Get out of my life, you worthless minx.

Dunkin Donuts, I don’t want to know the nutritional or chemical breakdown of your chicken salad. It’s lousy with mayonnaise and may not contain any chicken.

I imagine the chicken product it does contain was taken from the worst kind of chicken slave farm. The kind where under-nourished chickens have to turn giant cog wheels in a chain gang to generate the power to run a water-wheel which creates enough electricity for evil dictators to blow dry their dictator jeans after the tears of human suffering get them all damp.

Also, the impression of celery in this mixture is clever, but I’m sure, an illusion.

I want this. I want to eat this white paste spread over a croissant. I want it all the time. With an iced coffee. With a diet coke. I want to want to go jogging or eat an apple instead of putting my face near this purgatorial fat burger. I hate that this is a part of my life.

My dear friends, this blog post contains no revelation, and no happy ending.

Dunkin Donuts, you are bad. You’re a bad guy.

How I Made Friends With Kurt Vonnegut

I read this at Sara Benincasa’s book event at Brookline Booksmith last week. She asked me to “write something about mental illness or books…”

I tried to find the most literal intersection possible. This is the story of the time I had a nervous breakdown and made friends with Kurt Vonnegut.

But first, some background: Early in my sophomore year of college, I joined up with a group of lovable extroverts at Emerson College and we travelled to the Netherlands together. We lived in a castle, in a little Dutch village. Just 80 American students, a brawny grounds-keeper named Hubert, and our dragoness headmistress, Dulcia.

I took about seven art history classes that semester and every weekend was a three-day weekend. You got a Eurail pass and just…went. Went wherever. Berlin, The Czech Republic, Paris, wherever you wanted to go.

Sure, someone drunkenly (cocainedly?) jumped into the medieval moat. And yes, I gained 15 pounds of nutella weight. But it was, as you can imagine, a magical time.

Everyone kind of fell in love with each other. Our Netherlands experience was like the last month of 8th grade, when everyone stops bullying each other for a short, blessed spate of time. When you might see the gothy kid with a pubey moustache at the same party as the popular kid…with the pubey moustache.

It was just like that only our experience lasted a whole semester and involved a bunch of wine and some of the most talented and creative people I’d ever met.

However, I intended for that semester to be my last hoorah with Emerson College. Emerson’s fun people, with their fun scarves excited me, but something was missing.

There was a part of me who wanted to be serious. Like, real, doctor serious. Academically serious. And that’s why I transferred to Smith College in Northampton Mass.

I’ll preface the next part of my story by saying that Smith is a fantastic school and if I had the kind of self-awareness and perspective at 20 as I do at 30, it would have been a great time.

But sadly, I did not possess said perspective.

When my new roommate showed me her pencil-eraser collection, I smiled politely.

When, each time she shut her mystery novel and sang, “dun dun dunnnn” I looked with on with concerned amusement.

When she became furious at my concerned amusement, I left the room and went for a walk.

When, during Schindler’s List, she passionately proclaimed that Ralph Fiennes was the ultimate total hottie during the scene when he’s shooting Jewish prisoners from his balcony, I began to feel hopeless.

This particular relationship mirrored my relationship with Smith as a whole. Bit by bit, it just kept getting more terrible. I couldn’t find the quirky musicians and poets and comedians no matter where I looked. I just kept running into different iterations of my roommate. She seemed to be everywhere.

I was lonely.

I’ll spare you the gorier details, but I spiraled down pretty fast. Especially coming off of my magical castle experience, it was tough to take. I’d put my eggs in this basket, made a big deal out of it, engaged my parents time and money and here I was …failing.

I cried every morning. I tacked on five pounds of depression weight to the existing nutella weight. I needed my mom on the phone to coax me out of bed. I remember trying to have a teary conversation with a tree one night. Unfortunately, that’s a true story.

I don’t remember how I found out that Kurt Vonnegut was the writer in residence on campus, but when I did, I felt a thrill. The first thrill I’d felt in months.

He was critiquing student work and had open office hours. I didn’t have anything written worth critiquing, so I threw together a fictionalized autobiographical story about some profoundly suburban experience I had in  9th grade.

It was sloppy, uninteresting, and trite. It was just terrible. And I rushed to submit it. To Kurt Vonnegut.

