And we all fall down…or just me, actually

There I was, walking down the sidewalk after checking my mail, when suddenly my left ankle began to twist. I thought I’d be able to recover, but instead, BAM! I hit the sidewalk like gravity’s bitch and stayed down. It hurt. A LOT. It was one of those epic falls where I had to sit on the ground for a minute while I recovered from the shock and tried to determine how seriously I was hurt. While I was sitting there I thought, “Yes, I can totally see how this could kill an old person.” Thankfully nothing was broken, but I’d effectively scraped all the skin off my right knee.

Knee, without skin

Gnarly, huh? That scrape is about 3 inches by 2 inches wide. It’s kinda crazy how much damage can occur simply by losing your balance. Why do we wobble around on two legs like this anyway? Four legs would be much more stable. I put Neosporin on the wound and iced the ankle and I seem to be doing ok two days later, although the wound is still red and kinda gooey.

You know the worst part? I didn’t even get any mail! I suffered an injury at the mailbox gazebo for nothing!

The other funny thing: my fear of falling down is probably 20% of the reason I moved out of the midwest. It seemed like I would slip on the ice at least once every winter and land either on my ass or my face. I always walk very slowly across icy parking lots or streets because I have an intense fear of a loss of friction. One of the things I like about North Carolina is it is much more difficult to slip and fall down here. But I guess ice isn’t necessary for that after all.

The other sort of annoying thing is that a guy walked up to the mailbox gazebo when I was still in the process of getting up and composing myself, but he didn’t say anything to me. He walked off even as I was leaning against a beam of the gazebo for support trying to determine if I’d be able to wobble home on my own. He just stayed in his own little world, listening to his headphones. One on hand, it would have been embarrassing to have to cop to the fact that I’d fallen down. But on the other hand, I would have liked a bit of human sympathy and support at that moment. I mean, if I’d fallen a bit differently I might have needed him to call the ambulance for me. What would it have taken to get his attention? If I were thinner or blonder would he have helped me out? I don’t know. All I do know is that gravity will come for us all if we’re not careful!

The best rejection letter I ever got

I was going through my file cabinets this week and ended up going through my high school memories too. I think the reason we keep old junk isn’t because we need the junk but because we like that it triggers memories that we haven’t accessed for years. At least that’s what happened to me when I found a folder full of the stuff I had on a bulletin board in my room back in high school. Among the items was a She-Ra mobile, a signed photo of Lisa Loeb, and the nicest rejection letter I ever got.

The rejection letter was sent by Louisville magazine in 1997 when I was a 16-year-old junior in high school. I’d written a personal essay for English class which had Louisville as a focus, and my teacher suggested I send it to the magazine since she’d heard they were interested in submissions from people my age. You can click on the image of the letter below to read it, or you can read the transcription below that.

The best rejection letter

28, February, 1997

Dear Jenette,

Thank you so much for sending us “A Landmark.” It’s a wonderful story, beautifully written in a strong and distinctive voice. I can see why Dr. Morehead thought we might be interested in it. Unfortunately, we can’t use all good work that comes our way and after much consideration the other editors and I have determined that, fine as it is, it’s not suitable for Louisville.

You may wonder why, especially since your essay takes place in Louisville, describing sites which are familiar and would likely resonate with our readers. The best explanation I can offer you is what one of the other editors said to me: “At the crucial point, the essay turns inward instead of out.” He explained that really the story is not so much about the impact of a particular place (Louisville), but the changes in a particular person (you). This in no way diminishes the power or importance of what you have written, but it does mean that it doesn’t really work for our magazine.

Usually when I write back to a freelancer to say ‘no,’ I simply say the work isn’t suitable and let it go at that, but I wanted to try to explain just a little more to you because you are young, your work is very good and I don’t want you to be discouraged. My first rejection letters – and there were many and still are – always made me a little doubtful of my own ability. It took a very long time before I realized that magazines and publishers weren’t simply looking for good work, but needed very specific types of stories.

It also took me a long time to realize that while it’s important to have an audience for your work, it’s even more important that whatever you write should speak most powerfully and truthfully to you. I think you may understand this already. Certainly “A Landmark” demonstrates that you not only know how to write well, but how to speak the truth.

Keep writing, Jenette, and I hope that some day you will give us the chance to look at more of your work.

Ronni Lundy

Doesn’t that letter make you feel good? Or rather, wouldn’t you feel good if it were written about you instead of about me? Whenever I read it I get happy about being rejected all over again. I applaud you Ronni Lundy, you have ensorcelled me with your writing skills. And, ok, she spelled my name wrong, but she wasn’t the first and she won’t be the last either. If you tell me I write beautifully in a strong and distinctive voice you can call me Leeloo if you want to.

