1. Everyone will ask you, “How’s the wedding planning going?” but there is no possible way any of these people really want to know. On the surface, it seems like it’s akin to asking “How’s work going?” which most people don’t really want to know either, but at least with this, the inquisitor is prepared to possibly hear some information, maybe even a brief, throwaway bit about the time you called Skrillex “the ass of bass” instead of “the ace of bass” and it almost went to print in a national magazine. But with wedding planning, it’s even more mundane than that. Truly answering this question would be the equivalent of explaining how you watched a tea kettle come to boil.
2. And yet however stale this topic is, the person planning her damn wedding still needs to vent and hopes a bloggy list can be forgiven.
3. My idea of a formal hairdo is adding flowers.
4. The E! channel has a brand of evening sandals and none of them deserve an exclamation point.
5. Business owners in Hawaii treat email in the same regard I treat color in my wardrobe—like an unnecessary fad. I’m pretty lackadaisical about wearing a pop of anything that’s not gray or navy and local vendors take anywhere from three weeks to never to reply to an email offering to give them money.
6. The Internet is a terrible place to look for daddy-daughter dance songs. I’m not even sure how “Butterfly Kisses” and “Daughters” by John Mayer became standards. I couldn’t think of worse way to explain my love for my father than through an orafice of John Mayer’s.
7. Which friends like to ask questions. And those friends ask 95% of all the questions.
8. Strapless wedding dress? Plan for side-boob.
9. When the other parts of your life stress you out more than usual, the wedding planning takes the blame.
10. After years of no success, I am apparently capable of remembering all my REM dreams, especially if they feature people I haven’t thought about in years mingling with characters on TV shows watched right before bed, all of us in a madcap foreign adventure and/or in a chase with evil doers. I have no idea what any of these dreams mean or why I can suddenly remember them or what this has to do with the wedding, but it makes me anxious, so see #9.
11. There is nothing more thrilling than the promise of getting dolled up, telling my man how much I love him and being surrounded by all the hugs and happy tears from all the people, from all parts of the country, who mean something to me.
I remember talking to a guy friend once about a new woman he was dating. “It’s at that best part,” he said, “you know, when you haven’t heard all of her stories ten times yet.” Ah, yes, that part. When tales told are still unpredictable and interesting.
In these relationship beginnings, the stories you have to listen to are an exciting portal into your date’s past lives; and the ones you love to tell suddenly have a fresh audience—and, supposedly, an attentive one! And if you’re older and have reitterated all your stories a thousand times like I had by the time I met my boyfriend, you’ve learned how to retell them for maximum response, ensuring you’ll seem cool enough to tell more stories (perhaps).
I’ve been with my man now for almost four years. He’s heard—boy, has he heard!—all of my stories. Every once in a while, I’ll start in on a glory yarn that I’ve probably told him at least six times and he reacts like it’s the first, and it doesn’t bother me that he hadn’t listened the other five times because it just means I get to tell it again—now with added vigor! But it can be easy to forget after you’ve been with someone so long, someone you’re so comfortable with, that not every story is one he wants to hear, or one you need to write about for all the world to read.
Like sex. Most current boyfriends don’t want to hear about that one time you slept with that one guy a dozen years ago and geez were you an asshole about it. Keep that one to yourself. Or if you want to write about something that indirectly implicates him, something he’d reasonably like to keep private, you might want to rethink retelling that story for the world to read, too.
When I was in grad school for creative-nonfiction writing, many of my fellow students had reservations about writing about their lives, because it meant they were usually also writing about their addict moms, negligent dads and abusive exes, and they worried about hurt feelings and repercussions. I never had any of those qualms. My mom, the co-star of many of pieces back then, was dead; my stepmom and dad were ridiculously supportive and selectively ignorant (like my stepmom once noted, “Good thing your dad doesn’t read”). About a year into my program, I also became single, enabling me to be more honest, on paper and in reality, about that last relationship and my part in it, too. As long as the stakes rested on me—the good, the bad, the dark, the ugly—then I thought (and I still think) my writing was on the right path, holding myself accountable above all else.
But these days, I’m not an unattached student. I have a man who expects a fair amount of privacy, and a full-time job I would like to keep. Recently, I’ve started to question what is and isn’t appropriate to share in a piece of personal narrative (i.e., something with an arc and a purpose, not simply a confession), the type of writing I love and find most challenging.
I know a lot of people (specifically, web commenters) think memoir is an exercise in narcissism or navel-gazing—and some of it is, and some of it needs to be before it gets any good, or even great. But for me, writing memoir is about not apologizing for a life—in this case, my life—and, when the writing is doing all the right work, it’s about letting others know it’s okay not to apologize for theirs, either. We all have breakdowns, questions, revelations, self-doubts and acceptances. We should have no shame in our game.
