28 April 2014

The Stone Swap

When my daughters were in grade school, they were both Girl Scouts, and I led my younger daughter's troop. As part of the job, I attended monthly leaders' meetings in our town. One spring, all of the leaders decided to plan a big weekend trip to our local Girl Scout camp. All the troops in town would attend together, and we'd learn to make fires, hike, fish, and row boats across the camp's little lake. As the girls were young, we decided not to rough it: we would sleep in cabins and dine together in the camp's dining hall.

One of the fun activities we planned for the girls was something called "Swaps." Swaps are a Girl Scout tradition that usually involves making little pins and then trading them with girls from other troops. The girls collect them as mementos of the friendships they have made through scouting. We didn't think all the girls would have their acts together in time to make pins, so we just encouraged them to bring small things from home - stickers, hair ornaments like barrettes, small toys like jacks or Matchbox cars - and they could trade them in the dining hall before dinner one evening.

I explained the plan to my daughters. Sarah, the older one, liked the idea and immediately started diving through her drawers, looking for things to swap. Becky, the younger one, was unimpressed and told me she wasn't going to participate.

"Are you sure?" I asked. "A lot of the girls are going to do it."

But Becky was certain that she didn't want to trade with the others.

The camping weekend arrived, and I was so busy with the logistics that I nearly forgot about the swaps. When the time came to go to the dining hall for the swapping session, Becky pulled me aside.

"I've changed my mind. I want to do it."

Oh, no. "I think it's too late, honey. You didn't bring anything along to trade!"

"That's okay. I'll think of something." She went outside, behind the dining hall, where the road was paved with stones about the size of peach pits, and she filled the kangaroo pocket of her pink sweatshirt with the stones. "I'll trade these," she announced.

I didn't know what to say. No one was going to want to trade stones for their treasured stickers, gizmos and toys. Becky was going to be disappointed, and I tried to tell her so as gently as possible, but she insisted.

We went ahead to the swapping event, where sixty or so Scouts were milling around, offering up their wares and filling little paper bags with their finds. We leaders stood at the edge of the crowd and supervised, poised to intervene if disagreements erupted. (They didn't. This was a great group of girls.) Sarah came back to me at one point and updated me on her progress, showing me all the pretty things she had gotten. I was happy she was having fun, but I was worried about Becky.

As the session wound to a close, however, Becky bounced up to me and held out a bag of goodies. "Look what I got in exchange for my rocks!"

I peered into her bag. There was an enamel pin, a ball-point pen, a hair ribbon, and a Chinese jump rope. I couldn't believe it. "How did you manage to trade all this stuff for rocks?" I asked.

"It was easy. I just had to convince people that the rocks were from my collection at home. I told them they made great paperweights. I showed them how smooth and beautiful they were. Everyone wanted one."

Clever marketing, I thought. But I had a nagging feeling that perhaps the others saw through her ruse and felt sorry for her, and they gave her gifts out of pity rather than out of a sense of fair exchange. I was a little saddened.

Later that evening, I found myself in line in the ladies' room behind a mother and daughter I did not know. The daughter was showing her mother all the swaps she had collected earlier that night. "Look at this," she said to her mom, holding up a smooth heart-shaped stone from the road behind the dining hall. "It's from one of the girls' collections at home. It's a perfect heart, and she said I can use it as a paperweight or just carry it in my pocket for luck."

The mother held the stone and admired it. "It's beautiful," she agreed. "What a special thing for that girl to give you."

My eyes widened and my mouth fell open, and then I quickly regained my composure. The stone was beautiful, and it was a special thing for Becky to have given her. I found myself hoping that it would bring her luck - and lots of it.

25 April 2014

I'm Not Paid To Look Good, And I'm Thankful For That

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending the premiere of a documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival. I'm not usually a festival-goer or a Hollywood party type, but this documentary is special: it's about a case that my husband and I worked on, and my husband, as one of the lead defense attorneys in the case, is featured pretty prominently in it. I'm not in the film, but last week I authored the petition for certiorari that we submitted to the United States Supreme Court. (Click on the links here to read more about the case and the film. If you are interested in seeing it, it premieres on July 21 on HBO. Check your local listings.)

