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Become a Less Hateful Person

You’re a hateful person.

Okay you can stop screaming at your cIMG_0010omputer now that you’re not hateful. You are. I am. We all are. We want to think of ourselves as loving, kind, compassionate folks who do the best we can given our circumstances, but just stare into the eyes of a dog, a cow, a pig, or a human baby for five minutes and you’ll know you are much more hateful than they are.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re not the kind of person who sends threatening texts, carries torches in the streets, or considers hate speech a pick-up line on Tinder. There are, fortunately, very few of those kinds of haters in the world. Too many, but just a fraction of the rest of us whom I will refer to as “haters light.” Sadly, whether we want to admit it or not, we empower the active haters by turning our heads, by chalking up bad behavior in others to “boys will be boys” or some other cliché, and by shrugging our shoulders and thinking, “Well, at least I’m not part of the problem.”

But we are part of the problem. Our easy forgiveness of own bad behaviors large and small allows us to feel more at ease with our own internalized hatred. Have you ever, for example, thought, “People should be required to retire at 50 so those of us who know what’s going on in the world can get jobs?” That’s hate. How about “She shouldn’t dress like that if she doesn’t want people to think she’s a slut?” Hate again. Or “I like black people. I just don’t want them in my neighborhood.” Hate. All of it.

The good news is that many of us feel the mirror has been held up and we don’t like what we are seeing. We’re slowly realizing our own role in creating a society that does not allow every American to have “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as promised by our forefathers (probably at the urging of our foremothers, who never get any credit). But, how do we fix ourselves, especially when we’re so busy living our own lives?

I suggest we start by focusing on eliminating what I call “The Three B’s” (no, “bitch” is not one of them). The Three B’s are “because,” “but,” and “between us.”

Because: The word “because” refers to something being caused by something else and is a perfectly lovely word when used with science or when relaying the facts of a story, e.g. “Because the cantaloupe fell on her foot, her toes were bruised” or “She couldn’t focus for days because she took off her eclipse glasses too soon.” Science and facts – two of my favorite things!

Too often, however, we fall back on “becausing” to explain why we (or others we support) perpetuate bad behavior. See if any of these sound familiar:

I am this way because:

  • I was raised (choose from: in the south, in a small town, with only white people, in “the church”) and that’s the way we were taught.
  • I was born in the ‘40s (or ‘50s). It was a different time. You just don’t understand.
  • My childhood was really hard. I was scarred for life.
  • I once had a bad interaction with a person of (insert race, gender, religion, culture, etc. here) and I have a right to my opinions/behaviors.

When I argue for putting a stop to “becausing,” I’m not suggesting that any or all of the above statements may not be true for you or me. We are all products of our past experiences. What I’m suggesting is that we all stop considering “because” to be a trump card that excuses our current behavior. If you think for just a few minutes, you’ll be able to conjure up a friend, co-worker or relative who grew up in one or more of the situations above but is less judgmental, more inclusive, and just a better all-around human being than you are. So although the past shapes us, it does not dictate who we are now.

But:  This little conjunction frequently causes trouble in our interactions with others. For example, as an improv teacher I teach the importance of the rule “Yes, and” and how important it is to stop “No, butting” people. “No, butting” isn’t something goats and drunken frat boys do; it’s what happens when we pretend to listen to someone, but immediately dismiss their thoughts and ideas and try to convince them to accept that ours are better (because that’s what our ego tells us). As an experiment, try to count the number of times you hear the words, “No, but” tumble out of your mouth every day. I bet you’ll be surprised.

“But” causes divisiveness in another way too. We use the world to claim our own goodness when someone calls us out on being racist, sexist, ageist, ableist, homophobic, or looksist (judging people on their looks). How many of the following have you used “but” to make yourself seem kinder and more inclusive in the eyes of others (and in your own)?