I’m trying not to. But part of that life-learning curve is realizing I’m not all alone in this anymore—it’s not just me, my words and my ambitions taking on the world. As a partner, I do have to consider the feelings of the person I sleep next to every night and create boundaries and find balance in what I share. I may (or may not) end up being pickier about which stories I won’t tell, but it doesn’t mean I’ll sacrifice honesty in the ones I will. You can be empathic, considerate, without going soft.
Aloneness is something I’ve spent many words on in the last dozen or so years. I’m not talking about loneliness or being unable to seek invites or the motivation to leave your apartment (though that can be a symptom too). I’m talking about feeling all alone, even when you’re in a room full of bodies and warmth and voices. I’ve felt aloneness in big and small ways after my mom died and when I moved to a new city and when I was lying next to an old boyfriend, filled with a stirring that the two of us weren’t really in this, whatever it is, together. Much like anxiety and depression, aloneness isn’t cured; it hibernates. Even though you grow up, make better choices, find ways to cope, it’ll sneak out in the littlest instances. In fact, if you’re prone to aloneness, you’re probably a highly sensitive human being in the first place and can sniff out when the teeniest aloneness bits are rising up from the hallows of your stomach. It can suck.
Hence, I bring you to my apartment on a Sunday morning, my boyfriend departing for California for a two-week work trip. I already had a hunch his lack of presence was going to be weird but, I mean, it couldn’t be that weird because I did enjoy living by myself, and I still look forward to weekend mornings when he goes surfing and I get to watch Project Runway on my laptop from bed.
But as soon as he took off, I immediately felt a tingle of “now what?” anxiety. The pressure was on—not just to go on with my normal relaxing Sunday, but to do better than normal. It almost felt like I was being watched, like I had an audience that would judge me (did an audience make me feel less alone?) to make sure that I was doing productive things while my boyfriend gallivanted around a city he’d never been to before (was I competing against him for self-sufficient awesomeness?). I’ll actually write some words! I’ll finish the book that’s in my purse and not search the Internet for new episodes of Millionaire Matchmaker! I’ll start a pattern of unlaziness that I will follow every weekend hereafter, you know, like before, when I was single and anxious!
But each effort I made to get myself to my desk or to the coffee shop or to catch up on all my long-distance phone calls was heavy with the recognition that I was doing these activities because I was both lonely and alone. As in, my solitary position would not have been my first option. And yet I didn’t really want to hang out with people for the sole purpose of not being by myself, because, like I said, I’ve already learned the emptiness in those forced exchanges too. I missed my boyfriend and best friend, but all this aloneness wasn’t about being a pathetic, codependent woman who only felt complete when her man was around, right? Or was it?
It seems I had lost my alone groove. The pace and posture created from any pride (and uncomfortableness) a person gets from knowing that they have only themselves to count on. The un-security—i.e., without the security of one other person who gives a shit about your needs as much as you do—that used to cause me to actually think about what I wanted to do with my time and my mind, and not just space out through my partner-filled days.
In the depths of my aloneness—not just my loneliness—when I’d finally tune into my heart and mind, what I’d usually find I needed to do was give in to however it was I was afraid of feeling. This usually began and ended with a messy, long cry. In this particular instance of my man being simply out of town, tears weren’t necessary. If I was mourning anything, it was my former gumption. The plucky woman who’d turn lemons into a garnish for her vodka soda after she ran around the park, checked out a museum and spent a few hours typing away at her computer.
But getting mad at myself for not being who I once I thought I was or acting like a teenager girl who couldn’t live without her boyfriend—the type of person in high school I would’ve gagged at—would only make the aloneness throb harder. So I just let me be me.
And then time happened. After a slow first week, I started writing a bit after dinner and before I went to bed. I took myself to the movies. I bought some cute jewelry. I caught up with friends I liked catching up with. I was still conscious I was lonely, but I didn’t feel as alone.
I believe time is the most fascinating mental and emotional healer the natural world can offer. And for those of us who’ve counted aloneness hours, we also know that time can be our biggest foe. But you just gotta ride the aloneness, even when it wants to buck you off and stampede across you, repeatedly, numbing you to a pulp, if you want to get to other side.
A few weeks ago I was at lunch with coworkers, talking about where we’re from. I made the comment that even though I moved to LA in my twenties and only lived there six years, sometimes it feels like I grew up there (because in many ways I had). This was met with unanimous head nods and a resounding, “Yeah, you’re verrry California,” followed by a knife to my soul: “Dude, you are sooooooo LA.”
I was shocked and, more so, embarrassed. My face got warm, as though I’d just been caught doing the one terrible thing I thought maybe I did in my sleep but had convinced myself I hadn’t. This was not how I thought others saw me: a vapid, airy-fairy type obsessed with $300 jeans and faddish exercise classes. “You’re lucky I don’t reach across there and slap you,” I told my loudmouth homeboy who made the comment. But the more I persisted, the more he did, too. “Dude, you’re so LA. Yup. Totally. L-fucking-A.”