When I heard that we were invited to the film festival premiere, guess what my first thought was? No, not What an honor. Not Wow, this is exciting. I had those thoughts later. My first thought was Oh my God, they're going to photograph us and I am going to look awful and what on earth am I going to wear? Because I'm a work-at-home mom, and I spend my days in jeans and homemade sweaters, or in those university sweatshirts we buy when I take my kids to visit prospective colleges. I don't spend a lot of time or effort on my appearance. I don't spend my days working out or drinking protein shakes. I spend my days in front of a computer, writing appellate briefs to be submitted to tribunals all over the country. I knit and I write blog posts and look after my family. I occasionally run or walk around my neighborhood or take my bike for a spin, but I'm not a marathoner.

And I don't look like a marathoner. This causes me some distress, whether it should or not.

I eventually decided on a big, billowy, forgiving maxi-dress for the premiere. As I got dressed, I fretted about how I looked, and my husband said something very wise and very kind to me.

"Stop worrying," he said. "You look beautiful. Besides, you aren't paid to be skinny. You're attending this thing because of who you are and what you can do, not what you look like."

And that got me thinking about all the people I know who are paid to be skinny, who are forced to worry more about what they look like than about who they are. So many women in my age group are obsessed with fitness that I can't even count them. They spend their days at exercise classes, constantly have to say no to the french fries, debate the value of juice cleanses and spin classes. Sometimes it's all they talk about. I can't blame them, because many of them depend for their livelihood on how they look. That's true of women in the fashion and fitness industry but also in business: unlike men, we are so often judged by how we look that it becomes part of our job.

I'd like to be a svelte beauty, but I am grateful that it's not my job. I'm happy that I am not a slave to the laws of thermodynamics. I worry about my health, as everyone does - my mother recently survived a massive stroke, and that has me on heightened alert about my weight and my general cardiovascular health - but I am glad that I am judged, for the most part, on my use of my brain and not the size of my thighs. I try to opt for the side salad when I can. But I can have the fries sometimes, and I can go for a run or ride my bike around town when I feel like it, but I don't need to obsess about losing my livelihood, or the affection of those who matter to me, with every gained pound.

And it occurs to me, this morning, that that's one more thing to be grateful for.

24 April 2014

Dog Laws

I've had a lot of dogs in my life. I don't purport to know everything there is to know about dogs, but I do know one thing: they tend to learn from experience. They are capable of linking actions to consequences in the most basic of ways: if x, then y. If I pee in the house, the Person gets mad. If I pee in the yard, the Person is happy. Therefore, I will pee in only in the yard. Everyone who has ever trained a dog knows this. If the consequences follow the behavior immediately and firmly, the dog will make the connection and behave accordingly.

There are several corollaries to this rule that aren't as obvious as the basic rule. For example, the longer the period of time between the action and the consequence, the harder it will be for the dog to make the connection. If the dog chews your shoe while you are at work, and you come home six hours later and holler at the dog about it, he is not necessarily going to understand that the hollering is the result of something he did six hours ago (and has likely forgotten about). He will be confused and will probably chew your shoe again tomorrow and the next day, until he's caught in the act and has the opportunity to make the connection. (For this reason, one of the hardest things about training a dog is correcting behavior that only occurs when you aren't around.)

Another corollary: dogs don't ask why a particular consequence follows an action. They do not inquire at length as to the wisdom of the no-peeing-in-the-house rule. A rule is a rule to them, and its underlying reasoning doesn't matter. They don't understand that shoes are expensive, or that refinishing the floor is a huge deal. It's not generally wise to give them an old ratty shoe to chew on, because they don't know the difference between old ratty shoes and new fancy ones. Chewing on shoes is a binary operation to them: always yes or always no. No subtlety. No changes based on exigent circumstances.

