Freelance by Jen

Consider me the No More Tangles of your writing needs.

While I have tried very hard in my life not to make too much noise about either politics or religion unless it was thoughtful, open-minded, and sought-after discussion, something that has remained very near and dear to my heart always were the battles that took place to give us the rights that we have today.

I have always had the privilege to exercise my right to vote, as have the majority of both women and people of color currently living.

We did not always have these rights.

We have them because of people who fought – people who died – to give them to us.

I initially felt helpless when I got back from an off-grid float yesterday to find the country the most divided I have seen it since 1992, in the Rodney King aftermath.

But if we’re being honest, this division never went away. It didn’t disappear after the Civil War, or the Civil Rights Act. Segregation didn’t disappear just because the signs were taken down.

So I sat with a silent, angry heart, and felt helpless, as I imagine many of you do. For every destructive rioter with rage in their heart, there are so, so many more people who are peacefully protesting. And those of us who do, who always have, wanted equality regardless of race, creed, orientation, or religious beliefs, would love for that to be achieved peacefully.

For those of you who feel helpless right along with me, please know that there are things that you can do to help.

  1. Ask. I promise there are people who can point you in the right direction. If you don’t have money, maybe you have time because you (like me) are out of work right now.
  2. Give. Whether it is your time, your money, your expertise – you have something to give this world. You matter. Don’t hide that gift when your country needs it the most.
  3. Vote. And if you can’t vote, educate yourself on issues. If you don’t like the way your officials, from local to state to national, are handling the jobs voters granted them, then get involved. Make phone calls. Write letters. Ask questions, and get answers. Be qualified to answer questions that you may be asked. If you are happy with your local or state officials, but worry about other states, I promise those candidates will need your help, too.

Articles (I tried to stay middle-of-the-road and stick with Forbes) with links to worthy donations:

Forbes article on the Minnesota Freedom Fund with donation links and information*

Forbes article’s Covid-19 Giving Guide

And there are so many people offering to pay protestor bail and lawyers giving free legal advice and aid that I couldn’t possibly name them all.

We’re still the United States of America in name. Let’s also be the united states in action.

If you have any questions, and still don’t know who to ask, ask me here. If I don’t know, I will find out. And if you need help, even if it’s just a listening ear, I’m here for that, too.

Take care of yourselves out there.

*photo courtesy of Forbes.com.

Guys, I found out the juiciest little tidbit about a certain Mr. William Howard Taft over the weekend, and tried really hard not to immediately tell everyone I knew, but it’s just too good and I had to share.

For those of you just joining my Presidential Hot Goss sidebar, here are Parts I and II to catch you up. Please email me if you need more info about really any president up to 1926, though. I’ve got stories for days.

(At least one day. I’ve never been tested. But I welcome the challenge, believe me.)

Anyway, William Howard Taft had the ultimate honor bestowed upon him – the New York Pie Baker’s Union made him a 50-pound mince pie for Thanksgiving in 1909.*

*interesting to note: mincemeat pie contains no meatanymore. It was originally just a good way of preserving meat (most often mutton, but also beef, rabbit, pork, or game), without having to salt, cure, smoke, or dry it. Meat disappeared from the equation whenever someone first realized there was a meat pie with raisins and shit in it, probably.

What shoots the story deadass past cool to phenomenal are a couple of things: first, the pie was stolen en route to delivery. I can’t decide if it’s better imagining that it was an inside job or just the best day ever for some rando thief. Second, what happened after that.

Not to be deterred, the New York Pie Angels (seriously, they’re called so many things on so many sites: New York bakers, New York bakers association, bakers from New York, but let’s cut to the chase: they’re the most ephemeral, yet substantive, beautiful, now-dead angel people since the guy who made donuts a thing) upped the ante and made a HOLY SHIT ARE YOU SERIOUS 92-pound mince pie for the president for Christmas of that same year.

And Taft, hereafter known as the Don’t-Fuck-With-My-Pie-Twice president, had that gargantuan delight locked in a giant ironclad case and escorted by armed guard straight to his loving arms.

