Facebook has a handy little year in review for users. Looking through mine and one that you can generate for InstaGram, I found them a little dissatisfying. They didn’t really seem to capture all that was good and bad and huge about 2013. The big things were included, like my new job, but as I’ve pulled away from the internet more and more, I have less of a record of what has happened. I’m not particularly happy about this. It’s not necessary to document everything. There are, after all, only so many memories that you can truly cherish. But I’ve always liked being able to look back on an ultimately inconsequential moment.
There are also constant hums that I’ve become more aware of this year that are impossible to condense and articulate into a tweet or a stats update or even a blog post. My anxiety about basically everything has been pretty tough to contend with. I have really complicated feelings about key people in my life and I can’t tell if they’re valid or not. My kid is undeniably growing up now and I feel hyper-aware of the time that he still spends in childhood. Any time he cuddles with me or drops the front of tough adolescent that he tries on here and there, I breathe a sigh of relief that I haven’t missed it all yet.
Anyway, neither the Facebook or InstaGram reviews contained any moments from July, and I realized that that month contained one of my favorite nights of this year, one that I think/hope that I’ll always remember. Just in case, I don’t, though…
On July 11th, there was a brief but significant thunderstorm in the very early evening. The power went out and we went through the normal stages of reaction: sitting very still for a minute, sighing when it becomes clear that it wasn’t a momentary outage, pacing carefully.
Since it was still light out, the three of us sat on the porch and admired the pretty, midsummer sunset.
We could hear our neighbors shouting their theories about the power outage at each other. So-and-so a few blocks away still has power. Did a transformer blow? What did Duquesne Light say? Have you seen one of their trucks go by? How much stuff do you have in the freezer?
I wanted a popsicle and got some to cool us all down.
It started to get really dark and we needed some source of light. I gathered an odd assortment of scented candles and clustered them on the porch. They were mostly Christmas-related scents. It was odd to smell cedar and sugar cookies mixed with summer stickiness and rain.
After a few hours, we were getting hungry and frustrated. An alert chimed on my phone letting me know that the Pirates game had finally started after being delayed for the power outage. “We could go to the Pirate game,” I suggested half-jokingly. But the husband pointed out that at least there would be power and we could get something to eat.
“Let’s do it.”
We rushed over to the park and purchased bleacher seats. The crowd was pretty sparse since it was a weeknight and the game was just starting at 11 p.m.
I held our seats as the husband and the kid went to the bathroom. A girl coming up the aisle in a sequined skull shirt caught my eye. I quickly noticed that her date was Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
The game turned out to be great. The Pirates added one more win to what would ultimately be their best season in 20 years. And the three of us did something spontaneous. We went on a tiny adventure and escaped life for awhile.
This is an awkward reentry into writing here, since there’s plenty of other stuff to talk about, but let’s start with this:
BuzzFeed ripped off one of my MamaPop posts.
Note: What makes this whole thing kind of directionless is that MamaPop shut down for good a few weeks ago so the original post is no longer up. But I grabbed it before Tracey and Amalah turned off the lights and am reposting it here for the purposes of this little manifesto. I’m also reposting it for posterity, because it was one of my favorite things I’ve written.
So, anyway, here’s what happened.
A year ago, I had an idea to write a post about all of the turtlenecks in Love Actually. I was excited about the idea, but knew that it was so specific that I needed to research it first. I Googled it pretty extensively, resolving that if someone else had already written about it, I would figure out how to either reference it and take a new spin, or scrap the idea entirely. Because how many posts about turtlenecks in Love Actually could there be, right? So if someone had already covered it, writing it again would seem stupid at best, and a total rip-off at worst.
I didn’t come across anything and set to work on the laborious task of watching the movie and screencapping each turtleneck. That activity plus actually writing the post took quite a bit of time. But the post turned out great and when it went live on December 20, 2012 it got a huge response. (Well, huge for me.) I watched excitedly as the Facebook shares soared past 1,000. I entertained fantasies that I had written something that people would return to every holiday season, that it would make the rounds again every year. As someone who has written on the internet for a long time, this was the idea of creating something immortal, a goofy contribution to the weird and separate culture of what we discuss in this space.
