One of the greatest disappointments of my early adulthood was the tragic and distressing realization that, at 24 years old, I was older than the angsty but attractive Gen-Xers in my favorite movie as a teenager, Reality Bites. Although nearly ten years younger than those characters, myself teetering on the Gen X/Y cusp, as a misunderstood fifteen year-old I looked to their hapless attempts at post-collegiate life and romance with envy. I couldn’t wait to be the frustrated creative pixie who would be lured by the well-dressed executive yuppie but ultimately choose my grungy, tortured, goateed musician best friend to fall in love with. I wanted their idiosyncrasies, their irreverent fun and games, I wanted ever third line my friends and I uttered to be a clever sound-byte (“You are a master at the art of time suckage.” “This girl is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.” “He’s the reason Cliff’s Notes were invented.”). I didn’t know it at the time, but my role-models may have been the country’s first hipsters.

When I was 19, I chopped off all my hair to replicate Winona Ryder’s ‘do (and found out it didn’t suit me, at 19, at all, despite my current coif). I bought vintage dresses and clunky shoes. I tried to fill my brain with as much esoteric pop-culture as I could get my hands on (not easy for a kid growing up without cable television). When I was 20, I found my first unwashed musician to crush on and rejoiced. When I was 22, I got a real job where I was overworked and under-appreciated by my ego-driven boss. I had dramatic friends, aimless friends and gay friends. I was on the right track to living the life of my bemused idols!

Quickly, though, I got caught up in the right track and where it was leading me. With the job, the friends, and another ill-fated relationship with a musician, time moved quickly. One day I woke up and had turned 24. I was old. I was past the rule-book that Ben Stiller had directed for me, essentially left to my own devices from here on in. Panic.

I’ll admit that as time went on and my adult life took shape, I gave up caring about those fauxhemian ideals that Reality Bites inspired. I created new ideals and discovered that (while I will likely always harbor a favoritism towards dirty-ish musicians) I am happy to have moved on into a more satisfying, self-actualized life than that in which I left Lelaina Pierce. I don’t have it in me to live as dramatically as 23 year old Winona, Ethan, Janeane, Steve or Ben did. Nor do I want to.

But I’d be lying if I said that I’m entirely immune to the allure of the sensational lives that movies and TV present. We may all know better than to expect a dreamy ending… but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who is entirely willing to abandon that dream. I may have gotten past expectations of Julia’s “I want the fairy-tale,” declaration when it comes to lurve and romance, there’s still something in the day-to-day that glimpses a sense of the drama that lives only on the Big Screen and Boob Tube.

Drama may be too strong of a word. The quirks of cinematic stories are supposed to be attractive. That’s why we cast beautiful people, even in ugly roles, and why too many people smoke cigarettes. Case in point: my all-nighter dinner of choice during my senior year of college was a bag of microwave popcorn and 3, sometimes 4, cans of Diet Coke. Yes, low-fat popcorn, and yes, diet soda, but a healthy dinner it was not. But look at me! I was just steps away from calling Cheez Doodles and Diet Coke dinner, a la, yes, Reality Bites! O, the glamour!

Beyond ill advised, nutritionally void meal choices, there really is an air of movie magic in certain situations. The other day, I had plans to see a friend and catch up on the last few months—tumultuous months for me, delightfully love-stricken months for her. As the work day was winding down, I looked forward to the evening’s plans and was surprised at what image my tumultuous head conjured up: I saw my friend and I at a delightfully chic cafe, dramatically light with vague and soft lighting filtering through a frosted window, as we sat across from each other at strategically placed angles. The din of the restaurant’s other patrons was muffled as our conversation overflowed with a balance of emotion, humor, sympathy and confidence. There’d probably be some sweet score swelling at the particularly poignant parts of our chat.

Then—POP! Like in a cartoon, the bubble of imagination burst as I realized that what I was considering was not a likely reality. It was what my evening would look like if I were living in my own New York-in-2011, 30 year-old single gal version of Reality Bites. Or, worse, some toned down and less extravagant downtown Sex In The City (perish the thought!). But you know what? Our evening was delightfully cinematic—low lighting, attractive ‘extras,’ indulgent food, smart cocktails and inspiring heart-to-heart . In fact, we even managed to swap a few clever sound-bytes.

Two weeks ago, I had a most fabulous girls’ night out — six dear friends and I gathered to see a powerful Adele concert at the Beacon Theater, we had pre-show beers, post-show wine and cheese, and hours of chatting, dancing, singing, revelry and — dare I say it, bonding. The night’s confabulations hit upon careers, friendships, family, lifestyles, hair styles, love, vacation destinations, the French language, movies, aspirations and relationships. It was the kind of night that Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers and Nicole Holofcener dream of.

Keen observers might notice that this exact line of thinking is the antithesis of what Fear Of Syndication stands for. After all, this blog tries its best to abide by its log-line: The dramatic tales of an anti-drama Brooklyn gal. So why the veneration for Silver Screen imagery? How could I subscribe to that? In a way, I was surprised to see how fast I clung to movie-made beliefs. But then again, since the days when Reality Bites was looping on my VCR and leading through my career in the film industry, I’ve held on to a love of the cinematic life. I may not need the drama (although often it feels like drama needs me), but at the end of the day, everything is better with the right lighting and good sound design.

