... is online here. A sample (from my advice to an LW with a small but very human problem):
Because you've hit it, J.S. You've described perfectly what it's like. I think a lot of folks are on that exact precipice about all kinds of things. We know and don't-know at the same time. We have all the data we need to make a decision, but we pretend we still need to do more research. Because we know what the decision is going to be, and we don't want to have to live with it.
... is online here. It's a tribute to my mother, and the many things I've learned from her, including ...
Keep 'em guessing: My mother is a sweet little widow who goes to church every Sunday. She's also one of the tougher street kids ever to scratch her way out of Depression-era Queens. She gets an enormous kick out of playing against type. Which is how I learned that to get people to listen to you, you have to keep changing it up. Paradoxes intrigue. Critical questions are most startling when phrased simply. A double-entendre is never more hilarious than from a devout Christian. And everyone from Jesus to Johnny Cash knows that sinners' prayers are sweetest.
Not long ago, we lived in a world where cursing was verboten, only sailors had tattoos, and smoking marijuana was confined to college experimentation. Are these things really more prevalent today or were they acceptable long before they reached the puritanical eyes of American society? And if they are met with less disdain these days, is it because we're a more accepting society or because this is the beginning of a backslide into a social world rife with slovenly self-conduct? Moderator Robin Abrahams (author, "Miss Conduct" etiquette column) talks with Melissa Mohr (author, Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing), Margot Mifflin (author, Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo), and Bill Downing (former President, MassCANN/NORML) to determine whether we can let it all hang out or if crossing the line is a harbinger of societal disaster.Doesn't that sound fun? Weed, tats, and cussin'! Join us tomorrow night at 6:30 for what is sure to be a lively discussion.
Is he the logical, task-oriented sort while you tend to be more socially motivated? A lifetime of experience has taught me that such mismatched relationships can often be quite happy. Two warnings, though, to keep your differences productive rather than destructive. One, recognize your differences as such. It's not always a question of one party or the other being "wrong." Also, even if your sweetheart is Mr. Business and you're Miss Pleasure, you shouldn't take on one hundred percent of the role of social director and emotional connection-maker. It's an easy dynamic to fall into, particularly for straight couples where the woman is the social butterfly. But to do so erodes the social skills and emotional support network of the, er, social caterpillar in the couple.
In February, in dear-God-we-were-so-young-then February, I dared to write that 2013 was shaping up to be a mad, immoderate, lurchy year. Obviously, I wasn't to know the half of it.
Can I blame the crazy end-times feeling of the year for the feeling I have, too, of constantly pinballing from one deadline or bout of illness or major trip (his, mine, or ours) to the next? Or is that just life, the thing that happens while you're making other plans? I pointed out to a friend recently that she "has it all" more than any woman I know. And she laughed and conked her head on the table and said "Dear God" like I knew she would, like any of us would, even though she's a wise and grateful person and knows that she has a wonderful life: a good marriage, smart loving kids, a fulfilling part-time career, weekends full of art and science and family projects. And of course she feels like she's running around putting out fires and satisfying completely irrational demands and thinking about the next three tasks on her to-do list instead of the one she's actually doing.
Even the most meaningful and dignified life probably feels absurd a good deal of the time.
Some days I'm not sure if pushing back against that feeling of absurdity is the right path or not. Is it striving for greater mindfulness, or striving to look like a woman in a coffee commercial?
... is online here. It's about bullies (the grownup, "I was just kidding" variety). A sample:
People seem to think that this is a social juncture where having a witty comeback would do them no end of good. Perhaps it would, in a placebo confidence-boosting sort of way; some people might only feel comfortable speaking up if they believed their words to be unimpeachable. But you don't need a witty comeback when a dog decides to hump your leg. All you need is a command voice and the will to use it.
