Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Tripped Advisor

"Stop calling here!!" my dad yelled into the phone as I rocked back and forth in a ball on the living room floor. My hands were pressed against my ears with all my might, but the sounds still poured through.

"If you don't want to be friends with Sheevani then leave her alone!!" he shouted and slammed the phone down, "Sheevani! Come here!"

I slowly rose to my feet and walked sheepishly into the kitchen. 

"Who are these girls? Why do they keep calling?"

"They're girls from school, Daddy," I stared at the kitchen floor. My toe traced the pattern of grout around the cream-colored ceramic tile.

"Are you in a fight or something?" His tone softened a bit after hearing the crack in my voice. The phone rang again and my body jerked inward. My father mumbled some Gujurati curse words and answered angrily.

"Hello?!" His furrowed brow and intense glare at the kitchen table told me all I needed to know about who was on the other end. "Stop calling here or I'll call the police!!"

Oh god, this is going to make my life worse when school starts next month, I thought. Technically, he was coming to my defense, but my imagination painted a picture of the mean girls sitting around a phone, laughing at my dad's accent further filling their tank of ridicule, which for me, never did seem to empty. 

The tears were rolling down my cheeks as my mother walked up from the basement holding onions for that night's dinner.

"Su thayu?" she asked upon seeing my red-rimmed eyes and my father's frustrated expression. They conversed in Gujurati for a few seconds while I sat down at the table. I knew he wasn't mad at me directly, yet I couldn't help but feel responsible.

"Bheta," my dad said, "These girls are low-class, stupid idiots with nothing better to do. Just ignore them, okay? Don't cry all the time. That's what they want. If you ignore them, they will get bored and stop."

"They are just jealous of you, Sheevu," my mom said.

I sat in silence and nodded. Ignore them. They are jealous of me. What the hell was I supposed to do with either of those statements? I would have given my entire collection of New Kids on the Block pins to anyone who could teach me to magically ignore these girls. And jealous?? My mother had said this back in 3rd grade, when I first started having problems with girls at school, and it did nothing but confuse me. What in the world could they be jealous about? Did they want to be the only brown girl in a sea of white kids who wore nothing fashionable and wasn't allowed to go to slumber parties? Hard to imagine.

My dad squeezed my shoulder and walked out of the kitchen. I looked at the back of my mom's head as she poured fennel seeds into cooking oil. As they started popping and the air began to smell of warmth and flavor, I walked to my room and flopped onto my bed.

There were 21 days before school started. 21 days to figure out how to ignore them. 21 days to learn how to stop being so emotional. 21 days to devise the perfect way to enter the doors of Churchill Junior High with confidence.

Spoiler alert: Turned out to be 21 days of worry, tears.... and countless prank calls.

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Mean girls have arrived and I'm re-living so many emotions from my childhood. Except, this time, it's through the eyes and heart of my 3rd grade daughter. We are at the onset of friend drama and so far it's been pretty mild, but I'm bracing for what's to come... and I fear I won't know how to help my girl get through it.

Released Into the Wild
I wore my daughter for about the first year of her life. When we weren't co-sleeping, she was strapped to my body throughout the day because if I put her down, she'd go ballistic. Yeah, I know, I should have let her cry and get used to it, blah blah blah. Hey, she was my first kid and all I knew was if she was content snuggled against me, I was content as well... with an aching back, sure, but content. It was my job to make sure she was comfortable both physically and emotionally, and unlike my job at Pottery Barn in college, I took it very seriously.

As time went by, of course, the baby-wearing stopped and she started walking. Walking turned to running, breast milk turned to solid foods, diapers turned to underwear, daycare turned to elementary school and all of a sudden I'm driving an articulate 8-year-old home from school listening to her trembling voice tell me how her best friend ignored her all day. Whoa, what.. who... when, are we? What the hell happened? Oh yeah, that whole time flies thing.

She's no longer secure against my chest where, if needed, I could envelop her with my entire body and protect her from harm. She's out there in the world of emerging independence, limited as it may be, but a world where Mom cannot come and intervene if a mean kid is hurting her feelings. Of course, this is how it's supposed to be... school is as much a social learning experience as it is academic. The social part scares me way more than my kids getting good grades. I mean, 4x4 will always equal 16, but Kristen + Stacy could equal fun and laughter one day, and then isolating insults the next. You can't study your way to a drama-free social life.

The Worst is Yet to Come
I hate being negative. I hope I'm wrong. But, unless there has been a seismic shift in the way young girls treat each other, I feel pretty confident that my daughter will experience a lot more heartache in the years to come. Up until 3rd grade, she had been very resilient. I'd hear about an incident with a friend and there was never an indication of hurt feelings. "She said she didn't want to play with me, so I just found another friend," was sort of the gist of the story. I'd grin and sit up a little straighter with pride, fooling myself into thinking she did not inherit my sensitive tendencies.

Today I'm seeing something very different and painfully familiar. Today I'm seeing a rejection at school or gymnastics class affect her mood for hours and sometimes even disturbing her sleep. She has inherited my emotional side after all and I find myself scrambling to find the right words to help her through it. I want to give her tangible techniques that will help her more than "ignore them," or "they are just jealous of you." At the same time I feel helpless because I know at her age, pulling a friend aside and confronting them about their behavior is a far too mature path to take. Hell, it's a bit too mature for ME to take!