I had at some point read Slaughterhouse 5 – but that was back in high school and all I remembered was a vague sense of accomplishment at having finished it.

It should also be noted that the things I read, in general, are about hobbits, boy wizards, or vampires (judge away). So, I was uniquely unqualified to sit down with the legendary author.

I remember approaching his tiny office in the back of the stacks and thinking I must be in the wrong place. No one was there. No one. Kurt Vonnegut was holding open office hours at a liberal arts college and no one was there to see him, but me.

“Hi…Mr. Vonnegut,” I knocked on his open door.

“Come in, sit down. Nice to meet you. Are you Erin?”

Yeah. I totally was.

I don’t remember exactly what he said about my story, but it was something like, “This is the worst kind of sentimental, and not very exciting. You should kill somebody. I don’t care if it’s autobiographical. Just kill somebody. Please.”

And then I nodded, he put my story down, and he asked me how Smith was going.

So I told him. Not about the Nazi roommate stuff, although in retrospect I bet he’d have appreciated that bit.

I asked him how Smith was going for him…and, unexpectedly, he seemed to be having a similar experience. The school wasn’t the right fit for either of us.

I asked if I could visit him again during office hours, and he said sure.

That’s how Kurt Vonnegut and I became buds. He hated my writing but didn’t mind my sitting in his office and chatting.

I told Kurt how I felt like I was letting my parents down because I was having such a tough time, and how I felt like I was missing something by not being around the kind of creativity there was at Emerson.

He gave me two lasting pieces of advice.

  1. You’re crazy. But everyone’s some kind of crazy. Your kind of crazy is that you want to do everything all at once. You can do everything, but you’ve got to do it one thing at a time.
  2. Don’t walk. Run back to Boston.

So I took his advice. Well, I didn’t run. The twenty extra nutella-slash-depression pounds wouldn’t allow for that kind of athletic feat. But I did take a bus back to Boston and I re-enrolled at Emerson.

The last time I saw him was as my bus was driving down Main Street, past the Academy of Music. He was sitting on a bench outside. Not writing, not reading, not eating a sandwich. Just sitting there in the middle of town. Just a funny looking old man in a ratty cardigan to everyone passing him by.

I spent my last two years at Emerson thoroughly enjoying all the idiot improvisers, furrow-browed essayists, and even the broadcast journalism majors. Who were, you know, there.

Periodically over the last ten years, it’s been really helpful to remember the wise words from my only Smith College friend: You’re crazy. But everyone’s some kind of crazy.

Oscar Town!

I married a creative, dynamic man with systematic tendencies. These are not a negative, per se, but they sometimes catch me off guard. The over-used example is that we need to watch the Olympics, without commercials, on the DVR…even if it’s a day after the particular competitions have aired. So, just figure out how to get through Thursday without someone telling you who won the gold in pairs figure skating. I guess in some circles that wouldn’t be a huge problem…

Anyway, one especially fun systematic initiative is the husband-driven quest to see all movies nominated for Best Picture before the Oscars air. Here are just a few of my thoughts on what I’ve seen so far.

(SNUBBED)

Note: By virtue of the fact that they are nominated, I’m probably a lot harder on them than if I were to just discover them instant on Netflix.

War Horse: Yeah. Right. I’m not seeing this movie. At 30, I’ve got a pretty good handle on what’s going to make me miserable, and this movie has all the right ingredients. A horse on the battlefield? I can’t watch ANY historical war movie without getting totally preoccupied with the tertiary horse characters’ well being. Ryan saw this one solo.

The Artist: OK. Yeah, OK. It’s very beautiful and the female lead reminds me, charmingly, of a latter-day Shelly Duvall**. Emotionally, I got nothing from this piece and found the whole light-hearted suicide business to be kind of jarring and weird.

Midnight in Paris: Again, a very pretty movie. Also this time, a great story too! Beautiful setting, engaging story…really terrible dialogue. I submit that maybe I am missing something. Is this Woody Allen’s thing? At one point the purposefully one-dimensional character played by Rachel McAdams says to her fiance, “cease with the idle chatter.” That’s in the course of a casual hotel room conversation in 2010. I get the character sketches of the historical figures, but the present day characters never had a human conversation. Which is odd. Is it on purpose? If someone could explain this to me I’d love that. Special note: Adrian Brody was FAR and away the best thing about this movie. His performance was the one truly spectacular thing I picked up on.

