WWWWD? (What Would Wonder Woman Do?)

We all have heroes growing up. Some look to world leaders, spiritual gurus, or writers of prose. There are those who are fortunate enough to have people in their everyday lives to admire – police officers, teachers or doctors. They give us courage, strength, and standards to live up to. They can, in essence, help form the core of the people we were meant to someday become.

My hero was Wonder Woman. The Lynda Carter version, not Gal Godot, who just makes me feel like a muppet.

Wonder Woman was a figure I could get behind. Dreadful show, to be sure, but I truly believe that Lynda Carter (as WW) was the epitome of fabulousness. She ran, jumped and spun around wearing a strapless bathing suit and high-heeled boots, and caught bad guys armed only with a rope and really chic bracelets. She even wore coordinating earrings. And did you ever notice that her hair never moved? She never broke a sweat, and her make up never smeared.

Very much how I enter any room.

This is the standard to which I’ve aspired, if only in my head. And it’s messed me up for the last 35 years.

Not for lack of trying, of course. I once tried to brush the natural curls out of my hair so that I could achieve the WW bouffant, with terrifying results. My strands decided to rebel against the imposed regime and instead of lying quietly in an orderly, super-heroine manner branched out in sixteen different directions. My bangs puffed up like a threatened bird. Static electricity took up residence in the back of my head. I looked like I had gotten my head caught in a revolving door. I think it made my little brother cry.

Things haven’t gotten any better with age.

Somewhere along the line, I missed a lecture/memo/piece of DNA that many women seem to get. I can’t do that so-called “feminine” thing that TV told us we were supposed to just do naturally. Back in the day, all someone like, say, Jaclyn Smith had to do was stand there, and men were entranced. (Yes, yes, I know – she looks like Jaclyn Smith. It helps.) A turn of the head, a hand on the hip – voila! I tried the hand on the hip thing once, and I just looked like someone’s pissed off Russian grandma. Not a real turn-on. I just can’t swing it. A man once came over to talk to me at a party. I was determined to do the “eyes” thing I’ve seen other women do – you know, the slightly lowered head, the demure smile.

“Hi,” I said. “The wine is great.”

He coughed. “Yeah. I like a pilsner.”

This is going well, I thought. “My name’s Jen…”

“I’m Mike.” He sits down and leans in. I emit something resembling a giggle, and take a sip of chardonnay. “And you’re sitting on my coat.”

I choked while swallowing the wine, and he fortunately did not send me the dry cleaning bill.

But Wonder Woman? She’d look at the guy and say, “Oh, yeah? You’ll get your coat when I’m ready to move.” Dude would naturally find this attractive and he’d wind up fetching her drinks all evening. And if he said something rude, she’d lasso him with her “truth rope” and he’d admit he’s a total nimrod and would agree to wear a sign from now on alerting other women to this fact. WW is strong, confident and can kick-ass in stilettos.

I so want to be more Wonderish. I would like to dig down, find some long-dormant confidence, throw on some lipstick and say “Howdy.” But I’m a middle-aged, overweight ex-schoolteacher. The odds are not stacked in my favor. I have the necessary parts; I’ve just never been totally clear on the instructions. And I’m missing a few tools.

Yet I arise every morning, determined to be fabulous on some level. It’s a struggle. I will never, ever be able to pull off the red, white and blue bathing suit. I cannot run in heels. And as much as I like to pretend to be a diva, sometimes you just have to take off the tiara (even if it’s figurative) and deal with the hand you’ve been dealt. Here’s the thing: Wonder Woman does not wear a bra that’s been duct-taped together. Wonder Woman does not spill soup down her front. When men talk to Wonder Woman, she does not assume they’re just trying to get to her more attractive friend. And Wonder Woman never, ever eats peanut butter from the jar with a butter knife, because Wonder Woman didn’t run the dishwasher and is too lazy to hand-wash a spoon.

I’m telling you, I need better accessories.

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I Sing The Body Eclectic

I need to stop watching medical reality shows.

I should know better. Really, I should. I spent years stress-watching E.R., and that was fiction, for Pete’s sake. But half-hours, filled with bones sticking out of legs and torn off ears and people with silly string coming out of their elbows, make me squeal like a stuck pig. I’ve now gotten to the point where I just have to turn the channel, because the most serious medical thing I want to contemplate these days is a Band-Aid commercial.

I’m already aware that the human body is weird. Especially mine. I mean, I don’t have three arms or six ears, but I’m perpetually surprised by my person, by the things that it is able to do and by the things it…isn’t.

This is never more fully evident than when we’re sick. We revert back to childhood, no matter our age. We want soup, we want our blankie, we want to whine and moan and watch soap operas. Basically, we want our mommies, and in the absence of her, we want the flu fairy to bonk us on the head so we can sleep until it’s over. Our bodies ache, we can’t breathe, and we cough up weird things, just so our bodies can make room for more gunk. I’ve always been flummoxed by that phenomenon where one of your nostrils is plugged up and then…it’s not. The other one is. Then the mucus gets bored and goes back to the first one, until you’ve got a game of snot seesaw going on in your sinuses.

