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Washington, DC, United States
I don't write here nearly as much as I should, but when I do, I'll try to make it count for something.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bill Cosby: Our Role in Perpetuating Celebrity Canonization

I would like to start off by stating that I wasn’t originally going to say anything more about this Bill Cosby situation - for a multitude of reasons. I posted my opinion on the Cosby Show as an entity (and that opinion hasn’t changed) but after weeks and weeks of this continued media coverage, it’s getting harder to express my full anger towards everything that’s happening. First, I want to make this very clear right from the bat – while I believe we live in a society where a person should be seen as innocent until proven otherwise and that witch hunts are fundamentally toxic, I do believe that Bill Cosby is guilty of these allegations… that he’s a rapist. I believe it 100% and will certainly eat my words if, at a later date, somehow these allegations are proven to be a conspiracy of lies.

Now that I have that out of the way, I am going to say nothing in defense of Bill Cosby. He has been able to get away with far too much over his decades of Hollywood power and it’s not right that he’s had to suffer zero repercussions until these last couple of weeks when all forms of media have recoiled from him almost simultaneously – no more Cosby Show on TV Land, no comedy special on Netflix, cancelled pilot for NBC. And while a bunch of people are like, “Yeah! He’s finally getting his just desserts!”… my response is, “Well what about the victims?”

Oh, the victims, you say? Yes, them.

And let me say that I am APPALLED at a lot of the things I’ve been reading. I have heard an equal amount of people express disgust towards Cosby’s horrifying actions as they have towards the women who have waited so long to come out about this – either because it was irresponsible of them or implying that this is all one big lie. I don’t even know which of these is most offensive so let’s address both, shall we?

I have never been raped. I cannot and will not presume to know what enduring that kind of violation is like. God willing, I’ll never know. More importantly, since I’ve never been through it, I find it absolutely VILE to express judgment towards anyone who has and how they react to it. The fear and the shame that one has to deal with is on a level I can’t even comprehend and I can imagine one’s knee jerk reaction to just cover it up. Is that the absolute best decision a person could make in that situation? Probably not, guys – but victim shaming is the exact fucking reason why people DON’T feel brave enough to say anything.

And the implying that these women are lying…. I don’t even know where to begin. I mean, anything is possible. The reality is that there are people who are fame-grabbers, who would stoop to the lowest lows for a piece of it…. but are we honestly ready to believe that ALL of these women are just making it up to target Bill Cosby for… what? No charges have been filed. No charges CAN be filed due to the statute of limitations. None of these women, to our knowledge, have asked him for money – and he has PLENTY of it so believe me, he would have eagerly thrown them millions in order to keep wiping this under the rug. I guess one could argue book deals, TV movies, guest spots on daytime TV talk shows and the like but surely we can’t believe that this has zero basis in reality. And even if one or two of these women are lying, there’s a thin line between reserving judgment and – yes, here we go again – good ol’ fashioned victim shaming.

Twitter and Facebook have been on FIRE with pointing fingers at these women – as well as countless bloggers and journalists. And then… I saw that horrifying segment on The View. Now I've never respected this show anyway. From day one, it seemed like an insulting, demoralizing, soulless exploration into exactly what happens when a bunch of rich and famous women are happy to sell out their own gender for a few gold coins and a captive audience. However, to be fair to them, I had never actually watched the show – until this week. What I saw was perhaps the most nauseating and hateful thing I've seen in a long time. If you are truly unable to have a serious, thoughtful dialogue about rape then just shut up. If all your capable of is victim-blaming and defending your good ol’ celebrity buddy Bill (and not even TRYING to look at this from both sides) then you have no business having a national audience. You embarrassed me as a woman, Cast of the View. And you embarrassed yourselves. Perhaps the show is always like this (like I said, I've never watched it) but if it is, then our society is in worst shape than I realized. Stay at home moms, there are better things to watch on TV, I swear! DO NOT CONTINUE WATCHING THIS SHOW!!! I’m dead serious. It’s incredibly problematic.

But I digress.

All of this has been pretty terrible. But what gets to me the most is how people, for the most part, aren't looking at the bigger issue – that Bill Cosby was in a position to get away with this for so long at all and how we glorify these celebrities so much that they are no longer people to us anymore. It’s clear that people have reacted so strongly to this because everyone has this idea of who they think this man is – a voice for the black community, a pudding pop-pusher who loved “keeping it real” and making us a laugh, Heathcliff Huxtable, our ideal father and advisor. It is hard to accept that he is capable of these crimes he’s committed because we have to accept that he is not who we have turned him into in our collective minds – and more importantly, because of this level of worshiping, we are complicit in granting him the level of power to get away with these crimes. I am a believer of personal responsibility so I’m not saying because you looked up to Bill Cosby that means you’re the reason those women were attacked. Bill Cosby is the reason those women were attacked, and him alone, but we do have to understand that his ability to live a life free of repercussions is because we live in a society that treats the rich and powerful as untouchables. There’s that old term, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I think a more accurate term would be, “With great power comes a great big stack of Get out of Jail Free cards.”

It’s hard to think about how much we allow this level of celebrity worship to grow and how much our system is built around keeping the powerful relatively scar-free. It’s hard to think about how much we accept the way this system is built and how unwilling we are to challenge it or understand how when these sorts of crimes actually happen all the time. Bill Cosby’s team (allegedly, of course) systematically crushed and intimidated any woman who attempted to bring his crimes to light. And when one woman finally did bring him to court, it was swept under the rug so quickly and so completely that by the time the media FINALLY decided to give a shit about any of this, it came as a complete shock to everyone in the universe. There have allegations about his behavior since the 80s and yet everyone was acting like someone had discovered that the Dalai Lama eats babies.  The media is part of the problem, obviously, but we have to take responsibility too.

