She had bought boxes the day after she found out. Boxes from the Goodwill and hair dye. And razor blades. She decided not to get the spray paint. She was going to do her roots and put on makeup, pack some things for some people into boxes labeled with their names, paint the truth on the walls and the garage door and write it on her body with a Sharpie so when they found her they’d all know why.

But then the prospect of sifting through all her stuff and putting it in divvying it up among friends and loved ones overwhelmed her. So she started packing instead. She was still alive a couple of weeks later when the gerbera bloomed.

The pile in the living room was at least four feet high when she stopped to take stock. She was purging, just like after her dad left when she set up the card table in her front yard at 15 and sold nearly every remaining piece of her childhood. The giant Raggedy Ann and Andy she’d had since they were bigger than she was. Her girl scout sash, covered with badges. Somebody bought that. Who would buy that? She has no recollection. She was discarding her childhood and herself, the way her father had discarded her. Mom was too distraught to notice. She burned every letter he’d written her when he was out at sea. In the barbecue in the car port, watching every “How is my big girl” and “Love, Daddy” blacken and curl into nothing. She kept one. Years later her brother had it. She didn’t remember how.

This pile was the detritus of this life, destined for the Goodwill. It would take at least two runs, even with the back seat of the Jeep folded down. What she called her “professor’s wife” clothes were there. Things that she’d picked up here and there to add her perfume to the air of every room. The things on the shelves, mostly vintage kitsch that embarrassed him and of which he disapproved. She would leave no trace of herself for him to gaze on and despise. Nothing to feed any potential nostalgia or resentment. She would disappear. Entirely. Nothing that girl might have seen when he had her in their house, nothing she had touched, coveted, or despised. Nothing.

It didn’t all go in the pile. Some she kept. A concentrate of those extensions of herself. Like the salt shakers. They predated him, and some were her grandmother’s. She kept the cream and the spice of her own self. The porcelain dishes she’d finally gotten. He could have the thrift-store dishes they’d eaten off of for 14 years while he slowly grew up. She kept enough stuff for a one-bedroom apartment, knowing that was what lay ahead. There were things that should stay in the desert, like that blue cotton shift she liked to wear over her son’s gi pants. Things she was rejecting in anger, like that little fake fur jacket he’d bought her in London. Her son had dubbed it The Yeti. She pictured her professor husband in front of a classroom full of mooning girls all wearing her clothes that she’d taken to the Goodwill. Hoping she would haunt him one way or another forever.

***

Beauty. Grace. Dignity.
Beauty. Grace. Dignity.
Beauty. Grace. Dignity.

Step with the stress, step, step, step, step. Walk like queens in old movies. Have the grace to hold yourself, hold on, hold on, head up. Up and down grocery store rows, unable to parse the suddenly alien syntax of the shelves, the assault of shapes and colors, induced autism. For those two months, before she could get away. She felt that her eyes must look like the eyes of a terrified horse, huge, rolling wildly, whites showing at the edges. She kept her sunglasses on inside so no one would see. Inside she was rearing and stamping wildly in panic. Any pretty woman over 17 could be her. In this town with three pathetic fucking grocery stores. She picked the lines with fat checkers and boy baggers. In case.

It’s 2013. Lucky number? My eighth November in Paris, and it may be my last. Not leaving France, but probably leaving Paris. So stay tuned for my next adventure.

Unlike last year, this year’s November has been filled with that crispy brightness that is unique to this month in Paris.

So I walked the dog along the Seine today, and I saw the light. The Seine was high. Took the pic with my iPhone, of course. The Île Saint Louis seen from the Rive Gauche, where I’ve lived for over seven years. No filters this year. No energy, and no need.

Click for a larger version. List of November pics 2006-2012 below.


2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

A friend of mine just went through a difficult life experience — one of the most difficult — which we were discussing on Twitter (privately). He said his mother probably would have offered her all-purpose motherly wisdom, “It’s all a process.”

My mother’s all-purpose wisdom is “This too shall pass.” (It has come in very handy, thanks Mom.)

Mine was (when my son was 3): “No blood, no Band-Aid.” Later (11-ish): “Mandatory fun.” Later (13-ish): “Deal with it.” Later (16-ish): ”You’re in charge of your own reality.” Later (18-ish): “Follow your bliss.” (Thanks Mr. Campbell.) Later (23-ish): “Life is a bowl of empty that some things fill better than others, and trying to fill your bowl with stuff you buy won’t work at all. Oh, and, you’ll never fill it; you’ll always feel like there’s something missing, but that’s normal. It’s what keeps us trying.”

