the smell of my desperation has become a stench

On being a total nutjob

A few weeks ago Jon and I gave an interview to an IT magazine for an article about accidental entrepreneurship. They wanted to know how this website now pays our mortgage when I originally started it so that I could make obnoxious fart jokes online. Short answer: I had to give a lot of head.

It was a phone interview, and they recorded it so that they could incorporate it into a podcast (when it’s posted I’ll link to it here), and I can honestly say that I have never been more uncomfortable giving an interview. One, it was only a couple days after I had discovered that someone I thought was a very cool person was making viciously mean comments about me in a public forum, and every time I answered a question into the phone I could hear in my head how this person would make fun of the way I said things. Two, in order to make sure that they had a clean edit for the podcast, the guy conducting the interview wouldn’t say anything for at least 10 seconds after I answered a question, and that disorienting pause made me think that my thrilling discourse had bored him into a coma.

Halfway through the interview I handed the phone over to Jon and pantomimed instructions for him to take over. It was during one of those miserable 10 second pauses, and I held my thumb and forefinger in the shape of a gun to my temple and then dramatically fell to the floor. There are many reasons I write, and at the top of that list is SO THAT I DON’T HAVE TO LISTEN TO MYSELF TALK. I cannot bear it, cannot remain in the same room if Jon plays a message I have left on his phone because that guttural drawl? IT COULD KILL UNBORN CHILDREN.

Jon rescued me beautifully, answered questions in complex sentence structures, and then afterward assured me that I didn’t sound that bad during the call. Something happens to me when people put me on the spot like that, my brain dissolves into a fine goo and then leaks out of my ear like an infection. Everything goes blank, and to fill the silence I start repeating filler words. My favorite is “actually” because it can be used to express a variety of emotions:

“Actually?” equals “That’s an interesting question, and even though you phrased it to make it sound like you already know the answer, I’m going to gently let you know you’re wrong.”

“Actually.” equals “Hard to believe, I know.”

“ACTUALLY!” equals “While you were asking me that question my two-year-old walked over to the dog and stuck her pinky finger in his left nostril.”

“Actually…” equals “I just lost my train of thought. Maybe this will buy me some time.”

ACTUALLY?” equals “What I’m about to say has absolutely nothing to do with what you just asked me.”

On sunday morning the IT magazine sent over a freelance photographer to take some photos. He showed up with a trunk full of gear — light boxes, tripods, reflectors — and for the first set of shots had all four of us, dooce Mascot Chuck included, sit in a tight group in front of the house. I had a hard time getting Chuck to sit upright because the sunniest spot in the yard was only a few feet away, and he repeatedly fell over on his side and tried to army crawl his way over to it. I tried wrapping my arm around his torso to hold him in a sitting position, but he fell limp around my arm like a fish, his tongue hanging lifelessly out of the side of his mouth. Hi! We’re the Armstrongs, and this is our dead dog.

Leta proved to be the bigger challenge because she was too shy to even look in the direction of the camera. I tried to pry her hands from around my neck, but that only increased her resolve to bury her head in my armpit. I looked at the photographer and told him to ask her if she wanted those chocolate candies that melt in the mouth, and when he spoke those magic letters, that first M followed by its twin, Leta whipped her face around with the force of a rotating planet. When she realized that this stranger had arrived bearing such gifts she was willing to do anything, smile, pose, turn a cartwheel, sell her own mother into slave trade. For three rolls of film she had smudges of chocolate around her mouth in the shape of unruly facial hair. Hi! We’re the Armstrongs, and this is our son.

He took photos for a good two hours, and even set up a series of shots on our bed, the hub of our family’s activity. It’s where we spend the majority of our day writing, eating, and smacking each other with pillows, and to shake things up a bit he had both Jon and I lie on our stomachs with our heads toward the foot of the bed. We were supposed to look relaxed and casual, but I felt exactly the opposite, like I was working up the courage to take it up the butt. Terrified. We had to scrap that position, though, because he said he was getting too much of a glimpse at my cleavage, and I said, what cleavage, and he said enough that it wouldn’t work for an IT magazine, and I said, enough is more than none, and now, if I can manage it, I will remain in this position for the rest of my life.

  • Shalini

    2006/06/21 at 1:11 pm

    the word anyway and whatever drive me nuts.. i love actually a whole lot!

  • Smyra

    2006/06/21 at 1:13 pm

    In my theater experience I’ve had directors make the actors play improv games to help us reduce the amount of “um”, “er”, “uh” and “actually” in our speech. On particularly tough days, the director would get creative and find ways of punishing us for each slip-up. Like jumping jacks or lashes with a giant leather whip.

