Paging Doctor Science

I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person. I always have, ever since my mother pointed out a flock of birds on the side of the highway when I was two years old, and I very crossly informed her they were, in fact “crows, Mummy.”

Of course, there are different kinds of intelligence. I’d like to think I’m both book-smart and street-smart, but above all I believe it takes a smart person to know their own limitations. And like many people of my generation, perhaps the first that was raised to truly be anything we want to be, I tend to want to know and be and do everything, and better than everyone else.

And so I’ve embarked upon a little campaign to re-educate myself. While for the past half-decade I’ve been religious (bordering on fanatical) on keeping myself informed about my own field of work, I’ve felt myself slipping where it counts.

To be honest, I’ve been watching a lot of E! and reading a lot of Chick Lit where I probably should be tuning in to C-Span and picking up the Times once in a while. And because I’m self-aware enough to know that there’s an ever-widening gap between my college graduation date and my current age, I’ve been slowly training myself to reach for Popular Science rather than People when I have the opportunity.

That isn’t to say that one is better than the other, but for my own ambitions, it’s probaby best if I can discuss something other than Ben and Jen’s divorce. You know?

But here’s where a special kind of smarts, and one that isn’t so common comes in – I failed to realize, in my quest to become a little bit more well-rounded, that I am a child of my generation. Millennials have a bad reputation for self-important know-it-alls. And I’m here to tell you, friends, that in some cases? We are.

I blame National Geographic.

Don’t mistake me: National Geographic is an icon. An institution. A beacon of knowledge and learning. And for good reason! You absolutely do not last as long as National Geographic has without being a paragon of excellence. The problem is, they’re a little too good at what they do. How do I know?

Because they’ve got me convinced, apparently, that I am the proud owner of a PhD. Or several of them, in fact, as in the past few weeks I’ve spouted irritating-to-my-own-ears facts about everything from the Kuiper Belt to kangaroo reproduction. I’m terribly (and vocally) worried about the state of the world’s vulture population, and fascinated by the recently discovered lost leaders of Jamestown colony.

I call this phenomenon “WebMD Syndrome,” and as I’ve noticed it becoming more aggressive within myself, I’m also more attuned to the fact that it seems to affect my generation more than any other.

Is it because we have something to prove? Absolutely. What generation doesn’t? But of course we aren’t the ones who suffered through the Depression. We didn’t paint on our stockings or live in fear of nuclear war. No, ours is the generation struggling to prove that we are intelligent, educated and employable. That we’re worth it.

That we matter.

So maybe that’s why we supplement our Paris Match with Project Runway. Maybe it’s why we keep up with the Kardashians rather than Kierkegaard. Maybe that’s all okay.

And of course, if Vh1 ever revives the World Series of Pop Culture, we’ll totally be $250k richer. So there’s that.

Love,
Your Gal

Love Will Keep Us Together

Chickadees, I won’t lie – there are some days when it is truly, spectacularly difficult for me to be patriotic. To love my country. To be a proud resident of America.

When I watch my fellow women struggle to be treated as beings intelligent enough and capable enough to rule our own bodies, I cringe.

When I see a young man with so much hatred in his heart for an entire race of people that he feels the need to end their lives, I cry.

When I hear politicians defending the actions of those who violate children because Jesus makes it all better? I shudder.

And I’m certainly not alone. And I certainly haven’t detailed all the wrongs, all the evils that other Americans, other people all over the world face on a daily basis. I’m fully aware that I am a privileged young white woman who can’t even fathom the injustice many people face on a daily basis purely because of their skin color, their sexual orientation, their economic situation.

But today?

Today, it’s a little bit easier to be an American. And a proud one at that.

Equality for all.

marriage-thumb

But Actually, Food

I feel it’s important to caveat, given the title, that I don’t speak Italian. At least, not beyond a few curse words and a completely useless ability to accurately identify 37 types of pasta by their proper names. Which I promise is (somewhat) relevant to my point.

I love ot cook. In fact, in the very title of this blog, I promise FOOD! Needless to say, I haven’t delivered.

