Who Moved My Cheese?

who moved my cheese book cover I’ve never read the damn book but it poses an important question: Who the fuck moved my shit? My “shit” is not cheese, but it is a solid reason to get out of bed in the morning–job security, relationships, skinny jeans.

Anyone who told me my thirties are going to be the best years of my life deserves to be punched in the face. The day I turned 30, I went into a deep depressive state where the only thing that gave me solace was sitting on my bathroom floor listening to Billy Joel’s “Captain Jack” and “Allentown” on repeat. From there, I went on to break up with my boyfriend of two years–the one I thought was the one (we named our future children for christ’s sake)–and go back out into the dating world, which today consists of being “matched” by a computer with men by the names of Aruyn and LoveBoat69 and heights ranging from 5’4″ to 5’8″. I was 5’4″ in third grade!

But all of this was ok. Equipped with 50 milligrams of Prozac and a job that I loved going to each day, I was treading like an Olympian in the unknown tides of 30. I was so proud of myself (and thankful for a doc who realized after 30 minutes of meeting with me that my dosage needed to be upped); I was feeling happy despite the loss of a long-term relationship.  And then like Lot, who unlike me believed in a loving God, the universe decided to strike again. My boss at my beloved job decided to leave to pursue her next chapter. One loss is doable, but two? Is this supposed to make me believe in a loving God or in a god at all? Is Ashton Kutcher going to come out and say “you’ve been punked!”?

The one religion I’ve always been able to get down with is Buddhism and there’s a passage that always helps me get through transitional periods in my life: It’s about a man who uses a raft to cross a river–the foolish man carries the raft with him wherever he goes in case he needs to use it again. The wise man appreciates that the raft got him across the river but leaves it behind so as not to be burdened with it. After all, who says the same raft can get you across another river? I’m trying to use that quote right now but it’s not working. When change is sudden and unexpected it lets the air out of your tires. I’m driving around at half the speed I was a week ago. How do I fix that? I need more shit!

If I’m going to lose things like a boyfriend, a good boss, and jeans that I fit into, then I need to gain other things, good things. Right now I just feel like I’m being toyed with–just how much can I get through and still keep my head above water, stay away from the bottom?

I compare taking meds to being buoyed; I can see the beautiful sunny sky above and I can see the cold, dark depth below and stay in the middle of both. What I really want though, is to be anchored. I want a place where I can always dock, a place that will always be there–protection from the unpredictable sea that I know now is life.

The problem is, I can lose weight, I can run to the people I love and ask them never to leave, for things to never change and to stay good until I’m ready, but someone or something is always going to be moved.

*(I think today’s bookstore purchase will be Who Moved My Cheese?, after I finish Tina Fey’s Bossypants, of course.)

“Love lost, such a cost/Give me things that don’t get lost/Like a coin that won’t get tossed/Rolling home to you.”


30 Going on 13

“13 Going on 30” is one of my favorite girly movies. It’s a story about an awkward 13 year-old who wants nothing more than to be a grown up where everything is perfect. It’s kind of like the girl version of the movie “Big” in which Tom Hanks’ character makes a wish to be big and then has to figure out how to survive in the adult world when his wish comes true. Tomorrow, I turn 30 and I can’t help but feel like I’m still 13, trying to figure this all out.

The problem with turning 30 is that everyone, including myself, expects that you’ll have it all. In “13 Going on 30,” Jennifer Garner’s character hates being a kid so much that on her 13th birthday, she wishes she’ll turn 30 instead–the age when everything magically falls into place. At 30, she’ll have a man, a great job, cool friends, a wonderful closet and so on. And this is what I expected too.

My entire life I’ve always wanted to be older. I wanted the next big thing. As a kid, I, too looked up to women in their 20s and 30s thinking they had it all and I was bursting to get there. Then throughout my 20s, I worked my ass off to acquire all the must-haves: money, a good job, fashionable looks, and a man to get married to. Most of my 20s were so awful, I missed being a teenager.

Now, on the eve of my 30th birthday, I feel like I’m late for a very important deadline. My time to search for all the perfect puzzle pieces is up. At 30, I must already have the puzzle put together and ready for display. I look at other friends my age on Facebook–people I went to high school with, even grade school, and of course college, and a lot of them are married with children. I don’t have that. I hate nothing more than being behind. (Isn’t that why I always dreamt of being older?)

