You Earned It!

‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house,

Tony and Katie weren’t sleeping when they were supposed to sleep

but then sleeping a lot when everyone else was awake

because of time changes and recovering from a red eye flight,

which is only a guess, I don’t really know what’s happening.

End of poem.

This doesn’t really make sense, when you think about it. Why would gaining three hours result in an all-out assault on our sleeping patterns? Will the whole next week be like this? Will I take a red eye flight ever again, even if it means saving 2,000 dollars again? (Ok, probably yes to that one.) This is all to say, Ohio is gray and wet, and the room where we sleep is very dark, so perhaps our retiring to a cave doesn’t help our chances of being functioning humans during the daylight hours. Again, this is only a guess.

The journey east was altogether easy, though, as we managed to find a direct flight to the state of Ohio. Which was a miraculous feat! A majority of our options consisted of 16-, 17-, 18-hour travel times with layovers in every other city between here and Los Angeles. I understand that I was supposed to sleep on my red eye flight, thus avoiding this whole “can’t sleep/can only sleep now” situation, but I did not. That is my cross to bear. Luckily, I was provided entertainment by the guy sitting across the aisle from us. He was convinced there was some kind of secret tray table in his arm rest, and he proceeded to pull on it until it literally broke apart, electrical wiring spidering out in different directions. He tucked the wires haphazardly back into the arm rest, though it didn’t take much detective work to look at his seat and see that it was jacked up. This same character proceeded to watch movies for the full duration of the flight, but not just any movies. He was watching movies that I have dubbed “Who are these for?” movies. Those are movies, often comedies, that have a funny joke or two in the trailer but as a whole doesn’t seem to be that funny, and when you really think about it you’re like, “Ok, but who is this for? This seems passable but, who is going to pay money to see this?” Well, this guy watched three of those. He didn’t just watch three of them. He barf-laughed through three of them. “Barf-laugh” is another term I’ve coined and it means laughing so hard you might barf. This guy was making all KINDS of noises. Can you imagine having that much fun on an airplane? The woman sitting to my right was also having a great time, as she had clearly smoked all her pot before getting on board, and then proceeded to talk on the phone and eat cheese. What a life! What a time to be alive! I hope these two characters meet and fall in love.

Besides enjoying the hustle and bustle of holiday traveling, we also got in the festive spirit by going to Christmas at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios this past Monday. Did you know that Universal Studios California is a mere 7 minute drive from our apartment? Well, it is! It’s probably a good thing that tickets are not cheap, or else we might find ourselves there every weekend. You know, it’s funny. I read all the Harry Potter books (and loved them), waited in line at midnight, saw the movies, did all the basic HP stuff of the mid-2000s. It was fun, but then it was over. And I was ok with that. I am a person who is good (I think) at understanding that things are over. No point in drawing things out. But then. THEN. Freeform started running Harry Potter weekends and Tony and I would literally just keep them on for hours upon hours while we wrote, cooked, read, napped, did chores, you name it, those movies were just the ideal things to have on. And, the more we watched, the more we realized how rife they are for hilarious bits. For example, we have developed an alternate narrative that focuses solely on Seamus Finnegan’s obvious American frattiness. We have posited that Seamus’s room of requirement consists of a half-drunk keg, a St. Pauli Girl poster, and an Xbox. This is our favorite version of this character, and we think of him now in only this way. If you watch any HP movies in the near future I ask you, please, see Seamus through this lens. Pretend his name is Mike or Ben or Nick. It will still make sense.

But, right, Christmas at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! I don’t know that I need to offer a review aside from it being, well, magical. Every last detail was considered (as it should have been, it cost 300 million dollars to build). It was immersive and charming and everything was for sale (can you believe it?) and little kids in robes were running around with their newly bought wands at perfect knee (or testicle, sorry Tony) whacking heights. I drank butter beer and bought a chocolate frog. It was all good things.

