Monthly Archives: March 2010

Deconstructing the Zillion-Dollar Investment That Still Hasn’t Yielded Any Damn Returns…

Recently, while I was en route to meet up with some old coworkers circa 34th and 8th, I ran into a classmate from junior high who I haven’t seen since — oh, I don’t know — 1994? And as soon as we established we were who we thought we were, she said, “Lisa! This is so weird! I was just thinking about writing you because I’m thinking about applying to journalism school…”

Sooo…long story short, I sent her the longest email ever. Which — slightly doctored — seemed like an okay blog post, too.

Et, voila.

Here it goes: The jury is still out on whether I think Columbia was worthwhile. It was certainly a good experience at the time and I met really wonderful people and made really wonderful contacts…and it’s super-quick and definitely gives you some street cred and/or a name to drop at cocktail parties…and — keep in mind that I graduated at quite possibly the single worst time ever…and *that* has definitely played into my experiences post-Columbia. But, then again, after Martha let me slip through her fingers, I was networking like a fiend, trying to drum up freelance contacts and/or a full-time job…and I met a guy who had graduated from Columbia a few years before me…and he said you have to look at it like an investment and, understandably, you can’t expect an ROI immediately. Which makes sense. But it’s not always comforting.

If I could do it again, I’d definitely do the new media program — or whatever they’re calling it now. Prior to grad school, I was a financial journalist…but only because I majored in English and wanted a writing job…and there are TONS of financial writing jobs here. (In fact, a LOT of my classmates ended up at Reuters and Bloomberg and Dow Jones…even though they’re not necessarily interested in writing about finance at all — but they need paychecks and health insurance…and this week I got not one but TWO panicked emails from friends in that situation…and had to send them peppy responses about how it’s all going to work out for us someday and that these are just the lean times…and, I mean, I hope I’m right…but I know how they feel — I, too, have my panicky moments and sort of depend on them for the same advice when *I* freak out…)

So, anyway, I went to Columbia because four years went by really fast and all of a sudden, I had backed myself into this niche and even though I told myself I wasn’t going to make a career out of venture capital or mutual funds — and I really feel that I am woefully inadequate to cover these topics as I am HORRIBLE with money — by ’06, it was all anyone trusted me to cover (…if they actually trusted me at all. Which is a whole other can o’ worms…). I really had no clips about anything else. And…a lot of people I worked with at Dow Jones had gone to Columbia, so I finally decided it was worth my while to go, too, so I could prove that I had basic reporting skills and that I *could* write about other things and I wanted to make the leap from financial reporting to Martha. (I really like baking…) And more than one person I worked with at Dow Jones didn’t actually want to be there…which didn’t seem that bad for poor Master’s-Degree-less Lisa…but I sort of looked at the Columbia grads who ended up there with pity, thinking that things would be different for me if *I* went through the program…

So…I hustled. I really did. And — I don’t know about you, but…when I graduated from college, I just sort of expected someone to give me a good job because I worked really hard in college. And, you know, if I had studied business or engineering or something, maybe that would have been the case. But, other than maybe teaching, there just isn’t a really clearly defined career path for English majors. And so I really struggled to find my way. And eventually I did…but I was determined not to let the same post-graduation slump hit after Columbia.

And, like I said — it worked…for awhile. I interned at Good Housekeeping while I was a student and I got a gig with Martha after graduation. But…then she let me go…which, in hindsight, maybe wasn’t the worst thing ever as I wasn’t enormously happy there…and, between the two gigs, I learned magazine journalism isn’t really what I want to do anyway. Which sort of ushered in another existential crisis — like, “I thought I knew what I wanted to do! And now here I am practically 30 and I was totally wrong!” And, I mean, I’m working on a book now and freelancing and whatnot…so it’s not exactly tragic…but…like I said, if I could go back in time, I’d do the new media program. I tried to sort of couch things while I was there and take the new media elective…but I got the fill-in teacher on Saturday…and the class was AWFUL and we learned NOTHING. The guy knew his stuff…he was just really bad at explaining it…and, to make up for it, he just had us create WordPress blogs…and said we could do as much or as little with them as we wanted. So…none of us really learned any valuable Web skills. So. That’s point #1.

