Living With Your Boyfriend

After I signed the lease to my first apartment, which was located next to a strip club and potential meth lab, I remember sitting down in the empty space by myself and feeling a mixture of pride and relief. This space is all mine. I will spend the hours between nine in the morning and six in the evening in order to pay for the freedom of coming back to this place each night and having everything be on my terms. At the end of each day, I will retire to a place all my own, my own space in the world, vacant of anyone to critique any of my choices or point out or question any odd character traits that reveal themselves when in private. One of which was constantly having an episode of The West Wing playing on the television. I would wake up, turn the TV on and the DVD chapter list with Martin Sheen posed in front of a muted American flag and gazing off into the distance would be waiting, all I would have to do is push play. The West Wing was required to be on and turned to a specific volume in my home similar to the opening procedures of a grocer who each morning was required to turn on the music overhead and turn it off again when the work day was over. Only instead of a best of the 80’s, 90’s and today station it was a fictional President and his staff debating the legislative or political issues of the United States. It’s not like I had a framed picture of President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen) mounted in a prominent place in my home, but I might as well have. President Bartlet is my favorite President of the United States, but you can’t tell people that. If anyone came over I would turn it off and hide the series away in a woven basket I had purchased for under five dollars at the Ross Dress For Less down the street and no one was the wiser.

The same went for my eating habits. Unless pilfering through my garbage, no one knew that I consumed a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese a day whether it be for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Friends and family knew I enjoyed it, but no one truly understood or was aware that my enjoyment of it bordered on devotion. Living alone meant no one was breathing down my neck as I stirred in frozen peas and ate out of the pot I made the whole disgusting thing in, lecturing me on the severe damages I was inflecting on my internal organs. Packages of processed powdered cheese and dry pasta filled my cupboards and no one could say a damn thing because anyone who walked through that door was a guest who had to be polite and keep their opinions to themselves.  Usually if I was treating myself, I would buy the “deluxe” form of Kraft macaroni and cheese, which replaced the powdered processed cheese with a prepared processed cheese spread that comes in a foil pouch. This allows the cheese to be applied directly to the cooked pasta without the additional preparation or ingredients of milk and butter. The pasta is also different; elbow macaroni replaces the thin, straight macaroni supplied as part of the “original recipe.” But the point is I could enjoy it everyday along with listening to the inner workings of the Bartlet White House administration without anyone assessing or placing me on the scale of Aspergers syndrome.

But when you live with someone else, you can only suppress your true self for so long before these behaviors slip out, and once they do, they will not only get called out, but be put in a spotlight, a glaring spotlight, like one beaming down from a search and rescue helicopter. It was only the first night in our new apartment when Josh and I were watching television (not The West Wing) and he asked, “What are you looking at?” “Huh?” I said my eyes landing on him. “You are looking around from corner to corner of the room, what are you doing?” he explained, searching the corners of the rooms with his own eyes. I was quiet. “Nothing, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. Later that night, while he was asleep, I would sneak into our living room and begin re-arranging all the furniture. Adding a piece from the guest bedroom along with a lamp to the living room, neatly stacking books, moving the kitchen appliances around, picking Plumeria flowers from an outside bush and arranging them in a glass cup on the dining room table. I was like the Santa Claus of interior decoration, or possibly Martha Stewart,  but the Martha she was after the experience of prison.

“Where did the toaster oven go?” Josh would ask in the morning, inspecting the new shelf full of neatly stacked dish wear, arranged in such a way to make the shelf and its contents look as if they were for sale in a Pottery Barn. “It was red and ugly so it’s in the closet of the guest room,” I told him. “How did you move that clock? Where did you get nails and a hammer?” I never need nails and a hammer, it is a skill of mine to somehow always find a way to hang things on walls without them. Tip: the heel of a cowboy boot can be used to hammer in a piece of metal from a picture frame into a wall. Sometimes this means when I vacate an apartment there will be gaping holes or goo smeared across the walls. If it’s a critical problem a bill from the landlord usually appears in the mail a few weeks later, but my last landlord just sent me an email littered with multiple sad face emojiis.