It doesn’t help that my job as a parenting editor reminds me every day of what I don’t have–optimum fertility and a family. These are the missing puzzle pieces and without them I feel like a failure. A few years ago, when I asked my sister-in-law what it felt like to be 30, she said, “well, I’m married and I have a baby, so I’m okay.” Thirty is the only birthday in which a woman goes down a mental checklist of a job accomplished. Christ, at 13, I was so freakin’ happy to finally be a teenager, I didn’t need to have met certain requirements to feel okay about it. (Well, other than accepting the hard truth that playing with dolls was no longer “cool.”)

So far, turning 30 has sucked. I threw a pricey party–the kind you send out expensive, handwritten invitations for–thinking that making a big deal about it would help me embrace it. Wrong. I just got mad at myself for spending so much money for a couple of hours with friends. I expected my boyfriend would make it all okay by getting down on one knee just so that I could enter 30 without feeling so bad. (And the more friends and family and associates push the expectation that he will, just makes it worse. So much worse.) The poor guy has been working around the clock and actually fell asleep toward the end of my fancy party. So many expectations unmet. Whether they’re fair or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m 30 and I can’t check off everything on the master list. If my sister-in-law asked me how I feel turning 30, I would say to her, “well, I’m not married and I don’t have a baby, so you tell me, how should I feel?”

Is it the fault of movies and pop culture? Why do women feel the need to have it all together by 30? I cannot be the only one who feels this impending doom and pressure. The pressure to deliver on things I have no control over is enough to make me snap. Luckily, I have an appointment with my therapist on my birthday. Part of me just wants to curl up in a ball, finish all the bottles of wine in my apartment and swallow a whole bunch of pills. I don’t want to die, but maybe a nice little overdose and a trip the hospital will make me feel like I’ve taken some action and act like some sort of public acknowledgment that I know I’ve missed my deadline and I’m not happy about it.

Those of you over 30 tell me: Where were you at 30? What did you wish you had had by then?

Those of you under 30, tell me: What do you hope you’ll have by then?

Life is Like Surfing

Every day I go to work and sit at my desk for at least 10 hours. I sit down at 9am and leave when the last person in the office starts locking up. I’m trying to prove something — to whom? I’m not exactly sure. During those hours of getting things done, I’m not alone. Sure, I’ve got coworkers, but I’ve also got something more important: a picture of a surfer riding an incredible wave.

The water in the picture is dark and the sky is cloudy, but the surfer stands in place focused and determined, grateful for the challenge.

As I knock on the door of 30, I look back and dissect a little bit and it seems throughout my life I’ve been up for a challenge. As soon as I feel comfortable somewhere, I decide it’s time to leave. Yet the minute I leave, I’m confused as to what the hell I was thinking. But I never quit.  I can tell you that I hated high school, but that I’m proud of the school I attended. I’d always wanted to go there and I got in. Would I have been happier someplace else? Maybe. But I was challenged and I struggled and I learned. And I survived. So when those quarterly donation requests come through the mail, I do something I swore I’d never do — I write a check to the school.

I’m not sure if I set myself up to fail or to get disappointed or if I truly believe I can do just about anything I want to. Three years ago, I left a secure job for another challenge (what we in business call a “better opportunity”). I was discontent at the status quo and it was time to shake things up. And boy did things get shaken. I lost my new job, I went back to freelancing and found myself at a place in my career I thought I’d never return — knocking on doors to get back in. But I kept going back out there.

Putting yourself out there is not unlike a surfer paddling beyond the shore to hunt for waves. The way I look at it, I got another new job (another challenge) and I’m going to ride this new wave whether I think I can make it or not. My 10+ hours per day is the equivalent of standing in place, focused and determined to ride it out.

Time to Make the Donuts

You know that feeling when you look at an up-escalator that isn’t working? Those silver metal stairs staring at you, mocking your laziness, leaving you with no choice but to climb them. Then you know how I’m feeling right now. I start (yet another) new job next week. (I write this with little more enthusiasm than that dude from the old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial who says: “time to make the donuts.”) I swear to you I have more experience on my resume than someone who’s at a senior level in their career despite the fact that I don’t yet have a senior title or salary.

