Coping with Winter 2014

I don’t mean to be crass, but this winter fucking blows. It started out okay – the snow held off till December. We had a white Christmas and the usual single digits that had everyone asking in that midwestern obligatory fashion, “Cold nuff fer ya?”

Then came the Polar Vortex. That was cool. I had taken a vacation (by vacation I really just mean a few days away from my cubicle – I didn’t go anywhere fancy or do anything terribly exciting), and the first day of -50 came the day I was supposed to return. I was terribly disappointed when my car didn’t start. (Dead battery, then eventual flooded engine – a quick and easy fix for my dad when the weather rose to positive single digits later that week.) I spent the day watching Netflix and crocheting.

Then we had a bunch of little snowfalls. Nothing significant, but just enough to grease the roads, flip a few cars, and make me feel guilty when I’m sitting inside while my neighbor shovels. There was a day or two of freezing rain that coated everything in an inch of ice. And now we’re on a second Polar Vortex – we’ll have a little break of this frigid hell tomorrow (a high of 14, with a real feel of -2!) only to return once again to a high whose real feel is -33.

I do not accept this as my reality.

I do not accept this reality.

My main way of coping with this winter has been to surround myself with lots of yarn. I don’t trust any Midwesterner who claims to not suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. “I just like the cold,” he claims. YOU’RE A DAMN ROBOT.

Because I loathe wet socks, frozen nostrils, and numb fingers, I’ve never been one for winter activities. I might go sledding once a year, but I’m too busy thinking about how pissed I’ll be if the cocoa in the thermos isn’t hot when we’re done. I survive Wisconsin winters by maintaining a delicate balance of patience, apathy, self-examination, and binge-socializing. Allow me to explain:

1. Patience Lifelong Midwesterners claim that they could never live in a place like San Diego where the weather is perpetually perfect because they like seasons too much. I’m assuming this statement is only made on sunny July afternoons while drinking a cold Spotted Cow. Without rose-tinted glasses, a year in Wisconsin looks like this:

Science.

Science.

As you see, half the year is taken up by winter (see “THE WORST”). During this time we experience bitter cold, disgusting amounts of snow and ice, and asshole winds (technical term). The second largest part (see “Gross”) is closely related to the winter; the environment and climate are reluctant to let go of the winter, showering us with cold rain that yields mud, dirty snow heaps, and a perpetual grayness. This Gross period also occurs directly before THE WORST, giving an encore performance of cold rain and perpetual grayness. June, July and August tend to be quite warm and humid (see “Hot”), we either sweat at music festivals, baseball games, or coolourselves near a lake. During this time we should be constantly hydrating, but we like to chance it by drinking lots of domestic beer. There are a few days sprinkled throughout the year, during which the pictures depicting the glory of our four seasons are taken (see “Not Terrible”).

“Not Terrible” accounts for all of the following: Pristine snowfalls where the temperatures hover pleasantly between 20-35, cool spring mornings that allow coffee to be enjoyed on patios, sunny summer afternoons not requiring perpetual hydration, crisp fall days with maddeningly bright leaves and skies.

To get through THE WORST period, one must have patience to get to the first Not Terrible day in spring. You have to lie to yourself. “The summer is worth this. The summer is worth it. The summer is worth it.”

2. Apathy The winter is terrible. It is. Just don’t think too much about it. But you know what? You’ll get to one of those Not Terrible Days, but it will quickly change to a Gross Day. And just as soon as the Hot Days come, it will quickly become Gross again, and you’ll be forced to go through THE WORST all over. You’ll keep doing this, year after year, and then you know what happens? You die. So really, just stop thinking about it. We’re all going to die, so who cares?

3. Self-Examination I like to use winter as a time to do lots of reading. In between reading sessions, I bake, occasionally go to the gym, journal, and watch TV. Most of these activities inspire me to look within: How do I compare to that character? Should I really be baking cookies for the second time this week? I should go to the gym. I should journal about going to the gym and how good I feel afterwrads – that will inspire me to keep going. Then the self-examination just makes me bitter and I watch TV so I don’t have to think about all the things I’d like to change about myself.

4. Binge-Socializing After spending a significant amount of time on self-examination, I get sick of my own thoughts and reach out to people. I realize I have friends I haven’t talked with in a long time. I start dating again. I resolve to do something nice for someone else once a day. I’m just so sick of being in my head that I can’t bear to be alone with my thoughts any more, so I decide to just surround myself with people constantly. Eventually this becomes too much and I go back to my self-examination period.

