Archive for October, 2012

Mrs. Peters Birthday Cake

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

There is a book by Mary Ann Hoberman called Seven Silly Eaters and it’s one of Barnaby’s favorites. In it, Mr. and Mrs. Peters have seven kids and all of them are obsessed with eating only ONE food each, and for each one of them it’s a different food. Warm milk, lemonade, applesauce, oatmeal, bread and eggs (two different kinds) and poor Mrs. Peters dutifully makes these foods every single meal for every kid. Finally, on her birthday, all the kids wake up early to make her breakfast, but none of them have cooked before and each one of them tries and fails to make their favorite foods. They all end up in one pot which they try to hide in the (still hot) oven. Mrs. Peters wakes up soon after to find a perfect pink birthday cake, still warm, coming out of the oven for her.

Jordana suggested that Barnaby and I could try to make this cake together. If you look at the ingredients, it actually looks like it might make a great cake, you just have to start with bread, go light on the oatmeal and lemonade, and it could be awesome. Also, nobody mentioned two sticks of butter, but I figure the book was written to rhyme, not to teach cooking, so I could improvise a little.

Yes, that's two sticks. It's a cake.

My mom taught me that scalding the milk and then letting it go funky with lemon juice can add insanely good flavor to bread, so we microwaved the milk for a bit and I let Barnaby slice the lemons.

I held the lemon. I'm not insane.

The important thing about knife safety is to teach kids not to be afraid because they know how to do it right. And also use very, very sharp knives. It may seem counter-intuitive, but a sharp knife will actually cut through stuff, whereas a dull knife is more likely to slip off and cut a finger. I gave him the knife and told him one of two pieces of information my dad gave me, “let the tool do the work for you.”

The other piece of advice was to put on my socks before my pants. That way, your pant leg never gets stuck in your sock.

I let him squeeze the lemon juice into the milk…

I love this juicer. It has no other function.

And then I let him take care of his job, “the dry ingredients.” Barnaby has been mixing the dry ingredients since he was three years old. He’s gone from being terrible at it to being really good at it, and over the course of that time I’ve learned two things – 1) you can’t assume that a recipe is exact, even in baking. What are the chances that *exactly* two and a half cups of flour is right? Couldn’t two cups plus four tablespoons and then three tablespoons on your shirt be the right amount? And 2) Even poorly made cookies are delicious.

Measure twice, cut once. Oh right, that's the third thing my dad taught me.

Sifting has always been his favorite. He tries to cover the entire flexible cutting board.

And now for stuff my mom taught me. If you cream the butter and sugar together, you get a super light texture for the cake or cookies. But you have to cream the crap out of it.

Nothing if not meticulous.

Then I put the applesauce in with the milk, and the eggs in with the butter and sugar. I operated the mixer, which requires no actual labor, and I set Barnaby the task of mixing in the apple sauce. Since it had to be a pink cake, I added food coloring to the milk, and since it was a requested ingredient, I put in a small handful of instant oatmeal into the butter/egg/sugar mixture.

If I had a lawn, I'd make him mow it.

And then, it’s just a matter of adding some of the wet and some of the dry in turns. Barnaby was in charge of the wet at this point. You can see, the food coloring worked.

Food coloring? Yes. Oatmeal flavor or consistency? Not so much.

We got the wet-then-dry ingredient dance done with all but a couple of tablespoons of each on the counter and outside of the bowl. Then I taught him *another* trick from my mom, buttering and flowering the cake pans. Since there’s no way to know the consistency of any cake I make, I’ve gotten used to using butter and flower to get the cakes out of the pan.

If his tongue isn't sticking out, he's not concentrating. Same with Michael Jordan.

We got the batter in the pans before being joined by my helper’s helper, a real whiz in the kitchen, The Monster Marlena.

Staring that Kitchenaid right in the eye, daring it to make a move.

The only part I won’t let the kids do is putting the cake in the oven. I still have a scar on my arm from when I was seven and I tried to flip the door open quickly and stick the tray of cookies in and the oven door closed on my arm. But this is a little still life I like to call “Cakes In Oven.”

Because "Twin Nudes" doesn't apply.

Barnaby made the pink frosting as well, with the second mixer bowl my lovely sister got me as a birthday present some years ago when I claimed that I couldn’t make a *second* batch of cookies because the bowl was dirty and nobody wanted to clean it. He did not, however, frost the cake, having moved on to Amateur Robot Design and Advanced Sibling Hassling in the living room.

She aint pretty, but for Pants-Flying-By-Seat-Of, I'll take it.

Barnaby was told that if he finished his dinner, he would get some cake and, in a rush to do just that he ended up covering himself in apple juice and ketchup, so he had to eat his cake the only way I can even enjoy a meal – shirtless.

This isn't nearly as cute when you've got chest hair.

His sister, ever the lady, kept her shirt on. And then, as is customary at the Williams household, ate her cake and shat her pants.

Cake Eating. Not pictured - Pants Shitting

Here’s what’s astonishing. This might actually be one of the best cakes I have ever, in my life, eaten. The curdled hot milk with lemon juice mixed in with the applesauce was INSANELY delicious and tangy, and it stayed moist for three days, covered. It didn’t come out of the pan perfectly, but it is just crazy, crazy delicious. And I haven’t tasted or seen a single grain of oatmeal.

You Might Not Get What You Thought You Were Promised

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

My daughter is a beast. She really is, we call her the monster. If her will power could be bottled, we’d have a cure for all addiction. I’m not a small man and I’ve been in my fair share of tight spots that required a certain amount of implied intimidation and when I use my boom voice on that little girl, she’s the only person in the world who meets it with a pause and a smirk.

What will her life be? She’s two, so it’s possible that a lot of her personality is informed by the fact that developmentally SHE’S TWO, but I’ve been around and seen a lot of two year olds and most of them are not monsters. And it makes me look out over the next twenty five years and wonder what they’ll bring.

Naturally, what I hope for most is simply health – physical and mental. Those things are givens, for the most part, but I still find myself setting the bar really low. There are times, though, that I find myself letting my dreams get away from me and I think about what she will be do.

God, the women in my family.

My great grandmother saved her money teaching for three years to buy a piano by getting up hours before anyone, walking to the one room schoolhouse to light the fire and teach all the local farmer’s kids. After three years, the crops failed and she used the money to save our family farm, working another three years before she finally got the piano. She taught herself to play.

My grandmother was promised fidelity and security and when she got neither she threw out her husband and went to college at the same time as her daughters. By the time she was in her 60s, she was dean of women, the highest post a woman can get at BYU.

My mother buried one husband and tossed out another, forged a whole new career for herself at 55. She was promised fidelity and security and when she didn’t get it, she started over. At 80, she just got a new job and she’s flying all over the country, taking care of her grandkids and working.

My sister and my sister-in-law, Michelle and Sabrina, could start a company today that would be Fortune 500 by in three years. If they did it with Jordana, it’d take six months.

