Evil Baby Knows All

5 Jul

My sister sent me this picture this morning:

IMG950500

I feel I should explain.

You see, my niece Luci has a baby doll. The doll’s name is Baby, although in her toddler patois, it comes out more like, “Bebe!” Bebe is a beloved family member, and Luci insists on knowing where she is at all times. She asks for her so frequently that when I went back to New York after my recent visit, I heard Luci’s voice echoing, “Bebe! Bebe!” like you hear the ocean after a couple of days near the sea.

Luci is mostly very kind to Bebe, dressing and undressing her and feeding her bottles and giving her lots of cuddles … until she’s done with Bebe. Then, she throws her down immediately, wherever she is — at preschool, in the supermarket, on a ferry headed toward Boston Light — and it’s your job, as the stupid adult who’s taking care of Luci and Bebe, to make sure Bebe doesn’t wind up in that giant incinerator at the end of “Toy Story 3.”

We’re probably going to wait awhile before getting Luci any babysitting jobs.

All this aside, Luci loves Bebe to an almost inexplicable degree, especially when you consider the fact that Bebe is the most terrifying looking doll in the history of baby dolls. You can’t see it in that picture, but one of her eyes only opens halfway unless you shove it open. I showed this picture to Adam and he said, “Jesus Christ, what’s the matter with that doll? It has Popeye arms.” He noticed the knife second.

I felt the same way about Bebe, and told Meg that I couldn’t sleep in any room where Bebe was looking at me with that one gimlet eye. And like a good sister, Meg immediately started tormenting me with Bebe, first via a series of late night text messages (“I’m in the house!”) and then by making Bebe crawl up whatever piece of furniture I was sitting on, clawing her way toward me with one hand open for a bottle, like her batteries were running down and she just had enough time to kill me before she went.

Then, this morning, I told Meg I missed her and the kids and Mom and Dad so terribly, I wasn’t sure I could get any work done and I’d probably have to go back to bed. And so she sent me that picture.

I still miss them terribly, but now I find I can get things done. I’m scared of what Bebe will do to me if I don’t.

A Clutter of Introverts

1 Jul

When I have to explain the Hubleys to a new person, the shortest way to do it is to tell them that when I was a child, sometimes the doorbell would ring, and then all of us — and I mean all of us, including my baby sister, my mom, and my six-foot-tall father — would dive behind the sofa and wait there until whoever it was went away. It didn’t matter if it was a friend or a relative or a representative from the Church of Latter Day Saints. Under no circumstances, even on our best day, were we equipped to deal with opening the door to a person we weren’t expecting.

There was never any dust behind our furniture and most people learned to call before stopping by.

Later, I discovered that this was not a sign that we would all have to be carted away to some sort of Victorian era sanatorium for a rest cure. It was just another symptom of our personality type, which was and is introverted, no matter how much fun we might seem to be when we’re at parties.

My sister and father are also shy, which is not the same as introverted, but in combination, makes it harder to cope. Meg spoke so little in school that she often got notes about it from the teacher, which she presented to our mother with a trembling lip and giant, tear-filled Keane eyes. Mom would read the notes, set her mouth into a firm line, and put her purse back on her shoulder. Later, alone in our den, we would feast on the remnants of the teachers she’d destroyed, picking our teeth with their marking pens.

That is mostly made up.

I do remember one note she sent in with Meg, however, after she got marked down on a report card for not participating in class.

Dear Mrs. ____,

We received Meghan’s report card and were very happy with her grades. However, we were sorry to see that Meg was marked down for her class participation. Meg, as you probably know, is very shy. It’s not a character flaw; it’s her nature. In fact, it’s probably harder for Meg to speak up in class than it is for most children to stay silent. We’re very proud of how hard she works, and wouldn’t change one hair on her head.

Best,

Karen and John Hubley

The teacher was pretty taken with the note, and according to Meg, called her up to the front and told her that her parents clearly loved her very much. It was a nice response. I have friends who work as teachers now, and 50 percent of their day is spent dealing with parents who think little Atticus and Minerva are getting a raw deal, so I’m impressed, even in retrospect, with her good humor.