It’s not a perfect or complete set of rules to get through the winter, but I’ve done it 25 times now, so I must be doing something right.

Humblebrag: Things You Should Know About

Because I’m constantly doing awesome things, I decided it’s only fair to share the wealth. Here’s a quick rundown of some things that made me happy last week:

Runkeeper’s Running for Fat Loss I’ve been pretty lazy for the last month or so when it comes to running. I have another 5k coming up in about three weeks, so I decided to get back into training a few weeks ago. I’ve used Runkeeper for my training over the last seven months, usually using the Beginner 5k workouts as my guide. I switched over to the Running for Fat Loss program to focus on maintaining a slower pace for a longer amount of time versus the widely varying (but, in my experience, highly effective) Beginner 5k workouts. I’ve seen great increases in my endurance and stamina. With time, I expect my speed to increase as well.

Call Me by Your Name Want to get swept away by a romance? Want to remember that feeling of a budding crush that drives you absolutely insane? Want to remember that excitement of the first skin-to-skin contact with your beloved? Want to remember falling in love in the most exquisite language? Then read Call Me by Your Name by Andre Aciman. I read this book over the weekend and promptly gave to it a friend to read because the poetry in the description was to beautiful to leave it to myself. It reminded me that falling in love isn’t something you make happen. It happens to you in a uniquely earth-shattering way. This is basically a novel-length musing on love and lust that takes place on the Italian riviera and it’s gorgeous because how could a novel whose setting is the Italian riviera not be beautiful?

Best read by Oshkosh's version of the Italian Riviera. This angle does capture the screaming children feeding the dirty gulls.

Best read by Oshkosh’s version of the Italian Riviera. Unfortunately, this angle doesn’t capture the screaming children feeding the dirty gulls.

Videogum’s Breaking Bad Recaps Not to belabor the point, but I really like Breaking Bad. I also really like humor. And when the two are combined, it’s like my wildest dreams coming true. Not be dramatic or anything. I first heard of Videogum from Stereogum, back in the days when I was a music snob and only listened to music produced by weirdos in New York basements. Videogum is great for topical and viral humor, as well as tv show recaps. I forgot about the site for a while, but when Breaking Bad came back, I remembered their hilarious recaps. I don’t want to give anything away, but they definitely called Todd an “obedient child-murderer who ruined our Jesse” in this one. New recaps are posted each Monday.

Child murderer. Straight up child murderer

Humblebrag: Things You Should Know About

Because I’m constantly doing awesome things, I decided it’s only fair to share the wealth. Here’s a quick rundown of some things that made me happy last week:

Breaking Bad Insider Podcast It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Breaking Bad. It’s the best show on television. Smartly created. Masterful character development. Beautiful camera work. Nuanced motifs and themes. Incredible plot and pacing. It’s essentially a mega-movie that consumes your life until you complete the 4.5 seasons available on Netflix. I’ve seen each episode about three times, so I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I’m only now discovering the Breaking Bad Insider Podcast. Each episode lasts about an hour long and features intense discussion between the show’s editor, Kelley Dixon, and various guests (Vince Gilligan, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, etc.)  about the most recently aired episode. I always knew there was a massive deal of work that went into making something that comes together as seamlessly as Breaking Bad, but these discussions really solidify the immense work required to make a show as cool as this. Check out the latest episode (and archive) here.

Okay, Jesse Pinkman. I’ll keep your meth-cooking a secret as long as you always have that bad boy stubble.

Plex I’ve had a Roku for about a year and I love it. I’m able to watch my Netflix and Hulu on my television (did you hear? I no longer have to watch on a tube tv!) without 10 different cords and three remotes. All it requires is two cords and two remotes. However, I did not know that I’m able to wirelessly watch all the videos on my computer using my Roku by downloading the Plex Media Server on my computer and getting the Plex channel on Roku. It only took about 15 minutes to set up too – and I am basically an infant when it comes to electronics and wifi configuration settings. I’m pretty proud that I discovered this without Corey’s help. Get more information about Plex here.

