Nora Ephron Is Gone But Her Sanity Lives On

Like everyone else, today I’m thinking about the wonderful writer Nora Ephron, who passed away last night. She did many great things, but I think her greatest might be Julie and Julia, which I’m going to go ahead and call one of the best, most feminist mainstream films ever.

I’m watching it right now and, maybe it’s the PMS talking, but I swear every other scene is making me cry:

  • Like when Julie describes the time her mom made Julia’s boeuf bourginon and it felt like everything was going to be okay because Julia was there, like a big good fairy watching over everything.
  • Or when, just after meeting Simka in the ladies’ sitting room, Julia stands up to her full height and declares in her brash-yet-twinkly voice, “I am VERY conventional.”
  • Or when Julia and her sister are looking in the mirror after getting dolled up for a party, and Julia goes, “Pretty good ….. But not great.”
  • Or, you know, basically any scene with Stanley Tucci. Agh so good!!

The acting is perfect, the characters are super-compelling, and the writing is funny and sweet and honest. But the most amazing thing about this movie is that, unlike basically all other lady-comedies, it’s about women who have already found love and still long for more in their lives.

Crazy, right? Cause what woman in her right mind could ever want anything more than A HUSBAND?!

I love Julie and Julia (especially the Julia part) because shows us what it looks like when a woman has a great relationship AND ALSO a bigger ambition, a goal that she is willing to toil and suffer for, something new that she desperately wants to bring into reality. Julia’s marriage is wonderful, but it’s not enough to fulfill her. She wants to make her dent in the universe, and she perseveres FOR DECADES to make it happen. Which is so inspiring it actually makes my own ambitious feminist heart OVERFLOW.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that love is frivolous or unimportant or that it’s something we shouldn’t desire. I myself am in a beautiful relationship with a wonderful man that I will be marrying very soon, and I count myself among the luckiest bitches ever in that department.

But you know what I am talking about. The cultural imprint put on us from a very young age is A Romantic Relationship Is By Far The Most Important Thing For Girls. BY FAR. And when we let that imprint direct the course of our lives, it can make us crazy.

Like … maybe we spend lots of time feeling sad that we are single, or we put up with extreme amounts of BS from our men because we don’t want to be alone, or we habitually forget about our friends when we hook up with someone new, or or or … it’s all a variation on a theme that woman is made for man. That loving a man should be our ultimate goal, and after we’re coupled, our movies may as well end.

Obviously, that is bullshit. And I love Julie and Julia for showing that. This film, like all Nora Ephron films really, shows a great respect for love, and it also sanely places it in the context of the rest of an intelligent and ambitious woman’s life.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” That’s what Ephron said in her 1996 commencement address to Wellesley, and her films show what happens when we follow her advice. Thank you for that, Nora.

Be Less Crazy About Other People’s Bodies Or I Will Cut You

dont be a dick

I’m writing this because of a comment I received on the Shopping post from a fellow named Perturbed. (I assume it’s a fellow based on diction and an email address you can’t see.)

I’m concerned by your post and the comments – just because it has become common to be fat in this country does not make it “normal.” If you compare our population with that of the rest of the world, where most people still eat healthfully, you would find that our sizes are aberrant. No, not more than a handful of people are capable of looking like models or actresses. But yes, if your waist is not fitting into any standard sizes, it is pretty safe to say that it “should be” smaller; designers that pander to obesity do not do anyone any favors.

In the comment thread, I went just a tiny bit off, and I felt kind of bad — Perturbed seems more clueless than malicious, and I didn’t explain myself all that well. I think maybe it’s because when someone starts in on whether people should be fat or not, I automatically commence the world’s most elaborate eye roll sequence. It is the boringest thing in the world.

Why is it boring? Because so many boring people talk about it so much! And I don’t want to have to repeat myself in comments for the rest of the life of this blog. So I’m afraid, Perturbed, that I’m going to have to fully and completely answer your comment now, so I can refer future queries to the link and stay focused on more interesting matters. (Folks who don’t want to get wet, move back a couple rows.)

