You’d think that technology or social media or violent video games or predators were the biggest threat to our children. It’s worse, folks. The biggest risk to our children’s well-being is much more insidious and it hides in the skin of a hungry and vicious wolf. It is “fun,” and fun will eat your children. Because fun? Fun is really, really bad for kids.
If something isn’t “fun,” kids don’t want to do it (mine included). Unfortunately, a large majority of things that need to be done aren’t fun. Society’s relentless pursuit of fun aka Let’s Make Life A Giant Carnival Cream Puff Bouncy Castle is hindering my ability to effectively parent my children while imparting any sense of reality about the world. This “fun” shit? I don’t like it. Not everything is meant to be fun. Like “work” for example. If – as a consequence of its nature – your job happens to be fun, that’s great! You’re one of the lucky ones. I’m happy for you; really. Now piss off and get back to the candy-tester factory. My point is that not everything is fun, or should be fun. When we try to fool our kids into thinking it is, we’re setting them up for some serious disappointment when they leave our homes for the real world.
The other day I told my kids we were going out for dinner. Their response should have been something along the lines of “Thanks, Mom! It certainly is kind of you to take us for a dinner out. What a rare and unexpected treat! We love you best!” Instead, I endured a 20-minute conversation about restaurant selection based on the most important criteria of all: which establishment offered the best treasure box after the meal. The food could have been fabulous, the service impeccable, but if my kids weren’t walking away with coloring books and crayons after, it was all for naught. This is not the type of discerning diner or future dater I wish to raise.
Some things are not meant to be fun; like a trip to the dentist for instance. I should have realized dental care was becoming too much fun years ago, because whenever I announced a check-up appointment my children would high-five each other. At our dental office after each successful cleaning appointment, children are taken to the “Prize Table.” The prize table is huge and covered with all sorts of crap that will soon be living in my vacuum canister in a dusty heap with errant Cheerios, Lego pieces, and my hopes and dreams. Sitting in the dental chair for an hour twice a year now earns you a Sponge Bob pencil and a Gooey Eyeball. That Gooey Eyeball was in my son’s pocket for less than an hour before it found a permanent home on my bedroom ceiling, where it is now stares at me with a lint-covered cloudy pupil when I’m getting dressed. Thanks, Dr. Brown! You make me long for the good old days when dentists hated children.
I don’t have a complete aversion to fun. Fun is important, and when I see it forming organically, I don’t shut it down. If my kids find a way to make taking the garbage to the curb enjoyable, or cutting the lawn bearable, I let them roll with it. That’s self-created fun, and it’s an excellent coping skill for the future. Kids need to learn that sometimes (most of the time) the result is the reward. Work hard and enjoy the benefits which arise from that effort. Maybe the outcome will be fun, and maybe it won’t. Maybe the only consequence of a dogged effort will be knowing you did your best and that will have to suffice. I’ll throw you a party on your birthday and for your graduation, but don’t expect a festival because you earned a new belt in Jiu Jitsu. You won’t get a bubble machine or a cake, but you can break a jerk’s arm in six different and painful ways, and really, is there anything better than that?
My daughter complains constantly that her chores are not fun. I take this with a grain of salt because she is 15 years old and nothing is fun except going to the mall or making Vine videos of opening a grilled cheese sandwich. I am fully aware that emptying the dishwasher and dusting bookshelves are not fun; I’ve been doing these things for over 35 years. They’re not fun. They never were, and they never will be. I hate doing them, and that’s why I make her do it. It’s the circle of life and I’ve assured her that one day she may be lucky enough to have children to do her chores as well. I’m pretty sure it’s all that keeps her going. It’s also furnishing her with pragmatic expectations for the future. My kids aren’t perfect. (Seriously; I have stories). But they work hard most of the time and they know: I don’t pay for grades, I don’t turn mind-numbing chores into scavenger hunts, and I don’t give rewards when they acquiesce to vaccinations. You want a gift for sitting still for your tetanus shot? Okay! Here’s some “Not Getting Lock-Jaw” for you!
