so this is the new year

I once again find myself staring down the end of a calendar year and thinking, ‘Thank G-d that’s almost over.’

The sentiment is not entirely fair.  So much of this year has been breath-taking, beautiful, awe-inspiring, soul-reviving, and fantastic.  Some of the best decisions I have ever made have happened this year.  I have laughed harder at a joke in a film than ever before in my life.  I have been brought to tears by the simple goodness of life contained in a letter while standing in a crowded museum.  The fact that both of these incidents were somehow related to Muppets will not surprise anyone who has ever met me (or any Muppets).  I have made such amazing connections and met such incredible people.  I have strengthened relationships, both that were already good and some that I thought completely lost.  My writing has improved by leaps and bounds to the point where I have stared at paragraphs I’ve composed, unable to believe that something so lovely just fell from my fingers.  I’ve created.  I’ve achieved.  I’ve grown.  I find myself having hope for the future.  I find myself thinking that I might have a future after all.

I’ve also sat in hospital waiting rooms at three in the morning, terrified of the coming days.  I’ve wept so hard I couldn’t breathe.  I’ve prayed for someone to not wake up for fear of what they would find when they did.  I’ve felt endangered, alone, listless, hopeless, impotent, petrified.  I’ve had to say goodbye.  I’ve been forced to make the call I hate to make, the one where I whisper, ‘Please, help, I can’t be alone right now.’

I’m so grateful that that paragraph is smaller than the one it followed, but I also know how much I’ve edited out.

So much of my time is spent reflecting on the horrors of growing up.  This seems to be a common theme for people my age.  We’re expected to be independent enough to file our insurance and pay our own taxes and get married and have children, but no one between the ages of fifteen and fifty have any idea what they’re actually doing.  I become aggressive when someone suggests I have no business deciding who I live with or where I shop or what is best for me, but I also dissolve into tears in the middle of the grocery store when asked what kind of dessert I want to purchase because a hairdresser was condescending towards me an hour ago and how can you possibly expect me to make decisions under these circumstances?

That’s simply the way of being this age.  You’re stuck.  You’re reached the point where you can’t ask your parents for any but the direst of favours.  You’ve realised that you’ll never be able to please everyone and someone is always around to accuse you of being precocious/irresponsible/slovenly/haughty/prudish/loose/zealous/aloof, and since you’re going to get flack anyway, what’s the point in trying to impress those judgemental snobs?  And you finally reach the point where you can wear long underwear without an Ellen Tebbits-esque meltdown about what people will think of you for wearing long underwear only to realise you’ve been misspelling ‘Tebbits’ your entire life.

You can’t win.  You can never win.  And if that’s not enough to make a person a little blue, I don’t know what is.

I try to keep upbeat.  I go through periods where everything is gloom and doom and I make a point of reminding myself that everyone feels that way sometimes.  You’ll have a good day again.  And that good day will be awesome.  And maybe everything feels like shit right now, but you’ve had worse shit.  At least the shit you went through this year was shit you didn’t have to ford alone.

I sat in that hospital waiting room with a man who means the world to me.  He told me stupid jokes and read People Magazine en Español aloud until I laughed.

I wept so hard I couldn’t breathe because I had lost people that were truly extraordinary and caring and brilliant, people I didn’t want to lose because of how much better they had made my life.

I prayed for someone not to wake up because I knew the world he would wake to would cause him tremendous pain.  I didn’t want him to go through that.

I had to say goodbye, but in doing so I was able to teach the world how amazing the people I was saying goodbye to were.  I was able to introduce a stranger to the most remarkable young life I have ever met.  And he laughed at her jokes.  And he was stunned by her creativity.  And he was so grateful I shared that tiny part of her incredible life.

I made that call.  I made it more than once this year.  But at the end of the day, I had someone to call.  I had somewhere to go.  I have people in my life who listen, who pour another glass of wine, who hold me and tell me, ‘I’m so glad you’re still here.’

It could all be so much worse.

