Why The Genie Isn’t Free

First, know that this post is written with all due respect to Robin Williams and his family, and with equal respect to those who have shared the “Genie, You’re Free” image. I am heartbroken. I cannot imagine what his family is going through. And people have the right to mourn in whatever way helps them.

Second, I acknowledge I am not the first person to express this. But the “Genie, You’re Free” image, while beautiful and artistic, struck me as a bad idea the first time I saw it. I may not have the biggest audience, but if I reach even one person, it will be worth it.

So here’s the thing. Robin Williams may be “free.” We have no way of knowing with any certainty how he may or may not be feeling. Maybe it’s free. Maybe it’s awful. Maybe it’s nothing.

But you know who isn’t feeling free? The people he left behind.

This is not another “suicide is selfish” rant. Depression is real. And awful. And there is always help. But fighting can get exhausting. And the last thing I want to do is start slinging mud at the already suffering.

No. That’s not true. That’s the second-to-last thing I want to do.

The LAST thing I want to do is encourage people to equate suicide with freedom. Real freedom would have been the right combination of medication and therapy. Real freedom would have been relief from addiction. I do not blame Robin Williams for his sad, sad, choice. I understand his suffering. But please. Let’s not call it freedom.

Take care of each other, friends.

Over the River and Through the Woods

My sister was Facebook stalking me today. I’m not sure what she was looking for, but she found these pictures from 2006.

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A friend asked what happened. I tried to post the link to the story and *gasp* I haven’t transferred it from blogspot yet! It’s one of my more popular stories. So. Here’s a bonus holiday post 🙂

This is an excerpt from my book- currently being sent to agents- called “Hope Springs.” Those of you who are new to Thoroughly Modern Mommy (Hi!) need a little background information. The book is a memoir that follows my husband and I in our first year of trying to conceive. I tend to cope with humor. This story has nothing to do with any of that.

Friday, December 22, 2006
We’re spending Christmas in Denver with my family. Even though my parents have been divorced for ten years, we still all have Christmas together. And when I told my Dad we didn’t think we could afford the flight this year, he booked the tickets for us., So. We’re spending Christmas in Denver with my family.

The weather has been terrible all week, so I get up early to check our flight online to make sure it hasn’t been delayed or cancelled.

But I can’t find it. There is no flight at that time. I check the flight number again, and it just doesn’t exist. I’m looking at the email confirmation, and I can see that I have the information correct, so I finally call the service hotline for Southwest. I get an automated response, and enter my flight number. There are no matches. I try again. No matches. Out of desperation, I try the “just press zero” trick, and miraculously I am soon talking to a real live person. I explain my situation, and give her my flight number.

“Um, Ma’am? That flight doesn’t leave for a month.” I look at my email confirmation again. And there it is, plain as anything. January 22, 2007.

“Um, yeah, OK, I see that.” Note to self: when sixty-eight-year-old father offers to buy ticket home for Christmas, always accept. But next time, get credit card information and book the flight yourself. I sit, silently holding the phone to my ear, staring blankly at the screen, waiting for the logical answer to come to me through divine intervention. I try to will the flight into existence. Or, more accurately, to will the flight into this month. When that doesn’t work, I try a different tactic. “Is there anything available for today?” I ask the woman on the other end of the phone, knowing the answer before I hear it.

“No, ma’am, all our flights are booked for the week.” Of course they are. It’s three days before Christmas. So, I call out to Ryan, who is saying something in the other room about waiting until the last second to pack again. Something about how we’ll never fit all this in our luggage. He joins me in the office, where I tell him that luggage is probably not going to be an issue. “My Dad booked our tickets for January 22. We don’t have tickets for today. We have tickets for a month from today.”

And he just laughs. “Looks like we’re staying here then.” He has always fantasized about a quiet Christmas in our very own home. The look in his eyes tells me he thinks this is his chance. But I’m not up for that. Not this year.

“We can’t just stay here! We need to get there!” I yell, trying to remain calm. But within moments, I’m crying, and he can tell we need to find a way. “OK,” he says. “Let me think for a sec. You should call your Mom though and tell her what’s going on.”

Ad so I do. And she tells me how heartbroken she is. And that we have to find some way there. I tell her we’ll try, but I just don’t see how it’s possible.

