working with and learning from those infamous millenials

Even though I worked for three years after college before returning to graduate school, I consider my career really beginning when I was 26 or so, after graduate school when I took a position as a science writer with a cancer hospital in Michigan. For the last seven and a half years I’ve worked in public relations for a different hospital, and truthfully I really couldn’t pinpoint when I first began hearing the term “Millenial” with any regularity. All I know is that for a while I was early in my career and now I’m smack-dab in the middle of my life, career included, and at some point the tale end of the Gen X generation to which I was born stopped being troublesome and irksome and instead became rattled by the Millenials joining the work force. To be fair, not that many joined – thanks to a rotten economy and people who hung onto their jobs much, much longer than they intended (my senior year in college I decided to postpone applying to graduate school to become a professor but all the profs i worked with encouraged me to, eventually, pursue my Ph.D. – loads of us will be retiring, they said. Lots of jobs opening up, they said. I am forever grateful I ignored them in this one instance!) but the ones that did join us in the working world? Whoa, Nelly.

I am trying to avoid saying something trite like there is a fundamental difference between people who grew up with smart technology and those of us who did not but, truly, there is a fundamental difference between people who grew up with smart technology and those of us who did not! I realize, of course, that every generation feels this way – my dad often marvels at how much change his parents witnessed – everything from the early days of the automobile to television to landing a man on the moon – imagine! There is nothing spectacular happening here, nothing that generations of workers haven’t discussed to the nth degree – I spend a goodly portion of my days convincing people with archaic views of PR that a press release isn’t really their best strategy in getting their message across, for instance. But the way Millenials think and approach the world is very different than how I grew up and how I started working and it’s taken some adjustment on my part to realize just how creative, engaged and valuable these younger workers can be.

I mean, it was a little disconcerting at first. For so long my colleagues and I were considered the younger employees – the workers who needed guidance and mentoring. I was incredibly fortunate that my first supervisor was a woman in her early thirties with impeccable professionalism combined with a very realistic approach to working in the 21st century – her father was quite ill while we worked together but she managed to attend every single one of his radiation treatments while still striving and achieving at work. She taught me two fundamental principles that I still think about every day: when working with the doctors and researchers who require our skills, our answer to their requests in always yes. Even if it’s really no, once we return as a team, we will evaluate and work so that they feel they are getting yes from us, even when they aren’t necessarily. Secondly, she always encouraged me to check with myself and make sure I felt I was doing the right thing, all of the time. This hasn’t always had the best consequences…in some ways it’s meant that I’ve worked during my vacation time because news doesn’t really conform to weekends or time off, because it was the right thing to do, or so I felt. When I worked with her I was encouraged to lead projects, take chances and rely on my creativity, and because of her I realized I could balance my own creative work while thriving in the workplace. When I moved jobs, I found myself working with people with more old-fashioned approaches to how a young woman operates in a corporate environment, and it was really tough. For the first time, I found myself not trusting my own judgment, and my value was based less on my creativity and much more on what kind of output I could achieve for the hospital.

And do you know what? This wasn’t a bad thing. I learned how to cooperate with more than one generation, and to adapt my working style to those I was working with. As it turns out, I’m not always right and my instincts aren’t always perfect. My current job is at the kind of place where you earn your seat at the table, and the experience has been invaluable.

That’s sort of how I work – I go along with the work culture I find myself in, generally agreeable and assuming the company knows best, basically. This is mostly because my life goals don’t necessarily align with climbing a corporate ladder but also because it’s my nature – I’m not tremendously assertive but I’m also not passive aggressive.

The biggest shock for me working with Millenials, then – these new shiny younger workers without the original good fortune to graduate into a Clinton economy – was their assertiveness. I don’t know if it’s because they’ve had to fight so hard to get jobs or if it’s a result of the helicopter parenting that came into vogue in the late nineties, but most of the younger women and men I work with don’t give up on their ideas easily, and don’t often defer if they feel passionate about something. I think originally this came across as brash, and, for someone like me, difficult to adjust to after years of listening, learning, respecting my elders and etcetera. For a while my colleagues and I even jokingly referred to the new, younger employees as millenemies, mainly because of the frequency with which they disagreed with us.