When Marlena gets the chance to be tested, I have no doubt how she’ll be received. Obviously I don’t expect her to be singled out for praise – my children don’t have the kind of parents that train gifted children and that is sometimes a source of shame for me – but I know that she will lean forward, nose into the wind, every time she is met with resistance. And I know that a level playing field would see her racing to the front, shouldering her way in because she wants to be the first, the best, the one who makes the decisions.

I think about my own path. Dropping out of high school, lying my way into college, faking my way into every job I’ve ever had, and it occurs to me that winning a genetic lottery and being bold are the two most useful skills I have. There were a constant stream of teachers and adults telling me I was wasting my intelligence and talent, but I just floated along and shit just worked out. It’s like that for people like me, unfair as it might be.

Knowing that is important, and I find myself a little bit disgusted when members of our deeply privileged class talk about how unfair things are for them. Their concerns about slipping below what their current lives are, as if subsistence alone weren’t comforting to most people in the world, as if we are owed what we thought we were promised and any changes to those promises – even if they are based on absurd or unfair systems – are absolutely panic-inducing.

My little girl isn’t gonna get a fair shot right now. My son is gonna have it much easier. *Neither* of them is gonna have it easier than kids in private school with wealthy parents. And that’s our system, that’s what we’ve got right now and it’s bullshit, it’s built on a series of lies and oppression and it is an immoral system that has to change.

I don’t care where you went to college. I don’t care if your pay is cut by 10%. I don’t care if you deserve the job you have now, that you are qualified for it and you do it well, I don’t care. I’m one of the best children’s voice teachers in the country, and I have unparallelled skill as a studio musician but guess what? The world changed, everyone records music on the same machine I’m currently writing this blog on, so I went from six figures in the early 90s to… well, let’s say five figures now. Because the system changed.

The system has to change again. Hating To Change is what makes you a conservative, and I’m watching it slowly happen to all the people around me. You fight, you struggle, you go to school, you work your way up, you find a mate, you maybe have kids and you think in your 30s and 40s you can just start living your life based on the system you were given, but that system is bullshit, it’s based on *inventions*, and it has to change. That means you just might have to introduce a little more struggle into your lives.

Because my daughter might be a person who changes our country.

Or my friends’ daughters. Jesus, I think about Angela, I think about Rory, I think about my friends’ girls and I CAN NOT believe that they have to stop at Vice President, that they won’t get tenure, that they will make 73 cents for every dollar that Barnaby makes for the same job.

Both Presidential candidates tell me this is the greatest country in the world, but the best they can come up with is the Lilly Ledbetter act? I mean… Look, thanks for making it *possible*, not *easier* mind you but just *possible*, for women to discover, hire a lawyer and sue, on their own, an employer who discriminated against them without a statute of limitations, but that’s not exactly anywhere CLOSE to fixing the problem. AND ONLY ONE CANDIDATE WAS WILLING TO EVEN DO *THAT*, the other one’s running mate voted AGAINST it.

It has to change. You have to be punished if you don’t hire women and minorities. Maybe once you get a job, you’ll have to apply for it again, maybe we need to see if you’re still worth your one dollar and an additional $.27 savings on someone else’s job. Maybe you aren’t gonna get what you thought you were promised – my mom, my grandma and my great grandma didn’t get what they were promised either and they kicked ass.

If I’m gonna come clean and tell you that my failures are my fault and that my good fortune is based largely on white skin and boy bits, then do me the favor of not complaining about small changes in your enormously privileged lives. In order to rectify ridiculous circumstances in our past, you might have one or two small unexpected struggles, but in the long run you’ll have to have the same faith in yourself and your children as I have in Marlena. I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Getting a Baby Isn’t Having a Baby

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

There are so many things in my life that I entered into, driven purely by romance. I wanted to play in a band, without thinking about being on the road, I wanted to be in the theater (again, without thinking about being on the road), I even wanted to go to college and get married and be a heavy drinker, all because I had romantic notions about what was involved in each. But none of those things come close to the complete bewilderment that is “having a baby”.

There are a bunch of steps to having a baby, and it is actually *literally* years between the decision to have a baby is made, and the actual baby you think you want shows up.

Step One – Gittin’ Pregnint.

Oh, you think you’re hilarious, right? How much *fun* is it to try to get pregnant! HELL YES, this is THE GOOD PART! Leaving aside the fact that a huge number of couples can’t get pregnant biologically (and I’ll get to that in a second), it is not uncommon for people to try to get pregnant for a year and have it not work. Month after month of taking your temperature, counting the days and then pulling your partner down for a biological and sometimes utterly sterile sperm injection… followed by month after month of false positive pregnancy tests, heavy periods, pregnancies ending after *many* weeks – just harrowing awful heartbreak.

AND, in this day and age, your family and close friends know you’re trying. So you have to deal with *that*. Assholes suggesting that you should just relax, that you aren’t getting pregnant because you’re trying too hard (which they back up with acres of bullshit, science-free anecdotal evidence of Friends Who Got Pregnant Once They Stopped Trying), and hippies vomiting out conspiracy theories about water pollution and herbal remedies. And every month that passes, the woman starts looking at her biological clock ticking away and the man starts looking at his balls like they’re full of dead sea monkeys, and both people feel, in an absolutely perfect word, impotent.

And for people who want to adopt – you would think there are thousands and thousands of babies world-wide that need good families but it’s not that easy. In very, very rare instances a woman gets pregnant, can’t raise the baby and finds a good family to raise him or her. But more often than not when a couple wants to adopt they are suddenly faced with paperwork and packets of options that they won’t have to face again unless they have quintuplets going to college. Want to adopt a baby from a war torn country overseas? It’s *YEARS* of bureaucracy. YEARS. You have to start trying to adopt a baby right now who’s parents have yet to *meet*. Adoption is truly one of the most beautiful things we can do as human beings, and I’ve watched it cause more heartache in my friends than I thought possible.

Step Two – Bein’ Pregnint.

The first time you get pregnant, it becomes an identity that, whether you embrace it or not, is thrust upon you like Greatness in Twelfth Night. You are a vessel for the nourishment and development of another life form, you’re Earth and in your soil is an acorn that you have to actively take care of or a single leaf will never break out and begin a tree. If you’ve spent a year getting pregnant, if you’ve had two or three chemical pregnancies or lost a pregnancy along the way, then you feel like you’re carrying an egg on a spoon, taped to a stick, gripped between your knees.

And once you start showing, that pregnancy is owned by everyone. Strangers will walk up to you and TOUCH YOU. People will leer at your belly and, let’s face it, tits and smile at you beatifically. And even worse, you will get acres of advice and judgment. For the love of GOD, don’t let anyone see you have a glass of wine or smoke a cigarette – it’s so inconceivably immoral to do these things I’m amazed there isn’t a law. To clarify – *habitual smoking* is bad for a fetus, *having a cigarette* is no different than breathing the air when you’re driving on the Grand Central.