    Anyway. I can relate to the anxiety. After such training, I flinch to hear myself utter “um” for fear that I will be eternally banished to the fiery depths of Theater Hell in Lincoln, Nebraska.

  • ketty

    2006/06/21 at 12:27 pm

    Dude, I would give my left breast to NOT have cleavage. The only time I don’t is when I am lying on my back with a board pressed on my chest and no bra on. Jesus should have created us with parts like Mr. Potato head and I could just pop my chest off and hand it over to someone whining about being boobless and then they could carry around what is basically a sack filled with fat strapped to their chest and when they came whining to me at the end of the day that their back felt like it was permanently bent like a paper clip and that their shoulders had a permanent crater in them from the bra straps I could say: SEE! I TOLD YOU BOOBS SUCK!

  • Mrs. Mogul

    2006/06/21 at 12:58 pm

    It wasn’t an IT mag…they were really Jugs Magazine!

    That’s fantastic that your mortgage gets paid from this. (sits down to mope)

  • freecave

    2006/06/21 at 12:59 pm

    Dearest Heather. Please forgive me if this insults you but I must say, although you don’t appear to think so, you have one of the most normal families I have ever seen. And I truly wish that someday I can have a relationship, a family and a dog like that of your own. Thanks for your take of life.

  • jolie

    2006/06/21 at 1:01 pm

    several things

    1. saw a little kid with light green crocs on today and – don’t hate me! – dj frog clearly needs a pair
    2. people, please stop advocating violence against the pink shoes, it’s very upsetting to me and I’m already unstable as is. many thanks.
    3. lady, you’re a bigger woman than I. If I were popular enough to have haters I’d direct the superfriends (all 7 of them) in the general direction of the nastiness and let them do my bidding for me. all of which is to say: tell us who’s doing the shit-talking, so we can do some shit-kicking.

  • iamjenlindsey

    2006/06/21 at 11:39 am

    actually, you mentioned cleavage, giving head, and taking it up the butt all in one post.

    and it was actually charming…actually!!

    ya’ll ‘er funny.

  • Pascha

    2006/06/21 at 11:53 am

    I once had to do a telephone interview for a job…a job I really, REALLY wanted at a children’s hospital.

    I tend to use a filler word after other people talk. When someone finished talking and it seems like they need some sort of response that I’m not ready to give, I stand there nodding, saying, “Right.” Then I get a weird, pensive look on my face and hope they just go away.

    I didn’t get the job from the phone interview.

    Also, that cleavage that came from laying on the bed, you can replicate that while sitting up. Put your arms at your side, clasp your hands, put them on your knees, and lean forward the slightest bit, resting your elbows on your thighs. It makes you look like you’re paying attention to someone, and it makes boobs look great.

    …not that I’ve practiced it, or anything.

    Or, buy a wonderbra that has that gel stuff in it. My husband just about fell off the couch when he saw me wearing one.

  • Pascha

    2006/06/21 at 11:56 am

    Oh, and your accent? That’s nothing. When I was 10, I moved to Minnesota from the south (Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma). When my accent was making the transition from southern to northern, my own mother could not even understand me most of the time.

    Talk about wanting to jab a pencil into your ear…

  • wrensuicide

    2006/06/21 at 12:00 pm

    Awww, I’m sure you were fine.

    Also, I’m sorry about the drama. That sucks. =(

  • Janet

    2006/06/21 at 12:02 pm

    I knew I should not check your website while I have two mouth ulcers (one on each side). I did anyway though. It hurt.

  • Shesh

    2006/06/21 at 12:04 pm

    Good piece. Your entries always make me laugh. Don’t worry about all the drama.

  • TeenSleuth

    2006/06/21 at 12:18 pm

    Off topic, but. The Crocs! Say it isn’t so. I think they are very cute.

  • Mitch Wagner

    2006/06/21 at 11:24 am

    Wow. I’ve become blog-famous. Sort of. Anonymously.

  • MissLissa

    2006/06/21 at 11:28 am

    Ugh. I hate the way my voice sounds too. I about freak out if I even have to speak into a microphone. In my warped little mind my voice sounds awesome, so it’s like getting slapped in the face with reality when I hear it recorded. Or amplified. Loudly.

    Mean people blow. Whoever is saying mean things about you needs to get a life or get something else…

  • karenology

    2006/06/21 at 10:56 am

    Okay, you know you’re gonna have to divulge who this person is, so we can all make snarky revenge comments about them for you!