Miranda July When prompted to discuss my mood about last week, I told my family, “Everything is bullshit.” I spent most of the week with a perpetual headache, living off of minor sleep (my own fault – my weekly Stitch & Bitch with Mindy is so enjoyable that it keeps going later, and it’s vital that I read half a novel before sleeping, apparently), eating whatever my hormones dictated (“CARBS” was the only thing I heard, apparently), and running with new shoes that give me blisters on my both insteps. Nothing terrible happened last week, I was just burnt out from being around people constantly. On Saturday, I spent a few hours at the beach reading Miranda July’s collection of short stories titled “No One Belongs Here More Than You.” The combination of sun, warm PB&J, and silly-sad stories was exactly what I needed. Her stories were strange, beautiful, and a bit haunting. I plowed through the whole book in an afternoon, so many of the stories are a blur. I’m sure I missed a ton, but the experience renewed my sense of enchantment with the world. And we could all use a little of that, right? She’s also cool enough to have a super minimalist website that is SO HIPSTER, but whatever. Want to be enchanted by your surroundings? Read her stories.

No One Belongs Here More Than You

Don’t worry, I kept the dust jacket on at the beach so everyone knew I was reading a book they probably wouldn’t understand.

What’s making you happy these days? I promise to give you credit if it’s not something I’ve already discovered.

Quiet: Fighting the Intro-Extro Battle

If I’ve talked to you about books or personality in the last two weeks or so, I’ve probably talked about Quiet: The Power of Introverts. I’ve read exactly 4 chapters and I keep telling people about it because I’ve learned so much. Essentially, our culture currently prizes extroversion above introversion and because of that, creativity and inspiration is lacking in day to day life.  Because the most innovative ideas come from introverts, we are doing ourselves a disservice with the constant fixation on group activities and teamwork. 

Quiet

I used to think of myself as an introvert, but I began surprising myself a few years ago when I started enjoying being in groups. Being center of attention intimidates me, but I like the idea of giving a worthwhile comment or having a lengthy and intense discussion about books or the possibility of music-making with an old friend over a microbrew. Bouncing ideas off friends, successfully creating something with a team, and acting as an authority (in a professional setting as well as social settings) are all things that appeal to me.

I don’t mind being alone, but if I go to bed without having talked to anyone other than coworkers (no offense to my cube-dwelling friends), I feel restless and disappointed with myself. I should have reached out to Nicole today. I wonder how Kaleigh is doing in her new home. I should have asked Jason to meet up for a drink. I haven’t talked to my aunt in a long time, I wonder how her kitchen remodel went. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Sam. I should have hung out with Nic. I should have taken Christina up on that idea about coffee. I pull my sheets in closer and turn on my Kindle and start reading, and quickly forget about all of that. 

My introverted nature is fighting with my freshly-cultivated extroversion.  I want the people around me to know that they matter to me,but it’s so much easier to just putz around my apartment, pretending to be productive. That sounds selfish because it is. What stops me from reaching out to friends? They’ve reached out to me multiple times and I rarely return the gesture. Am I afraid of the rejection? In a few cases, maybe. But I know that I have common interests with these people. I’m confident I would enjoy that show Nic has been telling me about. I know I would get a month’s worth of laughter if I talked to Nicole for twenty minutes. And I might find a new friend if I reached out to Christina. But there’s a part of me that is reluctant to face the potential awkwardness of hanging out with a friend who doesn’t know me as deeply as someone like my best friend, Andrea. And that fear is what stops me from reaching out to those people. 

But getting back to the issue here: my actual placement on the introversion/extroversion spectrum.  When asked to list my hobbies, they’re all of the introverted variety: reading, writing, knitting & crochet, running, baking, cooking, sewing…good god, I sound like a grandma who should be in fantastic shape. Though I truly enjoy doing those things, I feel a pressure to be surrounded. Where that pressure hails is a mystery, but I feel it stronger than I’d like. The times I’ve showed my extroverted side, I’ve been rewarded instantly – by the approval of an idea, laughter at a joke, or the gratitude of being understood. 

But it’s a quick sense of satisfaction. It takes very little effort for me to feel fulfilled in social situations. My default setting for social interaction is self-deprecation, and since people seem to enjoy that, I go with it. But the things that make me feel really good are things that require patience and focus on quieting my inner monologue to let the creativity flourish.

When I spent hours reading or writing, it was in high school – when I didn’t have much of a social life. I journaled constantly because I didn’t have a best friend to listen to my sometimes never-ending wordbarf. Reading allowed me to get swept away by a story. I wrote short stories and the beginnings of a few terrible novels, because when I was alone, I was able to cultivate and tweak those ideas. Without anyone else’s input clouding the development of my ideas, I was free to work as I saw fit, yielding some of my favorite pieces.

