Today's writing: rage haiku about my dishwasher

I am a fan of a strongly worded letter. This is one I've wanted to write a long time, to the CEO of GE, a company that does its best to avoid paying taxes and also seems to do its best to design dishwashers designed to be replaced shortly after purchase.


Jeff Immelt
CEO, General Electric
General Electric Company
3135 Easton Turnpike, Fairfield, CT 06828
(203) 373-2211


Dear Mr. Immelt:

I am writing to you just before 6 AM on a Tuesday. I am one of your customers—probably a pretty typical one. A married mom of two kids with a job and other responsibilities. I get up by 5 AM to make sure everything gets taken care of. Unloading the dishwasher is almost always my first chore. About the early hour or the workload, I have no complaints.

About my GE dishwasher, I could write a medium-sized volume of rage haiku, especially since I just spent forty-five minutes dismantling the spray arms to do my best at removing the small particles of food that get lodged there every single day.  These are designed cheaply and in such a way that they can’t actually be cleaned.

Let me share just a few of the rage haikus I have composed this morning, thinking of you and your executives who have probably NEVER loaded or unloaded a dishwasher, and who probably rarely handle a dirty dish after you’ve passed it for someone else to manage:

It is moronic

To design a dishwasher

That traps particles


What makes it all worse

Is that I can’t take apart

The stupid spray arms


I replaced them once

I also had a pro try

It cost me a ton


And it didn’t work

Excuse me while I censor

A stream of foul words


One shred of pasta

Means the flow of water stops

Dishes don’t get washed


Here’s a dishwasher

That can’t clean a dirty dish

Clean dishes only


I am not so dumb

As to buy one from GE

You don’t test your stuff


It’s hard to imagine a lousier product. A dishwasher that can only clean dishes that have been rinsed of every particle--especially the small ones, which will block the spray arms--is like a car that can only get you ten percent of the total distance you’re trying to drive. It’s like a book with only the first chapter. It’s a telephone without an earpiece or number pad. In short, it’s a waste of all the labor and materials that went into it, which is a foul thing to contemplate in a planet on the edge of ruin.

Here’s the thing, Mr. Immelt. This wasn’t an inexpensive purchase. A similar one at Sears is about $750, and I seem to recall this particular one cost a bit more than that. Since I’ve bought it just a few years ago, I’ve put $300 into fixing it, which makes about twenty-five cents for each time I’ve wanted to take a sledgehammer to this box of frustration and woe.

Its model number is PDW8280N005, if you’re curious. You might consider how many people own this particular monstrosity, which seems designed to fail. That’s how many families have mornings like mine and dream of the day the dishwasher is pulled out like a rotten tooth and replaced with something more effective. Like hamsters with tiny skates made of sponges.

Yours truly,




A Wee Update from Hollywood

We're back in Los Angeles to play another round of Let's Audition for Something and See How It Goes. And as bad as everyone says rejection is, I am here to tell you that Tinseltown has nothing on the playground. Seriously. So far, school has been more soul-crushing than the vast entertainment machine, which says something about the bravery of everyday kids.

That said, I have had one wild dream dashed. Adam* told me the laundromat across the street would wash and fold our dirty goods for a dollar. A DOLLAR? I thought. SIGN ME UP. I planned to pretend that I didn't feel terrible for the poor stranger who had to wash my unmentionables.

When I dropped off the laundry, they immediately weighed it. That's never a good sign. Seriously. Who deals with scales? Medical examiners, circus sideshow acts, butchers: all menacing in their own ways.

The laundry people wrote up my bill and added a dollar on top--so there was a dollar involved, even though it was a dollar involved with many others of its kind. Enough that they could swiftly people a commune were they actually people.

But anyway. We have clean clothes.

Yesterday was a day full of errands. In addition to having other people do my laundry, I also filled out paperwork. By myself. Because no one will do that, not even for a dollar. I also bought a cheap vacuum cleaner because the apartment we are living in belongs to a bachelor and let's just say the one he has is lacking in the suck department. Or it's abundant. Either way, it does not work.