I think that food is about joy. That food is about love. And that really great, delicious food is a reflection of the state of your soul. A tasty barometer of your mental health, as it were, at least for me.

And for years, I made really great food. Delicious and inventive and made with ingredients I sourced from wherever I could, from wherever interested me – Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, a questionable-looking van full of peaches. If you can name it, I could make a meal out of it, and send you home with seconds to sneak at midnight.

From the time I was a senior in college until I quit my first real job in my chosen industry, I was a serious home chef, possessed of dozens of beautiful cookbooks kitchen equipment that ranged from utilitarian to ridiculous (I’m looking at you, banana ice cream machine.) I truly loved being in the kitchen, and was forever testing recipes on myself and my friends.

But things change. Sometimes you quit a job that doesn’t seem right for you in the moment for one that does, and you don’t say anything even as you begin to get crushed under the weight of spending too much time doing something you don’t enjoy. Sometimes that manifests itself in a lot of shitty takeout.

Like 18 months’ worth.

And sometimes that turns into a habit that lasts for another six months, even as you gain traction in your new job (you know, the one that really, really makes you happy).

But habits, like rules, are meant to be broken. And sometimes breaking habits means spending $30 on one delicious, perfect, simple meal without regretting the time or cash investment. So I share with you my breakthrough meal, something so simple and full of goodness that it’s bound to make you smile:

Italian Flag Salad
11-oz clam shell of baby arugula
8 oz diced pancetta
1 pint grape tomatoes
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 large shallots
Butter
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt
Pepper
Lemon juice

In a large sauce pan, melt just enough butter to caramelize your diced shallots. When shallots begin to become translucent, toss in pancetta and brown along with the onions until crispy. Lightly toast pine nuts before draining. Add a small amount of olive oil to the pan along with halved grape tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and saute until tomatoes are just heated through.

Drain pan again, and toss mixture with baby arugula, along with 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/8 cup of balsamic vinegar and salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.

Oops, I Did It Again

While reading, have you ever run across a word that, based on your age, reading level and experience, should be absolutely clear to you within the text?

You have. Right? And so have we all. For me, that word is “pigeon.” I know what a pigeon is – I’ve held a pigeon, I’ve fed a pigeon, I’ve eaten a pigeon (not the same pigeon – I have a strict policy against eating animals with whom I’m personally acquainted.) But for some reason, the word “pigeon” in print never fails to baffle me.

Pig-eonWhat’s a pig eon? Is that like a dog’s age? Pige-on? Pig-pig-pigeon. Pigeon. Oh. OH. PIGEON.

Even if no one can hear your inner monologue, it’s embarrassing. Like, “showing up to your ACT test with a sunburn so severe it looks like leprosy” embarrassing. But it’s even worse when your brain blips actually manage to escape your mouth. In my past four years of working as a professional, I’ve managed to say (or shout) the following in the workplace:

“I really don’t do well with people aiming balls at my face” – when asked to join a Nerf football game.

“Colin Webster? I thought you were saying ‘colon, Webster,’ which is probably why we can’t find his nametag.”

“I’m definitely worth two men” – both bastardized and said in a room full of men.

We all have our moments.

Some of us more than others.

For instance, if you’ve never informed a coworker that “Amy Schumer is a national goddamned treasure” with a director standing behind you, then I salute you.

If you’ve yet to interrupt a conversation with a stranger by screeching “SMASH THE PATRIARCHY!” (low blood sugar may have been involved), I congratulate you.

If you haven’t replied to a British person’s apologies over stepping on your bag with “Well I’m sorry for dumping all your tea in the harbor,” I worship you.

And if you’ve never slipped on wet marble tile in front of three dozen lawyers and joked that you should’ve have had so much happy in your lunch hour, you’re probably my hero.

Long story short: I made it weird.

And I’ll be making it weirder here again.

Love,
Your Gal

Tiger, Tiger

It’s been nearly half a decade, but 2010 still stands as one of the best/worst years of my life. It was the year I graduated college, began my first real job and moved across the country (and back again).