Worse than the illness, I think, are the various remedies people throw at you in an attempt to be helpful. (Of course, they’re usually thrown from a distance, as no one wants to actually be near you when the snot settles in.) “Drink lots of fluids!” is a big one. True, one wants to stay hydrated but it’s tough to get rest when you’re running to pee every five minutes. “Steam your face!” is also quite popular. For me, it doesn’t work. Then I just have a stuffy nose and frizzy hair. And that joy of joys, the Neti pot. I finally broke down and bought one. Mixed results. First of all, do not use it if you’re congested, which seems to be counterintuitive because it’s supposed to keep the nasal passages clear. But if you’re blocked up, the water can’t circulate and it winds up dripping down the back of your throat. Phlegm cocktail, anyone? And even when it works, it’s an odd sensation. I spent most of my swim time trying to prevent that from happening, so it’s strange to be doing it voluntarily. I am generally not a fan of things going up my nose. This is also one of those things that you should never, ever do in front of another person. Swooshing water through your nose is not sexy. Nor should it be.

“Hello, darling. Do you like my bedroom eyes? My seductive stance? My ‘come hither’ attitude? Wait right there, my love, one moment….SNERT!”

I would say that maintaining at least a modicum of mystery in a relationship is vital.

Sometimes our bodies surprise us in wondrous ways. It seems that a select few are the beneficiaries of the “superhuman” genes. They can accomplish far more with their bodies than the rest of us. They’re almost works of art. Then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum – me. No matter the circumstance, I’m not the most coordinated gazelle in the herd. In gym class, I was always playing “far right field.” (It’s not a real position. I looked it up.) In basketball, no one passed me the ball, so I was actually just jogging back and forth while watching the game. Oddly, I was often required to play goalie in soccer. Yeah, that makes sense. Take the girl most likely to flinch and cover her head whenever the ball comes near, and make her play goalie. (David Beckham can kick soccer balls backwards over his head. I’m just saying.) I’ve attempted dance classes twice in my life. I only lasted a short time in ballet as a small girl; I didn’t want to go because the other girls made fun of me. In college, my friends were supportive, but on the first day of dance class I was met with the teacher’s raised eyebrows and an insincere, “I’m so glad to see you in this class.” My brain seems unable to transmit the movement message to my body. Why is this? Did I miss a lecture? Is it an inner ear thing? What? Advertisers would like us to believe that it’s merely a lack of fancy shoes or sports drinks, but I’m not buying it, literally or figuratively. I am grateful for the fact that I can move, see, and hear, but just one time it would have been really nice to be able to dunk a basketball or attempt a graceful plié without my classmates giggling.

It happens to me in all areas of life, not just sports. I tend to be rather unaware of where my limbs are in space, which results in a lot of bumping and tripping over nothing. (When I’m walking, there are times that I swear I have to remind myself, “Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot…”) Whenever my theater friends and I were working on building a set, if there was a crash, invariably the first thing you’d hear is, “Where’s Jenny?” I always responded with, “I’m ooooo…..kaaaaaay!” Once, I was working on drilling some screws into a set piece we were building. It was particleboard, and I just couldn’t start the hole. Suddenly, the drill slipped and scraped the hand that was holding the screw. (Note to all of you knowledgeable handypeople: I know.) I looked down and realized that I had taken a small chunk of flesh from the base of my thumb. I looked around, and saw my friend Alan.

“Look!” I said, showing him my wound.

Now, Alan wasn’t easily moved by my plight. His first question was not, “Are you all right?” or even, “Does it hurt?” Nope. Alan had a slightly more pragmatic approach.

“Who put you in charge of a power tool?”

I would have been offended, except that it was actually kind of true.

 

Beyond physical feats of greatness, there are other common occurrences I don’t understand. Charlie Horses, for one. Actually, I understand what they are; I just don’t get the name. Sounds like the name of a children’s toy. Or a Disney character. It’s too cute. They need to make the name a little more intimidating, like “Adolph Viper,” or “Voledemort Rhinoceros,” or really, just name it after what it feels like:

“OwowowowowowcrapcrapcrapcrapNoNoNoNoStopstopstopstop…”

That’s just one of the lovely things that happen when you exert yourself. (Or in my case, do absolutely nothing.) No wonder doctors can’t get their patients to exercise. It’s not that people don’t want to be fit; they’re just afraid of cramps, shin splints, tennis elbow, or jog pooping. (I’m not making that up. It’s a thing.) When I work out, my face gets red. Beet red. Like, “Oh my God, she’s having a stroke” red. And my fingers swell up. There’s pain in my shins. I’d love to concentrate on sculpting a better ass but that’s hard to do when your thighs are rubbing together with such intensity that you’re afraid your crotch is going to catch on fire. (Not that this has actually happened.) It’s enough to make you say, “Screw it” and eat a plate of curly fries. It’s crazy. I saw a man on TV who was an archery champion despite the fact that he had no arms, and I can’t get past the first level of “Dance Dance Revolution.”

