Big Halloween

Big Halloween

So, how was your Halloween?

Notice that I did not ask how your last six months has been, thus drawing attention to the fact that it’s been that long since I posted here. Let’s just move on, shall we? It’s November, after all!

This November I am finally taking up the NaNoWriMo challenge but, being all about the hack, instead of meeting the 50,000 word count required to win, I will endeavor to write exactly *one* blog post every day for thirty days. Any length. Any topic. Lots of typos. Boom!

You should be relieved that I do not plan on publishing all thirty posts. After all, if you are reading this then you are already aces in my book and deserve better than what I am sure to come up with, especially by day nineteen or so. I will, however, let you in on a few, just to prove I’m not fibbing 🙂

So on the first day of my own personal NaBloWriMo, and I woke up this morning the same way I have every morning for the past many many weeks, with nothing to write.

Zip.

Then I remembered the advice I once received from an experienced blogger and it goes like this: If you’re out of ideas but it’s your day to post, just think of something that bugs the shit out of you and let fly.

The point is that, while you may not change the world with a post like that, chances are you’ll connect with at least a few readers who feel the same way you do, and probably others who think you’re a complete dope who needs to just Stop It Right Now.

Either way, you used your voice, and eyeballs are eyeballs in the world of online writing.

Being the easy going live and let live type (yeah right), I wasn’t sure I could think of anything that’s been on my nerves that much,  but after wracking my brain for, oh, half a sec, inspiration struck:

Last night we had some friends over. The kids wanted to watch some bloody horror flicks and answer the door for the trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood. Fun!

Well, in the span of several hours, a small handful of kids, grownups following behind with flashlights, made their way to our door. A total of roughly 25 pieces of candy were given out, which sucks because now I will be forced- forced I tell you— to eat the entire bowl of the good stuff all by myself.

Damn them!

But here’s the thing- our neighborhood is filled with kids. I see their basketball hoops in the driveways, the little finger-wagging signs stuck in the grass by their parents, telling drivers to slow down, “children at play.”

Oh really?

Where??? I want to ask.

Last night, despite all the hard evidence pointing to actual trick-or-treating aged kids living in our neighborhood, our doorbell was not ringing.

My best guess is that these children are in the back yards, behind locked gates and away from the creepy gaze of… creepy gazers.

Or maybe they are tucked safe and snug at Mathnasium, or  and at one of those robotics places, or and participating in organized sports somewhere.

All I know is that the kids are here, but not “here” here, because apparently here just isn’t where it’s at anymore.

Cut to this morning: I went on Facebook I saw that some of my friends elsewhere in LA had hundreds of costumed cuties parade through last night. Some areas are just better, it turns out, and word has gotten around. It’s not just the sidewalks, or streetlights, or low crime rate, no. These trick-or-treat destinations  have it all– the best decorations, the best candy, the best sure-fire Halloween experience, bar none, people!

Hey, I have been known to take my kids to these super-awesome neighborhoods. I have parked six blocks away and shuffled along with hundreds of other Halloween pilgrims, looking for the “best” night of old school fun, photo ops, and happy childhood memories, damnit.

I’m starting to wonder if, by doing so, I might have unknowingly contributed to my own sweet neighborhood becoming what I can only describe as a kid desert.

My son shoots hoops with his dad in our driveway, and even though he’d love to play a pick up game with a neighbor kid, just like me, he looks around and finds none.

Maybe I’m just jealous.

I want to live in one of those fun neighborhoods where the adults answer the door in Freddy Kruger masks and food trucks park on every corner.

But I also want to see kids dragging the trashcans to the street on Wednesday nights, and bugging me to bankroll their shitty class trips with magazine subscriptions. I don’t just want to slow down for them when I drive, I want to see their faces and know their names.

As I stand on my porch, surrounded by fake spiderwebs and rubber bats, I think about the price we pay for always sending our kids to greener pastures.

If I had it to do all over again, I’d try not to be so quick to curate my kids’ childhoods. I’d shop locally for community, instead of always searching somewhere else for the perfect fit. On Halloween I would send my boys around their regular old neighborhood, to knock on doors- the old lady who planted a tree and waters it every Sunday, the young couple who just moved in and don’t speak much English, and the people with the basketball hoop in the driveway and the scooter on the porch.

