Mara Wilson Writes Stuff

Hi. My name is Mara. Sometimes I write stuff.

My new Substack!

Hey! So I will no longer be updating this site (although I haven’t been very good about that for quite a while now). BUT! You can now find and subscribe to my writing by going to! You can get posts sent straight to your inbox, and exclusive content if you sign up to be a paid subscriber. If you want to read more of my stuff, go ahead and sign up today!

My book Where Am I Now? is out September 13th, 2016!

I know, I know, I haven’t updated this in forever. I’ve written some other places, but I’ve mostly been busy with my book — which, incidentally, comes out September 13th!

As a peace offering and a placeholder, here is a link to PRE-ORDER MY BOOK!

Me and My Saltines

Hey, emetophobes! Maybe don’t read this. Eat some Saltines instead.

So let me explain my deep, abiding love for America’s favorite soda cracker.

Saltines, to me, are more than a cracker. They are a lifesaver. It’s a bold statement, I know, and one that makes even less sense to those who grew up outside of North America and never knew the wonders of that miracle cracker. A Saltine is a tiny square made of yeast, baking soda, flour, and usually topped with salt. They are my favorite snack.

“Saltines?” People always say, when they find out. “They’re so bland!”

“Not just Saltines,” I say. “Unsalted-top Saltines.” Yes, I’m that boring.

Like most humans, I enjoy eating. But I have never been much of a foodie. It’s possible I’m a supertaster — I can’t stand anything extremely bitter or tasting too strongly of fish, alcohol, or artificial sweetener, and cilantro is the devil’s herb — but I am just not very experimental when it comes to food. It might also have something to do with my parents, who are not passionate cooks. My mother did make amazing chocolate chip cookies, my dad likes to grill, and my stepmother is good with a wok, but when I was growing up, meals were mostly made without enthusiasm. Cooking was to them what it is to me, a means to an end. They had to keep five kids fed, at the lowest cost. We lived off canned soup, frozen condensed orange juice, and powdered potatoes. Living near LA meant we could have authentic Mexican food anytime we wanted, but that was as interesting as we got. Bland food was what we ate, and we liked it. There was always a box of Saltines in the house, to complement whatever soup or chili we were having for dinner that night, and for one other reason: they are an excellent cure for nausea.

Mine is a nervous stomach. I had three brothers at three different schools, and that tripled my likeliness of catching a stomach virus. And catch I did, quite often. 23 and Me confirmed my lifelong suspicion that I am very susceptible to noroviruses. 1 Staying home sick was not fun. My mother was not the type to fuss over her kids when they were ill. We could read, but the only TV we were going to watch was old movies she picked out herself. (I liked this a lot more than my brothers did — there were a lot of musicals and a lot of Audrey Hepburn movies.)

The only comfort, the one constant, the one thing I could rely on, were my Saltines. Our father would go to Smart and Final, a warehouse of a store, and come home with dozens of bottles of Gatorade, twenty ounce cans of chicken soup, and giant boxes of Saltines. They were all I ate for those three-day periods of sickness, and they got me through it. They were as much a comfort object as my blanket and Pinky, my favorite teddy bear.

To this day, I hate being nauseated more than any other physical feeling. I hate feeling out of control of my own body, that this other force has taken it over. I would rather feel almost any of the pains I’ve ever experienced than be nauseated for a long period of time. 2 But the world does not care about what I want, and in addition to frequent stomach bugs, I also get terrible motion sickness. This would be manageable if I had grown up anywhere other than Los Angeles, land of the freeway. Many of my childhood memories are of being carsick. The only way I can read or watch something on a long car trip is by putting a coat backwards over my face so I can’t see the windows out the corner of my eye and make myself dizzy. I am lucky to have moved somewhere with reliable public transportation, although I’ve thrown up on every mode of transportation. And roller coasters are out of the question. 3

Whenever I was young and carsick, as soon as I got home I would grab a sleeve of Saltines and make the sickness go away. Reorient myself, settle my stomach, and remember that everything was going to be OK. It’s what I still do today, after cab rides or Lindsay Ellis driving me home after seeing Fury Road again.