We are all guilty of treating celebrities and public figures like they’re more than human and it needs to stop. We need to stop identifying them as the characters they play or through the songs that they write. Another example that’s been pointed out a few times in some recent articles I've written – not to mention by my lovely friend Kat whom I enjoy having spirited debates with – John Lennon. I am an avid Beatles fan. They’re probably one of my favorite bands – top five for sure. I believe that they have made a huge impact in the music industry. I believe that they’re one of the most influential bands of all time. I believe that every single member of that band was necessary to create the magic that they made (yes, even Ringo). However – and this is a big one guys – John Lennon was a wretched, womanizing wife beater. This isn't opinion. It’s public fact – a fact that Lennon himself admitted to and pretty unapologetically acknowledged. Despite this, most Beatles fan look to him as an icon and a beacon of peace – the sort of human being that we should strive to be.

Personally, I've always been the sort of person who leans towards separating the art from the artist (but I can totally understand one’s inability to do this because art is personal and we put ourselves into our art) – however, even if I believe that I think that separating the art from the artist shouldn't mean saying, “Well yeah maybe he did these terrible things but he made so much meaningful music….” and just letting yourself forget the ugliness. The Beatles’ music – like the Cosby Show – meant a lot to a lot of people and held much social importance during the time in which they were created. Do I think we should throw that away? I don’t, personally. However, I think that we need to take a step back and understand that regardless of the art these people have created, they should not be canonized by us. This is the true issue: can we as a society learn from this and really move forward towards a more realistic attitude towards celebrities?

Thankfully, in the age of social media, it’s harder for the famous to get away with as much and fly under the radar of public scrutiny regarding dark issues that they want ignored. Information is so much easier to find, it’s so much more tangible. And the Twitterverse will rip you to SHREDS. Bill Cosby learned that lesson when his INSANE marketing team came up with the idea of doing a meme contest amid all these rape allegations. And Cosby probably honestly was surprised that it turned out the way it did – with hundreds of “rape”-themed memes popping up everywhere. He had managed for a good four decades to get away with his crimes, flaunting his power and using intimidation to get away with anything he wanted while managing to convince the world to love him. I bet he’s sitting somewhere right now, confused that things have escalated with no sign of calming down. He’s been entitled for too long. This must be very very confusing for him.

At the end of the day, though, who knows what will really change – but my hope is that people don’t simply look at Bill Cosby as a monster and close their eyes to the bigger picture. The celebrity arena is filled with people we look up to and who are capable of terrible things and have done them. But creating a world where we bring these people back down to our levels – as humans – we make it harder for them to continue decades of pathological criminal behavior without punishment. And in the meantime, take to social media and create awareness because sometimes (like now) it’s the only real weapon we have.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Skeletons of the Past: the Power of Memory



So I recently saw a really great little film entitled The Skeleton Twins with a few of my friends. It’s a recently released flick currently showing at DC’s E Street Cinema (one of my favorite movie spots in the city) and it’s starring SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader – AND not to mention one of my longest standing fan girl crushes, Luke Wilson. There were many things that I loved about this film. It was loving, heartbreaking, lively, witty, and insightful with shockingly nuanced performances that have resonated within me days after seeing it. But, despite all of this, the part that really touched me was Bill Hader’s Milo.


At first, I thought this was just because of my relationship with my own brother (Wiig and Hader play fraternal twins, hence the title) but after thinking about it a little bit more, I realized there was more to it.

Let me start off by saying I've never been a huuuuge fan of Bill Hader’s. I mean, I've enjoyed him on a fairly superficial level, seeing as his film career consists of mostly second (or sometimes, third) string characters in movies like This is 40, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Tropic Thunder, Pineapple Express, Superbad, Knocked Up… well, you get the point. I enjoyed all of these movies but he’s never a guy that I looked towards for meaningful introspection, know what I mean? While I fully believe that in many cases, comedians make the best type of dramatic actors because there’s a certain degree of humor that you have to be brave enough to tap into when presented with something achingly sad…. I just didn't see that type of potential in Hader.

I am so glad that I was so wrong about him.

Hader’s performance was sad and human and acidic – and yet there was an innocence there, a longing that crushed me a little bit. It took me a day or so to really understand what it was that moved me about his character – aside from the fact that it was black comedy at its finest – and then it hit me all at once: he reminded me of a close friend of mine from my teen years.

I’m going to be somewhat vague about this particular person for reasons that may seem obvious once I’m done so try to bear with me here. When I was younger, I had a friend that I will call Anthony*. As a gal who grew up in a fairly sheltered community and started off at all girl academies, it wasn't until I hit my teen years that I started to really meet the people that would later shape who I would later become (though, let’s be honest, we’re always changing little by little our entire lives). Anthony came into my life when I didn't have a whole lot of friends, when I was obsessed with school, when all I wanted to do with my time was read and write. He was loud and opinionated and told me to get off my ass and live a little. We would sneak out to “adult” parties and try to talk ourselves into bars two or three towns over (we always got into gay bars without a problem as Anthony was young and adorable and I was… well, gay men have kind of always loved me, I’m just gonna say it). He loved to paint and he loved to read my stories and tell me what he honestly thought of them. We’d go shopping for CDs on the weekends and then spend an entire afternoon listening to them in his parents backyard when– and when they weren't home we’d smoke clove cigarettes (yes, I deserve to be judged) and break into his dad’s liquor cabinet. Some nights, usually in the fall, we’d go to a nearby reservoir and we’d talk for hours about how we were going to run off to NYC one day and get shitty jobs and make just enough to support our art and host epic parties that would be the toast of the town. I was always nervous and questioning everything so Anthony seemed fearless to me and it wasn't until much too late that I realized how troubled he was. He’d been through quite a bit of trauma growing up – and really in a lot of cases, when you throw a teenager’s homosexuality into the mix, there’s just a level of fear that the average straight teen may not be able to truly relate to. Anthony didn't have parents that judged him or tried to change who he was. They were kind people that were just very very busy so they just weren't very present in his life. He sort of just…. kept up the bravado for as long as he could until he couldn't anymore. I tried to help him desperately but I was completely in over my head and in the end, Anthony just decided the world was too much for him to handle so he made the choice to leave it.

