Friends with words

I know people who’ve written books! You should know about them!

Don't Trade the Baby for a Horse

I reviewed Wendy’s book, The Wilder Life, last year and now she has a short follow-up called Don’t Trade the Baby for a Horse: And Other Ways to Make Your Life a Little More Laura Ingalls Wilder which is available in digital format only. I have no need for a baby or a horse, so I’d be willing to trade either one for their weight in rock candy.

How to Rock Your Baby

Assuming you did not trade you baby for a horse, you can learn how to rock it in my friend Erin’s third book in her how-to series. This one’s called
How to Rock Your Baby: And Other Timeless Tips for Modern Moms and comes after How to Sew a Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew and How to Build a Fire: And Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew. Needless to say she knows how to do a lot more things than I do.

Stranger Here

This one’s not out yet, but I’m excited to tell you that you will be able to buy Stranger Here: How Weight-Loss Surgery Transformed My Body And Messed With My Head by Jen Larsen in January 2013. You might remember Jen from her Body of Work column on the now defunct site Elastic Waist or from her old blog Hello, I Am Fat, both of which she wrote under the pen name Anne Fitzgerald. She’s using her real name now and I’m so happy she found a publisher because back in 2009 we were book buddies when I was putting together Chocolate & Vicodin. I got an agent and then she got an agent. I finished my book proposal and then she finished her book proposal. I sent mine out to publishers and then she sent hers out to publishers. I got a book contract and then…well, the ellipsis say it all. It was kind of awful, actually. No, let me amend that. It was definitely awful, particularly because Jen is such a great author and I don’t think there is any book like hers out there. But she worked hard, wrote the book anyway, and the fine ladies at Seal Press snatched it up because they are awesome like that. So, yay! Go, Jen!

Headache on the Hill 2012: This is what democracy looks like

Bringing Headache to the Hill

If I’d known it was going to be 32 degrees out as I walked from the DC Metro stop to the front of the Capitol building, I would have worn a coat. Instead I relied on the fiery passion of my convictions to keep me warm as I walked with almost seventy doctors, patients and other advocates taking part in Headache on the Hill 2012. Considering how numb my arms got, the coat would have been the better choice. (My fiery passion burns from within, not without.)

Everyone departed from the hotel at 7:00am so we could take a group photo in front of the Capitol before dispersing into our state-based groups for the day. That’s right, seven o’clock in the morning. The AYE-EM. Which means at 6:00am I woke up in sweaty, panicked confusion to the sound of my phone’s rooster alarm. Cocka-doodle-do-you-remember-why-you’re-getting-up-so-damn-early?

Anyway, I made it there on time and was milling around the seat of our nation’s power when this happened:

The dramatic way of proving we are indeed chronically ill

That’s right! Someone managed to go down before we’d even taken the group photo. Thankfully she was surrounded by enough PhDs to make a hearty meal of alphabet soup, and boy could they run! As all the doctors in our group flocked to the fallen woman’s side, I decided it was best for me to stay out of their way. I never did get the full story on what happened, but I heard the woman was ok.

After we took the group photo, the four of us from North Carolina had breakfast in the cafeteria of one of the Senatorial office buildings. The Capitol building is where the sessions of Congress meet and vote, but each representative has an office in one of the buildings to the north or south of the Capitol. Senators are on the north side and Congresspeople on the south. The distance back and forth between them is about one third of a mile. You walk by the Supreme Court on the way, which is where this was going on:

People were demonstrating on the second of three days of arguments before the Supreme Court about the constitutionality of the health care reform legislation. It was like that Le Tigre song New Kicks up close and in person! Everyone behaved civilly and the protests were interesting to watch during the down time between our meetings which didn’t start until 11am. That’s right, I dragged my ass out of bed at an unGodly hour so I could be in a photo and then hang out in the Senate cafeteria for a few hours. At least it gave me a chance to recharge my phone. I also got to chat with some of the other attendees, from an 18-year-old headache sufferer to the founder of Migraine.com. I also got to know the people in my group better and gave some of them impromptu tweeting lessons.

