Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fake It Till You Make It

I'm sitting in a coffee shop with my pen and paper, pastry and coffee, trying to look writerly. I'm in Iowa City, so I blend right in with all the other aspiring writers and students. I'm hoping this change of scenery and role-play will jump start my new/old career as a writer. Look the part, play the part, be the part.

Things I've learned so far: My view of the parking lot is not as inspiring as you might think. Although watching this dumbass try to shoe-horn a Suburban into a space for a compact car is pretty entertaining.
And off-task.

The incredible class I took at the UI Summer Writer's Workshop left me inspired and enthusiastic and thinking anything was possible. But since then other chores have taken over and my writing momentum has dwindled. I went from writing full scenes, to jotting notes and ideas, to... looking for my notebook. It's time to refocus on my new “job.” My dream.

Things I've learned so far: I should never assume I have a notebook in my “novel supply bag.” Luckily I did have a clipboard and paper so I don't have to write on 3x3 sticky-notes. But the clipboard makes me feel more like a health inspector than a writer. I must not look very official, though, because the cashier didn't try to bribe me with free coffee.
Still off-task.

The kids have gone back to school and it has finally hit me that I am well and truly unemployed, not just “between career opportunities” as I have taken to saying. There's still the part-part-part time secretary thing, and the full-time Mom/Wife thing (although they need me a little less), and the volunteer stuff. There's still not enough hours in the day (I should be secretary-ing right now).

Things I've learned so far: With free wi-fi and mobile data Facebook can be a distraction anywhere! Anytime!
Still off-task.

It seemed like such a good idea last spring when I decided to follow my dream to become a writer. People would ask me “what are you going to do if you're not teaching?” I answered confidently “I'm going to write!” And they'd give me that patient, bemused look you give a child who says “I'm going to be a space-cowboy-fireman when I grow up!” Then they'd politely change the subject.

Things I've learned so far: Even when the coffee shop is three-quarters empty, the waitstaff will give you dirty looks after a while. I wonder how many plain-black-coffee, serve-yourself refills you are really supposed to take?
Still off-task.

Now that school is back in session people are a little less... willing to humor me. Now when they ask “what are you doing if you're not teaching?” I answer a little less confidently “Ummm, writing?” And they wait a beat, then follow up with “But really. What are you going to do?” “I'm looking into things,” I mumble. My confidence was all a facade. That veneer is thinning, and my fears are starting to poke through.

Things I've learned so far: I CAN HAVE TOO MUCH CAFFEINE!

I like money. I like getting paid. I like spending money. I like having concrete answers to use on forms that ask you to list things like “Occupation,” and “Work Phone.” And “Yearly Income.”

Things I've learned so far: Autocorrect trumps spell check, and it drives me nuts! Although it did just change “pretending” to “ostensibly,” which sounds fancy. And not as desperate as “pretending.” Sort of brave, even.
Still off-task.

I've always wanted to write. I've always wanted to be a writer. In college most of my friends were science majors, planning for serious careers with serious titles, and suits and badges and office hours. I just wanted to write about what they were going to do and how they would do it.

Before the TV show “Will and Grace” made it trendy to have a gay friend, it was trendy to have a friend who was an English major (or philosophy major) so that you could tell your other friends “This is my English major friend, who will grow up to be unemployed and homeless. Then I will introduce them as my unemployed and homeless friend, and they will have my back when I volunteer to do community service work at the local soup kitchen. This is just more evidence that I am a responsible and forward thinking individual – besides the fact that I have chosen a career path that ensures an employable future.”

And I would turn to all my other English and journalism friends and I would say “These are my science major friends. They actually study. A lot. I can tell you about what they do and how they do it, but I can't do it myself. Someday they're going to have important, serious jobs. And I'll write about those, too.

But what I really want to do is write the stories and books that they will read when they get home from work. When they are tired and just want to escape from this serious world for a little while they'll turn to my work. I'll tell them about my hopes and dreams, and fears and crazy ideas. And maybe they'll laugh, or cry, or relax, or see things from a new perspective.
Just for a moment they will be off-task, and they'll enjoy it.