In Target, I would abandon Josh in the spicy food aisle and return suspiciously and out of nowhere. “Where did you go?” He would ask, only to realize as we were checking out that foreign items had been added to our cart. “Wait a minute what it this tiny porcelain dish? We didn’t get that,” he would say holding it up confused. “I’m buying that.” He looked at me sternly. “For my shells,” I said, tilting my head to one side and smiling with no teeth. “And these mason jars too?” He asked unloading three of them and raising his eyebrows. “Those are to store dry coffee and tea bags in,” I explained. “Tea bags?” he said, and then after digging through the cart holding up a box with a cartoon bear wearing a nightgown. “Sleepy time tea bags,” I confirmed. “What are these?” he asked holding up a red package that looked like it was defrosting. “You asked me to get some chicken to cook,” I reminded him. “Dino…nuggies?” he read off the melting bag. “They are chicken nuggets,” I explained. “You microwave them.” “But they are shaped like T-Rexes,” he pointed out. I was searching his face, unable to see the problem.

I’ve read astrology articles online that describe the relationship between gentle, contemplative and creative Cancer (Josh) and inquisitive, passionate and intense Scorpio (me) as a good match because Cancers are the only astrological sign that can handle or put up with the overwhelming amounts of crazy Scorpios dish out. I think the article phrased it something like Cancers can “weather the storm of Scorpio due to their deep emotional ties.” As I arrange  shells I found on the beach in porcelain bowls and fill mason jars with sleepy time tea bags I wonder if this is like a light rain shower on Josh’s head. We were walking back from town the other day, at first side by side holding hands, then just side by side, and then me trailing behind veering off the path to pick wildflowers and collect rocks and driftwood. “Baby, the bugs…I mean there could be bugs in all that..stuff,” he told me looking equal parts annoyed, exhausted and worried. Where is she going to put that driftwood? Are those rocks? What does she need all those rocks for? 

If I was just a roommate, these complaints could be filed away and resolved without the hurt feelings factor, but as a girlfriend, a partner, a mate, these complaints are now startling revelations, ones that ask who is this person and how can we fix them? We will be at the farmers market buying fruit and I will be fondling all the lemons. “Four lemons will fill the woven basket I bought perfectly and the colors will compliment each other so well, you know on that shelf, you know the one?” I’ll say, my eyes swirling around in circles, lemons dancing around my head. My woven basket obsession ranks just below my obsession with serial political dramas. When I discovered there was a Ross Dress For Less on the Big Island I hugged Josh in celebration. “I like Ross too,” Josh agreed. “They have the BEST woven basket selection!” I squealed. “Wait, woven baskets?” he repeated, disappointed. I speak about woven baskets more than the average Joe, it definitely seems to get brought up in many of my conversations. If someone has one in their home I notice it, and compliment it. I bring it up in conversations centered around art or design. “Paintings are pretty, but what about woven baskets?” Now in the farmers market woven baskets had come up again. “Woven baskets..” he muttered. “What was that?” I’ll say, pissy. “Lets get some onions for cooking,” he will respond holding up an oversized red onion. “Uhm, that massive ugly onion can be stored in the pantry..away from all the pretty lemons in the pretty basket,” I will tell him curtly and he will fire back “You mean in the pantry with the years supply of Kraft macaroni and cheese we bought?” And it will sting.

More startling than the revelation of your own unique behavior is the discovery that whoever you are living with, roommate, friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, daughter, son, is not without  their own set of odd traits and  behaviors. We are all holding hands on the Aspergers scale- we must remember this. Josh has his, I won’t write about them because knowing them is what makes him my boyfriend, special to me and no one else. It’s the private weird oddities and quirks about people that you end up cherishing the most, because they are true. And when they aren’t hidden from you anymore, you end up protecting them, out of love. And you create your own safe space in the world, but with someone else. One that you can come home to and eat Kraft mac and cheese and watch The West Wing with, in peace.

