Story Value

random musings and episodes from the life of a 40 something comidienne/corporate refugee/mom - since whatever doesn't kill you provides excellent story value.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Who's the boss?

A little more than a year ago, I took flight from the corporate world. I was running away from many, many things -- not the least of which was "the man" (and sometimes the wo-man) always telling me what to do. I was bone weary of overscheduled days filled with tedious meetings, process discussions, and ridiculous reports that tracked every tiny detail of my daily grind. Accountability was not only my middle name - it became my first and last too. I used to joke that I was Velcro for action items, leaving every meeting with the longest list of to-dos. Every day I was triple booked for meetings and owed an army of superiors an endless list of "deliverables." Oy gavult.

I leapt, with glee, toward the next chapter of my life - whatever that was. I didn't know what the future held; only that it would not be more of the same. I became a free-agent contractor working towards a more flexible, creative, self-directed existence.

Only a funny thing happened with all that freedom. It became, almost, a burden. What exactly did I want to do next? What did I hope to accomplish? Who did I wish to become? I had stepped off the merry go round with my head still spinning. What to do?

Ask the experts.

I now own just about every chart-your-own course self-discovery book ever made. I've been to seminars. I've been to summits. I began engaging a team to help me find my way. At last count, I have

Þ A personal trainer
Þ A life coach
Þ A writing instructor
Þ A comedy coach
Þ An acting/voice over coach
Þ A financial adviser and ...
Þ A tax accountant

I have a payroll! And as I contemplate all the progress I have made in the last year, I realize that in the corporate world I was paid and told what to do – now I pay others for the privilege.

At first blush, I was horrified by this. After all, wasn’t this I tried to escape? With some more reflection though, I realize I am enjoying the ultimate luxury – peace of mind. For while I am grappling with the larger questions of my life’s purpose and direction, I don’t really have the mental stamina to think through the details … the “how-to’s” of each next step.

The process of radical change and transformation is really overwhelming if you’re constantly thinking and trying to do at the same time. I realize my army of advisors, whether coaching me on how much weight to curl, what jokes to prune, or which IRA makes the most sense, ultimately allow me the mental freedom to reflect, to contemplate bigger decisions and ponder my options. You really can’t see the forest if you’re looking too hard at the trees.

I also realize that I am a person that requires a certain amount of structure and accountability in my life to be my most productive. The difference is its being self-imposed structure and accountability.

In my world – I now am the man. And that pretty much rocks.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Just ask “Miss Pronunciation”

Yesterday a friend and favorite colleague of mine was giving the office a rave review of her favorite new tea shop “Teavania is so excellent,” she raved. “I just love Teavania!”

“TeaVANA” I stage whispered. “Its TeVANA like Nirvana or Mrs. Trump was Ivana – not vania like Transylvania.”

“Oh,” she said, clearly taken aback.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I just didn’t want everyone else giving you a hard time.”

You see – friends don’t let friends mispronounce, at least when they can help it.

Through the years, my best friend Violet has often corrected my pronunciation. She is far more intelligent and well-read than I -- though I could out spreadsheet her in a heartbeat.

I always wind up feeling punched in the gut when she corrects me, kind of like an errant school child who has been reprimanded. I have a split second of insecurity, wondering if she will still like me after I have mangled a word or misquoted an author. I wonder if I’m one dumb ass move away from being dumped in favor of a smarter girl.

That feeling lasts about fifteen seconds, until it’s replaced by a wave of gratitude. Now I know how to say a tricky word or phrase with confidence. The offending term immediately becomes my ‘word of the week’ to be used with abandon, or until I personally notice the eye-rolling.

Who among us hasn’t longed to utter a phrase or word that we think would be just perfect in a given situation … only to have last minute ‘phrase-fright’? We catch ourselves as rests on the tip of our tongue, unsure if we have it quite right. We stop and turn back to the mental grab bag of the tried & true only to find some hackneyed saying that doesn’t quite suit, but isn’t embarrassingly wrong. If only Google came with speech recognition.

This weekend I attended a five-year-old’s birthday party along with a gaggle of what I refer to as the “Momfia” -- those smug SUV-driving suburban moms with tight abs and a relentless drive to one-up one another.

I was semi-awkwardly making small talk with one mom when she suddenly upped the volume and started monologuing about her recent accomplishments thinly veiled as an “I’m so busy I can’t stand it” complaint.
She began bragging about her law firm’s posh new office in “Pailo Ailto” and I stopped for a second, thinking I misheard her. Then she said it again.

Just I was processing this oddity; she went on to describe an issue with her new car, a “Por-sha Cheyenne.” Now I think Porsche is one of those words that can be pronounced a couple of ways correctly -- like the relentlessly annoying ‘Jag-U-Ar’ (but what am I?), but I am 99.9 % sure it’s a Porsche Cayenne.