There is an urgency in my bones to equip her with the tools to handle this shit. Now, when it's not so bad. Now, when the situations usually resolve themselves within a day or two. Now, when she still seeks me out for help... because that, too, is going to disappear in a few years. This breaks my heart most of all; someday she will be going through really tough stuff and coming to her mother won't seem like an option. I always want to be an option, but part of being a parent is the acceptance that, eventually, our kids will not consider us one.

Get the Balance Right
I do not want to be that overbearing parent who swoops in to shield my kids against anything negative. The value of experiencing the challenges is what makes them grow. The first time my daughter told me about her friend making fun of her one day, my chest tightened in the exact same way as it had in the stale smelling hallways of junior high. Her furrowed brow and quivering lower lip stabbed the same part of my heart that broke every time I'd answer the prank phone call, or when I'd walk into 3rd hour English class and everyone pinched their noses at me in a pre-planned gag. It all came rushing back and I had to take deep breaths to keep my own tears from brimming... at least I've gotten better at that now.

There was a recent situation where I did intervene, but only after a lot of thought and advice from a teacher friend of mine. My daughter was having constant issues with a boy in her class: he'd push her books off her desk, grab her pencil while she was working, tell her he didn't like her and so on. I'd listen and tell her that everything he was doing was not okay and that she needed to be firm with him. She said she always tells him to stop, but he doesn't listen. Then I came to find out he tickles her. "He touches you?" I asked. She said he wants to mess up her handwriting, so he pokes her ribs over and over while she's working. I took a deeeeeeeeep breath and decided to email the teacher. The image of this boy (who is a larger kid) ignoring my daughter's repeated protests against his hands on her seemed an appropriate situation for me to get involved and protect my daughter. She needed to know her words hold value, especially when it comes to her body. I'm happy to report the teacher handled it all very well, and things are much better.

When it comes to these little fights and jealousies with her girlfriends at school, intervening is not an option. Usually it's a thing where her "BFF" all of a sudden wants to play with other girls and doesn't include my daughter, or her gymnastics partner pairs off with another girl and she's left out, and every so often it's a true "mean girl" scenario where a girl will make fun of her. In about 98% of all of these occasions, everything goes back to normal within a day or two and all is forgotten, which is typical for this age. My worry stems from the way my girl is handling it; these scuff-ups seem to permeate her usual bubbly self and my smiley girl isn't always smiling anymore, which scares me. I'm also well aware that I may be projecting my own past onto her. This whole blog post could be an over-reaction, but hey... you've read this far so just stick with me here.

Listen and Relate
Until I crack the code of perfect advice-giving, my method right now is to be an excellent listener. My daughter is very perceptive and just as she is the first to ask if I'm okay, I do the same for her because we both have that innate sense that glows red when someone we love is hurting. And because I always want her to be open with me, I'm an open book to her... even if it's something really hard to talk about. This may sound weird, and I do not say it lightly... my daughter is one of my best friends. She constantly checks in with me, tells me she loves me about 25 times a day, comforts me when I'm upset, anticipates my needs and tries to help when she can. The motherly love I feel for her deepens everyday as our friendship evolves into something so beautiful it blinds my heart.

Stop crying.. there's more to read.

Some days I have to nag her until she opens up, but other days there's a, "Mom? I need to talk about something." However the conversation happens, I make sure to give her my full attention and listen to every word. Sometimes it's over an after-school snack or sometimes it's snuggling on the couch, sometimes it's at 10pm because her stress is keeping her from sleep. My top priority is to show her that what she is feeling is valid and it matters. Yeah, it sucks when your friend ignores you. Ugh, totally annoying when that girl boxed you out so she could be partners with your friend. Oh man, I hate when someone makes fun of my name too. What? She acted like you weren't even there at recess? Totes rude!

My daughter looks like Paul on the outside, but as she's growing up, she seems to resemble me on the inside. I'm hoping those similarities will help inform my strategy to guide her through the tough times. I had an epiphany one day while watching my kids walk to the school doors from my car... what would I have wanted when I was going through all that crap? What did I need back in 1990-1991? First, I would have loved a sweet pair of Girbaud jeans, but beyond that, I craved feeling like I wasn't some over-emotional cry-baby. Those mornings in seventh grade when I would wake up queasy with worry and run to the bathroom to dry heave for 30 seconds, I wanted someone to rub my back and say it was okay to feel that way instead of hating myself for being so weak. Those bitches made my life hell and I just wanted someone to acknowledge that I didn't deserve that treatment.

So, I'm sharing a lot about my past struggles with my girl. Some are a bit too intense, so I've only included examples on par with what she's going through. It may be years before I share the story of getting invited to Ambassador Roller Rink as a joke for everyone to ignore me, which led me to sit and cry by the payphone for 2 hours until my dad came to pick me up. I hope I never have to tell her that story, but if I do, she will hear every detail. If it makes her feel less alone, I'll describe everything about that night because I have never forgotten. Everything from the stinky feet smell to my prickly neck sweat when one by one, everyone ignored me when I approached them... it's as clear as a 4K Blu-Ray movie experience. If I can turn those horrors into something that will help my daughter... you better believe I will.

