Things I Learned About My Dad: He Rules
I have an essay in the book that Heather edited, Things I Learned About My Dad (in therapy). I haven’t read what I wrote since I turned it in last fall, over a month late, so it will be almost as much as a surprise to me as it will be to my father.
When Heather asked me to contribute, I said yes immediately, before even considering the subject matter, because Heather Armstrong has been supportive of me since my website was less than a month old. I have no idea how she found it, back when it was just a tiny orange blogspot blog that no one read but my friend John and me, but she sent me an encouraging email, demanding more content, and that led to more emails and phone calls and finally real-life bourbon drinking and air mattress sharing. I know that girl is a lightning rod for controversy, and sometimes people think it’s cool not to like her or her site, but let me tell you something: Heather Armstrong is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, not to mention one of my favorite writers, and it is a real honor to be involved with her first book.
I’m also in very good company in this book, with essays written by so many of my other favorite online writers, and I’m really looking forward to reading everyone else’s piece -- especially Jim’s, because Heather told me in San Francisco in February that his essay was so good it would bag him a book deal. I hope so, because I’m ready to read that book on the subway.
You can buy the book online at several places, including Amazon, where they’ve bundled it with the Cringe book, which warms my cold dead heart.
In a funny turn of events, my dad actually met Heather in November 2006, at the Cringe pilot taping, and has since started reading her website, and will occasionally email me a link to an article about her in the Wall Street Journal with the note, "Tell your friend congrats!" This also warms my cold dead heart, which, I guess I have to admit, is not very cold or dead these days.
Snow into rain
Yesterday I saw my old secret train boyfriend at the grocery store. I haven’t seen him since I quit my job last year and disrupted our little morning commute schedule. I have to admit, when I recognized him on the street corner, my heart lept a little, like seeing an old friend, albeit an old friend whom you secretly imagined kissing but never actually spoke to. My pulse quickened when I realized he was walking into the grocery store like I was, but at that moment I looked down and noticed the wedding ring on his left hand. Well I guess SOMEBODY had a busy year. I was actually a tiny bit let down by this development, mourning the future we never had a chance to pursue, until I saw him in the checkout lane next to me, buying nothing but a giant box of kitty litter. It would have never worked out between us.
CEO of Hart Industries
I would like to thank whoever mailed me this glossy black and white 8×10” photo of Jennifer and Jonathan Hart. I would also like to apologize for not knowing who sent it. I hope you are a cute guy so we have a great story to tell our grandchildren someday.
I showed the picture to my roommate when I opened it, and she said, “Who is that?” and I said, “It’s Jennifer and Jonathan Hart,” and she looked at me blankly so I went on, “From the ‘80s TV show Hart to Hart. They were glamorous jetsetters who fought crime.” It used to come on TBS on weekdays at one when I was in college, and several times I skipped my two o’ clock class so I could find out who did it. Then I’d feel bad about that decision, at least until Banacek came on next.
So my roommate said, “Well, who have you talked about Hart to Hart with lately?” and I came up with at least four names, so maybe I should just apologize to everyone I know. Starting with my roommate, because I want to frame this and hang it in the kitchen.
The Portrait Outtakes
My grandmother was an artist. She painted beautiful landscapes, but her real talent was portraits. She painted most of the our family members—my mom at age five, my mom at age seventeen, her mother, her father—and she painted strangers too. I remember walking into the student loan office at my college to see a giant portrait on the wall of the man the building was named after, and I did a double-take because my grandmother had painted it. She once traded a painting for my dollhouse, which was pretty sweet, but the portrait I remember best is the one she painted of me, when I was five years old.
It all came about while my grandmother and my mom were going through a cedar chest and found a pair of red velvet slippers that my mom had worn when she was a little girl. They had me try them on, they fit, and then, because my mother and grandmother were Texan women, we had to go buy a dress to match the shoes, and then once I had the whole ensemble I looked so damn fine they decided they had to paint me in the outfit, possibly right that moment. This is how it is for me every morning when I get dressed.
My grandmother hired a professional photographer to come to my parents’ house and take a billion pictures of me, hoping one would be the shot she would blow up and hang next to her easel and use as a guide for the portrait. I’d still have to spend many afternoons sitting for her, but she was smart enough to realize even the nerdiest, best-behaved five year old couldn’t hold a pose for as long as she’d need.
The photographer did a good job, but kept asking me to do totally lame things, like play with these fancy antique toys I never played with, or read my own blank diary, or touch a plant questioningly, like I’d never touched a damn plant before. If a five year old thinks you’re being lame, you are hopeless. But I was a good sport, at least for the first few hours, until I got sweaty and bored and crabby, which you are about to see.
The winning pose didn’t come from this photo session. It came from another photo, on another day, with a completely different background. Which she abandoned and instead created her own fake background. When she finished, she called us to her studio to view it, and my mother made her black out my missing bottom tooth she’d painted in. My mother, she likes the gritty realism, as you can tell by her outfit in the above picture.
Anyway, while I was home last month, I found the box of outtakes from this photo shoot, and this provided my family with an entire evening of cheap laughs. Especially my brother, who if my grandmother had lived long enough to paint, would have surely been captured thusly.