As far as I can tell, this is one of the primary differences between the way a dog's brain works and the way a human brain works. Anyone who has ever lived with a toddler will roll their eyes and smile when I mention the "why" stage. (Or shudder and be glad they got through that stage in one piece.) This is a stage a toddler goes through where she asks "why" whenever something happens. "We're having pancakes for breakfast." "Why?" "It's time for your bath." "Why?" Toddlers, unlike dogs, are not binary. They want to understand why the grown-ups can have a glass of wine at dinner but not at breakfast. They want to know why we sometimes go to the supermarket on Saturday and sometimes on Tuesday. Why does Grandma sometimes say no to candy and sometimes say yes? Why do the rules change according to the circumstances? If your toddler does not ask these questions, something is wrong. It's one of those milestones the pediatrician asks you to keep an eye on. It is one of the questions the neurologist asks when diagnosing autism. Does your child hammer you with constant questions until you are ready to tear your hair out? Where are we going? What are we doing? Why? Why? Why?

Good. That's normal.

Are you with me so far? Because now I am going to make the big leap to what I am actually thinking about this morning. I am actually thinking about the fact that people sometimes make rules the way a dog would. If something bad happens, people make a rule that they think will keep that bad thing from ever happening again. Someone was on their cell phone and got into a car accident. Therefore, no cell phone use in cars. Ever. Or, a convicted felon committed another crime right after he got out of jail. We shouldn't let convicted felons get out of jail. Ever.

And it's the "ever" part that's so dog-like in its application. It's the failure to get to the bottom of the situation, to ask "why," and to analyze the far-reaching consequences of having an unchanging rule. Because, of course, those basic rules are excellent ones, most of the time. Distracted driving is dangerous, and some criminals aren't fit to live in society without very close and competent supervision. But there are times when it's a good thing to have a cell phone in your car, and there are plenty of former convicts living productive, independent lives among us. When Grandma says no candy first thing in the morning on a regular day, that doesn't mean you can't have a basket of chocolate on Easter. The sixteen-year-old dog who can't make it outside in time doesn't get yelled at for soiling his bed. His bed gets washed, and he gets a bath, and all is right with the world, even if he doesn't understand why.

A lot of our laws are what I would call Dog Laws, because the people who make them don't think in a forward-enough manner to fine-tune their wording or their application. Do you agree? Can you think of examples?


20 April 2014

The Song of Spring

I set my alarm for early this morning. I needed to get up and put the topping on a lemon meringue pie, which is a holiday favorite in my family. I had spent all day yesterday knitting - probably not the best use of my time, but certainly an enjoyable one for me - and my procrastination had come to this. Up with the sun on Easter morning.

Except that I was awakened far earlier than I had planned, by a little songbird that decided to sing its heart out at 4 A.M. just outside my bedroom window.

That little bird is still singing as I write this, pie in the oven, almost three hours later. He is singing with all his heart and soul. He is sitting on a withered branch of a dead maple tree, singing with the urgency of someone who has something very important to say. Maybe he is looking for a mate. Maybe he is conveying a message to his fellow songbirds: he has found a full feeder, or a rotted branch full of tasty bugs, or the little net bag full of yarn scraps I set out for nest-building assistance. Maybe he's just happy that it's not snowing anymore, and he no longer needs to brace himself against the cold. One less thing to worry about in the daily fight for survival in suburbia.

Let me say this right here and now: I am only guessing. I do not know what the song is about. I do not understand fluently every single expression of joy, whether encoded in my own language or in the sunrise hymn of some enthusiastic robin in a tree. I know that we, as a species, tend to play ourselves the same songs of joy, over and over again, every spring: the song of Miriam with her tambourine on the far shore of the Red Sea, finally free from slavery, and the bright, blaring trumpet that heralds the discovery of an empty tomb in ancient occupied Palestine. We shop for the foods that comfort us and accompany our songs: bitter herbs, crunchy matzoh, chocolate bunnies, eggs to dye brightly and to whip into that meringue topping at the crack of dawn. We gather, we exchange greetings, we celebrate the same things our ancestors celebrated. We do this year after year, whether or not we believe, whether or not we understand.

