Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I'm Moving! ...to Tumblr.

I am still figuring this shit out, but I think moving to Tumblr is the right move for me. From now on, you can find me at This Millennial Life! All the old content has migrated there as well. I promise (sorta) that this is (possibly) the last time I will change up my blog...maybe.

Oh also... I'm on Thought Catalog again!

xoxo

Monday, April 8, 2013

I'm on Thought Catalog, Y'all!

Don't know why that makes me Southern, but hey, I'm on Thought Catalog!

Now you can read my post here OR here! Take your pick of font and formatting. It's a free country, people.

Thanks to everyone for the shares, tweets, and comments! It means a lot knowing that I'm not just typing into the void.

xoxo.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Welcome to the Family...We Guess


“How much do you like him?” Uncle Ray asks, flicking his head in the direction of the kitchen, where Joshua is.

Josh had only met this part of my family a few days before, after we had hopped an overnight bus to Pittsburgh just in time for me to hold my unconscious grandmother’s hand one more time before she died. A family wedding last summer had occasioned Josh becoming lightly acquainted with most of my mom’s side of the family, but now Sito’s sudden death from pneumonia was going to be a crash course in my dad’s family for him.

As we all sat, exhausted, after a full day of viewing at the funeral home, people’s dress clothes untucked and askew, my uncle realized that we were short a pallbearer to carry Sito in her powder blue casket up the hill to the gravesite at the cemetery in the morning. My brother, Colin, and our first cousins, Taylor and Jared, were lined up, of course, but their sister, Caity, and I would be in heels and it was expected to snow− and my grandmother, bless her, was not a slight woman. Of her two sons, my dad had had a stroke not even a month before, and Uncle Ray’s knees and back could barely support him, let alone my zaftig Sito and her handsome casket. Her godson, Johnny, was enlisted to help, as was a longtime friend of the family. But this made only 5 pallbearers, not the necessary 6.

I knew what Uncle Ray was thinking about 20 minutes before he asked it. As he wrote out the names of the 5 pallbearers on a little card for the funeral home, I saw his eyes dart to Joshua. My family needed an able-bodied young man, and conveniently I’d gone ahead and brought one home from New York with me. But first, a test:

“How much do you like him?”   

“Um, a lot?” I answer, wondering if that is enough.

Apparently, it is.

“Josh!” Uncle Ray calls instantly. “Wanna be a pallbearer?”

Josh steps out from the kitchen. My whole family is waiting to hear whether or not this essential stranger to them will carry our dead loved one− whom he met only once− up a hill through the snow with 5 other people who are essentially strangers to him…for me. It’s a weird situation.

“Sure,” Josh says, like he’s been asked to pass the salt. And then he disappears back into the kitchen.




There are pictures of me with my ex-boyfriend at weddings and funerals for both his family and mine. There is a crowded family reunion photograph of my dad’s family with my ex by my side. A seemingly endless series of photographs taken one Christmas of all the “grandkids” in his family included− sweetly but uncomfortably− me.

When you date someone for years without getting engaged or married, as is becoming more common, and when the families of the people you date are relatively normal and kind and functional, there appears a wiggly line in the sand as far as how much a part of the family you are. And nothing, in my opinion, illustrates that conundrum as well taking family photos. And my most recent ex-boyfriend’s family did a lot of those.

I recall many instances of, “Should I be in this picture? You’re sure? Why don’t I just take it instead?” that always ended with me getting bodily shoved into the shot by his cousins or aunts. Of course, I was touched. But I also couldn’t help but think, “Maybe you want to take one without me…” If we broke up− which we did after 3 years− I didn’t want to be the fly in the ointment of the otherwise-best family Christmas photo that his parents would look at regretfully but never be able to display.

We had only been dating for a few months when his grandfather died. I was thrust cold into the middle of a very big, very grief stricken, very emotive Italian family. Then, 11 weeks later, his grandmother died, and the process began again, only now with a bitterer attitude toward the perceived cosmic cruelty of the situation. It was a stressful and despondent time for my then-boyfriend, but in a strange way I was grateful for the opportunity to support him, and pleased that his family seemed to like and accept me in spite of− or perhaps because of− entering their family at a point of emotional turmoil. I spent several unbroken days with them, even sleeping in the same bed as some of his female relatives. I held unfamiliar babies. I hugged a lot of people I didn’t know.

In photographs as well as memories, I am a part of that family losing its matriarch and patriarch. I am permanently etched into the fabric of my ex’s experience of the deaths of his grandparents, just as he is also a part of how I felt about my mom’s parents dying. The difference is that my family didn’t take any pictures. There’s no reminder, no “proof” that my ex was a part of the experience, even as I remember him being.

I feel funny about being a permanent part of a story that I no longer participate in, and I imagine maybe people in the same position might feel similarly post-breakup. In 15 years, someone is going to look at my family reunion photo and point to the guy next to me and go, “Who is that?” and the answer will be, “I don’t know.” instead of, “Oh, an in-law.”

But what’s the alternative? To exclude the significant other from photos until somebody puts a ring on somebody else’s something? Seems a little harsh, and that’s not something a lot of families are willing to do or even express discomfort over when their son or daughter brings home somebody new.