I believe I am the only person in my family with this association. While I remember my brother Jon shoving a stack of Saltines into his mouth, one after another, as he read the newspaper, I haven’t seen him eat Saltines in years. Danny prefers Ritz crackers, and this is a taste his kid — known around here as Oxytocin Booster — has inherited. Joel’s comfort food is rice and beans, and Anna loves tortilla chips so much she eats a big bag of them on her birthday instead of cake. (“Cake is bullshit! Why would I want to eat some weird sweet sponge-bread?”) But they understand, as do my friends, who send me cake recipes and eBay sales for antique cracker tins. I’ve never been much of a fangirl for anything — the idea is a bit alien to me, probably because, as conceited as this will sound, I had fans before I ever was one — but everyone I know knows how much these little squares mean to me. Strangers may mock me, but I am secure and I am safe, as long as the grocery store is well-stocked.

Now here is a creepy gif of me evilly cartoon-vomiting.


  1. Except for a stretch in my preteen and early teen years when, after being sick for weeks, I didn’t get a stomach virus for years. I thought I had become immune. The pestilence gods did not take kindly to my hubris and gave me the stomach flu at age fifteen while celebrating Christmas Eve with my stepfamily. For years, even the thought of Christmas cookies made me ill.
  2. Though, as I have never experienced severe or chronic pain, this can be taken with a grain of salt.
  3. I did OK on Ninja at Six Flags Magic Mountain, because it’s a smooth ride, and Space Mountain at Disneyland, because you can’t see where you’re going, and thus can’t throw off your inner ear. It’s possible that in addition to being motion sick, I’m also just a huge chicken.

Things I’ve Been Doing

So I’ve been busy working on my book. Yes, actually working on it, not procrastinating. You can expect a new blog post in the next few weeks, but in the meantime, here are some things I’ve been doing!

I’m featured on The Toast, one of my favorite websites! I wrote about The B.Y. Times, a now out of print series that was the Orthodox Jewish answer to the Babysitters’ Club or Sweet Valley High.

My list What A Straight Man’s Favorite Musical Says About Him, is up on McSweeney’s! I think my favorites are the Jersey Boys and Jason Robert Brown ones.

On the podcast I Don’t Even Own A Television, Jay W. Friedman and I read Treacherous Love. It sounds like a hair metal song but is actually a terrible book by “Dr.” Beatrice Sparks, the woman who found (i.e., made up) the book Go Ask Alice (If you’ve never heard of that book, Paul F. Tompkins probably explains it best).

Over on my friends’ podcast Podcast Monsters, I shared my Pokemon conspiracy theory.

And finally, I did an interview on that came out really well.

My next blog post will be about my One True Love. Yes, it will be about Saltines. I’m not kidding.


Answers For My Younger Self

Dear Young Mara,

Hey, you! It’s me, you at twenty-seven. I’m here to tell you one of your biggest dreams is coming true: you’re going to be an author! Congratulations! It’s finally happening.

While I’m here, though, is there anything you want to know?

