Hooray for love!


Just a note to thank every LGBTQ friend or family member I’ve ever known who came out when it wasn’t comfortable to do so. This sea change was only possible because it becomes much harder to deny a group of people rights when you know and love one of them.

I love you, I’m so proud of you, and I’m thrilled for you.

And to all my friends in traditional marriages, I’m so sorry that you’re now going to get divorced and eventually marry a dog or horse. But it’s the price we all have to pay for gay rights.

An Open Letter to Women Who Are Getting Brazilians and Ruining it For the Rest of Us

Hey, ladies.

I get it.

There’s a lot of pressure out there to appear attractive, so I understand the desire to pluck things and shellac things and use a wand to apply coats of paraffin, methyl cellulose and pigmentation to the hair around our eyeballs to make it appear thicker and longer.

Yes, it’s weird that our culture has decided that our eyeballs don’t have enough hair around them, but others parts have too much, but even so, you’ve gone too far.

I understand that it’s complicated down there. That, in an ideal world, we should make it as simple as possible to navigate what can be a dark and confusing place.

But in the same way we currently regret razing the rainforests, the women of the future will regret your personal rainforest razing as the era when we could’ve saved ourselves a lot of pain, but chose not to.

Maybe you feel we’ve gone too far down the waxing road and we can’t turn back. Not true. Our culture’s hair decisions are clearly arbitrary and reversible.

We’ve moved on from Burt Reynolds’ mustache and the dark days of 80’s claw bangs, but we’ve also re-embraced the mutton chop and the pixie cut. That means we can go back to a simpler, more accepting time when Afros were all the rage. Everywhere.

This is about creating a new cultural contract: one that says, Yes, we all want to be attractive, we just don’t want that attractiveness to cause us more pain than a standard dental cleaning, or for our any of our personal hygiene rituals to trigger our fight-or-flight response.

We can do this if we band together. If we decide, as a gender, that pain hurts and we will no longer pay $75 to have another woman tell us about her boyfriend’s weird mole while ripping hair out of a spot we don’t even allow ourselves to see because it’s frankly kinda weird looking. (Especially when nature has provided natural cover for it, which we should USE.)

And men can make the same contract with other men about their backs and chests and balls (which are also weird looking) and we will become a culture of happy, furry people; indecipherable from our prehistoric ancestors except for the cell phones and rampant narcissism. We will go back to our roots, which we will also stop dying!

Eventually. When I’m ready.

And we’ll be content. Until we find something else to feel terrible about.

Which will be really, really soon.

Thank you.

Person of Faith

It’s time to put the Christ back in Christmas.

I’m just kidding. We don’t need to. It’s right there at the beginning of the word.

I mean, I know what people mean when they say that, but I’m an agnostic so I’m fine with the amount of Christ there currently is in Christmas. He’s in all those nativity scenes, and I invoke his name constantly in the car while stuck in holiday traffic, so I’m good.

It’s not that I’m anti-Christianity—in fact, I envy all people of faith, largely because I have a paralyzing fear of death and wish heaven was a real thing that women who sometimes sleep with people too soon and took mushrooms one time in college could get into.

Part of what I envy, though, is right there in the name. People of faith.

I wonder what it would be like to believe you know all the answers and therefore no longer have any questions. I question everything, all the time, and it’s exhausting.

And people of faith have holidays—literally holy days—they put aside to celebrate all the things they hold true.

I envied people of faith their holidays until I realized that while we don’t celebrate for the same reasons, I celebrate my faith at the same time of year they do.

I am a person for whom friendship is a religion.

Friends are where I gather all my strength.

Friends are where I find all my joy.

Friends are my confessors, my moral compass, and where I go to make sense of the unexplainable, like the science parts in Interstellar.

When I’m upset, my friends come to me and we pray together. Well, not so much pray together as cry and eat bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers while binge-watching Orange is the New Black, but the idea’s the same.

Around the holiday season, our churches are our houses. We come together and take communion in the form of casseroles with crispy onions on top and too many bottles of red wine.

And when I’m shaken to my core by a profound loss, my friends don’t try to make sense of it or remind me that it’s all part of some larger plan. They sit with me through the pain, no matter how long it takes, and tell me horrible, filthy jokes until I’ve forgotten what I lost for just long enough to laugh again. And they do that again and again.

