Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Like a Lamb to Slaughter

I am so excited for the vice presidential debate that I can hardly stand it. I have scheduling conflicts all over the place that night, and things I should be going to (I'll be a little late to bunko), but I'm pretty sure nothing could tear me away from the spectacle. I'm planning to watch with my extremely insightful friend Dana and her sagacious husband. I haven't been this excited about a vice presidential debate...well, ever. I know my excitement is a little over the top, but I almost want to rub my hands together gleefully. I think Dana mentioned that she will be serving lamb.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Oh, Brother!

No matter how old (or how tall) my little brother gets, I guess he'll always be my baby brother. Today while I was at work, I got several quick texts in close seccession.

"Wendy...Wendy...Wendy...Wendy. Are you there?" Thinking something was terribly wrong I quickly texted back. "Yes?"

"I just tore my favorite pants on the chain of my dirt bike. Can you fix them?"

"Geez, Micah. I thought someone was dead."

Next thing I know, I'm delivered a pair of Aeropostale cargo pants that have seen better days with the entire leg shredded. Really? He must be thinking that not only am I some kind of sewing expert, but that somehow I can weave camo-colored cloth as well. Might as well weave straw into gold while I'm at it.

"Okay, I'll try," I say not wanting to disappoint him. So tonight I spent hours sewing and zig zagging and patching and hand stitching a pair of cargo pants that are frayed at the waistband and worn through on the hem. The patch job is not exactly pretty, but will probably get him through a few more jumps on his dirt bike. And I get to maintain my big-sister, fix-it reputation one more day.

I think he owes me. Good thing I have a soft spot in my heart for little brothers.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Give George Bush the Title

I say we just go ahead and call it. The George W. Bush presidency is the worst in history.

Okay. I realize this may be slightly premature and the historians will need a cooling off period before this prestigious and competitive award can be ceremoniously bestowed. But I've run an official poll in my head and I don't think any other president in history stands a fighting chance.

Using almost any method of accounting and nearly any criteria, this presidency will be infamous for ineptitude. Being egregiously shortsighted, completely lacking communication finesse, or blundering a few decisions, even somewhat important ones, could possibly be overlooked with the benefit of rose-colored glasses and several years of perspective and amnesia were it not for a series of world-altering disasters that each alone would move a presidency onto the losing side of the scoreboard. Three disasters seem to stand out in my mind as the worst of the worst.

Let's review these three in chronological order rather than magnitude because their respective impact and crushing long-term effects have yet to be fully realized.

First: dragging us into an illegal, unethical, and unwarranted war by misrepresenting the nature of the intelligence and willfully misinterpreting the threat of weapons of mass destruction, not to mention blatantly lying about the tie to terrorism and the acts of 9/11. Then, once there, grossly mismanaging the war.

Second: spectacularly botching the federal response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The administration's political cronyism, lack of public policy, and unmitigated incompetence was fully exposed while W himself cracked inappropriate jokes and praised "Brownie" in the wake of unfathomable destruction, tragic human suffering, and death.

Third: facilitating complete economic melt-down with trillions of dollars of new debt, continued weakening of the U.S. dollar, and a catastrophic mortgage and banking crisis fostered by corrupt and irresponsible deregulation policies.

Who could ask for more evidence that this administration will ultimately bottom out the list of bad? But there is more--much more. Here are a few other examples I can think of immediately:

  • Ignoring warnings of terrorist threats before 9/11
  • Suspending habeas corpus
  • No Child Left Behind act
  • Alienating American allies
  • Steamrolling tax cuts that benefit the rich
  • Allowing torture of prisoners
  • Illegal wiretapping

This list could go on for pages, but I think my opinion is clear. I just hope we can survive it and we don't end up with more of the same.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pas de Deux Staring Captain Casey

Captain Casey has a new friend. She's a fat, round house fly that seems way too rotund to actually get lift off. But flying is her specialty. We're calling her Felicity (the fly) and Casey can't take his eyes off her. He chases her around the house, sliding through the hallway on the rug, and leaping from the couch to the table--then onto the counter with a flourish and a twisting back flip. An advanced form of cat ballet, this pas de deux is entertaining and thrilling. Casey's eyes light up as they follow the effervescent circles and spirals of Felicity's solo. As the cavalier, he crouches in wait for his chance to soar through the air with claws outstretched, hoping to bat his little ballerina to within reach.