It might just be enough to let the song awaken us, even if it's earlier than we had hoped, and listen to it, in all of its mystery. Maybe it's just about food, about housing, about a search for companionship, about warming temperatures, about survival in an uncertain world.

Or maybe it's about something more. Maybe it's about hope. Or maybe it's about the song itself. Some things stand on their own.

Happy Easter. Happy Passover. Welcome, spring. Keep singing.

My dad's favorite: lemon meringue pie.
What I spent all day yesterday working on: a cotton sweater for my daughter.
It will eventually have long sleeves, at her request.

08 April 2014

Cycles

My high school class celebrated its thirtieth reunion last week. I didn't go to the festivities at the school, but I attended a cocktail party at a private home, and I was delighted to see all my classmates. I went to an all-girls' independent school in Manhattan, so the gathering was exclusively female. There were forty-one of us in the graduating class, but we include in our reunions anyone who was a part of the class at any point, and that encompasses about fifty women in all.

I'm not going to lie and say that we were all the best of friends back then. We had our squabbles and our cliques and our difficulties, like any group of teenaged girls. What pleases me now is the sense I get that, having reached midlife, we are all friends. We're like sisters; we can criticize each other, but as against outsiders, we will defend each other to the death.

I arrived at the cocktail party drenched, as I had walked through Union Square in the rain without a coat or umbrella. (I haven't really matured that much in that regard since twelfth grade. I still do the quintessential New York squint-and-dash, which my mother used to call "dodging the raindrops.") I was greeted at the door by a classmate who quickly poured me a glass of wine. I looked around the room and was instantly calm; I knew exactly who everyone was. No one had changed so much that I didn't remember her, or didn't know her name. They were all there, these old friends, and they hugged me warmly, not caring about my frizzy hair and damp sweater.

Some of us are still married (or married again), and some are divorced. Many never married. The group included both mothers and women who never had children; among the mothers, some had college-aged children and some had children who are still quite young. In addition to having handled pretty complicated private lives, every single one of these women is professionally accomplished in some way. Artists, musicians, writers, doctors, executives, teachers, scientists - you name it, and there's one in the group. In chatting with them, though, I heard a recurring theme: in our mid-forties, we all feel like we are at a turning point, either personally or professionally, and we aren't sure about what comes next.

I had an English teacher in high school that I didn't like particularly at the time. She called me out once on writing a first draft of a paper about a book I hadn't read; my cocky sixteen-year-old self was supremely annoyed at her power of perception and her insistence on confronting me about it. (She ended up giving me an extra week to read the book and resubmit the paper, and she didn't penalize me. Having been found out was punishment enough, and I learned the lesson.)

That same teacher, in a conversation I had with her years later at a school-related event, listened to my tale about leaving the workforce to care for my small children, and my doubt as to whether I had done the right thing. She responded with something I would never forget.

Women, she told me, live their lives in cycles. We are designed that way. Everything about us follows a curving path: our bodies, our careers, our thoughts and perceptions. We start out in one direction, pursue it to a turning point, and then cycle back. When we cycle back, we sometimes think we have lost ground, but in fact we have covered more territory than our male counterparts, who tend to live their lives in a more linear fashion. To someone with less acute perception, we don't seem to be making forward progress, but later in our lives, having accomplished so much - relationships, families, careers, and other contributions to the world - we can be astounded at how far we have actually traveled.

At the reunion last week, I repeated this wisdom to one of my classmates, a beautiful woman in her mid-forties who, having given up a career as an accomplished and acclaimed musician to raise her sons, is now wondering what comes next. She e-mailed me the next morning to thank me. I know she can accomplish anything she wants to accomplish, whether that includes putting out another album, taking up some other form of art, or waiting until her young men are fully grown to begin cycling around again. Many paths are available to her, and the choice is exclusively hers.

I went home after the party - dodging the raindrops again - with the profound conviction that we are all at a turning point in this particular cycle, a cycle we have traveled both together and apart. I am very, very eager to see what comes next, and I am going to try to stay in touch with my classmates so that I can witness the rest of the journey in real time.