  1. Yes, you can ask anything.
  2. Yes, I’m going to answer your questions like this.
  3. Because when you were fifteen you read a book of plays by David Ives, and in the foreword he answered a bunch of questions from his fans, but didn’t write what the questions were. You must have thought that was funny, because it stayed with you. Maybe this is an homage.
  4. Your book will be essays about your life, especially about being young. (It will be written for grown-ups, you’ve put your young adult and middle-grade book ideas on the back burner for now.) I know you like to think of yourself as a grown-up in a child’s body, but you’re really not. And that’s OK.
  5. Remember seeing the little Penguins on the sides of the books your brothers were reading? Those guys will be publishing your book.
  6. You submitted a book proposal through your amazing book agent, Alyssa Reuben, and met with some publishers, including a very cool editor at Viking/Penguin, Lindsey Schwoeri. There was some bidding and business stuff and then everything was finalized. They wanted your book, and they’re getting to publish it!
  7. Yes, a Penguin dressed as a Viking sounds adorable. Your sister thought so, too.
  8. Yes, you’re still close with Anna.
  9. The Boys are doing well. You’re closer now that you live in different places and don’t have to fight over the bathroom.
  10. No, you don’t live in Minneapolis or Chicago. You live in New York.
  11. Yes, New York City. Not the area of New York where Dad grew up. Be glad, you’ve driven through it, and it’s depressing.
  12. Yes, you do have a cat! You have two, in fact.
  13. Dogs aren’t scary anymore. Dogs are great! You like them now they aren’t as big as you.
  14. Yes, you’re still short. You’ve come to appreciate it, though. There’s nothing more fun than having people judge you by your size and then showing them up. Yoda was right.
  15. No, you never really did have a Bat Mitzvah. You could do always what your grandmother did and have one at sixty.
  16. Riding a bike is still hard, but you actually are trying to get better at it.
  17. Well, fortunately, you live somewhere with reliable public transportation.
  18. Sports are still hard, partly because you have (as yet undiagnosed) asthma. But you like exercising now! You actually like running. And at one point you worked out so much at the gym you got folliculitis. You disgusting, bacteria-ridden jock, you.
  19. You also kind of like math now, too. And you LOVE science. Sorry.
  20. That never really got off the ground. It’s OK, most screenplays by eight-year-olds don’t get picked up.
  21. No, you never managed to get into the Guinness Book of World Records. I know how badly you wanted that. The good news is no one over the age of 12 really cares that much about the Guinness Book of World Records.
  22. No Oscars, either.
  23. You don’t really care about that anymore.
  24. Or that, either.
  26. Yes, it’s OK to admit you like the Spice Girls now. You have seen your brothers sing “Still Alive” falsetto on Rock Band, they can’t judge you anymore.
  27. No. Were you really going to believe a Ouija board? It wasn’t even a real Ouija board. She made it out of a pizza box.
  28. No, you didn’t go to Northwestern like Mom and Dad.
  29. You did go to NYU! You thought about University of Michigan, but they didn’t have the kind of program you wanted. You also wanted to go to Emerson, partly because Jon would be nearby, but NYU accepted you and that was that.
  30. You’re not a more observant Jew. You’re actually kind of the opposite.
  31. Yes, you have dated several Nice Jewish Boys. Some were nicer than others.
  32. Yes, you’ve been in love. Sometimes it’s the best thing ever, sometimes it’s exhausting, and usually it’s nothing like you expect.
  33. No, you are not going to die a virgin.
  34. No, you are also not going to be a virgin on your wedding night.
  35. No, you aren’t married.
  36. No, you aren’t getting married anytime soon. Honestly, you have your doubts about marriage in general.
  37. Yes, you still like kids and want some for yourself someday. You still aren’t quite ready.
  38. You have a niece and a nephew, and they’re wonderful.
  39. Yeah!
  40. No.
  41. Yes. Be honest with yourself.
  42. Um. Not huge, but decently sized, yes.
  43. That’s not really a complete question. Are you really that embarrassed? I’m you, I’m not going to judge — OK, that’s not true, I judge you all the time. But I won’t this time.
  44. Is that all?
  45. OK, sorry. Twenty, almost twenty-one.
  46. A dorm.
  47. Fifteen, unless you count spin-the-bottle.
  48. It was at Michael’s birthday. It was not with Michael. Michael’s doing well, he’s in Twilight now. You don’t know what that is, but you will someday. Trust me, you will.
  49. An actor and a “musician.” I’m sorry.
  50. Yes. You want to be a writer. Of course the answer is yes.
  51. Almost seventeen.
  52. Yes, you have. Sorry.
  53. Twenty-five. It was in the middle of Hurricane Sandy.
  54. Not really, no.
  55. I know. I’m sorry.
  56. No, but once the NYPD pulled you off the train because you had your feet up on the seat. You’ve gotten a little better about mouthing off to authority figures. Just do what Jude will tell you to do and “imagine their genitals stapled to their foreheads.”
  57. Yes, you loved it there, even when it was hard. It felt like home.
  58. Yes.
  59. Yes, you’re still friends!
  60. We’re back to that? A little.
  61. Sushi is still gross.
  62. That’s still gross, too.
  63. No, that isn’t gross anymore.
  64. Well, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.
  65. You still apologize a lot, sorry.
  66. Fuck yes, you still swear a lot.
  67. Things are better.
  68. Things are MUCH better.
  69. It’s just a number, stop giggling.
  70. You know what, it’s fine. I still giggle when I say “TD Bank” too quickly.
  71. You don’t believe in that anymore.
  72. Fine. It’s pink.
  73. Of course.
  74. April is the worst.
  75. No, and I know that’s going to hurt to hear. I’m sorry.
  76. No, you don’t have panic attacks all the time. You have them a few times a year, now, and when you do, you know how to handle them.
  77. You still have some symptoms, yes, but again, you know how to handle it.
  78. You don’t have to be ashamed of it. Having OCD is like having diabetes. Besides, so many cool or famous people have it, too!
  79. You’re not alone.
  80. You did!
  81. Let’s end on a perfect square, I know that will make you happy. Yes, I do: stop trying to control everything. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Being insecure doesn’t make you more endearing. Forgiveness feels GREAT. Please take time to enjoy being your age. Things might suck right now, but they will be better someday. And even when they’re not, at least you can always write about it.

