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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Long Live Erma


Image from BrainPickings.org, one of my favorite sites.

A renowned feminist theorist, a septuagenarian New York Times bestseller, and the first editor of Ms. Magazine walk into a bar. No. Scratch that.

Three accomplished, poised women sit at an unassuming folding table in an auditorium at a university in Dayton, Ohio. A wide-eyed audience filled with mostly middle and up-and-coming middle aged women stare back expectantly. A few aren't aware of the collective body of knowledge, depth and experience emanating from that table, and they are about to be blown away.

As the moderator steps up to the podium, I reluctantly wrap up my small talk with the fascinating woman to my right, who is both a landlord and an extremely sharp marketing executive with a warm wit, and turn my attention to the panel. I try to engage the part of my brain that is capable of following what I'm sure is going to be a serious, academic discussion. This means switching from my ongoing worry about whether Kurt is lost somewhere in Cincinnati with our assumedly naked, hungry children. He's probably out of gas and stranded in the Bad Part of town. Probably the one that appears on "The First 48" most frequently. Oh, god. 

And then best-selling author, tenured English/Feminist Theory professor, and recent Friar's Club inductee Gina Barreca bares her upper thigh so we can all get a good look at her tights, which are printed with pinstripe stockings, and I'm whisked away for the next hour and a half. The van has GPS and enough Goldfish Cracker crumbs to sustain the kids for a few weeks, and Kurt has been making me look bad by taking them for ice cream and the park all the time while I've been gone, anyway. I am allowed to be here and soak it in fully. And I do.

As the pace picks up, it's a wild ride. Gina frames longstanding feminist debate with a confidence that precludes a need for her to throw anybody under the bus. It's more about empowerment than it is about wasting time on those people who haven't yet decided that women are simply human. And that giggle we do when we're listening to a man tell us a long story about getting his car detailed? She's on to us. We're not listening, and we're not having a good time. We have to stop speaking in the interrogatory. This is not a question? I actually do have a name? It makes no sense to introduce yourself with a question mark at the end? My brain is singing. Oh, to be free for a few days of the endless quest for preparing the next meal, for matching up socks, for ferrying small children. 

And it just gets better. Ilene Beckerman is telling us about how she accidentally published a book, which was turned into a Broadway show, directed by none other than Nora Ephron. And she did it in her sixties. She's wearing a turquoise, sequined head scarf over her long, straight, delightfully lavender hair. Her nose ring glints in the stage lights and I can see her heavy eye makeup eight rows back. She's a beautiful gypsy, and she's hilarious. She assures us that she doesn't deserve to share the stage with these other women, but it's all lies. Her story is incredible and real, and I know I could sit with her for hours and soak it all in and still leave wanting more. 

I'm not sure what to expect from Suzanne Braun Levine. She looks so polished up there, exactly what I'd expect from someone with a list of accomplishments like hers. I'm intimidated, really. She has sat, elbow-to-elbow with Gloria-freaking-Steinem and casually changed the way women are perceived by society. Everyone in this room is in her debt. I'm actually a little nervous. And then she's telling us about how it all went down, about how Ms. started as a one-shot gag, an offshoot of New York Magazine. The editor thought it might be amusing to have a woman at the helm for this one-time publication. But women were hungry for that platform, and they raided every newsstand in town, and as is the case so often, money talks. Just like that, a new era was hatched and our voices grew more powerful overnight. 

Suzanne keeps talking and I can hear stereotypes I didn't know I had shattering in my head. She's real. She's strong and she's hilarious, warm, and self-deprecating. She explains that her kids don't even quite realize that she's an accomplished woman. She leaves newspaper clippings and awards lying around conspicuously sometimes, just in case they happen upon them and are shocked to realize this woman is their mother. I love it; I get it. I'm not going to be editing a groundbreaking magazine any time soon, but I get that dichotomy. No matter what I do, to my boys, I'm always going to be their mother first. It's a powerful realization. 