(Side note: My mom’s mother was not one of those people. As my ex-boyfriend and I left the house one day, I hugged her goodbye and she said, “Bye, sweetie. I love you.” When my boyfriend hugged her, she said, “Bye. I don’t love you yet. Maybe someday.” Virginia Robinson: Serving Up Truth from 1929-2011.)

Obviously, I understand the desire to be welcoming and inclusive, but does it make anybody else just a little bit squeamish to realize that, as we move through our 20’s, we’re going to be experiencing a lot of life-changing, important, emotional things with boyfriends and girlfriends who are potentially not as permanent? 15-20 years ago, most of us would have already been married. The photographic records of our lives used to be neater, perhaps.

Maybe it’s just my personal discomfort with inconsistency. I want everything in my past to be clean and even, congruous with my present and aligned with my future. Even looking through 7 years of old Facebook profile pictures and seeing 3 different long-term boyfriends makes me feel unbalanced. The relationship narrative has broken and restarted, broken and restarted, but how I think of and relate to my life is a continuous ribbon of experience and memory. Shedding and acquiring new life partners makes it more messy and complicated than I want it to be on paper.

And it’s not even that I regret the past and wish to erase it; I just have a Platonian yearning for continuity. But of course, that’s just my futile battle against reality. I can want a tidy personal history that reads beautifully from the pages of a photo album, but I’m not going to get it. My ex-boyfriend was there when my mom’s parents died, and Josh was here for my Sito.
  



“The plan is, that if one person falls, everybody lets go and we just let her slide down the hill,” my cousin Taylor explains on the morning of the funeral, a proud grin on his face.

My cousins and brother and I laugh, tears springing simultaneously. Then I realize how horrifically macabre laughing at the idea of my grandmother bobsledding in her casket must seem to Joshua.

“She always talked about going snow tubing,” I explain to him quickly before he thinks we’re terrible grandchildren. “Every year, she’d say she was gonna go, and every year we told her she was crazy. She never believed us when we said she couldn’t. She always thought it looked so fun.”

“One last shot!” Taylor beams, and I know that Sito wouldn’t be able to stop giggling with delight at the sight of him. He’s wearing one of her prized possessions: a $10,000 mink coat, whose claim to fame was being used as a sled when my Sito once found herself trapped at the top of her treacherously steep driveway after an ice storm. Amazing, only the sleeves are a little short on him. With his linebacker-build, pierced ears, and well-cut suit, Taylor looks like a conservative pimp or misguided rapper.

“I was gonna wear the hat,” he says, referring to her matching mink topper, “but I thought that might be tacky.” He says this with no irony, and I treasure it.

I pin on Joshua’s boutonniere− a white carnation− which marks him as a pallbearer. I am so overwhelmingly grateful, especially because he acts like this is a matter of course. It needs to be done, so he’ll do it. (He’s good with things like that at all levels; if the kitchen sink gets clogged, he unhesitatingly sticks his hand down through the murky water to pull out whatever sludgy once-food mystery is blocking the drain. I physically can’t do that because it’s “too icky”. That’s modern chivalry, people.) My gratitude notwithstanding, I feel that wiggle of unease in the back of my mind. This is way bigger than pictures ’round the Christmas tree. My boyfriend is one of my grandmother’s pallbearers. Is this ok? Should he be doing this? Is some line being crossed? He’s not family− it was just a fact. And this…this is forever.

Maybe I’m making too much out of it, but situations like this just stress me out because they force me, by negation, to think about the possibility of Josh one day not being there to carry a casket. And then won’t it be strange when I look back on my grandmother’s funeral and that’s who was there? Basically, it sends me into a panicky spiral of thinking about my relationship’s future and potential and whether or not I will look back on the important things I did with Joshua and regret that those things were not done with the person I will eventually end up with for(hopefully)ever who very well may be Joshua but who also may not be which is impossible to know at this point in my life because I can’t make decisions like that even if I wanted to which I don’t right now but it’s just nice to have options, and what are we doing if we aren't moving forward and what does forward really mean, you know?!?!

Ridiculous, right? Amazingly, while my brain is having the above nuclear meltdown, I remain outwardly calm. My neuroses pile on top of themselves until they reach a fever pitch. This is what I do to myself. This is what happens when you can’t live in the now.

But what could be done? I wasn’t going to pull the priest aside before the service and ask him to marry us quickly so that I would feel less strange about it. And it’s not that I don’t want Josh to do it− because I do! I want him to be a part of my family. I want him to be accepted and cared for. I want him to feel comfortable and at home. But it’s as if my brother just asked him to be his best man or something. Like technically, it’s fine. That’s cool. That’s allowed. But is that really who should be filling that honorary position?

