Free to be…you and me

I haven’t written anything in quite awhile, and I do apologize.  I could make a lot of excuses about how I’ve been living my life instead of writing about it, but the truth is that I have mostly been avoiding writing about some of the harder parts of my life, because I don’t want to drudge up a bunch of emotions.  Let’s call it emotional recall avoidance or something fancy like that.  I have even been avoiding writing in my own personal journal because I’d rather pretend everything is peachy than sometimes admit that it is not, or rather, I am not that at all.  It is easier to lie to oneself than to confront the truth, isn’t it?  Lies sound better but make you feel worse in the end, no matter how bad the truth makes you feel.  The lie delays the hurt, but also adds to it.

I know everyone is spending today reflecting on the past year, and I am no different in this regard.  New Year’s Eve is about looking backwards and forwards at the same time, planning out what to change or keep for the year ahead.  Other than our birthdays, it’s the only celebration of time itself; it is a call to be present in the here and now but ever mindful of the past and future.  We want more time to do the things we love or spend with people we love, we wish for less time spent on things and people who have or may hurt us.  We’re going to change everything in the new time given to us, so we all say each year.  Time is a valuable currency, and we’re all greedy for more.  We think a new year will solve all our problems, because we have three-hundred sixty-five new days to sort everything out, but life has a way of surprising us and filling up our days with events and people for which we never planned.

2015 resolution #1: get out of the city more

2015 resolution #1: get out of the city more

I could keep lying and say my year was capital and simply post all of the best parts on my Facebook to “keep up with the Joneses” as it were, but frankly, I’m a little exhausted with pretending my life is perfect and wonderful one-hundred percent of the time.  I’m not saying all of this to bum you out or to feel fatalistic, but because I want you to know it’s okay to not feel happy or “blessed” all the time.  It’s okay to feel morose or livid or terrified of the future.  It’s okay to admit to others (and especially to yourself) you really AREN’T “fine” or perfect (whatever THAT means to you).  I think we’re too obsessed with creating societal camouflage for ourselves; that is, creating a version of ourselves on and offline that looks better than maybe how we really feel or who we really are for the sake of “saving face.” I know I am so scared, sometimes, of really showing other people who I am, because I have been hurt deeply a few times.

Vulnerability makes us feel weak sometimes, yes, but I’ve also realized there is great strength in it too.  Recently, I was talking with someone very dear to me, and the conversation turned intensely personal.  He asked if I had ever been in an abusive relationship, and while the question took me by surprise, I felt safe enough to answer.  “Not that I am aware of,” I said, “why?”  He looked me directly in the eye and replied, “Because sometimes I will say something as a joke or whatever, and you’ll do a total 180 as though you’re afraid of having a differing opinion than me.  Your whole demeanor changes.  Did you know you do that?  You don’t have to ask permission to have an opinion, let alone to feel like you’re not allowed to disagree with someone ever.  It just seems like such contradictory behavior for who I think you really are.  I like who you really are, so why do you keep trying to change yourself for me?  It’s okay to be yourself; no one should make you feel otherwise.”

I felt so incredibly exposed, because I realized that I HAD been in an abusive relationship after all, and the abusive relationship was with MYSELF.  In the past year and a half, I have worked so hard to present myself to the world in certain ways that I have sacrificed and compromised too much of myself for the sake of others.  I have abused myself.  I have let boyfriends condescend to me and try to tell me what to think and believe.  I have let people in audition rooms make me think I am not good enough.  I have pretended I am fine when I have been falling apart inside because I have been so worried about burdening anyone else with my feelings.  The vulnerability I felt in that moment with my friend made me feel stronger than I have in months because I finally saw all of myself, but here was a person (among several I have currently in my life) who saw all of me too, and I felt relieved.  I felt relieved to be able to be vulnerable and flawed and human and to have all of it be accepted and encouraged and dare I say, loved, by someone else.  My “mess,” in all its glorious technicolor, is part of who I am, but he and others have helped remind me it’s not ALL of who I am either.

I’m not going to lie and say 2014 was my best year.  The first few months were spent in heartbreak and depression.  There were days I nearly fainted at work because I wasn’t eating; food seemed like the only thing I could control when I felt like the rest of my world was in chaos.  I cried myself to sleep every night.  I’d scribble horrible, dark thoughts in journals.  I found parts of myself I didn’t even know existed, and I would rather pretend didn’t.  I am not always such a nice person, and I found out I am capable of saying and doing some terrible things when I am pushed to my limits.  And I am still dealing with some of my anger now; anger at people who hurt me deeply.  I am often scared I am too much for any man because the last one made me feel that way.  I still worry my feelings, especially the ickier ones, are a burden to others.  I often feel lost and anxious when I think about the future because I’m not one-hundred percent sure of what I’m doing, especially when I see what others are doing (and trust me, I know comparison is the thief of joy, Roosevelt).  I know I have let some friendships wither a bit because I haven’t done enough to cultivate them, and for that and those friends, I am sorry.  And I do so, so wish I had had more time with my friend James; not a day goes by I don’t think of him and wonder if I had tried harder to reach out, would that have made a difference?  Would he still be here?