The two guys in my group were headache doctors, one of whom was the neurologist for the other woman in our group who was also a doctor and a migraine sufferer. Earlier I’d asked her where she worked and she told me she was in between jobs. I soon learned this wasn’t because she’d fallen on hard times but because she had recently sold the drug company she’d founded that had made a breakthrough in Hepatitis C research. I was happy to let her pay for my coffee! She made it through the many walking miles of the day wearing two-inch heels, which must be a skill she learned as a former vice-president of a major drug company. I did the best I could to dress professionally and wear flattering makeup, but I felt a bit schlubby next to her. At least I didn’t split my pants like one of the guys in our group did. Whoops! Thankfully he was wearing a long sweater and didn’t moon any Senators on the way out of our meetings. We’d like for them to remember us, but not for that :)

We had four meetings that day spaced evenly apart with a break for lunch. The meetings were all fairly similar. We arrived a bit early at each office where I took a photo in front of the representative’s plaque:

How Senatorial of me

Each office had a basket of North Carolina Peanuts available which were tasty and informative too since I didn’t even know we were known for our peanuts.

Working for peanuts

And at Senator Hagan’s office I got to stick a pin in the map for the place where I lived.

Bringing old meaning to "pin it"

At each appointment we met with a staffer who’d been assigned to take our meeting. Confession: during these four meetings I didn’t meet a single Senator or Congressperson. I did see two of them coming or going, but the ones we had been scheduled to meet were away voting during our typical 15-minute long meeting. That’s just how it goes, and honestly it made me less nervous to talk to a staffer who was about my age than to an elected representative. That said, my face still got warm when I got a chance to tell my story at a speed approaching that of the Micro Machines spokesperson.

When one of the doctors started talking about which buildings had the best cafeterias, I was like, “Hey, you’ve been here before, haven’t you?” It’s not like the Congressional cafeterias are on Yelp. (Are they?) He’d attended 4 out of 5 of the total Headache on the Hill events in the last five years, which made me feel a lot more comfortable in these meetings. He already knew many of the staffers and was more familiar with the details of our requests. That allowed me to focus on telling my story and making a personal appeal for progress on this issue. In turn the doctors liked having patients with them because when doctors ask for more funding it can seem like they’re motivated by money for their projects and personal career advancement. Having two headache sufferers plead our cases put a human face on the issue.

Interestingly, our meetings got progressively better during the day. The first staffer we talked to had a mean poker face and we didn’t get much of a positive or negative reaction from her. Honestly, she seemed a bit bored and I had to wonder how many meetings like this she takes in a month. The second staffer responded in interest to the copy of my book I dropped off at the office, which I did in each meeting. (That totally made this a Capitol Hill book tour. I can write it off on my taxes, right?) But she was non-committal about getting anything actually done. The third staffer was an old friend of one of the docs and by that time I’d gotten better at telling my story, so we seemed to have good chances there. The final staffer has a sister with Migraine disease, so she was very sympathetic to our requests.

The next step is to follow-up with the people we met, which I’ll be doing in a week or so via email. Overall it was a good experience and something I’d consider doing again. It was fascinating to walk through the buildings where people as powerful as they are dysfunctional do business. We’d be wondering down a hall (one of the oh, so many halls) and suddenly you’d see the plaque for Nancy Pelosi’s office or you’d stroll by the office of a former presidential nominee. It’s surprising how easy it is to get into the office buildings too. No ID is required. You just have to have your bags x-rayed while you walk through a metal detector. If you’re wearing metal-tipped shoes, please take them off please as the other woman in our group learned.

All the office buildings are connected via tunnel, so once you’ve gone through security in one you can get to all the others. There’s a maze of hallways and tunnels that seem to go on forever, so it can be easy to get turned around. We managed to get everywhere on time (sometimes just barely). I wished I’d checked my Gmail in between meetings because it turns out that one of my readers was a staffer I would have liked to have met. Maybe next year!

Big thanks to the ADHA for planning this event and for paying for my hotel room for one night. It’s given me insight into how much work and planning goes into advocating for issues. Just scheduling meetings for sixty-some-odd people must have been a, dare I say, headache? Hopefully we helped make some progress! If not, at least I got some peanuts out of the deal.