It seems stupid to have any sort of existential crisis at 26.  But then I remember that I had existential crises at 25, 24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, ad infinitum, and it makes me remember that existence is more or less one continuous existential crisis and this is why we have things like kitties and blackcurrant tea and Sherlock marathons.  Life is long and difficult and infuriating.  It’s also beautiful and fun and far, far too short.  And while I’m so often staggered by how bloody impossible it is to just keep living, I’m daily overwhelmed with gratitude for the people with whom I share this brief existence and the unrepentant joy they bring to it.

And, after all, there’s always next year.

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on writing from a non-expert in the field

When it comes to being a writer, I know I’m not an expert.  I write constantly — pretty much at every waking moment in one capacity or another — but a good amount of it is only seen by a tiny group of people.  I write emails to clients, notes to friends, secret revelations I don’t understand, text messages and post-its and endless lists.  At my core, I know I am a writer more than anything else apart from a reader.  Words are my true religion and have been as long as I can remember.

The odd thing I’ve noticed, however, is that I only Write — in the sense of something whole and edited and publishable, if only on sites such as this one — when I’m secure in myself.  I have to be in my baseline in order to want to share whatever I’ve made.  Not too happy, not too sad.  Due to a lot of work over the years, I’m in my baseline most of the time.  It’s better than the negative extreme, even if it does keep the positive outliers at bay.

Over the past few months, I have lived in those extremes.  My life has been either intensely joyful or debilitatingly difficult far more often than it’s settled in the baseline.  As a result, I don’t want to share personal details.  I keep these moments to myself and those to whom I feel closest, either to protect and savour them or because I don’t fully understand them yet.  It’s too dangerous to let them out into the world.

I’ve been working on a few pieces for this blog in my head, one for quite some time and the other just over the course of the last two very difficult weeks.  I’m hoping to have them put together soon and be able to let you all in.  In the meantime, I hope all of you are safe and well and warm.

{charlotte, played again}

I heard a song over the weekend that I hadn’t heard in an incredibly long time.  It got me to thinking about the first time I ever heard that song and the short piece I’d written as a result of the experience.  I’d never really liked what I’d written, but the bit at the end was lovely and exactly what I wanted to say.  It was a bit of a rough weekend for me, so I sat down and wrote it out.  This might sound familiar to some of you, but I like what I’ve got much more this time around.

*****

It’s dark when I leave the theatre, clothes heavy with sweat and dust.  Your car waiting in the parking lot, ready to take us away for late night drinks with our friends.  Another night like so many that summer.  Phone rings, my father’s voice aching at the end of the line.  Hey, kiddo, sorry, you got a sec?  And I know.  Just like that.  Like Don and Lupe and our tortoiseshell cat.  Just like every other time.  I wonder if I’ll always know.

My mother now, voice betraying her worry.  She’s trying to sound light but it never works.  I’m too calm, too rational, asking for details that I know are useless, but what am I supposed to do?  I listen and nod.  You stand patient against the driver’s side.  I close my eyes.  How long do I have until I must make these calls?  Less than a year will pass before it’s my turn:  a friend’s mother, cancer, too young, not fair.  I don’t know that yet, of course.  The last vestiges of my sloppy, shattered childhood are unravelling on the beaten pavement of the parking lot.  And I don’t even blink.  It’s all so remarkably simple.

You take my hand and lead me to the car, open the door and help me in.  The engine crackles and you start driving us nowhere.  Just turn off the music and watch me talk on the phone.  Okay.  I’m okay.  No, really, I’m okay.  There’s nothing more to say.  There’s never anything to say.

Too careful putting my phone away, close my eyes as tears trace ancient patterns down my sooty face.  Your hand finds mine and you bring it to your lips, and suddenly I can’t breathe anymore.  Eyes off the road, you touch my face.  You smile.  And you begin to sing.

John Darnielle.  Scratchy and low, a hair off-key.  It’s everything I’ll ever need.  A memory that floats up on lonely nights a hundred years later.

The tears are coming quicker now, but your fingers rub them away.  Your eyes clear and calm and full of a lifetime of promises you’ll end up breaking.  You pull the car into a space outside the liquor store and unbuckle just to hold me.  Not saying a word, not pressing for more.  Breath coming steady and keeping me close.  You wipe my eyes and I stutter.