And all of this is happening when you are perhaps as uncomfortable as you’re ever going to be until you’re old enough to break an ankle getting out of a chair.

Your hips are getting soft and shifting. The viscera in your stomach muscles and lining is tearing. Your feet, your hands, your face, your *everything* is swelling and nothing fits any more. You are always starving, and always feel like vomiting, and always feel like sleeping. You can’t eat half the foods that make you happy because you will almost definitely give your zygote BOTULISM if you have soft cheese. It doesn’t help that you are surging with hormones that make even a casual encounter feel like a nuclear war standoff. And there is no man or non-pregnant woman in the world who understands what this feels like (myself included, this is all second-hand information from watching my wife and friends), so it’s incredibly lonely.

Step Three – Gittin’ the Baby *Out*.

There are women all over America who proudly claim that they had “natural” child birth. They want you to know they did it without pain medication, or that they did it at home, or with only a doula, or in the crouch position or in a bath. That’s great, I’m very proud of them, in the same way that I’m very proud of people who run marathons. It seems like an incredibly hard, TOTALLY OPTIONAL thing to endure.

But you better believe, there are women in agony all over the world who are dying in childbirth, who get terrible tears and infections and suffer through the worst pain you can imagine, who would say, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I could have done this without pain and IN A HOSPITAL?” According to the World Health Organization, 530,000 women die in childbirth worldwide every year, and a total of 10 million women suffer injury, infection or disease, and these are *NOT* the women who give birth with a doctor. So, look, I have no judgment about the way you give birth, but just don’t give my wife shit for doing it in a hospital. It takes all of about *two days* before nobody cares how you gave birth anyway. Because…

Step Four – What? Where’s The Baby?

Okay, sure, we all know that right after you give birth you aren’t gonna be shoe-shopping or throwing the perfect spiral. We all know that it’s a baby and that it’ll cry if you don’t feed it and you’ll have to change diapers. We all know this, it’s not like we’re idiots, it’s gonna be a while before we have a *kid*, this is just a baby.

Um, no. No, it’s not. This thing is not a baby. The thing that’s in your house can’t see past about a foot, and it can’t control any of its muscles. So, it just shivers and quakes, like a plate of jello on a salad spinner, and when it looks at you, it can’t actually see anything. Its neurons don’t work. You think it’s crying because it’s hungry, but it doesn’t actually know if it’s hungry, it screams because it doesn’t work yet. There’s no solution to the screaming, you just have to survive it while doing everything in your power to fix it because… it *might* be because the baby is hungry or uncomfortable, so you gotta try *something*.

How completely spastic is this little jellyglob of a human? It doesn’t know how to *shit*. In order to shit, you have to flex some muscles and relax others, but its body doesn’t know which ones, so it sometimes tries to push waste out of a tightly closed hole. This unassembled Ikea piece of humanity *can’t figure out how to eat*. There is an entire industry – lactation consultants – that have sprung up to help women simply *put nutrition in their infants*. It takes months – months that are meted out in 15 to 20 second chunks, like surviving the last twenty minutes of sprinting on a treadmill except all day and all night – for this amorphous creature to turn into anything resembling the “babies” you see on TV and in commercials. And all those hippies who tell you that Native American babies never cry because they’re at one with the world and at peace with their mothers can fuck right off, the thing *doesn’t work yet* and it screams because 250,000 years of evolution taught it to scream.

Now look, obviously it’s all worth it. And obviously I haven’t included the indescribable feeling of being pregnant, when you’re in your second trimester and someone good and kind is there taking care of you while you grow a baby. And I haven’t included the fact that a trigger goes off in your heart when you take your baby home. And I haven’t included the fact that you realize that adoption is genius, that you fell in love when you added to your family no matter how the addition occurred. And I haven’t included the fact that you become even more passionate a defender of a woman’s right to safe and legal abortions, because people who don’t want this or who might not be sure if they want it REALLY SHOULDN’T BE FORCED TO DO IT.

But if they made movies about the kinda shitty and boring month you’re bound to have during a marriage instead of making them about the moment two people fall in love, it would certainly better inform people of what to expect from a marriage. If they made a movie that started with a huge theatrical success and then the rest of the movie was the four months of unemployment and depression after it closes, people would know better what it is to be an actor. And if people understood that there are years before you’re tickling a baby and they respond with giggles, years that are incredibly hard, then they would better know what they have to look forward to.

Your Problems Aren’t Problems

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

My brother Kent sent me the following video –

First World Problems

Wherein a number of desperately poor people deadpan into the camera things like, “I hate it when I can’t text and walk at the same time” and “I hate it when I tell them no pickles, and they still give me pickles.”

Now, before I say anything about this video, I should come clean and admit that I’m a terrible contrarian. The second someone says something platitudinous I react with eye-rolling distrust, but that’s NOT what makes me a contrarian. It’s when people say something interesting, comforting and affirming of an opinion I’ve long held that I find myself knee-jerk wondering if it’s too good to be true. The logic in my head basically dictates that if something true can be expressed in a unit small enough for me to digest, they have to be glossing over the details.

But this video stuck in my craw immediately. The message makes sense to me – there are children without running water, and you’re worried about pickles, that seems like an awful waste of energy. Maybe it is, but I’m not ceding any moral high ground to the makers of this video or to anyone in them.

There is an epidemic in America of depression and anxiety. No, it’s not just me and my friends, and it’s not just you and your friends. You’re on an anti-depressant? Oh wait, *you’re* not, but someone in your family is, more than likely several people in your family are. And these black clouds of depression are always accompanied (and I would argue, often caused by) a relentless anxiety, a fear that THE THING around the corner is coming faster, or is going by and leaving you behind, or is creeping up behind you or is running away. Whatever it is, it’s just out of your grasp.

America has to run on this. The “First World” has to run on this. Because we have chosen fear as our primary motive for inspiring action. I don’t care who you’re voting for, I guarantee you that your candidate said, ‘We are the greatest country in the world, and we’re right on the edge of a precipice.” Really? We’re the greatest country in the world, but if the wrong guy gets in office our country could literally be dismantled? JESUS CHRIST!!! I’d better harangue people on facebook about registering to vote, it’s the least I can do to avoid this CATASTROPHE!!!

