You Know How They Say You Can’t Go Home Again…?

I’m posting this while on a train to New York City to see my parents for one last 24 hours before they move to Australia.

Kelly’s talked a little bit about this, and I have alluded to it. We’ve talked about the act of cleaning out our childhood home, about the piles and piles of things that we’ve accumulated and dispersed back into the world. There’s been a healthy dose of anxiety permeating this summer, one that has to do with jobs (or lack thereof), money, traveling. There’s something too, in that now our parents are leaving us for once, rather than the other way around. But, for me, it all basically comes down to one essential truth.

2014-11-28 14.09.18Now I have to be a real adult.

Many of you are going to say (or have already said during conversations to this effect in recent months) that I already am a real adult. I pay my bills and my rent. I vote. I buy my own alcohol. I got my own health insurance (THANKS OBAMA). And to a certain degree, you would be right. I do all of those things. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself.

But I’ve always been highly aware of the safety net. There’s always been a car in the country for me to drive. My parents, beloved and generous people they are, send me packages of cookies and buy me wine when they come to visit. (They buy me groceries and razors and deodorant too, but the wine is the important part). They are always there for me to pick up the phone and say “I don’t know how to cook this” or “Should I go to Seattle or not?” When we go on long car trips, and we get to gas stations, my dad still gives me money for snacks. He still helps me rent Uhauls for carting my stuff up the coast. My parents came up here to help me move my bed, my window air conditioning unit, my dresser.

This isn’t to say that I won’t be able to talk to my parents frequently, to ask questions, to borrow money if for some reason my budgetary calculations turn out to be wildly off. This isn’t to say that they won’t be there for me. Because I know they will always be there for me. It’s an immutable fact that they’ve proven over and over and over again. Like gravity.

And it isn’t that there aren’t tons of people left in the good old US of A that can help out when we need it. Kelly and I have an enormously wonderful network of loved ones who have offered to do many of the things above, to host us for holidays, to be surrogate parents in the case of emergency or escape.

But I don’t think any of us can deny that something’s about to change. My safety net, while still safe and supportive, isn’t going to be quite the same anymore. It’s going to be further away. Its going to eat vegemite. I can’t just go home anymore.

Part of me thinks this is a good thing. I’ve been wonderfully privileged to have the parents I have, but its probably time to buy my own groceries in bulk, to rent my own cars, to figure out by trial and error how exactly you’re supposed to cook a pot roast. Whether or not I should go to Seattle. What kind of stress my bank account can really take. But there’s a part of me too that is going to miss viciously the enveloping kindness and ease of my home, the way I feel settled there in a way I feel nowhere else in the world.

Perhaps that’s the part of being a real adult that’s really getting to me. For so long I haven’t needed to make a home elsewhere. I’ve had such a wonderful one sitting there waiting for me when I need it, or even when I just want it.

I don’t know how to carve out my own space in the world. I’ve never had to do that. But I guess I’m about to find out.

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It’s The Little Things

nothing like a giant fiery ball of gas to soothe you

nothing like a giant fiery ball of gas to soothe you

It’s been a pretty stressful summer. My parents are moving half way around the world, I am still working retail despite my desperate attempts not to be, and I will soon need to spend a lot of money on a variety of things that I both need and don’t need. But despite feeling all of this crippling self-doubt, I must solider on. One does not get anywhere by pitying themselves. But this is very hard! Feeling sorry for yourself is really easy and really satisfying. But it will kill you.

Hyperbole aside, I’ve tried to find small ways to manage this stress.There are the standard ways; listening to music, reading, cleaning the entire house. Anything that makes my brain work at something helps. Doing these things before bed helps, and sometimes even works. But sometimes it really doesn’t. And there is nothing worse then being alone with your thoughts when your thoughts are about how terrible you are. So I’ve found some other ways to not freak out over silly things.

One is breathing exercises. I breathe in for 5 second, hold for 5 seconds, and then breathe out for 5 seconds. This helps a little, and calms my heart rate. But weirdly what helps the most is holding my breath for as long as possible. I breathe in as much as I can and then bury my face in my pillow. Yes this sounds like self-smothering and it kind of is. But holding my breath like this, gives me something very immediate to focus on, and for a moment my brain stops going a million miles a minute. After about 30 to 45 seconds (depending on my lung capacity that day) I suddenly pop my head up and gulp as much air in my lungs.

I used to think this was very, very weird until I learned that holding your breath is a way to manage and even stop panic attacks. Your body starts to hyperventilate when you panic, and holding your breath is a way to stop your body’s out-of-balance chemical reactions. But more than that, I think what helps me the most is taking my mind off of whatever is stressing me out.