However, if she’d really wanted to be nice to my sister, she would have just let her hide under the desk.

Now, I’m a freelancer, which is the dream profession for people who would like to be left alone. It’s wonderful, but it has definitely made me even weirder. For instance, my apartment has no doorbell, and I’m mostly pretty delighted with that. When my phone rings, my first response is to swear. And when I have to ride the subway, I throw off massive amounts of creepy energy, to try to get people to move away from me. (This doesn’t work. When there’s a naked guy napping and peeing simultaneously on a bench at the other end of the car, stankface doesn’t get you very far. However, hope springs eternal, etc.)

All of which is just a roundabout way of saying that I’m very much a product of my environment … and I’m getting worse or better, depending on your perspective.

None of these Amish people wants to talk to you. Not even the grandmother.

None of these Amish people want to talk to you. Not even the grandmother.

Things That Will Apparently Make Me Cry When I Have PMS

24 Jun

Obviously inspired by this genius Tumblr.

1. My hairpins are the wrong kind, and won’t stick into my bun easily on the first try.

2. Adam found out that “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” had allusions to Sherlock Holmes. I hate “Ace Ventura.”

3. I found a typo on a second read of something I was editing, which is the whole reason I do second (and third) reads.

4. It’s too hot outside and the AC is too cold.

5. Adam wants to know what’s making me cry, and I can’t explain it.

6. We’re out of milk.

7. Something smells like garbage and I don’t know what.

8. I can’t find my favorite headband.

9. Seriously, the movie “Ace Ventura” exists on the earth. Is that not enough reason to weep?

10. Thanks to bloating, I don’t actually fit in my own underpants.

crying

Image: Sethoscope/Flickr

My Life With Anxiety: When the Lion Is in the Room

20 Jun

My grandmother used to say, “You were the most nervous baby I’ve ever seen.” My grandmother (who was a ferocious and elegant 90-pound lady, like Lillian Hellman and Lauren Bacall had a baby and dressed it in tasteful separates and a hair helmet, and oh God, I miss her so much) looked concerned when she said this, which never failed to aggravate my mother.

“You were a little undercooked,” she’d say. “You had a startle reflex. It had nothing to do with being ‘nervous.’ It was your actual nerves, trying to figure out what the hell was going on out here in the cold.”

I have a lot of faith in Ma Smash’s opinion on everything, but her medical advice is always spookily sound. (“It’s appendicitis,” she told the doctors, long before she had her nursing license and just before my appendix ruptured. “It’s thyroid disease,” she pronounced firmly, thirty years later, when my hair was thinning and I couldn’t lose weight.) Here, though, I wonder if it matters all that much. As a baby, I was either nervous or undercooked. The same could be said for me now. I’m still trying to figure out what the hell is going on, out here in the cold.

Anxious people and depressives are kindred spirits. Everyone secretly believes that if we’d just grow some stones, we could get over it. The truth, of course, is more complex: we can and we can’t, we want to and we don’t, we’re definitely biologically, physically ill, but on the other hand, it’s all in our heads. The doctors and therapists I like best don’t make a distinction: if I feel ill, then I’m ill.

For the most part, I prefer to endure my Victorian lady-nerves without the help of tonics. I feel very brave about this, even though I don’t think there’s anything wrong with better living through chemistry. I am, however, terrified of benzodiazepines. People who say they couldn’t get hooked on these are fooling themselves. Any time I’ve taken them for anything, about twenty minutes after swallowing the pill, I think, “Oh, that’s right: this is AWESOME.” And then I renew my pledge to a) not start taking benzos on a regular basis, and b) be kind to drug addicts, who obviously are the only people on earth with their priorities straight.

I’m so scared of getting hooked on something like this that the few times I’ve been prescribed anti-anxiety medication, I make my doctors promise they won’t give a million refills.

“Just give me a few,” I say. “Whatever you think. And if I call up and ask for more, tell me NO. Pretend we’re in a ’90s era movie starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and you’re the firm but kindly doctor who saves her from a fate worse than death.”

And then, I presume, they start feeling around on the floor for the silent alarm. But they’re always both kind and firm, which I appreciate.