2015 resolution #2: more bike/beach trips!

2015 resolution #2: more bike/beach trips!

But like I said, life has a way of surprising us with people and events for which we never planned.  I have met so many people in the last year who have healed me and helped me and taught me things.  Many have made me laugh until I cried (which is a far better kind of crying than what I was doing at the beginning of 2014).  I found freedom in bicycling and going back to ballet class.  My church gave me solace and solidity when I needed it the most.  I saw so many amazing plays and musicals and ballets and concerts and movies, which reminded me how much I need and love creation.  2014 was the year I knew true despair and also true joy; in essence, I learned what it is to be human, and that is humbling.  But also freeing.  Not to get all Marlo Thomas-free-to-be-you-and-me on you, but when you finally let yourself BE yourself — the good parts and bad — all the weight is gone.  You are free.  It may mean not everyone likes you, but that’s okay, because the right ones will, and the wrong ones won’t.  It’s the wrong ones who make you feel like you need to lie about who you are and how you feel; they’re not worth it anyway.  They’re assholes.

I know you’re excited and hopeful about having a fresh start tomorrow.  Trust me, I understand how important and necessary a fresh start can be.  So many of us focus on remaking the outer parts of ourselves by pledging to go to the gym or eating better, and that’s fine, but the inner parts need love and attention too, sometimes even more so.  As someone who feels a bit like a phoenix this year, rising from the ashes of her own life, I ask you to check in with yourself once in awhile and really consider how YOU are doing. 

2015 resolution #3: stay present!

2015 resolution #3: stay present!

When someone asks you how you are, why not be honest and really tell them?  You’re not always “fine,” and that’s okay; believe me.  Let yourself be human, because that’s what you are, flaws and all!  I say this because I don’t think these things get said enough, and I know what it feels like to have to be “on” and “happy” all the time when maybe you aren’t.  Whoever you are reading this, know you, all the parts of you, are ENOUGH.

Stay present.  Love yourself.  Love others.  Seek peace.  Have a happy, truly happy, 2015.

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”  — F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Tempus fugit

I saw Richard Linklater’s extraordinary new film Boyhood opening weekend (at the always cool IFC Center here in Manhattan) and was treated to a Q&A with the man himself and his star, the miraculous Ellar Coltrane, following the film.  Chances are, you’ve probably been reading and hearing a lot about this film the last two weeks or so, and not without reason does it have a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  It is quietly moving, honest, and completely lovely; full of the real stuff of life that seems insignificant, but upon rumination, it is actually the important stuff.  It’s the stuff that shapes who you are.

Richard Linklater and Ellar Coltrane: changing the face of cinema, quite literally

Richard Linklater and Ellar Coltrane: changing the face of cinema, quite literally

And it got me thinking (and continuing to think as it is over a week ago I saw the film) about life.

But it also got me thinking about magic: both fictional and real.

Whether it’s coincidental or not, magic seems to be a recurring theme in the film.  In one scene, Mason’s mother (a sublime Patricia Arquette) reads from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets before bedtime.  In another scene, Mason and his sister, Samantha (played with feistiness by Lorelai Linklater), dress up and attend a midnight book party for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  They’re wide-eyed and excited, clutching their newly purchased books to their chests like precious treasure.  A third scene has Mason asking his father (the always reliably affable Ethan Hawke) about magic and elves.  “Right this second, there’s like, no elves in the world, right?” he asks tentatively.  And this propels his father into a wonderful moment of vocal philosophizing about the definition of magic itself.  He explains that magic could very well be the fact we have whales so huge you can swim through their arteries, but is that magic?  He doesn’t know.  When Mason asks again, this time a little more pointedly, his father answers, “Technically, no elves.”

Mason Jr. and his female friend = the new Jesse and Celine?

Mason Jr. and his female friend = the new Jesse and Celine?