Hugo: Love. I mean, taking into account my tastes and who I am, this is no surprise. But how lovely. This is one of the two nominated movies that made me feel something.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: I read this book and loved the language and style, but I won’t see the movie. I don’t want to feel PAIN! This was another Ryan-solo trip.

Moneyball: Oh, Brad, you’re aging! But still so cool. This was enjoyable and tight and engaged me in a topic that I usually find mind-numbingly boring. All of the performances were very good. This movie was very good. According to me.

The Help: I didn’t want to see this movie, but I did. I heard some media criticism at some point about this being the story of a white girl sweeping in to save the down-trodden, black, female population of a southern town. That gave me a funny feeling so I didn’t want to watch. However, it’s good. Very good. I got invested in the characters who were all gorgeously played, and I got all riled up at the injustice even though it’s a story that’s been told in many many different ways over the past few decades. It still felt fresh. That’s quite a feat. Weirdly, this movie almost lost me in the victory laps. The point is made, the battle fought,and then the film runs around the track a few too many times screaming “I’m going to Disney World!” I just wish they’d quit while ahead.

The last two I have yet to see:

The Tree of Life: I saw the last five minutes of this and that was all. Some of my arty-smartest friends loved this movie, so I’m not going to pass judgement till I see the whole thing. I just hope all those nice people get off the beach and aren’t eaten by a smoke monster.

The Descendents: Scheduled for this weekend. Clooney, don’t let me down…

**OMG you guys, Faerie Tale Theater is on Hulu! I can’t express to you how much more exciting this is to me than the Academy Awards. I just found out when I googled Shelly Duvall. THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!!!

The difference between improv and everything else

Here’s something I love to do: Shuffle out on stage towards the back of a line of performers.

Usually a bunch of the people before me in line will be running and whooping. Sometimes they will be punching the sky in expectant triumph. I will not be doing that, but I will be smiling sheepishly and clapping, maybe. There are no fewer than three other people with me in this scenario.

Then, I kind of look at my feet or squint out at the audience while allowing  someone else to interface with the audience, get a suggestion, etc. There are times when this person is me, but in general, it’s great when this person is not me and is, for example, Taylor Newhall.

A little audience chatter occurs and I hope I’m wearing something that doesn’t make me look like a chub monster. Then we can finally play. That’s the fun part, and in this scenario, I work with my little funny-team to make the audience laugh for an indeterminate amount of time, and then retreat into the wings while someone else says things like, “Thank you! Give it up for Mark/Jason/Steve in the tech booth! Stay for the 10pm show!”

This is fun, and for me, feels very safe. I hardly ever freak the crap out – mostly because it’s something I’ve been doing for way too many years. Also, if I’m on stage with a group of people at this point, you can be sure that I trust them completely. That’s a nice thing about getting older and kind of knowing what you’re doing with improv. You don’t have to perform with anyone who makes you feel creepy.

Nice, safe, group improvisation. Last night though, I had to go it alone.

I blogged about my friend Sara’s book event (buy the book, it’s so good!)  and how I was going to “open” for her. Not Bastards Inc. or Bearcats, but me. I had to write something funny and read it. Sounds simple, yes? I mean, I usually get up in front of people with NOTHING to read, and it’s easy.

I kind of started obsessing about it a few days in advance. I wrote something and went over it a few times, made Ryan tell me I was brilliant (he’s really great at that, part of the job description), and printed it out.

Everything went really well. I was able to play it cool and maybe even come off as casual, but I have to say I was really taken off guard by my physiological reaction.

I got off the little mini-podium-stage thing to kind applause and sat down, but I was shaking. I was hot as hell, my face was buring up, but I was nervous-shivering. Because I read a 6 minute long personal essay in front of probably 30 people. Really, Erin? Really? I’ve performed for a thousand people before! And even with some pretty famous people – and I’ve never really felt like that.

I think if I do more of this stuff in the future, maybe it’ll get easier, but it makes me view stand up comics with a kind of awe. You’re so alone up there — there’s no team!

