1 June, 2011
ne 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.