Moral of the story: man, I really wish he was still alive, though he’d be uncomfortably old. While he didn’t realize his dreams of being on the Supreme Court since he couldn’t do that and make his wife happy (“President or GTFO” is what I think she said, paraphrased), he did the best he was willing to do, and that’s okay by me since I wasn’t alive then.

Movie of the day: Ghostbusters, 2016, Amazon Prime. Yeah, I said it. Maybe it’s because I’m thinking of dead presidents so much, or maybe it’s because I finally watched this yesterday after our film club group argued about whether or not it was good, but I loved that the OGs made cameos, I loved that the women cast were the women cast, and I only cringed more than a little at the very end.

Show of the day: Billions, Showtime (Hulu). I just got the add-on for Hulu yesterday, free trial, $4.99 after until the day before it goes up and I cancel it, and we watched about five hours of this last night. I still really like it.

Song of the day: Field of Dreams soundtrack. This is my all-time honorary favorite movie, and it’s neck-and-neck with The Jerk for my definitive favorite movie. NPR played part of the soundtrack today, and I wasn’t expecting it (obviously), and anyway I teared right up. It’s gorgeous. Also, in keeping with the dead stuff theme.

**Photo courtesy of the Online Archive of California

Hey, guys, hi. I hope you had a respectful Memorial Day weekend and spent it in the way that meant the most to you. I spent it listening to my neighbor chainsaw all his trees down. It was very sad.

But we’re not here to be sad, unless you are, in which case I’ll sit with you. Hit me up in the comments.

But I digress. As is the case more often than not, I’m here today to write about movies. So for Sunday night’s Film Club selection (by the way, if I haven’t urged you guys to try out the Netflix Party extension on Chrome, absolutely do it. It’s a great chance to “watch” movies with your bros), we went back to the future.

I’ve recommended this one already, but the trilogy is still on Netflix if you want to see if it holds up. In my opinion, it absolutely does, and watching it as an adult with grown kids was an entirely different experience than watching it for the first time as a 10-year-old on her first date (“date,” in this case, meant that we did not speak, and never saw each other alone at any point).

What I noticed was, well, lots of things. First of all, how the hell old is Marty’s oldest brother, and why does he still live there at the end of the movie and act like he has any say about the family car if he has a job in which he’s allegedly very successful? MOVE OUT, DAVE. Move out, maybe make some friends, stop acting so interested in your sister’s social life. It’s weird.

But before I go down that rabbit hole, I want to talk about Marty’s parents, because I went on a whole journey for this one. Something I noticed (not so much when I was 10), and hell, like anyone noticed even if they were 10 because I’m terrible at noticing things, was that Marty’s parents were pretty awful people.

Let’s look at the evidence. Marty’s dad at first appearance seems to be a guy who has no friends, and gets bullied. That’s awful. But then, we see that he’s 1) a peeping Tom 2) the kind of guy to leave the scene when someone gets hit by a car 3) not in any way interested in people’s lives or anything but his own little world.

Marty’s mom, on the other hand, is portrayed as a woman of very loose morals, who is way down with attacking Marty, a total stranger, sexually before she even officially meets him. She drinks, she smokes, and she’s been around the block.

At the beginning of the movie, Marty’s parents seem to have resigned themselves to a pretty humdrum life, in which they don’t even have the strength to resent each other. Dave works at a fast food joint. Linda, the middle child and sister, can’t get a date to save her life. Marty seems to be the only one who has an active life with interests, though I’ll allow that we’re not given much of a peek into the other kids’ lives other than setting us up to be familiar with the characters.

Anyway, I started thinking, yeah, I get why Marty wants to keep himself from being erased, but honestly his parents are kind of the worst.

And then, almost immediately, I remembered what I was like in high school.

I didn’t drink, but only because I tried wine coolers once, got heartburn, and thought that meant I was allergic to alcohol because I’d never had heartburn. Same with cigarettes – inhaled once, thought my throat was on fire, walked away. No drugs because I grew up in the 80s, surrounded by D.A.R.E.