But I…

  • have friends who are (insert race, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.) here
  • have never used that kind of language
  • am so much better than the rest of my family
  • do lots of good things you don’t know about (like serving Thanksgiving dinners to the homeless or showing up for the pro-immigrant march that one time)

It’s really difficult to be called out on our own bad behavior and our first instinct is to fall back on “but.” We have to keep in mind that all of us can and should do more to make the world an easier place, a safer place, a more compassionate place for everyone (and I include in “everyone” creatures who are not human). Instead of giving yourself a pass for the good that you do, just do more and for people and other earthlings who are not like you – no “buts” about it. It’s easier, and more rewarding, than making excuses.

Between us: If you would be humiliated by the inner judgmental thoughts you reveal to your friends and family, chances are those thoughts are hateful and divisive. Any time you tell someone “this is just between us,” (unless it’s an issue of national security, you’re pregnant or you’re planning a surprise birthday party for someone), what you may mean is, “This is too mean-spirited for me to share out loud.”

I am not suggesting we can or should scrub all our thoughts until they’re squeaky clean. But we should become aware of how often we share inner musings that reveal deeply held prejudices we don’t want to admit we have. Do any of these ring a bell?

Between us:

  • I’m afraid of Hispanic men who wear hoodies.
  • People from the South are all idiots.
  • When someone in a hijab or a robe gets on an airplane, I worry about being hijacked.
  • I never know where to look when I’m talking to someone who uses a wheelchair so I just say, “Hello” and move along as quickly as I can.
  • I wouldn’t want to work for a woman. They’re so emotional.

The best way to deal with prejudiced thoughts you share with close friends is to ask those friends to regularly call you out (and ask them if they’d like you to do the same). You can even provide them this set of questions to ask you when they feel something is inconsistent with the person you want to be: Why do you think you feel this way? Does this belief harm other people? Has it proven true to you or do you hold it spite of reality? If it has proven true, is it possible that what’s happened in your experience does not reflect everyone else’s?  Would you like to change this belief? How can you start to do that?

Self-change, like world change, is difficult and the best way to approach it is one simple step at a time. For now, just focus on reducing or eliminating The Three B’s.

Proud Snowflake Here

All of a sudden I’ve become a snowflake! I do have a complexion that looks somewhat like a snowy field on a moonlit night and have spent much of my life covered in Zinc oxide to protect me from sizzling, but I don’t think that’s why the word “snowflake” is popping up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds lately.

stormtrooper-snowflakeThe kind of snowflake I am

“Snowflake,” if you don’t know is supposed to be an insult for those of us who support our fellow human beings and all other creatures living on this planet. I guess some people, those who’d rather wall themselves up and never worry about anyone but themselves, believe that snowflakes are weak and melt easily.

I choose to see snowflakes differently. Although each of us is unique, when we come together we do amazing things:

  • We create peaceful beauty.
  • We can form avalanches that can wipe out anything in our way.
  • Once we get rolling, it’s hard for anything to stop us.

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Old white men in ties don’t scare us

  • We have been around for millions of years and aren’t going anywhere simply because someone hurls what they believe to be insults at us. Imagine yelling profanities at a blizzard. See how much effect that has?
  • We’re fun! Tell me snowmen, women and children don’t make you smile!

Two weeks ago, I marched in the Women’s March in my hometown in the pouring rain. I marched because I don’t want anyone to have to drink poisoned water or breathe poison air. I marched because I think sick people should have health care and poor people should have food. I marched because I believe women and women only should get to control their own bodies. I marched because I don’t want to see people who spent decades paying into Medicare and Social Security tossed out on the street, never seeing money that belongs to them. I marched because I believe love is love.

And I marched because I stand strong with my community – those other snowflakes, also out there in the pouring rain, not melting. Getting stronger together.

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And last week, I marched again to protest the ban on Muslims. Yes, this snowflake and thousands of others, took to the streets and airports to protect people who don’t look or worship like me. Crazy, right? Supporting people different than you. We snowflakes are like that. We don’t judge each other on color, shape, or beliefs. After all, we’re snowflakes and we know that that will just melt away one day.