You know that over-used and abused quote, “You are the hero of your own story”? I’ll be damned if it’s not true… or, at least, mostly true. We may not always be the hero of our stories, but we are the protagonists. I was able to stop rueing the fact that my life is not a mid-90s ‘slacker’ movie because I no longer want that to be my story. I’ve realized that I don’t want my life to resemble any one movie, or even any one genre. The past year has brought me into a romantic comedy, a painful drama, a frightening horror, an empowering against-all-odds tale and, yes, even a chick flick. Every day, the opening credits roll. And the days play out one by one, ultimately amassing into some Divine Comedy.

Yes, I learned the definition of the word irony from Reality Bites. And, thankfully, like Lelaine Pierce, I know it when I see it.

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On 9′ Ceilings

14 December, 2010

I’m learning that perhaps worse than losing a boyfriend is losing a 6′ tall handyman. Currently accepting applications for one or both positions.

Today’s Lesson: Every Time A Smoke Alarm Dings, An Angel Gets Its Wings.

Look, Ma, no broken bones!

Or, what to do when your smoke detector’s batteries are dying, and it chirps every sixty seconds to remind you of that, but there is precious little (no pun intended) that your 5’2″ self can do to reach the 9′ ceilings, except balance four throw pillows, a coffee table book on the Rolling Stones and part of a flimsy, discount-store bought ironing board (and yourself) atop what was once a patio furniture table and hope that you don’t end up in the emergency room.


Tomorrow’s Lesson: Changing Light Bulbs, Changing Lives.

 

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No Woman No Cry

22 November, 2010

Part I

When I was younger, I’d often join my mother and older sister on the couch on what was usually a cold Sunday night to watch the Hallmark Hall-of-Fame weep-a-thon movies that CBS would air to counter-program the sports on other networks. The movies could never hold my attention the whole way through, which was fine, since their plots and formulas were easy enough to anticipate. There were a few favorite templates that were regurgitated with a rotating cast of middle-aged TV actresses: the lonely social worker who fights for custody of orphaned crack baby, the long-lost relative who must care for baby orphaned by war, a host of unrequited love scenarios littered with semi-political but non-offensive themes. They all shared the main idea of Woman Must Fight the System To Do Good Or Fall In Love. My mom and sister seemed partial to the orphaned baby custody movies; a good thing, since there was no shortage of them.

I would float in and out of the family room as they sat huddled on the couch, my mom often with lesson plans sitting forgotten in her lap, as their eyebrows turned towards the heavens with sympathy for the poor orphaned baby and the plight of the woman who wanted to save her. I’d sit and watch for five minutes, and, being a snarky 14 or 15 year old, I’d mutter “Cheesy” or “Lame” at some inopportune time, eliciting glares from my mom and sister. I’d glare back and get up off the couch and continue to wander the house as I put off doing homework. I did like to go back and (silently) watch the end of the movie, just to find out if the woman was successful in her quest to keep the baby, or if the state or the negligent relatives from the backwoods got custody (the movies were always based on true stories, so they said, and there was no telling which outcome would triumph).

Towards the end of the last commercial break before the movie’s gripping conclusion, I’d pop down on the step between the kitchen and family room and try to keep my mouth shut. No matter the fate of the poor orphaned baby and well-intentioned savior, my mom and sister would end the night with tears streaming down their faces, silently weeping over the heartwarming/tragic outcome of the movie. I sat entirely unaffected, and would break the silence of the closing credits by hypothetically asking why the protagonist didn’t just do this thing or that to help her case.

My comments were not exactly welcomed by the tearful lot on the couch. Four wet, angry eyes would stare at me. More often than not, one of them would cry “Don’t you have a heart?!” or “Do you have any feelings?!” or “Where is your soul?!” (I think it was my sister who muttered that last one, through a kind of half-assed sniveling.) Of course, there’s not much to say in reply to something like that. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t try. I’d usually endeavor to reason my way out of it, explaining to them that yes, I have a heart/soul/feelings, but it was all Hollywood make-believe and there’s no reason to cry at an actress, on a set, in front of a crew and a camera.

This always elicited one word of response:

Cynic.

It’s a word that’s stuck with me a long time, and often not by my own designation. It seems some people think that “doesn’t cry at Hallmark movies” also implies “lacks the capacity for emotion.” In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. I am sentimental to a fault, embrace nostalgia and everything it stands for, and harbor as many romantic notions as the next gal, if not more.

I felt for a while like people saw me walking around with my own scarlet letter emblazoned on my aura – a big fat c – and so I’ve decided to redefine the notion for myself:

cynic |ˈsinik| noun – One who is more emotionally moved by reality rather than scripted fare.

(and yes, I fully appreciate that that definition is, in itself, quite cynical.)

My PowerBook's dictionary application segues nicely into Part II.

