The Pap Smear

9 Nov

A couple weeks ago, at my first meeting with a new improvisation class, we were invited to kick things off by each sharing one of our most embarrassing moments. The idea behind this exchange being that it’s easier to work and play in an uninhibited way once everyone has become vulnerable. As I sat and listened to some pretty great and sometimes-terrible stories, I racked my brain trying to decide which gem from my own life to share.

The time during high school when I peed my pants in a canoe?

When I was wearing a body mic for my role as Ado Annie in Oklahoma and the technicians broadcast the sound check through the theater and to the entire cast while I was on the toilet?

The time I tried to explain my request for diarrhea medication to my wonderfully earnest non-English-speaking German host family?

The time I accidentally referred to Barnes as the author of The Poetics?

Every meeting I’ve ever had with any kind of financial professional?

But then suddenly I had a moment of total clarity. “No. Today’s the day. I must tell of The Pap Smear.”

I’m not a squeamish woman. Nor am I easy to embarrass. But this experience left me feeling so deeply afraid of what else the universe might have in store for me moving forward, that in class a few weeks ago was the first time I ever told the whole tale.

I bet you’re really ready for this story now, huh?

It was a crisp fall morning and I had just started a new teaching job. I didn’t have insurance at this job, but I DID have discounted access to the school’s health services center, so I decided to book my annual lady parts spelunk. As I flipped through a copy of Highlights, I noticed the strange way that the examination rooms opened in toward the waiting area. “You usually go down a hall or something”, I thought to myself. My name was called and I followed the nurse to a room right across from where I had been sitting. She went behind a partition while I performed that most dignified ritual of taking off my shoes, pants, and underwear, jauntily hopping up on the padded, paper-covered examination table, and casually yet entirely wrapping myself in a paper sheet. I informed her that I’d assumed the position, and she returned from behind the partition. She wheeled the examination table on its casters so that the light could point toward my hot pocket (and incidentally with said hot pocket pointed right at the door) and she got down to business.

So you can imagine my surprise that quickly transitioned into horror, when, with speculum fully cranked, there was a knock on the door.

Everything that happened next was very fast and frantic. The nurse said something to the effect of “DO NOT COME IN HERE!” while my heart bulged so as to start oozing out of my eye sockets, and I opened my mouth in preparation for a soundless scream. But of course, the door opened. And like any woman would, I tried to close my legs. On a speculum.

Ladies, if you need to take a break with your right hand securely over your crotch, I understand.

But there’s more. Along with my new job came a very small office! And along with that office came a very surly gentleman officemate. And along with that very surly gentleman officemate who had apparently just sat down in the same seat where I had been waiting moments before, came a grade school-aged daughter. Fantastic. “Hello sir who has made it pretty clear that I’m too young and under qualified for this job! Hi small girl! This is the inside of my vagina! Neat, right? Okay! Talk to you later!” Except that all of that came out in more of a “primal scream” format.

We made eye contact. And the door slammed shut just as I caught a glimpse of him smacking his hand over his daughter’s eyes.

The rest of the experience is a blur. I vaguely remember the nurse profusely apologizing. I remember hustling quickly out of the office, and running into a different co-worker outside who exclaimed, “You look radiant!” to which I replied “Thank you! I’ve just come from a very disturbing vaginal exam!”

My officemate and I never spoke of it, and for this considerable kindness on his part I remain deeply grateful. I’ve considered the possibility that he didn’t even recognize me. I remain curious as to what he told his daughter that day. I wonder if she, too, thinks back on this experience during times of difficulty and humiliation in her life and is comforted by the fact that at least she’s not staring between her naked knees into the eyes of a male colleague, clutching the paper sheet, and trying instinctively to close up shop against a metal crank. It really does put things into perspective.

Health Services mailed me something a few weeks after The Pap Smear to let me know that the results were normal.

I beg to differ.



25 Apr

run to the lake

sleeping bags nest next to the spangled underpass walls

I should really buy some special shoes

next to the Jewel the sidewalk says “everything is made new”

pass under a tree turned out and I hear a steady voice

a dot-scoll-sign reads behind my eyes

“you’re blossoming”


At the time, I was feeling pretty high on life and possibilities.  I was about to jump off some cliffs – nothing major in the big picture, but I made some moves toward things I’m interested in.  I reached for some things I’ve never reached for before.    I was hopeful, and that feeling always gives life a special shine.

So next, a thing that hasn’t happened for a long time happened – my luck came in.  I felt so happy –bursting , even.   I felt a little proud of myself.  Not big-deal stuff, but new stuff.  Challenging stuff.  Exciting stuff.

