Once again, my New Year’s resolution is to stop talking. So far, and I believe this is the 50th year I’ve tried this, I’ve been unsuccessful. I can’t seem to stop blogging about how bloated I am, writing books about people who do terrible things, many of which never see the light of day, or giving people advice about how to remove or grow more hair. A lot of people feel they have the right amount of hair, and that’s fine. Honestly, who am I to tell them they don’t. In lieu of my unwanted advice, I’m going back to my 2017 resolution, which was to only give you flowers. Flowers are the thing I love most in the world, aside from my family, and talking. When I can’t write, I buy flowers and take thousands of pictures of them. I dream of having a flower business one day and giving up writing for good. Flowers are better than me. They don’t tell people what to do, they certainly don’t suggest giving up dairy to strangers, and they don’t have crippling social anxiety. They don’t do anything, really, except make people feel better by not talking. So, here we go. One more time. Just flowers. From me to you. For as long as I can stand it.
I’m gonna tell my “me too” story, even though it doesn’t even remotely compare to the pain and suffering that so many others have endured. No one touched me. No one got near me, and no one got in trouble, but all these years later, I still think about what could have happened…if I hadn’t been so incredibly lazy.
A few weeks after graduating college, I got an internship with an advertising agency in New Jersey. About a month into the job, I got invited by one of the partners to go to Philadelphia to attend a party hosted by a radio station. The party was at a fancy hotel and he booked us each a room. All of this sounded very glamorous to me until my only friend at the agency, one of the other interns, stopped talking to me. In retrospect, she probably knew more about our boss than I did.
At the party, my boss introduced me to a bunch of people, and then he asked me if I wanted to go smoke a joint with him. I really didn’t want to. He always had a few little crumbs lodged in his mustache and I didn’t want to accidentally come in contact with his leftovers. I politely declined, and he disappeared for several hours. At about midnight, he came up to me and said he was going back up to his room. He said something to his friend about a pair of coconuts that I didn’t quite catch, and I knew he’d had a lot to drink. There was something desperate about him, and he was sweating. I told him I was tired, too, and ready to turn in for the night. His friend got in the elevator with us. I remember thinking that was weird.
When we got to my floor, my boss and the other guy both got out and followed me to my room. As I was opening my door, my boss asked if they could come in.
“I’m kind of tired,” I said, “But thanks for inviting me. Fun party. And it was nice to meet you,” I said to the other guy.
“Are you sure we can’t come in?” his friend asked.
“I’m pretty exhausted. I’ll see you in the morning,” I said, and shut my door.
I got undressed, I put the TV on, and got under the covers.
A few minutes later, there was a knock on my door.
It was my boss.
“Can I come in for just a minute? I’m alone this time,” he said.
“I’m in bed already,” I called out to him.
“That’s okay. I only need to come in for a second. I think I might have dropped half a joint on the floor in your room,” he said.
“You didn’t come in here, remember?” I reminded him.
“I think I gave it to you then. Can I come in and at least take a look around?”
We both knew he hadn’t been in my room, and I knew he hadn’t given me anything, but I was dumb enough to think he was frantically searching everywhere for his joint. Had I been even the tiniest bit less lazy, I might have let him in, but I just didn’t feel like getting up and getting dressed again. That’s what saved me.
“I promise there’s no pot in here, or I would have smoked it,” I assured him.
“Can you just let me in?” he asked, not as nice.
“Sorry, I’m almost asleep,” I said.
“Don’t be stupid. Let me in,” he said, sounding like a completely different person, angry and mean, and almost panic-stricken.
I didn’t answer him. A few minutes later, he lightly knocked again, but I stayed quiet. I knew he was sitting down outside my door by that point. The knocks were getting lower. I felt a little guilty that I was being so rude, but not guilty enough to actually get out of bed.
We were scheduled to leave the next morning. He was my ride home. He didn’t talk to me the whole way, and he dropped me on the side of the highway somewhere near the office. I remember thinking this is kind of a dangerous place to drop someone off and then it occurred to me that he wanted me to feel like something you would find on the side of the road. I didn’t quite register the depths of the insult until much later when I told the story to my father and saw the look of horror on his face.