My job… I have to… I have to get to my job, but I’m tired because I took work home and my boss knows I have email at home and she wrote to me twice but I had fallen so far behind on Rizzoli And Isles and EVERYONE AT WORK TALKS ABOUT IT, so I gotta catch up or I’ll look like an idiot… but I can’t talk about it at work, not really, I’ve got a job and in this economy, I’m lucky to even have a job because AMERICA IS ABOUT TO FALL OFF A PRECIPICE, so I gotta buckle down and plus – I’ve gotta pay down my credit cards because the interest is killing me but the new iPad was so much better than the old iPad and if I’m gonna be paying for the wireless service so I can check my email on the train (between the email checking on my home computer and the email checking on my work computer) then I should at least have the *fastest possible* iPad and I use it for my kids more than me, to help them learn to read, because if they’re not reading by the time they’re five THEY WON’T HAVE A CHANCE AT GOING TO COLLEGE and they will be stuck in the prison of low-wage earning mouthbreathers, all because I didn’t spend the time, spend the time, spend the time, SPEND THE TIME…

Statistically, America has the highest rate of anxiety and depression disorders. We are a miserable people. We are the ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTH happiest country in the world. Wanna guess who’s in the top ten? Vietnam. Columbia. Nicaragua. If you include the top twenty, you get Israel, Cuba… PAKISTAN. These are all countries that we are told time and again are shitholes of horror, places you wouldn’t send your children on vacation for fear that they would literally be stabbed at the airport by blood-thirsty brigands and zealots. How are there one hundred and four countries that have happier people than America? I thought this was the greatest country in the world!

If you look at what is actually said in that video, it’s easy to feel smug about how *shitty* we all are for complaining about this stuff. And yet almost every single complaint listed there “I hate it when I leave my laundry in the washer and it starts to smell” or “I hate it when I go to the bathroom and forget my phone”… almost all of these are based on the fact that our lives are plagued with responsibilities, that we have no time, none, not a moment to breathe or wash or clean or even take a shit without relentlessly trying to forge ahead just to stay even with expectations.

“I hate it when I say no pickles and they still give me pickles”? Right? Except, this person has just gone through the drive through, the only place he can feed his family dinner for less than $20, while in the car, on the way home from work, to soccer practice where he has to drop off his younger kid while his older kid does homework in the bleachers and a *different* mom is gonna bring them home because he has to go to his volunteer shift and if he doesn’t do any of this stuff, HE’S A COMPLETE FUCKING ASSHOLE.

And three of these are just straight up bullshit. “I hate when my leather seats aren’t heated” is a complaint that only eleven people have ever made, and seven of those were self-aware jokes about how absurdly opulent our lives are.  “I hate when my house is so big, I need two wireless routers” isn’t even *true*. There are people sitting in a car across the street able to steal WIFI from me… so you’re saying a *common problem* among first world inhabitants is that there homes are the size of a New York City block? And “when I have to write my maid a check, but I forget her last name.” – what is this, 1911? By “first world problems” are they talking about Downton Abbey? I’m sorry, I was told that America is on the verge of complete economic collapse unless I vote for one of these dudes, but apparently *most Americans have maids*.

And pay for them with *checks*.

Our lives are essentially one tiny meaningless step in the march that started on the ocean floor, made its way to the trees and then down again and will hopefully end with us in the stars, riding around in a Tardis with a Timelord, so the only measure of significance right now is how we feel, each of us, day to day. Don’t tell me that our problems aren’t real problems, unless you’re working towards building a new system that doesn’t include marketing and fear-mongering in every single aspect of our First World lives.

Look, I’m glad that this organization exists. And I’m glad that they changed “white people problems” (which is how I’ve *always* heard it when we mock ourselves for living in ridiculous good fortune, having most of our lives handed to us by being born this race, in this century, in the most egregiously wealthy country that has ever existed) to “first world problems”. But when they end by saying “these aren’t real problems”, that’s just infuriating. We’re a miserable people, trudging through our days, exhausted with the constant barrage of signs saying “do this or nobody will fuck you” and “vote this way or your house will be o’errun by villains” and “if you don’t (x), YOU WILL BE SORRY”, and we’re working every hour we have, every day, just to stay *average* and… Yes, and we have clean running water. That we have.

Or… at least I think we have that. I heard something about… fracking, is it? And the oceans are becoming… desalinized? which is gonna lead to drought and… something else, something awful and… and there isn’t enough regulation on our clean water, we have no idea what’s *in it*, I heard on the news that what is in our water *COULD KILL MY CHILDREN* except… to pay for those regulations, they’re gonna kill jobs and… and they are gonna have to raise taxes and I don’t have enough money, I’m already working as many hours as I can to afford all the stuff they keep telling me I need, and…

And on and on and on and on…

Brothers in an Uncharted Land

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

My brother actually linked to this blog from his insanely popular blog xtcian, , so obviously, instead of addressing what he wrote privately or in a phone call, I’m gonna talk about it in ANOTHER blog. Which, strangely, is ultimately my point.

Advertising before the social media age was based on campaigns. You have a product which has some intrinsic value and then you figure out how to make it somewhat more valuable through the use of strategic emotional manipulation and an aggressive dispersal of this manipulation. Everyone uses the term “widget” as an example, but I think a better one is “Orange Juice”.

Orange Juice has some intrinsic value – it is mostly water which our bodies need, it tastes pretty good and it isn’t completely devoid of nutrition. But people all over America choose orange juice at their prix fixe brunches because they’re convinced it is the healthier choice. It isn’t, it’s no better for you than apple juice, but most people think of apple juice as a children’s drink… or they think of it as sugar water.

Everything we think about orange juice is based on the tireless promotion of the orange juice industry. The truth is, OJ is picked then processed and all the flavor and color is removed, it’s re-added later by using packets of flavorcolor developed in some factory in Newark… and yes, I’m talking about *any national brand* of OJ, even the ones that say, “not from concentrate”… but I digress. This is what advertising is, it’s creating a campaign designed to emotionally manipulate the consumer and then keeping that message consistent and pervasive.

It is exactly this that has led most thinking people to look at marketing as “evil”. I think that social media is actually the opposite of that.

The purpose of social media *marketing* (if you read my brother’s blog, then forgive me for repeating) is to reveal the best of yourself to as wide a group of people as possible so they become invested in you or your company. My suggestion to my sister-in-law, which is where Ian’s quoted email originated, was to create a Facebook page and a Twitter account for her company and then to simply be herself. She’s one of the loveliest, most amazing people I have ever known, she wouldn’t even *have* to manage her online personality. She’s one of those people who exists as a world-wide bear-hug, all she has to do is extend her arms a little further.

But for most of us, we kinda suck. So we have to be careful about what we reveal on social media because it’s a public forum. There are people who bitch about the privacy settings on Facebook… but it’s *public* and you *signed up for it*. It’s like showing up at a party naked and complaining that everyone’s staring at you. And, to further the metaphor, when you’re going to a party you choose what you’re wearing pretty carefully, you want to present yourself in exactly the right way.

Facebook and Twitter make you considerate of what you post before you post it. Email is totally different, you’re just writing to one person. A blog is totally different because there’s a sense that anyone can find it, it’s almost *the point* that you’re speaking to strangers you’ll never have to face. Facebook and Twitter are going out to a LARGE group of people you ostensibly KNOW.

