January 12, 2013

No Rest for the Restless

Today was a day of waiting for that phone call that will never come. Tomorrow probably will be, too. Waiting by the phone used to be one of those iconic 50s images — a teenage girl in a monogrammed sweater, coiling and uncoiling the rotatory cord while her parents watched the news on a black and white television. But now, in Cyberland, our phones are with us everywhere. If you’re waiting for that call, you can’t avoid the device that should, theoretically, be ringing. It has to be on your person (or in your purse; either way you glance down constantly and rudely, each time looking up with the wanton expression of someone whose just watched an ASPCA commercial accompanied by a mournful Sarah McLachlan song still gnawing at your psyche). If you don’t have your phone on you, you might miss an urgent eBay email telling you you’ve been scammed. Or a call from your mother who wants confirmation that her child is alive and not, God forbid, buying Ben & Jerry’s at a bodega on the wrong side of town. You can’t block the caller — what if the call does somehow come? What if they call, only to learn they’ve been blocked, and put you in their emotional outgoing box forever? Wow, that really sounds like a Carrie Bradshaw voiceover.

Besides sleeping and reading not-so-good novels from the 80s, I’ve been trying to distract myself in the most cliched way possible: exercise. Not exercise-as-punishment (even though I don’t quite enjoy it, yet), exercise to jumprope away my anger and tension.

I’ve exercised three times in 2013. I am proud of this tiny feat. I exercised yesterday and today. My reason for exercising yesterday: to undo some of the damage of Singapore noodles, a giant stale chocolate chip cookie, and a beer the night before. Yesterday, in a first for me, I exercised AND showered AND put on make-up all before noon. I felt like I’d solved The Da Vinci Code while swinging on a swing pushed by Derek Jeter; elated.

Today I didn’t wake up sore, which I assumed to be a bad sign. But maybe — could it be? — I was just doing the exercises properly. I’m following a regimen recommended by my pixie friend and probably soulmate, Eleanor, who lately looks toned instead of merely Tic-Tac-tiny. I’m slightly embarrassed to be doing a DVD at my place when I could be running or yogaing or SoulCycling. But it is what it is: Jillian Michaels 30-day Shred. My joke is that I didn’t realize I needed to do the workout for 30 CONSECUTIVE days. I’ve probably done it about seven times, never making it past three days in a row. Tomorrow would be day three; and Sunday could be huge — fourth day in a row, with the reward of Downton Abbey, The Golden Globes, and the season two premiere of Girls.

So The Jillian Tape — as it will henceforth be known — is composed of three 20 minute workouts, which increase in difficulty. Aside: Workout 1 is actually 28 minutes. Three minutes of cardio, two minutes of strength, one minute of abs. Repeat five times between the warm-up and cool down.

Anyway, because of my lack of soreness, today I contemplated progressing from Workout 1 to Workout 2, but I’m still hit-or-miss when it comes to my push-ups stamina (yesterday I did almost 30 without stopping, today I quit after about 12, backtracking to that rocking seesaw “girl push-up,” which resembles a mermaid futilely trying to stand). So Workout 1 it was. Yesterday, I had much more energy (and the day showed much more promise) at 10am; today I attempted the 8pm-right-before-pizza, 28-minutes-of-sweating-it-during-the-last-32-minutes-of-This American Life approach. It was much more difficult and my timing was wonky. I did make one positive change: throughout the workout, I use four pound weights, but during this one strength exercise where you contort yourself back and forth into a human rhombus, I used three pound weights. Made a huge difference.

I like Jillian Michaels. I like her lame ankle tattoo — you’ve got to commit to life-long good legs to get inked there. I like how her nostrils are a little too flared, but she hasn’t gotten a nose job. I think she is motivating; I do feel like I’m letting Jillian down when I leave her in her claustrophobic DVD case. I just don’t really like watching or listening to her. And that shouldn’t be taken as an offense. To commit to any sort of workout program, you have to tailor it in a way that you’ll actually do it without bitching. I mute the TV, because Jillian’s background music is like escalator muzak. Not even elevator music; escalator — what you hear as your ascending and passing all the blah beneath you.

I require fast, loud workout music. One day I tried Lady Gaga, but she got all ballad-y at exactly the wrong time (eventually I’ll write about “schizophrenic songs” — ones that can’t decide whether to be fast or slow). Once I tried Rihanna, but I wanted to sing along while I was working out and trying to copy silent Jillian, so it was sensory overload. I gave Beyonce, who I absolutely love, a shot, but when “Irreplaceable” and “Halo” come up, my butt kicks are more like butt taps and I sloooow down. Yesterday I tried a mix on the Podrunner app, and after the very long word from their sponsors, that went well. Today, as I mentioned, it was This American Life, not exactly heart-racing (although often heart-wrenching), but again, it was a strategic move: I knew the workout was almost over when TAL started thanking it’s weekly contributors.

On the DVD, Jillian’s weights/mat are front and center, and she’s flanked by two co-worker-outers. Naturally, your eyes want to fix on Jillian, the person mouthing the instructions in the center of the screen. But after three or four reps, Jillian stands-up — abandoning her own workout — to point out the great form her back-up girls have. It’s disorienting. I’m like, “Jillian, dude, either put one of those girls in the middle of the screen and keep walking around her like you’re about to saw her in half, or do the thing start to finish.” Again, this is extra hard when you mute Jillian. She’ll get back on the ground for the last five or six reps; by then, you feel like she’s phoning it in. Props to her compatriots for being so smiley and non-sweaty as I grunt and curse.

Here’s to me making it past day three.


Jenna Marotta @ 12:20 am
Filed under: Personal Thoughts
January 5, 2013

Books I Read So You Don’t Have To

Can you tell I saw Les Mis immediately before I wrote that last post? Hormones + 157 minute epics set in Revolution-era France = spilling your guts on the Internet. I also didn’t have any coffee yesterday.

Coffee makes me really happy. Coffee and checking the mailbox. Not my inbox, the mailbox. Whenever I get mail, it’s a mini-celebration. I already know what bills are coming, so they don’t even catch me off guard - Yeah! I get to add envelopes to the recycling bin! Some days I get five magazines. All for me. When they talk about canceling Saturday postal deliveries, I fume. When I get a wedding invitation email, I appreciate the environmentalism while missing the calligraphy and RSVP envelopes.

Thursday was January 3, 2013. AKA 1/3/13. It was my dad’s birthday, and his lucky number is 13, so he was thrilled. Coincidentally, that was the day I wrote my 13th book review for SmartPlanet. SmartPlanet is run by intelligent, savvy people who are always nice to me. I want to bolster their readership anyway I can. If you’re interested in any of the following subjects, check out reviews #8-#13.

For shutterbugs – Picture book, a review of The Story of Polaroid by Christopher Bonanos

For egalitarians – Fair enough, a review of Against Fairness by Stephen T. Asma

For hoofers – Stage left, a review of Dancers Among Us by photographer Jordan Matter

For collectors – Business casual, a review of Etsy-preneurship: Everything You Need to Know to Turn Your Handmade Hobby into a Thriving Business by Jason Malinak

For sippers – Tap dance, a review of Drinking Water: A History by James Salzman

For pacifists – Nuclear reacting, a review of Five Myths about Nuclear Weapons by Ward Wilson

Jenna Marotta @ 9:00 am
Filed under: Book Reviews andPersonal Thoughts
January 4, 2013

Overachievers Anonymous

Hello, my name is Jenna and I’m a recovering overachiever.

“Hi Jenna.”

I’m not sure if I’ve ever written about my struggle with perfectionism on the blog before. If I have, I’m not sorry. See? I’m improving everyday. I’ve written about it in emails to friends and family. I’ve talked about it with former teachers, and on six different therapists’ couches. I’ve gotten buzzed on terrible-tasting beer and waxed drunkenly about being a tortured soul.

If I haven’t written about it, there’s one reason: I didn’t want to sacrifice someone offering me a job. If you search my name on Google, this is one of the first links that comes up. And a potential employer could read about a woman’s girlhood demons and never follow up. I’ve decided that I wouldn’t want to work for a company like that.

If I’m a writer and I have a blog, I have the freedom to share what I have to share. Maybe one person will benefit. Maybe that one person will be me.

Perfectionism is a disease. It should be included in the new DSM-5, when it’s released in May. I’ve never thought of myself as a Type-A personality, but that’s because I didn’t look up the definition of Type-A until just this second. Yeah, I’m that too.

I’m not sure if there’s a spectrum of overachieverism; I am inclined to believe you either are one or you’re not. Or in the areas that you tend to overachieve, you’re a total overachiever. Does that make sense? For instance, I always wanted to have straight A’s – academic overachiever. But I didn’t care in the slightest whether I was any good at tennis (I’m not, and I’m almost proud of it. Although I do wish I could play chess, because the smartest people I know can).

I always wanted to be thin. Thinner. Thin enough to be thought of as “small.” Because that’s how I sometimes feel: very, very small. But from the outside, especially if you are the firstborn who seems destined for great things, no one can see how small you feel. You diet, and maybe people compliment you, but unless you go into full-blown anorexia, no one treats you like you want to be treated when you feel small. If you feel small, you just want someone to wrap their arms around you. That’s it. That’s what it was for me.

Also, when you feel small, your emotions feel HUGE. I had panic attacks. I fell to my knees and screamed. When I fell in love, it consumed me.

For many years I hid these emotions, giving the impression that I was a robot. In an improv class, I was assigned an emotion to project in a scene, and I was wooden. I didn’t know what “happy” or “surprised” looked like. Well, I could caricature them, but I had no idea what they looked like – or more importantly, felt like – in my soul. The teacher kept beating his palm on the back wall. “React damn it, react!” Then I wept and yelled at him in front of the whole class.

I was starved for affection. Even though I grew up in a wonderful home with loving parents. All the pressure I put myself under was internal abuse. Kind of like I was whipping myself from the inside. And after decades of doing that, you 1) ignore all compliments and 2) take criticism horribly. Your skin literally feels thin and battered. I remember every negative thing anyone has ever said to me. Yet those comments motivate me. After I get upset, I get angry, and then I feel like an underdog. I have a great memory – too good. That’ll serve me as a writer or. . . I don’t know, a witness.

Work work work work work. I think I’ve pulled more all-nighters than times I’ve slept. I juggled grade and weight hang-ups. Although I wanted to be small, I was a binge eater. I was a binger, not a purger (and not by choice – I tried to teach myself how to purge). When I felt bad, I binged. It didn’t matter whether I was hungry or not. When I was on a deadline, I procrastinated by binging. Chips, cookies, peanut butter, cheese, raisins, granola, orange juice, ice cream – all in a row. And, to make it even worse, I couldn’t stop eating something until it was GONE. I said I was doing my future self a favor – “You won’t be tempted to eat ice cream tomorrow because you ate it all today.”

When I was a sophomore in college, I would buy a tub of rice pudding everyday. And eat it alone and stare at the wall feel like I was part of the wall. Meanwhile, I had all of New York City at my disposal.

About a year later, it was my roommate/buddy Dene’s birthday. We had a party at our dorm, and our other roommate/buddy, Paulina, made Dene a four-layer birthday cake (we have pictures on Facebook, which makes this memory extra awful). After we sang “Happy Birthday,” we all went to some bar that didn’t ID. After about 25 minutes, I made up a BS excuse and bailed on my roommate’s festivities. I had been looking forward to it for ages – I was wearing this velvet and lace Betsey Johnson dress that I’d never gotten to wear (I think I got it at Syms, on serious discount. It had an ugly satin bow that the man at the cleaner’s removed for free, with a seam-ripper, in two seconds). I left the bar to go back to the dorm, and eat Dene’s birthday cake in my party dress. I didn’t eat the whole thing, but it was four layers, so probably a regular-cake’s worth. It was far too much to hide or leave anyone guessing what had happened.

Another year later, I’d just moved into my first apartment. It was late summer, and my roommate/buddy, Jesse, hadn’t arrived yet. One day I woke up, got dressed, and spent $80 on Whole Foods groceries. I came home and I had this vision of myself eating all $80 of food right then. I thought that since my brain told me this could happen, I was conscious enough not to let it happen. But that’s exactly what I did – I started with nine pieces of sushi, then I went on to a bag of sweet potato chips, and I have no idea where I ended. All I know is that I felt awful, physically, mentally, financially. To counteract the binging, I relied on laxatives, Kombucha, and eventually, enemas.

Later I parlayed the binge eating into another form of self-injury – sitting in front of a 10x magnifying mirror for up for four hours a day, finding every single flaw in my face. That’s another sickness I overcame, but it took at least 18 months. Another side effect of perfectionism.

Here’s some firsthand insight from a recovering overachiever: you despise overachievers. You despise perfectionists. Those people are uptight. They never relax! They’re not relatable! They don’t laugh at themselves. They’re not silly! Amy Poehler says something like, “If you’re not having fun, it’s your own fault.” And she’s right. If you know you’re a perfectionist, but you hate being a perfectionist, but you don’t quite hate yourself, you just hate a major component of your personality. . . you’re trapped.

It’s like when one of those therapists told me I was an introvert. I cried and cried and cried. I want/wanted to be an extrovert – the center of attention! The one cracking people up! Instead I was the one glowering in the corner. At that previously mentioned party, before we left the dorm, a guy approached me in our common room. I thought he was going to introduce himself or say, “You look nice.” Instead: “Why are you standing here looking like such a stuck-up bitch?” There was nothing I could say to defend myself. . . so I didn’t say a word, took him to my room, and made out with him. Can you believe 19-year-old me? Can you believe calling the party hostess a stuck-up bitch worked as a pick-up line?

Finally, my point: I’ve gone months without posting here. Why? Because I didn’t have that perfect thing to say. Because I was too tired of beating myself up to channel the writerly facade that I wanted maybe-employers to see. I could make the resolution that I will blog everyday from now on. But I won’t put myself under that kind of stress or set myself up for failure. I am going to try and write everyday. An article, a post card, a tweet, something. I hope much of it will be on this blog.

Jenna Marotta @ 10:53 pm
Filed under: Personal Thoughts
October 25, 2012

A is for Asshattery

Today my first story was published in Time Out New York. For their fall comedy issue, I interviewed Doug Benson, Donnell Rawlings and Lisa Lampanelli about good hecklers vs. bad hecklers. I’m very pleased with how it turned out — there’s even an illustration!

Heckling: Three comics discuss their experiences with asshattery

Since I began writing book reviews for SmartPlanet, the name of my blog on their site has changed: The Printed Word is no more, long live The Word. My first review was published back in July, and the writing was a bit flat as I adjusted to tackling a new form. Review #8 posts tomorrow, and I think now you can tell that I’m no longer self-conscious (and also really enjoying myself). Here’s my small archive of reviews #2-#7:

Trust Issues, a review of Trust Me: I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday

Flavor Extracts, a review of The Tasti D-Lite Way: Social Media Marketing Lessons for Building Loyalty and a Brand Customers Crave by James Amos Jr. and BJ Emerson

Night Owls, a review of Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall

Copycats, a review of The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation by Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman

Warehouse, a review of Building Stories by Chris Ware

A Dining Room of One’s Own, a review of The Art of the Restaurateur by Nicholas Lander

Of these books, one I will cherish forever, one was pretty good, two were OK and two were…meh. Read the write-ups to find out which is which!

Jenna Marotta @ 10:45 am
Filed under: Book Reviews andComedy Reviews
June 12, 2012


Friday I started a new long-term freelance gig that I’m very excited about. I’ll be writing two book reviews per month for SmartPlanet, CBS Interactive’s online magazine devoted to technology, business and innovation. I’ll be working under the tutelage of Andrew Nusca, who was previously my editor at the Washington Square News, NYU’s student newspaper. He and his web designers created a blog specifically for my literary criticism: The Printed Word.

For my first SmartPlanet review, I chose Taschen’s new book, Information Graphics.

A couple asides…

Last month, the Just For Laughs Festival came to Chicago, and I as fortunate enough to be in town to help out with Time Out Chicago’s coverage.

Here are my three festival-related articles:
Q&A with The Daily Show’s John Oliver
Review of Patton Oswalt at the Vic
Review of Aziz Ansari at The Chicago Theatre

Also, this my first story for a new-to-my-repertoire media outlet, The Daily Beast (Newsweek‘s website): Zooey Asks Siri Creator Revealed

I’m sad to say that I cannot share my first (and only) story for The A.V. Club Chicago, as the website shut down on June 15. The piece was a Q&A with Neil Massey, who melded his two passions – theater and weapons – better than just about anyone I know. He’s the proprietor of Rogue Steel, a highly-respected maker of stage combat weapons.

Jenna Marotta @ 12:46 pm
Filed under: Book Reviews andComedy Reviews andEvents I Attended andInterviews andNews Stories
March 12, 2012

Monday Night Recall

This week my first-ever magazine feature story hits Midwestern news stands. It’s more exciting than getting a summer job at Anthropologie, although not quite as exciting as quitting that job 10 weeks later. Anyway, I worked very hard, and you can see the comedy guide I put together in the April issue of Chicago magazine (pg. 84-87).

You may have noticed that I have a new photo on my About page. A very adorable redhead named Kristen Lynn Barker took the picture, along with all of the images accompanying my text in the aforementioned Chicago magazine article. Click here to see more of Kristen’s work.

A couple more quick thank yous…
In my long absence from Just Jenna, I’ve been given two wonderful opportunities to share my work with kids. When I decided to become a writer, I never imagined anything except long lonely hours sitting at a desk, punctuated by the occasional book release party. A few weeks ago, I got to teach a writing workshop to fifth-eighth graders called “Baby Got Snack – How to Write a Song Parody.” My students came up with four parodies: “We Found Bugs” (Rihanna’s “We Found Love”), “Broken Clock Anthem” (LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem”), “School Lunches Are So Gross” and “I See Someone I Know” (both riffing on “My Heart’s A Stereo” by Gym Class Heroes ft. Adam Levine). And the last Tuesday of February, I got to read my work in front of 500+ students at Fremd High School in Palatine, IL. My sister attends Fremd, and I spoke as part of their annual Writers Week. I was very self-deprecating and I wore lilac H&M tights – it was pretty great.

And now, some more stuff that I wrote:

Time Out Chicago
A review of Jerry Seinfeld at the former Rosemont Theatre
A preview of Graveyard, a web series starring Dave Pasquesi and Christian Stolte
A review of Ripper: The Musical at The Annoyance
A review of Tracy Morgan at The Improv
A review of Barretta at Stage 773

New York magazine
A Mayoral Mexican Wrestling Challenge at Occupy Broadway
Hugh Acheson Offers to Pluck the ‘Hughnibrow’ for Charity
A First Peek Inside Joanne, the New Restaurant from Art Smith and Lady Gaga’s Dad

Do Egg Donors Lie?

Jenna Marotta @ 9:21 pm
Filed under: Comedy Reviews andEvents I Attended andKidstalgia andNews Stories andParodies
October 27, 2011

A Birthday Rant from the Statue of Liberty

Let’s play 20 Questions. Or 20 Answers, since I can’t hear you from up here. I am older than Idaho but younger than Iowa. I’ve been landmarked by the United Nations and name-checked by Jay-Z. I costarred in esteemed cinema such as Splash and Spaceballs. I have my own Barbie. I’m an immigrant who was given up for adoption. I’m a Lady, but my name isn’t Gaga. I have my own Silly Bandz. I’ve been struck by lightning many times. I have chronic pain in my right arm. I look down on New Jersey (but who doesn’t?) I’ll admit it: I’ve had work done. Of the Fab Four, Abe’s my fave. I live in an apple. And for a woman, I’m pretty erect.

That’s right; it’s me, the most famous green lady outside of Oz, La Liberté éclairant le monde. Or as my friends call me, S-O-L. I kid, I kid. You know who’s actually S-O-L? America. First of all, the economy . . . do we even have an economy anymore? I wouldn’t know; I kind of checked out of all the financial talk when Taft passed the Aldrich-Vreeland Act. Anyway, there’s all kinds of S&P BS. Nobody has a job (I know firsthand by how many English-speaking, non-seventh graders ferry out to say hello). I don’t even have a job! Well I won’t soon, but it’s only temporary. You may have heard that the National Parks Service will be shutting my doors tomorrow, the day of my 125th birthday. Sure, it’s all for the greater good; I’ll be getting a $27 million makeover; with all kinds of ‘necessary’ upgrades (they’re fireproofing the elevator). But the timing of it seems. . . strange. Since the nation isn’t going through enough shit right now (foreclosures, loony presidential campaigns, a certain anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks ever, the end of the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met) the appointees of your elected officials are closing the most iconic symbol of freedom in the world. Ominous, much? Bizarre message to send to the people. But what about me? CONGRATULATIONS!!! Now we’re going to incapicate you! Sounds like one of those seventh graders left their copy of The Lottery dockside, and some bureaucrat picked it up and anointed it the official reading selection of Oprah’s National Parks Service Book Club. But it’s all good (says people who aren’t me); S-O-L will be G-T-G in time for the big 1-2-6. Except no one cares when you turn 126 years old. 125? That’s major. You owe me a 10-carat diamond and a set of sterling silver ramekins, if we’re being technical. I guess a 10-carat diamond would be pretty small on me. How about a solid-diamond VW Bus, hanging from a necklace made from all the Olympic gold medals ever handed out?

For now, I am an unemployed American. But I know that situations that seem bad can yield surprisingly good results (years of corrosion led to my minty tint; once upon a time, I was the color of tobacco spit). So I will use this mandatory vacation time to do all things I’ve always wanted to do. Taste Pinkberry. Take a bath in the Grand Canyon. Serve on a jury. Ride a roller coaster. Write a Jerry Maguire manifesto. Jump in a pile of leaves. Milk a cow. Get a tattoo. Have brunch. Go on a date. Smoke a joint. Build a sandcastle Buckingham Palace. Give a toast. Get Lasik. First up: sneak behind a subway busker dressed as me and scare them.

Jenna Marotta @ 3:12 pm
Filed under: News Stories andParodies
October 24, 2011

Stuff I Wrote While Neglecting This Blog

In the five-plus months since I last posted to Just Jenna, in between eating McFlurries and asking, ‘Why did I just eat that McFlurry?’ I did manage to get some stories published. A nice little compendium, actually. But I swear I didn’t ignore my blog for this purpose.

Chicago magazine:
A beer expert shares five thing he wish he’d known when he started imbibing.
A story about a famous little person where the title ‘Small Tales’ did not fly.
I selected Chicago magazine’s Best New Improv Group.
Radio host Tony Sarabia introduces us to a Wisconsin restaurant with goats living on the roof.
Mainstager Katie Rich shows us how to have a Second City weekend.
When Morlen Sinoway’s not designing fabulous furniture, he’s trying to track down his stolen bike.

Time Out Chicago
Review of They’re Not All Winners! at the Annoyance.
Review of Rhys Darby’s stand-up set at the Improv.
TJ Jagodowski’s book collection is one of a kind.
The East Coast/West Coast Cupcake Rivalty (Butter and sugar is better than murder)

New York magazine
Monologuing Steve Jobs: Mike Daisey Explores ‘The Agony and The Ecstasy’
Things Other Than The Future Movie and TV Show That Were Covered at the Arrested Development Reunion
Mike Daisey Hasn’t Forgotten About the Sins of Steve Jobs

Why We Should Stop Telling Women To ‘Have It All’

Jenna Marotta @ 8:48 pm
Filed under: Comedy Reviews andInterviews andNews Stories andPersonal Thoughts
April 6, 2011

Reading and Remembering

I never met either of my biological grandfathers, and I know very little about my dad’s dad. His name was Pasquale Peter Marotta, ‘Patsy’ to his friends. He worked for General Electric for many years, and raised four boys with my grandmother, Mary Virginia Marotta, who died in December 2008. The family lived in upstate New York. In 1984, Patsy died of lung cancer. If he were here, we would celebrate his 99th birthday today, April 6th. One consolation: during his lifetime, Patsy, a Yankee fan, never had to watch the Red Sox win a World Series. I’m grateful on his behalf.

Speaking of sports, I checked in with three beloved Chicago athletes for the April issue of Chicago magazine:

Before she was a nun, Andrea Jaeger was the second-ranked women’s tennis player in the world.

Luc Longley won three rings with the Bulls, and once killed a scorpion with an Eagles CD.

Fifth degree black belt Arlene Limas was the first American gold medalist in tae kwon do.

Jenna Marotta @ 4:07 pm
Filed under: Personal Thoughts
March 28, 2011


Thursday night, I saw a show, drank $9 worth of beer and then wrote this review about some nice lady on the TV for Time Out Chicago.

Jenna Marotta @ 2:33 pm
Filed under: Comedy Reviews