The next day, I told all the other partners and interns what happened. I told them how he insisted that he left something in my room. How he stood outside my door, quietly knocking, on and off, for what felt like hours, and how he left me on the side of the road. And then I quit.
The truth is I’d been planning to quit anyway. I’d worked there about a month by the time the invitation to the party rolled around, and felt that was more than enough time to work anywhere.
Fortunately, I didn’t need the job. It was an unpaid internship and their biggest client was Buick, which, at the time, was like saying Edsel. But, what would have happened if I needed that job to support my family? What if I needed that guy to like me? Or, what if I’d been polite enough to get off my ass and respect the fact that my drunk boss needed to look for his joint, whether he knew damn well it wasn’t in my room or not? Anything could have happened. I’m just grateful I was too stupid and lazy to answer the door.
My husband and I have been married for just shy of one hundred years. We’re so good at being married at this point I was considering writing a book about it, but who really has the time to read a whole book, or write one? I’d rather just tell you our little secret and save you thousands of hours of couples’ therapy.
You might want to jot this down. You’re going to need to refer to it quite a bit if you want to make it to just-shy-of-one-hundred-years.
The secret to a happy marriage is: Never do anything that will hurt your spouses’ feelings.
That’s it. That’s the whole thing.
I know what you’re thinking: If I can’t hurt his feelings, how is he ever going to learn?
Sadly, people tend not to be able to learn anything. You should know that going in. The man/woman you married is the man/woman you will be married to for the next one hundred years. Now is the time to hightail it out of there, otherwise, you have to be nice the entire time.
Of course, there will be times when this seems impossible, and a lot of people ask me: What about when he’s driving?
This is an important question because we spend so much of our time in the car. What you need to do in this situation is not let on that you don’t like him anymore.
Unfortunately, even if you follow my advice perfectly, there will always be times when he/she will do something that will make you feel bad. If you’re both following the rule, it won’t be intentional, but it will happen anyway. He might accidentally grow a long pointy beard, which will frighten you, but you can’t say anything. Or, you might, out of nowhere, give yourself entirely new eyebrows. It happens.
You might also be wondering something like: What if he forgets my anniversary? A lot of women ask me this. Men don’t seem to care about this one, but I always say the same thing: Your relationship is not a history test. And who the hell ever really knows what day it is? For all anyone knows, today could be Tuesday or Saturday, or even Monday. Just let all that stupid crap go, including your birthday and everything else that matters to you. Try to put yourself in his shoes. Imagine what it’s like to have almost no memory at all. He’s probably lost somewhere at this very minute without a wallet, keys, or a recent home address. If you’re really hung up on celebrating a particularly special occasion, buy yourself a card, sign it, and put it in the mail.
Isn’t this so much better than caring about anything? So, there’s your answer. There’s nothing you can’t get through if both of you follow that one simple rule. Just be nice to each other all the time, and tell me how it went. In a hundred years.
Just read the word JOMO for the first time on The Skimm.
TRANSLATION: JOY OF MISSING OUT.
It gives me joy just to say it.
JOMO is the reason I wake up in the morning, so I can go back to sleep. It’s the reason my friends make back-up plans whenever I agree to go somewhere.
It’s the reason I love my pillow. It’s the reason I’m milking my new shoulder injury to the point that I’m considering standing on a table and asking someone to push me off.
The reason I don’t like going anywhere isn’t because I don’t want to meet other people. It’s not because I don’t want to see the world and experience other cultures.
The truth is I just don’t feel like getting dressed. The bra, the buttoning of the pants, the tying of the shoes. The whole thing just ruins leaving the house.
The buttoning of the pants has always been the biggest problem. It started in seventh grade when all we did every weekend was go to make-out parties. My mother had warned me about those types of parties. She told me not to be like those girls, even though those girls were my only friends. So I went, but I refused to participate. It was humiliating. I felt like a voyeur. Fortunately there was pizza at those parties. Instead of making out, I stood in the corner and ate myself into oblivion.
I remember one party in particular I got a raging stomach ache and my best friend, a real make-out aficionado, told me to go in the other room and lie on my stomach to stop the pain and “flatten it out.”
To this day whenever I have to get dressed to go out to dinner, there’s some kind of memory trigger and I blow up like a balloon.