I was a good mother, as you can see. Anyway, he survived (now 28).

So. “It’s all a process.” Of course it is! I had somehow forgotten The Process, and it only came back to me during that conversation. Forget the goal (not so easy with my American cultural conditioning). There is only the process, and it is all that matters. (Poor Sisyphus. If he’d known this, he might have hated rolling that boulder less.)

(Granted, that’s probably not what my friend’s mom means when she says that, but it’s what I needed to hear.)

I’ve known this forever, but then you get your life in a wad and forget the fundamental things. You do. It happens.

Think about it. Who among you ever wanted the cake as desperately once your mom had let you lick the bowl? (Which mine did, until salmonella became a household word in the 70s, at which point I was no longer allowed to lick the bowl (raw eggs) or have pet turtles anymore.) Maybe you’re younger than me and salmonella was already a thing. Maybe you never licked the bowl! If so, I’m very sorry for you.

The cake was nice, yeah, but nothing like the anticipation, hanging out with Mom while she mixed and beat that batter, smelling it all the while and, at long last, the fingersful of that sweet, (usually) chocolatey and oddly crunchy slime that you were licking off your own arm up to your elbow…

The process was the best part. Because then she stuck it in the oven and told you not to slam any doors and you ran outside to play and forgot about it.

Ben & Jerry, wise, wise men, knew it was never about the cookies…

(I will never, ever, forgive them for burying Peanut Butter Cookie Dough, by the way.)

So here I am having a life experience of my own, and it looks like it’s gonna be another one of those life experiences. Yet, even at my advanced age, and despite all my wisdom, motherly and otherwise, and after having been through so many similar life experiences that some of my friends are starting to call me Liz, I actually let myself believe I was eating the cake.

Silly me.

I had completely forgotten that, in life, the cake simply does not ever happen. There is nothing but the making of the cake. And that is enough, and even better.

So I’ve been raging, grieving, mourning a cake that never was, not going at all gently into that good night without my damn cake.

But after the little conversation my friend and I had, I’m feeling better.

Whatever it was, it was not The Cake. It could never have been The Cake, because there is no such thing as The Cake. But it was a damn good bowl of sweet and oddly crunchy…stuff.

Back to the kitchen now.

Oh. My. God. This is a disaster. On so many levels. Practically an international incident. Or it would be, if either McDonald’s or French ad agency TBWA were remotely aware there’s a problem. Problems.

You see, the Americanest of brands decided to have TBWA create its new line-up of Happy Meal characters. Not just any ad agency. The #3 agency in France. Despite the fact that it came up with this horror for a major French insurance company:

As a (somewhat) bi-cultural person, I’m gonna tell you what I think happened here.

Maybe, just maybe, because France is McDonald’s’ #2 market in the world (yes, the shame!), Corporate got it in its head that the French have some kind of magic touch. Or maybe their proposal was just the cheapest. Or maybe the Decider is a francophile. Or maybe they thought they were thinking outside the box by choosing France (which is just a different box, and certainly not a better one in this case). Dunno.

Whatever the reason, I see a roomful of frogs at this ad agency brainstorming about Americana while drinking their itsy bitsy coffees. (A sad and hilarious visual.)

Problem is, that’d be just like you trying to brainstorm about Frenchiness while sipping at your Big Gulps. Y’all would come up with the fleur-de-lis (very bad move, symbol of royalty, anti-République Française, majorly frowned upon) and a beret and striped shirt wearing short guy with a mustache carrying a baguette on a bicycle with a cigarette in his mouth and a bottle of wine and bouquet of flowers in the (straw) basket of his bike and the Eiffel Tower in the background. Sound about right?

Do you feel competent to choose images that would resonate with French people? With little French kids?

Me neither. And I’m more plugged in to Frenchiness than most Americans.

And so the ad frogs came up with cowboys and indians, the circus, magic shows, and musical instruments, because that’s us in a nutshell. Wouldn’t you say so?

Let’s start with cowboys and indians. The French love our Wild Wild West the way American francophiles love their Marie Antoinette and all that. And the frogs throw our cowboys and indians around like they own ‘em, as you can see from this French car ad I wrote about a few years ago. Completely oblivious to the oppression, racism and genocide that we are all acutely conscious of since it’s our culture and history, not theirs.

