Monthly Archives: October 2010

Never Listen

It struck me, the other day, when I was standing in the kitchen being yelled at, that the one thing I have never heard an adult say is, “Stop treating me like a child!” I don’t know: maybe there’s a group of adults out there that say this all of the time, but as for myself, I have never had one say it to me. I have, however, had plenty of children say it, which leads me to offer up the following piece of advice: if you find yourself saying “Don’t treat me like a child!” on a fairly regular basis, you might want to take a moment to glance down and check. You may, in fact, be a child.

I’m just sayin’.

Things I’ve also encountered from children as opposed to adults is having someone interrupt me to tell me I’m not listening, having someone yell at me to “stop yelling!” and having someone tell me they’re tired of being ignored as they walk away from me.

Sometimes, when I’m dealing with my teenage daughter, Clementine, I feel like I’m trapped in a game of “No means yes, yes means no: do you want me to hit you again?” Or worse yet, a game of, “I know you are, but what am I?” As in, when I say, “I’d like you to be a little more respectful of my things,” and she replies, “Well, I’d like you to be more respectful of my things!” And all I can think to say is, “Gee I’m sorry—did my antique bathtub get in the way of your blue hair dye again?”

Then there are the times when I’m having a “discussion” with her and I feel like I’ve been dropped into the midst of somebody else’s drama. Like I’m the only actor in a David Mamet play who didn’t get the memo about the script changes. Or I’m the only character in a Quentin Tarantino film who doesn’t realize that they’re about to get shot in the back of the head. In other words, having a discussion with her means that, no matter what, I will have no idea what the discussion is actually about.

I’ve been tempted to get a white board, just so I can keep track of things, because, from where I sit, one topic seems to segue into another like so many conversational pin balls: “Wait a minute: I thought we were discussing a new curfew; why are we now talking about the “A” you got on your French test? Unless, this is a test. Hang on: are you speaking French right now? I’m so confused.” Unfortunately, I don’t think that even the white board would help; it would probably just end up looking like a verbal reconstruction of chaos theory.

It’s like we’re each pulling phrases out of a hat and reading them at random. “I’d like to talk about school,” I say, and she replies, “They cut down another ten thousand acres of rain forest today.”
Um, okay—are you saying that the butterfly whose wing-flapping was supposed to bring home your math homework never had the chance to be born?

“You never listen.”

I wish I never listened. Like my husband. Safe in Guy Land, he is content to wave hello and good-bye to her out the window every few days—it is only me who insists on the details. And gets stuck playing the dim-witted tourist mistaken for an international spy.

“You came home twenty minutes past curfew last night.”

“Twenty percent of Mensa members never graduated from high school.”

“And this means . . .?”

“You never listen.”

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One of the things I have always wondered about is why they call the conversation every parent must have with their pubescent child “The Talk.” I mean, there isn’t just one talk—there are dozens of them. And you don’t get to have them just once—you get to have them over and over again, as circumstances necessitate.

For instance, I was recently having coffee with my daughter, Clementine—or rather, I was having coffee with my daughter, Clementine, and her cellphone, because at approximately thirty second intervals her phone would go off, she would pick it up, stare at the screen, grin, and type something in. That’s when it occurred to me that while I had already had LOTS of “The Talks” with her, we had yet to have one of the most important talks of all: the one about cellphones and inappropriate text messages. And so, making sure I had her full attention, I looked her straight in the eye, screwed up my courage, and asked her straight out: “Are you LOL-ing?”

“What? No, I would never do that—why are you even asking me?”

I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Methinks the texter doth protest too much, I thought. Still, I knew I would never get anywhere by losing my cool. So I took a deep breath, and in my calmest voice said, “Honey, I know you might not believe me now, but, well, as you get older, and as you text more and more, there might come a time when you are tempted to try LOL-ing. And maybe even ROTFL-ing. And when that time comes, I just want you know that it’s not okay to do those things.” She opened her mouth to speak, and I finished with, “And you may as well know that I feel the same way about LOTI-ing and even LQTM-ing. And don’t even get me started on LMFAO-ing.”

She glared at me from across the table, both her coffee and her phone forgotten. “You’re such a hypocrite,” she said. “Just this morning you BTW-ed. I saw it: you tweeted it.”

“That’s different,” I replied, caught off guard. Dammit, I forgot she followed me on Twitter. “BTW is almost like b/c; it’s an editing thing.”

She raised one eyebrow, clearly not convinced. “Well, maybe LOL is an editing thing, too.”
“No,” I said, “it’s not: it’s not the same thing at all.” I tried to steer the conversation back into safer waters. “Look, one day you’ll meet someone, and they’ll make you laugh out loud—for real. And it will be magical. And special. Like what your father and I have. You don’t want to waste that feeling on just a casual LOL, do you?”

“Dad made you laugh so hard you had to spit your wine into the sink last night,” she said. “I saw it: it was gross.”

“I’m sorry you had to see that; we thought you were in bed. But, in a way, I’m glad you did. Now you know what real LOL-ing looks like. And you can see why I don’t think you’re ready to take that step yet.”

“You always treat me like child.”

“Only a child would think it’s okay to LOL a guy she just met.”

“I told you: I’m not LOL-ing.”

“Then you won’t mind if I look at your texts.”


I stared at her, shocked. “OMG,” I finally said, and then had to slap my hand over my mouth when I saw her triumphant grin. WTF: busted again.