If you’re acting as if you’re being watched, often by your parents and people you work for (or want to work with) you begin to edit yourself as you post, you begin to try to put your best foot forward. And I believe, this has an effect on the way you look at the rest of your life. If you take your social media personality as a model for the best behavior you can summon, then it begins to inform the way you *can* behave in the rest of your online and real world relationships.

It’s even more than that. As anyone who has ever been in an email fight can attest, email is monologue. If you’re in an argument with someone, it’s highly unlikely that you’re gonna get an email that says simply, “I might have misunderstood you, what did you mean by this?” Instead, you’re gonna get five paragraphs based on their misunderstanding with sections of YOUR five paragraph email selected as isolated and out-of-context proof that you said something wrong. Blogs are even more so, blogs are pure monologue. You use a blog if you want to talk to people without being interrupted and then give them a comment section to address the issues *you* want to talk about.

Both of these things are, of course, not only incredibly useful but also incredibly fun. Social media is just a totally different thing – it’s a dialogue. Your friends post a link or say something funny, and you click “like”, that’s the equivalent of laughing at someone’s joke when you’re in the back seat of the car. A Syracuse fan says they can’t wait for Basketball to start, and you ask them why they can’t wait to lose twice to Carolina, just like you would in their living room. And if you have a point that you actually want to talk about with your friends, you can post something witty and pithy to inspire dialogue.

WAY MORE IMPORTANT THAN THAT, you can talk to people on their wall about the things *they* want to talk about, and people (for the most part) stay respectable because we all know that we’re in public. Most blogs don’t have a lot of different authors, so it’s hardly a discussion. And email lists are dying out, mostly because online social media does it better. If you’re essentially a private person, then social media is not for you, but for anyone who likes hanging out with big groups of people – it’s right there, available and waiting for your investment.

Could I have written all of this in an email to Ian? Of course. I have his email address. Could I have done this on facebook? Probably not. It’s too large a construction project and there are too many different things going on. Is this a dialogue? Absolutely not. Ian would not have made it through his blog without someone dissecting and disagreeing or changing the color of his argument, and I wouldn’t have made it past the initial digression about orange juice.

Ian says he’s not doing facebook and twitter correctly, and if he’s doing it wrong he doesn’t want to be right, but I don’t think he’s being fair to himself. Nobody loves a shit-talking, living room, back-seat-of-the-car back and forth more than Ian does and if he had the time and inclination I think he would end up loving what the social media world could give him.


Friday, October 5th, 2012

One last story to cap off this week.

I was cast as Hamlet when I was 27 years old. I had already done As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caeser, although that last one was in high school so let’s not count it. Suffice it to say, I had not a lot of Shakespeare under my belt, but you’d be surprised at how much your musical theater training comes in handy. “You want me to talk to myself for five minutes with nobody else on stage and the language has to have a specific rhythm in order to make sense? Yeah, talk to me about No, No, Nanette, you classics-loving knob-gobbler, I got this.”

After three weeks of rehearsal, the producer came and sat in. He hated me so much that he asked that I be fired and when the director refused the producer fired me AND the director. I was so awful that I got the guy who *hired* me fired.

That’s a great story, isn’t it? And it certainly goes a long way toward explaining why I didn’t play Hamlet when I was still young enough to play him. But even a cursory overview of the story falls apart. Even though what I’ve just written is 100% true, it’s actually not true *at all*. It’s interesting when that happens.

For all the theater people out there, have you ever been in a situation where a producer is willing to cover the expenses of three weeks of rehearsal and then throw it all away because he or she doesn’t like an actor? The actors were all being paid, the rehearsal hall had been rented, *coffee* had been purchased… and the producer is willing to throw this all away because I was actually *that bad*?

Look, I might have given a terrible performance, I don’t know, but in order for a producer to make that call, to throw away that much money, he had to have watched the rehearsal and decide that my performance would damage the integrity of his career. And there’s no way I was *that awful*. I speak English, I have at least a tiny bit of charm, even if we were completely misunderstanding the script, we still had a week or so to fix the show. The fact that he fired *the director* is a clue about what happened.

I don’t know, I wasn’t behind closed doors, but knowing what I know now I have to assume that these two men hated each other. And when I was first cast I had two meetings… with the producer. To discuss character, relationships and (red flag here) blocking. Not blocking specifically, but he insisted that he could justify Hamlet having been injured before the play, and he walked with a slight limp.

Hamlet was to have a limp in this production, I was told.

He also revealed to me the great secret that he unveiled – that Hamlet and Ophelia were lovers and that she was pregnant. When he told me, he swore me to secrecy even though this idea has become one of the accepted interpretations of the play so obvious that you have to make a choice when you’re confronting the script whether or not to embrace it.

Unfortunately, I was much younger then. So I laughed at the guy and said, “I can’t name a single person who doesn’t know that about the script. It’s almost four hundred years old, and I’m fairly sure every single production has had to deal with how to treat their love affair.” It wasn’t a great move on my part, but the guy was also massively out of line for meeting with the lead actor privately before a single rehearsal I didn’t care.

His criticism was that I wasn’t British, and only a British actor can play Hamlet. It wasn’t the accent, it was that I hadn’t been a boy in England. When it was pointed out that I *had* lived in England as a boy, his criticism was that I hadn’t lived there for my entire boyhood. And when it was pointed out that the Dane was… y’know, DANISH, it didn’t matter, only a British person understands a BRITISH writer. By the way, the producer was not, himself, English and had never been to the U.K.

Also, after I was fired, so were many of the other cast members. And then the opening was postponed. And then the production was canceled. And there’s a pretty good chance that had none of this drama occurred, the production still wouldn’t have happened, the producer was that crazy. I don’t tell that part of the story because that part makes it clear that the production was a shitstorm of incompetence, and that doesn’t fit into the narrative of me being wronged by the industry.

Now, to say this is water under the bridge is an overstatement, I was 27 then, I’m 42 now, I don’t even still contain any of the same cells as the 27 year old who went through this ordeal. But my choice for many years was to decide that I had no skills as a stage performer and that I should focus on my career as a musician, maybe teach voice or something. What I *didn’t* do is go back out and audition for a *different* production of Hamlet, there’s always one going up somewhere. I’ve told this story countless times with an ironic glee, another brushstroke in my portrait of a noble failure. But the only truth in this story is that some theater producers are flat out nuts, and if you take their craziness personally you have nobody to blame but yourself.

How We Do It

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

We are all of an age now where we’re trying to negotiate The Theater with Life-Long Commitments, and that includes children.  Being a standard bearer for having a “successful arts career” while having “children”, I feel like it’s important to explain how we manage to do it.

First of all, we need to be clear about the timeline and our terms. In the six years between Gideon’s founding and our first child, we had basically six productions, including one that made money (Lucretia Jones)(and about $300) and one big break-out success (Fleet Week). Since having our first child five years ago, we have had essentially eight productions, winning a handful of awards, getting our first off-Broadway option and a raft of great reviews, including two New York Times Critic’s Picks. So… I’m not being an asshole here, we’ve been *JAW DROPPINGLY* lucky since my son was born.