And please tell me, why the hell do we have to deal with adolescence? Talk about not understanding the body. Just when we, as kids, start to think we’re figuring things out, we’re hit with Hormones From Hell. Frizzy hair. Oily hair. Dry skin. Acne. Braces. Glasses. Weird growth spurts. Voice changing overnight. Happysadhappysadhappy. (And this could all be from one kid. In one day.) Nature, in her infinite wisdom, decided to dole out this misery on us when we’re probably the least prepared to deal with it. Sure, some sail right through it, damn them, but the rest of us struggle for a while, ending…well, any day now, fingers crossed. Junior high, I believe, could be considered part of the ninth circle of hell. You’re supposed to negotiate evolving gender relationships, figure out who you are and where you fit into this life, all without tripping over your own feet. You can be best friends with someone one day, fierce enemies the next. It’s a whole swirling vortex of the worst parts of life. It would be great if we could get through it in, say, a week, and then move on. Instead, we’re tossed about like a ship on the proverbial “three hour tour,” and after a couple of years of this nonsense, we’re washed ashore and left to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and say, “Well, there’s that, then,” and move on to a whole new set of issues. And there are always new ones to deal with. Always. Every day. I foolishly once thought that if I could just get through the teen years, then everything would be all right and I’d never feel awkward again. Of course, I’d laugh at that thought, but I’m stunned by the fact that I still look remarkably like my seventh grade class picture. And not in a good way. More like an, “It’s thirty years later and I still haven’t figured out my bangs” kind of way.

The truth is, our bodies are continually changing. Sometimes for the better, sometimes…not. Things grow, things fall off, things shift, things hang lower than they used to, things don’t glow quite as much, things take a lot longer to establish normalcy. I once got completely freaked out because I found a lump on my shoulder. Naturally, after years of watching medical shows, I assumed the worst. “Oh my God,” I thought. “It’s shoulder cancer! It’s an absorbed Siamese twin! It’s…wait, there’s one on the other side. What the…?”

It was my collarbone.

Also, sometimes our intestines just decide to screw around with us. No kidding, I think I farted out of my ear last week. My stomach was “gurgling,” and the pressure started to build. I was in a meeting, so there was no escape. I just kept repeating positive thoughts and regretting the turkey chili. Then, in my right ear, I heard an “eeeeeeeee”sound, and suddenly my stomach was fine. I felt like a human kazoo. No other internal body parts do this. My spleen never sounds like a banjo. My appendix doesn’t make a sproingy sound. But our digestive systems? I wouldn’t be surprised if one day mine sounded exactly like the B-side of “Abbey Road.”

Let’s not forget the most important thing that makes us adorably human – our brains. Brains that can invent the microchip, formulate string theory, or paint a masterpiece. Or, for most of us, brains that tell us to eat the cheesecake, to bet on the Chicago Bears, or that can’t remember where we parked our car. But of all the body oddities, dreams are the most far out. Much thought and research has been spent on why our brains do what they do at night. One theory is that dreams are when the brain formulates ideas, or “random thought mutations.” Another camp thinks that it’s the brain “cleaning house.” And our old buddy Herr Freud thought that dreams were expressions of unconscious desires. Personally, I think it’s the only time that we let our minds run free and wild, without being burdened with everyday decisions, worries, and random bits of “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League. I used to dream about flying a lot – not soaring over hills and dales like a bird, but more like being able to get about five feet off the ground and maybe making it across the room. I would also dream about losing my glasses, and not being able to see anything but blurs all around me. Of course, there were the ubiquitous chase dreams, in which I’d be trying to escape my pursuers in a building by going into room after room, or even in the walls between rooms, higher and higher, always worried I’d be found. Quite regularly, I’d have dreams that I was getting married, but I would have no idea what the lucky chap’s name was, which does make sending the invitations a bit tricky. Not surprisingly, people look for meaning in dreams – losing teeth means this, or being naked in public means that, or that any number of things represent Freudian penis envy (trust me, gents – we don’t). I think we’re over-thinking the whole thing. I believe dreams are just a kaleidoscope of ideas, images, fears, desires, worries, hopes…and yes, fantasies. Weird, nonsensical, badass fantasies. Water skiing with Nelson Mandela? Great. Making a three-story strawberry mousse while your third grade teacher makes you recite the multiplication tables? Fabulous. Standing under the Eiffel Tower, naked, while singing “Copacabana” into a hockey stick? I want to meet you. I think the best goal we can set for our dreams is to just let go, enjoy the ride, and wake up thinking, “What the hell was that?”