Of course, I'm also painfully aware there will be so much to which I won't be able to relate; social media being the big one. But, isn't there always a generational divide? Parents and children have never gone through the same experiences and there are always new things to deal with. My parents weren't bad at giving advice, they just couldn't relate to anything I was going through. They went to strict gender-segregated schools in Mumbai 30-40 years before I was attending school in Royal Oak, Michigan, how the hell could they relate? They did the best they could and I do not fault them in the least.

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Mean girls didn't take me down. Those years taught me a lot about who I never wanted to be and how compassion and kindness are so much better for the soul. My worry for my daughter will probably never go away, but I take solace in the fact that she can look at her mother as someone who went through it, felt all of it, cried a lot from it... and ultimately SURVIVED it. She may not fit into a Baby Bjorn anymore, but I'll never stop being her protector.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Had to Choke to Get Woke

"And lastly... can we get.... Sheevani down please..."

I tried to keep my surprise invisible as I took the four steps to the edge of the stage alongside two of my cast mates. Was I that bad tonight? I was certainly off my game, but I thought I held it together pretty well. I had to push my inner monologue to the back of my brain as the awareness of hundreds of eyes on me came into focus.

The harshness of the spotlight mirrored the harshness of the situation. I listened to my critique while nodding at each statement about why I was chosen to be standing in that spot. None of it was wrong, all of it was fair.

In true reality show fashion, the pause before revealing the eliminated contestant seemed to last about 28 seconds. At last, a name was called and it wasn't mine. The simultaneous relief for myself and sadness for my departing cast mate consumed me and I walked back to the rest of my fellow improvisors.

Opening night was over and instead of a star, I felt like Denver's Next Improv Sham.

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I'm unpredictable under pressure. How I wish I was one of those people who always thrives under the weight of competition, but my track record is pockmarked with a handful of chokes that frustrate me beyond belief. Nothing feels better than succeeding under those circumstances, and while I've had a good amount of those triumphs as well, they tend to fade under the glare of my failures.

I'm currently competing in a show called, "Denver's Next Improv Star," where improvisors are challenged and judged on various improv skills and someone gets eliminated each week. As told in the introductory story, I barely made it to week two and my mind has been on analytic overdrive trying to figure out how to quiet the negativity in my brain in order to regain my confidence.

Expectations and Excuses
Human nature is to defend ourselves against criticism with excuses. At least, that's what I'm telling myself because I mentally listed about 25 of them after leaving the theater last Saturday. I knew the healthy thing would have been to take deep breaths, let it go and be thankful I had survived to redeem myself the following week. Instead, I cried for 2 hours on the drive back to the mountains. Oh yeah, because I was technically in the middle of a vacation with my family that was planned far before I knew this show would be opening on the same weekend. That day had started at 5am and was filled with packing, driving, coordinating, bundling up my children, carrying ski gear for 3 hours because apparently my kids couldn't do it, comforting cold kids, trying to negotiate my way in skis for the first time while helping my kids negotiate skis for the first time and then driving white-knuckled through snow squalls down a mountain in order to get to the show on time. Whew.

So yeah, those were my excuses. I was exhausted. The stress of that day wore down my instincts. I hadn't eaten a proper meal since breakfast... and so on and so on. The problem is, none of that matters to anyone involved in the show. All that mattered was what I brought to that stage. Even while we were warming up, I could feel something was off. I was trying my hardest to rally, but it only led to a weird forced energy that was trying to slam the door on the fatigue that was trying to push through. My nerves were overwhelming and I felt that if I stopped moving, I'd lose my energy. My body was saying, "Yeah... yeah... you got this! You GOT this!" while my mind was saying, "Oh man... you're gonna go on stage TONIGHT? Yikes."

More than anything, I felt incredibly embarrassed about being in the bottom three. When it comes to performing comedy, I expect a lot from myself. For the past 7 years, this has been the chosen path to which I have dedicated so much of my time and energy because... well, I'm not that good at anything else. Just ask any of my former bosses at my corporate jobs, they would agree. Not to mention it's my lifelong dream to be successful in this field. No biggie. The stage could be the size of a postage stamp with 2 people in the audience, it doesn't matter to me. Making people laugh has always been my passion and well, I don't give myself a lot of leeway to screw that up. I was pissed at myself and myself only as I walked out of that theater on Saturday.

Rookie Mistakes
The term "choke" is so perfect. Much like the actual physical act, there is a panic in your body and mind that's impossible to correct once it's happening. While it may have not been obvious to the audience, there was a panicky edge to my performance that I could not shut off. It was as if all my training jumbled into a knot and the bits that were coming loose somehow translated backwards in my brain. At the same time, the awareness of the judges, my scene partner(s), limited amount of time, etc, was banging on the walls... I could feel it all at once while trying to maintain the integrity of the scene.