Ultimately and suddenly, all of these things take a backseat to the fact that I have lost one of the most important people in my life. The service is starting. It's nice. I give the eulogy. It’s starting to sink in for me, for everyone, that this is goodbye, that tomorrow everything will be over and we will no longer have the excuse of viewings and funerals and planning meals to distract us from the truth of her absence. Until now, we could allow ourselves to be pulled this way and that, to busy ourselves with explaining her illness and decline to disbelieving relatives and stunned family friends, with making introductions and recounting memories with visitors, and with worrying about things like whether it is proper for my boyfriend to be a pallbearer. Because that means we aren’t thinking about never getting another “annoying” phone call from her, never again walking into her house and smelling lamb kebobs, never being pulled in for another smothering hug and kiss on the head, never being ordered to fetch her enormous purse from beside her bed so that she could take her pills or find a coupon or give you “ice cream money”. We− I− have used up all the distractions, and now her death is real and permanent.

We walk outside after the service and into a blizzard. Literally, a blizzard. Several inches of snow have fallen in just the time we’ve been inside.

“Tell Josh we brought cleats,” Taylor says.

The procession crawls to the cemetery, fortunately located just up the road. The brave few left huddle around the hearse as the priest says the last few prayers. I miss most of it; I’m standing by Joshua, who is sitting half-in, half-out of my brother’s car, putting on the cleats my cousins brought for him over his dress socks.

It’s striking how much he seems a to be part of my family’s palette− dark hair, dark eyes, tall, broad-shouldered− and indeed, many people at the viewings assumed he was some cousin or other, though he’s Hungarian, not Syrian. (Eastern European and Mediterranean: after a few generations of dilution, it all starts to look plausibly the same.) Lined up with my brother and cousins, lifting the casket, he blends right in with his dark peacoat. The snow is so thick and driving that it’s even hard to tell that Taylor is still wearing our grandmother’s mink. Caity and I, our parents, and the last few able-bodied relatives and friends all slip and slide up the hill to the gravesite, our heads bowed against the sting of the snow. The deep hole in the ground is the only thing not covered in white batting− our heads and shoulders included.

They don’t drop the casket. I know, I know− it would have been a better story. Sito finally gets her wish, a ride down a snowy hill with all her friends and family watching, marveling to ourselves, “She was right…” But the pallbearers don’t drop her, and the dusty blue casket is safely delivered to the grave. We adorn it with flowers. We say goodbye. We kiss our fingertip and press them to the freezing blue metal. We leave.




A few days later, I sit in the TV room with my grandfather, leafing through the guest book from the viewing. There is a space in the front for listing the pallbearers. I write in all the names, including Joshua’s. Because that is the way it was, and it’s forever. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Relevant...

Just thought I'd share this here, since it relates to my post the other day, and makes me laugh, but kind of in a sad way... Meet "Old Economy Steven"!


See more of these memes by clicking here!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Single, Cohabitating


I am kind of amazed that as of today, not even 48 hours after first posting it, my last blog post has over 2,300 views. (Thank you, Gerrit, for putting it on Reddit!) Maybe that's not actually a lot in terms of how many clicks cat videos get every minute, but for my rinky-dink, pseudo-journal blog, that's overwhelming. 

Much of the feedback I have received has been positive: a lot of, "I totally feel like this too! Thank you for saying it." And that means so much to me. Though sadly, most people commenting on the Reddit post have focused on how stupid I must be not to buy cheap glasses online, when A) $35 for a (necessary) eye exam AND glasses is pretty good no matter what, and B) That's not the freaking point. Like at all even a little. I could have picked 18 other examples that also illustrated my point; that one just happened to have happened earlier that afternoon. (And now that we have his prescription, we are looking online at some of the sites you suggested-- Thanks!)

ANYWAY. Following all the great support I've gotten, I've tried something else today, still (hopefully) relevant to many millennials. 



I fill out most of the form on autopilot with a pen that has been Scotch taped to the string tied to this clipboard. Name. Birth date. Address. Phone number. Email address (optional). Social Security Number. Then I hit a hiccup:

Marital Status:  Single   Married   Divorced   Separated   Widowed

Wait… I run my pen over the options and have to go back to the beginning. None of these is me! Haven’t they forgotten one? It always takes a second for me to remember what I’m supposed to circle.

I am "Single" in the eyes of the government, of the law, of the creepy guys at the bar who say, "No ring, fair game!"− and in the eyes of this doctor’s office. That I live with my boyfriend of over a year is completely irrelevant. (To them. Not to me... Hi, babe!) So I go to circle "Single" and actually feel a little bit guilty about it, as if my boyfriend would be offended. As a compromise (with my conscience), I make a wobbly circle around "Single" that includes the first half of the "Married" option, as if that somehow indicates how seriously I take my relationship, or that I’m even in a relationship at all. Like the doctor is going to look at that little, oblong, errant circle and go, "Ah. Someone actually loves her. Maybe I’ll try to doctor her better so she doesn’t die."

The demographic label for my situation is "Single, Cohabitating," which I think makes me sound like a test subject that lives in an apartment with all glass walls and a couple other confused people who all have to wear soft hospital-gown onesies and no shoes as we’re watched by scientists 24/7. "These specimens? They’re single, cohabitating 20-somethings. Don’t tap on the glass." I admit that "Single, but in a Mutually Beneficial, Rewarding, Long-Term Relationship with a Promising Future" is a little wordy to put on the forms I apparently have to fill out every fucking time I go to the gynecologist. (Seriously, what is up with that?)   