And we have children. *TWO*, if I’m not mistaken.

So, despite my own misgivings about describing myself as a successful artist, I would be an ungrateful prick to describe myself as anything else. Most people haven’t had the luck I’ve had in the past five years and if I nitpick on definitions, then I’m just being a straight-up *butt*.

So, here’s how it shakes down. I stay home with the kids and Jordana works full time. Because she works for a Non Profit that deals with health care we actually have fantastic health insurance, which is incredible. She doesn’t make nearly enough money for us to survive which means I have to hustle up some freelance work every year. Which I do. I make about half what she makes, and it isn’t enough to afford childcare, so the kids are home with me.

This is one thing that has actually *helped* us be successful as a theater company. Look, the truth is we are part of an industry where supply overwhelms demand exponentially, and the difference between a “good” production and a “bad” one is entirely subjective. But one thing that seems to be apparent is enthusiasm, or lack thereof. Because of our schedule, because of the insanity, because half my freelance work is done with a child on my lap, because Jordana would rather be at home then at work and doesn’t want to miss a single bedtime, our knee-jerk response to every single opportunity is to say “no”. The only time we say “yes” is when we’re obsessed. We see a project and are so blinded with single-minded enthusiasm that we are already waist deep in it before we even realize we’ve agreed to do it, and we are driven to dwell on every single detail. Which might or might not be “good”, but we usually end up *pretty close* to the platonic ideal of the thing we set out to make and that is usually apparent in our work.

But, obviously I can’t produce shows with kids on my lap, it’s too much work, most of which needs to be done in person. Our dirty little secret is that we get MASSIVE amounts of help.

Jordana’s parents drive out from Long Island twice a week to be with the kids from 1 to 6. It’s not the perfect time for me, I can usually work from 12-2 when the kids are young enough to be napping, but it does mean I can leave the house for appointments or to go grocery shopping – although the shopping isn’t usually that much because my in-laws show up every couple of weeks with granola bars and diapers and cleaning products and yogurt and giant jugs of apple juice, all purchased at Costco and delivered to our door.

Would Jordana’s parents rather we both get jobs as hedge fund managers and pay for their retirement? I can say, without hesitation or fear of being wrong, the answer to that is an unequivocal NO. They want us to do *this*. Their love for Jordana and their grandkids is about as profound and deep a love as I have ever seen, and I didn’t fully understand it until I had kids of my own. They don’t fully understand what we do all the time, (Jordana’s father once ran up to the back of the theater *during the applause* so he could ask me how the play was and I was like, “You’re… You’re actually *here*. You’re still *here*, you don’t need me to tell you how the play was, you could actually tell *me* how the play was!”) but they come out twice a week because they desperately want us to keep trying.

These guys worked their whole lives at jobs – not “calling”s, just jobs. But they have an unshakable commitment to making sure their children can follow their life’s passions and are willing to do anything to make it happen.

The only person who actually matches their commitment to our work is my mom. We have a two family house, and when we were about to have our first spawn, the tenant who was making the mortgage possible told us he was leaving. So my mom, with about as much thought as one normally puts into their drive-thru order, decided to move from California, take over the apartment, and handle the lion’s share of the babysitting.

In the middle of the day, if I’m on a tear and there are things that are gonna require an hour of my attention, the kids will just say, “I’m gonna go upstairs.” My mom’s house on the top floor has almost as many toys as we have in our living room, there are legos and lincoln logs and markers and trucks and cars and Thomas The Trains and a treasure trove of kid-crap that can entertain any munchkin, from 6 months to 7 years old. She also has snacks.

More important than all of that, this means that as soon as the kids go to sleep we can leave the house. Both of us. Without hiring a babysitter and without worrying about the police. We forget that middle-class white suburban America doesn’t deal with things like “teaching your kid 9-1-1 and locking the door to go work the night shift while he’s asleep”. You spend a few years in a junior college in Los Angeles, you find out how a lot of kids grow up, and you start to realize that there are worse things than how you were raised.

Countless nights my mom has had the monitor going up in her apartment while she watched MSNBC and yelled at Republicans. Countless days, my mom’s apartment was littered with toy cars and granola bar crumbs while Barnaby described his invented mode of transportation, “the CarNaby”. And countless hours she spent holding a new born – first the boy, then the girl – letting them catch up on the sleep that kept their parents up all night the night before… and downstairs the parents were catching up as well.

I feel like this is the most important blog in my “Coming Clean” week, because I just don’t know how anybody else does it.

Let me clarify. *I* don’t know how *ANYBODY* does it. But I know this, I see women pushing a stroller at 10:30 at night with one sleeping kid in it and another exhausted kid holding her hand… or I see one parent at a show of ours one week, and the other parent shows up on a totally different week… or parents are at the PTA meeting with me while their kids want to be ANYWHERE BUT… or parents show up to the CSA with three kids in tow, trying to negotiate their stroller through the tiny New York City Supermarket Aisles… And I cringe in humiliation at the strength and fortitude it takes just for these seamingly simple tasks.

I think of my own struggles just to be on time to pick the kids up from school, just to get them through their homework, just to PAY for the stuff we have to pay for, and I realize that there are generations and generations of people behind us propping us up. It’s not just that we have Gramma Lorna, Grandpa Joe and Gramma Linda… it’s that they are the descendants of people who crossed the oceans and dragged carts across the plains, who lost children and parents on the trail or in the war or in the camps, who fought to turn dimes into dollars at a time when dimes could be turned into dollars in America – and they did all of this because every generation wants to see the dreams of their children come true, for their children’s lives to be easier and more fulfilling than their lives were.

And so we produce theater. In tiny venues for a handful of fans. But when I see my mother-in-law coming through the door, her eyes twinkling, barely able to contain her joy because she read our review in the Times, I glance over at my own daughter and I know why. When my mom staggers over to Mac at the end of a play and silently puts her 80 year old arms around him and just says, “thank you”, I know why. Their love for us is so profound and so beyond description that the things we love *become* the things they love, and they will go to Costco twice in a week, or take the clothes out of our hands at the Carter’s outlet saying “don’t be silly”, or drive to our house in pouring rain, or stay up for hours with a sick boy while we’re at rehearsal because our dreams, by the very nature of their existence, are incapable of being trivial to them. Their dream is that our dream comes true.

That’s how we do it. Countless generations of Jews and Gentiles have braved unimaginable odds to land us all in New York, creating theater because the theater is what Jordana and I fell in love with. And we have about twenty years before we turn, reach back and devote our lives to making the dreams of our children come true. I don’t know how anyone else does it, but we know what we’ve been given and when the time comes, we’re prepared to give it back.

