From “My City, My Los Angeles” (Globe Pequot Press, 2013) by Jeryl Brunner
When I moved to Los Angeles, I wanted to know where the center was. I quickly learned that there’s no such thing. LA is a labyrinth of many hubs — each, in its own unique way, the center of the action. I love getting coffee at Huckleberry in Santa Monica and then strolling down to the beach, looping back up to the Main Street Farmers’ Market, and continuing on to Venice to browse the boutiques and galleries on Abbot Kinney before grabbing a mushroom and truffle oil pizza at Gjelina. I love the contrast between the sunny SoCal hues of LA’s beach towns and the more muted, urban grays of its downtown area, where you can spend the day with Rauschenberg and Basquiat at MOCA, or admiring Frank Gehry’s majestic Walt Disney Concert Hall, or enjoying the ballet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Hike up into the hills at the right time of year, and you feel like you’re in rural Vermont — that is, until you gaze down toward Vine, where Cactus Taqueria serves the best tacos in the city, or up at the Hollywood sign, which reminds you that this is the fabled land of Hepburn and Tracy and Bogie and Bacall. If you look closely, LA is anything you want it to be. What’s more? It allows you to be anyone you want to be. The very fluidity that makes LA tough for some to love is, perhaps, its greatest asset (44-5).
Read other entries & order your copy on Jeryl Brunner’s website.
The third time it happened was outside a house party in that peripheral part of town where the summer employees lived. Waitresses, bus boys and hotel valets out of uniform and in scant beachwear laughed about bands, drugs and surfing — their lexicon of cool so far beyond my grasp that I regarded its speakers with a lusty reverence reserved for the glossiest untouchables. I was 18 at the time and could count the number of parties I had been to on one hand. That and the fact that my family summered on the island did nothing to enhance my social capital with this crowd. Despite the fact that I was technically part of the summer workforce, I was a Baby in a sea of Johnnys. Swaddled in the particular type of self-loathing that arises from unwitting rigidity in the face of wanton merrymaking, I kept my mouth shut, lest I commit an “I carried a watermelon” offense and get kicked out — or worse, shamed — for not belonging.
Riding the wave of late-cresting rebellion in that three-month breath between high school and college, I had followed my younger, cooler brother to the site of this nightly ritual. While I was folding cashmere sweaters at a Main Street boutique, he was down by the wharf, renting bikes to enthusiastic weekenders. The bike shop guys were the nexus of anti-establishment cool — the chain-smoking, board shorts-clad answer to their yacht-sailing, popped-collar counterparts. After nightfall, everyone who was anyone knew to go to the house they rented, where there would surely be beer, bongs and the promise of promise. Isn’t that why people attended those sorts of gatherings, anyway? If not to celebrate a birthday or Christmas, the impetus for assembly seemed to be the tantalizing prospect of an experience or liaison, without which any person in her right mind would’ve just cozied up at home in her jammies with a DVD and some froyo.
My impetus? The Bike Messenger. I didn’t know his name or his story. All I knew was that he was older, seemed dangerous and had eyes that sparkled when they met mine — which had happened exactly twice: Once when I had visited the bike shop to retrieve my brother from work, and again the following afternoon on the docks. I’d been sitting there alone during my lunch break, dangling my feet over the edge and staring off into the distance. It’s what I loved most about the island. That suspended sense of being no one, nowhere, tethered to nothing but the wind and the waves. There was not a soul in sight, and then there he was. I don’t know that I had ever seen the docks empty at the height of summer. Somehow, though, we were the only two people there that day. It could have simply been that the crowds were at the beach but, engorged as I was on Seventeen Magazine and Jane Austen, I chalked it up to destiny (cue dramatic look to horizon). We held each other’s gaze for longer than was comfortable as he made his way from the end to the beginning, and only looked away after he’d stepped off the wooden planks and onto solid ground. For all I knew he was a greasy Casanova who could smell virgin blood from a mile away. But in that moment his presence was poetry. I’d said nothing. He’d said nothing. We hadn’t needed to. In the space between us was a tacit understanding we’d meet again — not because it was a small island or because he worked with my brother, but, naturally, because it was meant to be.
The party had grown rowdy. The Bike Messenger wasn’t even there. Overwhelmed as I was (and am) in crowds, I stepped outside into the moonlight, my ill-advised high-heeled shoes sinking awkwardly into the gravel driveway. I had taken up smoking the year before and found great solace in the myriad opportunities it afforded for quiet contemplation. (P.S. Don’t smoke. It’s bad for you.) I lit my cigarette, inhaled, and blew smoke up at the stars. I didn’t see him until after I had finished the first one. I turned my face away from the wind to light the second, and only then did I notice his silhouette resting in a nearby patch of grass, camouflaged by shadows. He’d been there the whole time.
"I saw you at the shop," he said, cracking a smile with his deviously crooked teeth. "And on the dock," I wagered, stepping close enough to see the sharp, geometric outlines of his tattoos.
We both smoked Camel Lights. This obviously meant we were soulmates. Beneath his ink and piercings, I could see that he was steady and sensitive. Beneath my prep school primness, he could see that I was imploding in a Dead Poets Society sort of way. I got his goodness and he got my turbulence, and the rest of the world didn’t seem to get any of that about either of us. And so there we sat. A perfect pair of mismatched socks.