Things I've learned so far: I can't give up just yet. I'll fake it till I make it.
But with less coffee.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Parking Fair at the Fair

Ever wonder why big event venues have people to direct traffic in the parking lots? Because as drivers left to our own devices, we're stupid.

When allowed to make decisions about parking in a huge lot (unmarked, specifically, but it doesn't matter much), we are incapable of making rational decisions. It's total chaos. A breakdown of the moral fiber of society, a four-wheeler free-for-all, a motorized melee, a scrum of sedans.

In other words, the parking lots at the Iowa State Fair the day before the fair begins.

In the rush of final preparations by fair staff, vendors and exhibitors, parking on the fairgrounds (not in the lots outside the gate) becomes a no-man's land. I experienced this first hand when I tried to drop off The Princess and her friend (Princess E) at the Youth Inn.

In some places cars were parked three-deep, bumpertobumpertobumper, or even bumpertobumper with one wedged in perpendicular behind. This guaranteed that at least one car was trapped, two if the aisle between parked cars was narrow. Which is always was.

In other places the vehicles were parked only one deep, but the entire row was parked full – fence to fence – with no way to get around to the other side, wasting the parking potential of that ever-tempting, greener grass.

There seemed to be only two schools of spacial reasoning: park so close to the car next to you that you can barely get out; or park far enough away that someone else might possibly, but not quite, be able to park between you.

The same reasoning was applied to parallel parking along the streets, too. The vehicles were either parked so close you couldn't slip a sheet of paper between the bumpers; or far enough away to guarantee an easy escape but not quite far enough away to park even a Fiat or Mini Cooper. (I'd like to point out that this is just another reason why I should get one of these cars -- then I could just pick it up and take it with me where ever I went, like a purse puppy. But I'd use a backpack because a Mini Cooper in a handbag would just look silly.)

The last time I saw parking this bad was at a softball tournament.

Which brings me to my next point. I'm not sure if this crap parking-style is linked to the venue, the event or the audience. Traffic flow was heavier at the 5SOS concert at Tinley Park, but with the help of the parking lot attendants (very little help, they just looked bored and pointed), Mom-mobiles filled the parking lot at a steady pace with a choreographed precision. It was like watching couples ice skating... but with mini-vans and compact SUVs.

Attendant-less parking at the fair was a manic free-for-all. Extended-cab trucks struggled to perform three point turns at the end of parked-full rows. Diesel-powered dualies inched down the narrow aisles, dodging extra-long vehicles overhanging their parking spaces. Many a hope for an empty spot was dashed by a compact car hidden between two long-bed, lifted pickups.

To demonstrate my objectivity, I will point out that by Monday – day 5 of the fair – parking was much more organized. Ish.

On my second trip, I circled the fairgrounds pleading with the stone-faced parking tyrants for admitance. At each gate they pointed to the “Lot Closed” signs. I pointed at the line of cars streaming out of the parking lot. They pointed at the “Lot Closed” signs and waved their cone-tipped traffic wand/lightsabers menacingly. I drove on.

I was finally granted entrance in the newly opened Northeast Parking Lot, located roughly .5 miles west of Iowa City. The parking lot attendants on border patrol were friendly and briskly efficient, directing us into neat, straight lines, two cars deep, with ample aisle space. This gave them plenty of room to check our passports and provide us with the necessary vaccinations for leaving the country.

As I and the other NEPL nomads hiked to the fairgrounds proper, we left a trail of breadcrumbs for our return trip and tried to ignore the vultures circling overhead. Many snide comments were made about the countless empty parking spots we passed in what were once considered the outlying lots, but which we now looked upon as “rock star” parking. There was talk of mutiny or of at least moving our cars, but we're all “Iowa Nice,” so nothing came of it. We're also “Iowa Stubborn,” so we'll all go back to the State Fair again, regardless of parking hassles.

But next time I'll drive a Fiat. And carry a big backpack.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Shorts Shopping Short Shrift

After fourteen years on this earth, The Little Prince has decided to wear shorts.

