Tangier

 

Last week I posted my recent live lit piece, and then I realized, oh yeah, I never published my old one. (I’ve only got the two.) So here’s the piece I read at Storylab a long time ago.

“Wait… La gare? Où est la gare? Where is the train station?”

They assured us that it was near, very near. We can walk? Oh no. But don’t worry. They would drive us. Their cab was just here. They would drive us. Don’t worry.

“They” were two Moroccan cabbies, probably in their mid-twenties. “We” were myself, traveling solo, and four large-sized middle-aged lads from Bristol who I’d met during the crossing from Algeciras to Tangier.

From the port in Tangier, we took the bus that my guidebook and their guidebook and the Internet and the man loading the bus promised would take us to the main train station downtown, Gare Tanger Ville. Except, instead, it had taken us… here. Wherever here was. Some dark and lonely corner of two unmarked streets, in a strange city in a strange country on a strange continent.

At this point, we didn’t really discuss it. What options did we have? We just shrugged and followed the cabbies to their “cab.” It was a beat-up white hatchback. It’s what your high school boyfriend drove to deliver pizzas. Into this were going four not-insignificantly-sized Brits with huge bags of motorcycling gear, the two aforementioned Moroccan cabbies, and me, with my backpack.

We protested that we’d never fit, the world’s least hilarious clown car, but somehow we all did, the driver in the driver’s seat, the talker in shotgun, and one Brit between them, precariously straddling the gear shift, and the other three lads and me in the backseat, jammed in in the most blood-strangling way possible.

The driver drove. The talker talked. Packed in like the Clark bus at rush hour, we laughed nervously and chattered back. Had we been to Morocco before? No. Where were we from? UK, America. Oh! He loved the UK. Whiskey. Lager. He offered hash, and we declined. He offered women, and we declined. This is how it was going. I kept my eyes on the road. I noticed some familiar buildings: We were going back the way we’d come on the bus. This wasn’t good. I said so. We asked again if we were going to the main train station, Tanger Ville. The talker assured us they were taking us to the train station. How much farther? Very near, very near. I kept my eyes out the window, trying to capture landmarks in my memory, simultaneously riding in the car and watching myself ride in the car, thinking, OK, what’s going to happen next? What are you going to do? We wound through a residential area, and then we were on a highway, driving away from town.

One of the Brits asked, At what point do we bail? But the question really was, bail to what? We didn’t have a Plan B.

I’ve always been my own Plan B. Always the responsible one, the one who was never a problem, who took care of herself. I grew up in a family that, much as they loved me, didn’t have much in the way of resources to take care of me. Mom and sister in and out of the hospital, Dad in and out of work. There was no time, no energy, no money for anything that wasn’t an actual, immediate matter of life and death. How could 11-year-old me come home and whine to my parents that Vanessa and her friends ganged up on me before social studies and called me Buffalo until I cried so hard I nearly threw up and got a headache so bad I couldn’t read the board? How can I whine to them about that when they’re standing over a hole in the kitchen floor we can’t afford to fix because my mom’s hourly paycheck barely covers our payments to the hospital, so they put a board over the hole and a rug over the board, and I closed my bedroom door and swallowed it and dealt. I learned the lesson early and well: you never ask another human being for help. We can’t help you, much as we might want to, so please don’t ask.

But then, out of the darkness of the Moroccan night, we drove up to a small rail station off the highway, far away from any other buildings or houses. “See, we are at the station!” We argued, this is not the main station, we want the main station. The talker said, “This is the same!” I finally dug out a map and showed him what we wanted, but he kept insisting it was the same place. One of the lads went in to ask about the trains, and they found they could get the train they needed there. But I needed the main station, to buy my ticket for the next day and then get to my hotel.

That’s when the talker offered to take me back to the main station—alone. He leaned in. He pushed. “You will be safe. See, I have no gun!” And he lifted up his shirt like a corner boy to prove it.

Now, first, as soon as someone out of thin air insists he doesn’t have a gun, I assume he most certainly does. But more importantly, it wasn’t a gun I was particularly worried about. I remembered every story I’d ever read of naïve white girls traveling alone in foreign countries. Kidnapped. Raped. Left for dead. Never heard from again.

These thoughts went through my head, in this order:

1) Come on. You’re smart and tough. You can do this alone. You always do.
2) Don’t bother these guys. You’re not their problem. You’re your own problem. You got yourself into this. You have to get yourself out.
3) What’s the worst that could happen?