The other thing I really had to adjust to is how incorporated work and life are for them. I *thought* my life and my work were pretty interchangeable, what with working in the evenings but never having to worry about taking time off for a dentist appointment, but the younger men and women who work in my office now approach all of this with a mind-boggling flexibility, thinking nothing of taking the morning for a long bike ride but staying up incredibly late to finish a report. I tend to do my best with at least some routine in place that provides something resembling my own time, but Millenials don’t think this way. At all. And it is sort of amazing and visionary and shockingly effective, at least when it comes to work.

In the field of public relations, they are also devastatingly creative. We’ve recently hired a couple of women who are thirty years old, and even though there are only seven years of age between us, their ideas about how to promote medical news and research are completely different than mine. They make sure the work the rest of us do is easily accessible on mobile devices, for one instance. For another, they often dismiss pitching the New York Times in lieu of Reddit or the Huffington Post. They understand how people consume news today – which is less and less with CNN and more often on mobile devices.

Millenials, and the issues they face, remain frequently in the news. Burdened with student loan debt for educations that haven’t fulfilled their promises, often living with their parents and delaying marriage and kids – it hasn’t been an easy beginning for them. It’s a little strange, after being one of the youngest people in the office for so long, to adjust to younger colleagues and admit they have a handle on some of the more innovative and creative approaches to do our job, but hopefully I will continue to learn from them and vice-versa.

a note to all my mama friends

One late spring evening a couple of months ago, I met my friend, let’s call her Anne, for dinner at one of our favorite spots in Pittsburgh. Privately, I often think of Anne as my beautiful friend, not only because she’s physically gorgeous and not only because she cultivates a beautiful life, but because she has the biggest heart of nearly anyone I know – she is a beautiful person inside and out. After I had my daughter she was the first friend I spent time with outside of the house because she was willing to join me for breakfast in between my marathon nursing sessions. She is also one of the few friends I’ve really gotten a tad wild with in my thirties – a bus driver once threatening to abandon us miles from our homes because we were laughing too loudly after too many glasses of wine at dinner. Because she is so physically attractive and because she has financial resources a lot of people don’t, I know a handful of people whose jealousy has overridden their better selves, and they have failed to get to know her the way I have. The fact is I didn’t beginthinking of her as my beautiful friend – it is what she became to me over the many years we’ve spent time together.

So one late spring evening a couple of months ago, when the sun still dared to shine in Pittsburgh, I met my friend Anne for dinner at one of our favorite spots. I had squeezed a workout in as I am likely to do whenever Sam is home with the kids and our dinner plans don’t start until seven, and I was still squeezing chlorine from the pool out of my ponytail as I sat next to Anne at the bar. I leaned in to hug her and almost started to launch into some thought or idea I had had since last we met when she held up her hand.

“Before we get to all of that I just want to tell you – I’m fine now, totally fine – but I wanted you to know I had a miscarriage. I had a miscarriage, and I’m fine.”

I sat there, silenced. Stunned. How many times had I canceled our plans to meet, awash and overwhelmed as I was with my small children? Multiple times. I had canceled on my beautiful friend multiple times, for Evangeline’s earache, an unexpected business trip of Sam’s and who knows what other reasons. How long had she been waiting to tell me this? I felt horrified by my own actions (the earache had been treated easily with children’s Motrin, and I have a hardy list of qualified, wonderful babysitters) while terribly sad for Anne.

One late spring evening a couple of months ago, when the sun still dared to shine in Pittsburgh, I met my friend Anne for dinner at one of our favorite spots and she told me she had had a miscarriage and all I could think of was actions I hadn’t taken. Fortunately I retained the smallest amount of common sense and good will and didn’t start to apologize for my own inadequacies – instead, I listened to her. Her pregnancy had been ectopic, and dangerous. She was on the other side of it physically, but barely processing it emotionally, and we talked around and about it for a couple of hours. A few weeks later I came across a list of the top ten things to never say to someone who had a miscarriage (among them – miscarriages are so common! You just need to try again right away! and it happened for a reason. I had said at least half of the trite, unhelpful phrases to her and because we have a friendship like we do, I frantically texted her apologizing for the error, brought to light by the Huffington Post or Reddit or similar outfit.

I can’t remember exactly what she texted back, but it was along the lines of girl, please.