I also run through daydreams in my head. I meet famous celebrities and they tell me how cool I am. Or I find the perfect job that pays me to travel wherever I want (like Sara’s very contagious obsession with Anthony Bourdain). But giving my mind something to focus on that’s HAPPY is a convenient form of escapism. I get lost in the world I’ve created and eventually nod off because my brain doesn’t know that I’ve tricked it into not panicking. Classic brain!

But what I think helps me the most (and is also the hardest to do) is simply turning my mind off. If I’m trying to fall asleep I lay on my back, close my eyes, and think of nothing except for one thing. An ocean, a brick wall, an empty void. Anything that is singular and requires not words or noises. It doesn’t do much, but it allows me to process my emotions without analyzing them.

I’ve talked before about how fast my brain operates. It’s hard for me to focus on anything and sometimes I can only focus on one thing at a time, whatever it is. And I always, always, always over analyze everything that filters through my head. But I realized a long time ago that I don’t want to live my life with that much anxiety. There are too many things to be excited about. And though I have a long way to go before I’m infinitely less stressed then I am now, hopefully these little tricks will always work for me.

So tonight I will hold my breath in my pillow, dream up amazing travels and cool people, and maybe think of nothing at all. And tomorrow I will start to chip away at the old block again, so that one day I will be the person I’ve been hoping to be.

Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions

Kelly wrote last week about her casual love of disaster movies. It was such a lovely piece about memory and my totally bizarre sense of humor that I figured why not continue the conversation with my casual love of action movies.

Spoiler alert: there’s nothing casual about it.

fast-furious-7Additionally, my love of action movies does not have anything to do with memories of my beloved sister, unless you count a three year long fight about how you define the quality of “good” in art and narrative, or said sister saying VERY MEAN THINGS to me about my VERY REAL sadness regarding the death of Paul Walker.

For reals though, she’s pretty cool. I kind of like her. But back to me.

I love action movies. I love the destruction, and how, if you thought about it, it would probably be devastating, but action movies don’t give you time to think about it. I particularly love action movies are the ones that involve the team-as-family trope. Where a group of disparate people, usually the best at what they do, join forces and find themselves with people to fight for as much as a cause. I like the celebration of excellence, and the way heroes are complicated. I like heroes in general.

There is some degree of escapism here and for a lot of people that may be all these stories are. And that’s fine. I am not going to lie – part of the draw of action movies is that they bear no resemblance to real life. As much as I would like to, I am never going to be involved in a giant robot battle to save the earth. And yes, some of it is the unrealistically simple plot lines.

I firmly believe, however, that there can be something less escapist and more critical about action movies. In every story, in every genre, there is art and valuable conversations to be had. Of course it doesn’t always work – the Fast and the Furious movies could have done something really interesting about a segment of society largely abandoned by their government because of their race and socio-economic class. They gesture at it sometimes, but mostly its just family and fast cars. And I like that too.

1336415353_pdc_theavengersteamBut for example, the Marvel movies explore what it means to be a hero vs. what it means to be human. I think their heroes are super interesting because their faults and strengths are magnified by their powers in equal measure. Also there is something there about disability and mental trauma – something that would be more interesting if they stuck to canon and made Hawkeye deaf in the movies. Kelly’s favorites, ye olde disaster movies, are another good one because there is so much (appropriate) anxiety these days about climate change and what we’ve done to this planet of ours.

And this would be a really wonderful time to transition into talking about Mad Max: Fury Road, which manages to be an action movie with incredible critical insights and little to no escapism. But that’s a whole other blog post in itself.

For me action movies are fun. I love their simplicity, their lack of consequences, their team dynamics. The more robots and space ships the better. But I also love thinking about action movies, poking and prodding them into a place where, like in all good art, we can see an interpretation or a critical investigation of ourselves. Perhaps if we stopped dismissing them, people would be more willing to see their critical potential.

Or maybe I just like watching things blow up.

Disaster 101

In the shape of a mushroom cloud

In the shape of a mushroom cloud

I’m a casual fan of disaster movies. From 2012 to Annapolis to The War of the Worlds; when the world comes across annihilation, cinematic history is (mostly) made. My favorite of all disaster summer movies (I list summer as the season cause lets face it…) happens to be Twister, a 1996 movie about Tornados starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton.

The first time I saw this movie was in the basement of our (sara and I’s) old Alexandria house(RIP the parents moved to AUSTRALIA) when I was probably 11 years old. It was a PG-13 movie on cable, mom and dad were probably asleep, and Sara and I were in the basement, when I was in 6th grade and Sara in 9th, on a not-so-rare Friday night alone and lonely. (If anyone is playing along at home, this was the year when Sara and I actually became friends not just “siblings.”) To entertain me, Sara acted like a tornado at one point on our sprawled out futon, and rolled over me several times in the act of a tornado and wouldn’t quit despite my insane laughter. It remains one of the funniest things she’s ever done.