Headache on the Hill 2012 in Washington DC

The Washington Monument is on a hill, just not the hill in question

A few months ago I got an email inviting me to participate in the 2012 Headache on the Hill, the hill in question being Capitol Hill. To which you might say, “Jennette, isn’t every day a headache on Capitol Hill?” To which I’d say, “Har, har, har, isn’t that funny? NO, it’s not.” (Ok, it’s a little bit funny, but don’t tell my representatives I said that!) Going to Washington DC and talking to powerful elected officials sounded scarier than Gremlins was as a kid, so I said, “Sure! Let’s do it!” Because I subscribe to the belief that you should do things outside of your comfort zone, which seems like a stupid belief when you’re actually doing things outside of your comfort zone.

Headache on the Hill is a program organized by the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy which is actually 10 headache organizations combined, sort of like two sets of Voltron Lions but without a theme song. Now in its fifth year, the initiative brings together dozens of headache doctors, patients and other advocates (or really, any US citizen who wants to drop in) for a day of appointments with our respective state Senators and Congresspeople. During these brief moments stolen with our representatives and/or their twenty-something staffers, we’ll be asking them to support headache sufferers by:

1) Holding Congressional hearings on headache disorders in Washington DC before the close of the 112th Congress.

2) Renewing funding of research on chronic migraine and post traumatic stress in the DOD CDMR Program.

That’s it! Just two things. That’s not very pushy, right? Constituents are allowed to schedule appointments with their representatives, and representatives generally like to keep their constituents happy, which is why HOH tries to attract people from as many states as possible. We had a training session this afternoon and I’ll be visiting the offices with a group of 3 other people from my state, one of whom has done this several times before, so I know they’ve got my back. We’ll see how it goes!

If you want to do something in support of Headache on the Hill, you can sign this petition in support of the first point I mentioned above regarding congressional hearings on headache disorders. If you don’t want to support Headache on the Hill, you suck and I hate you.

The New York Diaries – Part 1: Taking New York living for a test drive (though I would never drive in the city)

New York

Getting there is half the challenge

No matter how many times I fly, I always lean toward the window to scope out the city as we land. I’m surprised everyone on the plane doesn’t do this. (Where is your sense of childlike wonder, people? You can’t buy it in Sky Mall.) Despite my superhuman LASIK vision or how far I leaned into the personal space of the occupant of the window seat next me, all I could see was white. Plain, solid, white. I started to wonder if we’d died mid-flight and were now soaring through the afterlife without knowing it. But no! About 20 seconds before we touched down the fog we’d been flying through cleared enough that I could see the ground.

I took a shared van into the city and couldn’t see the skyline at all, which would have been a huge disappointment if this had been my first trip to New York. Fortunately, I was too distracted trying to check into JFK airport on Foursquare to pay much attention anyway. I used NYAirportService.com to book a shared van into the city. They apparently book the reservation through Go Airlink Shuttle, which was sort of confusing because I wasn’t sure what color the van I was supposed to be looking for would be or how to find this van. When I got off the plane I had to find a panel of telephones in the Ground Transportation area, pick up one of the phones, and figure out the right number to dial to talk to someone from the correct shuttle service who would dispatch the van to my terminal, the name of which I did not immediately know. So, basically this was a complicated puzzle game and one of the reasons I will never, ever compete on The Amazing Race, because traveling STRESSES ME OUT. It’s hard enough to do this in English in America, let alone in a foreign country where my only way to communicate would wild gesticulations. After the shared van took me on a one-hour tour of other people’s hotels, I finally got off at Penn Station and took a Metro to the cats’ apartment. If I had to do it again, I’d probably pay the extra $5 or $10 for the drive to drop me directly at the apartment, though I did get to see a few fun things on the drive. We drove past the Simon & Schuster building, so I got to wave in the general direction of my publicist. And driving through Times Square on a cloudy day made it seem particularly bright and flashy.

Once I arrived at the apartment (that had a doorman, which made me feel fancy) Jasper and Zoey’s person gave me a Kitty Care 101 lesson. Then we went out for Italian food. (The humans. Not the kitties.) The first restaurant we went to was hosting a 13-year-old girl’s birthday party, so we told them to have fun with that and went to another Italian place a few blocks away, which is something you can do in big cities like New York. There’s food on every corner!

