I wrote a guest post for the Criminal Element blog about where my fascination with obituaries comes from and I thought it would be fun to share it HERE.
They’re also doing a sweepstakes for a free copy of my book, THE GOOD BYLINE!
R.I.P. (Read in Peace)
If we are friends in real life and/or on any social media, you probably know by now that I’ve written a novel. You know this because I’ve talked and/or posted about it a lot. (Sorry – contractual obligation of the job.)
What you may or may not know is that the main character in my book is obsessed with obituaries. She reads the obits from eight different newspapers every day, culling through each one looking for the illuminating details of a life well lived. For Riley, this is a way to live vicariously through other people because she isn’t exactly setting the world on fire herself. And for me, the writer, the obituary page is the perfect place to find potential victims— it is a murder mystery after all.
So I end up spending a lot of time thinking about obituaries. I read books about obituaries, I subscribe to obituary websites, I cruise obituary message boards (yes, they exist!), and of course, I read the obituaries from multiple sources. If it sounds morbid to you, you’re reading the wrong obits. A well-written obituary is about life in all its fullness. And perhaps most importantly, what can be learned from that life.
However, I have noticed an unusual side effect from all of this obituary-thought. When it comes time to say goodbye to something in my life – even if it’s just a thing or something conceptual – I start thinking in obit terms. For example, my favorite white Moto leggings that recently came out of the dryer covered in a mysterious blue ink – they are dead to me now. Do these once beloved pants not deserve a final farewell? Or what about the blue and green melamine plates that I’ve had since my children were little. I recently had to euthanize them (read: chuck them in the trash because I’m pretty sure they were giving off toxic fumes), but I mourned their passing because in their non-toxic heyday they were a part of the fabric of our lives.
Be honest with me: Have you ever taken a moment of reflection upon saying goodbye to something that isn’t, strictly speaking, alive? Of course you have! You’re not made of stone! A cherished stuffed polar bear that got lost in your last move? Your new Betsey Johnson heels that the puppy chewed up? Your favorite ratty old Tri Delta Triple Play T-shirt that your spouse cut up and now uses to clean the windows on his car? Or even something less tangible like your teenage metabolism. I don’t know a soul over the age of 35 who doesn’t mourn the passing of that.
I guess it sounds a little weird and maybe it’s just because I have obituaries on the brain, but as I prepare to say goodbye to a part of myself that I must let go, I’ve decided to give it a proper send off. I’m talking about my modesty. (And no, not that kind of modesty – that kind died during childbirth. I mean seriously, there were 14 people in the room.) I’m talking about my Midwestern, aw-shucks, bragging-is-verboten sensibility that one must stomp out in the month leading up to one’s debut book launch.
This may seem kind of specific, but my writer friends out there will understand. And so will my salespeople friends. And so will anyone who has ever had try to market anything. Self-promotion can feel super douchey, but it is a necessary evil. And to be fair, it really isn’t so much “evil” as it is “business,” which to an artist can seem like the same thing— but that’s a subject for another post.
Jill Orr’s sense of modesty, dead at 43.
Jill Orr’s sense of modesty grew organically out of her midwestern roots, fueled by her mother’s inability to accept praise and her father’s habit of taking at least partial credit for “all the good stuff.” Being a terribly average child, Jill’s sense of modesty was infrequently tested. One notable exception occurred when she won an elementary school contest to guess the weight of a giant pumpkin. The prize was the great pumpkin itself, and all modesty flew out the window as she proudly displayed the spoils of her superior guesswork on her front porch. The universe, in the form of teenage vandals who came by two nights later and smashed the pumpkin to smithereens, taught Jill’s modesty the importance of staying firmly in place.
In her teenage years, Jill’s modesty was influenced by the typical adolescent features of social anxiety, acne, and a habit of taking herself far too seriously. This toxic combination brought her modesty to the edge of self-doubt, but a wealth of good friends, some mild academic success, and good old fashioned aging, pulled it back where it belonged— that sweet spot between timidity and arrogance.
