One Last Leap

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 1.08.09 PMThe essay I read on December 19th, my 301st and last episode as Head Writer and Producer for Live Wire Radio:

Imagine that you are eight years old.

You’re at a community pool in Akron, Ohio with your whole family—uncles, cousins and your older brother, whose opinion you hold in high regard because he can make realistic fart noises using his hand and armpit.

You have made the egregious mistake of climbing to the top of the high dive.

You are now standing at the edge of the diving board, looking down into the blue abyss miles below you.

Okay…like, sixteen feet below you.

It feels like you’re about to jump out of a plane. Or off a bridge. Or into the ocean in Jaws after you’ve already seen that one chick get pulled under in a plume of blood.

The fear feels insurmountable, but so does the white-hot hatred of the four kids on the ladder and the one standing with his hands on his hips at the other end of the board.

He yells, “Just GO!”

But you’ve already heard this dozens of times in the last 10 minutes while staring into what should’ve been a calming pool of blue water.

Your knees have been knocking for so long that they won’t hold you up anymore, so you sit down at the end of the board, which triggers a cacophony of expletives behind you.

You close your eyes to drown them out.

Your mom chimes in. 

“You can do it, sweetie! It’ll be over in a second. Just jump.”

But you know something she doesn’t.

It’s too late.

You already know you can’t do it, and now instead of working up the courage to jump, you’re working up the courage to walk the gauntlet of glares you’ll have to endure on the Descent of Shame to the scorching pavement.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m the eight-year-old.

And that was the day I learned it: I am not the leaping type.

I am a toe-dipper. A wait-and-see-er. A maybe-later-er.

So it is borderline miraculous that I’ve done anything of note in my life.

Twelve years ago, I was a snarky advertising copywriter and was asked by Kate Sokoloff and Robyn Tenenbaum to help with marketing materials for a radio show they were thinking of making.

I worked on the materials, and I also said, very meekly, maybe I could also write for the show.

Ten years earlier, I had worked with a sketch comedy group called The State for two years. They went on, as a group and separately, to great success in film and television, but when I worked with them, they were still NYU students.

They were hilarious and prolific and I wanted to write and perform with them, but I could never assert myself, so I spent two years doing everything but: producing their live shows, art directing their short films, making a defibrillator out of phone cords and a portable humidifier. 

One night the group was rehearsing a Film-noir style piece about a grizzled detective. He was working a case and walked into an apartment that had been ransacked.

“The place had been turned upside-down,” said one of the writers, Ben Garant, Dashiell-Hammet style.

Then he stopped and said, “We need a joke there.”

I’d say my mind raced, but when I tried to think of an idea in one of their meetings, it was more like my mind ran in circles, screaming. My anxiety was throwing buckets of water on my neurons, not allowing them to fire. But this time, I thought of something.

“Just like in that Lionel Ritchie video,” I said quietly, looking down at my clipboard.

“What’d you say?” Ben asked.

“He should say, ‘The place had been turned upside-down, just like in that Lionel Ritchie video’,” I repeated, louder.

Millennials may not get that joke but there was once a singer named Lionel Ritchie who did a video called “Dancing on the Ceiling” and I thought that the mention of a cheesy 80’s video in a noir sketch was anachronistic enough to trigger a laugh because of this thing called the Incongruity Theory, where we laugh at something because it’s unexpected or out of place.

I just sucked all the joy out of that joke by explaining it. You’re welcome.

I cringed after I said it, but the group laughed, which felt miraculous. And they put it in the sketch.

Somehow ten years later, after writing one marginally amusing joke for a wildly successful sketch comedy troupe, I meekly suggested I should be a writer for this new radio show. And because no one else had asked, I became head writer.

That’s also how I got into a band. And a couple of ill-advised relationships.

They all came because I (very quietly) requested the opportunity to try, using words like, “maybe” or “perhaps” or “I don’t think I’d be the worst backup singer in the world. Pretty sure that was Madonna.”