Working for the weekend

Now that I’d arrived at one of the major tourist destinations in the world, I decided the first thing to do was…work for two days straight on a sunny weekend! Because that’s how I roll: over. I rollover for my clients. This actually wasn’t as bad as it sounds for two reasons.

1) I got an insane amount of work done.
I’ve heard of writer’s retreating to artist colonies in an effort to isolate themselves from distractions and force themselves to work, and I’d heard about that guy from the band Bon Iver who went to some cabin in Wisconsin for three months to write an album, but that’s never sounded appealing to me. There might be something to it though. I got so much done you would have thought I was in a manic fugue state. I was away from all the familiar things I distract myself with, and I had a sunny desk to work at with this lovely view:

View from the apartment

I’m not sure why “getting stuff done” is such a high, but I can’t imagine that cocaine makes you feel any better than answering all your emails and designing a complete web site in one day does. I think dopamine is involved, and boy is it good!

I also had access to cable, so I watched listened to the latest Star Trek movie and The Fugitive twice. I’d forgotten how often cable channels rerun movies and how easy it is to get sucked into their pull even when you’ve seen them so many times you don’t have to watch the screen to know what’s going on.

2) I got a sense of what it’s like to live in New York and not just visit it
Instead of staying in a hotel and rushing off to do touristy things right away, I was living in an apartment working like I do at home. I also had 10 days in the city, so there wasn’t a huge rush to see and do everything as soon as possible. This made the vibe totally different from other vacations I’ve taken. I was staying in someone else’s apartment using someone else’s Metro card living someone else’s life. But I got to go back home a week later, which was great because I got to experience change without actually having to change. And what did I discover?

Delivery food

I quickly became smitten with delivery food service. Using GrubHub I could order any kind of food I wanted late into the night. French toast at midnight? No problem! Then a daring delivery man would risk his life biking through the streets of New York to bring that food right to my door. It was awesome! I can get some food delivered to my apartment in Chapel Hill, like pizza or Jimmy John’s, but not the wide variety of stuff available in New York.

I know, I know, some of you are rolling your eyes and thinking I should have gone out into the city every night. But when you live in chronic pain you only have so much energy to spend in a day, and I didn’t always feel like trekking out into the urban wilderness to hunt and gather. I was also charmed by how the delivery food was packaged. No matter what restaurant I ordered from, the food arrived in metal pans with plastic lids wrapped in paper bags which were in turn placed in plastic bags. Only a tourist like me could find this exotic and enticing. I also earned a $10 coupon on GrubHub after I placed several orders, which made delivery food even more fun! I highly recommend the gyro at Telio’s.

It’s probably best that GrubHub is not available to me in Chapel Hill or else I’d never leave my apartment and all my muscles would atrophy except for the ones in my mouse hand.

Their grocery stores are not like my grocery stores

No matter where in the world you travel, the grocery story is always a little bit weird, isn’t it? It’s never quite like the grocery store at home. For instance, the Harris-Teeter around here does not have an escalator, unlike the Food Emporium and the Gristedes stores I visited. The aisles are very close together because real estate is so expensive. They also don’t stock every product ever created like the superstores around here, so I wasn’t able to find the caffeine-free Diet Dr. Pepper that I prefer. Horrors! You could get a “litter” of soda though, though it wasn’t in the kitty litter section.

A litter of soda

The labels also listed how much an insane amount of each product would cost:

That's a lot of tampons

You know, just in case you wanted to get $70 of tampons. I’m used to the labels going the other way and letting you know how much a single tampon would cost, not 100 tampons.

Grocery shopping was much more of a pain, literally, because I had to carry whatever I bought several blocks up and up an elevator. I’m used to shuttling it out of the store in a cart, unloading it into the trunk of my car, and then the farthest I have to carry it is up one flight of stairs and through my apartment to the kitchen. This situation discouraged me from buying too much stuff at once, and definitely not much heavy stuff, so no matter how frequently I shopped I ran out of things pretty quickly.