#2: I haven’t been astonishingly impressed with Career Services — either as a student or a grad. In my first meeting, the lady looked at my resume and said, “Oh, great! You have financial reporting experience! It will be easy for you to get a job after graduation…” and I said, “Well, that’s the thing — I don’t want to write about finance anymore. That’s the whole reason I’m here…” and she said, “Oh…” and I think she knew someone at Food & Wine…but that went nowhere. And, I mean, it could very well be because I had these weird, stringent demands at the time — Food! I want to write about food! — and, really, a lot of my classmates have gone on to successful careers at the Miami Herald and CBS and the Huffington Post…but…I found the gig at Good Housekeeping on my own. I found the gig at Martha on my own. Take from that what you will…

The Career Services department sends out emails about jobs from time to time…but I haven’t found those to be enormously helpful either. We got one once about an entry-level position at the New York Times Syndicate. And it said it was very clerical but that it was a great position for someone who eventually wanted to go on to editing and that two grads from ’07 had taken similar positions and were quickly promoted to editors. I sent in my letter and got called in for an interview…and the first words out of the editor’s mouth were, “Did anyone tell you how crappy this job is?” and I tried to be upbeat and mentioned what Career Services had said about the two grads from ’07 getting promoted and she said, “That was a fluke. I had to fire one guy and another joined the Army…your ascent would be profoundly slower.” And then she told me that the job entailed an hour and a half a day of sorting mail…and cleaning the managing editor’s office. So. I didn’t get the job…but wasn’t really upset about it…and then about a month later, Career Services sent out another email about this SAME position saying the SAME things about how it was great for a future editor and that two grads from ’07 quickly scaled the editorial ladder…so I sent a reply to some of my classmates and said, “Don’t be fooled! This is the mail-sorting, office-cleaning gig!” and one of them jokingly responded, “How do we know you’re not just saying that to keep this job for yourself?”

So. I don’t have to tell you that it’s tough out there…but…I really feel like I’ve been on my own as far as finding jobs are concerned. But, then again, a friend got a gig at a Spanish language newspaper thanks to Career Services and she just loves the guy who works there. And…in Career Services’ defense, they *do* tell you how much easier it is to find jobs if you leave New York. So that may be part of my problem, too.

And…I’m a Libra — the scales. So I’m notoriously bad with decision-making and can often see both sides of an issue. Case in point: Sometimes I feel like maybe I would have been better off just quitting my job and hustling to become a freelancer. Because…in the end, that’s what happened…and I wouldn’t be up to my eyeballs in debt for the rest of my life. But…on the other hand, I really, REALLY hated writing about venture capital and mutual funds…and…I fill in for this marketing publication every now and again…which really just means I write about brands that have promotions on Facebook or Twitter…and I just wrote about beer…and, as I was writing it, I had an epiphany that I really was much happier writing about beer than I ever was writing about, say, XBRL or 22c-2. And I realized that I would probably be profoundly unhappy if I had stayed in financial reporting and I would totally regret not taking a chance and seeing what happened. And…I suppose there’s still hope for my career. Who knows what the future will bring…but, at the same time, I haven’t dreamed of writing about Facebook campaigns ever since I was a little girl…so…it’s not like what I’m doing now is truly fulfilling. It definitely sucks less than what I was doing before…but, then again, I didn’t go to Columbia to get a job that sucks less.

But…then again (again), I wouldn’t have worked at Good Housekeeping or Martha (or written for HuffPo) without Columbia.

And I think your experience there is really strongly influenced by your RW1 instructor/class. I got really lucky — I had Dale Maharidge and he was/is wonderful and has been a great resource post-graduation. (I also took a literary journalism class with Christopher Lehmann-Haupt…and he is totally amazing and I love him…and he’s been really helpful with this book I’m trying to get published…) And…I was really lucky because my RW1 class got along really well…and we’re all still (pretty) good friends now. But…I heard horror stories about some RW1 classes…and so I can imagine if you don’t like your instructor, it would really profoundly influence your experience…and you’re only there for ten months! But…there’s not much you can do about that — it’s just sort of the luck of the draw.

And, I mean, really — the experience is what you make of it. There were people who really worked hard to get a lot out of it and endear themselves to the community and who were super-involved…and there were others that, well, didn’t. But…even some of the ones who did everything “right” while they were there still ended up scrambling after graduation…

I assume you’re looking at starting in the fall of 2011? So…you’d be graduating into a totally different environment than the one I found…and I really don’t know much at all about CUNY’s program. I sort of put all my eggs in one basket…as I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to stay in New York and I figured that if I didn’t get in to Columbia, it would be a sign that I was supposed to move on to a different city.

So, in short — if you go, I’d highly recommend the new media program (even though the first thing Sree Sreenivasan said to me was, “You have a weather girl name.”) and remember that it’s REALLY REALLY REALLY hard to be in journalism now…and you may end up having to take a job that you don’t want after graduation in order to make ends meet…which may be totally obvious…but…I thought I had such a leg up on all those kiddos who came to Columbia right after graduating from college — I felt like I had a much better idea of what it was I wanted from the program and, noble as their aspirations might have been, I couldn’t help thinking whenever they spoke of becoming the next Susan Orlean or John McPhee that they were perhaps being a bit idealistic…and that’s not to say that it won’t ever happen…it’s just highly unlikely right after graduation. And yet I still ended up getting a HUGE reality check after graduation, too.

