Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

The Top 10 Ways to Make Your Post Go Viral

 

I was a journalism major in college, with the ultimate goal to write for magazines. In those days, there were very few things published exclusively as online content. In fact, when I interned at Texas Monthly my senior year, I worked in what was called the “new media” department, which basically involved taking copy from the last month’s issue and retyping it for this crazy new thing they were rolling out called a website. Oh! How times have changed!

Now the whole world’s online, and getting published is easier than ever–especially if you abide by the following ten rules.

 how to make a post go viral

 

1. Make a list.

It doesn’t really matter what’s on it; lists are today’s greatest literary device. Websites really like publishing them, and readers adore skimming them because we all have the attention span of an avocado. Try starting your post/article with a digit and watch the numbers climb! Here are some examples:

10 ways to Lose Weight While Main-lining Cool Ranch Doritos and Vodka Cocktails

My 8 All-Time Favorite Varieties of Hard Cheese

The 6.5 Best Places to Clip Your Toenails in Public without Getting Caught

 

2. Write about S.E.X.

You didn’t hear it here first– but sex DOES sell. People are nosy freaks and they want to know what you’re doing between, on top of and under your sheets. Write a funny little story about shopping for a vibrator, your first threesome, or the time things got so out of hand the neighbors called the cops. Don’t worry about your personal life– it won’t affect it at all!

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3. Reveal your Darkest Secret

The inter webs are the new Maury Povich show. If you have something you’ve been holding close to your chest (i.e.: you have three boobs, you reuse dental floss, you’re really a giant cat living as a human) it’s time to clear the air and find a public forum to spill the beans to.

 

4. Discuss, in great detail, your most painful memory. 

There are plenty of websites that really want you to relive your trauma so other people can read about it. It doesn’t have to be well-written, or provide a message of caution, hope or encouragement to others. Just go there, because it makes for a compelling story and we are all very curious to know more about your misfortune.

 

5. Teach us Something

Put on a hat and call yourself an expert in one of the following areas, because this is what we really want to learn right now. Start your headline with HOW TO and then add any one, or a combination of the following:

make money, save money, find more time, waste less time, get clear skin, lose weight, gain social media followers, grow your blog, shrink your belly, save the planet, destroy your enemies, find your life’s purpose, lose your bad habits, stop craving sugar, raise polite geniuses, go vegan without dreaming of bacon, stop comparing yourself to others, find more joy, organize all your crap, stop farting in fancy places, keep your teeth from falling out, and make this year your greatest year EVER.

 

6. Write about Simplifying

We are all burdened by our over-scheduled, over-crowded, over-stuffed lives. If you really want to please the masses, give us a multi-step, super-complicated instructional online guidebook on simplifying every aspect of daily living. We want pictures of how you threw away everything you owned and started from scratch, starting with your wardrobe and ending with your kitchen utensils. Readers love a clean slate. Writers love a project.

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7. Tackle Controversial Subjects

Please share your personal insights and colorful opinions about ISIS, abortion, sexual harassment, medical marijuana, Obamacare, vaccinations for children, concealed handguns, gay marriage, physician-assisted suicide, affirmative action, animal testing, climate change, evolution versus creationism, and racial profiling. Do as little research as possible, and if you really want it to go viral, write completely out of your ass and have a blast reading the comments section. As an alternative, you can address one of those “open letters” to someone who’s made waves recently in the media.

 

8. Document Your Detox

Give up something vital–whether it’s food, booze, technology, or The Real Housewives franchise. Remember: Show, don’t tell. We all need to feel the withdrawal.

 

9. Let us Inside

Take us somewhere we’ve never been before, and give us something salacious to peek at. I can think of a few places that pique my curiosity, and I’d give an eye-tooth to take a tour through a monastery, a jail, a nudist colony, the dressing room of a strip club, a dominatrix’s den, Bellevue Hospital, and the man cave in the basement of the White House.

 

10. Write about Motherhood

Nothing makes waves faster on the internet than an article about motherhood. People live for stories like “1,000 things I want my daughter to know by age 3″ and “If you don’t breast-feed your children they will grow horns and become a blight on your community”.

Ask these questions to an audience: Should I become a mother? When should I become a mother? What if I don’t want to be a mother? What if I’m turning into my mother? Am I the right kind of mother? Should I work? Should I home-school? Should they cry it out? Should I cry it out? Can I name a girl Sephora, or will people automatically think of the makeup store?

Parenting is no easy task, and people like to share their every thought and feeling about it by reaching out to people they don’t know via computer.

 

And there you have it! Now go out there and break the internet with naked pictures of your butt.

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Top 8 Places I Dream About Moving To

Every time I post about the difficulties of living in New York, my friends opine on my Facebook wall. “Let’s all move away together!” “Commune time!” The thing that binds us here is not always NY itself, but the people here. What’s the fun of moving to a new place into a big house with ample parking if you don’t know anyone to invite over?

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So sometimes I fall down the rabbit hole of fantasizing about other places. I’ll see a program on HGTV or something where they’re fixing up some beautiful $250,000 house in Atlanta or South Carolina and I start pining for something a little easier, a little bigger. And weather! Enough with this frickackta winter weather! If we’re going to do a mass exodus, we are definitely following the sun.

