Helen Ellis


Helen Ellis is the author of the novel, Eating The Cheshire Cat (Scribner). Her short stories have appeared recently or are forthcoming in FiveChapters, Blue Mesa Review, Monkeybicycle, The Weekly Rumpus, The Normal School, Faultline Journal, and Crab Creek Review. She is working on a collection.


How to Be a Grown Ass Lady

Compliment everyone. Take a compliment. Wear sunscreen on your face and hands even when it’s cloudy. Dye your grey hair black, brown or blonde. Run the dishwasher half-full. Have company over and serve what you want to eat. When a guest says your meatloaf looks like a football, don’t tell the woman that her husband is obviously gay.

Don’t bite your cuticles. Get rid of a wart before there’s a cluster. Don’t sit on a toilet in front of anyone, ever. If your husband wants a bigger TV, for heaven’s sake let him have it.

Go to the mall for your Clinique bonus gift. Buy three pieces of clothing twice a year at full price. Get refitted for bras on your birthday. Replace your tights every winter. Forget thongs. If your white shirt has sweat stains, throw it away. Tip twenty percent on the whole bill including alcohol and tax. When St. Jude’s mails you personalized address labels and asks for a $45 donation, write them a check.

Get your pap smears and mammograms. Get your teeth cleaned. Join a book club. Join two. Never put your phone on a restaurant table. Don’t tell your friends with kids that if they die, you’ll take care of their kids.

If you don’t like something someone says, say: “That’s interesting.”

If you like something someone says, say: “That’s interesting!”

Don’t brag about not going to church. Don’t complain about your interior designer. Give flight attendants your full attention during their in-case-of-emergency routines. Talk to cab drivers. Engage strangers while waiting in line.

Don’t reprimand people who call you sweetheart.

Don’t reprimand people who call you ma’am.

Accept it: you’re too old to drink more than one drink and sleep through the night. Face it: you’re never going to get carded again, so quit asking bouncers if they want to see your i.d. Quit going places where they have bouncers.

Call friends you haven’t spoken to since high school and tell them about your weird dream that they were in. Don’t chastise your husband because he dream-cheated on you. When your husband is in the bathroom, don’t knock on or talk to him through the closed bathroom door. When a young person doesn’t get your reference, don’t repeat, “Kiss my grits!” with the hope that they will.

Call people under thirty, kids.

Call people over sixty, young.

Listen to gangsta rap in the privacy of your own headphones. Listen to erotic audiobooks when you scrub the bathroom floor. Worry about cancer. Google menopause. Challenge insurance claims. Ask your friend who’s a shrink if you should see a shrink. Don’t look at your profile because it’s not the mirror or the lighting or the time of day, it’s you.

This piece sprang from me trying to mind my Southern manners and age graciously in New York City.