I come from a small town. An insanely small town. A town that would barely take up the full head of a pin if you were to mark it on a map. And it’s an idyllic place, the sort where you can keep your car doors unlocked and the worst crime spree we ever experienced was when a classmate of mine started stealing change of out said unlocked cars. There was a murder a few years ago, but since it didn’t involve anyone who actually lived in town, we didn’t think much about it.

(Of course, we’re still talking about it, so take that with a grain of salt.)

And so when I decided to move clear across the country in my senior year of college, it was a big deal. I hadn’t really spoken to anyone from my high school in a few years, but suddenly there was a Facebook outpouring of questions and support, which was rather lovely. I was completely exhilarated, and there was no room in my head or my heart for practicality.

Which is probably why, just before I left, I managed to give myself a second-degree burn on the arm with my flat iron. Of course it hurt, but it was a little bit worth it when, later that night, I was with friends at a diner and the waiter asked if I’d been clawed by a tiger. It became a great joke with my friends – the night Your Gal got clawed by a tiger.

The Scab, as it came to be known, accompanied me to LA, and its sheer size was enough of a curiosity that it helped break the ice with my coworkers at my new internship. They were (and remain) a great bunch – funny, sharp and immensely creative as well as being kind and welcoming. I’ve lost contact with most of them, but they remain 90% of the reason I was sad to leave.

Which brings me to my first High of 2010: moving across the country, by myself. And the low? The resulting raw homesickness, abject fear of your terrible salary and mild-to-moderate emotional breakdown that made me move right back six months later.

There were other highs – seeing my writing garner positive comments, meeting people whose work I so admired, being recognized for being a hard worker and a leader. Lows came, too – the first car I’d purchased by myself having issues right after I drove it off the lot, realizing that the salary negotiations you see in the movies are kind of bull$hit and finally understanding that there are truly people who just don’t want to be good.

I graduated college. I fell in and out of love. I discovered Yogurtland.

And I felt fear. When I realized I wasn’t ready to be on my own and more than 3,000 miles from my entire support system, it was the first time I really, viscerally felt fear.

Through it all, in hot and sunny Los Angeles, people continued to be fascinated by the scar. When they asked, in that forthright, charmingly gregarious way of musicians and artists and Californians, I told them I’d been clawed by a tiger; we’d laugh and I’d tell the real story of my bumbling.

When I moved back to the East Coast, it continued to be a conversation piece – I was job hunting in the heat of summer, and it was always exposed when I went to interviews. It was with me when I ended up stranded in a strange city for the day with a direct marketing company, on a “practical interview” and in four-inch heels; it was with me when I found a job that seemed perfect for me.

It was with me when I realized that said perfect job was a ticking time-bomb. And it was with me when I reconnected with a friend from college, who over the past five years has become someone who understands me better than I do myself.

The scar was there when I realized I couldn’t live with my parents anymore. It was there when my brother and I began to grow apart. I carried it with me through four car accidents that year.

And then it began to fade.

In the successive years, I’ve made friends and lost friends. I’ve reached a level of professional success and satisfaction that I couldn’t have conceived of when I was that small-town girl. My life is my own to guide, and thankfully, luckily, blessedly (and despite my insecurities) I’ve realized my instincts are good. And that they’ll take me as far as I’m willing to go.

As I’ve become more confident, more grounded (and, hell, more adult), the scar has faded. I’m not sure when it disappeared to the point where even I’m challenged to identify it, but it’s happened. And I’ve barely noticed. It will always be there, I’m sure, because that’s the nature of a scar.

It’s also the nature of fear. And while I’m long since past feeling it every day, that fear that came with being an adult, that crept in when I realized I wasn’t invincible, that I could fail, it’s still there. It’s always going to be. But I have the tools to deal with it now. I don’t need my tiger to start a conversation, or the funny anecdote to hide behind. I am who I am, and the core of me probably isn’t going to change. I’ve made my peace with that.

And I’ve realized that’s what’s important.

Trust yourselves, chickadees, and the rest will follow.

Love,
Your Gal