And even though the likelihood of this ever coming to fruition– the mass exodus, all of us getting good jobs in the same area, the building of our commune–is extremely low,  I thought it would be fun to examine a few alternative living scenarios.

 

1. Austin, Texas

My top choice for alternative living is Austin. It’s a great town with wonderful people, amazing food, fantastic music and a million different things to do. The biggest bonus is that I already have family and friends there. Plus, breakfast tacos are my happy place.

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2. Charleston, SC

Never been, but I hear it’s warm and sunny with lovely architecture and delicious fried Southern food. Porches + lemonade + fried chicken= a life of fat pants and happiness. For some reason, I fantasize about what Charleston is like. Perhaps a visit is in order!

3. Santa Fe, New Mexico

I grew up with a dad who wore bolo ties through most of the early 90s, so I have a real soft spot for the American Southwest. We were the family with chili pepper lights on their Christmas tree and entire rooms dedicated to the traditional southwestern motif. I find the landscape and continuity of the architecture in Santa Fe really alluring, and my hair looks great in dry as opposed to wet heat.

4. Arizona

This pick is for our friend Aubrey, whose family lives in Scottsdale. I know this would be her top choice for exodus, and I think I could survive there as well, since I am programmed to love heat and dread winter. Unfortunately, I’m married to someone who I’ve heard will spontaneously combust if the temperature hits over 105, so this one might not work for us.

5. Santa Monica California

This won’t be much cheaper than the way we’re living now, and we’d probably spend half our day sitting in traffic, but I visited my best friend in Santa Monica two years ago and really fell in love with her lifestyle. I could work as a therapist to the stars and Vin could finally wear all his Rip Curl clothing in its intended setting.

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6. Portland, OR

We could line up a field with yurts and eat gourmet donuts all day. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me.

7. New Orleans

I have a feeling our buddies Bridget and Chris would cast a vote for New Orleans, a city close to their heart. We could all live in historical homes and throw beads off our balconies during Mardi Gras parades. By night we’ll hit bars and hear zydeco. We’ll wake up on Sundays and eat beignets, all day.

8. Hawaii

As long as we’re talking about escaping crazy city life, we may as well do it up right. Aloha, bitches. Pass the spam fried rice.

the good jump

If you guys have any other ideas you’d like to share about a lovely place I may have overlooked, I completely welcome your input, even if there’s a strong possibility it will make me cry. Don’t be telling me about 75-degree day in your area right now. I’m emotionally fragile.

 

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And I think to myself… what a puzzling world

 

Last Thursday morning I brewed a pot of coffee and turned on The Today Show. As I was about to leave the house for work, a breaking report came on. The headline blasted across the screen IT WAS ON PURPOSE, referring to the airplane crash in the French Alps the day prior, when a co-pilot deliberately turned 150 people over to God. I felt my heart drop to my stomach. It was sickening, horrifying, and hard to imagine.

Thursday afternoon, a coworker walked down our office hallway looking startled, and told us that she’d just seen an explosion around the corner. The storefront had been blown right off a restaurant on the next block, and she had seen and heard the terror that happened afterward as people ran outside, bleeding. It triggered a 7-alarm fire and three buildings collapsed, leaving 19 injured, 2 missing and many without their homes and businesses. It is so upsetting to see a huge hole where these classic East Village buildings were, and so scary to think of what it must have been like for the people inside them that day.

Between these two events, I met with several clients, one of whom, when describing news events completely unrelated to the two just described said: “The world is a shitty place.” I’d heard statements relatively similar to this throughout the week. “Life sucks”, “people suck”, “the world sucks”, “New York sucks”. It’s part and parcel of my job. Many people over many days iterating that the world is a shitty place full of shitty people.

Earlier in the week I agreed with a different client that a lot of bad things happen in the world, on her street, in the city. But I also reminded her that a lot of good happens too, if she can remember to look for it.

Sometimes it’s hard not to absorb the message that everything sucks, and some days–like Thursday– it’s hard to disagree with it.

I cut out of work early that day. I cancelled my last few appointments because our street was blocked off by firetrucks and heavy smoke was making it hard to breathe.

I took a seat on a still-uncrowded subway car and tried to tune out the world. If you’ve ever ridden a NYC subway before, you’re aware this is no easy task. Especially when a little boy– no older than three or four– plops right next to you and starts swinging his skinny legs and chatting his little head off.

His mother stood in front of him, and together they started playing a game of rock, paper, scissors. He was so animated and excited to play with her, and she was so clearly delighted by him. They did at least 10 rounds as we traveled through five or six stations together, giggling and tickling each other as they played.

It was a sweet, innocent moment on a day when I’d really needed one of those.

I remembered to look for it.

I found the good.

 

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I Found You

Sunday morning I told myself I was going to sit down and write but instead I stood up and walked out the door. It was still cold but the sun was shining, and I could think of nowhere I wanted to be more than Central Park. So I hopped on the subway and took myself for a stroll.

The snow still clung in patches and the tiny lakes were trapped under a sheet of ice. The trees were bare and with the exception of a random opera singer in a tunnel, the usual street performers were nowhere to be found. It’s the time of year when people are starting to come out of their cocoons and give a long walk a fair shot. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, when we all feel collectively hopeful. It felt like a beginning.