It’s not too late.

Next year, I’ll fill another bowl with candy, and try again. I’m not sure, but I think that’s one way you start to grow a neighborhood in a desert.

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What I Did For Love

What I Did For Love

This past weekend I had to deliver a testimonial at my fab UU church, to celebrate the conclusion of our pledge drive.  It went just fine, despite the fact that I clearly have shed my old actorly ways and am now TERRIFIED of speaking in public.

Good lord, the shaking.

The blushing.

Ours is not a large congregation and, for the most part, I think they harbor only good will toward me, so I kind of don’t get why the major case of nerves. Also, the thing I wrote was less than five minutes. (I know, get a grip, right?)

But how’s this for a confession:

I’m glad I was nervous because, in some private recess of my damaged heart, I believed that looking happy to be up there reading something I had worked hard to compose, would be like wearing slacks and suntan pantyhose with a reinforced toe.

Out of fashion.

Awkward.

Best to keep a low profile. Pretend I just threw something together at the last minute. “What, this old thing?”

It’s official. I may be all grown up, but a thin film of middle school still covers me like a second skin.

Maybe you can relate.

None of this is conscious, of course, and it’s really just now, as I sit typing, that it’s becoming clear. I can’t be the only one who struggles with the desire for approval and the deep flesh eating shame of wanting attention.

So wtf. Ima go there.

Yesterday I gave myself a present in the form of the audio version of Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, Born To Run, read by The Boss himself, and available on Audible. (By the way, my subscription to Audible is, by far, the best $15.00 I spend each month. Just sayin’.)

If you happen to see me walking the streets of the San Fernando Valley wearing a dopey smile and a gaze of distant longing, it’s because Bruce is in my ear, telling me all about his life, his hopes, his dreams. I may be holding my dog’s leash in one hand and a bag of steaming poo in the other, but in my mind he and I are reclined on a chase, before an open window, somewhere in Tuscany. “Tell me all about it,” I say, while sampling a variety of cheeses.

Wait, where was I?

Oh yeah. One of the first things Bruce offers up is an explanation of what has driven his career in rock and roll. His success, he says, was and is fueled by a list of things (and I’m working from my admittedly iffy memory here), that includes a desire for attention, approval, money, and love. 

Hold up, Bruce.

You mean you are looking for my approval? The stories you tell, the poetry you write, exists, at least in part, because you want to be… liked??

And get this, he wasn’t apologizing for it. Knowing that he cares what I think of him doesn’t diminish any of his work for me to know this. Obvs. Unknown

There’s a part of me that always assumed that artists, especially talented artists, didn’t give a shit what the rest of us thought. They worked in service of their vision and that’s what made the good ones good.

Or so I thought.

I’m no authority on showbiz in LA, since I had basically waved to that in my rearview mirror when I left Chicago, but I do remember when I first got here, sensing that, to get the job, one needed to not to need the job. Use words like “amazing”, “awesome” and “outstanding”, when asked how things are going, and as an agent once told me as she cocked her head and squinted across her desk at me, whatever you do, “Try not to care so much.”

That’s the catch.

When it comes to approval, you can want it, but you can’t ask for it.

I’ve bought into that forever. As for my own hunger, I blamed it on my mother, my school days, my gender. Anything to avoid pulling back the curtain.

But if I stop making it into a weakness, the desire to pin it on someone else disappears, and running around pinning shit on people is a total time suck. I think we can all agree on that.

The truth is, I care a whole bunch what you think.

Yep, me and Bruce Springsteen.

When I make a painting, I hang it on my wall. When I write something, I want someone to read it. To me, without sharing, the work isn’t complete.

I have a friend who told me she writes all the time and feels no need to share any of it. I haven’t decided if I believe her, but if it’s true, I envy her. If you’re an artist who doesn’t have any fucks left to give, then I guess you are lucky. It’s an advantage to feel free to take risks, to create for the sake of creating. But honestly, if I wasn’t in a lifelong search for love and approval, I probably wouldn’t do anything but down snacks and watch reruns of Sex and the City, so hey, there’s that.

At it’s worst, my desire for external validation can make me too careful, causing me to miss my mark and sometimes not even try. But at it’s best, it’s my editor, agent and cheerleader. My personal Mickey Goldmill.