    The worst is when someone points out to you your particular public speaking mistakes, right before you have to present. Then you keep making those mistakes because now you’re nervous AND also aware of failing horribly. 🙁

  • CartwheelsAtMidnight

    2006/06/21 at 11:02 am

    Terr. i. fy. ing.

    Not only attempting to articulate an intelligent answer to a stranger, but having to do it over the PHONE?!

    The prospect of a phone interview makes me shudder in fear. Horror.

  • Shana Banana

    2006/06/21 at 11:12 am

    BOOBS! See, your Britney dreams are comming true… some IT geek (besides jon heh ) loves your boobs! He was staring at yur boobs Heather! YAY!!! Anyway.. The haters are itchesbay and can kiss my assbay! or something like that. Congrats on the BOOBS! hahahaha

  • jes

    2006/06/21 at 11:19 am

    My hair is so thick and long that it won’t fit under my swim cap any longer. Therefore, it will be cut tonight.

    I know that had nothing to do with your entry, but your entry did lead me on a train of thought that arrived at the hair, and I could tell you what that train of thought was, but I might ACTUALLY bore you to tears.

    So. There it is. All uncombed and everything.

  • Brad Martin

    2006/06/21 at 11:19 am

    Oh, and you’re now linked from my blog. I didn’t want to just drop strange traffic on your site from people who find me by google searching “Justin Timberlake eats Mickey Mouse panty hose” without telling you first.

  • Muffin

    2006/06/21 at 10:52 am

    It was a really traumatic day for me when I realized that I actually talk like Minnie Mouse on crack. And don’t ask me how, but somewhere in my formative years I picked up a 1980’s valley girl accent.

    I live in the friggin south! Why don’t I sound like Scarlet O’hara?

  • moose

    2006/06/21 at 10:51 am

    I feel that pain. Every time I hear my voice on the message machine I have to go hide in the closet. It’s horrifying. My voice sounds so sexy in my head. Unfortunately, it sounds like Mickey Mouse everywhere else.

    P.S. Can you describe in further detail this position that gave you cleavage? I’d like to try it.

  • Broad

    2006/06/21 at 10:44 am

    I would kill to have your accent naturally, not like the way I get Madonna syndrome and talk like my Tennessean friends when I’m around them.


    2006/06/21 at 10:44 am

    Good blog, that was really, really well-written. Usually your writing flows well but that one in particular, no bits that reminded me it had an author if you know what I mean.

    Billygean (your blog critiquer)

    PS. I just passed my english degree, hurrah!

  • myra

    2006/06/21 at 10:48 am

    I don’t know what my filler word is. When I have to do any public speaking (which during the school year is basically every day) I get so stressed out that I nearly have an anxiety attack, but once I start talking the words just keep coming… It’s rather like an out-of-body experience. I can hear what I’m saying as if it’s from someone else – and oddly, I often find myself thinking, ‘hey that sounds pretty smart! Where did that come from? ‘ You’d think I would either get used to this, or try to prepare more to avoid it. You’d think!

  • GeekDaddy

    2006/06/21 at 10:44 am

    “… and this is our dead dog.” ROFL!

    Did the subject of Jon’s shoes come up? You know, if you really are holding them Clogstage, you should offer up a list of demands.

  • Torrie

    2006/06/21 at 10:35 am

    The more I think about it, the more I think that the IT magazine people obviously don’t know who their target audience is.

  • anna nic

    2006/06/21 at 10:39 am

    What forum is the bitch posting on? I will kick her ass with WORDS.

  • Tek

    2006/06/21 at 10:41 am

    I bet he didn’t tell you about the cleavage until *after* a few shots were taken.

  • Alissa

    2006/06/21 at 10:32 am

    My favorite filler phrase is “You know.” I use it when I’m struggling to find the right words, in the hopes that they’ll nod and I’ll be able to just shut up because, you know … they know.

    And thank you for forcing me to stifle three huge laughs whilst sitting in my cubicle. It’s been a shitty day and it felt really good to laugh (quietly).

  • Sandra Heikkinen

    2006/06/21 at 10:34 am

    Next time, do the phone interview while laying in the cleavage position, in front of a mirror. Maybe staring at yourself and thinking, “my boobs are really big!” will distract you from being nervous.

    Or maybe it’ll just make you talk about your chest. Hmm.

  • anna nic

    2006/06/21 at 10:34 am

    “Actually” is a much better filler word than mine. In those situation, I use “so”. As in…

    “I chose this color scheme specifically for the clients and they said they really liked it. So…”

    The “so” is supposed to be a clue for the other party to say something back so I don’t keep talking and completely humiliate myself. I once caught myself doing this every sentence for nearly an hour. Even after I realized what I was doing, I couldn’t stop.