Lately, I’ve been reading everything I can about this demographic. Call it research or navel-gazing, but whatever it is, it hasn’t yielded all that much information, to be honest. Or rather, the information about those of us who are single and cohabitating (or "single, committed") in our 20’s seems to be more defined by what we are not. We are not unattached and looking for love, online or otherwise. We are not married. We are not getting married. We are not single parents. We are an in between, transitional entity, on our way to permanence or dissolution…aren’t we?

Perhaps our seemingly temporary status is why we’re glossed over in media portrayals. Long-term and/or cohabitating relationships are not inherently dramatic. No one is coming together or bouncing back apart. No one is making any life changing decisions for the better or worse. Things are stable, sustained. It’s not too interesting to watch a couple eat popcorn and pay the electric bill. (I suppose you rarely see a happily married couple, or a happily single person either, to be fair.)

Additionally, how many blogs and websites and magazines and books out there center on meeting people and dating? How many are about getting married? How many are about improving and maintaining a happy marriage? How many are about parenting? All of these different life stages have specific cultures built around them. There is literature. There are resources. There are processes and expectations and outlets to turn to when you fail, or to help you succeed, or− at the very least− there are accounts of the experiences of others to make you feel like you’re part of a community. But there's a gap in the knowledge: "This is how you pick the right person. This is how you get him/her to like you. This is how you make him/her your boy/girlfriend. (NEBULOUS TIME LAPSE.) This is how you plan a wedding..." Whoa! Back up, please. Life is not a Broadway musical; we can't get married at the end of the show after meeting in some adorable, fated manner just 2 hours ago.  

So what about the long-term relationship? What about that in between time? What about those who, like me, live with (or are otherwise seriously committed to) their significant other and either cannot or will not take the “next step” in the foreseeable future, but also are happy and have no desire to end the relationship? I feel like the only prominent advice out there is about keeping things interesting in bed (Um, pretty sure I shouldn't put ice in there, but thanks, Cosmo!), and the only narratives we see are from people who are ending said nebulous time between committing to another person and marrying that person. Is this a new life stage, or is it just a necessary, temporary rung on the ladder that’s been getting, increasingly, further from the next rung, as many Americans are now delaying marriage longer than ever before? And regardless of the answer, how do we navigate− and enjoy and prosper in!− this new and expanding landscape? 

Basically, where are the books that tell you how to not get married yet?



For millennials, it’s beginning to make sense to get married later in life, across economic and educational spectrums. This fantastic report from the National Marriage Project, as well as this article and this one from The Atlantic, give a pretty good snapshot of what is happening and why. With the emphasis, especially in trying economic times, on financial and career stability, more highly educated men and women are delaying marriage and child-bearing until they’re “settled” and independently successful. I really identified with the assertion that, as elegantly stated in the National Marriage Project Report, my generation thinks of marriage as a “capstone” rather than “cornerstone” of adulthood. Instead of getting married as a step to becoming a successful adult as in generations past, we think of it as the icing on the cake.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, women with less education and in lower income brackets are having children earlier, without necessarily bothering to get married, because they perceive diminishing returns. As the article above by Derek Thompson, "The Decline of Marriage and the Rise of Unwed Mothers: An Economic Mystery" points out that marriage is declining or maintaining across demographics but that, "Marriage has declined the most among men whose wages have declined the most." This means that women in a similar economic position don’t see the benefit of permanently tying themselves to someone who might end up a financial drain. Thomas explains:

"The development of time-saving technologies -- cheap prepared foods, cheap clothes, machines to wash, dry, and vacuum -- has not only encouraged more women to seek work, but also made it relatively easier for single parents to raise a child. Put starkly, technology makes it cheaper and easier than ever to be single. It makes marrying a financially unstable man even more risky."

And again, if we’re waiting longer to get married− or just not getting married at all− then what are we doing? Faffing around? Serial dating? Crying and masturbating a lot more? The answer, I think, is that many of us are sliding into being "single, cohabitating" or "single, committed" for years, without the ability or intention of changing our relationship statuses-- on Facebook or otherwise.

To say that our culture is wedding obsessed is an understatement. The wedding industry, which accounts for $40 billion (billion with a B!) per year in the U.S. alone has leaked into mainstream entertainment and created, I think, a gluttonous feedback loop: Watch brides pick out their dresses! (I have to buy a dress just as nice!) Watch brides change their minds! (It’s ok to buy a second dress…everybody does it!) Watch brides compete to see who has the "best" wedding! (I have to have the best wedding! Get me more white tigers and cupcake trees!) Watch brides finally get the chance to be the "princess" or "diva"! (I’m allowed to treat my bridesmaids, mother, mother-in-law, florist, and unfortunate future husband like they are meaningless pieces of dog shit because IT’S MY DAY, GODDAMNIT.) We produce what we consume, and we’re consuming expensive, ridiculous, theatrical weddings.

We see every plane that crashes on the news, so we tend to think that planes crash more often than they do. There is not a news day slow enough for an anchor to report, "American Airlines flight 453 touched down safely in Tampa today, 14 minutes ahead of schedule. Good job, everybody. Enjoy Tampa, I guess." But thousands of flights do exactly that every day. Similarly, seeing weddings everywhere can give you (or maybe just me) the impression that everyone is getting married. Everyone but you. (I even work as a social media consultant for a wedding photographer, so I am steeped in this stuff.)