Tony getting one step closer to becoming his idol, Seamus Finnegan

Leading up to our day at CaWWoHP, I was having some serious arguments with myself about the concept of “earning it,” or more specifically, had I really earned a day at a theme park? I’m not working right now, and the idea of doing something fun just because felt off. I’ve been having the same struggle with Christmas: am I even allowed to look forward to the “break”? On the flip side, though, just because I live in a sunny place does not mean everyday is vacation now. My new normal is applying to jobs or working on writing for 8-10 hours a day. And even though writing seems like a hobby to some, it’s work to me, and submitting to (and being rejected by) publications is a not-always-fun part of the process. It goes without saying that I ultimately gave myself permission to have fun at Harry Potter world, and giving myself permission to relax is slowly but surely happening, too. It’s also possible that this solves the mystery of sleeping-so-much/not-sleeping-at-all: my body and brain are still at odds when it comes to understanding when they’re allowed to be off and on.

This is all to say, I hope everyone can grant themselves permission to enjoy the holidays, in whatever way that means for you. You are allowed to have nice things. Even if particular societal constructs and expectations have taught you not feel deserving of nice things, I think you do. Now go take a nap!

 

 

Like Abdomen Pain for Chocolate

Greetings from my couch! Here I lie supine, heating pad on my abdomen, Motrin bottle at arm’s length, realizing I have used the word “supine” for the first time in my life and finding it sort of freeing. It must be IUD placement week, baby! That’s right, as of this past Monday I am the proud owner of a cute new uterus piercing, one that my doctor and friends described as, “Oh, it hurts.” The pain has been manageable and mostly comes in waves, but today has been a little on the bad side, so here we are. I can best sum up this experience in three stages: 1) The time I spent looking at a puppy Instagram account immediately before the IUD procedure 2)  The time during the IUD procedure when I cursed at my doctor a lot and she said “I told you this would hurt!” and I said “I know—but then it did.” 3) And the time after the IUD procedure when I laid in bed, having decided to start The Crown on Netflix, thinking the pilot was pretty good so far, then hitting that scene where King George sings Christmas carols with the village children and he’s wearing the paper crown and I cried SO hard that I had to stop and take a nap. WOW, a case of the Mondays indeed! I am relieved for it to be over though, as this has been a nagging to-do since before I even got to Los Angeles. The to-do even more nagging, of course, in that it was time-sensitive (running out of pills!), health-sensitive (my blood pressure!), and insurance sensitive (hey, quitting a job rids you of your insurance coverage, did you know that?). This is all to say, I do expect you to be very impressed with my ability to figure all this out, create an action plan, and then see the plan through, even though the plan was painful.

What comes after dinner? In a perfect world, more dinner!

Aside from that, this week has also welcomed a new tradition in our home, one that I hope grows into an infamous and hilarious legend far into our twilight years. It’s the chocolate drawer! That’s a drawer for all your chocolate. The concept was first introduced to me in an interview with Kumail Nanjiani in which he said he keeps a drawer filled with chocolate in his kitchen. It’s pretty self-explanatory. I don’t know why I became so transfixed with the idea, especially as I don’t have a sweet tooth (What comes after dinner? In a perfect world, more dinner! In college I used to eat a bowl of cereal for dessert, which I thought was a very moderate take on the contemporary dessert concept, though you must bear in mind that this was usually after a dinner of french fries and mayonnaise. One time my friend Casey made me a salad, which still remains one of the kindest and most condescending things anyone has ever done for me.). But to me, the chocolate drawer seemed like the most harmless indulgence, a nice collection of not-expensive things that’s always there if you need a morsel of something sweet. I talked for weeks about the chocolate drawer like it was an expensive car or a house in the hills, wistfully looking into the future and declaring that some day, I would deserve to have a drawer filled with chocolate bars. Finally, in a moment of weakness (or perhaps great bravery) I selected the first bar for my collection: dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt. It was under 2 dollars. And since that day, the drawer has grown into 6 bars of varying styles and flavors, and we have more or less behaved ourselves, though my unofficial mantra has become “Don’t forget—the point of the chocolate drawer is to have chocolate—” and then Tony says, “in the drawer,” before grumbling a little and wrapping up the rest of the bar in foil. I also want to add that if you any issues, objections, or general annoyances with this frivolous story about all the chocolate I own, then I implore you to recall that I’m in pain! I have no job! Let me have something! Thank you.