I walked to my favorite spot in the city, Bethesda Fountain. I sat and watched people take pictures of themselves with the frozen water as a backdrop. I watched a toddler dance to to the music from a saxophone player, who eventually bent down and gave her a high five. I did what i usually do, which is sit and look around and take stock of where I am and what’s around me.

And then I got a little teary-eyed, because I’m a sap and I can’t help myself.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and talk to the 22-year-old girl who moved here with only three duffel bags and an alarm clock and thank her for giving it a shot. I’d applaud her for listening to her gut and trusting her instincts. For trying something and sticking to it, even when it got difficult or lousy. For not listening to her father’s advice to stay put and look for a job in “corporate America” (sorry dad). For introducing us to penne a la vodka and street hot dogs and knish, even though they’re way too heavy and I sort of hate them.

New York is a fun place to visit and a hard place to live. It’s too expensive, too crowded, and too temperamental. Sometimes I hate that I love it, for those very reasons. I’ve taken steps backward, and made a few choices that in hindsight, I shouldn’t have. But moving here was never one of them. That 22-year girl really believed in us, and she did us both a favor. New York ain’t perfect, and neither am I.

But I’m glad we found each other.

 

 

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We Are All Annoying Now

 

Last Wednesday was the first legitimately sunny, pleasant, vaguely warm day we’ve seen in the northeast since late October, so I couldn’t wait to get out of the office and into Astoria park, right along the water. I hadn’t been since at least November, and the first day doing anything after the winter thaw is a momentous occasion.

And it was glorious! Birds were chirping. Joggers were jogging. Dogs and babies got walked. Teenagers rolled weed. All was right in the world.

And everyone– I mean everyone– was taking pictures of everything on their phones.

And I was right there with ‘em. I tried at least six different angles to try to get the money shot- the one of the bridge, the park, the skyline and the water all in one frame. I spotted no fewer than five people trying for the same picture, using their hand as some type of visor. But it was six o’clock and the sun was so high and bright that it kept blowing out my shot. And so instead of soaking it up and letting it warm my face, I allowed the sun to annoy me for getting in the way of my documenting my lovely evening.

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And then I paused and asked myself why I was taking a picture in the first place.

I go walking in that park all the time. It’s not a unique experience for me. And I’ve taken that exact picture before. Skyline, water, bridge. Anyone who’s ever been to that park has taken that shot. I’ve taken it at least 10 times. There’s absolutely no reason for me to take that picture again. And there’s definitely no reason for me to spend five minutes trying to artfully arrange a photo so I can post it to Instagram.

And why is that exactly?

Because… NO ONE CARES!!!

Does anyone really care that I went to Astoria Park Wednesday? No.

Is anyone truly itching to see the sun set over someone else’s piece of sky? No.

Do I really need to humble-brag about choosing exercise over Netflix after work? No.

So why post it? Why do we post photos at all? Why do we take pictures of every damn thing we do and see these days? I’m not judging, because I participate.  I’m just starting to legitimately wonder why.

***

My 20-year high school reunion is this summer. (Please, I know what you’re all thinking…I don’t look a day over 19). As part of the preparations, the planning committee has requested alumni submit four pictures– two current shots, and two from 1995. As you can imagine, it’s pretty easy for me to scrounge up current day photos. I have about 12,000 on my desktop and I can simply aim my phone at my face and create one right now if I wanted to.

But I have been struggling to find two photos from my high school days. Back then, cameras were brought out for special occasions only. When you had your photograph taken, it was for a specific event or reason, not because Hey! I’m on my way to school and my hair looks good so click, click, click!. Pictures of shoes and outfits and coffees and flower arrangements were only taken for catalogs. Asparagus only crossed its legs and posed for photographs when it was about to be featured in a cookbook. It’s not like my mom pulled out pretty placemats and thoughtfully styled her meatloaf so she could snap a picture of it before calling us down to dinner. We would have thought she was nuts if she’d done that.

It’s a strange thing to have a small camera easily accessed at all times. I’ll be honest and say that’s the primary reason I ended up switching to a smartphone–the camera. I can live without texting (I hate it) and can always check email and social media on my laptop. But I loved the idea of joining Instagram, and having easy access to a camera, just in case something extraordinary caught my eye and I needed to get a photo of it.

That was my intention–to have a camera present so I could catch extraordinary  or compelling moments. But the truth of these tiny cameras (on my instagram feed, anyway) is that they capture more relatively trivial moments than anything else. A picture of our feet during yoga class, a pair of shoes on the floor, a lipstick-stained glass of Sauvignon Blanc, a piece of avocado toast. There are some people who appear to create moments out of nothing for the sake of having something pretty to put on their photo feed. There are people who curate little vignettes out of household items to post on their Instagram. I love the concept of finding beauty in everyday things, in taking time to appreciate and share gratitude for the simple joys in life, but sometimes I worry that by constantly documenting the minutia of daily life we are also interrupting the natural flow of it.

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It’s one thing to stop and smell the flowers, but no one does that. They stop and photograph the flowers. And then they tweak the photo for the perfect shade of pink. I know this is true, because I did it last week. I love the image of five champagne glasses clinking at the same time, but understand that creating this image requires one member of the party to cut themselves out of the celebration to jump behind the lens.