And it’s a TON of money. And, nearly two years out, I’m still not quite sure if it was money well spent. Although, then again, if I get a book deal and become the next Julie Powell, I will totally be singing a different tune. That’s the other thing — you have to remember what it is that you really want and even if you *do* get stuck writing about the price of corn (as one of my classmates does), I think you have to have the chutzpah to keep working on projects on the side — which is also not easy to do when you have a job you hate and come home and just want to watch Mad Men and eat Cadbury mini eggs — or you’ll get really super-depressed.

But, then again, even though I have to write about social media campaigns and dispense financial advice to savvy urban 20-something ladies and I fake-gamble three mornings a week to make ends meet, I’m not writing about mutual funds anymore…and I *did* break out of the financial niche…which may have been impossible otherwise.

I know this is WAY MORE than you wanted to hear…but…the “Was going to Columbia a good idea?”-question has been in the back of my mind for about 18 months now…and I feel like most of my classmates are on the fence about it, too. For whatever that’s worth.

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My Fancy-Shuffling, Fake-OTBing, Hair-Scam-Avoiding, 33-Cent-Cheese-Meltdown-Witnessing, Old-Lady-Cursing Wednesday

Remember those commercials during the Olympics with the snowboarder that snowboarded right off into space while Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” played? Well…I wouldn’t call today a perfect day per se…but it was sort of strangely nice and/or memorable for a lot of little reasons:

1. I fake-gamble part-time to support myself now (…I had lunch with a friend from Martha last weekend and she said I should start a blog to debunk the myths of the New York freelance writer’s lifestyle — which sounds so glamorous! — but actually involves a lot of slapstick antics to make ends meet…) and I’ve felt that I can’t emerge from this experience without the ability to shuffle cards in a fancy way. I’ve always wanted to learn some card tricks…and I spend 18 hours a week with 416 cards now, so mastering the Fancy Shuffle (…which I Googled! And learned is called the Bridge Shuffle! And, I gotta hand it to SuperCardKid — he explains it really well…) seemed like a totally reasonable goal. And…it’s a very high-tech table that we play on and sometimes it dies and we have downtime…which is what happened today. So…I decided today was the day I was going to crack the Fancy Shuffle…and I did! I mean, I’m a long way from impressing anyone…but I at least figured out how to shift my hands to make the cards fall back in on one another after I’ve shuffled them. (Before long, people will totally be coming to my apartment for Poker Night…)

2. Some of my comrades at the fake-gambling place like to really gamble…and, like I said, we were twiddling our thumbs this PM…and one of them had one of those OTB horse guides? And we were looking at the horse names and I saw one called “Im a Mosaic Rockstar” and said, “That’s it. That’s the horse I would bet on…” and — guess what — the horse I picked totally WON. So…the real gambler then asked what horses I liked in the next race…and three names popped out at me, but I only remember two: Downtown Hottie and Lady Gracenote. And I believe my fellow fake-gambler actually *put* $6 on these choices. And part of me would really be thrilled if it turned out that I have a hidden talent for picking good horse names…but he didn’t say anything like, “Oh, man, Lisa! You hit the trifecta!” (or whatever…) so I’m assuming Im a Mosaic Rockstar was my one-time hit. (Still a little thrilling though…)

3. People stop me for directions a lot. And…today, while I was on my lunchtime constitutional, a woman stopped me and said, “Excuse me?” and I stopped because I assumed she needed help figuring out where to go…but then she said, “Where do you get your hair done?” and *that* is totally a scam, isn’t it? I’ve had people stop me before and ask that very same question and it turns out that they want money or personal information or something…(although maybe I’m wrong? I Googled various street-salon-scam term combinations and came up empty-handed…which maybe means she was legitimately wondering where I get my hair done…but…I doubt it. I had my luxurious brown locks pulled back in a ponytail today…and it may have been a nice ponytail…but it wasn’t anything that was going to stop traffic). And…as soon as I discovered that she was not a poor lost soul but rather thought she could sucker me into some hair scam, I was sorry I stopped…but instead of having a normal reaction, like, “I’m sorry — I have to go…” I pulled a Lisa and ended up blurting out, “I have to go!” with wild eyes and, long story short, if she *did* just want the name of a hairdresser, I’ll bet she thought I was a real weirdo.