And then I thought about the worst that could happen. And I thought:

4) Fuck, I’m scared.

Asking them to get back in that car with me was one of the hardest sentences I’ve ever had to push out of my mouth. But I did. I don’t remember if I said more than, “Please.” But the look on my face must have said it all, because we all piled back into the car, the lads taking on a brotherly stance now, the crammed-in-ness of our bodies feeling more like protection than discomfort. The talker continued to talk, but he was visibly and audibly annoyed. There was a forced, hostile chumminess now. The laughing was a little too loud, sharp like a weapon. The taxi drove quickly back almost to the exact spot where we’d started and pulled into the large, modern train station at Tanger Ville.

The lads paid and wouldn’t take my money. I’ve never felt so weak and so ashamed. That I had needed them, bothered them, asked them to go out of their way for what was probably nothing but my own cowardly imagination running wild. They asked me to come with them on the train to Marrakech that night, still feeling brotherly and protective, but I was mortified and refused. As soon as we’d all bought our tickets, I slunk away into the night again, as a matter of fact, got immediately into another cab that took me, safely and directly, to my hotel.

It’s been a year almost to the day since this happened, and it’s only been in the past few months that I’ve started to see this story not as one of weakness and stupidity but as one of strength. In that moment, these four total strangers—people I’d never seen before, people I’ll never see again—they were ready and willing to help me. I just had to be tough enough to ask.

 

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Three Minutes

I read this last week at Is This a Thing? and it seemed to go over well, so here it is:

My pasty butt hovered over a chipped gray toilet seat in the bathroom of a Burger King in a strip mall in Glendale Heights, Illinois. I had just turned 18. I was peeing on a stick.

It takes three minutes for a pregnancy test to process, and those three minutes were plenty of time for me to beat myself up over getting into this mess.

It was not supposed to be like this. I had a plan. I had made the grades, aced the tests, written the essays, joined the clubs. All of that to get the scholarship, which would pay for the fancy East Coast school I’d gotten into. Once there, I would meet a group of other brilliant young writers, people who drank too much coffee and had interesting hair. Together, we would form a literary movement for the new millennium. Obviously.

So far, the plan was working perfectly. And that fall, my dad drove me off to NYU.

My dad is not really an advice giver. He’s more one of those laissez-faire kind of dads. But he did leave me with some words of wisdom: “Don’t get AIDS, and don’t get pregnant.” And with that, he drove away, leaving me in New York.

Also in New York, not coincidentally, was my boyfriend. We’d met online and for the past three years had gone back and forth, seeing each other only on school breaks. It was the perfect teenage romance, all dramatic reunions and traumatic separations. He was a year older than me, with dark hair long in his face, all skinny in his Pearl Jam t-shirts. And he said the most charming things. Things like, “How much weight have you gained?” and “You’re wasting your life studying writing,” and the classic combination of, “No one else will ever want to be with a mess like you,” and “If you ever leave me, I’ll kill myself.”

Hearing these things, part-time, long-distance, felt to young and depressed me like romance. But hearing it full-time, in my face? It started to feel suspiciously like abuse.

This on top of making the grades in my incredibly competitive program, keeping my scholarship, working enough hours at a shitty retail establishment to not starve, and writing well enough to impress the literati I really hoped were paying attention… well, it was all too much. That was the stuff I was supposed to be doing, not dealing with this boy. So I broke up with him.

Two minutes left.

Which is not to say I stopped sleeping with him. I was a teenager, and pretty freaked out and lonely, and I craved something familiar, even if that familiar thing was awful. Because life was not going well. I’d started having panic attacks. The first one, I was alone in Washington Square Park. My eyes went down to pinpricks and I thought my chest was going to burst. When I could finally stand up again, I didn’t call this guy or my parents or even a doctor, but I did write a poem about it.

You can see how I was making really good decisions.

It only got worse from there. The panic attacks came more frequently. I wasn’t sleeping. I had a permanent migraine. Instead of gaining the freshman 15, I lost them. I cried constantly. I told no one. I didn’t want anybody to know that I couldn’t do what I was supposed to be doing.

And in the midst of all of this, I flew home for Christmas break, and there I found myself hooking up with an old friend. I knew he was a good guy, and I was still looking for something familiar and comforting.