Again, congratulations, we did it!


Future Mara

P.S. Please don’t try to kill me in some kind of time travel paradox.

Remembering Robin

He always reminded me a little of my father.

Robin Williams, as I knew him, was warm, gentle, expressive, nurturing, and brilliant. While it can be hard for me to remember filming Doubtfire, I’ve been flooded with memories in the past few days. It’s humbling to know I am one of the few people who was there for these moments, that he’s no longer around to share them.

He was a creator as much as a performer. After one of my friends posted Robin’s “impression of a hot dog” on Facebook, I realized she had no idea that wasn’t in the script. It was supposed to be a monologue where he listed every voice he could do, but he decided to take the ones he’d been given, add more of his own, and just riff for a while. Chris Columbus, our director, would let Robin perform one or two takes with what was written, then do as many more takes as Robin had variations. Sometimes I wonder why they didn’t give him at least partial screenwriting credit.

He was so quick and prolific, coming up with so many lines and bits even though there was no way we could use them all. At the end of the first dinner scene (where I said my most infamous line), he uses chopsticks like antennae to make me smile. That was a reference to a take that didn’t end up in the film, where Robin was supposed to make a speech about his new job boxing and shipping cans, then turn it into a song. He went off book, as always, and before we knew what he was doing, the chopsticks were by his ears and he was freestyle rapping from the point of view of an ant railing against the humans who kept stepping on its friends.

Robin would do anything to make me and the other kids laugh. Those hand puppets that dance alongside the genie in Aladdin‘s “Friend Like Me”? That must have been his suggestion, because Robin made those in real life. He’d break them out between takes to entertain us between takes. “I don’t like you,” his left hand would say to his right. “You smell like poop!” I would laugh uproariously — I was five, so poop jokes were the height of hilarity — as his right hand yelled back “Well, there’s no toilet paper at my house!” When he saw me watching him work on his laptop during downtime, he played a sound file of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz screeching “You wicked old witch!” When we were filming the petting zoo birthday scene, he fed a pony oats out of his hat, then held it out to me and said, “Wanna wear it?” When we were filming the climactic dinner party scene, he would make his carpet bag bark like a dog under the table, then order it to be quiet. He seemed to know instinctively what we would find funny, and never had to resort to saying anything that was inappropriate for children. He was, after all, a father himself.

Robin was so on so much of the time that I was surprised to hear my mother describe him as “shy.” “When he talks to you,” she told her friends, “he’ll be looking down at his shoes the whole time.” I figured he must have been different with grown-ups. I wouldn’t see that side of him myself until a few years later, when I was invited to be part of a table read of What Dreams May Come. He came alive in the reading, and had us all laughing at lunch, but my strongest impression came when we saw each other for the first time that day. Robin crossed to me from across the room, got down to my level, and whispered “Hi, how are you?” He asked how my family was doing, how school was, never raising his voice and only sometimes making eye contact. He seemed so vulnerable. “So this is what Mom meant,” I thought. It was as if I was seeing him for the first time. He was a person now.

As of this past Monday, Robin and I had not spoken in a few years. We weren’t on bad terms, we had just lost track of each other. He was working in films still, I was not anymore, he still lived in California, I’d moved probably nine times since I last had his contact information. The last time I saw him, I was a freshman at NYU and he was filming August Rush in Washington Square Park. I went up to him while he was walking away from the set to his trailer, and called his name. He turned around, not sure what to make of the girl in the glasses and NYU hoodie calling him like she knew him.

“It’s me!” I said. “It’s Mara.”

“Oh, Mara!” He told me how grown up I looked and asked how I liked NYU. It was small talk, but something about the way Robin looked at me made it feel like he truly cared. This was someone for whom everything mattered.

I wish we had talked more. I wish I had reached out more. Being a Worst Case Scenario kind of person, I’ve worried so many times about losing so many people I care about, but I never could imagine losing Robin.

