Okay, so I don’t really believe in time, but Happy New Year!
Even though I think labelling periods of our lives as generally good or bad (i.e. “This year sucked!” or “What a great day!”) is actually not helpful and overgeneralizes the nuances of life, I’ve been thinking a lot about this past year for myself. For the past few months, I’ve been taking stock of everything that has happened. It’s a lot. It’s amazing how short and yet how expansive 365 days can be. Even more amazing is how vastly different a year can seem, just based on perspective.
When I focus on the struggle, the pain, the mistakes – this year seems awful and exhausting. Another year older, another year full of disillusionment, of hard lessons learned, of heartbreak, and parts of myself – innocence, behavior, ideas, friends, truths – lost.
But when I count my blessings, and there are so, so many – this year seems miraculous. I’ve finally finished filming my short film, got into stand-up comedy, shot over 15 new web videos, co-founded a sketch team, made it as a semi-finalist in a comedy festival, received a promotion at my job (which I love), and I’ve met hundreds of new awesome people and made so many new awesome friends. Not to mention I got in touch with my birth-family, created several new paintings, started eating meat again (I know) and continue to grow every moment as a breathing, living, flesh-and-blood human being.
My gratitude is overwhelming. So instead of going on further about how great my year was and how lucky I feel to be alive, I want to instead brag about some of my wonderful friends. Because they’ve had amazing years as well:
Chris Chianesi launched his new webseries, #MANNYPROBZ, and he’s hilarious and his costar Leisl is adorable and it’s everything you want in a comedy webseries. Also, I was cinematographer on a couple of them and those shoots were so much fun.
Taylor Tobin started writing for the website, Brokelyn, and her food listicles are all you’ll ever need while dining in Brooklyn. Her culinary advice has never led me astray.
Christina Stone has started making custom puppets! They are fuzzy, adorable, and hand-sewn. It’s the perfect gift to give to the children and young-at-heart in your life. You can contact her through her website to place an order.
Emily Duncan premiered her new, original musical, “Me and my Birdie,” which premiered at the Bad Theater Festival, and it was touching and hilarious. AND she collaborated with the magnificent Regina Gibson – they co-wrote and composed a new holiday song you can see Regina, who has the voice of Greta Garbo but 10x sexier, perform here.
Rowan Rivers started a new blog where he divulges his magickal insight on tarot card analysis and it’s wonderful. I love his writing.
And my best friend since 3rd grade, Nicole Sweeney, literally just seconds ago made the Board of Directors for Pure Romance, a company whose mission statement and products I love. You can buy awesome stuff from her here.
Honestly, I can go on and on and on. I’m am so #blessed to know so many amazing, passionate, creative artists and creators. Sometimes I just scroll through my Facebook feed and beam with pride. How lucky are we?
Here are some more friends who are creating awesome work you should check out:
The SoulGlo Project, a podcast and monthly live show with Keisha Zollar, Anna Suzuki, and Emily Schorr Lesnick.
Have a wedding upcoming or a special event you want captured to remember forever? Hire James Sireno Productions – seriously, Jimmy and his wife, Chelsea, are two of the nicest, most professional, talented videographers I know!
More people you need to keep track of because they’re about to be FAMOUS, they’re that talented:
So congratulations, mazel tov! If you’re reading this, that means you’ve made it through another year. I hope your 2015 was filled with as much love and pain and wonder and life as mine has, and I hope your 2016 is just as full, if not fuller.
Happy New Year!
EDIT: I can’t believe I completely forgot my amazing and talented friend, Hannah Cauhépé who, after doing a daily photo challenge for a year from her home in Paris, has now embarked on a massive world-wide journey and continues to document it with her breath-taking photos. She also has just unveiled her new project, The Lesbian Gaze, where she takes beautiful portraits of lesbian, queer, bi women from all over the world. I forgot because she’s always on the move, currently she’s in Nicaragua! Check out her work!!
This actually started as a comment to my good friend, Hannah’s, latest post (check out her blog, her photographs are beautiful and incredibly interesting), but as I kept typing, I figured I’d just post it here instead of leaving an essay in her comments. Hannah is French. She lives in Paris, although she’s currently in the States. My heart breaks for her, and I am thankful she is safe.
Here’s what I was starting to write to her (and it takes off from there, as you’ll see):
I can feel your pain. My heart hurts in solidarity for you, for Paris, for Beirut, for everyone. I hear what you’re saying, absolutely. I immediately experienced empathy when I heard about Paris. I immediately thought of you. I imagined my city, my home, New York, being attacked again. I took the train down to Times Square later that day for work and felt my chest tighten with anxiety. We could easily have been those victims. I sit outside on balconies eating dinner. I have gone to clubs and concerts. I didn’t hear about the attack on Beirut until later that same day, (which is an issue that should be addressed). But do we or do we not put a filter over our Facebook profile pictures – and which one? Do we not post as much about Paris, but more about Beirut? Why didn’t I hear about Kenyan University where 147 students were massacred back in April? Am I a bad person? How can I put the French flag and the Lebanon flag and the Kenyan flag all on my social media while using non-religious but thoughtful hashtags so everyone knows I am good and mean well? How do we stay politically correct – how can we accurately report war and suffering – what is the right thing to do now against ISIS – what about – if we just – what about – this is wrong – this is right – what about –
I have no fucking idea. So I’ve been relatively staying silent, because for me, at this point, right now, none of this matters. I know there are a lot of complex political issues at stake now, and yes, discussion needs to happen, but we seem to be on the brink of a global war. Everyone is shouting, everyone is in pain. The core truth is that people have died, and I am sad. For all of them.