It’s time to take artificially constructed fun out of childhood, because we are creating a gratification-seeking populace who won’t do anything unless there’s the promise of a chocolate milkshake afterwards. I can reasonably assert that our kid’s future middle-management supervisors are not going to offer them a trip to a treasure box for cardboard crowns when they close the Anderson file.
If we tell kids to pretend they’re scullery maids in a King’s kitchen when they’re scrubbing pots and pans, we are removing their chance to create their own fantasies. Doing dishes can be a time to sing show tunes or imagine ways to run away, or to just do the dishes. By making every chore and job fun we prohibit a child’s ability to seek joy on their own terms. If someone tells you what to pretend, is that pretending at all? That’s imagination restriction, and that blows. If kids make fun on their own while working, that’s awesome! But parent’s constant pursuit of fun for their children is a misguided attempt to bring joy to kid’s lives and while it’s admirable, it’s very harmful. It’s like Charlie Sheen continuing to make sitcoms; we may understand the motivation behind the endeavor, but ultimately it’s better if no one is exposed to that shit.
I miss school. The learning part mostly, but the thermos of lemonade and Wagon Wheels were pretty cool too.
I’ve missed it for a while, but I knew things were serious when I started reading my daughter’s high school Geography textbook and bribed her into a “chat” about igneous rock formations and soil erosion. I was halfway through making a set of flash cards for conjugating my son’s grade four level French verbs when the kids staged an intervention and told me enough was enough. They’re smart kids and for the most part they get things on their own. As it is they rarely need my help with homework and my absconding with their textbooks is one of the only ways I can get my hands on “real” school materials.
More university courses would be lovely, and I could go back to take a course for kicks, but it’s too expensive a hobby for now. I’ve tried book clubs for literary discussion, but almost no one wants to make flow charts about overlapping Gothic themes in contemporary literature and my “Come dressed like your favourite ‘Satanic Verses’ character” idea was shot down in flames, almost literally.
I just want to know more stuff! Knowing stuff is all I have! I love knowing stuff because stuff is super interesting and you never know when you’re going to need stuff. I am an information hoarder, where instead of cat fur and empty tuna cans, I want to know what comprised the basis of an ancient Roman’s diet and why does every episode of Frasier resemble a Shakespearean comedy and how the feudal system literally changed the landscape and what the hell does HTML stand for? These are some of the questions that run on loop in my head almost constantly, and as soon as one question is answered another takes its place. Reading is great and I do a lot of that, but there’s something very appealing – intimate even – that comes from listening to someone lecture on a topic they’re passionate about. One of my favourite classes in University was “Rural Sociology” seminar. I took it because it fulfilled a requirement and honestly I had no idea what the syllabus would include. It turned out to be far and away one of the more fascinating courses I took because although at first glance the learning material looked dry – forestry, fishing, and farming practices in Canada – the Professor was so passionate about the material that when I scanned the room at the bored teenage faces listening, I wanted to tie all of their shoelaces together.
Apparently there are some intriguing and informative University lectures available on iTunes and through mail-order catalogs and I’ve also been thinking of doing a “Documentary a Day” self-challenge. This morning I caught the tail end of one on motorcycle gang culture in Winnipeg and it was giddy-with-the-learnin’-bug-goosebumps awesome. If you’ve seen a good documentary or read an interesting non-fiction book lately – no matter how obscure – I’d love to hear about it.
(Fires up the popcorn machine.)
*image courtesy of WikiCommons
We are just into our second month of dog ownership here and by all accounts it’s going better than I had expected. Harlow is sleeping through the night – a feat my 10 year-old son has not yet achieved – and my worries about leaving the dog in a crate for an hour have been mostly unfounded. I work from home, but there are times I need to run out quickly when she can’t come with me. I already have two kids so I know it’s okay to leave something in a cage for a few minutes while you go to the movies, but what about longer than a hour or two? Would she begin to hate me and view her crate as a prison? Would she shit defiantly on my bedroom floor in retaliation? Would she report me to the authorities? The answers to these questions seem to be “no,” “yes,” and “it remains to be seen but there some unexplained charges on the phone bill this month.”