Part II

The older I get, the more I cry. This makes me very happy. I think I may have cried once or twice in college, and have a distinct memory of tears running down my cheeks when I received a card from my sister while I was studying abroad in London (the same sister who accused me of not having a soul). I know I’ve been moved by plays and performances and felt my cheeks grow hot and a lump in my throat swell. I’ve wept as I watched movies at home on my couch – everything from Jim Sheridan’s woeful In America to Sydney Pollack’s hopeful (the way I see it) The Way We Were (for some reason, most movies with Redford and even the hint of romance can inspire my tear ducts). I considered crying at the final episode of one my favorite TV shows (decided against it, but was impressed with myself for entertaining the possibility). I sobbed when my beloved bicycle was stolen. I bawled during an emotional, depressed breakdown. I’ve had arguments with bosses that have left me sniveling in a darkened bathroom stall. My voice has been known to shake and tears have been known to well when I fight with someone I love, and those tears undoubtedly fall when it’s time for apologies and make-ups. I’ve often curled up in a ball on my bed and let my cheeks grow damp during times I’ve felt alone. My eyes even watered when I watched the lucky passengers walk on the wings of the downed plane in the Hudson. (Take that, Hallmark – reality makes me cry.) I list “introspection” as a hobby – make no mistake, I am acutely aware of my feelings.

Yet there’s one thing that has never caused a single tear to roll down my cheek:   Men.

This has recently proved problematic.

Sometimes, it feels like all of the necessary components are there for a good cry: emotional pain and despondency + the sting of rejection + loneliness + bittersweet memories + confusion, but they all = lump in my throat, at best. If only it were as easy as washing someone out of our hair! With very clean hair but a messy heart, how I’ve longed for the catharsis of crying. But, oh, the frustration when that cry refuses to come out!

Anyone who knows me can probably guess that I do associate a degree of pride with this 100% tear-free record; but it’s a pride that’s inextricably tied to my title of cynic. It feels, sometimes, like the pride of a fool, like someone who doesn’t know enough to understand that they actually should be affected. And sometimes, it feels that to cry is the only way to give a dead relationship its due respect. Not every relationship deserves such respect, of course, nor does every guy who’s ever hurt my feelings deserve my tears – but when the emotional anguish quotient (EAQ?) reaches a certain level, crying seems like the best way to rid my core of the icky, frustrated feelings that are overwhelming it. At those moments, though, tears are magically nowhere to be found.

Thinking back now to a few months ago, while I was facing a rather high EAQ with decidedly dry eyes, it feels as though I was trapped in a room filled with thick, gray smoke, and was forced to rely on a slight draft for ventilation, since I lacked the ability to open a window. My lungs are still recovering.

I’ve never felt like I’ve fought or denied my true feelings; I’ve never suppressed a cry for fear of letting someone get to me. My big bad secret is that a lot of people get to me. My emotional well is certainly not empty – it just often feels so far from flowing over. I’ve tried to piggy-back on to other cries for other reasons, to throw in a sob or two for him, that jerk, whoever he may be, but that seems to be the trick to turn off the waterworks. (I get frustrated when I can’t fool my subconscious.)

There’s little left to do but wait for the reservoir to fill, for the seas to surge. Perhaps I’ve yet to experience a lurve profound enough to warrant tears, or perhaps I need to keep working on forever lowering the rather substantial walls I’ve built around my vulnerable li’l heart.

Until then, maybe I’ll just take to chopping onions for catharsis.

 

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On Ch-ch-changes

13 November, 2010

“Do you believe people can change?” T asked me earlier this week.

Desperate to articulate rather than ramble, I paused and thought for a while. My instinct was to answer “yes,” but I easily thought of far too many reasons why that was wrong. But to answer “no” made me depressed.

T had been asking because some people seem to disappear from our lives only to reappear again at random intervals, and so can we  – should we – ever learn to trust them when they return?

In a moment of clarity that a steady diet of daytime/nighttime cold medicine had not afforded me for several days, my reply escaped from my lips before I could even digest the thought.

“I think that people’s priorities change, but not their personalities.”

I was instantly pleased with the breakthrough I had stumbled upon.

If it is that we act according to our priorities, then it stands to reason that as our priorities change and shift and grow, so too does our behavior and beliefs, sometimes together, some times in discord (oh, how j’adore cognitive dissonance!). But who we are at our core – beneath the other layers of self, like behavior and beliefs – that which truly comprises our being remains constant.

In thinking about this in recent days, my notion seems to be universal in a comforting way. Suddenly, the behavior of a girl who was my friend in 5th grade but refused to speak to me in 6th made more sense (my memory of the pain I felt at the time is no less acute, but my ability to dismiss this ancient event is now easier). That girl may have been a cruel bitch, but her behavior changed because her priorities – acceptance by a different group of friends – changed. Her personality, which was never all that loyal to begin with, had no problem implementing that change. In more recent events, someone with a self-destructive personality may find a new priority (say, in a short, charming brunette), and so he may sustain behavior that is actually productive and progressive for a while… but he’s ultimately unable to rewire that sense inside of him that simply needs things to be worse instead of better. (I do hope that one day, this someone can find the priority that can maintain its triumph over the personality, but I don’t think that will happen for a long while.)