What is it about summer that allowed goody two-shoes Sandy to end up with T-Bird Danny and Mount Holyoke-bound Baby to dirty dance her way into Johnny Castle’s arms? As Don Henley points out, the steadfast love of a perennial boyfriend is preferable, because it endures “after the boys of summer have gone.” LFO underlines this transient nature of the seasonal relationship: “Summer girls come and summer girls go/ Some are worthwhile and some are so-so.” Even Grease warns us that, “It turned colder” and, well, “that’s where it ends.” Given our collective knowledge of how summer love pans out, why do we continue to covet and celebrate it? Why are there countless movies, songs and magazine articles about it? Admit it. The mere mention of the phrase makes you want to hop up on a cafeteria table and break out into song, as your adorable, poodle skirt-wearing girlfriends chime in, “Tell me more, tell me more!”
My guess is that summer is our version of a Shakespearean green world where all normal rules go out the window. The courtly folks leave the unyielding confines of society and skip off into the enchanted forest where they bend genders, trade lovers, cavort with magical animals and employ the inestimable powers of fairy dust and disguise. The topsy-turvy sequence of events that ensues affords these individuals some much-needed clarity, ultimately allowing them to return to the courtly world refreshed and enlightened. The only difference is that, whereas their escapist playground traditionally leads to marriage (e.g. Rosalind and Orlando, Celia and Oliver, Helena and Demetrius, Hermia and Lysander), ours more often leads to heartbreak. Case in point: What Baby and Johnny had could never have existed beyond the confines of Kellerman’s. Just like Zack Morris could only be with Stacy Carosi at the Malibu Sands Beach Club. Back in the real world, he was always going to end up with Kelly. But therein lies the allure. Summer love, like the season itself, is necessarily fleeting.
I knew this when I met the Bike Messenger, but I chose to ignore it. I ignored it when he told me his age. And when I met his on-again, off-again girlfriend. (They were off-again. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why. She looked like one of the models from my magazines.) I ignored it when our mutual friends warned me not to get involved. And when my brother looked on disapprovingly. I ignored it because the cocktail of dopamine and serotonin and — let’s be honest — escapism was too good to resist. And so there I was. Fixated on the clock at every family dinner. Faux-casually strolling past the bike shop during every break from work. Balancing precariously on the white porcelain bathroom sink, shaving my legs higher than I normally would and nicking my skin in the process because I was in such a rush to be deflowered.
Maddeningly and, later, thankfully, my tattooed Casanova had better sense than to take advantage of a wide-eyed teenager. (See? Told you he was sensitive.) In fact, I’m not even sure sex was on the table or if I had completely imagined it. In theaters this summer! The New England retelling of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet starring… me. We tend to do that. Create our own narratives. Break our own hearts. The story I was telling was one of star-crossed lovers. The story he was telling was one of a twent-something surfer dude who built bikes in summer, messengered parcels in winter and spoke lovingly about a 4-year-old son he rarely saw.
People contain within them universes. Each person you meet is a portal into a world of which you do or do not want to be a part. And with someone else, someplace else, you can be an entirely different version of yourself. I mean, what if the whole thing started because Sandy liked who she was with Danny? Ever think about that? Maybe Baby’s love for Johnny was real. Or maybe she just loved the version of herself she saw through his eyes. His hungry eyes. Sorry. Couldn’t resist. We become enamored of ourselves in situations and call it “love” — or, as I so eloquently put it in a letter the following fall, “the closest thing I’ve ever felt to love.” I know. I’m sorry you had to hear that. It’s embarrassing for us all. But I did it. I committed the cardinal sin of summer romance: the drag-out. Sitting alone in my college dorm room, staring out at gothic turrets, I penned a love letter to a guy whose last name I didn’t even know. The address read: [First Name] c/o The Bike Shop [Street, City, State, Zip]. I imagine he’d already gone to the mainland for the winter by then. He was probably on a bike somewhere, weaving dangerously in and out of traffic with an important parcel strapped to his back, à la Puck from The Real World. I imagine the other guys at the bike shop laughing and putting the letter on a joke wall or, if there is any mercy in the world, straight into the garbage.
Before that letter, though, before lunchtime trysts by the wharf, before cosmic conversations and awkwardly fraught goodbyes, was the moment that started it all. We lingered in the dark outside that party and talked for what must’ve been hours. When it was time to go, I mumbled something about insomnia. Suspended in the liminal space between everything I’d ever known and whatever would happen at the end of that summer, I’d taken to lying awake most nights staring at the ceiling, lost in the frenzied hopes and fears that only exist on the blind precipice of imminent change. My Bike Messenger understood. You see, there are certain types of relationships you can only have with strangers. That night we both recognized that this was one of them.
"I don’t like it either," he said of sleep. "I always feel like I’ll miss something. The world is just… so much." I couldn’t have said it better myself. Toldja. Soulmates. Or at least for the time being. That is, after all, what summer is for.
(via Huffington Post)
It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in the fall of 1993. At a country club in an affluent Connecticut suburb, six preteen ballerinas in white, ankle-length tutus sit scattered like a constellation across the drab burgundies of the industrial, floral-print carpet. In this windowless antechamber the dancers fold their bodies in half, stretching their hamstrings, but their focus is on the closed double doors, through which muffled sounds of high-heeled footsteps and animated voices are audible. Cutlery clinks against a champagne flute. The crowd settles, and someone makes… a toast? An announcement? It’s hard to tell. Just then, an officious British ballet mistress in a slick bun and kitten heels hurries the girls onto their feet and into a straight line, handing each of them a single white rose. A sound system croons the first few notes of Celine Dion’s “Power of Love” (which I urge you to play as you read this), the double doors fly open, and one by one, the six young dancers step into the light.
