Monday, February 28, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions

Check it out—I have an FAQ* page now! You can get there from the previous sentence or from the “FAQ” tab at the top of the page. I’m counting it as my post this week because I’m a slacker and didn’t draw anything.

Trivia: People don’t actually ask me questions about this blog. These are questions that I have imagined people asking, though, and my personal paranoia thus makes most of them sound somewhat accusatory. You can think of the responses less as “answers” and more as attempts to justify myself.

Feel free to leave your own questions in the comments. I will try to answer them in at least mildly informative and/or amusing ways.

* Those of you who pronounce it “fak” may now twitch and mentally substitute “a” for “an.” You’re welcome.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Allow Me to Clarafy

The name “Clara” hasn’t been super popular in America since the 1940s. This is cool because, unlike all my friends named Ashley, I never have to ask, “Which Clara do you mean?”

I’m uncommon in literature also—I show up occasionally in old books as the upstairs maid or someone’s spinster aunt. I never have to worry about being the villain, though I did recently come across a short story in which a college-aged Clara refused an offer of ice cream. That’s tantamount to libel.

The heroine in The Nutcracker is a Clara, of course. Like most little girls I logged several Christmases in a velvet dress watching the children’s ballet with my mom, and I felt a justified sense of ownership over the whole show. My parents found me a pop-up book version of The Nutcracker for Christmas the first year, and when I opened it…


…they had changed the little girl’s name to Marie. The writers must have wanted everyone to think they were French and sophisticated. I just thought they were mean.

I was similarly disappointed last month when I found out that Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, was actually named Clarissa. At least she had good taste in nicknames.

Anyway, I’ve still got Clara Bow, leading sex symbol of the roaring twenties, and Clara Rockwell, virtuoso of the sciencey-delightful theremin. I can also claim an 18th-century rhinoceros and a minor planet.

In practice, 40% of the people I meet say, “Ooh, that’s my great-grandmother’s name.” The other 60% say, “Nice to meet you, Claire.”

The real problem with this phenomenon is that I don’t always catch on right away—I tend to just assume that people are mumbly. Then I realize a month later that someone I work with every day has been calling me the wrong name, and how am I supposed to explain that I’ve never corrected it before? It’s a lot easier to ignore it, get incrementally more irritated, complain to outside parties, make 6-inch nametags for my desk, and finally lose all my composure in a poorly timed burst of self-righteousness.

This unfortunate fate befell a very sweet lady at my office last week. I couldn’t bring myself to embarrass her directly about the syllable she’d been missing for weeks, so instead I changed the desktop on our shared computer.


Then I changed it again.


Then I tried some cleverly constructed, loud conversations with nearby coworkers.



Finally, on my way out the door for lunch, she said it one more time.






This is the response I had expected and stayed silent for weeks to avoid:


This is the response I received:




The moral of the story is probably something about bottling up frustration, or assumptions, or possibly listening skills. The lesson I prefer you take away, though, is this:

Also don’t call me Carla.


(P.S. It tickles me to think that, 40 years from now, kids will say, “Courtney?! That’s an old lady’s name! Just like Britney and Krystal.”)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Is There a Continuing Ed Class for That?

Somewhere in middle school I missed the class on how to dress in clothes that look good. This omission left me incapable of distinguishing between outfits appropriate for not getting teased in 7th grade and those appropriate for repainting a doublewide outside Wal-Mart in 1987.

Conveniently, I also missed the lessons on how to be self-conscious, thus preserving my love of brightly-colored stretch leggings and extra-large t-shirts from the science fair. That’s how I reached the decision to adjust for cold weather by wearing red stirrup pants with my new lavender dress.



This was the day my balloon of blissful ignorance began to leak and I begged my mom to buy me a pair of jeans. This was also the same classmate who, a few weeks later, took advantage of our napping substitute teacher to wrap masking tape around my eyes and drag me across the floor by my braided hair, so I got those lessons in self-consciousness after all.

Anyway, my continuing lack of fashion standards makes clothes shopping an ordeal that I only attempt when all of my existing garments develop enough holes to be used for draining pasta. Paralyzing anxiety about the term “business casual” couples with my ingrained unwillingness to spend more than $20 on anything short of a life-saving appendectomy.