It's one of my many, many powerful realizations that I hit on during this all-too-short session at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. Many of them come from women in the audience. A woman asks about how to help shepherd the younger generation through the current "geek culture." Why aren't there stronger comic book heroines? Where's the Black Widow movie? Another woman asks how to protect our loved ones when we want to write about them. The unanimous response: just do it, and as Gina points out, your relatives are never going to read what you write, anyway. ;)

Oh, and about that moderator. Because this workshop seems hellbent on giving me value for every second of the full 2 and a half day experience, the moderator could run her own workshop if she wanted. Pat Wynn Brown is incredible. She deftly manages a complicated, rapid-fire discussion, adds her own stories (I'd pay good money for a book about her experiences as one of the first female mail carriers in Columbus), and juggles questions from the audience as well as any TV host I've seen. It must have taken hours to pull together the questions here (and she did this twice, two completely different discussions with the same women). But that's not enough for Pat. She's also our beloved emcee for the whole event. We get to enjoy her introductions and anecdotes at every meal, as if dessert with every meal wasn't enough of a gift. I might be a fangirl for Pat at this point.

And then something happens that I will never forget. Something that will keep me lining up for this conference as soon as the registration opens until they stop having it or until I am no longer here to enjoy it. A young woman approaches the mic. She's shaking, and as the room grows quiet, she says she is so glad she'd taken the leap to come here, because the experience has helped her to find her sense of humor again. She'd been hilarious once before, she explains, and then she adds: "I'm from Newtown, Connecticut." 

Now. Like everyone in the world with access to media, I've thought long and hard about Newtown since that awful day in December, 2012. But I didn't quite understand the weight of what it must mean to be from a place that is now so marked that a mere mention of the town's name can bring a room to tears, instantly. Her bravery and courage fill up that room with compassion and love, and I realize that this workshop is about so much more than networking and developing a so-called platform. 

It's about the why: Why we're compelled to write down the stories of our lives. Why humor is vital to every human, everywhere. Why we're all in this together. 

I could regale you with fantastic stories involving insomnia, wine, and assing it up in front of Phil Donahue. I could recount the incidents leading up to my 3-day investigation into where the hell the hotel housekeeping staff was holding hostage my Erma Bombeck wine glass. I could easily write this much about any of the workshops I attended. I could tell you about the instant bonding that so often occurs among Bombeckians, and how I'm already counting down the days until 2016, but I'm still savoring so much of it, just for me.

I will say this. Wherever writers gather in community, something special will happen. There's an energy we share, and it's capable of changing this world. I am beyond lucky to know so many people who aren't afraid to drag the bodies out into the light and examine them fully. I'm even luckier that so many of them will point out the stray upper-lip hair and the mismatched socks.

Long live the spirit of Erma Bombeck.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

This Blessed Mess

Just a glimpse of our blessedly messy, wonderful life.

I figured out how to measure whether I'm "blessed" (define that as you will). I'm not sure why it's been so important to figure this out, but this morning, it hit me like the metric ton of dirty laundry waiting for me in the chute. You know how I know?

Because if I didn't change a single thing about my life at this exact moment, in this exact space, and the ground opened and swallowed up my entire life in one big, chocolate-covered gulp, it would have been a great life.

There's freedom in realizing that none of it is ever going to be perfect. For me, it's never even going to look perfect. My floors will be sticky most days. I may never reach that magical number on the scale that pleases both society and my doctor. My kids will exit our home with bushy hair, snow boots in July, and forever mixing stripes and plaid with wild abandon - and that will be after 20 minutes of cajoling, yelling, and physically prodding them out the door.

Despite my failed attempts, my dog loves you, and she is going to jump on you. One day, we will repaint our trim, but probably not tomorrow. And though I apologize to my horticulturally-inclined neighbors, the weeds in my yard will likely continue their tireless march to the border between our properties for at least another few years.

I'm planning to continue showing up to all these kid activities with my hair still wet from the shower, slightly confused about what's happening this week and how much money I owe and for what. I'm never getting that dent pulled out of the side of the van - the van that apparently signifies my lack of cool to the rest of the world if the internet is to be trusted on these maters. Who are we kidding? I was never cool in the first place. Thank god. I'd hate to undergo the pressure of trying to try maintain some kind of cred in addition to just, I don't know, getting dressed in daytime clothes and leaving the house now and then.