It was the first wedding I had ever attended. Because I was a performer and not a guest, my experience was less a movie than a series of snapshots. A woman’s pantyhose cutting into her belly, the folds of her flesh visible beneath the too-tight dress she’d no doubt bought just for the occasion. Tombé, pas de bourrée. Private moments trammeled by the theatrics of cocktail party laughter. Pas de chat, developé. Bejeweled hands grasping glasses of chardonnay. Piqué, piqué, arabesque. Cater waiters in penguin suits navigating floral arrangements so elaborate they engulfed rather than displayed their component blooms. Balancé, balancé soutenu. The groom beaming with… pride? Pressure? He’s wiping sweat from his brow. I fixate on how his collar is too tight for his thick neck. I wonder whether we should stop the music and let him get some air. Just in time, I see that Jenny and Rebecca have already given their roses. That’s my cue. I bourrée, bourrée toward what I now know to be a sweetheart table, and then I see her.
Layers of nearly fluorescent tulle cascade from a high and tight French twist and graze the puffed sleeves of a dress that is not unlike the one Kimberly Williams-Paisley wore in 1991’s well-loved Father of the Bride remake. Except, of course, that Ms. Williams-Paisley possessed the wide-eyed youth and soft, natural curls of a virgin princess. The bride in front of me, meanwhile, with her frosted blonde hair and aggressively sun-kissed skin, has taken a Victorian mold and infused it with high fashion sex, which is not problematic in and of itself — be sexy! be you! — but is giving mixed messages in this particular scenario. And that’s only the beginning.
Her thin, angular face suggests a prettiness beneath the linear rouge and frosted lipstick she wears. In her left hand, a Virginia Slim. She pulls it to her lips. Did I mention we’re indoors? Smiling and shaking and smoking and crying and smoking and shaking and smiling. With her right hand she accepts the rose I’ve extended. I’m physically close enough now to feel her humanness in the midst of all this pomp and circumstance. I detect an intimacy in the way she regards her groom; it’s nearly indiscernible beneath all these bright lights, but it’s there. High on a heady mix of cigarette smoke and perfume, I bourrée reluctantly away, mesmerized by this complicated creature and baffled as to what weddings are and how they should be.
As first impressions are lasting impressions, I long carried the notion that weddings are false, uncomfortable and a little ridiculous. I have since had the honor of attending a number of enchanting weddings in which the bride and groom, bride and bride or groom and groom embody the blissed-out ease dreams are made of and serve as a reminder of why things like ceremony, ritual and community have been cornerstones of culture for millennia. But that’s not the point. The point is: when Jack and Jill (or Jack and Jack, or Jill and Jill) become “The Jack and Jill Show” a paradox is born. An exhibition of intimacy. The publicizing of privacy. The use of words, objects and sensory delights to emblematize a nonverbal, intangible connection that ought to transcend the senses and be so ineffably special that only the two people involved can fully grasp its nature.
Or so I thought at age 12.
Anybody who watches Game of Thrones can tell you that weddings have, historically, been motivated by everything from diplomatic relations to land ownership, wealth, power, politics and so on. Only when Victoria married Albert in 1840 did the notion that love could motivate marriage become popular. To be clear, marriage is a separate issue altogether; I mention it only because the Victorian romanticism spawned by this couple’s union impacted the style of wedding celebrations in the years that followed. A similar phenomenon occurred when Diana married Charles in 1981. The high hems, flowing silhouettes and varying colors of previous decades gave way to white, lace, volume and grandeur.
Just as our style is influenced by the eras and cultures we occupy, so too is our interpretation of emotional architecture swayed by the images and narratives we imbibe. I fancy myself an independent thinker, but in 1993 I really wanted this trembling, tearful bride to appear serene and happy. Father of the Bride had been my sole wedding curriculum at that point, and I thought Annie Banks had totally nailed it. Obviously everybody should play Pachelbel’s Canon as they wed, am I right? If you don’t, something must be lacking from your relationship. Later I’d trade Pachelbel for Bush’s “Glycerine” and replace thoughts of weddings with fantasies of flannel-clad, urban cohabitation. Lelaina and Troy of Reality Bites showed me that real love isn’t fine china and string quartets. Real love is shared cigarettes, existential malaise and running your hands through each other’s unwashed hair.
I recently became engaged and have already put my foot in my mouth about a thousand times when attempting to discuss the prospect of a celebration. If you want to throw a big party, you’ll offend the proponents of modest restraint. If a more subtle person, you seem like a killjoy to those who want to be happy for you. If you prefer the outdoors, you trip over yourself to tell your friends why their indoor wedding was the best wedding ever. On that note, you’ll start speaking in gushy superlatives, none of which are based in reality and all of which are uttered in hopes of making others feel better and you feel nicer. The Hail Mary superlative does not, however, make you feel nicer. It makes you feel momentarily democratic, and then dirty for fibbing, and finally irresolute, which is worst of all when you’re trying to act like a grown up and take a decisive stance on anything whatsoever.