Pain is pain. No one wins when people try to compare suffering, and it is a futile, misguided effort. When in times of immense suffering, we want our pain justified, our grief validated, and our most natural reactions when our souls are in danger is to inflate the ego, retaliate, and look for someone to blame. We need a Why for our pain. Trust me, I do this all the time. Grief is an incredibly, incredibly isolating and lonely experience, not to mention extremely frightening, to explore the depths of pain in our psyche. It’s natural to lash out and try to find someone or something to cling to, even if we drag them down with us in the process.
It’s also natural that the Western media has reacted so strongly to the Paris attacks over the Beirut attacks. Whether or not that’s right isn’t really for me to say. It just Is. The stories that we most relate to are when the victims most look like us, when what happens is close to home, that all hurts much more. It’s natural and human to have empathy sometimes and just sympathy other times. If we could viscerally feel the pain of every experience outside our own, we would go probably insane and very quickly end it. It’s too much. So we distance, we dehumanize, we point fingers, we blame, we cause more pain, in order to protect ourselves. We do so out of fear, and always have. Because the world is too great, the suffering too immense, the losses are unbearable. We are angry because life is unfair.
And we’re right. It is unfair. It’s incredibly unfair. And it fucking sucks. But it Is.
I laugh now looking at my past blog and journal posts. I always think I have all the answers. I just keep having the same epiphanies over and over again. I realize a new truth, write about it, internalize it, and try to practice more mindful living. Which lasts a few days – a week or so if I really try. Then I go right back to being a human who gets angry and hurts and lashes out and clings and gets jealous and says mean things and has selfish thoughts and rolls her eyes and cries all the time and huffs and is just so OVER IT. Because I’m human. This time last year on my birthday, I wrote a whole post about being an adult. Hah hah! Boy, that lasted long. It’s very humbling, to say the least. But it does help me take myself less seriously, which I am always in need of.
You know, now that I think of it, Life IS kind of like school. Every year, you have the same core subjects with some new ones mixed in, and every year, you advance a level – if you do the work, that is. The material gets harder, more in-depth, more complex. But hopefully, if you work hard, do your homework, and listen in class, you become better equipped to handle such challenges. Sometimes you decide to abruptly switch your majors or transfer to a new school, which can also be so overwhelming and temporarily set you back, but you eventually adjust.
Ooooh, so that was the point of the first 21 years of my life. Now I get it. School’s just a metaphor, you guys!
Right now, I’m basically in “Life Whooping Your Ass 301: You Thought You Knew But You Had No Idea!” and I think I may be in way over my head. But thank god for tutors (aka therapists), amirite?
ANYWAY, point being, I’ve recently enacted an experiment where I put into practice one crucial key to Adulting that I totes forgot for like, my entire life, you guys. Acceptance.
As I’ve stated before, I have a crazy powerful imagination, I have a penchant for fantasies, an idealistic willful heart, and quite a passionate temper. I also tend to phone it in, coast, hide, and procrastinate when I can – basically at heart, I’m lazy. I also cling. Hard. To beliefs, habits, people, and some very longstanding grudges against certain people I feel have hurt me significantly. I do this simply because I can, because it’s easier, and because I’ve been getting away with it for nearly 28 years.
When I’m in pain, when terrible shit happens, when life’s unfair, there’s this persistent little voice in the back of my head that whines, “But WHYYYYYY?!” (Did you also read this in Cartman’s voice? No? Just me?)
God, I hear that voice a lot. But I usually don’t wait to hear the answer.
If I did, I bet my inner Good Mother would stroke my hair and simply say, “Because.”
And when I ask again, “But WHHHYYYYYY!?” She would probably wrap me in her arms, think for a moment, and thoughtfully, sadly reply, “I don’t know.”
That doesn’t mean doing so is easy. Nope. This. Is. Super. Fucking. HARD. And so incredibly painful – I can’t even describe the pain. It’s a slow, very painful process and I miss everything so much and the reluctance is so strong. It’s scary to let go. (But you can’t get rid of the Babadook!)
Acceptance doesn’t discount the pain or wipe it clean or encourage apathy. Acceptance accepts the pain for what it is (that’s a weird phrase, huh), acknowledges the hurt, and eventually, hopefully, then lets the pain move through us, rather than take over us. Yes, this happened. Yes, it was unfair. I was hurt. I still hurt. It has affected me. But it happened. This is part of my story.
Because there is Life After Death. And if we’re lucky, we’re reborn a thousand times. The messages of peace and love and understanding that I’ve seen in the aftermath of these attacks are so beautiful and uplifting. It’s time to heal, as a planet, as humans, as humanity. We need to take care of each other. I see it in the strength of the Syrian refugees, the families of victims of senseless violence, the survivors of violent attacks and immense trauma. They persevere. They still have hope. They keep living. Because this is Life. And it Is.