05 April 2014

Alaska

My husband and I are both graduates of Dartmouth College - that's where we met - and we're members of the Dartmouth Lawyers Association. The DLA is supposed to be a professional affinity group, but I'll tell you a secret: it's really a loose-knit group of avid skiers who travel to a different ski resort every year with their families and renew their friendships over apr├ęs-ski drinks and continuing legal education lectures.

We've been to Colorado, Utah, California, and even Switzerland together. And this year, we went to Alaska.

That's right. Our meeting was in a beautiful ski resort called Alyeska, not too far from Anchorage.

On our way out, we flew from Newark to Minneapolis, and then from Minneapolis to Anchorage. We stayed two days and two nights in the city before driving out to Alyeska for our meeting. In those two days and nights, we got to see just about everything Anchorage has to offer:


Me at the starting line of the Iditarod Trail Race, the famous dogsledding race from Anchorage to Nome.
We saw the mushers and their teams take off at the beginning of the race!
Making friends with one of the racers!

A reindeer on a leash in downtown Anchorage.
Things you don't really get to see in New Jersey.



After Anchorage, we drove along the Seward Inlet to Alyeska, taking in incredible views of the Chugatch Mountain Range in the fog.



Our hotel lobby featured a life-sized diorama of a polar bear in his native habitat.



We spent some time skiing in the beautiful mountains right outside the hotel.



One of the best things about skiing is the lunch breaks: you are burning tons of calories on the slopes, so you can have whatever you want for lunch. In Alyeska, the view was the icing on the cake - almost literally. But the best part was the company, of course.

Yes, I made that sweater I'm wearing.

We even had a chance to go snowmobiling one afternoon. Snowmobiling is like motorcycling or jet-skiing, but on the snow. It's a really wonderful way to get out of the resort and see the natural beauty of the interior forest areas.

Me on my snowmobile

Lunch break on the trail


It was a wonderful (if long) trip. I learned a lot about the 49th state and a little bit about its laws. Did you travel this winter, or did you stay home where it was warm and cozy? Where would you go next if you could?

04 April 2014

Accountability

One of my dear old friends from college recently posted a link on Facebook to a weight-loss program that she had been following that had yielded excellent results. It's a virtual (i.e., totally online) program that one follows at one's own convenience, with e-mail support and guaranteed results. I thought that sounded good, so I looked up the website.

First of all, this particular program costs $100 a month - far out of my budget for a virtual weight loss program. (I could join the fanciest gym in the county AND enroll in Weight Watchers for less.) But more disturbingly, at least to me, the program publicly posts before-and-after pictures of its participants, in their underwear, identifying them by full name. Ugh, I thought; I don't want the entire internet to see me, overweight, in my underwear. Is nothing private anymore?

But the website touts this as an advantage of its program. Knowing that the world is following your progress, goes the reasoning, provides accountability. You won't want to fail if the whole world is going to see your failure.

Gulp.

I quit a weight-loss group on Facebook a couple of years ago after I discovered that, because it was an "open" group, everything I posted to the group page popped up in all my friends' news feeds. That's right. Everyone I know heard about every single workout and every calorie I consumed. Alarmed, I contacted the group administrator and asked her whether she would consider closing the group, so that only members could see the posts.

No, she responded. That would destroy an essential element of the group's success: accountability.

Since when do I have to be accountable to everyone I know for everything I do? Doesn't that put unreasonable pressure on a middle-aged working mom who is trying hard to keep other parts of her life running smoothly, on a daily basis, and might just want to lose a pound or twenty on the side?

I recently enrolled one of my daughters in a local SAT-tutoring program in my town. The kids attend a class once a week and then take home a practice test to complete during the week. Every Monday morning, the director of the program grades the practice tests and then e-mails the results - all the results, for all the kids - to all the parents. Thus, every week, tens of people I don't know are made privy to my daughter's results on her practice tests. Sometimes, she doesn't finish the tests because she needs help with them; on those occasions, a large ZERO under her name, highlighted in yellow, is e-mailed to all the parents.