Dude. (May I call you Dude?) You almost sound like I’m saying obesity is awesome and everyone should aspire to it. But that is not what any of this is about. What I am trying to do is help people be as objective and non-neurotic about their bodies as they can, to appreciate them for what they can do, and to stop throwing their energy down the body image black hole. No matter what size or shape they are — this kind of craziness is not confined to fat chicks!

I’m not going to go through all the ways in which your comment read so dickishly.

(Even though you kind of told me I shouldn’t wear clothes until I lose weight? Or something? I’m confused!)

However, because I think it might be fun for everyone, I will take this opportunity to educate you on the word “should.”

“Should” may very well be the most impotent word in the English language, because, although people use the word for all kinds of situations, the only “should” you can enact is one that is directly in your control. Like, inside the confines of your brain or in your house or on your website or something.

For instance, feel free to announce, “My kitchen should be green!” or “I should post on my blog!” and then make your shoulds into reality. Go for it, Dude, and mazel tov!

But if you say that teenagers shouldn’t have sex, or the US shouldn’t be in Afghanistan, or people shouldn’t be fat, you may as well go stick your head in the oven right now, because — guess what! It’s too late! All those things are already happening! AAAH! Why don’t you sit there going “This shouldn’t be happening!” because I bet that would be really helpful!!!

Ironically, this is the same message that I am trying to get across in my book, in an attempt to help people be less crazy: Reality is what it is, and having a cow about it doesn’t change a damn thing. Your body is what it is right now, and so is mine, and so is everyone else’s! And goddammit, we all need clothes!

Why is it just regular old makin’ clothes when the wearer is skinny, but “pandering to the obese” if the wearer is me? I don’t need any designers to do me any favors, I am just looking for businesses to make things I want and take my money (aka capitalism). This is the part of your comment that makes you sound like the biggest jagoff, so I will not linger lest I am tempted to unleash the fury of a thousand hungry hippos in response.

Let me just say this: dwelling on your strong opinions about the way other people live their lives will make you FUCKING CRAZY. I am not even kidding, Perturbed. You should listen to me on this. There is nothing good for you there. Only monsters. Just let it go and focus on yourself.

This is exactly why I decided to write about what’s happening inside each one of our individual heads. Because societal problems aren’t fixed by someone saying “should” and pointing a finger. They’re fixed when people learn new information, change their minds, and come together to think and relate in new ways. And then the old problems are resolved, and new ones arise in their place. That is how change happens. And it is a beautiful thing.

So. I think that if we as individuals can calm down a little bit about the whole thing … if we can turn the volume down on our jerkbrains and gain a little peace and a little capacity for objectivity … if we can learn to be kind and encouraging and persistent instead of harsh and judgey and whiny … then we at least have a chance at figuring out how to be healthy and strong and sane, as people and as a society.

Learning, paying attention, getting saner and saner by the day: THESE are reasonable things to say “should” about — things that take place inside your own heart and mind and body. Things that you’re in charge of. Not my waist, nor anyone’s anything else. Because not only is that disrespectful as hell … it is also totally batshit.

Let it go, P. Let the fat people go out of your brain. Be less crazy.

Be Less Crazy While Shopping

Ah shopping. For those who fall into the narrow band of body proportions that the fashion industry designs for, it’s like the montage in Pretty Woman. You try everything on, and buy a bunch of it, then berate the snooty shopgirls who wouldn’t help you!

For those of us whose proportions fall solidly outside that range, though, the experience is very different. I have found that nothing can trigger an attack of I-am-revoltingness like trying on 20 garments and having none of them fit.

DSCN3880

Like all Target dresses, this one is designed to make me look pregnant

I myself am a pretty serious body proportion outlier — my waist is wider than it “should be” based on the measurements used by mass market retailers. This means that, seriously, 95% of what I try on simply doesn’t work. More than once, an afternoon spent shopping has ended with me bitterly wiping away tears, wondering what I hate more — a fashion industry that doesn’t seem to want to dress me except in stretch pants, or myself.