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Back in Chicago, I remember I used to stare down the bar at the “real” actors who huddled at the other end. Usually a group of three or four guys in their 20’s and 30’s, and maybe one woman (hmm, interesting) would hang together, drinking cheap beer, dissing Los Angeles, while trading snark about their last Steppenwolf audition or the pilot they were shooting .

They were just So. Fucking. Cool.

They were talented, and their talent seemed all the more mysterious because they didn’t seem to care about it. Eventually I would make a good living on commercials, long running crowd-pleasing shows (decidedly un-cool) and voice-overs, but in my mind, those thoroughbreds at the end of the bar would always leave me in their dust.

I could never compete with them because I always, always, read my reviews.

And yet, here I am.

The same need that drove me to put myself out there in search of approval, was the same need that pounded on the floor for me to “Get up!” when I was knocked on my ass.

Now that I’ve named it, will I try to move beyond this, to a place where I float far above my blog stats, my inbox of rejections, my submissions, all my naked trying?

Will I pretend that I don’t desperately hope that you will like what I’ve made for you?

I don’t think so.

And I’m cool with that.

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Stealing Time

Stealing Time

I am not what you’d call a fast writer.

I’m also not great at fitting writing into little nooks and crannies. In order to get anything down that makes sense, I need decent chunks of time. In my next life I’ll be super productive (I’ll also play the banjo, have delicate ankles and a good sense of direction), but for now I  have to accommodate this weakness.

Because we homeschool, solitude is in short supply, so I schedule a few hours on the two days when both my kids are in class, and I try hard to keep that appointment with myself.

I haven’t told many people about my writing time until now.

It feels undeserved. I haven’t done anything to earn it, in fact it actually costs me five bucks every time, on account of the dirty chai latte my thirsty muse requires.

But my life is full of things I don’t deserve. I am privileged AF.

PS: This is weirdly hard to talk about.

Remember that Seinfeld episode where Jerry compared the two kinds of naked? There was the attractive naked, he said, e.i. naked while brushing your hair, and the unattractive naked, i.e. naked while opening a pickle jar?

Stay with me.

Right now, I feel like I am naked, opening the pickle jar.

I imagine you wondering why, if I have this time

  • Do I have so many typos and grammatical screw-ups on my blog?
  • Don’t I employ a fucking thesaurus instead of resorting to all the four letter words since they are (I’ve been told) just lazy writing.
  • Do I not donate those five hours to helping others, instead of contemplating every waking moment of my completely regular life.
  • And finally, with all that time, why don’t I get a job, or a degree, or at least a gym membership, for gods sake??

If you’re not wondering those things don’t worry, because I certainly am.

I told a friend on Facebook recently that when I hear that critical voice I try think of it as a man named, oddly enough, Donald, and I like to tell Donald to shut the fuck up.

Try it. It’s satisfying on many levels.

Donald thinks he knows what people should do. He thinks money is the same as value. He thinks the world has enough blogs, paintings, poems, popsicle trucks and hamster sanctuaries, so zip it already and just be happy driving the carpool.

Telling Donald to back off  keeps me writing, and keeps me holding on to the hours I need to do it, but it’s not easy.

This morning I was talking to my friend Jo Dee, and I told her about my weekly writing date and how I’ve kept it secret because it feels self indulgent. Like a great pal, she didn’t miss a beat.

“It’s not self-indulgent, it’s your job.”

“Jo Dee, it is so not my job.”

“Writing is absolutely part of your job.”

“Writing is how I keep from going insane.”

“Well maybe that is your job… no offense.”

Ouch. That left a mark, but I loved her for it.

Up till now, I’ve hid my secret by just saying “I have some errands to run” or “things to do,” stopping short of actually lying, but not by much.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, she suggests treating your creative time like you would an affair. If you had a hot lover on the side, she says, you would steal any time you could to be with them. You would lie, you would sneak, anything would be worth just a few hours. She suggested we treat our creative time like that.

I love her analogy because that is exactly how I feel!

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Here’s Mark Ruffalo giving me a writing prompt. “Twenty minutes on your best meal ever– go, baby, go.”
As Emily Dickinson wrote, “The heart wants what it wants.” Time is a luxury I can’t pay for, but I want it all the same.