Having only read the first four chapters, I’m not sure what else I’ll find from the rest of Susan Cain’s book. So far, I’ve taken away that I’ve begun to prize the gratification of my extroverted efforts above my introverted ones, despite the fact that the latter gives deeper and longer-lasting satisfaction. After spending an hour writing this, I’m not sure if I want to go read more of the book or if I want to spend the rest of the night feeling guilty about not calling people. 

If you haven’t heard of Susan Cain or her awesome book, I’d recommend listening to her fantastic TED Talk. 

Throwback Thursday: How to be a Doormat

Every Thursday, I dig out an old diary and share an entry sans editing (in hopes we’ll all see my grammar and apostrophe use improve) with a short commentary. If you like laughing with/at Young Ashley, feel free to use the handy search bar to the right and simply type “Throwback Thursday” and you’ll find the whole archive. Thanks for reading!

Monday May 29, 2000

Dear Libby, 

Sorry, but I was just thinking about what an idiot I am. Did I tell you the Jocelyn dumped Benjamin? Well, the other day, I wrote Benjamin an e-mail saying: 

    Ben, I’m sorry to hear about Jocelyn dumping you. But If you need to talk, I’m here for ya. Just tell tell me when to get on aol or just e-mail me. 

    luv ya, ashley. 

    P.S. :*(sealed with a kiss.)

I am such an idiot! ‘sealed with a kiss’?!? How stupidly insane can a person get? Probably no lower than me! But eww! Sealed with a kiss? Ugg! I can’t believe I put that. 

~*Ashley*~

I had yet to develop empathy – I just figured that since he wasn’t with Jocelyn, it was somebody else’s turn to be his girlfriend. I expected  he would be so taken with my willingness to tie up the phone line to IM him on AOL that he would drop a note, declaring his love into the slot of my locker. As you can probably guess, this isn’t how things went.

Before I roll my eyes so many times they get stuck like that, I’d like to offer Young Ashley some advice:

When pouncing on a dude who’s on the rebound, it’s best to not remind him that he was just unceremoniously dumped by a girl. I know you haven’t been romantically disappointed yet, so you don’t understand that the purpose of post-breakup flirtation is to swiftly bolster one’s ego. Also, from what I remember, he wasn’t flirting with you, so calm the hell down and put up your away message with the N’Sync lyrics.  Was ‘luv ya’ a casual way to sign emails or were you actually telling him you loved him? And was it necessary to note that you were signing it with a kiss? The emoticon wasn’t enough? Because seriously, you are the epitome of Crazy Girl right now. You’re the exact opposite of “suttle” (I’m assuming that’s how you’d spell it). The sneakier way of doing this would have just been to say, “BENJAMIN I LUV U. LETS DATE NOW THAT UR SINGLE!!!!!!!!!11 LUV U LOTZ, ASH” You don’t know what they are, but you are doing the exact opposite of what The Rules advise.

crazy-girl-YouTube

I have a headache. I forgot that how often I roll my eyes when reading these old diaries.

Things I’d rather do than pack

I’m moving into my own flat on Monday. And you know how I haven’t been posting much? My internal excuse is that I’m preparing to move and I need to train for my next race (June 22). In reality, I’ve been playing bluegrass with my uncle once a week and not doing anything until the weekend rolls around and I go on a social binge; Last Saturday consisted of overtime, family time, then a movie date followed by a drink with another friend that lasted till 3am. Sunday was a day spent in the park reading & watching LARPers followed by dinner and music-making around a fire with Matt till 11:30. I don’t really know what I’ve done in the evenings for the last two weeks. I haven’t been running or working excessive overtime. I’ll just say that I’ve been resting in preparation for my move this weekend.

This is my progress. I'm so close to having started packing.

This is my progress. I’m so close to having started packing.

But now that it’s come down to the wire, I don’t really want to do anything. My mother had surgery yesterday (she’s doing really well – she had surgery on her neck for degenerative discs), so I was at the hospital till about nine last night. I came home ready to drink whiskey and listen to Justin Timberlake while I packed up everything. I packed three boxes (two shelves worth of books, a few blankets, toiletry items), then took a break to see if I really did know all the words to Kanye West’s Monster (spoiler alert: I don’t).  Then I got distracted by geeking out about Arrested Development with a friend.