And I have to say it honestly chaps my ass that, for so many of us, the search for clothes flips into a search for validation as we hunt for garments that tell us our bodies aren’t weird, that we are worth making clothes for, that we are OK. If nothing fits, what does that mean about me and my body? How big of an aberration AM I?

Someday, we will conquer the wasteful, sizist fashion industry and put in its place a flexible and streamlined system of constructing custom clothes for everyone. But in the meantime, you have to wear something, which means that you have to shop. The good news is that shopping-related craziness is brought on by a specific set of circumstances which can be tweaked and hacked and worked around. So here’s how to go shopping and not wish you were dead.

1.  Remember that the clothes are auditioning for you, not the other way around.
Also, clothes are inanimate objects with zero feelings. So don’t be shy about being picky. Heck, be a total dick like Simon Cowell. “This dress is pitchy and has no personality. It’s a NO from me.” These clothes have to earn their way into your life; make them work for it.

2.  If something doesn’t fit, it does not mean anything about you.
The entire fashion industry is built around an incredibly narrow range of body proportions. When things don’t fit, that’s why. It’s not because you’re a weirdly shaped freak. And it doesn’t mean that there are certain people who are destined to be pretty and you are not one of them. It doesn’t mean anything, in fact, except this particular garment is not getting cast in your life. Let it go and move on.

3.  Ask the right questions.
Don’t ask, “Do I look cute in this?” That puts the deciding power in someone else’s hands — either an actual person you are asking, or some made-up “cuteness police” in your head. Fuck the (cuteness) police. Instead, ask yourself, “Do I like how I look and feel in this?” That puts the deciding power in your hands, which is right where it should be.

4.  Go with a friend who thinks you are the bee’s knees.
This works a lot like having a friend who loves you take your picture — seeing yourself through someone else’s friendly perspective helps to smooth over all the jaggy stuff you might potentially freak out about.

5.  Don’t go shopping when you’re feeling vulnerable.
Are you hungover? Sad or stressed about something? Have you just been dumped? If you’re feeling iffy anyway, don’t make it worse by actually willingly going into the lion’s den. Save your shopping for a day when you feel steadier on your feet.

6.  When freakouts begin, nip them in the bud.
I talk about this in depth in the book, but here’s the basic process for shutting down a freakout:
– notice you are starting to freak out
– notice what’s happening in your body
– relax and take a breath
– ask yourself objective questions
– be nice to yourself
– distract yourself as needed. (This is why God made cat weightlifting game shows.)

7.  Plan ahead so you don’t have shopping emergencies.
Of course there may be times when you need to settle for the 60% okay garment — like if you need black pants TODAY. But in general, the less of a hurry you can be in, the less pressure you’ll feel, the more fun you’ll have, and the better stuff you’ll find.

8.  Avoid the dressing room entirely by going custom.
Buy custom, or get your purchases altered. This way, you KNOW what you’re getting will fit. I, of course, used to make custom dresses and skirts, and there are lots of other great custom shops out there, too — from Etsy sellers to big companies. In my experience, dresses and skirts are the easiest to fit from a distance; if you want trousers or fitted blouses or alterations, it’s probably best to work with a local tailor.

Do you have shopping-related freakouts when things don’t fit you? How do you deal? Are Auntie Anne’s pretzels involved in your coping mechanism?

Be Less Crazy With Facebook!? Yes, really

This is a guest post from my bestie Jolene, who takes the best pictures!

With its endless potential for ex-boyfrend-stalking, unfriending and just plain time-wasting, it’s hard to believe that anything about Facebook could make a girl LESS crazy. But I’m telling you, I’ve harnessed a way!

In “Be Less Crazy About Your Body,” Megan suggests, among other things, “Body Image Cringe Therapy.” When she subjected herself to Cringe Therapy, she watched video footage of herself again and again until, over time, little truths revealed themselves. She finally started to notice qualities about her body –and more importantly, her personality— that she genuinely liked.

