Letting Go: Building The Bridge to Moving On

Fire Island, NY

Fire Island, NY

Less than 12 months ago I wrote about moving on, leaving things behind to reach new horizons. I moved to Los Angeles in June, seduced by the promise of corporate success and the beautiful beaches of Malibu. But California turned out, for me, to be more allure than substance. Such is the art of seduction: an ebb and flow of unfulfilled desires. So, New York, here is your love letter: It’s been 10 months and I’m coming back home.

I don’t blame California for my bad experience out here. She was simply the stunning backdrop to my story of personal disappointment. It’s a timeless story, really: A person I trusted, someone I believed had my best interests at heart, let me down. It isn’t the first time someone or something has disappointed me, it’s just that the stakes were higher this time. My fiance and I put a lot on the line for a chance at success based on empty promises.

Yet if there’s one card I hate to play it’s the Victim. It’s a vulnerable state. A powerless condition. It requires admitting defeat and assuming a lack of control. The downside of holding onto this card, however, is internal criticism. It’s holding the gun in the wrong direction. So what are my options? I hold the gun to myself, I suffer. I hold the gun outward, I suffer.

In my armchair psychiatrist quest to find answers online, I came across a very interesting article from The Association of Psychological Science on the science of revenge. The piece explains the evolutionary benefits of anger and vengeful actions and it also reveals that when we get what we think we want — to see our transgressors suffer — we are dissatisfied. In fact, it’s the people who are able to let go, turn the other biblical cheek, who feel better. It’s quite a tall order, and one I’m not sure I can deliver on just yet. There’s a bridge that takes us from anger to forgiveness, which allows us to let go, but I can’t figure out how to build it.

I start with the bittersweet: Despite the exorbitant costs of moving back east, regardless that things did not go as expected or planned (isn’t that always the way?), I know in the long run I will cherish this experience, just as I’ve cherished loves lost. California is the one who got away, the one you weren’t with long enough to know what could have been, and so it will beat intensely in my memory; the “what ifs” always more powerful than the reality.

Next, the big picture: I’m happy to be going home to what and who I know. Logically it makes sense to replant my roots where I want to stay for the long haul. When all this stress is past us, we will look back on this year with fondness.*

*(Unless The Big One hits while we’re still here and/or we’re in desperate need for $10K now in the pockets of movers.) 

Next up, the painful: “And anytime you feel the pain/Hey Jude, refrain/Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders/For well you know it’s a fool who plays it cool/By making this world a little colder.” My feelings are hurt and they need to heal. Unfortunately, there is no Neosporin for infected emotions. I did the usual emotional eating, some smoking, some drinking, lots of venting, but the constant application of these salves does nothing for the cut; Pain killer, yes. Wound healer, no. I understand logically that forgiveness is healing, but what if your aggressor doesn’t ask for it? How are you to trade in anger for acceptance?

Next, the instructions for how to build: The Tiny Buddha recommends finding the lesson in any given situation. Accepting what happens in your life is easier when you find some meaning. The biggest lessons I’ve learned from my time in California:

1. Impulsivity has a price

2. I can survive without my family and friends nearby

3. Staying in touch with family and friends makes the world smaller and safer

4. I can make new friends anywhere

5. I can rely on my soon-to-be-husband for almost anything

6. I can grow to like people I once loathed

7. I can loathe people I once liked

8. Respecting the people I work with is immensely important to my well being

9. A person’s title and salary are not directly correlated to their intelligence or abilities

10. I don’t give myself enough credit

Ah, it’s number 10, that’s the cornerstone. I think many of us are guilty of this, which is why we take it so badly when someone hurts us or when we are disappointed. The person in question who hurt me did so by undermining and undervaluing me. For someone as deeply insecure as myself, that’s going for the jugular while chomping on the Achilles heel. Compound this with a natural tendency to find fault within myself when things don’t go according to plan.

With these truths exposed the building can begin. I know that I’m stronger than what life throws at me. I could play it safe and never take chances, never trust anyone, let my fears protect me, but that’s not the life I want. How do I know this?

Over 10 years ago, I went to Arizona with my dad and we had the opportunity to take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. I really wanted to do it but my dad was too afraid. That’s when I made a decision I still regret. Though I could have taken that helicopter ride without him, I allowed his fears to become mine and I stayed on the ground. It seems to me today that taking the risk was worth the incredible experience in return. I vowed to myself after that incident to never again forgo experience for fear.