As we walked back from lunch, I was still thinking about his assessment, even though I’d learned from having endured (and participated in) enough LA bashing that the people who usually make generalizations about LA are the ones who’ve never been even there, like my coworker. I chalked up my perceived LA-ness to my sunniness—i.e., the fact that I smile a lot, laugh loud and touch human beings when I talk to them—and possibly that I do enjoy a pair of good jeans. But what was most bothersome was a “so LA” implication had made me suddenly less New York. If someone had said I was such a New Yorker, I’d sit a little taller in my seat, brush off my shoulders and self-deprecatingly act smug, because there’s something much cooler about a dark and cynical stereotype than a perky and positive one (which, I admit, is kinda absurd). The comment had exposed me as an outsider, a concept I’d hadn’t given much thought to in a dozen years. A you vs. us divider that I wasn’t in on, that could be a distinction all New Yorkers make but I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t one of them.
Then I thought, fuck that. Fuck being a type. I am LA because I do like warm weather and I am kinda vain, just like how I am the other places I’ve lived like Portland because I’m a fan of accessibility, fresh air and trees, or Hawaii because I value genuine people and chill vibes, or New York because there’s such a thing as too much chillin’ and efficiency needs to step in and wrap things up. It’s called balance, friends. And oddly enough, LA was where I learned balance.
In my twenties, I was like most Angeleno transplants in that I had no desire to grow up—no day job, no place to be at 2 in the afternoon—only an interest in the never-ending excesses that the late-night hours could promise. All the people I knew who lived in my building or worked with me at a restaurant had California dreams of being whatever their parents and civilized adults said we couldn’t—screenwriters, music writers, actors, hip-hop dancers—total Melrose Place shit. And when things grew gnarly and scary and over-our-heads, we remained optimistic, because of, yes, sunshine, youth and the mythology of those California dreams. And then we didn’t. Then we got real or we got sucked the fuck under.
A merry-go-round of booze and avoidance left me scrambled with the dry-heaves, and I had to find a healthy out—a restorative place or two. I learned to hike, to eat vegetables, to find the joy in mariachi music and to stand still, staring at the skyline, even if it was heavy with smog. I met some of the greatest friends that I still have to this day and I drew boundaries against those who dragged me down. I did some of my hardest living and recognizing in LA and I’m better for it.
So, yeah, I don’t really wanna live up in you again, Los Angeles, but I’ll try not to be too ashamed of you from now on, either. I’m trying to stay sunny.
March 2000, Dallas. I was standing in line, waiting to get into a ’80s club. Everyone was wearing their best smiles and coolest pair of shoes, laughing, chatting, probably half-drunk on flasks of cheap liquor. There was a buzz about the crowd, which there always seemed to be whenever the night was just getting underway at the age of 22—the air crinkling with hope that things would only get more exciting from here. I turned to my friend and said, “I can’t imagine when this would ever get old.”
I was referring to going out, partying, being where some crazy shit was going down. When I was 19 and studying in London, I learned the wonders of having a few drinks, wandering around a city and landing where it was loud and fabulously dizzying. I came back to the States, got a fake ID and started going to bars and clubs nearly every night. I thought partying regularly would, if not end, die down quite a bit after college, but here I was, paying $10 to drunkenly dance to Morrissey in the cowboy-conservative Land of Bush, unsure if I’d ever shake this need for a good thrill out of my system. My question to my friend was sincere, but there was also a tinge of panic in what seemed to be the answer. Was it bad if this never got old?
I’m now nearly twice the age I was when I first started partying (christ!) and it’s been a long time since I went to anything that resembled a nightclub or stood in line for something that wasn’t a show that I really wanted to go to, and even those events are few and in between. But there’s a part of me that will never be completely done with crawling out into the night or in the middle of a Saturday afternoon and letting loose, allowing for the great stories and shenanigans to happen. Even when I have a kid, and I’ll want to spend nearly every moment with the little nug, amused by every gassy face made, wincing at yet another cry yowled, I’ll still have the urge to get the fuck out. To laugh with friends, have one too many glasses of wine and probably a shot of something terrible, then live through the worst hangover in the morning because I need to not feel totally sedentary. Or blase. I haven’t lived this long not to learn that I love me an escape.
But I gotta say that yes, at 35, going out and getting drunk because I’m asked and I’m free and there’s nothing else to do has gotten old. It’s no longer a go-to reflex for when I’m itchy because something—loneliness, perhaps—is urging me to leave the immediate moment. I am a lady with a job and fiance and shit load of crap I look forward to watching on the Internet. I don’t leave Brooklyn, or anything that’s not walking distance, on the weekend, and I look forward to sitting down with my dinner, vegetables included, as the 60 Minutes stopwatch starts ticking away on a Sunday evening. I’ve even taken up Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune because it means I’m home early enough to hang with my man and possibly prove I’ve retained some knowledge. I know that makes me 75, not 35, but I don’t care. That’s where I’m at right now, and I honestly don’t think it’s depression. (I’ll get back to you next month and let you know for sure.)