Harlow (can I interject here for a second to say how freeing it is to use someone’s real name here on my blog? I am “Jeni,” yes, but I don’t use my kids names to prevent them from having a huge Google footprint before their time. That’s a shame really, because my kids names are pretty awesome and suit their personalities perfectly). Where was I? Yes. Harlow. One thing Harlow hates is to be away from home. She got away from me last week during a walk by yanking hard on her leash when it wasn’t right on my wrist because she’s eight pounds and who the hell knew something that small could run so goddamn fast? I stepped on her paw in the melee and she ran as though someone had fired a starting gun and first prize was a mountain of dirty socks. I couldn’t catch her and started to visualize what it was going to be like telling my kids the dog they had for two glorious weeks was now gone, and probably for good because seriously so fast at the running. I finally made it home – even running full tilt it took me a few minutes to get there – and there was Harlow, sitting on the front porch and looking at me like I was the asshole. Oh, and she eats everything and then apologizes by shitting on it. We love her despite this, because:
So, if you are considering a puppy for your family, I made a few handy charts to help you decide if a dog might fit into your family:
So there you have it. You’re pretty much screwed either way, because if you don’t get a dog, you’ll be hearing about it for years, and if you do get one and it’s a jerk, you’re gonna love it anyway.
I am looking for work. When I am looking for work, looking for work is my work. I send the kids to school, fire up the computer, and then I go online in search of employment suitable for my experience and educational background. I don’t have high expectations. I would like a short commute or a work-from-home position; I expect a reasonable amount of courtesy in communication; and I would like to be challenged and given room to expand my skill-set. Oh, and I would like to be paid.
It is this last point – the “paid” part – where I generally run into trouble. I am a recent University graduate from a well-respected school and I have a decent portfolio and references who will tell you you’re a fool not to hire me. I am professional, I work hard, and frankly, I am a fucking joy to be around. I usually find several jobs per day for which I could apply. So why don’t I? Because they are unpaid. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Yep; they are “Thanks for everything; here’s your nothing” jobs. Great! I’ll use my non-existent pay cheque to buy invisible kids shoes and some ghost groceries.
I can’t count all the ways these types of job postings state they are “sadly, unpaid at this time.” It’s actually funny in a lot of cases, because the responsibilities and qualifications are laid out and described exactly like a paying job – sometimes even resembling pretty intense, high-level responsibility jobs. The slam comes below the fold, after you’re hooked because this one sounds like the one, you guys! I’m not against internships of all stripes. I think internships can be a great way to learn about an industry, and time spent interning can be a great addition to a resume which also includes paid experience, and appropriate educational background. Networking and showcasing your talent is a good thing, but hey, why not pay people something for it? Even a pittance. Something.
If unpaid internships are offered as part of an educational program – say, a University degree, or college diploma program they are useful and often act as a springboard for a career in that field. Auto mechanics, welders, and other tradespeople often work between bouts of schooling, and they are almost always paid for their labour. Their wages may not be commensurate with their responsibilities at that particular point in their career evolution, but they can look forward to fair wages (hopefully) once they receive a trade ticket. If a company is willing to pay an intern “at some point in the future” for the same work they are doing now “provided they meet our (subjective?) standard” then PAY THEM NOW, JERK.
Summer internships and those specifically for students are sometimes unpaid. Okay; if they’re not full time then a student can generally work also, or perhaps they are also receiving student loans, etc. Because I am a writer, I have been searching the editorial/creative field for work and I am shocked – SHOCKED I TELL YOU – at the amount of work I’ve seen which is to be compensated solely in “experience” and “exposure.” This no-pay structure comes through internships or because those seeking the material or content do not wish to pay anything. I was married to a business owner. I know how difficult and costly it can be to get a business up and running. I know that business owners often do not take a salary themselves until a profit has been turned. But I also know that not one single utility company, fuel provider, tax accountant, restaurant, cleaning person, maintenance company, delivery service, dog walker or liquor store will provide you with services and/or products free of charge for promise of “giving them a platform upon which their work will be exposed to hundreds of people.” If that were the case, I’d be chugging Chilean Merlot in a strip mall parking lot and yelling into car windows how this stuff is the best goddamn wine I’ve ever tasted so Shop at Bob’s Liq-R-Mart!