There’s snot on your jacket.

I really don’t care.

I can’t believe she’s gone.

Looking back, I know it doesn’t end well.  Anger and tears, words we both regret.  Missed opportunities and embarrassing displays.  We might laugh about them someday.  But for now, it’s just us and your car.  McDonald’s wrappers in the backseat and my tattered bag up front, the weight of future calls and funerals on my mind.  I’m wondering who’s next.  Your arms pull me back to Earth.  In our secluded cavern you are the epitome of life:  calloused hands and cleansing heat, your smile like being born again, rescuing me from the darkness in my mind.  Newly baptized, I look into your shining eyes.

I have never loved anyone more in my entire life.

 

’til chapter three

I grew up on Disney.  I think most people did.  My most formative years took place over what I’ve heard called the ‘Disney Renaissance’ – the decade covering Little Mermaid through Mulan.  Well, technically Tarzan.  But did Tarzan save China?  I THINK NOT.  These were the days of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, of heroines who first branched out from ‘just pretty’ into ‘pretty badass’, paving the way for the likes of Tiana, Merida, and Anna.  I know I learned a lot from these films, and the work coming out of Disney probably had more influence over me than anything else I watched.  …Except Star Trek.  Which explains my socialist tendencies.

I developed this theory while at university; it may be familiar to some of you.  Being a girl who grew up on Disney, I naturally had a favourite Disney princess.  I’m pretty sure every girl does.  Ladies in the audience, think about it a minute:  who was your favourite princess when you were a kid?  Look at that for a minute.  Now look at your adult life and relationship choices.  Look at the choices you made in relationships that were less than stellar.

Now back to me.

Now back to me.

Now here’s my theory:  the poor relationship choices we make as adults mirror the disturbing subtext in the choices of our favourite princesses.  The issues we have with ourselves can be reflected in the more disturbing corners of our preferred princess’s psyche.

I’m going to use myself as an example.  It’s only fair.

Growing up, my favourite princess was Belle.  This is for obvious reasons.

Get it, grrrl.

Get it, grrrl.

Belle was the first princess with whom I ever actually related.  I wasn’t easily scared, cursed, or prone to narcolepsy, and while I wished for a home life that was better than my own, I was only too aware that the powers of my magical godmother were limited to puppetry and clowning.  Yes, that entire sentence was true.

But Belle was different.  She was like me.  People thought she was weird.  People thought she was too smart.  She was kind and courageous, but it was always in her own quiet way.  Like Belle, I was (am) a voracious reader, making friends in my head far more often than in the schoolyard.  She understood that the world was better in books, and we were safer when we stayed with our imaginary people than we were with the ones in our respective hometowns.

When Belle met the Beast and their relationship moved forward in the way relationships always seem to move forward in Disney films, I was completely sucked in.  Belle’s goodness changed the Beast.  Through Belle, he could see that people weren’t all bad, that someone cared for him enough to stick around.  His anger ebbed.  His hope grew.  And because Disney has never been subtle with metaphors, his inner beauty literally erupted into his outer form.  That was true love to me.  And that was the foundation on which I built my concept of romance.

Looking back now, I can see this wasn’t exactly an accurate representation of the love I would find in my teenage and young adult life.  I can see how the story was subverted to fit the objects of my desire.  I would date people who were troubled or angry or lost.  I would look at all of their flaws and think, I can make them better.  I knew there was a wonderful person in there somewhere, and since I was a person who was kind and clever, they would naturally become the same way with enough exposure to me.

And, naturally, this never actually worked.

Because life is not a Disney movie.

I saw something online recently that the criticism surrounding how Beauty and the Beast advocates Stockholm Syndrome is rather unfair.  Belle and the Beast are both outsiders:  Belle for her intellect and dislike of traditional roles and the Beast for his appearance.  Their othering is what brings them together.  They triumph in the end because of their differences and their compatibility.  It’s the first instance of The Guy not getting The Girl in a Disney film and that’s something I find very appealing.  Reading about this got me back to thinking about my hypothesis.  While I’ve done some reconsideration, I still stand by my original idea.  However, I’d like to add something to it.