4. I’ll just come right out and admit I ended up at a McDonald’s — and I know you’re all judging me now, but I had a good reason…and yet if I was to pull *another* Lisa and explain *how* I ended up at this McDonald’s, it would be very much like my old coworker Paulie said the other night — that my stories are like a John Bonham riff in a Led Zeppelin song — and/or imply that there is something WRONG with going to McDonald’s…and there isn’t. So…we’ll leave it at that. I was there. The End. (Almost…)

I ended up next to this dude who ordered two Filet-o-Fish sandwiches…and then appended his order with, “But I want them to be FRESH. And they need to be HOT.” And the guy behind the counter sort of said, “Sure…okay…” and I thought, “Wow. Yes. Right. I’m sure they’re going to go out of their way to give your Filet-o-Fishes some tender loving care…” And, I mean, I guess I shouldn’t judge either, but…it was a little high-maintenance, no? (And this is coming from ME…which really says something…) There’s a time and place, right? My mom used to (and perhaps still does…I just haven’t seen her order seafood in awhile…) ask if the salmon on the menu was farmed or not (or something)…and I understand that if you’re, you know, coughing up some change at an actual sit-down place, you can make requests like that. But…this was McDonald’s. You sorta get what you get, right? (I confess I actually really think the latest commercial is catchy…) But THEN the guy says, “And I don’t want half a slice of cheese. I want a whole slice of cheese on both of them.” And the guy said, “I’ll have to charge you extra…” and he completely lost his mind — “What are you talking about?? The cheeseburgers have whole slices of cheese! Why can’t I get a whole slice of cheese on my Filet-o-Fishes??” and he asked how much he would be charged and the guy said, “33 cents,” and he had another meltdown — “33 cents?? I have to pay SIXTY-SIX CENTS for WHOLE SLICES OF CHEESE on my Filet-o-Fishes? This is ridiculous! Ridiculous!” and on and on and on and ON. They had to get the manager. I left before I learned the outcome…but, man, oh, man…I did not envy the two guys behind the counter who had to deal with him. Yowza.

5. I had to wait for the A and the F trains this afternoon for a super-long time…and noticed a nice old lady get on the train with me at my A train stop…and, since we had to wait so long, the train was totally crowded…and as we were all sort of finding a spot, this nice little old lady says, “Give me some fucking room!” and THEN we got to Jay Street and a B train showed up on the F track…and she shouts, “This is fucking ridiculous!” and THEN she got on the train, but stood in the doorway as we all tried to hear what was going on with this mystery B train and they tried to close the doors with her still in the doorway and she says, “I can’t fucking believe it!” So. In three fell swoops, Grouchypants sort of debunked some commonly held old lady myths.

And then I came home and everything basically went back to normal. The End. (For real.)

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Filed under birthdays, blogs, Brooklyn, cheese, fish, Martha

“Attagirl, Sandra!” v. “Stupid Jerk!”

I am sad about Sandra Bullock. And I know — at least on some level — it’s a ridiculous thing to say…but, at the same time, I’ve sorta felt a certain affinity with her…at least as far as relationships are concerned. And I find these revelations about Jesse James incredibly disheartening.

In the Barbara Walters Oscar Special this year, Babs showed a clip of an interview with Bullock from, like, ’94 when she was filming A Time to Kill in Mississippi (the same time I was there!) and Walters asked why she wasn’t married or whether she ever wanted to get married or something like that. And Bullock’s response was that she was afraid that getting married meant giving up her identity and she said she wasn’t ready. And…I totally get that. After working so long on forging a career and figuring out what you want and what makes you tick, who in their right mind would want to just become somebody’s wife? (Which is not to say that you can’t have a successful marriage and a career or whatever…I just mean that I understand once you have a career of your own that is fulfilling and that makes you happy, you’d be reluctant to give it up for a ring and you’d want to be careful about the partnership you choose…)

And, I mean, anyone who has read anything I’ve written over the past year or so — maybe longer? — knows that these are issues I’ve struggled with…and, heck, I don’t even have a real career to cling to — I merely *aspire* to have a career to cling to…and to be the kind of person who at, say, 39 (or whatever) is totally comfortable saying, “I’m happy with me and my life,” and who doesn’t feel at all incomplete for not having a better half. Sandra Bullock didn’t get married until she was 40! Which is, like, unheard of, isn’t it? (My Sunday morning ritual has become checking out the Wedding announcements in the NYT and seeing how many of the brides are younger than me. [I’d say it’s about 50/50.] But there was one bride in Brooklyn a few weeks ago who was 42 and who had a procession from her apartment to the church with all her bridesmaids dancing and singing and the quote was something like, “When you get married at 42, it’s something to celebrate.” And I guess the point is I really admire any woman who doesn’t succumb to fear or pressure or whatever and grab the next schlub that comes along so she can say, “Hey — look! I have a husband!” […which reminds me of When Harry Met Sally when Carrie Fisher tells Meg Ryan that she shouldn’t wait too long to get back in the game because one guy they knew said he needed more time before dating again and then he died and Meg Ryan says, “What are you saying? That I should grab on to somebody in case he’s about to die?” and that nameless redhead says, “At least you could say you were married!”])

