The Foggiest Ideas


THE GRAY AREAS are spreading, like puddles sliding into each other on an uneven sidewalk, making bigger puddles. There are so many things I don’t know, and they seem to be increasing every day. And when I try to figure out just part of something, I’m not sure it even helps. It’s a bit the way some Catholics complain about having to be Catholic. If they don’t sign on for the whole thing, including all the hogwash they don’t believe in, then what is the point? Can they be partly Catholic? Can I be partly sure?

In the supermarket, there’s a paralysis that sets in within about ten minutes of shopping. If I buy the organic strawberries but then buy the non-organic cereal, am I canceling out the benefits of the organic strawberries? Will non-organic strawberries definitely give me cancer and the non-organic cereal only possibly give me cancer? Or is it the other way around? Because buying everything organic is very expensive, and I don’t really want to make an extra trip to the health-food store, the one that makes me vaguely uncomfortable—it  should smell better in there—and where the one guy at the checkout counter gives me a bad vibe. I’d rather risk buying a few non-organic items at the regular supermarket. But is it worth getting cancer over? What is the cost-benefit analysis on this? I really don’t know.

These strawberries are non-organic.

Also, did I need to take that round of antibiotics for what the doctor thought might be a sinus infection but which might actually only have been a cold? Was he just handing me the prescription to hurry me along? Does that mean the next time I take antibiotics they won’t work as well, or is that not really true even though it seems to be conventional wisdom now? I should Google it and make an informed decision, but I really just want to feel better right now, and maybe a round of antibiotics will knock out some other infection I’m about to get that I don’t even know is already there. Maybe there’s a new infection right on the horizon.  How can I know for sure?

Is the show Girls portraying twentysomething women in an accurate light or are the characters exaggerated, self-entitled, and/or stereotypical of a sort of privileged New York variety that I’m expected to dislike? I don’t know. I’ve only seen two episodes, but I’ve read about ten articles online about the show and feel I should have an opinion.

The "Girls" girls. I've barely seen the show; do I have to have an opinion?

Were we all this nervous before the Internet?

Then there’s the kid. Am I praising her too much? Or not enough? Is her self-esteem where it should be or is it actually a little too high, giving her false expectations of life that will be dashed as soon as she ventures out into the world on her own? When I said, ebulliently, “Wow, you’re such a good artist,” after looking at her drawing of a horse, should I have instead been more neutral by saying something like, “I’m noticing the way you found your own particular way of representing the horse’s mane”? Or would that seem withholding and cold, lodging somewhere in her brain and negatively influencing her later on? Should I tell her that her body is perfect or will that actually make her think that she always has to be perfect? Should I not even mention the word perfect? Perfect is dicey. But if I don’t say her body is perfect, will she grow up with body issues, thinking somehow her body is flawed?

Am I being ironic? Do we do that for self-protection?

Is irony dead? Are we post-irony? Or did it die and then come back and now we’re actually too ironic about everything again? I’ve completely lost track of where we are on that. How many “post-”s  bring us back to the original thing? When I watch Portlandia, am I cringing because I’m so much like the characters or because I recognize and disdain other people who are like them? Am I less annoying than the types they’re portraying, more annoying, or about the same?

"Portlandia": Am I laughing at them or with them?

Whatever happened to that bearded, unhinged-looking guy who used to walk up and down my road all the time, in any kind of weather? Was he actually crazy or was he homeless or was he possibly some sort of mystic who I should’ve tried to talk to? By avoiding him, what did I miss? Was it snobbery, fear, or selfishness that kept me away? Did he die or is he walking up and down some other road now?

Why did it take me so long to realize that WOOT means “want one of those,” and now that I know it, is there any way for me to un-know it?

When I look at the washed-out snapshots of me as a kid in an igloo in the backyard, snow drifts in every direction, should I think “nor’-easter” or “regular snowstorm”? Are all those photos of my childhood adequately protected in those plastic bins or should I be converting them all to digital,  and if so, when will I ever find the time to do that?

Shall I eat a peach? Wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled or unrolled?

Did I say enough to people when I had the chance?

Will I have too many regrets, not enough, or just the right amount? Will I even have the right regrets? I was going to read the book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying but I was too afraid. I was worried I would be headed in the wrong direction with my regrets.  For that one I found myself preferring not to know. I’ll just make them up as I go along.

About Janet Steen

Janet Steen started on the editorial staff at Esquire, where she tweaked the prose of writers including Norman Mailer, Denis Johnson, and Mary Gaitskill. She went on to become the books editor at Time Out New York, an editor at Us Weekly, and the literary editor at Details. She has written for the New York Times, Interview, Details, Us Weekly, and Time Out New York. Her profile subjects include such widely varying personalities as Steve Martin, Barry White, Martin Amis, and Dennis Hopper. She edits books and is a co-founder of, and lives in upstate N.Y.
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