All of this background information is important, because it’ll help you to visualize how odd I felt, when I found myself fighting over a prescription for one single Valium with my doctor. I have to go for an MRI next week, to make sure that my ever-present back situation isn’t secretly my spinal cord trying to break free and scale the alps on its own, presumably while singing and brandishing a walking staff.

You see, I cannot get into an MRI without chemical assistance. It’s not that I don’t want to. The MRI machine and I are like ends of a magnet, or, if you like, a Looney Tunes character being stuffed into a shoe. It’s not going to work without me losing a lot of feathers and the hospital staff winding up with a lot of cross-hatched wear marks on their suddenly tattered lab coats.

“The thing is,” my doctor said. “If I give you a Valium, someone will have to come with you.”

“That’s no problem,” I assured her. “Adam has to come with me. It’s in the fine print of our marriage contract. ‘Will attend all medical procedures with wife, for wife’s safety and that of the populace.'”

“Also,” she said reluctantly. “You can’t drive.”

“I never drive. I don’t even operate a cotton gin.”

She sighed. “And you’re sure the insurance company won’t cover an open MRI? Or you just didn’t want to ask?”

“I don’t dare ask, honestly. Getting them to authorize the procedure was hard enough. I had to talk to maybe twenty people on the phone. At one point, they transferred me back to the first person I talked to. I’m pretty sure the clocks in my house ran backward for a minute and a rift opened in the space-time continuum. Also, I don’t want to make things complicated, because I don’t have however much money they’d want to charge for an MRI, if my insurance company decides they didn’t authorize that variation on that particular procedure. I’m guessing a lot.”

“They’re expensive,” she agreed. She tried a different tack: “I really think that if you can have someone come with you, you won’t need the Valium.”

“Trust me, it won’t matter who comes with me. Adam could come, my mom could come, Billie Holiday could come back from the dead and sing ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.’ None of that would stop me from going crazy.”

“Because of the claustrophobia.”

“As I’ve said” — through gritted teeth — “I don’t have claustrophobia. What I have is PTSD. Remember how I told you about my second appendix surgery, the one where they didn’t give me anesthesia and they just strapped me down and unzipped my stomach like a tauntaun?”

“Oh, yes, I remember now.”

She didn’t, but whatever. “Well, now whenever I have to be immobilized for a test, my mind knows that no one is going to slice me open, but my brain and body are pretty sure we should run for it, just in case. So really, the Valium isn’t for me. It’s for the staff.”

“I’ll give you two,” she said.

“I don’t need two.”

“In case you lose one. Or, you know … need more.”

Goddammit, I’m taking both. If you need me next Tuesday evening, good luck to you all. I’m sure I’ll be very happy to talk to you, but I won’t remember a word we say to each other. It is, however, a rare opportunity for anyone who wants to see me calm for a change. The reason these drugs are dangerous is because them shits is good.

anxiety

Image: electronicxx/Flickr

Freelancing Tips: When to Get up in the Morning, How Much to Charge

29 May

When I first started freelancing, many of my friends predicted that I’d get tired of it sooner rather than later, and go back to looking for a full-time job. Anything is possible, I suppose, but after a year and a half of being a full-time freelancer, I feel safe in saying the experiment is a success, even if someone offers me a benefited 30 hour a week position as a cheese taster, and I decide to pack it in.

For this round of advice you didn’t ask for, but might need, I thought I’d concentrate on the stuff that I didn’t know until I’d been freelancing for a while. Such as…

1. You probably need to get up earlier than you think. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: it’s easier to get stuff done in the morning, especially if your clients are in New York and aren’t rolling in til 10 a.m. I have mornings where the only real work I get done all day is before 11. The rest of the day gets eaten by meetings and impromptu phone discussions.

2. Speaking of meetings, charge for those.
I still have one or two legacy clients who get freebie meetings, but they tend to be a) really good, steady clients who pay well, b) not folks who’ll try to get me to agree to a twice-weekly seminar with their whole marketing department. Everyone else gets an hourly rate, as much to discourage unnecessary, unpaid chitchat as to make actual moneys.