Eventually Jill settled in mid-Missouri where modesty is prized almost above all else, and it is here where she honed phrases like, “It’s not that big of a deal,” and started telling people the sales price of clothing they complimented her on, “It was only like $14.99 on sale!” There was one unfortunate moment in 1997, when while at a party Jill was talking about this particular sensibility and meant to say the word “self-deprecating” but what she actually said was “self-defecating.” It took her years to attempt the phrase in public again.
In the years that followed, Jill’s modesty found a perfect home alongside her husband Jimmy, who has never accepted a compliment without immediately discounting it. Some of his favorite refrains are, “If Jill ever sobers up, she’ll probably leave me!” – a two pronged denigration – and, when talking about his golf game, “I’d have to improve to get to terrible.”
Jill’s sense of modesty was alive and well until it encountered an opposing force that proved too much: promotion of her debut novel. It is incumbent upon all authors, particularly first time authors with no celebrity, to “get the word out” about their upcoming books. This can take the form of, among other things, too-frequent Facebook posts, notifying people of personal appearances, alerts that your novel is now available for pre-order, and asking for reviews on Goodreads. It also involves showcasing only the good, never the bad, which flies in the face of everything modesty stands for.
In the end, Jill’s sense of modesty succumbed to self-promotion one month before her novel’s release. It is survived by loquacity, excitability, neuroticism, and militant optimism –which incidentally, Jill’s author friends say, are exactly what it takes to survive your first book launch.
Every generation of teenagers has their own slang. Adults aren’t meant to understand it, and in fact, that is the whole point. We chose language in part to express our identity and since teenagers naturally want to create an identity separate from that of their parents, they use different words, expressions, and phrases. It helps create distance and establish boundaries. . . blah, blah, blah. I get it; we all get it. But if you’re anything like me, you still want to know what the hell your kids are talking about.
So in pursuit of this lofty goal of understanding (and nothing at all to do with being desperate to connect with my increasingly independent children) I am going to attempt to decode the latest* teenage slang. I recently saw a similar segment on the Today Show, and when I asked my 15-year-old son if these words were used by teenagers IRL (in real life), he said, “Mom, you shouldn’t get all your information about teenagers from the Today Show.” To which I replied, “Well, they are my only source because SOMEONE doesn’t want to share his innermost thoughts and feelings with me.” And then he ran out of the room so fast he left a little trail of smoke behind him.
I want to be clear that the fallout from this will not be pretty. The moment my children read this, I will be dead to them. And not “dead” in the cool way (see #3 below)- dead in the “I have never seen this woman before” and “Drop me off three blocks from school” way. But that is a risk I am willing to take. Plus, I kind of love embarrassing my kids. Maybe it’s because it’s so easy, or maybe it’s because my very existence embarrasses them, so I figure why not lean into it? Either way, I consider it one of the rewards of parenting teenagers and those can be few and far between. So without further ado (and by ado, I mean rambling justification), here are the 10 of the most current slang words teenagers are using.
- Lit: This is how the kids say something is great. Example: “My Mom, Jill Orr, is so lit.”
- Stay woke: Originally the term “stay woke” was a warning to be hypervigilant in the face of racial and social injustice. However, when teens use it these days, it is often used ironically or as a joke to be aware of something that poses no real threat. Example: “Fletcher’s mom is decoding teen slang on her blog this month. Stay woke!”
- Dead: When something is so funny/cool/surprising that one “dies” of laughter/envy/embarrassment. Often used in text communication. Example: Ellie’s mom just told me to ‘stay woke’. *DEAD*
- GOAT: This is an acronym, used in written and verbal communication, meaning Greatest of All Time. Example: My mom is the GOAT.
- Squad goals: When your friend group has something that everyone else admires. Often used as a caption for a picture on Instagram or Twitter. Example: A mom might write #squadgoals below a picture of her with her other mom friends if they are out past 8pm on a weeknight for a non-kid related event. But considering my son’s high school recently had a “squad goals” day, I’m guessing this term is on its way to the teenage dumpster.