By comparison, I am “old” in a vast sea of debt-riddled new graduates. But the young ones can’t afford to work for free either. In fact, it may be worse for them because life hasn’t yet sanded smooth the edges of their hopefulness and they are still sickeningly full of optimism. I have some equity and it is likely I won’t starve to death if I cannot find full-time work soon. Job-searching is soul-crushing at the best of times and I honestly don’t know how young graduates – kids! – pay their rent. I understand why so many have to move back in with parents and I really hope the climate changes by the time my kids graduate, although my daughter is headed for a science/math degree and no one wants an unpaid engineer building their bridges so she’ll likely find work. I don’t want to regret my English/History degree because it shaped my thinking and I call upon the analytical skills it enforced every single day. But when I am being brutally honest with myself I admit I’m tempted to visit every University Fair within a 50 mile radius and tell all prospective Liberal Arts students to “RUN FOR YOUR FUCKING LIVES!”
I am a decent writer. I have even been told that I am sometimes a pretty good one, and I believe it. That’s not hubris. There are a lot of things I don’t do well and that list is much longer than the one of things I can do. I would never apply to nursing school. I would never try to get a job as a school bus driver, or a server in a bar, because I wouldn’t do those things well and my exit would likely be marked by lots of flames and probably a lawsuit. I write, I edit, I social media-lize. I don’t posture myself as a Nora Ephron, or an Anne Lamott. I am Jeni Marinucci, and I would like to be paid.
*Disclaimer: I do have some recurrent writing jobs, so please, no panicked email from family members. I would also like to say that any work I post links to (or otherwise promote, be it through buttons on my blog, etc.) I have been paid for or otherwise compensated fairly. I continue to be grateful to all those who give me a platform, and a pay cheque. I have – in the past, on occasion – provided second-run and re-print article free to various websites.
**Photo courtesy of WikiCommons
Babies cry. Sometimes they cry a lot, and sometimes for seemingly no reason. You’d think that most people would understand this, but even I wasn’t aware until I had my second baby. Because Baby Number 1? She didn’t cry. Like ever. One time, she made a sound that I thought was a cry, but no. It was a squeaky toy. That baby was awesome and glorious and so easy! But she was a curse, also, because being spoiled by her temperament was a huge slap in the face come time for Baby Number 2 – or, as we called him affectionately- “Scream in a Diaper.”
This boy cried long and loud and the noise didn’t stop until the minute he turned 85 (this is a projected date). When he cried, we did what we could, which was comfort him however he wanted, because my ex and I aren’t assholes. But some people don’t pick their babies up when they cry and if you don’t believe that, come with me to Walmart on a Saturday morning. We can hang out in the yogurt aisle where it is apparently more important to choose between Vanilla Greek Non-Fat and Lime Coconut Sugar-Free.
I understand that you can’t always get to your baby immediately and there’s nothing wrong with seeing if whatever the problem is will work itself out for a few minutes. But when it escalates to ear-splitting levels, do something. DO SOMETHING NOW. Because if there’s anything worse than the sound of my own baby crying, it’s the sound of your baby crying.
People don’t always know what the crying is about, but since 1998 – and the meteoric rise of the internet – Western civilization needs to know the answer for everything. Nothing is off-limits to scientists or savvy entrepreneurs, who’ve invented everything from battery operated marshmallow roasting sticks to diapers that analyze a baby’s urine. Some parents will buy anything in the pursuit of “better” parenting, and people know this, because not only can you now analyze your child’s waste, you can also interpret their cry. I’m picturing a magic 8-ball of sorts here, but it’s actually much more complicated. CTV News says of the process:
“The system operates in two phases. During the first phase, the analyzer separates recorded cries into 12.5 millisecond frames. Each frame is analyzed for several parameters, including frequency characteristics, voicing, and acoustic volume. The second phase uses data from the first to give a broader view of the cry and reduces the number of parameters to those that are most useful. The frames are put back together and characterized either as an utterance – a single ‘wah’ – or silence, the pause between utterances. Longer utterances are separated from shorter ones and the time between utterances is recorded. Pitch, including the contour of pitch over time, and other variables can then be averaged across each utterance. In the end, the system evaluates for 80 different parameters, each of which could hold clues about a baby’s health.”
