Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Speaking of Scones....

Dear Billy, Thank you for your letter. You wrote that you went to the Big Easy and dined out several times. You have a blog. You’re wondering if you should tell people about your culinary experience.

Well, Billy, when I have to make a difficult decision -- such as whether to watch an hour of “I Love the ‘90s” or write about crème brulee, I often think of the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule says that we should treat others as we’d like to be treated. You might ask yourself, “If I were a blog surfer, would I want to find an essay about New Orleans’ food?”

The answer, of course, is no. If I were a blog surfer, I’d hope for a racy essay a la “Sex and the City,” not a caloric essay a la mode. But one of my co-workers occasionally says, “Food is sex,” so maybe you can use your sensory imagination. (For the record, the ice-cream party on the July cover really is an ice-cream orgy, er, party.)

Thursday night, we ate at the Upper Line, an Uptown place recommended by my advisor-to-be. I ordered the grilled salmon with pureed spinach, while Mom went for veal grillades (pronounced grill-a-DEEs, not gree-ya-DAYS, according to our waiter). I also had a cosmopolitan -- my nod to Carrie Bradshaw.

Good menu phonetics apparently doesn’t guarantee good cuisine. Sure, you can say escargot….but can you cook the snail? At its high price, my salmon and spinach could have used more marinade. Or at least more garlic and lemon juice. Garlic and lemon juice are the Duct tape of the culinary world. Bland baked potato? Garlic and lemon juice. Lonely garbanzos? Garlic and lemon juice. When in doubt, drink more cheap wine and add garlic and lemon juice.

Maybe this is too-critical talk coming from a girl whose favorite kitchen instrument is the can opener. Lack of flavor has never prevented me from eating ….and eating….and eating. I finished most of my salmon and spinach, nixing my appetite on Friday morning and afternoon. My Friday night cosmopolitan tasted that much better after an all-day fast. Actually, after a few sips my whole day got better. The restaurant (Herb-Saint? McDonald’s?) had the most attractive waiters! The crispest tablecloths! Four stars! Another cosmopolitan!

Seriously, Herb-Saint has some great French fries. I realize there’s no better post-binge food than the fry, but even a straight edge would praise Herb-Saint’s fries. Our waiter explained that the lucky Herb-Saint potato is peeled, sliced, rinsed, sliced again (to remove extra starch), then fried. Ketchup? Zut, no! These fries are served with a creamy horseradish sauce. I wouldn’t be surprised if the horseradish only grows on a magical vine deep within the Garden District.

My alcohol-grease euphoria wasn’t quite at its peak when our guests arrived. Technically, they weren’t our guests -- only one middle-to-upper-aged couple and their male friend. But my mom immediately welcomed them to the booth adjoining our table. “You’ve got to order the fries!” she exclaimed. I contemplated another, stronger drink.

Anne Lamott wrote that she says two prayers before boarding a plane: 1) "Please don’t let the plane crash." 2) "Please don’t let any of the other passengers talk to me." I subscribe to this mentality/spirituality. My mom, on the other (right, I suppose) hand, spreads Christian good will to fellow diners, passengers, elevator occupants, etc. If life has a Miss Congeniality award, Mom will win it. I’ll close my eyes and say “world peace” until the judges let me pass.

“Where are you all from?” Mom asked the group, after they had ordered the fries. Right here in New Orleans. And us? “We’re from Tennessee, but my daughter lives in Pennsylvania.” Philadelphia? Pittsburgh? “No, Honesdale. Near Scranton.” Honesdale! Male Friend put down his glass. “Why, if I had eyes like yours, I’d be in the big city!” Come again? “Yes, sir! The boys here are gonna be all over you!”

Waiter? Another cosmo?

This is the only pick-up line I received during my stay in New Orleans. If the boys really are going to be “all over me,” I guess they’re keeping a respectful distance while they warm up. I do have a way with the over-70s, I must admit. But I felt Rolaids-brand relief when the waiter arrived with our check.