So what is it with all the photos? Is it narcissism? Is it “branding”? Is it bragging? Or is it just plain fun?

If these photos were postcards, “Wish You Were Here” wouldn’t be written across the top of them. It’d say something more like “Look Where I Am.”

When you live in a walking city, it’s easy to see these phone-and-photo offenders because they are absolutely everywhere. NYC is a very instagrammable city, and everywhere you go, there is bound to be a phone in the air pointing at something. If they’re not taking pictures, they’re looking at them. They’re in line at the grocery store, ignoring the clerk and obsessing over the phone. They’re colliding into us on the sidewalk, looking down when they should be looking forward. They’re at the gym, monopolizing machines for twice as long because they’re scrolling their feed between sets. Yesterday I spotted a girl in the locker room who stood there, topless, for at least ten minutes simply hypnotized by her phone. (Part of me thinks she was just an exhibitionist though; she had really good boobs).

I don’t blame the phones. I blame the people. Phones don’t annoy people. People annoy people.

Sometimes I picture a group of aliens coming down from another planet to check out our species and report back. I think they’d be pretty weirded out by our culture right now. I’m a little weirded out every time I ride the subway home and look to the bench of people in front of me. It’s so hard to find someone not looking at their phone. It is actually incredibly rare for me to see someone without their phone. They have become extensions of our bodies, as critical to walking out the door in the morning as house keys. Many of us are accomplishing tasks in little fits and bursts, interrupted by time-outs filled with glassy-eyed scrolling. I know it’s not just me.

***

As I read more and more articles about the rapid changes in technology, I can’t help but think that eventually there will be some kind of revolt or pushback about the way phones are to be used in public.

When we went to the Louvre two years ago, the Mona Lisa was impossible to admire because there were 75 iphones or Ipads covering her face. It was gross, and I can’t imagine the museum will let that shit go on forever (I hope not, anyway). And the other day, while walking by a shop selling macarons–the ultimate in photogenically girly baked goods– I spotted a small sign on the window urging passerby to not interrupt their bakers by taking photos. I feel like we’re on the precipice of a “Stop the Insanity” moment.

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I’m still not exactly sure the point I’m trying to make with this post. I’m certainly not about to make a pledge to stop taking pictures of things with my iphone. I’m not asking you to stop either–I enjoy looking at your pictures, I really do. Ultimately, I think most people share photos because we all have our own stories to tell, and photos are a way to offer others a sliver glimpse into our individual worlds. And that, I think, is pretty cool. And how could I judge that? I blog, for chrissakes!

So next week, when I’ve forgotten all about this little rant and post a photo of me sitting in a field of tulips, holding up my perfect hamburger while relaxing in the pinky-orange glow of the setting sun, I hope you will do me the favor of clicking like.

I can’t explain why, but I find it very validating.

 

 

 

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Wherever I go, I’m taking you with me

The other day you frowned. At the time, you were gazing out the window of a new coffee shop down the street.  We’d just had a lovely afternoon in our neighborhood– eating lunch, shopping at the mom and pop bookstore, and sharing tiny pastries at a French-themed cafe.

“Astoria! I’m going to miss you!” you cried out. I bit my lip, and nodded in agreement.

I’ve been in this neighborhood eight years–you more than 10–and though we haven’t come close to picking out a new home, we have already begun to say goodbye to this one. It’s looking less and less likely that we’ll be able to find what we’re looking for in Astoria, and while I can’t say with any type of certainty, my money is on us moving to Brooklyn. Let’s place some bets. I could use the cash.

The great thing about a big city like New York is that it gets broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces and the piece you occupy– your local neighborhood–becomes a small city unto itself. The businesses on your street become your barstool at Cheers. The people who tend them greet you with warmth when you walk through the door. Your butcher knows the cut you prefer, and the same man hands you the free Metro paper every morning at the foot of the subway stairs. The checkout ladies in hijabs are always curious about your grocery items, especially when they vary from your normal sweet potatoes and heads of kale.

“Ohhhh, what are you making tonight?” they’ll ask, holding up your bags of z’aatar and lentils.

Lately we’re looking around and noticing everything. As we stockpile mental lists of things we like and things we don’t about a neighborhood, we’re finding few complaints in the one we currently occupy. It’s cool without being pretentious. It’s multi-ethnic without feeling divided. It’s convenient. It’s comfortable. It’s interesting. It’s safe.

I’m really going to miss it.

I’m going to miss walking up Broadway, where century-old barber shops with steel chairs and striped poles keep their windows open so you can see men getting their sides trimmed or their faces shaved. I’m going to miss my shoe-shine guy, whose tiny store smells like a polished saddle and who fixes my boots for $5 every winter so I don’t have to buy new ones. I’m going to miss the bakery on the corner beneath the subway, not because I ever buy anything there, but because the smell of fresh bread escapes from their vent every morning and drifts all the way up to the train platform. I’m going to miss walking hand-in-hand with you to Saturday brunch. I’m going to miss summer mornings writing and drinking coffee in my little backyard.