One of my favorite things about improv comedy is the tenet of "yes, and." It's a support mechanism where by your actions in a scene will be honored by your scene partner(s), no matter what. Thanks to my incredible cast mates, my flaws from that night were supported by the people on stage with me. One of the main things I was upset about was how I probably failed as an effective scene partner. I didn't sabotage or deny anyone, but I didn't do much to help them find their own footing. In my heightened state of panic, I was dictating the scenes without allowing for their own choices to be heard. Tsk tsk tsk.

Oh Yeah... I Don't Suck
The disappointment of that night lingered for a few days, I can't deny it. The rest of the trip with my family was fun, but the nagging debrief about every detail of my performance tugged at me. If you haven't guessed, I'm a pretty emotional person and I found myself doubting everything about my abilities and even if I should be an improvisor at all.

Then I kicked myself in the ass. Shut up, Sheevani. It was an off night. Every damn person has an off night, day, hour, afternoon, week, month, year, whatever. Last I checked, there's blood running through my veins and I'm a human being. I'm choosing to focus on this one show versus numerous shows where I didn't choke. As my friend said when I tearfully returned to his cabin in the mountains, "I've never seen someone so bummed about advancing!" His bourbon-induced statement rang in my ears and got louder as the doubts got quieter. I did advance. I had a shitty night. And next time I could crush it. Or I could do well enough to be safe in the middle. Or, hell, I could be in the bottom again. No matter what, I won't allow myself to doubt my talent. Not only do I owe it to myself, but I owe it to the cast of talented folks who I care so much about.

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A few weeks ago, I heard an interview with D'Arcy Carden, an actress who stars in "The Good Place," on NBC. She is one of the funniest actresses on the scene today and I admire her a great deal. In this interview she told a story about performing at Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, which is an improv and sketch theater in New York City. It was her first time on stage with the "heavy hitters," or MainStage cast who she idolized. Ensconced in nerves, she dropped a really vulgar joke early on in the set just to get a laugh. As we improvisors know, trying to be funny or going for the easy joke is a one-way ticket to crickets. That night, she cried herself to sleep at her mistake and thought her career in improv was over. As she told this story, I knew exactly how she felt and why she felt that way. When you love an art form so much, the disappointment of failing at it is very intense. Her story helped me so much these past few days... hell, if the brilliant D'Arcy Carden f*cked up on stage, maybe I'm allowed to as well.

The fastest way to get over a sh*tty show is to get back on that stage and try again... and that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Dear Paul...

"You about ready?" he asked as I put the finishing touches on my lipstick.

"Yeah, give me a minute." I said with a bite.

We were going on a date for my birthday and I wasn't feeling particularly excited. Anxiousness and irritation ensconced my emotions as I tried to steer my thoughts to a calmer place. If it doesn't happen tonight, it's not the end of the world. You know it's coming at SOME point.

"Well, the reservation is for 7, so we should try and get going," he called from the living room.

I stared at myself in the mirror and felt the tears well up with worry. I tilted my head back and fanned them away so as not to smear my mascara. Because apparently we didn't have time for me to fix it! We have a reservation that HE made! Because I guess everything has to be on HIS timeline! Shhhhhh, calm down. It'll happen eventually.

I had become one of those waiting-around-to-be-proposed-to girls and I was pissed about it. So, of course I took that out on the responsible party. I swore I would never become one of those ultimatum nags I had seen around me for the past few years. No, my attitude about getting engaged/married was super laid back for most of our relationship. Paul and I had been together over 4 years and, during that time, we took it moment by moment without the pressure of a cliched timeline. That is, until I felt a bride itch about a year earlier.

"Are you okay?" he asked as we drove to the restaurant.

"I'm fine, I'm just hungry," I managed to squeeze out in a lighter tone. Not light enough since that was all I said on the 10 minute car ride and my silence was shouting volumes.

"Me too! It's gonna be gooo-ooood!" he said with a goofy smile.

His chipper mood only exacerbated my ire. But wait, perhaps he's upbeat because he has something planned? Normally this type of mood would deaden any inclination for him to be giddy. Stop, don't get your hopes up.

As we entered the restaurant, there was a bustle of activity with crowds of people waiting for tables and waiters darting around at the peak restaurant time. Paul told the hostess his name and said there was a reservation.

"Paul, party of 6, right?" she said as another hostess quickly pointed to something on the reservation book. I looked at Paul since I thought it was just going to be the two of us. His commitment to avoiding my eyes in that moment quickened the pace of my heart. Hmmmmmm.

"Oh, that's... a-noth-er Paul... right... Paul party of... 2, " the hostess pathetically recovered, "Right this way!"

Paul took my hand in his as we turned the corner and I saw my family sitting at a table in the back of the restaurant. It's finally going to happen. We're getting engaged!! And I've been a total bitch all night.

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Marriage is hard. I don't care who you are or how fairytale your romance may be, it takes constant work and attention. Back in my single days, I'd hear the "old" women in my office (ya know, in their thirties- GASP!) lament about their husbands, kids and all the woes of their lives. Drowning in  naïveté, I remember rolling my eyes and resigning those whiny women to a foreign realm the likes of which I would never be a citizen.