When he was a baby I could dress him in whatever I wanted, but as soon as he was able to stomp his little foot and open the dresser drawer by himself, he declared a moratorium on shorts. In the grand scheme of things this non-shorts stance was not a problem. As long as he wore something on the bottom part of his torso I was happy.

In the mom scheme of things this non-shorts stance was a problem. You see, I am the therMOMeter. If I am cold, the children should put on sweatshirts. If I am hot, they should wear shorts.

They, however, have a different view of things. I carry a sweatshirt with me on even the hottest, most humid days Iowa can conjure up in July and August. They will consent to putting a sweatshirt in the car when we head out in the middle of a January blizzard.

So when The Little Prince announced he wanted to wear shorts, I nearly tore the door off the hinges in my haste to get him to the mall before he changed his mind. We returned victorious after a no-frills, fast break offense shopping trip: one store, two shoppers, three pairs of shorts.

I was not quite as excited a week later when he announced that he needed more shorts because two of the three pair (already de-tagged and washed) didn't fit.

I swear he tried them all on at the store, but I was so thrilled he was even considering shorts that I might have been hallucinating. There is also a chance that he was tired of trying on clothes and, having found one pair in a size that fit, assumed that any pair in that size would fit. A seasoned veteran knows that even two identical items of clothing – the same size, brand, style, and color – will not necessarily both fit. Only the clothing manufacturers that control that particular ring of hell could tell you why.

Shopping Trip #2: We found ourselves back at the same store, looking for the same shorts, different size. The level of enthusiasm was not quite as high this time.

“The shorts that didn't fit, I'm assuming they were too big?” I asked as we wandered around looking for the racks and racks of shorts that were there just a week earlier.


“So, what was wrong with them?”

“There's too much fabric,” he said.

“So, they're too big,” I spoke slowly and clearly, because obviously he did not understand me the first time.

He shrugged.

I decided to try a new approach.

“When you put them on, can you hold the waistband out away from yourself like this?” I demonstrated pulling on my own shorts. “And is there enough room to fit another person in there?”

“Mo-om,” he said, rolling his eyes the way his sister taught him.

Despite his utter lack of help, I finally found a variety of sizes for him to try on.

“Those have too much fabric,” he said, pointing at the wide legs on one pair. Ah ha! Too much fabric! Now we were getting somewhere. Maybe.

“Well, they are cargo pants... with cargo pockets... just like the ones you have on,” I said, gritting my teeth.

He shrugged.

I put that pair back.

“And those are too short,” he said, pointing at another pair.

“You haven't tried them on. How can you tell they're too short?” I asked.

“The tag says 'above the knee',” he said.

“But they're....” I compared them to the pair he had on, which were exactly the same length.

He shrugged. Back on the rack they went.

That left two pair for him to try on. They both fit nicely, I thought. But he looked miserable.

“Do you think they fit?” I asked.

“I guess.”

“Do you like them?”


“Will you wear them?”


“Then don't get them!” I growled, admitting defeat and wondering how much alcohol I could buy with the money we weren't spending on shorts.

“We could move to Canada,” he suggested, a smile brightening his face. “Then I wouldn't have to worry about shorts!” I'm not sure that reasoning is sound, but I seriously considered it for a moment.

We returned empty handed from that trip, but I had a plan: next time we would take The Princess with us. For some unknown, sibling-only reasoning, he will take fashion advice from her (probably because she lovingly threatens to “end him” if she doesn't like what he's wearing).

Shopping Trip #3: I turned the two of them loose in Young Men's and followed at a discreet distance. That is, until I heard peals of laughter. They were looking at everything except what they were supposed to be looking for, and The Princess had picked out two t-shirts – from the Young Men's sale rack – that she assured me she could not live without. When I reminded them of their assigned task, she tossed one pair of shorts at him and took off for the Junior Girl's section.

After much searching and bullying on my part, The Prince selected cargo shorts in dark grey, light black, and charcoal. Identical to the pair he had on.

As I waited outside the dressing room I realized that, this being August in Iowa, shorts-wearing weather will be drawing to a close soon and we'll have to head back out to buy long pants.

Or I could move him to Mexico. Then he wouldn't have to worry about long pants.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Sharing 5 Seconds with The Princess

The Queen Mother did many, many wonderful things for me, but she never took me to a rock concert.