3. But don’t be afraid to do some things for free.
I know, I said before that you shouldn’t ever work for free, and I still stick by that most of the time. However, for good clients, I do tend to do a little extra, and I would still write the occasional free piece for a small blog network or site that I really, really loved. But that’s something you should do sparingly. I still wouldn’t write for free for a big, money-making site. If they have money to pay the sales staff, they have money to pay you, my friend.

4. How much should you charge? More than you think. I low-balled myself when I was first starting out, and it was a big mistake. If you’re going from a full-time job to freelancing, use your old salary as a rough guide. Figure out what your hourly rate would have been if you worked 40 hours a week (I know, I know) and use that as a starting point. Don’t forget that you also had things like benefits that didn’t show up on your check, but were part of your compensation. Charge more for things that are more complicated. Straight proofreading, for example, might be the cheapest thing on your list, but copyediting with photo research and SEO work would cost more.

5. Make your contract as precise as possible. Spell out exactly what your duties are, as much as you can, so that you don’t have to have an argument about whether proofreading includes keyword research or whether phone meetings are free, etc. Build in notice for either party to back out of the deal, and specify when and how you’ll get paid.

6. Get business cards. To be totally honest with you, I haven’t exactly gotten around to doing that yet. I thought of it this morning, because I have networking event tonight, and I know I’ll wish I had them. Learn from my mistakes, people!

7. And speaking of networking, you don’t have to do stuff you hate. The thing I’m going to tonight is basically a bunch of old friends and coworkers talking over beer, which is one of my favorite things anyway. If you hate leaving your house, though, you totally don’t have to, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Buff up your LinkedIn account, and stay home. I got four gigs when I started out freelancing without ever leaving my desk.

8. Ask for help. The way I got those gigs, mentioned above, was by announcing to my Facebook network that I was looking for writing and editing work. If you’re the sort of person who would rather get gangrene that tell everyone else on a hiking trip that you seem to have injured your leg (a.k.a. No. 8 on my list of Ways I Might Actually Die) this will seem like begging. It’s not. (I promise.) You’re just letting people know you want to work. If they have stuff that needs doing, they’ll be happy to hear about it.

9. Take weekends. Another one I’m bad at. But in general, I’d advise people not to take so much work that they regularly work on the weekends. If you can’t afford to take less, look at your rates again or look at your time management. Sometimes, life intervenes, of course. Right now, I’ve got physical therapy twice a week, and because it’s in another borough, I lose about six hours of work time. So I often work weekends. One thing I don’t do, though, is accept gigs where I’m expected to work on the weekend. Unless you need an off shift, because of child care, for example, I’d really recommend not getting into the habit of working on Saturday and Sunday. You’ll be more productive if you get time off.

10. Don’t threaten to sue, especially if you’re not going to follow through. I know a few freelancers who’ve gotten stiffed on a job, and have immediately gone to lawyer land. Avoid this as much as possible. Although getting actual, legal advice is never a bad idea, you want to avoid escalating things by threatening legal action, at least until you have no other choice. This is partly because it annoys people, and sometimes slows things down further, and partly because, in reality, you’re probably not going to sue unless someone owes you a ton (like, an actual metric ton) of money. Big companies know that they have a legal department and you, at best, have a lawyer. Try everything you can to resolve the issue without letting it get to that point. It’ll feel like the cold war, but it’s worth it, just to keep your profits from getting eaten up by legal fees. So far, fingers crossed, I’ve managed to get paid for every gig. (Albeit, sometimes very, very late.)

What I'll be looking at every day, when I become an Official Cheese Taster.

What I’ll be looking at every day, when I become an Official Cheese Taster.

Image: Refracted Moments/Flickr

My Fasting Blood Sugar Was 105 in the Middle of a Diet and Someone Is Going to Pay

24 May

Not the lovely, talented creator of said diet, and not the nice Russian man who took my blood sample at the lab. Not even my thyroid doctor, who is the person who wrote the prescription for the blood work (and is therefore obviously responsible for the results). Obviously not me, because I was eating nothing but leaves and organic meat during the phase when I had blood drawn. But someone is going to pay, somewhere, and when I find out who it is, I’ll let you know.