    I like yours much better. I’m totally switching.

  • NixMom

    2006/06/21 at 10:30 am

    Aw Heather. I live near Bartlett so I hear your accent all day long and I think it’s sweet. You’d be amazed at the things a little southern twang will get you when you’re out of your element.

    As for the person saying evil things, “Bless her heart”, you know what I mean… As my friend says, “Honey, you gotta have the bottom of the barrel so you can have the top.”

    Welcome to the top Heather.


  • vinsanity

    2006/06/21 at 10:21 am

    Mmmm…. cleavage.

    All cleavage is good.

    All of it.

  • Anne Glamore

    2006/06/21 at 10:22 am

    I’m going to get in that position RIGHT NOW and see what happens. I believe in miracles!

  • Heather Anne

    2006/06/21 at 10:23 am

    I can’t decide what I’d rather have more: cleavage or M&Ms. Choices, choices.

  • lisa

    2006/06/21 at 10:25 am

    Oh! I can’t wait for the podcast.

    I can’t believe an IT magazine would forgo an opportunity for gratuitious cleavage. What, are those guys getting too much as it is?

  • MomGoneWild

    2006/06/21 at 10:29 am

    I’m with Dr. Tongue. (God, that’s a nice sentence.)

    Anyhoo….the clogs? Think of the pink shoes, woman! For the love of all pumps….just give him back the clogs!

  • issa

    2006/06/21 at 10:19 am

    That would make me crazy. I couldn’t do it. You are very brave. I too, write so I don’t have to talk out load. I despise the sound of my voice on anything. I will not do a real message on my voicemail ever, for fear that I may one day have to listen to it.

    And the person who is bashing you needs to get their ass kicked. Don’t listen to them. You rock.

  • doctor tongue

    2006/06/21 at 10:20 am

    References to oral sex, cleavage, and anal sex. You’re just trying to distract everyone (especially your husband) from the issue at hand:


    Now then. Having said that, I’ve been in IT for 22 yrs, and there is no such thing as TOO MUCH CLEAVAGE for IT (and I’m an ass man).

  • Chantel

    2006/06/21 at 10:07 am

    You got an extra geek in your bedroom and you didn’t make any threesome jokes?

    I’m sorry, I really live in a gutter.
    I’m thinking you could have turned IT magazine into something totally different with a little cleavage but then again sex doesn’t sell computers…. wait.

    Yes it does.

  • Kristine

    2006/06/21 at 10:09 am

    I do hope you managed to find an A1 bottle and hid it SOMEWHERE in that bed shot.

  • Torrie

    2006/06/21 at 9:53 am

    Did you manage to sneak the word “crayon” into the interview?

  • Megan

    2006/06/21 at 10:00 am

    They’re all bitches. While everyone says that you should just ignore them it’s entirely difficult thing to do. It must be hard putting everything out there and getting pulled apart. Bitches, man.

  • sweetney

    2006/06/21 at 10:15 am

    who’s talkin’ shit? want me to commence with a beat-down?

    because you know i’ll do it. just say the word.

    (The Word is “asshat.”)

  • myra

    2006/06/21 at 10:03 am

    My son is completely fanatical about M&Ms. So much so that they can’t be used for bribery – as soon as he realizes that they are involved, he must have them immediately. I have many chocolate moustache aftermath photos 🙂

  • RS

    2006/06/21 at 10:05 am

    This is one of the best posts ever because your discomfort is palpable and humorous.

    And when I worked with Indians who had just arrived in the US, they said “actually” constantly…as in, “Actually, Miss R[], give me my airplane ticket or I will blow my bad breath in your face forever.”

  • June

    2006/06/21 at 9:19 am

    I went to a large uni for grad school, and during that time, I worked with many wonderful scientists from Korea. “Actually…” was their number one favorite starter-filler word. I don’t know how it got started, but they ALL did it.

    Nowadays, whenever I hear anyone frequently beginning sentences that way, I have to smother my fond (inward) grin, lest the person think I am laughing at him/her for no apparent reason.

  • Brad Martin

    2006/06/21 at 9:21 am

    Congrats on the sweater puppetry. Congrats on all your success. Congrats ona wonderful family. Congrats is a really annoying word.

  • Jon Z.

    2006/06/21 at 9:21 am

    I have become so much more comfortable with writing than with speaking that it’s a bit unsettling. If I’m away from the computer and someone engages me with a question or topic that requires more than a one-sentence response, I suddenly feel the urge to email them rather than speak.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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