Manners change

June 10th, 2014

My favorite etiquette reference book, the 17th edition of Emily Post, copyrighted 2004, begins thus:

“While scientific and medical advancements have made life easier over the years, the stresses and strains that have come with population density, technological advancements, all-pervasive news and entertainment media, and a redefinition of the family have resulted in a whole new set of challenges. People behave no worse than they used to (rudeness and other social offenses are nothing new), but the pressures of modern life make it all the more difficult to stay civil.”

My fifth edition 1943 Emily Post Blue Book ends with this:

“Etiquette like our living language is seemingly rigid but actually fluid. The times in which we live rare constantly producing new and, therefore, puzzling situations. We gladly accept forms that are helpful but we have little patience with those whose purpose is the preservation of form for form’s sake. It has long been my particular occupation not only to urge keeping those precepts and customs of practical use and to discard those which no longer serve, but also to meet the new problems constantly arising. It is this increasing fusing together of the new with the old, that has kept this book from becoming a collection of dry-dust maxims, to which ‘Finis’ might otherwise have been written twenty years ago.”

My friend Lisa, an English professor at Emmanuel College, gave me a wonderful 1962 Chandler Guide to Beauty, Style, and Poise, which features the following in its etiquette section:

“In our present-day society, social usage is a dynamic, changing cog in the wheel of social progress. It is interesting to refer to ‘The Ladies’ Guide to True Politeness and Correct Manners’ by Miss Leslie. In 1864, a lady did not go out by herself after dark, She sent her male caller home by ten o’clock and never called him by his first name. She would not think of corresponding with any man except her husband or a member of her family. Nowadays the telephone, radio and television, to mention just a few inventions, have changed our way of living and our social usages as well. In large cities, it is even considered proper now for a young woman to go to a man’s apartment for dinner, because it is his home.”

Change is the only constant! Do you have any etiquette books, old or new? Do they include a passage about how times have changed and manners must be based on common sense and kindness rather than clinging to old conventions? My book has a rather lengthy one, of course. At the time I thought I might have actually said something new. Now I’m merely content to have said it well.

More on beating procrastination

August 12th, 2011

So there’s a necessary task that only you can do, and you are capable of doing it. Except you keep putting it off until tomorrow — whether “it” is getting back to the gym, writing thank-you notes for wedding presents, getting past the second chapter of your novel, or filling out your annual employee evaluations. Some tips for beating a procrastination habit:

1. Find meaning in your task. People are most likely to procrastinate on work that they find meaningless. I wrote last month about how going to the gym had finally started to feel worthwhile, that running in place and picking things up and putting them down had come to seem like a good use of my time. (This is a good technique for academic procrastination, obviously.)

2. Or don’t. Maybe you’re putting off something that really is meaningless, like the week’s TPS reports, but you still have to do it. Don’t insult your own intelligence by trying to find the Tao of Paperwork. Either find a way to work through them with frequent rewards and distractions, or else play an efficiency game to make the task at least marginally challenging. Roald Dahl used to play “shaving golf,” and try to completely shave his face in as few strokes as possible. There was a lovely scene in last season’s “Mad Men” in which Don recounts how he used to write assigned essays in English class to the exact minimal word requirements — five paragraphs, fifty words each.

And there are times, also, when we procrastinate because the task has too much meaning. Starting our novel. Applying to graduate school. Pricing condos. The trick here is often to fool yourself into doing your work while pretending that you aren’t. You aren’t planning to move, you’re just going to open houses with a friend as a lark. I do this with my writing, often. Despite years of experience, I can still get spooked sometimes when I sit down “to write.” So I’ve developed a way of taking notes, and then gradually expanding and reordering them until whatever I’m working on is done. So I go right from “Note Taking” to “Editing” without ever stopping at that anxiety-producing station called “Writing.”

3. Build in rewards. If there is no way to find a task inherently rewarding (or at least, not sufficiently so), sweeten the pot. Take a sauna after your workout. Take a break for Words with Friends after each five exams you grade. Head to a coffee shop and enjoy people-watching and pastry along with your paperwork.