People will tell you, “It’s your day, so do what you want,” or “You only do this once — well, hopefully (wink) — so go all out!” and, my personal favorite, “Forget the party; save the money; you’ll thank me later.” Those who wear red think white dresses have been played out. Those with kids wonder why others feel the need to marry first and procreate later. It is, after all, 2013. There are the three-month courtships and the 15-year courtships. Ultimately, no matter what you do, you will offend everyone. In your mind, they become a band of hecklers. As you walk down the street they shout, “You blood-diamond-flaunting, patriarchy-pandering, heteronormative ne’er-do-well! You’re singlehandedly subverting the women’s movement and throwing a party with resources that could be used to feed starving children!” To which you reply, in a meek whisper, “I’ve obviously considered all of that and am trying to do this thing ethically and gracefully, damn it! Also, what is your feeling about signature cocktails?”
These voices are not real. They’re all in your head. Pretty much everybody is happy for you. Moreover, nobody really cares. They’re busy with their own lives.
Love is a curious thing. Everybody expresses it differently. Hiring a gaggle of young dancers from the local ballet academy to surprise your new wife, who loves ballet almost as much as she does Virginia Slims and Celine Dion? You’ve got to hand it to that guy for thinking outside the box. I don’t know if it was cheesy or tacky or adorable or romantic, but what I think matters not one bit, because it was theirs. And that is beautiful.
(via Huffington Post)
When it comes to my exes, there’s just one who remains absent from all forms of social media. As for the others, I’ve seen photos of this one’s trip to India and that one’s charming hilltop wedding. The guy from French class is a PhD candidate in some science of the mind. The college dorm neighbor stands before a Christmas tree flanked not by the two kid sisters I remember, but by two sophisticated-looking women I barely recognize. This access to their presents creates in me amnesia for the pasts we shared. Where there once might have been nostalgic longing or imaginative extrapolation, there is now the cozy but sterile fellowship that cloaks all things available to all people at all times.
The ex with no digital footprint is immune to this. I remember him as he was years ago and occasionally wonder what his life is like now. In the rare empty space surrounding my understanding of him, I can assume fictive futures. I imagine that if I bumped into him on the street, the concreteness of the situation would be too much. I’d fumble my words and revert to my 23-year-old self. After all, if not, “Congratulations on your new baby! She’s beautiful!” or “I saw your Italy pictures – how was the trip?”, what would I possibly have to say to this person? But I digress. The point is that he’s become a wildcard. A ghost. A marbly white, mystery-flavored fruit snack that refuses to broadcast its red cherriness or purple grapeness.
It’s unclear whether his virtual unavailability is magnetic or alienating – which, in turn, begs the question: when it comes to your virtual persona, to what degree are you drawing in, and to what degree are you pushing away? Though your involvement itself suggests a baseline transparency, are you stripping down to your rawness or putting on a well-curated show? And if you answered the latter, are you not somehow the same as the invisible ex? Hiding behind a re-tweeting, quote-happy avatar (guilty as charged) may be as distancing as avoiding the enterprise altogether.
I’m drawn to those who reveal – probably because their freewheeling revelations give any viewer ample fodder for connection (please note: it has to be artful; literalists need not apply). My favorites fall into two subcategories: the snarks and the glossy lifestylists. The snarks discuss everything from pop culture to politics, therapy, razor burn and what happens to their urine after eating asparagus. They’re alternately bombastic and self-deprecating, untouchably cool and professionally uncool. Just when you think they’ve devolved into an obliquely amusing vortex of navel-gazing millennial speak, they’ll whip out a striking syntax, insightful sense of humor or cultural critique that reminds you of their unique brilliance. And on the most solemn of occasions, they’ll employ the holy grail hashtag #serioustweet. If you’re the recipient of that, congratulations; you’ve slain the dragon.
The glossy lifestylists, meanwhile, inhabit a world of yogic trips to Bali and Sundays at the local farmers market. They collect vintage vinyl, spearhead charity fundraisers, lead lively book clubs, and birth the most ridiculously beautiful children you’ve ever seen. Even the foam on their cappuccinos is museum-worthy. I’m as much enamored of their luster as I am of the snarks’ crudeness. In my wildest dreams, I’m a glossy lifestylist upon whom the snarks bestow their acceptance. (Don’t tell them that; they eat earnestness for breakfast – or at least chew it up and spit it out as a meme.) In reality, I’m not any of these things.
As humans become brands, what happens to those of us who are neither exceedingly raw nor exceedingly sparkly? There’s no pithy message or narrative thread that says “loose ends” or “in transition.” Without a throughline or a point, the gray area is being squeezed out, which strikes me as odd because most of life happens in the gray. In this climate of exhibitionism, subtlety is becoming obsolete. Not only that, but by living quietly, you give people so little to connect with that you run the risk of alienating them. Revealing can be unwieldy, but refusing to do so is tantamount to withholding your name at a party. Then you’re just that loner in the corner, avoiding eye contact and giving us nothing.
Are you revealing too little? Too much? Are you contributing something valuable or just seeking approval? How do you become part of the conversation without laying yourself open to the myriad dangers of overexposure? Moreover, how do you hear your own voice in the midst of such a forceful chorus? I don’t have the answer. Bewitched by the siren song of the tweets, I dip my toe in, hope for the best and embarrass myself often. Maybe the invisible ex is onto something after all.
His penmanship was the yang to my yin: inky, all caps characters poured onto the grainy, college-ruled page with obvious force. Whereas I was inclined to hide behind the controlled, back-slanted neutrality of extra-fine ballpoint black, he was liable to leave his mark in the smudgy, imperfect perfection of aggressively forward-leaning, medium-point rolling ball blue. I carried at least two bottles of Wite-Out with me at all times but secretly admired the boldness of the boy who could cross out a word, insert a mini carrot-arrow and squeeze a replacement into the surrounding blankness. His writing was an exhibition of process rather than a presentation of product. Product can be distancing. Process is as inclusive as it is messy. And so, with his trademark scrawl, he let me in.
