How have I never heard of this guy before?

English: Tim Minchin

Last night I stumbled on Tim Minchin’s graduation speech and watched it a few too many times. I love his advice. Here are some of favorite lines, but if you have 12 minutes, I recommend watching the whole thing.

  • “Happiness is like an orgasm. If you think about it too much, it goes away.”
  • “Art degrees are awesome because they help you find meaning where there is none. And let me assure you there is none. Don’t go looking for it. Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook; you won’t find it and it will bugger up your souffle.”
  • “People whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the liberal party. We have a tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff…but try to express your passion for things you love…be pro-stuff not just anti-stuff.”
  • And then the whole section at 11:30 is beautiful, and I cannot agree more.

I Have Gone Insane: Brutal First Impressions

Me next to my sign in Central Park.

Me next to my sign in Central Park.

On the subway ride to Central Park, I clutched my sign and bit my lip. “I can’t believe I’m really doing this,” I said to my husband. My heartbeat was pounding in my ears.

I made my way through Central Park, searching for the perfect spot: one with lots of foot traffic but still quiet, and I set up my sign and hat. I took a deep breath and prayed that no one would beat me up. Immediately people stopped and stared. Then the cameras came out. I started panicking that I would soon be ridiculed on the internet like the typewriting hipster.

A few months ago, I had the idea of starting a business called Brutal First Impressions. Most of us surround ourselves with people who wouldn’t want to hurt our feelings. While this can be good for our egos, it can also hinder our growth, and we can become comfortable with habits that might be off-putting for others. I figured that for a small price, I could be the one to tell it like it is: put on some deodorant, that shirt is terrible, you talk too much when you’re nervous…that kind of thing. But first I wanted to gain some experience. Why not try it out in Central Park!

The first guys to try it out.

The first guys to try it out.

I set the price at $5. At first, the people walking by would take pictures and laugh, saying, “that’s the best idea ever!” but they weren’t paying me for it. As soon as I lowered it to $1, people started lining up.

I asked each participant for their name, a handshake and a smile. Then I would ask them to take a few steps back and walk towards me, and then turn around slowly. At that point I would critique everything that I saw.

Here is some general advice I had to give almost everyone:

  • Make eye contact when you shake hands
  • Show your teeth when you smile
  • Keep your chin up when you walk

I couldn’t believe how many people needed that advice, and as soon as I said it and they tried it out, they seemed like new people.

2012-10-31 22.28.02It wasn’t easy being mean. A crowd would typically form around whomever I was critiquing and I could tell that they wanted to see tears. At one point I told a guy he had dandruff, and his friends practically cheered. I told another guy that he needed to pluck his uni-brow. When the crowd ohhed and ahhed at this, I asked to see a show of hands for who thought he should pluck his eyebrows. Almost everyone raised their hands. When I wasn’t mean, people would start heckling me saying, “Come on, this is supposed to be brutal.”

2012-10-31 22.23.04The whole time I was doing this I kept expecting someone to ask me my qualifications. I had my response all figured out: I’m classically trained in art and literature so I have a discerning eye and a critical mind. I learned how to evaluate presentation styles from my years as a teacher and teacher trainer. But the only person who asked for my qualifications immediately answered for me: “You’re a woman. Women know how to criticize.”

I was surprised that people were really interested in my story. At one point I had four guys sitting on the bench next to me asking my life story (ladies, this is a great way to pick up men if you’re interested). Everyone wanted to know how I got the idea and how much money I was making. So here’s the grand total…for 3 hours of sitting in the park, meeting interesting people, I made $43. I definitely want to try this again. I think I could make a lot more if I get better at working the crowd.

Originally, I wanted to do this because I thought it could help people present themselves better. At the end of the day I realized that I helped in a different way. I got people to laugh and not take themselves so seriously. I got people taking pictures and saying “only in New York.” I figured someone’s going to go back home and talk about the crazy lady they saw in Central Park. As an aspiring writer, I feel great that I gave someone a good story.

Mini Memoir Monday: The wheelbarrow of shame

Wheelbarrow. Photo by sannse.

Photo by sannse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s hard for a chubby girl with a uni-brow and a lisp to make friends. That’s why I created a secret friendship club when I was seven years old. The club was so exclusive and so secretive that I was its only member. As president, secretary and treasurer, it was my responsibility to find a suitable venue for our clandestine meetings. The basement windows of our old house were surrounded by cement dugouts. These damp, shady pits were the perfect place to hide in the summer. I choose a dugout filled with old building supplies: a rickety ladder, a wheelbarrow, some rusty paint cans, and a tarp.