- Fam: Do not expect your kids to describe you as their fam. Forget that you have provided them with food, clothing, and shelter for their entire lives. Their fam is made up of their very closest friends, their inner circle, and does not generally include anyone who lives in their home. . . no matter how many times you tell them that makes no sense and that other kids would kill to call you their fam because you are super cool.
- Thirsty: Do not offer up a glass of milk if you hear your kids or their friends say someone is “thirsty.” When used by a teen, this means desperate, or overeager. Example: A certain middle-aged woman might be called “thirsty” if she tries to use teenage slang as a way to relate to her kids.
- Smh: Abbreviation for “shaking my head” to convey disbelief in the face of stupidity. Used in written communication, usually text. Example: My mom won’t stop calling herself a GOAT. *Smh*
- Slay: To do something really well. Example: I am really slaying this article on teenage slang.
- Throw shade: To voice disapproval. Example: Fletcher and Ellie will throw some serious shade on their Mom after reading this article even though it was super lit. (Oh yeah, that’s a twofer. Slayed it! Hundo P! [Bonus word: that means 100%].)
*Please note that I am writing this in December of 2016, even though it will not appear in print until February of 2017, so there is a high probability that these terms have already gone the way of other disgraced teen slang terms like: bae, on fleek, and YOLO. Apparently, the only people using these words are ten- year-old-boys on Instagram and adults having a midlife crisis.
- Did you know that the average puppy pees 1,257 times per day?
- Did you know that it takes the average puppy approximately 25 minutes to walk ten feet on a leash?
- You must never take your eyes off of a puppy for even a moment or else they will pee, poop, or chew up something that is important to you.
- You will want to invest in Visine or some other eye lubricant before bringing home your new puppy because you must watch him or her all the time (see above) and that means ALL THE TIME. You must never blink. If you blink, the puppy will pee, poop, and/or chew up something that is important to you.
- Did you know that if you take your eyes off the prize (the “prize” in this scenario, ironically, is your new puppy) and your puppy pees, poops, or chews up something important to you – you will have taught the puppy that it’s okay to do so?
- Did you know that the average puppy drinks water like a Snuffleupagus in both style and quantity?
- Did you know that it will take your new puppy approximately 1.7 seconds to completely destroy your average throw pillow?
- Did you know s/he can destroy a pair of Lululemon pants in half that time?
- You will want to rid your house and your person of anything that can be seen as a chew toy by your new puppy, for instance draperies, shag rugs, shoelaces, belts, necklaces, chair legs, fingers, toes, noses, etc.
- New puppies need a lot of love and attention. Please do not plan to go more than 30 consecutive seconds without thinking about or interacting with your new puppy. This will be seen as a sign of neglect and will be met with extreme displeasure.
- Did you know puppies show their extreme displeasure by peeing, pooping, or chewing up something that is important to you?
- Did you know that while it will take your new puppy three days to walk to the end of your driveway on a leash, if you take the leash off, your new puppy will speed to the top of your street in 4.6 seconds?
- Please plan to spend an average of 45 minutes outside during each potty break with your new puppy. Note: When you combine this with the 4x/day feeding schedule, this process of feeding/pottying becomes essentially confluent, so plan to abandon everyday tasks like doing the dishes, vacuuming, folding laundry, cooking, eating a meal with your family, showering, etc.
- Did you know your new puppy is 1000 times more likely to growl at your mother-in-law than the shady doormail coupon delivery guy?
- You will want to avoid having one of your children bring home a contagious stomach virus from school while you’re training your new puppy. This is likely to really test your limits on dealing with bodily fluids.
- You will also want to avoid trying to write your second novel while you have a new puppy at home. Your new puppy will not respect the process. (You should, however, have the requisite time it takes to complete a blog post during your new puppy’s 7.5 minute nap. Whoops – my time is up!)