And the part that *really* makes me sad for Sandra Bullock (…and if I was to be a real drama queen, I could perhaps say all of womankind…) is that she said she couldn’t have played her Oscar-winning role in The Blind Side a few years ago — that it was having a family and someone who had her back in real life that enabled her to play Leigh Anne Tuohy. And even Oprah mentioned how sweet it was when the camera panned to a teary-eyed Jesse James in Bullock’s Oscar acceptance speech…and it just seemed like one of those situations that proved it was all totally worth the wait. She spent her 20s and 30s working on her career and herself…and then in her 40s, she found love. And it was a good love — one that gave her family and support and real happiness. And that’s where it’s supposed to end happily ever after! There shouldn’t be any tattooed chicks or text messages or eleven-month-long trysts! How can that be? How could he possibly stand next to her on the red carpet and listen to her laud him for his support and get teary-eyed and look like he was proud of her and that he was happy he was the guy who got to be in her life…and then go home and text some broad that he’d been thinking about her? It, in a word, sucks.

And it frankly makes me wonder whether there is any hope at all. It seems like sometimes men make it so easy to throw up our hands and declare them all pigs. (I was watching an episode of The Golden Girls in which Blanche was upset because a man — who actually later went on to play the husband of the lady who killed herself and now does voiceovers on Wisteria Lane — appeared looking for George Devereaux because he was his father. And Blanche was upset by this revelation that her husband knocked up some chick in Dallas in the ’60s. So…as she was sitting at the kitchen table with Dorothy and Rose, she asked something like, “Why do men cheat?” and Dorothy said there were two explanations: One, that men are victims of an evolutionary process that deems it impossible for them to control their natural proclivities; and, Two: Men are scum.)

But, seriously — just look at all of them in the news recently: (as if I even need to mention this first one…) Tiger Woods, John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Dave Letterman, Eliot Spitzer, and (maybe) David Patterson…, just to name a few. And it’s certainly not limited to famous people. I can easily peruse the Hall of Fame o’ Bad Men in *my* life for plenty of real world examples: take the Penis-Revealer with the Long-Term Girlfriend Who I Really Genuinely Cared About…or Mr. I’m-Getting-A-New-Roommate-Oh-Wait-Did-I-Forget-To-Mention-I’m-Sleeping-With-Her-And-Eventually-Plan-To-Marry-Her-?. And, sure, there are subtle nuances in both cases…and, depending how you define “cheating,” maybe it’s not “cheating” at all. But, at the very least, they both suck in their own special ways.

And then there’s the example of my married guy friend. And he’s, like, the most doting husband I’ve ever seen — flowers, dinners, jewelry, trips, the whole nine yards. And, for a long time, I held him up as, like, the example of the perfect husband. And then not too long ago, I was out with him and excused myself for a moment and, when I came back, he was in the middle of a flirtatious exchange with a female bartender. And, I mean, it’s not like he *did* anything — he was merely cooing things like, “Will you be here next time to take such good care of me? I sure hope so…” and no one was overtly hurt by his sweet nothings, so what does it matter? But, at the same time, I am absolutely 100% certain that he would not have behaved this way had his wife been present…which makes me feel like something was not quite right. And, sure, I suppose we all do it to a certain degree — sort of like Mo’Nique’s explanation to Babs about her open marriage — but if *this* guy — arguably the World’s Most Doting Husband — can’t be trusted not to have his brain turn to jelly in the presence of a moderately attractive female, can *any* of them be trusted? Or, deep down inside, are they all Jesses, Tigers, Johns, Marks, Daves or Eliots?

Perhaps we’re all destined to be — I’m borrowing from the New York Post’s headline — Blind-Sided. It’s depressing. (I started to read Why Men Cheat in Esquire, but got upset…men cheat because they must? Really? So…I didn’t get very far…)

And…brief aside: I did a lot of flying in the last couple of months of 2009. And flying sometimes makes me nervous…so my deal with myself is that I can buy lots of trashy celebrity magazines to read on the plane. And…in one issue of Us Weekly, there was a Sandra Bullock quote that I liked so much I ended up cutting it out and taping it to my bathroom mirror (…it was, if you recall, sort of a tough time for me…and I sorely needed inspiration): “I complete me. I’m just lucky that after I completed myself, I met someone who could tolerate me.” And the magazine explained that it was in reference to her “strong marriage.” And I just can’t keep it up there anymore, can I? Every time I look at it now instead of, “Attagirl, Sandra!” I think, “Stupid jerk!”