Then I had to pick up the girls' headshots and drop them off at the agent's. And then pick up my clean, folded laundry. This sounds like nothing, but when you have to drive across Los Angeles several times in one day, facing traffic, helmet-less bikers, and police offers going 15 miles under the speed limit for no apparent reason, which is strangely alarming, you realize it's an ordeal.






The moment we stepped in the apartment, sweating profusely into the next round of laundry, I got an email from Alice's agent, letting us know she has an audition for a movie role as a frighteningly smart 8-year-old going on 18. So basically, as herself. If she were to get the role, she'd travel to Southeast Asia for filming. Whoa!

There was just one problem. She was in Seattle for orchestra camp. I called Alice to see what she wanted to do, and we agreed that the movie audition was a cool opportunity. Then I tracked down Adam, who found Alice a ticket, and put her on a plane that arrived just before midnight. I picked her up at LAX, threw her into bed, and we have been rehearsing her lines since the girls woke up too early this morning.

Lucy, who as usual is being a good sport about not winning the audition lottery, has been coaching Alice on the emotions she needs to show for this audition: fear and misery. Let's just say Lucy believes in method acting, and Alice has had to call a couple of timeouts. 

But we're in for an exciting day. The floor and most of our clothes are clean. Whatever happens, we're having fun. I couldn't ask for much more than that. (Except for the dogs and Adam to be here with us.)



* His real name, for maximum humiliation.


Hollywood: The end, for now

Our Hollywood adventures came to an exciting end. In the last week, Alice got two callbacks and food poisoning--and not necessarily in that order. 

I'll spare you the gory details of the food poisoning, but I will say this. The Flintstones BBQ at Universal Studios is at the bottom of my list of recommended dining establishments.

Despite not feeling her usual elfin best, Alice was a champ during her two callbacks. In the end, she didn't get the part. But, as I explained to her and Lucy, the point of this wasn't to get parts. It was to do something new, something challenging, and something we loved. With this or with anything in life, you can't control what happens. You can only control the risks you take and the energy you spend trying.

On both of those scores, the two girls not only made me proud, they inspired me. Alice had more luck on the audition front than Lucy, but Lucy was nothing but excited for her little sister. Alice, meanwhile, had the casting assistants complimenting her independence. 

"She doesn't need me!" one of them said as Alice made her own way back to the Abbott & Costello building on the NBC lot after her final callback.

This callback experience, by the way, provided me with one of my favorite Hollywood snapshots. While I waited in the lobby for Alice to do her thing, they were casting a male model for some mysterious production. I was surrounded by handsome young men in well-ironed trousers. They were talking amongst themselves about their bartending jobs and their girlfriends ("mine is a bad, bad girl") when the casting director gathered them 'round for instructions:  

"Conrad, Zachary, Schuyler, you're male strippers. I want you to walk past me and give me your best condescending look--just look at me like I'm lower than low. I'm lower than you, and you're strippers, so I'm really low." 

One by one, these improbably named, deadly handsome men walked past. As they turned toward her to deliver their condescending gazes, I realized I'd seen that look before in high school, in college, around town. I'd never known what it meant before, even though I knew certain people made me feel really uncomfortable. 

It was so nice to know the reason for that--if I'd had dollar bills on me, I would have folded them and delivered one each to Conrad, Zachary, and Schuyler. 

Meanwhile, though, it's great to be home. And three cheers to Lucy and Alice for being brave, for working hard, and for being happy just to have a chance to pursue a dream. It's so easy for us grownups to hang our prospects for happiness on the outcome. I'll forever be proud of these kids for knowing it's the experience that matters. 

Oh, Hollywood: You're nuts!

Alice works on math in the Cocoa CabanaA few months ago, I wrote about a strange email I received while I was at a conference in Los Angeles. "Yes, Lucy," it said, "We are having auditions for a talent agent." Since neither Adam nor I signed Lucy up, we concluded she did it.

Only this afternoon, over a plate of chicken chow mein, did the truth come out. ALICE, who has excellent computer skills, is the one who found out about the audition. She and Lucy studied it together and decided to sign Lucy up. This is because Alice, who is the thriftier of the two, thought it would be too expensive. Apparently Lucy had seen something she thought was a phone number on the website. "No," Alice said. "That's the price!"