Compounding that problem is Facebook. Literally everyone you know from high school is getting married. Even that dude that you thought, "Man, no one will ever touch that guy’s penis."− he’s getting married. Again. Every time I see another blurry phone picture of someone’s engagement ring, or think, “Who the hell is…” and then click on the name of a girl who has changed her last name, I feel a slow, quiet, creeping panic: I’m falling behind.

It’s not that I even have a particular desire to get married at this point in my life; I just don’t want to lose. It’s that capstone vs. cornerstone thing again. My peers are capping off their adulthood; I am eating ramen in my pajamas and scraping mold off hamburger buns so I can eat those, too. My peers are buying cars and houses; my next dream purchase is an automatic cat toilet.

But of course, as the data I just cited explain, it’s not actually everyone− it’s just that all the people that are going to get married now are getting married now. And I have to see all of them on my newsfeed.

Which brings me back to one of my questions earlier: Am I "on deck", or am I carving out a space with Joshua that’s separate from the marriage pipeline? Is cohabitation and/or long-term commitment still just a rung, or it’s own destination?

And I think, regardless of the answer, I need to embrace this period of my life and not treat it as a pit stop. And, like I said, I’m not sure that I have a model to do that. How do I not get married yet, but have a fulfilling and robust relationship? And do I care whether or not my relationship is in the pipeline or on the sideline? What does the answer to that change about how I live my life and love my boyfriend?

I would like to try to speak to this in a few (possibly many) posts, if you all think that might be interesting. Along the way, I would love to hear from others of you who are also single, cohabitating and single, committed. I’m interested in telling stories, offering anecdotes, sharing failures and frustrations, and generally just offering a window into how I (we) are navigating our life together.

Potential topics in the How To Not Get Married Yet series include:
  • Forgiveness, Or: The Lease Isn’t Up Until August So We’d Better Get Over This Shit
  • "If/When I/We Someday Maybe Have Kids...": Talking About the Hypothetical Future Without Ruining Everything
  • Can I Talk About My Poop Yet?: And Other Pressing Concerns About Boundaries
  • Household Logistics: I Don't Care About Gender Stereotypes, Just Take Out the Frickin Trash
  • Why Exercise? You're Not Not Gonna Sleep With Me: And Other Issues of Motivation
  • Should I Be In This Picture? You’re Sure−? Oh. Ok.: Navigating Family and “Family?”

What did I miss? Comments welcome! Stay tuned.  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

This Is Why I Can't Have Nice Things: I'm Poor


I haven’t been blogging much, recently, and I would apologize for that if I thought anyone were truly disappointed. As is, I’m really only disappointing myself. To write more regularly and more publically is a promise I continually make and break with myself, similar to my struggles with going to the gym. And cleaning the litter box.

But today, I am coming out of one of my many mini-hibernations to relate a few things that have been occupying me almost to the point of obsession lately. I wasn’t going to write about them, or even do anything other than repress them as hard as I could for fear of Doom Spiraling into depression and abject despair, but then a few things yesterday kinda tipped the scales.

                                                            

I read this article in the New York Times today, and it was like finally seeing the monsters I imagine under my bed on the computer screen. The rather leading title, “Do Millennials Stand a Chance in the Real World?” can apparently be answered with a half-assedly apologetic, “Mmm….probs not! Sorryyyy.” The main takeaways that this millennial got were #1. I will never be financially comfortable and #2. I’m obsessed with money.

As to Takeaway #1., the article cites economic data that indicates that the generation entering the workforce at the height (or depth) of the recession− Class of 2010, where you at??!− appears to be in the same position as those who encountered similar post-graduation conditions in the early 80’s. This resulted in an earnings gap that, 15 years later, was found not to have closed! My generation is the first “in modern memory” that is barreling on track to be poorer than our parents. We will have less wealth accumulation and less (fewer?) savings. We will not be better off.

But the economy is recovering! I said to myself. Things are getting better. And then I read this depressing little gem: “Members of the 1 percent have taken nearly all the wage gains made in the recovery. Their incomes bounced back. Nearly everyone else’s fell.”

Now, I have been feeling, increasingly, like I am just climbing a staircase that has no end. When I read that sad statistic, I had that sensation of stepping up, prepared for the next stair, you know?-- only to bring my foot down with a slap and stumble and realize, “Oh, I’ve reached the top.” Only the top was this vast plateau and there was absolutely nothing there. There is nowhere to go.

Maybe that’s dramatic. Joshua will tell me that it is, that I’m only 25 and that I’ve come a long way in the less than 2 years I’ve lived in New York and that I have to give myself some latitude. He tells me that all the time and I try really hard to believe him but secretly I don’t believe him at all. Secretly, I think that I have failed because my life is a fiscal roller coaster. Secretly, I think that I have squandered whatever potential I had studying something I loved that has almost no long-term professional opportunities. Secretly, I am embarrassed of how my SAT score would seem to imply that I should be earning at least that number in dollars every month. But I don’t even come close.