And this isn’t to say that Sandra doesn’t still complete herself…and that she won’t have a happy ending after all. She may stick with James and remain blissfully happy after he does a stint in sex rehab or whatever; or she may leave him and end up with one of Hollywood’s most eligible 40-something bachelors…and her new hubby will be the Angelina to James’ Aniston and he’ll spend the rest of his life as the posterchild for the Lonely Man; or she may adopt a kiddo and start her own family and swear off men forever. It’s a terrible, awful thing that happened…but, at the same time, she’ll go on, blah, blah, blah. And the thing that I really loved about The Blind Side was its message that family is whoever you love — not necessarily those you were born into… — which I suppose would make it even more poignant if she ends up telling James to take a hike and adopts a million babies. (But I can’t see how this *couldn’t* still be an enormous blow to your ego…and I was *just* saying to a friend — before any of this happened — that it seems to me like it would be really hard not to have a certain complex, knowing that your husband’s ex-wife was a porn star. And now…? Sheesh. Poor Sandra…)

Bottom line: As an unmarried woman of a certain age, I found her story hopeful — like, I’m going to continue to work on me…and I’m going to have faith that when it’s right, Mr. Wonderfulpants will fall from the sky… — and I guess her story still *is* hopeful, in a way. But…not in the way I thought it was…

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St. Patrick’s Day with Mike Meyers, Judy Garland, Hal, Mal, Jill, Lance Romance, a Whole Lot of Tammies and One Single Barbie.

(…even though I’m not sure any of them are/were Irish…)

I feel like I’ve been in such a rut lately…and, like Austin Powers, my mojo is gone. But…to carry the analogy a bit further, I’ve been unable to find my Dr. Evil and somehow learn a powerful Dorothy-esque lesson that I never really lost it at all.

I still haven’t been baking much…even though a friend recently took me to Costco and I got 72 ounces of chocolate chips and could theoretically bake cookies for every last one of the 2,556,598 people who live in Brooklyn. And, sure, *that* would be one heck of a post…but…let’s be realistic.

Today is March 14…or 3.14…or Pi…which I suppose means I should be making pies. But I’m not. Cat-sitting, yes. Old-bill-shredding, yes. Laundry-doing, yes. Book-draft-tweaking, yes. Golden-Girls-watching, yes. But…pie-baking, no.

I just sort of accepted that maybe I’m not going to have anything to write about for awhile. And…I’ve been pitching stories — a girl’s gotta eat — and I was trying to think of some good ideas for St. Patrick’s Day and *that* got me thinking about the Sweet Potato Queens of Jackson, Mississippi and their yearly parade (or, rather, the yearly parade they march in…) and I realized the timing is perfect and I *do* actually have something to write about now.

For the uninitiated, the Sweet Potato Queens are a group of women in Jackson who dress up in spangly green outfits with pink fur and fringe and big red wigs with sparkly crowns and accentuated body parts. They march in Hal and Mal’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade every year and are led by Jill Conner Browne, who calls herself the “Boss Queen,” and has written numerous books on being a Queen that are both amusing and empowering…even though I sort of feel like if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. She’s a good writer — and has definitely found her niche — but I think (and I mean this in the nicest way possible as I really do think it’s a good example of someone who found a way to make a living doing something she loves…) it’s the same brand of fiery Southernisms packaged under different themes, like Love or Money or Divorce or Getting Older. Nothing wrong with it. Just…like I said, if you’ve read one, you pretty much know the gist. (Although…to be fair, I don’t think I’ve read anything after the Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner).

And yet…despite the repetition or whatever, I really like those ladies and part of me wishes I was en route to Jackson for next weekend’s parade.

I went to the parade one year while I was living there…but I only vaguely remember the very end in which Tiny Tim — the Grand Marshal that year — passed by on the back of a convertible with his ukulele. And…it sort of begs the question how I could possibly miss and/or not remember a brassy gang of Southern women in sequined outfits and giant boobs who go by “Tammy” while Lance Romance tickles the ivory and they dance on a float…but I have absolutely no recollection of them. It’s kind of sad. I guess I had different priorities circa 1994…

A few things I *do* remember about the Magnolia State:

  • The boiled (pronounced “bald”) peanuts sold on the side of the road by an old guy with a crusty nose. When my mother first saw his sign, she said, “P-Nuts? What’s that? Pine nuts?” and our real estate agent furrowed her brow and said, “No. Peanuts.”
  • The prisoners wore pants with big green and white stripes and served lunch at a barbecue festival called Red Hot in July…which was a little weird. I’ve never had a felon serve me food before. (I don’t think.)
  • I had my first pulled pork sandwich at Red Hot and Blue (which my parents tried to find again when passing through Jackson last year but it maybe doesn’t exist anymore?).
  • My dad’s coworkers called him, “Mr. Brian,” because they wanted to be respectful, but also friendly…
  • I was on the yearbook staff with the mayor’s son and I played basketball with the Secretary of Agriculture’s daughter…and we had a dress code that said we could only wear t-shirts from the school itself or from colleges…and every time someone walked into the gym in a Yale shirt, my basketball coach would scream and when that person looked around, confused, he’d say, “Well it said, ‘Yale,'” but he pronounced “yell,” and “Yale,” just about exactly the same…or if anyone walked in with a shirt from say, Brown, that wasn’t Brown, he LOVED saying, “That ain’t brown, that’s blue!” (or gray or white or whatever). He was born in California, but only lived there for a few months when he was an infant…and yet still felt we had some sort of bond because of it. “My mama said you could get green beans real cheap there,” he’d say. He was the first person I ever met who actually chewed tobacco and he would spit it into the back of his truck. And, for whatever reason, I can remember him talking about getting fire ants in the innards of his truck and watching them spit out at him when he turned on the AC.
  • Mississippi also introduced me to king cake and beignets (I’m not a big fan of either)…fried pickles (which I like better), a grocery store chain called Jitney Jungle…and the sweetest little four-year-old boy named Connor who used to live next door to me and who I used to babysit every Saturday night. He saw Free Willy and fell in love with orcas…and, 15 years later, I still have a drawing on my refrigerator that he made for me with the Ross Barnett Reservoir and his house and some boats and the warning, “No Killing Orcas.” It’s really scary to think that he’s 19 now…and the same age as Levi Johnston. He was just such a sweet little boy…and — spoiler alert — I’ve often thought that if I ever have a son, the name Connor will be at the top of my list.

These are just random memories from Mississippi…and don’t likely paint a very good picture. I haven’t been back since…1996? 1997? I imagine a lot has changed. But it’s what I remember. (And I say this even after catching a little bit of Wanda Sykes last night in which she interviewed Constance McMillen and said that Mississippi always has a knack for being on the wrong side of history…and…gotta admit she sorta had a point…)

Back to the Queens: I’m not really sure how Jill Conner Browne became the Boss Queen…but I’m glad she did. She’s definitely on the list of people I admire (…and whose career paths I wouldn’t mind following…) From what I’ve gathered in her books, it sounds like things haven’t always been easy for her — she’s divorced and was a single mother and it took her a long time to find the Cutest Boy in the World…so, I mean, I guess I see her as another example of how important it is to be tenacious and that things work out when they’re meant to be…even if it doesn’t always make sense when you’re in the thick of it. (Amen? [Seemed the appropriate way to end that paragraph…])

And, heck, I think this whole thing got started when she decided to declare herself a queen one day. Which sort of begs the question why I don’t just call myself the Queen of Something and get the ball rolling. But I can’t really think of anything that I’d like to be the Queen of — Artichokes? Endives? Soybeans? — nor do I really have a place to march…or anyone to play the piano for me as I do it. Although — one thing’s for sure: I’m pretty sure the Sweet Potato Queens got the boob thing right. I have a friend who went as Doralee from 9 to 5 for Halloween…and she told me that she learned that men do not care what your boobs are made of as long as they are huge. So…perhaps the lesson here is that I should get a boob job if I want a successful media career?

Or…I could always marry a pop star from the 70s?

Frank Bruni wrote a story recently about Katie Lee (formerly Joel)…and, gotta say, I envy this chick’s life. Basically everything I want to do (with the exception of my own cooking show and marrying Billy Joel), she’s either done or has in the works: the Chelsea-Handler-esque collection of short stories; the monthly entertaining column in Cosmo; the Good Morning America appearances…if I had accomplished any one of those things, I might be happy to rest on my laurels for all eternity. (It also sort of reminds me of those bumper stickers that say, “I want to be just like Barbie — that bitch has everything!” Except my bumper sticker would say, “I want to be just like Katie Lee…”? No. That can’t be right either…)

Or, you know, maybe I can just print my resume on a shirt…?

I’m not sure how we ended up here. It’s a long way from existential crises to Happy St. Patrick’s Day…but, believe it or not, that was my point. So. I’ll slam the brakes and throw this post in reverse and wrap things up with, “Don’t forget to wear green on Wednesday! And have a happy St. Patty’s Day…!”