All in all, it’s kind of awesome to feel a new kind of challenge. It’s kind of fun to realize that I can still get super nervous and freak out. In a weird way it makes me feel young or something.

Sara is doing this kind of thing all over the country (I believe her trajectory in the past 48 hours has been NY–>LA–>BOS–>NC. Insanity.) Not bad for an agoraphobe.

Hat’s off to you stand-alone types. And thank you to my friend-teams. You make life easy.

Agorafabulous, for real.

The last biography I read was about Golda Meir. I was in 7th grade, and it was for a book report.

Sara Benincasa literally never ran Israel. In fact, she’s been Prime Minister of exactly zero countries. However, even in the face of such bleak statistics, her autobiography, Agorafabulous, is riveting.

Also, she’s hilarious.

Full disclosure: Sara and I are friends from college and I’ve been well aware of her writing prowess for a number of years. The unique thing for me, in reading about her experiences and struggles with Agoraphobia and panic attacks, is that I was kind of there for some of it.

There, and aware to a degree that she was going through something, but way, way too narcisistic and too 20 to be of any help at all. I was mostly thinking about Me. Me with a capital “M”. I don’t think this is unique, really, but seeing a time of your life through someone else’s eyes is a pretty unbelievable experience.

So, some of this highly entertaining and deftly written book made me sad. Because it’s sad when you learn that someone you care about has gone through a lot of pain. And kind of awful to reflect on how you were way too worried about a stupid comedy show or a dumb boy to be of any use.

But, girlfriend made it through. And, what a book.

Tomorrow night at Brookline Booksmith, Sara is having a book event. I’m going to be there to cheer her on and read a little something of my own. Also, Maria Ciampa will be performing, so…this is a pretty easy sell.

If you can’t make it tomorrow night but would like to buy her book, buy her book. Especially if you’ve ever freaked out on a bus, panicked in class, or had a really terrible time anywhere.

She gets it. She makes it funny. And making it funny makes everything more okay.

Did you work in the 90’s? How?

Many days I’m on the road for work. I drive around New England meeting different, excellent people. It’s a very good gig. But somedays, I’m in the office.

In between executing tasks for work, I’ll check the internet. That’s pretty typical for my day and I imagine (since you’re reading this) probably something you do as well.

I just began to wonder what it would be like if I wasn’t plugged into a network of people who are constantly creating content. Lots of people I know write blogs and articles, they produce videos, guest on podcasts, and anything else you can imagine.

On top of that, since I’ve been doing more research into publishing, I’m following a bunch of excellent Twitter accounts which link me into a whole other universe of content that’s relevant to my writing pursuits.

It’s all interesting, or funny, or timely information — all the time.

Here’s an off-the-top-of-my-head list of things I’ve looked at today:

– Video: Zabeth Russell, an IB alum, was in a hilarious bit on Jimmy Kimmel

– Twitter: Some awesome idiot created a Twitter account for “Adele’s Ex”. It’s fantastic.

– The awful details from completely un-awesome idiot Chris Brown’s police report. Not going to link to it. Almost made me puke.

– Searched for The Jedi Spirits

– My friend Sara Benincasa came out with a BOOK yesterday. I was reading about that.

Anyway, you get the point. All this leads me to the question: What did we do in 1998?

Seriously, guys. What did we do? I mean, I was a junior in High School then so I spent a lot of time doing homework and going to play rehearsals. Also, I think we drove a lot. Like, around in circles. And I pretended to be way more into classic rock than I actually was. But that’s all beside the point.

I guess the question is directed at people that were working in an office before the internet became a constant. Was everyone just so much more productive? Did we read more books? Jog at lunch? Play tennis?  Is THAT why 80’s ladies always carried heels in their pocket books and wore tennis sneakers?

What did you do?

**AFTERTHOUGHT** I think it’s actually possible that I do not know anyone who had a desk job in the ’90’s. I guess the mystery will LIVE ON!

Quick thought on the holiday

It’s Valentine’s Day, which is a super fun day to get angry. I’ve had bunches of angry Valentine’s Days. One that sticks out is when I was a freshman in college still dating my high school boyfriend and he visited my dorm with a snoopy from CVS.