I will not miss the awful loveseat we’ve held onto the past eight years because a real-sized sofa won’t fit into our living room. For years and years we’ve talked about a bigger space so we can finally invest in a longer couch. This lumpy loveseat is not coming with us. It will spend eternity on an Astoria streetcurb.

I will never miss this couch, but I will miss the closeness it requires. I’ll miss its narrow, squat dimensions and how it’s forced us to attach our bodies together like they’re trimmed in Velcro. I’ll miss Sunday nights with my feet propped on your legs, and I’ll miss sleepy mornings with your head against my shoulder.

Thankfully, you pack up real easy.

I’ll miss this neighborhood something awful, but there’s great comfort in knowing that wherever I go, I’m taking you with me.

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Man and Wife Making a Pizza

 

I once made one of those big lists where I wrote down everything I want to achieve in this lifetime. Chief among my goals were things like buy a house, write a book, and touch soil on every continent. Also on the list:  Master pizza crust. Dreams come in all sizes. Sometimes they’re even gluten-free.

The truth is, when you live in New York City, there’s no real need to master pizza crust because you can buy the best possible version of it on your street corner.

So last Friday night we did. Sorta.

sopp pizza

I really wanted to recreate a pizza from our favorite place–the Spicy Soppressata from Milkflower–because it was way too cold to schlep across town and order it in the restaurant. Plus, I was already in my pajama pants, and once those are on there’s no turning back. You know what I’m talking about.

I was all prepared to make my own dough, but the idea of getting out the stand mixer and waiting for yeast to rise sounded like more work than I was willing to put in. When Vin offered to pick up some dough from the pizza shop around the corner, I thought it was a grand idea. If you’ve never done this before DO IT NOW. Call your local pizza parlor and ask if you can buy some of their uncooked dough. It’s the best three bucks you’ll ever spend. And while I’m living in this area, it’s safe to say that “master pizza crust” is no longer on the big bucket list, freeing up some hours to work on the book and travel the world. Time is money, people.

Amazingly, even with someone else’s homemade dough, I struggled while transforming it into a worthy crust. I have this great pizza stone and I still don’t know the best way to use it. Do you preheat it? Coat it with oil? Sprinkle it with cornmeal? I posed all these questions to my husband, not because he’s a native New Yorker and is thus expected to understand the seminal rules of pizza-making, but because I’m weird and stubborn about looking things up on the internet and wanted to talk it out instead. One other thing you should know about me– I’m terrible with following instructions and prefer to “wing it”, almost always to my own detriment.

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J: “Hey Vin, are we supposed to preheat this stone, or what?”

V: “Why are you asking me this? Look it up online.”

I skimmed something quickly and learned that the stone should be pre-heated for 30 minutes at the highest possible temperature. But once that phase was complete, I still felt confused about how to get the dough and the sauce and all the toppings on without burning ourselves silly on the hot pan. At the pizza shop they have one of those wooden planks to transfer the pan from the oven to the counter. I don’t have that kind of set-up.

J: “Hey Vin, how are we supposed to get this dough on the pan? Do we take the pan out of the oven? What happens if the pan cools– will the whole thing not work right? Do we put oil on it?”

V: “I have no idea.”

J: “Too late.”

V: “What do you mean too late?”

J” It’s too late. I already put oil on it.  I sorta dropped a piece of cheese on it too.”

V: “On purpose?”

J: “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Impulsively, I’d opened the oven door and drizzled olive oil on the pizza stone. But then I was left with the dilemma of how to spread the oil evenly on a pan that was already screaming hot. I couldn’t use a spatula or a paper towel– plastic and paper would surely melt. And so, for reasons I still can’t explain or justify, I picked up a thick piece of mozzarella and used it to spread the oil around the pan. It obviously started to melt immediately after I touched it to the pan, so in a moment of panic and (in my opinion) quick reflexes– I flung the molten cheese onto the kitchen counter.

My husband looked at me like our whole life together was a huge mistake.

Okay, so coating the pan with oil and cheese was not the way to go. Got it. So I took the pan out of the oven and wiped down the grease with a paper towel. Then I rolled the dough onto the stone, loaded up the toppings and popped the pizza in the oven. We were back in business.

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Ten minutes later, I had more questions.

J: “How do I know when this thing is done? Isn’t the crust supposed to be brown and kind of crusty?”

V: “From now on, I’m going to consider all of your cooking questions rhetorical.”

J: “That’s just rude.”

V: “Hey, when it comes to food, I can tell you how much mayo to put on a mayo sandwich, and I can tell you if the filling in a Twinkie is still fresh, but that’s about it. You asking me cooking questions is like me asking you how to move midi regions over as entire blocks and not in individual notes.”

J: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

V: “Exactly.”

 

Anyway, this delicious pizza is brought to you by Vinny’s sarcasm and my poor judgment.  Mangia.