It’s also hard for a chubby girl to get up and down a rickety ladder. Once I got down in the dugout, I stayed there for hours. This was before the days of helicopter parenting, so my parents probably assumed I was out biking with the neighborhood kids, but really I was spending my days squishing the bugs that came out of the cracks in the cements, and resting in my rolled up tarp bed, reading Roald Dahl books. I always made sure to stock the dugout with Arizona ice tea  and girl scout cookies. It was the perfect haven for a girl who didn’t want to get bullied by the neighborhood kids.

The only problem with my secret club was that there was no bathroom in the dugout, and I drank a lot of ice tea. In the beginning, I braved the rickety ladder and made my way indoors for a proper toilet, but this got tiring after awhile, and the ladder was falling apart. The wheelbarrow seemed like the perfect solution. That’s when I started bringing toilet paper with me.

A wheelbarrow filled with wet paper would not have raised any eyebrows. Perhaps I could have gone on peeing in that wheelbarrow for years, but I got lazy and brazen, and started using that wheelbarrow for something much darker and sinister than pee. That’s right: number 2!

By the end of that summer, my dad, who owns a construction company, decided to have his men over to do some repairs on the house. From the depths of my dugout, I heard him tell Jose to fetch the wheelbarrow. Panic set in. I put down my copy of Matilda and eyed the wheelbarrow that was now attracting a cloud of flies. There was only one thing I could do. I pulled the tarp over the evidence, ran up the ladder, and threw it back so that it crashed against the side of the house and finally came apart. There was no way Jose would be able to get down there. I moved to the bench by the front door and took a seat. My feet dangled in the air as I pretended to lazily read my book without a care in the world as Jose  walked by mumbling, “Where did I put that stupid wheelbarrow?”

I felt a rush of relief when he turned the corner. Just as I was about to return to the house  to get a Popsicle, Jose came back, looking excited. “Now I remember!” he said to himself. He jumped down into my dugout without any assistance from the ladder. I had forgotten that he was nearly twice my height.

Next I heard a slew of what I assumed to be Spanish curses. My dad and a few more men came running. “Is everything ok?” he called down to Jose. I pushed through the crowd of men and clung to my dad’s side. Why is it that criminals always return to the crime scene?

Jose ripped the tarp off the wheelbarrow like a magician revealing his next trick. Everyone stumbled back and pinched their noses closed. My dad pushed me behind him, trying to spare me from the terrible sight. Jose heaved the wheelbarrow up to my dad, and my dad pulled it to the surface. There was a mix of English and Spanish curses.

Jose jumped out of the pit and examined the wheelbarrow. “I think you got a homeless person living in your window well,” he suggested, shaking his head in disgust. “You better call the police.”

At mention of the police, I burst out in tears. I had no idea what they were capable of, but I was pretty sure they’d be able to trace the remnants of girl scout cookies back to me. My dad put his hand on my shoulder. “What’s the matter?”

“I don’t want to go to jail,” I cried out.

Where there is smoke there are bees? Part 1

I wasn’t able to write my mini memoir yesterday, but if you read the next two posts, you’ll understand why:

The weekend started off great. I had invited my writers group to my parent’s house for a mini writers retreat for the long 4th of July weekend. We met early so we could all sit together on the MetroNorth train. About ten minutes into the ride, the train lurched to a halt. This is quite common on the MetroNorth, so I thought nothing of it.

After about five minutes, people started opening the door between the cars and walking from the south end of the train to the north end. Still we thought nothing of this, because there were no announcements. Then we all smelled it. A burning acrid smell. Something was wrong. Just as quickly as we realized this, the crowd of people walking through the aisle doubled in size and urgency. A baby was crying, someone’s dog was barking, and everyone was shouting, ” run.”

We looked out the window and saw that the entire back of the train was covered in a gray haze. People were walking on the tracks, looking disoriented. Someone yelled at me to open the emergency window. Panicking, I fumbled with the emergency lock, but my husband, the ever-lasting boy scout, said that we should keep calm and wait for the announcement. After all, it didn’t make sense to open the window, and jump down ten feet onto the electrified third rail. Christina, who’s a trained yoga instructor, was telling everyone to breath. You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget such a simple task when you’re panicking.

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I love that people are still taking pictures when they’re standing on active train tracks. Not a moment shall go untweeted!

After another ten minutes the conductor finally announced that there was a fire underneath the train, and that only one door had reached the platform so everyone had to move to the first door in the train. The fire was under control, so there was no need to panic. He told us not to use the emergency exits. I had had the brilliant idea of bringing our two cats along for the trip so they could have some fresh air for the weekend. Now I was stuck lugging them through the smokey train while they hissed and whined.