But I do love this city. I love its atrocious accent, its inferiority complex in terms of New York, its nut-job drivers, the insane logic of its street system. I get a perverse pleasure every time I take the T in the winter and the air-conditioning is on in the subway car, or when I take it in the summer and the heat is blasting. Bostonians don't love easy things, they love hard things -- blizzards, the bleachers in Fenway Park, a good brawl over a contested parking space. Two different friends texted me the identical message yesterday: They messed with the wrong city. This wasn't a macho sentiment. It wasn't "Bring it on" or a similarly insipid bit of posturing. The point wasn't how we were going to mass in the coffee shops of the South End to figure out how to retaliate. Law enforcement will take care of that, thank you. No, what a Bostonian means when he or she says "They messed with the wrong city" is "You don't think this changes anything, do you?"And in a similar but more profane and hilarious vein, Jim Dowd:
This place gave us Leonard Nimoy and Mark Walberg. Southie and Cambridge. Brookline and Brockton. This place will kick the screaming piss out of you, come up with a cure for having the screaming piss kicked out of you, give it to you for free, then win a Nobel prize for it and then use the medallion to break your knuckles. See what I'm talking about?
My response to Nate Bell's "apology" to the citizens of Massachusetts: "Your apology is not accepted. May God Himself accept your declaration of moral, intellectual, and rhetorical bankruptcy."
I'm angry at some of the right-wing characterizations of Boston's actions yesterday. This was not martial law. Nobody was "cowering" in their homes. The lockdown was a request that we were happy to comply with, because it was the most useful thing 99% of us could do. Bostonians damn well know how to lead, follow, or GET OUT OF THE WAY. Yes, we shut down the city for the day and took the economic hit. If God forbid something like this happens AGAIN, we'll decide to what extent we want to follow this model subsequently. No, it doesn't mean any 19-year-old with a grudge can drive the city to a halt any time he wants. It means we take sh*t SERIOUSLY in this town. Any mistakes we made on this? We'll learn from. Don't you worry.
I've noted for a long time that Boston "rudeness" is actually a particular code of etiquette, one based on respect for the *goals* (rather than the feelings or personal space) of other people. To some degree, the disjunct between what we felt yesterday, and what the rest of the nation perceived, reflects that difference in etiquette. Bostonians show respect by *providing information* and *getting out of each others' way*. The last time we confused the nation this badly was during the Democratic National Convention in 2004, when we politely exited the city en masse to let the conventioneers have it to themselves. Not everyone's definition of hospitality, it turned out.But I think Miss Conduct's final word on the lockdown will have to be this:
Another thing people outside Boston may not understand: We routinely drive, bicycle, and traverse our public roadways like utter maniacs. In order to free up sufficient first-response police and medical personnel, we could either learn decent manners overnight, or stay home. We made the right choice.
... is online here. It's a three-fer! Here's question (and answer) number two:
How does one respond to colleagues who say "You shouldn't have" when you give them a small gift as a thank you, get well, or going away present?
B.W. / Reading
You say this: "Of course we 'had to.' What kind of terrible people wouldn't [reward a job well done/bring a sick person a plant/honor your long years of service]? Now say 'Thank you' and [open your present/get well/let?s all go out for a drink]!"
Got it? People who say "You shouldn't have" feel uncomfortable being the center of attention. So you give Wally Wallflower a gentle shake to remind him that, comfortable or not, he is the center of attention on account of his brilliant job on the Macguffin account or his broken leg or imminent retirement, and the rest of you are responding appropriately. Then you feed him his next line ("Thank you!"), just like a stage manager would.
My synagogue cancelled service tonight. I support this decision, but I know it cannot have been made easily. The symbolism is painful.
But if I am going to be a Jew hiding in my house, I am glad to be a Jew hiding in my house with my city, not from them.
All my life I have loved stories of wanderers who find their home. Boston is my home.
I love you. Be safe. Shabbat Shalom.
Last week I blogged about suggestions from chatters for the problem of feeding foodies: what to do when you want to entertain people whose cooking skills and food savvy far exceed your own.
