The Reason To Get It On The Side

Immortality is a perennial Top 3 finisher in the Literary Themes Pageant, just like Texas at Miss America. When it’s time to wrestle with the big ideas, all of your better-known Olden Days Writers pull out some form of eternity to make a point.  The Greeks had immortals descend from on high to mess around in people’s everyday business. Eighteenth century English Romantics were all “We are all immortal because nature! NATUURRREEEE!!!!” And then there are vampires, defining immortality ever since Bram Stoker decided to go all undead on our asses. In the past few years, literary vampires have been rock stars, the scourge of colonial America, and hot messes battling it out for supernatural supremacy in Southern Louisiana. There are also the curious Twilight vampires, who go all in on eternity by….going back to high school. Over and over. WTF. I don’t care how pretty Robert Pattinson is, he cannot make that idea remotely appealing.

All that being said, my favorite kind of immortality is the unintentional kind, the kind Julius Caesar achieved when a salad dressing first made in Mexico by an Italian-American during Prohibition intersected with a play that used ancient Rome to illustrate the problematic politics of transitioning from one British monarch to the next. Don’t believe me? Think about a Caesar salad right now. What comes to mind? TOGAS. You can’t buy that kind of viral marketing and brand reinforcement. Shakespeare and Julius Caesar have the Midas touch.
Me: Congrats on that whole most-famous-ruler-of-Rome thing
Caesar: K thx but I wanna be more immortal
Me: You can’t be more immortal than immortal
Caesar: I’m only immortal in Latin
Me: Yes
Caesar: I wanna be immortal in ENGLISH
Shakespeare: I’m on it

My I ♥ SHAKESPEARE list has a definite lean toward unnatural death. There is hella stabbing in all of the plays I really like. Why I prefer my Elizabethan entertainment pointy and bloody is ultimately for my court-appointed psychiatrist to determine, but since I’m not violating any of my restraining orders I’m not going to  worry too much about my subconscious. I love Julius Caesar because it meets minimal stabbing requirements and because it includes the searing, jaggedly perfect “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him” eulogy. In another unintentional twist, it’s also the Shakespeare production that I have seen the most often, including one staged on a set that looked like a building construction site where all the actors wore hard hats. Yellow hard hats. The whole show. Well, I am assuming they were actors. It’s certainly possible I stumbled upon a group of extremely politically savvy Shakespeare enthusiasts renovating a theater.
Caesar: Why do I have to wear the hard hat
Me: OSHA regulations for artistic integrity zones

Julius Caesar opens with Caesar fresh off a military victory and ruling over a happy and peaceful Rome. Because no good deed goes unpunished, and because it would be a terribly short play otherwise, Caesar’s motivations come under question by Brutus and Cassius, his two closest advisors, the Kelly and Michelle to his Beyonce. Not convinced that Caesar has Rome’s best interests at heart and suspicious that he wants to crown himself as King, Brutus and Cassius decide to stab their way out of their anxiety about the future and assassinate Caesar at what may go down as the worst committee meeting ever.
Caesar: I brought doughnuts!
Everyone else: Stab stab stab
Caesar: I thought you liked Krispy Kremes!
Everyone else: We told you we are low-carb, asshole


Publicity stunt

Publicity stunt.


The delightfully capricious thing about immortality is that you can’t choose it. It has to choose you, and when it does it’s liable to be for something you couldn’t possibly anticipate. Julius Caesar was one of the greatest military strategists who ever lived, famous for his battlefield victories fought for the glory of Rome. Then Shakespeare comes along and tells his version of Caesar’s story, and Caesar becomes famous for being assassinated and for his last words that he never actually said, “Et tu, Brute?”. Three hundred years later, Chef Caesar Cardini improvises a salad on a busy night with a handful of ingredients he had on hand in his restaurant kitchen. It catches on in a big way because DELICIOUS and suddenly Julius Caesar is famous all over again because his likeness is the go-to illustration on almost every bottled version of Caesar dressing.
Caesar: Wait. What?!?
Me: I thought you knew
Caesar: Is this a joke? I hate salad
Me: Just eat the croutons. It’s what I do