If that doesn’t give you faith, I don’t know what will.

So, fellow People of No Faith, take heart. You have a religion. And the holiday season is when you celebrate it, by gathering together with the very reason you have faith in humanity: your friends.

Things One Might Say to a Class of Graduating Seniors.


They gave me a cap and gown. I looked like this. Approximately.

A couple weeks ago, I was asked to give the commencement address at the Oregon Episcopal School here in Portland.

Here’s the audio version of my comments:

And here’s the wordy word version:

Hey Overachievers! Try Failing!

Graduating class, faculty, parents and friends. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you here today – I’m so honored at the opportunity, and also curious as to whether the internet was broken the day I was asked, because I have a lot of incriminating tweets out there. I also appreciate the cap and gown, and that you chose to give me one of the black ones. Black is super slimming. The giant tent shape, however, less so.

I’d like to start off with a huge congratulations to the OES graduating class of 2012. I’ve heard from your college counselors that your class has 100% college acceptance this year, which is a tremendous accomplishment, and one you should be very proud of. But it also brings me to my first advice for tonight, and that’s that no one likes a showoff. Think about maybe 99% next time around, just not to seem so flashy.

So now you’re off to college. 100% of you. What sort of knowledge can I impart that will help you survive?

First off, the Freshman 15 does exist. It was actually the Freshman 40 for me, but don’t be intimidated by that because I’ve always been an overachiever. Just don’t beat yourself up if you gain a little weight in college. Your weight doesn’t define you. And the world is a rough place, so just think of it as building up your protective shell, like a tortoise or IronMan.

Secondly, there has never been, in the history of mankind, a person who did a series of Jagerbombs, and thought the next morning, “I’m so proud of the choices I made last night. I really feel like I’m growing as a person.”

Third, college is possibly the only time in your life when it’s not only okay to be terrible at things, it’s advisable.

Let me clarify, before your parents rush the stage and tackle me.

Ira Glass, the host of This American Life said a great thing about creative pursuits. He talked about this gap that happens when you start your first project. This gap between your taste, which is probably impeccable, and your talent, which is raw, and sometimes, in the beginning, nonexistent. It’s that period where you know good work when you see it, but you’re not making it yet.

It’s an uncomfortable gap, filled with self-doubt and frustration, but if you find something you love, you’ll endure it. For instance, maybe you’ve always thought structural engineering was your thing but in college, you discover a love for robotics. So you take a class, and you make a robot. And for no discernable reason you can point to, your robot starts spouting expletives at inopportune moments (I don’t know when an opportune moment to spout expletives is. A Wu Tang Clan concert?). First of all, that’s a pretty cool mistake, but second of all, GOOD. Wear that failure like a badge of honor. That failure says “I’ve been brave enough to be horrible at something, and to trust myself enough to know that won’t always be true. I’ve reached beyond my comfort zone, and look what I’ve found: a completely profane robot. I rule.”

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing a day that scares you.”

I say, “Shut up, Eleanor Roosevelt. Do you have any idea how many things scare me already?” Double dip recession, people eating other people’s faces off, the fact that leg warmers were fashionable not once, but twice in this country – I don’t know who’s in charge of this stuff, but it’s terrifying. So no, don’t do one thing a day that scares you. Do one thing, say, every two weeks that scares you.

That’s the schedule I’m on. I’ve been hosting a radio variety show in front of a live audience for eight years now, and every single show, every single time I stand beside that stage waiting to go on, I’m petrified. Of what? You name it. Will I ask a dumb question? Will my monologue bomb? Is my skirt tucked into my underwear? Will one of my castmates eat my face off?

Here’s something I didn’t know until just a few years ago that I wish I knew when I was your age.

Everyone is scared. No one has it figured out.

We all look at people at the top of their game, and we’re envious. We wonder what it would be like to be that successful, that self-assured, that certain of every choice that we make.

But let’s take one of those top-of-their-game people as an example – Judd Apatow. Judd is the director of The 40 Year-old Virgin and Knocked Up; and the producer of Bridesmaids…let’s call him the Francois Truffaut of movies with awkward lead characters and uncomfortable bathroom scenes that make a basquillion dollars.