And in this case, I got so lucky. I became host of the show and I got to interview about 500 fascinating people like Gus Van Sant, Tig Notaro, Carrie Brownstein, Cheryl Strayed and David Rakoff. I got to work with the best and smartest writers, musicians, producers and performers I’ve ever known. I helped build a thing that started in an old Portland movie house and is now on over 90 public radio stations in the U.S. and one hospital station in Reading, England, which I still don’t quite understand.

Me. The toe-dipper. The anxious one.

Not just anxious like a regular person – clinically anxious.

I am a person for whom phone calls to strangers are miserable. Parties where I don’t know anyone are like the seventh circle of hell with better snacks. And making an unprotected left turn triggers the same fight-or-flight response most people get when running from a small-to-medium-sized bear.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m proud that I did this thing for twelve years that turned  into something special. But I’m even prouder that I did this thing for twelve years even though it scared the shit out of me.

And now I’m scared again.

It’s scary to leave this shiny beautiful thing for a new thing on which the luster level is unclear.

But standing at the end of the diving board in perpetuity isn’t a sustainable plan. Eventually you’re gonna get cold and need a sandwich.

So this is a message for the timid, but the brave are free to listen too: 

I’m one of you, and I’m stepping off.

I can’t tell you the water’s fine because I have no idea what sort of chemical maintenance this pool subscribes to, and it’s a public pool, so we’re all really rolling the dice, but still.

I’m going to go try to make another beautiful thing and I hope you will, too.

An Easy 3,275-Step Guide to Finding Love

Swans

Swans mate for life. Maybe you should consider becoming a swan?

I used to write a relationship column with Allison Picard called The Scarlet Letters. Someone wrote us a very simple question and this was my response.

Dear Scarlets,

Will I ever find love?

Sincerely,

Hopeful

Dear Hopeful,

Yes. No. Maybe?

We have a friend who claims, “There’s a lid for every pot.”

We disagree.

People die alone every day, often in a barcalounger in the basement of their mother’s house, watching Wheel of Fortune.

If you don’t want to be one of them, don’t be.

First, make sure you’re not an asshole. This is the biggest hurdle for many in finding love.

Once you’re sure you’re not an asshole, make your life into what you want it to be. Do the things that bring you joy.

Think about what others need for some portion of your day. Then figure out a way to help them get it without sacrificing too much of yourself.

Spend as much time as possible with your friends. This will make you a happy person that people want to be around.

Maybe that will be enough love for you.

If it isn’t, tell your friends that you don’t want to be single anymore, and that they should set you up with someone who isn’t completely insane.

And we mean ALL your friends.

Tell them you’re serious and you need their help.

Does that feel a little humiliating? Suck it up. Your life won’t change unless you allow yourself to be vulnerable.

Did you meet anyone?

If you didn’t, join a dating site.

Stop whining about it.

Yes, it’s horrible. But algorithms can be surprisingly effective when it comes to love.

When describing yourself, don’t say you “love to have fun,” or “feel as comfortable in the board room as you do in the mud.” The ability to exist in multiple locations is something almost all humans can do, unless you’re John Travolta in that plastic bubble movie.

Say something meaningful. Say something true. Say, “This is what I need to be happy.” Say, “This is who I am.”

Lying will only connect you to people who might love your fake self, which would work, we suppose, if you plan to lie for the rest of your life.

And that doesn’t sound like fun.

Did you meet anyone?

If not, try speed dating, or bingo, or volunteering with a nonprofit you believe in, or a meetup group, or walking up to an attractive stranger and saying, “You seem nice. I’m [insert your real name here] and I’m single as HELL. Wanna chat?”

What we’re saying is, DO SOMETHING.

Do something that makes you uncomfortable.

If you’ve reached the point that you’re sending a desperate-sounding question to a couple of strangers, you’ve been waiting for something to happen for a long time.

Stop waiting.

The world doesn’t owe you love. The world doesn’t owe anyone anything. The world is just minding its own business, spinning at 1,000 miles an hour and trying to hold it together, just like you are.