Given the choice, what would Julius Caesar have preferred? Fame from what he actually did, fame from a fictionalized version of himself, or fame from aisle 3 at the grocery store? It’s his embarrassment of riches that he doesn’t have to pick. He gets it all. Over two thousand years later, we’re still talking about him. Shakespeare has done pretty well too, but he’s got work to do in the food department because I can’t remember the last time I ordered a Shakespeare salad.
Caesar: I’m not picking any of those
Me: Okay how do you want your fame
Caesar: I want to go to the New York High School For The Performing Arts
Me: …so you want to spend eternity at high school
Shakespeare: I’m changing my name to Cookie Dough Ice Cream

Action Items
You probably want Caesar salad by now.



The Reason To Put It In Writing

A source water of my ever-flowing river of shame is that I am not capable of keeping a diary. My life history is littered with blank journals that have really pretty covers. Well – not entirely blank. More accurately, my life history is littered with journals that have the first five pages filled in with words. Titillating, insightful words like “Dear Diary, OMG queso is my favorite” and “Dear Diary, I need a new pair of black pants because I can’t get the queso stain off the ones I wore last night”. After the first five pages, idle doodles take over, harmless little drawings of missiles dropping on a diary factory or diary factories exploding in missile attacks. By page eight, it’s nothing but empty paper. Flipping through those blank pages, I am forced to admit yet again that I bought yet another journal because I thought the cover was pretty. Keeping a diary involves discipline and self-reflection and I am not here for any of that. I am here to binge on cheese until my memory is foggy.
Diary: Congratulations on your purchase! Whatcha gonna write
Me: I’m going to record my thoughts about the world and meaning of life
Diary: Waiting you out here
Me: FINE I am drawing puppy faces using only circles
Diary: Draw some kittens too

While I’m busy not writing in my diary, I love to read other people’s. I especially love reading cookbooks for the stories they tell about how people lived through food. What was important, what was available, what was relevant in a culture is all evident in what flowed through the kitchen. I’ll read any cookbook like a novel, but my favorite kind of cookbooks are the ones that include the stories and context for a recipe, like when an author tells her life story by describing exactly how she positions her crabmeat salad on her buffet when she entertains. Specifically, I love reading cookbooks by the marvelous Julia Reed. (Spoiler alert-crabmeat goes piled on a giant platter, mixed with mayo, served with toast points.)
Diary: Now describe the toast points
Me: This feels like homework
Diary: How it works is, you write stuff down
Me: Boooring
Diary: What are you drawing?
Me: Missiles bombing a toast point factory

Julia Reed is a Mississippi native, New Orleans resident, author, and a contributing editor at Garden & Gun and Elle Décor magazines. She is also a consummate storyteller, flinger of parties, and feeder of people as is evidenced in her books Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialties and But Mama Always Puts Vodka In Her Sangria!. Julia Reed’s stories read like the best diaries, with a casual, intensely personal feel. Watching her glamorous mother throw legendary cocktail parties in her small Mississippi hometown, Julia Reed found her own hostess rhythm when she left her home state to work in the cosmopolitan Northeast.  She describes coming into her own as a writer, a professional, and a hostess, from the college student parties done on a budget to the years she lived in New York as an editor for Newsweek, blowing people’s minds with plates of deviled eggs and pimiento cheese sandwiches. As magnetic as Julia Reed’s personality is on the page, I can’t imagine what it’s like being in the room with her while she convinces you to try just one bite of her lemon squares. (Okay, fine, she would never have to convince me to eat a lemon square. I’m not dead inside. However I do loathe eggs in all their forms but I’d still like to have her try to persuade me to eat a deviled egg. I won’t eat it. I don’t care if that damn egg is stuffed with Tom Hiddleston and a pair of diamond earrings. But I’d still like her to try.)
Diary: You can’t chew earrings, duh
Me: No it’s hyperbole
Diary: How would you even get Tom Hiddleston in an egg?
Me: It’s—no, you wouldn’t, I’m just saying-
Diary: Tom Hiddleston doesn’t go to small parties
Me: This is why we can’t dialogue