Maybe these are biology’s little ways of meeting up with my mind and emotions and desires, nudging me into domesticity, or into savoring my downtime now because I want to have a rugrat or two in the next few years. My 22-year-old self might be disappointed, but she can’t say I gave in very easily.
Recently, my boyfriend and I were discussing aging. I asked him if, in the middle of the day, while he’s at his desk at work, he ever gets a shooting fear that one of his parents will call and tell him that something has happened to the other parent. He shook his head. “It’s something I won’t have to worry about for at least 10 years.”
His answer surprised me. “Wow, I guess I’m a crazy person then,” I told him.
He paused for a minute. “No,” he said. “It’s just that you’ve grown up in a way that I haven’t yet.”
This was the first time, in a long time, I felt different because I am one of those people who has lost her mother. Bitter. Jaded. Impaired. When my boyfriend assumed that he had another 10 years with his parents, my first thought was “you’re delusional; you have no idea how long you have with them.” And I hated that I thought that. I hated that this is how my mind works.
There probably isn’t a single day I don’t remember that my mother isn’t on this earth, though it’s usually in some small, barely conscious way. Same goes for remembering that I am one of the few people I know, especially my age, who’ve been affected with the same type of emptiness. When I meet someone who has lost a parent, many times I can sense it. And when it’s affirmed, there is a knowing look of empathy, a telepathical warmth sent to fill our mutual void, an understanding that we are part of a club we wish we didn’t belong to.
However, it’s been ten years since my mother died, and I am not as consumed or defined by that hole as I once was. I’ve found love, I’ve found strength and, on most days, I remain absurdly idealistic about the future I want and believe I will have. When I write about the isolation I feel from losing my mother, I can tap into those feelings easily because they still exist, but they don’t resonate with who I feel like on an everyday basis.
Then conversations like the one I had with my boyfriend happen, and I am reminded of the residual darkness that lives in my heart, in my mind, in my stomach. You could call it fear, damage or realism, but it never lets me forget how fragile and unfair mortality is, how no one is immune from feeling utterly alone. I’ve even had “what if” pangs about losing my healthy, thirtysomething boyfriend. For a second, an uneasiness pierces my gut, and I think about how I’d one day move on from losing the love of my life or the father of my child. Then I whisk those thoughts away. I won’t entertain them for longer than a flash. But they’ll pop up on a Saturday afternoon as my boyfriend kisses me from bed, puts on a T-shirt and leaves to go to his studio, or when I look at my dad and read the tiredness in his face. It mostly happens when I realize how much I love somebody, how lucky I am to have their love and closeness, how it could be all taken away from me at any time. Maybe the flip side is I cherish life more. Maybe I’m more appreciative of what I have because I am living without one of the most important people I have ever loved.
Though I am entirely grateful for all the growing up I had to do in the wake of my mother’s death and how that growth has led me to creativity, stability and a fair amount of recognition of all the shit I bring to all the tables of my life, I’d trade that awareness for innocence any time I think about having to lose a loved one again. I know too much. I envy my boyfriend’s answer.
(Above: My mom at 12 months old. She would’ve been 68 this week.)
Before my boyfriend proposed, I admit: I thought a lot about if and when he’d propose. I even tried to will it. I also did the mature thing and openly discussed my feelings and wishes with him. I’d let go of the notion that wanting a commitment from a healthy, caring man was a sign of neediness or, lord forbid, insecurity, because that kind of thinking is some self-destructive, prideful bullshit. At least for me.
But what I never gave much thought to was the actual wedding. Which is what most people want to talk about, or have been socialized to talk about, once they find out you’re engaged. And at first, this made me panic.
Whenever I pictured my wedding in some vague fashion, I saw an outdoor, Hawaii-esque gathering of me, my man, friends and family. We were all dancing and laughing, probably under the influence of a lot of alcohol that I was happy to pay for. This is what celebrating a union meant to me: the comforting ideas of home planted in a rollicking good time. Any other details seemed unnecessary to obsess over. Well, except that these details cost thousands and thousands of dollars and I’m a cheapskate and my savings account usually has $75 in it, regardless of always having enough cash for a fourth cocktail, which is why I guess I don’t mind paying for everyone’s drunk. Priorities.
So if I’m supposed to abstain from buying a new coat this winter and spend my next 37 Saturday nights cursing at the shitty selection on Netflix Instant, then these details better mean something.
Take for instance, the wedding dress. So far, I’ve had fun trying on dresses in the way that kids have fun trying on Strawberry Shortcake costumes or their mother’s lace muumuus or whatever kids do these days that isn’t what they did on an island in the ’80s. But on a regular day, I’m a black lace and denim kind of gal and mermaid tails and itchy ruching didn’t feel like anything I would wear to get married in on a 82-degree evening on a tropical farm. (What did feel right, however, was cleavage. Sex appeal I’m down with.)