I didn’t learn my bad relationship habits because of Disney.  Instead, I learned the wrong lesson when watching this film.  What I learned was that I can change him.  What I should have learned is this:  He may change for you.  But that is his choice.  It’s not your problem.

We are so quick to blame media for our problems, to say that video games or comic books are responsible for corrupting our children or increasing the divorce rate or furthering the gay agenda*.  It’s all nonsense, of course, as studies have shown time and again.  I think we continue to search for the blame in entertainment because it’s an easy out.  It allows ourselves to play innocent victims to corrupt organizations and faceless corporations, which is always more pleasant than acknowledging responsibility for our own actions.  However, the fact remains that not all fault can lie with the teacher.  Every student comes in for a lesson with their own personal biases.  While it’s completely possible that someone who’s already troubled could see Natural Born Killers and decide to go on a killing spree, not everyone who watches that film has this reaction.  Wouldn’t that suggest that the fault lies not in the presented material but in the interpretation by this one person?

Sure, I may have picked up this particular flawed gem of advice from too many re-watches of a Disney classic.  But if I’m completely honest with myself, I created the fantasy on my own.  I romanticize the dark, brooding type and always have.  It’s nice to think that everyone is sweet-tempered and considerate underneath all of their crusty layers.  But nice is different than good.  And nice is not the same as realistic.

But at least this provides a solid explanation for my fangirl crushes on Loki and Sherlock.

*The media in no way works to further the gay agenda.  By this point in time, it’s so well-organized that we just keep our secret communicator wristwatches tuned to the same frequency and wait for Uncle George to send the coordinates to our next meeting.  Much more efficient that way.

i call them ‘colonel mustard’ for obvious reasons

I wear a lot of tights.  This is partially because I live in Chicago — when bare legs are the leading cause of hypothermia 8-9 months out of the year — and partially because I am frequently too lazy to shave my legs amiright, ladies?  There is a problem with tights inherent in their design:  they really, really like to snag, and this almost always happens either a) at an embarrassing time or b) in an embarrassing place.  Sometimes both.  …Usually both.

A year or two ago, I ran (hahapuns) into this problem.  Somehow I had acquired a rather large and painful hole in the thigh of a pair of tights.  I spent the day in agony, both from increased friction and from the pressure of over-stressed nylon against my burgeoning thighs.  I didn’t have time to get home and change prior to my evening commitments, so I headed to Target as soon as I punched the clock for the day, frantic for a new pair of neutral tights.

They had nothing in grey.  Nothing in brown.  They had black tights in spades, but I was wearing too much brown to allow for this.  No maroon or heather green was available to ease my troubles.  But there in the mess of accessories was a pair of mustard yellow tights.

I glanced down at my outfit, trying to decide if I could get away with this:  blue sweater, brown boots, a favourite dress of mine (cream in colour and dirndl-esque with red and brown accents).  More potent yellows have never been especially appealing to me, especially considering my complexion and general fear of ridicule.  But maybe this time I should take a risk.  Maybe this time I should buy those yellow tights.

Maybe people were starting to stare at me.

I snatched them up and ran to the register.  My purchase in hand, I dashed into the loo to change.  Relieved to be free of pain once more, I tossed my holey tights in the bin and headed for the bus.

Rounding the corner to the bus stop, a well-dressed gentleman caught my eye.

‘I really like your yellow tights,’ he said.

I grinned and stammered a thank you.  Not five minutes in and these tights were already grabbing attention.

When I arrived at my next appointment, my girl friend complimented me on my unique and bold fashion choice.  The waitress asked me where I’d gotten such excellent tights.  I began to wear them with more and more confidence, pairing them with navy as well as brown, mixing them in with the regular rotation as often as possible.

Our romance, while heartwarming, was tragically short-lived.  A few months into our relationship, I found matching holes in the toes of my tights.  Over time the holes ran up the length of my foot.  I gave my beloved tights a tasteful funeral in the bathroom garbage can.