So I steal it.

I steal it from my from my family, my community, the causes I support, and all the other things I tell myself a good person does.

When I was a teenager, my father once said to me, “You’re no bargain, Mag.”

That explains a lot, I thought.

Who knows what he was talking about. It might have had something to do with me being a pain in the ass, because I totally was. He didn’t know that I would drag those words behind me for the rest of my life like a corpse, forever trying to be what I thought he wanted: a bargain.

But I would never feel like one.

So when I was saying good-bye to Jo Dee this morning, she told me to enjoy my writing  time. “Don’t lie about it,” she said. “Own it!”

But is it possible to own something you’ve stolen?

Maybe I should stop shaming on it and just say it. “I’m going to be writing from 9-12 today at the cafe across from the Indian grocery. I’ll be home after that.”

Bam. Just like that.

I am aware that it is not fair.

I am aware that I am not bringing in a dime with my writing. Not a dime. Probably ever.

I am aware that there are some things that don’t get done because I am here, from 9-12, at the cafe, across from the Indian grocery.

I am aware that Daddy may have been right. I am not a bargain.

But I am

free.

 

 

Stuck. I Had My Reasons.

Stuck. I Had My Reasons.

Hi.

What’s up?

Let me just get something off my chest so I can move on, ok? Here is a list, in no particular order, of reasons I haven’t been writing here for a while:

  1. Trump got elected and, overnight, my blog seemed so dumb and pointless that all I wanted to do was stuff it deep in the trash, like way down under the coffee grounds, Valpak coupons and empty containers of Nosa blackberry serrano yogurt .
  2. Trump got elected, which was not normal, and I felt I should be using every bit of time I could to fight racism, fascism and willful ignorance, not blogging about our family’s road trip or my period. You know, priorities.
  3. I’ve always had the feeling that there is something wrong with a person who feels the need to share her private thoughts publicly. Desperate plea for attention, right? If the shoe fits…
  4. I pretty much ran out of ideas.
  5. I found myself so happy when people responded well to a post that it scared me. I knew I was way too attached to getting a positive reaction and that I would start bending over six ways from Sunday to get more. Of course this could only result in shit writing, which made me want to quit.
  6. I have a sister who I don’t talk to. (Long story). She found my blog and it made me feel exposed, vulnerable, and like I didn’t want to write here anymore.
  7. I thought I should stop spending so much time writing and spend more time on…well, I wasn’t exactly sure what, but something that either brought in a paycheck, or was, like, a “good mom” thing. For example, I could learn to play Dungeons and Dragons, or that game my kids call “Awesome Possum,” which I’m not sure is even a real game but wouldn’t a good mother at least know those things???
  8. “First world problems.” This phrase is fucking poison. Thanks to self-righteous Facebook posts it got in my head and I’ve let it stop every idea or creative impulse I’ve had for months. I believe it is the mother of all censors because it goes for the jugular and tells us that what we have to say is meaningless. Translated, it’s “sit down, shut up, and let the grownups talk.” 
  9. I followed the rules. Second to listening to the voice of #8, this was my biggest mistake. The rules I followed were: you post every week, you post on the same day every week, you use lots of visuals, your posts should be 800-1200 words, you have a searchable title, you deliver the same kind of content every time. All the rules were a major buzzkill and pointless too, since my goal has never been to rule the world through blogging. My goal is to make you like me! (Oh, I’m kidding. My actual goal is to have my ex-boyfriend find me through a Google search and see how successful I am, which is why it would be really awesome if you could just say something  in the comments like, “hey, Maggie, congrats on the book deal!” TIA)
  10. I was scared of becoming obnoxious.

So those are the reasons I stopped, and imbedded in each of them are the reasons I’m starting again. Creative blocks are intense, and first world problem or not, I’m committed to pushing through.

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PS- I’m sorry that my blog probably won’t do a damn thing to fight Pussy-Grabbing-Anti-Intellectual-Environment-Destroying-Nationalist-Batshit-Crazy Trump. I wish I was that kind of writer. But for now, I’m just me, and I’ve really missed showing up here.

PPS- I might write less and shorter blog posts these days because it is a new ballgame, thanks to Agent Orange. This site helps me prioritize action items.

So Now What Am I Supposed To Do?