My grieving has been private. I kept off my public Facebook page and my Twitter and tried to reading or watching avoid any entertainment media. Doing interviews is usually fun and easy for me, but I didn’t feel I could do any then. If I was crying seeing Robin’s face on the Daily News, I would not have been able to keep it together on cable news, and people didn’t need to see that. 1 Lisa Jakub, my big sister in Doubtfire and my honorary big sister in real life, wrote a beautiful blog post about her experiences with him and was able to appear on TV. She said all the things I couldn’t. It reminded me how she handled the Doubtfire 2 announcement a few months back with such grace, while I ended up coming off a lot more brusque and dismissive than I had wanted. Life imitating art, I joked with her: in Doubtfire, she was the more mature older sister, while I was the little one who always blurted out the wrong thing. One of us cautious and pensive, one of us quick and outspoken. 2  Much like the two sides of Robin, as my brother Danny pointed out: “You guys were him.”

I had thought maybe the next time I saw Robin I would explain myself to him, let him know that I had loved working with him but didn’t feel like we could do it again, and that being in major studio films again meant a level of scrutiny I didn’t think I could deal with. I wanted to apologize and know he understood. It hurts to know I can’t.

I’m glad people are starting to talk seriously about mental health, depression, and suicide. I’ve discussed my OCD, anxiety, and depression in the past and will continue to do so more in the future. Mental health needs to be taken as seriously as physical health; the two are inseparable. But I am afraid people will romanticize what Robin went through. Please don’t romanticize mental anguish. I know many people who think to be an artist means you have to suffer, or at least wallow in old miseries. It’s not only an incorrect assumption — there are comedians who had happy upbringings, I swear — but it will only hurt them and the people who care about them. Artists who struggled with mental illness, trauma, disease, addiction (often the latter is a way of self-medicating after the first three) did not want or welcome it. I don’t know if I’d consider myself an artist, but speaking as someone who sometimes makes stuff, my best work is created when I’m content and contemplative, looking back on painful times rather than in the middle of them.  To focus on someone’s pain instead of their accomplishments is an insult to them. As my friend Patrick put it, a person is a person first and a story second. 

In the past few days I have said “thanks” and “I love you” to so many people. I’m fortunate to know people who care and have been so good to me, and it’s heartening to know there are so many people who will miss Robin, too. I heard about his death from a comedian friend, and got the specifics from my brother Danny. Both had reasons to love him, and I was glad I heard about it from them rather than the internet. Though once I got on Facebook that night, I was immediately overwhelmed with how many people had kind words to say about him. Many of my friends are comedians who were inspired by him, but others just loved his movies and comedy and had since their childhoods. If you can affect someone when they’re young, you are in their heart forever. It is remarkable how many lives Robin touched, and how many people said, just as I had, that he reminded them of their fathers.

I suppose — could I really end this any other way? — we’re all his goddamn kids, too.


  1. I did cry on the subway, but I live in New York, where no one cares.
  2. Matt got his physicality and irreverence.

Quick Update Regarding Robin Williams

Everybody grieves in their own way. When I heard about Robin’s death, I was shocked, confused angry, regretful, and above all, sad. All I wanted was to talk to my family and friends and cry. A few news outlets asked if I would be willing to talk about him on the air, and while I usually like interviews, I knew I wasn’t in a good place to do that. I still (a whole three days later) don’t want to do any. It’s too soon, and I need my own time to process it all. I will, however, be sharing some of my memories about him on this blog sometime soon. 

While Robin and I had not talked in a few years, there is no question he had a great impact on my life. He was as warm and talented as everyone says, and a joy to be around. It’s as if my favorite teacher died.

More to come later.

Updates, and a Note on Night Vale

So, once again, it’s been a while.

But can you blame me? (Well, I guess you couldn’t, but don’t.) I’ve been busy. First, I’m promoting and performing my storytelling and comedy show What Are You Afraid Of? It’s all about fears and phobias, dealing with them, and laughing at them. If you are in the New York area and like to see it live, the show is every third Sunday of the month at Union Hall in Brooklyn, and we also will be at Joe’s Pub on August 24th! If you think this sounds interesting and would like to bring it to a theater near you, or a college — and I have done a college show, and would love to — feel free to contact us through our Facebook page!

