Thursday, March 28, 2013

What Happens When You Realize Your Dream Isn't Your Dream Anymore?

Nellie and I were talking about turning 30 as we finished up a delightful dinner with girlfriends last night. I can't remember exactly how the conversation went because I have one just like it twice a week these days (though, no convo tops a Nellie convo), but I remember it turned to the idea of following your dreams. Nellie is an actress - among so many other things - and I am finally (according to my 2012 taxes!!!) a writer. 

We were both talking about how long we've followed our two specific dreams, and how engrained that idea of "following a dream" was in our upbringing. This was a lucky thing - no - a blessed thing, we agreed. There are kids without the means, guidance or support to follow a dream. There are adults in that same boat.

"But what happens if you realize your dream isn't your dream anymore?" Nellie said.

She was speaking mostly figuratively. Nellie, more so than almost anyone I know, has maintained a steady focus on her acting while still pursuing other work (for income) and passions (for joy). But you don't have to be freaked about your future to ask that difficult question. What if, after never allowing yourself a back-up plan, you realize plan A isn't the goal anymore? It could happen to either one of us.

This is a high class problem, both Nellie and I acknowledged that off the bat. You have to be lucky/brave/etc. enough to try and make a dream a reality in the first place. But forget all that. That doesn't change the fact that you might decide you don't actually want to live the life you've set yourself up to live. Then what?

We weren't sure. We both said things like, "you re-group," and, "you put one foot in front of the next," and, "you realize that life is not only about the way you make your money." What I wasn't willing to say out loud was that I'd be totally and completely devastated. Even thinking about it makes me nervous. What would I do? Who would I be?? Where would I go???

Our generation is, "dream oriented," Nellie and I both agreed. That's good because we both pursued dreams despite the odds against them becoming a reality (technically the odds are still against it, and we're both almost 30). But I think those among our generation who maintain some semblance of sanity despite all these big questions were raised with a duel narrative. "Follow your dreams, but remember that your life's happiness can't be tied directly to those dreams."

That seems harsh. Maybe it's, "follow your dreams, but be prepared to live a life that's about way more than just those dreams?"

That feels more reasonable.

If tomorrow I decided I no longer want to be a writer, I would freak out. Nellie might have that same reaction if she decided that her days of pursing acting should end. But then the next day we would make a list of all the things we like to do. Both of us are pretty type A, so we'd probably make another list of all the things we're good at doing, and then ven diagram the hell out of it until we had a few ideas of where to turn next. It would be really hard and really scary, but the family and friends who love us would help. Nellie would turn to her yoga practice to help center herself. I would probably go on a lot of long walks and watch late '80s television that somehow relates to my struggle. We'd probably both read a self help book or two.

But we are more than just our dreams. That feels weird to say because when you're climbing to achieve them, it feels like you and your dreams are one. You are not a person, you are an actress/writer/whatever. I think it's good to be that way - to a certain degree - when you're a 20-something. Focus is important - unbridled passion, even more so. But there comes a time when I think it's safer, healthier and more fulfilling to look at life from a place beyond your dreams. That doesn't mean they go away. It just means they get in line with a whole host of other dreams that have nothing to do with the blank space you fill in on your tax returns. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

You Don't Realize How Selfish You Are Until You Consider Adopting a Dog

I'm well aware of the fact that I like to be in command of my own life. I also know that I really enjoy the busy, independent, social lifestyle that I lead. What I did not quite realize, however, is that I am selfish. I think I'm selfish with a lowercase "s," but I'm selfish none the less.

Big S selfish people are jerks who don't give a damn about anything but themselves, I've decided. Little s selfish people (I've also decided) are wary of taking on anything that might alter the very specific lives they lead like, say, a lot of volunteer work or a tricky relationship or...a dog named Elliott.

When R and I first started talking about getting a dog I thought I was nervous about raising an animal. I grew up with a dog, but I didn't have to take care of her very much. She was very self-sufficient, much like an additional, much harrier little sister. It wasn't until one very specific dog came into play (ELLIOTT) that I realized I'm not afraid of raising a dog, I'm afraid of altering the very comfortable life I lead. I am little s selfish.

