Stop with the eyebrows already

Am I the only one who thinks it’s strange to live in a world where bookstores and newspapers can’t stay open,  but there’s an entire storefront in the mall dedicated to eyebrow threading?

Everyone I know loves bookstores and libraries, and they don’t just go there to drink coffee, hang out, or take up space. They go to get books and read them.

Almost everyone I know, including the most jaded, streetwise teens, can talk nostalgically about a book someone read to them when they were young or a favorite story they’ll never forget. At the school where I work, a lot of kids would rather have a pass to the library than a chocolate bar.

But never have I ever heard someone say they really needed to go and have their eyebrows threaded.

I can understand eyebrow grooming as one of many services at a salon, but a whole store dedicated to it?  

Certainly, eyebrow drama is on the rise. I would go so far as to say the werewolf look is trending. It is getting ridiculous, as are all these cauliflower recipes.

Who is going to put cauliflower in a food processor to make pizza crust? That is just too much to ask.

The next thing you know, we’ll have a stand in the mall selling pretzels made out of cauliflower dough for $10 each, but if you want a book made out of paper, or a newspaper, you’ll have to order it online or drive to Washington.

Day trips to Washington for books will become a thing, kind of like going to Trader Joe’s. People with eyebrows that have been carefully threaded away, then painted back on in deeper, richer color, will gather in the early morning hours carrying canvas totes with quotes from classic novels printed on them. They will load into their hybrid vehicles and make the trek to someplace where there are enough humans to support the sale and consumption of printed media, someplace with tall buildings and escalators.

Strange. Not quite dystopian, but not right, either.

Of course, there’s plenty of dystopia to go around. The one valid argument against reading the news may be that it’s too depressing.

Personally, I just read a poem to a lizard. I’m very worried about her because she won’t open her eyes or eat. My son doesn’t like when I write about his animals because he feels it’s an invasion of his privacy or their privacy, and I see what he means. Plus, when you write about something, there’s a strange karma that comes with it. You can jinx a good thing or in a sense make something real when you don’t quite want it to be. I guess it is like that with any way of documenting your life. That’s why I rarely post selfies with my students. I’ve learned the hard way to be superstitious.

I found a dead baby bird on the street the other day while I was taking a walk. He had probably fallen out of his nest the night before during the big hail storm. I was so tired that I couldn’t really muster the proper emotion or reverence for a dead baby bird who died in an ice storm. All I could do was wrap him in a leaf, feeling the weight and volume of his small body as I laid it in the grass.

There is something about birds that we take very seriously. We believe they are symbolic harbingers of something, and of course, they are. A 9th grader in one of my classes last semester wrote an essay about how he stopped believing in God because of a dead baby bird.

On a lighter but semantically related note, I spent several hours last night making cupcakes and icing with a recipe for Hummingbird Cake because I read a story that said it was popular in 1978 – the year I was born. I followed the recipe carefully and it turned out OK, not as good as it should have been for the effort, but certainly better than if I’d put cauliflower in it.

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How to be a fairy godmother

It takes a very long time to write a good story, unless you have a fairy godmother. Unlike the ones in the old stories, fairy godmothers do not all have wings, but they do have magic. The best fairy godmothers tell you fairy tales, but unlike the fairy tales in the newest movies, not all of them have happy endings.

There was the one about a rabbit who was turned into a goon.

Sometimes fairy godmothers wear red lipstick and nailpolish. They can have shiny black hair that they wear in long braids or they can have chin-length hair and blue jeans.

You might say you are frustrated, and they will tell you that you are smart just for knowing it.

Fairy godmothers will paint your fingernails red if that is what you would like, but they might tell you that you should clean your nails first if they are very dirty. Sometimes fairy godmothers will dress you up like a doll and take photographs.

Some fairy godmothers play the piano. They could teach you how to play the piano, but you might lack the temperament for that particular discipline. You might lack the dedication or maybe you just don’t have an ear for music. Whatever the case, a fairy godmother will stay up late with you and listen to one of your stories, about how you are the singer in a band and you write your own songs and your friend is the bass player, which is basically nonsense, of course, a child’s fantasy.

Fairy godmothers don’t always tell you when you are wrong, except when you are very, very rude. You might be very, very rude because you don’t know any better. Maybe it is because you went into a store and a lady at the counter asked you what you wanted. You reply with one word, which is “gum” because you only wanted gum. You should have said something like, “I would like a pack of gum, please. Could you direct me to the gum?”