So Now What Am I Supposed To Do?

Well that sure was a curveball.

I have friends who write who have managed to rise to the occasion in the past week. My friend and teacher Jesse Rosen always posts on Wednesdays, so she actually had to come up with something to say the day after the shit hit the fan. And she did, here.

She’s a stronger woman than I.

I just can’t get blood from a turnip this week, you guys. But I love you for being here, for checking in, and for just having it in you to get up and face the day,

and the next four years

of days.

I  attended a service this past Sunday at my beloved, struggling, ass-kicking Unitarian Universalist church. I’m not gonna preach, but let me just say that if you’re looking to get involved in the work that will heal our country, but you’re not sure where to start, try checking out your local UU church. If for whatever reason you’re a little freaked out by the word church, trust me that these are safe places. All are welcome.

The service was just what I needed: full of hope, some tears, but mostly practical advice about what each of us can do to help.

I love practical advice. I fucking love a good hack.

Our minister (who blogs here) also talked a bit about the need for self care during this time. While we are called to step up and pitch in as never before, we are also required to listen to our bodies and souls, and know our limits.

So, in the spirit of practicality and self-care, I decided to look back in the archives and find a blog post that I could use for today.

This one seems like it could work.

In it, I talk about how I sometimes do a little meditation that helps me with fear. A lot of people are afraid right now, and with good reason. As for myself, I might try it with the word “grief.” Because that’s what is heavy on my heart right now.

Then I thought about a different post from a while back, one that dealt with a long held grudge of mine. Like so much else before November 8th, 2016, that old grievance seems unimportant from where I stand today, but I’ll probably be using the meditation a lot in the coming months. Here’s a chunk of that post:

As time passed, and my grudge still nagged at me, I decided to do a little research. Tich Naht Han wrote a whole book on anger. In it, he suggests we “take care of” our anger:

“Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying.
Your anger is your baby. The baby needs his mother
to embrace him. You are the mother.
Embrace your baby.”

The idea of embracing my feisty little anger-baby, stroking it and singing it Beatle’s songs, sounded like a nice change, but also kind of creeped me out, though I can’t exactly say why.

I decided to give it my own spin and, with props to Tich Naht Han for the inspiration, came up with this mini-meditation hack for when you can’t let go of being pissed. Feel free to play along:

First, I close my eyes and imagine my grudge. Not the person I’m holding it against, but the actual anger, the whole fiery, dangerous, white hot thing. My grudge is roughly the size of my son’s Nerf basketball, or one of those mini-watermelons that seem like a good idea, but are totally not worth the money. Anyhooo…

I hold it in my hands and see that it is beautiful,

orange and red and yellow.

I feel its warmth.

I don’t try to cool it down or make it smaller.

I don’t try to make it be nice.

I take care of it.

Holding it in my hands reminds me that it isn’t part of me, it’s a thing I am holding:

Anger.

When I do this meditation now, I feel empowered. I DO want to take care of my anger, because it will help get my ass off the couch. 

I’m just not sure about blogging right now.

Not only because there’s so much important work to do, and the time to volunteer and write letters and make phone calls has to come from somewhere.

There’s also this.

 

We all need to do the work that is ours to do. And no one is going to wait, holding the door for me until I have the courage to get on with things. So I’ve been thinking about what work is mine to do.

Sigh. I’m just at sixes and sevens, to use a phrase that I like but have no idea what the fuck it means. (See? I have no business writing a blog. Who says that??)

I’m not sure how often I’ll be posting here, but I do know that I won’t be posting a lot about politics. You don’t need to hear what I have to say on the topic, believe me. Here’s what I do: I think up stories in my head, and write about my regular old life in the San Fernando Valley. And right now, I’m not sure about anything.

Take care of each other.

Peace, friends.

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Facebook, A Love Story

Facebook, A Love Story

I’ve been thinking about social media lately.

I’ll flaunt my age here and admit that for me social media mostly means Facebook. When I started this blog I got onto Twitter, although I have to tell you, it remains a mystery. I use Pinterest mostly for recipes, and have never used Instagram.

Not so bad, right?

But I’m addicted to Facebook and, the truth is, I’m getting pretty sick of the haters making me feel like an asshole for it.

Phew! God it feels good to get that off my chest.