I have a lot of mama friends, all with varying availability and willingness to hang out in person. Those that work traditional office hours are generally the most willing to meet for lunch or even an evening out because they have systems in place to provide some flexibility, while my stay at home mama friends struggle sometimes because routine childcare isn’t a part of their life. With some of these women, our relationship is mainly conducted via text chains (and, I need to take a moment here to say I have a whole post coming about these text chains!), while others are conducted regularly and in person, over hectic brunches while we try and talk over our respective brood’s din. It doesn’t really matter – the support is there, never much farther away than the tips of my fingers. But my friends without kids? Well, I guess I understand why one of the chief complaints of those who don’t have children is that those who do tend to disappear. It’s so easy to continuously prioritize your young family over your valuable friendships – the needs of children are so immediate and physical. But that doesn’t mean the needs of your friends aren’t important – and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a good friend anymore, either. There are things happening with your friends – job loss (or new jobs to be celebrated) and aging parents and difficulty with spouses and to miss out on that is to miss out on their lives, and that is terrible.

One late spring evening a couple of months ago, when the sun still dared to shine in Pittsburgh, I met my friend Anne for dinner at one of our favorite spots. I almost canceled because who knows why but I didn’t, and that one small act of showing up has changed the way I approach my friendships. I show up, not just when it’s easy or convenient or affordable for me and my kids – no, I show up, sometimes with a spit-up stain on my dress I didn’t notice before or the echoes of my daughter’s temper tantrum, thrown solely because I was leaving her with her other parent, in my ears, and I be the person my friends deserve. The thing of it is – life is only going to grow more complex, with bigger and deeper issues to tackle – and I want to do it with friends like Anne by my side every step of the way.

Life After Life

I can clearly recall the first time I experienced the feeling of deja vu. It happened during the extraordinarily hot summer after my second grade year on a day most of my extended family was in town. Our gathering was somewhat desultory, wilting beneath the heat as we we were, and when my parents learned it was at least ten degrees cooler in Presque Isle, a town just a short drive north of us, we made a caravan and relocated our party to a breezy stretch of Lake Huron for the day’s duration. In the late afternoon I went for a walk with one of my uncles to get ice cream, and as we walked back along the beach I was overcome with the idea that I had been there before – that I had done this exact thing with these exact people just as the sun was setting just so – before. It was incredibly anxiety-producing and when I tried to describe it to my parents the term they provided – deja vu – and their explanation of it – only mildly calmed my anxiousness. I only knew I did NOT want it to happen again.

But of course, it did – a fleeting moment talking to a friend, rocking Duncan late into the evening, on a hike with my father, cooking a meal side by side with Sam – it’s always disconcerting and often powerful enough to make me question my religious faith – maybe the Indian religions are on to something, and life just begins again and again in new body. Frankly, it’s as appealing to me as Heaven – I know this world and am in awe of how broken and beautiful it is at the same time.

I’d read about Kate Atkinson’s Life After Lifearound the blogosphere but it came out while Duncan was a newborn and for several months I didn’t feel like I had the brain space to tackle it, despite my devotion to her Jackson Brodie series. My dad brought me his copy on a recent visit after he finished it for a book club he resents joining. He generally has an unique way of trying to interest people in the books he appreciates, and this one was no different.

“We complain about terrorists threats but let me tell you – read this book and you’ll learn what real terrorism is – try London during World War II,” he said, handing me his battered copy of Life After Life. “That was terrorism.”

Which, you know. I learned a LOT about the European side of WWII from reading this book, but I am not sure that would be Atkinson’s ideal introduction.

This book – I loved it, actually. At first I thought the premise was a little trite for Atkinson but as the book grew and the characters grew, I found it fascinating to think through how a single choice here or a different action there affected Ursula’s life. And (spoiler alert at this point, in case you haven’t read the book) I found it especially fascinating how Ursula continued to learn subconsciously from her past. Like so much of Atkinson’s work, the character development propelled the book – she always manages to create characters I could spend endless amounts of time with. And I did learn so much about what people in London and Berlin went through during World War II – I never realized how prejudice my reading about that particular war was until reading this book. That said, I felt like there were two different ideas explored in the book. First of all, the idea of reincarnation, and second of all, the whole “what would happen if someone had killed Hitler” thing, which frankly, I could have done without. Compared to the rest of the novel, which was heartbreaking, stunning and generally intriguing, the Hitler assassination felt like an unnecessary diversion – fun for the author to finally explore but ultimately not necessary to the overall set up of the novel. I honestly think if her marriage to the (at first) unassuming Nazi and time spent with Eva Braun had been the some total of Ursula’s life spent in Nazi Germany, the book actually would have been more powerful. I also didn’t like particularly how that part of Ursula’s story was positioned at the beginning of the novel, so the entire time, as a reader, I was waiting for it, when so much else was happening in the book.