We always think fairy godmothers are single, but they can get married. Don’t worry if they get married; it isn’t the end. Or maybe it is a happy ending because you will get to wear a pretty dress and talk about babies. Cream-colored dresses look nice with red lipstick, even though you are too young for red lipstick. Babies in children’s books are like aliens. You are too young for a baby, so you get a weasel instead.

Weasels are a lot of work, but not as much work as babies. If your fairy godmother has a baby, she will not keep it in a cage. She will let it walk around and poop in diapers. She will tell you that she no longer has a clue what is in her closet because what she thinks about now is mostly the baby who walks around and poops in diapers. But she still cares about you, too.

Your pet weasel doesn’t live in a cage, either, although maybe she should. She sleeps in your bed and poops in the corners of your house. She poops in the dark corners of your closet, but you won’t know this until 20 years later, when you are cleaning out the closet after your brother died in that bedroom, and long since the weasel ran away. You certainly didn’t stop thinking about the clothes in your closet long enough to raise a weasel. And besides, weasels have their own dreams to live out.

Weasels and goats are like geese, boys, and men. Sometimes they run away. They teach you responsibility, lessons about who to trust. And they make good characters in stories, especially fairy tales, because in fairy tales they can talk, but they can’t always be trusted. And in real life animals can’t always be trusted. You’re better off trusting your fairy godmother than an animal, in real life. You can believe what she says, because remember, she did tell you the truth about your dirty fingernails. If an animal talks to you in real life, he is just going to tell you that you are an idiot, and he isn’t going to help you with your housework after all. If an animal talks to you in real life, he will be very condescending. He will ask you where you ever got the idea that you were a princess in a fairy tale and he might ask if you have taken your medicine recently.

In real life you might wish you were a princess marrying a prince, but perhaps you are just a goat girl marrying a squirrel hunter on the first day of squirrel season.

You should probably be grateful that anyone attended your wedding considering the fact that you served cold miniature quiches instead of squirrel gravy at your wedding reception. You are just grateful that your fairy godmother was there with your mother and bougainvilleas because the flowers are a nice distraction for your wedding guests once they run out of beer and wine.

People say things like, “What a blessing flowers are.”

Now you are an adult. Your fairy godmother will give you a book of affirmations. You should keep it by your bed so that it doesn’t get lost because you will want it someday. You will need these affirmations on those days when you no longer believe in fairy tales.

You can talk to your fairy godmother, even when she isn’t there, because you know what she would say. She would say that you are so exceptional and wonderful and you will need those affirmations even when they are no longer true. Even though they were never true of you. They were true of her. But you believed because she said it, and sometimes you just need an affirmation, a validation.

And then even when your body aches and the talking mirror tells you to go back to bed, you will not be afraid that you have become a wicked witch, an evil stepmother. You will know that a good story can be happy or sad, depending on how and where you end it. Stories about talking animals, beautiful princesses, and fairy godmothers may not be the whole story or the real story, but they are the ones you choose to tell. You know the best fairy godmothers do not have wings.

And the best stories have no endings at all.

Lessons I learned from a housekeeper

I did some calculations the other day.

If I am lucky enough to live another 10 years, by the time I am 50, I will have mopped my kitchen floor and cleaned the three bathrooms in my house roughly 600 times. I will have planned or prepared about 20,000 meals for my family and done roughly 6,000 loads of laundry.  

What some people don’t realize about laundry is that you might say that you “did a load” and it sounds like no big deal, but it is a four-step process in which you wash it, dry it, fold it, and put it away. So my 6,000 loads will actually account for 24,000 acts of mindless drudgery.

I am not sure why it would appear that females are better-suited to mindless drudgery than males, but when I have questioned women over 50 about how one is supposed to clean up after an entire family without suffocating from resentment, many say this:

Just hire a housekeeper.

I do understand why people don’t hire male housekeepers. It’s the same reason there aren’t a lot of male nannies – at least not where I am from. I’ve read the stories in magazines like Vogue about “mannies,” but they were obviously exceptions rather than the norm. We’re more likely to trust a woman we don’t know than a man, at least when it comes to housework.

Many years ago, when I lived here with my grandmother, she was a regular client for a married couple who worked as housekeepers for a few different people. For several years, this couple did everything for my grandmother, from cleaning the bathrooms and taking out the trash to laundry and grocery shopping. By the time my grandmother was in her 80s, the woman in the couple was sorting her medications and helping her bathe.