Of course, I realize that this hypothesis of mine holds true for me as much as it does for people I’ve known (which confirms it’s accuracy). Every single element in my life may shift and change or just up and disappear, and that all shapes me and who and where I want to be in profound and indefinable ways. But these shifts and changes do not alter who I am, they change how I react, this time and next time. They change what I want and how I go about getting it, but they cannot change that it’s me, who I am and who I’ve been, who is wanting it.

I think this way of thinking lends itself to a certain degree of forgiveness for those who come back into our lives, but does not inherently provide an excuse. I remember the first guy I ever dated in New York – I was 23 and he was 40. He did not break my heart, but I had made a substantial emotional investment in him, which made his unexplained withdrawal from my life sting considerably. Six months after the last time I had heard from him, he called me up one evening to let me know that he could not stop thinking about me. Standing on the phone, on the rooftop of the Soho House, nearing the wise old age of 24, I probably first realized what it is about people that changes, and what it is about people that doesn’t (it’s just taken me seven years to be able to articulate that). This guy most likely believed that what he was telling me was true (“I know I didn’t treat you right, but I’ve really changed since then.”), but he had, six months prior, already given me every indication that, at  his core, he was near-sighted and only knew how to go after what he wanted at that very precise moment. His feelings for me had not magically changed so as to make me the kind of priority that would cure him of his out-of-sight-out-of-mind affliction. It was just his loneliness that night that had prompted a lie. Ultimately, I felt sorry for him. Part of me still does.

For a long time, I found the “you can’t teach an old dogs new tricks” adage to be fitting to that old story, but these days, “you can’t make a dollar out of 99 cents” seems more apt. I like to believe that old dogs can pick up new tricks. But when there’s only 99¢ in your pocket, you know can’t turn it into a dollar. Your only option is change your mind so you don’t mind buying the item that was one cent less in the first place.

 

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On Relativity

1 October, 2010

3 days til 30

A man can’t know where he is on the earth except in relation to the moon or a star. Astronomy comes first; land maps follow because of it. Just the opposite of what you’d expect. If you think about it long enough, it will turn your brain inside-out. A here exists only in relation to a there, not the other way around. There’s this only because there’s that; if we don’t look up, we’ll never know what’s down. Think of it, boy. We find ourselves only by looking to what we’re not. You can’t put your feet on the ground until you’ve touched the sky.  (Moon Palace, Paul Auster)

I’ve spent the past week trying to figure out the appropriate angle for a blog entry about this past week; something in my signature-style of vague if underhanded life lesson that’s disguising some deeper inner turmoil.

In trying to deal with that turmoil, I’ve also spent the past week immersed in a book; perhaps not the most amazing book, but an engaging story with a fast-paced writing style that allows for complete distraction. For that, Paul Auster, I am eternally grateful.

So there’s all this stuff going on in my life right now, and I’ve chosen to include “turning 30” as part of that stuff, because it feels, for some reason, like something to tackle, something that, come Monday morning, I can check off. I have no trepidation about this milestone, I’m simply excited for the next chapter. Yet, in matters that have nothing to do with my age, the past seven days have been fraught with an anchorless emotional anxiety that’s brought many questions and yielded precious few answers (the only answer so far, in fact, has been: Yes, you will get through this).

When I came across the afore-quoted passage in the book, suddenly everything before me was brought into a sharper perspective. I could read each sentence a hundred times over and be equally touched by its accuracy and simplicity each time. My brain was, indeed, beginning to turn itself inside-out. And I found that while my emotional burden was hardly lifted, it was no longer isolated, it was in a context now that brought comfort, too.

Because if we continue the thinking that Mr. Auster began, wouldn’t it be true that there is only happiness because we’ve known sadness, and, inversely, only sadness because we’ve known happiness? As Joni said, “you don’t know what you got til it’s gone;” we only have people and things to miss because we’ve had people and things. Even Tennyson says so. From here, my brain continues: we can only grow from an experience if it’s been profound enough to mark us, profound enough for us to care. Which means that without experience, we do not grow, we do not change. We can own our scars because they are proof of our humanity, of our progression. And that is the most positive spin I could possibly hope to put on this week-of-shittiness, because it says, simply: It was all worth it.

In the larger picture, too, the quote is no less relevant. For as my 30th year rapidly approaches, I am trying (probably too hard) to take stock of who I am, where I am and what I want. These questions exist every day, of course, but on birthdays, I actually try to articulate answers for them. And what gets me about the book’s quote is that this Theory of Relativity (for that is what it is), applies not only to the world around me; Earth to Moon, here to there, but it applies to me to me. I am, now, relative to myself, then.  What Auster writes is true, it’s been the axiom for the past twenty years of my life: “We find ourselves only by looking to what we’re not.” “What we’re not” can certainly apply to how we define ourselves by reacting to others, but, as I’m only now truly starting to understand, it can also mean “what we are no longer.” We can define ourselves in the present by looking at who we were in the past. We are not only amalgamations of our experiences, but we are reshaped by them, parts of ourselves are discarded, or eaten away, or re-molded to reveal an entirely new form, one that bears resemblance to previous forms, but is wholly unique.