I often thought of my trusty yellow tights.  When crafting an outfit for work that just needed a bit of a pop, I mourned their loss.  When digging through the dresser drawer to realize that I had yet again neglected to do laundry in a timely fashion, I wished my yellow tights were hiding in the back to save me as they had done so often.

Then one day it happened.

As I wandered through the hallowed halls of the Wilson Yard Target, I made a pass by the $5 tights rack.

And there they were.

Mustard yellow tights.

They even had my size.

I feel like there’s a lesson in these tights, these relentlessly cheerful yellow tights that hug my legs at this very moment.  Maybe it’s a lesson in giving things a chance, going for the opportunities that seem silly or impossible simply because you have nothing to lose.  Maybe it’s a lesson in taking the optimistic route just because you can, in bringing a bit of unexpected colour into the world.  Maybe it’s a lesson about trying something new, something outside of your comfort zone, at least once in a while.  Or maybe it’s just the universe saying that life is short and you always need a little bit of whimsy.

Photo 115

I prefer to think the lesson is much simpler:  if you like the tights that much, you should probably buy two pairs. And pick up some razor blades while you’re at it.  This leg hair is starting to itch.

such grow many adult wow

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks running about frantic and trying to remember that it is physically possible to keep my head screwed on properly if I just stand still for a few minutes.

There’s no real reason for this, just an odd manic episode.  I don’t question them when they happen anymore because I’m just happy that they no longer happen all the damn time.  My recent weekends have required quite a lot of socializing, which may contribute to my general chicken-sans-head attitude about life.  What with auditions and out-of-town company and readings and squealing with delight at the new season of Sherlock, I’ve kept my mind pretty well occupied.  Now that things are starting to slow down a little (and there’s only one episode left of this series holycrapholycrapholycrap), I’m hoping to get back into my normal routine and optimistic that this might involve, at some point, sleeping.

At the very least, I’m pleased to announce that I have discovered that liquor is now available for purchase at Trader Joe’s, and that TJ’s Brand rum features a drunk bear on the label.

That bear is terrifying when sober.

That bear is terrifying when sober.

This was the crowning achievement of my life over the past two weeks.  And now to the actual blog post.

I’m no longer sure anymore if the experiences of people in my age group are the same as have always been expected for young adults or if we’ve just been overly influenced by the information age and that’s why my grandfather and I have nothing to talk about at Thanksgiving.  Is the quarter-life crisis an invention of the internet, much like Doge and Ernest Hemingway tattoos?  I’ve often wondered if my generation is stilted because we’re spoiled or if it’s because we’ve never not had access to computers.  Or maybe we aren’t stilted at all; it’s my understanding that the old guard never cares for those whippersnappers with their inappropriate music and progressively rising hemlines.  So says Downton Abbey.

Further proof that you can find anything on the internet.  Also a pretty accurate synopsis of the entire show.

Further proof that you can find anything on the internet. Also a pretty accurate synopsis of the entire show.

The fact that my weekend thrills consist of PBS probably explains why I’m always such a hit at nursing homes.

I feel like every time I meet with a twentysomething friend for coffee, I’m hearing about concerns that they aren’t Where They’re Supposed To Be.  They haven’t gotten married or they haven’t had any kids or their career isn’t progressing fast enough or they have yet to climb Kilimanjaro…  Any number of concerns weighs them down, all ending with the same, unnerving thought:  am I doing something wrong?

As a kid, I remember hearing my parents tell me to stop comparing myself to other people because it would only make me unhappy.  Maybe Lauren from gym class had made fun of me for having off-brand Adidas sneakers, but why was that important to me?  Did Lauren from gym class know the origins of the sneakers she prized so much?  Could Lauren from gym class cite that the success of the Adidas company was the direct result of West Germany winning the 1954 world cup, as would be dramatized in the 2003 film Das Wunder von Bern?  Everyone has different strengths.  Everyone has different values.  If I could learn that, I would have a much easier time getting through both life and Chiddix Junior High.

Naturally, it would be several years before I took this advice to heart and didn’t assume it was just an excuse for my parents to keep buying me cheap shoes.