The Nobility of the Misunderstood

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

I went to a party in 2000 at a friend’s apartment on 46th between 8th and 9th in Manhattan. It’s important, the address, because the people at the party were all Broadway People, all triple threats. I felt like a small fat child walking through the apartment. All of these men were 6′ 2″ and over, all of them with Grecian profiles and t-shirts that sat on their chests, hanging loose over their taut ridiculous stomachs. I poured three fingers of scotch, and then three more, and then three more to nurse as I walked around.

I had been invited by my college friend “Carl”, who is now a big-time Broadway star. I saw Carl across the room and I moved over to him, freshly drunk and feeling a little shit-talky and snarky about the whole party. We said hi and hugged and I asked him if I could get him a drink. He held up his bottled water and said, “I can’t, I’m in training.” I held up my scotch and said, “If you’re a real actor, this is how you train…” He half smiled and looked at me and said, “No. No, it isn’t.”

There are two American stories that have plagued my life. The first is the idea that hard work, mixed with a little talent and little luck, can make your dreams come true. That leads to the inescapable conclusion – you can’t do anything about your talent or your luck, so you just keep working hard, that’s the only part you can take care of. When the door is opened, be prepared to walk through.

The other, I like to call “The Withnail Tragedy”, where you stand in the rain, drunk at ten in the morning and romantically recite the monologue that would make your career, if only things had been different, if only someone could hear you. The bowed but not yet broken man, half smiling at you with old eyes, who has the wisdom to know against whom the deck is stacked and who refused to play the game, refused to do what the little people asked, so he never had the success he rightly deserves.

I am a very good actor. I know this because I’ve been told it a thousand times. But somehow, I stumbled along, submitting my headshot and going to open calls and signing with agents and it never quite worked out for me. My friends know why – it’s because I’m hard to pin down, I’m not really a *type* – or at least I wasn’t in my twenties and thirties. I have all this presentational training, this 1940s-musical-background, but I’m much more at home in a small theater playing true moments. And I’m not quite a leading man, and not quite a character actor. I transcended type, and the industry didn’t quite know what to do with me.

Or, in my worst moments, alone and away from my friends, I was never handsome enough. I was always too fat. I loved growing my hair down past my shoulders and I love having a beard… or actually, no, what it is – it’s that nobody really believed in me. I never had a mentor, my teachers would often suggest, time and again, that I ought to go into *teaching*. There was never anybody who saw me and thought I was going to be successful, only a handful of my friends that I was on stage with (and, frankly, probably sleeping with) thought I was any good.

Oh what a noble misunderstood failure was my acting career. What a beautiful cancer-ridden kitten, still smiling up, still purring, while she cough-coughed her way through her days. The Tony just never had my name on it, the cards were not dealt in my favor and despite an enormous wealth of talent and a resume that stretches back to when I was a child, I am simply the kind of person for whom it was never meant to be.

All of that is a fucking lie. An egregious, disgusting, self-serving lie.

This is the week when I come clean, and I’m here to tell you that the night I was drinking scotch with a future Broadway star as he drank water – that was one of a thousand turning points when I made the decision to fail. And I made that decision time and time and time again.

The industry didn’t know what my type is? Really? REALLY? So, the *problem* with your career is that you’re too diverse, too capable of playing a bunch of different roles in almost any style, right? That’s the problem? Oh, and also, yes – it’s a beauty pageant in a lot of ways, movie stars tend to be beautiful and not-beautiful people can be locked out, but the only problem with that is that I’M MALE and I NEVER WANTED TO BE IN MOVIES. Maybe I wasn’t gonna have a movie star life, but guess what – the friend who was drinking water at that party has never been in movies either. And also? I’m actually reasonably good-looking, something I choose to avoid by dwelling on one or two crooked teeth and back-acne.

But there’s also the problem that nobody believed in me, that I never had a mentor or anyone in the industry shepherding me through the process. But, of course, if I *had* then the whole thing would have been *easy*. Instead of *hard*. Which is what it is, which is what everyone told me it would be, which is what everyone always says to everyone about this industry. It’s hard, it’s almost impossible, the streets are littered with talented wannabes that never got their shot… and my complaint was that “it’s too hard without someone telling me constantly that I’m good enough”? Good Christ, that’s some Grade A bullshit right there.

It’s pathetic and it’s infuriating, and there are a lot of us and we recognize each other on sight. If there had been two of us at that Broadway Giants party, we would have recognized one another. Of course there *weren’t* two of us, that would have made it a different kind of party. And ever after there wasn’t even *one* of us because I wasn’t  invited to those parties any more.

And I shouldn’t have been. Because it’s a community of actors who are struggling and supporting one another’s struggles, who remind each other to go to the gym, who give each other advice on the best classes to keep their skills sharp and their voices strong. We don’t do that, me and my friends, we talk shit through rehearsal and afterwards we drink – or sometimes during. At that party I got drunk and openly mocked a group of chorus boys from Phantom. And I was *hilarious*. I even got to mock Andrew Lloyd Weber! But every day, we’re all getting older and we see the generation rising up below us and when we’re swallowed up it won’t even fill anything, there will be so little of us to swallow.

Now, look, this is the important part. I don’t regret anything. I can say that right now, how I’m feeling today, I am utterly free of regret. The reason that I wanted to devote a week to coming clean is because I think the best way to live a life free of anxiety and depression is to simply live an honest and somewhat loud life, and my life was defined by dishonesty, anxiety and depression for years. Maybe it still will be, but my brother Kent gave me some good advice once  – “if you’re doing it wrong and you’re not getting what you want, do it wrong a different way and see if that works.” I want to try honesty and see if it creates a feedback loop that suppresses the anxiety and depression.

There is no nobility in my lack of success as an actor. It’s a crying shame, it really is. Because regardless of how good or how talented I was, or am, the simple fact is that I love acting. I love my kids more, I love my wife more, I love that I have the life I have now and I love that all the work I do now has no drama attached to it, it’s simply work. And it’s possible – actually likely – that if I had a career as an actor, one that took me all over the country in rep theaters and on tour, that I wouldn’t have Jordana, Barnaby, Marlena or Gideon Productions. And if I had a time machine and could go back, I would tread as carefully as possible in the hopes that I would still end up here with the life I have now.

But I love being on stage. I love being on stage the way a 16 year old boy loves his 17 year old girlfriend. And the reason I don’t get to have a career can be summed up in the simple revelation that I didn’t work hard enough to make it happen, and almost every chance I had to sabotage my career, I did it. And there is nothing romantic or noble about that. It is just simply a shame.

My Failure

Monday, October 1st, 2012

I am going to focus this week on coming clean. I should say that I don’t take into account any specific reactions when I write this blog, I’m writing it largely because I’ve led an absurd life and have been told that I have an interesting voice. I write because there is an enormous world out there and while each blog is akin to filling the Grand Canyon one stone at a time, I do feel like you have to throw stones or nobody will fill it.