Remember the era of mystery? Before the dawn of locating technologies, the 8th period bell was our North Star. It sent me scurrying to my locker, which was two below his. (He didn’t scurry. He ambled. He was so cool). A glance. A touch. A note. An exhilarated walk to 9th period Algebra. I never read his missives in class. Like any delicacy, they were best consumed slowly, deliberately, with full attention and all five senses. And until I had the time and space to read them as such, they lay tucked in the front zipper pocket of my L.L. Bean backpack, burning holes of passion into the modest, forest green nylon.
Years later, the content has all but disappeared from memory. The look, feel, scent and touch of my high school sweetheart’s notes, however, remain vivid. This is to say that the hand-written letter has only a little to do with its constituent words. My mother’s elegant cursive on a Post-It note in my lunchbox said nothing of great consequence but flooded my tiny heart with joy. The wobbly print on a 2004 Hallmark Easter card from my grandmother, meanwhile, has taken on different meaning since she’s passed. Though barely mobile by then, she somehow managed to get to the store, pick out the card, put pen to paper and sign her name, along with a funny, self-deprecating P.S. stick figure drawing of herself. In a way an email could never be, it’s a deeply personal snapshot of life, of action and of humor. And the countless notes my high school best friend and I exchanged as we navigated our angsty teen years boast not one but two strains of meaning: the words and the presentation. Nothing says, “I’m struggling with demons” like melancholy musings in bubbly purple penmanship, or Staples loose leaf with burnt edges designed to evoke some bygone era and/or notions of decay.
Letters. Henry VIII wonders if Anne Boleyn returns his affections. Abraham Lincoln admits an error to Ulysses S. Grant. Ten-year-old boy scout John F. Kennedy asks his father for a raise in his allowance. Richard Burton waxes poetic on the bewitching beauty of his wife Elizabeth Taylor. Johnny Cash to June Carter. John Keats to Fanny Brawne. James Joyce is as dirty as Jimi Hendrix is sweet, and Eleanor Roosevelt is positively effusive when it comes to Lorena Hickok. (If you haven’t, visit Letters of Note. It’s stupendous.)
A mere glance at their handwriting plunges you into the annals of history and vivifies your previous understanding of them – an understanding diluted by the passing of time and sanitized by the inevitable, often indiscriminate printing and reprinting of facts, figures and famous words. How do these people appear on the page? Did they conform to or rebel against customary pen grip? Lefty? Righty? Legible or illegible? Big and bold or compact and coded? The penmanship makes you feel closer to the writer, whether struck by their loping confidence or drawn in by their mysterious shyness. The skin of a palm pressed against the page. Ink-stained fingers. There’s something carnal about the act of writing a letter.
We send and receive countless texts and emails. But doesn’t our inclination to graph emotions onto ellipses or to grasp feebly at the oblique implications of emoticons suggests a need for something more evocative than the subtle curve of a Times New Roman character delivered from some cloud in the iEther? Write a letter. Do it with non-toxic ink on recycled paper if you want. Because unlike emails, handwritten letters are a little about words and a lot about soul.
You are a published writer. How do you find time to fit that into your everyday schedule?
E.B. White said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” In creative pursuits, especially the self-generated variety, it’s altogether too easy to tell yourself you’re distracted today, not feeling inspired today, or need to pay the bills and do the laundry today. I find it helpful to set aside a two-hour block during which I leave the house, turn off the phone and sit quietly in a coffee shop or library with my laptop. Sometimes it’s excruciating, and what comes out will never see the light of day. Sometimes it’s easy, and I end up staying for six hours instead of two. We like to think that the arts are about muses and magic. They often are. They’re also a lot about showing up. Showing up to the theater, the studio, the field or the blank page, and making your practice as important as the bills and the laundry (which, by the way, will get done).
You have a love for fall. Where do you think that comes from?
It could be because I’m from New England, which lends itself to autumnal splendor, or because I was born into fall. I’ve always preferred the shadowy mystery of grey weather to the bright obviousness of the sun. Seasons are cycles, and fall marks a period of turning inward, of hibernation. It’s this heightened moment of golds and crimsons and bronzes, of harvest and abundance. Yet it is, as heightened moments tend to be, ephemeral. Waiting in the wings are the frost that will soon cover the ground and the leafless trees that will stand stark against the winter sky. That contrast makes me giddy. So does pumpkin pie.
What are some challenges you’ve had to overcome in your life path?
My earlier life was linear. Study hard, work hard, and get results. Reap what you sow, and so on. Now I exist in a world where there aren’t any hard and fast rules. Success is not necessarily about hard work or desire (though I find merit in both); it’s about taking the ride and accepting that the results are largely out of your hands. The professional challenge, then, is to remain positive and authentic when things don’t work out the way you’d hoped they would, to have faith in intangibles like luck and timing and to know that there is always something new on the horizon. The personal challenge, meanwhile, is to go ahead and live your life. Waiting for everything to fall into place is a dangerous game.