The trick here is to attach the reward to the task, so that the entire experience becomes more pleasant, and you’ll condition yourself to regard the task as less aversive in the future. If you impose a strict “first we write our thank-you notes, then we get to go play,” you’re reinforcing the notion that writing thank-you notes is a nasty chore. When possible, find some way to reward yourself during the task.

4. Other people are not necessarily a reward. A lot of the advice on avoiding procrastination revolves around making the task a more social one: joining a writers’ group, getting a workout partner, and so on. This is good advice, but it conflates two things: other people as a source of accountability and help, and social interaction as a reward.

For some people, that conflation doesn’t matter. But if you are in the minority of introverts, which I know many of my readers are, being with other people is not necessarily a reward. Even if you are extroverted, the people who can give you the most useful advice, and to whom you feel most accountable, may not be the people whose company you find most rewarding.

So if the writers’ group or workout partner isn’t working for you, figure out why. Maybe they’re fun but soft, and don’t hold you accountable. Or maybe they are great at keeping you motivated and providing advice, but the relationships feel more like part of the task than something intrinsically enjoyable.

Holy procrastinating pigeons!

August 11th, 2011

Some thoughts on procrastination, from my notes for yesterday’s show:

Pigeons procrastinate. This puts the phenomenon in perspective, for me. Maybe for some people it’s a deep psychoanalytic conflict that leads them to put things off, but pigeons do it too. Procrastination might not be all that complex, and it’s definitely natural. In fact, one thing that came up over and over again as I was looking at the research is that the people who beat procrastination are the ones who acknowledge that it’s a genuine temptation that can’t simply be willed away. You aren’t going to be a better person tomorrow. So what are you going to do today that will make tomorrow-you do the right thing?

If you find that you procrastinate a lot, here are some questions to ask:

1. How’s your health? One simple reason that people put off ’till tomorrow is because they do not have the physical or mental energy today. If procrastination is a real problem for you, take a look at your health and schedule first. Are you getting enough sleep? Do you exercise and eat well? Do you have any chronic conditions, mild or severe, that affect your energy level and need to be managed?

2. Do you really want to do the thing you’re putting off? Generally, we procrastinate on tasks that we don’t like doing. Which then leads to the subversive question that grownups get to ask themselves: Do I actually have to do this? Is the task you are postponing really necessary in the first place? If it is, are you the only person who can do it? Or can you outsource it?

3. Do you know how to do the thing you’re putting off? If the task must be done and you are the only one who can do it, do you know how? I don’t mean do you know what the finished state ought to look like — I mean do you know how to start, and how to get from that starting point to the end? A couple of months ago I answered a question from a woman who got writers’ block about thank-you notes. (I suspect a not-insignificant percent of late and or never-sent TYNs are the result of bad nerves more than bad manners.) I wrote, in part:

You can get over your gratitudinal perfectionism. Develop a formula for thank you notes, and then don’t overthink it. Your friends and relatives aren’t dissecting your missive as if it were some long-lost Rosicrucian manuscript in a Dan Brown novel. Here’s the recipe I use: The first sentence is an “I” statement about the gift (“I’m sitting here wrapped up in the afghan you knitted me,” “I just returned from spending my gift certificate at Williams-Sonoma”). In the second sentence, I thank the giver — and I don’t worry about sounding cliched, because the fact is there are only so many ways to say “thank you.” One or two more sentences compliment the giver and express love, support, and/or hopes of seeing each other in person soon.

If you don’t know how to get started in the task you are postponing, ask for help.

4. Is procrastination rewarded? This is primarily about workplace procrastination. What kind of task-management style makes sense in your workplace? Does getting your work done punctually mean that you have less stress, and more time to create a first-rate product? Or does it mean that your idea gets hung up for everyone else to take potshots at? Does your boss take deadlines seriously, or are extensions routinely granted? Is the nature of the work relatively predictable, so that work can be planned in advance, or are there constant interruptions and emergencies?