The last year or so of Anthony’s life was a bad one for me for a lot of reasons, but the biggest one is that the good memories started to slip away. He made threats to take his life all the time, a few unsuccessful attempts, he’d disappear for days without telling anyone where he was, he was prone to great levels of despair that would seemingly come out of nowhere, he’d lash against you for strange and unknown reasons. Once, while I was in college in Boston and he was living with some guy in NYC, I had to drive into New York in the middle of night to bail him out of jail – and I had to spend half my rent in order to do it (and thank God for my parents for lending me the money to allow me to do that). I got to a point where I had to just take a step back from him because it was too much… and then one day, he was gone. To this day, a part of me feels like I failed him, like I should have done more for him, like maybe I gave up on him a little and that contributed to what happened. I probably always will feel that way, on some level.

But Anthony was also a beautiful person who could make me laugh and inspired me to push myself creatively and step outside of my comfort zone. I crashed with him in NYC for a few weeks one summer and we slept in the same bed every night (unless one of us had a gentleman caller) and we stayed up all night mocking the white collar world (that I’m kind of a part of now I guess) and we loved each other. It’s hard to think about him most of the time because it’s so easy to focus on those last few months – the dark times – and the end result but watching the Skeleton Twins (AND WE’RE BACK) and seeing Bill Hader’s performance took me back to a place that I hadn't been to in a pretty long time. It was painful, for sure, but also sweet. In the end, all Anthony wanted was love and it was so hard for him to accept that the love that he already had was enough. I think a lot of us have that problem. But boy, I feel lucky that he was in my life at all and that I got to learn and grown from him, for better or worse. Not everybody gets a person like that, who inspires you that way and even if he didn't get the happy ending he deserved, I hope somehow he knows how much he mattered and what a permanent place in my heart he has.

Thanks, Bill Hader. Thanks for reminding me that sometimes you've gotta push through the sadness and live in as many good memories as you can.





*Anthony is not his real name – it feels somewhat invasive to use his real identity for the purposes of this post

Monday, September 29, 2014

Soapboxes and Balances

It’s so hard to write about a complex topic when the weather is gorgeous and your mind wanders and pretty much only wants to take in things like playing with your dog and daydreaming about the cool fall days to come. It’s hard for me to think about things in the world that are upsetting when I’m feeling so good. But I think that actually ties in with some of the things that have been on my mind lately. I think people tend to get wrapped up in their own lives and take for granted the comforts that they are afforded. There is always a balancing act between being aware of what’s going on in the world and not letting these things consume you. I’m actually pretty bad at this balance – or at least I have been, historically. I’m either shielding myself from things, retreating into a world of happy hours, weekend outings, Netflix and comic books, or I’m living on a pedestal and yelling at people to make them see all the horrible things that need fixing. Neither of these things are bad but when it’s all you’re doing, you’re either diminishing the chances for change or the joy there is to be found around you. So what do we do?

Originally, I was going to just post about my thoughts on the quote unquote “War on Women” that’s been taking over our society (well, our media at least because let’s be honest, this stuff is nothing new) but I’d like to shift focus from simply expressing my outrage to having a very thoughtful conversation on why I’m so affected by it rather than why it’s so troubling to our culture.

This all began with a conversation I had with a male friend recently about #gamergate. For those of you unfamiliar with this topic, I recommend looking it up but very simply said it’s “a long-simmering pot of male privilege, misogyny, and slut-shaming in the gamer community boiling over” – as quoted from this nice little beginner’s article on the subject that you can find here: http://www.bustle.com/articles/38742-what-is-gamer-gate-its-misogyny-under-the-banner-of-journalistic-integrity. Now, to be honest, I could go on and on about this topic for quite a long time but I’m really going to try to stay as broad as possible – as not to alienate and/or bore my readers and also because I have other topics to cover. Additionally I want to admit that I’m already inherently biased on this topic because I am turned off by the whole concept of gaming to begin with. That being said, I have a lot of male friends (and I’m sure some female friends, though I can’t actually think of any off hand) who are into the gaming world and who happen to be great people with full lives and open minds so I’m not going to accuse ALL gamers of the following opinion. The thing is, I find that this world is a breeding place for escaping from human intimacy and is dominated by people who are troubled and unable to have basic human relations and use the gaming world as a hideaway while spewing their rage at a world that has been cruel or unfair to them. In some way, this tugs at my heart because I was really lucky growing up. My parents encouraged traveling and pushed me to participate in the world and instilled in me a certain type of bravery about stepping outside of my comfort zone – but not everyone has that. And honestly, some people are not inclined towards that anyway, which isn’t the worst thing in the world…. but when you are closing yourself off to being out there in the world, in a way you are not allowing yourself to be empathetic or compassionate about other walks of life.

Now, when you feel like an outsider and you find a community of other outsiders, it makes sense to gravitate towards that world… and when that world is suddenly invaded by other people – people, it feels in your mind, who caused you to retreat to this world in the first place – it also makes sense that you would lash out. I sort of get it. But where it starts to get sticky is when this “lashing out” is specifically aimed towards a group of people who just want to love the same world that you love. I mean, it’s more complex than that but the irony of creating a world away from the people who have abused you only to turn YOUR world into another version of the world you yourself are trying to escape from – that’s where my empathy disappears. But I guess hate begets hate and so on and so forth. And where does it end? How does it end?

The issues surrounding #gamergate aren’t new. I remember expressing my issues with the sexism inherent in the gaming world ages ago but I think a) the media is latching onto it because of the previously mentioned focus on The War on Women and b) women are finally speaking out more about this sexism more because the media is finally starting to give a shit (or at least they know what their readers want to see).

