Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

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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.

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.”

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.