I was furious. Like, “I’m going to set this place on fire” furious.

(I wish I knew whose baby this is.)

I know it probably had little to do with the actual snoopy stuffed animal, but I do have a clear recollection of drawing a parallel between the thought he put into that gift and his general worth as a person. OH, the fury. The outrage! I will still argue that being 19 can be the absolute worst. By that I mean, I was kind of the absolute worst.

On the flip side, last year my husband got me Twilight themed chocolates (probably from CVS) and Twilight Scene-It and we had one of the most fun nights in recent history. Eating CVS chocolates and playing Twilight Scene-It.

Let’s be honest folks, it’s usually not about the day or the gift. I think it’s more about whether you’re generally a fan of your significant other. I’m a huge fan of my husband. Huge. Fan-club president, actually.

If you are alone today, consider this — it’s SO MUCH BETTER than being with someone who will make you want to burn down a building just by being…around.

** Okay, I don’t want to be obnoxious, but yes, Ryan sent something truly awesome to my office today.

If I pretend to like Kanye, does that make me a bad person?

A few months back, Simmons College sent out a call for volunteers to take part in a pen pal program with a local middle school. I volunteered and just got my first letter in the mail.

My pen pal sounds awesome. She likes cats, the Scary Movie franchise, hip hop, and has visited the Carribbean. Now, to write back…

You wouldn’t think I’d be so nervous, but I am. What if she thinks I’m lame? She probably hates indie rock and the Lord of the Rings, but I have to give honest answers to her questions!

I think the key is Lucy, my awesome tiny cat. I’ve composed a solid paragraph detailing how cool she is, and I should probably also add in the story about how she ate a whole bunch of chicken wings one night and had food all over her face. That’s bound to be a winner, yes?

Also, is it inapropriate for me to recommend The Hunger Games to a sixth grader?

I mention ImprovBoston and writing, but it’s becoming clear that maybe the cat is the most universally charming thing about me.

I am so desperate for approval. Lucy, don’t let me down.

OK, real talk — as I’m typing she’s trying to climb into a paper bag and it’s hilarious.

Something that is perfect

On NPR this morning they aired a short piece about Grammy nominees and mentioned that Bon Iver is nominated this year for Best New Artist.

More like Best We Already KNEW About this Artist, You Jerks – AMIRIGHT? No? Ok. I thought I was right. No big deal, I’ll be ok.

Anyway.

They played the tiniest snippet of Holocene during the piece and, as it always does, it hit me like an emotional boulder. Sometimes it’s hard to identify why a particular sound, color, set of words effects you the way it does. That song runs me through a unique gamut of emotions and it always takes me off guard. And it’s not the song’s story. Half the time I can’t even make out what Justin Vernon is saying and if I can, it’s all in the abstract.

There’s a highway, there is ice, there are narrow hallways. That’s lyrically literally there. But it evokes a lot more. Feelings of loss, isolation, freedom, the impossibility of forever.

The video for Holocene is exquisite. It makes me cry every single time and I kind of know why, but more than that, I have no idea why.

So, happy Friday to you. I hope this weekend you see beautiful things.

Weird. But, good-weird.

I get excited about a few things. New England Folklore is one of those things.

Last year, as I began to brainstorm I googled “New England Folklore” and found this site. Now, I am a total fan girl.

A witchy ghost in Maine? OK.

The boogeyman of Beverly? IF YOU INSIST.

A haunted tunnel in western Mass? YOU TRY TO STOP ME, I DARE YOU.

I’ve found Folklore in general to be an endless treasure trove of inspiration and material. Also, it’s so much fun to learn about. Even in Mrs. Carsley’s 8th grade class, I couldn’t get enough Greek Mythology (and can still hold my own obnoxiously well in snotty reference-dropping cocktail conversation on the topic. “Yes I think Hestia is wildly underrated, now that you ask… muah haha, fart.”)

I find myself coming back to these kinds of stories over and over again. They’re like gasoline for my imagination car which is an SUV, unfortunately.

If you’re into this kind of thing too, I highly suggest the book Weird Massachusetts which you can find everywhere including Newbury Comics and many tourist shops. But it is absolutely great and filled with really creepy, fantastic stories from around the state. I love.