“Oh,” I said, quite self-deprecatingly. “It’s Cheyenne? I thought it was Cayenne, like the pepper.” Hey, I’m nothing if not helpful.

“It’s Cheyenne,” she countered, looking at me with far more intensity than the situation warranted.

“Oops, my bad”, I smiled, catching a couple sympathetic glances from other moms. No good deed goes unpunished.

Suddenly my four year old broke the tension by dancing over with a bright purple feathered pencil. “Porsha mom” made a great show of bending down low and cooing over his find.

“Oh … this is my favorite … these soft feathers are called ‘Mirror-Boo’. Can you say ‘Mirror-Boo’?” My four-year-old, thrilled to know what to call his toy, parroted it back for her. “Mirror Boo,” he shouts with glee, jumping up and down.

Porsha mom smugly pats him on the head & runs off to catch her own child.

I grab Andrew’s arm and turn him around. “Honey, that’s actually called ‘Marabou’ – Ok, repeat after me – Marabou!”

“But Darren’s Mom said it was Mirror-boo?” he asks, innocently confused

“Um, yeah … but she’s not saying it right – It’s Marabou. Trust me, I’m your mom.”

“We should tell her,” he says sweetly.

“No, that’s OK. She probably just says things funny, because of where she grew up,” I fib.

“Where’s that?” he asks, wide-eyed.


“Don’t mess with people from Cheyenne, I say absently.

And I only correct you because I really care.”

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

In which I am pimping for a 4 year old

Parenting today is different than when I was a kid. As kids, we used to do things just because we didn’t want to find out what “or else” meant and “you’re cruising for a bruising” could be pretty motivating even without follow-through.

Today – kids work for rewards.

My four year old has been doing a bang-up job staying dry through the night. His reward …

A sleepover …

with Harriet.

Harriet has been his pre-school gal pal for the last two years. She’s seen him through his fascination with Sleeping Beauty, Barbie and wearing nail polish.

A funny thing happened on the way to my son’s coming out party though – he’s turned into a hound.

I am now thinking that all those hours spent reading fairy tales, buying Hello Kitty sheets and making princess dolls weren’t him embracing his inner rainbow flag … they were just research for putting bait on his metro sexual hook.

Suddenly his pre-school class has turned into Knot’s Landing with daily drama that makes my head spin. “Dominique is my girlfriend this week -- I traded Catherine and Harriet for her.” “Becky broke up with Ryan because he loves Caroline more.” “Harriet and I are back together – we’re getting married.”

We’ve had to add 20 minutes to our morning school routine so he can pick flowers to bring to class.

He makes his entrance like a mini-Hugh Heffner, casually handing me his jacket and announcing. “Girls … I’m heeere!” They literally come running from all corners of the room, trailing crayons and cheese doodles behind.

“I only have 3 flowers today … but I can bring more tomorrow.”

Girls press closer and start jumping up and down and shouting “Pick Me! Pick Me!”

Andrew pauses dramatically. “Hmmmm, today I pick Harriet, Catherine and Dominique.”

The three girls dance around gleefully showing off the branches broken off our Azalea tree. The others slink back to their seats for a good sulk. It’s like watching The Bachelor play out in munchkin-land.

I have no idea where they get this stuff. My husband certainly didn’t have that kind of rap in college. When meeting me in the dining hall, his opening line was more along the lines of, “Gee you really like black olives, huh?” Hot.

Planning for this sleepover is already in full-swing. On the day I brokered the deal with Harriet’s mom, Andrew announced, “Harriet is very fancy, we’re going to need a romantical dinner.”

“Uh, OK,” I said, unsure of what that might entail.

“You, Daddy and Cameron can eat in the kitchen. You can be our waitress”

He next demanded candles, flowers, and drinks in fancy glasses. He would be dimming the lights – in case I had any delusions that I might be in control.

“After dinner, there will be dancing,” He announced. “And Brownies.”

Phew … I’m going to have to call a caterer.

The next morning I came into his room to discuss the sleeping arrangements. Most nights he and his older brother share bunk beds.

“I want Cameron to sleep in HIS room when Harriet sleeps over,” he said. “I want her all to myself!”

I could see that it was time for a little sit-down.

“OK,” I said. “But lets talk about this, you know you guys have to sleep. You can’t be in here kissing all night”

“Oh mommy … I KNOW! There’s no kissing. You can ONLY kiss your family. I can only kiss you at the sleepover!”

He smiled sweetly at me and batted his big brown eyes. “Te Amo Mommy, Te Amo double!” and with that he gave me a great big kiss.