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Ah, Christmas. Thanks to a misplaced curling iron, abnormally heavy traffic on I-95 and a three-car pile-up on the Van Wyck Expressway, you’re late for your flight. Your heart pounds as your ride careens toward the JFK departures curb, which your feet hit in a Hail Mary sprint to get to the gate on time. You’ve considered buying winter boots but have never been able to justify doing so, because you only visit winter once a year have a deep-seated issue with deserving (which you’re working on in therapy). So you’re wearing the only boots you own, carrying bags that weigh more than you do, and sweating profusely under your multiple layers of clothing, even though your fingers and toes have somehow managed to remain numb. You’d dreamt of a White Christmas but instead got bitter cold rain – rain that now coats the soles of your weather-inappropriate boots. Hallelujah! An airport employee! No? Wrong line? Oh, right line. But need a boarding pass first. Thanks for your help. Grinch. Way to spread the holiday cheer. You spot a kiosk in the distance. The clock ticks forward, and the loudspeaker blasts It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, which is as ironic as your encroaching pangs of agoraphobia are alarming. Just focus on the kiosk. Get to the kiosk and get back to the line.
It’s a slapstick fall. The kind where you fly up into the air and hang there for an awkward moment before crashing down onto your tailbone in the manner of a cartoon coyote. (The heavy bags fall on top of you.) It is so egregious that even the apathetic onlookers rise out of their travel weary slumps and stand to help you. “Thanks, I’m fine!” you muster with a smile (you also have an issue receiving help; you’re also working on it in therapy). You’re not fine. Your body throbs with pain and your face burns red with shame. Pull it together. Don’t cry. You start to cry a little.
What seems like lifetimes later, the interminably long check-in line deposits you in front of a desk attendant, to whom you profess, breathlessly, “I think I may be too late.” Failing to notice your frayed nerves or the tears welling up in your eyes, she says, robotically, “Nope. As of six minutes ago, the flight’s been delayed three hours due to snow.” You look outside. It’s snowing. And just like that a White Christmas has slipped through your fingers.
’Tis the season of holly and ivy, of comfort and joy, of sugary lattes in red cups and cloying commercials brought to you by mid-range diamond retailers. ’Tis also the season of holiday travel – and not always the heartwarming Love, Actually kind. And so, for those who maintain that there is, in fact, no place like home for the holidays, here are some suggestions that may ease your journey.
Safe travels and happy holidays!
The plane that ferries travelers from the island of Nantucket to Boston, Massachusetts and back carries nine passengers and one pilot. It’s the type of plane that requires you to state your body weight before boarding and hovers at an altitude from which you can see the ground (or, more accurately, the water) the entire way. Just before seven on a sunny July morning, you hand your carry-on to the attendant, who places it in a cavernous leftwing compartment (no bags on board) and lie about your weight by two pounds (to lie by five might prove hazardous to your safety and to the safety of your fellow passengers). The engine is so loud it drowns out all other sounds, save the pilot’s confident voice (he does this several times a day) shouting cheerfully at you to “fasten your seatbelt.” You think of JFK Jr., probably because you’re reading a memoir by a woman who loved him and whom he loved. Or because you’re crossing waters a stone’s throw from where he passed. You think of Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hughes. How they treated planes like sports cars and managed to live relatively long lives. The speed is breathtaking, and before you know it, you’re airborne.
Hovering above the island, you get an extraordinary bird’s eye view. From this vantage point you see why maps look the way they do. The sun glistens on the water and illuminates the grey shingles and white trim of the houses dappling the land. Yachts and sailboats rest in the harbors, and waves kiss the rocky shores. Everywhere are green trees and bramble merged with stretches of sandy brown and swaths and inlets of brilliant blue. You’re the opposite of a sun worshipper; you much prefer the subtlety of grey to the glaring obviousness of the light. But this morning, the sun shines on the island in the most magnificent way and somehow charms you into liking it.
You mull over the concept of distance. Things appear glossy from a distance. When you’re immersed in them, places are flawed, real: you trip over a crevice between cobblestones, swat a mosquito from the mustard that’s fallen out of your sandwich and onto the table, and walk the dock where you first locked eyes with a stranger who became an intimate and then a stranger again. The place is more textured than smooth. But from a distance, you perceive none of this. What you see now is Nantucket’s avatar. Its profile picture. “I should Instagram this,” you think, instinctively. You already know which hashtags you’ll use (#ACK #nofilter). But then you remember your phone is in your carry-on, which is in the wing (#fail). And so instead of morphing into your avatar and sharing the island’s avatar with a community of avatars, you must remain human and sit in the radical solitude of your own perception. You have neither an electronic facsimile of this moment nor the validation of an audience “liking” it. You have only its fleetingness. That and the nervous tapping of your left foot (#private #kinetic #NotIdealForPhotoSharing).
The plane tilts and turns. It leans toward the water and then dips back to neutral. You feel everything on a plane like this. Louder and bumpier than its larger counterpart, the tiny plane (that’s its technical name) personalizes the experience of flying in a way that is as terrifying as it is beautiful. Lumbering commercial jets are the Walmarts of the sky: noise-controlled, Febreze-scented, futuristic public living rooms with personal televisions, plastic-wrapped snacks and scant discussion of how it all came to be. The nine-passenger prop plane, meanwhile, gives you an experience akin to that of raising and slaughtering a chicken; it necessarily reminds you of what, exactly, you’re doing. There’s nothing veiled or sanitized about it.
