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Category: Parrothood: Twenty Years of Caring for a Vengeful Bird Determined to Kill Me

Always the Bridesmaid

I got to be a bridesmaid again just a few years ago. At the ripe old age of 39, plucked from my post of matronly mother to magically metamorphose into the role of sprightly ingenue.

this is definitely not the dress though
this is definitely not the dress though

The thing is, middle-aged, of which, alas, I’ve become a card-carrying member, just doesn’t seem to cut it in some roles. I mean, you reach a certain point in life and you start to look stupid wearing long hair, for example. Or bleaching it blonde, for that matter. And eventually, if you wear a mini-skirt or a bikini, you’re likely to be accused of trying to be your teen-aged daughter. This is kind of how I feel about mid-life bridesmaids. It just doesn’t work. You gotta know when to call it quits.

Nevertheless, that’s where I found myself. In the whirl of pre-matrimonial frenzy, negotiating dress sizes with the brutally dictatorial bridal shop employees, mean women who insist you are lying to them about your dress size, and insist you’re doomed to be wedged like a sausage into a too-tight dress if you don’t follow their advice.

Did you know that bridesmaid dresses standardly measure about five sizes up from your rack size? I thought it was bad buying bathing suits, which invariably size far larger than your street clothes. I suspect this bridesmaid sizing is intended to make the bride feel that much more superior. Place her up on the pedestal, the only time she’s gonna get to enjoy this position. So the bride is sporting her size 4 clingy little number, while the bridesmaids are ordering their dresses in a size 20. No doubt created by my favorite designer, Omar the Tentmaker (see below).

When the day finally arrived that my bridesmaid outfit was delivered, I was shocked. My two-pieced strapless floor-length number in steel gray sateen was practically shiny enough to see my reflection in.

Then came the time I’d dreaded: trying on this flattering bit of haute (or should I say “not”) couture. The moment of truth was humiliating. All I needed was a trunk and a swishy little tail and I’d have been placed on the endangered species list because I was hunted for my ivory tusks. The words “husky” and matronly kept swimming through my head. Husky is fine, if you’re a blue-eyed sled dog, but not so flattering if you’re a blue-eyed mom, even if you are a beast of burden. And matronly, well that’s a word that evokes its own connotations, none of which are too great. Suffice it to say, a red hot mama, I was not.

The whale-bone support structure in the strapless top pushed my breasts up to chin-level,  preventing my arms from resting flat at my sides. I wondered how I was going to negotiate eating and drinking at the reception with my newly-endowed cleavage getting in the way of my wineglass. Perhaps I’d be able to just rest my dinner plate right on top of my boobs, doing away with the need for a table. The small mercy for which I was thankful was that the dirndl style of the skirt hid all sorts of figure flaws. Of course, by hiding them, this amplified my amplitude, if you know what I mean. Add 18 wheels and this baby could’ve rolled on down the highway, ten-four good buddy.

yeah, this is not the dress, either
yeah, this is not the dress, either

How sad, in middle age, when I have finally come to accept my imperfections with something close to good grace, that I then have them flouted at me by my being forced to parade around alongside a bevy of young, slender beauties, the lone matronly bridesmaid. Here I was, fully prepared to attend this wedding dressed in an age-appropriate, somewhat elegant dress, and instead, I was relegated to laughingstock status—looking much like a dingy gray London sky, in my shiny sateen gown. The wedding guests sniggering as I sashay down the aisle, “Good lord, who on earth is that? She must be someone’s sister, poor thing.”

The good news, though, is I think I’m out of relatives of marrying age now. I’m pretty sure the next wedding I’m invited to, I’ll be able to dress as me. Only problem is if I end up picking some hideous looking garment, I won’t have the bride to blame it on—I’ll have to take all the credit myself. 

Conferring About Conferences

Last summer I attended a writing conference attended by a few thousand women. This is the third year I’ve attended this conference, which is professional in every way, shape and form. I always return home with reams of information, great ideas, and insight into the publishing industry.

 

No, this is not from the conference
No, this is not from the conference

But I arrived at the meeting with a level of perplexity about women and conferences. Now I come from a guy-centric background. Grew up with three brothers. The semaphore of my childhood was a series of grunts and groans. Even now, though I’ve got two girls, I notice with intent what my husband and son are like. Boiled down to their essence, men are simple, they’re basic. Women are complex. Now I’m not here to determine which is preferable (although I’d be a traitor to my sex if I said anything other than us!), but rather put out an interesting observation in relation to my conference.

You see, many weeks before the conference—no, really months before the conference—female attendees started chattering on various online writing venues. Discussing the finer details of the destination, scouting out restaurants, shopping, transportation options, and such. Fair enough.

As the conference drew closer, the level of obsession grew to disturbing details. No longer satisfied with spread sheets of local merchants and what pharmacies were nearby, women started dispensing sage coping advice.

“Drink plenty of orange juice in the weeks leading up to the conference so that you’re in good health,” one would say.  To this another would counter with advice on what cold-prevention methods are most effective. And then another would suggest the cheapest place at which to purchase it. In bulk. Echinacea, Airborne, Cold Eeze, you name it, someone knew which preventive measures were sure to beef up your auto-immune system to combat the dread Conference Physical Drain.