But I was also a moody little asshole. I had the biggest chip on my shoulder. I was super shy but also super jerky to my parents. I canceled plans routinely because I was too busy being angsty. I quit stuff when I didn’t want to do it anymore. I barely made it to first hour, ever, my senior year. I was even a dick to my favorite teacher, Ms. Holman, and she definitely didn’t do anything to deserve it. I took a bunch of diet pills once and had to have my stomach pumped.

If I’d been watching Back to the Future with me as the mom, I would’ve been like, “JESUS DO NOT LET HER HAVE CHILDREN.” (And also a little bit like, why would anyone want to be around her long enough to try?)

The point, and I did have one, is that very rarely do teenagers remain the same as older adults. They may have some of the same strengths and weaknesses, sure, but they also grow, and, hopefully, learn from their mistakes and experiences.

I still get too defensive too quickly. I still listen to music way too loud and worship the alternative genre. I still want to bang out my feelings on a keyboard, and get my ears way too pierced.

But I’ve also raised a child, and helped raise more. I’ve been married, and divorced, more than once. I’ve seen people that I loved, very, very much, die in front of me. I’ve done the right thing and been punished for it, and done the wrong thing and gotten away with it, more times than I can count. I was really sick for a long time, and wasn’t sure I’d be well. I saw others around me get really sick for a long time, and never recover.

A life is a whole, whole bunch of little parts spinning around each other to make a big picture. And that picture, while it looks pretty good from a distance, has as many ugly parts as it does beautiful.

So Marty, your parents were totally worth fighting for. While I may never know why Dave still lives there, it’s also none of my damn business.

Movie of the Day: Kind of misleading today. I’ve obviously already thrown a nod to Back to the Future, but I really want to recommend I Know This Much is True (HBO, but also Amazon Prime), a miniseries based on the Wally Lamb book of the same name that I found 20 years ago and absolutely loved. Mark Ruffalo plays twins, one of whom is schizophrenic, and he does so remarkably well.

Show of the Day: Run, HBO. (HBO gets all the praise today.) This is a fun little plot-take based on a man and a woman who were in a relationship in college and made a pact that if one should ever message the other with the word “Run” and the other one was able to also run, they would meet each other at a predetermined destination at a predetermined time. Oh, boy. You can guess where this is going.

Song of the Day: The Story, Brandi Carlile. I love this song a whole lot, obviously, but it also fits nicely into today’s blog. We all have our own stories, and those stories make us who we are today. Oh, man. Narrative paradigm is the best, and not just because it’s all I remember from college.

Yesterday was going to be the day I wrote about the events and people who helped me become capable of handling short bursts of social activity. And it was.

It’s just that there are some memories that I’m not sure are ready for prime-time. While I hope they will be soon, I still need to protect them. Plus, the writing itself was pretty ugly and disjointed and emotional and there was just no way that it would make sense to literally anyone else. Even writing this, my words are skewing that same direction.

So I’ll sum it up, for today, like this. After a solid three-plus decades of being shy and not speaking up and just letting life kind of happen, I got sick.

I was sick for awhile, and it was the kind of sick that made me vow that, if I were lucky enough to be healthy again, I would start to say yes in positive ways. Not just in ways to make people like me and to smooth over potential conflict and to keep the peace, but in ways that would make me uncomfortable and force growth and change.

There were very important people on that journey with me who did not have that choice. Who helped me through it but didn’t make it themselves. And so I decided, as my hair grew back in ridiculous corkscrews and my face stayed chemo-puffy and I looked even worse than my eighth-grade school picture and it was absolutely the wrong time to start trying out my voice and learning to make conversation and going back to college and raising my hand in class, to make those choices for them.

Don’t get me wrong. The healing wasn’t super smooth, and every time I thought I was getting better, a new kick happened…relapses and new diagnoses in friends and family, my sweet son graduating and starting his life with his own struggles. I drank a lot. I fought people who tried to help me.