This couple was very methodical about housework, starting the laundry first thing before gathering the trash. But of course, none of that is very interesting. It is mindless drudgery. This couple would sing while they worked, and the man had a habit of making noises as he moved through the house. Sometimes it sounded like he was saying, “Hee haw!” My mother surmised that it might have been his way of letting us know he was coming so that I didn’t end up walking down the hall in nothing but a towel as he was making his rounds to the wastebaskets.

I didn’t consciously take note of many of their cleaning methods, although clearly I should have. I wish someone had told me how exactly how you are supposed to clean the tracks of a sliding glass shower door, where water pools with hair and mildew, creating a viscous and indescribably disgusting substance.

One thing I do remember about my grandmother’s housekeepers was that they made a lot of stacks. They (and when I say they, I am pretty sure it was the woman who did this) would take books, bills, pens, and newspapers scattered on a table and make neat little stacks and piles with all of it.

When my grandmother’s housekeepers left and I began to assume their duties, I got interested in the Chinese design philosophy of feng shui, which uses natural elements to help people create pleasant environments.

I think I liked the symbolism of feng shui most of all. I liked how, to increase prosperity, you could place an amethyst in the area of your home related to money. If you want helpful people in your life, and you want to travel frequently (don’t ask me why those two things are related), then you might not want the section of your home that is related to helpful people and travel cluttered with wires, DVDs, and dust, as it is in mine.

It is, to some extent, magical thinking, and you need that once you’ve outgrown the idea that the mice should be talking to you and helping you tidy up.

What I’ve learned from reading about Asian interior design philosophy boils down to this: Clutter is bad.

It’s not that I disagree …

If I were to write a book about cleaning and organizing, it would be titled All It Takes Is A Trash Bag.

It would be one of those “cut your losses” books about letting go of the past and giving up your emotional attachment to the piece of skin that your pet lizard shed so many years ago. I would say it’s OK to let go of that massive molar you keep in your jewelry box. You keep it because first you paid a dentist $1,300 to root canal and crown it, and then you paid another dentist to pull it out because the most expensive crown you ever wore felt perpetually wrong.
I do know that, in reality, cleaning up is more complicated than just taking out the trash. Sometimes it takes a dumpster, a landfill, and a week of assistance from several determined and able-bodied people.

So, when I write my book, first I’ll say that you should be absolutely ruthless in your war against clutter.

Then I’ll say that if that isn’t possible, you should put precious gems, crystals, and other symbols of goodness, which may or may not have power beyond their aesthetic value, in various areas for inspiration and hope.

If that doesn’t work, you could try developing a mantra or maybe just a weird noise that you make periodically as you clean to let people know you’re coming. It should be the sound that your spirit animal would make. That might even cause everyone else to get up and help while braying with their own determination.

And actually, don’t worry about throwing away every little useless thing. You can keep your molars and your crowns in a jewelry box. They did cost a lot of money, and they’re not taking up much space.

The beautiful people

Some of my ex-pat friends are talking like they feel lucky to be out of the U.S. right now, and I understand, but thought I should say that there are still some beautiful, happy people who appear to be enjoying life in this country despite the violence, waste, and ridiculous cost of everything.

I saw some of them Saturday night.

It’s easy to see beautiful people and imagine that they are happy when you don’t know them. And so if you, like me, decide you need to write about something good, partly for your own benefit and partly for others, you could always write about something that looks vital and healthy on the surface, because appearances usually are an indicator of overall well-being.

Sometimes being near some uncontaminated thing gives you a sense of peace in knowing that the universe continues to unfold and renew itself even as you sit and do nothing. You could do nothing for probably hours or even days and it would be OK.

Other times, watching an expression of energy and joy makes you feel empty in contrast. You long for something that you might have had once, but you didn’t know it, or if you did you didn’t know how to make it last. It’s more than something you can capture in a photograph.

Saturday evening we were to chaperone a dance, and since it was Restaurant Week in our town and we were going to be dressed up anyway, I made reservations. I put in my contact lenses and used my curling iron.

Our table was right in the middle of the restaurant, which I don’t like. At each of the tables surrounding us were young people smiling and talking as they enjoyed fine food and wine. Some of them were wearing fake eyelashes. I ordered a chestnut butternut squash soup as an appetizer.