On top of that, I primarily shop at discount superstores that require you to navigate around the 87% of the options that proclaim either “Hootchie Mama” or “Thanks for coming to my retirement party.”


I am also not big on shopping when it comes to gifts for non-relatives approximately my own age. I have no ability to determine maturity-level-appropriate presents. I also can’t use the “buy something you would like to receive” metric anymore because I would just get everyone Play-Doh, and anyone who has invited me to a previous birthday party already has some.

(Two-hour intermission while I browse the Play-Doh website. Did you know there’s one with confetti in it? You can also buy it by the pound, or teach children to inject it into dogs.)

Ultimately, the only shopping I really enjoy is at the grocery store. While I’m there I can imagine myself as the kind of person who prepares mouthwatering delicacies instead of just smearing things with peanut butter.


That’s how I end up with a pantry full of orphaned crab meat and saffron and a kitchen spattered in Cement of B├ęchamel Sauce.

The resulting failure-related reversion to a ramen-based diet is also why I keep having to go shopping for pants.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ice Is Not My Friend

I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and like most of the rest of the country we have recently experienced higher-than-average accumulations of winter on our roadways.

Thanks to our customary high temperatures and lack of precipitation, we also have a higher-than-average accumulation of people who think it’s a good idea to drive 45 miles an hour downhill on roads slicker than a greased senatorial candidate made of Teflon.

Then we have me. I looked out the window on Tuesday and cackled gleefully at the ice because a lot of the time I forget that I have responsibilities and act like I’m eight years old instead. Then I went out to my car to have funfunfunfunfunsnowsnowsnow! and drive to work.

Due to academic winter breaks and an average of one snowfall per year, this was really the first time I had experienced the combined circumstances of intensely bad roads and being responsible for getting myself somewhere important. Also, my car just finished recovering from an emotionally traumatic pre-Christmas fender-bender. Thus, after fishtailing three times while leaving my apartment complex, I called upon my 5th grade D.A.R.E. peer pressure resistance skills to make the drivers behind me deal with my dial-up-modem-speed descent of the one continuous hill to my office.

Once I got there, all I could think about was how petrified I was of having to drive again when I left. Any time I sat still, I felt the sensation of tires sliding on ice.

Amount of fear the situation warranted:


Amount of fear I experienced:


It got really bad around 3:00, when we realized that management would not be sending us home early before the roads froze over again. That’s when the cold sweats kicked in, and I started Googling winter driving safety tips.

These were not helpful.


Eventually the boss released us into only slightly deadly conditions. The drive was actually kind of a letdown for my over-excited limbic system, and I had to complain loudly about ice for the next hour to burn off the leftover adrenaline and panic.

The next morning, I planned to go in an hour late in case the improvement from -4 degrees to 7 degrees might soften some ice. I was psyching myself up for combat with the forces of terror when I received a phone call from one of the valiant souls who had already made it in to work: The office was closing.


Anyway, nobody ran into me and I didn’t slide into a ditch, my electricity is on, and I don’t live in the Midwest Blizzard Zone, so I guess the whole thing wasn’t a big deal. I did learn from the storm, though—specifically, that your glasses can freeze to your face.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Awkward Wombat

My roommates and I went bowling last week. We’re naturally mistrustful of humanity, so instead of posting our real names on the monitor, we used arbitrarily chosen animal names.


Our initial species assignments were based on the joy of pronouncing them, kind of like ordering spumoni and okra just for an excuse to say it. During our second game, though, we realized that our names were eerily appropriate.

The most outgoing of us identified with the marmoset, an active and social little monkey. The shyest roommate is not unlike a hedgehog, prone to curling up in a ball when confronted. Meanwhile, I was the wombat, an animal that responds to threats by crushing predators’ skulls with its toughened rear end.


I learned the word “wombat” at age four or five and promptly startled my parents by announcing the presence of one in our suburban Oregon backyard.


The wombat in question turned out to be a zucchini the size of a schnauzer. My developing brain had decided on its own that “wombat” meant “something especially large for its type.”


A few of my friends report similar struggles with early language learning:


So what I’m really trying to say here is this: Parents, when your second-grader teaches your four-year-old a joke with the punchline “I’m going as fast as I can!,” she does not know that the names are all Bad Words. It’s not her fault. Blame it on that wombat in art class.

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