Yeah. Dumb. I don’t think we need this, and here’s why: it sounds complicated and stupid and almost entirety pointless, as well as expensive. The resulting analysis won’t be converted to actual words, like “I ‘m being stabbed by a diaper pin, moron!” so even in medical applications I don’t see a lot of value in something that researchers just say “could hold clues.”
I’m going to save science a whole lot of money here, and supply you with your own printable list of why your baby is probably crying. I call it:
Why Youse So Sad, Baybeez?
Step One : This is the most important step, and the one that will end 67% of all crying – PICK THE BABY UP. Do not rock his car seat with your foot, do not say “shhhh…shhhh” while shaking his stroller, do not ignore baby while everyone else in the canned foods aisle plots your death, do not ignore the baby. Babies cry because they can’t talk and if they could they’d be saying “Pick me up, you lazy bastard!” Picking up the baby will automatically alert you as to whether or not the baby feels too warm, or too cool, or if their tiny arm was stuck inside their onesie in a twisted configuration. It also enables you to look closely for teething issues or other discomforts. Attend to discomfort accordingly.
Step Two: Baby still crying? We’ve got this! Take a deep breath and check diaper for uncomfortable levels of stuff often found in diapers. Rectify.
Step Three: Still crying? It’s okay; it happens. Try offering baby food of some sort. A boob, a bottle, a Philly Cheese Steak if that’s what they’re into. Whatever. Give nourishment. Continue rocking movement while administering food and love.
Step Four: Secure baby in approved car seat and get in the fucking car. Drive around for a bit. If after a hundred miles the baby is still crying, re-route GPS to a.) your Mom’s house; or b.) the doctor.
So there you have it. Call me a Luddite if you will, but I think that science sometimes makes life more complicated with it’s crazy inventions and “progress.” (Except for blenders; if you think I’m smashing my ice for a frozen blueberry vodka lemonade manually, you’re sniffing glue.) If scientists insist on putting time and resources into machinery which will help to explain the great mysteries of parenting, I would ask them to consider creating a machine which would actually serve some purpose. How about a special pair of glasses that can decipher why my teenager rolls her eyes?
She’s already throwing some serious shade, so yeah; I think she’s gonna fit in here just fine.
[Other stuff: I'm doing a bit of a blog re-vamp here at highly-irritable. I'm changing stuff up - a spring cleaning of sorts - and I've also changed my comment section to DISQUS because it's easier for non-WordPress users to log into. I think it's working, but if you'd like to leave me a comment to test it out, that'd be great. The only downside so far is that it seems to have eaten all of my previous comments and I have no idea where the hell they've gone. I can still access them on the back-end (heehee...back-end) but all the lovely things you've said to me through the years no longer appear on the posts themselves. So, that sucks hard, but whatcha gonna do? Some people don't have arms, Jeni, Stop crying about lost comments.
I'm also now writing a column at YummyMummyClub.ca called The Panic Button Years, where I talk about teenagers and how they drive us batshit crazy but also how they're awesome at the same time. If you've had a teen or have one now or just want to know what lies ahead in the acne and AXE years, come by and join the fun (and sobbing).]
It seems hell just froze over.
In other news, we are getting a dog.
(To be fair there was no “first” news posted here which would indicate what is to follow actually counts as “other” news, but you’ve probably got a lot going on in your life which makes anything I say count as “other” news. It also means I couldn’t think of a good lede.)
I’m not sure if it’s due to a momentary lapse in reason, or a half-forgotten promise after a few glasses of wine, or guilt, or an undiagnosed head injury, but the end result is that by Saturday afternoon of this week I will be standing in the frozen tundra nursing a headache caused by attempting to make a small puppy pee using only my (admittedly limited) mental powers.
She’s a cutie, I’ll give you that, but I’ve made it clear to my children that she is a shared responsibility. (I am fully aware this will probably happen.) The 15 year-old jaded teenager in this house cried when we told her she was finally – FINALLY – getting a dog, although she’ll deny that and tell you it was hairspray in her eyes. She’s wanted a dog since she was old enough to know what a dog was, and my 9 year-old son loves anything covered in fur.