By the way, it’s unacceptable that the new season of Arrested Development premieres at 2:01am for me. Fuck you, Pacific Standard Time. I need to see new Buster and Lucille antics immediately. That 90-second clip was not enough.

As you can tell, I’m not what you would call “motivated to pack my shit.” I’m really excited to be in my new place, but what makes it tough is that my big pieces of furniture won’t be moved until Monday when I have my truck. The whole idea behind renting a truck was to get everything – furniture, boxes, clothes, bike, EVERYTHING – in one trip. So I mean, why spend all day putting things in boxes if it’s just going to sit here another night?

I got the keys yesterday, then I promptly took 50 selfies in the gigantic mirror.

I got the keys yesterday. I then promptly took 50 selfies in the gigantic mirror.

I would rather:

  1. Spend the morning in bed drinking coffee and browsing Pinterest
  2. Spend the morning in bed drinking coffee and reading David Sedaris
  3. Rewatch Arrested Development for the 30th time before the premiere 
  4. Bake cornbread muffins
  5. Pick flowers
  6. Listen to the new Daft Punk because it doesn’t sound like my nightmares
  7. Write this blog post that is going absolutely nowhere 
  8. Drink three more cups of coffee so I get gut-ache
  9. Rewatch the season finale of New Girl because holy shit Nick and Jess rode off together
  10. Look at all my old instagrams and think “God I look like a douchebag.”
  11. Reread my old blog posts to find all my spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes
  12. Learn Devil Went Down to Georgia to make everyone lose their shit next time I take out my violin
  13. Watch Daily Grace videos all day
  14. Day drink till I get to the point Seagrams is an acceptable whiskey to sip on the rocks
  15. Reorganize my Pinterest boards
  16. Pamper myself with a facial and mani-pedi because seriously – how am I supposed to move into a new place with pores and cuticles like this?
  17. Learn the lyrics to all of Kanye’s songs
  18. Start reading War & Peace
  19. Get irrationally pissed when Facebook shows me an ad for trendy plus-sized clothes
  20. Wait for teletransportation to be a thing
Look at those lead glass windows! Won't that be beautiful to see everyday?

Look at those lead glass windows! Won’t that be beautiful to see everyday?

I started flipping through the pictures I took yesterday in hopes that would motivate me. It didn’t really. It just made me wish even more that all of  my belongings would just poof themselves 20 miles away, into my new perfectly decorated and organized flat. 

UGH. 

Fine. 

I’ll go pack my shit. 

Cicadapocalypse 2013: Reminiscences on Freaky Insects

I’ve been seeing a lot about the cicadas taking over the east coast right now. Apparently this seventeen year brood is causing a racket in the heavily populated areas with their mating calls. The Atlantic Wire says, “It will be loud. It will be gross. It will be pretty annoying.” After they’ve shed their exoskeleten on trees and lawns, they’ll irritate everyone, and get their freak on before dying. The new offspring will burrow into the ground, to live as xylem-sucking nymphs.

Holy mother of god. This is the stuff of my nightmares.

Until I was 23, I thought a cicada was a bird. I never paid attention in science classes, so I missed the bit about cicadas not being adorable songbirds. I must have seen the word in poem and used the whimsical context to determine it was a summer-singing bird. Because of its distinct sound, it’s supposed to be one of the most recognized insects in the world. At 23, I had been using the internet for about ten years, so you would have thought I would have asked all-knowing google about that summer buzz. I just never did.

When I was ten, an aunt told me it was a cicada. I noted that it had a unique call. Since I heard the sound so often, I thought it was a sadly common bird. I pictured a small grey thing with pink-flecked wings, anxiously flitting between tree branches.

Two summers ago, I traveled with my boyfriend at the time, Bill, and his father to Oklahoma to take Bill to grad school. They had loaded up the family SUV with Bill’s drums, leaving a pigeonhole in the back seat for me. I didn’t really know what to expect on the ride. His family was different than mine. Their conversations revolved around current events, politics, technology, and biology-heavy discussions about mysteries like why caffeine affects 40-somethings more than 20-somethings.

Somewhere in Illinois, I was awoken from a dramamine doze to a thunderous buzz that was different from the semi hums and vibration of tires beneath me. “What is that sound?” I asked.