Fast forward a few years later and I'm fully entrenched in the highs and lows of marriage; learning a valuable lesson that you really never know how things are going to turn out until you take the proverbial "plunge." But this I can say for certain... I have never once regretted taking that plunge. Marriage is a never-ending intensive workshop where you are forced to examine parts of yourself that are super ugly, super awesome and everything in between. I've seen a lot of sides of myself during the last 11-ish years and whooo-boy am I lucky that I chose someone who puts up with it all.

Since starting this blog last October, I've looked into my own sacrifices and struggles, but in this post, I want to explore a different perspective: being married to me is not easy. It is something of which I'm continuously reminding myself, because it's so very important. Throughout this road-trip of matrimony, I've been the one who has caused the stops along the way and Paul has been my rock through it all... and many times when I didn't deserve it. This Valentine's Day, he needs to know why I'm so lucky to call him my husband.

No Sense of Direction
When we started dating, I was smack dab in my "should burden" stage of life where I really believed I could, I dunno, break some glass ceiling of the Merchandise Planning corporate hierarchy. We met at a music company in 2002, where he was a buyer and I had taken a position in data entry right after college. From what he saw, I was a goal-oriented career-woman who had her sights set high.

Shortly after we got married, the company went under since it was in the business of selling CDs. Remember those? Nope? Me neither. Anyway, in 2008 I found myself in limbo and not sure what I wanted to do. Paul, being sensible, had set up his next gig with his start-up music label while I thought I should "take time off" and figure out what I really wanted to do. This was before we had kids, it was just the two of us and I was thankful for the freedom to dive into my dreams. Only... the fear of pursuing those dreams hung heavy in me, so instead I fell into a deep rut the likes of which Paul had never seen.

For a year and a half, Paul stood by me and supported my aimless existence even though I know it frustrated him. I was in a dangerous spiral of sadness, feeling inadequate, shame, self-loathing, regret, hypochondria and it all manifested itself by transforming my usual positive self into an anxiety-ridden nightmare. If the circumstances had been reversed, I'm not sure I would have been so forgiving. What am I saying... I know I wouldn't have been so forgiving. Paul never judged me or belittled what I was going through... he simply carried me forward and gently guided me toward a path that worked for both of us.

Baby Mama Drama
We had our daughter while Paul was getting his EMBA from the University of Michigan. Smack dab in the middle of his program our daughter arrived and we were consumed by a love so deep it practically scared us. Starting a family while Paul was in such an intense program was not recommended, but I was already 31 and I was not going to put it off until the program was over. Nope, as Marisa Tomei taught us in her Oscar-winning performance in My Cousin Vinny, there's a biological clock that ticks pretty loudly in our ears after a certain point. Since Paul was working about 50 hours a week and then studying roughly 4,000 hours a week, we agreed that I'd take on the brunt of baby responsibilities until he graduated.

Stop... stop laughing. What? You mean that sounds unrealistic for our first experience as parents?? Um yeah, we found that out within the first month. It didn't help that Paul and I produced a kid who wasn't fond of sleeping... naps or through the night. Nope, if there was such a thing as "baby FOMO," our daughter invented it. Pretty sure her infant eyes watched most of the first season of The Walking Dead while I bounced her for hours like a zombie (JOKE!). Living on about 5 hours of broken sleep for 14 months straight took it's toll on me and our relationship. In Paul's eyes, he was just living up to the agreement we had made. In my eyes, well, they were bloodshot and unable to focus from being so painfully exhausted.

A few years later, our son was born. Aversion to sleep occurred again, replace EMBA program with consultant business travel, add colic, stress of living in a cramped apartment while our house was under construction, moving when he was 8 weeks old, caring for a toddler... and to top it all off, I was suffering from postpartum anxiety.

I felt like a totally different person after each of our children arrived. My attention was pigeon-holed on the kids and my self-sympathy, so you can imagine how much effort I was directing towards Paul's needs or what he was going through. In the haze of survival mode, Paul and I got into some intense arguments where he was genuinely trying to help me, but in that altered state, I saw those attempts as attacks. Oh, you want to start formula to calm our son's colic? That must mean you think my breast milk is bad for him!! You want your mom to come for a couple days to help me? Because you think I'm a terrible mother?! You want to take the kids so I can get out for an evening? Why, because YOU want me out of the house?!?! Sigh, he couldn't win.

Not once did Paul suggest I was doing a terrible job or criticized my level of stress. He offered help and no matter how much I fought him, he stood by and reminded me that our kids were lucky to have me as their mother. He must have been going through so much pain of his own, but he certainly didn't let that affect his unwavering support and love for his zombie wife.

They're Snaps
I need to learn to keep my big mouth shut sometimes. Especially when it comes to snapping at my family. Look, have I gotten better? Sure. Does it still happen? A lot. Will it ever go away? Doubt it. The thing with snapping at Paul is that he never returns fire. So yeah, I'm just the verbally aggressive spouse who cannot seem to keep her trap shut when he hasn't heard me for the 3rd time, or cannot find something that's in front of his face or gets confused about my schedule even though it's on a shared calendar. Even though, yes, these things are annoying, the gentle art of explaining rather than spewing an insult is rarely my path.