We were one of the last to get off the train. I was hoping that some sort of transportation solution would be figured out by the time we exited, but instead, there was just an angry mob of people who did not want to be stuck in the Bronx in 96 degree weather on the 4th of July. Through the grapevine, we found out that the fire was caused by someone throwing a mattress on the train tracks. The super flammable stuffing caught fire, and the coils tore up the machinery under the train. We watched as fire fighters pulled out what was left of a the mattress; a scrambled up piece of charred wire.

2013-07-04 12.41.23

This experience taught me never to bring cats, dogs, or babies on the train…and only pack what you can carry.

One emergency worker told me that the trains would not be running for at least two hours. My cats, nor us, could handle the heat for that long. I flagged down a cab, and since he had no idea where my parents’ town was he offered to do it for $70 (normally it would cost $150). As I was talking to the driver, a man next to me said that his friend was picking him up  and they could drop us off in my parent’s town. Hallelujah!  Four of my friends squeezed into the taxi with my cats and they drove of north. Mike, me and Christina waited for the guy’s friend who was apparently lost.

An older woman asked if she could join us on the ride. It would be cramped, but who were we to turn her down when we were given this unexpected gift? The friend showed up twenty minutes later, and the four of us scrunched into the back seat.

On the ride up north, we talked about our 4th of July plans. It turns out that the woman had been born in France, but lived in the states for the last 20 years. The driver and passenger were both from Pakistan but were now U.S. citizens. I couldn’t help but appreciate  that on this day of celebrating America, we were in a car filled with immigrants that represent one of the things that I love about America: diversity of cultural backgrounds.

My dad met us at the train station and whisked us off to the BBQ. I found out later that our train arrived in the station five minutes after us.

Stay tuned for part 2…it gets worse.

My cat ate my homework

I’ve been having a hard time writing lately. Maybe it’s a fear of success, maybe the rule of 750 is no longer working for me, maybe I can’t accept my shitty first drafts, or maybe it’s just my stupid cat!

Marla won’t leave me along when I write. Here’s just a small sample of her attachment from the last week:

Monday: She's testing out her new spot.

Monday: She’s testing out her new spot.

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Tuesday: She wants to make sure I include her in one of my stories.

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Wednesday: She’s starting to show her true colors.

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Thursday: She’s had enough of my noisy typing. Hands are meant to pet, not write.

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Friday: “I’m just going to rest my head for a bit. I’m not bothering you, am I?”

Saturday: Oh no, the other cat has joined in! I'm never going to finish my novel. Marla's not happy about the intrusion if you can't tell already.

Saturday: Oh no, the other cat has joined in! I’m never going to finish my novel. Marla’s not happy about the intrusion if you can’t tell already.

2013-07-03 09.40.54

Sunday: “Take a rest and pet me, dammit!”

Whoever said cats are standoffish, never tried writing next to one of them.

***Have a fantastic 4th of July!***

My dinner party with 5 famous people: #2 Louie C.K.

As I wrote in my last post, I’ve decided to take a cue from the classic college application question: If you could have dinner with five famous people (alive or dead) who would they be and why? It’s a good question because it shows what you value in a person, and what you hope to gain from the interaction. So without further ado, here’s the second person I would invite: Louie CK.

Louie and and me at a diner

Louie and and me at a diner

I was pretty late to discovering the comic genius that is Louie CK. I kept hearing his name mentioned, and sometimes when someone would say “you know, like on Louie,” I would smile and nod, having no idea what they were talking about. Netflix had been suggesting his show for months, and finally one day I plugged my computer into the t.v. and sat down to watch the show. By the next day (embarrassing to admit) I was done with season one and ready for more.

The magic of Louie CK is that although he can be disgusting, he’s so earnest and full of heart. He puts all of his insecurities, fears, and desires on the screen and you can’t help but relate. Sometimes he just looks like a lost puppy and I want to wrap him up and take him home with me, but then he’ll talk about how much he masturbates and I change my mind. I like a man who keeps me on my toes 🙂

I would serve Louie CK pizza, french fries, a fried appetizer sampler, some milkshakes and some beer. I don’t think I could sit him next to Oprah, so you’ll just have to wait for the future posts to see who he will sit next to! I’ll leave you with my favorite clip from the show:


If I write it, it will come

I hope everyone’s safe on the east coast. There’s no public transportation in NYC so at least I’m getting a lot of writing done 🙂

Lisa Bourque, the great life coach, recommended that I write about my perfect job. Sometimes just knowing exactly what you want helps you to get it, and sometimes just putting it out into the cosmos helps you get it. So here is my job description:

Dear Universe,

I want a job that intimidates me. Every day there’s something new to learn and there’s room to grow. I work with a team of energetic, passionate people and there’s always a long term goal in mind. There’s something new to do every day, and I have some flexibility on my responsibilities and my schedule. I’m very good at noticing what needs to be improved so I would like the authority to be able to make changes. I’m great at organizing people and motivating them, so I would like to be managing several people, but I don’t need to do that right away. I actually enjoy giving presentations and public speaking.