(For the record: We did not pay an agent to represent the kids. Legitimate agents don't charge to represent talent. Alice probably spotted a price for a year-long acting seminar. Those are expensive, although not phone-number expensive.)

The upshot, of course, is that both kids signed with that particular agent. For the last few weeks, we've been in Burbank awaiting auditions. They've been taking acting classes and doing their best to convince me that doing schoolwork in a poolside cabana is a good idea. (We tried it, but on one of the colder Los Angeles mornings. The hot chocolate helped and let us come up with a name for the classroom--the Cocoa Cabana.)

Given Alice's primary role in the shenanigans, it seems only fair that she was the first of the kids to get an audition. And then another one, the next day. The first was for a one-day part on a long-term TV series. The second, a bigger opportunity, was for a series regular on a show created by someone you'd recognize starring people who are legitimately famous. It was both exciting and intimidating.

Of course we wanted to do our best work to prepare. When you only have twenty-four hours' notice before an audition, and auditions two days in a row, though, this means the pressure is on.

Alice's agent sent the "sides"--Hollywood jargon for pages of a script. I printed them out, along with the entire script of the pilot episode of the show. It was a long print job, and the elderly woman with hair that looked like brown cotton candy, or maybe a tea-stained Q-tip, didn't appreciate having to wait. She was a virtuoso of sighs, let me tell you. Either that, or she was practicing for a role as a leaking air mattress.

That task behind us, Alice and I sat down at the dining room table, shoved aside the math books and scratch paper, and started reading through the script. The first scene was touching: a mother and daughter at the beach, talking about their hopes, dreams, and disappointments. It was not unlike many a conversation the girls and I have had this year. 

The second scene. Well. In that one, Alice's character had to talk one of her mother's friends out of a cigarette. And then smoke it with proficiency.

"Do I really have to SMOKE?" she said.

"Uh," I said. 

Alice eating a bowl of post-audition ice cream

Of all the scenes I'd imagined Alice doing, one like this never even knocked on the back door of my mind. Rather than focus on this, I thought I'd take a look at the whole script and walk her through it. Maybe there was some context in which this made sense. 

I picked up the pages and noticed immediately the script was set near Seattle. Hurrah! Something familiar! So I started giving Alice the rundown. A prudent parent might have read the whole thing first. Forget about that, though. We didn't have time! 

"This takes place in a suburb of Seattle," I began. "Like where your aunt Susu lives." The script went on to describe it as a place where people go after their souls have died, more or less. "So maybe not so much like where Susu lives. Heh heh. But the houses will look similar."

Then it described the characters. Or, rather, their sexual ambitions. Which were many. These, I skipped over so that I could start reading the lines to her. We soon were in the midst of a scene where one of the characters is holding a surprise party for his unsuspecting wife, who comes home, rummages in the fridge, and struts into the room wearing a peanut butter bikini.

The script then describes the sounds of the dog removing the bikini off-screen, just as the woman's lover also enters the room wearing something equally nutty.

At this point, I started flipping through the script to see where Alice's scenes were. I couldn't find them. Anywhere. My immediate conclusion: They must be hanging out with her lost innocence.

A few minutes later, after I'd recovered from the vapors, I sent her agent a note. I made no mention of peanut butter, but did allow that we seemed to have the wrong script. No worries, he replied. Her lines were all she needed. So then I asked about the smoking in the second scene. IS THAT EVEN LEGAL? I asked. He didn't respond. Wise man.

Adam and I talked about it and we had one of our extremely rare disagreements. He didn't think it was a huge deal. I did. Fortunately, we were communicating via text message and had to keep the arguments as brief brief as, say, a peanut butter bikini. If one must argue with a spouse, text messages--especially if you don't have an unlimited plan--are definitely the way to go.

After getting advice from an actress friend, I decided to leave this one up to Alice. If she wanted to audition even though that part made her uncomfortable, we'd give it our best shot and figure out all the details later. Sort of the way we're doing with this entire year. 

My heart wanted to fling itself out of my chest when Alice walked off, headshot and resume in hand, for her auditions. But she did it, with courage and humor. And Lucy, who has been waiting for an audition of her own, cheered her sister on with love and grace.