"It's not what you said, it's the way you said it." This line was joked about in a an episode of Friends where Joey was "becoming a woman" thanks to his hot roomie played by Elle McPherson. Well, that old chestnut is not exclusive to the ladies, believe me. I've got the acid tongue that stings while Paul will calmly clarify. Or, he just lets it go. Not all things need to be said... at least that's what I keep telling myself but usually after I've said the thing that didn't need to be said.

Our differences in temperament is something I wrote about in another post and it's, by far, the most frequent point of contention in our marriage. Paul often points out that he would never respond to something the way I do and "never speak to you that way." Ugh, it's a knife through the heart every time. I'm sure he'd find this hard to believe, but I swear I'm trying... really, I am. One day, I'll just repeat myself for the 7th time in a very calm and steady tone. What? No, I'm not getting annoyed just thinking about it. ;-)

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Dear Paul,

First, I love you.  I know in the doldrums of everyday routine I probably don't show or say that as much as I should, but please know that I'm completely draped in love for you... much like George Costanza draped in velvet, if it was socially acceptable.

Thank you for allowing me to be a witness to your life. When I think about those first few months of getting to know you to now, the sheer volume of things you've changed for the better is nothing short of inspiring. Not the least of which was your acceptance that you're a size Medium and not XXL. I'm surprised I could even find you in those shirts!

For every one annoying thing I point out about you, I'm sure there are 50 about me that you never mention. In fact, even when I try to suggest something I do is annoying to you, your response is usually to smile and say, "It's cute." Thanks for lying, Paul.

Your presence in my life has saved me numerous times. Saved me from myself, saved me from bad decisions, saved me from deep pain from my past and present. In life, we all make critical decisions where the course of our lives are forever changed. You're the best critical decision I've ever made.

You and I are similar in that we've always felt "other." I've seen you struggle with not being a "typical guy," and how that puts you on the outer rim of the social circles. You don't watch sports, drink beer, play golf or tout your masculinity as a badge of honor. Who the f*ck cares? Your passion and tireless quest to evolve as a human being is more attractive to me than any bro-dude could ever understand.

As you know, I'm a hypochondriac and tend to think I'm going to die about 5 times a year. Well, to go further down that bleak path, if I did die and you were to be the only parental presence in our kids' lives, I really couldn't think of a better example for them to follow. My god, they are so fortunate to have you as their dad I can hardly put it into words. Not a day goes by where I cannot see and feel your love for them... be it through a smile, a look or all-consuming snuggle.

Thank you, Paul. Thanks for sticking by me. Thanks for being in my corner. Thanks for coming to my improv shows and being my biggest fan. Thanks for believing in me. Thanks for your patience. Thank you for witnessing my life with pride. Thank you for never letting me forget your love for me. Thank you India. Thank you clarity. Thank you DISSS-ILLLUUSIONMEEEUUHHNNT. Oh wait, that's naked Alanis Morissette, sorry.

Happy Valentine's Day, Paul. xo

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

If You Film It, I Will Come

Upon opening the door, the smell of plastic and urgency filled my senses. The bright lights illuminated the shelves and the boxes upon them. A quick survey of the room revealed this was not going to be easy: I had to be furtive in my movements if this was going to be a success. A short walk around the curved counter showed promise given the stack of blue and white before my eyes. Alas, the words I so desired did not appear as I scanned the stack. In one swift movement I walked over to the most populated area, unafraid of the throng of slow-moving bodies before me. Given the late hour, I had faced the reality that my efforts were probably in vain, but I would not be able to depart the store without the knowledge that I had tried everything in my power. My suspicions were correct, unfortunately, and all the boxes were flat against the shelves, with no laminated partner propping them forward. With my head hung low, I turned to push through the crowd and leave empty handed. Just then, I looked up and saw a being walking towards me. An angel in blue and khaki with his arms full, careful to not drop the rectangular spoils to re-stock.

"Do you have..." My query was halted when I saw the title jump out at me like a fawn eager to nourish from mother's teat.

"Right here... it's all yours," the angel responded... Mike was his name, as the tag upon his chest revealed.

I grasped the treasure tight against my body, fumbled for my pocketbook to retrieve the card which would allow for me 2 nights of viewing. This is why I came and against all odds... I succeeded to find a New Release on Friday night at Blockbuster Video.

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Escapism is something that started pretty early for me. Movies, especially, helped me break free from the confines of childhood into the worlds I wanted to explore. As early as I can remember, I've always had a favorite movie that hooked me and didn't let me go for a long time. I'd watch it repeatedly until I had it memorized, shot for shot and line by line.

The following movies are some that shaped my childhood into the teen years. Given the sheer volume of movies that hold that title, this is a pared down list. They are the movies I could watch at any time, any place, all the while mouthing the dialogue. Also, there are spoilers in this post, but if you haven't seen or at least heard of what happens in these movies, then I'm sorry you've been trapped in a bunker, ya bing-bong. 


The Wizard of Oz


"There's no place like home." -Dorothy Gale

The moment Dorothy opens the door to the color-drenched Munchkinland, I was in love. I was probably no older than 4 when I watched a VHS tape of The Wizard of Oz sitting on the floor of my living room. My eyes fixated on everything Judy Garland did, from the way she snuggled a chick to her cheek to her swimmer-kicking legs when the flying monkey nabbed her from the forest. To me, it captured the perfect amount of adventure, courage and love. 