I’m thinking that eastern Europe is responsible, or at least the version of it that existed hundreds of years ago, since conditions then were such that a person with a very slow metabolism and a low tolerance for sugary foods would do well. My ancestors were basically bred for starvation, not plenty. We were the last people standing once the food died and the government had driven everyone away from their land and everyone else had starved to death. I picture us, hungry but still chubby, rooting around in the earth and finding one last turnip with delight: “A turnip! Our family can last two weeks on that. Look, Dorota, it’s Christmas dinner!”

But enough of the ancestors. My problem right now is trying to get a straight answer out of someone, in terms of what to do next. My regular doctor says my A1-C is fine, and that I don’t have diabetes. My thyroid doctor says, well, let me see if I can remember the quote. It went something like, “You’re fine … today. I mean, you’re not going to keel over next year, or anything.” He wasn’t thrilled with consistent fasting sugars around the 100 mark, though, and neither am I.

The problem is, once you’re losing weight and monitoring your labs and trying, as Monty Python once advised us, to get some walking in, there’s not much you can do with a slightly too-high sugar. Eat cinnamon, I guess. My thyroid doc advised that, and I’ve heard it can help. Also, cinnamon is delicious. I bet my ancestors would be delighted at that prescription, if they could get their hands on it.

diabeetus

Image: ICanHasCheezburger

Ma Smash Doesn’t Care About Your Silly Laws

22 May

Last week, Adam and I went on a day trip to the Cape with my folks. This time of year, that means looking at the ocean, eating fried things, and breaking into people’s houses. I’m exaggerating, but only slightly.

Some people like to look at real estate. They’re the type who spot a sign that says, “Open House,” and say, “Oh, how lovely! Perhaps we’ll stop by, if we’re not too busy.”

My mother makes a dossier of potential houses for sale, and brings it with her on casual trips. Now that she has a Kindle Fire, I’m pretty sure she’ll just have the satellites send her notifications of houses that go on the market. That’s if she’s feeling nice. The fact is, if she likes your house, she doesn’t care whether you’re thinking of moving or not. If she can peek in your windows, she will. If you see a lady dressed like a 1950s cat burglar skulking around your garbage cans, don’t worry, you’re not being robbed. It’s just my mom indulging in her favorite hobby, which is your house and its contents.

Anyway, I’d been away for a while, so I forgot about Mom’s house-hunting madness. I was momentarily taken aback, then, when she demanded that my dad pull the call over so that she could look in someone’s windows.

“There’s, uh, no For Sale sign,” I said.

“It was on the market last week,” she said, consulting her dossier. “And they’ve pulled up the yard. It’s probably being renovated.”

“So, if it’s not for sale, wouldn’t we be trespassing?” By this time, we were in the driveway, and I was looking around for the police.

She flapped her hand at me, “It’s still fair game until the new people move in. Everyone knows that if there’s no lawn, it’s not trespassing.”

Before I could ask her where she’d gotten that arcane bit of legal information, she’d jumped out of the car and was racing, on her tiny little pins, up the front walk to look in through the front door. Through parted fingers, I watched her do a full perimeter of the property, looking in each window and examining the utilities.

“That’s good,” Dad said. “In this day and age, they’re fools if they have oil heat.”

“Can we go visit your mom in prison?” Adam asked.

I dropped my hands slightly. “Is she stacking up garbage so that she can stand on it and look into the second floor?”

“I think there’s a landing,” Dad said. “Sometimes these houses have those, and you can use them for an office.”

“Oh, good, she can write her appeals there.” I got out of the car and went over to where she was standing — on a stoop, concealed by garbage, not actual garbage itself.

“Look at that kitchen,” she said, pointing.

“Oh my God. Is that a fireplace?” Our apartment had a fireplace in about 1890. Now it’s a bricked up wall with a television in front of it.

“Yup. It goes right through to the living room on the other side. You can see it from that window.”

Short version: if Mom gets arrested, it’s likely that I’ll be with her when it happens. Possibly holding the bottom of a ladder.

Pictured: the lady who's looking in your windows right now. Also, my more law-abiding sister.

Pictured: the lady who’s looking in your windows right now. Also, my more law-abiding sister.

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