I contacted the director of the program and asked why it was necessary for all the parents to see all the kids' scores on a weekly basis. Were the children not entitled to a little privacy as they learned?

Guess how she responded.

Accountability. Making everyone's scores available to everyone, she told me, promotes a "healthy sense of competition" that gives her program improved results.

I am completely uncomfortable with that. In choosing to enroll my daughter in a tutoring program, I was looking for gentle, encouraging help, not competition and public embarrassment. I looked around on the internet for a site where I could post a nasty review, to alert other parents to this feature of the program, but I couldn't find any way to give feedback in a public forum. It seems to me that the program needs to be made publicly accountable for its policies, don't you think?

We are all accountable to ourselves for our own actions, our shortcomings, and for our failure to make an effort when effort is required. We are also, on occasion, accountable to our families for our decisions, and to others whom we have wronged over the course of our complicated maneuverings through our lives. But I do not understand why I need to be accountable to the entire world for my appearance, or why my daughter needs to be accountable to people she does not know for her practice SAT scores. I think, at least in these two instances, the concept of accountability has been taken too far and has crossed the line into dangerous territory: motivation by threat of public humiliation. Do you agree?


02 April 2014

A Modest Donation

Do you donate blood? Have you ever donated blood?

I first gave blood when I was in college. There was a blood drive at the campus center, and a bunch of us decided to roll up our sleeves for the little old lady volunteers from the Red Cross. They gave us bologna sandwiches afterwards. Some of the frat brothers thought it would be hysterically funny to get drunk right after giving blood. I wasn't that brave, but I was absolutely naive. I went on a hot-tubbing date that night and passed out.

Later, married and settled into a largely non-drinking, non-hot-tubbing lifestyle, I began donating blood on a regular basis at the local community blood center. (Here's a link, in case you're local.) I went to college pre-AIDS, and pre-mad cow disease, when no one asked extensive questions about donors' personal lives and health histories. Now, there's a fairly lengthy questionnaire I have to fill out every single time. They ask about AIDS and mad cow disease, but also about things like piercings and tattoos. You have to live your life pretty much on the straight and narrow to be a successful blood donor these days.

After I had been donating for a while, someone at the blood bank approached me about donating platelets. Your blood is made up of several components, including red cells, white cells, plasma and platelets. When people donate what they call "whole blood," the little red bag gets separated into components, and the components are given separately to patients according to their needs. For example, an accident or shooting victim might need red blood cells. Organ transplant recipients might need plasma. Cancer patients need platelets.

Donating platelets is a little more complicated than donating whole blood. It takes about two hours, during which time I am hooked up to a machine that takes out my whole blood, swirls it around to remove the platelets, and then reintroduces the rest of my blood back into my system. I lie on a bed with a heating pad and a blanket to keep me from getting chilled. Someone watches me the entire time to make sure I am okay. I need calcium and warm drinks afterwards.

I have been doing this once a week.

Why once a week? Because cancer patients need platelets that often. They need platelets so often, and they get so many infusions, that they develop antibodies against donated platelets that do not match their own antigens perfectly. And, recently, the blood center determined that I am an antigen match for a local cancer patient. I can donate to someone in need, and they won't reject my blood. So some specific person who is fighting hard to recover needs me to do this, reliably, once a week.

Selfie during donation. It's hard to take pictures one-handed.


On my last visit, last week, they told me my patient had improved significantly. So much so that he or she won't be needing weekly infusions any more. I'll still donate regularly, but for now that person is going to be okay. And I played a role in his or her recovery.

It's actually a great feeling.

Consider donating. Not everyone can; your health history might disqualify you. If you're disqualified, think about what else you might be able to do. Maybe your school, house of worship, or local group could host a blood drive? You can be in charge of the blood drive, and you might just get that same good feeling that I get when I give.

01 April 2014

A Month of Scandals

BlogHer, a women's blogging network to which I belong, has issued a challenge to its members: write a new blog post every day in April. The theme is "Scandal." We are supposed to write about scandals. Preferably other people's. Every single day.