What was important to me in that moment was that one of my favorite people in the whole world decided I was cool enough to hang out with. This might not be fair to Sara, but I think a lot of younger children of older siblings feel this way. Being considered cool by your older sibling is a god send, and I was so happy to be hanging out and laughing with my hero.

It is now many years later that I find my self watching Twister, not only once, but a few times during a weeknight evening and just like that, I am transported to 2006. Almost ten years later, I still have the same feelings watching Twister. I remember everything about that first viewing of this movie from the weird plot points to the amazing characterization and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s wonderful and moving role. Watching this movie today is such a blast from the past, in all the good ways.

What I’ve found the last few weeks of soul-searching it that doing things with someone can have such a great and profound impact on your life. Being alone is amazing, and I think that everyone should learn how to be alone and to cherish that time. But the best times that I have ever had, the ones that I can really remember, have been in the company of my greatest friends.

This realization has been happening to me a lot lately. I’ve recently watched Charlie’s Angels the movie made in 2000 starring Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, and Drew Barrymore. I watched this movie when I was like 9 or 10 with one of my oldest friends and seeing it again invoked so many memories that I never thought I would remember, let alone cherish. It was a vehicle to a past feeling that was absolutely and resolutely preserved; simply because it was set to the dialogue, the tone, and the plot of a movie.

So is there a point to this late and slightly erratic blog post? Yes. The point is that there are going to be so many things that keep you awake at night. Your friends and the memories you share shouldn’t be one of them. They should be the beacons that keep you going, no matter what happens to you. And if they do end up keeping you awake, I hope it’s because you never want those memories or moments to end, no matter what.

Be Loyal to the Nightmare You’ve Chosen

Lately, I’ve developed a bit of a fixation with Anthony Bourdain. You may know him from either of his television shows, No Reservations or Parts Unknown, or possibly from his memoir-ish book Kitchen Confidential, which is lauded as an expose into seedy underbelly of the restaurant world. Really, it’s an expose into the seedy underbelly of Anthony Bourdain’s restaurant world. But that’s not really the point.

The point is that Bourdain is a chef who wrote a book (several actually, including two novels) and the suddenly, even though he seems to consider himself a chef still, he’s also got two television shows where he gets to eat and witness his way around the world. He’s grumpy and kind of an asshole. And he has my dream life.

bourdain_2If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading and watching a lot of Anthony Bourdain lately, is that there was no real way to plan how to get where he got. He was a screw up and a drug addict, and then he wasn’t. And even though he’s known as a chef, he’s still managed to do something I’ve been struggling to do all summer.

Write.

This blog post is getting away from me. I can’t tell if I want to write about how watching Anthony Bourdain travel all over the world is driving me crazy because I want to travel all over the world but I don’t have the money. Also traveling while female and alone isn’t exactly the same as traveling as Anthony Bourdain with fixers and interpreters and the weight of CNN behind you.

But it’s also about how Anthony Bourdain calls himself a chef, but he managed to get up in the morning and write in a way that I haven’t been able to all summer. About how he, with all his foibles and flirtations with addiction, has more experience with the world, more tastes and smells and sounds and sensations than I’ll ever have. For the most part, that’s pretty okay with me. I’m down with not trying heroin. Or cocaine. Also he doesn’t appreciate wine nearly as much as he should.

But there’s a sense of abandon there, a commitment to life and an ability to get through the day without analyzing and questioning everything, that I really wish I had sometimes. I wonder too if that’s somehow related to my inability to sit down and write, even though I think about it all the time. I wonder if there’s a knife-edge that some people start out on, with wild abandon on one side and playing it too safe on the other. Another set of extremes I worry about in myself is that I’m so afraid of losing myself in the wild abandon that I don’t go anywhere near it.

In the Congo episode of Parts Unknown Bourdain quotes Heart of Darkness: “Be loyal to the nightmare you’ve chosen.” There’s something to that, I think. Not just in saying that you have to commit to your choices, even when they get hard (which is certainly what Bourdain was saying even if it might not have been what Conrad meant). But also that you have to make the choice in the first place.

Just write, goddamn it.

But first, Anthony Bourdain is going to Peru, so I’m going to go watch that.

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Space Madness

The milky way laughs at your petty promblems.

The milky way laughs at your petty problems.

One of the many things I inherited from my dad was a love for science. For someone who doesn’t fully understand exactly what’s happening in chemical or physical reactions, to me it’s almost magic and that is so exciting to witness. This love was transferred to the realms of science fiction with shows like Star Trek, Stargate-SG1, and Star Wars (I’m sensing a theme here…) and books like Ender’s Game. I was fascinated by a world that wasn’t necessarily bound by the laws of nature.