I’m going to jump tracks now. I’m not even going to bother posting the link here because I don’t think anyone reading this hasn’t seen it by now – and if you haven’t, a quick Google search will pull it up right away – but… the speech Emma Watson gave before the U.N. recently. Before continuing, I want to state that I think that it was quite brave for her to go in front of so many people – really, in front of the world – and to express her passion for women’s rights through the HeforShe campaign. I’ve felt for a long time that feminism, in its most recent form, just doesn’t work and needs some serious rebranding – and I think that maybe this is a step in the right direction. There are many reason why I feel this way but one of the biggest problems I have with it (and the very name of the campaign, after further thought truly says it) – it feels less focused on gender equality and more focused on a) drilling the definition of feminism to the general public and b) making sure we understand just how victimized women have been and continue to be. I know some people feel put off by my opinion – and that’s fine, I’m not trying to defend my opinion or make others feel the same way that I do – but the way that modern feminists represent themselves is polarizing. I’m not saying that I believe in the supposed man-hating that they’re accused of – that’s just pure fucking ignorance – but I do think that sexism is very real for so many groups and the feminist world doesn’t feel very welcoming. It’s just a perception of course and at a certain point, if you want to gain any steam for your cause, you need to stop screaming at people about what the “truth” of feminism is and find ways to be more inclusive. Also, there are a lot of feminist ideals I can get behind, obviously. But I don't identify myself as a feminist…. and yet, every time I have ever had a conversation about how I don’t identify myself as one to a feminist, the conversation always goes the same way: a long lecture on the history of the movement and how if I’m not part of the solution then I’m part of the problem. I’m absolutely not saying that every feminist has this stance – I want to be crystal clear on that – but I’m also not talking about one or two examples here. Or even three or four. And that, my friends, is a real problem. No, I don’t identify myself as a feminist but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about gender equality and it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to do my part to help us all move forward. There is a sort of defensiveness to this. Instead of just accepting a person’s belief system or limitations in how far they are willing to commit to a movement and finding ways to educate them in the ways that they could help in some aspects of the movement, concentrating on feverishly defending the movement as a whole seems counterproductive.

At the end of the day, a person cannot take in every single cause that they come across. That goes back to my original thought – having a balance when it comes to living your life and caring about the world around you. There are many issues I feel passionate about – being active in our communities, AIDS awareness, and artistic rights are paramount to me but I can’t force others to care about these issues the way that I do. Providing them with ways to help is the best thing we can do – creating tangible ways to be part of the solution. And in my experience, limited though it may be, this isn’t how my interactions with feminists have been.

But really, the fact that these conversations are happening at all is great – because that’s where it starts. It can’t stop with a cursory critique, either. I would be just as bad if all I had to say was, “Feminism isn’t working,” and just stopped caring. What’s that solving? All I can do is just continue to educate myself and continue the conversation as much as I can, right? And discover ways to be active. More balance.

So anyway, when I first came up with the idea of this post, I was angry and ready for fire and brimstone – and then an amazing thing happened…. I took a step back and realized that I have the habit of losing myself a little bit in my passions and so this brings me back to my original thought: what does it all mean? I am all for doing my part to improve the world in whatever small way I can but at what cost? This isn’t taking away from the importance of the issues mentioned above or the many other issues that exist that need our attention but, as a society, can we take a moment and realize that the whole point of any of this – of all of it – is to create a world of peace and prosperity. No matter what your political or philosophical stance is, I would hope that most people at least want that (keeping in mind that peace and prosperity mean different things to different people). And if we’re always angry and always shaking our fits and calling our leaders idiots and criticizing movements we may not full understand or wallowing in everything that is going wrong or could go wrong…. when do we have time to accept the good that is already surrounding us? I’m rambling, I do that, but I guess I’m wondering if anyone has figured this all out and if they can give me any clues. I want to care but I don’t want to despair and I don’t know how to separate the two things.

There are so many issues that we need to take on full force. So many things that really break my heart or fill me with rage aimed towards injustice but where can I find peace?

Just some musings I’ve been having. Thoughts, my readers, my friends? I’d love to hear them!

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Brief Note on Joy

I have a glass of wine next to me and I’m listening to the vinyl of West Side Story (given to me for my most recent birthday but a good friend). Also, I only got a couple hours of sleep last night and I’m forcing myself to stay awake for at least the next hour so I that I don’t wake up randomly at like 3 am. I’m putting all that out there before continuing so you understand that I might be feeling a bit punchy at the moment.

With the season changing and the air cooling and an impending trip to Italy on the horizon, I have a lot to look forward to. Sweater weather, day trips to pumpkin patches, the holiday season, visiting friends, and disconnecting over Christmas with my family! I know that this holiday season will be difficult, for sure – I miss my father deeply and I cannot imagine what the season will be like without him – but there is also a feeling of peace that I haven’t had for years. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas over the last couple of years has had a certain weight to it, a pressure like, “Is this Dad’s last one? We have to make it AMAZING!” Nothing ever felt like it was enough and with his health getting progressively worse and with alarming speed towards the end, there was always a darkness hanging over us. But the great thing is we’re no longer presented with so much physical suffering and, as for the loss, I have a crazy huge support system to help me through it. I know it’ll be hard but my father LOVED the holidays, to a near obnoxious level (just so you know where I get it from), and was OBSESSED with making sure his kids always had better ones than the when he was growing up. It would be a dishonor to his memory to let it pass without a degree of excitement that he would be proud of.

And with the turn of a new season, I have created a new playlist to fit my calmer state of mind and the slight chill entering the air. Lots of Miles Davis and Ben Harper and Wilco and Nina Simone and Simon & Garfunkel. Nat King Cole. Louis & Ella. Neko Case. Music is always the best way to compliment my psyche and keep it on the right track.

Also, this is the one and only time of year that makes me momentarily forget my West Coast pangs because the weather doesn't get better than this, right? It does make me miss my years in Boston a little, though.

In general, I’m pretty happy. Embracing the joy. Loving my current path. Moving in the right direction. Yay for proper footing and positive outlooks! Hugs all around. Kumbaya and all that shit.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ode to Bibliophilia: Ten Book That Have Influenced My Life



I'm going to take a break from posting something super sad and depressing, despite the events of this past summer. Instead... I'm going to answer a Facebook post that my amazing friend Caraline tagged me in - name 10 books that have influenced my life. So appropriate, as I'm just starting a new creative writing course and I have books on the brain.