I give to you: The Portrait Outtakes.
I know all you’re going to do is talk about my mom’s hair because that’s all you people ever do.
Just things we haven't done yet
In 1998, during my senior year of college, I made a list titled My Life's Regrets. Since I was only 21, I didn’t have much to be bitterly ruing, so it was really more of an exercise to work through some feelings I was having about a falling out with a friend. The list was four items long, and the last two were “was never in academic bowl in high school,” and “should have stuck with Latin longer.” I found it last year, in the back of an old notebook while going through things for Cringe, and the idea of the regret list planted itself in my brain, becoming a game I play when I’m sitting on the train or lying in bed at night.
This sounds like a downer, but it’s actually kind of fun. There are the obvious ones that stand out at first, but it’s the careful combing of your life’s back stairs that makes this interesting. The main rule is your regret can’t be an undoing. Think of the Mark Twain quote, “Twenty years from now, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do, rather than the things you did.” If you ignore this rule, this game quickly deteriorates into My Life’s Bad Romantic Decisions, or Why Did I Ever Say/Do/Ingest That, which I suppose are both valid games, but not nearly as fun. I mean, sure, there are two or three people in my life that I honestly wish I’d never met, but you have to respect the Back to the Future rules, and accept that you dated this guy or were friends with that girl, and you are where and why and how and who you are now in part because of that. It’s not about beating yourself up; it’s more of an inventory of the ships that you allowed to set sail.
So, some of my regrets:
- I never got to legitimately wear a Catholic school uniform
- never took one foreign language for more than two years in a row
- falling asleep that night instead of staying awake and talking to you before the door closed again
- not seeing Pavement on their last tour because I had to work the next day
- never telling that boy how I felt about him (this goes for more than one person, and I should apply this lesson to my life now)
- not moving out of my hometown sooner
- not spending a semester abroad because I was in loooooove
- not finishing the book I started writing in 2002
- not writing that letter
- not sending that other letter
- talked my mom out of piano lessons at age 5, can’t read music
- not playing with my brother more when he’d ask me to as kids
- teasing Bonnie R.
- I was the only child raised in the United States in the 1980s who didn’t play soccer
- stopping after one play
- not realizing I was young and cute when I was young and cute
- not being more involved in anything on my college campus
- ending it badly with a nice, cute, smart, funny guy freshman year because I was still thinking about my old boyfriend who'd dumped me
- all those times in my early 20s that I stayed inside on the computer or phone instead of leaving my house and going out with people
- not standing up for myself earlier
- being too lazy to end it sooner
- apologizing too late
- assuming we’d have more time together
- I am now too old to ever be an enticing reward in a kissing booth, wherever it is in the world that they still have kissing booths
- was never in academic bowl in high school
- should have stuck with Latin longer
Basically, the overall theme is wishing I had indulged my inner nerd more at an early age, or stuck with things I gave up on too easily, whether it was a lesson or a relationship. Reading through these makes me realize all is not necessarily lost: it’s not too late to learn a language or to play an instrument, so this list starts to lend itself to one like Maggie’s Mighty Life/100 Things Worth Doing (which I love, and need to do), and that makes this kind of reflection not at all sad and misty, but a sneaky life-improver guide.
For the record: the one thing I will never regret: every single time I have ever slept in.
I’d love to hear yours in the comments if you’d like to share. Feel free to be anonymous.
The Other Sarah Brown
About a month ago, I started tracking the Other Sarah Brown on my tumblr via missent emails. Today, things got weird.
For Syg Pound
My friend Mike Mason’s first book was published this week. It’s called Head Cases: Stories of Brain Injury and Its Aftermath. Mike traveled all over the world researching this book, meeting people with brain injuries and learning their fascinating stories. It’ll be in bookstores April 8, or you can order it online. It was reviewed a few days ago in the New York Freaking Times.
I owe Mike Mason a lot. Back in 2000, when I was working at my first copywriting job and still living in Tulsa, I noticed an issue of Me Head at a restaurant while at lunch with some coworkers. There was a stack of them sitting there, next to the Auto Traders and free society magazines, no explanation, no fanfare. I spent the entire meal ignoring the office gossip and trying to figure out what this thing was and who was behind it. Shit like this didn’t happen in Tulsa, at least not in 2000. It was like a flare in the desert, and I was completely intrigued and dying to get in on it. After a few blind emails to the cryptic address on the back cover, I eventually had a submission accepted, and a few weeks later, I finally met Mike for Thai food with some friends. I became involved in all the incarnations of Me Head over its lifespan—the print and online editions, the readings in bars, the home movie festival—all of this fun, irreverent, underground-feeling stuff that I had never found anywhere else in my hometown. I still have my old Me Head T-shirt, which I used to run in until the teenage boys in my neighborhood took notice of all its potential sophisticated double entendres.
Realizing that there were other people with interests similar to my own, outside of my circle of friends, yet in my city made a huge impact on me in my early twenties. Writing pieces for Me Head made me learn new ways to write, and knowing Mike Mason eventually connected me to my literary agent, Anne Garrett, whom I love. So thank you, Mike, for being the conduit, and congratulations on all this success. You deserve it.