And secretly, I totally agree with Takeaway #2.: I am obsessed with money− but not in the Scrooge-McDuck-roll-around-in-a-pile-of-it-make-it-rain way. I am obsessed with my lack of it. I worry about money and how much of it I (don’t) have multiple times every day. Even on the rare days when I do not have to spend it, I worry about the next time I will. And when I do spend it, I feel every single cent that leaves my bank account like babies ripped from the arms of their weeping mothers. Anything over $10 is “expensive”. Buying groceries makes me feel like I am just opening my veins and emptying them into the cash register at Trader Joe’s, which I am sure the way-too-friendly cashier would not appreciate. To eat for about a week, I spend around $50 on groceries. This is not a lot of money…except that it is. And I hate that that's true for me.



Today, compounding my despair over the NYTimes’ brusque eulogy to my chances in life, I was tricked by Groupon. Lulled into a false sense of affordability only to be rudely reminded that no, I cannot actually have nice things. Or in this case, do nice things for people I love. Case in point:

“The lenses alone are $320,” the lady says. And I am watching Joshua’s birthday present fall apart in front of me.

Groupon has made a lot of things possible in my life that I would otherwise not be able to afford: manicures for special events; bikini waxes for bathing suit season; a freaking haircut once a year. Within my relationship, Groupon (and similar sites) have allowed Joshua and I to celebrate things like birthdays and Christmas with each other without necessarily starving for a week to do so.

I had bought Josh a Groupon for his birthday next week. The deal-- which was $35-- included an eye exam and $250 toward lenses and frames, because Joshua’s glasses literally look like he got them in 1998− and the prescription is about that old, too. So we show up to the eye doctor and Joshua tries on a few pairs from the least expensive case so we can stretch the $250 as much as possible. He finds a few possibilities before going in for his exam. Conspiratorially, the lady behind the counter and I pick out a few more for him to try. Then he comes out, eyes bleary with drops, and hands the lady his prescription.

“Oh, he needs high index lenses,” she says in a tone that means, “Isn’t that a shame?”

Apparently, this means that Joshua’s eyes are bad enough that he has to wear special lenses in order to avoid wearing Coke bottles on his face. And of course, those lenses, by themselves, cost $320. Because of course.

At first, Joshua mishears. He thinks the lenses and frames are $320 total. 

“The lenses alone are $320,” the lady says again. She is really sorry about it, too.

I feel like I’m frozen to my chair. I know exactly where this is going, which is exactly what happens. I can’t afford to make up the $220 difference. Joshua can’t either. Even if we split it equally, $110 apiece still might as well be $500 apiece.

Josh has to tell the lady we can’t buy anything. We walk out with nothing but a piece of paper that says Joshua’s eyes are really bad.  

I feel humiliated. It’s not my fault. It’s not Josh’s fault, nor his eyes’ fault. But I feel so…worthless. And powerless. And frustrated. Because what I wanted to do, of course, is tell Joshua not to worry about it-- who cares if it's over the coupon amount? Still a good price! I wanted to tell him that this is his birthday present so no worries! I got this. It’s not that much money, babe. I can do this thoughtful thing for you because I want to. Because you deserve it.

But I can't. And that makes me feel pathetic. 

                                                                        

I know what I have, and I know it's a lot more than many people. I'm not ungrateful that I have a roof over my head and food to eat and a (somewhat tenuous) internet connection, not to mention amazing friends, a supportive family, and a loving (if legally blind) boyfriend. But for me and others in my position, the kind of financial stability and security enjoyed by my parents and their parents is relatively impossible. As one researcher tells a concerned mom in the NYTimes article: "Maybe this generation won't have a worse life, but just a different life." But what does this "different" life mean for young people who still want the life of their parents? A stable job, a house, a family, a car, a retirement plan...? And millennials-- most of them-- still want that, according to the National Marriage Project. Does it mean, "too damn bad"? 

The prevailing advice about career choice while my generation was growing up was, "Find something to do that makes you happy. Find your passion. Live your dreams." Sound familiar? It wasn't just our parents; it was our teachers and our children's books and TV shows with squishy morals at the end of the episodes. It was encouraging and affirming. The trick was simply to find something to do that you loved doing more than anything else...and just do it! Apply yourself to it. Study it. 

So I did what I was supposed to do. I found what I loved to do and I studied it and I practiced it and I got good at it, and as I neared graduation and the economy went belly-up, I realized that no one was gonna pay me to do it. In fact, the economy was so shitty that no one was even going to give me a slave-labor internship to do it because there were a hundred other more qualified, more experienced candidates who now couldn't find jobs, either. 

Everyone says, "Do what makes you happy." And my work makes me happy-- when I actually get to do it. It makes me so happy, in fact, that I will often do it for free because if I don't, I will not be doing it at all. Usually, when someone approaches me about a job, I do not even ask about payment. I forget that's a thing. If someone pays me for my work in my chosen field, it is a treat. I am doing what makes me happy. 