I will march on General Strike Day, on Science March Day, on Tax Day. And I’m hoping to – one day soon – march on We’re All Human Beings Sharing the Same Planet with Each Other and All the Other Creatures Who Live Here So We’ve Decided to Give Peace a Chance Day. That’s what this snowflake really wants. Peace. If you’ve ever walked outside after a snowfall, you know we’re all about peace and quiet.

And you know what? No one has paid me to march. Not even in coupons! Can you believe that? Someone willing to stand up for what they believe is right without profiting from it? I know it’s a tough thing to wrap your head around, but it’s true. True-true. Not alt-true, whatever that is. And I have a job!! Actually, I have four jobs! I am one busy snowflake! Good thing it’s been chilly outside so all this sweating didn’t overheat me!

I would like to put this question out to the non-snowflakes in this country. (What is the opposite of snowflake? Hothead?) This is especially for the hotheads who get so upset every time I say something about how I support humanity and the planet.

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What is it that makes you so angry to see people supporting each other? Why does the idea of love trumping hate bother you to your core? Why are you so angry all the time, little hothead? Have you considered therapy? Or maybe a massage? We snowflakes love massage – it helps get out the knots from hoisting our protest signs high above our heads.

And what made you think snowflake was an insult? Maybe you should get a thesaurus. There are much better words out there.

Eternal Optimist So Far

Anyone who knows me knows that I am eternal optimist. I literally cannot stop seeing the bright side. Having not yet lived an eternity, I can’t claim the “eternal” part yet, but I’ve got the “optimist” part down pat.

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But the downside to my upside is that being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the face of tragedies large and small annoys the hell out of some folks. Okay, lots of folks. When they’re sad and hopeless and angry, they want me to go there too. I do, but for me it’s a quick trip. I go for a quart of almond milk, while most people go for a month’s worth of groceries. I’m in and out while they’re still reading the ingredients list on sadness.

I just got back from walking my puppy after a 5-day stint of freezing temps during which he only got shortened jaunts outside. He wriggled with joy as he trotted down the street, unencumbered by a heavy jacket. A pair of neighbors remarked, “If only we could all be that happy.” I didn’t want to bum them out by telling them that I mostly am. For now, it will be my dark little secret in the ‘hood.

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Many people believe that I’m putting on a show or just sucking it up to help others in their quests to crawl out from under the covers, especially in the dark political period we’ve just entered. I call it “Trumpocene: The era of the second extinction of dinosaurs.” See, what I did there? I told a joke. I’m sure therapists everywhere are shaking their heads and thinking, “She’s hiding her real feelings.” Well, dammit, my real feelings are that despite it being awful out there, we need to laugh more than ever and I still see lots of good stuff all around me. For example, there are cookies in my pantry. How can that not make me happy?

Believe me, I try to keep my exuberance to myself, especially when my close friends are feeling down. I don’t toss optimistic cliches at them as I listen to their problems because I know those don’t usually help. So I’ll bite my irrepressibly joyful tongue and wait until most of the dark skies have cleared for them before I let forth with a torrent of happy thoughts.

Trying to be un-effervescent for my friends when they are blue is tough work and it makes me hungry.

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I remember an old bumper sticker that read, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” I believe many people have this feeling about those of us who are silver lining types. They think we’re shallow or unaware. This is usually not the case. In fact, it’s  my hyper-awareness of what’s going on in the world around me (I’m a vegan – we’re aware of ALL the pain all the time) that makes my optimism kick in double-time. Any time I see something crying out for mercy and attention, I first deliver mercy and attention and then bounce right back into, “Hey, you know what’s good about life today?” mode.

It’s  true that we can only be who we are. You don’t hide your dark goth self and I won’t hide my pigtails and freckles. The fact is, I will probably be whistling “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” at my own funeral.