Overall, though, I thought the book was brilliant and I look forward reading her follow up – God in Ruins this fall sometime. Even when I’m not sure what to make of Atkinson, her work is always, always worth reading.

Duncan

As Duncan has grown older, one of my biggest concerns has been that he and I don’t have enough one on one “things” together. When Evangeline was the same age, I took her almost everywhere with me – to the pool, out to lunch, to brunch at a friend’s house – much of this we did with Sam but often we went off on our own adventures. Part of this stemmed from Evangeline’s extreme attachment to me between the ages of one and a half and three – for eighteen months, she screamed proverbial bloody murder if I so much as left her sight line. The other part, of course, was my own desire – I greatly enjoy having my children with me and rarely feel I need a break from them (I’m sure this is because I work full-time -if I were home with them all day I bet I’d feel differently!).

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When Duncan arrived, one of my most immediate concerns after he left the NICU and my breast milk supply had been established was spending time with Evangeline. For three years we had been practically inseparable and while I knew that had to change, it was important to me that she realize she was still a priority of mine – a top priority. Between polar vortexes a rush of warm days shot through early March and probably before I was physically ready, I took her to the park. Together, with Duncan in his bouncy chair or strapped to me in the Ergo, we baked cakes and brownies – we watched princess movies, played with play dough and colored. These were the things I was able to do with her and together we revised our mother-daughter relationship to reflect our new reality, our now Duncan-filled reality. (As I write this, it sounds like Sam wasn’t in the picture, which isn’t he case at all – he was our Behind the Scenes, the one who for a few months needed me the least, He Who grocery shopped and went to work so we could pay our bills. His role was unsung, but it was mighty).

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Over the last year and a half, Duncan and I have developed a few key things we do together. Reading through stacks of animal books is one thing – I’m not sure in the history of children if any other baby has been as delighted by what feels like the entirety of the animal kingdom as Duncan is! He is also my grocery shopping companion, and while occasionally his company can result in some frustration (his constant grabbing and tearing up of my grocery list, or the time he got his hands on a glass jar of cherries and delightedly threw it to the ground), for the most part he is a calm and enjoyable companion in the grocery store, babbling away in his limited baby talk way, every third or fourth word recognizable, often leaning toward me for a hug or a kiss as we go about our business. When we go to Whole Foods for the five things I insist on purchasing from there (tonic water, apple spice oatmeal, milk, gouda and lamb kebobs), we share a fruit crumble bar from the bakery while sitting in the cafe before I load our groceries. I’m also teaching him how to go down the stairs safely.

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And that’s pretty much the sum total of anything really unique he and I do together – read animal books, share oatmeal crumble bars, grocery shop and practice stair safety. I guess in some ways, as a second child, it’s part of his lot to scrabble, to find ways to assert himself – and really, he has no problem with this life skill, forcing books into my hands so I’ll read to him, plopping down into any readily available lap for a cuddle (including his sister’s), moaning dramatically at the back door when it isn’t open the instant he wants to make his way to the sandbox. But, like his sister, he is the heart of my heart – a piece of my greatest joy – the child who looks more like me, smiles as often as I do, who already loves a good book in a comfy chair, and I owe him a little more.

“One day,” Sam mused, “I expect to come home and find you two toe to toe on the couch, reading separate books, completely and totally at peace.”

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Or maybe I think I owe myself more? One of my aunts, who stayed home with my cousins for several years before becoming a school teacher, always referred to those years as her gift to herself – her time to soak up all their baby deliciousness – my mom uses the same words. In our age of “mommy war” and everyone reacting defensively, it’s not terribly politically correct to point out that children do need their mothers or fathers around on a fairly routine basis. I don’t live with regrets, and I know my working is best for my family, but I do wish I had been able to have more flexibility in my day for my kids on occasion.

At any rate! Guilt can consume you if you spend too much time with it, and is an inherently selfish and unproductive emotion to boot. Instead, I am greatly looking forward the upcoming 4th of July weekend. Our entire family was supposed to travel to upstate New York to visit Sam’s folks, but for the life of me I couldn’t find a kennel to take our dog. After some consideration, Sam and I realized this trip could be hugely beneficial for everyone – he could take Evangeline and she could be the sole beneficiary of her grandparents’ attention for a weekend, and I could spend some one on one time with Duncan, going to the zoo and the pool and dodging correcting his attempts to cover me in blueberry yogurt. My parents always made sure to spend individual time with my brother and me as we grew up, including trips to our grandparents, and those are some of my favorite memories. I’m looking forward to learning more about my little guy, just as Sam is looking forward to his solo time with Evangeline. Lemons out of lemonade, is what we are doing – and I’m greatly looking forward to it.