Blame it on Lucky Luke, an iconic Belgian comic book series that’s been around since the 40s:

Obviously these ad agency frogs assumed that we love cowboys and indians too, since we invented them. (<< This is irony, people, don’t get all bent out of shape.)

But it’s been a loooong time since “playing cowboys and indians” was a thing kids did in America. (My kid, born in 1985, played Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters.) Pixar touched a nostalgic nerve with Woody in Toy Story (1995), but even 20 years ago it was a nod to the past! Kids were into that stuff when cowboy and indian TV shows and movies were the rage. More than half a century ago. They stopped being the rage for obvious reasons. But the frogs don’t know that because it’s our culture and not theirs

So not only are these characters archaic, and therefore unlikely to resonate with today’s kids, they’re just wrong. Every character’s body is red because the Happy Meal box is red. But it makes me cringe with the chief character.

The other one is a bad guy. OK, so the Hamburglar was too, but at least he stole hamburgers. This one will obviously steal your pet goldfish (wtf?) and your money (with a fake currency symbol that suggests a Yen with a chromosome disorder). He doesn’t want your crap McBurger.

And these ad frogs should have pulled in at least one native English speaker. “Happy Funny Bandit” no eez eengleesh. But grammar is irrelevant, obviously. And what, putting “happy funny” before “bandit” makes him benign and unthreatening? Besides which he looks neither happy nor funny.

Moving on. Circus. Also archaic. More so than the cowboys. As for clowns, I have one word for you (my emphasis below): coulrophobia:

A study conducted by the University of Sheffield found that the children did not like clown décor in the hospital or physicians’ office settings. The survey was about children’s opinions on décor for an upcoming hospital redesign. Dr Penny Curtis, a researcher, stated “We found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found the clown images to be quite frightening and unknowable.”

Oops.

Human cannonballs? Probably not since my grandmother’s time (born in 1920). Maybe a few still flying around in my mom’s time (born in 1940). Kids are not even going to know what the fuck that thing is and, furthermore, they’ll wonder why somebody is holding a flame to the string in its butt and if that’s why it’s making such a weird face. Play with matches kids, light each other’s butts on fire.

And can you find the human in this picture…?

Next. Magic shows. Except the frogs don’t use the word “magician,” even though that’s the right word. (Again, native speakers can occasionally be useful.)

Anecdote alert: After my parents’ divorce, my dad remarried a woman who found God and got godly to the point of throwing away her daughter’s Disney stories because they had sorcery in them.

A sorcerer is a wizard. Pointy hat. Wand. Et cetera. And with “sorcerer,” McDonald’s will probably lose the entire Bible Belt. What you have in the left picture is a magician. Plus, most Americans associate the words “sorcerer” and “apprentice” when they occur together to this or this. At the very least, the froggy ad people should have googled the names of their characters to see what came up, dontcha think? Or they could have asked a native speaker.

And guess what else? An illusionist is the same thing as a magician! It’s just what they call themselves when they want to charge more for the tickets. And every little kid in America knows the words “illusionist” and “apprentice” too, for that matter. At least maybe the frogs’ll teach ‘em a couple of good words. Just with the wrong meanings…

And a saw, and a body cut in half. Brilliant.

Last but not least, the musical instruments… I just don’t even know what to say here. Anthropomorphizing musical instruments. How exciting does it get? Kids adore instruments! They’re so cute and cuddly, just like Pokémons… And I loved practicing piano when I was 9, 10, 11, 12, 13… Don’t your kids? Unfortunately, for those kids whose parents don’t have the money to give them music lessons (because they don’t offer them to every American kid in school for free like they do here in France), there might be a slight disconnect. And “Ludwig Van” will have meaning for one American kid out of 100,000, I betcha. Probably most parents in America wouldn’t know how to pronounce it. (Do you know who you’re dealing with froggies?)

And, finally, my dear ad frogs, a drum major is not a drum. It is not even a guy holding a drum. It is a dude in a stupid costume waving a stick around. Shoulda googled it.

Speaking of Pokémons, McDonald’s would probably have been much better off going with a Japanese agency… With kids’ trends and tastes being so heavily influenced by Asian culture these days, they would have stood a better chance of getting something kids might actually think was cool.