Cut to a few weeks ago. I was scrolling through BuzzFeed and came across a post called “The Definitive Ranking of All of the Turtlenecks in Love Actually” by one of their writers named Erica Futterman. Stunned, I read through the post that was alarmingly similar to mine and contained a great number of the exact same screencaps. I could only assume that I had been ripped off and all of the dark stories that I’d heard about BuzzFeed’s practices were thrust into my face.
I would never assert that no one else could ever have the same goofy idea for a post. But I imagine that what happened next is that the writer of the BuzzFeed post did one of the following things:
a) Googled the idea, came across my post, and jacked it
b) Googled the idea, made it “original” by putting it through the BuzzFeed ordered list machine or
c) Wrote it without Googling it first
The first two scenarios make the writer close to, if not very much sitting in the lap of being a plagiarizer. Though that accusation seems strong since there’s not a lot of writing in her post. The best-case scenario is c), which means she didn’t do any research, which makes her a sloppy writer.
Aside from the brain-drippings that make up a lot of BuzzFeed posts, I’d heard of a few other examples of their writers taking liberties with the content of others. While I hadn’t been too offended by all of the stupid lists, having a fairly concrete example of their blatant pilfering was really jarring.
In the days immediately after the BuzzFeed post went up, two things happened: my grandfather’s funeral and MamaPop’s demise. Both of these pushed any outrage or urge to action way back in my brain and by the time I’d started to feel capable of thinking about it again, a few weeks had passed and MamaPop was gone. So the window for doing something (though I don’t really know what) seemed to have closed.
I’ve not been able to stomach the sight of BuzzFeed since, which quickly made me realize just how much content that site spews out daily. Basically every third item that I see shared on Facebook is from BuzzFeed and it still makes me cringe. I think we’re already aware that they tend to write about the same inane things over and over (37 Things 90s Kids Love, 15.7 Problems People with Glasses Have, 6 Things 90s Kids with Glasses Regurgitate), seemingly because they just churn posts out at a crazy pace. Original content must be close to impossible to generate between the constant deadlines so I have to imagine that the swiping and repackaging of topics is at least a somewhat significant problem. It kind of seems like an unstoppable machine at this point. It seems like their services as an aggregator are becoming blurred and want to serve as some kind of Reader’s Digest for the 18-30 demographic.
But, even if it’s just screaming into the void, here’s what I have to say to that writer, to BuzzFeed, and to writers in general as we navigate this shifting terrain and the internet muddles the rules. I know you’re busy. I know writing as a job, especially on the internet, is a Herculean task these days. But I think we all need to agree that a combination of the big standard rules of writing (like NO PLAGIARISM OF ANY KIND EVER) and basic internet etiquette (“here’s this cool thing that I saw here,” just a totally minimal acknowledgment of where you found it) is reasonable even in this frenzy.
Seeing something that I worked really hard on just pared down and posted was really upsetting. And now that a behemoth like BuzzFeed took that idea and made it its own, it’s completely gone from me now. It really just…it really hurt my feelings, is what it comes down to.
This post originally appeared on MamaPop on December 20, 2012. MamaPop is no more, so I am reposting it here. I took the opportunity to fix a few typos, but the post is what I published a year ago.
I watched Love Actually last Friday night. This marked the third or fourth time since Halloween that I had watched it and my reasons for doing so were mostly therapeutic. I had been crying off and on through most of the day and I needed something that would just make me feel good. Love Actually is one of my favorite Christmas-time movies, and watching it helped. Plus, I got to do my research for this post, which I had been planning for a few weeks.
See, the last time I watched it, I suddenly noticed how many turtlenecks were worn in the movie. It was pretty remarkable. I mean, I realize that it’s set in London in December, so obviously warmer clothing is called for. And turtlenecks are not unreasonable. But when you think about the interwoven characters in this movie, and if they were your social circle, you might wonder, “Hey guys…why are we collectively so big on turtlenecks?”
Those particular shirts showed up in almost every scene. Being a sane person, I decided to take note of each one and see if I could reconstruct the story of Love Actually through its turtlenecks.