The great thing about this letter is that it basically says, “You got talent, kid!” but also explains why having talent doesn’t always mean you get published. I appreciate that she took the time to write me a letter explaining that instead of crushing my teenage heart with a terse rejection.

Since I knew you’d be interested, I managed to dig up a WordPerfect file of the essay which I’d salvaged from a 3.5″ floppy disk several years ago. Does anyone else remember WordPerfect and that bright blue editing screen? The essay is redacted in one or two spots just to preserve some privacy.

A Landmark

“Things do not change; we change.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

About six years, seventeen inches, and six shoe sizes ago, the day after I graduated from the fourth grade, my family packed up yet another green and yellow Mayflower moving van and headed south for Louisville, Kentucky. It was the fourth time in ten years that we abandoned the place we called home for another state where a job existed for my father. Dad never could seem to find a job where he and his employers were happy at the same time. So when the time came every two or three years, we’d just pack up and leave for another state, another city, another life.

I don’t really remember much from the first day we came here, only images of buildings and trolleys and a little old lady who sat in the lobby of the hotel we stayed in our first night. My little brother, who was only six-years-old at the time, asked the little old lady if she would be his first friend in Louisville. That was a really mushy moment and she came close to tears.

I can also remember the second day that I lived in Louisville. It was overcast (or maybe I just thought it was overcast) and my mother, my older and younger brothers, and I all went downtown to visit Dad at his new place of employment, the ———-Institute at The University of Louisville. (The department no longer exists; it was eliminated two years later.) It was an old building and didn’t look like an institute of anything to my ten-year-old eyes. We were going to meet him there for lunch and then go sign the papers that would officially buy us a home and put us several more thousand dollars in debt. But my father had some work to do or some papers to push or something that probably wasn’t worth the time now anyway. So Mom took us on her personal version of the walking tour of Louisville.

I had absolutely no idea where we were. Heck, half the time I didn’t know where I was in my old town. How could I find my way around this strange new city that was ten times larger? I still don’t know my way around Louisville that well. But thankfully, my mother had a map and a pretty good sense of direction, so I didn’t feel totally lost.

Eventually, after many bends in the sidewalk pavement, whose cracks I carefully avoided, we reached a circular courtyard which had a driveway and a sidewalk surrounding it. The place was located somewhere on campus. In the center was a magnificent red statue that seemed to blaze a fiery path out of the forsaken ground. It resembled tendrils of lava shooting up from the earth’s core in an enchanting dance rivaling the magnificence of a solar flare or an erupting volcano or another of nature’s wonders. That’s how I describe it today, but at the time I would have said it was merely a twisted assortment of red metal looming above me that didn’t look like much of anything.

Someone told us that the University had just received it as a gift or something. Being slightly interested, we walked towards the structure and stopped when we reached the sidewalk surrounding it.

“It looks like a dog dancing on its hind legs,” somebody said. “No, it looks like a bird with its head down,” said someone else. As I gazed at it, I realized that it looked like both of those things. My mother suggested that we look at it from another angle. So we walked about 60 degrees around the circle to look at the strange sculpture from a different perspective.

“It looks like a big campfire,” someone said. And it did. We turned another 60 degrees around the circle to take another look, and continued until we’d seen this piece of art from all sides of the circle. And I did indeed see many things in its changing yet constant form.

What I didn’t see were the buildings surrounding this sculpture. The concert hall, the library, the J.B.Speed Art Museum, and the high school in close proximity were all blocked out from my view of the world. Which makes it all the more ironic that these places took on great more significance in my life afterwards.

The concert hall that was within 500 yards of the fiery masterpiece is the place were I played flute in the high school band for our fall concerts during ninth and tenth grade. It’s the building where I could never find the staircase to the balcony. The library, the place where the computer systems were confusing and the copy machines flashed a dazzling neon green light, was the destination of a field trip my ninth grade biology class took one day in January to look up buffalo for a school project. The J.B.Speed Art Museum was the place we went on another field trip in middle school to look at the tapestries, the fruit bowls, and the nudes. It was the place where the tour guides explained the importance of balance and color and told us we were their best behaved group. And my high school, only a block and a half away, is the place where I’ve spent years of my high school education learning about trigonometry and syntax and diction and the rate of a small furry creature’s fall from the top of the Empire State Building. Inside its brick walls I’ve made numerous friends, a few enemies, and a lot of memories.

