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All the Sad, Funny Men

2015 May 21

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I’m a sucker for the ends of things. Why else did I find myself on my couch until 1 am last night, watching David Letterman’s last late night show? I like Letterman–I even went to a live taping of the show when I lived in New York (Juliana Marguiles was the guest, and some athlete, and that terrible country band I can never remember the name of…not the most epic show, but still a fun experience). But I’m not what you would call a Fan. There were a few periods when I was a teenager that I would stay up late and watch his show before I went to bed, but that’s the most regular I’ve been in my Letterman viewership. I liked that he was weird and irreverent and didn’t always make sense. But beyond that, I didn’t really know (or care) that much about him. Nonetheless, all of the buzz surrounding this retirement drew me in and I watched, sucked in by nostalgia for a time I was barely alive for–Dave’s been on the air since before I was born. I got home at 11:30 after a night out with friends, and I wasn’t tired, so I stayed up and watched.

But while I watched, there was some nagging feeling pulling at me–there have been allegations that Letterman behaved inappropriately with female employees during his reign. Similarly, I’ve been struggling this week with what to think about the allegations against Louis C.K., a comic I’ve admired and also seen perform live. I know that just because Gawker puts up an article doesn’t mean it’s true, but I also cringe at the sheer number of males in power who are accused of taking advantage of female employees, reporters, colleagues, strangers, etc. It’s not a coincidence, and it’s especially jarring when the accusations come against someone whose work you genuinely admire.

One summer a few years ago, I watched Manhattan outdoors in Brooklyn Bridge Park, the movie that mythologized the city backdropped against the very skyline in its logo. It was one of those magical New York experiences that make living there ALMOST worth it, sometimes.

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As we walked home, Joe & I talked about Woody Allen. This was before the revelations of the Dylan Farrow case were in the news (again). I talked about how much I enjoy his movies (Annie Hall is one of my favorites, or was) and how conflicted his behavior (I was thinking primarily of his relationship with Soon-Yi, his wife’s adopted daughter, who was just 17 when they began their romantic relationship) made me feel. We talked about art vs. the artist, and how one should stand separately from the other. Normally, I believe this, but where’s the line? If Hitler had actually been the talented artist he’d wanted to be, and still did all he did, would we be able to look at his paintings and think, “How beautiful”? I really don’t think so. At least, I couldn’t.

So, it’s difficult for me to look at these laughing, powerful men, and not cringe at what happens behind the scenes. And yet, I still watch Louie. I still watched Letterman’s farewell. I still read Hemingway and Updike and Roth and many other male writers who completely disparage women. And I can acknowledge their talent, even admire and enjoy it. But it makes me feel conflicted and a little dirty inside, a little ashamed. Can I watch a Woody Allen movie or a Louis C.K. stand-up routine or an old episode of The Cosby Show and still consider myself a feminist?

I don’t know, and it’s sad that it’s a dilemma faced by women everywhere. How do we reconcile our values and beliefs with those of a society in conflict?

What do you think? Are you able to separate the art from the artist?

 

Birthday Funk

2015 May 7

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It’s my birthday on Saturday and I’m in a funk. Not the Bruno Mars kind, unfortunately (or fortunately?). For as long as I can remember, I seem to descend into a semi-depression in the days leading up to my birthday, no matter what’s going on in my life. It’s nothing serious, just a little more angst than usual, but it’s a downer to feel sad on your birthday!

I’m turning 33 this year, which isn’t exactly a “big year,” unless you count the people that call it their “Jesus year” (but I prefer not to equate my birthday with crucifixion…I’m not THAT depressed). But even though it’s not really a culturally significant age, 33 strikes me as…well, it’s a little bit of a threshold. Closer to 35 than 30. One step further away from your 20s. And it’s not exactly that I even want to BE younger–it’s just easy to feel, especially around birthdays and holidays, when you’re single or unhappy in other facets of your life, that you’re not where you’re “supposed” to be. You know, that sweet spot that society tells us from a young age we’re supposed to end up: married, with a baby or two, in a nice house with a backyard for your puppy to run around in. And don’t forget that good job and list of creative accomplishments.

I’m not there. And it’s okay–I don’t actually WANT a house right now, or a baby (I’d take a puppy though!). And, let’s be honest, having a husband is not always what it’s cracked up to be (or maybe that was just in my case). I DO have a good job, which I’m incredibly fortunate to have, and lots of friends, whom I’m also incredibly thankful for. I’m working on those creative accomplishments….stay tuned.

I was talking to a good friend the other day and we were lamenting this void in our lives–the way we don’t feel adequate or quite fulfilled or accomplished. But, when I really think about what I’ve done and where I’ve been, it’s not a bad set of things for 33 years. So, in an effort to beat this funk and as a little birthday present to myself (though who am I kidding I’ll probably go shopping and buy some clothes too), I thought I’d write down 33 things I’ve accomplished in my little life. And here’s to hoping there will be more to come in the years ahead!