Julia Reed’s books are delightful, loaded with intimate and fascinating memories. They make me wish I’d commit to any kind of journaling, but the closest I come to diary entries are all the margin notes I have scribbled in all my books. I don’t discriminate-I’ll mark up any of my books when the mood strikes-but I really go to town on my cookbooks. It’s interesting when my notes don’t make any sense, like when I just use punctuation. What the hell do I mean by the really big question mark I wrote next to the recipe for an eggplant enchilada dish? Was it “why did I make this crap??” or “how did I live this long without making this delicious crap??” or “Why would I ever make this eggplant crap??” I don’t know because I was too lazy to write out even one word that summed up my impression. Also right now I am really understanding why I will never grow up to be Julia Reed. I’ll bet she uses words and punctuation in her cookbook notes.

Maybe not all hope is lost for a written record of my life. Surely I can access my last ten years worth of texting transcripts and put them in a binder. Succinct, specific, vivid – in fact, it’s better than a diary. It’s a diary slam.
Diary: That is insulting
Me: Think of your nice, clean pages
Diary: When you put it that way
Me: Maybe just one more circle puppy



Artist’s rendering of artist’s rendering


Action Items
The Baddest Mother Ever has mad journal skills. See for yourself here.

If you’d like to arrange for Julia Reed to keynote my next birthday party, thank you! You shouldn’t have.

The Reason To Pay It Backward

As anyone does, I take everything Matthew McConaughey says very, very seriously. So when his character on True Detective said “time is a flat circle” while trying to explain why time is a flat circle, I paid attention. Until that point, I considered time to be fairly linear. Except during a 60-minute workout. Do you know how long 60 minutes takes at the gym? About 4,00,000000,00,2 minutes. In that instance time is less like a flat circle  and more like a tremendously annoying parabola. But time being a flat circle? That was such a super-fancy way of describing that what goes around, comes around, that it got me thinking about the unpredictable ways that karma will serve up tasty goodies. Like reading a powerful book, then meeting the person that wrote it. (I’m not a namedropper so you’ll have to wait to find out I met Dr. Terrence Roberts, one of the Little Rock Nine. IN PERSON.)

But first, a word about fangirling. Fangirling is hard work, y’all. It’s a nuanced art form requiring endless hours of practice to strike just the right note of obsessive incoherence. After all, when meeting someone you admire, why behave in a rational, mature way? It’s so much easier to give in to temptation and collapse into loud babbling. If you are the kind of person who can keep your cool when you are introduced to someone of whom you are a fan, I congratulate you and can you please tell how you do that? Because when I am introduced to someone I think is awesome, my feelings tend to fling me around like a rodeo bull, flailing me awkwardly all over my immediate vicinity. It makes the idea of meeting a familiar stranger a horrifying prospect. Like The Hulk, I must carefully avoid situations that might trigger my fangirl mutation. Except when I can’t avoid them, like when I got to meet Dr. Terrence Roberts. IN PERSON.

In 1957, Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas was desegregated, forced by the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision to end the “separate but equal” education policy that divided life by race in the South. Attempts to integrate schools were routinely met with hostility and defiance. In Little Rock that manifested in targeting the nine African-American students who desegregated Central High School with daily death threats, harassment, and violence. This organized campaign meant to drive the Little Rock Nine out of Central resulted in the dispatch of the 101st Airborne to ensure the students could attend school.  Dr. Terrence Roberts writes about living that experience and the subsequent path his life took in his memoir Lessons From Little Rock. It’s a powerful book, in no small part because of the way Dr. Roberts recreates the unbelievable day-to-day atmosphere of danger and terror that he endured.