So, as I look at this sculpture today, its fire a little faded from the force of the elements, I don’t see a pointless mesh of metal or fiery tendrils sprouting and burgeoning from the earth or even a dog dancing on his hind legs. I see a little girl who’d never even picked up a flute in her life, a girl who wouldn’t have been able to understand most of the books in the nearby library, a girl who couldn’t tell a Van Gough from a Monet, a girl who didn’t even know what trigonometry was, much less be able to do it, a girl who at one time was me, but no longer exists. She faded away a long time ago and won’t be seen again, except in school pictures or birthday photos.

In her place is a teenager who sees the world differently than that little girl did. Someone who has different thoughts, has different interests, and has different friends. And someday that teenager will be gone too, replaced by someone who I hope is a little bit wiser, a little bit stronger, and a little bit better than the teenager she’ll leave behind. But the statue that the little girl saw then and the teenager sees today, will probably still be there, standing erect and firm against the wind and rain and snow and all the other hardships that nature can produce. Its presence a constant in an ever changing world filled with ever changing people. Like a landmark on a road of time, it will always remind me of what I am, what I’ve been, and what I someday might be.

Ok, that’s the end and now it’s me again talking to you from 2014. It’s funny how this essay acts much like that statue did so many years ago. It’s interesting to look back on something I wrote literally over half my life ago and think about how much I’ve changed since then. No doubt I’ll look back on this blog entry in another 16 years and think about all the stuff that’s happened to me since then with the same sense of wonder. If there are any rejection letters coming up, I hope they’re as nice as this one.

First class experience

Boarding pass

I don’t have an official bucket list, but if I did “flying first class” would definitely be in the top ten entries. So when I was checking into my flight to Chicago for Thanksgiving and the computer screen asked me if I’d like to upgrade to first class for $90 I thought about it for three whole seconds before I decided, yes, I would love to upgrade to first class for $90! Congratulations, American Airlines, you targeted that up-sell screen to exactly the right person at exactly the right price.

It will surprise no one that first class was awesome, but I was surprised that it was even more awesome than I expected it to be. Basically, they get rid of all the unpleasant parts of flying that they can and then they distract you from the parts they can’t get rid of with food and drinks and movies. The best part for all five feet and nine inches of me was that I had so much leg room that I was able to cross my legs. I could bend over and get things from my carry-on bag without splaying my legs out and knocking them into the person next to me like I usually do in Economy Class. I didn’t have to worry about that ooky feeling of invading someone else’s personal space.

First class drink

They served drinks in real glasses. For free! (Ok, technically as part of that $90 upgrade fee, but they had the appearance of being free!) When the stewardess came down the aisle she asked if I wanted a refill as if I were at a restaurant, and I didn’t even have to tip her! There was also a mini-tray table that came out on the top of the armrest, so my lap was free and I could still easily get things from my bag.

First class snacks

There was a snack basket. An actual wicker basket filled with snacks! And it had real brand-name food in it like Milano cookies. They had mini-sandwiches that were served in puffed plastic and paper wrappers. I was also given a little white plate with mixed nuts, and the plate had been warmed! I was given a warmed plate of nuts! Who knew people lived like this behind the big blue aisle curtain?

There was a video screen attached to the back of the seat in front of me that had a large catalog of movies to choose from. They even had films that hadn’t been released on DVD yet. I would have loved to finally watch Boyhood but the flight from Raleigh-Durham to Chicago wasn’t quite long enough to fill the runtime. I hear if you’re in a plane crash your whole life flashes before you, but it would have taken almost three hours for Boyhood‘s life to flash before me.

First class movies

The guy in front of me was one of those fidgety people who bounces around a lot during the flight, making his chair rock back and forth when he grabs for something or repositions himself in his seat. I always seem to get stuck behind these guys in Economy Class. All that movement causes the seat to bang into my knees several times during the flight which causes me to fantasize about garroting my fellow traveler with my shoelaces. Not this time! This guy could have been in a rocking chair, but I had plenty of buffer space to avoid a collision.

The seat was so comfortable that I didn’t mind sitting there waiting for everyone else to board. I got to board first, did I mention that? It was fun because you don’t have to sit in the airport paying attention to the gate agent, waiting for her to call your section. You’re first up! There will definitely be room for your bag in the overhead compartments. I didn’t even mind the 15 minute delay on the tarmac. I actually enjoyed the fact that I’d be able to stretch out my first-class experience a smidge longer. And as sad as I was to finally leave the first-class cabin, it was fun to be one of the first people off the plane instead of sitting around waiting and waiting for everyone in front of me to get off first.

