JUNEAU -- I love Libby Bakalar's blog, "One Hot Mess." It's not obvious why. Demographically, we have little in common. I am not a super smart brash woman from New York who juggles career aspirations after having created life … twice. (We do share a certain socioeconomic status and good hair). Regardless, it's in the specifics of the Juneau woman's blog where you and I can find the universal.
Consider her most popular post, a parody rap of a parody rap. Bakalar's post "It's Raining Sideways in Juneau, Yo" is based on Andy Samberg's "Lazy Sunday" from "Saturday Night Live." It was posted Nov. 19, 2014.
"... But first we gotta make our kids put on their gear
We rock the Hellys and the Xtra-Tuffs all DAY up in here!
They got the triple insulation with the steel toe built in
The slip-resistant outsole that flex like Paris Hilton
No doubt those boots got all da bomb rubbah
I needsta have those kicks like an orca needs blubbah!
One, no two, no three WARM LAYAHS
I ain't tryin' to hear my kids bitchin,' playahs! ..."
Any Juneau parent who's have ever geared up a kid for outdoor play can relate to those specifics. Specifics brilliantly rhymed in a rap no less. Even if you don't have kids, you have to gear up and you probably have empathy for parents gearing up times three. Bakalar may be writing her story, but it's easy to relate.
"I like to tell stories about myself," she said. "I like to be revelatory. Because I think it has an authenticity to it that way. People like stories."
Dizzying progression of thought
Most folks are not as straightforward about their neuroses as Libby Bakalar.
"Every time I have a thought, it has some other thought associated with it. I don't have a set of linear thoughts about something. I have a set of complicated thoughts about nothing." One of the thrills of Bakalar's blog is following this dizzying progression of thought.
Bakalar sifts little nuggets of brilliant insight out of the ore of her daily life. (Bakalar might've written, "sift little turds of insight out of the cat litter box of life, which I can't even do because I'm allergic to cats … and everything else.") Every day is a ruthless and brutal self-assessment. Who knew ruthless and brutal self-assessment could be so hilarious?
Consider her values from a Jan. 6 entry:
"My deepest values are to not be an a$$%&*# and not surround myself with a$$%&*#s. It's that simple. Like, don't be a racist, homophobic, sexist, acquisitive, materialistic, littering boil on the ("man part"-edit.) of humanity, and don't hang out with people who are, or you might catch their highly contagious a$$%&*# cooties. Those are pretty much my deepest values."
Or her take on childhood cartoons from a Jan. 4, 2015 entry:
"… I loved my He-Man action figure. He was f$%#ing hot, in sort of a gross, steroid-addled kind of a way. What with his eight-pack abs and his shoulder-length blonde hair and his weird metal Viking underpants. Every episode of He-Man ended with He-Man tossing his head back and laughing in a sexy baritone. Through a foggy, portal-sized window of memory, I can see my pre-pubescent self studying He-Man with a curious intrigue ..."
That's my censoring by the way. Bakalar's blog is pretty much R rated. "My upbringing was very open and not cloistered, not very censored. I don't have problems with cursing. I try to be real on there."
Also note that beneath the cursing is some thoughtful subject matter: what it means to be decent, or the first rumblings of puberty. Having a sense of humor shouldn't equate to being unserious.
Bakalar uses humor and brash language "to expose flaws in a human person and have other people reflect back at themselves in it. That's kind of the purpose (of the blog)."
Sometimes Bakalar drops the humor and just plays the narrative straight, like with this bit on her East Coast childhood.
"The slats were a few feet apart, like the rungs of a ladder laid flat. You could walk across the slats while stepping over the gaps, and look down to the sand (or water) below, depending on whether the tide was in or out. The bulkhead wasn't dangerous enough to avoid walking across, but if you weren't careful, you could fall through."
This excerpt from Dec. 24, 2014's "Falling Through the Bulkhead" is a small piece on the ease, humiliation and pain of messing up. It's also about how you'll survive. It's a beautiful little piece, one of my favorites of the whole blog, and there isn't an ounce of snark. That said, comedy is clearly Bakalar's medium. "People like to laugh and think at the same time," says Bakalar.
Separated and connected
The blog suits Bakalar's life perfectly. As a professional and a mom, there's no time for long, thoughtful essays. There is also the logistics of getting published in today's changing media-scape. "People are more separated and connected than ever before. Social media and the Internet is totally to blame and credit for that …"
That her blog is reaching people outside her social circle is immensely satisfying. "I do like the idea of people I don't know reading my stuff and responding to it. That tells me I'm doing something a little more universal and outside my friends in Juneau. I don't know 600 people in Juneau but 600 people in Juneau think it's hilarious that I did a parody of Samberg's 'Lazy Sunday' about waking up and entertaining kids on a rainy day."
A more recent, and even more popular, entry took a turn to the surreal. Bakalar pointed out a common epiphany of late 30-somethings. You're no longer the young one. While busy starting a career and family, a whole new group of fully functioning adults arrived on the scene. And one day, you look at the cute dude at the post office store -- full beard, smooth face, cool music -- and realize this man is not your peer. You are old.
Then the cute dude at the post office store (CDATPOS) blog post blew up.
Through mutual friends reading the blog, CDATPOS realized he was the subject of the post and responded. CDATPOS, helpfully, has a great since of humor. A back-and-forth ensued, witnessed by all of Juneau. The whole -- I don't know what you would call it -- thing culminated in CDATPOS making dinner for Bakalar and her family. Apparently CDATPOS cooks a mean pork loin.
Perhaps it's Bakalar's bravery to see these situations to the end that has brought her national attention. In the month of March, Bakalar headlined the blog section for the Women in Comedy Festival. This is no slouch of a festival, with headliners like Jane Lynch and Lily Tomlin. And if you visit the festival's blog (http://womenincomedyfestival.blogspot.com), you will see Bakalar's March 6 entry, "Let Me Tell You About The Tiny House Movement."
I'm not surprised Bakalar's blog, and humor, are catching on. A sense of humor is necessary to make a difference in ourselves and maybe in our community. We don't all have to be comedians. It's just that smart comedy, such as Bakalar's blog, gives us permission to laugh at ourselves -- even if just a chuckle to acknowledge a bit of needed self-improvement. This is not the kind of comedy where people are made fun of; rather, it's a healthy kind of self-deprecation. A foundational trait to those who truly make a difference is their humility, which mostly manifests as an ability to laugh at themselves.
I mean really, what help are humorless people? Look at self-righteous, stick-in-the-mud types like Muslim terrorists or Bill O'Reilly, people who operate without a slip of self-doubt. Useless. If we can recognize ourselves as a little less than perfect, then we recognize that our friends, neighbors and countrymen are also a little less than perfect. Maybe when we can laugh at ourselves, we are more forgiving, more patient, less judgmental.
Funny people have been telling us to lighten up forever. In my lifetime, I memorized Cosby albums and watched Joan Rivers and Richard Pryor on Carson. Now I watch Sarah Silverman, Tina Fey and Louis ("The meal isn't over when I'm full. It's over when I hate myself.") CK. I read David Sedaris and Bill Bryson. Now I can add Bakalar and her blog to the list. So should you.
One Hot Mess can be viewed at http://onehotmessalaska.blogspot.com.
Clint J. Farr is a Juneau freelance writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.