And, in looking at things this way, both my recent emotional hiccup and my larger “Who Am I?” issues are addressed: Experience must sometimes break us down so we can rebuild ourselves, strengthened for the next time. We remember what’s passed as emotional and functional: memories, already tinged with bittersweetness, are also lessons, sometimes cautionary tales, sometimes exemplary models. They become notes for our playbooks, what worked, what didn’t, and how to improve for next time. We can look back to last week, last month, ten years ago or twenty-seven years ago (which is about where my memory kicks in). We can even reinterpret previous interpretations of the past. When I was 20, I reacted to my teenage years very differently than I do now. I am shaped by those teenage years, but also by the shape of myself at 20. We are glorious monsters of pastiche.

Every day of the past informs the present. Because of that, we can walk confidently on the ground knowing that our fingers have grazed the sky. We have looked down, and thus can safely look upwards again, knowing what exists in both the depths and the heights of ourselves. We can heal ourselves; we know that the present hurts only because the past didn’t. We can look forward because we know what’s behind us. We are here because we have been there. We are now, because we have been then.

On Naïveté

13 September, 2010

21 days until 30


The older that I get, the more acutely I see that all of the pretenses that I believed made the world go ’round are really just illusions. This is closely linked to the realization that most people around me, no matter their age, gender, race, creed or status, are full of shit.

I don’t mean this rudely, or even negatively. We’re all full of it, putting out into the world the versions of ourselves that we feel most comfortable sharing with others. These alternate versions are part of us, but inherently could never really, truly be us.  Despite, or perhaps because of, this, we tend to drink in the personas that others are projecting. We use others as a barometer, to help us measure ourselves against the world and where we should be within it.

It seems that there are invisible status markers that exist like notches on some experiential growth chart, by which we try to qualify our own place in life. I remember a friend of mine, a few weeks before she turned 26, lamenting the fact that she thought she’d be married, owning a house in the suburbs, maybe with a kid on the way, with a good career, but one she’d be willing to leave for that family-track lifestyle, by the time she was 26. She had the career, but the rest was not exactly on the immediate horizon. I argued that she would be foolish to give up all of the positive things she had in her life at that point – besides the career, the friends, the studio apartment in New York, the social life, the complete freedom and independence, the very lifestyle of someone who only has to answer to herself – for a completely unknown future. Her only response was, “I know, but… I just thought…”

We all have notions of where we’ll be at what time, whether it’s in terms of career, location, relationships, possessions, or just a general sense of self. But at least in my circle, these presuppositions are rarely accurate. I can’t help but wonder: is that a bad thing?

It’s easy to say, when you’re in high school and turning 30 is a lifetime away, where you hope to be at any given point in your life. In fact, it was probably the easiest it will ever be, back then, to project where you’ll be and who you’ll be with at 20, 30, 40, 50… It’s easy because, simply, you don’t know anything. You have no sense of experience to imagine the colorful and misshapen stones that will be cast on your path as you go through life. And those stones are forever moving underfoot, forever changing who we are and how we interact with our experiences.

One of my dearest friends sent me a text message the other day, a long-distance SOS through the cloud between Paris and New York. She had just spent the night with a man, and, in not knowing exactly what she wanted out of it, now caused her to worry that it may have been what she didn’t want. Her message read: I feel like a child in matters of the heart, sex, causal or not.

It upset me to hear my friend distraught and doubting herself. She is a woman I look up to, a woman who’s advice I seek and heed, a woman who is so beautiful and talented that it often stymies me as to why she’s still single, but whose conviction to stay true to her heart is inspiring. It upset me because I feel like nearly all of my close friends have confessed to a similar confusion. Why, oh why, do we all feel we’re naïve in the ways of love? That question always leads directly to another: why do we let other people, and perhaps even more so our own expectations, make us feel this way?

I’m certainly as guilty of this as any of my friends, and perhaps just as much so as (if not more than) my poor, dear friend texting from Paris. I’ve always considered my lack of experience in the relationship realm to be my albatross, my secret to hide behind, to defend and classify my naiveté with. Is this legitimate? For years, I’d have argued yes. But in light of my “everyone is full of shit” realization, experience is healthy but hardly necessary. I know people with several relationships worth of experience under their belts whose advice means little to me, and friends who are perpetually single whose guidance is absolutely indispensable.

My milestone birthday is rapidly approaching, and I’m actually – finally? – enjoying a proper relationship, the kind that everyone else always seemed to have and that I could never seem to find my way into. And perhaps the most valuable thing that I’ve learned from it is that no matter what has or hasn’t come before means little when the relationship is live and real. It’s one day at a time, it’s every man and woman for themselves, while also being tea for two, two to tango, and a two-way street. I’ve spent hours soliciting advice and consultations from all shapes and sizes of friends, only to be increasingly convinced that what I do and what I know is reliant on me and only me.

But for years, with all my other false-starts and unrequited whatevers, I’ve let myself believe that I was only as worthwhile as the experience I had. And since that experience is not what I had always thought it should be, a healthy dose of inadequacy accompanied that feeling. Now I realize that it is imaginary ghosts and characters in movies that have inspired that inadequacy. At any given time, in any given relationship, you are the only one who knows what you want and where you want to be, whether it’s something you’ve ever experienced before or not.