So if you really want love, the romantic variety, try everything before giving up.

And you might not find it.

If you don’t, then do whatever you can to be happy with the love you have all around you: your friends, your family, your ridiculous cat with one weird ear.

That love is worth just as much as romantic love. Maybe more, because it’s not as fickle, and less likely to give you shit because you didn’t wait to watch the latest Game of Thrones episode with it.

We wish you luck and all kinds of love.

Love,

The Scarlets

More Proof That Starbucks Hates Jesus

Hey, Starbucks! You're "War-against-Christmassing" wrong.

Hey, Starbucks! You’re “War-against-Christmassing” wrong.

1. Jesus applied for a barista position at the Fayetteville, AK location and was told, “Cut your hair, hippie.”

2. Lambs regularly slaughtered on the cream and sugar station.

3. Baristas ordered to work “Hail Satan” into customer interactions whenever possible.

3. Breakfast sandwiches feature bacon, and uniform is a cotton/poly blend, clearly forbidden in Leviticus 19:19.

5. When you turn water into coffee, crushing a competitor who can turn it into wine is just good business.

Going viral on the reg

Viral Particles

Very pretty particles from MERS-CoV, which I’m sure I have.

I can turn anything into cancer.

I’m like the world’s saddest magician.

Most people see a mole change a little and think, “Uh-oh. Could be cancer.”

That is rookie bullshit.

I can have a pain in the second-to biggest toe on my right foot, and think, “Bone cancer. It’s probably bone cancer. Yes, the chance of bone cancer is significantly lessened in adults without other cancers but I probably have a wily one like tooth or earlobe cancer that they never look for so they didn’t look for it in me and here it is, in my toe that weirdly hurts FOR NO REASON.”

The thing about hypochondria is that unlike the physical things that become harder as you age, convincing yourself you have some sort of infirmity gets significantly easier once you hit 40.

Now there are so many new pains and unexplained marks and bruises on my body that the list of diseases I could have has skyrocketed. That means I no longer need to create new-and-undiscovered illnesses like “healthy-feeling-fever” or “latent death.”

In my 30’s I mostly worried about cancer and schizophrenia or that might be a sociopath, but now I’ve had shingles and herpes and the plague and a heart attack, all in my head.

That’s the funny thing about hypochondria—the human brain can’t really tell the difference between when we’re imagining something or actually experiencing it—it reacts almost identically, so when I’m talking to someone who had a heart attack, my impulse is to say, “Oh, I did too,” because of that time when I had gall stones and I was sure I was dying. In my head, I was going through the exact same thing he did, I was just wrong.

And now, hypochondria has an assist in the internet, to the point that there’s now a colloquial term for people whose hypochondria is escalated by looking up their symptoms on the web: it’s called Cyberchondria.

WebMD is essentially Pinterest for hypochondriacs—all they need to add is the ability to create boards of your favorite disease families, like “Dermatological disorders I probably have,” “New viruses that are definitely going around my office” and “Cute cats that just gave me the first human case of feline leukemia.”

There are about 25 million searches for the word “cancer” on Google per month. About a million people worldwide are diagnosed with cancer in a month, so that’s approximately 24 million people searching for cancer who probably don’t have it. (I’d like to apologize to all the hypochondriacs out there for that cancer statistic. That’s just the type of thing to send them into a tailspin, so you have to remember that there are 7.3 billion people in the world, so only .0001% of them are getting diagnosed each month. I hope that makes you feel better. It made me feel better.)

As for me, it turned out that I’m not a hypochondriac, I’ve just had generalized anxiety disorder my whole life, which I just discovered recently. But for all the hypochondriacs out there: I know it’s frustrating when you keep thinking you have something and it turns out you don’t. It may be comforting to find out that even if you don’t have anything else, hypochondria is a bonafide mental illness listed in the DSM-5. So you were right. You DO have something. Congratulations?

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.