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The Rejectionist

I will have been married for fifteen years this month, which means that (theoretically at least) all of my rejections are in my distant past. Unfortunately, however, I’ve been a writer for even longer than that, and so my experience with rejection is of a much more recent vintage. This is because, as every writer will tell you, if there is one thing that’s constant in writing, it’s rejection. (That’s one of the things I love so much about doing this column: it’s like getting an acceptance letter every week—and believe me, I appreciate it.)

In writing, there are three kinds of rejection: the impersonal “thanks, but no thanks,” the personalized “I liked it, but . . .,” and, my least favorite, a cross between the two, or rather, one that is actually one of the former tying to masquerade as one of the latter. A perfect example of this is when they say something like “I really liked the premise, but, unfortunately the narrative voice failed to live up to my expectations.” See, a letter like that sounds personal, but then you google the sender and find out they’ve sent the exact same letter to over two thousand authors all over the world. (Oh yeah: us writers? We talk.)

I don’t know: there’s just something vaguely insulting about the impersonal brush-off with a fake personal touch. I mean, it’s okay that you don’t like my manuscript—or even me—just don’t invent a reason that makes it sound like you were the one putting all of this effort into a relationship, which, due to my unfortunate shortcomings, was doomed from the start.

I’m sorry: do I sound bitter? I didn’t use to be; I used to be able to receive these impersonal personal rejections all of the time and never give them a second thought. (They were like the Safeway checkers who have to address you by name—annoying, yes, but in the grand scheme of things, really not that big of a deal.) But then, one day my insouciance evaporated. That’s because one day, it started happening in my own house. That’s right: I got the impersonal personal rejection from my very own daughter.

It was during the course of a teenage rant, when I was pointing out to her that I’d kind of appreciate it if she could spend more than just her sleeping hours at home, and she was pointing out that spending time in my presence was the equivalent of a vampire eating garlic bread. To illustrate her point she disdainfully added, “I just don’t want to spend my nights sitting on the couch and watching TV all night like you guys do.”

It was, I realized, the dreaded impersonal personal rejection.

How do I know? Well, for one thing, I don’t even know how to turn on the TV. (It’s true: we got a new one a couple of months ago and the damn thing is like something from “Star Trek.” You have to wave your hand in front of it just so to get it to turn on, and I have yet to figure out which particular hand position will activate it. And yeah, I tried that one. A lot. And no, it doesn’t work.)

It was as if she was reading from a script, a script that involved slightly moronic suburban parents spacing out in front of the TV and, I don’t know, scrapbooking or something, all while their hysterically precocious teenage daughter makes clever asides to the camera. At the end of the evening the charming daughter sighs at the sight of her goofy parents, asleep before ten o’clock once again, and—wait a minute. That part actually does happen.

Hmm. Maybe it was a personal rejection after all. Well, that’s a little better.

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Philosophy Major

When my daughter, Clementine, was younger, I called her the “Little Lawyer” because she was always trying to get out of trouble on a technicality.

“Did you leave your cherry popsicle on the back seat of the car?” I’d ask her.

“What ‘popsicle’?” she’d reply. “All I see is a wooden stick in a pool of some strange red goo.”

“Would that be the same ‘strange red goo’ that’s all over your lips?”

“Impossible to say, isn’t it?” she’d answer, licking her lips clean of all evidence.

And so on.

At the time, this actually made me kind of happy (the lawyering—not the popsicle), because I believed that this meant that even though she was being a pain in my ass now, one day she’d grow up, get her law degree, and then take care of me for the rest of my life (or at least get the judge to lower my bail) .

Now that she’s a teenager, however, (and within shouting distance of actually having to think about what she’s going to do for a living) she’s given up on lawyering, and started leaning towards a new career, one that is not only just as frustrating, but also has almost zero potential for future income. That’s right, she’s studying to become a philosopher.

I realized it the other night, when I tried to pry some information out of her concerning one of her new friends. “Who is this person?” I finally asked in frustration, after getting one evasive answer after another. That’s when she looked at me in pity and said, “I don’t even know how to answer that question: who is anyone, really?”

“All right,” I said, “think of it this way: if a tree fell in the forest, and it fell on your new friend, what would the obituary say?”

Of course, that was no help: she still acted like I was trying to hack into their bank accounts—either that, or discover their porn names. (And no, I wasn’t asking her questions like “What was the name of their first pet” and “What’s their mother’s maiden name.” I was asking her what grade they were in, for cryin’ out loud.) Talking to her was like being trapped in a conversation with the ghost of Jean-Paul Sartre. Which would have been cool, I guess, except for the fact that somehow I got stuck in the Simone de Beauvoir role. (You know, the philosopher who is most famous for picking up Sartre’s socks? I always imagined their conversations to go something like this: “Are these your socks on the floor?” “What is a sock, really?” “I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.”)

Of course, Clementine’s new role as a philosophy major in training extends to areas other than the eternal question of “what really exists, really.” For instance, she is also interested in discovering the answer to the age old question of whether or not it is ever possible for someone to really “own” property. (It would seem that her answer to this is ‘no’—or, at least ‘no’ for other people—like me. In other words, it is okay for her to go into my room to steal my phone charger—“Can anyone ever really own a phone charger?”—but not okay for me to into her room to get it back. ) And while this might seem to be a contradiction, apparently it’s not. After all, isn’t the ability to hold two competing thoughts in your head at the same time one of the prime goals of philosophy?

Or maybe that’s insanity. Which would be better, in my opinion—she’d have a better chance of getting into law school that way.

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