Maybe you feel that you are procrastinating, but in fact you are managing your work in a rational way given the parameters of your job. If this is the case, think about how you’d like to manage your work (keeping in mind that you’re not going to be a better person tomorrow!) and whether the environment you are in supports the work style you’d like to have. If it doesn’t, that isn’t a dealbreaker — just something you have to be conscious of. When I was writing my dissertation I was also working four days a week at a job that rewarded putting things off until the last minute (because if you didn’t, your work would be subject to endless revisions). I had to be disciplined about not letting my “good” work procrastination habits become bad study procrastination habits.

So let’s say you are physically and mentally fit to do your task, which is necessary and can only be done by you, and that you know how and have no rational reason to procrastinate. Then what? I’ll do another post later on tips for avoiding procrastination.

Of apes and Alzheimer’s

August 8th, 2011

Mr. Improbable and I saw “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” last night, and enjoyed it greatly. For one thing, it does a marvelous job of allowing viewers to fulfill their fantasies of what they would do if they had the strength and flexibility of a chimpanzee. If you’ve ever daydreamed during a staff meeting of leaping aboard the conference table, ululating, pounding your chest, crashing through the windows and heading for the hills — and I know I’m not the only one, people — this is your movie.

It’s also, once you get past the science fiction and special effects, a fairly poignant look at life in the sandwich generation. The human protagonist, biochemist Will Rodman (yes, I know) lives with his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father. When Will’s research on a cure for Alzheimer’s is halted, he winds up adopting a baby chimp from the drug trials.

Of course, it’s Will’s experiments that ultimately lead to the rise of the apes (as well as the most hilariously blunt and effective elevator pitch in the history of venture capital, when Will, riding the lift with his boss, announces, “I injected my father with it. It works.”). But Will, despite the phallic determination of his name, is no ego-driven mad scientist. He is motivated by love more than money, power, or even knowledge: he wants his beloved father, a classical pianist and Shakespeare scholar, back. And he wants to protect his adopted “child,” Caesar. In the meantime, it would be nice if he could get his boss off his back, and find time to romance his live-in girlfriend.

Sound familiar? Will is pressed from every direction, and criticized no matter what he does. Look at James Franco’s face when the home-health aide angrily tells him his father should be in a facility. When the veterinarian points out that Caesar won’t stay a juvenile forever. He knows. He is doing his damnedest as a caretaker, and he knows he is failing. He’s not the son, the father, the lover, the scientist he wants to be. Every choice entails a sacrifice — not only the big choices, like “do I inject my father with the experimental drug,” but the little ones, like “do I look my lover in the eye when she is talking, or do I scan the room to make sure Dad and Caesar aren’t in trouble?” And he makes wrong choices, and decisions with all kinds of unintended consequences.

And he loses his father anyway, despite his best efforts, like all of us do.

And his “child” gets involved with drugs, and radical politics, and finds a group of friends that Will can’t relate to. Maybe it was his fault for being too involved with his father, and his career. Maybe it was inevitable.

We do our best for those we love, and we pray to God that our best efforts won’t somehow make things dreadfully, dreadfully worse.

And we hope we’re praying to a God who looks like us.

Death is what happens when you are making other plans

June 13th, 2011

Wednesday before last, June 1, I flew into KCI airport, rented a car, and drove down to the Ozarks to visit the ConductMom. As I’ve been doing for a few summers now, I would spend a few days with her, and then go to Kansas City to catch up with friends for another few days. I was planning to drive to KC on Sunday morning, and my first order of business was a brunch date with J., one of my oldest friends from high school, and his partner, W.

On Friday night I got a call that W. had died in his sleep.

He was 42.

I’d only met W. once, last summer. He was honest and immediate and complicated, and we became friends instantly. This is rare for me; I’m a slow-to-warm-up baby. W. is one of the few people who broke through reserve that in one go. Both he and J. are great science-fiction buffs, and I’d urged them to consider coming out for Readercon some August in the not-too-distant-future.