And now I was late. Late-late.

I feel like it’s important for you guys to know that my life was not an endless afternoon of Maury reruns. I’d never wondered for a minute if I was pregnant, let along had a Who’s the Daddy? situation. This was definitely not part of the plan.

One more minute.

So I drove my sister’s car to the Walgreen’s in the next town over. I walked up and down every aisle before I could finally bring myself to pick up the test. I couldn’t make eye contact with the clerk as I put it on the checkout counter, and then hustled out of there to the nearest anonymous bathroom–the Burger King. I bought a Coke first, because restrooms are for customers. It took five minutes for my hands to stop shaking enough so I could unwrap the plastic.

Time’s up.

I looked down, and my life changed.

It turns out that what happened to me was actually a pretty near evolutionary trick. If a woman’s body senses that it’s in crisis–flooded with stress hormones, lacking proper nutrition–it figures it’s a really bad time to get pregnant and can temporarily put a stop to the whole menstrual cycle thing. This was explained to me by the condescending doctor at the student clinic one more negative pregnancy test and two more weeks without a period later. Basically, usually it takes two people to cause this particular problem, but I’d done it all to myself.

But despite the fact that that moment didn’t mean that I had to have an abortion or a kid, it did change my life. It was the first moment that I realized that maybe everything I was supposed to be doing… wasn’t what I should be doing. I’d been running so fast up a steep, narrow path that I thought was going to take me to my life. But if that path led to panic attacks and hysterical pregnancy, then maybe it was time to find another way.

The Only Advice

I was 21, alone in Budapest, dying.

Or so it seemed. I had arrived in the early afternoon, hopped right off the train from Vienna into a seatbelt-less van with a couple of other backpacker kids and drove to a hostel where I’d be staying for next week. I got in the van because I had no other plans. I didn’t even have a map of Budapest, let alone a place to stay. I knew no one in the city. No one knew where I was. It was my fourth week on the road, and I was already getting a little crazed, stressed, lonely, unhinged.

I locked up my backpack in the bunk-bedded dorm and threw my messenger bag over my shoulder to go explore the town. I had to guide me the little tourist pamphlet-map the men from the van had given me. I had a vague notion that I would walk from the hostel to the Danube, which seemed to me not too far away, and along the way get something to eat and drink, because since a quick pastry and coffee that morning at the Vienna train station I hadn’t had anything to eat and my stomach and head weren’t feeling quite right.

It was a hot day at the end of August. The sun was in full blaze through the smoggy air. The past weeks had seen unprecedented rains in Eastern Europe, massive flooding, and everything still felt musty, sticky, heavy. I walked down a wide boulevard, away from my hostel, in the direction that I thought the river was in. I took detours down interesting-looking side streets, because that’s what I was in Europe for in the first place: to see things, to experience. I was on the lookout for a place where I could grab something to eat, something cheap, because I still had to stretch my little money several more weeks, and something vegetarian, which I was about to learn was near impossible in Eastern Europe at the time. Nothing looked quite right, so I kept walking.

It was getting hotter, and the heat was making my head hurt, making me a little dizzy. I couldn’t quite tell where I was. I had wandered off the edge of the map. My sense of direction, naturally pretty spot-on, was a little turned around. I headed toward where I knew the river must be, weaving in and out of residential streets, no signs matching my map. The river was there, all right, but I had walked so far from the main drag that I was now in an industrial port area. Cranes and barges and cargo containers. More smog. More heat. I was feeling very wrong.

My confusion and loneliness only added to this feeling. What was I even doing here, halfway around the world, by myself, wasting time, spending money? I was stupid to think that I could do this on my own, do this at all, go see the world when I should be responsibly working a job and starting my real life.

I stumbled across a small bakery. I ordered a coffee–I always learn how to order coffee in the language of any place I travel–and a piece of cake that looked chocolate but turned out to be spice, by pointing and smiling. I was the only person in the place. The lady brought me the coffee and cake. One sip, and one bite, and I knew I had to abandon the food and get back to the hostel as quickly as possible before I threw up and passed out.

I don’t remember exactly how I got back to the hostel. I seem to remember picking a direction and just walking until I got to a major street. I soon found a street with a tram on it that would take me back to my hostel. Of course, not wanting to spend the money on the tram, I just followed the tracks until I was back home again. I promptly got into bed, got out of bed to throw up, got back into bed again, and didn’t leave for about 48 hours.