237b6e36cda5fbf311016fe495a6d611The pendulum does seem to be swinging, when it comes to social media, and it joins reality t.v., Snackwells, and Riverdance in the discarded pile of things that were once thought to be so new and hip and fun and now are at least partially to blame for the destruction of our humanity.

Well, I happen to love Facebook.

But when I get articles like this, or this, it does make me think: Am I wrong to love it? Am I shallow, incapable of real friendships, a voyeur, and to use the word of the day,

a narcissist??

woman-taking-a-selfie1
Image source, Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve thought about all of those questions, even as it relates to writing a blog. It’s impossible to keep posting, week after week, without constantly asking myself why anyone should care enough to read my thoughts on such deep and meaningful topics as midlife menstruation and drinking in my car . I do try to write as honestly as I can about my experience, in the hope of hitting on something that has a wider appeal than just my husband and bestie, but in the end, it can’t matter. Blogging is slowly making me a better, more disciplined writer and teaching me new skills, which they say is the fountain of youth.

Also, it’s fun.

How’s that for selfish motives?

Facebook is different though, which is why I get very defensive when people tell me it’s sucking out my soul.

Here are seven reasons why I love the salty sweet confection, cooked up by Mark Zuckerberg. Why Facebook is my drug of choice, and why I’m not giving it up anytime real soon. (Even though I could, I swear I could, I just happen not to feel like it right now):

  1. It’s a way for me to get my chit-chat on, since I live with three (lovable) introverts
  2. It’s like a cocktail party without the cocktails, which should make the fun police very happy
  3. It keeps me up to date on current events!
  4. It makes me laugh
  5. I get to reconnect with friends from my past (when I say friends, I am definitely not referring to the wives of old boyfriends, because I never look them up. Who does that??? Moving on…)
  6. I find good ideas for blog posts
  7. I love knowing what’s up with my people

All of these are good reasons, if you ask me, but not good enough for the people who say it’s as bad as internet porn, and maybe worse. Here are a few of my answers to their concerns:

Has it broken my brain and made it harder for me to sustain focus? Maybe a little, but given the chance, I tend to focus on things like the bedbug epidemic and whether exorcism is actually a thing, so I consider Facebook a step up, in my case.

Does it foster feelings of inferiority and invite depression when I see the carefully curated feeds of people, with their fancy lives and overachieving children? Actually, it doesn’t, and I don’t really know why. It’s true that I hide the posts of the worst offenders (here’s how), but I have friends who swear that all it takes is a few minutes on Facebook to plunge them into self-loathing or, the less copped-to but equally common, friend-loathing.

Now, do I do a fair amount of eye rolling, as I scroll through my feed? Sure. But I like to think of eye rolling like cursing— a healthy outlet and an effective coping device in today’s world. In fact, some of you might be doing it right this minute, and I say, go for it!giphy

(Feels good, right?)

Doesn’t Facebook encourage narcissism? I can see why this is a concern. As I said, I often think about whether I’m narcissistic. (That’s a joke, you guys. I mean, I do, but not that much. I mean, I also think about how smart cats are and whether I should buy some of those underpants that you can pee in. Go Facebook!)

Look, there is some truth to all of this. I can get too distracted and too self-involved. I could stand to stop multi-tasking and, say, just stir the risotto instead of stir the risotto while also watching my friend’s daughter sing a solo in her Montessori preschool’s production of Single Use Plastic Bag, The MusicalWould it be an interesting experiment to log off for a week or two and see how that feels?

Sure, why not?

But just as I don’t like people to tell me that listening to audio books doesn’t count as actual reading, I don’t want to hear that the connections I’ve made or maintain through Facebook aren’t of value. And if it’s true that laughter is the best medicine, then scrolling through my friends’ feeds can be like a shot in the ass, after a rough day.

Yes, we humans love a bandwagon, and right now it looks like social media is the new gluten. Some believe it is the cause of all our ills, and some people park behind Trader Joe’s and eat shame muffins out of their trunk.

So if, like me, you enjoy a daily dip into the slightly fake slightly fabulous online middle school known as Facebook, take comfort in knowing you’re not alone.

Because it is comforting, isn’t it, 

the not being alone?

 

(Well, how do you like that? I buried the lead.)

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