As most of my close friends and family know, I absolutely loved the Wizard of Oz when I was a child. Actually, “loved” is a severe understatement. It was an obsession bordering on mania, as most of my loves tend to be. I remember clearly how it started. I found my mother’s soundtrack CD one day in our TV cabinet and began listening to it. From that day forth, I would play it on repeat in my small bedroom, acting out and singing along with every lyric. It spiraled from there. I received a copy of the movie and I would watch it every day. I knew every line by heart. Over the span of just a couple years, I had amassed (thanks to my very kind and supportive parents)the books, Barbies (sidenote: I should have never taken mine out of the box!), dolls, figurines, snow globes, board games, clothing, stuffed animals, mugs, posters – all of it Wizard of Oz. I was a merchandiser’s dream customer. I saw the performance live, on ice – and in 4th grade, I wrote, what I thought was a very professional letter, to my vice principal Mr. Davis asking to use the school auditorium to produce, direct, design, and star in my own production of Frank L. Baum’s classic. (Once a producer, always a producer.) That is the year I sadly learned what royalties and copyright laws are. And even though my love for this wonderful, whimsical universe is not quite as intense as it used to be (I once wrote in my diary that “Wizard of Oz is an ocean and I’m drowning in it” – once a drama queen, always a drama queen), it will always hold a special place in my heart. And I bet I can beat all of you at Wizard of Oz trivia any day.
Fast forward nearly 20 years. I was speaking with a close friend recently about which Wizard of Oz characters we would be (my preferred version of the ‘Which SATC girl are you?’ discussion) and I declared I would be Dorothy, obviously. He was surprised, he replied, “Oh, I don’t know, Dorothy always struck me as kind of dense.” I ignored that slight to my homegirl and replied, “Yes, but she’s always longing for home.”
It’s this huge, vast, complex, multi-layered concept that so many of us long for. But what it is and what that word means varies depending on who you ask.
Diana Ross sang, “When I think of home, I think of a place with love overflowing.” (I also absolutely love The Wiz, obviously, and I can’t wait for NBC’s version!)
(Go ahead, watch Diana just f*cking SLAY this song and cry and then you can finish reading)
In fact, I don’t have to go into this much further – we’ve heard all of the theories. Any place you hang your hat is home. Home is where the heart is. Home is with the one you love. Home is wherever you are. Home. But what is home? Who is right? More so, why are we so obsessed with this idea and creating a home or finding a home?
As I’ve written before, once again I am happily resigned to say: I don’t know.
Bear with me though, I think I have some theories. I actually started writing this post months ago but never finished. Rather, I wrote down a few quotes from a podcast that I was listening to at the time which stirred something in my soul, and then never came back. Until now. Here is one of the quotes:
“It’s only by stopping movement, that you can see where to go. And it’s only by stepping out of your life and the world that you can see what you most deeply care about and find a home. And home, in the end, is of course, not just the place where you sleep, it’s the place where you stand.” – Pico Iyer (NPR TED Radio Hour podcast on Identities)
The other night, I went to a party of a super cool new friend of mine. It was an awesome party. There was a DJ and lights spinning and a lot of fun, good-looking people dancing it up. I was… pretty sauced. At one point towards the end of the night, my friend, the very gracious host, was talking to myself and two others about how he has completely stopped all dating, flirting, sex, romance – pursuing or acting on – all of it. That entire part of his life is just shut down. I was shocked and reacted quite emotionally. My breakdown went as follows:
You can do that?!
WHAT! Like completely?
He replied, “I’m happy.”
I scoffed and laughed and then got angry. No, actually, I was pissed. But it wasn’t until the next morning in the cold, harsh, sober light of day that I actually started to think about what he was saying.
Why did his life choice – the concept of someone choosing not to look – make me react so intensely? I realized quickly that I have actually never done that. I’ve never actually made that choice. Sure, I’ve taken breaks from dating to “work on me” or quit online dating (which I do about every 3 months) but I’ve never really turned it completely off.
And as I became an intelligent, feminist, independent grown woman, I still could not seem to shake that little quiet voice in the back of my head – that I never know where I might find him (or her, I’m inclusive) – the life partner I’m meant to be with. Someone that will actually watch Netflix and chill with me, spend holidays with me, enrich my already full life, and build a family with me. Someone to be my home. (Theeeere it is.)
Hey, don’t sit there and judge me – think about it. How much energy, time, money, emotion do you spend on the idea of romantic love? The Valentine’s Day and Hallmark industry alone prove that I’m not the only one who thinks this way.
So the idea of just stopping – not looking, not desiring, not wanting – is a radical concept for me. In fact, my knee-jerk reaction was: How dare he!? How dare he just completely and effortlessly reject something that has somehow become a huge, massive part of my life?
And then it turned into: Wait… but what if… what if I don’t too? What if I just stop?
Let me be clear, I’m not saying that Love isn’t amazing and wonderful and something to be desired. I’m not saying that Love never lasts and give up hope now. I’m not saying to build a fortress around your heart so you can “work on yourself” for a while. (The Universe knows that trick, trust me.) I’m actually not saying anything about Love at all.
But what if you really looked at an aspect of your life, something that you felt was so intrinsic to your identity, and just knocked it the f*ck down? Kaboosh.