Besides being captivated by the magic of it all, this was also the movie that solidified my dream to be an actor. It was the beginning of my almost subconscious habit of watching while studying... or studying while watching, I'm not sure. I had no clue I was doing this until later in life, but even at the tender age of 4, I knew I didn't want to be Dorothy; I wanted to be Judy Garland playing Dorothy. As time went on I wanted to be Molly Ringwald playing Andi, Mayim Bialik playing Blossom, Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing Elaine. 

I'd get the chance to be in a production of The Wizard of Oz in the 4th grade. Mrs. Meriverta put the show on every year and ever since Kindergarten, I hoped to be in her class since only her students made up the cast. When I was in 1st grade, my brother landed the role of Tin Man and at 6 years old, I helped him perfect his introductory line of, "Oil Can," without moving his lips. Being his acting coach was a no-brainer given my expertise on every detail of the film. When it was my turn in that 2nd floor classroom right off the stairs, my sights were set on Dorothy. Maybe I wasn't quite nailing long division, but I knew I could nail this.

During the audition process, which was held in front of the entire class, Mrs. Meriverta would call us up in groups and bounce us around in multiple roles based on what she was seeing. I noticed I kept playing the Wicked Witch of the West while a handful of girls would rotate as Dorothy. By that time, I had probably watched the movie around 70 times, so my inclination to be a mimic helped me master that witch voice. In the end, Christy Maywhorter played Dorothy and I played the Wicked Witch of the West. That experience taught me a couple things; sometimes what you think you want isn't meant to be and... playing the villain is always more fun.

The Breakfast Club


"Well, it wouldn't have anything to do with you activities people being assholes, now would it?" - John Bender

I probably didn't see the unedited version of The Breakfast Club until late in high school. But, even with bad curse-dubs and commercials, I spent countless Saturday afternoons watching that movie on a channel reserved for late night infomercials. Imagine my shock when I found out it was elephantitis of the "nuts" and not "butt." Masterful how the dub still applied to the next question: How do you think he rides a bike?

I fell in love with The Breakfast Club before I was even in junior high. From a young age, I often wished to fast forward time to be older and The Breakfast Club, oddly enough, made me so excited for high school. It's a movie about how misunderstood a kid can feel and that under a very thin surface, there is a lot of pain they are all trying to figure out. WAHOO! BRING ON HIGH SCHOOL! I thought. Perhaps the boredom of elementary school brought that on. Not surprisingly, I wanted to be the princess, Claire, played by Molly Ringwald. Of all the archetypes of high school, she seemed to have the best life and while my experience at that time showed zero promise of reaching that strata of high school society, my mental image of how I should look and act were drawn out in that movie. Even in the scene where they all share the woes of their lives, hers didn't seem that bad. Come on, Claire, being popular couldn't be that hard.

My favorite performance is by Judd Nelson as John Bender, the criminal. By the end of the movie, you see him in a totally different light. That happens with all of the characters, but Judd Nelson had the toughest job making that transition with Bender. He may have not crossed over to the likability side with the audience, but the vulnerability he brings while maintaining the edge he started with is something I savor whenever I watch The Breakfast Club. He saves the group from being caught by Vernon in the hallway, but then attacks Claire during the most serious scene in the movie. He's so conflicted, so angry... and by the end, you just want to give him a hug. (Or do him in the closet, as many theorize Claire did).

I've revisited The Breakfast Club many times and watched it at every stage of my life. Today, I watch it and think of my kids. Sure, times change and problems are different, but those archetypes will always exist and my hope is that my kids embody some part of all of them. I mean, I'll drive them physi-physss-physics club after they successfully make their elephant lamp in shop class. Then, off to their team sport event with a bag packed full of shit in case they have to jam. Of course no leaving the house unless lipstick has been applied with cleavage. After all, Stubby's party is tonight... should be pretty wild.

Steel Magnolias


"Oh, get with it Clairee, this is the eighties! If you can achieve puberty, you can achieve a past." - Truvy Jones

A movie had never made me cry until Steel Magnolias. And boy did I cry. My mom wanted to rent it because so many of her favorite actresses were the stars. Dolly Parton, in particular, was special to my mom since it was her music that comforted her during those first years after arriving in America. At 12 years old, I didn't quite know what to expect... a bunch of older ladies who are friends being sassy and Southern? Cool, I'll watch it.

Little did I know how much this movie would sink it's ever so charming teeth into my soul. From the opening credits where Annelle is walking through insanely gorgeous Southern neighborhoods to the heart-wrenching monologue M'Lynn delivers at the end, I was glued to every single facet of these women and their relationships. As a little Indian girl trying to figure out her way, who would have thought I could find such a foreign landscape appealing. I learned a lot from that movie, but nothing more than the strength of women both individually and as a united union of friends. All the men in the movie are secondary to how these 6 women navigate through some of the toughest transitions in their lives. It's a story about how badass women come from anywhere, in all shapes, sizes and ages. I can't think of anything more perfect for a 12 year old girl to watch.