When I graduated from college, I was ready to take on the magazine world. It took me two to three years before I landed my first full-time editorial assistant position at a magazine–a coveted entry-level job for which there are as many openings in New York as there are UFO sightings. In that three-year span, I witnessed some friends get lucky and some friends change careers. I considered myself one of the strong who survived and had a career that matched my $500,000 diploma. The reason why I survived can be found on my resume–I took as many freelance assistant, writing and research magazine jobs as I could get. This journey included calling hotels in Zimbabwe to confirm that Angelina Jolie had stayed there and checking the spelling of luxury golf courses. I even interviewed the rapper Jadakiss in person. (“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”) My resume became a patchwork of one-year stints here and six-months there. It’s certainly not how I pictured it would be. (“I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living“…)

Despite the arduous climb, there was a moment in time ever so briefly when I felt like I was soaring. When that editorial assistant job led to my first ever promotion, I felt more than a tinge of confidence. Finally my ship had set sail. And it was wonderful. Another year later, I landed an even better job for more money at a new place. Enter Career Ladder Phase Two and we’re off. I felt like I imagine Celine Dion felt when Ceasars Palace gave her her own performance venue in Vegas, except, like, I was in a cubicle. This company wanted me for the long haul and I was game. My days calling Zimbabwe were definitely long gone.

WRONG.

After six months at Career Ladder Phase Two I was laid-off and it was back to square one. So I did what I know best–I freelanced. I took stints here and there all the while trying to get back to where I felt…important and talented. The star of my own show. A cubicle with my name on it, a business card–all without an expiration date.

Alas, after multiple edit tests–(for those of you not in publishing, an edit test is given to a job applicant by a publication to test the applicant’s editing, writing and creativity as it pertains to that publication’s needs)–and rounds of interviews (and lots of tears) I got a real job offer (a.k.a. a staff position). It took exactly a year and a half, but I climbed my way back. So I should be excited, right? Relieved? Well, not really. I have the same feeling about this new job as someone who’s been recently divorced–I’m in no rush to remarry and go down THAT road again.

The office manager at my most recent permalance (another word for full-time freelance) gig used to make fun of me for never ordering office supplies while I worked there. For a year, I got by on what I could borrow. I didn’t want to get comfortable ’cause I never knew when I’d have to leave. It’s like moving in with someone and not bringing any of your stuff except maybe a pillow and a toothbrush. Pens, paper clips and Post-Its–these are the things that make a cube a home. But hey, play it as it lays.

The people at my new job have made it clear that they trust in my ability to meet their expectations as much as they’ve made it clear I still have a lot to learn. I’m nervous about this learning part. I hope it entails becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be and staying there awhile.

Whenever I start a new job, I listen to this song:

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I been a runnin’ ever since
It’s been a long, a long time coming but I know
A change gon’ come oh yes it will
” – Sam Cooke

Brother, Can You Spare Some Change?

I’ve written about my oldest brother before, but in sum: His name is Donnie and he’s an alcoholic. And a drug addict. And homeless.

Last week, my mom was driving to the grocery store in New Jersey when she noticed someone familiar walking along the highway. He was wearing red shorts, no top, and was carrying a black bag. As she got closer to this man she realized it was my brother, her eldest stepson. Unable to pull over and unsure of his mental state, she called my dad to let him know. Everyone assumed he was either on his way to our shore house or to his brother, David’s house (less than a mile apart). But everyone was wrong. After days of Donnie-free sightings, David learned that Donnie had been sleeping on the beach.

It’s kinda weird to hear a story like this about a family member. A man walking along the highway, barely clothed, sleeping on the beach. Almost every day I walk past a homeless person on the streets of New York and think ‘how did they get there? where is their family?’ And now I wonder how many people saw my brother and thought the same thing.

It’s very simple for me to close off any feelings for Donnie. He’s over 20 years older than me (my dad started “playing house” pretty early) and he’s always been in and out of the picture. In when he needs something. Out when he’s flying high. The stereotypical rambling man, or prodigal son. I owe him nothing and he owes me nothing. We simply share half a bloodline. Hell, I remember the time when he showed up to one of my high school basketball games. He walked into the swankiest prep school in Philadelphia covered in tattoos and beer gut in full force just to embarrass the living shit out of me (at least that’s what I thought at the time). I swear one of my teammates actually asked what the homeless dude was doing there. Worse than Peter denying Christ, I wanted to deny my brother more than three times. And just last summer, I made fun of the fact that he was selling French Fries on the boardwalk. A grown man working a minimum wage job that high school kids do for the summer? O-M-G. Soo em-barr-ass-ing. We are so not related.

But sleeping on the beach? Walking from town to town without a shirt on his back? No money. No cellphone. I can’t make fun of it. I can’t roll my eyes. Goddamn it brother, why are you in my life at all?! I’m frustrated by my powerlessness, by his helplessness. Do you know what it’s like to want to reach out and help someone while fully aware there’s nothing you can do? Sure you do, you’ve walked past a homeless person before.