 

 

60 Things I’ve Learned in My 60 Years So Far

file06561. If you’re not laughing so hard you actually hurt at least once a day, you need to re-evaluate your life.
2. Pigtails are better than Botox.
3. You can only fake something for so long. Eventually the real you will shine through, so you might as well just be yourself all the time.
4. If you don’t love animals, you’re probably going to need a lot of therapy.
5. Sorry blondes – redheads have more fun!
6. Dance – even if others don’t recognize it as dancing.
7. Pay attention to red flags, black auras, and deep green eyes.
8. The family we create is often better for us than the family we’re born into.
9. Jimmy Buffet music is a good cure for sadness.
10. Your boobs will be closer to your waist than your chin for 60% of your life.
11. Tip well and treat everyone like people not the job they do.
12. When you’re happy, notify your face.
13. There is no such thing as too much chocolate (as long as it’s vegan, fair trade, and sustainably harvested).
14. Don’t be afraid to let your talents shine.
15. We catch the mood of the people we spend the most time with, so choose carefully.
16. One of the most important things we should all learn is how to be happy alone.
17. The voices in your head are often out of their minds.
18. Not everyone will like you. In fact, there are some people you really don’t want to like you.
19. If you buy the low sodium version, you’ll just end up adding salt.
20. Picking up dog poop is much less disgusting than wading into political debate.
21. True friends show up in many different ways – vegan soup when you’re sick, helping you in the yard, painting your house, or calling you out on your bullshit.
22. Do what makes your inner 5-year-old happy.
23. Never trim your bangs drunk.
24. It’s okay to have money, but if you value money over love, kindness, and empathy, your life will be sad and empty.
25. You can be a great parent without having any human children.
26. When you realize that we really are all – humans and other sentient creatures – connected, everything in your life will change.
27. Throw the ball, tug the rope, and dangle the fuzzy toy.
28. Even if you had an awful past, you can have an amazing present.
29. If dogs don’t like you, you have some karma issues to work on.
30. Every time you whine, speak out loud five things you’re grateful for.
31. Always wear kooky socks or underwear. Or both.
32. There are 7.6 billion sides to every argument.
33. It is okay to unfriend people both online and in life. This includes blood relatives.
34. Be the most fun you’ve ever had.
35. Even if you’re sure your butt won’t fit, you should at least try to go down the playground slide.
36. You should regularly do things that scare you.
37. Never type LOL unless you are. And work on your real LOL skills.
38. Whenever you say, “I’m doing the best I can,” make sure it’s true.
39. Try to line up your mistakes from biggest to smallest throughout your life, but give yourself a break if you screw this up.
40. Even if no one reads it, when you’ve written something that expresses your soul, you’ve have done something amazing.
41. Jealousy is a waste of energy.
42. Nothing real is measured in Facebook likes.
43. You know you’re having fun if there are sequins on your floor after you get dressed.
44. Saying “No” can be the most freeing thing ever. Saying “Yes” can also be the most freeing ever.
45. Dog hair goes with everything.
46. Pointing fingers is a distraction from what we need to work on.
47. Make funny friends. They’ll keep you giggling.
48. Yes, you really can use those math skills you learned when you were a kid.
49. Time really does fly. One day you’re graduating high school, the next you’re been reincarnated as a tree sloth.
50. Always use your powers for good, not evil.
51. You know it was a really fun adventure if you forget to take pictures.
52. Pay attention to what makes your heart smile.
53. A full calendar is not a good measure for a full life.
54. Count your blessings, not your calories.
55. Squirrels make good listeners, especially if you’ve got nuts in your pockets.
56. When the moon is amazing, you should go outside and look at it.
57. Fall in love often – with friends, with animals, with trees, with blue skies, with amazing meals…
58. Wear your heart on your sleeve, but keep your gallbladder covered up.
59. Everyone deserves to wear a tiara now and then.
60. The best anti-aging cure is dog kisses.

I Won’t Drink to That

I’ve never understood drinking to get drunk. There, I said it. Think I’m lame if you must, but I prefer not to have to find a stranger at 3 in the morning to find my shoes or hold my hair back.