The last scene of Boyhood features a now nineteen year-old Mason sitting on a rock in the wilderness of Texas with a girl he’s just met that day, his first of college.  They’re talking about life.  “You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment?” she asks. “I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.”  He replies, “Yeah, I know, it’s constant, the moments, it’s just — it’s like it’s always right now, you know?”  And just as he’s saying that, the sun is setting, and you know you’re glimpsing another fleeting, magical moment, but like Mason, you’re hopeful, because you know another one will come along if you ground yourself in the present.  And THAT right there got me thinking about another of my favorite Linklater films, Before Sunrise (really just that whole trilogy, but the first especially).  In a scene in that particular film which is all about seizing those fleeting moments, Celine says to Jesse, “If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something.”

"If there's any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it's almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt." - Celine

“If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.” – Celine

So is that magic?  Connecting with someone else on an almost spiritual level?  The kind of magic we’re accustomed to is often the kind associated with witches and wizards like Harry Potter where there are spells and people are transformed.  If you really think about it, all magic is about doing something to another person: cursing them, making them fall in love with you, changing them or yourself in some way.  The Oxford Dictionary defines magic in four ways:

  1. The power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.
  2. Mysterious tricks, such as making things disappear and appear again, performed as entertainment.
  3. A quality that makes something seem removed from everyday life, especially in a way that gives delight.
  4. Something that has a delightfully unusual quality.

So if we look at it this way, as magic being something that seems delightfully removed from everyday life that influences the course of the events in a life, then we really DO experience magic in the real world.  Mason’s father wasn’t wrong and neither was Celine: magic is very real and present.  I don’t think Richard Linklater featured Harry Potter in two scenes of Boyhood without reason; not only have the books changed the lives of millions of readers around the world in profound ways, but so too do Harry, Ron, and Hermione experience the magic of growing up, forging friendships, and discovering love (among other things like battling dark wizards and basically saving humanity).  Magic is ever present in all those milestones of life, big and small.

"We are the three best friends that anyone could have..."

“We are the three best friends that anyone could have…”

Celine and Jesse experience that magic as they wander the streets of Vienna, talking for hours and essentially falling in love.  I’ve written about it before, but we’ve all had those moments of connection with someone else.  It’s usually those moments we actually FEEL life happening to us and around us; we become acutely aware of our own mortality and the preciousness of it all.  It’s the thing where you feel infinite and finite at the same time.  Mason Jr. becomes aware of it at the end of BoyhoodCeline and Jesse know it too.  And so too do we when we allow ourselves to be swept up in those moments, to be seized by them the way Mason’s female companion posits during their conversation.  And those moments are also usually the ones that transform us with their magic, because our lives are never quite the same afterwards.  I just felt it late last Wednesday night as a guy and I recklessly climbed ladders to the roof of his office building just to look at the Empire State Building and essentially, each other.  To hold hands and talk about life, both of us sensing it was the start of something new and treating that beautiful fragility with reverence and wonder, because we know it will never be like that ever again; we will never have these moments again.

A now iconic movie poster for a now iconic film

A now iconic movie poster for a now iconic film

Boyhood often is about the mundane of life, but further examination reveals the mundane is the magical.  So often we remember these small things more so than the milestones.  The little setbacks and victories.  The way your mom would make breakfast.  Summer days spent riding bikes and drawing with sidewalk chalk.  Long conversations to your best friend on the phone.  Or maybe harboring a crush on a college professor.  Or climbing on a roof to look at the city lights with someone just because you’re young and feel invincible.  Things DO change, people DO change, and that’s the magic of it all.  Time is magic, because as it passes, it transforms you and the world around you.  You’re always under its spell.

Just as he’s leaving for college in Boyhood, Mason’s mother is crying and poignantly admits, “I thought there’d be more.”  So do we.  All the more reason to appreciate whatever time and magic we’ve got.

*Run to see Boyhood whenever it hits your local multiplex.  Heck, even drive to a showing nearby if it’s not.  It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of movie.  Truly something special.

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers…”

New Yorkers do not have the luxury of privacy.  Frankly, it’s a choice, because if we wanted privacy, we would not have moved to the most populated city in the United States where everyone is crammed on top of one another.  That’s why people live in the suburbs and Los Angeles (among other things like having a pool and needing to be more orange than a Dorito.  But I still like you and your city a lot, Angelenos).  Or the Midwest.  Or anywhere else, really.  You don’t move to New York for solitude, you move because it’s a hub of activity.  You move to New York because you crave excitement and opportunities.  The cost of that choice is a loss of privacy.  Thin apartment walls, crowded subway trains, the sound of cab horns honking at all hours.  If you’re lucky, you can find a quiet, deserted spot in Central Park, but I guarantee that someone will inevitably find your spot ten minutes later and camp down only a few feet from your little oasis (I would tell you my favorite quiet spot in CP, but I don’t want anyone bothering me, sorry.).  Privacy is a rare, precious gift in this city.