This dance goes on and on with periods of extreme athleticism followed by exuberant pacing until the pinnacle moment when Felicity pirouettes her way into the lamp and Casey can't help himself. He must have her! So throwing caution to the wind, he hurls himself onto the lamp and with a spectacular crash ends up tangled in electrical cord and covered in shattered light bulb glass.

Bravo, shouts the audience of one. Baryshnikov could not have done so well.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Okay, I'll admit. It's hilarious. Pure entertainment. Who would have thought that mentioning soap one time here would lead to a complete soap opera. The funny thing is: you all came up with this independently and without prompting. I hope it's not a hint that you really think I need a good lathering up. It's sort of like the hundredth monkey phenomenon and myth--it started with a couple of you until the idea somehow reached critical soap mass and soap just bubbled up from everywhere.

Don't get me wrong, this soap is great. And having you all give it to me in different forms and places and ways is extremely sweet. Really. It's just that the example I meant to use, instead of soap, was gold bars.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


My best friend from law school stayed with me on Sunday night. She's one of the world's most amazing people, so I have to do a little bragging about her. She made partner this year at Chicago's most prestigious law firm, on the fast track, and is the first woman partner in the tax division. It's not a surprise to me. She is brilliant. But more importantly, she is witty and warm and interesting and generous and extremely low-maintenance--she slept on the cold bed (a beautiful blow-up number).

You would think I could at least roll out the red carpet when my fancy Chicago attorney friend comes to visit, but because of the crazy need less experiment I couldn't really go out and buy a bed. But she was happy. That's the beauty of Natalie; she is down-to-earth and real in spite of her glamorous life. And I love her.

She, along with our friend Cindy, got me through law school. I couldn't have survived that experience without them and my good memories of that time are all wrapped tightly around those two incredible women. We used to go to the fieldhouse every afternoon after classes, pull three cross-country ski machines together, and talk about case law and relationships and precedent and our dreams and due process and sex and constitutional issues and people in our class. I looked forward to that time every day and think back on it as some of my all-time favorite life moments.

Natalie is definitely one of my all-time favorite life people and I'm glad she's in the world.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Off Switch

Every once in a while I get a childhood flashback to something someone said that has gotten stuck in my head. I think I must have been going along as a kid, pretty oblivious until, wham, someone said something that changed my thinking and it got filed away in the "how can this be true" category. These were usually adult conversations I overheard and had to think about to make sense of.

One of these conversations I remember clearly was between my mom and dad. They were talking about one of my dad's sisters who was getting divorced for the fourth or fifth time. I remember my mom saying that my aunt "liked the falling in love part, just not the love part."

I turned that around and around in my head, thinking about what that meant and how that possibly could be true. Wasn't the falling in love part and the actual love part the same thing? How could someone fall in love and then not feel love? Was love that impermanent?

Now I'm older--much older. And I still move this conversation around in my head. How can people fall in love and then not feel love? Is it easier for some people to turn that on and off? And if there is indeed an off switch, how can I get one?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Surviving a Jump

I often wonder which people will end up having a lasting impact on my life. I'm in a new environment, and I find myself looking around and trying to guess which of these new people will be the ones I tuck into my heart and carry with me for the rest of my life. But one thing is very clear to me. Somebody is comin' with me.

I find myself already sorting and gathering and I think I have a couple of likely candidates, but it's really too soon to tell.