On our last night in the bayou I again ordered salmon -- served in a creamy sauce atop ricotta gnocchi. There’s a tasty review of La Petit here:


So, instead of describing my entrée at length, I’ll tell you about a crepe I enjoyed on Broadway, near Tulane.

When I think “crepe,” I imagine strawberries and whipped cream, tossed in a pancake by Pepe Le Pew. My Broadway crepe was no lightweight dessert, though, and the chef had neither twisty moustache nor (unfortunately) lovesick grin. My crepe -- selected from a list of 20+ options -- contained baby spinach, white asparagus, caramelized onions, garlic, and melted swiss. Mon dieu! The creator of this “Ultimate Vegetarian Crepe” came straight from The Outsiders or Rebel Without a Cause. Skinny, dreadlocked, misunderstood as only a crepe artist can be. When he handed me this masterpiece in a paper cone, he said, “Here you go, sweetie.” Voulez vous coucher avec moi, mi amor.

I didn’t get a beignet until I reached the airport on Sunday morning. The combination of fried dough and powdered sugar always scores, but N’Awlins beignets should be enjoyed at an outside café with Dixieland jazz playing nearby. There’s little romance in “Mr. Johnson, please pick up the nearest courtesy phone and dial zero.…” At 10 a.m. I boarded my flight to Philadelphia and opened a package of Cheez-Its, Best If Sold by 4/05. I had reached my final course. Back to Chez Can Opener.

Billy, I hope this letter helps. Good luck, and best wishes from everyone here. And if you’re ordering for me, I like my glass frosted and my fish medium-rare.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Bed, Bath, and Bewildered

If I wanted to, I could move out of here on Wednesday. A 2/br, 1/ba hdwd. flr., central a/c on Pine Street in Uptown N.O. is mine starting June 1. I found a home (and more than one beignet). Let the decorating begin.

My mom is a career decorator. Shortly after “Trading Spaces” became a staple (or a stud gun) on TLC, she started a business called Melinda Haines Arranges Great Rooms. Clients pay her to provide extreme makeovers to their souvenir-plated living rooms and kitschy kitchens. When she started the biz, her appointment book included a few consultations with neighbors and Junior League friends. Thanks to the Murf grapevine, she now carts scones and drape fabric to Nashville at least thrice a week. She has the skills to floof Green Hills, my mom.

The designer gene, well….it skipped me. My former Hughes housemate will vouch. Danielle routinely revamped her wardrobe by hauling Hefty bags of last summer’s trends to Goodwill. I got dibs before Goodwill. “You’re ‘function over form,’” D. would sigh, gazing mournfully at my Gap jeans and sneakers. Yes, but I got less blisters.

Danielle and I both bought parts of our bedroom sets at Ikea in Houston, but I bet she has swapped her giant gray pillow for a few Victoria’s Secret throws by now. I’m still sleeping under a pink-and-red, floral comforter that would go equally well in my 4-year-old cousin’s bedroom. My childhood bear lounges on the top sheet. I know Ted is thinking, “Grow up, already.”

But, to quote Peter Pan (not that I have a Peter Pan complex…Not I. Not me. No way.….): “Growing up is awfuller than all the awful things that ever were.” If I could pattern my new bedroom after a Disney movie or a spiky-haired boy band, I’d be there. In elementary school, my themed birthday parties would have made Capote’s Black and White Ball blush. What’s the theme for adulthood? Something in olive?

My mom suggests a “retro” style, and since I already have a few Mary Tyler Mooreish pieces from my grandparents’ kitchen, I’ll probably look for more orange and chartreuse.

Thank goodness I have a few more nights to sleep on it….under my pink polka-dot blankets.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


I'm leaving for N'Awlins today,
To search for a new place to stay.
If I can't find a home
(the main fear in this poem),
Then at least I will have a beignet.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Little Crustacean Love

I’m used to spending Monday nights with Chris Harrison, but “The Bachelor” has fondled his final blonde. Tomorrow night’s “American Idol” showdown will end my reality telethon. No Seacrest. No Probst. No Trump. What’s a singleton to do? Live alone? Think of all the friends I’ve known?