I was simply going to respond with a list of books, no explanations, on Facebook but then I realized that I needed people to understand how and why some of these books have impacted my life - in good and bad ways. And because I'm the most verbose human ever, the response on Facebook I was getting ready to post was obscenely long. (PS - didn't Facebook used to limit the amount of characters we were allowed to use? I feel like they did. I probably need those reins.)

Anyway without further ado, my ten picks below - feel free to hit me with your feedback:


1. 

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: read this book later in life but it stuck with me for weeks after reading it, haunted me almost like the subject of the book had haunted Capote those last years of his life. To this day is almost always one of the first books I recommend when someone is looking for a really good book to read. Makes you understand that sometimes in life things just happen that are senseless and also people are more than the worst or best thing that they have ever done. All people are capable of all things.


2. 


On the Road by Jack Kerouac: I feel like kind of a tool for picking this book but honestly…. this was one of the first books that made me interested in creative writing because it made me realize that it’s OK for the words on a page to come out exactly like the thoughts in your head and it would still be interesting and compelling – at least for me. Also it made me feel like it’s OK to kind of question what the American dream actually means.

3. 

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll: a set of books I love so much that I based a dissertation on it. Incidentally, I've never read any book more times than I have read Through the Looking-Glass. I still have the ratty old copy that my dad bought me when I was about 8 years old and I still have the VHS Disney version of the movie even though I don't have a working VCR. The magic of youth and discovering new worlds! This is all me all the way.


4. 



Maus by Art Spiegelman: this book taught me about the power that a graphic novel could be capable of – that it could be more than just superheroes and the like (not that I don’t love a good superhero comic book because I definitely do). One of the best pieces of literature I have ever read regarding the Holocaust and one that has stayed with me for years.

5. 

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry: I can’t even convey to you the importance of this book to me. There aren't enough words. I grew up with my parents (my mom, in particular) reading this to me. My grandfather used to read that book to my mom and her siblings. It sparked my sense of adventure and wanderlust, my love of seeing new places and finding new things.  Probably the single most influential book of my childhood.

6. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare: I love much humor I found in this, even when I was 15 years old and bitter about all the books that were being forced upon me (even though I secretly actually loved having books forced upon me). It’s the first Shakespeare play I ever read and still my favorite. People always would tell me how dark his work was when I was in high school and I’m glad this was my introduction.


7.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon: this is actually not my favorite book of his (that would be Wonder Boys) but this book, even though I am not a boy, made me think about my best friend in elementary school whom I still write letters to. And how much we've been through together. And how even though we don’t really see each other and aren't really even in each other’s lives anymore, we've been through a lot and she helped to shape me into the person I am today. We made this really horrible series of comic strips together (Miss Lilly Pad, a story about a really rambunctious sassy frog who was probably 15% Kermit, 30% Disney Princess and 55% Carmen Sandiego). We would camp out in our backyards and stay up at all hours of the night working on this ridiculous thing. It caused us to fight. It caused us to laugh. We cried and we yelled at each other. During the process of making these comic strips – the years we devoted to it – so many things happened in our lives. Deaths occurred in our families (my grandparents, her mother). Boys broke our hearts and we broke theirs. Also we both had parents (my mom is Italian and her mom was Swiss) who were pretty much immigrants and instilled in us the traditions of our families that date back centuries. I don’t know. I saw a lot of our friendship in this book; I related to it a lot. So much so that after I read it, I shipped her a copy as well with a note that said, “Miss you, Clay. Love, Kavalier”. Goodness I can’t believe I wrote so much about this one! Makes me want to re-read it (again).

8.


The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende: one of the most beautifully written books I have or will ever read in my life. It’s the first book I ever read, as an adult, from cover to cover in one sitting. It’s the book that re-ignited my love for literature post-college when I was feeling kind of burnt out on reading in general. Highly recommended.


9.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway: I’m actually going to list a book because for better or worse (read: WORSE), this book was the first book to teach me what I do NOT want in literature. A) I don’t need serious action to happen but I need something compelling to take place. B) I need characters I can relate to on some level, any level. C) I need you to not stick Christ symbols down my throat the whole time. Horrible horrible book. Horrible! It’s the first book I actually remember being able to identify, as a piece of literature, that I didn't like it and I could solidly discuss why. Frankly I could devote an entire blog post to it, if I really felt like it (but this book has already stolen too much of my time as it is).


10.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley: I took a lot from this book but the biggest thing I took from it is the importance of individuality and putting yourself and your people before the systems that our “leaders” force onto us. Do I think that every system that exists is evil or the purpose is always to take away our freedoms? No. But I do think we have a responsibility to ask the hard questions and to push back when the systems DO take away our freedoms as human beings – and pacifism isn't always the way. Sometimes you have to be willing to risk a lot to gain a lot. I thought this book was going to be a very angry one but honestly it was passionate but actually more pragmatic and spiritual than anything else. A surprising and beautiful read.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Post Father's Day Reflections

Last Sunday night I start writing a post about my dad for Father’s Day and I couldn't quite bring myself to finish it. I have a lot of “feels” happening right now in terms of our relationship and part of it is I know that I have some unresolved issues there. As I’m sure most of you readers know or have assessed, my parents are divorced. In most of my posts about my parents, I really only talk about the good things – and there are a lot of great memories and experiences I've shared with them – but the truth of the matter is a lot of it wasn't so magical. There were times of music and levity and comical road trips and holiday movie marathons. But there was also a lot of fighting and a lot of my father not being around, especially during my teenage years.