Dramatization of me eating my first salad in college (courtesy of SHUTTERSTOCK)

Aside from the aforementioned topics (my uterus, chocolate) I can honestly say that all sights are set on getting to Ohio for Christmas. That isn’t necessarily commentary on getting out of Los Angeles; rather, my brain and my body just know that it’s time to travel and go do Christmas. It makes even less sense this year, seeing as I will be on a break from nothing and I will not have really earned it. But it’s hard to ignore that big blocked off amount of time in your head, the same amount of time that you’ve observed every year of your life. Also, and if I may rail for a few lines, airfare was outrageous. OUT. rage. ous. Searching for tickets, even months ago, was panic inducing. It seemed hopeless. Members of our Chicago/LA Facebook group are arranging CAR POOLS back to the midwest because it’s so expensive to fly. Please keep in mind that I am a person who had to work up weeks of courage to purchase a bar of chocolate, for fear it was not a necessary enough purchase. Then the plane tickets!!!! I will not divulge what we ended up paying but know that a) I ended up finding a decent-enough deal that kind of hurts but is not impossible and b) I cobbled together this deal by taking a red eye AND talking my brother into picking us up in Columbus, which is not at all where I should be landing, based on where my family lives. But do you see what I mean? This year is not merely rolling my hungover self up to O’Hare and being on a cheap flight for 45 minutes. The stakes are higher! The prices are higher!  But the good news is I now have a longer fight in which to make up a story about what I’m doing in Los Angeles.

In conclusion, we’re almost there, everybody. You’ve all earned your chocolate drawers this year, even if it might not feel like it.

(Oh, and “Cat Person” is a work of fiction. Please. Repeat that to yourself over and over again, ask yourself if you would have the same emotional reaction to a similar piece of fiction written by a man, then remind yourself again that it’s fiction. Then, go read other works of fiction. Fiction is the one where it’s not a think piece on Thought Catalog or Uplift or Manipulate or wherever else you find your opinions on the internet.)

Stranger Things

I don’t need to tell anyone that 2017 was strange. I think “strange” is the mildest–and most ambiguous–way of describing this year, but a descriptor I’ve purposefully chosen nonetheless. It’s the same feeling of  strangeness I addressed last week, that being one of time and place that I’ve felt since moving to Los Angeles. When I zoom out, though, I realize that maybe that’s how I’ve felt for a long time (322 days and then some), each day like another episode of the Twilight Zone. Again: I know I’m not alone in this. I don’t need to break this down further or to provide anyone with a new and illuminating hot take on how hurtful, shocking, and downright confusing the news cycle has been, and how I hold my breath before looking at my phone every morning. I don’t need to offer the same opinions and sentiments that you’ve been seeing on your own social media platforms, assuming you, too, are also part of the liberal echo chamber. And if you’re not, then dear reader, let me make it very clear: Trump’s presidency has made me very sad. Again, this is mild and ambiguous, but it’s the most succinct summation I can come up with. Never mind the anger and embarrassment and again, the confusion: this is an issue of baseline sadness. It bums me the fuck out. I want you all to know that if you’re also feeling bummed the fuck out, I am here for you. We have fought and called and marched and written letters and given away our money and volunteered and we will continue to do so next year but still, it’s sad, and I think we are entitled to that feeling. That’s been the point of this bummertown opening salvo: to express that this holiday season, all I can offer is an understanding “I hear you, I feel you. This is a bummer.” This is not even taking into account all the sexual assault allegations, the hard but important work that women are doing as part of this reckoning, and the countless people who have asked “if I’ve been sexually harassed since moving to LA,” as though that’s a behavior that’s only reserved for Hollywood. I hope to see you all at a bar in the coming weeks!

But then.

THEN.

Los Angeles literally caught on fire.