“This isn’t actually scary,” you tell yourself, as you hit turbulence and your heart skips a beat. “What am I afraid of? Falling out of the sky? I’m only afraid of falling out of the sky because I’ve been taught that fear.” Like when you watch too much Law & Order: SVU before bed and stare warily out your bedroom window, half expecting a pair of bloodthirsty eyes to be gazing back at you. Suggestibility can be dangerous if not channeled mindfully. You consider how a small child or first-time flier would react to this flight. She would likely regard it with wonder and amazement – the way you regarded love before you knew heartbreak, drink before you knew excess, or Santa before you knew doubt. The plane rocks from side to side, the pilot remaining unfazed. “I’m not scared of a boat rocking in water,” you reason. “Water has waves, and waves rock boats, and a rocking boat is totally normal.” Ergo, “This is only harrowing because I think it’s harrowing.” Somehow, the repetition of, “This is fun!” puts you at ease and enables you to become exhilarated by the bumps and sways. You wonder how you’d fare if you applied this logic to other aspects of your life: work, relationships, money, overall purpose. Rather than tensing up or projecting danger, why not relax, ride with it and enjoy the metaphorical bumps and sways? The smug simplicity of this parallel makes you hate yourself a little.
Ah, self-loathing! A top-ten (maybe even top five) bump-slash-sway in the bougie life of the 21st century urbanite. A journalist for a Canadian newspaper once wrote of the admirable novelist Zadie Smith that her works present “an aggressive repudiation of the effete ‘Hampstead novel’ that dwells on the lives and loves of North London’s more privileged inhabitants.”*
As this springs to mind, you hope passionately that you have not fallen into the American equivalent of said category. You have more grit than that, right? You are the everywoman. And flying – even if from a luxurious vacation destination – elicits thoughts like this in everyone, right? Yours are valid concerns. And just as the contemplation of your own effeteness threatens to render you even more effete than you were moments ago, you spot land and feel the way the Plymouth Colony Pilgrims must have. The sight of the shore blesses the voyager with a certain amnesia regarding the challenges of the journey. “How was the flight?” Amazing.
You deplane and, as it is a tiny plane, traverse the tarmac on foot in the manner of Maverick and Iceman. Sunglasses feel so right in this moment. Carry-on now in hand, you hastily fish out your phone so that you can sneak a shot of the aircraft before it exits your field of vision forever. You snap the photo. Meh. It’ll need a filter. The light is different now.
And so this: the island, the ocean, the heartbreaking beauty of the moment, accidental reflections, a memory of a man long forgotten, hopes and fears, wanderlust, and the messy vulnerability of your abject fear, all summed up in a sexy wide shot of a prop plane with an X-pro II filter, blurred edges and enhanced brightness. It immediately gets sixteen “likes” – which you deem a respectable number for someone whose Instagram is private. A sure sign that the trip was worth it. And that it happened.
*John Barber, The Globe and Mail (October 7, 2012)(via The Conversation with Amanda de Cadenet)
“Uncompromising purpose and the search for eternal truth have an unquestionable sex appeal for the young and high-minded; but when a person loses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane – in the cigarette on the stoop or the gingersnap in the bath – she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger” (128). -Amor Towles, Rules of Civility
Coffee. Lee always called it a nice cup of coffee. For her, the drink didn’t really exist without the qualifiers. Coffee is clinical. A nice cup of coffee sets a scene. Born in 1919 to Neapolitan immigrants, Lee was a self-professed sweater girl who spent much of her life waiting tables at a place called the Snack Shop in small town New England. (For those who don’t know, a sweater girl boasts a figure that looks great in a sweater. I always imagined said sweater to be, specifically, a cardigan worn, even more specifically, in the style of the 1940s or ‘50s.)
You may remember the episode of Aaron Spelling’s original 90210 in which Brenda had to cover her brother Brandon’s shift at the Peach Pit. At first, she did so begrudgingly. I mean, who wants to be waiting tables when they could be following Dylan McKay on a surfing excursion to Baja, am I right? Eventually, though, when Brenda realized that her self-generated frustration at the situation was doing nothing but making her miserable, she had an inspired change of heart and transformed before our eyes into a sassy, gum-smacking, hairnet-wearing queen of greasy spoon culture. Brenda’s metamorphosis was enough to make any young girl dream of wearing knee-length industrial polyester and scrawling burger orders on the pages of a mini notebook tucked expertly into an adorable apron. (Years later, I’d end up doing this exact thing for work. Though I served burgers and wore an apron, there were no vintage roller-skates or cute, old timey nicknames involved, and I had to type orders into a computer rather than shouting them out to an avuncular cook named Nat. Bo-ring.) But in Lee’s case – as in Brenda’s – there were cigar-smoking regulars with names like Jimmy Dogs, coffee breaks out back with the girls, and a rich diner culture in which the spirited waitress – caf in one hand, decaf in the other – reigned supreme.
Scrape away the patina of this postwar fantasy and fast-forward to Lee’s later years, when she was more my grandmother than one of the girls at the Snack Shop. What remained was the coffee. Making it, drinking it, serving it, sharing it, going out to get it, you name it. Sometimes what she meant by nice cup of coffee was an actual cup of coffee. Other times, she meant that she wanted to sit and talk, her cigarette dangling between her elegant fingers with their long, burgundy nails. The cigarette, like the coffee, was never the event. It would gather an epically long stem of ash before being tapped gently on the rim of the ashtray, a simple prop supporting a moment of repose. A reason to take a break; the active nom de plume of more passive pursuits like connecting with a friend, reading the paper, or daydreaming – pursuits that may not have been as welcome in midcentury pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps immigrant culture. And with the years, the drink may have changed, but its unique ability to sustain moments of connection and reflection – arguably the endangered species of our techno-saturated, lightning speed culture – has endured.