My version was to take my lifelong shutterbug habit to Facebook. See, I love taking photos of my friends and our adventures. I also get tremendous joy from cropping my photos, editing them, printing them, framing them, displaying them, making ecards out of them and clicking lovingly through them when I’m having a bad day. I like reviewing them on their anniversaries. And I like posting Facebook albums, complete with captions, for my lovely friends to enjoy with me.

For me, it’s all about relishing the maximum amount of enjoyment in every moment: anticipating it, living it, and remembering it. My pictures are little celebrations of moments.

And the best side effect was that over time, I quit seeing photos of myself as things to be self-conscious about. I no longer saw my Dad’s bulbous nose square in the middle of my face. I quit seeing my crooked teeth. Instead, I saw a happy smile passing between myself and a pal as we went somewhere completely exciting. I saw the sweet, familiar way my friend touched her head to mine as we mugged for the camera right before we took off on a roller coaster. I saw how pretty all of our faces looked when we gazed in wonder at flowers at the conservatory.

How lucky are we that we get to enjoy such fun times?!

I quickly learned that some of my friends do NOT like when I post their photos on Facebook. This took me by complete surprise, as I never posted anything inappropriate or even unflattering. It broke my heart when I discovered that some of my friends saw my paparazzi habit as an act of malice, when I genuinely thought my friends looked happy and ADORABLE.

With all the love in my heart, I’m here to say that some of my (truly!!) beautiful friends need some Body Image Cringe Therapy and/or a Facebook Attitude Adjustment. And maybe you do too.

You will need:

1. A willingness to do fun things. 

If you try to tell me that you never do anything fun, well dangit, you have to start! What’s stopping you? You really can make an adventure out of a normal day. Here are some ideas:

Gather a group of friends and go read books and magazines at a book store or library.

Host spa/game/movie/cooking/baking/or drinking nights at your house.

Seek amusement parks, mini golf courses, museums and/or hiking trails and actually visit them.

Take a vacation. Even if it’s just to the closest lake.

Go to shopping, at home or in public, and photograph a fashion shoot with clothes or shoes that you can’t actually afford to buy. (Also, don’t buy them.)

Visit an animal shelter.

Go see a band. Or form a band!

The point is, I haven’t discovered some impossible secret when I tell you that you get to do cool stuff. You can and probably already do totally do cool stuff, duh! D0 more!

2. A friend or relative who thinks you are cute. 

If you don’t have one of these, start looking for better friends. This is important. Volunteer somewhere, take a class, join an online discussion group about your favorite band/animal/author/whatever. Everyone deserves to have supportive, encouraging friends.

3. A camera.

Get your friend you thinks you are cute and ask them to take your picture. It’s amazing how forgiving the camera is when the photographer appreciates you and already sees your inner cuteness.

Some of the pictures will stink, of course, so have them take lots. Move around. Don’t pose awkwardly. Be yourself. Laugh out loud. Capture moments.

I want to note that I’m not talking about those self-conscious, effects-laden webcam portraits that made MySpace so hard to look at. Although, sometimes playing with your webcam can help you learn how to relax in front a camera, which automatically makes you more photogenic.

But when you quit worrying about your face and start capturing moments of your amazing life, you can start to focus less on what you look like and more on what you do!

So go forth. Be great! Then look at yourself being great. Seeing is believing!

On the word “crazy”

I understand that some people may find this word alienating, so I want to take a minute to explain why I chose to use it.

Crazy, and its more clinical-sounding cousin insane, are multi-purpose words in our language. Depending on the context they’re used in, they can mean wildly different things, from mentally unstable (that person is acting crazy) to amazing (the iPod is insanely great) to politically abhorrent (Newt Gingrich / Barack Obama / whoever you disagree with is crazy).

This is a really eloquent description of the destructive power of “crazy” from the Feminists With Disabilities website:

Crazy is a destructive word, used to hurt people with mental disabilities. It’s used to discredit, to marginalize, to make sure that we feel shame for our disability and discourage self-care, to make sure that those of us brave enough to publicly identify as having mental disabilities are continually discredited.