Then there are other people’s shows. Two of my most recent favorites can be found online: I was a guest on the lovely Katharine Heller’s show Tell the Bartender, where I discussed my pretty terrible first boyfriend, and I did an interview with Keith and the Girl! (Yes, the episode is called Boobs, but it makes sense in context. I’m sorry anyway, Dad.) I talked about OCD, filming Matilda, dealing with my mother’s death, being close with my family, internet harassment, Katy Perry, foot fetishists, my pick-up line, nerds, Alec Baldwin,  Gary Oldman being terrible, The AmericansAmerican Ninja Warrior, and had a great time. It’s probably the most honest and comprehensive interview I’ve ever done, so if you want an insight into what I’m like when I’m not hiding behind my cat-hair covered MacBook Pro, check it out.

There’s also the book, which has occupied a lot of my time. But nothing’s final, and let’s not jinx it. Just promise me you’ll buy it.



Now, on another note…

When I was little, all I ever wanted was to hang out with the big kids. My brothers and their friends and girlfriends were all so cool, so smart, so funny, and I wanted so badly to be part of their world. I’m lucky to have had them indulge me every so often, letting me come along on their adventures, letting me feel like I was cool, smart, and funny, too.

A year and a half ago, I found a Twitter account that tweeted hilarious, dark, deceptively profound things. I wanted to know more about them, so I listened to their podcast. It was exactly my sense of humor and immediately my new favorite thing. I gushed about it to my friends, many of whom became immediate fans as well. “I feel like this fills a void I didn’t know I had,” one said. I agreed, there really wasn’t anything like it.

Well, maybe there was: I soon found out they were associated with one of my favorite theater groups, the New York Neo-Futurists. I’ve had friends in the Neos, so I was able to meet them and tell them how much I loved what they did. I must have been feeling bold, because I asked them to let me know if they ever wanted or needed a voice-over actress.

To my surprise, they did.

A year ago, I sat with Joseph Fink in a small recording room and tried to be as creepy as possible. A month ago, I performed for 2,500 people at a Broadway venue with some wonderfully talented people as part of the Welcome to Night Vale two year anniversary show. A week ago, I performed in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa for thousands of people. The show has grown so much in the past year, gathering a rabid fan base, and it’s still dark, profound, and hilarious. Joseph, Jeffrey, Cecil, and Meg, the people who created Night Vale and got it started, deserve all the good that’s come of it. They are the rare people who are as kind and giving as they are talented and intelligent. All the people I’ve met or gotten to know through the show — Dylan, Symphony, Jackson, Hal, Marissa, Lauren O., Lauren S., Kevin, Jon, Eliza, Jasika, Jason, Marc with a C, Mark with a K, all of them — have been the same.

Every time I do a Night Vale show, I feel like I’m once again a little girl, surrounded by the cool older kids, awed by them and their talents. But they have indulged me and taken me along on their adventures. For that, I say thank you. It’s been an honor as well as a blast.

Not quite faceless.

Performing at the Town Hall show. Photo sent to me from someone's tumblr. If you took it, let me know so I can credit you!

Mara’s Kitchen #12, or The Stinging Smoothie

I make really good chocolate chip cookies. After years of trying different recipes, I have finally found one that yields delicious, chewy cookies just like my mom used to make. My cupcakes aren’t bad, either, and I’ve been teaching myself how to make gluten-free, sugar-free, and vegan baked treats for my friends with dietary restrictions and my friends who like to follow fads and complain. Baking calms me down when I’m nervous and makes my friends happy, so I love it.

I’m a good baker, but I am a terrible cook. When I was a nanny, the mom had to tell me to stick to pre-packaged afterschool snacks because I couldn’t make popcorn without setting off the smoke alarm.  I’ve heard it’s a left-brain/right-brain 1 kind of thing: people who like cooking like playing it by ear and improvising, while people who like baking tend to be goal-oriented and want to know exactly what their outcome will be. Cooking is an art, but baking is a science, and I’m probably the most scientifically-minded person to graduate with a degree in Drama from NYU.

Living in New York means lots of take-out, but I have been consciously trying to start making food at home. My crock pot has been a blessing (as has this this cookbook), but I can’t remember life before my food processor. Even when I don’t feel like cooking (which is most of the time), I end up using it at least once a week for smoothies. This past Saturday, after a long day at Publicolor, a smoothie was all wanted. There are several tiny “organic” stores selling juices and blended drinks, but since I’ve been trying to stick to my “at least one new crock pot recipe a week” routine, I decided to buy food for the week and make one at home. 