A young man seated beside me kept quietly breaking out into song. He seemed to be trying to cajole his date into joining him. I wanted to turn my head to get a look at her, but thought it might be too conspicuous. The singer was probably 28 or 30, had dark hair, and was wearing Levis with a light gray wool sweater. My husband conjectured that he must have been a music theater major. He noted that everyone younger than us in the restaurant, and many of the older folks, were dressed casually, without jackets or ties.

“I guess Millennials wear jeans to everything,” I said.

But aside from our age, we had another excuse for dressing up, which was the dance.

I ordered fish for dinner. I honestly have no idea what my husband ordered. His plate was behind the bread basket.

At the table behind him, in the corner, where I wish we had been seated, was the most beautiful woman I have seen in a long time. She had long, dark, curly hair and wore bright crimson lipstick. She was probably 25 or 28. I think she was having dinner with her fiance’s parents or something like that. The fiance was blond with a little facial hair and a tattoo peeking out from the sleeve of his button-down shirt. He looked like an actor on a commercial for expensive beer.

I had coffee custard for dessert. My husband had banana gelato.

At the dance, we sat behind a table of snacks and smiled and I talked about the dances that I went to when I was in high school. They were all kind of anticlimactic. You’d get all dressed up and go with this one boy who would either ignore you or expect you to set the agenda and provide all the entertainment for the evening. It was not like in the movies. I think some of these kids who go to the dances with friends instead of dates have the right idea.

Last night, most of the girls’ dresses were similar to the one I was wearing – dark with lace sleeves. A few wore pink dresses, which I liked because they stood out among the darkness. I guess it’s a good thing I wore a pink dress to my wedding. I don’t know if you can wear a pink dress when you chaperone a dance. You probably can, but I probably won’t.

A lot of the boys wore bow ties.

“The bow ties are definitely a Winchester thing,” my husband observed distantly.

He was tired and wanted to go home. I’d signed up to chaperone for the first hour and it was up.

We gathered our coats from my classroom upstairs and looked down at the dance floor below. Some of them were dancing. I know in my heart that some of them were having fun, even if they didn’t know it. I watched one of my former students standing alone in the center of the pulsing crowd. He pulled out his cellphone and touched a button, lighting up the screen, then he put the phone back in his pocket. Last semester, a pretty girl had a crush on him. He never knew.

“You didn’t stay long!” one of my bosses called as we waved goodbye.

At home, I took out my contacts, and my husband settled into his recliner to watch the end of some movie he had started.

 

Why some people wear hats indoors

Recently I was involved in a brief dispute between a juvenile and another adult.

I am going to write about it.

The adult came up to me and told me that I needed to make sure that the juvenile pulled his hood down off of his head. If he did not, I was to report back to the other grownup and the kid would be in big trouble, the other grownup said.

I went up to the juvenile in question and asked him to lower his hood. He complied and it was business as usual.

If I were in the mood to write a fiction story, I would name that kid Puck or Finn (short for Finnigan) and he would not have done as I asked, but instead he would have pushed me aside, yelled “Get out of my face!” and proceeded to run out of the building, leading several adults and, ultimately, the police on a high-speed chase. The story would end in tragedy, and the theme might be something along the lines of: When a grown-up tells you to do something, it’s a lot easier to just do it.

Probably, though, I’d want a more sweeping and meaningful message to my story. Finn or Puck might be sort of a tragic hero. You know the type: smart, rugged good looks, dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father. The theme of this story would be more along the lines of: Society has a lot of rules, and sometimes it isn’t worth losing your mind or risking your life to break them.

Or to enforce them.

But I am not in the mood to write fiction. Instead, I would like to write a listicle speculating on the reasons why people might wear hats and hoods indoors even though it is generally considered a breach of etiquette. According to The Emily Post Institute, men have traditionally removed their hats and hoods indoors as a gesture of respect. Women, on the other hand, have been exempt from hat rules and may wear their hats indoors. Cancer patients are always exempt from hat rules.

I can tell you that girls are not exempt from certain school dress code rules regarding hats and headgear. I have seen people cry over such rules, but so far I have not been one of them.

At any rate, here are some reasons why I think people might want to wear their hats and hoods inside:

They are having a bad hair day. I really think this is the No. 1 reason people want to keep their hoods on. For me, pretty much every day is a bad hair day, but I usually solve the problem as best I can with a ponytail. On the rare occasion that I wear a hat to keep warm, my hair never really recovers. Maybe we should amend the no-hat rules on days when the temperature is below freezing? You have to understand that the most important thing to many of us is being cool. We don’t want to admit it, but it’s true. How are we supposed to feel cool when our hair looks terrible? You say we should have gotten up earlier to fix our hair, but the truth is, we did get up early and we had to work pretty hard to look this bad. We do not want to be ridiculed and so we wish to cover ourselves. It is a sad thing to feel this way, but many of us do.