I thrashed around in a fever, throwing up every hour or so for the first day even after there was nothing left. I tried to drink a little water and nibble on my cookies when I could, to not completely dehydrate or starve. I wondered if anyone around me was going to offer to help or at least complain, but they didn’t. Everyone just left me alone.

In my fever and pain and fear and loneliness, panicked. I decided I had to go home immediately. I would change my tickets and fly home from Budapest instead of traveling around for three more weeks and going back to Paris.

But before I did, I did something out of character: I reached out and asked for support. I emailed my mom and my little sister, Rose, and told them: I want to come home. It’s so awful here, and I’m so sad. What should I do?

My mom wrote back right away, and she was very Mom about it. Her daughter was halfway around the world, alone, sick, and scared. What else would she say? She told me to change my tickets and come home. She handed me the old hippie slogan, “If it’s not fun, why do it?”

Not long after that, Rose wrote me back. And she gave me the only advice in the world that’s worth anything. She told me: Don’t be an idiot. (Most of her advice started like that. We were constantly being idiots.) Suck it up. Stay. When are you ever going to get this chance again?

Rose was better at this than anyone I know–seizing the moment. That’s what you get when you were never supposed to live in the first place, when every year the doctors give you another year, are surprised that you haven’t stopped working yet. She knew better than anyone that this life is all too finite, and it’s the one and only shot we get. She took advantage of every opportunity. Sometimes it made me crazy, how demanding she could be, how selfish she seemed. But now that she’s gone, I’m glad for every single thing she got to have for herself.

She was right, of course. I stayed. And I got better, and the rest of my stay in Budapest was glorious and has already been told. The trip changed my life in all of the cliche ways that don’t bear recounting. What mattered was that I was there and experienced it, that moments are there to be seized or to be lost, and no moment is promised to anyone except the one that you’re in right now.

I have a terrible memory, and there are probably a lot of wonderful things that I’ve forgotten about my sister. But I seem to remember specific things right when I need them. Today she’s been gone six months, and this was the thing I remembered on my walk this morning. It is the best and only advice from her to me, and to her husband, and to my parents, and to everybody who loved her. Even as we’re wading through all of this awful muck of grief, we need to remember not to be idiots and to live our lives, because we won’t ever get this chance again.

Inner 15-Year-Old Punk

Since Alan wanted me to try my hand at a different kind of thing.

[C. walks down the street, a regular 30-something anywoman. Claire is subdued, her movements don’t call attention to themselves, she mostly looks down, she is resigned and quiet. Her inner 15-year-old punk accompanies her, pink hair, choker, black t-shirt, plaid miniskirt, combat boots. The Punk is bouncy, dynamic, louder, twitchy. They pass a Man.]

Man: Good morning, beautiful.

Punk: Fuck off, ugly!

C: C’mon, it’s too early.

[C. sits down on the El with the Punk behind her. A Man sits next to her and spreads his legs.]

Punk: Shove him! Punch him in the dick!

C [squishing herself into the corner]: Shhh, we’ll bother people.

[C. sits down at work with the Punk on her desk. A Man comes into her office.]

Man: So don’t you worry your pretty little head about that.

Punk: Fuck that guy! It’s your fucking project!

C: He’s just trying to be nice.

[C. is eating lunch with the Punk next to her. A Woman is across from her.]

Woman: Wow, pasta. I wish I could just eat anything and not care about my weight like you do.

Punk: What the fuck did she mean by that?

C: Probably nothing.

[C. is washing her hands in the bathroom with the Punk next to her. A Woman is looking in the mirror.]

Woman: It’s so cool how you don’t wear makeup and don’t even care that you look like that.

Punk: She totally meant it that time!

C: You’re being too sensitive.

[C. is at her desk with the Punk on top of it. A Man dumps a handful of coins in C’s hand.]

Punk: That’s all?!

C: 75, 76, 77… Yep, all there.

[C walks down the street with the Punk at her side. Multiple Men pass her.]

Man: Nice tits.

Punk: Fuck you!

C: Quiet…

Man: Nice ass.

Punk: Fuck you too!

C: Just ignore them.

Man: Nice fingers.

Punk: What the fuck?!

C: Umm, let’s walk faster.

Man: Why don’t you smile?

[C. and Punk stop. Punk is silent for once. C’s face tightens from slight annoyance and fear to all-out rage as the scene goes on.]

