Get a Life…

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)

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An Obituary for My Modesty

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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.


Look Who’s Talking

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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. 

  1. Lit: This is how the kids say something is great. Example: “My Mom, Jill Orr, is so lit.”
  2. 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!”
  3. 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*
  4. GOAT: This is an acronym, used in written and verbal communication, meaning Greatest of All Time. Example: My mom is the GOAT.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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*
  9. Slay: To do something really well. Example: I am really slaying this article on teenage slang.
  10. 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. 


Your New Puppy: An Owner’s Guide

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  • 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!)

 


Rejection Reflection

I’ve been working on a piece for the Arts issue of the magazine I write for, and it got me thinking about an issue that all artists-  and parents –  have to deal with at some point: rejection. As a writer, I am rejected on a daily basis. Please do not mistake that for hyperbole. I literally receive rejection letters almost every single day for work that I have spent hours and days and months creating. I’m not going to lie, it kind of sucks. But art is a subjective business, and if you’re going to work in a creative field you have to realize that rejection is just part of the gig.

I did not, however, anticipate how much rejection was going to be involved in the parenting gig. Maybe because when you have a baby, rejection seems impossible. After all, your helpless little creature couldn’t possibly reject you because, for starters they can’t even talk, but more importantly they need you for fundamental things like food and shelter. As newborns grow into babies and then into toddlers, need is still a prime component of your relationship. They need you to change their diapers. They need you to get them dressed. They need you to give them your iPad. They need need need to the point that a little rejection would be a welcome change.

And then somewhere toward the end of elementary school, subtle changes set in. “No, mommy, you don’t have to volunteer for my field trip.” “You don’t need to walk me into school.” “You don’t have to hug and kiss me goodbye when you drop me off at Timmy’s house.” Okay, you think, my child is becoming independent. That’s a good thing, right? And during this phase they still need you, of course, because they can’t reach the top shelf in the pantry and that’s where you keep all the candy.

But then somewhere during the middle school years, their needs change again and begin to center around two things: transportation and money. These are not their only needs, but they are certainly the only needs they want to talk to you about. So that means that the other things you offer your children—your values, hopes, dreams, wisdom— are often rejected. And let me tell you, rejection from an 11 to 14 year-old who has not yet perfected the art of constructive criticism can be… severe.

No joke, my daughter asked me last week why my face was “like that.” She literally rejected my face. I wasn’t sure how to respond to this, as this is the only face I have, so I just gave her my most sympathetic look and said in a loving tone, “I don’t know, honey. We’re just going to have to get through this together.”

And I think that is the key to rejection— treating it with one measure of acceptance and two or three measures of perseverance. Because rejections will happen in every aspect of our social and professional lives whether we choose to become artists, or parents, or lawyers, or athletes, or anything other than a giant pile of cold hard cash. It kind of sucks, but there it is.

So I try not to let my kids subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) rejection bother me too much. I don’t let it stop me from parenting. I don’t let it dictate how and why I make decisions about their well-being, nor do I take it too personally. I also use my own stories of rejection to help them become comfortable with the idea that they, too, will one day face rejection, despite what all their “participation” ribbons have taught them. I tell them about all my writing rejections. I tell them how sometimes it makes me feel bad. I make jokes about this or that editor’s lack of vision. And in the end, I show them how I go back to work and try to improve. Because to quote every successful artist—and parent— ever, “Rejection doesn’t equal failure. The only way you fail for sure is if you stop trying.”