It’s the same scenario every time. My husband stands at the door saying,
“Just so you know we’re ten minutes late.”
A little while later I hear him yell,
“Now we’re 20 minutes late.”
A little while later he resorts to,
“Should I call and say we’re not coming?”
When I don’t answer, he comes in the bedroom. I’m always lying on my stomach with my face pressed into the bed. That’s the only position that works.
Eventually I have to admit that my pants won’t close.
“Do you want to stay home?” he’ll ask.
“Perhaps it’s for the best.”
“You sure you won’t feel bad afterwards?”
“Are you kidding?”
“Should we order a pizza and stay home?” he’ll ask.
And that, my friends, is JOMO.
I hadn’t seen my sister or my nephew in a few months, and was hoping they’d notice how my body weight had shifted.
“What the hell happened?” my nephew asked right away.
“Well, at first I cut out pasta, and then bread, and now I only eat small amounts of bread and a medium amount of pasta. Once in a while I have a potato, oh! and I switched cereals. I didn’t actually lose weight per se, but I think my whole body composition might have changed. Is it really that noticeable?” I asked him.
“I meant your teeth?”
“What about my teeth.”
“The bottom ones are all crooked, and one’s sticking straight up.”
I ran to the mirror and sure enough one of my bottom teeth had migrated out of its gum. It must have happened after I had my wisdom teeth pulled. The rest of my teeth sort of caved in around it forcing the big tooth up and out in search of sunlight. I guess it happened so gradually I didn’t notice.
“You have to fix that,” he said. “You should get Invisalign for your bottom teeth. It’s fun.”
I almost always do what I’m told when something’s sticking out. I went to the dentist, got the molds taken, and waited for my $5000 invisible braces to be ready.
I never really gave it another thought until I put the braces in my mouth and felt the excruciating pain of trying to move a whole row of more than a half a century old teeth from one location to another.
“What’s the matter?” my dentist asked. “Is something pinching you?”
“Yes, my whole m-ow. I can’t tay it!” I yelled at him. “This wasn’t even ma idea and the edge of da plastic is igging into my hongue. Why would anyone make deeze?”
“You’ll get used to it, I promise. It will hurt a lot less in just a few minutes. Go home and have a glass of wine.”
“I said, go home, relax, and have a glass of wine.”
“Omay,” I said and left crying.
By the next morning my tongue was bloody and shredded and when I took the braces off to take a bite of food, I immediately spit out part of a tooth. It had broken off just enough to make me look homeless and afraid.
After the dentist bonded my broken tooth, he gave me a small mirror to see his handy work. I immediately noticed the corners of my upper front teeth were missing too.
“What happened to my corners?” I asked.
“They’re still there, but some of the enamel has worn away,” he said. “That’s what happens over time.”
“Is it gonna grow back?” I asked him.
“I’m afraid not, but I can bond the corners for you. You have a few cracks on the surface of your front teeth as well.”
“I do?” I asked, putting on my glasses to look in the mirror again.
“Look at that. My teeth are crumbling,” I said. “You have to fix them.”
And so he fully bonded my two front teeth. I quickly looked in the mirror and couldn’t believe how bright and polished they were. They reminded me of something I’d seen before. Something rounded and glossy white, a toilet perhaps. It was hard to fully access them with him looking right at me waiting for me to say whether he did a good job or not. Had he given me a heart transplant, I’m the type to say it looked great even if he’d accidentally sewn it to the outside of my chest.
I know how it feels to have something you worked hard on criticized so I try not to criticize other people’s work, even though I knew in a split second the teeth were too big for the overall size of my head, as well as the room I was standing in.
Also, they made me look like a liar. And a thief. I just wanted to go home.
When my husband picked me up after the dentist, he made the face he usually makes when I have food in my hair.
“What’s so funny?”
“Well something’s funny.”
“No, it’s just your teeth.”
“They’re making you laugh? Why? Oh I know. It’s because they’re a little big? Is that what it is? Or is it because they look like I’m gonna try to sell you a fake watch?”
“No, they’re fine.” And then he looked at me, tried not to laugh again, and kind of pushed his head back against the headrest, like he was scared.