Opening Montage Turtleneck
First we have the opening montage of the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. And Hugh Grant’s monologue about messages of love coming from the phone calls during the September 11th attacks and whoa, why is my face all wet?
Cheating Wife Turtleneck
We meet Colin Firth’s character, Jamie, whose wife skips out on a wedding because she has a cold. Really, she’s just using the time alone to diddle Jamie’s brother…who apparently has a thing for babes with red noses and chest congestion who mouthe-breathe during sex. Hawt.
Liam Neeson’s (Daniel) wife has died after a long illness. People mourn her with warm necks.
Funeral Montage Turtleneck
Daniel’s wife had specific wants for her funeral, including this picture of these turtlenecks.
Vaguely Creepy Boss Turtleneck
Snape plays Harry, the owner of some hip, early 2000s company that probably has something to do with graphic design judging by the looks of it. He’s weirdly invested in both Sarah’s (Laura Linney) crush on Karl and his assistant’s lady bits.
“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over all of this sexual tension.”
That’s Not a Turtleneck, It’s a Red Flag
Mia is maybe 25 and shockingly hot. But she doesn’t have a boyfriend, is attracted to her old, married boss, and her eyes get really wide sometimes. Keep the pet rabbits away from her. She cray.
Concerned Stepfather Turtleneck
Daniel is worried about how his stepson, Sam, is handling his grief. He’s vaguely concerned that the 11-year-old is injecting heroin into his eyeballs. He starts crying because dead wives will make you do that and Emma Thompson helpfully responds, “Ew, stop.”
Saying Good Night to Karl Turtleneck
Sarah stays late and refreshes her makeup all for the two seconds at the end of the day where she gets to say good night to Carl. This has been going on for 2.5 years. I think maybe it’s time to step up your efforts, Sarah. Also, the word “burden” is right above the picture of Sarah’s mentally ill brother. I see what you did there, Love Actually.
Saying Good Night Does Not Lead to Sex with Karl, Boss
But thanks for sitting on my desk and grilling me about it. It’s not weird or anything.
Jamie doesn’t know Portuguese, but he knows he loves the new housekeeper that’s helping him out while he recuperates from heartbreak and writes a terrible novel at his French country home.
The Most Reckless Writer Alive Turtleneck
Jamie also doesn’t know about computers or writing your novel not right next to a body of water or even just leaving the rest of the pages inside instead of precariously secured under a small rock.
If Only We Could See Our Subtitles Turtleneck
They’re saying almost the exact same things to each other! Awww! Granted, Jamie appears to have one turtleneck that is his writing-in-the-French-countryside turtleneck, but it’s pretty versatile.
The Turtleneck that I Wear When I Show My Best Friend’s Wife My Creepy Video of Her
Amazingly, Keira Knightley does not frantically try to find the nearest exit when she sees Mark’s collection of close-ups and slow motion shots of her licking icing off of her fingers. Mark takes a walk and his zip-up cardigan becomes the turtleneck of broken-hearted embarrassment.
Thank the Lord Turtleneck
Sam was not injecting heroin into his eyeballs or having a hard time dealing with his mother’s death. Rather, he’s hopelessly in love and will learn to play drums in two weeks so that he can participate in his school’s Christmas pageant and await his crush’s declaration of love. Daniel signs off on this because he knows girls love it when you aren’t just honest with them.
Buy Me Something Pretty Turtleneck
Mia gets increasingly inappropriate with Snape and demands that he buy her something pretty while he’s out Christmas shopping with his wife. Hawt. Snape gets increasingly inappropriate back.
I’m a Douche Turtleneck
“I spent 270 pounds on a necklace for my assistant but you think I bought it for you. No, you get a $15 CD. Merry Christmas.”
Language School Turtlenecks
I Just Realized My Husband Is Cheating on Me Turtleneck
I’m Just Judy and I’m Not Really Sure How Our Plot Line Fits In Turtleneck
These two are adorable, and they know a bunch of people in this movie. But Judy shows up later at the Christmas pageant wearing this same outfit and the timing gets lost on me. Is this a flashfoward? Did they go to the pageant and then kiss on Judy’s doorstep afterward? When is this? I don’t understand.