Most likely, I’ll just catch up on quality time with my crabs.

Connick and Dave have lived with me for about three months, and, to be honest, they haven’t changed much. What gives, guys? I feel I’ve transformed significantly since March. My headspace is clearer. My office is cleaner. I’ve memorized forms one through three in Tang Soo Do. The crabs haven’t even molted.

If I owned a cat or a dog, or even a fish, I’m pretty sure I’d notice growth by now. In three months, a dog could learn to fetch my People magazine. A cat might curl up beside me while I eat China Castle. Maybe the fish would follow my finger, or something. When I set Connick and Dave on the floor, they try to crawl behind the couch. Three months ago, they tried to crawl behind the couch. If they ever made it behind the couch, I think their crustacean brains would implode. They’d have to attempt crawling behind a chair.

Everyone says change is good. Today I wrote a rejection for a kid’s story titled “Quackers.” The eponymous protagonist is a duck who is “very plain and ugly for a duck.” Quackers is so ashamed of his plainness that he won’t quack. This is a problem, since he can’t communicate with the other ducks, or “play football and stuff.” Fortunately, he falls head over webbed feet for Princess Swapalop, and love transforms him into a new duck. Princess Swapalop asks Quackers to relocate, as high-maintenance duck princesses often do.

The author notes: “This was a very big challenge for Quackers. Going off to a very strange land not knowing anyone is tough.”

Quackers’ leap (waddle) of faith pays off -- “he really liked the new pond he was at and he really liked the people there.” He and Princess Swapalop live happily ever after. Change is good.

So, Wednesday I’ll fly to New Orleans for apartment hunting. It’s a new pond, and maybe I’ll really like it. Connick and Dave will ship off to Aunt Mary’s, where they will probably attempt crawling behind her couch. Once again, I’m changing, and the crabs are resolute. Can I tell you something? It’s almost a relief.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan

I could write an essay to summarize the events of the past week, but the week's pace seemed better suited to a G&S tune. Many apologies for the coarseness of the language....I'm an editor, not a Pirate King.


It was the very model of a typically crazy week
My brain’s so full of flashbacks from it now that I can hardly speak
I know Siddhartha sagely claims that crazy weeks, they too, shall pass
But the sum events from this one week completely knocked me on my ass

The sum events from this one week completely knocked her on her ass
The sum events from this one week completely knocked her on her ass
The sum events from this one week TKOed her, knocked her on her ass

It started on a Sunday with my journey to the laundromat
My car is making noises reminiscent of a drowning cat
The oil light’s on, and Dad suggests I call the Exxon right away
If I want my engine to survive until next Saturday

I dial the service station and deliver my poor vehicle
Suspecting that this trip will cost me more that just one wee nickel
It turns out that my brakes are shot -- they can’t survive another hill
Three more digits charged to Jesse’s ever-mounting Visa bill

Three more digits charged to Jesse’s ever-mounting Visa bill
Three more digits charged to Jesse’s ever-mounting Visa bill
How will she pay this monstrous, climbing, ever-mounting Visa-isa bill?

On Wednesday the phone rings twice, I think it’s a mechanic’s call
Out of breath, I race to beat my voicemail’s flat, atonal drawl
Summoning a chipper note and full-of-hope I say “hello,”
“This is ______,” intones my ex from not so very long ago

We chat for twenty minutes while my stomach plays the acrobat,
He wants to say he’s sorry, but I’ve simply had enough of that
I try to make it plain -- his face I really do not care to see
Until we both have seen a few more dozen years of therapy

Until they both have seen a few more dozen years of therapy
Until they both have seen a few more dozen years of therapy
Perhaps after a thousand hours of most intensive thera-era-py.