**Every four years, I try to get this guy in the running. Could this be his year?**
Most people would agree that the current candidate landscape for the 2016 presidential election leaves something to be desired. No matter your political leanings, most of us find the major party candidates lacking in some way. We want Hillary to be more transparent. We want Trump to be less of a bully. We want Hillary to be more open with the press. We want Trump to recognize the inherent value of women, minorities, and people who are not exclusively straight, wealthy, Christian, gun-owning, white dudes. But as Trump himself said by way of his convention song: You can’t always get what you want.
It can be a little demoralizing. So sometimes when I need a break from the election coverage, I’ll cruise the channels until I find something less move-to-Canaday. Recently, I settled on Looney Tunes, and as I watched Wile E. Coyote (Carnivorous Vulgaris) launch yet another attack on the Roadrunner, it occurred to me that Mr. Coyote might be exactly what this country needs. After all, he is clever, determined, creative, and has an unparalleled ability to focus on the task at hand. It was like a cartoon light bulb flashed above my head as I thought, “What if Wile E. Coyote threw his hat into the ring?” Everyone talks about how we need a political outsider who hasn’t been corrupted by Washington. And I ask you, who is more of a political outsider than Mr. Wile E. Coyote?
Like Trump (Narcissist Inegns), Wile E. eschews social and political norms and lives life on his terms. Like Hillary (Femina Manipularius), he works his tail off – sometimes literally – in pursuit of his goals. But this scrappy, lovable, underdog (Canis Lupis Inferius) has a few tricks up his sleeve that neither of the current candidates can match. If Wile E. were to become the next President of the United States, we could look forward to a few key changes:
- Revitalized Defense Contracting. Mr. Coyote definitely has some sort of in with the Acme Corporation. Their catalog is filled with exciting and outside the box weaponry that could really add some pizzazz to our military arsenal. They have Dehydrated Boulders, Giant Magnets, Earthquake Pills, Oversized Rubberbands, Spring Rocket Shoes, Building Disintegrators, and Giant Sling Shots (take that, North Korea!). Plus, their turn around time is second to none.
- Superior Problem Solving. Wile E. Coyote has a long tradition of coming up with creative strategies to solve problems. To be fair, so far he’s only had the one problem with the bird, but still. His resourcefulness, if applied to domestic and international issues, could completely revolutionize the way the United States approaches a number of vexing problems. Think, for example, the effect that Wile E.’s long established tactic of painting tunnels on the side of mountains could have on our border problem?
- Taxpayer Savings. No fancy suits or lavish dinner parties required for this guy. His strict clothing optional policy and limited diet would translate into saving untold dollars over the course of his term in office.
- Self-Proclaimed Super Genius. Okay, on this point he is even with Trump.
- Transparency. Private servers and email scandals would be a thing of the past if Wile E. Coyote took office. Under his administration, Mr. Coyote’s ears would tell the American public everything we need to know. Straight up: Things are good. Straight down: Things are bad. Burned to a crisp: Things are really, really bad.
- No Useless Rhetoric. Wile E. Coyote communicates largely through short messages scrawled on craggy wooden signs. Americans could depend on Mr. Coyote to be direct, succinct, and to the point. And wouldn’t that be a refreshing change? If nothing else, it would certainly make for fewer awkward debate moments.
- Likability. This is the most superficial, yet oddly essential, qualification that the electorate demands when selecting the future Leader of the Free World. And here Wile E. Coyote has it on lock. Who doesn’t love him? That impish grin, those bushy brows, the way he snickers manically to himself when he thinks he’s come up with a good plan? Charming! His appeal transcends party lines. From the staunchest right wing zealot to the farthest left leaning liberal – everybody roots for Wile E. Coyote to silence that smug “meep-meep,” once and for all. Never mind that his success rate is zero percent, his approval rating would be through the roof.