Now here I am.  Lucky, but not totally prepared.  I have to show up and learn how to do some things that, as it turns out, are hard for me.   There are new people who don’t seem to appreciate my special brand of awkwardness and quietness – my trying too hard (and I still don’t understand how that’s even a thing).

I liked the flower part.  All by myself with a brand-new idea.  I liked the liminal space – the hopeful shine as I ran for the third day in a row.  But I ran under that tree yesterday – in the new shoes I got, – now a couple weeks in and still running – and the flowers were gone.  Now it’s just gnarly little buds trying to make fruit, I guess.  I can’t really tell.   And they just keep being kind-of ugly, and small, and the same.  The gnarly nubs are just relentlessly there – being – doing something – becoming – but not in a satisfying growth-chart sort of way.  They just keep showing up.  Not even showing up because they never leave.  They’re just there.  God.  This is taking forever.

What’s that called again?  Oh right, spring.  I forget what spring feels like every time.

Alert! Latte!

19 Apr

A very specific group of potential readers may recollect a joke that this title is based on.  Namely, “ALERT!  WAFFLE!” – a phrase that was coined on a think/dance collective tour of the midwest and refers to, what else, waffles.  We would (for some reason) announce this boldly when the waffle machine would ding in the lobby of the hotel while we breakfasted.  I’m sure we were a real treat to fellow hotel patrons.

Anyway, what I’m here to tell you might not change your life the way it’s changed mine, but I think it’s still worth sharing:  I have discovered a way to make a perfect latte at home.

In the May issue of Martha Stewart Living, there is an article about a day in the life of food editor, Lucinda Scala Quinn that reads like a strange series of facebook updates.  I particularly cottoned to a tidbit I read about Ms. Quinn making herself a cappuccino in her kitchen each morning.  I assumed that since she’s probably very fancy, she probably has an even fancier machine to achieve this am cap, but NO!  A small seed of hope began to unfurl in my latte-loving heart.

Upon further reading, I discovered that she brews espresso on the stove and then (this is the awesome part so get ready) she heats some milk in a cup and, using a whisk between her palms and moving her hands back and forth to swiftly turn it, she froths the milk.  I suspected that, like most helpful tips in MSL, this would probably completely backfire in my apparently success-averse hands.

But the seed of hope remained and for several days, I pondered these things in my heart.  I was so intrigued by the potential to enjoy my all-time favorite treat at a fraction of the cost and with no fancy equipment, that I tried it.  While this usually results in my cursing Martha Stewart and her awful enticement of my hope and subsequent despair, this time was different.  Liz: 1, Martha: not this time, jerkwithexcellenttaste!

I first tried the Quinn Method (a genius deserves her due) a few days ago with whole milk.  That did not work.  The milk did not really foam nicely.  But then, I remembered from my barista days that it was always easier to make a good stiff foam with skim milk, even when I was using the industrial steam wand.  When I applied my whisk with vigor to a microwaved cup of skim milk, magic began!  Foam!  Legit foam began to multiply in the cup!  I seriously cannot remember the last time I was so excited.  I completely understand if you need to get up and try this without delay.  The rest of this post isn’t as good as your homemade latte will be, so go with my blessing!

Anyway, upon having this ecstatic success, I brewed some espresso using my aero press, and poured the milk and foam on top.  It was a revelation of such magnitude that among my first thoughts was that I should share this with the good people at TCoWHRN.  I hope you enjoy!

P.S. another hot tip – if you don’t have a thing that makes espresso, you can easily just use brewed coffee and have yourself a steaming mug (or bowl in the french style) of cafe au lait.

It’s (almost the) Weekend Update! With Liz Joynt Sandberg!

13 Apr

Dream on, lady.

So anyway, here’s what’s been keeping me from posting around here lately:

I went on my first improvisation audition!  It was, in a word, terrifying.  Now, you need to keep in mind that I have absolutely no training whatsoever in comedy improvisation.  I’m in the writing program at Second City, and have never taken a performance class.  Ever.  I do a fair amount of performing and improvising for my art shenanigans, but I very rarely talk during these doings.  Improv comedy is mostly talking (says the lady who doesn’t really know what improv comedy is).  What possessed me?  It’s hard to say.  But I stared at an audition posted by a member of a company I swoon for (Improvised Shakespeare at iO – thou should dost get thee there at thy earliest convenience – thank me later)  for weeks and finally decided “screw it, I’m going to find out what this is all about.”  I applied, they said “uh, ok we guess…” And you know what?  It was pretty fun!  Or at least it was after I stopped feeling like I needed to explode diarrhea, and throw up and re-apply chapstick and change my outfit and get a new face.  I think the secret to succeeding in this endeavor is that I am completely fearless about looking dumb.  I’m a 6-foot-tall dancer, you know?  I spend a lot of my time looking ridiculous.  I didn’t get that job, but…