The past couple years have been very transformative for me – a lot has happened, a lot has changed. I tell my therapist (and a few of my very patient friends), that it feels like I’ve built these pillars in my life – everything from people that I love to belief systems to habits or addictions to values. And I’ve clung to these pillars for dear life. I thought they made me who I am, but in reality, that clinging only holds me back. It’s time to bring out the demolition team. (or wrecking ball?)
But this time, it’s not because I want to “start fresh” or lose weight or self-improve or even self-destruct. No, this kind of self-destruction is different than one more tequila shot or texting your ex (or both). This is a… self-cleaning oven type of self-destruction. This is an inevitable part of adult life that I can choose to either face or run away from. But if I do face it, if I’m brave and strong and patient, it could clear out the old, the toxic, the no longer useful, and lay the groundwork for the Me Yet To Come, the Me that I actually truly am, and in turn, release the truth I’ve always wanted to live.
Easier said than done. Let me tell you. It sucks. It hurts. It’s painful. But I think it’s truly necessary.
Today I came across a new post by one of my favorite Facebook accounts, The Artidote, which, as per usual with this page, spoke so deeply to my heart and what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It inspired me to come back to this old post and revisit this idea of home.
“You don’t know anyone at the party, so you don’t want to go. You don’t like cottage cheese, so you haven’t eaten it in years. This is your choice, of course, but don’t kid yourself: it’s also the flinch. Your personality is not set in stone. You may think a morning coffee is the most enjoyable thing in the world, but it’s really just a habit. Thirty days without it, and you would be fine. You think you have a soul mate, but in fact you could have had any number of spouses. You would have evolved differently, but been just as happy. You can change what you want about yourself at any time. You see yourself as someone who can’t write or play an instrument, who gives in to temptation or makes bad decisions, but that’s really not you. It’s not ingrained. It’s not your personality. Your personality is something else, something deeper than just preferences, and these details on the surface, you can change anytime you like. If it is useful to do so, you must abandon your identity and start again. Sometimes, it’s the only way. Set fire to your old self. It’s not needed here. It’s too busy shopping, gossiping about others, and watching days go by and asking why you haven’t gotten as far as you’d like. This old self will die and be forgotten by all but family, and replaced by someone who makes a difference. Your new self is not like that. Your new self is the Great Chicago Fire—overwhelming, overpowering, and destroying everything that isn’t necessary.” –Julien Smith
Okay, so if you’re still with me, let me try to tie this all in together:
Maybe there is no home. That’s a concept spoon-fed to us to trick us into being complacent, or restless, or try so hard to stitch together what isn’t there. Dorothy had the power to go home on her feet the whole time (spoiler alert!) and Barbra can hang her hat where ever she likes – that’s all good and true, but it’s also not as simple as oh, find home within yourself. That concept taken at face value can cause you to cling to ideologies or behaviors or people that aren’t yours to cling to. No Buzzfeed quiz or organized religion or partner or upbringing or generations-old tradition has ANY bearing on who you really truly are. None of that matters. You can let go of whatever you chose whenever you want.
You will still exist.
We are living, breathing, ever-evolving human beings and maybe that’s truly the beauty of it all – there are no constants, there is only impermanence. And sometimes you may find that you have to set fire to yourself. You need to go in and kick down that sand castle you so painstakingly built. You need to use the self-cleaning feature of your self-cleaning oven soul. But like an oven, you don’t do it just once. You may have to do it several times in your lifetime. And it’s very painful and it’s very hard, trust me, I know. I hate it. But think about it. Can you feel that – in your chest and gut? That anxious yet strangely calm warm excitement spreading – if you could just… be? Break free of things you once thought vital to your life – really consider the possibility. In letting go, think of what you could gain. Who knows? This is life. There are no answers. There is no home.
I want to talk a little bit about bravery. It seems to be a recurring theme in my life lately. A quick Google search shows the following definitions for brave:
adjective. ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.
noun. people who are ready to face and endure danger or pain.
verb. endure or face (unpleasant conditions or behavior) without showing fear.
Well, that’s what it really is, at its heart, isn’t it? To be brave is to stand down and face the very real possibility of Pain. No one is brave for sitting at home and watching Netflix, unless you happen to be watching a scary movie on Netflix (like The Babadook), but even then, I don’t know if the average person would call you brave for that.
But brave is not just about running onto a battlefield, saving a cat from a house fire, or jumping out of an airplane. We know that as humans, we are forced to be brave every day. As a New Yorker, one could say I’m brave for even stepping out of my apartment every morning. (Or even paying for said apartment.) But I’m not even going to talk about that watered-down cliche that all the politicians and media try to cram down our throats to make us feel good about ourselves.
I want to talk about a much more subtle kind of bravery. And these kinds of brave acts are actually part of the hardest, most complex, all-encompassing endeavor that I am personally taking on – and I’ll be continually working through my whole life: Living My Truth.
Or as I like to call it, Not Giving a F*ck.
I don’t know about you, but I’m really sensitive. Growing up, I was obsessed with the idea of being popular, of everyone liking me. I hated displeasing or disappointing anyone. In grade school, if a teacher looked at me wrong, even if I did nothing wrong and it had nothing to do with me, it would ruin my whole day. When I was a freshman in college, one of my acting teachers had us each write down a word or phrase describing our fellow classmates, and then one at a time, he’d meet with us privately and read them out-loud to us. (I know!)