Shhh...take your obnoxious phone calls, Candy Crush playing, and domestic disputes elsewhere

Shhh…take your obnoxious phone calls, Candy Crush playing, and domestic disputes elsewhere

And that is never truer than when you are overcome with emotions and need to just weep and cry and let everything out.  I’ve never really been much of a crier, but admittedly, I have become much more of one in the last two years; I’m not sure if that’s because of living here or just that I am less self-conscious about sharing my emotions with others.  It’s probably both.  And while there is a hilarious, semi-helpful Tumblr that lists great places for a cry in New York, it isn’t uncommon to see people having breakdowns in the middle of the street, on the subway, etc.  New Yorkers ignore anything that causes a scene, so you tend to be able to just cry if you need to and you’ll be given about as much attention as those annoying “showtime” kids on the subways aka zero.

I say that, and yet, every single time I’ve found myself losing it in a public space, I have had not one but multiple people ask me if I’m okay or if there’s anything they can do.  For as supposedly indifferent New Yorkers are, many actually have good hearts and even better intentions (oh sure, there are still plenty of creeps out there).  I’m sure this has something to do with the fact that most New Yorkers move from elsewhere.  We tend to view each other here as bodies that just exist in our own little world, but we fail to realize these are real people who feel things too, whose hearts break and dreams get crushed just like everyone else.  And so I don’t know why I’m so surprised when one of those bodies, those strangers suddenly becomes my Clarence, my guardian angel, when I’m feeling low.

Frank Capra's angels are all so friendly and well-dressed.

Clarence: Frank Capra’s angels are all so friendly and well-dressed.

Take, for example, one night last week.  I found myself quite audibly weeping outside a bar (could I be any more clichéd?) on 29th Street, having excused myself from a party by pretending to have gotten a phone call.  The truth was I could feel hot tears welling up in my eye sockets the longer I stood there in his presence, hearing him talk excitedly about the next few months of his new job and life that didn’t include me anymore (at least, not in the way it used to).  I had been doing so well; we’d had a few drinks and had some decent if slightly awkward conversation.  It was altogether a very different experience than the last time I saw him in person just over five months ago where we could barely speak to one another without all the hurt ramrodding its way into every word and look.  But memories often seep through no matter how deeply we bury them, and as I stood there taking him in and letting my mind wander to all those memories, I felt myself withdrawing, and my urge to cry rising.  I had to get out, so I pretended to get a phone call and quietly slipped outside where the geyser opened up.

As I stood against the cold, metal door of the wholesale fabric retailer next door and buried my face in my hands, a young-ish woman in glasses approached me and asked, “Is everything okay?”  I nodded because I was too upset to speak.  “Are you sure?  I’d be happy to stay if you need to talk to someone,” she offered warmly.  I managed to get out a polite thank you and a tear-strewn smile, “I’ll be okay, but thank you for your kindness.”  And she smiled and continued walking down the street.  I kept trying, to no avail, to choke back my sobs, when a silver fox of a man walked outside the bar, lit up a cigarette, and upon hearing me asked, “Are you alright, miss?  Do you want to talk about it?  If you need a cigarette, you can have one.”  I replied, “I’ll be better in a few minutes, I think, but thank you.”  He turned away from me and went about smoking his cigarette, but kept an eye on me anyway like a concerned parent.  Eventually, I regained my composure and went back inside, but I was grateful that even though I felt so alone in my grief, here were strangers willing to share it for a few minutes with no other motive than simply to offer kindness.

Things didn’t get any better on the subway (apparently one of my go-to places to cry) ride home.  He and I had said a complicated goodbye, you see, full of loaded silences and questionable body language and unresolved feelings.  And after we parted, I cried all the way home.  I was met with sympathetic looks and respectful nods (mainly from women in a “I feel you, girl” sort of way).  I recall another time I cried on the subway and a guy gave up his seat for me, “Please sit.  You need it more than I do right now,” he said with a little bow.  Another Clarence talking me back from my proverbial “ledge.”

...as long as that "kindness" doesn't mean shipping me off to an asylum, we're good.

…as long as that “kindness” doesn’t mean shipping me off to an asylum, we’re good.

These little acts of kindness from strangers can be easily overlooked when you’re going through a rough time in this City, but I think they’re reassurances from the universe or God that help will always be given to those who need it (like at Hogwarts).  So yeah, I moved here and lost my privacy, but what a blessing it is in my darkest moments to have others there to help so I’m NOT alone.  Blanche DuBois would say, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” and as long as I’m here in this place and my life is messy, I’ll keep depending on that kindness too.