I stayed with J. for a night, and was able to attend both the viewing and the funeral for W. There are many stories to tell from the past week, but they belong to others, not to me. I will say that the funeral was one of those rare services that does what a religious service is supposed to do: W.’s life was celebrated, his death was mourned, his values were lifted up, and I truly believe that everyone present left that day with a commitment to be a better person.

For myself, that commitment is grappling with a profound exhaustion in order to find expression. At the moment, I am left with the strong belief that the only things that matter in the world are simple pleasures, and the kindnesses that we can do for one another. Horizons may broaden in the future, but for now, this is enough.

One of those moments

May 12th, 2011

Have you ever done something you didn’t mean to?

Of course you have.

Have you ever, once you or other people became aware of it, then kept doing that thing, because even though you didn’t want to be doing it, somehow stopping would be even more awkward?

Maybe.

A friend of mine posted a story about the first situation on Facebook today:

OK, so when I kicked open my front door and yelled “Peekaboo!” it was directed at my two-year-old, who was hiding on the front porch. But I don’t think the burly, bearded guy from the DPW saw it that way.

… and his story reminded me of one about the second situation. (I prefer doing this story in person, for reasons that will become obvious.) Several years ago a friend of mine was home one night when the phone rang. Assuming that it was his girlfriend, who was working late, he whimsically answered the phone in a Muppet voice.

It wasn’t his girlfriend. Instead, her father was on the other line. And because her father was extremely agreeable and more than a little Aspie, he replied in a Muppet voice. Which made my friend feel obligated to continue in said voice, because to stop doing the Muppet voice is to acknowledge that you have been doing the Muppet voice in the first place.

So two grown men, enmeshed in an already-awkward relationship, conducted an entire phone conversation (“Do you know when she’ll be home?” “Probably late, do you want her to call tomorrow?”) … in Muppet voices.

To the best of my knowledge, they never discussed the incident.

Exile, fandom, acne, hair, dance

April 25th, 2011

And I’m back, everyone! The break was nice, although I never had any sort of great Passover-y moment of revelation. One thing I found myself thinking of a lot was the people who were born and died during those 40 years in the wilderness, who had no memory of Egypt and didn’t live long enough to see the Promised Land. I’ve never greatly identified with Moses — the Lord is always sayething unto him, for one thing, and the Lord doesn’t sayeth unto me very often, if at all. But those cynical Gen-Xers of Exodus, tired of the Greatest Generation’s war stories, wondering if they’re anything to hope for, really … them, I get.

Some good reading from last week: this article in the Globe about fandom. It focuses on sports fans, but many of the dynamics are true of fans of anything else (a celebrity, a television show, a band) as well. Are you a “fan” of anything, to the point of buying a t-shirt, following someone on Twitter, or joining a group (online or off) for the purposes of discussing that thing? I’ve become a fairly avid fan of several television shows, most notably “Deadwood,” to the point of writing fan fiction and buying a “Star & Bullock Hardware” shirt.

A piece in Slate on why humans are the only animals to have acne, and also the only ones that would be psychologically bothered by it. (Evolution is a cruel trickster.) New treatments have made acne rarer among teens, but that very fact might increase the suffering of those who can’t afford treatment, or for whom nothing has been successful.

I was fascinated to read that blogger S.E. Smith recently cut her long hair very short, and found that she was darned near considered antisocial for wanting to keep it her business what she did with the ponytail. Specifically, she faced a lot of pressure to donate her hair, a practice which has gone from being a nifty option for people suddenly in possession of a braid no longer attached to their head, to becoming near-mandatory, the default option. The thing you have to explain if you don’t do it.

This bothers me. A great deal. Two years ago, I wrote about a New Yorker article on people who donate kidneys to strangers. My reaction to it then was strong and visceral, and has since become more focused. This notion of one’s body as a resource that may be owed to strangers is deeply problematic. As I wrote two years ago:

I would not donate a kidney to a stranger, nor do I feel any sense of a moral call to do so merely on the grounds that I could. My body and its functions are not some form of wealth that I am hoarding like Scrooge McDuck: they are constitutive of my identity. They are ME. And no one has an a priori right to my blood, my organs, my womb. I may choose to share, but that is my choice. Having two kidneys when others have none is not the same has having two loaves of bread when others have none. The body is different. I do not owe anyone access to my body.