Perhaps growing up in a dry county in Texas explains part of my perspective. For those of you who don’t know, “dry” doesn’t mean the humidity was exceptionally low (although in Abilene, Texas, it is); it means you can’t drink alcohol in public. unless you’re rich and belong to a private club (but then again, if you’re rich, the rules never apply to you, right?) Of course, in Abilene, you also couldn’t swim with the opposite gender (whatever that is), dance in public, or curse near a church and spending four years there hasn’t stopped me from doing all those things.

There were plenty of kids in high school who stole liquor from their parents’ personal stashes, but all we had at home was gallon bottles of wine so cheap even winos would scoff at them. My then-stepmother liked to get up early in the morning, put on some Tammy Wynette music, and begin drowning and smoking away her sorrows. In my mind, I associate alcohol with bad country music and soggy shag carpet (stepmother spilled a lot).

Flash forward 40 years and I’m still not that much of a drinker. I made it 23 years in the Lone Star state without developing a taste for beer, which is one of the reasons I had to leave. There’s a time limit on how long beer-haters are allowed to stay. I also didn’t develop a taste for voting Republican, so my departure was good all the way around.

I’ve spent 25 years as a comedian and comedy producer. That means I’ve probably been in more bars than most alcoholics. I usually order a seltzer water with a lime, so it looks like something exotic (yes, to me a lime on the rim makes a drink exotic.) If I can talk the bartender into a little umbrella for no extra money, I will.

As you might imagine, a lot of my comedy friends are recovering alcoholics and every few months one of them celebrates their sobriety birthday and we celebrate by not drinking together.

I want an extra birthday too. One in which I celebrate decades of making good choices without having had to hit bottom. (Well, my last marriage counts as hitting bottom, but not in an alcohol-related way… at least not for me…) Where’s the celebration for those of us who commit every year to not getting inebriated at children’s birthday parties or running up on stage when someone else is performing and showing off our bra? Don’t we deserve a party too?

So I’ve declared October 8 to be my second birthday. That’s the date of my last divorce. If you want to celebrate with me, it’s BYOSW (bring your own seltzer water). I’ll supply the lime slices and if you’re lucky, little umbrellas.

 

 

What Men Need to Know about Menopause

If you’re a man reading this article, you’re either living with a menopausal woman or you hoping I’ll talk about sex. I will, but not in a way that will make you happy. Or hot. Know that going in.

Menopause isn’t pretty. I know. I’ve got the sweaty sheets and haggard, sleepless look to prove it. But it gets even uglier when men of the guy variety step in and try to fix it. For the love of all that is holy, if you don’t want to open the gates of hell, please heed my advice. You and the mood-swinging woman closest to you will be better off for it.