I recently watched Steel Magnolias for the first time in probably 10 years. I was giddy with a smile stretching across my face as the score swelled over the opening frame. My husband joined me later into the movie when Shelby was in ICU and nearing her death. I could already feel the emotions coming in hot in anticipation of the emotional climax a few minutes away. Finally during the cemetery scene when Sally Field unleashes all her anger and sadness about her daughter's death, I full on started sobbing. Watching Steel Magnolias as a mother is a totally different experience and that scene just gutted me. Paul didn't quite know what to do and I started laughing and crying at the embarrassment of my outburst. I mean, we're taking audible sobs and gasps. And well, sometimes you need that in life.

To this day, I can mentally play the salon scene in my head when I'm having trouble falling asleep. Within that one scene where Shelby's getting dolled up for her wedding, you learn so much about each woman with such a perfect flow of heart and humor. I recited that scene for a couple friends on a road trip once and their expressions were a mix of disbelief and confusion as to why anyone would take the time to memorize something so insignificant. Ah well, perhaps it's not for everyone, but to me, Steel Magnolias is like a warm hug from a Southern aunt I didn't know I needed. Now, where's that recipe for Cupa-Cupa-Cupa?

Field of Dreams


"Oh lord, you don't have to build a football field now, do you?" - Annie Kinsella

I know, I know... so obvious, right? Field of Dreams is on every woman's list of impactful movies in her life. Yeah, this one even surprises me at times. To explain, I developed a huge crush on Kevin Costner after the Dances with Wolves phenomenon, so I decided to rent Field of Dreams. I was fully prepared to just superficially watch a movie for some K-Cost eye candy, but turns out... IT'S AN AMAZING MOVIE!!!!

Let me be clear, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who cares less about baseball than me. Technically it's a baseball movie, but it's about so much more. Field of Dreams is about upending your life for passion, and there have been countless times in my life where I've thought about Ray Kinsella and his fear of dying bitter and unfulfilled. He's slowly crumbling under the weight of practicality, which is something to which so many of us can relate. I guess you could say I've done my own "plowing under my corn to build a baseball field," a couple of times in my life. Leaving my job, pursuing comedy, abandoning my flat iron for wavy hair.... I mean, it's not easy stuff.

The last scene is easily one of the most heartfelt moments ever captured on film. Say, "Hey Dad... do you wanna have a catch?" to anyone familiar with this movie, and if they don't immediately break down in tears, they are dead inside. Holy shit, it's so incredibly beautiful. From the sunset backdrop to the music, it's absolute perfection. All of Ray's internal battles about his own life were born out of the way he saw his father, and through a simple game of catch, he gets the closure most of us dream of. Is this heaven? No, it's Field of Dreams. Oh, and KC does look damn good in it, too.

Dirty Dancing


"You just put your pickle on everybody's plate, college boy, and leave the hard stuff to me." - Johnny Castle

I was not allowed to watch Dirty Dancing in its entirety due to my innocence and the fact that there was a lot of crotch-grinding going on. Since I didn't let up on my begging, my mom finally relented and agreed to watch it along side me with her finger perched atop the fast forward button to skip any racy parts. The first viewing went this way, and then a couple years later I feasted my eyes on all the vertical dry-humping I wanted!

I've included this movie because it was the first time I really fell in love with romance. Sure I'd seen other movies with love in it, but for whatever reason, Dirty Dancing was the first movie where I fully fantasized about being the object of desire. My obsession was timed perfectly with the beginning of my own sexual curiosity. Plus, I love to dance and everything about dance. That scene where Penny and Johnny first dance in the ballroom to sell lessons was when the movie really got me. Sometimes I still just look up that dance to cheer me up. I learned some life lessons as well.. I found out what "knocked-up" meant, what an amazing actor Jerry Orbach was, how abortions used to be illegal and probably most important, a well-timed butt graze can be sexier than any R-rated nudity.

If we ever meet and I have just the right amount of alcohol in my system, I may perform a snippet of the "last dance of the season" for you. It's where P-Swaze and the rest of the dancers are coming up the aisle and Jennifer Grey is awaiting the right moment for the famed lift she failed to do at the Shelldrake. Those 10 seconds took me about 12 hours to perfect by playing-rewinding-playing-rewinding. I finally did get it and I've busted it out at many a-weddings. To this day that movie cheers me up. I love the feel of summer, the mountain resort shenanigans, forbidden love, the fairytale happy ending... it all just allowed me to have had... yup, I'm doing it... sorry not sorry... here it goes...  the time of my life.

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Like I said, these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to movies that made a strong impression on my life. Some honorable mentions are Top Gun, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the Indiana Jones trilogy and both Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey. Oh, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective... and Tommy Boy... shit, and Reality Bites. Okay, I could go on for a long time here...

One could argue I spent way too much time watching and re-watching movies growing up. And one would probably be right, but I wouldn't change anything about how I spent that time. Movies helped shaped my world and I look back on them not as time wasted, but rather a masterclass at learning about characters, story structure, narrative arcs, dialogue, cinematography, acting and most of all... they helped me feel like I could do anything. I was watching people live my dream of being an actor and telling stories beyond their own reality. I'm pretty sure if everyone could peek through a window into their desired future, they would do it a lot.