C: OK, that’s it. [Motions for Punk’s boots, puts them on as she says.] I’m just walking down the street trying to be a regular person walking down the street. I’m not looking for a critique. I’m not inviting comment. But you fuckers won’t fucking leave me alone. Well guess what? My tits are not for you. My ass is not for you. My face is not for you. But this? This is for you. [Rears back to kick him with her big boots.]

-Curtain.-

The River, for Rose

I told Rose I knew how to steer a canoe. What I actually meant was, Dad explained to me once when we were kids how steering a canoe works, while he was paddling all of us around a lake, how you paddle on opposite sides to go straight, one side to turn in the opposite direction, and use it as a rudder to turn back in the same direction. So when I said I knew how to steer a canoe, I meant that I knew it theoretically.

She was skeptical. But that didn’t stop her from walking down into the nose of the canoe as my navigator. After all, the Pigeon River in northern Michigan, this stretch of it, is only about three feet deep and eight feet across at any point. We wouldn’t drown–at the worst, we’d get a little wet or scratched up.

I got into the back of the canoe, and we shoved off. I think it took just to the first bend of this incredibly winding, narrow, overgrown river before we got tangled up in an overhanging tree. Next bend, the current pulled us into the opposite bank. I wasn’t so much steering as frantically paddling and pushing off rocks and branches, and Rose wasn’t so much navigating as flailing her arms and shrieking wildly each time we were about to hit something. This was not going well.

This is the story I woke up thinking about the morning after my sister died. Rose had been born with a heart defect that first led the doctors to tell my parents, essentially, Sorry, this one just isn’t going to make it. But through a combination of a lot of skilled and caring medical professionals, incredible personal and family strength, and plenty of just plain luck, Rose was able, after a rocky start, to have 31 years. Really great years, full of laughter and adventure and love, full of candy and music and dressing up like an idiot at Halloween and cooking feasts for her friends. It wasn’t enough–not by a long shot–but she made the most of what she got.

Rose was a lot of things, but the two that stand out most are that she was bluntly realistic–a surprisingly helpful quality when dealing with massive health problems–and that she was hilariously, bitingly funny, mocking herself as often as anything or anyone else. The two of these often led her to have a stronger sense of gallows’ humor than you might expect from a tiny blond suburbanite.

That humor was definitely needed that day on the river. Because as we careened from shore to shore, the skies darkened, and it began to rain. I don’t meant spitting or dripping. I mean pouring. Within a minute, we were soaked to the skin. And we were still crashing into rocks, getting hung up on roots and branches. At a few points, we were even going backward. And we had miles of river ahead.

It was all so awful, and so ridiculous, that Rose started to laugh. I don’t mean a little Oh ha ha. I mean she was laughing like it was raining. She roared. You couldn’t believe a laugh that big could come from such a small person. I couldn’t help it–I laughed too, until I cried, until I ached. That was how her laugh was–huge and infectious, carrying you with it.

We smashed down the river that way, forward, backward, sideways, soaking wet, getting scratched on branches, laughing, together. We twisted and turned, but we were making progress. Eventually, the rain slowed, then let up. Eventually I got better at steering, and she got better at navigating. We straightened out. The sun broke through, and we started to dry. We didn’t have to flail anymore, and our laughter quieted to a calmer enjoyment of the journey. We made it, finally, back to town.

We made it not because we were exceptionally strong or skilled. We made it because when you’re in a canoe on the river, you just have to keep going. You don’t get a choice. If the currents are dragging you this way and that, if there are huge overhanging branches and sneaky rocks just under the surface, if it pours rain on you and you can’t figure out how to steer–well, too bad. You can’t stop. What are you going to do, live in the middle of this little river forever? You can’t get out and say, I quit. You’re miles from home, and that canoe is too heavy to carry all that way. You can’t turn around and go back. That’s not how rivers work. You just have to keep going. And you can either hate every second of it and resent it and wish you were anywhere else in the world, or you can look around you and say, Well, this is so awful that it’s gone round to ridiculous. And you can laugh so hard because it’s just so awful. You look at the people who are with you in this awful, ridiculous situation, and you acknowledge the awfulness and ridiculousness, and you laugh, and you’re together in laughing. You laugh and you laugh, and you keep going.