The other part was that, once on the other side, I faced life with none of the ones who had gotten me through the worst of it except those I had pushed away. I credit my parents and stepmom, my brothers and sisters, for holding out their hands after I had slapped them away for so, so long.

But they stayed. And I met my now-husband, Josh, and his parents, who were all so patient and beautiful and kind to me. The kind of people who gave me space but also encouraged me.

So I moved, after an entire lifetime (40 years!) in the same town, to be with Josh and, by a huge stroke of luck, my longest-running non-biological sister, Lori, who lived just a couple of miles away.

And my family stuck with me, even though they kinda questioned the haste of my newfound “yes to adventure” phase.

And my son battled his own demons and came out stronger than ever with his own best friend and life mate, Shelby.

And, most importantly, I quit drinking. There’s no point in saying yes to EVERYTHING risky, you know?

While I am so grateful to everyone who stuck with me, who encouraged me, and who helped me start new adventures, I still struggle every time I leave the house with social anxiety. The way I get through the worst of it now, without alcohol, is in a couple of ways. The first and longest-running, that I first adopted in my days practicing interviews, is to pretend that I’m playing the role of someone confident and social. It helps to lay down that blanket of removal from the situation…I’m just playing a part, man, and it’s only a one-night engagement, so I’ll give it everything I’ve got.

Suffice it to say, this does not work every time. I’m lucky if it works half the time. Because, the other issue with being sober in social situations is that most other people are NOT. So in those cases, I try to do the bare minimum to play the part without anyone noticing me.

I also know my limits. I can make it about an hour, in any social setting, before I shut down completely. Kind of like the coach turning back into the pumpkin. So I try very hard to time things accordingly. And then get the hell out of there.

Finally, never forget the ones who want to help you. Today, I’m thinking of my father-in-law, Bill, the one who helped those tricky early days with Josh’s family become so much easier. His was the hand I could always hold in a room full of loud family who went back generations.

Bill would be 75 today. In his honor, I made a butterscotch meringue pie. I could never master this while he was alive, and I kind of hope there’s some small flaw in it (only small, I’m not a martyr) to keep with tradition.

I love you, dad, and I miss you so much. Happy birthday.

Movie of the day: Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, Amazon. I finally saw this yesterday, and it was amazing. Weird, absolutely, but amazing. It was the first of two Best Picture winners for Michael Keaton, whom I love.

Show of the day: Punky Brewster, Amazon Prime. Call it a holdover from the nostalgia from earlier this week. I don’t recommend purchasing episodes individually, but if you’re home a lot with disposable income, do it. Why not.

Song of the day: I noticed that embedding these frequently gets them removed from the site, but here’s a link to a great little also-nostalgic song, Limahl’s Never Ending Story. Also a great movie, but I already stuck Birdman in there.

Hi. Please forgive me for the appearance of this blog. I’m pretending I know what I’m doing from a graphic-design standpoint, and in starting to dig into website templates, I inadvertently deleted my old design and can’t even find the damn thing now.

Anyway, in looking at things that spoke to me from a hey-that-looks-cool way (aside from pictures of donuts and color palettes that reminded me of frosting and fonts that looked like delicious pastries – if these exist please hit me in the comments), only one header actually grabbed my attention immediately.

It was a picture of an ol’ Smith Corona typewriter. And it took me right back into time. Like, way back to the early 80s.

When I was a kid, I always wanted to type at my dad’s office. The keys were so loud and clacky and important-sounding, and I was an early adopter of Liquid-Paper-scent addiction. I can’t imagine how high I probably got opening countless bottles and breathing, deeply and repeatedly and directly, over the little opening. I just loved that smell, and the association of “writing” so, so much. That and the scent of fresh ink when I couldn’t get typewriter time in were my favorite smells (well, and the smell of my Little Granddad’s garage, and gasoline).

I never liked flowers, but I always loved grass (the kind on the ground. I definitely never cared for the smell of weed). I never liked the scent of Avon perfumes, but I loved the unique bottles they came in and have them all saved, from Mother Goose to the Gingerbread Man to the Frog Sheriff, in my dresser to this day.