She is unnamed as of yet, a 13 week-old 3/4 pug 1/4 French Bulldog who still lives with both of her parents and one brother. The guilt at taking her from her mom and dad is affecting me more than I care to admit, which is surprising considering I am generally a terrible person.
She should be a good match for us, because according to first-person owner accounts and stacks of puppy literature both pugs and bulldogs are good house pets for mellow families who aren’t very active. If this dog likes cheese-based foods and Will Ferrell movies, it’s gonna be a love match.
* This post was originally published last year on MamaPop, soon after my 40th birthday. I just turned 41 on Valentine’s Day and I think I need a refresher. Maybe you do, too.
I turned 40 recently, and it was everything I expected it to be. Which is to say it was horrible.
Friends and family asked if I wanted to celebrate this milestone event with a party, but “milestone” sounds too much like “headstone” and so I chose instead to spend the day laying on the floor crying over pictures of my children as infants and eating Nutella with my fingers. This is probably why I don’t get invited to many parties.
People told me not to worry; that this was a common reaction to turning 40 – an age which, when represented on fertility charts, marks the spot where my eggs jump off a cliff. I think they don’t jump at all but rather are pushed by the vibrant 30 year-old eggs in skinny jeans standing there with smoky eyes and sullen looks.
My attitude about turning 40 had nothing to do with a decline in my ability to procreate, or even the new crepe folds starting on my neck, or the inability to sometimes remember why I had entered a room. I already have two lovely children, and as long as they love me enough to help me not feel bad about why I put my car keys in the refrigerator, then I’m good. This was more about the fact that who I was at 40 was still too much like who I was at 35. And 25. And 16. And 10. While this was okay in some respects, it was not in others, and I wanted it rectified immediately.
I decided that this half of my life was going to be different. I was going to change the way I interacted with people on a daily basis in order to preserve my dignity and increase my happiness. The second half of my life was not going to be spent sitting down. And please don’t tell me that 40 isn’t nearing the halfway point; that my friends, is BULLSHIT. Even with advances in cryogenics, how many 120 year-olds do you know?
40 was going to mark the fork in the road. From now on, I wasn’t taking any more bullshit.
I wasn’t going to smile and nod when people said offensive or ignorant things and I wasn’t going to look the other way when the most important person in my life – me – was treated poorly. I refused to continue modelling this for my children, particularly my 14 year old daughter. I don’t want her stuck in a similar frozen state of placidity when it came to defending herself or standing up to people who treat her poorly. Our girls especially are taught to “be nice,” even when being nice means “take this here bullshit, and please smile while doing so.” Screw that. I was done.
For my 40th birthday, instead of an 80′s party or Botox, I gave myself the gift of taking no more bullshit, effective immediately, no return policy, no exchanges. So the next time someone on my co-ed softball team remarked that I hit “pretty good for a girl,” instead of smiling and biting my tongue I told him he was perpetuating a sexist stereotype (and then maybe I called him a patriarchal asshole). And when a semi-estranged family member told me life was “too short” for me to be hurt over a serious issue, I agreed. Life is too short to keep taking bullshit. Why is this so hard, especially for women? Even writing this, I feel like I should be editing it to make it “softer” in stance, but then I’d sort of be giving myself bullshit and taking it, and I think that’s how wormholes are created.
So far, this is the best birthday gift I’ve received, and I once got a gorgeous gold painted macaroni necklace.
I already had a preset bullshit tolerance level, but I wasn’t honoring my limits. Sometimes I probably look like an asshole for sticking up for myself over things that don’t bother others. I try not to be rude or irrational about it because I’ve also discovered that a message delivered with a sincere and level voice is more effective than a screaming match. But if I do get passionate or start yelling? TOO FUCKING BAD. I’ve got a lot of years to make up for. I’m sick of being passed over for things I worked hard to earn. I’m tired of being complacent when an occasion calls for spirit, and no longer will I be idle when I should be throwing verbal scrotum-punches. I don’t know everything, but I do know some things, and if you’re wrong, I’m letting you know.