Let me back up a bit and give a little background into my father, if you’ll indulge me. My dad grew up in rural Louisiana, in his younger days – before experiencing his own parental slit up (though I don’t think they ever officially got divorced). His parents had an incredibly volatile marriage and his father was prone to alcoholic-induced bouts of violence. His parents had met during a turbulent war time and like many couples of the time, got together probably too quickly – before really knowing each other – and had a baby (that never quite made it to term)/got married. My grandfather got injured during WWII – a topic he did not like to discuss – and when he was sent back home, he wasn't the same jovial, loving person my grandmother had fallen head over heels for. He was angry a lot and, as cliche as this may sound, haunted by things he had seen while he was stationed in Tunisia. I cannot even imagine what this must have been like for him – understanding, in a way I would never know, the horrors that humans are capable of inflicting on one another. Today, it would be clear to anyone that he was living with PTSD but in 1943 he was expected to just go home and continue on with the status quo and pretend that everything was fine.

This resulted in years of night terrors, violence, and drunken benders. I think, however, the worst part, is that some rare days he would show glimmers of his old self. He’d play some old tunes on the phonograph and dance with my grandmother just because. He’d pick her daisies. He’d take her on a road trip to New Orleans and treat her to a nice dinner. It didn't happen often but it happened often enough that she really thought maybe maybe they had a chance and he could be whole again. When she got pregnant again, this time with my father, she thought that this would be enough to inspire my grandfather into staying happy and healthy. Unfortunately, that’s not how PTSD works – it doesn't just get better on its own. So their family was ultimately doomed to crash and burn.

Anyway, fast forward – by the time my dad was five or six, his father’s bouts of “good days” had disappeared entirely. He was frequently abusive, both physically and verbally – and never, not in all his 82 years, did he ever acknowledge the permanent damage he inflicted on my dad. When my dad was 12 years old, my grandmother decided she’d had enough. She had a bruised eye and a sprained wrist and she was afraid that next time he would kill her or my dad. So she packed a suit case, got together every last dime she had, and in the blistering heat of the summer of 1960, she and my dad got onto a bus and traveled all the way to Sandwich, Massachusetts – where her sisters lived, cleaning houses for the upper crust of Cape Cod. She worked 5 jobs in order to take care of my dad and struggled and sacrificed so my dad, feeling like he was a burden, enlisted in the Navy the second he was of age so that he could stand on his own two feet. And through the Navy, when he ended up on leave in Rome (years later, obviously), he met my mom. Talk about history repeating itself, am I right? Another whirlwind romance, another unhappy marriage.

I know this story is getting super long now and you probably want me to get to my point. So I’ll make it: my dad grew up with only one true goal in life – to not become his father. To some people, that would mean that they would try to be the very best father figure they could be. To my dad, who never really wanted to be a parent because he was so afraid of how terrible he would be at it, his solution was to NOT be a father figure at all – but to be best buddies with his children. It seemed fun when I was a kid – he let me live in a tent in the back yard for an entire summer, he let me watch whatever I wanted on TV (no matter how graphic), he’d take me on trips to Tijuana, he would sneak me into concerts when I was like thirteen… he encouraged every single indulgence I had, every single one, always. And while I do think that parents should let their kids make mistakes and live and learn through them, he had almost a pathological aversion to refusing us ANYTHING, regardless of how dangerous it may be. My brother once “borrowed” the car when he was 15 (well before he had a driver’s license) and was pulled over by the cops. When he was returned to our house, my dad was very “boys will be boys” about it despite the fact that the cop told him he was pulled over because he almost hit a person in the crosswalk because he was going too fast and panicked and almost didn't stop in time. My dad laughed it off, as usual.

Also, my dad was gone a lot. He traveled all the time and when he was home, he preferred to spend his time at the office or going on hunting trips with his buddies. It was one of the biggest things my parents fought about. To my dad, however, he wasn't yelling or hitting us so he was succeeding as a parent. In my teen years, I started to resent him for it. My parents had divorced and he wasn't interested in sticking around to deal with the fallout so he moved back to California (we were in VA at this time) and there was a solid two years of radio silence, except for the occasional birthday card/check. I had a lot of anger about that time and it’s nothing we ever discussed. I came to terms with it through therapy and just… accepting that our parents are people too and they screw up and while I wish things had been different, life isn't perfect. When I got older, he would tell me how he would have done some things differently but when a parent acknowledges how they’d screwed up where you were concerned, it’s hard to really convey to them what it was like for you.

But, even so… there are things that I’ve always wanted to talk to him about, even if it’s just to let him know that I understand why he was the way that he was when I was growing up and while it makes me sad, I’m okay and he’s okay and he’s still my hero and always will be. He is a person that grew up with so much adversity and he pulled himself up out of nothing and he joined the Navy, put himself through law school, and started his own practice. He taught me the power of self-reliance and resilience. He didn't support every single decision I ever made, but he supported my right to make my own choices every time. He showed me what it meant to be independent. I put myself through college and learned how to support myself without any real financial backing from him (or either of my parents, really) and it has been really hard but thank God for it because I wouldn't be the person I am today otherwise.

I guess I’m not sure exactly what I’m trying to say. My intention isn't to paint an ugly portrait of my father – mostly to show him as a whole person, who had faults and weaknesses like anyone else. He is an amazing person but he is also a person who was screwed up by some things growing up and never really shook it off.

That being said, over Father’s Day week, I did a list of songs that reminded me of my dad.  I stopped midweek not because I forgot or lost interest…. but I was concerned that I was giving everyone an unrealistic depiction of my dad. Saying bad things about him at this juncture is pointless but I don’t think it’s doing a favor to anyone by acting like growing up with him was nothing but Cosby Show-esque larks. Also, creating the list was getting harder and harder the closer I came to Father’s Day…. but I think it’s important for me to finish this, for better or worse. So without further ado:

Day #5:

“Today I Sing the Blues” by Aretha Franklin: This was chosen because it was a song that my mother listened to a lot whenever she and my dad were fighting. I get that from her – feeling my sadness at its fullness through music. Anyway, I knew whenever I heard that song that my dad would be gone for a few days. Towards the end of their marriage, during my 13th and 14th years, I heard this song a lot. I remember very distinctly the last time I ever heard this song. My parents had a particularly big row in the backyard and my dad, who to this day probably doesn't realize I was awake and could hear every word, said to my mom, “You make me feel like I’m a prisoner in my own life.”