“Hey!” Ryan says from the living room a few minutes later. ”We have a car. We could drive.”

“To Denver? In Elyse Keaton? Would she make it?”

“Sure she would! It’ll be fun! Call your Mom and tell her we’re driving.”

And I do. And she is terrified. Not so terrified that she doesn’t want us to do it, but terrified nonetheless. I call my sister and give her the news. She laughs at me from Canton, Ohio where she is celebrating Hanukah with her in-laws. “Seriously, though. Be careful.” I tell her we’ll be careful, and that I’ll see her in a few days.

Minutes later, the phone rings. It’s Michele. “Hey. Can we have a ride?”

“To Denver? From Canton?”

“Yeah. The snow is so bad here all the airports are closed. There are no flights in or out of Canton. Or Cleveland. Or Detroit. Or Columbus. And they don’t think they can get us out of here for at least a week. You drive to Canton, and then leave your car and we’ll rent one. No offense.”

“None taken. We’ll come get you. It’ll be a road trip! It’ll be fun!”

Saturday, December 24, 2006

I’m not sure what part of this we thought would be fun. It hasn’t been un-fun. Just not fun. It’s mostly just exhausting. And cramped. We had time for a ninety-minute nap in Canton before heading back out on the road. And now it’s the wee small hours of Christmas Eve morning and I’m wondering if I will ever get out of this back seat. I’m drifting in and out of sleep like I have been for the past twenty hours when I hear a loud bang.

“Shit” Eric says. He’s driving.

“That’s not something you want to hear from the driver,” Ryan answers flatly from his shotgun seat.

“I hit something.” And then, everything in the car powers down completely. Eric turns the steering wheel hard and manages to get us to the side of the road. The rental car rolls to a stop. Ryan and Eric get out of the car all manly-like and come back with the report.

“Yeah. Something tore through the gas tank. That’s why we stopped. We’re out of gas. It’s all over the road.” We all look at each other stunned. There are twenty years of Ohio University education in this car (not to mention my two from NYU) and we all come up with the same answer. We call our Mommy. It’s 3 AM, but she answers. “Hi,” I say, trying to be casual.

“Well, hi. What’s going on.”

“Um, we hit something. Well, Eric hit something. I mean, he didn’t mean to. But it tore through the gas tank and we’re stuck on the side of the road. We’re all OK. But we’re stuck.”

“What do you mean he hit something? What did he hit?”

“We don’t know. There was something in the middle of the road.”

“Well what did they say?”

“What did who say?”

“Whoever you called to come help you!”

“We called you.”

“Melinda Kay. Hang up the phone and call Hertz. They will send someone to help you.”

“Oh. We didn’t think of that. Sure. We’ll call them. Do you want us to let you go back to sleep? Or should we call you back.”

“My two daughters and two sons-in-law are stranded on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere on Christmas Eve. I won’t be sleeping. Please call me back.”

I tell Eric he should call Hertz, which he does. He explains what happened the best he can, and explains our location the best he can. The Hertz agent tells us she’ll send a tow truck right away, but that she doesn’t know how quickly she can get someone to us, seeing as it’s Christmas Eve, and we’re in the middle of nowhere. This is not comforting.

It’s dark. And it’s cold. And I’m tired. And I don’t know where we are. “What if we freeze to death?” I wonder out loud. “That happens. People break down on the side of the road and freeze to death.”

“We’re not going to freeze to death,” Ryan tries to assure me.

“Wait. She’s right,“ Michele agrees, probably not helping things. “We could totally freeze to death. That does happen. What if it takes them hours or they can’t find us and we freeze to death?”

I’ve just decided that we are, in fact, going to freeze to death- I start glancing around me, looking for a piece of paper on which I can leave my last thoughts- when the red lights from the fire truck swirl through the car. So I guess we‘ll be fine then.

The fireman asks us what happened while his friends take a look at the gas on the road. Since the only information we have is “we hit something,”,” and they know a tow truck is on the way eventually and the fuel on the road has been investigated, the fire truck leaves our accident scene in a very anticlimactic way. No lights or anything.