I can see where the different usages that the author describes can be alienating. My intent with the word crazy is not to point to a person with a mental disability or to even to something strange or alien but to processes in our minds that do not serve us. Everyone’s minds. Because simply by virtue of being raised in this culture at this time in human history, we all have thought patterns that are destructive, unnecessary, and, yes, crazy.

When I say “Be Less Crazy About Your Body,” I mean “Learn to analyze and work with your brain so that you can stop thinking the same old destructive thoughts over and over again.” Not such a catchy title … and honestly, I’m not sure that “destructive thought patterns” has the same meaning anyway.

Because when I say crazy, I am talking about a person’s subjective experience of feeling out of control, being swept away in a torrent of negative emotions, and continuing to act in ways that the more rational part of them knows damn well are no good.

Don’t we all have days when we feel happy and calm, and other days when our mind is raging with stuff we don’t want or need to think about? Days when we feel sane vs. days when we don’t?

We can really screw ourselves by acting out our own versions of insanity, whatever they look like. What I want to do is help folks learn to feel more stable on most days AND get through unstable ones without collateral damage.

I’m not describing people as crazy; I’m calling hurtful cognitive and emotional habits crazy. My goal is not to discredit or marginalize folks who struggle with mental illness, nor to refer to actual diagnoses of mental illness in any way; it is to offer helpful tools to anyone who wants to train their brain to be more relaxed and rational. More stable. Less crazy.

What are your thoughts on this? I would love to hear them!

Things to do instead of be crazy: Rearrange the furniture

The other day I woke up in a bad mood. Like, immediately upon staggering out of bed and into the bathroom. When I dropped my toothbrush I scornfully called it stupid. When my man tried to have a pleasant conversation with me about what was going on that day, I glared at him. When I went to Costco, 90 percent of the people I saw got called “dummies” in my head. It was bad!

This is not normally how I go through the world. I am more of a let’s-sing-with-the-birdies-like-in-Cinderella type, trailing rainbow glitter in my wake wherever I go. Or, you know, something like that. So when I’m in a bad mood, it’s jarring. On top of the bad mood I get a layer of, “Something is WRONG with me! I am NEVER like this! UGH ANXIETY!”

So, I gave myself Friday evening off from my brain. What I did was (a) get a leeetle bit drunk on hard cider and (b) listen to Greg Proops’s podcast (soooo effin brilliant) and (c) rearrange my studio. Basically I just tried to turn my attention off of my brain onto the organizing and deciding and rearranging that had to be done. And it worked! Yippee!

I’m trying to get into the habit of, whenever I start beating my head on something, just noticing, then stopping and doing something else. It’s tricky but when I can accomplish it, life is much better. In this case, I stopped feeling crappy and worked out a little energy and got a significantly better workspace.

Over time I’m hoping to forge an exhaustive list of things that we can do to avoid being crazy. If you have anything that works for you, do tell!

F. Scott Fitzgerald tells us what is and isn’t worth worrying about

I saw this post on Brain Pickings this morning and felt it cogent to our thesis here at Be Less Crazy: some things are worth worrying about, and some aren’t. I could work on “insects in general” myself … and probably should before I go to Costa Rica this fall!

Things to worry about:

Worry about courage
Worry about Cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship
Worry about…

Things not to worry about:

Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions

Things to think about:

What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:

(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?

Things to Be Less Crazy about, Vol. 1

I am super excited about releasing this book, and I have a plan to promote it, but one of the ingredients in that plan is time/waiting which I DO NOT LIKE.

Because I am psyched! An impatient child who hath new robes and may not wear them! Some people are really good at savoring the moments of anticipation before things happen, and I’m better at it than I used to be, but still. This is a craziness for sure!

Stop obsessively refreshing the internet, Madge! Yeesh calm down and get off the computer. 

OK. That’s what I’m going to do now.