My Sophia Vergara revelation-imitation aside, selecting a dress has only seemed to get more confusing the more dresses I try on. When I explained this to my boyfriend, who, like all good men, came of age in the dusk of hair metal’s glory, he didn’t miss a beat. “I think you should wear the ‘November Rain’ wedding dress,” he said. I shot up from the couch. Fuck. Yes. That would have meaning. The meaning being that when I think of Guns N’ Roses, my heart patters and my stomach flutters because some mischievous, rowdy shit is about to go down, rules are about to be broken and an unforgettable, big plastering-mess of a greatness is about to be had. Plus, mullet dresses are so having their moment right now. Then we took this fantasy to the next level when a friend suggested that my boyfriend roll up, soloing like Slash—but with a ukulele! ’Cause we’ll be in Hawaii! And ukuleles are silly! And my boyfriend would secretly love a ukulele solo because he’s weird like that! Suddenly, I was on board with all this wedding planning. Not because I was now actually going to choreograph a reenactment of the most elaborate music video of the ’90s, but because the man I will spend the rest of my life with and my friends who’ll share in that day know me so well and for that, I’m grateful. But hell, if we happen to get drunk enough and indulge in some whiskey-swilling, cake-trashing role play on the Big Day, then that’s fine too. Hold the downpour and the whole bride-murder thing, though.
Part of my job is knowing whether blow job is one word or two. If you’re curious for the answer, see the sentence above because I’ll only write what is accurate (or believed to be accurate) because this need for accuracy in written (not spoken) language is now how my brain functions.
So the other day, when reading over an article I was copyediting, a colleague of mine flagged the word “girl” because the female in question was clearly a grown adult who’d surpassed puberty more than a decade ago. The male editor of the piece shooed my query away and she remained “girl.” Even though I didn’t notice this technicality at first, and especially because I didn’t notice this technicality at first, it bothered me.
See, in recent years, I’ve come to terms with being a feminist. But before I did that, I had to become a woman.
Long after turning 30 and before my brain cared about accuracy, I still wasn’t comfortable calling myself or any of my friends woman. It sounded generic and wide, like a mom in long Talbots shorts. Lady was (and still is) the easy, jokey version of being adult and female since lady implies some sort of class, and I was still playing “power hour” drinking games and subsisting on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The point of my entire existence was to not take anything too seriously, including myself, and thus my fear of being tagged Capital-F Feminist as I had yet to recognize there 3,000 varieties of little-f feminist and equal rights are nothing to be ashamed of. I was a girl when I did feminine-cliched things like partake in “a girls’ brunch” or nag at my boyfriend to pick up his clothes (“I know I’m such a girl because I care about this shit, but, um, do it”). I was a chick when I was at a bar or a Forever 21 or an outdoor music festival with a bunch of other chicks much younger than me. I was a broad when I was pushing jerks who were dancing too close or acting like morons at these dives and sweatfests, though to them I was probably just a stupid bitch. Likewise, a guy was usually a guy, and at his most doofus, he was a dude. My ex sometimes called me dude and I thought it was endearing.
Then one day I caught myself. After a friend got blown off by some starving artist who’d brought his own dinner to a bar but nothing for her, I told her that she needed to find a thoughtful boy that wasn’t put off by earning money. Um, wrong. She needed a muthafuckin’ MAN. It was then that I realized if I was going to differentiate between what term was maturity-appropriate for the male gender, then I should do the same for my own kind and not refer to myself as something that conjures pigtails and lollipops.
A woman is someone who has traveled through the shit town of girlhood and then endured the feel-copping attempts of dozens of dudes, the “it’s not personal” cattiness of bitter female cliques at a first job, the feeling of walking home alone at night and being followed and hoping to get around the corner of her block before something happens, the pregnancy scare from a guy she could have avoided if she didn’t have that fifth drink, the long discovery of determining if and when she wanted the fairy tale of marriage and babies or whether she was just trying to knock all those expectations ‘cause she should, the great powers and pitfalls of flirting, the realization that men do have it easier in certain fields and that it’s best to pretend she doesn’t want to procreate anytime soon if she doesn’t want to be the first in line for lay-offs, because, yeah, she does want babies after all, and the accumulation of monthly emotional arcs called PMS. Girl deserves a step up in title.
Do I still call chicks dudes and dudes pussies? Yes. But I have no interest in third-person referencing myself as girl anymore. Though I’m not quite ready to respond to m’aam either.
(Above: When I was a little girl, I wanted to be Boy George. Somehow this correlates.)
A little more than three years ago, I went on an artist residency in Vermont, where I thought I’d do a lot of writing and maybe a little hooking up. I never expected my month there to alter my life in the way that a whirlwind romance at a self-reflective retreat in the woods does in a Lifetime movie.