 

No Mere Woman

[I failed to do the Dictionary Project this past Sunday, but to make up for it I’ve got this piece that I read at the Mash tonight, the open-mic incubator for the Paper Machete, a live magazine performed every Saturday at the Green Mill in Chicago.]

Last month, Marissa Mayer, president and CEO of Yahoo, made the decision that all of her employees would have to exchange their oversized t-shirts and ratty pajama bottoms for actual clothes and rejoin their coworkers at the office. No more working remotely; everyone must work on-site. Now, besides being terrifying and confusing for these former shut-ins as they step out into daylight for the first time in years, what effect will this have on employees at Yahoo? Well, Mayer’s opinion is that this is the secret to turning around the less-than-stellar performance of a company that hasn’t had an easy time of the transition to the modern social-media-and-mobile-driven web. Her theory is that the more hours employees spend in physical proximity to one another, the more profitable the company will become. There is a lot that one could debate about that theory, but one thing that’s pretty indisputable is that this change is going to disproportionately suck for Yahoo’s women.

Why’s that? Well, for a multitude of reasons that we have no time to get into (insert rant about the patriarchy here) American women get burdened with more of the household duties and caretaking of children and elderly or ill relatives than men do. Which means that women benefit even more than men from policies like flextime and telecommuting. And so women suffer more than men when these policies are taken away.

But wait! you may be saying to yourself. Why would Marissa Mayer do something so detrimental to her own people? After all, she’s a woman. A mother, even.

Wrong. Marissa Mayer is not a woman.

She’s a rich person.

Here’s what I mean. The average American woman’s salary is $37,000. The average salary for a woman working in IT is $58,000. When Mayer signed on with Yahoo, her five-year contract was worth $117 million. Depending on bonuses and stocks and options, Mayer will be compensated between $19 and $26 million dollars per year. That means that even in a bad year, Mayer will be making more than 500 times what the average American woman makes.

Little bit different, yeah?

American woman are not guaranteed any paid maternity leave. None. We are thrown the bone of twelve weeks of unpaid leave via FMLA. Now, it’s true that Mayer only took two weeks of leave before she was back to the grind after she gave birth, but then she shelled out for a nursery to be built next to her office so her kid—and, presumably, that kid’s dedicated nanny—can hang out right next door all day long.

Mayer doesn’t think you have any need to work from home. I mean, if you’re as rich and powerful as her, you can just bring your home to work!

This nursery is not, mind you, a daycare center available to all the parents who work at Yahoo. Yahoo has an onsite fitness center, but not day care. No, this facility is just for Marissa Mayer. Because she is no mere woman.

She’s a rich person. And that’s a whole different thing.

As a rich person, Mayer clearly doesn’t understand her employees’ concerns, particularly her female employees’ concerns, about ensuring that they’re able to provide for adequate child care during the day, that they’re able to drive their children to school and piano lessons and basketball practice, that they can take them to the doctor and stay home with them when they’re sick. She has that nursery, and nannies, and possibly drivers and private doctors who make housecalls for all I know. Most of my knowledge of rich people has been gleaned from watching shows on Bravo and E.

As a rich person, Mayer doesn’t think the benefit of providing her employees with the supportive and flexible policies needed to manage both their home and work lives successfully outweighs her desire that their asses be in their Aeron chairs from nine to five at a minimum. And really, she’d prefer that you work much later than that. Slacker.

As a rich person, Mayer has other concerns. Like, I dunno, yachts and caviar and things? Again, I have no idea what rich people worry about. Uppity women, probably.

Mayer has as much as publicly admitted that she’s not a woman. Clue #1: Of her time at Google, she said, “I’m not a girl; I’m a geek.” As if you can’t be both. Clue #2: She appeared in a PBS documentary on feminism to declare herself not a feminist. Which, I guess technically you don’t have to be a feminist if you’re a woman. Just if you’re a woman who has, you know, even a vague awareness of the present inequality of the world in which you live.

Look, obviously Mayer is, literally, technically, a woman. She’s a woman who used her intelligence and drive to make it to the top of the heap in an industry that is still, despite Sheryl Sandburg at Facebook and Meg Whitman at HP, dominated by men. And it’s required a ton of hard work and endlessly long hours and no doubt huge personal sacrifices and struggles.