The weekend is upon me; I regard it with utmost ado
On Friday night I doze off after Muppets and a drink or two
Next morning I find I’d like to snooze and read my book a bit
But horrors -- I promised a co-worker that I’d babysit

I won’t be playing videos or multiple, fun rounds of Clue
I’m overseeing toddlers at a wedding and reception, too
Mary’s sitting with me; it’s a match to challenge both our wills
This matrimony better not depend upon our child-care skills

This matrimony better not depend upon their child-care skills
This matrimony better not depend upon their child-care skills
The wedding should not hinge upon two interns’ meager babysitting skills

The ring bearer’s a two year old who races up and down the aisle
I do my best to plaster on a self-assured and placid smile
Perform the Macarena with some puppets that we brought along
Can’t believe I’m here or that the DJ chose to play this song.

At last the cake is cut and we’re given the OK to go
I’m happy to get home and lie down upon a couch pillow
Voicemail flashing, and I wonder who could this call be?
A summer fling who telephoned -- he wanted to “say hi” to me.

This summer fling telephoned and wanted to say hi to me
This summer fling telephoned and wanted to say hi to me
What is it with these former flames calling just to say hello to me?

This morning starts another week; it’s Dad’s birthday, and all is well
As weeks go, I’m sure that this’ll be a better sell.
In short, I think it’s rather safe to say I’ve more than fully hit my peak
Of things that I can handle in a typically crazy week

In short, we can but only state it’s safe that Jesse’s hit her peak
Of things that she can handle in a typically crazy week.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Time Crawls

Parker turned 14 today. I called to wish him a happy birthday. Our conversation was reminiscent of my more awkward blind dates.

Me: Hey! Parker! Happy birthday!
Parker: Thanks.
Me: What are you up to?
Parker: Nothing.
Me: You’re not going to celebrate tonight?
Parker: No.
Me: Oh, that’s too bad. Did you have a party, at least?
Parker: No.
Me: Is school going well?
Parker: Yeah.
Me: So, uh, is your mom around?

I sent him a gift certificate from Amazon.com -- purchased online and emailed roughly six hours ago. Somehow I doubt Hallmark will feature us in their next commercial.

Of course, I invoked the requisite cousinly nostalgia in my e-note: “14.…wow. Seems like not that long ago you were 4, and I was 14.” Alert! Cuidado! Cool points decreasing rapidly! I might as well be smacking my gums and tapping Parker on the head with a cane. “By cracky, I remember when you were yea high to a grasshopper, boy!” To my cousin, I guess I am just another run-of-the-mill adult, smarmy and clueless. Pass the Rolaids.

Ten years shouldn’t make such a big difference. I work with people who are one to four decades older than I am -- we all enjoy the same chai from the Himalayan. We all worship the same God and bear unkind thoughts toward the same President. We call each other by our first names. My mom’s friends are still Mrs. Coleman and Mrs. Spangler, but I work with Kim and Marileta.

Still, when I think about me at 14, I see how the years didn’t slip up on me at all. 1995 didn’t flip to 2005 like one of those “pages ripped from the calendar” scenes in a movie. It was a slow (painful? sometimes) progression. Along the way, I gained two degrees, lost my grandfather. Said goodbye to my pet cat, Allison Marie Haines and to our ‘85 Volvo, Fred. Moved from Murfreesboro to Massachusetts to Arkansas to Pennsylvania.

When my high school history teacher caught us looking at our watches, he used to say, “Time will pass. Will you?” Yeah, I did. It did, too.

And now, here I am. 24. Fourteen does seem like “long ago.” By cracky.

Only a handful of co-workers were around the office today. Most of the editors, including my boss, are in Columbus, Ohio for a meeting at corporate HQ. I wore jeans to work. And…well….since it is Friday and everything, I engaged Hillary in an email game of “Top 5.” Top 5 Embarrassing Moments. Top 5 Foods You’d Bring to a Desert Island. Top 5 Songs You Could Listen to Over and Over. Top 5 (NC-17).

Hillary posed Top 5 Things You’d Like to Do in the Next Ten Years.