There's a lot we don't have compared to the Joneses (not the actual Joneses I know - I love those guys). But there's so much more that we do have that it's busting out of my garage on a daily basis. Actually, some of those things are hand-me-downs from the aforementioned Jonseses, but I digress.

This house is loud. It's giggly, musical, yell-y and filled with colorful language. It's warm. It's dirty, to be perfectly honest.

If you're a real friend, you'll move the Lego farm off the chair and rinse out a coffee cup and have a seat. Lucky for me, I have those kinds of friends in spades.

Like I said, it's a blessing. A blessed mess. I'm pretty sure many of us have our own version of a blessed mess going on. I gravitate toward those people who embrace it, in fact. This is part of why my weekend at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop was so inspiring, fulfilling, and refreshing. A blessed mess of women (and a few men) who own it, write it down, and serve as cheerleaders for the whole Erma family.

Tomorrow, I'll try to capture in words what a wonderful opportunity this bi-annual gathering of kindred souls really is all about.

I'll also fill you in on how Kurt made me look like a complete slacker while I was away and how my children will never again be satisfied with my lackluster attempts to provide entertainment to them on a daily basis. Until last weekend, sending them out into the yard with a stick was plenty engaging, but no more...

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Teacup pigs and possibly misuing the word "stasis"

These were taken like a week ago.
I can't even talk about this weather situation.


Hello, Internet. It's been a while. I should really just strive for quarterly updates here to avoid the constant nagging sensation that my blog is withering on the vine. 

Since I last posted, no birds have entered our home uninvited. The ones we did invite were not available, allegedly. Their excuses were pretty flimsy, if you ask me. Something about wanting to live outside where birds "belong," and not wanting to be eaten by a house cat. Stuff like that.

In other news, I did not win an international writing contest. I did make the top ten, though! They even put my name on the site and everything, and I am inordinately proud; I'm not going to lie. I did a thing! Sort of. I at least caught the eye of someone who had some kind of say in this thing. I'll take it. Since I didn't win or place in the top 3, the essay remains unpublished, which is actually a good thing, because it means I can submit it to places that publish such things. The string of rejections that are sure to follow will bring a good balance to this whole situation. It's all about stasis.

My children continue to grow taller and more smart-alecky. We got a second cat named Merlin; he has quickly become the favorite pet. David has taken to pretending to be a teacup pig named Max for most hours of the day, and Anderson spends much of his free time programming with Scratch and making me feel intellectually inadequate, but in a very sweet way. Kurt has been doing a lot of Kurting, as he is wont to do.

Soon, I will leave this part of the tri-state area and point myself northish, to the land of the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop. At this point, I'm counting down the hours, along with hundreds of others, to that seemingly mundane Thursday in April. It's hard to explain the magic, but I wish I could bottle it for those times when this writing pursuit feels like the dumbest idea anyone in the history of the world has ever dared to admit. While other, more poised attendees might organize their notes after the conference and approach their work with renewed vigor, I plan to soak it up, get home and write like a maniac until the buzz wears off. 

What else? I turned 39 and started a new and somewhat subdued countdown to the dreaded 4-0, or at least that's what you're supposed to say, I guess. I really can't be bothered. It may have finally sunken in that I'm mortal, as are you (and you and you). Apart from the occasional grip of tummy panic that I've possibly wasted a lot of time of my limited time on a lot of really pointless worries, it's all good. I'm happy to wake up and greet the day each day. Someone has to feed the teacup pig.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Heart-Stopping Tale of the Terrifying Attack Bird that Flew into My House




It was an ordinary Saturday night. The kids were playing, if whacking each other with a stick counts, the husband was working on an endless work thing, and I was hanging out in my natural habitat, the kitchen. I had just settled in for a mind-numbing session of looking at the same 5 sites over and over again when the dog did that thing she does to let us know she wants to go outside (standing nearish the kitchen door while trying to make eye contact with someone). I sighed heavily to let her know how much of an inconvenience this was for me and flung open the back door.