My list went as such:
Desperate to please
Desperate to please
(Thanks Madelyn and Rachel for being sweet. And yes, I know who the rest of you are. Be scared. Just KIDDING!)
Hearing those words over and over again not only hurt, it was a huge f*cking wake-up call. That summer, I vowed to stop giving a f*ck what people thought of me and just focus on me, my friends, and what I cared about. (I pretty much make this vow about every other year whenever it’s become clear I’m slipping back into that insecure, dorky, awkward little girl place again.)
By the end of my college career, I had a lot of friends, I got along with pretty much everyone, and in my acting studio I can confidently say I don’t think I was hated or even greatly disliked at all. I even was invited to a lot of their weddings. (Gee, thanks guys. Kidding again, the ceremony was beautiful!)
But really, that doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter then. And what I’m just realizing now is that not giving a f*ck is not akin to some peppy Hollywood montage where a down-on-her-luck plucky protagonist decides to buckle down and work-out and get her job back and go shopping and clean her apartment and stand-up to that one bitch, and then suddenly life is great. Nope.
Not Giving A F*ck is a way of life, and it’s a constant, f*cking hard-ass battle.
I am constantly giving way too many f*cks. I still care so much about what people, even strangers, think of me, of how I’m perceived, whether or not me and my choices are validated and acknowledged. It’s in every little moment of my life. I’m constantly self-judging, self-criticizing, self-questioning. And it’s exhausting.
But I can’t stop that. I’ve tried my whole life to “stop” that, and now I’ve realized I’ve been going about it the wrong way.
It’s not about changing or forcing yourself to quit or stop your thought patterns or behavior. It’s about embracing YOU. It’s about really listening to yourself, asking yourself,
“Do I want to do this?”
“How do I really feel?”
“What do I really want?”
“Why did I do that? Am I really sorry?”
“Am I meaning what I’m saying?”
And here’s the key – after asking those questions, really really listening. Really taking a moment to check in and see what the response is. Letting Kate answer for once instead of just steamrolling over her.
And then the second part, accepting those answers, whether or not you act on them, for what they are.
I have a really hard time loving myself. I like myself fine, I enjoy spending time with myself and sometimes I even think I’m good company, I’m talented, I’m entertaining, and even that (gasp) I’m attractive. But I am really bad at loving myself. As in, the active verb: To Love.
Hating myself is so much more comfortable. Which is probably why I seem like such a natural at comedy, yes?
But now I actively try to Love myself. It’s not about treating myself to a manicure and martinis, it’s about forgiving myself when I make that mistake. It’s about speaking up instead of staying quiet, especially when it’s to my detriment. It’s about letting me just really be me, and not try to mold myself into who I think everyone else (including me) wants me to be. And most of all? It’s about opening myself to the possibility of Pain. (See, you thought I wouldn’t tie this back to bravery, but I did!)
Besides, what do I have to lose? As Shia says, “JUST DO IT!”(I can’t believe I nearly forgot to add that video)
It’s hard, it’s subtle, and I am continually trying to strengthen that muscle. (Kind of like wearing emotional Shape-Ups or ankle weights all day, yeah? I mean, I’m sure you think both people who do so and myself are crazy.)
Since I’m talking in a lot of abstractions, here are some examples of how to not give a f*ck:
Not too long ago, I was contracted for a gig that I was very excited about. When going over the budget with my colleague, we were nervous to ask for any money at all. We had been working for free or little to nothing as artists for so long, how could we ask for money now? Newly reinvigorated by my IDGAF attitude and this amazing Slate article by writers Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin, I stayed firm and we created a budget that was both modest and yet did not short-chain us, our services, nor our talents. I said, if we do not place value in ourselves, if we do not take ourselves seriously as professionals, how can we expect anyone else to?
So we sent them our proposal. The result? The client was very happy to finance the project within our budget and we were able to turn over a high-quality product that all of us were proud of, while creating a positive business relationship that will hopefully continue for quite some time.
I have a friend who recently starting dating a guy. They had been on several dates and even had a sleepover. She was nervous about communicating with him though. What if he “ghosted” on her? What if she came on too strong? She was very nonchalant about the prospect of possibly never seeing him again, even though it was clear she really liked him, and he had not shown any kind of signs of not wanting to continue seeing her. (No, this “friend” was not me, although I act the EXACT SAME WAY in this situation.) We all know the many issues of this complex new phenomenon called, “Casual Dating.” There are so many personal essays and blog posts about this, I couldn’t even decide which one to link. Just Google it. But incensed by my new IDGAF attitude, I texted her this:
“As someone who has recently been “casually dating” a lot, and pretty much always just “casually dated,” and for whom acts of emotional intimacy are the worst thing ever, I’m saying this now: Don’t hold back, dude. What do you have to lose? Liking someone isn’t a bad thing, it’s awesome. How exciting and nerve-wracking and scary and special is that?! When’s the last time you LIKED someone, truly? And even though I don’t act like it, it’s true. Sex is intimate, sex is personal. You are a healthy normal human being if you become emotionally attached to someone you slept with. We act like it’s a disease to be sensitive. My new theory is that is bullshit. We’re always so worried about coming across as “crazy chicks,” which is such a misogynist concept. Be authentically you. If he’s too chickenshit or lame to like that, you don’t want to be with him anyway. But being yourself and speaking your truth should never be shameful. Why is it always on the other person’s terms? F*ck that nonsense.”
