My actual dream is to open the very first sock puppet school

Supposedly, we learn from our mistakes. It just takes some of us a little longer than others. One of my (many) mistakes that I have done over (and over) again is go back to school. In (some year, a long time ago) I graduated Pace University with a Bachelor degree in literature and communications. Never being one to leave well enough alone, I decided only a few years later to go back to school for something else. After all, if one degree is good, two are better, right?

What did I go to school for? I don’t exactly remember. I did take a bunch of anatomy classes, which I enjoyed. I also took pottery, which I enjoyed somewhat less. There may have been business, which I didn’t enjoy at all. At one point, when my mom had just died, and I was not exactly in my right mind, I even quit my job to go to massage therapy school. Where did rational thinking come into play during this decision? It did not. How much, in general, do I enjoy touching people? I do not. It has been pointed out to me that when a person tries to hug me, I will pat their back once and then pull away. The only good thing about massage therapy school was that I was able to give all non-massage presentations by sock puppet theater.

Nevertheless, I went to massage therapy school for almost two years. Please take note that I said “almost two years.” How long is massage therapy school in New York? Two years. That’s right, I dropped out with about a month to go. I developed painful bursitis in my hands, and also was offered a job as managing editor of a medical journal. After that epic fail, I stopped thinking about school for a few years. I would like to say more than three, but in reality it was exactly three. This time, I applied to acupuncture school. Although that sounds like it’s really out there, it did use a lot of the classes and credits from massage school, so theoretically that time and money would not be totally lost.

I am happy to report, however, that even though I applied, interviewed, and was accepted into acupuncture school, I did not go. It was around that time that I decided, after not wanting anything to do with children the first 34 years of my life, that I did want a kid. So at that point I concentrated on getting pregnant and having my first son, and temporarily gave up on the idea of school.

A few years later, after my son was born and my first book was published, I realized I no longer had the desire to go back to school. It took me a bit to think about how these things are related, but they very much are. My job did not fulfill me as a person, and I was looking for something that did. For whatever reason, my thoughts always lay in academia rather than, say, world travel or volunteer work. But by publishing my first book, something I had wanted to do since I was in elementary school, I fulfilled my inner need to express myself and do something I love, and thus did not need to go back to school.

My elementary school, PS 229 in Woodside, Queens. It was there that I first said I wanted to be a writer. And made sock puppets.

My list of strong dislike

Recently, my husband asked me to write a list of things I hate. (Why we give each other seemingly arbitrary and meaningless tasks is a story for another day.) My list, of course, is still in progress, as I expect to continue and maybe even grow my hatred as I get older. Anyway, here is the first draft of the list:

1) All puppets with the exception of sock. Do I really need to explain? All are so creepy, especially ventriloquist dummies. Sock puppets, however, are on my love list. All my sons’ school projects will hopefully be able to be done in sock puppet.

2) When, on a television show or movie, or in a book, someone throws away the results of a paternity test without opening it. I will stop watching. Seriously, it’s why I stopped watching Veronica Mars. (That and I couldn’t tell any of the male characters apart for some reason; they looked like identical clones to me.) If you are going through the trouble of ordering the test, at least look at the results!

3) Cooking. There are few things in the world that I hate as much as a hate cooking. Even though I am half Italian, I get little to no joy out of watching my kids eat something I’ve cooked. One of the reasons I still bother release paper copies of my books is I love seeing the tangible results of my endeavors. When you cook something, the most you can hope for is that it will all be gone in an hour or two. No matter how yummy it is, I think, “Why did I even bother?” I also had to stop bringing sandwiches to work for lunch because the act of putting something between two slices of bread and wrapping it up was enough to infuriate me. Now I just bring frozen dinners that everyone yells at me for eating because of the salt, but at least microwaving them doesn’t make me want to rage at the world.

I think it’s also the time sink of cooking that bothers me. When we get home from work and school, we have very little time together as a family before the kids go to bed, and I would really rather spend that time with them than in the kitchen. Nothing puts me in a better mood than going to the park after work, and then getting a slice of pizza. I get to have fun outside with the kids, and then no cooking and no clean up. But even though we live in New York City, and yes, we have some of the best pizza available, sometimes I am forced to cook nevertheless. But nothing makes you appreciate the days of swings and mozzarella like those days with the oven and dishes.

As I’m writing this, I remember my son reprimanding me this morning for using the word “hate,” so I am downgrading this to the list of strong dislike. But I want it noted that “dislike” doesn’t seem like a powerful enough word to adequately describe the loathing and horror I feel when I see a ventriloquist dummy.


258 Days Without a Sock-Puppet Incident

For most of the human race, fear of public speaking is right up there with the fear of death. Strangely enough, I can’t remember a time when it was ever an issue for me. As far back as elementary school, I don’t remember having any such hesitation.

In fact, I remember distinctly that for whatever reason, I was something of a ham. On one occasion, my friends and I decided to do a parody of the “Life” cereal commercials and perform it in front of class. I was the narrator, and came in holding a cereal box that cleverly had the word “Death” pasted over its original name. One of my friends was the eater of the cereal, and took a big bite before faking her own demise. Then, a third friend came in with a black, hooded robe and a plastic scythe. Our catchphrase was “Death—it’s grim!” We were a big hit with our class and went on to coin such products as “Tic-Tics—now made with real tics!” and “Gone soap—you’re so clean, you’re invisible!”

A few years later, in high school, some friends and I put together a presentation that answered the question: What would happen if Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye), Laura Wingfield (The Glass Menagerie), and Conrad Jarrett (Ordinary People) were friends? I played Laura, and was extremely excited to scream and throw a glass on the floor during the climax of the show.

In college, we had to give presentations in our neurology class, and topics were assigned at random. I acted like I had won the lottery when I got “botulism” as my topic. Most of my class just recited their reports, but I chose to put on a sock-puppet play, starring the villain Count Clostridium Botulinum and the tragic hero Sally, who had to deal with food-borne botulism, infant botulism, and wound botulism. Needless to say, I got an A+.

As an adult, I nominated my best friend for the TLC show What Not to Wear, and appeared quite a lot in her episode. I was on national television and did not have the slightest hesitation or bit of nervousness at putting myself out in public in front of so many people.

Why is it then, that when it comes to my writing, the plague of self-consciousness strikes? Recently, a friend brought it to my attention that in an Amazon review of one of my books, someone had made a factual error. She asked if I had seen it and wanted to correct the poster. My response was no on both counts. I hadn’t noticed it because I never read any reviews of my books, and I didn’t want to correct it because I continue to have no desire to read any.

I’m not sure why it is that I don’t fear personal mockery, but do fear mockery of my writing. I had a friend who once told me he wouldn’t dance in public because he feared he looked silly, but had no problem belting out out-of-tune songs at karaoke. When I asked him why one thing bothered him while the other did not, he couldn’t explain it—just like I cannot explain it.

For whatever reason, my fiction writing makes me feel more open than anything else. Is it because these characters live in my head every day, all day (and night) and when my writing is criticized in a non-constructive way I feel like I’m being attacked at the most primal level? I don’t know. All I can do is continue to do what makes me happy, which is to write without mulling over what other people think.