Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dear Erin.

 I try not to offend people within the first few minutes of meeting them.   That’s usually not a huge problem, but shit happens. 

Like when I’m at a holiday party, and someone is blocking my access to the buffet table.  In an ideal world, I can slip past them without disrupting the conversation.  But I have no problem pushing through a gaggle of friendly colleagues to get at some sliced meats. Reasonable people get surly when they’re hungry.  Especially when they're already on their second cocktail.   So what I’m telling you is, if you see me at a party and I look even the slightest bit hungry, give me meat before I elbow strike you in the face.

No.  Actually. I’ve never started a fight over food.   I did once spit on the face of a taxi driver, sort of accidentally, while skating by on my roller blades.  I’m not sure where I learned that trick, but I think it might have been finishing school.  

I’ve offended people in more hygienic ways, too.    Sometimes, for example, I express very strong opinions.  That may be hard to believe, given that I just threatened to hit you for an ounce of tenderloin.  But in fact, strong opinions can feel a lot like elbow attacks.  They can be sharp.   Often unwelcome.   And come when you least expect them.   And I feel like that is particularly true in the Midwest, where people like me – [fill in the blank about what people like me means to you] – sometimes come on a little strong.    

I tend to blame New York for my straight talking personality.  But honestly, I might have been a little bit born this way too.  When I was a baby, for example, I had red hair [Irish].   When I got a little older, my parents’ friends used to call me Mae West.   I think that’s because I made sassy and outrageous statements.  Or maybe it was because my mother was a corset model, and I was part African American.   I guess we’ll never really know. 

It’s also possible that my family culture influenced my personality.  Even though I grew up in the Midwest, I come from a family of conversational gladiators.   Talking, at Clune family meal times, meant firing your comments across the table quickly, confidently, and with intent to kill.  The slightest hesitation could result in a fatal interruption of your monologue, from which you might never recover the floor.

Not every dinner was a conversational fight to the death.   One year, for example, my parents decided to switch things up, and turn dinnertime into poetry hour.  They thought discussing poems -- as a family, at dinner -- would enrich our lives.   And you know how sometimes you don’t even realize how great a time you had, until you look back on it later?   Well poetry hour was not one of those times.   But in the end, I had to give my parents credit for getting a bunch of angry kids together once a week, to read poetry, really fast.  They totally invented the poetry slam.

One good thing about people who express strong opinions is that they often take criticism pretty well.   Because if they can dish it out, they can also take it.   In my case, there are other reasons, too.  One is that I’m female, so I’m used to hearing nonsense.  Another is that with the exception of a few postpartum years in my mid to late thirties, I have always been flat-chested.  And really, – and I think my flat-chested friends can back me up on this -- nothing builds resilience in a woman, like growing up in a society that describes small breasts as  flat.  

Writing has also thickened my skin (though oddly, hasn’t increased my breast size).   Writers welcome helpful suggestions from random strangers all the time.  These strangers are known as editors.  When these random strangers get back to you - [if] - they usually draft carefully-worded letters that strike at the heart of why you are an underachiever.  Here are some examples from my own rejection binder:

1.  “This essay was all smiles and no laughs.” 
2.  “I wish the meaning of some of these sentences – or all of them -- was a bit more clear.”
3.  “In this piece, your voice really crackles.  But it doesn’t slay.” 

My personal favorite, sent to me several years ago from an anonymous academic reader:

4.   “I would not even have given this woman a PhD.”  

I shared that one with my PhD advisor, who was pretty psyched about it.  
Of course he was.
That shit crackled and slayed.

Why am I telling you all this about my ethnicity and my editors and my bra size?    Because I am starting an in-blog ADVICE COLUMN!!            
Yes!  Right here!  
On this blog!  
It's called:  So what, who cares?

In the advice column, So what, who cares? ™, I will try my best to answer universal human questions like, So What?  And, Who Cares?   

Because I do, actually, care.   And I'll share my caring, thoughtful answers straight. Meaning I'll probably skip that whole Midwestern manners thing, where I tell you I like your outfit, even though you are obviously wearing your grandpa’s sweater, and that really isn’t appropriate attire on a morning TV news program.

In fact, So what, who cares? ™ will provide advice on any topic you need to talk about, including but not limited to eight-month winters, sliced meat, drinking problems, bad Mexican food, cursing, vegan mayonnaise, how to dress like local news anchors/your grandpa, tree-hugging neighbors, cross-copulating neighbors, gay guys who are married to women, sharing hot tubs at waterparks with tattooed people from Illinois, the unbearable suckyness of home depot, and/or dealing with parents who scream from the bleachers at their children, who are completely submerged underwater, at swim meets.

This thing will work best if people actually submit questions.  

For now, you can send me Dear Erin letters at one of three locations. 

                  1.  my email:  If you send me a sex tape or try to solicit money for your Nigerian inheritance pyramid scheme, I will drop your email in the SPAM box and then report you to my local elementary school principal.

                  2.  my facebook page, if we’re fb friends.  If we are not fb friends, you should friend me!  I’m silly.  And I never talk about religion or politics. Because I really just prefer to offend other people in person. 

                  3.  If you can figure out how to sign up here on my blog, leave your letter/question/idea in the comment section.  My mom doesn’t know how to do that so she may not write in.  Sorry mom!

Please write anonymously, or leave your name.  
Please pass this link on to friends, or colleagues.  
Please make something up if you want.  
I may still choose the letter because I won't really know.  
And thank you!  



deb Burke said...

Awesome and funny!!!

Deb N said...

How fun is THIS, Erin? Way to go. Can't wait to read it.