And you know what? She texted him. They’re still dating. It’s going well.
People are always talking about telling your authentic story, speaking your truth, being comfortable in your own skin. But how to do that? Listen, this whole long blog post has been me trying to find the words to tell you, but to be honest, I’m not quite sure myself. The great Mindy Kaling says, “Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.” Which is great advice. And all of this is so much easier said than done. I always say, if I could live purely of my intellect, I’d be the f*cking Dalai Lama by now, but un/fortunately, I’m an emotional stupid human being.
But let me try one last time to break down the recipe that’s been working for me lately. You need:
Years of hard work and a lot of shitty mistakes and some pretty decent wins.
A couple of past emotional breakdowns for context.
A support system of just a few people who love you even if you don’t feel like you deserve it.
A therapist (optional, but it really makes it that much more effective).
A recent weight loss or new outfit or exercise class or haircut – something that makes you feel physically good (this is also optional but can really help).
A fiery passion for something you want.
Patience and the ability to forgive yourself.
The 2nd day of your period.
Very little sleep.
Mix it all together, put on your sunglasses, blast this song, and walk down the street. You’d be surprised how easy it is then to just not give a f*ck. God speed.
I haven’t written in this blog in a long time. And until just a few moments ago, I couldn’t really tell you why. Being busy, not feeling “inspired,” or not having anything to share are not really accurate excuses. I think it’s because I’ve been hiding.
I didn’t know I was hiding, not at first. But like a shapeless, dark monster that creeps into your dreams, vignetting what seems to be a fairly standard happy image, I had this growing suspicion that something was not quite right with me. It’s been plaguing me for weeks, this sensation that something is about to fall apart, that I’m not truly alive and aware, that any happiness I’ve felt was false. I’ve talked about it at great lengths with my close friends, my therapist, writing about it in my journal. I could articulate it, yes, but at most it was an intellectual diagnosis. It felt like someone dubbing over my own voice in a foreign language. I knew, but I couldn’t touch it. It hadn’t hit me yet, it floated above me, mockingly. I was pretty sure of what I wanted to eat but I had yet to order it and actually ingest it.
Okay, enough metaphors. You get the idea. But for someone who always has to know the answer to everything, this uncertainty has been difficult for me to live with. So I simply didn’t. In the past 3 months since I’ve last posted, I’ve been quite busy. I held a fundraiser party, I went home for the holidays, I finally wrapped principal photography on my film, I started a writers’ group, produced and acted in a new comedy web-sketch, as well as started developing more web-sketches for PITtv. Meanwhile, I’ve continued to work full-time and go out with friends or on dates. I’ve been very busy. I’ve been barely home. I’ve been rarely alone. Because I’m hiding.
When my best friend suddenly died last June, all I wanted was to be alone. Grief was the most isolating experience of my life. I’ve lived quite an individual life so far, but the alone-ness was palpable. I couldn’t be around anyone, I couldn’t smile for anyone or make small talk with anyone. I just wanted to sit outside and listen to our favorite music and cry. Nurse my grief like it was the last drink I’ll ever have. I walked the streets of New York with a bubble around me, protecting me from interaction, from engagement, from life. I just mourned.
So when I finally came out, when the sun’s rays finally actually got to touch my skin again, when I looked up, it felt miraculous. I slowly started to feel inspired again, the need to be productive, to continue living. After a while, I wanted to see other people. I wanted to start working on my projects again. I would never be the same, but I was back. And once I got my footing, I took off running. I filled my schedule and took on new projects and set up meetings and dates and outings and laughed and talked and acted like my old extroverted self again. But I was hiding.
I was hiding because I was afraid of being alone again. If I was alone, then I would think. And if I thought, I would think about Matt. And if I thought about Matt, I feared I would slip back into that dark yet brightly-lit, stark, empty room of despair again. I still am. I’m afraid. I’m afraid to be sad. I’m afraid to let myself continue to grieve. I’m afraid I won’t come out of it again. It’s been 8 months and 17 days since Matt died and I’m not still fully healed. I’m not over it. That’s okay. I’m never going to be over this. People tell you about that deep loss. I know this. But I might not also fully heal from this.
Why do we look at wounds as things that need to heal? I kept trying to become this holier-than-thou totally enlightened wise being in the last several months. How pretentious of me to go on and on about how my best friend’s death changed me? I would wax poetic about death and the meaning of life like I suddenly had all the answers now that I’ve experience such profound, tragic loss. (My friends know exactly what I’m talking about. Thank you for not slapping me, but god somebody please slap me next time.)
That is total bullshit. Okay, not total, but I was missing the point, I see that now. That was me trying to tie everything up neatly with a bow again. That was the same Katie that pretended to give eloquent interviews about world issues to the mirror when she was 9 (okay 15… okay 21… okay fine, last night) but still – I have this need to romanticize everything in my life, to package it neatly and analyze it and understand it all, but the truth is, I really don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know anything at all.