That’s easy enough. By the time I’m 34, I’d like to (in no particular order):

1. Meet the man of my dreams and get married.
2. Earn a Ph.D., become a child psychologist, move to a smallish southern city.
3. Start writing a book, either for young adults or perpetual teenagers.
4. Have a few margaritas with old friends.
5. Go to another Harry Connick Jr. concert.

Seems like a lot. I should get started now, but it’s late....and I do have another decade.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Graphics Boy, We Hardly Knew Ye!

Graphics Boy has come and gone.

When he arrived at Highlights in January, we knew he wouldn’t last long.

For one thing, Graphics Boy didn’t look like the rest of us. Editors and graphic-designers are a desk-bound population. The longer we sit in front of our Hewlett Packards, it seems, the more wizened we become -- it’s as if we’re absorbing the glow of our computer screens. Even after just four months of editorial internship, I felt like a blonde Yoda. “Happy we are to have you here,” I croaked.

Graphics Boy had what Horatio Alger or Nora Roberts might term a “ruddy glow.” He wore old tennis shoes. He smelled vaguely of grass, of one type or another.

He was also young (I guessed around 19 or 20) and good looking, in a Justin Timberlake-meets-Jack Kerouac sort of way. After Graphics Boy’s introduction, Mary and I exchanged several emails with the subject line “fresh meat.” Shameless objectification? Absolutely. But it’s important to put this in context: we were (are) two single 20-somethings, living in Honesdale, committed to 40 hours per week of alliterative animals. Four months of Ricky Rabbit surely justified five minutes of Jessica Rabbit.

Unfortunately, Highlights isolates its graphics department in a separate building. Who knows what would happen if English majors and graphic-design majors worked under the same roof. It would probably be like one of those VH1 “Surreal Life” episodes --- Flava Flav casually chatting with Uncle Joey from Full House. Weird.

Mary and I briefly embarked on a Graphics Boy fact-finding mission, but we never learned more than his real name: Justin (hence the Timberlake aura?). “Graphics Boy” sounded more appealing, so we continued to use this pseudonym until the humor/lust wore off. Then we gave up.

About a month passed until the Information Technology team made things interesting again. I tend to ignore my IT emails, since they generally contain lots of complex acronyms translated to mean “upcoming power outage” or “don’t open any strange attachments.” This time, though, IT presented “I” worth noting: a list containing the names and email addresses of all Highlights employees. As Dr. Burns would say, "Exxxxxxcellent."

Putting on my best Donna Reed, “Welcome to the neighborhood!” face, I typed a message to Graphics Boy (er, Justin): “Glad you’re here! We Honesdale 20-somethings need to stick together!” (Assuming he is a 20-something……please, please, please). “Want to join some of us at the movies on Friday?”

My track record for scoring “movie dates” with attractive strangers is rather poor, but -- that same afternoon -- Graphics Boy responded! Yes, he would like to go to the movies. He’d have to bum a ride, since he didn’t own a car. But he appreciated the invitation, and, what’s more, it was the first activity invitation of any sort he’d received since coming to Honesdale. Jesse the Good Samaritan! Jesse the Seductive Samaritan! Suzy Squirrel the Seductive Samaritan! Huzzah!

Mary and I attempted to sell Movie Night to other co-workers, but nobody else needed a Samaritan. As Friday approached, our “group welcome” of Graphics Boy took the scent of a not-so-cleverly disguised menage a trios. Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson. We decided to put Graphics Boy’s young, impressionable mind at ease by picking the least suggestive film possible: Million Dollar Baby.

On the ride to the theater -- Mary and I seated up front, Graphics Boy crouching in the back with my various car manuals and empty cans of Diet Coke -- Graphics Boy revealed the following:

1. He’s originally from Michigan.
2. He travels a lot.
3. He likes to paint.
4. He has a girlfriend.
5. He has a girlfriend.
6. He has a girlfriend.