I can’t give Donnie anything that will change his life. Not even my love. If you give a bum some change, you don’t change his life. I could give Donnie all the money in the world–it would not alter his reality. This is how he chooses to live. Addicted. Schizophrenic. Literally. Do you know how many times I’ve referred to someone as psycho? But my brother really is. Thanks to a life spent shooting, smoking, drinking and snorting he’s damaged goods. He’ll call my parents at odd hours just rambling on about things that don’t make sense, about people out to get him. All they can do is just listen. They’ve tried getting him help, putting him in homes–he just leaves. None of us know what he’s after or where he’s going. We can only watch him walk along the highway; hear him ask for change.

From what I understand, Donnie started drinking at age nine and added drugs around 12 or 13. No one knows why. No one understands. It’s like cancer and car accidents–some people get it, get hit and some people don’t and it never makes any fucking sense. It’s a simple twist of fate.

“A saxophone someplace far off played/As she was walking on by the arcade/As the light bust through a-beat-up shade where he was waking up/She dropped a coin into the cup of a blind man at the gate/
And forgot about a simple twist of fate.” -Bob Dylan, Simple Twist of Fate

To hear the original track from the album Blood on the Tracks cut and paste this URL into your browser:

http://popup.lala.com/popup/504684642123677280

And here, a Jeff Tweedy cover of Dylan’s song with altered lyrics:

Don’t Try This at Home

(Wednesday afternoon. Two girls sit at their desks, avenues and offices apart. They strike up their usual conversation over AIM.)

Friend: “Do you have a minute to play arm-chair psychologist?”

Me: “Always.”

Friend: “I want to know why every time I watch Friday Night Lights, I cry.”

Me: “Probably because it touches you somehow. I cried the first time I saw Almost Famous and that movie ain’t sad. And then I became obsessed with working for Rolling Stone.”

(Conversation moves on to people and things we hate.)

How many people do you know chose their careers based on a movie? Seriously.

Up until junior year of high school I dreamt of becoming a lawyer. My mom would actually take me to courthouses just because I wanted to know what they were like inside. Then a few debate club losses later (among some other teenage disappointments), I gave up on that dream. In the midst of all the typical teenage drama, I discovered music. Not just any music–classic rock, my friends. Zeppelin, Dylan, Joni, the Stones, Greatful Dead, and most importantly, Fleetwood Mac. I honestly cannot say why or how lead singer, Ms. Stevie Nicks, reached me at the age of 16 (“Edge of 17” maybe?), but the bitch moved in and still won’t leave.

In my quest to learn everything possible about these bands that I loved from a time before I was born, I spent hours on the computer doing research. While the rest of my friends studied for AP classes and went to basement keggers, I sought out unreleased albums, out-of-print books and old articles. On one of these nights, I discovered a Rolling Stone article written by Tim White titled “Out There with Stevie Nicks.” It was the best piece of writing I’d come across in my life. I actually looked at the byline, something I never did. And then it all kind of came together. I wanted to go to there. I realized that yes, I had been in debate club, but I also wrote for the newspaper and was a die-hard member of poetry club. I wrote for fun as a kid. I even won awards for it. It was an early A-Ha! moment. I was born to be a journalist. And once I saw the film Almost Famous, I did indeed cry. I cried because what I saw on screen was what I wanted from life. I wanted to be with the band.

Fast forward to sophomore year in college. I scored an internship with none other than Tim White at Billboard magazine. I was writing reviews and listening to CDs all day and I was blissful. And then Tim died. He had a heart-attack in the lobby of the building. I hadn’t even really spoken with him yet. I was just waiting for the right moment, but it never came.

A couple of years later, I knocked down the doors of Rolling Stone and stayed there (for free) until they pretty much kicked me out. Even though I didn’t want to leave, it wasn’t the environment I was holding onto. It was my dream.

I learned an invaluable lesson in my pursuit to be a rockstar writer: Dreams can come true. You can get to where you’ve always wanted to go, but the catch is it’s nothing like you dreamt it would be. That’s some painful shit.

As one of the groupies in the film said (in reference to the new wave of girls hanging out backstage):

“I mean, they don’t even know what it is to be a fan. You know, to truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band so much that it hurts.”

That’s just it. You can want something so badly it hurts. Just to get near it almost destroys you. You unwillingly change, whatever it takes, to stay there. But all the while you know something isn’t right.  See, the party is over and it ended before you even arrived.