Coffee. A diner. A booth. A game. A boy fumbles with a porcelain saucer of individually wrapped creamers. His dad waits patiently and his sister wishes it were her turn to pour. The white swirls and curls into the brown and becomes tan and looks enticing like ice cream and is all the more tempting because it’s not for kids.
Coffee. An elementary school. A second grade classroom. The teacher bends down to survey the young student’s cursive. Her words of approval billow forth on waves of java breath. It’s the same breath the child’s mom had when they walked to the bus stop hours earlier. The warm, comforting breath of adults on winter mornings when the air is bitter cold and the coffee is piping hot and the day is still pure with possibility.
Coffee. Prep school. A junior. A liberation. What began as a bitter substitute for speed, a fuel she choked down in the name of heroic nights authoring lengthy term papers, has become her ticket out. A free period after A.P. Bio? Let’s drive down to Dunkin’ Donuts and order large hazelnut coffees with skim milk and 2 Equals and listen to Radiohead. It’s her G-rated rebellion. Her way of sticking it to the man. And so she does it, because she can.
Do you want to meet for coffee? There’s the supercharged coffee at the beginning of a relationship when what you really wanted to say was dinner and drinks and, most of all, bed, but it felt too soon for that and so you said coffee. Later, there’s the coffee that punctuates the affair. As you approach the coffee shop, your heart falls through your stomach and onto the sidewalk, leaving you hollow by the time you get there. But at least the setting is casual. Familiar. No touching or raised voices or broken dishes here. After all, it’s just coffee. And when it’s not shepherding a relationship’s rise or fall, it has the rare power to stop time. You order. You sip. You sit with a friend. Four hours later, you’re both staring out the window, wondering where the day went. You’ve tried meditation but have never been able to stick with it. Except that you have. That’s what this is.
Starbucks or 76? Die hard Dunkin’ east coaster or SoCal Coffee Beaner? Double tall extra hot half-caf 2% salted caramel three-pump mocha or elegant espresso with a lemon twist? Does it make you superhuman or riddle you with anxiety? Or, best of all, do you embody that elusive European romanticism which sublimates caffeine-related fluctuations of the nervous system and gives you the general aura of a clove-smoking existentialist? I once dated a guy who didn’t drink coffee; he brandished this fact with the rusty, cobwebbed pride of a landline user. He superseded the coffee date and could stay awake of his own accord. His refusal to participate was smug. Distancing. Not that you have to drink the stuff. Maybe you’re on an alkaline diet or pregnant or have ulcers or prefer tea. That’s your prerogative. I’m not the boss of you. But as we move forward with ever increasing speed, it might behoove us to say yes to the nice cup of coffee every once in awhile. To the moment. Because, beverages aside, there’s poetry in taking pause.
Peplum. Dart. Ruche. Epaulette. Appliqué. To the fashionable among us, these terms are simply part of the vernacular. To me, they sound like Greek. (To be clear, I don’t speak Greek. If you do, congratulations; you’re way ahead of the game.) Peplum is, in fact, a derivative of the Greek term meaning tunic or shawl. The rest are of French origin. Well, except for dart, which to me sounds more like a bar game than a type of fold sewn into fabric to create a three-dimensional shape. (Full disclosure: I had to Google that.)
In a fashion forward world, I’m your average, instinct-driven dilettante. Which leads me to question: how do those in the know know what they know, you know? Is it nature? Nurture? Both? For those of us lacking in fashion DNA, stylistic inclinations must be rooted somehow in life experience. It seems that the issue of style, left unexamined, crystallizes of its own accord during formative periods of our lives.
I hail from the northeast, where it is acceptable to wear a lot of black. Black is easy. Black matches. You’ll often catch me in black ankle boots, black pants, and a black sweater – an ensemble that allows me to think very little and, sometimes, to disappear. The summer version of this is a chocolate brown cotton maxi dress I found years ago at a Target in rural Louisiana. What? It’s cute. Pair it with flip-flops and a straw hat, and boom. Comfy, easy, and allows me to vanish beneath the billowing, ankle-length fabric. You see, to my untrained eye, the line where, say, neon yellow and zebra print turned from couture to trashy was, for a long time, blurry. Very blurry. So to be safe, I stayed away from it entirely and dwelt, instead, in the land of radical simplicity.
Then came Trayce. As an actress, I have the privilege of working with some extraordinarily talented costume designers. Not until I am in the clothes do I feel fully realized as the character I’m playing. This should’ve been my first clue that in life, as in art, fashion holds tremendous power – power I had overlooked because of my own blissful ignorance. In the particular instance I’m thinking of, I play a bold and unselfconscious socialite – a woman wildly unlike myself. This character adores colors and prints. She wears zigzag jumpsuits and jewel-toned capes and has money to burn. When I play her, I wear things I, myself, would never dream of wearing. Trayce Field, the costume designer for 2 Broke Girls and the genius behind these ensembles, has put me in tight leggings and faux fur vests, princess-worthy coat-dresses and multicolored prints, vintage treasures and more bangle bracelets than I ever thought my wrists could handle. A paisley print here, a cinched waist there, and all of it expertly tailored to fit my body. I owe much to Trayce, but for our purposes here I’ll try to sum it up in three short lessons:
(via Move LifeStyle)