The whole experience was lovely, and it actually made me want to be rich for a moment. If I could fly first-class anytime I traveled I doubt I would mind air travel at all. For the most part I’m satisfied with my income level. I’m not wealthy, but I make enough money to meet my basic needs and to afford little luxuries like Netflix and Spotify Premium. My car works and gets me places, even if it’s not shiny and new. Life is pretty good, especially when you compare it to the quality of life of other people on a global scale. If everyone lived like I do the carbon footprint would stomp the earth to death. However, I still sat there in my extra-wide seat wishing I had enough money to do this all the time. *sigh* I looked around the first-class cabin and wondered how many of these people got to do this all the time, either because they were wealthy or because they were frequent flyers who got free upgrades. I tried to take my photos surreptitiously so I wouldn’t be outed as the newbie I was.

First class view

The view out the window during my flight was gorgeous. There was a mix of wispy and fluffy clouds, and the lakes below glinted like gold specks. This was not part of the first-class experience. This was part of the planet Earth experience, and even if I can’t fly first class all the time I’m glad I at least got to do it once.

What a waste. A valet waste.

Valet Waste Brochure

My apartment complex started a valet waste service this week and if you don’t know what that is, don’t worry, neither did I. It was explained in the brochure displayed above which features a woman who looks happier to take out the trash than anyone should be. Valet waste service means that instead of carrying your garbage to the dumpster you can set it outside your door between 6pm-8pm in a special black trash can they provide. A magical elf collects the trash after 8pm and you’re responsible for bringing the empty trash can inside by 9am the next morning or else you get fined $25.

Valet Waste Can

My first reaction to this was, “Seriously? We’re now encouraging people to be too lazy to take out their own garbage?” Sure, Sarah Sylvia Cynthia Stout would have loved this service, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. It’s a good idea for elderly or disabled people who have limited mobility, but I am an able-bodied, middle-aged, woman and the walk to the dumpster isn’t that far.

When I came home on Monday I saw that my neighbor across the hall had put out her special valet waste trash can, so I figured what the heck, let me try this to see if it actually works. So I set out the garbage can and several hours later when I opened the door the trash inside was gone. Magic! And as guilty as I feel about it, it was really convenient. On cold nights I could see myself using this. There are also times when I leave a tied-up bag of trash in the kitchen overnight because I don’t like going to the dumpster after dark, so this service would help me get rid of that quicker.

I feel torn. It’s definitely convenient, but I feel like a total layabout for not taking my garbage out to the dumpster. It’s like they’re enabling me to be lazier than I already am. It definitely goes against the “what you can, when you can” philosophy that my blogger friends Roni and Carla talk about. This is more like what you can’t when you can. I’ll probably end up striking a balance by taking out the garbage when the weather is ok and the sun is out, but using the valet service when it’s nasty out or after dark.

Has anyone else heard of valet waste service or use it? What do you think?

Sorry, I’m not addicted to “Serial.” I wish I were though.


Serial” is the most popular podcast in the world and I don’t quite understand why.

If you’ve somehow missed hearing about “Serial,” it’s a multi-part podcast that investigates a fifteen-year-old murder case and is produced by people who have worked on another podcast that I do love, This American Life. “Serial’s” popularity is a verifiable fact. According to Apple it’s reached five million downloads on iTunes faster than any other podcast and is the most popular podcast in several countries. The show’s been referenced by high-profile media outlets that I’ve never seen mention a podcast before. Conan O’Brien tweeted about it and The Today Show did a segment about it (and morning news shows are always the last place to hear about pop culture trends). I see the show mentioned in my Facebook feed several times a week, if not every day.

It’s not enough to like this show. People say they are “addicted” to it. They are “obsessed” and “enthralled.” The Today show report said it has a “cult-like” following. There is a thread on reddit devoted to investigating the crime. It’s inspired not one, but TWO, podcasts devoted to talking about the podcast. This fanaticism is where my problem comes in because although I think it’s a good show, I don’t huff it like glue. I don’t look forward to Thursday mornings when the latest episode is released. I don’t feel the need to discuss the details of the case with anyone. If a month went by between episodes instead of a week, I would be perfectly ok with that.

This makes me very strange. And alone.

Just to be perfectly clear, “Serial” is a good show. I’m not hating on it. It’s excellently produced and I love the theme music. It’s made by talented people and it shows. However, it’s not crack-cocaine for my ears like it is for everyone else. I feel like I’m at a party with a bunch of alcoholics who are slamming back drinks and don’t understand why I’m like, “One glass is fine, thanks.” It doesn’t mean the wine’s bad. It just means it’s not giving me the same buzz it’s giving everyone else.