They just forgot. Have you ever had a lot on your mind? Personally, I am always thinking about what I should do next. As a result, sometimes I forget about what I should be doing RIGHT NOW. Because I don’t wear hats or hoods often, I rarely forget to remove mine indoors. And I have a feeling no one would feel threatened if I forgot to remove my favorite black fur-lined hat inside a building. Very few people feel truly fearful when they see me coming, even when I wear my hat. But anyway, when I am lost in thought, I sometimes forget to put my keys in the right pocket or turn the ringer on my phone on. Sometimes I forget where I parked or I forget someone’s name. I would imagine something similar happens to a lot of people who wear hats when they walk inside a building.

They want to be cool. By wearing a hat indoors, some people, especially juveniles, might feel they are subtly showing their disregard for authority. They are above authority. They do what they want! Anyone who challenges them will rue the day. And besides, they do not care about the impression they are making on others. That is why they want an additional barrier in the form of a hood between them and their fellow man. They don’t need anyone’s approval or some deep social connection. Come to think of it, compromised peripheral vision is a good thing. Less stimulation equals better focus. I can actually imagine a juvenile explaining this to me. It’s along the same lines as the argument that having earbuds in with country music or gangsta rap blasting into the old eardrums helps a person focus.

Their parents wear hats indoors. And said parents have possibly told them that anyone who questions their practice of wearing a hat indoors is probably a supreme dork who has to kiss up to the man just to keep earning his meager paycheck. Not only could such a cog be easily destroyed by a brief physical confrontation, but a phone call to the cog’s boss might just get the cog fired.

They are thinking of robbing a bank. Or writing a story about robbing a bank. Or maybe they have just seen a lot of movies about bank robbers and some of those bank robbers were tragic heroes, played by really good-looking guys, who broke some rules sometimes. Personally, I think you’d probably need a bit more than a hat or hood to really pull off an epic heist. But as I have said, I don’t know much about all of this. I am just a little old lady, and I rarely wear hats or hoods.

When the lights go out

The problem with New Year’s Eve and day is that there’s too much pressure to do something both meaningful and hedonistic. It’s an oxymoronic holiday the way we celebrate it in the U.S. Why would you want to set the tone for a fresh start with a hangover, either literal or figurative, from too much of everything? Too much rich food, too many trinkets that you gave and received and there’s nowhere to put everything. And would someone please take this treadmill I have no intention of using ever again?

Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. Maybe Jan. 1 should be a celebration of closeness, rest, and relaxation, since winter forces us to slow down. You can’t get any traction when there’s ice on ground. Winter is here, but what does that mean now that every room is filled with screens generating artificial light?

Maybe it means we should light a candle and read a paper book like Abraham Lincoln did, just as a symbolic gesture. I say that, but am I just hypocritically dwelling on the past like aging people always do? Should I just shut up and download an app that counts my footsteps so I can lose these holiday pounds instead of pointing out to everyone who suggests it that people lost weight BEFORE they had apps?

The thing about Americans is that we are not very good at slowing down because, frankly, it’s not good for the economy. You keep cranking it out and I’ll keep consuming it, then we can both be proud of our contributions and no one can call us lazy.

I’m not trying to be preachy. I’m trying to figure out a way to enjoy the end of this holiday break. Everyone I know is saying it’s been a hard year for them, personally and politically. A lot of people are asking themselves: Why is my family so pathetic/dysfunctional? Why am I not where I had hoped to be at this point in life?

The challenge of New Year’s is finding something to look forward to when it is cold outside, we’ve got months of winter ahead, and we know this year will be full of personal and political challenges just like the last one. We are inclined to hibernate, but there’s work to be done.

Probably no one over 30 really looks forward to getting another year older. I, for one, was hoping this year would go by really slowly, because it’s my last year in my 30s. I’ll turn 40 in May, and I don’t care what anyone says, 40 isn’t young.

But dreading my next birthday isn’t slowing down time. The fall semester flew by and spring will do the same. At the school where I work, we start new classes each semester, so I only have the same students for about five months at a time, like at a college. There are good and bad things about that schedule. I suppose in many ways it’s good that we have a lot to do in a short amount of time. Theoretically, there’s little opportunity for boredom.