Had I listened only to my fears 10 months ago, I’d never learn the valuable lessons I came out here to learn. This is life. It’s both beautiful and nasty, cruel and merciful. And all of us are full of these same dualities found in nature. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

Californians fear earthquakes that threaten to strike at any given moment, but still they go about their lives keeping this knowledge at bay; there’s too much beauty to experience.

 

Someone's front door in Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach, CA

 To see snapshots of our adventure, check out my tumblr page: A Year in LA.

 

 

 

 

 

Moving to California to Make My 12-Year-Old Self Happy — And to See Mary Tyler Moore

Hollywood Boulevard, 2012

Hollywood Boulevard, 2012

Dear New York,

I know I promised to write you a love letter, but it doesn’t seem quite fair to write one while I’m still here and about to leave. The whole point of my departure is to get away from you and try something else. I can’t get all sentimental nooow. Just let me explain.

For about 10 years, San Francisco has been my mistress, the city in which I swear I’ll leave you for upon visiting and then change my mind when I get back home to you again. For years I’ve been comfortable with this status quo — dealing with the predictable and pining for the unknown. Now I’ve decided to do it, to finally leave, except I’m not moving in with my mistress — I’m going after her sister.

I don’t know much about LA other than plastic surgery, blonde hair, warm weather, lots of driving, and Hollywood, but it’s going to be this thing that I try out for a bit. I think a separation will do us good. If I go out there and miss the shit out of you, I’ll never question that we are meant to be. But if I go out there and discover another side of myself that I enjoy, well, then it is what it is until it isn’t anymore.

Why LA? Well because isn’t that where everyone goes when they’re tired of New York? It’s either LA or back to where they came from. But also because I have a job opportunity there. And because I can sit on the beach in Malibu in January. Oh and apparently because at 12, it’s where I dreamt of living, plus Mary Tyler Moore might live there:

"California is PARADISE!"

“California is PARADISE!”

"Wish I was in California with Mary Tyler Moore if that's where she lives, she could be in New York."

“Wish I was in California with Mary Tyler Moore if that’s where she lives, she could be in New York. I wish I had her address so we could be pen pals.”

September 21, 1993

9:25

California

To me California is PARADISE! If I get straight A’s and B’s this year guess what? I’ll be going to paradise! Just think clear blue ocean water, Hollywood, movie stars, Beverly Hills, shopping sprees, guys in convertibles, Big Moncho houses, limos, I can keep on going. I can’t wait till I grow up. I want to be an actress/movie star and maybe a dancer. What makes me mad is that I want to do all of this NOW! NOW! NOW! And I could if I wasn’t here. I feel like I’m stuck here until after collage and that I have to make due until then! I wanna be the person on the Emmy awards receiving it and saying a speech. And just knowing that somebody out there, everybody in their homes say “Hey I know her who she is!” I wanna drive up in a limo get shoferd in a limo and into the big buildings. For now all I can do is dream until the big day when I’m out of collage. And it will be bye, bye Dara! 

So you see, I have to honor this former vision. Besides the whole actress part. (The fact that at 12 years old I thought I could be an actress is worthy of its own exploration in a future post. Working title: “What Happens When You Give a Kid Too Much Downtime.”)

New York, I do love you and even though I never once spotted Mary Tyler Moore, you do deserve some acknowledgment. And it will come, when the time is right.

Bye bye,

Dara

The Things We Hold On To

napa
Last night I did a spring cleaning of sorts. In this process of moving across the country, I have to decide what’s coming with me, what I can part with, and what I should keep at my parent’s house in Philly. It never ceases to amaze me just how much I can fit into a studio apartment and still appear organized and clean. If you look around my apartment you would never guess it houses letters written to me in fifth grade or honors awards from middle school, or high school poetry and essays from college. Sifting through these things and being forced to evaluate their fate I wonder why I’ve been compelled to hold on to them in the first place. I’m reminded of the Buddhist parable about the futility of carrying things with you:

Once there was a man on a long journey who came to a river. He said to himself: “This side of the river is very difficult and dangerous to walk on, and the other side seems easier and safer, but how shall I get across?” So he built a raft out of branches and reeds and safely crossed the river. Then he thought to himself: “This raft has been very useful to me in crossing the river; I will not abandon it to rot on the bank, but will carry it along with me.” And thus he voluntarily assumed an unnecessary burden. Can this man be called a wise man?

In other words, we become weighed down by the things we hold on to. (Think Jacob Marley and his chains.)