I’m a mess. I’m a flawed, messy, emotional human being. Made of flesh and blood and bones and chemicals and weird shit like that and I’m trying to figure it out desperately like everyone else. I miss my best friend and I still grieve for him but also sometimes I don’t think about him. And yeah, I feel guilty about that too. I don’t always stick to my diet and sometimes I get drunk on weeknights and I date the wrong people and I can be flaky and I don’t call my parents nearly as much as I should. I make snap judgments and I say things sometimes just to get a rise out of people and I get secretly possessive over my food. I have hateful thoughts sometimes and I’m mad at my best friend for dying on me and I miss him so frickin’ much and I worry way too much and I really do want love and children and a family someday. I cry at the drop of a hat and I have dry skin and I don’t like to follow rules and I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m a human. I am not a saint, I am not the Buddha, I will not rise out of this like a glorious wise martyr. I am ugly sometimes, and I have ugly emotions sometimes, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. I’m allowed to be ugly. I’m allowed to be human. I’m allowed to let this wound fester a bit.
This all came to a head while I was listening to the Strangers podcast while at work. I highly recommend everyone listen to this episode. When I first started researching about grief in the initial months after Matt’s death, I would scoff at those articles about broken hearts. “Who cares about a break-up? I f*cking lost my best friend – he f*cking died! We can’t ever see or talk to each other again because he doesn’t exist on this planet anymore!” But the fact is, a broken heart is a broken heart. Listening to these storytellers talk about their own experiences after a devastating break-up, it echoed exactly what I went through last summer. When Annie McEwen and Lea Thau said that even waking up is hard, realizing that this is the world you live in now, that’s exactly how it felt waking up every day last summer. And in Annie’s story, when the female character mentions just living with her lost love, not being consumed by it but giving it space and just knowing that she has to live with this feeling, without him, every day – it resonated with me.
Like these two women, my heart is broken. And I agree with Annie, I don’t think I’ll ever love the same way again. I don’t think losing Matt is something I’ll ever fully heal from. What Matt and I had was special, our friendship was truly one-of-a-kind. But I don’t think I’m necessarily a better person for having lived through this experience. I am a person. And it has deeply affected me. That’s really all I can say. But like Annie, I am more compassionate than I ever have been, and I’m finally going to start being compassionate with the one person I’ve been hardest on my entire life: yep, myself. Me. I’m going to do that by letting myself have flaws. By letting myself be messy. By letting myself grieve and cry and scream and laugh and dance and drink and eat carbs – and do whatever I need to do.
Death sucks. Break-ups suck. Having your heart ripped from your chest and stomped on really frickin’ blows. And I can’t tell you why. I have no idea why life is so unfair. I don’t know. I really don’t know. And that’s okay.
Several wonderful, lovely, supportive friends of mine have told me that I should write a blog. I have been very hesitant about doing so, as I am very aware of just how many people have blogs and how narcissistic it seems for me to start one – especially when that blog has no set focus or theme*. And especially when I know that I will not be updating it regularly or on a set schedule. (But I will try) So against my better judgment I bit the bullet, because gosh darn it, I’m a writer and an artist^ and if just one person has a slightly cathartic experience by reading my words, then this blog has served its purpose.
*I have a whole other post I will publish soon about how America’s need to classify everything with one label really irks me.
^I hate calling myself a writer or an artist though, because it seems to reek of pretension, but it’s true. And I’ll also touch on this more in my next entry.
But onto my intended topic. I’ve been wanting to write about this publicly for months, but I’ve also been extremely hesitant to do so. I’ve had no shortage of things to say about the subject – my journals are overflowing with thoughts, rushed scrawls of passion in the margins, on the covers, on post-its, typed into emails never sent, private Google Docs. But those entries are private, a personal non-magical Pensieve, if you will. But I’ve wanted to express publicly what I’ve been going through. Why, I can’t really tell you. In the weeks after I received the news, all I wanted to do was reach out to others who have experienced similar loss. Grief is indeed, such a solitary thing, and I had never felt more alone. So perhaps this entry is for all those who have also lost and are looking for some sort of validation or companionship in the pain that they are feeling. After all, we all want to feel in life that we are not alone, right?
On June 21st, 2014, my best friend died. He was 26. It was unexpected, sudden, and devastating. What I went through this summer, looking back on it, it was overwhelming. Exhausting. Every day, every minute, was one of sadness. I thought of him constantly. Every moment was tinged with the darkest sorrow, like a terribly bleak Instagram filter. Smiling was hard. True interaction was worse. Every conversation or action had the subtext of his death for me. I was angry. I was depressed. I was hysterical.
However, in the past several weeks, I slowly, finally, started to pick up the pieces. I started to go out again. My appetite came back. My drive and productivity came back. I started to live my life more and more each day for me, and not for his memory.
The grief is still there, as is the pain. But now, I struggle with the feeling of detachment to his death.
It’s like gravity. We know it exists – one can say, “Yes, there is gravity keeping everything in place.” This statement is true, and you can honestly say it very simply. But then to truly think of gravity as a real concept, one would have to make a concentrated effort to grasp the reality of gravity (the gravity of gravity, perhaps?), how it works, and what it all means. The enormity and power of this really magnificent force that is keeping the stars and planets and humans and animals and bugs and water all in alignment – it’s overwhelming to really conceive in our mortal thoughts.