Talk about strange. Talk about a thing I have certainly never had to deal with before. Talk about a level of destruction that I simply could not have comprehended. Thankfully we have been safe in our neighborhood, and there is no foreseeable threat in the future, but it doesn’t help that the now-famous hellfire video was taken only about 20 miles from where we live. I watched it and was like, “Wow, California is so big! Good thing this is definitely not happening near us!” Then it sort of was. To reiterate! We are safe.  But don’t let our fortune distract from the hundreds of people who have lost their homes right before the holidays. Send a little their way if you can.

This is a surreal story that involves some NAME DROPPING but whatever, the specific name needs to be dropped so you can understand how totally weird everything is. We went to see The Killing of a Sacred Deer the other night. First of all. Holy. Shit. Mom: do not watch this movie. If your sensibilities align with my mother’s then, you know, make a call based on that. It was incredible. Gorgeous. Violent. Morosely charming. Claustrophobic to the point I almost walked out, and I do not walk out on movies. Jarring. Deeply frustrating. I will never watch it again. I hope it wins so many awards. Anyway, my party and I walked silently from the movie to a restaurant, all of us attempting to digest what in the hell we had just experienced. We were sitting outside, eating empanadas. Then, Giovani Ribisi walked past us. He paused next to our table and cackled for several seconds at a video he was watching on his phone, the volume up quite loud. Five blonde women (presumably friends) approached him, huddled around the phone and laughed, and then they all walked off together. The three of us at the table stared in mild disbelief. Then, all three of our phones buzzed with a wildfire Emergency Alert, telling us not to evacuate yet but to, you know, keep an eye on it.

How strange! Every last detail. That evening was 2017 in a nutshell. Total confusion. Surreality. Destruction. Giovani Ribisi.

Let’s add to the strangeness by quickly reviewing some of the things I did in 2017:

  • I wrote a play!
  • I got engaged!
  • I quit my job!
  • I read Infinite Jest!
  • I moved to California!

These are kind of big things to all happen in one year. I mean, I read Infinite Jest in like, 3 months, so I’m not kidding when I rank that as an achievement. (Did David Foster Wallace inadvertently invent Netflix? I mean, yeah, probably.) I also got to argue about this book…with a dude who has never read this book. I was about to say that’s very on-brand for 2017, but let’s face it, that’s just timeless.

I feel good about the things that happened in my own life this past year. How could I not? I’ve always been relatively lucky, or at least able to discern the cool stuff from the not cool stuff. But there is still work to do, because it can only get stranger. In the meantime, though, I want to reiterate this: I hear you. I feel you. This* is a bummer. Now let’s hug.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*You know I’m talking about the world at-large, right? Not my day-to-day life? I add this footnote because if I don’t my mom will text me and be like “Um, are you ok?” And I’ll have to be like “Yeah I’m fine I just have to add a little drama to the blog or else the readership kind of drops, and I have to like, talk in a serious tone sometimes or else people will just think I’m some idiot who eats empanadas and looks at celebrities all the time, which is closer to the truth, let’s be honest.”

 

Trees, Time, and Tricking Yourself

I have been a lover of Christmas for many years. This doesn’t make me unique; in fact, this makes me every other white woman on the internet who claims to be “basically Joanna” or “such a Clark Griswold.” It’s become cool to love Christmas in the same way it’s cool to love brunch, to love athleisure wear, to love calling your dog “the doggo.” It’s a low maintenance and high vanity form of showing how good you are at “adulting.” It’s cute, it’s cozy, it photographs well. It’s almost cheating to tout Christmas as a grown-up thing, but alas, here we are, cooing over Crate and Barrel catalogs while we think up the cleverest caption for our tree pics on Instagram. All in the name of being #soadult, of course.