There are no textbooks that tell you how to do these things: perform under pressure, be gracious in the company of disappointment, persist in the face of impossible odds. To practice these lessons in the pursuit of a dream has been a gift. Even if Alice swears she'll never eat peanut butter again.




How homeschooling turned into Hollywood

Those of you who know me in real life have no doubt heard about our family's grand plans to homeschool for the year.

A variety of things brought us to this point.

For starters, Adam earned a two-month sabbatical from work several years ago. It seemed like high time to take it. And then Lucy wasn't having a great experience at school, a situation that was eating up huge amounts of mental energy.

And then there is my conviction that the kind of conformity that is necessary to the running of schools really isn't all that good for individuals (as useful as it is for society as a whole). It makes it all too easy for kids to think that learning is tantamount to doing the work that's assigned according to someone else's standards--and the less effort expended to get a good grade, the better. I don't want to get all political or mouth-foamy here, but I think in an ideal world, kids (and the rest of us) would follow their curiosity to exciting and inspirational places. We'd learn for the love of it. And we'd put these individual passions to service for the good of the world, something that's really hard to do when everyone is studying the same thing at the same time.

Also, and most important, I said I'd never homeschool. Ever. And you know what happens when you say "never."

Part of this reluctance came from the old bias against homeschoolers that lots of people have. Homeschoolers are those kids in prairie skirts. The ones who think carob is chocolate. Homeschooling consigns kids to permanent weirdo status.

I was once behind a one-way glass at a client's office when a group of homeschooled kids was testing a board game under development. The client had provided snacks and juice boxes, and at irregular intervals, the kids kept shooting geysers of juice through their straws.

Someone finally asked, "What's up with those kids?"

A seasoned tester said, "Homeschoolers. They can't handle the juice boxes."

I never wanted to raise kids who couldn't handle juice boxes. It's a metaphor for not being able to handle real life.

But fast-forward a few years and I have kids who 1) don't even like juice boxes; and b) are now part of the homeschool club. We're weirdos and we like it.

So that was to be our plan for the year. I'd teach them math, writing and science, and we'd travel as much as we could to show them the wider world and the different ways people live in it and have lived in it over the ages.

We made it approximately zero weeks without having everything derailed.

In August, I wrote about someone (LUCY!) signing herself up to audition for a Hollywood talent agent. She did, and made it through a couple of callbacks. (Read that post here.)

Meanwhile, someone at the audition place had also noticed Alice and asked her to read a commercial. Alice did pretty well, apparently, because she made it through the callback rounds, too.

The day came for the girls to face the agent. When Lucy read her lines, Adam could tell from her body language that she was nervous. We assumed the experience was just that--an experience to learn from. Afterward I watched Alice recite her commercial for the agent, but I couldn't tell one way or another from his reaction whether she'd made any sort of impression.

We were suprised, then, a few weeks later to learn that both girls got callbacks in Los Angeles with the agent, who really does represent real actors on TV shows you'd recognize. (We checked. Several times.)

He also said some very appealing things to me on the phone: that he wanted to work with actor's actors, not cute kids and hot twenty-somethings. For him, it was about working with people who wanted to learn and improve their craft. He also said that Hollywood can eat you alive, which is why it's important for kids to take acting classes that were playful and fun.

All of this sounded great to me. There was a catch, though. We'd have to be willing to live in Los Angeles for six weeks at a time. 

If we were still in school, this would be a no-way kind of experience. You can't just leave a traditional classroom for that period of time and hope to catch up. But our classroom is wherever the kids and I are: the kitchen, the library, the attic. Why not Los Angeles?

So we flew down there, met the agent in person, and the next day received an offer of representation for both kids.

In the week since--our last few days in Seattle before we head off for a long-planned trip to Italy--we have been finding temporary housing, unplugging ourselves from art, dance and music classes, and taking care of all sorts of business that keeps our lives running. In a month, the girls will start auditioning for whatever roles seem appropriate. And in the meantime, the classroom life will continue, as I figure out how to get my freelancing and children's writing work done.

It is one-hundred percent insane to turn life upside down this way. It's equally exhilarating. I probably will blog about it from time to time, though I'm having to give some thought about what becomes public now that Lucy and Alice are potentially making their own debut into the wider world.

And now back to the grind. It's just about time for morning math.