Here’s what Judd said in an interview just last year:

“In every situation I walk into, I feel like the weirdo. The awkward guy…I feel that way on the set of my own movies. I never feel like I own the moment, even when I’m everyone’s boss.”

Every time you struggle, and you think you should be skating along, you think you should be smooth, and unflappable and full of nothing but self-assurance, remember this: if you’re not afraid, you’re not doing anything interesting. And b: Everyone is afraid.

And remembering that part is a good thing – it’ll help give you empathy when you run into people in your first job out of college who try to make you feel small – that’s just fear telling them that making you tiny somehow embiggens them. I may have just made that word up. But it doesn’t. Embiggen them.

In fact, here’s a secret for when that person is eventually fired and you get their job. It’s yet another piece of advice that’s going feel scary: always surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Hire them. Befriend them. In college, ask them to work on projects with you.

It will be uncomfortable. It will make you feel not-so-smart. Fight that feeling, because in fact, hiring people who are smarter than you proves that, at least when it comes to hiring people, you are smarter than them.

When we first started Live Wire, I asked my friend Stacy Bolt, who I knew was a better writer than me at the time, to be on the show. And there was a hesitation, of course, because we have this strange, uniquely human fear that if someone around us looks good, that automatically makes us look bad. But it’s really just the opposite. Stacy became a huge fan favorite, and just sharing the stage with her made me, and the show, look smarter and funnier (and because she has an incredibly impressive shoe collection, almost 37% more stylish!).

But it wasn’t just her presence that made all that happen, it was the fact that creativity is a lot like sports—our game rises to match the game of those around us. Sometimes, if we work hard enough, we can even surpass them. So if you keep surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you, eventually, you’ll be the smartest one in the room. But don’t get comfortable in there. As the saying goes, if you’re always the smartest person in the room, you need to find a better room. Preferably one with a comfy couch and a 100% employer-matched 401k.

And another thing – while it’s important to be aware of where you stand educationally and professionally, don’t spend a lot of time on those comparisons. Comparing your life to other people’s lives is the most immediate path to unhappiness you can take. The only life you should ever use as a comparison is your own ideal life. The question isn’t, “Am I as happy as she is?,” it’s simply, “Am I happy?”

Because you will never truly know how happy anyone is. Life is like Facebook – we all project an image of our best selves and leave out the parts where we feel awkward, or lonely, or wonder if we’ve chosen the right college, or life partner, or toilet paper. Are you happy with it, regardless of how it looks in comparison to your friend’s thicker, more luxurious toilet paper? Then yes. You made the right choice. (Although I hope it’s recycled, because this is Portland and if it’s not, the police may show up at your house.)

It’s just about time for you to get your diplomas and start partying like the rock stars that you are, but just a few more things before I go:

Be kind whenever possible, because you will always remember, and always regret the times when you were not.

Think of your life as a story, and ask yourself, “Is this a story I’d like to read? Do I like the protagonist? And which parts do I want to edit out?”

When you fall in love, be the one who loves more at least once. It will feel like a position of weakness, but it is not. You’re the brave one.

After college, you are going to go through a period in life where you wonder what the point of it all is, and whether or not you’ve made a huge mistake. That period is known as “adulthood.” Embrace it.

Yes, it’s all been done before. It just hasn’t been done by you, and that will make all the difference.

And this might be the most important thing I say tonight, so please remember it: don’t get a duvet cover for your bed. The only time the corners of the duvet and the corners of the comforter will ever line up is the very first time you put the comforter in, and after that you’ll be constantly fighting to keep the comforter from bunching up into one side of the duvet and you can get those metal clips that supposedly keep it in place, but inevitably those will annoy you too, so…y’know, just get a bedspread and be done with it.

In closing, I wish you luck, I wish you patience and happiness, and the bravery to ask the world for what you want from it and give it what it needs at every turn. And I’ll end with words from someone far more eloquent than myself, e.e. cummings:

“To be nobody but yourself in a world that’s doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.”