Ultimately, any convenience I gained in terms of delivery food was paid for by inconvenience in my grocery shopping.

Otherwise, not that different

Otherwise, living in New York for a week wasn’t all that different from living anywhere else I lived. It was nosier noisier, but it wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it might be.

I first visited New York on a band trip seventeen years ago. I’m sure about that date because it was the week of the Oklahoma City bombings, a news story I COMPLETELY MISSED because this was before Twitter, and Facebook, and everything being in your face all the time, and because I was a teenager who didn’t watch the news anyway. I didn’t know what had happened until many days later when I was flipping through the TV channels (because this was when you had to flip through channels to figure out what was on instead of referring to a magical onscreen guide).

When I visited New York that time I was convinced everyone was a thief who wanted to steal my money, so I stuffed all my dollar bills in my shoes. The city was very big and overwhelming and I let the adults usher me around everywhere. The second time I came to New York was with my mom after I graduated college. The trip was her gift to me for finally getting a degree and for no longer sitting around her house unemployed and watching lots of anime on Cartoon Network. The city was still big and overwhelming, but ultimately I realized it was just made up of individual people and I could handle dealing with individual people, so perhaps it wasn’t so scary after all.

The third and fourth times I visited New York were for book promotions, so they were brief but exciting. After that I went to Europe and attended various conferences and gatherings around the country, which forced me to learn how subway maps worked, how to hail a cab, and basically get around the world. So here, now, on my fifth time visiting New York, the city did not seem very scary at all. I did not stuff money in my shoe once.

The city hasn’t changed as much as I have.

Coming soon: Actual seeing of sights and lots of walking!

Intrepid tales of New York, coming soon!

New York

I’m a bit disappointed none of you have emailed me in the last month to make sure I wasn’t dead. It’s been over a month since my last entry, an entry devoted to my chronic illness, so weren’t you just a little bit worried? I could have been trapped under that IKEA desk I didn’t assemble properly.

Fortunately I haven’t been trapped under Swedish furniture. I’ve been trapped under a crippling amount of work that piled up after my working vacation in New York last month. The problem with a working vacation is that you don’t do a very good job of either. When I was working, I was bummed that I wasn’t vacationing. When I was vacationing, I felt like I should be working instead. Freelancing can be great because you can work anywhere, but you don’t really want to work in exotic locations. You want to vacation in exotic locations.

That said, I still had a pretty good time. My friends Zoey and Jasper let me stay in their place on the Upper West Side as long as I used my opposable thumbs to open their cans of Whiskas. It felt odd that I had to get a cat-sitter so I could in turn go cat-sit some big city cats. I felt like one of the maids in The Help who leaves her kids at home to take care of some rich family’s kids instead. Still, free apartment! And the cats only vomited once.

Thanks again to everyone who left suggestions on my New York post. I made note of things mentioned by more than one person, and took several of restaurant and food recommendations. I probably spent 3-4 days working, 3-4 days sightseeing, and 1-2 days napping or ill, all non-consecutively.

I’m in the process of writing up my experiences on this trip, but it is taking forever because I have a lot more to say than I thought I would. I need time to organize it in a sensible way instead of posting crazy bullet points for you to interpret like, “Follow the ginger!” and “Blacklight purse,” which I swear are actual notes I have scribbled down and not phrases I have fabricated for your amusement. I also have to work on people’s web sites in the mean time, because I promised them I would and I like having income even if I don’t always like having to work for it.

So! Coming sometime in the near future: journal entries about New York! Though they might be calling it Old York by the time I’m done.

Keep reading: 

Want second helpings? Devour more entries in the archives.

 
 
Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir

Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, chronic headache sufferer, (former?) weight-loss inspiration, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She was formerly known as PastaQueen. You can contact her if you promise to be nice.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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My latest tweets

Twitter: jennettefulda

  • My Mom has only been in the state for 48 hours and she's already sick of the political ads. Is it November yet?
  • I just dropped an iPad on my foot. Do you think I can blame it on iOS 8.0.1?
  • I thought I'd removed all the extra wax from my ear earlier this week. I was wrong. Oh, so wrong. Gross pic here: http://t.co/vPKcB8LPIv

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