Dr. Roberts is retired as a college professor, owns a private management consulting firm, and speaks all over the country. I was fortunate enough to see him speak, IN PERSON, at a local school. Keeping the attention of a room full of restless students for the better part of an hour is no small feat, but you’d never know it by Dr. Roberts. He is a gentle, unassuming man with a compelling presence. I think he commands attention because he doesn’t deal in platitudes. He doesn’t have to. He spent the better part of a year willingly walking into a building where the majority of the people he saw wanted him to go away and die and would have considered themselves heroes for making sure he did just that, so the conviction behind his words isn’t power-of-positive-thinking-hug-it-out stuff. He lived a truly ugly powerlessness, and when he describes how he lived with that fear, persevered, and made decisions that eventually carried him up and out of that world, it’s hard not to listen.

At its essence, fangirling is about gratitude. When someone you don’t know impacts your life, they become a part of your everyday world. It’s a weird, one-sided intimacy that doesn’t translate well into three-dimensional interactions because there just isn’t a way to make gushing not moderately creepy. The gratitude is a silent message, sent into the ether. ‘Thank you. What you did was so hard. I don’t know how you did it. My world is better for it. Thank you.’ Then you meet your hero and it’s all “HI. I LIKE YOUR BOOK. I LIKE IT FINE. I’VE BEEN SENDING YOU THOUGHTS SORRY IF THEY GOT ALL OVER YOU.’   There aren’t words that are adequate to the task of expressing the depth of “What you did matters”, so I’ll pass a story on instead.



Autograph. Would also have accepted “Thank you for suppressing your crazy.”


About a week after the assembly, I was talking with a friend who was there and who also got to meet Dr. Roberts IN PERSON. We were basking in our shared fangirl glow. She’s a teacher, and she was telling me about one boy in particular in her class who has very little patience with himself. As she put it, “He’s a smart kid. He just gives up.” She’s been coaching him all year on how to work through his frustration with little success, watching as he fell further behind, which only served to increase his frustration and decrease his patience. The opportunity to break the cycle presented itself the day after we saw the speech. Her student brought her yet another blank worksheet, saying he didn’t want to do it and when could he go outside and play? Flashing back to the speech the day before, she channeled her best Terrence Roberts. Remembering her student loves soccer, she asked him if he would give up, stop running on the field, while going for a goal. When he said he wouldn’t, she pointed at the worksheet. “Then why are you giving up on that? It might scare you. But you don’t give up.” And in the way that words make magic, that lit a fire, and suddenly she has a student who won’t give up, no matter how much crossword puzzles aren’t soccer. A man given the opportunity to stay in school made a difference for someone with a different struggle. It’s a full circle.

I’m glad I exercised enough self-restraint not to scare Dr. Roberts in public. Since maturity is a goal of mine, I’m chalking that as a win. I was able to control myself mostly because my inner voice was threatening me in my head (shutUP!shutUP!shutUP!) It’s not the kindest of mantras but it prevents me being removed from the premises most of the time.

True story: my inner voice sounds exactly like Matthew McConaughey.


Action Items
Check out Atlanta’s Center For Civil And Human Rights .



The Reason For Delayed Gratification

There is something so irresistible about the idea of easy money. Whether you’re stealing it, winning it, or earning it in your artisanal pop-up meth lab, the wish fulfillment fantasy that surrounds a surprise windfall is one of the best fairy tales there is. In a jackpot culture, where multi-state lotteries make national news, how humans deal with unexpected largesse reveals everything about their character. We all like to think we would behave selflessly and generously if put in that situation. I’m sure YOU would be angelic. You seem really nice.  But let’s face it, greedy jerks are more interesting to read about. Characters looking for easy money make bad choices leading to dumber choices leading to fleeing down a beanstalk from a ticked-off giant with a stolen bag of gold coins, or fleeing from the criminals that financed a view of the green light on Daisy’s dock, or fleeing from a ticked-off giant with a stolen bling-flinging goose.
Me: I don’t like to criticize
Jack: yeah
Me: but maybe a softer target
Jack: go big and go home
Me: you’re doing that saying wrong