Dumplings and Regret


Until I was 21 years old, I had a sneaking suspicion that dumplings didn’t exist. This belief had been lurking under the surface for most of my life, but my first conscious awareness of it happened while I was standing in the fluorescent-light-flooded soup aisle of a Manhattan grocery store. I was a junior at NYU, and found myself squinting at a can of Campbell’s Chicken and Dumpling Soup for far too long.  Why was I suddenly baffled by a can of soup? And how could Campbell’s sell a product with imaginary ingredients?

I flashed back to four-year-old me, approaching my father as he sat at our dinner table reading the paper while my mother cooked.

 “What are dumplings, daddy?”

And either because he didn’t want to take the time to explain how one makes a dumpling or (the more likely reason) because he didn’t know himself, he went with the next logical response.

 “Oh, sweetie. There’s no such thing as dumplings.”

After that day, dumplings lived in a sort of limbo in my head. They were like the Tooth Fairy of foods – I had physical evidence of their existence, in the form of, y’know, dumplings, but I’d been told they weren’t real by the second-most-trusted source of my childhood.  (My mother was #1, my brother was #8,765. Right after John Wayne Gacy.) My misplaced trust is the only way I can explain how this massive piece of misinformation managed to dig its heels in next to true things, like “salt tastes salty” and “you can actually hypnotize a man using only boobs.”

And that wasn’t the only time my father played fast and loose with the truth with me.

One night when I was nine, I was sitting in the bright yellow beanbag in our TV room watching one of the more complex episodes of Three’s Company. You may remember it – Chrissie’s cousin the police officer had come to investigate a noise complaint and had inadvertently left his handcuffs behind.

 “Uh-oh,” my dad said. “Jack and Chrissie are gonna get stuck handcuffed together and Jack’s gonna have to take her with him on his date.”


I was flabbergasted.

 “How did you know that??”

 “I write for this show,” he responded.

The same thing happened later that week, but during a different show. So when I was nine and my friends asked what my father did, I told them that he was trying to be a doctor while simultaneously writing for Three’s Company and Charlie’s Angels. It seemed far-fetched, but how else could he have possibly known what was going to happen on an Aaron Spelling show?

And it also made sense because I almost never saw him, so he must’ve had three jobs.

There are two things about these stories that are strange. One is that in both of them, my father appears to be funny. My father wasn’t generally funny. He tried. He really tried. But he was usually only funny inadvertently, like the time he wore his one-piece navy blue pajama jumpsuit with the built-in belt and matching corduroy slippers to the grocery store thinking no one would notice. FYI: I noticed. Which is why I spent that particular grocery store trip trying to crawl onto the cereal shelf behind the CoCo Puffs.

Or the time he walked out of the bathroom wrapped in one towel, while holding another and exclaimed, “These are the softest towels I have ever felt. We are never, ever getting any other kind of towel. These are our lifelong towels.”

The second strange thing is that he lied. It’s not just that Dad was a “do the right thing” kind of guy, it’s that he really believed in the goodness of people and took them at their word.

Even carpet salesmen. When I was 25, I went shopping with him to find carpet for the first new house he’d bought after he and my mother divorced. The salesman had shown him two virtually indistinguishable berber piles, and Dad was trying to decide between them. Right before leaving him alone with his carpet thoughts, the salesman smiled at Dad and said, “Tough, isn’t it? It’s like trying to choose between a Cadillac and a Mercedes.”

When the salesman got out of earshot, Dad turned to me and whispered, “Oh my god! He’s RIGHT. It’s EXACTLY like trying to choose between a Cadillac and a Mercedes! How do people come UP with these things?” I sat there and wondered how I’d become twice as jaded as my father at half his age. And how he’d escaped our household as the only snark-free member.

It was quite easy, as it turns out. With two tours in Vietnam, medical school and a residency, my father all but ensured he wouldn’t be able to speak the common language of our household. But he would try, right up until the end. 

The last time I saw my father I was 27.  I’d flown from Texas to his hometown of Kent, Ohio to visit him after he’d moved back to start a medical practice there.

For most of my teens and into my adult life, my father played that familiar game of paternal catch-up with my brother and me. Just as somewhere in me I knew that dumplings were right there in the damn can, Dad knew that a few visits weren’t going to make up for an entire lifetime of missed dinners and sitting on the outside of inside jokes. But he seemed to want to make whatever headway he could, and this trip was no exception.