Here are just some of the thoughts I've had the prove this fact:
  •  If we get Elliott I'll have to sit outside at the various cafes I frequent to do my work. A. that's often tricky because of sun glare on my computer and B. when it drops below 70 degrees here, I'll be cold sitting outside. 
  • What if Elliott is really annoying around the apartment while I'm trying to do my work? Like, what if he keeps trying to get me to rub his belly or something, and I can't focus? 
  • Is one of us going to have to walk this dog at 7AM every single day for the rest of our life with him? Because sometimes I like to sleep until 8AM, and but that I mean 9AM...
  • Is Elliott going to make our apartment smell? Because I really like how our apartment smells.
  • What if Elliott doesn't like to walk fast? Because I really hate walking slow.
  • Is Elliott going to ruin the leather couch? Because that was not a light purchase...that R made...but still. 
  • Let's discuss the cost of dog food, dog boarding and dog training relative to my annual vacation budget.
  • Let's discuss the possibility of a 1.5 year old dog still chewing on shoes...
  • What if Elliott likes R more than me, forever?
And those are the things I'm willing to publish on the Internet...

These are the thoughts every soon-to-be dog owner has, right? This is perfectly normal, right? My desire to rescue a dog and bring a loving animal into my life with R will very quickly outweigh any frustration with dog bone crumbs on the kitchen floor, right?

Bottom line: some degree of selfishness is normal. The degree of selfishness which prevents one from enjoying a pet in their life is not one I want to maintain, case closed.

Now onto deciding whether or not Elliott will be the one to help me grow up just a little more...

(Yes, that's him in the photo. Feel free to weigh in!)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Different Way to Think About the Steubenville Rape

This post is late because I couldn't decide whether or not to write it.

I had originally planned to write about the fact that R and I are preparing to adopt a puppy. It was going to be a super funny piece on how two people agree on what the animal they intend to share the next 12-16 years with should look like (spoiler alert: they don't), but I couldn't stop reading and thinking about the Steubenville rape case. I didn't want to write about it because I didn't want to be just another non-lawyer, non-detective, non-psychologist, non rape victim weighing in on an issue that even those people are struggling to evaluate. Then I realized that not talking about the Steubenville rape case is the last thing anyone involved or uninvolved need. So, here I am with what may be a rather unorthodox way to understand what happened, and even more importantly, to understand how the nation reacted.

The very first thing that popped into my head when I heard about the divisive responses to the rape and boys now determined responsible was, "what if that girl had been a boy." It's a strange question to ask, I know, but it's the same pattern of thought I go to when any instance remotely like this hits the news. What if we removed the gender from it? What if these were two sexless beings committing these acts against each other? Let's remove age too. Imagine their age is totally unknown. How would everything change?

Let's do it. Let's pretend that Trent Mays (17) and Ma'lik Richmond (16) actually raped a drunk, straight boy of any age. This boy drank excessively at a series of parties. Many people witnessed this boy become visibly impaired by the alcohol to the point of being slouched over, eyes closed. There are pictures of it, in fact. People reported that he was non-responsive at several points during the night. Forget about whether or not Trent, Ma'lik or this boy are gay. Just remove that from the equation. Imagine that they penetrated him with their fingers, just as they did to the girl in the real version. Then try to picture the exact same story unfolding.

You can't, right? And it's not just because straight boys don't rape each other (fyi, they do) or because Trent and Ma'lik are not gay. It's because there would be NO question about whether or not it was rape because this boy would never consent to what Trent and Ma'lik were doing, and - and here's the important part - those two boys would never assume that they had consent. I can't understand why they assumed they had consent from the 16-year-old drunk girl, but I think it has everything to do with the fact that she was a 16-year-old drunk girl, and nothing to do with her actual rights as a human, woman, man or otherwise.

I know it's impossible to remove the sexes from the sex. When these cases unfold our minds go to the fact that men uncontrollably desire sex (especially high school boys), and so it is "understandable" that they might be driven to do what they did (make no mistake, it is not) and be confused about whether or not they had consent (I believe they did not). Young people see sex acts happen before their eyes all the time, so many people wouldn't assume something was wrong, or wouldn't say anything even if they did. And teenagers drink so much that they're often unable to discern what's happening to their bodies. All of those facts are true, but they're all about the sex act and not at all about state of the other person it's happening with. They're all about the motivation of the rapist and not the rights of the victim.