Because of this, I watch a lot of scientific documentaries on Netflix. My favorite happens to be How The Universe Works. It’s ten episodes that discuss subjects from the formation of black holes out of supernovas, to how the moon came to be in earth’s orbit, to the dark matter that keeps every universe from spinning apart. I cling to the edge of my seat during these documentaries. I guess it’s the nerd in me, but I get super jazzed when I realize exactly what had to take place in order for me to be here, alive today.

And that brings me to how space keeps me awake at night. One night, my friend Taekia and I were hanging out and we started to watch a series that explained all the different ways earth could be destroyed. This included everything from being knocked out of orbit to being swallowed by a black hole. And as I watched, I suddenly realized how many small little things had to happen in the cycle of the universe for the human race and the earth as we know it to exist.

This about it; first the big bang happened. Then a bunch of elements had to form stars that gave off heat while rocks had to slam into each other to create bigger rocks and then planets. Our earth somehow found the sweet spot in the orbit around our sun and formed an atmosphere with habitable conditions, which allowed plants to grow. Single-celled organisms soon evolved into reptiles and animals, and then into homosapiens. Then humans crawled out of the cave, discovered fire and built communities and art. And on top of all these amazing things that lead to the earth as we know it today, your parents had to have sex at the exact right time so you could exist. It blows my freaking mind. I mentioned this thought to Taekia and she said, “Yeah I know right. You’re a goddamn miracle.”

In so many ways she’s right. There are so many ways that the formation of the earth could have gone wrong. A touch out of orbit or the absence of a magnetic field would have destroyed all possibility of human existence. Sometimes I just lay in my bed in awe of how the universe works (see what I did there) and how it came to be. But it also helps to put all the crappy days and thoughts I have into perspective.

I have always had a problem with self-doubt and self-loathing. I worry about my impact in society and whether I am making a difference. I think about the life I am leading and how it’s so different from everyone else’s that sometimes I get paralyzed by all the lives I’m not living. I want to live a life that matters but I also want to be remembered. Thinking about how the universe works (again) can sometimes be so overwhelming that it makes me wonder if any of it matters at all.

But then I am reminded of a great quote from the TV show Angel, a spinoff of Buffy. Angel says, “If nothing we do matters, than all that matters is what we do.” So I am going to take this love of science and the universe and continue to let it inspire me so that when I am feeling particularly downtrodden, I’ll remember what it took to get me here, and that sometimes just being alive is enough.

For All Those Things You Haul

Uhaulbot2 copySo I’m a bit of a control freak. Many of you know this about me. Many of you are laughing at the “a bit of” qualification I included in there. But for those of you who don’t know, I’m a bit of a control freak.

I am totally capable of letting go of things. I let other people plan trips, cook meals, do projects – all kinds of stuff, really – without my input. But for the most part this means without any of my input. If I’m going to make decisions about something, I want to make all the decisions. If I’m involved, I want to be in charge. Or, alternatively, I want to take no responsibility. None. I’ll still help, but I want you to do all the thinking.

The extremes in which I live are going to come up a lot in this blog. This is only one of many.

This tendency of mine manifests in all kinds of ways, but most relevant for today is that yesterday I drove a 10 foot UHaul truck from Alexandria, VA to Boston, MA, all by myself. Kelly came with me, but she wasn’t allowed drive, because she’s under 25. If she had been allowed to, I would have had to let her because driving 12 hours up the coast by yourself in a truck you’ve never driven before is CRAZY.

But when we were talking about her maybe driving anyway, she said, “I will let you be the passenger seat driver you’ve always wanted to be.”

My sister is a smart, responsible person. But there is exactly one person I am truly comfortable being in the passenger seat of a car with, and that’s my dad. Kelly, wonderful sister that she is, knew I would never be able to sit in that seat without clutching and pretend braking and passenger seat instructing, and she was willing to save us both a lot of grief by just letting me do it.

Driving the truck, of course, did get easier the further into the trip we got. There were even stretches of highway where I dropped my hands from the 10-and-2 position, where my hands probably never even make it when I’m driving a reasonably sized car.

There are so many things you can’t control when you’re driving – the weather, other people, small animals, traffic lights – that being in control of the car is vital to your mental well being. In a 90% empty truck, there was so much that felt out of my control, from the gut churning bounces to the appropriate speed to curve ratio. I never felt like I could truly relax. I was never quite sure what the damn thing was going to do.

Kelly was a superstar the whole day. I would have probably just ended up living in the truck on the side of the road in Manhattan if it hadn’t been for her. And really this blog post should probably end on some note about learning to let go of control or how support from people who love you allows you to loosen up.

But lets be honest. It’s mostly about how me, my sister, and a 10-foot truck all made it to Boston yesterday, thanks to Google maps and my fierce white knuckling.

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