When I talk to my friends who have already surpassed their twenties, I hear a similar message.  If I ask them about being concerned I haven’t met some fantasized level of maturity, they roll their eyes and echo what my grandparents tell me on a regular basis:  you’re so young.  You have so much time.  No one knows what they want to be when they grow up.  A good friend of mine once said to me, ‘I used to be so scared about becoming an adult.  And then I realized I am an adult.  I’m already doing it.  And then I was scared all over again.’  For the record, I believe this conversation was followed by an all-night session of empanadas and Batman:  Arkham City, so take our maturity as you will.

I don’t think I’ve had a quarter-life crisis, and I don’t think I will.  Maybe it’s because I’ve never known what I want to be when I grow up.  Maybe it’s because whenever I hear someone discussing any biological clocks, I roll my eyes and go back to Hetty Wainthropp Investigates.  Maybe it’s because I still don’t have wifi in my apartment.  I’ve read about studies that show that too much time on Facebook and similar networking sites can result in ‘declines in moment-to-moment happiness and overall life satisfaction’.  Is leaving my computer screen behind and re-watching The Addams Family contributing to my laissez-faire approach to aging?

…My therapist told me I can self-medicate with television.

I don’t know what it is.  I don’t know if any of us are doing this whole Life thing right.  But I don’t think we’re supposed to know.  Where would be the fun in that?  And as much as we should all be very zen about things and live one day at a time, I don’t see the harm in drinking with friends and commiserating about completely ruining your life at the age of 27.

I’ll have Carson set out the claret for the occasion.

another zodiac’s come around

calvin and hobbes

It’s hard to believe I’m staring at December’s back as it goes racing out the door, throwing me a rude gesture and cackling.  Although I feel like that’s how most years have ended, so I’m not really sure why I’m surprised.

2013 has been an interesting year.  As those of you who know me personally know (you know), it’s been a challenging few years up here in Chicago.  There have been a lot of changes, a lot of excitement, a lot of work, and a smidgeon of personal growth.  While this year has definitely been better than the previous couple of years — not that it had to try very hard to be — it still posed its fair share of difficulties to go along with the few mind-blowingly awesome bits.  Looking at it from the other side, I see a world of difference between now and this time last year.  I feel it’s a change for the better.  I feel like things will continue to improve.  That’s a pretty rad feeling to have.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes this year.  I made more the year before.  I’ve done some things I am not proud of.  But I had a lot more of those in 2012, too.  I’ve had some rough days.  These rough days were, for the most part, far better than the rough days I saw the year before.  It might not look like a lot of improvement, but it feels monumental.  I look at myself now and say, ‘It’s okay, kid.  You’re learning.  You’re moving.  You’re growing.  And you are wearing one kickass purple cardigan.’

That alone is so much better than where I was this time last year, and not just because of this seriously kickass purple cardigan that I may have been texting everyone about last night.

I usually reserve my resolutions for my birthday, since that’s the point in time when my actual new year begins.  A few more get added during Rosh Hashanah after I’ve had a month and a half to realize all the incredibly stupid stuff I’ve already screwed up on.  But looking at everything right now and realizing all of the things I’ve been able to do and all of the things I would still like to accomplish, I’d like to add a few more.  And I think that’s something to celebrate.

My Resolutions for 2014

  • Read more books.
  • Take more walks.
  • Drink more coffee.
  • Really lock down that whole who vs. whom thing.
  • Write.  Write as often as possible.  Write good things.  Write bad things.  Learn the difference.
  • Let other people read the things I write.
  • Finish that afghan for Lisa.  Because, seriously, three Christmases and two birthdays is FAR TOO MANY holidays to owe an afghan to someone you consider a good friend.  Get it together, Kiri.
  • Be good to people as much as possible, especially myself.
  • Say no when I need to.  And remember to add a ‘thank you’ at the end.
  • Listen.
  • Write some more.

There are so many people much smarter than I, or at least much more articulate, so I’m going to let one of them sign off this, my last post of 2013.  I feel like it’s a good way to start off following this new list:  reading and listening to Mr. Neil Gaiman:

I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return.  And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.