfortunately, the people who sometimes have me looking over my shoulder, certain that they must be directing their commentary or questions at someone other than me, are my husband and two children. I'm no Dina Lohan, but I'm pretty sure there's something about that family dynamic that just isn't right.

I decided it was time to get to the bottom of the whole, disappointing mess. I scheduled a family meeting. Except I told each family member to show up at a unique, appointed time. And the meeting consisted of nothing more than me putting the following question to each of them:

"What do you think I spend my time away from you doing?"

I started with my husband, since on paper he should have the greatest alacrity with (a) speaking and (b) thinking. I then worked my way down the family roster. Here are the answers I got:

Husband, What do you think I spend my time away from you doing?

  1. Skipping through the treasure hunt of discarded button-up shirts, vests, and socks I leave strewn about the house for you to deposit in the laundry bin for me.
  2. Hiding the vest I want to wear, my "work jeans" or that thing I bought that one time with the thingy on the side that I need to do something outside. You hide that stuff and you roll your eyes when I ask where it is, and then you sneak off and put it wherever it was that I left it and act like I left it there and should remember things like that.
  3. Thinking of stupid things to say to me.
  4. Stock-piling questions to ask me.
  5. Counting down 'til the next episode of Pawn Stars.
4-Year-Old Daughter, What do you think I spend my time away from you doing?

  1. Dreaming up different ways to respond to the summons "Mammiiiiiiii??????"
  2. Shoving snacks up your sleeves so that you can produce them within seconds of a request.
  3. Practicing your perplexed face for when I want to play hide-and-seek and hide directly in front of you, in plain sight, talking to you the entire time.
  4. Practicing your excited face for when I report things to you like (a) seeing a bug; (b) putting on my own socks; or (c) finding the sandwich you made me that I lost.
  5. Enjoying a game of "which toilet needs to be flushed?"
1-Year-Old Son, What do you think I spend my time away from you doing?

  1. Strewing extension cords around the house for  me to pursue, yank, and insert into my mouth.
  2. Dropping bits of dirt, leaves, and other debris on the floor for me to pursue, examine, and insert into my mouth.
  3. Devising new ways to sit with your knees exposed so that I can pursue them, pat them, and insert them into my mouth.
  4. Wielding the most glorious device of God's creation, the remote control, so that I can pursue that wand of wonder, rip it from your hands, and insert it into my mouth.
  5. Buying whatever looks disgusting at the grocery store so that you can pursue me with it and trick me into eating it, which only forces me to spit it from my mouth.
The obvious take-away here is that these people are strangers to me. Or I'm a stranger to them. Either way you look at it, there's a disconnect.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Dear Abby: Zumba Weeeeeee!!!

You've heard of Zumba, right? It's a group workout class that combines Latin and international music with dance steps that either (a) help you burn calories; or (b) show you off in 360-degree mirrors as the utter and complete fool you are. Zumba participants are either sixty-ish or sixteen-ish. All the in-between age groups are either too shy to try or are already knee-deep in psychotherapy and don't need more material for the couch.

Zumba participants are also usually female. So are the teachers.

One entrepreneurial Zumba teacher in Kennebunk, Maine, a quaint town about 40 minutes south of where I live, decided she wanted to expand her class base. How do I get the men-folk to join me for some gyrating, hip-shaking fun, she asked herself?

A couple of readers have suggested I share her business plan with you. Here we go.

** NOTE: I am a lawyer. I did not take on a second mortgage to go to business school. I can't vouch for the soundness of the "business plan" I'm about to discuss. From a legal perspective, you'll see it's not the soundest of approaches. That's all I'm qualified to say. **

Alexis Wright is 29 years old. She had a dream. That dream was to be the most famous Zumba instructor in southern Maine.

Congratulations, Alexis! You've won the title, not just for southern Maine, but maybe for all of New England! What's her prize, Bill?

Well, iiitttttt'ssss...106 counts of prostitution and invasion of privacy! Good for you, Alexis!

You see, by "attracting the men," Alexis decided to reach back and take a page out of the business plan of the world's oldest profession. She decided that after a day of teaching baby boomers how to toe-heel-twirl, she'd transform her dance studio into a...well, into a brothel.

That's right. Over 18 months, Alexis "hosted" approximately 120 men for a range of "services." She kept detailed records of those services and the clients who received them, and she tallied up the $150,000 she made from her little side-venture with the precision of a certified public accountant. Apparently Alexis really does have a head for business. Unfortunately, her head just didn't seem to have room for anything else, like common sense and/or fear of the law.

Because Kennebunk, where Alexis' studio was, is not the type of place where late-night "hosting" goes unnoticed. It's a famous tourist destination where the Bush family owns a compound and where lobster rolls are sprinkled with diamond dust. You can walk from one end of the town to the other in the amount of time it takes you to consume an order of fried clams.

So when "bow-chicka-wow-wow" started echoing across the bay on a regular nightly basis, people took notice.

Now Alexis has been charged for her hosting duties and for the videotapes she took of her performing her hosting services. Her "partner," a swell guy named Mark Strong, has been charged too (he helped with booking Alexis' services, you see). Both claim it's all a big misunderstanding, that the piles of evidence really just refer to this long-going game of M-A-S-H they've been playing, and someday we'll all sit back and get a good giggle out of this whole thing.

For now, though, no one is laughing. Especially not the dozens and dozens of fellows who had such a good time with Alexis for three minutes here and there.

The names of 21 of those gentlemen were initially released, and then 18 more were published. The lists include men from 20-ish to 60-ish years of age, some of whom are former mayors, lawyers, public employees, and other known figures.

Presumably more names will be released. Some of the men, though, are legally challenging the release of their name, saying it's another invasion of their privacy and that their lives/careers/marriages will be destroyed if their participation in the Ring of Ruin comes to light.

Boo hoo hoo, right? If you didn't want to be known as a dude who pays some (overworked, it would seem) gal for sexual favors, DON'T BE A DUDE WHO PAYS SOME GAL FOR SEXUAL FAVORS! The men who bought what Alexis was selling will be charged with a Class E misdemeanor, the lowest on the totem pole of Maine crimes. The offense is punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Most of them probably won't get jail time. So the punishment amounts to a slap on the wrist. Which probably isn't as much fun as the slaps on the backsides they were paying for, but hey.

The point is, being outed is both procedure, fair, and deserved. The criminal system is premised on the notion of openness, with cases and records only being sealed when exceptional facts demand closing the door. Alexis' name and image is plastered all over the media, and with this being an activity where two were required to tango, it doesn't seem fair for the other half of the dance to hide behind the curtain now. What's more, public shaming may be the only punishment that means anything to this current crop of criminals and that deters other testosterone-addled brains from dialing a date.

What's that line Maine likes to throw in your face as soon as you cross the state line? Oh yeah! The way life should be! So come for the lobster, stay for the loose morals!

 With friends like these, who needs clients?
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