If people don’t like what I have to say, or get upset with me for speaking my mind, well, that is no longer my problem. Frankly, I don’t give a shit. I refuse to be an emotional sponge, soaking up the hurt feelings of others around me. If you want to be treated better, start exhibiting behavior that deserves that. It’s simple really; bullshit isn’t necessarily about getting the wrong order in a restaurant, or being cut in front of in a line-up. I’d be exhausted if those were battles I chose to fight every day. I mean the big things; the things that keep you up at night and go against what you stand for. Things like sexism, racism, ageism, or getting the wrong muffin at Tim Hortons for the 458th time. Yep; I’m more interested in taking a stand against things that get me at my core and erase any joy my cold heart allowed in for a minute. Like witnessing someone berate a child, or people who don’t use placements at the dinner table. Because we are not barbarians.
This freedom – this essentially no longer giving a fuck – it’s glorious and it’s liberating and it is everything I want the rest of my life to be. There are few truly scarier things in the world than a 40 year old woman who’s realized she doesn’t need to take your bullshit sitting down. Because nothing good ever comes from sitting down. (Or bending over; but that’s another story for another day.)
Singing is something I have done forever. I’d rather sing it than say it, so everyone please take a moment to thank the universe that I don’t have a video blog. I am a decent singer, and while I wouldn’t win American Idol there’s a good chance I’d get far enough through the process to meet Simon Cowell in all his tight black t-shirted glory. So, to recap: No William Hung, but no record deals in my future, either. Oh, wait; Hung got one, didn’t he? So maybe.
A recent conversation between my two children went something like this:
“It’s too bad Mommy is so old because she could be on American Idol.”
“She still could! Remember that one time they had that really really old lady on? She even won!”
But this isn’t a story so much about what I can do. It’s more about how being told you can’t do something often shuts you down for a long fucking time. I’m very big on honesty and I work hard to make my children understand that what you like to do and what you’re good at aren’t always the same thing. When the two overlap in the Ultimate Venn Diagram of Talent and Desire, well, that’s when angels sound the trumpets and the cheque comes when they say it will and the diner cooks your bacon so perfectly you could just cry from the distilled pinpoint of joy it brings and life is good. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen. I was once told by someone close to me that I couldn’t sing, because “my family couldn’t sing.” But this person hadn’t heard me utter a note, and in fairness I hadn’t heard any of my family sing before, so the combination of my tender age and lack of critical thinking skills made me believe them. I won’t say I never sang again, but the words stuck with me. Years later I heard several of my aunts sing together and they were good.
So I sang anyway. I sang at school in plays and in the choir and in cars with boys who were more interested in what was under my Led Zeppelin t-shirt than hearing me sing Led Zeppelin. I sang to my children and I am singing in my head right now as I write this. But I was afraid to get better because what was the point? I was not “a singer.”
Well, today I am going to my very first professional voice lesson. I am excited and terrified. I am worried that without hearing the pitch or timbre of my voice – without being privy to one utterance – this teacher will declare me unable to sing because 40 year old women who try new things are just “bored.” I have no illusions about singing professionally and that’s not what I want anyway. I just want to learn how to hit some higher notes (I have a low speaking and singing voice) and I’d like to not run out of breath halfway through A Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks duet with my daughter. (Guess who’s part I sing?)
I am not “bored.” I have too much shit to do to be bored. I am ready to blow-up sensitive electronics in a soundproof room while having fun and celebrating something I do well. And I’m thankful to the man who gifted me with these lessons; the man who tells me I have a lovely voice and I shouldn’t be afraid to use it. The man who, instead of shushing me and telling me to be quiet, says, “Hey Jeni? Can you sing that one again?”
Note: I went to the lesson. It was completely awesome and I can’t say enough about how I loved it. I did scales my teacher said my range was better than I told her I thought it was and we talked and I cried even and then the teacher heard me sing Fleetwood Mac’s “Second Hand News” and she turned to me and said, “Oh, yeah. We’re gonna have some fun.”