As we scooted into our theater seats, Graphics Boy again reminded us that he has a girlfriend. I began to find this insulting. Who did he think Mary and I were, anyway? The Sirens of northeastern Pennsylvania? Did he think we were going to tie him to a rock and serenade him with old “Goofus and Gallant” features? Goofus Intern deflowers Graphics Boy at the Cinema 6. Gallant Intern directs an after-school special condemning such debauchery.

I saw Graphics Boy only two more times after Movie Night. In early April, he tagged along on our trip to hear the Cunning Stunts. The subsequent unveiling of my inner Britney sufficiently scared him off until the end of the month. On one of the last weeks of April, I received an email from him: he wondered if Mary and I wanted to attend a Friday night poetry reading at the Himalayan Yoga Café (the same open mic I wrote about earlier). With Mary vacationing in California, I was hurting for social stimulation. “Sure,” I wrote back. “Sounds good.”

I walked into the Himalayan at 6:30 p.m. sharp. No Graphics Boy. Browsed aromatic eye pillows and vegan cookbooks for ten minutes. Still no Graphics Boy. Just before the first poet took the mic, Graphics Boy sauntered in….with a girl. Not a Highlights girl, either -- this girl had the aloof expression and slight forward-jutting jaw of a former college volleyball star. “You know Jackie who used to work at Highlights?” Graphics Boy asked me. “Hi, Jackie,” I extended my hand. “I’m Jesse. I’m interning at Highlights. The girl smirked. “No, no,” Graphics Boy laughed. “This is Jackie’s sister.”

To quote an acronym used even by English majors: WTF? How had Graphics Boy endeared himself with townies? Graphics Boy was the sole property of Highlights. We took him in. We took pity on him. And now here he stood with this lean, North Face-wearing blonde. North Face and Graphics Boy settled into the back row of folding chairs. I plunked into an aisle seat. North Face and Graphics Boy laughed and whispered to each other. I scowled.

Paul and Joelle arrived about halfway through the reading -- two Good Samaritans to the rescue. After the final poet had taken his final dramatic pause, Joelle, Paul, and I went for rum-and-Cokes at a pub down the street. Graphics Boy and North Face joined us, but they quickly retired to the pool table. I’ve never been a pool player. Capital P that rhymes with T that means Too Bad for me.

I left the pub with Joelle and Paul without saying goodbye to Graphics Boy. Goofus behavior on my part, and it came back to bite me. This past Tuesday, IT circulated another email; this one titled “Justin.” Graphics Boy was leaving. He missed his family in Michigan. I’m sure he missed his girlfriend, too.

Yesterday, Highlights held an hour-long farewell luncheon for Graphics Boy at one of Honesdale’s many two-star pizza places. Yesterday night, Graphics Boy returned to Michigan. I’m not sure how he made his departure, since he never acquired a car -- his goodbye was as mystery-shrouded as his hello. For us, a short, strange trip. For him, maybe, another journey toward some JPEGed destination.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

I Hate It When This Happens.....

These two gems are from the batch of letters I'm answering this week. Names have been changed, but there's no way I'm clever enough to make up the situations:

Dear Heather:

Thank you for your letter. You wrote that your friends at school say you’re so popular and lucky and that everyone loves you. This is true, but it’s starting to get so annoying. People are always following you and wanting to be next to you. Sometimes they even follow you home. You said you are so annoyed sometimes, you feel as if you want to scream. You asked what you should do.

I've found that joining MathCounts helps eliminate unwanted popularity.

Dear Trishelle:

Thank you for your letter. You wrote that there’s a boy in your class who likes you, but you don’t like him. You like someone else. This boy even tries to hug you during lunch. But you don’t want to break his heart, saying that you don’t love him. You asked what you should do.

Take it! Take another little piece of his heart, now baby. Love lessons are best learned early.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Putting Happiness on the Market

Has anyone seen the movie Evil Dead? Several of my co-workers are fans. They were chatting about it yesterday, as we waited for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to start. “When are they going to make Nice Alive? I’ll see that,” I joked. Mary laughed, but no one else was too amused.