He’d arranged for a trip out to Put-in Bay, which is an island in Lake Erie. Only my father would trust a brochure that touts an island in Ohio as “The Key West of the North.”

Shockingly, it turned out to be a rather pleasant day. I fought the urge to tell him we were on the shores of a freshwater lake when he bought us saltwater taffy. I sat and listened to his girlfriend’s anecdotes, even though she was one of those people who had a difficult time differentiating between a “passing random thought about how Ritz Crackers got their name” and an “anecdote.”

I even went with him to Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, a 352-foot Doric column built to honor soldiers who fought in the battle of Lake Erie in the war of 1812.

Why would anyone battle over Lake Erie, I thought. Don’t they know it’s in Ohio? All I knew was that I didn’t want to climb that memorial.

But Dad thought it would be fun for just the two of us to do, so after he balked at the $5 admission price, we huffed and puffed our way to the top of the column.

And when we got there, it was beautiful. We stood there for a moment, staring silently in opposite directions at the sparkling, rough waters hundreds of feet below us until Dad said, “Well, the view from this direction is worth about 65 cents. I’m gonna go all the way around and I figure it’s gotta eventually add up to five bucks.”

He had a point. I followed him to every corner so we both got our money’s worth.

When it came time to get on the ferry to leave, there was a torrential downpour. We were trapped in a t-shirt shop, but we had to get on the ferry or we would’ve had to stay overnight. So we decided to make a run for it.

I ran out first, and I was immediately soaked. I stopped being able to see through my glasses after two steps and took them off to run the rest of the way through the deafening blur.  And about twenty feet behind me, between puddle stomps, I heard Dad yell, “It’s a bonding experience!”

As I sat freezing on the ferry with him, and he tried to make conversation, I tried to imagine what it must feel like to live with that kind of regret; to have so many years you can never get back, and to grasp so hard for a connection that at one time was right there in your hands. 

A month later, without warning, my father died. And as I thought of that silent ride on the ferry and all the other moments he reached out for a connection and I didn’t reach back, I suddenly knew exactly what it felt like to live with that kind of regret.

The Thing I Got.

***Note: This post is in honor of my extraordinary mother’s 70’s birthday. Thanks for making everything that’s good in my life possible. ***

Sally Hameister, badass.

I really should hate my mother.

She screwed up any chance I might’ve had of becoming an important writer by giving me what can only be described as a normal childhood. Such. A. Jerk.

My favorite memory of her is from when I was four years old and my family was living in Shaker Heights Ohio in a 1925 colonial that had been completely 1975’d. It had gold shag carpet throughout and a kitchen in shades of bright orange, avocado green and “have a nice day” yellow. It was in this house that she and my father had these epic dinner parties that started with casseroles and cocktails in the dining room and ended at 4 a.m. with people strewn around the living room in plaid polyester hiphuggers and varying states of consciousness.

The parties always seemed to start after my bedtime, so my memories of them are only what I could hear…a combination of music and conversation punctuated at fairly regular intervals by my mother’s laughter. It was a full-on, throw-your-head-back joyous cackle that sometimes began with a little scream. There was almost a rhythm to them….chatter, chatter, chatter, cackle, dull roar, cackle, shush, whisper-yell, “Shut up, Tom,” and it would start all over again.

Essentially what happened during those years is that my mother’s laughter became my lullaby. It would hitch a ride upstairs with the smoke from her Virginia Slim Lights and get caught up in the slats of my canopy bed.  The combination proved intoxicating, and maybe it was the lack of oxygen to my brain, but eventually, I would fall happily off to sleep.

After four years in Ohio, we moved to Aurora, Colorado, to a house right behind the tennis courts in a glamorous new subdivision, “The Dam West.” In the summertime, mom and all the neighborhood tennis ladies would whip up a batch of peach daquiries and go to what they called “the hang.”

There, still in tennis dresses from their earlier matches, they’d reserve the next day’s court and catch up on the latest divorces. From our house at the other end of the court, the women sounded like a gaggle of snark-infested geese. My mother’s giggles would always rise above the cacophonous fray, echo across the court and come through our screen door. It was, I think, the first version of Mommy GPS

Because my brother and I adored her, my mother’s laughter became a commodity in our house. Scott, older and wiser than me by two years, could elicit laughter from her with stunning precision. I was too young to really understand all the nuances of his comedy – that, and the fact that I never mastered the art of making fart sounds with my armpit was a definite source of frustration.