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Filed under books, Brooklyn, chocolate, cookies, feminism, Halloween, holidays, Mississippi, pickles, pie, St. Patrick's Day

Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife? Heck, No! I Covet My Neighbor’s Vacuum.

It seems I have reached a stage in life in which I really want a vacuum.

And…I guess it makes sense as I have become increasingly domestic in recent years…but I’m not sure I was expecting *this.*

It all started with these little fuzzball characters that I glued to my clock radio…which I got in, like, junior high. There were originally about five of them. And my mischievous cat, in various acts of play, managed to remove all but the one that looks like an elephant that I got at Marine World/Africa U.S.A. — also likely in junior high.

And…I got a new patchwork mailbag purse for my birthday, but this one has a wonky shoulder strap and it recently broke again, but I was out of crazy glue…so I had to buy more crazy glue and then I guess I went a little — ahem — crazy and was lookin’ for stuff to glue and, after reattaching the number 9 to my Last Supper Hologram clock (also a victim of the cat), I saw my poor clock radio with only one lonely fuzzball character and two pair of feet where  his brethren used to stand.

Related: Periodically, I take a ruler and a flashlight and fish out whatever said cat has managed to lose underneath my dresser, couch and armoire. So…I figured if I did this again, I might find some of my missing fuzzball friends to glue back on my clock. And, boy, did I…in addition to a zillion hair ties, countless cat toys, a single pushpin, two pieces of junk mail and a postcard from my friend Jonathan. And dust. And cat hair. But — shame alert — not just, like, a normal amount of dust and cat hair. It was more like dust and cat hair were plotting together under said surfaces to overthrow me. And if I had waited any longer, I might have ended up a cautionary tale under a headline in the New York Post like, “Dust Might,” or “When Sally Met Hairy.” I was horrified…and got rid of as much of it as I could…while also wondering if my friends had been talking behind my back about staging an intervention.

And I admit I have tossed around the idea of getting a vacuum in the past…but I always concluded it was one of those cost-prohibitive things and that I could just sweep until my massive book deal.

But I felt in wake of the terrible discovery of what lies beneath my furniture that the vacuum went from an idea to an imperative. And then I began wondering how and when I became the type of person who really wants a vacuum. I guess age is the answer?

I have a big birthday this year…which is part of my life panic, I guess. So much was supposed to have happened by now…but who knew that it would also usher in a new life stage in which vacuums make me happy?

I found one on Target.com that wasn’t *too* expensive…and for a brief, shining moment, I was really excited as — for whatever reason — I am on some sort of I’m-getting-hitched mailing list and I’ve been getting all sorts of mail about planning my wedding…including — drumroll — an invitation from Target’s Club Wedd to register for ten items in exchange for a $20 gift card. (Although, unfortunately, it expired last weekend, so I totally blew it. Although morally I am batting 1.000, I guess.)

So. No vacuum yet. But, as noted, I still want one. This is the face of maturity?

I remember when I reached the point at which I felt I was too old to have posters — I felt I had graduated to framed art. And so I ended up taking a Van Gogh and a Monet from home that I had in my bedroom in high school. And they worked for awhile. But…I don’t really feel they fit anymore now either…and I feel a little silly with them up. I’ve  been browsing Etsy lately and falling in love with various pieces of art…but it seems like everything I find that makes me think, “I can’t live without that!” is in Europe and therefore prohibitively expensive to ship.

Part of me also really wants one of those Warhol-esque canvases with four prints of the same image in different colors. Part of me thinks it would be completely amazing to hang something like that in a prominent place in my apartment — not unlike Eva Longoria on Desperate Housewives — but the rest of me is only brave enough to do something like that if no one ever comes into my apartment ever again. Sort of hard to explain that it’s an inside joke with myself and that the intense narcissism is what makes it funny…although, then again, it’s my damn apartment and I guess I should do whatever I damn well please here.

However…I also sort of feel like Here’s-Me-In-Four-Different-Color-Schemes would only work in the height of Year of Lisa fervor…and — not sure if you’ve noticed — but I’ve tried to tone it down a little. I’m still trying to focus on the book and to hustle to come up with enough freelance assignments to keep me afloat and to be happy…but am maybe slightly less in-your-face about it. And I’m slowly but surely trying to tackle the clutter in my apartment — also a Year of Lisa goal — but I killed my shredder in the act. So. I may have to add “shredder,” to the list, too. But, luckily, a friend is going to Costco soon…so I may be able to kill two birds with one stone. What an efficient and tidy supporter of small artists I am turning out to be?

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Filed under appliances, birthdays, Brooklyn, feminism