In case you may be getting the wrong idea, I don't think the sorting is as much like "duck, duck, goose" as it may sound. It's really not about which people I like. It's more about which people will get dragged along with me because their impression on me is so profound that I can't let them go when I move on. And it's inevitable that I will move on. I'm not really the staying around type, so I have to put a couple people from every place I briefly visit on the train with me.

I guess it's easy to underestimate the kind of impact we have on each other. It's sometimes more comfortable to think of our actions toward someone as having a beginning and a finite end rather than a ripple effect that may go on forever.

I recently watched an interesting documentary called The Bridge that explored the phenomenon of suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge. It's the scene of at least 20 suicides every year with 37 last year. It's by far the most lethal suicide setting in the world. The director and his crew filmed the bridge from several angles, every daylight minute for a year, and captured 23 of the 24 suicides in 2004. He interviewed the friends and families of several of the jumpers and showed some of the actual footage of those dramatic leaps.

But one of the most interesting interviews was with a young guy who actually survived hurling himself from the bridge a few years before. He had walked back and forth on the bridge before his jump, crying and hoping that someone would notice his pain and stop him. He didn't ask for help, but he believed that if someone noticed him and recognized his pain he wouldn't do it. When a woman asked him if he would take her picture on the bridge and said nothing to him about the tears streaming down his face, he decided to go ahead with his plan. He's one of just a handful of survivors out of the hundreds who have jumped.

I don't think many of us are impervious to the superhero fantasy that we could somehow be the one to rescue someone. I know I'm not. The chances of being in the right place at the right time for something that dramatic are extremely slim. But we are in the right place to make someone's life better (or worse I suppose) every day. We do have the chance to have an impact on someone who is struggling. We can make a difference to someone just by trying to make people better for having known us. And maybe those collective actions will have that dramatic effect or maybe our world will just be a little nicer and easier to bear.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Phoney Baloney

The Need Less, Give More experiment got a little disconnected today. And, it hasn't even been a month yet! Sigh.

I've been busily dialing up justifications in my head ever since. Let's see if you buy them.

My phone has been giving me stress for months now. I don't get cell service on the mountain, so I had to get a thing called "HotSpot at Home" to pick up service through the Wi-Fi instead of a tower. Turns out, it's not so hot, at least not with my little Nokia darling. I've been wrestling with T-Mobile for months trying to get my service to work right. It would randomly disconnect me, get greedy and not let me reconnect, stutter and pop, and secretly disconnect sometime during the night--every night. I have spent countless hours on the phone with snippy T-Mobile customer service people who never once returned my calls when they said they would. And all to no avail.

Then today I actually went in to a mall store to speak to a real-live human about my laundry list of cell phone problems. (It felt really weird walking into the mall, by the way.) It didn't take the humans in the T-Mobile cage long to hit on the key problem--something that an infinite number of specialized specialists in targeted departments deep in the bowels of T-Mobile's escalating customer service maze couldn't seem to figure out.

"Ohhhh," said the perky young sales boy with a shrug and a wink, "This Nokia phone doesn't really work with the HotSpot."

Ten words! Ten words could have gotten me past my connection problems a year ago!

So, to make a long story even longer, I had to trade in my defective Nokia for a shiny new Blackberry. I'm not even close to being disciplined enough to go without a phone for 11 months. And yes, I had to pay some money for it, so it was probably (okay definitely) a purchase. Consumerism got a little victory over me today after only 26 days.

And if my guilt wasn't enough, I got a punishing slap when the helpful sales boy preceded to permanently delete more than 60 of my contacts in my phone. (You better text me your phone number with your name because I probably don't have it any more.)

The T-Mobile boy did promise that this phone would last "forever" and I would love it more than I've ever loved a phone before ever in my whole life because this is the phone he uses and he loves it more than he has ever loved a phone ever in his whole life. (Granted, his life has really not been all that long.)

This phone better be good.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


As it turns out, I'm the white-trash neighbor.