What happened next took place in the space of 2 or 3 seconds, but it felt like slow-motion. My brain couldn't keep up with the chaos, but it basically went down like this:

I opened the door and was immediately hit in the face by something, but I didn't know what that something was. My mind went to "BAT!"

Obviously, I started screaming a terrifying scream straight out of Psycho, bringing forth all matter of child and beast, but no husband. Cats were tearing through the house, the dog raced back inside to try her best to trip me as I ran around in circles in the kitchen screaming at the short people to retrieve their father, my voice raising an octave with every panicked sentence:  

"Go get Daddy!! Get Daddy now!! There is a bat!! A BAT! ANDERSON THERE IS A BAT!!!"

I may or may not have peed a little.

Finally, I managed to take in a little oxygen and determine that I needed to locate the bat. My eyes scanned the room counterclockwise. Cabinets. Stove. Sink. Fridge. A bird on the corner cabinet. Microwave. What. It took way too long for my brain to register that the bat was a bird, and I stupidly breathed a sigh of relief before I realized a bird was in the house. 

"BIRD!!" I screamed uselessly. 

"There is a bird??" David exclaimed. "I love birds!! Anderson, there is a bird! Oh, yay, Mommy!" 

By now Kurt had finally emerged from the basement, looking glazed and overworked.

"It's not a spider," I reassured him.

"What is it?"

I pointed toward the corner.

"I'm not coming in until you tell me what it is!"

"Just look!"

"I don't want whatever it is to attack me."

"Don't you want to save me??"

"Well..."

"Oh my god. It is a bird! An attack bird! Get it!"

"Seriously?"

He finally came in the room and we all looked at one another. 

The bird and Kurt exchanged a look. The bird and I exchanged a wary look. 

Kurt and I exchanged a half-bemused/half-panicked look that conveyed a singular thought: Oh, geez. We're the parents in this scenario. It's all on us to remove this winged hell-beast from our home before it destroys every one of us and takes the dog to its lair just for spite. 

We spent the next 10 minutes chasing the bird from room to room.

No, bird. This is a picture of a tree. It's embarrassing to admit how easily you outwitted us. Repeatedly.

The bird is nearish this area. Kurt was really thankful for my my helpful bad-picture taking while he alone worked to coax the bird from its various perches.

The chaos continues. I think I was yelling useful information about exactly where the bird was at that second. "It is on the Christmas tree! It is on that picture frame! The bird just flew that way!" I'm pretty concerned about my ability to cope with an emergency at this point.

The bird wanted to help put up the Christmas decorations, maybe. He scrambled around in boxes while Kurt looked on wearing his protective work gloves.

Kurt attempts to coax the bird down as if he has suddenly become the Falconer.

The bird was very, very confused and could not comprehend the need to exit through one of the wide open doors or windows. Our collective 11 years of higher education did not help in this terrifying scenario. We contemplated going next door to borrow a beekeeper's suit from the neighbor because above all else, allowing the bird to touch one of us was out of the question, despite the fact that he'd already smacked me full in the face. We thought about things we'd seen on TV. "Well, they are always shooing them out with a broom, right? We could just hit at it with a broom."

Around this time, the terrifying bat/bird/dragon began walking around on the floor like he had decided to become a person since going outside ever again was obviously out of the question. 

He asked for a dry martini and made a passive-aggressive comment about the state of our living room, something about how it must be nice to feel so unencumbered by social graces like "cleaning," and that's when I'd finally had enough. 

I gave him the side-eye and cleared my throat pointedly. 

And then, he rolled his eyes and walked out the front door without so much as a "how do you do."

Fin.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The 2013 CincySarah Internet Awards

Apropos of nothing, my little guy was in a "mini-Nutcracker" this year.
Look at the cute. LOOK AT IT.

I promised, long, long ago, to promote a few of my new favorite online spots. And then, because of reasons and also Reasons, I didn't. I didn't forget, though. You really should be reading these things, too, and I'd be remiss in not mentioning them here at some point.