That's why we have to pretend that the victim is anything but a 16-year-old drunk girl. Because "of course" a boy would want to take sex from a 16-year-old drunk girl, no matter what it takes.

So try again. You don't even have to pretend it's a straight male. Picture a 10-year-old girl, a 55-year-old woman, or a 75-year-old grandparent. Imagine questioning any one of those other people about whether or not they said "no" loudly and clearly enough? Imagine asking whether or not they were totally passed out or just sorta passed out. Now think about how that changes your view of this entire story.

I know this story involves thousands of details that my little mental experiment doesn't take into account, but I don't care. I'm not here to weigh in on the legality of it all. I'm only concerned with whether or not there is any version of this story that supports the fact that this specific 16-year-old girl wanted what she got from these two high school boys. And I find that the minute I think of her as a genderless, age-less human being - anything but a drunk 16-year-old girl - the answer is crystal clear.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

10 Things Every Almost 30-Year-Old Woman Should Be Prepared To Say

Read 'em and weep ladies. More to come!

10. Listen, I need you to buy me tampons at the grocery store. Just grab the first multi-pack you see and get the hell out of there.

9. Bottom line: we can't make any new friends until after the wedding invites go out. 

8. I'm sorry, did you just say you got pregnant on the VERY FIRST TIME TRYING?!

7. The rules of this wedding dress shopping session are simple. If I love it, you love it.

6. I don't want to have sex tonight, and I don't have a reason.

5. Right, but can you describe to me exactly how it will feel approximately 30 seconds before my water breaks?

4. Thank you for this offer. Given my experience level and past performances, I'd like to see if your company can come up 10K on the base starting salary.

3. Of course I'd love a little girl, but I'll just be happy if the baby is healthy.

2. You don't have to go through with this wedding. We'll get you out of here and handle telling everyone. 

1. Oh my mother used to say that exact same thing...I'm becoming my mother...

Add your own in comments!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A 9:30pm weeknight concert invite today versus five years ago

R's good friend invited us to a concert last night. The day was Monday. The show didn't start until 9:45, which really means 10:00 because nothing cool ever actually starts on time. The venue is about fifteen minutes from our house, so not far but not so close that we can't not go. We've seen the band before, but they're fantastic, as is this friend, so we'd both definitely enjoy seeing them again. We already had food for dinner, plus I now work from the room directly connected to the kitchen, so finding time to both eat and attend this concert wouldn't be a problem, especially since it starts at 9:45/10. We had a really busy weekend, but we technically got plenty of sleep, so it's not like we need to make up for lost time by going to bed at 8:30 tonight (note: that's a joke. We've never actually gone to bed at 8:30, but not out of lack of desire).

In other words, we should go to this concert. It would be really fun. We'll catch up with people we know and support a group that we both want to see succeed.

And yet all I did since the minute R told me about the show was try to come up with legitimate excuses not to go, then yell at myself for being so lame/old/boring, then yell back that I don't have to go to some late-night concert if I don't want to because that's what being mature is all about, then calmly remind myself that 10pm is not "late night." It was a rough 3:30 to 3:45 over here.

Five years ago going to this concert would have been a no-brainer. It would literally take zero power of the brain to decide that we would attend. It is something fun to do involving many things we love. Now, technically speaking five years ago R and I would not have been together, and I would be living in New York, but I think I can still say with a strong degree of certainty that both of us would have attended whatever version of this concert existed in that hypothetical past.

So, what changed? Is it our interest? Have we seen enough shows of this nature to sit it out? Is it our energy level? Are we just too tired? Or is it our perspective? We now know that we don't need to be there for the sheer sake of being there. We will see this band again, many times. It is Monday, and it would be nice to relax, even if we don't need to relax. Also, while we will see friends, the quality of time spent at a very loud, 10PM concert is kind of negligible.

No. Of course we didn't go. We made fish on the grill then watched a 2 hour HBO documentary on scandal in the priesthood (which I highly recommend, if you can stomach it). I think we didn't go because of a combination of all of the above elements. Also, it was below 60 degrees, and I find it hard to motivate when it's that cold out.