  1. Learned to walk (This may seem minor, but it was a BIG DEAL for me. Apparently, I walked around on my hands and knees until I was almost two years old. I’ve always been a slow learner).
  2. Learned to read (I don’t remember this process, but it amazes me every time I think about it. How our brains are able to process that kind of information at such a young age. And how vital it’s been in my life!)
  3. Made friends in high school that I still talk to all the time, nearly 20 years later
  4. Won first place in my school’s Young Author’s contest in 6th grade (Yeah, that’s right, I’m still proud of that.)
  5. Performed a dance to Copacabana at my high school’s talent show senior year (It wasn’t a REAL dance, but it was fun and I got to wear a sparkly gold dress with feathers. We got a standing ovation, also. Just saying.)
  6. Asked my high school crush to dance with me at senior prom even though I was TERRIFIED and basically never saw him again (this is actually a more complicated story, but it makes me all the more happy I did it).
  7. Put myself through college (though I’m still paying for it and will be FOREVER–I think that’s something to be proud of!)
  8. Spent my junior year in Italy, speaking a language that wasn’t my own, with people I didn’t know
  9. Bought and paid off a new car on my own (And she’s still going strong, ten years later!)
  10. Put myself through graduate school (A debatable decision, but at the time, it was what I needed, and it’s led me to where I am. Although I will still be paying THESE loans until after I’m dead.)
  11. Created and kept up with this blog!
  12. Have pursued my career goals and though I don’t have my DREAM job, I have what’s pretty close to it
  13. Overcame my extreme lack of physical ability to go to the gym regularly and stay somewhat physically fit
  14. Got two tattoos!
  15. Gave a talk at Harvard Bookstore, in front of an actual audience
  16. Challenged myself to write and keep writing….I’m working on the submitting part of it. Baby steps.
  17. Got married. (Though this didn’t end the way I would have liked [I mean, it ended...sooo], I’m still proud of the relationship and marriage we had, in a complicated way).
  18. Wrote and gave the eulogy at my grandmother’s funeral
  19. Worked my way from a marketing assistant to senior editor in seven years.
  20. Have built so many rewarding personal and professional relationships over the years.
  21. Have traveled to places I always wanted to see: London, Hawaii, Wyoming, New Mexico, California, Oregon, etc.
  22. Run 2 5K races…hoping to increase that number soon.
  23. Have thrown some pretty awesome parties.
  24. Survived a gut-wrenching divorce without falling apart completely or becoming bitter.
  25. Won first place in a story slam contest I didn’t even plan on entering.
  26. Am financially independent, though I’m working on that whole savings thing.
  27. Have edited several books I’m proud of, both professionally and semi-professionally (shout out to Rebekah Matthews!)
  28. Adopted Chief and loved him a lot and took good care of him.
  29. Cultivated my own sense of personal style.
  30. Learned to like beer.
  31. Have maintained a strong and close bond with my family (again, something I’m very lucky for!).
  32. Started a writing group that I’m really proud of and happy with.
  33. Continuing to hope and believe that things can only get better.

 

Ok, that was harder than I thought, to be honest. But, there’s a lot of good stuff there! I recommend making a list of stuff you’re proud of when you’re feeling down–or even if you’re not. It’s a good reminder that no matter where we are in life, we’ve all accomplished many things, and we’re works in progress.

 

 

The Power of Poetry

2015 April 30

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“Time doesn’t pass; it accumulates.”

I attended a reading last night given by Claudia Rankine at Emerson College. In her introduction, Professor Wendy Walters went back to that phrase several times–”Time doesn’t pass; it accumulates.” The statement articulated a frustration with the status quo, how the more we want to think we’ve made progress (Black President, Jay-Z, Empire), the more problems keep arising.  We can think we’re “looking back” at the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and congratulate ourselves on how far we’ve come. But all it takes is one look at the news and we’re right back to where we started–a place where there’s grave inequality and injustice and prejudice in this country, this country that so loudly proclaims its commitment to freedom and justice and equality.

I keep thinking this story, the story of Ferguson and Baltimore and countless other places, is not mine to tell. I know nothing of this pain and fear and sorrow–of Black Americans, of the police officers who don’t abuse their power, of anyone who’s been oppressed because of differences and assumptions. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t seek out those stories or experiences, and try to understand them, in my own limited way.

Again, in her introduction, Wendy Williams said that we turn to poetry in times of confusion and fear and grief. Poetry is one of our greatest tools for understanding, for trying to make meaning from the senseless, from the unbelievable. And that’s especially true of Rankine’s poetry in this moment. I felt very honored to be able to hear her read her poems during what is such a time of strife in America.