 

Hot Soppressata, Smoked Mozzarella and Sweet Honey Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 pizza crust (homemade, frozen or bought uncooked from pizza shop)
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1 hot soppressata sausage (sliced very thin)
  • 1 cup smoked mozzarella
  • cup mozzarella or parmesan
  • 1 cup caramelized shallots or onions
  • honey, basil, oregano, red chili flakes

Directions

Slice shallots or onions thin, then cook them over low heat with butter or olive oil to caramelize. Season with a bit of kosher or sea salt.
Once pizza stone is hot, roll dough onto the pan and layer with tomato sauce, soppressata, cheese and shallots. If you can’t find hot soppressata, sprinkle red chili flakes on pie to add heat.
Bake until crust is brown and cheese is melted. Drizzle with honey, oregano and a little sea salt.

Vin: “Do you want to save this piece of cheese on the counter? Put it in some kind of museum?”

 

 

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The Bachelor Recap: Much Bali-hoo

 

Oooooh, so close! We’re almost at the end of the season, so it’s time for the bachelor to look to producers to plan, fund and organize an amazingly romantic getaway for his three girlfriends. I bet Farmer Chris never imagined he would have so much in common with Hugh Hefner. The gang has flown all the way to balmy Bali, and I just don’t know how he’s gonna whittle the final three down to two in this location. It’s so romantic that we’re four minutes into the program and I’ve already fallen in love with the bellhop, a breadfruit tree and three naughty monkeys. This is going to be a tough week for him.

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I’ll be honest and say that I don’t find this Chris fella particularly compelling. Different strokes for different folks, but clean-cut, small-town farmer boy is definitely not my type. Clearly I prefer long-haired hipsters with 5-day stubble and the physique of a pencil. Although, I think he is very sincere and really does hope to find a long-term partner from this process. With only 500 people in his hometown, he actually seems like the kind of person who could genuinely benefit from a weird dating system like this. The guys from L.A. and Chicago never really needed a hand meeting women, but this guy does. Let’s help him out!

Bali is a stunning place, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the women were slightly disappointed about being filmed in a tropical climate. I grew up on an island, and didn’t date until I was almost 20. Coincidence? I think not!

Anyway, I’m sure these chicks have stylists on hand to tame their frizz and wipe down their flop sweat, so I’m not so worried about them. Let’s see how the episode unfolded…

 

DATE #1: Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn is super cute and has a good sense of humor, but I still find myself hoping she doesn’t lay on too much charm because if I hear this guy laugh again it will be too soon. Call me shallow, but an annoying laugh is a deal-breaker for me, and this guy’s chuckle makes my ears wince in discomfort. They’re in the middle of a rainforest and I find myself distracted by how sweaty they both are. First they check out some temples, then approach a lady with a banana stand. Chris is given a banana to hold, which sends flying monkeys coming toward him from every direction. They are running up his arms and back, canvassing his body for the forbidden fruit, which is basically a metaphor for the entire premise of this show. Kaitlyn even says she admires the monkey and the way it goes after what it wants. She wishes she could be more like that monkey.

Then the fun and games are over and they have a serious talk over dinner. He sorta gives her a hard time about not “letting her guard down” and she apologizes for it. This makes no sense to me. You’ve known this person a few weeks, he’s still openly dating other people, and you’re apologizing for not being vulnerable enough? Sounds pretty reasonable to me!

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Fantasy Suite time: There’s an outdoor bathtub filled with rose petals shaped into a giant heart. Kaitlyn’s down with it. Good for you, hon. Get yours.

 

DATE #2: Whitney

Whitney is a pretty, blonde fertility nurse from Chicago with a very memorable speaking voice. She’s worked hard to get a good job she’s passionate about, which makes me like her very much, but also think she’s not going to be the best fit for a guy who lives in the middle of nowhere.

They are sailing away on a private boat that looks like the pirate ship from Goonies. I would love a fantasy date like that, but every time Vin and I have been on a boat together he’s spent the whole time vomiting over the railing. Life is not a fairy tale, little girls. Take note.

Whit just described this process as a “rollercoaster of emotions”, which is my least favorite phrase in the history of the earth, so -1 point there. Chris just said that Bali is a “beautiful place to fall in love”. I’d add that Bali is an easy place to fall in love, and it’s a joint that he and his future lady love will likely never have access to again. That’s why they should start sending these people to Taco Bell, or some kind of all-you-can-eat country buffet in his hometown. See how easy it is to fall in love there.

They jump into the water and she exclaims that she is head over heels in love with him, to which he replies a sincere, “Thank you.” What a dream come true!

Next scene: They’re all showered up, and having a serious talk over dinner. This is actually the most realistic conversation I’ve ever seen on this show. They have a frank discussion about the future of her job, and what she’d have to give up by moving to his hometown. He levels with her, and tells her that his town is “very small”, and is very clear in explaining that there is nothing to do there, and if you want to do something (like work), you’ll be driving somewhere else. This would have driven me right up from the table and onto the next plane to JFK. But Whit is in it to win it, and tells him that if she’s chosen, she’s prepared to quit her job, leave awesome Chicago and move to his tiny farm town to start making some babies. I have never seen a man grin so wide. I think she might have just sealed the deal.

Fantasy suite- yup, yup. Another bathtub, this one candelit and full of bubbles. Can someone please sneak into my apartment and set this up for me? I know I only have a stand-up shower, but I’m sure you’re creative enough to work with it.