What does not make me happy is feeling like that has come at the expense of building the infrastructure of my life. Next year, I can no longer be on my parents' insurance, and so I will have none. I have no savings, nor any means to start. I have student loan debt. I could could not live without the 3 roommates I have, nor could I live with them in a nicer neighborhood. I could not get married or have kids even if I wanted to. And while all that is fine for right now, for being 25 and a relatively new transplant in a very expensive city, I also cannot see that it is temporary. I do not feel like I am on a path. I do not feel like I am moving toward any of those things. 

Maybe I'm impatient. Or maybe I just can't see it. To abandon ship and reboot my life with a different career with a more defined path to personal and financial stability seems just as impossible, though. I am qualified to do a narrow thing, and my experience makes it narrower. To go back to school for something else so that I am qualified for something more lucrative entails acquiring more debt and seems unwise. And then what? What happens to doing the thing that I love?  What happens to that half of my happiness? 

Reason tells me there is some middle ground, but it's hard to pick out from between failure and long shots and playing it safe and calculated risks and hoping hoping hoping that I will get to be, somehow, one of those lucky people whose talents and passions match up with someone with a big bank account who needs them.




Friday, August 31, 2012

New York Attack

New York is an assaulting city. It is not a pretty little place where you can take a stroll and peacefully absorb the sights and sounds. If you say to a New Yorker, "Let's go for a stroll!" he will say, "What, are you fucking crazy or something?!" or "A what?" Either way, you'll probably get punched. What do you think this is-- Brugges? Prague? Go back to Europe, queer.

Even in Central Park, a haven (during the day; stay the hell away at night) in the center of the churning factory that is New York, there are people everywhere. Sunning yourself on the big rocks near the southwest corner of the park is relaxing, until you start paying attention to the hoards of unsupervised children swarming about like coked-out ants. I am not necessarily a maternal person, but the second I see toddlers in jelly sandals (those are SO BACK, you guys!!!) leaping from rock to rock over crevices the perfect width to ensnare their snappable little legs, my blood pressure rises. I wait tensely for the moment one of them disappears mid-leap or catches their foot and face-plants, breaking all their temporary little teeth and their permanent little noses. How can anyone relax with pediatric peril so close at hand? Also, the joyous shrieking really wears on the nerves.

New York will not permit a passive experience. Like I said, it assaults you. The sights, the sounds, the smells (usually urine and garbage) all rush at you whether you are prepared for it or not. Just when you think you're flying under the radar, New York pokes its dirty finger in your eye and pushes you off balance. You're minding your own business on the subway and suddenly the dude screaming about Jesus is screaming about Jesus at you, and what are you gonna do about it, sinner?! You're walking along talking on the phone and a city bus rumbles past and drenches you with diphtheria-water. You're meandering past the Empire State Building and the NYPD just shoots you. (Too soon?) Even when you think you're safest from a New York Attack, you're not. In fact, that is when you're most vulnerable; your guard is down. For example: A gray Sunday morning in the West Village.

For a show I was working on a few weeks ago with the lovely and talented Rady & Bloom, I had to be at the New Ohio Theater at 9 a.m. for load-in. I try very hard not to be awake before 9 a.m., but sometimes even the best laid plans... I had been at a show/fundraiser/party the previous evening for The Representatives, a fantastic little company run by some friends of mine, and proceeded to get pleasantly drunk on a rooftop in Brooklyn. Jalapeno gin with honeydew and cucumber? I mean, obviously. So it was going to be a long day. Fourteen hours of load-in and rehearsal, and then just two days to tech the whole show. (FYI: It was great!) I still lived in New Jersey then, but the New Ohio was basically the ONLY convenient place to get to in Manhattan from the PATH train in from Jersey. You get off at the first Manhattan stop and when you come above ground, you can see the building down the block and across the street. I loved working at the New Ohio. Get off at Christopher St. and you're there!

Except I didn't get off at Christopher St., because my life is like live FAIL Blog. I was spaced out (or sleeping) and I just...didn't get off the train when we stopped at Christopher. I realized my mistake basically immediately and got off at the next stop, cursing myself. 9th St. isn't that far of a walk from Christopher, but it was a walk and it was like 8:45 a.m. and when my prime motivation is not to be moving or even conscious at that time, walking pissed me off.

So I'm walking through the West Village. It's cloudy and drizzly and dead. Absolutely dead. It was Sunday, after all, and apparently nobody else wanted to be awake at that time either. There was, of course, the occasional gay man walking a fussy-looking dog, but other than that, no one. This is about as safe as you can get in Manhattan. Empty streets, sleepy time of day, and a part of town where even if there was anyone out and about looking to molest somebody, they definitely didn't want to molest somebody with boobs.

I'm texting my friend Eric, because we, for some reason, have the same dysfunctional sleeping patterns. Eric will text me at 4 a.m., and I will be awake and staring at my phone for no reason. We are just connected in that screwy way. Anyway, I'm looking at my iPhone, texting away, and walking down 9th St. The only other person on the street is a dude riding toward me on a bike. Actually, riding toward me pretty damn fast. I am vaguely aware of him, but there's plenty of room on the sidewalk and there's no reason we should run into one another. I'm not even thinking about him as he's about to ride past me.

EXCEPT THEN HE GRABS MY PHONE OUT OF MY HANDS. From his bike. As he zooms past. And my phone goes flying! I scream.