“They’re that bad?”
“No, they’re hardly noticeable. It’s just like a little white surprise in there, but only at first. They’re actually fine. And I’m sure you can go back and have them toned down a little. It’s not a big deal.”
“But do you think I can I go out and talk to people like this, in the meantime?”
“Of course, but why’d he make them so long?”
“They’re too long, too?”
“No, they’re just a little longer than they were before.”
I slowly pulled my visor mirror down.
The two teeth I feared looked a little fake were actually two fluorescent claws that had somehow been glued together to form what appeared to be one gigantic, curly front tooth.
My husband snapped my visor mirror shut and said, “Stop looking at them. They’re fine. Forget about them.”
Calling my teeth, “them,” suddenly made it feel like they were a gang.
I looked at them again trying to imagine how my life had suddenly changed. I looked completely immoral.
It occurred to me that we all have certain size and shape teeth for a reason. Perhaps every one of our God given features is an indicator of something else. A bulldog’s teeth are there to signal aggression. Mine had once signaled I was basically happy and yet occasionally prone to tears, but now they said, “I just stole your wallet.”
As soon as you blatantly change something physical, you misrepresent some aspect of your inner being. Sometimes that’s a good thing. You don’t need to walk around telling everyone you’re old and judgmental. You can hide all that ugly wisdom with plastic surgery. But changing the shape of your teeth is just blatant false advertising.
I eventually went back to the dentist and asked him to mess them back up again.
“Just break them and get rid of the corners. I’ve lost all sense of self,” I pleaded.
But as soon as he started filing off the bonding, I started imagining he was filing my real teeth down too.
“DOP!” I yelled.
“What’s the matter?”
“Are my deeth till dere?”
“Yes, of course they’re still there,” he said, removing his hand and tools from my mouth.
“What if you just kept filing and I never stopped you, would you have eventually taken them off completely?”
“No, that would never happen.”
“But it could happen, right?”
“It could, but it won’t.”
The word could was too much. I started to jerk my head back every time the file hit my tooth.
“I can keep going, or I can stop now,” he said with one finger still in my mouth.
“I hink dir hood,” I said with my eyes closed.
“I know it seems like I took off a lot, but I really didn’t. You should look in the mirror in case you want me to do more.”
I looked in the mirror. They looked exactly the same, but I was afraid to lose them completely if I complained they were still way too big and white.
I went home knowing if I didn’t find a way to fix them, I’d never be able to laugh again without risking losing the respect of everyone I knew. So I did the unthinkable. I took a nail file and started reshaping them myself. At first I couldn’t quite figure out where the abnormalness was coming from. There were several, super white bulky regions, but teeth aren’t flat so it was hard to decide which areas to reduce, and which to leave alone. I couldn’t get in between the two front ones with my file so I used a small cuticle scissor to gouge them apart and then I just filed away at the corners as though they were my fingernails.
I could have been a dentist if I’d known all I needed was a file and a little pair of scissors!
I was so happy with my self-corrected teeth, I ran down to the lobby to smile at people.
“What’s the matter?” my doorman said.
“Oh, I thought you were showing me something in your mouth.”
“I was. I mean I am. I’m smiling.”
“Did you get all new ones?” he asked, really looking.
“No, just these two, and I redid them myself afterwards. With a nail file. And a scissor. What do you think? They’re good, right?”
“It’s very important to take care of your teeth.”
“I know, but how do they look?”
“They look good.”
“But do I look good? Or do I look like I made a terrible mistake?”
“I don’t follow you.”
It was then that I remembered part of his job was to not insult people. You may think your doorman is your friend, but he’s not. He’s paid to say hello to you over and over again.
I asked my son instead.
“I think they just need to be tapered,” he said.
“Here? Or here?”
“Everywhere. And don’t file them yourself anymore. That’s insane. You need to go to a dentist who knows how to shape teeth. I’m sure you can find someone.”
“But where??” I wondered, and Facetimed my daughter, hoping she’d say, “Wow, whoever home filed your teeth did a great job!”
“How are they?” I asked.
“Wow good or bad?”
“Actually, they might be okay. They’re almost the same as your old ones but just a tiny bit different. The good news is you’ll eventually grind them down no matter what anyway. Just give it time.”