I present to you the CincySarah Certified Awesome Sites I Spent A lot of 2013 Looking At And Stuff (CSCASISALLAAS):

Favorite Escape: Camp Tramps

I mean, seriously. I'm ready to stow away; aren't you? Credit: Amy Sherman

Amy Sherman is hilarious, talented, irreverent, and basically all around great. She also spends a great deal of time cooped up in a cute little camper, traveling around America with her adorable husband Brad. Lucky for us, she tells us all about her adventures on her fantastic new photo travel site thingie, Camp Tramps. I love the photography, and I often find myself convulsed with laughter over the stories. Amy is really adept at making her readers feel like they have stowed away in her fifth wheel (is that a camper thing? it sounds like a camper thing), or at least wishing they had. Did I mention the camper has been christened "Breaking Brad?" 


Favorite Site for When I Want to Feel Extremely Emotional: Humans of New York

"One day you’ll feel eighteen, look sixty, and wonder what happened." Credit: HONY
Yeah, yeah, late to the party, yadda, yadda. That just means I got to binge on the amazing content here when word of this amazing collection of emotion-stirring imagery finally made its way to me through my fortress of Candy Crush Saga and obscure subReddits about home canning and ukulele playing. I felt ashamed for having wasted so much time that I could have been spending at HONY. 

Because... wow. 

This isn't about trick photography or some cheap, staged, click-baiting stunt. HONY is this unassuming guy named Brandon and his camera. It's simple. He goes around NYC and asks people about their story and then shares it with us. The lucky, so very lucky, us. When I go here, I feel like I'm part of the human race. I'm overwhelmed by the raw, beaten-down expression of people who are experiencing pain I'll probably be fortunate enough to never experience, and I'm bemused by the old guys with funny jokes, and inspired by the ancient couples who still remember this one tiny story about a moment in their shared life, 50 years ago... It's an example of using this medium for good. It also makes me want to do a Humans of Cincinnati feature, like yesterday.

Favorite "Primary Source" Online Resource: Letters of Note

 
A hilarious form letter from Steve Martin to a fan. Read more at: Letters of Note.

Lately, I crave real content. You can only read so many formulaic "news" articles focused more on driving traffic than delivering actual journalism before you're ready to write the whole thing off. I've been there a lot this year. I'm sick of feeling like I'm on the receiving end of a sales transaction with every click I make. This is only part of the reason I find Letters of Note, and its tagline, "Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience," such a refreshing break. 

It's just what it sounds like - real letters in their original form, lovingly scanned in for internet posterity. It's letters to and from famous people, historical figures, regular people - even the occasional pet is addressed. 

Wait. You do remember letters, right? They were those pages with the swirly letters, usually sent to you by a grandparent or distant cousin. In the case of the cousin, they were probably written under duress, thanking you for the gift you didn't know you sent, usually a shirt. No? All the more reason to get over there. Letters of Note is also reason enough to bring back the cursive writing, or at least, cursive reading, requirement to all public school systems.

How amazing is it to be able to read, on your tiny phone/computer/homing device, a beautiful, original letter from 16th century South Korea, written from a young, grieving widow to her dead husband? It's incredible and Letters of Note is another good example of using this medium for something important.

***

Thus concludes this round of CincySarah Internet Awards (CIA! Much easier to remember). I wanted to share these sites with you, and there are many more, but never enough, because I fully understand how disheartening it can feel out here. I'm guilty of wasting tons of precious time on stupid internet things, so don't feel judged about the fact that you may have just spent 45 minutes learning about the doge meme (it is delightful; I get it).

I just strongly encourage you to seek out the gems, too. There are still real people putting in honest hours to bring the world to your device, for the love of sharing the stories that make the world revolve, for the creative outlet, maybe because they feel they simply must.

Whatever the reason, I'm richer for their devotion.

What have you been reading in 2013?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Let's Party Like it's Geocities 1999

Why? Because this strange child is my heart.

 I'm just a writer.

I'm not doing this to create a brand for myself, not that there's anything wrong with that. I named my blog Cincy Sarah because it's just kind of catchy and is pretty on-the-nose. I'm Sarah and I'm from Cincinnati. No-brainer.