I also reallllly loved the scent, and taste, of water from the garden hose.

Basically, if it turned out later to be dangerous, I probably loved sucking the smell right up into my face.

But I digress.

I loved my house (we had a pool and lots of grown-over yard spaces to make little “clubhouses,” plus neighbors that we nightly played hide-and-go-seek and honest-to-God kick the can with), but my dad’s old-fashioned office on the town square was where I preferred to be. I could type there. I could hide in the little space under the desk-behind-his-desk. I could hide in his vault where he kept records (he’s a CPA), though I didn’t much care for THAT smell. Connected to his office on each side were storefronts he also owned, so I got to know Mr. Koester from Koester’s Kut and Klip, got to explore a variety of wares in the series of flea markets that took the larger space next door, got to listen to, and peruse, a whole lot of vinyl when he had his music store in the early-mid 80s, called The Record Rack.

The town was small enough, and our house close enough, that I was allowed to walk back and forth to the square from my house by the time I was nine, which was also when I started free-babysitting my six-year-old brother and new baby sister for short stretches of time, until my sister was three and cut off her own bangs under my care. My mom stayed home with us unless she was working at the office during tax season or volunteering at the church or school or shelter. She put together a lot of puzzles, burned a lot of incense even though neither of my parents drank or smoked anything, and played a lot of Gordon Lightfoot.

I’m not sure if it was having such a rock-solid little world that aided in making me so socially-averse, but at no point in my life did I find it easy to leave my family safety net and make friends.

I remember my eighth birthday in particular, when my dad’s whole family came over to have cake and open my presents in front of them. I was terrified. I remember that Big Granddad (my dad’s dad was Big Granddad; my mom’s, Little Granddad. One was tall, one was short.) gave me a wooden baseball bat. Everyone stared at me for my reaction, and I took it, stood up, and very quietly walked upstairs, stumping it on each step like a cane, feeling their confused eyes boring into me.

And I didn’t come back down.

It was also in third grade that I became the target of a girl gang for the first time. Not knowing how to really assimilate within groups of girls my own age, I would usually go hang out under the huge tree at the back edge of the elementary school playground, or play kickball with the boys because you could line up and pretend like you were running after balls to kick them back, but then not actually do that. There was no talking, it was built-in social distancing, and it was perfect.

So anyway, girls didn’t play kickball. They stood together in groups on the playground and talked, or pushed each other on the swings and talked. I didn’t know the first thing to say to any of them. I didn’t even do my own hair or honestly even pick out my own clothes – my mom did that stuff for me (until middle school, when I turned into a raving bitch who only wanted to wear one giant sweat-outfit because I got really tall and big really fast and learned the pain of the “Husky” clothing label).

Because I didn’t play with them or talk to them, they (logically) assumed I was “stuck up”. (that was the parlance of the early-to-mid-eighties).

Fourth grade and fifth grade were the same. In sixth grade, a new, very quiet, very shy girl moved to town and we glommed together like two people in an ocean of hormones and a single piece of social-pariah driftwood do. (Mary Beth remained my go-to friend all the way through high school and is now a veterinarian. We’re both terrible socially and have gone entire years between conversations. Best friend ever.)

And so I got through high school without ever trying drugs or getting drunk, and then went to a small college. There were campus parties. There was sorority rushing. I hated every bit of it and dropped out after one semester.

While I’ll fill in the blanks a little more tomorrow with the years from 1993 to now (I know! What an exciting prospect!), I will say that I’ve adapted to people a little better in those intervening decades, mostly due to a series of pretty awful events that taught me to appreciate life.

I didn’t say it was interesting.

But for now, I will add that listening to my extroverted stepson in the next room make a series of ever-louder mouth sounds in a quest to get attention almost makes me envious of those who will never know the terror of coming across another person unexpectedly and not knowing what to say. Of being at a party where you don’t know anyone, and can’t leave, and you have no idea what the hell to do.