We have just enough time to remember that we have snacks in the back when the Sheriff pulls up. We offer him a rice crispy treat. He doesn‘t take it, but asks if we need anything. We tell him it’s cold, and he lets us into the back seat of his car. And I’m sitting there with my little sister, and we’re warming up, and we’re eating rice crispy treats at 3 AM on Christmas Eve in the back of the Sheriff‘s car. And we start to laugh. And then we start to laugh harder. And soon I’m laughing so hard that I can’t breathe and tears are streaming down my face and I’m not even making any sound. Just completely seized up in the joy of how ridiculous it all is. Ryan knocks on the car window.

“What is so funny?” his muffled voice yells through the glass. “You’re shaking the whole car!” which only breaks us up more. I can’t answer him, but I gesture out with both palms up, taking in everything around me in an effort to say.” This! This is what’s so funny!”

A few moments pass, and the fire truck returns. The Sheriff lets us out of the car. “The firemen found what you hit,” he says. They’ve brought it to us, like a Christmas present. They’ve tossed it in the snow on the side of the road. It’s a large hunk of metal wrapped in black rubber.

“How does that even happen? What is it?” I ask the fireman who threw it there. He explains that it’s a metal mud flap from the back of a semi. And I know in that moment that when I recall this story in years to come, the mud flap will be decorated in my mind with the white silhouettes of two women sitting back-to-back, even though this is just a plain old ordinary black mud flap.

“It looks like a tire blew, and tore this off with it. So it was all just sitting there tangled in the road, waiting for you to hit it. And that’s what tore through your gas tank.”

“Oh,” I say. “Do you want a rice crispy treat?“ He doesn’t. And the laughing starts all over again.

An hour later, we are sitting in the cab of Manuel’s truck. “Your name is Manuel?” I asked when we first boarded the vehicle, to make sure I had heard him correctly. And then I offered him a rice crispy treat, which he declined. And I have been sitting quietly ever since, as Ryan, Michele and Eric tell Manuel our tale. Ryan and Michele’s version is a comedy, while Eric’s is an I-hope-I-don’t-have-to-pay-for-this tragedy. And in a break in the conversation, I burst into song. To the tune of “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel,” I serenade my tow truck audience.

REJOOOOOOOOICE! REJOOOOOOOOICE! It’s Ma-a-a-nu-el! To save us from our Christmas travel hell!

Michele stares at me in silent shock. And then, finally, “have you been just sitting there working on that?”

“Yes.” She hands me another rice crispy treat, and we all go on as if I hadn’t just performed the greatest One-woman-show-about-hitting-a-metal-mudflap-on-Christmas-Eve in the history of tow trucks.

We arrive at the Hertz office at the Denver airport to trade in our car, and we are greeted by two employees who have obviously been alerted regarding our accident. “Are you alright?” they say, rushing from behind the desk. “We’ve been waiting! Do you need water?” We assure them we are fine, and ask if either of them would like a rice crispy treat. Alan, our new friend behind the desk, says that he would love one. “Really?” I say. And I run to the car to get him one. When I return, Eric is filling out some paperwork. He is telling the whole story- about the loud bang, and the gas tank, how the firemen brought us the mud flap- to Jennifer, who appears to be paying attention. Technically, she had to return the first car, and rent us a second. So Jennifer starts with the questions that come up on the screen.

“Is the gas tank full?”

“No. It’s not,” Eric answers.

“Oh. How full would you say it is?”

I can see that Eric is getting tired and frustrated and worried that he’s going to have to pay for something else, so I step in. “Um, the gas tank is empty. But I tell you what. We’ll pay for as much gas as you can get to stay in the tank. The one that tore open. When we hit the mud flap.”

“Oh. Right.”

And we get in our new rental car, and we drive those last few miles over the river and through the woods.

My Life Is Not A Sitcom: The Carol Brady Experiment Concluded

(Originally posted September 1, 2010 on blogspot.)

This conclusion is admittedly late. I’ve been thinking about it. A lot. And I wanted to go back to living my “regular” life (whatever that might possibly mean) in order to compare. And I’ve done that. I’ve thought, and I’ve lived, and I’ve compared, and here it is. My big conclusion.

My life is not a sitcom. And I don’t want to be any of those women.

I can’t not work. I have a whole week off this week, and it’s making me crazy. Not just crazy. Depressed. I’m really struggling. My work- my music, and my theatre and my writing, OK I’ll say it, my art- is just too important to me. Too big a part of who I am.