Now, I was really tired. All day I’d climbed up and down three flights of stairs, and I’d even nodded off on the train ride home. When I got to the produce section, I stood there for several minutes before realizing they did not have spinach. It’s a very small store, but this was unusual and disappointing. Smoothies are one of the only ways I get my vegetables. They did seem to have other greens, though, so I grabbed the first bunch I saw in the section labelled “kale” and put it in my basket. Easy enough. I got some more food for me (and my cats), paid, and left.

Once I got home I got out the food processor and started making one of my favorite smoothies: it has kale, apple, apple juice, a little cinnamon, and tastes like chunky applesauce. Something seemed wrong right away, though, because instead of the usual bright green, the mixture was more of a nasty puce color. The greens had seemed to be yellowing, but I’d made smoothies with yellowing kale before and been fine. The consistency seemed off, too. But it was a smoothie, and I figured there wasn’t any way I could have screwed up a smoothie.

Then I took a sip.

My mouth immediately started to burn. The smoothie tasted the way apple cider vinegar smells, like it’s just singed your nose hairs. Usually the apple masked the taste of kale, but this time there was another strong flavor, something painfully overpowering. It stung my throat as it went down, and tears came to my eyes. How could it hurt to drink a smoothie? What had I done wrong? Too much cinnamon? It had to be. I’d made this hundreds of times, and it was the same every time. “Maybe it’s not that bad,” I thought, and took a larger gulp. No, it was that bad. For some reason, I was reminded of Futurama’s Robot Hell song. Maybe because drinking it felt like a punishment. 2

Whatever it was, it was done now. I dumped what was left in my glass and the food processor (i.e., most of it) down the sink and started up a new batch. This time, I’d pay careful attention to the ratio of cinnamon and apples. I reached into the fridge to get more greens, and that’s when I saw the problem.


Not kale.


I had not made a kale smoothie, I had made a mustard smoothie. It’s not that I don’t like mustard (though I’m a complete wimp when it comes to anything remotely spicy, the honey mustard at Cosi has made me cry) but it’s not something I want in large doses, and not anything  anyone would want to drink. There’s a time and a place for mustard. Even the Mad Hatter knew that! 3

On the bright side, I unintentionally consumed some mustard greens, which are even healthier than kale. And I finally have a cooking experience that tops the time I was sixteen and put French Vanilla non-dairy creamer in macaroni and cheese because we were out of milk. At some point, though, I’d like to have positive cooking experiences.

Now I just need to find a foolproof crock pot recipe that uses mustard greens.


  1. I’ve also heard the left-brain/right-brain dichotomy is a load of crap, but it’s still a fitting metaphor.
  2. Maybe just because it’s a great song.
  3. Am I the only person who always felt sorry for the White Rabbit? They made him cry! He loved that watch, and they broke it! And it was an Unbirthday present!

Notes on a Scandal, or My Only Truly Horrifying Memory from Sex Ed

WARNING: this entry might be disturbing or triggering for some readers. There will be no graphic details, but a crime was committed and will be discussed.

Nobody likes their middle school. But in retrospect, mine was actually a pretty good place. We had encouraging teachers, a nice campus, fun electives, and only one or two bomb threats in my entire three years there.

Sex education came in seventh grade. We spent half the year in science class, where Mr. Allen managed to suck all the fun and wonder out of the discovery of the natural world, and half in “Health” class, where we learned about our bodies. It wasn’t especially comprehensive: abstinence was the rule, and we never learned how birth control worked and or how to put on a condom. But it still wasn’t bad. I learned about the placebo effect, that a fever is actually a defense mechanism, and why contracting herpes is a bigger deal than contracting chlamydia.

Our Health teacher was Mrs. Moretti, a good-humored woman in her sixties. I was glad it was her: our other option was Mrs. Byers, a tough, chain-smoking woman who had taught me Cooking the previous year and yelled at me for using the wrong kind of binder. Her husband also worked at Jordan, teaching Industrial Arts, and both of them looked as if they hadn’t noticed the seventies ended. She had feathered blonde hair, he had an afro, and they dressed like they were in a educational filmstrip. There seemed something uncanny about them, especially after I heard rumors Mr. Byers threw chairs across the room when he got angry.