As an etiquette matter, let’s all take note that “Did you donate your hair?” is a question better left unasked.

Finally, on a less existential note, let this hilarious pantomime/interpretive dance by David Armand brighten your Monday. I love this guy’s work! Am I the only one who finds brilliantly talented physical comedians way sexy? (See also: Danny Pudi.)

Direct communication

April 7th, 2011

I did an e-mail interview last week in which I was asked “to come up with a couple situations, in your experience, that don’t necessarily require the most polite response. It would also be great if you could comment on how to handle them … This small piece is going within a larger piece about etiquette, so we wanted to highlight the situations where you shouldn’t allow yourself to be walked all over.”

There was more to it than that, but this was the basic idea. Which I found a frustrating question, because I think that’s a misreading of what “politeness” is. Here’s what I wrote in response:

Politeness is always important, but you can assert yourself while being civil and kind about it. Some people think that “good manners” means being terribly euphemistic and fancy all the time, but it really doesn’t. A well-mannered person is a person who can change her style to suit the occasion. Here are some times when direct communication is the best:

1. When you are in charge. When you are the boss (whether at work, hosting a party, or running a community event), act like it. This doesn’t mean barking commands — but it does mean giving clear directives and feedback. You aren’t being “polite” by making other people read your mind or reassure you that you’re really in control.

2. When “subtle hints don’t work.” As an advice columnist, I am constantly amazed by the number of people who write to me about clueless co-workers, spouses, roommates, or neighbors, whose behavior drives the Letter Writer righteously batty, and who don’t pick up on “hints” to change.

If hinting doesn’t work, stop hinting! There’s nothing wrong with asking a co-worker not to microwave broccoli because the smell bothers you; or telling your spouse that silly as it may be, Valentine’s Day is important to you, so get some game next year; or asking a roommate not to use the last of your milk.

3. When the answer is “No.” A “no” can be final and commanding (to a pushy stranger at a bar) or sweet and regretful (to a friend who wants you to volunteer yet again to organize the school auction), but when “No” is the answer you need to give, give it. Apologize only if necessary, and never offer excuses.

Charlie Sheen

March 3rd, 2011

Am I the only person in America who hasn’t seen him yet? It seems half my Facebook and Twitter feeds are Charlie Sheen jokes — my friends, not just the media, are obsessed.

I can’t get with it.

This is a man who has damaged other people and himself multiple times. I’m not a clinical psychologist, and as noted I haven’t seen the interviews, but you can’t avoid hearing the quotes, and it’s obvious that Mr. Sheen is not in his right mind. The extent to which he is consciously driving his own downfall as opposed to being exploited by the media, doesn’t seem all that relevant to me. Either way, it’s not something I want to observe. Either way, it’s not something I want to participate in. Over the weekend, I posted a link to LOLcats captioned with Charlie Sheen quotes on Facebook, but I took it down almost immediately.

I’m not claiming some moral high ground here. Maybe I’m a deeply sensitive soul, maybe I’m too thick to get the joke. I try hard never to mistake the latter for the former. Some of the most compassionate and also media-savvy people I know are posting some of the best jokes.

What’s your take on it all?

Handshakes, pot, and chickens

March 1st, 2011

Dan Ariely, behavioral economist and all-around mensch, has a post up about the advantages of “handshake” agreements — contracts that do not have exhaustive thoroughness as their goal.

Even lawyers see the risks of complete contracts. As part of my research, I asked the dean of Duke’s law school, David Levi, if I could take a look at the school’s honor code. Expecting a detailed contract written by lawyers for lawyers, I was shocked to find that the code went something like this: If a student does anything the faculty doesn’t approve of, the student won’t be allowed to take the bar exam. It was, in essence, a handshake agreement!