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Although – I did forget. I’m also trying to teach Duncan some table manners, particularly keeping his feet off the table during meals. It’s going really really well and I know his future partner will thank me for this someday.

dispatches from these sandwich days – alternating bullet points

* Duncan His words are coming so quickly now, and I feel a desperate desire to capture every moment of his toddler hood, scared I’m going to forget the order of his words – ball, dog, bowl, mommy, dada, yogurt, sister, stuck, stop, door and No, to name the ones he says most frequently. Once he has been fed, the only thing my boy wants to do is be outside, playing in our recently inherited sandbox or throwing a ball or going for a walk. His forcefulness is such that we all ended up spending most of the weekend outdoors. Don’t get me wrong – Evangeline has always loved being outside too – but her interest centers more around trips to the pool, the zoo and nature walks – trips with a purpose. She is otherwise happy to play on our porch or look at books or play pretend. But Duncan? It’s outdoors or bust. I’m looking forward to seeing if this continues to be the case as he grows older.

* My Mom has faced a series of upsetting medical issues in the last couple of months that are probably going to result in some pretty aggressive surgery, hopefully sooner rather than later so she can recover in time for my brother’s September wedding in Colorado. A moderately prickly person under the best of circumstances, she is understandably quite nervous. Already these health issues have drastically impacted her summer – she didn’t join her golf league for the first time in probably thirty years, and she is being forced to take her life day by day instead of the leaps and bounds she is used to. This made our last visit – complex – and I realized my fear for my parents in their older age is the possibility of descent into complete joylessness, as the demands of medical appointments and altered lifestyles take the place of their passions. This feels very real, and is what fills my stomach with dread more so than wonky EKG reports or necessary surgical procedures.

* Evangeline is so quickly growing into her own young woman. “They” say how fast our kids will grow up and of course I believed them but…this quickly? My babies? At 4 and a 1/2 and 1 1/2 they are utter deliciousness, learning in great sweeping curves. With Evangeline, four and a half is all about outer space and learning to take photographs and art projects – I’m getting really good at art, mom she told me one day and it’s true, she is. Another time she told me everyone has a hobby and mine is art. Yours is exercising, mom. Every day I say prayers of thanks for their health, their exuberance, their complete and total Evangeline and Duncan-ness.

* When my mom was in the middle of her health issues, I broached the idea of coming home for a few days to help. It wasn’t so much that I considered myself indispensable during her crisis but rather, for the life of me, I could not imagine my father properly grocery shopping or handling laundry. This felt like a betrayal, in a way – I have always been a bit of a daddy’s girl and he has always had my inherent trust when it comes to long hikes in the middle of the woods, filleting fish freshly caught from the lake on old picnic tables, and deep dives into the Great Lakes. So to believe as strongly as I did that he probably wouldn’t properly purchase food or launder sheets felt, in a way, ridiculous, but it turned out I was right. In a private moment, my mom confessed to me that my dad kept offering food she could not eat because of her condition, or allowing long stretches go by without her eating at all. The man is a vigorous 72 years old and spends his days much as he did 40 years ago – running, biking, reading, gardening, camping, golfing, morel-mushroom hunting – so why things like grocery shopping allude him so thoroughly, I’m sure I don’t know. I do know he loves my mom and this disregard isn’t intentional.

* I’ve been emerging from my kids’ babydom in what I think of as layers. When I think of Duncan as a newborn and Evangeline at three, I imagine myself at the bottom of a very deep pool, maybe even an ocean, floating. For months there wasn’t much to distinguish night from day – Duncan was born in the deep grim of a Pittsburgh February, and because of his initial health concerns we weren’t supposed to leave the house at all. Duncan had his days and nights inexorably confused, and his wails during his first six weeks of life often woke his sister. Many nights found the three of us on the living room couch at 2 a.m., all of us thwarted in our attempts at nighttime sleep. The biggest gift I gave myself during that period, though, was the gift of time. I didn’t grow anxious late into night and instead began, in a way, looking forward to those deep evenings when both my children needed me – Sam slept through it all. I feel like I’ve been rising to the surface, gradually, ever since and suddenly I’ve broken through – the sun is above me, the ocean floor far below and I’m not even treading water – I’m swimming toward something.