I can’t JUST work. This weekend I had the good fortune to spend an entire weekend visiting a friend who was doing a show in DC. And for three days I got to see the show and talk about theatre and go to parties and hang out with the cast and I wrote an entire chapter. And while I didn’t time it with a stopwatch, I’m guessing the longest I went without talking about my husband or my daughter was about ninety seconds. And when I got delayed on the bus going home I missed them so much it hurt. My life is very much about my art. But it’s not just about my art.

I can’t wear heels and chase a toddler. It’s insanity.

I can’t just wear whatever I grab first, and I can’t just order pizza for dinner. Not on a regular basis, anyway. This, too, would be a one-way ticket to depression.

I can’t get much work done when Lily is awake. I’ve tried. It is not effective.

So if I’m not any of those women, where does that leave me? It leaves me, as anticipated, with moderation. A woman who needs to find some self-worth and artistic fulfillment in work, and who needs to spend time with her family and provide a safe, healthy, happy home. A woman who often finds the balance between these two needs allusive. I’m a woman who cares what she wears and how she looks. But I’m also a woman who spends most of her time with a little person who is learning to run.

I am my own woman, finding my own way.

So then, why watch any of it? Why compare ourselves at all? I suppose we need to understand who we are not in order to understand who we are. And, quite frankly, they are sometimes all we have in the way of company. (See: On behalf of stay at home parents who get really really lonely.) And while we might not be exactly like any of these characters who find easy solutions in two short commercial breaks, they do represent a lot of truth. Maybe not universal truth, but truth for a lot of us. Like fighting over bills and burnt dinners and that darn Jones account. And that’s gonna make us laugh. And sometimes, that’s all you can do.

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The Carol Brady Experiment: June Cleaver- Before

(Originally posted August 19, 2010 on blogspot.)

Here she is, folks, the mother of all TV mothers. The matriarch of matriarchs. Representing the 1950’s, Mrs. June Cleaver, of “Leave It To Beaver.”

Personal Style: June was always in a dress and heels. Always.

Housekeeping Style: Perfect. It’s what she did. It’s what she lived for.

Work Life: June was a Stay At Home Mom. And, it’s all she ever wanted to be. I watched an episode during which Beaver had an assignment to write an essay about his Mom’s life before she was a Mom. While Beaver did learn by the end of the episode that she had worked in a book store for five days while she was in high school, (she was fired for her inability to keep her receipts straight.) and that she volunteered serving cookies at the USO before she got married, he also learned that this is what she wanted to do. She chose it. His classmates’ mothers had all sorts of interesting jobs before they were married. (not now, of course. Good God, no. BEFORE they were married.) But not June. She was a wife. And damn proud.

Social Life: In this same episode, June and Ward went out to play bridge with the Rutherfords. I’m not sure they did much bar-hopping, but they were certainly friendly with their neighbors.

Notes: June scares me a little. I’ve never made a pie crust, and I am not a morning person. But at least she’s clear about what she wants. So the plan for today is to keep busy. If it needs to be done, do it. And there is plenty around here that needs to be done…

The Carol Brady Experiment: Roseanne Conner- After

(Originally posted August 18, 2010 on blogspot.)

Greenwich, Connecticut is not Lanford, Illinois. We don’t have any bowling alleys. (I looked. I did find one, but no one answered the phone when I called.) Our pizza is specialty, our beer is micro-brewed. I don’t have teenagers. Nor do I have said teenagers’ significant others to deal with. I am not overweight. My sister (regrettably) does not live near me.

But still. I was able to connect to Roseanne today in some surprising ways. And I have to say. There was some liberation in that.

Once I decided to switch gears and focus on Roseanne today, I didn’t set an alarm. I didn’t do much housework throughout the day. (Although I did get more laundry done than I have since we moved here. My problem had been getting the laundry basket and the baby to the basement. As Roseanne, it finally occurred to me. Put the baby IN the laundry basket WITH the laundry.) I ate whatever was handy when I was hungry. I wore black yoga pants and a black tank top. They were not the same shade of black. Then, after dinner, when we wanted cake but didn’t have any plates clean, Ryan suggested we just get forks and eat the cake right from the platter. Any other day I would have refused. (why? There’s probably several therapy sessions in there.) But today, a giant smile spread across my face. Did I want to eat right from the actual cake itself? With a fork? Yes. Yes I did.