This whole summer I've watched with barely passing interest as the little patch of weeds between my house and my neighbor's house turned into an alfalfa field. I wondered why my neighbors had landscaped their whole yard and left that little strip between our houses undone. My landscaping was done by the builder before I moved in, so why would they leave that little strip? And one day a couple of weeks ago when the NNG was giving me another long lecture on ground water, he wandered over there to look at something and to see if it was my property. He didn't think it was, so I continued to blissfully ignore it. Then a few days ago DeLaina disturbed my reverie by casually wandering over there and pointing out the stake in the curb. "This," she said helpfully, "marks your property line."

Well, duh. Of course I knew that. It's just that walking to the VERY edge of my property and looking down hadn't yet occurred to me. I barely visit that curb when I'm taking my garbage cans out. Plus, it just didn't make sense that the builder would leave a three-foot wide strip unlandscaped. Who does that???

My young neighbors couldn't be nicer. Tonight the husband came over just to see if I knew that was my little piece of heaven. He thinks the builder should have fixed it and I should hold their feet to the fire. Either that or he's getting a goat and is looking for feed for it.

I guess I should be happy. I've just acquired three more feet of property I didn't know I had. I'm practically a tenant farmer with a hay field ready to harvest. Now I just have to figure out who to feed and what the hell to do with that big pile of builder debris, rocks, and junk left there.

Cool. I'm only working until 10:27 every night. I needed a project right now.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Power Trip

Power is trippy.

It seems to me that few people can handle power and still be open and available to other people's opinions and suggestions. Most people just grab up power and clamber on top of it, happy to have the leverage they need to beat off anyone trying to join them on the power pile. And while they are at it, they will fend off anyone with a suggestion that would make the pile bigger because they are afraid of having someone join them up there. Instead of bigger, they just want that power pile to get higher, so they surround themselves with people who will just moosh their ideas onto the top of the pile without adding anything new except the same old shit over and over again. Then when the power pile gets way too high and wobbly on the top, there is no one down below with their own ideas to either shore it up or add to the base to make it more sturdy. The fall is not only inevitable, but stinky.

I really think the solution is pretty simple. Listen to other people's ideas. In fact, seek them out by encouraging open discourse and lively discussion. It's not effective to just seek validation by finding people who will sell their soul to agree with your already established opinion. That just gets your own ideas parroted back to you. A more effective strategy would be to actually include the most divergent opinions in your decision making process and be willing to change your mind if a great idea presents itself.

If this post sounds a little angry and bitter, it is. I can hardly swallow my bitterness tonight. But I'm sure I'll be back to tasting sweetness again very soon.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Spin-off Mail

The most touching spin-off happened from the Need Less, Give More experiment. My friend, Teresa revealed on my birthday that she is doing an experiment of her own. She decided to send one card or letter of encouragement and love to someone every week until my next birthday. Not an email, not a phone call, but a real life, snail-mail card.

I love her idea and I love the response she is already getting. In fact, she said having the goal to send one letter a week has made her think of others she would like to send and she has ended up sending more than one each week since my birthday. She wrote this in an email: "Oh, interesting thing, Wendy. Instead of just writing one person I find myself sending several…those things I had meant to do,…. Sympathy, wedding anniversary, birthday…just had not done them yet. Maybe the “fruit” of this experiment is to motivate me to do the “I should." Hmmmm."

There is just something so warm and exciting about receiving a real letter in the mail. I've received a couple from Teresa myself and I always get a thrill when I see the hand-addressed envelope. It's really the only thing that makes me keep getting the mail at all. I'm not a big fan of mail usually. I would give anything to be able to stop the junk mail and intercept the unwanted solicitations before they end up in my mailbox. I try to pick off the mail slowly piece by piece by calling the junk-mail senders and asking them to take me off their list, but it's a laborious process and doesn't seem to net good results. I still get a lot of junk mail I don't want. Someday I hope they come up with a do-not-send list like the do-not-call list for telephone solicitations.

But now I'm getting off the point. My point is this: personal letters = good. Junk mail = bad. Teresa and her year-long experiment = lovely.