At first I played it cool with my man-artist in the evergreens, because like most sane women, that’s what I did at the start of a fling. It wasn’t my style to acknowledge that I already sensed from those very first days in Vermont—when he cracked, “You know someone here is blogging about this residency” (verballeakage.blogspot.com, ahem), and he spooned me in my single bed while chuckling in my ear at all the inappropriate creepy-uncle jokes during a Family Ties rerun—that he knew me before he knew me.
After the residency and having spent the summer in New York, I came back to Portland, where I was finishing my MFA. Over drinks with a friend one evening (I know, so out of character of me), I spoke giddily about the guy I met, while throwing in a few disclaimers, just in case, well, I wound up getting hurt. She just sat there, smirking.
“What?” I asked.
“It’s the start of something special, isn’t it?”
I grinned like a dweeb, nodding and nodding. “It totally is,” I told her.
Special was the most precise way to put it. I knew that whatever happened to us, he was going to be the one who showed me what strength and gentleness and smarts and smarty-pantsness and inspiration and crazy-hot chemistry felt like all in one tan, toned, loving man. He was going to show me, sensitive lady in a hard-ass package, what I deserved.
Eventually I did lay all of my tingly guts before him—love yous, you’re specials, and all. I had never given so much of myself to a relationship before, a relationship where there were no guarantees—we had to be long distance, we had both come out of fundamentally different long-term experiences—but I could not let him slip away. This was the first time I took a risk where the greatest control I had was to be honest with my own feelings.
Three years later, and nearly two weeks ago, he proposed. For the majority of my life, marriage wasn’t something I romanticized. My divorced parents kept it real about how difficult marriage is to sustain and how a couple’s problems don’t often change, but feelings can. And to be honest, the strangeness of the institution and its rituals still isn’t lost on me: For a split-second, when he was proposing, my mind left my body and pointed down at it, as if to say, “Hello, Jessica, you are having a monumental life moment right now, one that you’ve seen played out in two dozen mediums in three zillion different ways.” And as someone who crafts her life stories as her life’s purpose, I was aware I was having one of my greatest life stories happen right then and there, one you’re asked to tell again and again, which is unlike the stories you spend years crafting for seven people to read, and that’s pretty fucking surreal.
But what I don’t question is whether I want to make it to forever with this guy who knows all of my garbage and continues to find (most of it) charming. A guy whose eyes are full of empathy when I’m hurting and who nestles me into his chest and shields me from the rest of the world. A guy who doesn’t drive me nuts—which may sound simple, but after being in a few relationships, I realize is of the utmost importance.
I’m not a religious person, but making this man my husband is the closest thing to unwavering faith I’ve ever felt. And that, my friends, is pretty goddamn special.
On a recent Monday morning, I found myself nodding off on the train. Two stops before I was supposed to get off, I startled myself into consciousness, my eyes opening to the sight of some dude’s bulge, less than a foot away from my face. It was testing the elasticity of his skinny jeans and the elasticity was losing. And I started to wonder: Are men aware of this common happenstance—that their crotches are at eye level with passengers sitting on the train? Did he plan his attire for this reason? Am I just a voyeur pawn in his exhibitionist game, or am I a casualty because it’s very unlikely this man is straight?
Not a few days later, during rush hour, I was literally in the same position but facing a slightly roomier pair of jeans. When I glanced up to see whose human face was attached to the package, it was a young man of 15 or 16 years old. I felt like I needed to rinse out my eyeballs. Then I suddenly had flashbacks to the female student I had in my college writing-comp class who always wore crazy-low-cut tops and who would come over to my desk and lean over into me and ask for help on sentence structure. You just can’t help but notice these things, even if you don’t want to. And I do find myself noticing these things more in the last few years and I think my student noticed me noticing too. Which is scary shit because I’m now old enough to be considered a legitimate pervert.
I’m no law expert on this, but I believe there’s a socially unsaid cut-off point between being a young, hormonal freak and a straight-up creep (maybe 14?) and then, decades later, maybe around the age of 65, you get a reprieve and can sort of segue past the straight-up-creepo line into the harmless-and-inappropriate-elderly territory.
I’ve watched my grandpa, and now my dad, make this crossover with grace—their eyes follow the waitress’ ass a bit too long as she walks away, they mumble some cheesy pick-up line under their breaths and all of us younger folk at the table chuckle and shake their heads. It’s an awesome era of life when you don’t have to give two fucks—you can wink or scratch your ass, and people may think “gross, old person,” but no one is calling the cops or their moms.
I believe the female equivalent of this brand of endearingness would be Blanche Devereaux ala The Golden Girls. And that I can do.
When I moved away from Hawaii in my early twenties, my dad—a man of so few words, I’d listen wholeheartedly at the crack of introspection in his voice—told me: “I don’t worry about you. The only thing I worry about is that you’re fearless.”
It was the greatest compliment anyone has ever paid me. This was the badass in the Vietnam photo with a bottle of whiskey in one hand, a pack of smokes in the other and a blown-up dirt shit town behind him telling me I was fearless. This was the firefighter who once set fire to his own car to “stick it to the insurance clown trying to swindle him” talking to me about cojones. It was an honor and a tall order. I didn’t want to let him down.