Do I feel bad that we missed the show? Yes, but only because I really do adore this friend and what to support all of his endeavors. Did I feel bad for myself? No.

I think the younger you are, the more things you do because you think you should, whether or not you actually want to do them. That doesn't necessarily apply to this concert, but it applies to dozens of things I attended at 10pm on a Monday night when I was 25.

I think the older you get, the more you do what you actually want to do. That is, of course, until you have kids, at which point you never do what you actually want to do again.

So if you think about it, this very small valley of time between living by 20-something obligation and doing everything for your kids is really precious. We shouldn't squander it away. We should take full advantage.

There! I knew I could justify it with some kind of grand, meaningless statement!  

Let's just not acknowledge the fact that in the amount of time it took to write this post I could have seen the concert and gotten a beer with our friend to celebrate...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Shocker: There's Backlash to the Backlash Against Monster Weddings!

Guess what you guys?

An Ironic, Low-Key, Unconventional Wedding Is Still a Wedding

So if you thought you were going to exchange your vows at your favorite In-N-Out with frie rings and call it a "friendship for life" ceremony, you're wrong. The Atlantic just said so

Here's a mini recap of this long article about the fact that there are "women who do want in on the institution [of marriage], but who find this somehow embarrassing."

The market for discreet nuptial rings points to a wave of ambivalence operating counter to bridezilladom, the phenomenon of brides-to-be obsessing over every detail of what they view as the biggest day of their lives. It is just one sign of a discomfort on the part of certain women who have heteronormative desires (an opposite-sex partner, a document acknowledging the relationship, a dress...) with what these desires say about them.  

Read: Some girls want to get married without all the David Tutera treatment. 

Fauxbivalent anxieties center around engagement rings, so often perceived as the ultimate symbol of wedding narcissism. The rings elicit squeals, but also anti-squeals. Fauxbivalence is central to the strangely compelling Jezebel posts about engagement jewelry. The comment threads can turn into contests over whose ring strays furthest from Tiffany. "I recently got engaged and my fiance got me a beautiful ring - 3 uncut diamonds (ethically sourced) set in silver :)," writes one. Rustic and ethical is good, heirloom and non-diamond better: Writes another: "My engagement ring was a really simple ruby and gold ring that belonged to my husband's grandmother. My wedding ring is a titanium band that matches my husband's. We bought them as a pair from an Etsy vendor who makes their own jewelry." Etsy, of course. But one can do better! Writes another, seemingly in earnest: "I'd take a blueberry ring pop and wear the little plastic piece forever." 

Read: People are competitive about everything. Also, #humblebrag. Also, FAUXBIVALENT?!?! - hahahahahahahahaha!

It's easy to see why many women would have qualms about the Wedding Industrial Complex. The symbolism of a wedding can feel not merely anti-feminist but out-of-date, relics of a time when a woman's wedding day was the decisive moment in her life. Who could forget the New York Times story on the feeding-tube bride?

Read: Some people went way too far, and it ruined it for the rest of us? I'm actually unclear on this. 

Much fauxbivalence results from situations in which a woman wants not just marriage, but some of the not-so-progressive-seeming trappings. If you see yourself as the kind of person who wouldn't want a white dress, say, you may find yourself explaining—to yourself, to friends, or to a mass audience—why you went with one. 

Read: People care VERY much what other people think of their decisions, especially surrounding their wedding day. Also, one more time, Fauxbivalance?! Hahahahahahahaha!

But fauxbivalence has the potential to be just as alienating and even snobbish as bridezilladom. What first led me to coin the term was an essay by a young woman who married her live-in boyfriend for health-insurance purposes. Certain details (the ironic dive-bar "'reception,'" in quotes in the original) suggest that the author and her husband did want to get married, but that this felt too bourgeois: My coworkers from the suburbs had been hard-pressed to find anything to talk to me about, but now they were fawning all over me. Buried in their generic 'congratulations!' were little epiphanies—they'd finally found a way to relate to me. 

Read: Some people lead counter culture lives, and they're really proud of that. We used to call these people hippies, then we called them hipsters, now we can just call them Atlantic Magazine subjects. I'm letting the F-word go this time.