I am not a positive thinker. Never have been, never will be. Some people call this line of thinking “defeatist,” or “nihilistic,” but I don’t agree, because these people are head-in-the-clouds dreamers who refuse to acknowledge that bad stuff happens all the time and that it’s not going to change ever no matter how hard you wish on a star. Being a pessimist from the day I was born has served me well the vast majority of the time; I am almost never disappointed because I don’t expect things to go as planned anyway. I am a pessimist; being prepared for the worst is what sort of I do.
It turns out I’m correct in touting the benefits of pessimism as a life ideology. In 2012, German researchers conducted a study of elderly citizens and concluded that pessimists are often happier in the end. The study reveals that “understanding that although things are fine right now, they might get worse” seems to have “a positive effect” on their quality of life. The study notes that pessimistic people can actually benefit from a this outlook. The researching psychologists acknowledge that while the results “fly in the face of ‘positive psychology”” the results make sense because being pessimistic helps you prepare for bad things, even if they never come. I agree completely. Pessimism is at the heart of why we contribute to retirement plans, build well-stocked pantries, make us wear sunscreen. I dread the hard times, but dreading them makes me think about them and thinking about them makes me DO something. A dreamer – a true dreamer -doesn’t worry about these things too much, instead choosing to spend energy on other pursuits like making wildflower bouquets and starting mason jar Pinterest boards.
But don’t cry for me, optimists! While I will never be a member of your club, I may come to your annual picnic if I’m invited. I’ll be the one with a rain cover, bug spray, poison ivy cream, and extra water bottles. Who’s going to be okay when the skies open up and killer bees hunt you down on your nature walk? Me, that’s who! Because I knew these things were likely and I made provisions for them. I’ll be dry and bite-free while you’re trying to sooth your itchy, hungry children with songs about magical fairies who shit jelly beans.
Pessimists constantly have to defend their ideology. I’ve had the negative/positive ying/yang debate more times than I can count and because life is what is it (which is not not great sometimes,) I fell in love with a an wonderful, positive thinking idealist. This, I believe, is my punishment for my one day of positive thinking back in 1992. He’s a wonderful, caring, slightly-delusional dreamer of a man and I’ve explained to him several times that pessimism is often borne of a need to protect oneself. If nothing good is likely to happen, then nothing is lost in the process. When something good occurs (but it probably won’t) then that’s a bonus. I call this outlook “conversation without expectation,” and it hasn’t failed me yet. But I will be ready when it does. He sometimes lovingly calls me things like “dream-suck” and “spirit-killer,” which I’m currently having an optimist of a friends cross-stitch onto a pillow for me.
The horrible, inconvenient truth is that life sucks – it sucks hard, and it sucks hard a lot. Pessimists know this and there is no hiding from this cold-hard fact. But we are not all joyless, defeated suckholes. I have a great deal of joy in my life and every day holds good. I can laugh at almost everything and my very dark sense of humor is a gift that I’ve found most pessimists have. I appreciate this immensely because life demands you tolerate a a lot of bullshit and if we couldn’t laugh at it we’d all be in a lot of trouble.
Being a pessimist is not for lazy hacks, either. This outlook isn’t chosen for ease or for the sake of just being able to simply dismiss notions of good, thereby ensuring a cocoon of “I told you so.” Pessimism requires effort and tenacity. It demands attention and it criticism. You can’t lay on the couch watching porn with a trough full of Cool-Ranch Doritos if you’re going to call yourself a true pessimist. Those nacho-munchers are poseurs; they’re pessimoseurs. True, authentic, unadulterated pessimism requires and inspires action. Troops aren’t called into battle because “Eh, probably nothing bad will happen.” Armies are formed and trained under the possibility of worst case scenarios and this is how wars are won. Pessimists – to borrow a line from Tina Fey – get shit done. While you optimists are seeing everything through rose-colored glasses and building your dream house “vision board,” we’re laying figurative sandbags in preparation for the impending storm.
So lovers and dreamers, chill the fuck out and stop telling me to think positively. Instead, why don’t you come over to “the dark side” and join us on the pessimist bench? We’re wearing black t-shirts and talking about silicone window caulking, because it looks like a storm is coming.