It sounds like a healthy attitude, for sure, but it’s one that requires responsibility. On the one hand, it’s scary and strange to suddenly find myself with no meaningful excuses to hide behind, no one else to hold accountable. But on the other, it’s a liberating breath of fresh air to shed the expectations I thought were holding me back. It’s exciting and terrifying to have to answer only to myself and the relationship.

And so I realize that the only experience that’s valuable at this point in the game is that which I’ve just learned. I believe that in love, sex, relationships and partnerships, we are only as naive as we choose to feel; only held back by the expectations we’ve set for ourselves… most likely long ago, long before we knew where we’d be, who we’d be with, and what we’d want. Before we knew who we were. Before we became what we are now.

On Triumph

16 August, 2010

I have concrete proof that I have either beaten the Trifecta at its own game, or have managed to wind up in the kind of relationship where I am immune to its curse.

The tides have finally turned. Huzzah!

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On The Past

7 July, 2010

Call it a crush, a preoccupation, a notion, a flirt, a ‘that-guy’, an ‘I’m-not-quite-sure-what-he-is-to-me’ – it’s fun to have someone in mind, someone that you can allow yourself, every now and then, to stop and think of and smile to yourself, because you know they like you, and you think you like them, too.

So let’s say I got me one of them (yes, it HAS been a while). While I’m hardly filled with the fresh stirrings of unrivaled passion, I’m having fun, and that is always welcome, and, c’est vrai, overdue.

Just a few light weeks into it, I have started to indulge myself in the occasional split-second daydream, the kind that leaves me with a quick sigh and reassurance that someone likes me (in case this sounds trite to you, you are probably lucky enough to have that kind of confidence on a regular basis. I last enjoyed it in 2009).

Imagine my surprise – and utter confusion – when a stolen moment of recalling l’homme nouveau conjured up not his face – but instead the visage of an old, old friend from high school, someone I haven’t seen or heard from since 1998 (possibly 1997). Lordy, was my subconscious messing with my conscious! I stopped myself and carried on my day, but the next time a daydream got the best of me – I once again saw in my head the same face of the boy who liked me in 10th grade.

This old friend – we’ll call him George, which is not his name – has previously been mentioned in this blog, cited for being one of the parties who once-upon-a-time fought over my affection. We had a nice if strange friendship, at least preceding the drama. We had several classes together, and he would pass me notes declaring his deep, true feelings for me, and I would blush and remind him that he had a girlfriend. Unfortunately for him (and me?), I enjoyed his friendship only platonically, and will never forget the shared embarrassment we both felt later that summer when (newly single) he tried to put the moves on me. Still, he remains an integral part of my personal and emotional history – perhaps because he was, I believe, the first person to show that he desired me, maturely, sexually. Of course, 15 year-old me had no idea what to do with that, and waited until those sentiments came from his friend, the victor of their fight, to actually explore them. But when I stop and think about it – as I was forced to do earlier – I do remember the strange, new sense of flattery and confidence that I felt around him, and how that indicated a clear, tender and sweet transition away from innocence.

Still, George has all but disappeared from my life – every 3 years or so, I’ll look him up on the internet, but he seems to be untraceable, free from the confines of Social Networking webs and apparently not doing anything so noteworthy as to wind up in the news.  I don’t think he died (surely, that would be in the news).  Perhaps he changed his name.

His obscurity only aggravates my confusion as to why, when concentrating on conjuring up an image of the new guy in my life, I only see this relic from my past. Physically, I suppose they share the same wavy dark hair – but that’s about where the similarities end.  Upon closer consideration, though, they also share the same awkward approach to me, to whatever we maybe forging – but is my subconscious really so sophisticated as to pull that out from obscurity?  This seems more like the stuff that dreams are made of – surreal, symbolic and suggestive.  But to pop up in a daydream… that’s so overt!  So blatant!  So flummoxing!

I’ve spent a few days trying to figure this out, as it wasn’t until I saw the new guy earlier today that I was able to finally rid George’s face from my association.  I’ve decided that there are more contributing factors to these crossed signals than I had originally thought – all minor, all subtle, but all undeniable.  It’s in the posture, the clumsy confidence that is bolder than it seems, the way they look at me, with eyes that have a lot to say but refuse to utter a word,  small mannerisms, the steady trot, and–perhaps more than anything else–the way they each wanted me, a sweet awkwardness.

All that being said, what surprises me most today is not that my brain drew a connection between these two gentlemen–it’s that it did so even though I have changed so much in these 12, 13 years.  George will always remained fixed in my memory as a 16 year old boy, and I exist in that memory as a 16 year old me, too.  I’d like to think that I have outgrown much of my own maladroit cluelessness and naivete since then, and it’s troublesome to have to wonder if my subconscious hasn’t yet noticed that change.

Having seen the new beau, I think I can more safely keep the two entities separate – one as a memory, the other as a reality.  There is is now an invisible thread endearing the two together, though, and I’ve come to appreciate the way the past has, oddly enough, sweetened the present.

Wherein I question my own indulgence of my guilty conscience.