Just like saying, “My best friend is dead,” is no longer difficult for me. I’ve said it so many times. But to really, truly, conceptualize his death, I have to force myself to really think about it. I close my eyes or look at an empty space, and build him in my mind’s eye. Him, his laugh, his voice, his opinions, his thoughts. His sense of style and clothes. His hair, his smell, his dandruff, his scars, his feet, his shoes, his gait, the way his shoulders sloped. Him – he – the person, has ceased to exist. He has died. Suddenly, unknowingly, without warning. Unfairly. Cruelly. Ripped from this earth. My best friend, the first gay man I ever fell in love with, the one who knew Child Me and Adult Me and loved them both, has died. He is no more. And I will never see him again. I will never get to hang out with him, or drive in a car with him, or sing or go dancing or drink beers with him, or pick him up from his mom’s house ever again. I’m not sure what I believe but even if our souls/energy meet after life, it will be in a different way. The way we lived, coexisted, shared the same air, talked about our dreams, our crushes, ranted about things we hate, people who annoyed us, stressed about our careers, our classes, all of that – is done. Our physical human relationship is over.
My friend, who in high school owned a little plastic rat that became our unofficial mascot, and gave it to his friends for company on their various journeys. Who always put others’ problems before his own. Who, at times, felt angry and lost and hurt and in pain like all other humans, but never showed it. Who got a 1520 on his SATs (back when they were out of 1600) and graduated third in his class in high school. Who studied at Stanford, and in Germany, England, and received two Fulbright scholarships to teach in Turkey. Who loved Oberlin and the progressiveness it fostered. Who was pursuing his doctorate in the very prestigious art history program at University of Chicago. Who never judged anyone and always put himself in other people’s shoes, yet could read someone to filth. Who laughed at everything and played devil’s advocate just for the challenge. Who knew how to make an instant, human, real connection with a stranger and yet still managed to be pretty awkward in an adorable way. Who loved to go out and party but still wanted to grow up and have children and fall in love. Who valued friends and community more than practically everything. Who ate non-discriminately, loving all food and drink, treating each meal and snack as a culinary adventure. Who wrote with a measured voice that could barely contain the excitement that laid in every sentence. Whose passion and enthusiasm was rarely ever matched. Who danced wildly and often and usually alone. Who hated taking photos in public but treasured the memories he had of his loved ones. Who loved to touch and be touched by those he loved, craving intimacy and comfort. Who was in the top of his class and yet had blue hair for most of his senior year of high school. Who loved so fiercely and felt so deeply and had tremendous empathy.
This friend, this person, this man, this extraordinary being – he has died. But even writing these thoughts now, I can feel his presence. He lives on now, like Mufasa, in all of us. It’s true, he will live on now in a different way, as a living memory with all of the many friends, colleagues, family members he’s left behind. And that is comforting, somewhat.
So what do I do now?
That’s what I want to ask. What do I do now? But I know the answer, and he does too. He would say, “Just keep living, Kate.” He would shrug and look at me with those big, beautiful brown eyes, his eyebrows cocked in concern and pain, and he would say, “I’m sorry, Kate. But I’m here. Keep living.”
I still don’t get it. I still can’t believe that he’s really gone. It doesn’t make sense to me. It really feels like a glitch in the Matrix. Something went wrong, someone screwed up. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Really thinking about him gone sometimes feels violent, I can feel the rage bubbling up inside. It feels like someone just tore a chunk of myself away, from my right half. He was a part of me, but strangely, he’s even more a part of me in death than he was in life. Now I breathe him; live him; live for him. But there’s still a loss. It’s like I’ve lost a limb – that limb was a part of me, I have so many memories of that limb – it had scars and moles and hair, and it was a part of me, but now it’s gone. Now the absence of that limb has become a new part of me. I have absorbed the loss and now it’s part of my definition, my story – to be limbless.
The A-type optimist in me wants to end this entry on a positive note, some sort of lesson I’ve learned from all of this that I can pass on to my dear (albeit few) readers. But I sadly don’t have one.
That isn’t to say I haven’t learned any lessons from this experience, but the lessons I’ve learned are ones that most of you probably already know. And if you haven’t, you, most unfortunately, will someday. Death is like an awful club with which nobody wants a membership, but we all will eventually. These lessons don’t even seem worth writing out, because I can barely find the words to express them. They can be only felt through experience. With any loss, there is really nothing to say. What do you say to someone who is grieving? “I’m sorry for your loss.” is pretty sufficient, and even though it sounds hallow and inadequate, trust in the knowledge that’s because it is. There is nothing to be said. It sucks. It’s tragic. But death is an inevitable part of life, just like suffering and loss.
But before you go jump off a bridge, take stock in all that you do have. I know that the intense pain I have felt and still feel is only because I love him. As cringe-worthy as this sentiment can be, it is true that now I appreciate having my friend be such an important part of my life. If I didn’t care about him as much as I do, I wouldn’t be in such pain. We hurt because we love. We could go through life, closed-off, never allowing ourselves to love or feel, and in turn, we would really never feel pain. But we would also never feel such joy, such intimacy, such love. Alfred Lord Tennyson was absolutely right. ‘Tis much, much better.
So go forth, humans! Love, and love fully. The pain will come, and it will hurt. Like a cruel ocean, the tides will rise and fall as time goes on. But like all storms, it too shall pass. And so comes Love.