Now, I have written about other people before; in fact, I've gotten in huge trouble just for mentioning them in passing. My family doesn't like to be written about. That, to them, is the very definition of scandal. So I guess I have that base covered.

I could write about people I don't know. I could join the chorus of bloggers weighing in on Gwyneth Paltrow's divorce, or her whininess about how difficult her job is. (Ms. Paltrow: your job is not difficult. Try being a junior associate in a large Manhattan law firm, working around the clock for a guy who throws stuff at you, locking yourself in your office with a breast pump while some ass bangs on the door demanding to know EXACTLY WHAT you think you're doing in there, and missing your baby's first smile, first steps, and first words. That, my dear, is difficult.)

Or I could write about the end of "How I Met Your Mother." I have watched several episodes of that show on Netflix, mostly while doing other things, and the only real scandal I can divine from it is the fact that a wildly popular sitcom bases all its jokes on Neil Patrick Harris's character's attempts to get women drunk so he can have sex with them. Having sex with drunk people is rape, folks. (Trust me. I'm a lawyer.) It's really funny until you're the drunk person in question. But I guess that's what our culture laughs at. I'd put that in the scandal column. (And now that a Facebook friend has spoiled the ending of the show, revealing the identity of the mysterious mother upon whose anonymity the entire show is premised, I have no desire to watch the rest of the series.)

I could write about what's been on my mind lately: how difficult it is to find high-quality writing. Back in the old days, you had to be a decent writer to get published. You needed to know the difference between "who's" and "whose," and among "their," "there," and "they're." You needed to know how to spell. Now that anyone with a blog can call herself a writer, and anyone with a slow-cooker and a can of Dr. Pepper is a celebrity chef, the good stuff is nearly impossible to find. There are millions of writers, stylists, and chefs out there, but very, very few of them are any good.

This is why I haven't written much lately. I'm concerned about quality and content, and that concern slows me down significantly. In the quality column, I have to admit that I am very meticulous about the things I write. I'm a grammatical perfectionist. (Some of my friends call me a grammar Nazi. I think that's a little extreme, but I do think that the use of language is a clear window into the soul of the writer, and if you can't use language properly, you are a poor writer. Go ahead and judge me for that.) I try to be funny and entertaining and thought-provoking, but it's hard to do that every single day.

In the content column, I just don't have something new of substance to say every. single. day. People often ask me what my blog is about, and I never have a ready answer. I can't usually write about my work, because of attorney-client confidentiality. If you're not a knitter, you're going to get really tired, really fast, of the pictures of my projects. And I am hesitant to write about my children at length; in this day and age, children have so little privacy, and they need that to grow up. They need to make mistakes and get dirty and dress up and fall down without the whole world knowing about it and seeing it in real time. Some of my favorite blogs are parenting blogs that highlight the lives of families and their small children, but I can't help but wonder what damage is being done to those tiny lives by turning them into celebrities before age 3.

Politics are hard, too. I have strong political beliefs, and I think they are sensible, but I often feel drowned out by the chorus of naysayers. Again, the Internet is at fault, at least partially. Everyone has an opinion, but now everyone has an easy way to express it publicly. There's outrage being provoked at every turn. Friendships are ruined over Facebook posts, ill-advised tweets, innocently expressed thoughts in a blog post or comment. I'm weary of fighting. I do have a lot of thoughts on a wide range of issues, but I'm tired of the type/hit publish/then duck-and-cover lifestyle.

And yet maybe the BlogHer post-a-day challenge is just what I need to combat my ennui. I can't promise daily scandal, but maybe writing daily will help me find my voice, and help me figure out what this blog is about. I'm going to try it. I hope you'll stick with me and read along. I'd love to have a companion or two on the journey.

Jennie

P.S. Serious question for my readers. (Both of you. Ha.) Do you like it when I post knitting pictures here? Or should I set up a separate crafting and knitting blog and keep this blog for more cerebral stuff? What do you think?

Here's a baby blanket I finished this week, for my friends' newborn son.
Maybe I should open an Etsy store instead of blogging?