No matter. Mary and I began brainstorming movies that include the word “dead.” Dead Man Walking. Dead Poets’ Society. Drop Dead Fred. Don’t Tell Mom, the Babysitter’s Dead (“The dishes are done, dude!”). Dead Again. Dawn of the Dead. Shaun of the Dead (classic). Is there a western called Dead or Alive? We figured yes.

I think it’s time for a Nice Alive. But there doesn’t seem to be a market for “nice.” A few weeks ago, I read an article in The New York Times about our culture’s gloom-and-doom glorification. The writer -- Peter Kramer, a psychologist who also wrote Listening to Prozac -- argued that depression is on the permanent “hot” list. He cited Shakespeare’s Hamlet as the quintessential melancholic hero. If Hamlet had taken Prozac, “Alas, poor Yorick” might have transformed into, “Gosh, Yorick, too bad.” Nobody wants that.

Among last month’s hardcover bestsellers, according to Publisher’s Weekly, were Survivor in Death (J.D. Robb); State of Fear (Michael Crichton); Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil (James Luceno); and Night Fall (Nelson DeMille). Dr. Suess’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! will probably make the cut later this month when graduations start, but for now, death and destruction rule.

Oddly enough, the nonfiction bestseller list belies America’s fascination with darkness. #3: Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential (Joel Osteen). #7: The Purpose Driven Life (Rick Warren). #13: Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes (Maya Angelou).

A hitchhiker to our galaxy would scratch his head….are we “glass half full” or “glass half empty”? Do we even know what’s in the glass?

Reading back through my blog entries, I’m embarrassed to find that I may sound too ignorant-happy. I skip Darfur in favor of “E!” I press the mute button on Iraq. I focus on the pilates videos when poets bring out the environmental decay imagery. I blast Britney full-volume.

The truth is, I’m a pretty happy person. This happiness isn’t chemically induced, but if I needed to take Prozac, I would. I still have a few prescriptions leftover from college. I’m addicted to happiness.

At the same time -- I understand that our world isn’t an entirely happy place. I made myself read about Darfur yesterday. 300,000 deaths in a matter of months. Members of my church recently traveled through parts of Sudan, and last Sunday my priest described the setting: hardly any food or clothing, poor shelter.

There’s plenty of misery on my side of the ocean, too. Most of my fourth graders in Hughes had seen some form of alcoholism, sexual abuse, drug use, or family violence. A 10-year-old girl in my second-year class had been raped the year before. I’m sure my TFA friends can produce equally horrific stories.

With my education and experience, how can I smile on a clear conscience? Wouldn’t I be better suited to wearing all-black and smoking unfiltered Pall Malls?

Kramer thinks not. Misery is chic, he says. It’s even smart. But in the end, it’s not productive.

No doubt, some of our greatest thinkers have been the Pall Mall types. If Vincent van Gogh and his GP had lived in this century, van Gogh might be plus an ear and minus a “Starry Night.” But don’t we shortchange Vincent by ascribing his genius to an illness? What if he had been basically happy, yet cognizant of the world’s miseries? I wonder if he could have been brilliant and happy at the same time. And if it isn’t possible to be both brilliant and happy, should we go ahead and put “deep thinkers” on the endangered species list?

Plenty of days in Hughes, I cried before school. I remember looking at my watch: 6:55 a.m. Five minutes to weep before I get in my car. I cried on behalf of my students and out of good, old-fashioned self-pity. “I can’t do anything for these kids,” I thought. “This day is worthless. I’m worthless.”

I’ll give you one solid guess as to how my school day went when I started out in that self-defeatist mode. In TFAese, those weren’t BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)-meeting days.

I’d like to think that I’d be a better teacher now. I’m aware of sadness -- poverty, death, Heartbreak 101. At the same time, I realize the value of happiness. Happiness doesn’t solve anything, but I believe it creates more possibilities. And Americans seem to crave it in secret, even while snapping up the latest Crichton thriller.