I DID get cast in a Second City Training Center show!  What the?!  Riding the high of my fearlessness, when I got an email about an audition for a show my writing teacher is directing I said “heck yes!  I’ll sign up for this!  Another chance to learn!”  A pal took some new headshots for me on the weekend, I printed ’em out along with what I will optimistically call a James-Franco-esque resume, and off I went, to goof around in a room full of other aspiring goofs.  We introduced ourselves, did some improvised two-person scenes (inspired by a one-word directive – mine was “dragon!”), read a script, did some more improvisation, and sang a little ditty of our choice (I sang the intro to Someone to Watch Over Me.  I may be an idiot, but I am classy, goddamnit!).  What I really want to know is if the kid who sang Wu-tang Clan was also cast. The next day, I was waiting for a redline train downtown with Ida after seeing a friend dance at the library.  There was a man singing Gershwin standards so loud and beautiful I thought my heart would explode when I heard snatches of a voicemail:  “offer… part… our show… you… great… yes… call me back.”   I felt like a million bucks.  I know it’s not really a big deal, but it’s kind-of huge to me.  The show runs for 5 weeks in one of the small theaters at The Second City in June and July.  My mom is so proud.

What else… keeping a 2-and-a-half year old alive.  Which, if you’ve never had the pleasure, is no fucking joke.  Ida is at turns delightful and kind, and at other times does things like (true story) comes into the kitchen while I’m cooking at the stove, punches me in the butthole as hard as she can and exclaims “POW!  There’s a hole right there” and runs away.   She’s got several imaginary friends (e-ah and grandfather – whose grandfather is still unclear), and a job at a store called Be-Toe that sells lollipops and meatballs and has, from what I can gather, limited hours.  She has developed an alter-ego, “Rope-ie” who is to blame for any misbehavior.  He/she looks exactly like Ida, so you can understand our confusion at times.  She was given a baby Rapunzel complete with flowing hair and a very frilly dress for her 2nd birthday and she has since named him/her (fluctuating) Frank.  I love that kid.  She makes me nuts.

In the mix has also been  some dance performing, some shows I helped curate around town, some other fun adventures with Ida, and many evenings starting into the fridge and thinking “why is there never stuff to make dinner?”

As Promised

25 Feb

And now, because I’m sure you were just vexed in your waiting (you can only revisit whitewhine so many times in a day whilst waiting for an installment here), I bring for your consideration Kim’s Purity Ball – my first whole sketch!  Like a puppy trying to walk for the first time… but you know, it’s a start, and I’m no stranger to being bad at things.  If the future resembles the past, this is the start of me getting better.  So here’s to it!


Kim – 21

Paul – 50’s

(Kim’s bedroom)


Wow, honey.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been in your room.  It’s, uh, different.  No matter where I look, a Jesus is looking at me.  Or a unicorn.  It’s quite a combo.



Isn’t it?


(looks around perplexed and dismayed)

Well, you know, I’m sure you need your privacy and everything.

(startles as he finds another Jesus looking at him, gives a small wave)


I do cherish uninterrupted time with the Lord.


(shifts uncomfortably)

Right.  Okay.  So, your mom and I have been talking and we wanted to, you know, check in about your birthday.  21!  It’s a big deal, right?


What a blessing.  I can hardly believe I’m drawing closer and closer on the road to sacred womanhood.


Right.  I guess so. But wait, you got your period, like, 6 years ago, right?  Whatever, I mean, you can tell me anything you want, sweetheart, you know that.  But, just, you know, I want to be cool, and like, give you your space and everything.  I’m sure it’s not easy living at home with your folks at your age.

(more quietly to himself)

For any of us.


This is what I keep telling you, Dad – I don’t want space.  I want you to protect me and guard my heart as a man of God.  I want to serve you as a stay-at-home daughter!



Is that a thing?  Christ, honey, we’ve talked about this.  You’re a grown woman.  And I’m not a – how did you say that? – man of God.  You know I’m trying to be supportive, and I know everyone experiments in their twenties, but I’ve told you how creepy I think this stuff is.


Well, Dad, you asked me what I want for my birthday, and that’s what I want – a godly father who will take me to the purity ball.