I wanted to be the one making her laugh. And eventually, I just wanted to be her.

For a stay-at-home, do-everything-for-us-but-wipe-our-asses mother, our mom had become really glamorous. She’d traded her wire-rim glasses for contact lenses and her long, salt-and-pepper hair for a blonde, remarkably accurate Farrah Fawcett ‘do. She wore shiny Nik Nik disco shirts and Candies slides exactly like the ones Olivia Newton-John wore at the end of Grease. She was, in the vernacular of the day, a Stone Cold Fox.

So I wanted to grow up to look just like her, but it turned out that growing up was exactly the problem. She was 5’ 2” and 100 pounds, so by sixth grade I was already taller than her. And in eighth grade when I had to buy a pair of size 14 knickers, (which, by the way, looked really sharp with my argyle socks and jauntily-askew newsboy cap), I knew I hadn’t inherited her looks.

But, I thought, there’s a lot of ways you can be just like a person without looking like them. Maybe I got her meticulous housekeeping skills. As I gnawed on the half-Snickers bar I found on my bedroom floor under my mud-encrusted soccer cleats, this theory seemed less-than-likely. When she went back to school and turned in her Greek Lit paper two weeks early while I finished my past-due English paper on the bus, I checked “proactive pre-planning-type” off the list. And as I watched her flit through life, easily making friends wherever my father’s military duty took us while I snuck my lunch into the library and a had a permanent commuter pass on the train to Moodyville, I decided I wasn’t destined to have her sunny disposition either.

In middle school, perhaps in an attempt to find some way to prove I was my mother’s daughter, I joined the tennis team. I was a decent player, but my persistent belief that nothing would ever really work out in the end somehow kept me out of the winner’s circle. On one hot September afternoon, I was on the bleachers after being bounced from a tournament due to severe heat wussiness. I sat with my friends and giggled rudely while the other played finished their matches.

I heard my mother laugh and turned to see that she’d arrived to pick me up and was chatting with some of the other mothers. As I gathered my gear, I saw my tennis coach approach her and offer her his hand.

“You must be Courtenay’s mother,” he said.

She shook his hand.

“Yes,” she said. “How’d you know that?”

He smiled. “You kidding? She has your laugh. I mean, exactly.”

I’d never noticed it before, but there it was. The thing I got. And he was right – it sounded exactly the same, and was, in fact, the only thing about the two of us that matched.

And when you think about it, what sort of moody eighth grader has a laugh like that? It was the laugh of an un-self-consciously joyful and self-possessed person. That wasn’t me. Except that it was. At least in short, happy bursts.

My mother and I and our laugh lived mostly harmoniously with the rest of the family until I was ready to leave for college. That’s when I learned that my father had been struggling with a pretty severe case of manic depression since he was a Junior at West Point, well before he met my mother. He saw his disease as a weakness, which made him avoid treatment and ask my mother to keep his secret – even from her closest friends.

So for all those years, while she was hosting dinner parties and covering everything in our house in red gingham and glitter at Christmastime (including the dog), she was also covering for him. She managed to explain away the manic phases where he would play the piano at 3 a.m., or suddenly imagine himself a Bluegrass star even though he’d never picked up a guitar. And she somehow hid the darkness, too – it was probably somewhere under the glitter or the piles of clean laundry or the mountains of baked goods she would produce for every occasion. (I think we all know how effective baked goods are at hiding sadness.)

When I think about it now, I realize it wasn’t just the sound of the laugh she’d given me, but the very existence of it. In the face of ridiculously difficult odds, she’d given me a normal childhood – better than that, really, she’d given me a happy childhood, and I’ll probably never know what that cost her.

Her laugh has served me well through my life – comedians love me, and my friends can always find me at a crowded bar. And now I have this job on the radio, and my mother is in the audience every single show, laughing louder than anyone in the theater. A friend says her laugh sounds like “sunshine gargling rainbows.” If you listen to the show on the radio, you can actually hear her. Every show. And you can hear me, too. Laughing.