* I am aware of this surfacing in part because of how active my mind has been recently – I feel like my old self again. I love how, with the creation of Serial, Sara Koenig refers to her interest in Adnan Syed’s conviction as a “fascination” instead of an obsession – I know just what she means by that. I’ve been following my fascinations for a few months now (should I write a one woman show about this performance artist I’m obsessed with? Must learn all there is to know about Brian Wilson!) and its just occurred to me that it’s time to write – really write again. I’ve been blogging and keeping a journal throughout my children’s early years, but it’s not the same as working on long-term writing projects. I have so many ideas bouncing around in my head all of the time that they can become slightly crazy-making, but now is the time to return to what I’ve always thought of as my real work – writing, and possibly teaching.

…if I wait for a creative way to end this post, I will never post it -as it is it took me nearly a week to write this. So, I’m just going to post, with the promise of more substantial posts very soon.

kicking and screaming my way to Hulu

Over the winter, Sam and I decided we were spending too much money on our cable bill. It’s weird how it can sneak up on you – we have a satellite dish and over time added a sports package here, a movie station there, until we looked at our bill and realized we would be embarrassed for our parents to know how much we were spending on television. We rarely have time to watch television so the return on investment was nil, and he agreed to cut out his expensive sports packages if I eliminated my (less, cough cough) expensive movie packages.

“We have a deal,” I said. “But you have to make the call. If I make the call they’ll somehow talk me into keeping HBO, I just know it. I am weak when it comes to Game of Thrones.”

Indeed, Game of Thrones and Outlander are the only television shows I really miss, and I won’t have to miss them for long – one thousand different ways exist for me to access them once the seasons are complete. I’m actually looking forward to watching Game of Thrones in box set form with my dad next winter. It was, though,one of the only television shows I watched in real time, and in sacrificing it I’ve eliminated myself from any water cooler conversation I was able to participate in. More than one well-meaning millenial (all male, for some reason) have thought it necessary to fix my predicament…if I just buy this gadget for seven dollars and then get a password to access this site and then connect my ipad to my television…

“Wait right there,” I say, to these well-meaning colleagues and friends. “You’ve just made t.v. work. The whole reason I watch an hour or so an evening is to not be working. I appreciate your efforts but I’m going to just wait for the box sets like I always have and catch up then.”

Even in exchange for my life, should such a dire situation occur, I wouldn’t be able to explain how hulu, netflix or amazon t.v. work. Logically I know I could save a lot of money by choosing to understand this sort of thing but, meh. Mostly I can’t be bothered.

At least, that was the case until Fox decided to cancel one of my most favorite television series of all time: The Mindy Project.. This is probably what I looked like:

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I have loved this television show since it began. I don’t know all the different places I’ve read about Mindy Kaling’s affinity for romantic comedies, but I knew about it before I started watching the program and expected her series to be an homage to romantic comedies which are not, in fact, not funny every second. That The Mindy Project is often so wickedly funny is a wonderful surprise – I don’t think I’ve laughed harder – as an adult – than I did the night I watched the episode “My Cool Christian Boyfriend.” Part of what makes the show so great is, of course, Mindy – but the collaboration of the entire cast is what makes the show work so damn well. Because Mindy’s character tends, especially in earlier seasons, toward the more superficial, with passions for clothes, popular culture and brunch, most of the rest of the characters bring some level of gravitas to the show, whether it’s straight man Jeremy trying to run a successful clinical practice or serious, Catholic Danny (and Mindy’s love interest) trying to excel at everything from cooking to caring for his mother. Don’t get me wrong, there is a pretty high level of jack-assery involved in every episode, but the characters create a balance I’ve rarely seen in other comedies. As the seasons have grown so have the characters, and so have the issues the show has been willing to tackle. Because it’s modeled, in some aspects, after a romantic comedy, things do take some time to unfold, and I suppose that might have frustrated some viewers. I’ve also read criticism claiming every show isn’t equally funny, but I’m not really sure how that could be achieved. What I really love about the show is how oddly true to life it can be – Mindy works in a multigenerational office that reflects a lot of current work places, with millenial ideals clashing against Gen-X ideology. There are family issues and race issues and work issues and body image issues – I defy anyone to find a show that more realistically portrays a woman’s true feelings about weight gain during pregnancy – especially if she already struggles with her weight – than this one:

http://www.tv.com/shows/the-mindy-project/what-to-expect-when-youre-expanding-3069084/

All of which is to say, by the time The Mindy Project returns, I have no doubt you’ll find me a very loyal Hulu customer and, who knows? I might catch up on Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, for I will be streaming or downloading and attaching cords to cables while, apparently, spending even less money than I am now, which seems incredible. I guess I owe a thanks, after all, to Fox!