Sometimes I think I should throw in the towel with my writing career and go to law school, and sometimes I think I’m the best music journalist that will never be. That’s the nature of dreams. They don’t die. They creep up on us in movies and music and in books. Something or someone can touch us so profoundly there are no words, there’s just that familiar feeling.

“And the days go by/Like a strand in the wind/In the web that is my own/I begin again/I went today/ Maybe I will go again tomorrow/The music there it was hauntingly familiar/On the edge of 17…”

When interviewers ask me where I want to be in five years or what my dream job is, I’m honest with them. I don’t believe in dream jobs and I don’t believe in destinations. For me, it’s what I’m doing at that job and who I’m doing it with. So while I’ll still fantasize about backstage press passes, I know I may never get them and I’m not gonna die trying. I don’t need to. Happiness can’t be sought–it’s discovered, and in the least expected places and people. There is no Hollywood script. There are no happily ever afters. It’s what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans (thank you, John Lennon).

“I always tell the girls, never take it seriously, if ya never take it seriously, ya never get hurt, and if ya never get hurt, ya always have fun, and if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” -Penny Lane

“I’ve Seen All Good People,” Yes. My favorite song on the Almost Famous soundtrack.

You Are Who You Come From

Grandmom Edith

“Sorrow found me when I was young/Sorrow waited, sorrow won/Sorrow that put me on the pills/It’s in my honey it’s in my milk.” -The National

My grandmother and I never got along. In fact, when she was dying her last words to me were, “I’m going to haunt you.” Grandmom Edith knew that I was easily freaked out, especially by the paranormal. I replied: “Good.”

I never understood how or why my mom’s mom got along with all her other grandchildren except for me. She and my cousin Jenny exchanged letters full of sweet “I miss yous” and “you’re such a good girl,” but her directives to me were always along the lines of “go get me another beer.” I was nine.

I wanted my grandmom to be like all my other friends’ grandmothers–to spoil me with candy and homemade cookies. But no such luck. My parents used to leave me with her for entire weekends when they needed some alone time. Here’s how the weekend usually went:

Friday night: Grandmom presents me with my beloved Party Mix snack–that delicious junk food potpourri of chips, pretzels and cheese balls in a bag. I eat it and she asks how I could possibly eat so much.

Saturday: Edith makes a huge breakfast–steak and eggs. I can’t finish it. She is offended and shocked– “How can you not finish that? There are starving kids in Africa!” We make a run to her liquor store where she picks up a six-pack of Old Milwaukee beer and a 12-pack of Parliaments. Then back to the apartment to watch Dallas and old made-for-TV movies.

There was no story time with my grandmom, no walks to the park or special trips to the toy store. With Edith, there were beer mugs in the freezer and witticisms I was too young to understand, spoken between cigarette puffs.

Exhibit A: Letter to Edith from her criminal grandchild.

I was no ideal child, don’t get me wrong. I challenged everything and everyone as much as possible. If my next door neighbors had toys that I wanted, I simply “borrowed” them when they were not home. I also had no problem stealing on Easter. The holiest day of the Catholic year and I stealthily put a pack of colored pencils in my jacket after my mom refused to buy them. And then at home, cool as a cucumber, I opened the pencils and started coloring in front of everyone. Edith asked me where I got them. “From the store,” I said.

Lots of kids steal things, but usually their parents drag them back to the store and embarrass them so profoundly that they learn a lesson. My mom just rolled her eyes and I got what I wanted without punishment. Jenny never would have done something like that.

But bad kid or not, my dad’s mom and I got along famously. (It was possible for me to get along with others.) Grandmom Marge was nice and sweet and funny and affectionate and she cooked Italian food. She was the best. (I still believe she’s my guardian angel. We all deserve one.) So what was wrong with me and Edith?

Today, my mom calls me Little Eddie. She says the older I get, the more I remind her of her mother. Great. So I’m the wicked witch of the west. There are certain attributes Edith and I do share: I have her nose, the shape of her face, and I scrunch my nose, close my eyes and show my top teeth when I laugh, just as she did. I’m also full of wit. (Not charm.)

My mom loves sharing her mom’s sayings, such as: “When money doesn’t come through the door, love goes out the window,” or “Never tell a man everything he doesn’t want to know,” and “What’s in the marrow comes out the bone.” We could write a book full of Edithisms. Her old quips make us laugh and we know there is truth and wisdom in them. We have our theories on why Edith was the way she was. We’re all a sum of our experiences. And she had some brutal ones.

I’m still mad at my grandmom though. She’s won our war; she haunts me.