Plays, musicals, speech contests... heck, we even saw dancer Bobby Burgess (of Lawrence Welk fame) at the Muscatine County Fair... but never a rock concert.

In her defense, she did buy me tickets to see Richard Marx at the fair, and she didn't quibble when I wanted to see Billy Idol in concert (I may have led her to believe he was a modern-day Pat Boone).

I thought of all this while I was sitting next to The Princess at the 5 Seconds of Summer concert last weekend in Tinley Park, Illinois.

This was our Second-Annual Boy Band Concert Excursion, having successfully navigated St. Louis to see One Direction last summer. Throw in rapper Huey Mack (an introduction to the Iowa City bar-band scene) and I'd say we've hit the trifecta or scored a hat trick or, well… let's just say she's widened my range of musical influences.

Some people who are not as hip as me (and obviously I'm pretty damn hip), have asked me what the difference is between One Direction and 5SOS (pronounced “five-sauce” by the cool kids). Originally I thought the only difference was that 5SOS had four members, while 1D had five. But now that Zayn has left 1D (drama!), you can't judge a band by the numbers.

At the concert I decided the real difference is in how those band members fit the time-honored, boy band line-up stereotypes. From the Beatles and the Monkees to NSYNC and Backstreet Boys, they've all had one “bad boy,” one “smart boy,” one “cute boy,” one “fun boy,” and one “sensitive boy” (as needed).

1D have (or had) one of each.

5SOS has 2.5 bad boys.

Of course The Princess' favorite 5SOS member is the lead singer – the .5 bad boy. At the concert he was wearing a grey t-shirt (not “bad boy”) in contrast to his pierced lip (“bad boy”). The other “bad boys” are the drummer (he's the drummer, so, duh, and he was wearing his hair in a “mun” or man-bun), and the guitarist (eyebrow piercing and Harley Davidson t-shirt). The bass guitarist, he of the baby face and prep-logo t-shirt, I figure is about as clean cut as possible these days.

When I ran my bad boy ratio theory by The Princess she looked at me like I was totally not cool, and explained that 5SOS plays punk/pop, while 1D plays pop/pop. That may be why I like 5SOS both more than and at the same time less than 1D. I like the edgy sound to the 5SOS songs (although they all sounded like one long teen-age girl's scream until their cover of Green Day's “American Idiot”). But the mom in me likes 1D's lyrics (“You don't know you're beautiful/That's what makes you beautiful), better than 5SOS's (“You look so perfect standing there/In my American Apparel underwear”).

When it comes right down to it, it's not about parents enjoying their children's music (although I like it all well enough). It's about parents enjoying their children's happiness. I'm certainly not a perfect mom – when I offered to spend an equivalent seven-hours travel-time in the car with The Prince he looked horrified – but I'm trying. And of course I'm not alone.

The mom next to me at the concert said Led Zeplin was more to her liking, but she was at 5SOS to make her 14-year-old daughter happy. They had gone to 1D last summer, too. As the speakers blared Europe's “The Final Countdown” in preparation for 5SOS's big opening all four of us sang along.

“This is what we went to back in the day,” laughed the almost-as-cool-as-me mom.

Despite the age differences and the relative hip/unhipness of parents, most of us stood and kind of swayed along to all the songs – except for the parents who had their camera phones trained on the stage (presumably at their kids' request). And when 5SOS played their latest song, "She's Kinda Hot"  – which they had just “dropped” (see? I even picked up the cool lingo) a couple weeks earlier – we all knew the words and sang along.

Just like everyone sang along when 5SOS covered The Ramone's “What I Like About You” to end the show. Green Day and The Ramones? Those bad boys are growing on me.

The Princess and I had such a good time enjoying the mix of old and new music that I offered to take her with me to see Billy Joel at Wrigley Field. It was kind of hard to read her expression, what with all the lasers and strobe lights, but I'm pretty sure she looked excited.

Especially when I said we could spend the day shopping along Chicago's Magnificent Mile instead of going to the Art Institute.

It's all about compromise and sharing what you love.

With the ones you love.