And when he left the house, storming away from his prison, my mom went to her room and played this song just one time and I never heard her play it again.

It should probably be said that my dad saying those words stuck with me for a very long time. Again, I’m not trying to paint him as a villain, but there’s a reason why I gravitate towards shows like Mad Men and books like Revolutionary Road so deeply – because I feel like they give me insight into my father that has been hard for me to pick up on my own.

Day #6:

“Singin’ in the Rain” by Gene Kelly: Now this song is my happy song. It’s a lot of people’s happy song, actually. And while, yes, it does make me happy… I also recall that it is the song that I was listening to when my dad called me to tell me that his father had passed away – of cancer (surprise surprise) of the lungs. My dad, at the end, had tried to find peace with his father and never quite found closure. I was living in New Mexico at the time and it was a very… difficult conversation. I remember every word of that conversation: he said, “He’s gone, Natacia. My dad’s gone.” I had never heard him sound like such a kid and never did again. We chatted briefly about how I was going to come out to New Orleans (where my Grandpa was living when he passed away) and I’d help him with funeral arrangements – though my mother, who actually came all the way out from Italy, decided to take the brunt of that responsibility (their relationship was complicated). At the end of the conversation, my dad was almost laughing when he remarked, “Old coot had to hurt me just one list time, didn’t he?” Nothing my father has ever said pained my heart as much as that did. Nothing. And sadly, part of me always thinks of that whenever I hear “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Day #7:

And for my Father’s Day selection… “Christmas (Baby PleaseCome Home)” by Southside Johnny Lyons: Here’s the thing. Christmas was a big deal in my family. A really really  big deal. We barely acknowledged birthdays or any other holiday. Growing up, my mom had a very strict household (I can’t even get into all the things screwed up about her relationship with her own parents, that’s its own blog post) but Christmas the one time a year that joy was overflowing in her family’s home. My dad, on the other end, had mostly bad memories of Christmas growing up. His father was always particularly agitated when the holidays came around and even after they left him, his mother was often working too much to actually spend much time with him. (Not to mention the one Christmas my mom sent my father to stay with his father over the holidays, after the separation, and my father left my dad alone on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to go on a fishing trip with his buddies. My dad was utterly alone, in a relatively unfamiliar place, and the only food he had to eat was stale bread and eggs. Happy Holidays, one and all!)

Anyway, one of our regular Christmas movies to watch while growing up was Home Alone. This was my dad’s favorite to watch (until the year that it was banned from rotation due to the 1994 year of watching it every single day during winter vacation) and he even bought the soundtrack on tape and would play it often over the holidays during dinner or while putting up decorations. Then our old tape deck, much like the bit in How I Met Your Mother, wouldn't spit it out and would play “Please Come Home for Christmas” repeatedly. It drove my mom C-R-A-Z-Y but my dad seemed to never get sick of it. One of the best years of my childhood was 1992 and that Christmas was one of the best. My parents were still in denial about the problems in their relationship or at least hadn't realized how deep their problems were – and my dad worshiped the ground I walked on. That Christmas, he danced with us a lot. He didn't disappear with his drinking buddies. He didn't make excuses about needing to work late. He cherished every moment with us. One Sunday morning when we were listening to the soundtrack again, after church, my mom begged my dad to just put in a record – anything other than that song – so he turned it off and pulled my mom away from the omelets she was trying to make. He told her that if this was the worst thing she had to deal with then they had a pretty great life and then he started singing “Please Come Home for Christmas” as they danced in the kitchen and my brother was complaining how his eggs were getting burned.

It’s a bittersweet memory because while that was wonderful and I was so lucky to have such a wonderful Christmas with such a wonderful family… it was the last year I truly felt the magic of the season. I love Christmas very much but every year after that was harder and harder because my parents’ marriage slowly deteriorated until it finally imploded. Every year, I feel like part of me keeps trying to recreate the magic from that one Christmas even though I know it’ll never happen again. I know it’s better to look forward rather than stay locked in the past but sometimes it’s harder than you’d expect.


So yes – I will take the good with the bad. Because, as I like to say, a person is more than the worst thing that they've ever done… and all people are capable of wonderful and terrible things. It’s about degrees, I suppose, and all things considered, I still think I was pretty lucky. And perhaps I’ll never receive the exact type of closure I've wanted, a part of life is acceptance and I think I’m getting there – slowly but surely.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Making Life Wonderful: The Bailey Effect

Over the last few months, I've discovered a few things about myself:
  1. I’m a bit more prone to body hate than I would like. But I’m trying to be better about loving myself. 
  2. I've become more and more introverted – or at least, I find more joy out of one-on-one experiences and nights in with a small group of close friends than going out on the town with big groups for crazy adventures. 
  3. I don’t read enough anymore – I average maybe one or two books a month and that realization has made me very sad. And really, the books I am reading aren't exactly modern classics. 
  4. I think I may officially be done with cigarettes, even at my drunkest moments, as they only serve to make me physically ill. Which I guess is good but odd. 
  5. While I love learning and schooling more than works can say… I've become less and less career-focused and more focused on what I can do in my community and what I can take away from my classes. I no longer care about “moving up” or getting more money because whenever I have made decisions based on those desires, things have always gone downhill for me in some way.

None of this is ground breaking information, I guess, but it goes to show how people are constantly changing and how we’re constantly learning more things about ourselves. Every time someone asks me what I plan to get out of school, I feel like my answer changes a little bit more each time and now I can honestly say that it’s not career-motivated at all because I don’t think I really care about that anymore. To the average person, that probably sounds ridiculous. Why would one go through this much schooling if it didn't impact their career? It’s a valid question and I get why one would find it a waste of time. But the act of learning and growing as a human being is where I’m see the value. And I’m finding more and more that I see the value of life outside of the office and I care less and less about the “daily grind” that I have to go through to get a pay check. That isn't to say that I don’t care about a decent work ethic – I still believe in putting my all into whatever project falls in my lap. It’s just… life is so big and so short that getting emotional and drained by the portion of it that matters the least seems so backwards.