Sam’s Learning How to Play Drums Turtleneck
We’re the Cutest Turtleneck
The Prime Minister is looking for Natalie by going door to door instead of just calling, I don’t know, anyone and getting Natalie’s address. Because he doesn’t have any resources? Or wants to do this the more difficult way because it will be more rewarding? I don’t know. But he and his companion sing “Good King Wenceslas” to these three and it’s great.
I’m an Extra and I Get to Overhear this Awkward Conversation Turtleneck
Always sort out your marital issues at the kids’ Christmas pageant. What could go wrong?
I’m Claudia Schiffer Turtleneck
It’s so funny that I’m Claudia Schiffer but I’m supposed to be someone else (I think) because Claudia Schiffer was mentioned a few times as Daniel’s potential new mate earlier in the movie!
Whoa, It’s Weird that Everyone at the Arrivals Gate Knows Each Other Somehow Turtleneck
Jamie must have finished his book so he gets to wear a different shirt.
I’m Liam Neeson and I Own a Turtleneck for Every Occasion
There were other turtlenecks that I spotted in crowd shots but I didn’t want to appear too obsessive. And good luck not noticing this whenever you watch this movie from now on.
I have a sort of wrap-up of Summer 2013 post coming along. I started it a month ago when it would have actually been relevant but obviously my commitment to documenting my life has, uh, evolved. But I have to take a moment to document September 24, 2013, the day after the Pittsburgh Pirates clinched a playoffs spot for the first time in 21 years. I wrote about my hopes for their then-potential first winning season for Draft Day Suit back in July, though my hopes for that milestone are now replaced with bigger goals.
The baby and I were watching the game, which was one of the more stressful things I’ve ever watched. There were multiple moments where my heart sped up in excitement or terror, but I don’t think I want to know what might surpass the final play of that game in terms of sheer insane intensity.
I’m not exaggerating at all when I tell you that I was SCREAMING during this play. Screaming obscenities, screaming prayers, screaming in tongues. Rewatching it later with the husband, who had been DJing during the game, the sensation wasn’t at all diminished. Watching it now, my heart still pounds.
As someone noted on Twitter last night:
It started 21 years ago with a play at the plate. It ends 21 years later with a play at the plate.
This win, of course, is still many steps away from the real goal. But the poetic bookends of our losing streak beginning 21 years ago at a home plate in Atlanta, a bomb in the shape of Sid Bream, to last night’s excruciatingly marvelous play at a home plate in Chicago killing that streak could not have been written better.
I stayed up way too late last night, too wired to sleep, looking at any pictures I could find of the game. This one struck me and I checked this morning to make sure that it was actually that perfect or if my brain was just exhausted.
I’m fairly certain that this is one of the finest sports pictures I’ve ever seen. The umpire’s melodramatic stance and gesture, the utter defeat of the runner, and the triumphant catcher. It’s a perfect sequence of a defining moment in time, a story told in one flick of the eyes from left to right.
The more I looked at it, the more my eyes kept drifting up to the man in the stands, his arms raised in triumph, his shirt giving the slightest detail to communicate who he is cheering for. It reminded me of a somewhat similar picture, taken over 40 years earlier, when the celebration was even bigger.
In between Manny Sanguillen and Steve Blass, a lone Pirates fan cheers for his new World Series champions.
These are not the same kinds of moments, because any wins that we get beyond last night’s will be even bigger and more important. But everyone who was in Pittsburgh last night, either physically or in their hearts, struck the same pose. And, man, did it feel good to stretch.
A perhaps too-large portion of my brain is dedicated to remembering movie and TV quotes, which has served me well in life almost never. Nonetheless, I’m trying to figure out a way to note on my resume that I have a running database of Boston actors rattling of a list of names:
Mark Wahlberg in Ted
* * * * * * * * * *
Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting
* * * * * * * * * *
Comedian Steve Sweeney performing a bit that I initially saw on a Comics Come Home special in 1996
I mentioned to the sister-in-law when she was in town over the 4th that perhaps one of the reasons that American society shifted to quick, cheap, processed foods is the fact that kids can be ungrateful little turds. I have been on pretty severe pancake and banana bread kicks this summer and almost every weekend sees me sweating over the stove trying to achieve buttermilk pancake perfection.