Here's another dinner-guest-having problem that occurred to me this weekend: Do you feel socially obligated to offer friends fancier/more indulgent food than you yourself normally eat? I don't usually eat bread, for example, nor do most of my friends--but if I'm having my homegirls over for dinner, even the most ardently low-carb of the Fabulous Bureaucrats, I will put bread on the table. Because you're entertaining, it's what you do. Also, dessert.
I'm trying to move away from this, and cook for guests the way I cook for Mr. Improbable and myself--simple healthy food, which I'm actually pretty good at. But there's still a part of me--that raised-in-the-Midwest-in-the1970s-part, I suppose--that feels that "company food" ought to be indulgent, buttery fare. How about you?
[W]hen a person pulls the "me-or-X" routine, then as healthy individuals with boundaries and all that good stuff, you really ought to think about sticking with X. Why? Because X isn't trying to control your lives.
Sometimes, of course, X is in fact trying to control your life. If X is an addiction or an abusive family member or an illness you refuse to address, then "It's me or X!" coming from a friend or partner invested in your well-being should be a wake-up call. But in those situations, "Me" is trying to save you--not him- or herself--from "X."
For Pandora, cooking is a form of love. Alas, her husband, Fletcher, a self-employed high-end cabinetmaker, now spurns the "toxic" dishes that he'd savored through their courtship, and spends hours each day to manic cycling. Then, when Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at the airport, she doesn't recognize him. In the years since they've seen one another, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? After Edison has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: It's him or me.
Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie's aneurysm, that's Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie's aneurysm, that was Katie's husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to .... When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan's patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.
Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, "Life is unfair" and "Why me?" That's the one payoff for being in the center ring. Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.(illustration by Wes Bausmith for the LA Times)
Do you have any tips for dealing with foodies, or food snobs? I have several friends who are great, locavore, state-of-the-art cooks and I'd like to reciprocate by having them over. But I'm not as accomplished as they are. It's not that they complain, it's more my anxiety over not having the best ingredients, techniques, etc. I try to keep it simple, but then it doesn't seem like I've done enough. How can I make these evenings go more smoothly and pleasantly without getting a certificate from the Culinary Institute?
Figure one or two dishes that you can make well, and that people like eating. Then, when you entertain, serve those. Whether you are entertaining a king or a ... cabbage. (Wait, that's not a real phrase, is it?) Eating at some people's houses is a great culinary experience. Eating at other people's houses is a great conversational experience. If you don't have a huge amount of faith in your cooking, it only has to be good enough not to detract from the conversation. And people really don't mind knowing that an invitation to Not Julia's place means Moroccan Chicken again. (It helps them pick out a wine to bring.) Look how many people order the same entree every time they go to a restaurant, after all! Foodies also appreciate that sometimes the food is just the activity that brings people together. It doesn't have to be the star of the show. If I'm talking with old friends or exciting new ones, or listening to excellent music, or playing an engaging game ... hey, crackers and cheese are just great.
- Eating and not having to do dishes, the best experience! sponica
- A peanut butter and jelly sandwich always tastes better when someone else makes it! Daisy
- What you are doing that is special is inviting them into your home -- the rest is details. Carolyn
- I think uber-chefs are almost more like performers -- they love an appreciative audience. So applaud their own performances, but don't feel you have to put on your own one-woman show. bubu
- Buy really good, high-end ingredients that they will be impressed with, but then make a really simple recipe with them. Tony
- Also with summer approaching you can do a lot with a nice spread of cheeses (local or not) and good breads, seasonal produce, olives, etc. Foodies appreciate good food, regardless of how much work you put into it. bubu
- I know this is super cliche, but if they're really friends they won't care. But, try something new to please their taste buds, and they'll be touched by the gesture. Also, it's really easy to get some nice meats and/or cheeses set up. Olives too. If you can, go to a higher end grocery store and talk to the employees about their recommendations. Elizabeth
- If you have a certain ethnic heritage and related specialty, you could make that -- or even takeout from a cool local ethnic place. Foodies often are just really culinarily curious, so anything new or unusual will intrigue. Your Name
- Have a pasta making party - let the cooks cook. You provide ingredients and make a couple of sauces ahead of time. Serve prosecco while hanging the pasta! Daisy
A reader sends in this amusing anecdote:
I was riding the red- line from Quincy Adams to Park Street at 6:30 pm on 4/6/13. There were many announcements over the intercom regarding no smoking on the train.