The actual job title is vague. Sometimes I wish I had a clear career path that would help me focus my job search, but I’m truly open-minded and adaptable. I’m a competent person and I believe I could do most jobs (very well). I don’t mind working with numbers, or in sales, or logistics, but my main goal is working with people, and more specifically people who enjoy themselves at work. I love making friends with my co-workers and when it comes down to it, I would be spending the bulk of my waking hours with them so it’s important that they’re cool.

Salary can be from $50,000-$500,000 (anything above that would just be gratuitous :P) with full health benefits, retirement contributions, and cool benefits like a gym membership, or a self-improvement stipend (I know companies that have this!). Oh, and I want at least 20 vacation days (heck I said it was my dream job).The only way I would accept a lower salary is if I get in early with an exciting start-up, where I can have a lot of influence and there’s a promise of financial reward eventually.

OK that’s my description of my dream job. Thank you, Universe, for your time. I look forward to meeting you at your convenience.


Tracy Young

p.s. I would really like to get this job by the end of November, if that’s at all possible.

We’ll take two…make that six


Do you ever catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and think, “I am such a stereotype?”

Last night Mike and I went to a Crate and Barrel wedding registry party. Even though I’ve dreamed of this moment since I first heard about Crate and Barrel, it was so hard to take it seriously. I felt like such a yuppie. We even dressed the part. And so did everyone else.

They gave us some snacks and drinks, then taught us how to use the scanner gun, and we off on our merry way.

There’s something so bizarre about registering for wedding gifts. A part of you feels like: Wow we’re adults, we need to decide exactly how our adulthood is going to look – right down to the napkin holders. 


And then you realize that this milestone of adulthood is going to be paid for by others, which is about the most unadult-like thing you can do. Which made us really giddy.

Without the burden of having to pay for anything, we forgot all modesty and started adding everything we could get our greedy little paws on. “Sure we need a sausage grinder! In fact, lets get two.”

There were representatives from all the major appliance lines like Kitchenaid, Cuisinart  and Wüsthof. They asked us all these questions about our lifestyle as a couple, and I’m not going to lie to you, I felt the pressure to impress. To the knife company we said, “Oh I simply must have a good serrated knife. I bake bread every day and it’s so hard to find a good knife these days.” To the blender people we said, “Oh we make our own cat food, of course, so it’s very important that we find the right tool for grinding entire chickens.” To the popcorn machine sellers, “Does this come with a fluffer feature? I’m very concerned about my air-popped popcorn being extra airy.” With each statement about who we were as a couple, I could hear my voice sounding more and more British, and my nose going higher and higher.

We couldn’t admit that we eat out most nights.

Now I know all of you are just dying to get us a gift (hahaha), so here’s our registry. It’s not much but we’ve been living together for over 3 years so it took a lot of effort to find things we still need.

Does anyone have any other suggestions for places to register? We thought about doing a smart registry (one where you ask for money for specific things like cocktails on your honeymoon, or the future toilet in your future first home), but I was shocked to see that those sites usually charge 7% commission for each gift.



My cat judges me.

One of the many containers he’s managed to get into.

***Congratulations to Nicole, winner of the Oprah Magazine giveaway!***

The other day I watched as my cat squeezed his wet little nose into the spout of a box of cat food. When he couldn’t fit his whole head he tried with his front paw. Then the other paw. He studied the frustrating box and then a thought occurred to him, as he knocked the whole thing over. A few kernels of cat food fell out and he chased them all down and devoured them. Then he laid down on his side and sort spooned the box while trying to nuzzle his face deeper into the spout.

All this effort when there was a heaping bowl of the very same cat food right next to him. Why was he making it so difficult?

That got me thinking. Does my cat ever watch me and wonder why I’m doing things the hard way? 

On more than one occasion I’ve caught him staring at me quizzically when I’m stumbling around in the morning trying to get ready for work at an ungodly hour. He’s probably thinking, “hey, there’s a bed right there. Why not take a cat nap?”

When I’m cooking dinner he sits in the sink and watches me chop the vegetables. I know he’s looking at the raw streak and thinking, “helloooo dinner’s right there. What’s with all the extra fuss?”

He continuously tries to pare down my wardrobe by peeing, scratching, and shedding all over my favorite outfits. Deep down I know he does this so I don’t have to waste time wondering what to wear. In his mind he doesn’t understand why I bother with clothes at all.

It does seem like we make our lives unnecessarily difficult. Sometimes I feel like my cat struggling to get food out of the box when there’s a full bowl right next to me. That’s when I have to remind myself that I already have everything I need.