I am sunk.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Big in New Hampshire

We have to buy land in New Hampshire. That's where I am the funniest. There are at least 1700 people there who think I am hilarious. I now have 5 minutes of material purely on New Hampshire. I don't think those 'Man of the Mountain' jokes are going to work anywhere else.

My roadtrip with the divine Miss L (pas deux) was spectacular. Great theater, great night and a self-pleasuring audience. Honestly, I think I could have pulled out a snowman in a wagon and they would have laughed their butts off!

When I listened to the audio tape I made of the set, I heard myself actually stepping on laughter to deliver the punch lines. They were guffawing so mightily at the set-ups, I almost had to ask them to simmer down so I could get the punchlines out. May that be my biggest comedy problem! I'll never get an audience like this again ...

So now I'm the David Hasslehoff of New England comedy. Still struggling in Massachusetts ... but boy they love me in New Hampshire!

The entire experience was delieriously wonderful & stood in stark contrast to the comedy week I was experiencing closer to home.

A good friend and fellow mom-comic aka 'momic' in town was hosting a charity benefit for a local youth organization. She and I are pretty tight, having been writing partners, fellow competition contestants, and performers in a local comedy line-up we jokingly refer to as the "comedy all-stars" since four or five of us seem to perform so often on all the same shows that we should rent a little bus and come out like the Harlem Globetrotters.

I first found out about this local benefit while attending this momic's 40th birthday party. I saw a poster for the show in the club and a partial list of comedians. I had a little thud in my chest when I didn't see my name, but quickly rationalized that you need to mix up the line-ups now & then so the shows don't get stale for the audience. I pushed myself back to a happy place and continued to celebrate.

Then things started to get a little funky. Every time I saw subsets of our "All-Star" group, everyone was talking about the show in front of me, as if I knew all about it and had opted out. My momic friend never mentioned the show to me directly or asked me to be a part of it. I just sort of ignored it and played along.

The week before the show there was a big article in the paper and when I saw all the comics listed ... I saw that I was the ONLY comic that fell off the "All-Star" bus ... they only left little Medowlark Lemon behind :( .... there went my 'mixing it up' rationalization.

Just as I was headed out for a Doctor's appointment one of the other comics I have been writing with sent me an email suggesting we get together and do some writing that Saturday afternoon since she had to "be in my town anyway" for a show that night. THAT show ... thanks for reminding me. I literally groaned out loud.

Then ... like herald trumpets from above ... I checked my Blackberry in the Doctor's waiting room only to find a message from the Divine Miss L.
"I think you are a fabulous woman. Would you like to open for me again this Saturday in New Hampshire? The limo can pick you up at 4."

I think my answer began a little something like "Hot diggity dog!" About this, I do not exaggerate.

How delighted was I to politely decline the writing session because something wonderful had 'come up'! I was absolutely thrilled and tickled pink that Miss L. had been so happy with last week's performance that she invited me back.

It was like getting a free ticket to go back on the thrill ride again and I could even get some more mileage about of my New Hampshire jokes. Had the gig been in Rhode Island ... I'd have been sunk!

Everything happens for a reason, so they say. And, if I had previously committed to the charity benefit -- I would have had to say "no" to Miss L. This would have been devestating for so many reasons. We had great mentoring time together and her brand of inspirational comedy is giving me a whole new path to consider, away from the bar circuit.

Even though I was thrilled with the outcome, I had repeated pangs of feeling left-out when I saw the local event advertised all over town. There was a flyer from school in my son's back-pack, the car wash had the show advertised on their sign and my husband teased that the School Superintendant had left a town-wide voicemail on our phone encouraging everyone to come out to the "SueB-free comedy night."

I'm trying to be less conflict averse in my middle-age, so I finally got up the gumption to call my momic-friend on Sunday to hear about the show, congratulate her and ask the awkward question: "Was there any specific reason she didn't ask me to be on the show?"

"No" she replied. "No reason." "I just felt bad asking people to do a free show."
"Please don't ever feel bad asking me to work a benefit. I'd love to do it." I replied. I thought she would know this about me.

I don't know if that was the real reason -- given everyone else's participation. I have a feeling its something more complicated and maybe even subconcious. There wasn't an obvious "thing" though and that made me feel better.

We comics are a complicated group. The drive to connect, entertain and express is intertwined with a need to feel needed, validated and even loved. We're quirky that way. I don't know if I'll ever know the "real deal" or if there was one.

Heck, I had a hell of a swell gig at one of my biggest venues ever, quality time with a wonderful mentor, and my momic offered me a paying "guilt gig" on a show for her this summer. That sounds like a win/win/win to me.

And if it ever gets too "chilly" here in MA ... I'll always have New Hampshire.