  • Look in the mirror. Do you have hair in your ears? Gray ones on your chest or among the pubes? Would you like her to bring that up at parties? Okay, than stop talking about her moustache. At least she keeps it trimmed.
  • Yes, you’ve been hot before. In fact, science tells us that there is only one temperature that doesn’t make most men sweat and most women run screaming for a sweater or a blanket with arms in it – 68 degrees. But you have never been “hotflash-hot” unless someone has set your testicles on fire and shoved them you-know-where. So when she says she’s burning up, do NOT respond with, “Now you know how I’ve felt for the past 27 years.”
  • After she flashes, she will be freezing. If you share a bed, you’d be better off using a sleeping bag on top of the fitted sheet so that you can rest comfortably while she throws off and then shivers beneath the covers. Although if you’re resting comfortably while she’s miserable, that may be a topic of conversation over coffee in the morning.
  • Unless you are a superhero who can transform into a giant popsicle and inject yourself into her chest for the 45 seconds-1 minute her hot flash lasts, you are worthless when it comes to offering workable solutions. So keep your suggestions to “Just open a damn window” or “Why don’t you take off your bra?” to yourself.
  • Speaking of sex, if you’re getting any, you’re lucky. She’s hot, she’s cold, she’s thought about hitting you in the head with a 2 x 4 and hasn’t done it. Yet. And she’s dry. Down there. We’re not talking the kind of dry that cheap flavored lube from the porn store will fix either. And there is not enough WD-40 to handle this job. The good news is that menopause may be the one time where quickies are actually the preferred form of sexual activity. So keep your mouth shut (a ball gag can help) and be grateful.
  • If intercourse is off the table (and the bed, the floor, the cat tower, etc.) and she offers up a BJ (which may be rare because when the estrogen goes, so does a lot of her caring about your needs), you’d better reciprocate with whatever she wants, even if it’s a two-week vacation to Antarctica with only her girlfriends. She’s got what’s left of your manhood in her mouth and she could swing from horny to homicidal in 2 seconds flat.
  • If you’re in the middle of an argument about anything from politics to pistachios, do NOT jokingly ask her if her bad mood might be hormone-related. Remember how well it worked when you tried to blame things on PMS? This will not go any better.
  • While “menopause” is defined as the day on which she hasn’t had a period for a year, the symptoms can show up as early as mid-40s during “perio-menopause” (Greek for “Well, aren’t I damned lucky?”) and last well into “post-menopause.” There are women who never stop hot-flashing and mood-swinging. Your 87-year-old aunt with the shotgun by the front door? Now you know why she’s always angry.
  • Be prepared for weeping. Not regular crying at things that are sad, but loud wailing and gushing tears that seem to spring up from an internal sprinkler system at the stupidest things. Cat food commercials, text messages from the dentist, Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy”… all of these can start the waterworks. Even if she didn’t want any more children or never wanted any, the idea that she can’t have them now, combined with hormones stampeding through her brain and body, makes her really sad. If you want to empathize, imagine knowing that you could never have another erection. There you go. That’s what empathy is like. Use that a lot.

Well, I hope these tips help save your relationship and your man parts during the next 5 to 50 years of your life. I’d write more, but I’m so damned hot right now!

 

7 Reasons Not to Get Engaged During “Engagement Season”

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As ads for diamond rings keep reminding us, December is “Engagment Season.” As someone who has been engaged (and then married and then divorced) three times, I have some advice for those of you who are still single and thinking NOW is the time to change that up.

Here are my Top 7 Reasons Not to Get Engaged During Engagement Season:

1. Do you become a tree on Arbor Day? No? Then you don’t have to get engaged during “Engagement Season.” You also don’t have to get an STD during Chlamydia Awareness Week.

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2.  Are you bored with your romantic partner and think that a diamond on her or your finger might just shake things up? Spend the money on a tropical vacation somewhere during earthquake season. THAT will shake things up.

3.  Does it seem like the next step in your relationship? If you’re thinking about making a lifetime commitment to someone because it’s another step in a process, join a 12-step program for fairy tale addicts instead.

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4.  Is engagement on your to-do list because all your friends are doing it or they’ve already done it and are having babies and leaving you in the dust? Are you in middle school? If so, you’re too young to get engaged. If not, you have so many options, including finding new friends who are spending their time volunteering to fight climate change or drinking.

5.  Do you or your partner just want some jewelry this holiday season? Fine, get some jewelry. Buy from a local artisan who crafts amazing art for your fingers, wrist, neck, ankle, or nipples. It will cost you less money, cause you less guilt wondering where the stones came from, and help keep an artistic community member from a life of crime.

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6.  Have you been in a relationship with someone for too long and it’s about damn time he/she made you an honest man/woman or you did the same for him/her. (Can we please start using gender-neutral pronouns, grammar police?) Really, threats and coercion are how you’re going to play this? That doesn’t bode well for a healthy relationship. Perhaps you could run a republican presidential candidate’s campaign instead.

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7.  Has he/she asked you and you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings? This one is serious, folks. I got married twice out of not wanting to make my then-partner feel bad that he had popped the question, despite the fact that the first time the ring wasn’t even real! If someone else wants to get married and you’re not ready, it’s time to move on. Date someone else. Get a dog. Write a screenplay. But for god’s sake, don’t say yes when you mean “No, no, I’d rather have a colonoscopy!”

There you have it. If I’ve saved just one single person from making the same mistakes I have, my job here is done.

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