But every now and then, I get weird pressure from people I know in the blogging community, as it were, to monetize my blog or finish up designing my own site (turns out I really and truly detest that kind of thing), or to organize blog posts into an ebook that I would then sell on my blog that already contains all those posts... and I'm just not into it. I kind of envy the very talented people who have managed to create gorgeous, information-packed websites that draw visitors from all over the world. I'm just downright jealous when they amass enough readers to get free shit from companies just for mentioning them "casually" here and there. That's pretty sweet! I love that entrepreneurial spirit.

However.

That's just not me. I thought it might be, but it's just not. I don't have a particular agenda to promote, though I don't mind holding you hostage now and again to rant about something important (THINK BEFORE YOU PINK, PEOPLE). I like to write things that I hope people can relate to. I try to strike a chord now and again. I'm ever aware that I'm just another anonymous voice on the internet and it's totally understandable that you, the average internet person, doesn't necessarily care about me, in particular. I'm comfortable with that and the feeling is probably mutual. We both know what this is.

I'm also not interested in joining one of these massive rings where everybody blindly clicks on everyone else's blogs and leaves meaningless comments so that everybody gets lots of hits in some kind of modern day chain letter, Google-tricking waste of time.  That feels icky to me.

So I'm just going to continue writing whatever the hell I feel like writing here. And someday, I hope I can relate some exciting news about how someone is paying me actual money for writing things I love to write about. But it won't be Google Adsense. When I point you to Amazon and ask you to pretty please buy my book, I hope you'll want to do that because it sounds interesting and you'd like to support me because you're cool like that.

Now, how about you? What are you up to? I'd love to use my small internet voice to help get the word out about cool things you're doing, too. My next post will be pure promotion of some internet up-and-comers I'm excited about. If you're doing something from the heart and you'd like me to help spread the word, I'm happy to do that. No link exchanging required.

Let's just be real together, like it's Geocities 1999.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My life has become a yogurt commercial


xkcd.com

I spent the day putting 120 miles on my van yesterday, carting the husband and children from one end of the county to the other from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. This is very unusual for me, and I don't recommend it in general, but it struck me that I might as well have been wearing a giant bullseye when it comes to representing a certain market demographic. I started narrating a commercial in my head as I went along.

Read this in a cheerful, singsong voice that makes you want to be my best friend and also stab me in the eyeball:

Hi! I'm a busy mom on the go! If I'm not rushing the kids to a scouting activity, we're off to baseball, music class, academic activities, running errands or taking "Daddy" to work! It's days like these I'm forever thankful for - what are we selling again? Oh, yeah - yogurt! I'm thankful for yogurt.

Because without yogurt, I'd never make it.

Without yogurt, how would I have summoned enough strength to referee 15 separate wrestling matches fought in the parking lots of several prominent retailers?

How would I have ever managed to not crash my van into the ditch while steering one-handed as I awkwardly passed a water bottle to a screaming, panicked 5-year-old who was convinced he just swallowed a "flying spider" after opening his window despite my stern protests?

Without yogurt, would I have even been able to get into that zone where I pretend the rest of the world does not exist as my child accidentally-but-repeatedly hurls a baseball directly at his new coach's crotch?

Were it not for yogurt, I'd probably still be lost on Cincinnati's west side, searching for the mysteriously invisible signage involved with the current I-74 Colrain Ave. detour. Thanks to yogurt, we only drove an extra 22 miles out of our way trying to find the wrong end of the one way street we needed.

The power of yogurt allowed me to force a somewhat convincing smile  for the other parents, even when my oldest sobbed for 30 minutes because we had been "outside for too long" on a 70-degree, party cloudy day at a nature center.

Yogurt was there when I realized I had managed to force everybody under 8 to pee on a regular basis all day, but I had yet to take my own bathroom break for 9 hours and that it would be yet another hour before I could. 

Thank you, yogurt! You keep us modern moms moving, and I'm not just referring to Jamie Lee Curtis's bowels.*






*Do not Google "Jamie Lee Curtis's bowels."