“Like how much time?”
“I’d say a year.”
“I can’t smile for a year?”
“No, you can still smile. And I still love you, but I have to go back to work.”
Next, I decided to ask a friend who once told me I needed to wipe down the inside of my refrigerator. So I knew she’d tell me the truth.
“So? How are they? Good? Or terrible?” I asked her.
“You look like you’re wearing Halloween teeth.”
“So you’re saying they’re not good?”
“I would say no. They’re not good.”
“So I have to go back and fix them again?”
“It’s up to you, but let’s take a picture and see how they look on film first.”
Afterwards, we both laughed for the better part of an hour at what looked like a picture of me proudly holding two Ping Pong balls between my lips.
Just to be sure, I Facetimed my sister.
“Tell me the truth. I can take it. I already saw a picture of me, and everyone else already told me they look terrible. If you say they look good, I’ll know you’re lying, but I’m still hoping they do. So just say exactly what you think. Do I, or do I not, look like a gambler?”
“Honestly, you look the same. Maybe a tiny bit more likely to gamble, but not in a noticeable way,” she said.
“See, I can work with that. It’s the truth, and I wanted the truth.”
“Oh my God.”
“I just saw them from another angle.”
“It was a bad angle, but they already look better now that you stood up.”
“So I only look ugly from certain angles, particularly when seated?”
“A tiny, tiny, bit, but it’s not that bad.”
A tiny bit ugly from certain angles is not the end of the world. I’d just have to identify all the ugly angles and then not turn my head that way. Or I could simply adjust my remaining hopes and dreams to that of a slightly uglier person.
Using a hand mirror and my bathroom mirror, I was able to identify six bad angles on my left side alone.
Exhausted from turning my head, I went back to trying out smiles that don’t involve separating of the lips. All of them made me look condescending and spiteful. I tried bleaching my other teeth to reverse the perspective, hoping the whiter teeth on the sides would create the illusion that the front teeth were further back. I filed them some more and used my floss like a saw in an effort to pry them apart.
And then I gave up.
I can’t look at myself in the mirror anymore. All it’s doing is making me want another nose job, and I can’t live through another dental appointment trembling in fear of losing my actual teeth. I can’t care if I’ve somehow gotten the teeth of a person who society associates with Ponzi schemes. The bonding has to wear off eventually, and who the hell walks around smiling anyway? And the truth is having funny teeth is a good way to find out who your real friends are. They’re the ones who always tell you the truth even when it’s bad news.
And they’re the ones who love you, even when you buck up.
Now that the advice column has proven to be completely unhelpful, the only thing I can pick for you is flowers. Follow Stephanie Lessing on Instagram.
My one New Year resolution is to stop telling people what to do. . . until 2017. So there goes the advice column. Sorry, but it was either that or go on Weight Watchers again.
I especially want to apologize to all the people who took my genetic algorithm stock trading advice. The truth is I can’t even add.
The day I signed up for flower school, I was deliriously happy until I had to admit what I’d done.
The words flower and school have a similar rhythm to the words nursery and school, and I’ve always thought of flowers as toys. It felt like I was telling my friends and family I signed up for toy school.
I knew I’d have to explain that flower school involves much more than putting flowers in a vase.
I told my mom first because she loves me the most. Fortunately, she was in a deep Ambien sleep when I called to tell her the news.
“Hi Mom, I signed up for flower school today.”
“Oh! Me too, Honey,” she said, and went back to sleep.
Then I told my sister.
“I’m going back to school.” I eased in.
“Wow! You’re finally going to get that Masters in Creative Writing. I’m so proud of you.”
“Well, not exactly a Masters. I’ll be getting a little certificate with a picture of a daisy on the back that says, ‘You completed Session 1.’ And, instead of creative writing, I’ll be learning flowers.”
Next, I called my oldest friend, Beth. She is always honest with me about everything, but in a nice way. I thought it best to get her reaction before I moved on to telling my children.
“I signed up for flower school, today,” I said.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Flower school. A school for flowers.”
“No, it’s not! They teach you a lot of things.”
“Let me save you some time. Fill up a vase with water and put flowers in it.”