- Never Say Die Attitude. It’s going to take more than a sluggish economy, astronomical debt, racial unrest, and impending environmental doom to rattle this coyote’s cage. He has proven, time and time again, that he will not back down in the face of insurmountable odds, no matter what the personal risk. Here’s a guy who has been blown up, smashed to smithereens, gored, flattened, shattered, burned, cut in two, and fallen off countless cliffs ending in a puff of smoke, only to rise from the ashes to try, try again. (Actually, on like this point he’s not unlike Hillary.)
- Grit. Wile E. Coyote has it in spades. He has literally never succeeded at any of his plans, but has he given up? Has he closed-up shop and developed a taste for chicken? Nope. He keeps on trying. He continually comes up with new ways to attack the problem, despite the ever-shrinking odds that he will actually be able to realize his dream. And given the current political climate, this may be his single best qualification for the next President of the United States.
So what do you think? Should we start a write-in campaign?
For years, I’ve asked my kids the same uninspired question when I pick them up from school: How was your day? And for years, they’ve answered with the same uninspired answer: Fine. In fact, we’ve been round and round on this so many times that last year my daughter begged me to please stop asking how her day was because, “It makes me want to scream. No offense or anything, Mom.” Okay, fair enough. No offense taken. That question wasn’t pulling its weight anyway.
I needed a better way to get at what exactly was going on with my kids at school and more importantly how it made them feel. (I am big into how things make my kids feel, much to their continued aggravation.) So I, like any good parent in the digital age, turned to the Internet for advice. And the Internet heeded my call! When I typed in “how to ask kids about their school day,” Google showed me list after list of questions I could ask my kids that, Google promised, would really get them talking. These questions would be the key that would unlock the secret world of my children’s innermost hopes and dreams. They would make our bond stronger, our love deeper, and bring us closer together than ever before. I wanted the key to that world! I wanted to be closer than ever before!
So I read article after article and synthesized the information to create one super list. And I got in my car and drove to school ready to be transported inside their teenage brains. I have transcribed the conversation that followed:
- What did you eat for lunch?
Why? What’d you hear?
- Did anyone do anything super nice for you?
Um, no. This is middle school. Nobody does anything super nice for anyone.
- What was the nicest thing you did for someone else?
Didn’t I just answer that?
- Who made you smile today?
Mom, are you okay?
- Which one of your teachers would survive a zombie apocalypse?
Is this for a new book your writing?
- Did anyone push your buttons today?
Other than you?
- Who do you want to make friends with but haven’t yet?
Why? What’d you hear?
- Tell me something you learned about a friend today.
I thought we weren’t supposed to gossip?
- What challenged you today?
- When did you feel most proud of yourself today?
That joke about this conversation was pretty good.
- Tell me about a new word you heard at school today.
Why? What’d you hear?
- What new fact did you learn today?
Time is relative. For example, this car ride home- while technically only five minutes long- feels like an eternity.
- If aliens came to school and beamed up three kids, who do you wish they would take?
Seriously Mom, are you having some sort of crisis? Should we call Dad?
- Tell me about three different times you used your pencil today.
Why? What’d you hear?
- What is one thing you hope to learn before the school year is over?
The bus schedule.
As you can see, the conversation didn’t give me any special insight into their world. Or take our bond to new heights. Or bring us closer together. At one point, my daughter faked being asleep to avoid answering any more questions. But it did get us talking— granted, mostly about how weird I was— but still. We talked, we laughed, we made fun of me, and then we all went inside and had a snack. And I figure that’s better than nothing. . . and certainly better than “fine.”
This post is from a while back, but I was reminded of the subject today when I saw a man in the grocery store walking around eating a banana. A banana, my friends! I don’t know how he planned to pay for it, or what he planned to do with the peel – but it reminded me of this essay and so I thought I’d repost. And no, before you ask, the man I saw wasn’t Jimmy.
This morning while we sat at our island eating breakfast, my husband revealed something about himself that nothing in our 17-year history could have prepared me for. And he said it like it was no big deal, like I should have expected – even approved of – his commentary.