Overall, I’m doing all right. So I’ll never be a ballerina. I can’t run fast. My stomach makes weird noises at inappropriate times. The important thing is that when I fall down, I can pick myself up, brush myself off, and hope like hell nobody saw me. And if I’m very, very lucky, tonight my brain will be nice to me and I’ll have that dream where I’m taking a bubble bath with Nathan Fillion and Jon Hamm.

 

Shop-o-Rama

I have fallen prey to the siren song of the discount, the ever-present lure of a bargain. Yes, I have started shopping at Costco. It’s worlds away from regular, everyday shopping, and I like it.

And why not? It’s a land of wonderment, where you can buy gallon jugs of olive oil, rice by the barrel, car tires, tube socks, books, and cakes that are layered in so much chocolate it would make Willy Wonka blush. I bought an enormous jug of laundry detergent for about $9 and six months later, I’m still using it. I got a package of paper towels that I had to lash to a dolly. I almost bought a package of 64 pairs of underwear, but I decided that was too much pressure.

It really is a hopeful place, when you get right down to it. Buying in volume is like saying “YES” to your life – “Yes! I will live to finish that six pounds of coffee! Yes! I will have canned peaches until the END OF TIME! Take your single-serving pouch of tuna and BITE ME!” (You’ll want to twirl down the aisles and possibly toss your hat in the air like a crazed Mary Tyler Moore. Resist the urge.)

You can spot the newbies right away. They’re the ones picking up two-pound cans of Chicken Noodle Soup and going, “Oooohhh…” They’re the ones looking at a three-pack of barbecue sauce and saying, “Now who in their right mind would buy this much?” But they’re also the ones who wind up at the check-out with six of those three-packs so you know the conversion happened somewhere, probably in the wine department. (The store is big on samples.) I imagine one of those new shoppers sitting on their kitchen floor about three hours later, weeping, surrounded by boxes of Popsicles, toothpaste and paper plates that are so big you could lose a toddler in them and thinking, “It’s all just too much…” Even in bulk, one must practice moderation.

It sure beats clothes shopping, as far as I’m concerned. Buying big at Costco is encouraged. Buying big in clothing stores, not so much. I have an upper limit of about twenty minutes for clothes shopping. It’s not a matter of not knowing what I’m looking for. I’ve been reading fashion magazines since 1977; I’m aware of what skirt goes with what blouse. When you’re not a Size 6, though, it can be discouraging. You walk from rack to rack, pulling pieces to look at.

“The vertical stripes on this sweater look like a landing strip. I’ll have planes circling, waiting for clearance.”

“If I wear this blouse, my boobs will look like they have their own ZIP Code. They’re there. We’re aware. We don’t need to announce them.”

“These jeans might as well have a bull’s eye painted on the ass.”

And if I’m actually able to find things in my size that don’t have cutsie sayings or pictures of cows on them, trying them on is, well, trying. Personally, I think the government should forget about water boarding. Trying on clothes in a cramped dressing room, with a mirror the store probably salvaged from a carnival, under those not-entirely-flattering lights (the heat lamps at McDonald’s would be a better choice), is a real and common form of torture. I’m serious. After three outfits the terrorists would be in tears.

If I find pants that fit in the waist, I guarantee they’ll be five inches too long. (I never understood this. They’re supposed to be “average length.” I’m 5’7”– who in the hell are they designing for?) If they are the right length, I have to practically lie on the floor to get them zipped. This, invariably, is when the sales person comes to check on me, and I’m sure she’s quite alarmed when my muffled response comes from about five feet lower than where she expected it.

“How are you doing in there?” she says, brightly.

“As God as my witness, I’m never shopping again. From now on, I’m wearing a nylon tent everywhere. Oh, I hate my liiiiiiffffeeee…”

“Do you need another size?”

“I need a cupcake. Back off.”

“All righty, my name is Sandy, if you need anything, let me know!”

“Thanks, Sandy. I’ve got my therapist on speed dial. I’ll keep you posted.”

I walked out of that store with a pair of socks and a sour disposition. It was not a successful venture.

I have been doing quite a bit of shopping online, which allows me to do the whole retail self-loathing bit in the privacy of my own bedroom. Unfortunately, if something doesn’t fit, you have to do the “shopping walk of shame” to return it. It’s gotten to the point where the kid at the UPS store has started to recognize me.

“No luck this time?” he asks.

“No, they’re weren’t ‘me.’”

“You got the capri pants, didn’t you? It’s a tough look to pull off, you know.”

That’s a lot of smugness coming from a seventeen-year-old wearing a nametag and a Batman belt buckle.