Ok. It was a really stupid sounding scream. I admit this. In my dreams, whenever I am (not infrequently) being chased or attacked by something, I can never scream. Ever. I can't call for help. I can't make any noise to alert other people to my existence let alone my plight. Because of this, I have often wondered if I would be able to scream if I were in real trouble.

Well, now I have my answer. Yes, I can scream if I need to. But it was very disappointing. Really, it was the goofiest thing that has ever escaped my mouth (except maybe for drunkenly telling Josh that "Teeth are amazing!" while we ate popcorn) and after I screamed, I immediately felt embarrassed and stupid and hoped that no one had heard me.

Anyway. My failures extend to screaming. Good to know. Where were we? Oh.

My phone goes flying! It smashes to the ground probably five feet behind me, and the would-be thief goes speeding off and turns the corner at the end of the block. Then I do something else very stupid. After a silent moment during which the situation sinks in ("Did that asshole just try to steal my phone? ::gasp:: That asshole just tried to steal my phone!") I screamed again. This time though, I screamed, "JESUS!"

Guys, I don't know why I screamed "JESUS!" I am not religious. I do say "Jesus Christ" as an expletive, but that was really not what was called for in this situation. In retrospect, I should have screamed, "FUCK YOU!" because, well, fuck that guy! He tried to steal my phone! But I didn't. I just sort of impotently yelled "JESUS!" to the empty sidewalk as he sped off. Again, I embarrassed myself and hoped no one was watching me be the stupidest person who was ever almost mugged.

I went and picked up my phone. The case was a little scratched and banged up, but it was none the worse for wear. I felt a little shaky afterward. It's not every day that a stranger tries to forcibly rip a piece of your property from your person. I have since been HYPER vigilant about where my phone is at all times, and for a little while afterward I got sorta strangely anxious whenever I was walking by myself past another person. I just kept thinking, "What's to stop someone from doing that with my purse?" Disquieting.

Anyway. After a lengthy (but productive) day in the theater, I wander out to the street in the haze you can only truly experience after sitting in a cold, dark room for over 12 hours looking at colored lights. The next PATH train back to Jersey wasn't for another handful of minutes, so rather than descend into oppressive, rank heat of the station, I linger in the slightly less oppressive and rank heat of the stairwell.

It was at that point that a guy-- about my age and a little shorter than I-- pops down around the corner and frankly scares the shit out of me. I was jumpy after that morning, ok? He stands very close to me and opens his eyes wide and pouts his lip. (If my Jido had seen him, he would have told him to put that lip back or a bird would come down and rip it off. That's that famous Arabic compassion, people.)

"Ex-excuse me, miss. Can I pwease have a quartah? Pwetty pwease?" he simpers in a baby voice.

"Sorry, I don't have anything," I say. I refrain from adding, "I'm poor and your jeans are new so go to hell."

"I'm a monkey!" he declares in the same idiotic voice, waving his arms like an imbecile and making what I can only assume he intended to be a monkey noise. It kind of sounded like my crappy scream from earlier.

What in the hell?! I'm sorry, but WHAT? I have just had the longest day, I'm sleep deprived, my nerves are shot, it's hot and sticky outside, and you are in my face asking for money pretending to be a monkey right now? I don't think so. I honestly wanted to punch this guy in the face. He looked so stupid. Actually, he looked like a damn monkey and I really hated him for it. Stupid monkey.

So I scoff and give him a look that I hope he took to mean, "Go light yourself on fire where you won't bother anybody." because that's exactly what I thought he should do. Having conveyed my incredible disdain for his stupid, stupid face, I turn to go down the rest of the stairs.

As I do, Monkeyman slaps my ass and then bounds up the stairs howling with crazed laughter.

Having learned my lesson from earlier, I knew what to do in such a situation. I shout a hearty, "FUCK YOU!" up the stairs after him. A peal of moronic laughter floats back down in reply.

And so... I got on my train. Womp womp. That's the anticlimactic end of the story. That, perhaps, is the most humiliating and disheartening thing about a New York Attack: You just have to go back to what you were doing. There is no way to stop or take a minute to recover. You can't just turn around and go back inside. You can't hide anywhere. You're in public and everybody has to watch you get over whatever it is and move on. Right then and there.

When I got a free shower from that bus, I had to just cross the fucking street as I had been intending to do the moment before like nothing had happened. What else could I do? Just stand there and drip? If a guy slaps your ass in the subway, you still have to get on the subway. There is no space for anything else. There is no room for feeling shitty about it or just taking a second to go, "Wow, that really sucked." because the train is leaving right the hell now and traffic is coming and people are waiting and your boss is expecting you and if you don't get out of the way, someone will push you. If you don't get back up to pace in half a second, the city is going to trample you.

I'm sorta split as to whether or not this is a good thing. It certainly cuts down on unnecessary pity parties, but sometimes in life it is necessary to take a breather and lick your wounds a little before getting back out there. That way they, you know, heal. I think that when people talk about how "fast-paced" life in a city is, this is really the metric that they're talking about. If something shitty happens, how many options do you have to deal with it? Do you still have to cross the street, or can you stand there and drip?