I always got on my mom’s case for not holding on to enough of her past. Other than a couple of photo albums, my mom has nothing that indicates where she came from and who she was before I knew her as mom. Being a mini family historian, all I crave are remnants from everyone’s past. I devour old photo albums, poems my dad’s mother wrote, and stories passed down through aunts and uncles. I want to know where we all come from.

But now I undersand my mom. She had to make numerous decisions throughout her years about what to take with her and what to part with. We simply cannot hold onto everything if we desire to keep moving through life.

I guess someday I’m hoping that someone in my family in a future generation will care about where he or she comes from and appreciate the things I kept as markers of who I was, the places I’ve gone, and the people I’ve met along the way. Somehow, these things I saved might just provide answers to who they are and why.

Or maybe a part of me is afraid of the finality of death. In keeping a paper trail, I’m immortalizing myself.

In a self contract, which I drafted at age 12 (see photos below), I wrote:

Time: 6:47 Pm

Date: 6/21/93

This box will be filled with things that I have collected over my childhood. It will include things that I made or things that made me happy. It may also have poems, stories, or just my thoughts, comments, and ideas about growing up. When I am finished with this box I will write the date, time, and year that I finished. When  Also when I’m done I will put the box in a secret place and never forget that it is there. When I am a woman I will show this to my children boy or girl …

Signed by: Dara Pettinelli

Approved by: Melody Pettinelli 

What I didn’t realize back then is that I’ll never finish keeping this “box.” Growing up doesn’t stop when you’re a certain age. I will still have thoughts, comments, and ideas about my personal evolution (hello, I have a blog). I guess the one thing I can say with certainty is that poems will no longer be part of the equation. (You’re welcome.)

Another part of me believes that if I keep these tangible memories I will never forget who I am and how I’ve evolved. There’s something about reading through old letters especially that reminds you how much you’ve been loved and how despite all the bad times, the overall picture of your life is beautiful. They are reminders of better days.

One thing is clear: I am holding on to life. Me, who once upon a time just wanted to get off the train, is building a fortress of hope with materials from my past. The things I want to remember. The things I could easily forget. Is this wise?

A contract I wrote at 12 promising to save all my memories.

A contract I wrote at 12 promising to save all my memories.

My favorite line: "When  I am a woman I will show this to my children boy or girl."

My favorite line: “When I am a woman I will show this to my children boy or girl.”

I Wish Someone Would Tell Me What All the Fuss is About: In Which New York City Pops My Cherry

Photo source: Travelblog.viator.com

Photo source: Travelblog.viator.com

My mom doesn’t save much from my childhood; she’s not sentimental in the slightest. Yet somehow she printed out this email, which I wrote during my first summer living in New York, and saved it. Now that I’m moving to LA, this is the perfect time to look back on my mercurial relationship with New York. I present to you my first impressions as a resident (’cause it’s not at all the same experience for a tourist). This would be much better as a dramatic reading, but use your imagination. All spelling and grammatical errors, in addition to overly emotional writing is all in tact. (Also, note the awesome email addresses.)

Subj: letter: new york city blues
Date: 6/19/02 1:59:55 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: gipsiegrl
To: Beemrldy

Ok, that’s it.  I need to vent.  This goddamn city is going to give me a heartattack.  First you think, wow people here do have manners, they are polite.  There are some areas that are so cultural and artistic and those places make you love new york.  But then, a big BUT – most people on the streets are rude, obnoxious, un-friendly, un-smiling, seemingly un-happy and all other un’-s you can think of.  Some people hold doors for you and others slam them on your face- there’s more of the latter.  So many people here have such an attitude I actually feel sorry for them underneath all my frustration.  And those that are willing to go out of their way for you, will only go ever so slightly, enough for you to think they’re decent people but not nice.  Godforbid someone has manners here!  If you have manners you’re either attracted to the person you are bestowing these good manners upon or you’re perceived as an out of towner or a push over.  Fuck that!  I know there are cities on this earth that do not have this problem.  And while new york city offers everything for everyone, it offers no welcoming hand- rather a hand reaching out for money.  And things with work are so as usual- not doing much, not learning how this magazine runs, not learning what the hell people do here, still trying to figure what I will write on my resume about my experiences here.  7 out of 10 times a day I want to cry about something- I never realized how sensitive I am until I got here and every thing and everybody makes me want to either hysterically cry or start boxing.  You can not have thin skin here and if you do you’ll grow a thick one pretty quick.  And it is sad in a way.  How can anyone be artistic or spiritual here?  Why here?!  What are people in love with here?  I doubt anything real.  Everyone revolves around they’re own world and if you’re not in their sphere, forget about getting in.  A trillion people and everyone spins in their own little orbit.  How sad!  I could move to a city with only 1,000 people and meet more people than in a city full of millions or trillions.  I wish someone would should me what the fuss is all about here in new york city.  It’s also very sad that everything I think I want to do is centered here- hell on earth.  It’s dirty and smelly even in the nice, good areas.  All this diversity and no one is diverse.  All these people to meet and no one is out-going.  Sorry this letter is so depressing but jesus!  I need to get this all out before I explode and fist fight the next person that looks at me the wrong way.  I don’t know whether to be nice or to take on a hard, unapproachable shell for the summer.  I fluctuate between the two every minute.  This place just hasn’t been my bag yet.  Still waiting.  Print this out so I can look back and read it if I ever consider this place again in my life.  I think after graduation (unless of course Rolling Stone opens their doors to me) I am moving somewhere in the south- like New Orleans or in the West like Phoenix- what a beautiful name that is for a city, with a name like that it has to be a great place.  I’m a writer and I need to thrive in my environment and this place doesn’t fit my fingers.  It’s just the wrong glove.  And I still want to be a big part of the music industry more than anything b/c I need to discover artists that are more like the greats from the 40s and 60s and 70s and stop this one way marketing big bucks corporate crap that is on the airwaves today (excluding some greats like Alicia Keys your girl founded by Clive Davis a music industry legend).  There’s no soul in music anymore, there’s no passion or spirituality, no heart-wrenching sacrifices anymore.  And that’s because, in my opinion, it’s run by new york. 