The morning of the 4th, I was back at the pancakes, having skipped running a 5k nearby because of female trouble.
Giddy on Aleve, I added dashes of nutmeg and cinnamon to the batter and fresh, organic blueberries from the farmer’s market while the pancakes were cooking. I was thinking up names for my new domesticity blog when the kid looked at these glorious circles of flour and buttermilk and feminine mystique and said, “Eh…they smell too Christmasy.”
It was the nutmeg, I guess, but DUDE. Come on.
“Haven’t you ever heard of Christmas in July?”
“No. What’s that?”
“It’s uh…it’s…you know,” I replied, slowly realizing that I had no clue what it was aside from something that I heard about at an age young enough that I accepted its existence because it sounded awesome because hell yeah let’s do Christmas now; why wait?
“…It’s Christmas…but in July.” He was obviously past the age where this sounded like anything to get excited about, plus Hallmark has their Christmas stuff out already, so who cares.
Anyway, it turned out to be an appropriate segue for the rest of this month. I’ve been trying to fit the events, both small and annoying and large and frustrating, into a reworked version of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” but I’m not that creative. If I was, it’d go something like:
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
12 days of pinkeye
11 days of antibiotic eyedrops
10 days of heavy rain
9 days of 90-degree highs
8 days of fruitfly infestation
7 days of housefly infestation
6 days of uninhibited poison ivy growth in the backyard due to aforementioned heavy rain
5 days of waiting for dry days to get toxic spray on the poison ivy
4 days of stinkeye from my neighbors who are all fancy and don’t live in their own personal urban jungles
3 days sunburn and unsatisfying peeling
2 days of flash flooding
And a partridge in a pear tree
This week, the kid is making a repeat appearance at a frisbee camp. Yesterday was the first day and we got a kick out of meeting all of the coaches. The staff is mostly college-age kids who are best described as clean hippies. Very little hemp or facial hair but just so many exclamations of, “Duuuuude,” and “Awwwwwwesome,” and that laugh. You know the one, that kind of breathy, throaty chuckle. Not a bad way to spend his second full week of summer vacation.
The big milestone around here, aside from our wedding anniversary, is that my kid was promoted from his elementary school in an adorable ceremony two weeks ago. All of the kids, excited by finally being free of school uniforms, got dressed up in suits, dresses, and wackier outfits. My kid wanted to look fairly clean cut.
Clean cut down to the shoes, that is.
He received several awards for academic achievement and perfect attendance. It’s such a relief to me that his time in school seems to be going so much better for him than it did for me. He still has a reasonable amount of gripes with it. But overall he seems to enjoy learning and being around his peers and things “click” for him pretty smoothly. I was always too busy flailing about something to get consistently good grades or go to school every day. WHATEVER IT WAS MY JOURNEY AND I HAD TO GO THROUGH IT ON MY OWN TERMS *sob*.
In the fall, he goes off to the big 6-12 school. He’s really excited and I am, too. But the new school just seems so different from his elementary school. It was so warm and sweet and just the right size. His new school is in a huge, imposing building and contains huge, imposing teenagers. My kid is still so physically little that it seems like the new school will just swallow him up.
Anyway, yesterday and today I’ve walked to the park to pick him up from camp and it’s been nice to have a little bit of time just the two of us. We don’t get to do that often enough. Yesterday, he got a chance to see my new office, which he liked. Having recently watched Office Space for the first time, he appreciated my red Swingline stapler. On the way back today, we walked past my old building, which was one of the earlier buildings on campus and has a lot of cool, early 20th-century details. My new building is more modern; it’s maybe 30 years old and has a more basic appearance. We then had the following exchange:
“I think I like your old building better than your new building. Your new building is kind of…business casual.”
“Oh? What’s so ‘business casual’ about it?”
“It’s just kind of casual, not fancy. It kinda looks like Initech.”