When I was young (and then, frankly, even when I was not so young) I paid homage to Christmas in myriad, overly-sentimental ways. I gave myself a specific amount of Christmas to do each day, like I was punching a timecard. I drew pictures of living room scenes in houses not my own, always featuring a Christmas tree, a fireplace, a banister with garland, a cushy armchair, and many gifts wrapped in purple paper (because purple is my favorite). I would finish one drawing and then immediately draw another. I flipped solemnly through a book we have called Norman Rockwell’s Christmas Book, awarding double points to myself if I absorbed it by the light of the tree. I baked Christmas cookies that were not very good. I made a boyfriend slow dance with me in my family’s kitchen to Christmas music. I put on pajamas and made hot chocolate in my special snowman mug and then forced myself to just think really hard about Christmas for a totally arbitrary amount of time. I wrote a story about an old rich man who met three poor (but charming!) children and his Christmas gift to them was letting them decorate his mansion, and everyone in the story agreed it was very generous and magical and in no way exploitative or strange. In middle school I wrote a book report on Peter Pan, positing that Neverland is just heaven and it’s where the dead kids go, and my personal Neverland would be the North Pole. In high school I had to plan my wedding for a class called Christian Lifestyles and I planned a Christmas themed wedding, complete with a gingerbread house wedding cake. That really pissed off my teacher, which was kind of my goal, but nevertheless, I was–and still am– deeply committed to the concept of Christmas.

But it’s strange to have the Christmas tree up and the air conditioning on.  It’s not upsetting, it’s not depressing, it’s just bizarre. Does anyone know if there is something similar to jet lag, but instead of sleep being affected, it’s just your general sense of time? Time of day, time of year? If that’s a thing, then I have that. I haven’t known when I am for a few months now. Summer in Chicago immediately transitioned into a still-very-hot Los Angeles fall, where I continued wearing all the same clothes and keeping all the same seasonal habits (like toenail polish looking fresh, for example). Summer didn’t have the hard stop that it usually does: no switching over wardrobes, no digging out wool socks, no eating soups. The light here is different, too. By about 2:30, the sun is very low in the sky–very much a winter sun– but it’s still bright and it’s still hot. It’s dark out by 5, and even then, still warm. We walk to dinner in total blackness, wearing a light jacket, and it’s 6 o’clock. It’s the combination of temperature and time of day and the palm trees; my god, the palm trees look so alien and beautiful against the moon, but they don’t do much in the way of frame of reference either. My body and my brain can never agree on what time it is, and even if they could, neither would really believe it. It’s not the lack of snow that makes Christmas lights seem strange; it’s the smell of things still blooming, still breathing.

There’s something to be said, I think, about feeling like a fraud. Imposter syndrome is real, sure, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. I feel like I invented a whole season and am alone in my observation of it. That’s not literally true, of course; Los Angeles is very into Christmas. In fact you’d be hard-pressed to find a city in the US that is not very into Christmas. That doesn’t negate the second guessing I do every time I turn on our Christmas tree lights, pour coffee into a Christmas mug, watch a Christmas movie. Is it really time to do this? I ask myself. And I ask myself because, as I’ve already mentioned, I don’t know what time it is anymore. This has less to do with Christmas and more to do with the feeling that I’m driving on the wrong side of the road. It’s one of the strange, intangible adjustments you never plan for and no one ever warns you about: the sneaking suspicion that you’re making it all up. Maybe I am talking about imposter syndrome.

I think it makes sense that Christmas decorations (and beautiful food and interior design and writing blogs and anything else that can be both passion and distraction) have become so conflated with being a functioning adult human. They are tasks on a checklist, busy work to keep you believing it’s all real: certainly not made up. And I think it’s effective. It’s nice to be in control of something, to curate perfectly, to create an illusion, to punch your made-up timecard, to have done a sufficient amount of Stuff in a day, to have done a good job. It’s the sudden stop and subsequent realization that maybe you haven’t been doing it right that gets you. It’s remembering you don’t know what time it is, and the possibility that your clock was never set right in the first place. But it doesn’t take much to just turn your Christmas lights on anyway, trusting that you’re at least a little right, that it really is the right season, the right time.

Anyway. Here’s a picture of my Christmas tree AND my air conditioner, because sometimes things are strange! But my commitment remained and I unpacked each ornament with care, decided which characters get to be nearest the star this year, which critters could not be near each other (because of personal differences that I made up), and then looked lovingly at each piece. Just think: this whole post could have been a character breakdown of every critter I own. (There’s still time for that, don’t worry.)