Love you,

Dara

Next up: A love letter to New York and a goodbye.

We very much were going to change the world back then.

A group of interns very ready to change the world, circa 2004.

On Bullying, Fat Kids, and Fighting Back: It Only Takes One

old school disney pic

Me around age 9 or 10, clearly not like other kids

Recently I was invited by Huffington Post Live to talk on the subject of overweight kids, having been one myself and written about it for Babble.

The word “overweight” is so delicate, clinical. It doesn’t even begin to describe the reality of a child who lives it. The better word is fat. It’s cruel, it’s mean, it’s in your face. You can hide behind overweight; you can’t escape fat.

It was easy for me to be on camera and talk about having been overweight as a kid because people looking at me now wouldn’t necessarily think I have a problem. I went on camera and smiled; I felt confident. But then there’s this picture with Mickey. I brought it to work to show my co-workers the same week. I posted it on Facebook. When presenting the photo, I felt insecure, scared, ready for the laughs. I knew what would happen when I shared the photo — the same thing that happened when I was a kid. This time no one physically beat me or called me names, but inside I became the scared little girl awaiting judgment; waiting to be rejected based on my looks, my size. I confronted the fear and the uncomfortable feelings because that’s how fear is mitigated. And for so many years of my life I felt ashamed of my “fat kid” pictures, never wanting to share them with friends or love interests. I was ashamed of myself for years because no matter the changes on the outside, inside I’ve always been the same person. That person does not change as rapidly.

“When I ask her if she likes how she looks now, if she’s proud of what she’s accomplished, she says yes…Even so, the person she used to be still weighs on her. Tears of pain fill her eyes as she reflects on her yearlong journey. “That’s still me,” she says of her former self. “I’m not a different person just because I lost sixteen pounds.” I protest that, indeed, she is different. At this moment, that fat girl is a thing of the past. A tear rolls down her beautiful cheek, past the glued-in feather. “Just because it’s in the past,” she says, “doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.””

This is an excerpt from a Vogue article about Dara-Lynn Weiss, who decided to put her 7-year-old on a diet and go public about it. Her memoir, The Heavy, came out in January, and she was also on the HuffPo Live panel with me. (Ironically I had already interviewed her for Babble about her experience with her daughter, which completely mirrored the situation between my mother and myself.

I empathize with Dara and Bea because my mother and I lived through the same thing, except without the glare of public criticism. I’m happy that we were given an outlet to talk about our experience. I’m proud that I shared this photo. I never fought back as a kid, so I’m doing it now. Plus, if I can’t embrace who I am, how can I expect the same of others?

Today I watched the documentary Bully and want to quote a girl named Kelby who refuses to leave her small town despite the threats and attacks made upon her for being a lesbian:

“All it takes is for one person to stand up. You’re not just standing up for you , you’re standing up for all the kids who go through this every single day.”

Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 12.05.59 PM

The Stealth Rate at Which Things Change

feet in the air I hung out with an old friend tonight. This month is her one-year wedding anniversary. When she started dating her now husband, I saw less of her than usual. It’s kind of an unspoken rule among single girls of a certain age that once there’s a significant other in the picture, that “other” will take your place at the movies, at restaurants, on trips, and on the couch — at least temporarily.

They moved in together, bought a car, and purchased a dog all within that first year. It all moved so fast, at least for me. (Who was this person that was taking away my girlfriend? I have lots of friends, but each one offers something unique and special in my life that I deem irreplaceable; I get weary of outsiders.) Then they were engaged and then there was a wedding to plan and with each new chapter  in her story, I told myself it was only temporary — this friend had just lost her mind; she was experiencing an interlude of insanity. Happens to the best of us, I rationalized, especially as we approach the ZOMG30s when pressure is on and clocks are ticking. She would be back at the singles table next to me in no time.

But then when I did see her, it always involved the new dog and the new man — we rarely got to spend a minute alone together. And then we drifted apart. The sacred conversations we once had during which secrets were exchanged and shame turned into something to laugh about, would now include a third person, or not happen at all. And tonight, on the anniversary of their marriage, I bought them a bottle of wine, toasted to their milestone, asked them about the moments in which they knew the other person was “the one,” and wished them love. This is what it means to no longer be a girl.

My friend and I met at 19 and now we’re on the verge of 32. Somehow her life has accelerated in a direction that mine has not and that I’m not sure I want to follow.  I’ve lost something and she’s gained something. But still I worry: Did she choose the right person? Did she make the right decision? Is he the best thing to happen to her? The truth is I may never really know because I can’t even make these decisions for myself in my own relationships; and because we don’t share secrets anymore.

A Girl’s Name I Like

When Matthew McConaughey and Camila Alves named their baby girl “Vida,” I was under-whelmed. I had never heard of the name before (just like I had never heard of Apple and Audio Science) and it seemed just, well, eh. (By the way, I should mention here that I’ve been baby-name obsessed since the third grade when I used to keep a journal of names that I liked for my baby dolls. I don’t know why, but maybe it was the writer in me.)  But the distaste for the name Vida changed when I saw a little film by the name of Mildred Pierce — not the original starring Joan Crawford, but the HBO remake staring Cate Winslet. I never read the book by James M. Cain, but I totally loved the movie. (I’m highbrow like that.)

The film is about a chaotic and messy (to say the least) mother/daughter relationship. The mother Mildred is very strong-willed, independent and smart. In a time when women were taught to depend on a man (or take slave labor to survive The Depression), she struck out on her own and raised two girls. Working her way up from a waitress, she became an extremely successful restaurateur. But she wanted different for her children — she didn’t want them to ever have to wait tables, something her eldest, Veda, wouldn’t be caught dead doing anyway. Pride was a big deal in that family.

Veda is basically a spoiled brat. She’s selfish, she’s easily embarrassed by her mother, she wants not only to fit in with the wealthiest kids, but to rule their roost. Her natural beauty and artistic talents help her succeed at all these things. And she does some pretty awful things to her mother and to everyone else around her. Here’s a glimpse of her winning moments:

I can relate to both mother and daughter in this film. I understand the pain Mildred feels each time her daughter betrays and belittles her. I understand what it’s like to love and admire someone so much that you turn a blind eye to their deceitful and manipulative ways. Mildred keeps trusting and loving her daughter despite consistently getting burned. I don’t know the author’s original intent, but I can say for myself that I believe Mildred is drawn to Veda because Veda has something she doesn’t, a strength she’ll never have — the ability to take things from life without consequence. Mildred is both disgusted and in awe. There are a few people I feel this way about in my own life. But then, I understand Veda too.

The scenes of Veda as a young girl and teen resonate very strongly with me. I was that little girl throwing fits, embarrassed by my family, putting on airs, struggling to find my talent, my ticket out of banality — totally unappreciative of all that I had. I understand Veda’s desires come from a place of complete insecurity, an insecurity so deep the only way to fill it is to constantly win, to take everything she can. Insecurity is a monster that always needs to be fed. And Veda had the balls to feed it. So did Mildred, of course, but their approaches were completely different.

I told my mom the other day that my new favorite girl’s name is Vida. Like Mildred, I am drawn to people who have borderline narcissistic personality disorder and a generous touch of sociopathy. These are traits I was not born with. My problem is that I think too much about other people and feel too much about every little thing. How can I not be drawn to people who are so detached? Who can only focus on themselves? They’re like superheros to me. Somewhat ironically, Vida is also Spanish for “life” and Veda is Hindu for “knowledge and wisdom.”