Why do I feel like that’s going to make your mom drink whisky and donate the grocery money to Planned Parenthood again?


No, Dad, it’s wonderful!  It’s just, like, a party!


Oh, okay.  That’s not so bad.  That’s great actually!



There’s dinner, and dancing.  The daughters wear beautiful white gowns, and then the dads sign a pledge to be in charge of their daughters’ sexual purity, and cherish them, and complement their blossoming womanly bodies and stuff, and then they promise to find their daughters worthy husbands to give them to like presents, and each daughter lays a white rose at the foot of a huge cross and then does a special dance of sexual purity just for her dad, and…


…And then we slaughter a goat and get arrested.  Honey, this sounds like an insane cult ritual.  Or a three-way father-daughter-Jesus wedding.  I can’t decide which one I’d be more on-board with.


Dad, don’t you want to be sure I don’t give my special flower away to a man who isn’t worthy?  Don’t you want to celebrate my sexual purity in public, with other fathers?


Oh god.  I just threw up in my mouth.  And the taste makes me feel like I have to do it again.


Dad, it really would mean so much to me. Just think how amazing it would be if you chose a husband for me and then gave me to him, like your best mare in her season, or a magazine you already read, to love just like you have loved me!  Who knows me better than you do, Dad?


KIM!  You!  You know yourself!  I imagine it’s terrifying.


I just, I know that the only gift I want on this special birthday is the blessing of knowing that on my wedding night, I’ll be thinking only of you and all you did to prepare me for it.


AHHHHHHH!  Kim, honey, I love you but this is my absolute threshold of gross.  Can you hear the words that are coming out of your own mouth and that were somehow not stopped by your brain?  I’m putting my foot down.



Oh good, we’re starting!  Of course I’ll obey, you Dad – my wise keeper.


NO!  Kim!  Listen to me!  If you insist on living this unhealthy lifestyle, your mom and I are going to have to ask you to move out.  We can’t take it anymore.



You’ve already found someone?



NO!  That’s it Kim, you need to be on your own.  Maybe then you can sort some of this out.  I’ve tried to help you and have only proven myself to be a colossal failure of a father.  God!  I’m a middle class white guy – how is patriarchy failing me here?!


Dad!  Don’t say that!  Patriarchy isn’t failing!  You’ve just got to really lean into it!


I’ve got to get out of here and you need to start looking for a place of your own.

(turns back to Kim on his way out the door)

My answer is no.  No fucking way am I going to any purity ball.


Where are you going?


To the liquor store for your mother.


Cinderella Re-write

13 Feb

And now for some more sharing of my homework!  Last week during my (super-fun, seriously – I cannot shut up about it) writing class at The Second City, one of our homework assignments was generated by us each choosing a well-known fairy tale and suggesting 3 peripheral characters that might have been involved but weren’t mentioned in the original story (ex. the 3 little pigs’ neighbor).  Then the class voted on which character they’d like to hear more from, and we each wrote a monologue from the perspective of that character.

I chose Cinderella.  The three characters I pitched were:

  • Cinderella’s living grandmother (why wasn’t C living with her?!)
  • The wicked stepmother’s boyfriend
  • Cinderella’s feminist best friend

My class voted overwhelmingly to hear more from the perspective of the wicked stepmother’s boyfriend (side note of sadness – the class voted overwhelmingly to hear from male characters in 7 out of 8 instances.  Sigh.  Rage.  Mandate to be part of fixing this).

Anyway, below is what I came up with.  I was trying to do a few things here in addition to just completing the assignment:

  • Give the character a specific voice that wasn’t my own (so here I tried to create a white, late 20s, washed-up frat boy).
  • Transform some aspect of the story
  • Crack some jokes that are specific to the story.
  • Write something with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
  • Push some aspect of my own agenda/point of view

Again, admittedly not the greatest thing ever, but I think I’m learning how to do some stuff (and no matter what, I’m having so much fun in a space where I am not in charge of managing whining – my teacher does that).  So here-a we go:


I mean, I knew she wasn’t, like, a good person.  So, you know, I’m-a be straight about that.  But you get to be a certain age, and you’re still cleaning moats, and like, whatever, a man does what he’s gotta do.  And for me, bro, that was, like, I gotta do Karen.  You probably know her as Cinderella’s stepmother, but to me, she’s just, like, a nasty cougar with a dead rich husband that I bagged on the job to get at that cushy life.  I’m not bitter – it’s not so bad.