“Imagine that a student decides to deal drugs and raise chickens in his apartment,” Levi said. “Now suppose that our code of conduct bans many activities but doesn’t address pot or chickens. The student has honored the code. But does Duke really want that student to become a lawyer?”

Complete contracts are inevitably imperfect. So what’s better: a complete contract that mutates goodwill into legal trickery, or an incomplete contract that rests on the understanding we share of appropriate and inappropriate behavior?

Dan’s logic is sound (more on the dean’s in a moment), but the rub lies in his phrase “the understanding we share.” Handshake agreements work to the extent that there are shared norms of behavior. But even assuming the greatest goodwill in the world, there are different styles of handshakes. “Diversity” doesn’t only mean intriguing variations in skin color, appealingly displayed like the bridge of the Enterprise or a Benneton ad. Diversity may mean fundamentally different beliefs about time, personal responsibility, power and authority. These different assumptions, if unaddressed, can cause things to go sideways despite the best efforts of the people involved.

As far as the dean’s point is concerned, I disagree. When one is speaking of a dorm room, either pot or chickens might create insurmountable logistical problems, but neither are ethically problematic. In fact, a person raising either one would of necessity develop a patience, an attention to detail, a sense of humor, and a humility by which many lawyers might be improved.

Learning social skills

February 23rd, 2011

A friend of mine posted a link to this article on Facebook last week. It’s about a program to teach social skills to kids who don’t naturally pick that sort of thing up:

Yet until now, it’s always been assumed making friends is something that young people should learn to do by themselves — even if some are naturally better at it than others. Now that idea is being turned on its head by a new approach that treats problems forming social relationships in the same way as a learning difficulty, like dyslexia … But in the same way as techniques have been developed to help with those with academic learning difficulties, there are now skills that can aid children with poor social interaction, according to American child communication expert Michelle Garcia Winner, who first devised the Social Thinking programme to teach “bright but socially clueless students” at high schools in California.

Take a look. I think it’s brilliant that such skills are being taught, although it’s not quite as groundbreaking as it might seem: old-fashioned “charm schools” had a similar curriculum, without edifying jargon about “theory of mind” or “mirror neurons” to validate it.

There’s a tendency, I think, to consider social skills indicative of the kind of person you are, of one’s essential nature or moral quality. The idea of learning social skills has an unpleasant whiff of manipulation, of Becky Sharp, about it.

I know I would have benefited from this kind of training when I was a kid. As I’ve written often before, I tend to be good at analyzing social situations precisely because I don’t have a “natural” sense of it. (I have a natural sense of balance, and I couldn’t teach another person how to take a fall without injury if I had to.) I discovered etiquette books when I was in my early teens, and devoured all sorts of self-help and tips and tricks for the next decade or so. Studying theater helped even more.

What about you? How did you learn to make sense of the social world when you were growing up? How do you coach your kids — do they only need instruction in “manners,” or do they need help with some of the deeper, more tacit, aspects of the social dance?

Out of Egypt

February 1st, 2011

As I mentioned, one of my cousins and his wife are living in Cairo. They’re out safely now. Two of his brothers, in particular, were helpful in getting them out and finding places for them to stay. The rest of the siblings (there are a lot of cousins from that family) helped pass news along through Facebook. It was both touching and impressive to watch all of this play out online — the next time I’m confronted by Facebook haters, this story will be Exhibit A for why the technology can an exceptionally good way to keep in touch. The story also reminded me, in a smaller though infinitely more immediate way, of a post I wrote back in 2007, after I’d watched “Hotel Rwanda.” I said, in part,

One thing that has stuck with me since seeing the movie, however, is that Paul Rusesabagina, the movie’s hero, who in the movie and in life managed to save some twelve hundred Tutsis and moderate Hutus from slaughter–was able to do this, in large part, because he had good manners. Mr. Rusesabagina is no action hero, and no idealist, either. He is a man who knows how to finesse a situation. How to figure out quickly what motivates people, and use that knowledge to negotiate with them. How to bank favors against an uncertain future. How to restrain himself in the face of provocation. How to maintain dignity and grace, and extend that possibility to others.