I have to work up the courage to shop for clothes, because it’s a necessary evil. It is also a solitary activity, because all my friends are slim and fit, and, bless their hearts, they don’t always understand that it’s hard to find things when you’re shaped like a Hershey’s Kiss, and when I’m trying on the sixth little black dress that looks like it’s designed by The House of Old Ladies, it’s not terribly encouraging to hear, “Oh, that’s….cuuuuute….” However, when I shop with a buddy we usually wind up with hot pretzels or vanilla lattes afterwards, so it’s not a total loss.

I’ll keep shopping at Costco, though, and enjoying my box of 600 garbage bags. They fit the can, they’re always in style, and they have cute little twist ties. That’s fun. And I may go back and get that 64-pack of underpants after all. Life’s a party.

The Old Grey Mare

Every so often, I become very resentful of the fact that I am no longer twenty-two years old. When you’re young, your body generally works like it’s supposed to. Nothing pops, creaks, aches or leaks. You recover from exertion pretty quickly. And you sure as hell don’t make an “Oy…urumph” sound when you get up from a chair. As I get older, I find that every little thing that goes wrong is cause for alarm. Every headache is a tumor, and a patch of dry skin on my arm causes me to fear that my elbow is going to fall off at any time. It’s exhausting.

When you’re young, you can get away with a great deal of injustices to your body. Then, I could get by on three hours of sleep, shake it off, eat a granola bar, and get on with my day. Now, I’ve become so concerned with preserving the health I have left that I will read any magazine article with a headline that contains the words “anti-aging,” “youth enhancing,” or “saggy ass.” I try to wade through the plethora of information designed to enhance health. Every so often, for example, I try to quit drinking coffee. Coffee dehydrates the skin, they say. Exhausts the adrenal glands. Quit or die! In vulnerable moments, I fall prey to those über-health nuts who insist coffee is evil. I don’t know why I listen. I love my coffee. It is a happy, rainbow/unicorn/fuzzy ducky thing that has me in its claw-covered talons. The last time I quit, I lasted three days. It was a valiant effort, but three days of grumpiness, generalized weepiness, and feeling like I couldn’t even lift my hands over my head was enough. Sure, good health was my motivation, but the lack of caffeine made me feel so awful that I usually wound up sitting on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night eating saltines. Or toast. Or leftover…whatever.  So I’m still drinking coffee. It’s really a non-negotiable. Even the terrible coffee that is present in every office in which I’ve ever worked – I’ll choke it down.

Speaking of which, there should be a tiny little place in hell for the person who takes the last cup of coffee from the pot and walks away without making more. I once seriously considered going to Human Resources and suggesting surveillance cameras for the coffee maker. That way we could identify the culprit(s), and while I knew there was really no way to enforce this miscarriage of justice, if we knew who they were we could have walked by their desks during the course of the day and FROWNED at them. Apparently I get more passive-aggressive when I’m mildly dehydrated and adrenally depleted.

That better not be the last cup, friend-o.

For a few months in the early 1990s, I was a vegan. It didn’t go well. Now, I believe that a vegan diet can be incredibly healthy and that we all, collectively, could do with a little less animal products being shoved into our craws, but I was a Bad Vegan. I basically lived on large quantities of brown rice, butter beans, soy burgers and celery. I was tired, cranky, and due to the fact I apparently have an intolerance to soy, not a hell of a lot of fun to be around. But I thought I was being “healthy,” and, godammit, I was willing to suffer. I sat at restaurants, sipping my herbal tea in the most sanctimonious manner possible, all the while digging my nails into my hands to keep myself from diving face first into the basket of warm bread and butter the waitress just brought. I also bought into the ultra-low-fat diet for a while. Fat free dressing, fat free cheese, no oil, no butter, no joy. I was super-cranky, my skin got really, really dry and I swear I creaked when I walked. It got to the point where a friend offered me $50 to “just eat a fucking avocado already.”

I’m long-since done with the strict regimes. It’s tough on anyone to be so rigid, but especially tough when you’re a compulsive/emotional eater. You try to be “good,” but the moment someone looks at you sideways you run home and shove the first thing you can find into your mouth to push down whatever feelings have started to bubble up. Health doesn’t even enter the picture when you’re inhaling stale Cheezy-Do’s. Wouldn’t it be nice if we craved “healthy” food when we’re upset? I wish I reached for broccoli when I’m stressed, or Swiss chard when I’m upset, or quinoa when I’m lonely. Nope, it’s got to be mashed potatoes or baked ziti, and preferably in large quantities. I do have a fair amount of self-awareness when I’m food-medicating, and often I have starch-induced visions of Richard Simmons in his sparkly shorts, grapevining his way over to me and wagging his finger in disapproval to the tune of “On Broadway.” Once in a while it’s the mental picture of Gwyneth Paltrow writing a blog about how a shot of organic wheatgrass grown at the foot of a mossy hill in a small village in Switzerland and costs $120 an ounce is guaranteed to kill the urge to eat the leftover boiled garlic potatoes. Emotional issues aside, I seem to have been born without an “off” switch that says, “Put down the food shovel, please.” I’m convinced that the only reason I don’t weigh 600 pounds is that I don’t eat fast food, and that it’s a good thing I don’t live in a big house, because there are some days I feel like one of those fish that will grow to the size of their environment if you keep feeding them. However, I’ve started working on the mindset that the emotional issues that go along with compulsive eating are just as toxic as the mustard pretzel logs, so I know I need to find a different way to cope. It’s a process.