 

DATE #3:  Becca

From a body-language perspective, Becca is the least compatible with Chris. She is the only contestant who, upon greeting him, does not jump into his arms and wrap her legs around his back. This is because Becca is a virgin. I actually think this girl is the best fit for him, because she grew up in a small town in Louisiana and has a quiet, wholesome charm that a lot of men would be very smitten by. Whatever happens, this girl has great hair and unbelievable teeth, so I’m not that worried about her romantic future.

There’s a soundbite of Chris indicating that it’s “Time to get to know one another on another level”, which is code for “time to have some fun without our pants on.” Becca is going to use this evening to explain that she plans to have fun with her pants on until marriage. Let’s see how he handles it!

They’re sitting side by side, and she drops the bomb: The V-Bomb. He looks sooooooo uncomfortable. He is tongue-tied. He respects that, of course. But he’s uncomfortable. Visibly. She says his response was perfect. I really, really hope she didn’t have sex with him in that fantasy suite behind the sheer curtains. Because if he sleeps with her after revealing she was a virgin on TV and then dumps her in public days later, that would be unforgivable.

She ends up staying in the suite, and the next morning they’re both confused about what happens next as Becca is the logical one who tells Chris that she’d want to date for a while before leaving her whole life behind and moving to his hometown. I don’t know why logic is always viewed as suspicious behavior on this show.

 

ROSE CEREMONY THROWDOWN

The women are wearing traditional Balinese gear which consists of frizz-taming updos and many layers of brightly colored fabric. Chris is dressed like the beefy farmboy version of the karate kid.

And then he drops the boom. He asks Becca to step away with him. The other two titter, trying not to sound catty. They predict he’s having a little chat with Becca the Virgin before sending her home. Kaitlyn looks pretty confident about their future and says so. (oh girl, this is gonna hurt).

WRONGOLA! They come back minutes later, holding hands. Now they’re sweating for real. Your uptight hairdos can’t save you now.

Kaitlyn –the fun, sassy one– is being sent home. She was open and vulnerable, and now she has to face the humiliating back-of-the-cab cry. As he tries to explain why he’s letting her go, a rooster crows in the background. She looks so crestfallen and sad. So does he.

Don’t worry Kaitlyn. You’re going to be okay, and you’ll probably be chosen as the next Bachelorette.

Rise when the rooster crows.

Go out there and take the world by the bananas.

 

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My Love Letter to Boyhood…and Texas.

 

I didn’t stay up to find out, but I heard Boyhood didn’t win last night. It was the only movie I saw last year, so I really wanted it to take home Best Picture.

But that’s obviously not the only reason I was rooting for Boyhood. And I’m guessing anybody else who loves Texas had their fingers crossed too.

I saw the movie a few months ago, and knew about the 12-year filming process going in. But what I didn’t know beforehand was that the movie was shot all over Texas, in locations with which I am intimately familiar. The setting wasn’t mentioned upfront, but I could tell it by the landscape and some of the dialogue. Once “dang” gets tossed in a script, the geography gets narrowed down pretty quickly.

I loved every minute of Boyhood. If you haven’t seen it or heard that much about it, this movie is a subtle, slowly moving tribute to childhood, parenthood and life itself.  The opening scene is simply a little boy lying in the grass with his hand tucked under his head, staring at the vastness of the sky. There are no major plot twists or story arcs, just quiet, carefully strung vignettes that mark the confusion and clumsiness of being alive. Some people complained that it was long and boring, but I never wanted it to end.

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If you’ve read here a while, you’re well aware that I grew up in Texas. Like other traitors before me, I moved to New York City at 22 and haven’t looked back except to wax nostalgia on this blog. I’ve visited family back home once or twice a year for the past 15, and while New York is unquestionably where I belong as an adult, Texas is where I feel wistful and dreamy because I lived there as a child. It is still a culture I belong to, and a place that feels like home even when I’m gone for months at a time. Its dialect narrates my internal voice, and it’s something I can slip on and off as easily as an old shoe. Texas is my brace and my anchor, and visiting there almost always brings me to gentle tears.

I romanticize Texas because I no longer live there. If I were still a resident, I wouldn’t dream backward about long flat roads and big open skies, and I wouldn’t feel a dull heartache when seeing these images on a movie screen in New York City. You can’t look back with fondness on something you’re still in the middle of, and it’s impossible to long for a space you continue to occupy.

I would have been equally touched by Boyhood had it been filmed in California or Ohio or Seattle, but watching two kids navigate the sweetness, confusion and wonder of childhood in the landscape where I endured all of that myself was a visceral experience. It left me thinking about the way places can stomp themselves into your soul, not because they were the most beautiful or interesting, but simply because you were there. How a certain song can open the dam to a flood of memories both good and bad, not because the song itself is so great, but because it played softly in the background as you fumbled your way through that first awkward kiss.

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Three weeks after watching Boyhood—the trigger for all my nostalgic navel-gazing– my husband and I took a week-long road trip through the Texas hill country. We drove all around the prettiest part of the state visiting my relatives and old haunts before eventually landing in the Houston area. The route was basically the one covered in the movie. Sometimes life shakes out that way.