“Cicadas,” Bill’s father said.

I pictured hundreds of grey birds. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard more than one at a time.”

“They’re probably in those clusters of trees along the highway,” He said. “Those are some weird bugs.”

I looked to the rearview mirror to see if Wyatt was joking. He was wearing sunglasses and not smiling. “When I was little, I thought they were birds,” I lied.

Bill laughed at the absurdity of it.

As I experienced that distinct sensation of inner humiliation, I realized this trip was going to be a lesson in my ignorance. I started to make a list of things to google when I got home.

“They make that buzzing sound with tymbals,” his father said, glancing over his right shoulder for a lane change, the sunset reflecting in his sunglasses. “They’re sort of like ribs that contract and buckle inwards. That’s what makes the click. It’s the males’ mating call.”

Cicada, tymbal.

The first time, I remember hearing the call of a cicada was while chalking the sidewalk. Kneeling on the pavement, I clutched a knobby piece of yellow chalk. My eyes squinted in the bright sun as I tried to detect the source. It was electric and jarring, beginning modestly, then roaring to fortissimo only to quickly diminuendo to silence.

I decided it was the telephone pole, where the wires met. I figured the words were compressed and encrypted in the lonesome dark yarns. By some strange set of mathematics, they eventually settled into syllables and pauses. Happy with my conclusion, I studied the imprints of the sidewalk on my knees. The flesh was pink and achy from the cement’s angry pressure. I began to draw a telephone, crawling to draw the curlicue cord, ignoring the pulsing pain on my kneecaps.

When we finally reached Oklahoma, the three of us walked around Bill’s new campus. We were standing outside the music building when Wyatt noticed a cicada shell on a sycamore tree. He plucked the shell off the melty-looking bark. “They shed their skins after they emerge from the ground. It ends up just clinging to the bark,” Wyatt said.

I remember shuddering and leaning into Bill. “That’s creepy,” I said. The papery silhouette rested massless between Wyatt’s fingers. I imagined the thing springing to life and buzzing maniacally into my hair. Bill watched his father study the shell and smiled when I caught his eye. I was embarrassed and wondered what he would say if he knew I was just then solidifying an image of the creature whose sound had so perplexed me as a child.

“They have some really weird life cycles,” Wyatt said. “Some are pretty short, just five years or so. But some have seventeen-year cycles.”

“Seventeen years?” I asked.

“Yeah. It was developed as a defense against predators.”

“Okay,” I said, waiting for more information. I figured if I agreed it would reassure him that yes, I was on the same intellectual place as he and that I was following the conversation completely. But of course, I was embarrassed. Why did this work? What difference did it make if the cicada was seventeen-year species or a two-year? Couldn’t they still be preyed upon? Wyatt talked about it in such a plain, matter of fact way –  like he was telling me something I probably already knew. I didn’t bother asking.

“They eat xylem from the roots of trees,” Wyatt went on. “They spent most of their time underground. I think as adults they drink sap.” He invited me to look closer at the skin. Setting aside my girlish fear of its attack, I leaned in. Thin and translucent, it was the hue of an old newspaper. It reminded me of a tiny, elaborately-designed balloon animal. I could crush it without effort. For a moment, I might be able to forget my embarrassment. Just maybe, if I could crush the molted skin, I could reverse the fact that I had never paid attention in science classes. If that wasn’t possible, then I could at least ignore my ignorance.

Cicada, tymbal, xylem. 

I think the trip took four or five days roundtrip. After leaving Bill in a sort of dumpy apartment in Edmond, Wyatt and I spent the fifteen hour ride listening to Merchant of Venice, talking about his first cooking experience (burnt tomato soup), and Bill’s need to substitute the cream and cheese in alfredo sauce for a béchamel. He was a walking encylcopedia. I was the foolish girl dating his son – pretending to be confident despite the fact I knew nothing.

It took me a while, but the shame of my ignorance faded. After googling my list (cicada, tymbal, xylem, brood, Phillip Pullman, the history of Route 66, 3D technology, Merchant of Venice, béchamel), I realized I didn’t have to live in a constant state of wonder. I walked around with the largest encyclopedia in my purse. The answer to any of my wildest queries was dependent only on the strength of my 3g connection.

So for those of my readers who are enduring the cicadapocalypse, don’t worry. A quick google search will reassure you that it’s not one of the seven plagues – just a bunch of hideous and super horny insects.