Standing outside a phenomena is equal parts lonely and maddening. The more the podcast gets mentioned the more I wonder, “What am I missing here? Why is this so popular?” I have yet to find anyone else who feels the same way as I do about the show. I feel like everyone is at a party that I haven’t been invited to. People are seeing a color that I’m blind to. I’m not part of the group. I wish I were, but I’m not.

I suspect part of the appeal of being addicted to the show is that lots of other people are addicted too, so you get to be part of a cool, new group. You get to belong. I’ve been part of groups like this before. In high school I was part of the “RENT is the best musical ever” group. After college I was in the “Firefly was an amazing show and Fox was stupid to cancel it” group. Lately I’ve been in the “Tatiana Maslany is amazing on Orphan Black and it’ s a crime she hasn’t been nominated for an Emmy” group. Being part of a group that loves something is fun. I think this concept explains the continued success of boy bands. If all your friends like them, and hey, the boys are cute enough, it can be fun to like them too, and even more fun if you decide to really, really, REALLY, like them. It’s immensely satisfying to be part of a group that is passionate about something.

It’s also immensely dissatisfying to be outside that group looking in, but there’s not much I can do about that. You can’t make me addicted to “Serial” any more than you can make me become an alcoholic. Ironically the mass love affair for “Serial” is starting to make me dislike the show a bit because I’m not getting the same buzz as everyone else. I now feel obligated to listen to every episode so I can keep up with current affairs, and nothing kills the joy of something like turning it into homework.

The show seems to be popular in part because it gives people a lot to talk about. Because there are no clear-cut answers and everyone’s testimony is questionable, there are multiple ways you can look at the evidence and multiple theories for people to speculate about. I’m a freelancer who works from home, so I don’t spend that much time chatting with other people during the work day. However when I did work at an office I remember how difficult it could be to come up with small talk day after day, so I understand how having a podcast that releases a new episode each week could really help kill uncomfortable silences at work.

I’ve tried to figure out why I don’t like the show as much as everyone else. I think it’s partly because I find it ethically questionable to drag all the people personally affected by this crime into the spotlight. I have to assume the death of a child is one of the worst things that can happen to you, right after having that murder discussed by thousands upon thousands of strangers as entertainment. Your daughter is no longer a person but a puzzle to solve. I don’t think the producers of “Serial” had any idea how popular it would become, but that doesn’t make the basic concept any less questionable.

I’m only a year or two older than the people involved in the crime, so it seems more like something that could have happened in my life than just a story on the radio. I was in high school when they were in high school. I could have been friends with these people if I’d lived in their city. When people are interviewed about things that happened at that time I’m able to imagine what it would be like to try to remember what happened to me in high school, and trust me, a lot of those memories are murky at best. I can’t even remember my locker number, let alone my locker combination.

The podcast devotes a lot of time to the minute details of the case. Time is spent tracing out the route someone took on the day of the crime, meticulously checking cell-tower ping records and call records and trying to verify if a pay phone existed outside a Best Buy at that time. While a lot of people have described this as “fascinating,” I find it tedious. I much rather would have heard a quick summary of their findings instead of hearing about every stop on the route.

And of course, I doubt there can be any kind of satisfying ending to the show. We’re never really going to know what happened. It’s unlikely there will be a last-minute confession or a buried piece of evidence revealed that will make everything crystal clear. “Serial” explores the fact that the truth is messy. So much of life is unknowable. You can never really know everything about someone, even if they’re your best friend. While those are important ideas to know about life in general, they’re not ones I find satisfying in a multi-part podcast. If you’re going to tell me a story, I’d like it if it has a resolution, which life rarely does. Stories help us make sense of life. That’s what differentiates storytelling from life, stories have to make sense whereas real life has no obligation to.

If you’re not die-hard in love with the show, or maybe even if you are, you might enjoy these “Serial” podcast parodies which are the only things that have made me feel a bit better that I’m not part of the “Serial” love-in. (Yes, the podcast is popular enough that it’s inspired a parody.)

It sounds like it’s great to be someone who is addicted to “Serial.” You all seem to be having a lot of fun. I wish I were invited to the party, but I’m not. I’ll just be standing here outside, alone.

Updated at 5:15pm: I guess I got the timing of this post right because Salon just published an article that lays out the criticism of “Serial” way better than I could.

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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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