As I’ve mentioned before, being sequestered at home has been the best thing that could ever happen to the socially awkward. And being sequestered with two twin children dying to be social who just sprayed a pound of Axe body spray on each other can be kind of the worst. Even though I love them.

The point is, is Liquid Paper still sold anywhere?

Movie of the Day: The Paper, Amazon Prime. I wanted to be Glenn Close in this movie so much, and I love Michael Keaton’s entire catalog.

Show of the Day: Ryan Does Places, Amazon Prime. This is like traveling when you can’t travel. And Ryan is the most enthusiastic guide ever. And these are short.

Song of the Day: Pinwheel theme song. Waxing nostalgic will do this to you. When you’re a kid in a time of three channels only, and they’re all adult shows, the advent of a kid’s show that’s not just shown on Saturday mornings, but every weekday, can be a life-changer. Any Pinwheel kids out there? Let’s talk, online only.

*Liquid Paper photo courtesy of The Atlantic.

My mom says I’m a catch.

Today is Monday. It’s cloudy. I don’t have to go to work and I’m still grumpy. I 100% know this is because of the choice I made to bake chocolate chip cookies at 11 p.m. last night and eat more than I cared to count, because sometimes you DO NOT WANT TO COUNT HOW MANY COOKIES YOU EAT. Actually, do you EVER want to count how many cookies you eat? Do you? Unless it’s a competition and every cookie matters?

Please don’t misunderstand. All cookies matter.

At any rate, I had a mostly great weekend and got my hair cut right off and dyed all the way to heaven and felt great about it and worked in the yard with Josh and worked on my virtual trivia stuff and watched a couple great movies, and then I ate cookies and now I feel like literal junk.

But they were really, really good cookies.

So that’s the thing, really. Moderation is great, and recommended, and let’s all do it to master life, and let’s hashtag it and filter it and smugly drop it into conversation after we lose five pounds and people ask how we can possibly do it all and still eat what we want, but sometimes you just want to, need to, eat all the cookies.

These are not the posts you see on Instagram. But I kind of wish they were. It might make me go on Instagram more, because it’s kind of a turnoff seeing so much positivity and community-building and MLM stuff when you’re lying, not quite uncomfortably enough to vacuum it up, on a recliner-bed of your own crumbs.

Please don’t misunderstand. All Instagram posts matter. I just like the ones from bakeries most. (Magnolia, looking at you.)

Ultimately, we all want the same things: love and validation. How we best receive those things may vary from person to person, but they matter. It’s why Reddit has Toast Me AND Roast Me subs. It’s why social media worlds keep turning. It’s why people love to dramatically announce they’re leaving a group because of the negativity/crudeness/cruelty/off-topic content posted.

We just want to matter. We just want to count. We just want to feel like, at the end of all of it, we’ll be remembered.

But it’s important to remember, too, that nobody, no matter what their abs look like, no matter how many followers they have, no matter what their house/car/career looks like in photo form, has all good days. We have no idea what anyone’s everyday lives are, aside from our own. We know highlight reels. We see struggles as wispy hints only, as “before” pictures when there’s already an “after,” as alluded asides dropped in under a picture of laughter and sunlight.

Everyone has had their bed-of-crumbs days. Their rejections. Their failures.

All days matter.

No matter how much those days might absolutely crush you, I promise you’re learning along the way. And I promise that you’re not alone, not ever.

Movie of the day: Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics, Netflix. As a kid growing up in the very anti-drug 80s, I developed a terrifying picture of drugs. I wish I had been watching docs like this instead.

Show of the day: After Life, Netflix. This is dark and very hard to watch, particularly if you’ve ever watched someone you loved die, but Ricky Gervais is absolutely brilliant.

Song of the day: Popular, Nada Surf. This feels very on-the-nose for today’s blog. Plus it has brought me so much enjoyment over the years, and I hope it does for you too!

YouTube channel of the day: my friend Nathan Jones has a great channel covering movies, from their existence to blu-ray collections to Criterion to vinyl, and I like it a lot. I got to talk about snacks and the future of movies with him recently, and it was a lot of fun.

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