In light of recent events that have more to do with proving other people wrong (my parents, no less) than actually garnering up some cojones and embracing my bold femininity, I’ve found myself rather aggressively (for me, anyway… baby-steps) pursuing romantic leads.   Of course, I’m well aware of the fact that success in proving-wrong will also result in success in my love life, and so it’s not exactly a chore.  But it certainly ain’t easy.

Two recent instances of pursuit created some internal conflict, because my desire to be daring and devastating (I am not opposed to the adjective “saucy”) was met with doubt regarding my approach, all because of some ill-defined notions of formalities and etiquette.

In one case, I met a feller in my professional realm.  I felt the spark of a crush nearly the moment I saw him, and 15 minutes later, had convinced myself we were meant to be together.  The fact that he lives in another country (albeit one I consider my second home, bonus!) and was leaving town the next day I considered to be only temporary hurdles, easily overcome by the power of our yet-to-be-discovered love.  Since we work in the same industry, and I opted to approach him as such.  I donned my proverbial Producer’s Hat and set out to “exploit my professional prowess.”  My initial congratulations and adulation towards his work was genuine, but … I did not jump through hoops to reach him just to talk about movies.  I wanted to talk about the adorable children we might have one day (yes, the crush hit me hard).

Thus far, my “exploitation” has been a relative-success, because I’ve managed not only to get in touch with him, but a handful of emails have exchanged with little time lost in between.  When it is my turn to write, however, I become completely caught up in the formality of the “professional” email.  How do I go from “I really enjoyed the complexity of your film” to “I think we’d make beautiful music together”? Or, from “tell me about the projects you’re working on” to “tell me about what you’re looking for in a relationship”?  I live in fear of the day there’s really nothing else for me to write other than “I like you.  I think you’re real cute.  Are you keen on a, erm, long-distance producing partner?”

Is there any way to naturally segue from the formal, professional email to the friendly and flirtatious?  How do I move from the kind of email that’s signed “Best regards” to kind that’s SWAKed?  Is there a way to do it without compromising myself, professionally?  Or, upon giving myself away as a crush-monger, must I abandon all sense of professionalism and risk losing the connection all together?

I hate risking losing the connection altogether, she whined.  Alas – sigh – such is boldness.

Not one to limit myself to just one possibility (for “when it drizzles, it sometimes rains” – the my-life equivalent to the popular rain/pour idiom), I decided last week to approach a new flirty friend with whom I get along really well (and who is almost obnoxiously good-looking) for a number exchange.  My decision do to so alone prompted much support from my friends, most of whom know me best as being shy to a frustrating and fruitless fault.

Once at the bar where, indeed, my hottie was also spending his evening, I proceeded to fortify myself with a few doses of liquid courage while reading into each and every interaction with him.  I was feeling positive about it, too, and decided to get an outsider’s take on things to test my confidence – a newly befriended fellow bar patron, who knew the object of my interest seemed like the perfect source.  “So listen,” I began to him.  “I’m kinda keen on that guy.  I think he’s been flirting with me.  I was going to ask him for his number.  Have you noticed any… vibes?”  My new friend shook his head, almost sadly.  “He has a girlfriend,” he leaked.

“Oh.  Poo,” I replied.  That put a kink in my plans.

I assumed, right then, that I’d take the route I normally do when disappointed about guys – sulk home and drown my sorrows in low-fat crackers and copious amounts of cheese.  (How two delicious things like cheese & crackers became my romantically un-satisfied go-to snack is somewhat beyond me.  It makes me a little sad.)  This night, however, I chose not to get bogged down in what I’d normally do, and in a very, very un-me-like moment, I approached my crush.  I told him of my plan to ask him for his number, and then of my newly-gleaned intel that he was taken.  “Is it true?” I ventured to ask.  He admitted this with a slow nod.  “That’s a shame,” I said.  “For me.”

The next day, I wondered if it was inappropriate for me to put that out there to him – after all, for as much as I’ve previously been a party to infidelity (although never knowingly), I feel like it’s not my place to actively entice you out of your relationship.  (If you just so happen to be enticed, well, then, that’s another story.)  I’m still not sure if that’s even what I did.  I let him know I was interested.  That’s a positive thing for me.  He let me know that he was off the market… a positive thing for him, I suppose.  Yet every now and then, a pang of guilty-conscience surfaces, as though I’d violated some single person –> not single person protocol.  I ease my concerns by harping on the enormous feat I felt I overcame by being honest with him.  There was, actually, a sense of maturity to our little moment, accompanied by a kind of mild intimacy.  It felt good… but would have felt better if I’d actually gotten his number.  As it was, he commented on how well we got along, how nice our conversations always are, and that we pretty much know where to find each other.  I leave the idea of “So should he ever find himself single…” purposefully unfinished in my head.

The way I see it, in addition to the attempt to prove my parents wrong about the activity of my romantic life, these experiences are part of the uphill battle of learning how to know who I am exactly, and know what it means to challenge myself.  Is it worth it to adhere to formalities for the sake of comfort, but not productivity?  If so, why don’t we just reintroduce bows and curtsies?  Can abiding by those formalities ever eliminate this creeping self-doubt that wafts in to your psyche and plants itself somewhere between your head and your heart – or would it only aggravate it?