I have a growing obsession with what goes on my face as well as in my face. I’m a beauty products junkie, scouring women’s magazines for the Next Big Thing. The cosmetics section of the drug store is like my personal Field of Dreams, each bottle and tube with its own set of promises, large and small.

“This will make me younger!”

“This will make me taller!”

“This will make me blond and gentile!”

They rarely come through. I would soak in a tub of marinara sauce if I thought it would give me back the skin I had when I was eighteen. Even I, however, have my limits. I recently read about – get this – a bird poop facial. That’s right, somewhere in the world, women are willing to subject their faces to a mask of nightingale doody. It is, of course, wildly expensive. Look, I’m not against trying weird things in the name of beauty. I once gave myself an egg white facial. I put mayonnaise in my hair when I was thirteen, because I read it was a “natural conditioner.” I want to look youthful, but I draw the line at putting something on my face that makes me go, “Awww, man, gross!” when I see it on the windshield of my car.

Why are there so many pictures with women putting fruit on their eye?

I realize that aging is a natural process. We all deal with it. My ninety-nine-year-old grandmother once said, “I don’t mind getting older. Consider the alternative.” She has two master’s degrees and a PhD; I should probably listen to her. But I’m still in the phase where I’m trying to fight the good fight. I stopped getting carded about eight years ago. The first time it happened, I tried to force my I.D. on the cashier; he kept resisting, as if to say, “I believe you, lady!” Plus, the sign now says, “You need to have been born before this date in 1991 to buy alcohol.” In 1991, I was already old enough to buy alcohol. Reading this sign makes me feel like I need to buy alcohol. On the other hand, alcohol dehydrates the skin, making you look older. This in turn makes me feel depressed, prompting the need to buy some wine. It’s kind of a boozy vicious circle.

That’s gotta sting.

I’m also beginning to succumb to the theory that the fountain of youth can be found in a BHA-free water bottle at the gym. I’m resisting with every fiber of my being, but I’m being drowned out by the sound of weights clanging and the mental image of Madonna’s braided rope arms. I once voluntarily walked up and down seven flights of stairs without stopping, to get one of those ubiquitous office exercise breaks. It was not a well thought out plan. I survived, but when I got back to the seventh floor I was pretty sure my lungs were going to pop out of my chest and wave “Hi” to me from the floor. I knew the only way it was going to get easier was if I did it every day, but I was not able to convince my body of this fact. But I’m working on getting some more exercise; in fact, I think it’s becoming a true necessity. I need it, basically, because my body parts are no longer stationed exactly where they used to be. I mean, they’re all still in the same general ZIP Code, but they don’t seem to be as eager to be there. I was shopping at Ikea the other day, and I got the distinct feeling that someone was directly behind me. I even heard a slight, “flap, flap” sound. I kept glancing behind me until I realized that no one was following me – it was MY OWN ASS.

Fine, fine. I’ll get back on the elliptical. But those endorphins better kick in or next time I’ll be on the treadmill with a glass of chardonnay.

I heard someone once say, “Age is all relative.” That’s true, unless you’re really old. The relativity comes into play when you’re around those who are much younger and obviously don’t deserve it. Recently, I was in line at Starbucks, standing behind some girls who really tested this theory. One of them was pulling the, “Oh, I can’t believe I’m so old!” crap. Apparently she had just had a birthday, and was having a bit of an existential crisis.

“I can’t BELIEVE I’m twenty four!” she exclaimed. “Wow! That seems so old! Boy, I’m really getting up there!”

Yes, you are aging quite rapidly.

She has no idea how close she came to being smacked in the face with my purse. I could have gotten away with it, too – she was wearing those stupid high heel flip-flops, and even at my age I could have outrun her. I haven’t quite settled into a groove yet, though, and I’m still ever so slightly resentful of those twenty four-year-olds, with their stupid shoes and chocolate croissants. I don’t even want the croissants, but something about them just makes me want to…oh, I don’t know…SMACK THOSE BITCHES DOWN! Oh, I’m sorry, was that me? I have some repressed anger. I’m working on it. Hand me the non-fat latté, please.