Theoretically.

Even though most adults don’t look forward to getting older or the challenges it brings, there are people on the planet who do look forward to their next birthday because of all the opportunities that will come with it. Those people are called children. In this country, a child is anyone under the age of 30 with no children of their own.

I can’t remember how I felt the first time I saw snow, but I do remember what it was like when I got my driver’s license, and when I got an acceptance letter from the first college I applied to.

Now I have people asking me for letters of recommendation and help getting internships and even though I have to caution them not to make the same mistakes I did, I also owe it to them not to be too cynical to imagine that there is a big world out there that needs and wants them, and a small one at home that will welcome them back if the big one turns out to be too much or too little.

The small world at home is where it begins, where you can keep it simple with real candles, handwritten letters and paper books, favorite stories, and songs passed from one generation to the next. Simple rituals to hold onto when the lights go out are not just symbolic gestures, but part of surviving the dark winters in every life.

The names that got away

It dawned on me recently that soon I will be an old woman named Star Friend.

An old woman, with a tattoo, named Star Friend.

Of course, there will be plenty of other old ladies with tattoos, but they’ll have names like Melissa and Jennifer. What kind of name is Star Friend for an old lady?

For years I wished my name were Shirley, maybe because of the writer Shirley Jackson. I figured someone named Shirley would be interesting, but not odd, and definitely wouldn’t have to go around apologizing for her weird name. If my name were Shirley, I would have red hair, tortoiseshell glasses, and a better sense of humor.

When I was about 17, I once delivered a pizza to two people in a Victorian house. The man was in his 20s and had a thick ponytail. The woman was in her 50s.

I didn’t get a good look inside the house as I collected the money for their pizza, but I imagined it was furnished with a lot of funky original modern artwork, Oriental rugs, and grandfather clocks. They listened to jazz music. The woman was not his mother. Nor was she his lover, because the age difference between them was too great and that would have been gross. No, that guy in his 20s was hanging out with that woman in her 50s because they were both artists of some kind or another. He liked her because she knew more about their particular art than he did. I figured her name was probably Shirley.

Today I decided that it would be great if my name were Nora.

I came to this conclusion while emailing a woman named Nora. If I were a Nora, I would be taken seriously at all times. I imagine that Noras can quiet a room of noisy kids just by raising an eyebrow. They are feminine, but also intellectual. They have dark brown hair. Noras can be hot at 45 or 50, not Baywatch bimbo hot, but the understated, mysterious kind.

What can we do with these names we wanted, but will never have? What about the other names that got away – the ones we wanted for our sons and daughters, if only our husbands, friends, and family members hadn’t vetoed them?

I have a whole list of those names, mostly for girls.

When I was 21 I told my then-boyfriend that I wanted to have three daughters named Bianca, Rosaline, and Sophia. He said that under no circumstances would he approve of any of those names.

That was OK because we never got married.

My husband didn’t like the name Bianca, either, and neither did any of my friends. One friend said “Bianca” sounded like a promiscuous snob.

Regardless, our first child was a boy. Everyone approved of the name Oliver for him. We got a bit of grief from our parents over our proposal to make his middle name Trout, so we decided not to use it. In hindsight, I’m glad we caved, but I was furious at the time that my mother had given me all the weirdest names she could gather up, but was opposed to me naming her grandson after a fish. Nonetheless, Oliver grew into a boy who feeds more fish every day than the owner of a small pet store.

The scary thing about names is that they really are so full of meaning and predestination. It’s one reason people play it safe with classic names. Your kid probably won’t hate you for naming him John or Elizabeth.

These days, I’m surrounded in the high school where I work by Kaylees, Madisons, Mikaylas, Mackenzies, Logans (for boys and girls), Bradens, Jaydens, Caydens, Sydneys, Alexises, and so on. I have yet to encounter a teen in this generation named Stacey or Donna.

It’s hard to escape the generational appeal of names. Just when you think you have chosen one that is unique but appealing, you hear of someone else who is thinking of giving their child the same name. This is going to happen, so don’t bother getting defensive.

The last name that got away from me was India Eleanor. I loved it for a daughter, but my husband thought it was too melodramatic, too faux exotic when we’re not exotic. We’re not even Eastern European.

All you can do with these names that you wanted for yourself and your children is give them to pets and fictional characters. Some would say writing fiction is a waste of time when you’ll never be the next Shirley Jackson, but if that’s the case, then there’s a lot less risk in naming a fictional character than having another baby.