Take free money, add awkward family dynamics, and you have the inheritance cluster rodeo that is The Nest, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s new book about four adult siblings squabbling over a pending trust fund payout in present-day New York City. The life-long promise of the money coming from the fund (nicknamed the Nest) gets this family completely twisted. Sweeney completely nails the arrested development that dogs inter-sibling-ary relationships and the self-destructive fallout that results from spending your chickens before they hatch. It’s funny, moving, and almost painfully real.
Jack: Geese
Me: Huh?
Jack: Spending your geese before they hatch
Me: That is your waterfowl bias talking

Some books hook me with beautifully crafted language. Some grab me with a wickedly twisted plot. And some, like The Nest, get under my skin with characters so well-conceived that it feels like the author isn’t writing fiction but instead recording notes on an anthropological expedition. The entitled siblings in The Nest are so self-absorbed and selfish that it stressed me out. My favorite is Leo, the jackassiest of all jackass brothers who ever jackassed–but really, all of these siblings are spectacularly jackassy. Sweeney creates some really squirm-inducing decision-making, so much so that I (allegedly) tried to reason out loud with the people in the book. Because yelling “STOP WHYYY ARE YOU DOING THAT” is  the best way to get results out of your fiction. No matter how much I tried to get their attention, the characters in the book ignored me, so I managed my discomfort by engaging in some positive visualization. That’s right: I pretended won the latest billion dollar jackpot, then I fake spent my imaginary winnings in the most humanitarian, saintly way possible. Step aside, Mother Theresa.
Jack: Are you upset because a giant is chasing you
Me: No
Jack: I get upset when giants chase me
Me: Omg a giant isn’t chasing me
Jack: I’m saying, it’s upsetting

Relief Map  The Nest spends a lot of time detailing the endless search for the perfect real estate. Buying in an up-and-coming neighborhood at the bottom of the market is sexier than Chris Hemsworth cuddling a golden retriever puppy while saying you were the best one in the threesome. Self-worth is enmeshed with having the ideal street address. I get it. If I had all the money in the world to spend, I’d want my custom-built domicile to reflect exactly who I am. You guessed it – my dream property is a personalized water park. Not only will it have state-of-the-art waterslides, it will have a connecting waterslide around the perimeter so I can waterslide to each waterslide. Because it’s a water park. Not a walk-on-dry-land-to-get-to-water park.

Pressed For Time The most prevalent lottery fantasy is using your new money to buy your way out of your least favorite chore. Yes, I could feed the hungry or open a school, but is that going to get me out of doing laundry for the rest of my life? FOOLED YOU that’s a rhetorical question. The Nest characters hope to use their windfall to retire early and that’s okay, I guess. I hope to build a dry cleaners in my backyard. I’m undecided if I need to hire someone to stand at my back door collect my laundry every day. I don’t want the neighbors to think I’m too diva to walk to my dry cleaners.

Check It Out The siblings in The Nest struggle because they all have a severe case of keeping up with the Joneses. The emphasis on having the right clothes, the right kind of house, all the cachet of a Manhattan life, costs them. I’m above this kind of conspicuous consumption, of course, and that I why my final act of lottery boom spending will be building a library. It will be just like the Library of Congress only bigger and better and I get my own parking space. It will also have hammocks because I like to recline when I am reading.



Weird financial planning meeting.


Since I am fresh out of beanstalks, and my chances of winning the lottery are infinitesimal, I am sadly reconciling myself to a simple life of doing my own laundry and annual waterslide rides.  I’m all set to work hard, save, and invest. As a backup plan, I’ve got a friend who has promised to show me how to spin straw into gold.
Jack: Bad idea
Me: Says a guy who baits giants

Action Items
A Book Of Giants by Ruth Manning Sanders is a collection of European fairy tales about giants. Because you need a book of fairy tales and it should be about giants.