But it’s really a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Despite their enviable abs and lack of cellulite, I’m not sure I’d want to go back to my early twenties. On one hand, I feel like I know a hell of a lot more now than I did then; I’m able to have a wider perspective on things and I am much less willing to suffer fools gladly (and even less willing to date them). I would like to believe that I’m like a fine wine (or whine), improving with age. But still, there are days when all it takes is one chicky tottering around on her mega-platform heels (which totally look like hooves, by the way), with her fake tan, short skirt and tight neck to bring me right back to feeling like Miss Daisy without the cute hats and wise chauffeur. But I take solace in the fact that all of those young twenty-somethings who have around zero body fat, smoke, go to tanning salons, and drink a lot will soon be in for a big surprise. In my forties, I’ll have decent skin. In their forties, they’ll look like leather handbags.

You know, sometimes it’s the little, petty things that make life worth living.

In order to get organized and plan my needed youth-retaining regime, I have recently subscribed to a health magazine. I figure this way I’ll have all the things that I should be doing in one publication, for easy reference. Apparently, I need to do yoga, exfoliate, moisturize, eat fruit, but not too much fruit, find the right sports bra, massage my scalp, have regular, awesome sex, meditate, cook whole grains, grow my own vegetables, volunteer, make facial masks from yogurt and honey, sleep eight hours, work my quads, detox, use just the right amount of olive oil, strengthen my core, drink six barrels of water, and get the perfect eyebrow arch. Sounds simple enough. I’ll start tomorrow. And then I’ll be too tired to worry about my wrinkly knees. Or get anything else done, really, but at least I’ll look fabulous.

Just kidding.

In all honestly, I’m trying. I am. But I will say I have stopped forcing myself to drink buckets and buckets of water. They say that it helps kill the appetite. Uh, they LIE. All that happens is that I always have to pee and I make a sloshing sound when I walk. I don’t want to build my liver an above-ground swimming pool, thank you very much. And running to the restroom does not count as aerobic conditioning. I checked.

Getting older doesn’t just happen on the outside. It happens on the inside, too. I asked my Dad what he found to be the toughest thing about getting older.

“Change,” he said.

I didn’t understand. Of course we’re all changing.

“No,” he replied. “Routines. You become more conservative with your behavior. As you get older, the idea of change becomes a little scary.”

All of a sudden, I totally understood.

When you’re younger, you can take risks, because you’re immortal and have all the time in the world to recover. As you get older, the stakes get higher and you know it will take longer to bounce back. Your life is more stable, and there’s a sense of security in that. You know what you know, and the idea of anything changing your current reality is scary. I get it. I’m seeing it in my own life, too. I think twice before making plans. I don’t buy the impractical shoes. I don’t stay out late very often. Major life decisions are becoming fewer and fewer because they might change the status quo. But isn’t that when we really get old? Forget the crow’s feet, forget the grey hair – it’s when we refuse to change that we’re really in trouble. We must resist becoming overwhelmed by inertia. Change and grow, change and grow. One might feel that it’s too much; that we get to a certain age and think, “Well, that’s it. I’m done. I am who I am and this is my life.” That has a certain sly seductiveness, in a way, because it lets us off the hook, as if our journey is done. But it never really is, is it? As long as we’re here, we’re changing and growing. How we live our life determines how much we grow, and whether we can measure it in inches or miles. If youth is our goal, maybe that’s how we can hold on to it longer – by being willing to keep on risking, moving, and changing. Living. There’s an element to that which is also kind of scary, but as my Grandma said, consider the alternative. We can grasp at all the anti-aging creams and injectables we want, but the real fountain of youth is the ability to keep going. Shake things up. Stare into the abyss. And while I’m doing all that, maybe I’ll slap on some eye cream and do some lunges. Couldn’t hurt.

I’m also going to work on some sort of coffee-wine hybrid. I could make a fortune. I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

 

 

Joel McHale Is Terrifying

Ok, not really. It’s not like he has tentacles or body spikes (at least not that I could see). But I was able to sort-of meet him at his local book signing, and, judging by my reaction, he’s a bloody alarming fellow. (This is ALL ME, folks. My weirdness. For the record, Joel really couldn’t have been nicer or more gracious and welcoming to the fans who came to the book signing.)

I do not do well with famous people. While my experiences have been limited, it generally involves me rehearsing in my head something to say, not saying it, and being completely out-of-the-moment.

A number of years ago, I went to see Eddie Izzard in concert. He is, and was, brilliant, and would come out after the show and meet and take a photo with anyone who wanted one. I was with some friends, and we were one of the first people in line, and I just knew that if I could just come up with a winning line, he’d instantly see how fabulous I was and we’d be best friends. Should I talk about his movie work? Previous comedy shows? Make a bon mot about the state of European politics? (Never mind that all of this would have to be accomplished in less than 90 seconds. Details!) “No” on all those points. When my big moment came, what did I spew forth?

“How do you stand in these high heel boots? My feet are killing me!”

My friend Patti shot me a look, asked him about Shakespeare, and we took the picture.