Maybe it’s just like waiting on your bike for the light to turn green before making that left on to a traffic-less street.  It may be the right thing to do – but perhaps it’s just delaying getting you from point A to point B.

Fight Test

25 March, 2010

The Test Begins…. NOW.
I thought I was smart, I thought I was right, I thought it better not to fight…

It’s as though the Flaming Lips were writing of the Modern Woman when good ol’ Mr. Coyne sang that he thought there was a virtue to always being cool.

See, in the course of the day-to-day, my interactions and involvement with events, people, and happenings fall into one of three categories:
1) I Care
2) I Don’t care
3) I Care, but don’t want to seem like I do.

Category #3 is reserved for a very specific kind of happenstance, such as getting really angry at Kyle MacLachlan when he took the last of the soup I wanted at Whole Foods, or when the one-legged bum who hangs out at the Carroll Street subway station told me that he likes my hat, and that actually made me smile for a while.

#3 is also often linked to my Independent Single Woman Sense of Magical Aloofness. Movies like the god-awful “Blah Blah Blah Not That Into You” make my skin crawl because of their depictions of single ladies as these clingy, desperate, parasitic creatures who actually seem to thrive off of repelling men by their oppressive neediness. This phenomena is not only reserved for the movies (unfortunately), as I’ve known many women who have sabotaged their potential relationships because it’s Too Much, All The Time.

Like so many other instances in my life, I’ve tried to look upon these leeches as a way to define myself by defining what I’m not. Do guys get under my skin sometimes? Of course. Have I had relation-flings so potent that I’ll never forget them? Indeedy-do. But somewhere in the Games of Dating & Courtship (which I hate so very much), I find myself subscribing to the “Never Let ‘Em See You Cry” tactic of maintaining a cooler-than-cool outward attitude towards dissolved relationships. This isn’t always a challenge; there are plenty of times where the distinct lack of feelings both facilitates the dissolution as well as rids the person and his story from my mind.

For to lose, I could accept, but to surrender, I just wept and regretted this moment…

Still, there are times, few as they may be, where just letting things slide begins to feel not slyly smug, but instead slightly stupid. Moments like these, tormented by a sort of self-betrayal, I question the rules that I’ve imposed on myself, those of letting sleeping dogs lie, not opening old wounds, and equating keeping my mouth shut with a Last-Word-Dignity. Then a nagging righteousness creeps in, and the desire to address the emotional injustice I’ve managed to aggravate with my just-move-on attitude. But the chasm between Aloof and Offended can be deep, and breaching it is no small task.

First, there’s the Hamlet-esque decision to take action – which itself is often wrought with the dissonance of the fact that it goes against my Standard Operating Procedure. Once that decision to do something has finally been made, an even larger problem looms ahead: what to do. This has always proven to be enormously frustrating because the most obvious and satisfying action to take usually seems to be shouting “WHY DID YOU F*@K THAT UP?!?!?,” followed by something of a mumbled “…don’t you know how awesome I am?” Since more often than not, getting all uppity in someone’s face is not a viable approach, this is the part where most well-intentioned plans die, and eventually, my sense of indignation does too.

Oh, to fight is to defend, if it’s not now then, tell me when.

But every once in a while, a practical-seeming idea pops up, and, after sleeping on it for a few nights, still remains. In a terrible mess of self-doubt, I construct an impossibly intricate flow-chart (sometimes in my head, sometimes on my trusty dry-erase board) of possible approaches, outcomes, reactions, consequences and eventual regrets. Should the “Bad Idea” sign still miraculously remain dark, then the real fear arises: the fear of actually doing something.

Fast-forward through consultations with trusted friends and mild agonizing still over if it is the right thing to do. The idea grows and turns in my head, taunting me as I lay awake each passing night. I am an expert procrastinator (just ask my snooze button) and can put off things I don’t want to deal with for an impressively long time.

And there are things you can’t avoid, you have to face them, when you’re not prepared to face them.

Inevitably, I’ll get annoyed at myself for being so damn ceremonial about everything. I’ll be looking at the words I want to say – a letter, or an email, or the script for a phone call I’m willing myself to make. The words stare back at me, challenging me to exercise them, to execute them. And then, I just do it. Letter in the mail, ‘sent’ button pressed, telephone dialed – and there it is. Out there in the universe, out of my hands. Done.

And suddenly – I find the angst is gone. I’ve done my part. I’ve stood up for myself and communicated. I did the right thing. Invariably, the recipient of my brand of righteousness has become the furthest thing from my mind, as I’ve become so preoccupied with the process of deciding and preparing, and the anxiety of what I’m doing, that the anger, or frustration, or disappointment – or whatever drove me to this in the first place – has become utterly muted.

Theoretically, this should mean that with every confrontation, I grow to be more bold, more confident. And maybe one day, it will. For now, though, my strong sense of pride, and awkward sense of empathy towards others – even those who’ve done wrong by me – will continue to do battle every time something is seemingly over without my consent. I will still cling to the airs of Cool, Calm, Collected as often as I can. But when time fails to prove you the fool, well, then, I suppose that’s where I must come in.

I don’t know where the sunbeams end and where the starlight begins… It’s all a mystery.
The Test Is Over.

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