Most of us, I hope, will never be faced with a crisis the likes of which Mr. Rusesabagina faced. But what he did should help us remember that the small skills of manners, self-restraint, intuition, empathy are not frills, moral accessories, to be put on when we are feeling the luxuries of time and emotional energy. They are essential tools that can save lives, literally and figuratively.

Friday

January 14th, 2011

The week’s over, friends.

Thank you for all your kind words and wishes and prayers. I have been held in the light by so many people this week I am starting to get tan. It has been a remarkable time of learning.

I will write more next week about some of my reflections, and a personal matter that amplified and changed my reactions to the Tucson shooting. In the meantime, know that I am well, that I am grateful for your love — and that I am throwing an absolutely fabulous party tomorrow night! (Also, if you are a Boston-dwelling friend of mine whom I didn’t invite, know that I wanted to. It’s a themed storytelling party, so I could only invite a certain number of people. But if it works out well, I’ll have the same party every year with a different guest list. So you’ll get your turn!)

Be good to yourselves this weekend, my friends.

Monday

January 10th, 2011

I have nothing.

I feel like “Miss Conduct” ought to have wise words about civility and the inherent difficulty of living with others. She should be able to put the events of this weekend into historical context. She should give her readers hope.

I can’t.

Maybe because I lost someone I loved and respected on Friday night, and that has thrown me off balance. Maybe because the reactions of my family to this weekend’s shooting have me eating my guts out from within. Perhaps Robin has too much going on to be Miss Conduct.

Or maybe Miss Conduct has nothing to say. No wisdom. No snappy retort.

I spent a lot of time on Sunday reading the Psalms. And listening to the Ramones. Both are remarkably cathartic in times of emotional upheaval. (I wanna be sedated. Selah.)

Find wiser words elsewhere. Already more ink has been spilled than blood.

All I have for you is the knowledge that you matter to me. You do. Friend or commenter or lurker, I love you.

I may take a break from this blog for a couple of days. I don’t know. Please don’t worry about me if I do — it won’t mean I’m not capable of writing, only that I need to take care of myself in other ways.

Take care of yourselves too.

Robin Abrahams and the Spectacles of Immersion

January 4th, 2011

The last month of 2010 decided to gift me with two reminders that I am aging: my first white eyebrow hair, and the fact that I need reading glasses to — well, read. (Fortunately, I can see well enough to pluck my eyebrows unaided. Buh-bye, Whitey! Don’t come back, and don’t bring more of your friends!)

I’ve had corrective lenses since I can remember — glasses since third grade or so, and contacts since high school.* So the concept wasn’t exactly unfamiliar to me. And you all know how I love accessories, so I was quick to snap up several sharp pairs of specs: the red rhinestone ones and the leopard frames with pink metal earpieces are my favorites.

But as much as I might enjoy officiously putting on my specs and twirling a freshly sharpened pencil in the air as I begin an editing job, or dramatically divesting myself of them before ordering at a restaurant — and I do — it’s using them for plain old reading at home that I enjoy most. It’s made reading magical again.

I mean, there the book is in front of me, and I can’t make sense of it, and then I put these glasses on, and just like that I am transported! Into 19th-century England, modern-day Westport (v. good, that one), an academy of magic, outer space, ancient Greece, anywhere! Seriously, there is something about putting on the glasses that feels like a ritualistic preparation, making me able to enter the World of the Book. I think I’m reading in an even more immersed fashion than I usually do. Swimming up from the depths of a book feels a little harder now.

What a funny Christmas gift, for someone who has no need of them. A disability that turns life magical again.

*The ConductMom, apparently, had no idea how bad my vision is. She tried on my real glasses, not my readers, when she was here on Thanksgiving and nearly fell over backwards. “My poor baby!” she cried. I sympathized with her and pointed out that while learning of a child’s handicap can indeed be devastating, the fact that in this case the child is over 40, happily married, and successful in two jobs ought to be some consolation.