Soon we were being cautioned against even more fearsome doom. One author offered up helpfully, “I’ve pasted some exercises you can do to prevent the blood clots (Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT) that can occur in some people from sitting long periods of time.”

Now that's my kind of exercise!
Now that's my kind of exercising!

I just thought I was going off for a few days of fun and education! I didn’t know I could well keel over from a blood clot unless I downloaded her exercises to my iPod!

There was the great jacket debate, in which a good handful of women argued over the degree of warmth they’d need for their travels from their jacket of choice. Someone actually wrote “Define jacket” when another woman suggested she pack a jacket. Um, back in my day, a jacket was a jacket! We need to clarify this?

Some more “who’d have thunk it?” tidbits from well-meaning yet perhaps a bit anal retentive attendees: 

°DON’T drink from the glasses in the bathroom. Find yourself a plastic cup 

°To cut down on trash that doesn’t get recycled, a better idea might be to take a tiny container of your own dish detergent. I’ve been doing that for years, & it comes in handy for other stuff that needs washed or if you want to use a glass for one thing, then need it to be clean again later for something else

Maybe it’s the three brothers’ influence on me, I don’t know. But I can’t help but cringe each time these women map out these bizarre high maintenance upkeep plans for the conference. Don’t forget your sweaters for chilly air conditioning! What’s the weather going to be like? Why does it matter? You’ll be indoors for 99% of the time! How will I deal with my computer? The same as the other several thousand people milling about the hotel do. It’ll be easy! Will there be WiFi? I don’t think a hotel exists in a large city that doesn’t have it at least in the lobby!). 

Find me a man–any man–who honestly would think twice about anything more than what time the meeting is scheduled for and is he prepared for it. I don’t know if a guy really gives more than a split second’s thought to whether he’s packed enough underwear. Meh, you can get more when you get there if you don’t have it. 

But thanks to these ever-vigilant ladies, I would be able to find everything I could possibly need in a city of 3/4 of a million people, where, no doubt, the concierge would have provided the same information to me in a moment’s time, were I to need it

It’s as if they need to be handheld through this world of professionalism. Now this is a group of very talented women, many hugely successful writers, many having come from previous careers as doctors and lawyers and the like. 

But what is it about this group that there is this crazy-obsessive need to freak out on just about ever aspect imaginable for this thing?

I guess I should just chalk it up to the complexities of being female. After all, I’m the first one to complain when my son doesn’t change his boxers the entire week we’re on vacation. But maybe there’s a happy medium in there?

Of Polar Bears, Publishing, and Darwin

I’m killing off polar bears, and I’m torn up about it.

Being an author poses certain ethical dilemmas to one who doesn’t want to bear (excuse the pun) the blame for the demise of anything, let alone a cute little polar bear. The only thing I want to be responsible for losing in this world is a good 20 pounds! But because of my profession, my ecological footprint ranks up there in foot size with Sasquatch, thanks to the myriad trees that have died on my behalf.

 The mere act of wanting to be a published author to begin with made me culpable. Writers regularly submit ream upon ream of paper manuscripts when soliciting agents and editors. Much of this paper never even gets read, let alone used. In my rejection heyday, my returned manuscripts collected like huge mounds of dirty laundry, all useless, unwanted paper.

Once I landed a book deal, the paper waste diminished, with edits conducted electronically. Finally I wasn’t accountable for the end of civilization. But then my book debuted. This book I’d waited forever to hold in my hands. Three hundred pages worth of dead trees. Times however many tens of thousands of books were printed.

Okay, I’m environmentally-minded. But hey, this was my book! I was willing to sacrifice a little for the cause: me. I mean, I wanted to sell as many books as humanly possible. The industry’s funny like that: if you don’t sell tons of books, they’ll never publish you again. So part of me was rooting for more dead trees, and by extension, dead polar bears.

And then I realized an interesting thing. Readers, inevitably, are recyclers. They read a book they love, they pass it on to their friends. And it turns out that my book gets passed around. A lot. A quick Google of my book title will pull up blog after blog of readers who have enjoyed it enough to pass it on.

I’m thrilled that people love the book enough to share. It’s quite an honor. But herein lies the dilemma. The more my book is shared, the less my book is bought. The less my book is bought, the less likely I am to sell another book. The less books I sell, the more dead my career is. So instead of dead polar bears, I am dealing with the more immediate problem of a dead profession. I need people to buy my book, polar bears be damned!

I wish I saw a solution to the problem. Amazon’s electronic reader, the Kindle, might approximate something headed in that direction. But as a reader, I can’t afford to spend that sort of money (at least until I sell more books!), plus I like the feel of a book in my hands and it’ll take some getting used to giving that up.

In the meantime, I really love that readers are recycling my books rather than throwing them in the trash, which would be indicative of a lousy book. But a little part of me can’t help but wish each time I hear how someone passed it on to her mom or her sister or her best friend that maybe someone would go buy it a little more.

 

Sorry, polar bears. Survival of the fittest.