She began by showing a short series of videos she and her husband made (which you can watch yourself on her website). They were very moving, the words and images coalescing in a kind of symphony of grief. Then, she read some of her poems from her National Book Award-nominated collection, Citizen: An American Lyric. She also projected a series of images from the book, explaining why she had chosen certain images to help tell certain stories. There was a famous photo of a 1937 lynching, from which she’d erased the hanging bodies, saying she was more interested in the white complicity of the audience. There was a zooming in on the foreground of drowning slaves from the Turner painting Slave Ship. Again, the images and the words flowed together, all telling the story of how Black lives can have less meaning in this country, how we have a history of being capable of erasing an entire people.

The stories are still not mine to tell, but I consider it a privilege that I was able to listen, for one night, to one of the most gifted storytellers read her words. It was a reminder that language carries power and meaning. We can, and need to, learn so much.

Gilbert Blythe and the Fairy Tale Love Story

2015 April 22

Gilbert Blythe

Over the weekend, a Canadian actor named Jonathan Crombie passed away suddenly from a brain hemorrhage. He was 48. Though certainly not a household name, millions of women mourned the loss of the man who played Gilbert Blythe in the television adaptation of the Anne of Green Gables books.

As a young girl, I was obsessed with Anne of Green Gables. I read all of the books (there are 8!).  I was an introverted girl who loved to read and kept myself entertained with elaborate stories in my head, just like Anne. I loved the flowery descriptions of Prince Edward Island, the wild Canadian island where Anne lived. Though the book was written in 1908 and described a way of life completely foreign to a girl growing up in the American suburbs in the 1990s, Anne of Green Gables was beloved by nearly every girl friend I know. Perhaps like the Little House on the Prairie books (which I also loved), the books were appealing precisely because of the alien lives they described, lives punctuated by hardships and the romance of simpler bygone times.

Even so, I was a little bit surprised at the outpouring of emotion surrounding Crombie’s death. There was even an article in the New Yorker, titled aptly enough, Why We Loved Gilbert Blythe. Writer Sarah Larson sums it up beautifully–the way Gilbert was so many young girls’ first love, a sweet and funny and charming boy who won all our hearts, even though he had to work for Anne’s (which probably just made us love him more). I suppose it makes sense that the loss of the actor who physically embodied the character (because we ALL watched the movies…A LOT) would mean so much to people. In a way, his death made us look back at our childhoods, maybe even remembering our own first loves and relationships.

Gilbert Blythe was like a human version of the fairy tale Prince Charming we’d been told we should love since before we could speak. He was mischievous and flawed and our age. He wasn’t a cartoon. He wasn’t perfect–he had personality. And even though many of us probably weren’t lucky enough to have the real equivalent of Gilbert Blythe in our lives, it was nice to know he could exist, out there somewhere. Even I still believe in him, deep down.

 

Giving It Away

2015 April 13

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Maybe you’ve heard of Marie Kondo, the Japanese lifestyle guru who’s changing the way we think about our stuff. Or, maybe you haven’t. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is a global best-seller and is gaining renown everywhere you look. Even if you haven’t heard of her yet, if you start listening to conversations around you or looking at lifestyle blogs, you’ll see her influence. I haven’t read her book (yet), but from having read several articles and reviews, I know the main tenant of her philosophy is that you should only keep items that bring you joy.

It makes sense. Why would you keep anything that doesn’t make you happy? But when you stop and look at your possessions and really see them for what they are, you realize just how much junk we hold on to for the sake of just HAVING it.

Because I haven’t read the book, I haven’t embarked on any kind of involved purging project. However, I did host a clothing swap (my fourth!) at my apartment yesterday, which led me to go through my closet (and bookshelves) with a critical eye. In the past, I’ve often held on to items of clothing for sentimental value or because I’d paid a lot of money for them or I would probably fit into it again someday. This time, I did my best to ask myself if I was holding on to things for the wrong reasons and if that item of clothing really brought me joy.

So, into the bag went the green dress I’d worn to my rehearsal dinner. The pretty pink dress I’d bought in Brooklyn the morning of my wedding shower (and then worn again for dinner on the beach on my honeymoon) had to go too. And, perhaps most upsettingly, one of my favorite skirts of all time (immortalized in my blog header). Truthfully, a few of these items don’t fit me as well as they once did, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think of Joe every time I wore them (in fact, I haven’t worn the green dress or pink dress since the break up) also. So, much as I loved the items of clothing themselves, they didn’t make me happy anymore, and so it was undeniably time to let them go. Thankfully, the swap was the perfect venue to make sure these well-loved items went to a good home–not just left in a garbage bag in a Goodwill bin.

I wish I could get rid of everything that reminds me of him, but, annoyingly, he gave some really good gifts, and I can’t see giving up my Frye boots or DVF scarf any time soon…though I’m sure their time will come (probably when I’ve worn them threadbare).

Has anyone else struggled with what to do with gifts from an ex, or items that are tainted by painful memories? Have any of you read Marie Kondo’s book?