I’d somehow missed the “worry” part about his bon-voyage sentiment. The parental caution of “Don’t mistake gusty for stupid, you young, naive woman who has barely ever lived away from home and likes to get mouthy.” So what did I do in my new city of Los Angeles? I drank four cocktails, got in my car, blasted “Where Is My Mind,” pulled up to a loud spectacle of a bar and drank more long island ice teas and more vodka tonics because it was fun and I didn’t give a fuck and what else was there to do but head to the afterhours club until a cop pulled me over and threw me in jail. I didn’t let go of my purse when a man mugged me and dragged my swearing person down the sidewalk (“I will not let go, asshole!”), leaving me with scars on my hip bones. I believed, when I wanted to, in the magic of the pull-out method. You know, real, brave stuff.
Now, a decade-plus later, it’s rare that I find myself in a situation where I’m looking for trouble, or where bar-hero (-antihero?) bravado is necessary. The only white-knuckling thing I do is sit at computer and hit send, hoping that the essay I just attached was “ready” and that the editor will write me back.
Then the other night, I was supposed to meet friends at a bar in an isolated corner of no man’s land, Red Hook, that is mass-transit free. The bar was so far away from modern-day civilization, it was literally on a cobble road. My iPhone had directed me to get off in Carroll Gardens and then walk 1.5 miles to my destination. That sounded far and cold more than anything else, but I thought, eh, I’ll figure it out once I get off the train.
However, as soon as I came above ground, I was immersed in a 1984 gang film with 1940s grifters. There was an eerie silence in the air, businesses were blacked out and shady characters were loitering near lamp posts casting a noir haze. Except I was in Carroll Gardens, the most gentrified place on the planet, and if I was 25 again, these shady people would appear regular and broke like me and I would’ve found them charming. Just because there was a lack of noise and open businesses and I was wearing an office blouse, was I now a pussy?
Yes, apparently. I walked about five blocks, near industrial buildings and the side of a freeway, thinking happy, alive thoughts until I spotted a cab and jumped in. I don’t have to prove shit.
For the first time in six years, and the second time in my entire life, I am a full-time, salary employee. This would obviously be a pretty big adjustment for someone who has spent a good part of adulthood culling a lifestyle that was flexible and varied, with a string of guest-star roles that made work-dread and routine less likely.
But now that I have willingly, and enthusiastically, joined the legion of folks who have health insurance and paid vacations (hooray!), I’ve been quickly reminded why The Office was, for a very long time, a popular show, and why Office Space is timelessly funny, despite Jennifer Aniston being in it: Office culture is some nonsensical, quirky shit.
My first day began like every subsequent day will mostly likely begin for as long as I’m gainfully employed here—by sitting down and turning on my computer. However, after that was finished, I was posed with my first new-job challenge: Now what? Since I was not yet given anything to do and my boss was in charge of giving me things to do and he was sitting behind me aware I had nothing to do, I needed to come up with a way I could look both productive without having anything to produce and gracious for being hired. So like all office workers before me, I stared intently at my computer.
I also clicked on stuff, like my email. I discovered 4,365 unread emails I didn’t realize were written to me when I was a freelancer at this institution. I clicked “select all” and “mark as read.” I checked my personal email. I wrote my boyfriend to tell him I was officially at my job doing office things. “That is all.” I added bookmarks to my bookmark bar and gave them codes names like “FB” and “Gaw.” Then added informative bookmarks like NPR and NYT in case management came over to make sure I was a middle-class, educated white person. I got out of my chair because it seemed like I had sat down for a reasonable amount of time. I went to the bathroom. I took the long way back. I rummaged around the Internet to find an aesthetically pleasing-yet-undorky screensaver, so I wouldn’t have to look at the evolution of blossoms or a swirly Dead Head light show every time I came back from an outta-this-chair experience. I received an email on how to set up my voicemail. I put off this singular task I had to complete until the gal sitting next to me left her desk, and then I recorded and re-recorded my outgoing message four times, only to sound like a muffled, nervous teenager. I hit up the office vending machine. I spilled Cheez-Its crumbs all over my smart-lady trousers. I received emails from coworkers sitting across from me saying “congrats.” I looked over at them to say “thank you,” but they didn’t feel the warmth of my face-to-face cue, and continued looking intently at their computers.
I could go on, but I do know one thing about corporate employment: If you want to keep it, you don’t blog about it.
(Above: New York office jobs always look cooler than the rest of the country’s office jobs. Even in the 80s, a Working Girl could ash on her desk and drink out of last night’s kegger cup.)
I have a low tolerance for boredom. This is not to be confused with purposely doing nothing. The former takes work; the latter is bliss.