Many would wonder what the big deal was in all of this. But I can be a bit of a perfectionist. OK, I can be downright rigid when I’ve decided something is important. But today, I just let it be. And I spent time talking to my friends. And I didn’t get so worked up about all of our meals being perfectly square. And it felt pretty good.

I couldn’t live like this every day. I went to Whole Foods in my yoga pants and tank top. And. For the first time since we moved here… I ran into someone I knew. Our Realtor. All I could think about was what Lily and I were wearing. Why today, of all days? When I haven’t taken a shower, and I’m wearing my glasses… But then I looked around, and you know what? There were an awful lot of yoga pants.

If I lived like this every day, the dishes would get positively out of control. And eventually our health would suffer. I care what we eat. But. It was one day. And at the end of it, I’m in a pretty good mood.

The Carol Brady Experiment: Roseanne Conner- Before

(Originally posted August 18, 2010 on blogspot.)

I was going to portray one of the more difficult housewives today. But I just wasn’t up for it. I didn’t sleep well last night, and when my alarm went off at 5:30 this morning, I decided to skip ahead. So welcome to my life, Roseanna Conner. Here’s a glimpse of Roseanne in the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s.

Personal Style: An important part of Roseanne’s character was that she didn’t spend a lot of time on how she looked. (unless it was Halloween.) She was often in a work uniform of some kind. Otherwise, she seemed to grab whatever was clean. Especially in the earlier seasons. Episodes shot post-breast-reduction were a slightly different story.

Housekeeping Style: Laundry was done, dishes were done, meals were served. But it was all done in a time-and-cost-efficient manner.

Work Life: Roseanne did nearly everything at one point, from working in a plastics plant to owning a restaurant. There were also periods when she was unemployed.

Social Life: Active. Roseanne and her husband Dan had lots of friends. They went bowling. They played poker. They spent time with family.

Notes: My first thoughts of Roseanne were that this would be easy. Just don’t take care of myself, and don’t worry what I feed my kid. But she was busy. And she was an activist. And she was a caring wife, mother, sister, and friend. So today, while I’m not going to take a shower, and I’m not going to spend tons of time deciding what I wear, and I’ll probably serve pizza for dinner, I have my work cut out for me. There are no plastics plants here in Greenwich, so I’ll have to focus on being efficient. And standing up for women. (although, that’s sort of part of my everyday life anyway…) And being a good friend. And spending time with my family.

I think I better go call my sister.

The Carol Brady Experiment: Shirley Partridge- Before

(Originally posted August 16, 2010 on blogspot.)

OK, facebook friends. You knew there had to be a reason why I was talking about “The Partridge Family” the other day. Here she is, my 1970’s Mom. Shirley Partridge of “The Partridge Family,” played by Shirley Jones. This is who we’ll be studying tomorrow.

Personal Style: Shirley was a hip, conservative Mom. When she wasn’t in costume with the family band, she was wearing trendy, yet comfortable and age-appropriate clothing. Often it was a pants suit.

Housekeeping Style: The family was on the road a lot, but Shirley always made sure her family was taken care of. Traditional housekeeping was not a huge part of her life, though. In fact, in one episode she goes into “retirement,” and her kids tease her about her new found interest in cooking and cleaning. Shirley Partridge was no slob. It just wasn’t the center of her life.

Work Life: Singing with the family band. She was a full-time musician.

Social Life: I may just need to watch more episodes, but she seems to spend most of her time with her kids.

Notes: Shirley Partridge is the only single mom I’ll be studying this week. I am not a single mom. However, Ryan is spending the entire day in the city tomorrow. So this is as close as we’ll get. I won’t have any help, but I also won’t have another person to feed. I’m teaching at Groove tomorrow, which means I’ll be singing and playing the keyboard- an ideal day to play the role of a lead singer in a band. I haven’t decided what I’m going to wear- I don’t have any pantsuits, and I need to be dressed to teach babies. I may just have to nod at the seventies a little.

I learned while studying Laura Petrie that I needed to focus in on a few aspects of each TV Mom’s life. So for Shirley Partridge, it will be about the music, being with my daughter, and doing it without Daddy. Groovy.

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