Also, you can’t just throw in pearls. Sometimes it’s bricks of shit. It’s important to talk about what you’ve done that’s *wrong*. At least, I think it’s important. And not wrong in some noble sense, not wrong like “striving but failing”. I’m talking about huge wrongs that come from our own smallness.

Jordana largely handles the bath time with the kids because our bathroom is pretty small and there’s just barely room for one adult and two monsters in there. The bath takes about ten minutes, and I’ve just spent the hours before cooking dinner and getting Barnaby through his homework, so I take that ten minutes to sit in the room next to the bathroom and check my email or lose at Words With Friends. It isn’t fair to Jordana, the bath is a huge pain in the ass, but… life isn’t fair and I rely on the excuse that there’s not enough room for two of us to get out of helping.

A few nights ago, Barnaby was really making Jordana insane, and she kept asking him to quit screaming. She was trying to wash Marlena’s hair and every time the girl’s face got wet she would scream and Barnaby would howl with laughter. Jordana kept asking him to stop and it kept happening and suddenly, I just snapped. I walked into the bathroom and told Barnaby to get out of the bath.

“No! I need to get my hair washed!”

“Get out of the bath right now. You’ll get your hair washed tomorrow.”

“But daddy, I don’t want to get out of the bath! I want to stay in!”

And I just snarled, “Get out of the bath Right Now, I don’t want another word out of your mouth.”

He scrambled out of the bath and started crying. Which is bullshit, it’s the same bullshit he pulls all the time. The second he thinks he’s in trouble, he just starts crying about how we’re hurting his feelings or something, and it makes me furious. It’s a goddam con, and I’m not buying it. As soon as he starts crying, I croak out, “Quit Crying. Get out of the bathroom, go to your room, get your pajamas on.”

He start crying for real, rubbing his eyes to make more tears come out, and I have fucking had it. We walk into the studio that separates the bathroom from his bedroom and I snap, “LOOK AT ME.” He does. I say, “Pull yourself together, Barnaby. I don’t care if you want to melt down, what you were doing in the bathroom was mean. It was just awful. That’s your baby sister in there who’s scared to death, and you just mock her, and now you’re crying to get out of trouble and I’m sick of it.”

He fell apart. One thing I’ll say for our relationship – I almost never raise my voice at him and he almost never throws a temper tantrum. It’s a chicken and egg thing, I don’t know which causes the other. But he went into a full poison squirrel dance, screaming and crying and gagging. I told him to go to his room and I closed the door because I’m not gonna listen to that shit.

What transpired over the next twenty minutes is difficult to re-tell point by point. I went in his room and explained to him why I was angry –

“For years, FOR YEARS, you have been too scared to get your face wet in the water. When you swim, when you’re in the bath, anywhere, you’ve been scared. And now when you’re little sister, your BABY SISTER, is scared in the bath, you LAUGH at her, YOU LAUGH AT HER, and that makes you a bully. I don’t get mad at you very often, but when you mock people who aren’t as big as you or aren’t as strong as you, that’s the WORST THING you can do.

He told me where I was wrong –

“You don’t let me talk. You don’t let me tell you what is happening. I have a bubble of laughter and it’s in my belly and it just COMES UP. IT JUST COMES UP, and whenever I try to tell you WHY, you won’t let me talk and you won’t let me TELL YOU I HAVE TO TELL YOU…!!!!”

And I snapped at him and shut him down –

“Don’t you DARE try to tell me that there’s some kind of THING inside your body that MAKES you mock your little sister, don’t you DARE try to explain how this isn’t your fault. I need you to apologize to your mom and to your sister, and I need to hear you take responsibility for what you did.”

And he tried to weasel out of it, crying harder and screaming –


“Then pull yourself together and stop making yourself cry. If you’ve got something you want to say to me, it had better be an apology. And not to me, to your sister.”

He really tried. He pulled himself together, he really did. We were able to talk for a minute or two, but he had a hard time explaining what was happening – he kept saying that Marlena’s screams were making a laugh appear and he couldn’t do anything about it, and I shamed the SHIT out of him for feeling that way.

“One day, it’s gonna be you, Barnaby. One day, someone bigger than you is gonna be mean to you and make you unhappy just because he can, just because he’s bigger. And you won’t know what to do about it. You won’t be able to cry and make it stop, you won’t be able to argue your way out of it because some people are just awful. You will have to decide if you’re gonna walk away, or if you’re gonna fight, or if you’re just gonna be able to summon the strength to know that you’re a better person. But if you’re gonna take advantage of a smaller person’s pain, then you aren’t better. You can’t know you’re better, because you’re not.”

He pulled himself together. He went and apologized to his sister and then to his mom. And, infuriatingly, his mom actually told him that what he did wasn’t all that bad, but that she just needed him to listen to her. Which is just… Jesus Christ, to spend twenty minutes with your kid screaming in your face, to have your wife just completely stab you in the back. But I didn’t say anything and decided I wouldn’t say anything. She has to be the bad guy way more than I do, if this is the time we switch then I can live with it.

As we were going to bed, Barnaby said, “do you know why I started crying so hard?” Yes, I do, because you’re a goddam con artist who knows if you cry like that then everyone backs down because they hate hurting you. You cried like that for the same reason my friends, at the end of our friendships, always claim that *I’ve* hurt *their* feelings by being nihilistic and cruel. You cried because it’s fashionable now to stop arguing and to feign shock and incredulity that someone would call you on your shit. But I said, “why don’t you tell me why you were crying.”

“Because I didn’t see my daddy when I looked at you and because I felt like you didn’t see me when you looked at me and the person who was looking at me didn’t love me anymore and I didn’t know if my daddy was coming back.”

Later that night, quite a bit later that night, long after my shock and my anger had died down, Jordana said, “By the way, Barnaby wasn’t laughing at his sister.”

I said, “…” and then I said, “what?”

“They were doing this thing – I get Marlena to tip her head back and then when I pour the water over her head she leans her face forward and makes this bubbling noise and screams because it makes Barnaby laugh.”


“It’s just a game they play – I mean, it’s a good lesson, Barnaby needs to know he can’t mock his sister, but I was asking him to stop because he was laughing and screaming and kicking in the water and I was getting soaked. He wasn’t actually laughing at his sister, though.”

Of course he wasn’t. Jesus Christ, he would never do that. He’s simply… he loves that little girl, when she cries -EVERY OTHER TIME – when she has ever cried, he does what he can to help. He brings her toys, he asks her what’s wrong. He’s never mocked her, not once, never. I was looking at a boy that wasn’t Barnaby when I decided he was mocking her. I was seeing someone that he wasn’t, and I was thinking like someone I’m not.

“One day, it’s gonna be you, Barnaby. One day, someone bigger than you is gonna be mean to you and make you unhappy just because he can, just because he’s bigger. And you won’t know what to do… because some people are just awful.”