It turns out that I most certainly did not approve, and to put an exclamation point on it, I’m going to reveal his dirty little secret here. On the Internet. Where it will never go away. And because I think it will be most dramatic this way, I’m going to do it via a live-action dialogue sequence.
Me: I took a chance and bought these new cherries at the store yesterday.
Husband: Oh yeah?
Me: Yeah. It was a bit of a risk because I’ve never had this kind before– but they were like $3 less per pound so I decided to go for it.
Husband: That’s good. (Pause) Why didn’t you try one first?
Me: Couldn’t. They were in a sealed bag.
Husband: Oh, I would have just opened the bag and taken one.
Husband: Yeah, totally. I do it all the time.
Me: You do?
Husband: Yeah. I’ve been burned too many times with bad fruit. I always test it first now. Trust me.
Me: Wait – what? You test fruit? In the grocery store?
Husband: Yeah. All the time. Like if I’m thinking about buying one of those big bags of apples, I’ll just open the bag and eat one. You know, to make sure they’re good.
Me: Wait… you’re telling me you open sealed bags of fruit and eat, like, an entire apple, orange, or nectarine – right there on the spot?
Husband: Yeah, all the time.
Me: That’s horrifying.
Husband: No it isn’t. It’s practical. Fruit is expensive and I want to make sure it’s going to taste good before I buy it.
Me: That’s unsanitary. Plus, it’s kind of stealing.
Husband: No it isn’t.
Me: Yeah it is.
Husband: No it isn’t. They know people do it. They expect it. Trust me. I do it all the time.
Me: But you’re eating something without paying for it.
Husband: Not really.
Me: Yes really.
Husband: No, it’s fine. They expect people to do it. Trust me.
Tense silence while I try to integrate this new information.
Me: Okay. So forgetting about the stealing for a minute, your method doesn’t even make sense. Just because one apple in the bag doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t mean they all will be bad.
Husband: Yeah it does.
Me: No it doesn’t.
Husband: Yeah it does. Trust me.
Me: No – it so doesn’t. There’s a whole cliché based on how wrong that assumption is. You know, ‘One bad apple…?’
Husband: Yeah, that expression proves my point. One bad apple spoils the bunch or bushel or whatever.
Me: Hm. Well… maybe that’s how the expression started, but I think the real point of it is what a shame it is for one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch. You shouldn’t throw away the whole bunch because of one bad apple.
Husband: Yeah you should. Trust me. I do it all the time.
So here’s the takeaway: My husband, who has bungee jumped off a cliff in Australia, raced cars on the Nurburgring in Germany, skied double black diamonds, and married a temperamental Jewish girl from Chicago and brought her to live in a small town in Missouri, is apparently so risk-averse when it comes to fruit that he will break social conventions and basically steal from our local grocery store to avoid… what? A sour taste in his mouth? (This is the same man buys the $18 box of sour patch watermelons every time we go to the movies.)
I think what surprised me most about Jimmy’s feelings on fruit buying, was his attitude of entitlement. Like he is owed a decent piece of fruit or something. Good or bad, it took the farmer every bit as long to grow the fruit, and the grocer just as much overhead to sell the fruit. Aside from bruises or obvious mold or something, you can’t tell how a piece of fruit is going to taste before you eat it. Therefore the only method of determining if the fruit is worthy of purchase, takes the option to buy it off the table. Because by then it is already in your stomach.
Call me I’m old-fashioned, but I think certain things in life come with inherent risk. Buying fruit is one of them. Marriage is another for that matter, along with putting your face under at a water park and eating sushi at a gas station. You pays your money, you takes your chances. There are no guarantees in this life and if you want to be 100% sure your fruit is going to taste perfectly sweet, you’d better buy it out of a can and be prepared to eat all the sugar and preservatives they add to make it that way. Unlike my husband, I am not a risk taker by nature, but I believe there are certain things in life worth the gamble. Appalling fruit-buying behavior aside, my husband was one of them. A good nectarine is another.
And you can trust me on that.