Still, it was a little strange to have someone so much older talking to us about changes that she hadn’t gone through in years. Mrs. Moretti must have suspected this, because after one exercise where we broke off into single-sex teams 1 and listed everything we wanted in a girlfriend or boyfriend (one boy put “soft hair” as a top priority, and a girl on my team kept insisting we put “big feet”), she invited another teacher to talk to us about it.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had to think about what I want in a husband, so I’ve brought in someone who just got married. Please welcome Mrs. Beck.”

Mrs. Beck was a tall, buxom blonde woman in her early twenties, and I knew her only by sight. She taught sixth grade English and History, but was new to the school and didn’t teach the so-called “gifted classes”. She seemed nice, but I knew nothing about her as a teacher.

“I talked about this with my husband last night,” Mrs. Beck began, “and we decided together on the ten things that matter to us most.”

Her list went from ten to one. Number ten was “attractiveness,” but when one of the girls raised her hand and said “You mean looks?” Mrs. Beck said, “Not just looks. There’s more to an attraction than that.”

Ever cynical, I rolled my eyes. If that were true, if looks weren’t that important, more boys would have liked me. Besides, it didn’t seem like there was much to the boys I knew besides looks. Girls matured faster than boys, so if we wanted someone with a personality, there weren’t many options at David Starr Jordan Middle School — or really, any middle school. Middle school boys smelled bad, were mean, and thought Pokemon was high art. There were a few nice guys, but no one I liked in that way. The romances I imagined always happened with older boys, or celebrities, or boys at another school where “Being Nice to Girls (Even The Ugly Ones)” and “Washing Your Hands After You Use the Bathroom” were part of the curriculum. 2 Mrs. Beck went on to describe some more positive qualities, and while I could see the importance of some of them, I was still skeptical. Maybe she was lying to make herself look good, or maybe she was being honest and I just wouldn’t see it until I got older. Either way, by the time she reached the top three, my mind had wandered to more interesting places, like which brother on Malcolm and the Middle was the cutest. I would never be able to remember what she had said was most important.

Time went by. I finished seventh grade, finished middle school, “fell in love” in high school, fell in love for real in college, and did find my priorities changing. Someone could be gorgeous but a terrible person, and I’d find myself less attracted to them. Exy seemed only kind of cute when we first met, but the longer we dated the more beautiful I found him. Once or twice I thought back to Mrs. Beck, and thought maybe had been telling the truth, and had been right.

Except she wasn’t. She really wasn’t.

Ten years after health class ended, one of my friends posted a news story about Mrs. Beck on Facebook. The woman who told my class what really mattered was trust and communication and intelligence had just surrendered herself to the police for having sex with a fourteen-year-old boy, one of her former sixth grade students. She would be going to jail and registering as a sex offender for the rest of her life.

I couldn’t believe it, and neither could anyone else from Burbank. My hometown is notorious only for being boring. We’d had school scandals before, but nothing like this. There was the unfortunately common response (once lampooned on South Park) that the victim, being a young boy, had “wanted it.” I heard too many jokes from men about how they wished they could have been in his place, or how fitting it was that Jordan’s school mascot was the Cougar. Did these men know any fourteen-year-old boys, I wondered. They’re still very much children, and taking advantage of one is nothing less than child rape.

It was hard to know whether I should be more horrified — she was an authority figure taking advantage of a child who had trusted her — or baffled. What could this woman in her thirties, seemingly happily married, have been thinking? Was there something wrong with her mind, some kind of chemical imbalance? There was no evidence she had raped any other students, so maybe it was less sexual compulsion and more desire. But what could she have found to desire in a middle school student? Surely nothing she had listed that day in Health class.

When I think back to that exercise, the other thing I remember is overhearing one of the boys whispering to a friend that his all-male group had lied. They didn’t care if a girl was smart or fun or nice, they just wanted someone cute. That didn’t seem fair for several reasons, and I brought it up to Mrs. Moretti before I left class.

“Jack said they made it up, they didn’t really want any of the nice things they said they did. They don’t care about anything besides how she looks. They were lying.”

“They could be lying about lying,” she said. “A lot of boys want to seem tough. They don’t want to admit to wanting something nice.”

I now think Mrs. Moretti was right, but I’ll never know for sure. I wondered the same about Mrs. Beck. But I don’t want to know anymore.


  1. The Burbank Unified School District was not yet comfortable acknowledging same-sex relationships.
  2. Yes, I know middle school girls are as awkward and miserable as middle school boys. I did not know that at the time, but if I had been a boy who liked girls, I would not have wanted to date someone like me, either.