Is McDonald’s just a memory?

A few months ago, McDonald’s ran an advertisement that was nothing more than a collage of its various signs in different cities, with community-focused messages highlighted. Some of the messages, like “Boston Strong,” would be understood globally, while others were locally focused – high school football championships and Happy Birthday messages. The commercial struck me, even though it has been years since I set foot in a McDonald’s for anything other than a cup of coffee. I grew up in a small town, and for a long time the only fast food restaurants we had were McDonald’s, Burger King and maybe Arby’s? Taco Bell didn’t come around until I was in high school, and it was a really big deal when it did, that I remember. You can watch most of the ad, and the Today Show commentary, here (I couldn’t find an unedited version):

I found this commercial so effective because, where I grew up, restaurants like McDonald’s and Big Boy were anchors in the community. We rarely, if ever, ate dinner at McDonald’s as a family, and I was a senior in college before I tried an Egg McMuffin, but occasionally on Sundays after church my mom would take us to McDonald’s and I can still feel the anticipation in the car as we drove home, the smell of French fries moistening the air, running into my room to change my clothes so I could devour a cheeseburger and fries at our kitchen table before starting homework or heading off to hang out with friends (for the record, coming home from church and changing my clothes is still one of my favorite things in the world.) I spent the majority of my time at McDonald’s in high school, when our local chain hosted all-you-can eat pancake dinners to support various causes around town – our football team, the high school choir, my theater troupe. These dinners were ubiquitous, and fueled more dance and play rehearsals than I can count. Sometimes my entire family would go, other times, I would go with group of friends, and even now I can taste the crisp-yet-gooey pancake dough, the tang of the artificial syrup, the gristle of the three-sausages we were given (sausage, alas, was not all you can eat). These are, by far, some of my best memories of growing up in a small town – the convivial air inside the restaurant on winter nights as the wind from Lake Huron beat off the lake. Much better than the slow-simmering racism, sexism and homophobia, to be sure.

I have virtually no memories of McDonald’s from my mid-twenties – first in North Carolina and later in Pittsburgh. By its very nature fast food needs to be convenient, and after high school I never lived near one that was terrible close, and as we began our series of school-dictated moves, we never lived close enough to one to make it on our radar. The lack of proximity, coupled with a heightened sense of our wellness, meant we saved McDonald’s meals for long car rides, and now we’ve even eliminated those. Evangeline hates McDonald’s – we’ve taken her on a few occasions and she refuses to eat the chicken nuggets, the apple slices, the french fries, the cheeseburgers. Because she dislikes it so much, and because Sam and I are convinced Duncan would love McDonald’s too much, we’ve removed it as a dining option altogether.

Following a 400 million dollar quarterly loss, McDonald’s has been in the news a lot lately. I oddly read quite a bit of business news because of my job, and I know criticisms of McDonald’s range from not changing with the new, more health conscious America to not sticking with what it does best – burgers, fries and fountain Coke. According to The New Yorker, it has suffered even further from the rise of “fast-casual” chains like Chipotle and Panera, which offer better quality food for a small percentage increase in price.

It makes me a little bit sad. To be sure, I don’t think McDonald’s always played fair – they may have manipulated their food so customers developed a kind of addiction to it – and with all we know about health and wellness, it’s hard to rationalize eating regularly, if at all, at the chain. But the company also gave so many of my friends their first jobs, and in my hometown it provided a reliable and safe place to meet up with friends before or after a movie. The restaurants make wonderful pit-stops on long road trips because the bathrooms are clean and bright, and their coffee is good. I hope the chain finds a way to be solvent while still remaining true to itself – I read somewhere they want to introduce an artisan chicken sandwich, which I would never order. There’s a lot of good behind the organization, especially for kids growing up in small towns with limited job and social opportunities. But then again, I guess that’s the paradox – I love it enough to want it to succeed, without having to support it myself.

(It has occurred to me that I started thinking about McDonald’s after reading this post from Chez Danisse, and as I was doing some light fact-checking I came across this as well.)