“It’s not just about putting flowers in a vase! There are other things.”
“Like cutting the stems. And not stepping on them.”
“What else?” she asked.
“Well, there are clippers to be dealt with, and quick dip, which is a product that has to do with dipping, and we use ribbon. But just forget I even told you. You wouldn’t understand.”
I called everyone else on my contact list to yell at them before they could make fun of me. Some of my friends even said they wanted to take the class with me.
Unfortunately, the dates didn’t work out for them.
Some thought it was a phony phone call.
Eventually, it was time to break it to my children. I dropped it on them simultaneously by using the reverse psychology technique of self-mocking to avoid being mocked. I did it via text.
“Want to laugh?” I wrote.
“Sure,” they both wrote back.
“I signed up for Flower School. Isn’t that so so so funny?”
“No, that’s so cool. I’m so proud of you.” They both wrote back the exact same thing.
So I knew they were trying not to laugh.
My kids and I are forensic conversationalists. Nothing gets past us, despite the words that actually come out of our mouths.
I once had the following text exchange with my daughter.
Kim: Hi Mom. Do you really like the pajamas I got you for your birthday? Tell the truth.
Me: OH MY GOD!!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE them!!!!!!!
Kim: You can return them.
Me: Ugh! Thank you!!
Jesse has gotten to the point that he translates what I’m saying while I’m saying it.
When his girlfriend told us about a girl she saw on TV, who was addicted to bleaching everything- including herself- he sat there waiting for me to finish reacting so he could explain.
“I can’t believe that!” I said. “That is completely insane. I mean whoever that girl is she needs serious help. That is the sickest thing I ever heard!” My face turned bright red and everyone at the table turned to look at me.
“She’s just afraid I’ll accidentally drink bleach,” Jesse explained, which was spot on.
The translation of:
“Oh my God. That’s so cool. I’m so proud of you,”
Is the following:
“Oh my God. You’re so senile.”
After I told my kids, it became much easier to confess to everyone else.
One of my friends asked me if flower school was my way of pronouncing botany school.
“Yes, in a way it will be the study of botany, but not in a way that would be true.”
“So you’re not studying botany?”
“What is it then? Do you learn how to grow flowers? Or plant them? Or design gardens?”
“Not as much as one might think.”
It was at that moment that I understood that flower school wasn’t about what it’s not. It’s about doing something simple, something I really love.
“So what exactly do they teach you to do with flowers?” she continued.
“They teach you how to put them in a vase.”
I love throwing things away: Furniture, appliances, anything that’s a little dusty, important documents, loose change, spiders that I want to help move on.
Lately I’ve been throwing my clothes away in a metal donation bin in Closter, NJ.
I sidle up to the curb, park my car, lug the huge hefty bags of clothes out of my trunk, lift the bin lid, look around to see if anyone’s looking, and then I toss the bags in and run. I always feel horrible afterwards, like I killed them.
I have no idea where the clothes go once I abandon them. I assume they wind up in someone else’s garbage. Recycling is great for some things but it would be better if my old bellbottoms would just disappear or become reincarnated as something other than silly pants.
Which brings me to today’s idea: biodegradable wardrobes made out of seed paper
I had a white paper jumpsuit in college that I, regretfully, belted, but I remember how much I felt like David Bowie in it, and how happy I was when I got to throw it out at the end of the night. I didn’t have to wonder how I should go about cleaning the ketchup off both sleeves, or fold it. I just rolled it up and put it in the incinerator. I vowed to live a minimalist life from then on, and create a full line of disposable clothing some day. I envisioned a huge paper towel roll of perforated jump suits in everyone’s closets instead of regular clothes.
Since that never happened, I’m hoping one of you eco-fashionistas might want to pick up where I left off and make your own disposable clothing line. Inject plant seeds into biodegradable fibers so you and your customers can just throw your pants out the window (into a pre-dug hole), watch them disintegrate and then grow into something else a few weeks later. There’s plenty of seed paper out there. All you’ll have to do is buy some big sheets and cut them into the shape of clothes. And then sew it all together somehow. And then try to make it not feel like paper, or seeds.
I would do it but I’m busy, and I don’t know that much about paper, or seeds, or anything really.