It was exciting to have my Queens-born husband along for this trip, because I got to share more of my history with him by shaping it with physical context. We drove all around my college campus in Austin, my grandparents’ small town, the horseback riding camp where I spent eight glorious summers. I found myself highlighting silly things, like places where I got my hair cut and where I used to grab breakfast tacos. They weren’t spots that would ever show up in a travel guide or a list of recommended sights. These places weren’t notable to anyone but myself, and pointing them out to my traveling companion was the verbal equivalent of scribbling “I was here” on a bathroom wall.

As my husband drove, I snapped pictures and day-dreamed while memorizing the terrain outside my window. We rambled through miles and miles of flat brown nothing, past dry ground peppered with oak trees, their winter branches bald and curved like arthritic fingers. We took the highway through bigger cities, where billboards towered like giants and state flags the size of bedsheets rippled and swayed over car dealerships. We drove through tiny towns and stopped at roadside cafes where women called each other ‘sweetheart’ and wore rhinestones on the back pockets of their jeans. If I still lived in Texas, none of this would have registered as memorable. If I’d stayed, I probably wouldn’t have noticed these things at all.

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But after living 15 years outside of this scenery, the sights and smells and tastes of it make me warm. These are some of the things I remember about my life during the earliest part of it, the years when I didn’t know myself very well yet, and still had so much more of this world to see. As someone who was raised there, it is hard for me to separate the novelty of the place from my own experiences, and I would probably feel the same fondness for any place, had I grown up there.

It occurs to me sometimes that maybe Texas is not extraordinary at all. I’m certain there are other places with sunsets that light the sky on fire and people who are gracious beyond reason. Maybe the mild winters really don’t annul those blistering summers. Maybe I don’t even like okra, but have been conditioned to love it because nothing ever tastes as good as the things your grandmother rolled in cornmeal. Maybe some places are only special because our memories are stitched to them.

I didn’t think much about my home state until I moved away from it. I never referred to myself as a Texan until I came to New York. I guess it’s a natural condition to only reflect on something once it’s over. Only an adult can feel sentimental about childhood because he’s already surpassed it. Children don’t have the luxury to understand it really was just a phase.

Watching Boyhood was like poking my head out the passenger side window as my husband drove through Texas, watching a familiar world rush by me in a blur. It was like reading a wonderful book and being able to mentally insert myself into the story because the setting was my own backyard. But mostly it felt like lying in cool grass and looking up at the bright open sky, the place I still go when I need to look ahead and imagine, but is just as easily accessed when I want to look back and remember.

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<me at summer camp in Wimberley, Texas, late ’80s>

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<me outside my old summer camp in Wimberley, Dec. 2014>

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About Therapist Confidentiality…and Compassion

 

If you’re familiar at all with the therapeutic process, you’re well aware that the number one rule is confidentiality. When a client sees me for treatment, what they share with me is sacred. I can’t reveal any of their identifying information. I’m obligated by law to keep my trap shut. Their stories are not mine to share.

If I’m being honest though, there are times when I wish they were. But not for the reason you’re probably thinking. I’d be an unforgivable unethical jerk to turn my clients’ stories into a book. (But trust me, they’d make an amazing one.)

I hear fascinating stuff in sessions. People lead very interesting lives in this town; far more interesting than mine. Many people have also been through some extremely hard, extraordinarily painful situations. I find myself feeling moved, inspired, surprised, and humbled at least a dozen times a day. And my clients and I laugh so loud and often people strolling the hallway must wonder what in the world goes on behind my office door.

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So yeah, on occasion, I have the shameful wish that I could be more open about who my clients are, what they’ve been through, how they’re changing and what they’re feeling. It’s amazing how much you can learn about yourself when you’re listening to someone else.

I became a more compassionate person when I became a therapist. I had no choice. It’s the foundation of the job.

And sometimes I think if other people heard what I have the privilege to hear, the world would be a more compassionate place.

I have a job where I meet and learn intimate details about people that are, by and large, vastly different from myself. I meet people who think and behave differently than I do. People who come from environments that feel like foreign countries to me, even if they’re only a few subway stops away. People whose interests, choices, behaviors, personalities and backgrounds are completely opposite of my own.

In my personal life, how often do I connect with people who are vastly different from myself? Not very.

Isn’t that what makes Humans of New York so beloved? He plucks the average person off the street, takes their photo and passes them the mic to briefly share their story. And even when their story involves something society generally disapproves of (ie: crime, drug use), there are floods of comments showing compassion, support, encouragement and understanding. A lot of people see a junkie on the corner. Brandon (of HONY) sees a whole person with many different facets, who is hiding behind a mountain of pain.  And once he shares that on his site, other people are able to see that too.

I’m fortunate to have a job that pushes me to find the good in everyone.

And the great news is that you don’t have to be a therapist to do this.

You can simply choose to.

 

 

I’m writing this today as part of the initiative to find 1,000 bloggers to write about compassion today so we can flood the internet with good. You can find other stories about compassion by searching #1000speak on twitter.

Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle.

 

 

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About Jenn.


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Kindly ignore the "food/friends/fun" part on the top of this page. It no longer describes this blog; I just don't know how to change it. Pretend it says something more accurate like "Stories of my Life", or "For a good time, read Jenn". About Me: I'm a 30-something Texan who moved to New York, became a therapist, and married a guy named Vinny from Queens. I delight in observing the world around me, and write about it here.

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