I guess these are the sort of things I think about when there’s personal crises in my life. It really puts things in perspective.

The truth of it: as lame and obvious as this may sound, I’m really embracing the idea that life is about the journey and not about the end result. My whole life, I've been chasing things and never finding the happiness in it that I've expected:
  1.  Get a great GPA and go to a good school. 
  2. Graduate from said school and move onto a job. 
  3. Get the job and make money enough to own your place (though I never quite made it there).

I've been so laser focused on doing well not because I should just… want to succeed but because it was constantly leading to the next step. And that step leads to the next step and that one leads to the next step and the process never ends until… I die? What the fuck?

School has been great because it forces me to push my mind to places that stay dormant otherwise. Spending time with my close knit group of friends is wonderful because they both force me to question ideas that I've been holding onto for most of my life and to just shut off my brain and live in the moment and LAUGH. My family has been wonderful at keeping me grounded and telling me what I need to hear even when I don’t want to hear it – and you really need those kinds of people in your life sometimes. Volunteering has really forced me to understand the value of our community and being involved in it and also that the world is bigger than our own personal trials and tribulations (though we shouldn't take this to me we’re not allowed to own our pain as well).

My job has really just come a place where I need to get things done for a few hours out of my day so that I can afford to do the things above that I actually care about.


I’m never going to be a wealthy person. I’m always going to be scrambling by, perhaps. And you know what? That’s OK because I plan on filling my life with the things that really matter. I think after years and years and years of watching/loving/obsessing over It’s A Wonderful Life, the message is finally starting to sink in. Call me “Ms. Bailey” because I’m reworking my priorities and feeling pretty good about it.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Body Loathing and Acceptance

I have a very honest and embarrassing admission to make, you guys. And I felt like it's one that actually requires the rare blog post:

I hate my body.

Now, admitting this is hard for several reasons. Reason #1: I already make a big deal about how pro female empowerment I am and how much I'm against distorted female body images in mainstream media. Reason #2: Two years ago, I was very much on a very healthy path as far as having a strong exercise routine and great food habits and this has completely been thrown away over the course of this past year and it makes me feel like a failure. Reason #3: This has all resulted in igniting my previously dormant body-related depression that I thought I had overcome a decade ago.

This disgust that has grown inside of me and, until recently, has been one I've been able to poke fun at. I see the rolls and flab that have appeared on my body and I've laughed about what a "fat ass" I am and follow it up by eating a plate of nachos. I say things like, "Yep! Still single!" because clearly the reason is because no guy would want someone who looks like how I look in a swimsuit... and so I go to the local pub and get an order of wings. I have a hard day at work and feel like I'm not where I want to be in my life and I change into a pair of sweat pants as soon as I get home and I feel disgusting and decide why not have a pint of gelato for dinner? I post on Facebook about it and make myself a punchline and everyone laughs with me and it seems like it's OK because at least I have a sense of humor about it.

But the truth is I don't find it funny. Over the last couple of months, especially, I've been less willing to poke fun and more prone to laying in bed wondering if I'll always hate myself this much.

Every once in a while I'll tell my friends or family how I feel (though I won't go as far as using the "H" word) and they'll say things like, "Shut up! You look amazing!" or "You have a great figure!" You know, something like that. But then I look at them and all I can see is how great they look and it makes me feel like a charity case somehow. Because the truth is... and this is something I've said recently in regards to something else entirely but it still applies... no one can make you feel worthwhile. You have to be willing to feel that way about yourself and the awful truth is I don't know how to get back to that place again.

Now, part of the problem is I have other things going on in my life right now and one way I've always found comfort is by eating. But that's a dangerous path because while eating ten Oreo cookies may feel amazing while I'm doing it, it only leads to feelings of self-loathing which then.... causes me to eat more and the spiral goes on forever.

I would also like to acknowledge that intellectually I understand that I am not actually "fat" - or what our society generally considers "fat." I'm about 5'2 and I weigh around 130 lbs. That's pretty average. Also, being that I live in a city, I walk quite a bit (not to mention that I go on adventures with my dog fairly often) and I'm a regular member of Washington Sports Club and I take archery classes out in Bethesda... so I'm pretty active. Hating my body isn't about just looking at myself and telling myself I'm fine. I can do that all day everyday but if I can't allow myself to believe it, it doesn't matter.

So recently I decided that maybe if I really take care of my body, everything would turn around. I've been making my own food more often, eating more salads, running in the mornings before work, signing up for more classes at the gym. Granted, I've only started doing this over the last couple of weeks (prompted, I'll admit, by the dreaded bathing suit season) but for the most part this has done little for my self esteem and more for making me see how little progress I'm actually making and giving me more reason to be disappointed in myself whenever I slip up and eat a cookie.

Then last week, I found two things on the internet: an article by Sarah Silverman in Glamour Magazine about women needing to shut the fuck up and love themselves and an amazing Huff Post articles/video about a woman making a documentary on the hate women feel about their bodies because of the pressure society puts on them. Neither of these things are ground breaking but I was in a place where I really really needed to hear these things and I didn't even realize how much so. I was feeling pretty defeated but seeing these things really made me feel less alone at a time where my self-loathing was making me feel kind of isolated and ashamed.

Now I'm not going to say that some miracle has happened and I woke up today and looked in the mirror and suddenly saw a goddess. However, I'm feeling less angry at myself and more focused on other things. This isn't to say that I don't care about eating healthy or exercising anymore.... I'm just feeling a little less desperate about it and that's one step in the right direction. Hopefully, I can look at myself one day and see myself the way I see the people I love (as beautiful and courageous) and I'll care less about how slim I look in whatever new dress I've bought myself because life is too short to be obsessed about how Hollywood and Vogue Magazine is telling you to look. The Powers That Be gave me some curves and some would consider that a gift! And as Sarah Silverman says, "If we were half as nice to ourselves as we are to any fucking stranger on the street, we'd be winning."