But, having gone through that struggle and made it out the other side as a success, it would be nice if she would use some of the power and influence she’s gained to make it a little easier for the women following in her footsteps. I mean, I know that there can be this awful human impulse that when you’ve suffered through a horrific trial, you want other people to suffer through it, too, because it builds character or something. That’s why junior high still exists.

But there’s a better human impulse that could work here. It’s called empathy. It’s understanding what someone else is going through, feeling for them, and, if you can, helping them out.

It’s a characteristic often associated with being a woman.

And even a rich person should be able to understand that.

Single

[Ed. note: Thanks, Almighty Dictionary, for this one this week.]

I am single. As a feminist, it’s unclear to me whether I’m supposed to be roaring with celebration at this fact because dammit I’m only thirty-two and I make a boatload of money and I live in the greatest city in the world so what do I need a man for (fish, bicycle, etc) or desperately seeking my sensitive companionate soulmate with whom to settle down and have two preferably multiracial babies for whom I’d home-make baby food and we’d cosleep and do other weird things I probably don’t even know about, having not yet been inducted into the mommy cult.

I’m doing neither.

I’m sort of just being single.

Friends (and even my grandfather) have asked me when I’m getting back online, which makes sense because if not OKCupid then how exactly does dating happen? But I have no urge to do that. The idea of sifting through endless pages of semi-realistic profile pics and trying to determine, when this guy says he loves adventure, does that mean a two-week hiking trip in South America or going to the West Side to buy heroin?, and thinking of nice ways to tell the bros who live in Hinsdale and work at a bank that I am not interested in hitting up The Apartment with them this weekend and getting cray-cray, and, worse, thinking of nice ways to tell the guys who I have nothing in common with, who seem like they’re probably nice, normal men, but who I can’t even imagine a first conversation with, or, let’s just be honest, the guys who are eighty pounds overweight or have facial hair that speaks of a complete lack of consideration for social convention or have only one photo and it’s them with a plastic cup of beer and serious drunkface and a backward baseball cap, thinking of nice ways to tell these guys, Sorry, I just don’t think we’d click.

Usually, I just type back that sentence and move on. But right now, I don’t want to have to deal with even that.

I theoretically know single guys in real life. For one reason or another (including: already dated him, not attracted to him, and am totally creeped out in his presence), none of them are date-able for me.

I met a (presumably) single dude in a very rom-com-y real-life way. He owns a cafe that I frequent(ed. Past tense). For three weeks straight, we chatted, we flirted, we lived through a bizarre tourist incident together, in which some folks from Ohio started paparazzi-ing me over my breakfast to take photos of a real city girl eating a big pancake for their scrapbooks. That was exactly as successful as most rom-com-y things would in real life. (Except without the stalking and abuse. The result was actually: And then he never called.)

It’s been brought to my attention that perhaps I’ve been making poor choices in dating. Science says yes, because as I am single when I want to be partnered, I’ve obviously been making choices that have led to an undesired outcome. I’m not sure what to do about that. My sister, who learned this from my mother, told me that right up front, like first few dates, you just lay your cards on the table. These are my dealbreakers. What are yours? That kind of conversation. Now, she’s engaged and my mom has been happily married for thirty-plus years, so you’d think this would be a foolproof tactic. So I tried it with the last guy I dated. And that part worked like a charm. However, knowing we were solid on the big, important issues caused me to overlook an important fact: we were pretty bad at just being friends. Like, pained silences over breakfast kind of bad. So. That went predictably well.

When I think about actively trying to find somebody again, I feel like it has to be with some kind of change made to my selection process or my dating style or something. Something to get a different result. I’m thirty-two, and while in New York years that may be young, in Midwest years I’m practically a washed-up spinster. In another few years I’ll have to invest in another cat and probably a housecoat. If I’m going to have kids, I have to figure this shit out, like, now. But I just have no idea how I’m supposed to do that.

Most of my friends being partnered doesn’t really help my cause. Some just say, “Oh, if I hadn’t have met X in college, I would just be alone forever,” or, the least helpful of all, “When you least expect it, it’ll happen.” That’s some patently false romance novel crap. I’m not the sort of person who can sit in a window waiting for a fairy tale to conk me on the head. And a fairy tale doesn’t actually sound all that pleasant anyway. It never seems terribly exciting for the princess.

So I’m not sitting and waiting. I’m just not actively searching. I’m… coasting. And I think I may need to keep doing that for a while. Until I feel more sure of which direction I should be pedaling in, and how fast.