Now that you’re asking me though, actually Cinderella and I have some stuff in common.  I don’t want to ruin the fairy tale or whatever for you, but, like, I know a fellow hustler when I see one.  We’re both just doing what we do to keep our meal tickets happy and off our backs (in my case like, for seriously because that hag is into some weird dirty shit.  (shiver))  Life pushed us into a corner and we’re, like, scrapping like whoa to work it.  Bob and weave, baby.

She had the short end of the stick, though if I’m being real. Like, I know it’s the 17th century and everyone is all, like, “equality” and shit, but I mean, I still know on the real that stuff is easier for me because I’m-a dude.  I mean, I was basically all “buy me a fucking lute” and Karen was all (low gravely voice) “oh, here’s your lute, baby.”  But the Prince – there’s no way he would be cool with that.  Cinderella had to play it smart, er, dumb, er, fuck man, even just talking about it, –  that shit’s complex!  Cinderella was all like (wispy, space-y, girlish voice) “I’m shy, oh, my shoe fell off and I can see it, and like, I have time to longingly make sexy eyes at you but I don’t have time to bend over for my shoe, because I’m late for my pumpkin car – it has limited magic, oh, oh”  Like I don’t even understand the reasons behind her weird-ass decisions, but whatever – that girl knew exactly what she was doing.  Tough as fucking nails – wearing that insane dress that was covered in mouse poop.

She did it though – bagged her a comfortable life.  In a different, like, circumstance or whatever, we could have really been something maybe – two star-crossed hustlers selling fake tonics on a cart or whatever….  Cinderella, wherever you are, I wanna say that I hope that prince is gone a lot, and that you get some time to yourself to just, like, read magazines, or eat breast cancer research yogurt, or just, like, do whatever regular girls like to do.  And Cinderella, more than anything, I hope you don’t have to do weird sex stuff with your lute.


For next week, I pitched several sketches and the one that was chosen is about a rebellious Christian fundamentalist daughter trying to talk her liberal agnostic dad into throwing her a purity ball for her 16th birthday.  I’ll be sure to let you know how that goes.

Have a great week!

On Motherhood – an excerpt

11 Feb

Behold!  An excerpt of a larger/longer piece I’m working on concerning motherhood that I hope will be advice and jokes and most of all telling the truth:

The hard thing that I just couldn’t bring myself to say in the moment, because you were crying, is that the answer is “no one.”  No one will take care of you anymore.  Or maybe more accurate is to say that being taken care of will never be the same – will never be quite right.  You will always be the end of the line.  There is support, there is help, there is partnership, but there is never the same sense that it could ultimately fall to someone else.  It will always be yours and you will always be alone in this way.

This is devastating until one day you wake up and realize that you’ve become so strong, so capable, with a sky-high threshold so that you are able to sustain yourself from your own stores.  You have become smarter, more flexible, to be able to find whatever rest you need in the 4 minutes you’ve got without even a glancing thought to the 4 days you probably need.  Need?  No.  Could use.  If those 4 days, or 4 hours come, you will be shocked at what you can do.  Anything.  You can rebuild a career, shop for all of the necessary supplies, rest the deepest parts of you.  You will be beautifully pragmatic.  You will be fresh air.

In your work you will find fresh intolerance for bullshit.  The tyranny of the blank page?  Are you fucking kidding?  You will come to find that most of the problems your colleagues imagine are unspeakable luxuries which they just cannot shut their festering face holes about.  It’s not their fault – it wasn’t yours either.  But you are on the other side of knowing now, so allow yourself a wry smile at their charming idiocy and get down to tearing your projects a new one in half the time.  With one arm.  With someone sucking on whatever part of you (and not in a fun college kind of way).  By saying over and over again “just a minute.”  You’ll be vicious.  You’ll be smart.  You’ll be steely sure in your choices.  You will come to discover the great gift that having no option is.  Your work will thrive.  Don’t give up.  Do everything you want to do with everything you’ve got.  You can’t afford bullshit anymore and your audience, whoever they are, will thank you for that.

You won’t be “stressed” anymore.  You won’t be tired.  You’ll find that what other people lazily use these words for are stagnant, binary states.  You’ll come to discover the gradation and pinpoint your range of and in these feelings.  As your threshold expands, you’ll notice that you can function beautifully, even thrive in heightened states of these feelings.  It’s not sad, it’s amazing.  You can adapt.  You’re already doing it.  Give yourself every credit and notice your incredible impossible transformation.  You’re doing it.  You’re it.  You are an artist and your state of being is your work – magnificent.  Nobody sees quite right, but you’re beyond even that – transcendent.