I just wish I’d seen the brief McD’s gave the agency… Did a bunch of old fogey Deciders at Corporate ask for something that they would have liked in their Happy Meals in 1953? Sure as hell what it seems like.

On the bright side, maybe these awful creatures will scare kids away and ultimately reduce child obesity in America, which can only be a good thing. But they’ll probably just go to Burger King instead.

What do you think? Did I miss anything?

OH. And no female characters.

See bigger versions of the pics on Design Taxi, which is where I saw them.

It’s over.

I’ve fallen out of love with my first startup. It was a taker. (You know how unhealthy those relationships are.) I gave and gave and gave. And when I asked for something, just a little thing, in return… Nothing.

I lived in denial for a year (2010). I kept plugging along as if nothing had changed. Then I got sick for a year (2011), so it was easy to pretend that that was why the flame was burning low. Then I got healthy again (2012). And, finally, this year, I had to face the fact that I’d lost that lovin’ feeling for good.

Because of that (and some other shit I won’t go into), I’ve been a bit lost for most of this year. Depressed. Feeling like a failure. Feeling too old and tired to start again. Like ya do. I moped around and was a cranky bitch for months. (My poor husband.) When my strength, energy and stamina all came back this fall, I realized I was all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Which made me mad.

I whined to my husband that I needed a new project. I said it over and over. Out loud to him. Silently to myself. To my girlfriends over coffee. To my girlfriends over beer.

Apparently, my brain heard me. (You gotta love the human brain.)

One night in October I was lying in bed wishing I could fall asleep, “thinking” (overheating brain thinking, you know, hundreds of thoughts at once, all tangled up and ricocheting off each other), when suddenly there was a perfect storm in my head.

Bored and disenchanted with the web for a couple years, not blogging much about it, wondering if my tech blogging days were over and what would become of me, but wait, the web is boring me to tears but I’m getting a pretty big kick out of mobile apps these days, and I wish more of my friends used them, they don’t know what they’re missing, but I can’t write about them on any of those big tech blogs I write for, not what they’re looking for.

Just back from three weeks in California, could still smell the wild wild west on me, feel it running through my veins, clinging to it hard, harder than usual. I’ve lost my mojo, need to get my sass back, nothing makes me feel sassier than my red cowboy boots

At which point the quaint and kitschy expression “Cowgirl Up!” came to mind.

And then it all just gelled.

I would put on my sass, get back in the saddle, create a place to write about apps, and call it “Cowgirl App!”.

I thought the domain name could not possibly be available, considering the wide use of the expression in cowgirly parts of the US. I was sure some geekette in Austin had it. So I didn’t check for a day or two, postponing the inevitable disappointment. But when I did, it was there and then it was mine. And so was the Twitter handle. And so was the gmail…

So for a week or two I let the concept coalesce in the background while I went about my business. As soon as it started to crystallize, I knew I needed a co-cowgirl and exactly who it had to be. Sent her an e-mail pitch to which she responded immediately and enthusiastically (“FUCK YES!”).

Nothing like love at first sight.

Ladies and gents, meet Cowgirl App!

This was not the most inspiring of Novembers. Rarely saw the bright, crisp days I love so much, or that special November light. But so what if the weather was crap? My health has returned after I spent nearly two years diminished. A new project was born this month and, with it, a partnership with someone dear and special. An acquaintance turned into a friend (thank you once again, Internet). Plenty of beauty in spite of the weather.

So it’s November 28th, and I got the picture today. I helped it along with a little photo editing app I love, which I’ll soon be talking about on my new app review site, Cowgirl App!.

I took lots of other photos this month. But this is the picture that captures my seventh November, which at first glance seemed drab and utterly lacking in promise, but turned out to be full of little miracles and big possibilities.

Click for a bigger version. Previous years’ photos below.

2011 | 2010 | 20092008 | 2007 | 2006

Hello World.

In case you subscribe to this blog, which apparently some people do (thank you!), the old RSS feed will go the way of the pterodactyl in October 2012, when Google shuts down Feedburner just because they can if they want to and screw everybody, especially people who don’t follow tech news and may never even find out because it’s not as if Google took out a full-page ad in the NYT or anything, not that the Feedburner user base necessarily corresponds to the NYT reader base… It certainly seems like they’re being kind of sneaky about it. Maybe they’re ashamed, and well they should be, just yanking the rug out from under people like that.

So here is a new RSS feed address for you.

Cheers!