But the pressure to be different can be its own conformity. This itself has class implications. As Bourdieu has told us, taste is wrapped up in socioeconomic class. Weddings are expensive, ergo the rich must be the ones going all-out. But it's like a hatred of McMansions. If spending less (and the tasteful choice isn't always the less expensive) is about seeming more intellectual or old-money, then it, too, is a form of showing off.  

Read: You can't win. Elope.

I sympathize with much of fauxbivalence, and welcome a counterweight to the extremes in the other direction. As excited as I was to marry my now-husband, planning a wedding—let alone going into debt for one—is not something that ever interested me, so I appreciate those who insist that one is no less married for choosing City Hall.  

No hidden context here. I just wanted to include this paragraph to point out that I KNEW she was getting married, in an unconventional way, of course.  

Fauxbivalence loses me, however, when it amounts to a refusal to accept a basic fact about weddings...they acknowledge the universal in the particular...Every relationship is unique, but a wedding is a way of momentarily setting aside that uniqueness and accepting that what you're experiencing—the public sanctioning of an intimate relationship.... Even if you do not own a North Face or a pair of Uggs, you have not invented some radical new way for two human beings to relate to each other. If what you want is what most everyone else does, better to support those with less conventional desires than to pretend that your own are one of a kind. Rather than playing up the subtle distinction between your alternative, low-key wedding and that of a suburban princess, you might be an ally to those who don't wish to get married at all, or who do but cannot in their jurisdiction. 

Read: Everyone is different, but marriage is beautiful regardless, so stop being so weirdly competitive about it. Let's all acknowledge that we're going to have a total meltdown if our hair doesn't look just right, whether our wedding cost 100 or 100 million dollars.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

PSA: The Power of Live Performance


(Don't let this AMAZING O'Reilly clip confuse you. This is a very serious post.) 

This is a public service post.

On Sunday I witnessed something truly remarkable, and I witnessed it live.

It was a story told by the actress/host/storyteller/comedienne/teacher Suzanne Whang about finally finding the love of her life at age 50. It was the most romantic thing I have ever heard outside of a scripted movie, and it ended with a surprise so big that I burst into tears. I am, for once, not exaggerating. One friend in the room said, "that was the most insane thing I've ever seen on a Los Angeles stage," and from the looks on many other people's tear-splattered faces, they agreed.

Suzanne told her story at this month's SUNDAY NIGHT SEX TALKS, but this is not a plug for my show (sorry, but I couldn't not include a hyperlink). This is a plug for experiencing something live.

I was kicking myself as Suzanne told her story because we don't tape or record Sunday Night Sex Talks. What happens in that room happens once and never again. If you're there, you see it. If you're not, you don't. It was originally arranged this way to protect the privacy of the performers. Moving forward we will likely record the stories just in case something as magical as Suzanne's tale gets told. It was something worth saving, even if it's only for my locked files and Suzanne's safe keeping. But we don't have Suzanne's story on tape. It exists only in the memory of the 50 or so women who were sitting in that room, and I kind of think that's amazing.

Suzanne closed the show, and for the next twenty or so minutes, everyone stood around talking about what we'd just experienced. I overheard people talking about their own romances. I eavesdropped on a conversation about other live shows in L.A. One woman couldn't stop crying because she had been through a similar situation that didn't end quite as well, and there was a line of people waiting to thank Suzanne for her performance. We all connected around a shared experience, and it was awesome.  

I tried explaining the whole thing to R when I got home. I re-lived the whole thing as I attempted to make what happened in that room come to life again. It was a good exercise in memory retention, but I don't think R got the full feel. There's really no way you could.

I'm a big fan of podcasts on account of how much time I now spend in a car. I listen to The Moth,  Savage Love with Dan Savage, The Treatment on KCRW and Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I have had truly remarkable experiences listening to these recordings. I have cried in my car. It's still not the same.  

Go see something live. Comedy, music, storytelling, theater, I don't care. If you have access to any or all of those things, support them. Podcasts, YouTube, and TV recaps are great. They broaden the whole world's ability to experience things limited to certain places, but they're no substitute for the real deal. 

On Sunday night I saw the real deal, and I'm not at all embarrassed to say that it changed my life.