Talking to boring people, for example, is exhausting. As a gal who’s lucky to be surrounded by people who are amusing, inspiring and witty on a regular basis, I sometimes forget that not everyone is born with a personality. There are, in fact, a surprising number of people in the public pool of everyday interaction who are not.
In my eager, wide-eyed youth, I found it not just a challenge, but my social duty to find common ground with every single random person I was introduced to. I once spent 45 (sober) minutes talking with a drum-and-bass-loving, hardcore vegan from Florida. He wasn’t even that cute, and yet I felt compelled to find something to bond over. With music and cheese obviously off the list, I wracked my brain for something I knew about healthy choices. That’s how we ended up discussing how people fart in yoga class.
However, I’m now at the point in adulthood where extending my cordiality is no longer a necessity, especially if it makes me vulnerable to tedium.
I was recently at a small dinner party where I ran into old acquaintances I see every other random year. For this group, I pulled out the easy standards—What have you been up to? How is work going? How are your babies gestating? I tried to riff off their one- and two-sentence answers (“Six months along, eh? I knew a gal who once brought her baby to a club and the kid slept through the whole thing! Newborns are resilient!”), but then came the head nods, and I knew that they weren’t going to play along. It was up to me again to find a new topic to discuss. (The Kardashians! They must watch the Kardashians!) But then I imagined an earnest discussion where their contribution would be, at best, “Oh, yeah, her marriage didn’t last too long, huh,” and I wouldn’t be able to fake it any longer. So instead, I got out of my chair and walked over to someone I knew could discuss the finer points of Scott Disick becoming the most charming member of that entire family, or, you know, the physics of nuclear fission or radioactivity or something. I didn’t even bother giving the other ladies an “excuse me” or “I gotta grab another drink” blow-off, which totally would have been acceptable and deserved for having instigated the discussion on “Which is cuter: the in-facing or out-facing baby bjorn?”
I guess to clarify, I now have a low tolerance for averting boredom. I’d rather purposely do nothing alone.
It’s the end of the year, which means it’s a time of reflection, evaluation and burnout. Hence, I bring you lazy writing.
What made my 2011:
10. Suckering 28 college freshmen into giving presentations on The Real World. For example, “Compare and contrast how Southern virgin Julie (circa 1992 NY season) differs from Southern ‘skank puppy’ Jemmye (circa 2010 New Orleans season).”
9. The Corrections. Finally read it and better for it.
8. Realizing that repetition can be bliss and vacations don’t need events. I’d like to thank Maine for three straight days of morning hikes, afternoon wine, ice-cream cookie-dough bombs, slumber in the grass, loads of cable television and insomnia-fighting with Behind the Music.
7. Snookie, oh, Snookie.
6. Girliness. I don’t care how Sex in the City cliche this makes me, but I love me some bullshit chatter, laughs that make you snort and then snort again because snorts are funny, bacon gravy and bottomless mimosas with my ladies over a multi-hour, voice-losing brunch.
5. Successfully convincing my boyfriend that Saturday mornings are for unproductivity.
4. Watching my best male friend legally marry the man he loves (and sobbing with joy like Will’s Grace, or Brown who beat the Board of Education).
3. Tearing through and being endlessly fascinated with this and this and this, just because I should put something intellectual on here.
2. Getting paid to read “Stars - They’re Just Like Us.”
1. Hearing from a student, “You made me enjoy writing.”
(Above: #7 a.k.a. America’s mascot. How can you not shake your head and want to hug her at the same time?!)
One of my favorite things is rediscovering a song to be the most amazing piece of music you’ve heard in a very long time. It’s usually one of those numbers that starts off slow, builds and builds—your feet stomping, your head nodding in agreement with every fucking beat hit—until the chorus explodes all over you like confetti on an Oprah giveaway. You’re screaming the lyrics from the depths of your lower intestine, but this is only a tease; it’s about to get better.
The tension is released as the second verse begins, just so it can balloon again and rile you up even harder. When the very ends approaches, euphoria sets in. You’re alright with it being over, because unlike a solid tongue-raping or a NYE party, there’s a very good chance that if you play it note-for-note, one more time, you’d get the same, strong fuck-yeah reaction that you just did.
The above White Stripes’ song is what’s doing that for me currently. It came on shuffle during a road trip a few months ago, and at least once a week ever since, I get this sudden urge to hear it. Right. Now.
A sample of other found-via-shuffle surprises that have recently moved me to dramatics in the car, kitchen or otherwise:
1. “A Small Victory” - Faith No More
2. “I Wanna Be Adored” - The Stone Roses
3. “Rococo” - Arcade Fire
4. “Is She Weird” - Pixies
However, if this was a list from 10 years ago, I’d have to admit the following:
Yup, Coldplay. (Side note: Is the mistaken “!” in the song title a “warning, abort” type of marking or “yeah, this song is as ridiculous as a teenage girl”?) When “Trouble(!)” was popular, I was 24, lonely and in need a soundtrack for my unrequited crush. Leave me be.