I’m going to go ahead and open myself up to some eye-rolls, but I love Justin Timberlake. Outside of my immediate circle of friends, the opinions that I’ve seen expressed about him in my social networks online have ranged from amused derision to downright venomous hatred (which, honestly, get a life). But musically, he’s definitely one of my favorites and I also really admire how his “brand” is marketed. Branding isn’t something that I’m necessarily an expert in, but I know a bit about it. In my opinion, few artists have navigated the necessary evils of the music industry as deftly as he has. And this makes me like him even more, as silly as that may be. I just really admire people who are able to do their jobs really well.
Anyway, my favorite track off of his new album is “Mirrors.” I don’t think it’s necessarily the best song on the album, but I love listening to it because I love how it conveys a particular level of grown up. Timberlake is not old. Far from it. He knows he has a lot of life and experience and wisdom to come, but he’s old enough to be able to reflect on his past mistakes and take at least a partial survey of where he is.
Something that had kind of frustrated me about popular music the last few years was how there didn’t seem to be any delineation between what was for kids and what was for grown ups. When I was a kid, I liked stuff that was definitely geared toward my age group, but I was also aware of (and liked) music that seemed very mature, like Sade and Anita Baker, two artists who I LOVE now as an adult. Recently, I felt like everything was a weird mixture of immaturity and couldn’t really get into it. But Timberlake has emerged from his 20s and entered into his marriage with both peace and preparation for what comes next.
The song “Mirrors” is long and at the end transitions into practically a different song altogether, with the hypnotic chant of, “You are, you are, the love of my life,” that serves as the background for his gentle plea to his wife to get home.
It’s that mention of “home” that I think gets me. Part of why I hadn’t been writing here very much is because things have been really good at home. Like, really, really good. In fact, I don’t think the husband and I have ever been this happy. Today, we’ve been married seven years. June 17, 2006 was definitely one of the happiest days of my life, but I don’t know that it can compare to June 17, 2013. It’s the same date but with so many good and bad days behind it, so many rough patches that have led us to where we are now. I would be naive if I thought that things would always be great from now on. But knowing that we’ve made it through so far is encouraging.
The video for “Mirrors” depicts the tale of a couple spanning many years, supposedly based on the relationship of Timberlake’s grandparents. I love this element, that shows the couple looking to the past for wisdom even in their old age, knowing what they’ve accomplished and when they’ve failed and being able to enjoy being with each other.
I love having a love story. I love that we’ll be writing it until the end.
When last we spoke, we were stuck in the depths of winter. And now it’s June, my favorite month, and everything is different. I had started to feel weird about this space. There seemed to be only a few of you still checking in and while I wish I could be nonchalant about audience, I can’t. “Know your audience” has been drilled into my brain by every writing instructor I’ve ever had. Not knowing who was still around made me feel odd. Then one day the “visual” editor in WordPress was no longer working and life got really nuts and I thought, “That’s that. Taking a break. Not thinking about it until I think about it.”
I haven’t really missed it here, partially because I really needed a break from being the writer I had become, and partially because I needed to focus on other things. A few weeks ago, a writer who I respect and admire complimented what I had put here, and it got something stirring. It wasn’t ready yet, and I’m not sure that this is really my jump back into this space, but this awkward re-entry seems necessary.
So much has happened, and all of it required my full brain. It seemed like there was no room for immediate reflection, so I didn’t even try. The biggest thing is that I got a big, new job that is really perfect for me. I was really scared, though, to go from the job that I’d had for over 9 years to something completely new. But with each day I realize what a positive thing it is and it’s disarming to see how good things are, to see some really hard work and a lot of difficult years pay off.
My husband and my kid are amazing. I’ve been letting this particularly good patch just ride, maybe snapping the occasional picture or posting the occasional tweet. I’ve always liked being able to read back through time, and it seems like documenting good stuff would be helpful, especially when rough times inevitably return. But I don’t think I’ll regret just living without simultaneously writing a rough draft of a recap in my head.
All of this meandering is to say that if you’re still here, cool. If not, cool. I’ll be tinkering more and more and I hope to hear from you now and then.
Here are some fajitas smothered in cheese that we got in Detroit: