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In Praise of the 55-Year-Old Man

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This guy is 56. (NPR photo)

I want to respond to Tom Junod‘s piece that essentially declares 42-year-old women acceptable — and possibly even desirable — for goodsexyfuntime. After all, Tom essentially says, this is not your father’s 42-year-old!

Were I to craft such a piece, I would praise, for sake of a number and because Junod was born in 1958, a 55-year-old man. I would talk about the sexy vulnerability of that man’s thinning hair (“Did you put sunscreen up there, baby? Do you want me to do it?”) and poochy tummy, unvanquished by the weekly basketball pickup game. I could wax empirically about how cute he is when he reaches over to use your reading glasses to order wine, because he is too vain to buy his own. Glasses. Not wine. He will buy the wine, of course, or you would not be having dinner with him. (Nor does he have a purse in which to carry said spectacles, a problem that plagues men young and old. Except for European men. And the fanny-packers, God love ‘em.) And when your 55-year-old man orders wine, as you know, he’ll have to make a choice later in the evening: Viagra, some herbal male enhancement shit from 7-11,  or just cuddling. It’s a win-win either way!

That 55-year-old man’s 401(K) can squash your 27-year-old massage therapist-with-benefits’ 401(K) like a Miami cockroach. He probably has kids already, which either spares you the burden and stretch marks from his having to “carry on the gene pool,” or gives you an experienced dad who can make no excuse for not understanding the complex mechanics of diaper changing and poop removal.

I’ll admit to blushing at the part where Junod says, “Go to a party: There is simply no one as unclothed as a forty-two-year-old woman in a summer dress,”  Oh shit, so that explains why, at 42, I was escorted by police from EVERY party where I wore a summer dress. It does also add clarity to the Trader Joe’s incident from 2009. Thank you, Tom.

When you’re with a 55-year-old man, I would write, chuckling to myself, you are not just dating, you’re carbon dating!

But you know what? I wouldn’t write a piece like this. I wouldn’t determine a person’s fuckability by their age alone. Here’s what’s attractive about the men I love over 50:  They are smart and generous and funny. They have battle scars from ex-wives and teenagers, which give them depth of sympathy impossible to find in someone who hasn’t been there and back. They know to bring over Mexican food from the divey place in the strip mall on a Friday night because you simply can’t do one more thing. A man over 50 has your orgasm covered, hands down, heh heh. Because, at some point around 35, they stopped looking in the mirror and started looking out into the world.

Full disclosure: The author is currently dating someone who is turning 50, but looks 55 in heels.

Vanessa McGradyIn Praise of the 55-Year-Old Man
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Letter to my favorite grad

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Dear A,

The second you were introduced to me as our new intern, I knew I liked you. You’re cheerful and cheeky without being sticky or cloying. You’re capable and ‘fessed up immediately when there was a mistake, and we could fix it together. I like your long ombre hair and I want to know what mascara you use. Most of all, I like that we became friends. You have a bountiful sense of adventure, a deep well of kindness, and a rollicking ride ahead of you.

I’m so proud of your newly minted masters’ degree, something I probably won’t get around to getting, ever. I know you didn’t ask for it, but here’s some advice you can take or leave as you see fit, but I wish someone had told me these things:

1. Understand the power you have: You are fiercely intelligent and boundlessly energetic. You have nothing to lose, yet. The people you will work for in big companies will be educated and experienced, but they haven’t been on the outside in a while, and they like things as they are. They will look puzzled when you tell them about your Google Glass PR class project that offered a secret parallel movie-going experience. Ignore those people, and find the people who get you, who get excited about what you can do and the places your mind can go. You will learn in five years what it took today’s directors and managers 25 years to understand. People will be jealous of you, but instead of waging a war, understand this and find a “compassion hook:” Think of them as sick wounded puppies and it will go a lot smoother.

2. If you want kids, find their father, sooner rather than later: Keep an eye out for someone who won’t run off to a Peace Corps gig in Uzbekistan, never to be heard from again, upon the news of your pregnancy. He should be able to look good on paper, stand completely against violence of any kind, and be willing to get on the floor and figure out the 12-piece school bus puzzle for the 487th time with your kid, and act like he’s effing Amerigo Vespucci discovering the New World. He will and should want to marry you. You may or may not want to do this, and chances are you will be over him by the time the first kid is in kindergarten. I don’t want you to wait until you’re 35 to start hunting for the guy you desperately want to have it all. It messes up your chakras and forces you to make poor decisions and gives all the power to the man, and then when you’re 38 or 40, you’re battling all kinds of fertility issues, like me and pretty much every single one of my friends. All I’m saying is to get pregnant while the gettin’ is good, because there’s a 50 percent chance you won’t end up with Baby Daddy anyway. But, hey, maybe it will be amazing and you’ll be one of those lucky couples who get to grow up together.

3. Watch out for too many heat-styling tools and hair chemicals. I know that hair grows out, but it’s never really the same.

4. Ask for crazy shit and see what you get. Work from home? Open a branch office in Paris? Develop a pet project that could skyrocket your personal stock? Someday, the right person will say yes. I wish I had asked for more money, more responsibility, more things that I wanted.

5. Read everything you can about money. And sock it away. Figure out a way to report a decent income so you can get a better deal on a car, a mortgage, and things you’ll probably need. When I was 22, I was making $100 to $200 a night bartending and cocktail waitressing. I would hang out with my other restaurant friends when I got off my shift, around midnight, then spend $40 on cabs zipping around New York, where we’d slap a $20 bill on the bar and not pay a cent for another drink. Then at 4 a.m., when the bars closed, we’d go to H & H bagels and watch the sun come up by the Hudson River Boat Basin. And I still had cash until I followed the love of my life to Gallup, New Mexico, where I’d blow the money I’d saved on a Ford F-150 pickup with dual gas tanks. There were no good service jobs to be had, but I did land an overnight gig at a radio station pre-recording the weather report from midnight until 6 a.m. six nights a week. I got paid less than the minimum wage. I would wander through the new Wal-Mart in town buying shit I didn’t need to mask the despair of whatever choices I’d made, and fell into a rabbit hole of debt. It took a long time to recover. Don’t be like me. But it is good to follow love, at least once.

6. You know everything in the first three seconds. When you walk into your prospective new workplace, and you think, “My, this seems like a dumpy and depressing place,” you will be right, despite the forced cheer of Friday waffles, “jeans day,” or whatever “motivation” they provide for people. When you meet a charming rogue and think immediately, “Oh, he’s an alcoholic,” you will be right, even though he will plaster over this fact by taking you to the ballet and getting you hot by reading Rumi to you in bed. When you know you should get a fresh set of eyes on an important email, your resume, your website and anything else critical to your success, you’re right. Wait, even if you have to ask people on Facebook to help you. There’s always someone up at 3 a.m. dying for something to do.

7. Your friends and your network will help you. Keep in touch with the people you did good work for. Ten years from now, you will be at a crossroads, and you’ll wonder what’s next. Then you will go on LinkedIn, or whatever takes its place, and scroll down a list of 20 key people and tell them you’re thinking of making a move, and can they please look out for something for you? And one of them will answer, “How much do you charge and when can you start?” And you will have restored faith in your abilities, and know that there is much greater possibility for you beyond the horizon you’ve set for yourself.

Go, go, go, my girl, blazing a trail in your bright and shiny new world. I will be watching, tears shimmering in my eyes, as you find your way. And I will be up at 3 a.m. to proof your resume if you need me to. Or, more likely, I may someday come asking you to proof mine.

Love,

Vanessa

 

Vanessa McGradyLetter to my favorite grad
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Getting High in an Unlikely Place

IMG_5332I feel like I got away with something today. It felt like a drug so new it’s not yet illegal, something that can’t possibly be good for your soul.

Goodwill Outlet.

I was at a sustainability conference today at the beautiful new Goodwill Enrichment Center where people in need can source jobs and services — and shop their asses off. The regular store is top-loaded with designer items, more so than a regular Goodwill, I am certain. During a break in the conference I sneaked away to the Outlet Center for clothes that didn’t sell, where all things made of fabric cost $1.49 a pound — YES, A POUND — and all “hard” items are 69 cents a pound.

I didn’t expect much when I walked in. Bins of crap in no apparent order, though someone did think to put all the shoes together.

I took a cursory glance in the first bin to see if there was maybe anything for my daughter. And lo, yes, a couple very cute things — an African looking little skirt, and a butterfly shirt in with the bedazzling of which she is so fond. In the next bin, I found a black cashmere Gap hoodie. And then a Free People peasant top in perfect condition — and my size. And so on — the haul included a J. Crew sweater that I’ll gift to a smaller friend, a few Gap tops, another cashmere sweater, some PJ pants, some gold mesh tunic thing, placemats — quite a haul. All for $7.

$7.

It reminds me of the time when I was 18 and I took Ecstasy, when it was first leaked to the masses and considered “pure.” The world through my the window in the New Jersey apartment I shared with my boyfriend was suddenly crystal clean. I melded with nature and humanity. And the apple on the counter was the reddest, juiciest, most delicious thing I had ever tasted — and I didn’t even have a bite. I never touched Ex again, because I was scared that I would love the dream so much I could never ever wake up, and the world might disintegrate around me.

The thrill of the hunt + monster bargains + a new spring wardrobe = the feeling of being a little bit bad.

I may have a problem. But it feels so right.

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Vanessa McGradyGetting High in an Unlikely Place
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Hey! Democrats! Over here!

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This morning on NPR, wonky types lamented the fact that their most elusive target voting group, single women, were not coming out for local elections. We ladies are not joiners, they said. We’re supportive to the Democratic party, but not getting out to vote.

It’s really quite simple math. I have a full-time job and primary custody of my nearly 3-year-old. Which basically leaves me home most nights with John Hamm, and taking care of mission-critical errands on Saturday mornings when Grace is with her dad.

Dems,  I’ll tell you where I am so you can meet me for the next local election:

1. Amazon.com, where I order all cleaning supplies, diapers, health and beauty aids, and also  my streaming video, books and music purchases. Can you do a voting add-on to my cart?

2. The playground. Get some do-gooder polling officials to come around with an iPad on a Sunday afternoon. I’m bored as shit dumping sand from one bucket to another and acting like it’s some great archaeological feat. I’d welcome this kind of diversion.

3. Someplace they serve salad or Thai for lunch near work. (Not our cafeteria. I go in hungry, get a whiff, and leave with a sad little apple. On the flip side, I’ve lost 5 pounds since I started this job.)

4. At yoga. Be discreet and don’t get too pushy, though, we’re vulnerable after shavasana.

5. Trader Joe’s. Put those effing ballots next to the The Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate Bar (85% cacao) and I’ll take six.

6. If I’m really feeling the luxury of time, perhaps at the nail place. I’d take a handy informational pamphlet over a June 2009 Lucky Magazine any day. But make it glossy and attractive with some infographics. Just put in a little effort beyond newsprint.

7. Facebook. If I’m doing something productive and civic, I’ll feel less guilty and time-wastey. Sheryl Sandberg, make yourself useful and please get on this.

8. My therapist’s. Actually, no. Scratch that. That’s my time. All mine.

Vanessa McGradyHey! Democrats! Over here!

The Cleansing Diary: Kidney Punches, Hallucinations and Monkeybuckets

During the cleanse, I became inordinately proud of my salads and became the kind of person who posted my food on Facebook.

During the cleanse, I became inordinately proud of my salads and became the kind of person who posted my food on Facebook. Sorry about that.

Since college, my friend Linda has always been a sort of personal tastemaker for me. If she swipes on a lip gloss, I am certain mine is the wrong one. I love her books, her shoes, her clothes, her apartment, her art projects. So when she invited me to do something she swears by called the “Stiggly Cleanse” run by a nutritionist, I thought, why not? I’d just started a very sedentary job, with no workout prospects in the building (there are signs on the stairs that chirp, “Instant gym!” but, uh, not fooling anyone there).

I paid my $59, which includes emails from Stiggly herself — green “Papyrus” font on a pink background, punctuated with stock photos of silhouetted people leaping for joy on beaches and small farm children eating huge slices of watermelon. The posts go on much longer than my brain can actually process with words of encouragement and recipes, but I failed to see any real schedule exactly of what we were cutting out and when. I did get that somehow, some way, I was cutting caffeine, wheat, dairy, sugar, alcohol, meat and processed foods for the next two or 35 weeks.

Day 1

9:30 am: Today I warily tried my first “fire water” recipe in lieu of my daily black tea, but it turned out to be delicious. It’s ginger, pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, juice of a lemon, cayenne, salt mixed in with coconut oil.

10:53 am: I am crouched at my desk, unapologetically digging into the peanut butter jar with a spoon, like a child in a Dickensian orphanage who is afraid it will be taken away.

11:54 am: It feels like a small rodent has climbed in through my ear and is now perched behind my eyes, trying to blast them out from inside with a welding torch.

12:31 pm: I am now especially mad at Stiggly’s newsletters, with their crappy fonts, migraine-causing color combinations, and bad directions. I am in it for $240 in groceries and supplements. I never thought of myself as someone who would spend $20 on organic hemp seeds, but so help them God, I’d better look like Emma Stone when that bag is empty.

12:35 pm: Today’s horoscope: “If you need to make a commitment or start anything now, it will be advantageous to wait until tomorrow. Instead, recharge your batteries.” Great.

12:46 pm: I just went to the bathroom and saw under the stall that someone was wearing open-toed navy shoes with navy hose. This pisses me off. Get it together, lady. I know California winters are confusing, but fucking just pick a season.

3:22 pm: Headache is gone but I feel like I am underwater and can only make binary decisions. More apple/peanut butter? Yes or no? Yes.

Day 2

9:26 am: Last night I was so tired I fell asleep with Grace, my 2-year-old, at 8:30. I did feel bad about getting mad at Stiggly’s fonts and that lady’s shoes, I would like to say that was the escaping toxins talking.

2:30 pm: Nap.

Day 3

8:15 am: Woke this morning feeling OK, except that my butt muscles have become twisted mounds of pain.

11:22 am: Obsessed with chia seeds; I put them in my smoothie this morning. Why don’t I make smoothies every morning?

Day 4

11:24 am: I was so tired last night again that I went to bed with Grace. She kept trying to push me over the edge and I called her “Monkeybuckets,” which she thought was hysterical, so we kept calling each other “Monkeybuckets” in different voices. And then we fell asleep. I woke up in the middle of the night to feel my kidneys trying to punch their way out of my body. Nobody told me about the backache part, which, I have since learned, is not uncommon whilst cleansing.

12:58 pm: Insane craving for bourbon-soaked fruitcake. I don’t know why this is.

1:06 pm: Are the squiggles on the carpet actually swimming around? Or is it the prescription-strength painkiller + kava tea combo talking? I have to remember this for when company comes over and we need something fun to do.

Day 5

The magic clicked. I became incredibly productive. I amped up my oatmeal, soups and salads to the degree that I’m suddenly that person who posts pictures of her food on Facebook. Weirdest of all, I’ve become a little fond of Stiggly’s loopy newsletter and look forward to her bits of wisdom and cheer.

I did feel inordinately sad when they served wood-fired artisinal pizza at work and I sat there, chewing on some tired lettuce leaves. But the upshot is I’m a few pounds lighter, my belly is flatter, and my senses are bionic, and I feel very mindful. And who knew a poop could be so glorious? Most of all, I am brimming with energy to spend on my most important job: Being mom to Monkeybuckets.

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Here’s a great recipe that helped me hold it together during the cleanse:

BANANA “ICE CREAM” 

IMG_36072-4 Frozen mashed bananas (Great trick: use an ice tray so you only take out what you need!)

2 Dates (more or less depending on sweetness)

3 T Coconut cream

2T Coconut flakes

Drizzle honey

Chopped walnuts for garnish if desired

You can also add unsweetened cocoa powder for a chocolate version.

Put the above in a food processor, whirl and you will have the MOST AMAZING frozen dessert. Serve to unsuspecting guests.

 

Vanessa McGradyThe Cleansing Diary: Kidney Punches, Hallucinations and Monkeybuckets
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The “vagankle”: No pussy-footing around

It came to pass that my brain became annoyed with my uterus and sex organs, then downright mad, and after a couple years, nobody was speaking to each other.

I went on my way, barely noticing the rift. I focused on other things: My kid. Work. Popsicles for breakfast. A divorce.

My friend Linda performed a reiki session on me, which is a kind of energetic diagnosis and tune up. Independently, we came to the conclusion that my brain hates my uterus. After three miscarriages, I became less interested in making a baby and more in adoption. My body had let me down. But after two years of waiting, I became mom to my magical, funny, beautiful Grace Magnolia.

Basically, the rest of my body had trumped my uterus. It went down like this:

Brain: Hey uterus and sex organs, go f-yourself. Look at this amazing baby I got, and I didn’t even need your help.

Uterus and sex organs: Hey girl, we tried. We could keep going, but we’re a little worn out. You’re a little more “hot flash” than “flash flood” at this point, if you know what we mean. What about the good times? Don’t you remember your wedding night orgasm? Or those fun-filled nights in the log cabin? Mexico?

Brain: Nice try. That was then. You really let me down when I needed you most. From now on, you don’t get to make any decisions. I don’t follow you anywhere and you have zero input on my plans. I’m going to watch Mindy Kaling now, so I’m sure you’ll find something better to do.

Uterus and sex organs: [Radio silence]

It became clear that I needed to get my body aligned and talking again, and that my brain had some amends to make to my uterus. I needed my lower-chakra mojo back.

So I started buying myself flowers and putting on scented lotion. I dressed prettier, if only for myself. I went blonde. And I’m skipping a bunch of stuff that led me to last night’s Bawdy Storytelling event, whose impresario is a friendly, buxom redhead called Dixie de la Tour. Who, prophetically, reminded me when we were introduced that astrologically, yesterday was supposed to be the very worst day of the year. I had imagined an audience full of leather and vinyl-clad goths grinding on each other (which I understand is a very common, rookie mistake). But really, it was a nice room full of cultural types, academics, performers, writers, entrepreneurs and students — regular folk who wouldn’t be out of place in a Santa Monica brunch crowd. It felt like I’d stumbled into an industry party where everyone was talking about niche particulars, except in this case, the particulars were innovative sex toys and various body orifices interacting with other body parts. One Diane Keatonesque sex educator talked enthusiastically about her “demonstration” technique, and then deeply kissed two women. There was a table filled with an incredibly real silicone love doll, some man parts, and a couple disembodied feet. I laughed at the feet, thinking they were a funny foot-fetish prop.

What I loved most, besides the anthropology of being in a new scene, were the stories. I’m a little in love now with a girl named Charlie Knox, who told a funny, sad and deeply personal story of not getting enough from her husband, even after one last desperate effort at total consumption. I cringed at a man’s tale of a fantasy gone horribly wrong, which involved the Northridge earthquake and his date’s parents, who were off-duty sheriffs, coming home early. And I will never, ever receive a package from DHL again without a full haz-mat suit and a gallon of bleach.

I was fine, truly fine, and having a wonderful time.

And then.

They brought out one of the silicon feet on stage, which was wearing a strappy party sandal. The kind you’d wear to an afternoon summer wedding, perhaps. But sometimes a foot is not just a foot.

A kindly grey-haired man sitting at the table with us, who could be anybody’s math teacher in his oxford and sweater vest, turned to me with a knowing nod and whispered, “vagankle.” Imagine a foot cut off about 6 inches above the ankle, with a hole where the bone would be. The hole could, if one were so inclined, accept a long object.

My brain froze. I gaped at my friend, I’m sure looking much like a wide-mouth bass. I kept repeating, “Vagankle? VAGANKLE???!!!” I had no words. Except one. Vagankle.

I wanted to run out and see a car crash, Hindnberg explosion,  celebrity surgeries gone horribly wrong — anything that would supersede the image of that foot and what some person would do to it. I’m what you’d consider a sexually liberated person. However, I can’t un-think about what I saw. I am trying my hardest to not be judgey or prudish, even though I truly believe everyone should pursue their own freaky brand of happiness.

Hoping my therapist takes emergency phone appointments. And that the people buying vagankles are getting all the love they need. My brain and my uterus are in complete agreement about this.

If you’re dying of curiosity, you can keep up with appearances on BS’s Facebook page. Maybe see you there.

 

Vanessa McGradyThe “vagankle”: No pussy-footing around
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Swerving for Peace: Why Miranda Bryant Chases Misery

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I met Miranda Bryant when we were wayward, wild young reporters living on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. We reveled in the wacky Kinetic Sculpture Races, quaffed microbrews before even Seattleites became hip to them, and had our series of ill-advised, catastrophic romances with unsuitable suitors.

I became committed: To a dog, first, then a series of office jobs, real estate, and finally, a child. Miranda’s commitments became strong as well, but they weren’t to herself and her own small orbit. They were to helping those in desperate need. Her travels took her all around the world, beginning with a Peace Corps stint in Kazakstan. She showed up where God gave up.

I thought that aid work would eventually wear her down and she’d return to some kind of cushy NGO headquarters job. But no.

She’s currently featured in a collection of essays from humanitarian workers, Chasing Misery. The book is a way we civilians, no matter how well traveled we are, can get even a small glimpse of the minds of those who have given up so much for so many.

I recently caught up with Miranda from her current home in Yangon, Burma to find out more about how she turned out so big-hearted after her major swerve.

You’ve had so many harrowing experiences. I can’t ever get out that image of you being served a sheep’s head in Kazakhstan as the guest of honor when you first started the Peace Corps. What makes a small-town reporter with a cute apartment want to give it all up and see so much misery first-hand?
I loved my life. I had an interesting job; quirky friends, and a lovely apartment. I fed my creative soul through photography and poetry. Yet I no longer felt challenged. I had always dreamed of being a Peace Corps volunteer in a remote African village where I knew each child and dog by name. I started talking to others about this dream. A fair number said, “I always wanted to do that. Now I have a partner, children, pets and a mortgage so I can’t go. You should do it while you can!” So, I jumped off the cliff and got my first passport at the age of 33. I thought I would eventually return to being a reporter (my Peace Corps experience would be nothing more than a repeated story about that sheep’s head). However, life threw me a Swerve. Much to my horror, I discovered I wanted to work overseas full time, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity, nor how to get there. I flopped around for a year and a half after my Peace Corps term before pursuing a master’s degree in international public health. Since 2007, I have been working abroad.

How has your career in NGOs changed you?

At risk of sounding cliché, I feel like a citizen of the world more than of a certain country (I feel at home everywhere and nowhere). I am more aware of the issues that affect people of differing cultures and backgrounds. I have learned that we all want the same thing: good health, good education, an ability to provide for ourselves, and respect. A woman washing her laundry by hand at the river with her baby on her back wants this. A man in a suit with an $800 smart phone wants this.

What would you advise others who want to change their careers to make a difference? Where should they start?
My father has always said to me, “Follow your dreams.” For many of us, sorting out what that dream is becomes the most challenging aspect. When I did not know what type of master’s degree to pursue, I talked to a lot of people – from friends to professionals that I cold-called. I asked questions. I listened. And then I checked in with my gut.

Do you ever regret not taking the well-traveled path?

I have no regrets about my path. I wonder if I will come to bemoan being childless, but to date I remain too selfish and independent (and, let’s face it, impatient) to have done it any other way.

What else should people know about you and the people who are doing the front-line work of creating peace and healthy communities around the world, one precious body at a time?
I am often held up as a saint or a do-gooder. I see myself instead as a professional who has educated herself in order to pursue a career that suits my interests and sense of adventure. I earn money (and sometimes a fair chunk). I am not a saint. I simply work overseas in areas where marginalized and poor people need help.To purchase a copy of Chasing Misery, you can buy the paperback here and the Kindle edition here.

Vanessa McGradySwerving for Peace: Why Miranda Bryant Chases Misery