Sitting across from me was a young clueless self- absorbed non smoking woman who thought it was fine to give herself a manicure on the train with noxious smelling purple nail polish. It was making me nautious - to avoid regurgitation or passing out on the train I told her to kindly desist - which (by fair reporting standards - she promptly did). The post office doesn't allow folks to mail nail polish - the MBTA should not allow folks to use or open noxious substances on the train - they should post and announce those rules.
However I may have started a romance when a scrawny pubescent rock star wannabe in black glasses, black clothing, and a black guitar case - told the oblivious young woman that he LIKED feeling dizzy from the odor - "it did not bother HIM" - and told me - a fiftysomething woman - to 'shut up' - perhaps they will exchange phone numbers - mate - and spawn ill mannered children whom - I hope - will not be subjected to toxic fumes and dissonant music.
Now I feel better.
... is online here. It's kind of a festival of people who can't express their emotions openly.
I do, however, have a bouncing baby project to share: I'll be playing the role of Jo-Jo Lamotte in the Belmont Dramatic Club's production of "Agatha Christie Made Me Do It," April 26-28. It's a comic murder mystery about a young heir who wakes up after a bender married to two women: Annie, who works in a chocolate factory, and Jo-Jo, a nightclub dancer.
Community theater being what it is, actors are asked to bring their own costumes if possible. The show is set in 1978, and my friends, it is truly impressive how many outfits I have that could plausibly be worn by an off-duty stripper in the 70s. (For the audition, I wore a black silk kimono over black velvet lounge pants and tank, leopard-print platform heels and a wide leopard-print headband. Very Joanne Worley. I did not anticipate getting lost on the way to the Belmont Town Hall and having to stop at a gas station for directions.)
I'll be posting more about the show as rehearsals go on. In the meantime, mark your calendars! Tickets are $18 and despite my character's profession, it's family-friendly G-rated silliness all the way (think "Carol Burnett Show" sketch).
A moment of social science: Priming refers to the way information you already active in your mind affects the way you make sense of any new information you get. Exactly how priming works and under what conditions is still unclear, but it's definitely a thing. Driving to rehearsal Thursday night, I was singing along to the radio in Jo-Jo's voice and trying to remember my Act II blocking. The car in front of me had a bumper sticker in the religious-symbol-font style more often seen with COEXIST.
Robin would have read that as TOLERANCE. Jo-Jo read it as POLEDANCE.
... is online here. The first letter was originally much longer and detail-ridden in that way that indicates a fair amount of suppressed freaking-out-ness. I think it got cut a little too much for readers to get that. Believe me, when I say the LW sounded "thin of skin and frayed of nerves," she really did.
In letter #2 I got to cite one of my favorite quotes, from Thackeray's Vanity Fair:
"By humbly and frankly acknowledging yourself to be in the wrong, there is no knowing, my son, what good you may do. I knew once a gentleman . . . who used to do little wrongs to his neighbours on purpose, and in order to apologise for them in an open and manly way afterwards--and what ensued? My friend Crocky Doyle was liked everywhere, and deemed to be rather impetuous--but the honestest fellow."
Continuing in a literary vein, here is a small art project I made to welcome Mr. Improbable home from a trip once:
Happy Easter, Christians! Happy continued Passover, Jews! Happy Spring, everyone!
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at email@example.com.