Went to a book signing last spring with Nick Offerman, from “Parks & Recreation.” (Well, not WITH him. He was the featured author. It’s not like we hung out beforehand and went to Build-A-Bear.) He spoke first in front of the group, then we lined up for autographs in our newly-purchased books. He and I actually know some people in common through the Chicago theater community, so I had an “in.” But all that came out at the crucial moment was some sort of incoherent sentence about being a fellow thespian.

Well, fuck me.

He grunted, signed the book, and said “Thank you for coming.” I moved along, feeling very dopey, until I realized he probably didn’t actually hear a word I said. I felt slightly better.

Last Wednesday, I spotted Dr. Ian Smith, celebrity diet doctor, at my local Whole Foods. He was there promoting his new line of healthy popcorn. Nobody had really discovered him in the store yet, so I sauntered over.

“Excuse me,” I said gently, “Are you Dr. Ian Smith?”

He smiled shyly and said, “Yes, I am.”

“What a thrill. I’m an admirer of yours, and I’ve read a few of your books.”

So far, so good, right?

“Well, this is my new popcorn, mentioned in the books…” he began.

All of a sudden, I felt like I was The Woman Who Wouldn’t Leave, and I panicked. Would he see the box holding the pizza slice in my cart? Did I have obvious wax buildup coming out of my ear? WAS I BLOCKING THE WAY OF SOMEONE MUCH MORE POPCORN-WORTHY?

“Ha Ha, Ok, BYE!”

I smiled, pushed my card forward, and got the hell outta Dodge. I did manage to put together a much more coherent Tweet about the encounter, which Dr. Ian was very kind to respond to. I also can’t believe there was food involved and I totally missed the opportunity.

So, yeah. McHale. He’s got a new book out, “Thanks For The Money.” It’s got a green cover and pages in it, as well as words and illustrations. So, book. He spoke to a crowd of about 200 at the Naperville Marriott, and everyone had a good time. Then, we lined up to get our books signed and a picture. I tried not to plan conversation in my head pre-encounter, because, as I’ve mentioned, it tends to go slightly on the diagonal. I was actually more concerned with my purse. More specifically, the size of my purse and it’s proportion to my hips. I’m kinda pushing maximum density these days with my weight (that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post. Or seven.) so I was literally standing in line in Ballroom B of the Marriott, holding my wallet-sized bag, thinking, “Purse on? Purse off? Hold it under my arm?” and wondering how much bigger the stupid thing would make my hips look.

Then, it was my turn. (PS I held the purse like a clutch.) Joel asked my name, and gave me a hug, which surprised the hell out of me, and was kind of awkward as I’ve never actually mastered hugging. (WHERE DO THE ARMS GO???) Then he asked where I was from, and what I did in said town.

“I’m a writer,” I responded.

So far, so good. And I’m not sweating much.

“What do you write?”

“I wrote a book of essays, and I recently finished a novel.”

“What’s it called?”

Wow, he’s listening? Cool.

“Girls Who Wear Glasses. It’s kind of a rom-com.”

“How’s it doing?”

“Well, I’m shopping it around. It’s being considered by an indie publishing house.”

This is when things took a turn.

I turned to the nice lady from the bookstore.

“So maybe I’ll be having a book signing, too!”

Shit.

“Just kidding!” I paused. “And I’ve taken classes at Second City!”

“You’ve gone up there to study?”

“I have…” It sounded more question than statement, as I hit the word “have” with just a little too much emphasis, then paused like I was going to add more but couldn’t quite manage.

Then it was time to pose for the picture. The sun was at just the wrong angle, so I had to awkwardly switch to his left side. He’s really quite handsome, more so in person, and I was very aware that my chin was blushing (yes, that’s a thing) and my purse felt even smaller in my hands, thereby widening my hips exponentially.

Click.

I knew I had to move on and let others have their turn. I turned and said, “I hope we get to work together professionally some day.”

“It’s will cost a lot of money,” he joked.

“Well, for you.” It was not the witticism I hoped for. I was going for dry wit; I think I landed in something snark-adjacent. My heart was pounding a little more than the situation probably called for.

Save it, save it, save it…

I looked up at him, smiled (I think) and said, “Thank you for doing this. I really enjoyed it.” I think he said “You’re welcome,” but I was pretty much checked out at that point.

Then I walked away. And let out a breath for the first time in about three minutes.

I do hope I figure this sort of thing out, because I’m getting to the point where I’m actually afraid of meeting another famous person. Like the next time I’ll just stand there holding my shoe in my hands or something. Or speak in some weird accent. It’s probably a lack of confidence in myself that causes all this, because I have dork episodes with “regular” people too. But with people I admire, it’s like I somehow want to stand out, to appear like I belong in some pseudo-rarified air. I think I want them to think, “I’d want to be friends with her,” and not, “Oh dear, she dropped her unusually small purse.”

Well, maybe next time. Unless I somehow run into Benedict Cumberbatch. In that case, all bets are off. I’d probably just stand there, humming.

And maybe he’d hum too. Stranger things, you know.