Finding an Ohana

Audrina Patridge was on my flight to Honolulu. When I saw her from across the plane, I took my seat belt off, stood up in my seat, sat back down and re-buckled my seat belt. “That’s Audrina!” I whispered to Josh. We were sitting on the left hand side of the plane, in the cozy two seaters, him inhabiting the window seat and myself in the aisle. When we were choosing seats I selfishly picked the aisle seat, although I think Josh thought I was being kind. Offering someone the window seat suggests that you would rather bestow to your partner the freedom to look out at the world as you sail over it above the clouds. Experience the magic, I want you to, I’ll just look around the inside of the plane and miss everything, the gesture says. But to me, an aisle seat says experience the freedom and independence to get up and use the restroom whenever you want, without asking anyones permission. There is no skyscape as beautiful as the lifted burden of being able to leave your seat to release the contents of your bladder into an aircraft lavatory without having to panic and constantly tap someone on the shoulder and tell them, “Sorry I have to go, would you mind getting up so I can..use the restroom?” And then “I’m back, sorry, can you get up again so I can sit back down?” And forty five minutes later, “Sorry I have to go again..” And then returning a few minutes later, silently hovering over them in the aisle until they look up at you, “Hi, I’m back again sorry could you-”  It’s a similar feeling to having a whole public restroom to yourself, you can use the bathroom on your own terms- release in complete peace and solitude. Freedom. 

“Who is Audrina?” Josh asked. “My frien-” I started to say but then realized if she saw me, she wouldn’t even know my name, I’d be nothing but a complete stranger, one who was oogling at her. Whereas to me, she is who I spent every Monday night with for four years, six seasons, basically every Monday night of my entire college education. Me, who experienced her tumultuous relationship with Justin Bobby with. Me, who sided with her during her fights with Lauren Conrad outside LA nightclubs. “Lauren is a needy, high maintenance friend, why can’t she just let you be you? JB’s never going to change, but I get it, I like his combat boots, dirty hair and perma-scowl too, but Audrina! We have to take control of our lives!” I’d shout at the TV, exhausted with Lauren, always lecturing and criticizing, and Justin Bobby, disappearing again, and a week after he and Audrina spent a romantic weekend in Palm Springs together. “They both tricked us, but maybe they mean it this time!” I’d say out loud, let down.

“She’s another star on The Hills” I told Josh, exasperated that this was happening again. A few weeks before, we had seen Whitney Port at a Coffee Bean in Santa Monica. I froze at the sight of her. I stood a few feet from her watching as as she grabbed her fat free latte and said “ThanGk you.” I turned to Josh, my eyes wild. “Did you hear that?!” I asked. “Whitney always has that strange way of saying k’s!” Josh looked lost, and slightly afraid of me, and I knew that this was one of those critical moments in a relationship where you have let slip a scary part of yourself. Revealed something about yourself, something possibly undesirable and worrisome to your partner. Something they had never known before, maybe something they never thought you were capable of.

My extensive knowledge of the reality television show The Hills is something I would never offer up to someone willingly. I certainley wouldn’t open with it across the table from someone on a first date. It is startling to me that when I saw Sir Paul McCartney I felt nothing, but seeing cast members of The Hills brings about such strong reaction. It confirms the fact that I have been having pseudo friendships with people on television and what does that make me? Am I even alive?  “These people are actually real!” I told Josh, squeezing his hand and grinning in a way that showed all my teeth. “She’s RIGHT there! She looks like she’s always looking up just like on TV!” Josh squinted, trying to get a better look at her. On TV, Audrina’s eyes always appeared to be gazing upwards, like she was an angel looking towards the heavens, or that she was high on illegal substances. Given her relationship with Justin Bobby both are clausable. In real life, she looks this way too, just like Whitney’s speech impediment- it isn’t television magic, it’s real. I took out my phone. “No no,” Josh said. “Do not try and get a picture of her.” Josh’s protection of Audrina’s privacy irritated me but I knew he was right. I put my phone away and just stared. “That is even worse, take the picture and just stop,” Josh sighed.

While Audrina was on the other side of the plane, across the aisle from us was a family with three kiekies. Kiekie is the Hawaiian word for children and I use it every time I see a child now. I’ll be standing in line at the grocery store, a small child peering at me from behind their mother’s leg in front of me and I’ll look at Josh, “Look Josh, a kiekie.” Or a group of children will be swimming in a tide pool, “Josh look, a kiekie pool.” These kiekie’s on the plane had created a sort of fun zone in their area, they took up a whole row of seats with one parent stationed on each side, toys spilling out into the aisle, cheerios sprinkled all over, the three of them a team, two distracting each parent so the third could escape out into the aisle and crawl away toward the cockpit. The escapist usually never got more than an arm length away before the father would notice, reach out and drag the kiekie back by their diaper. “Cute kiekies,” I told the father as the littlest one stood next to me, blocking the aisle and backing up the stewardesses’s drink carts. The dad scooped up the little one, “Sorry,” he apologized to the stewardess. “They are doing great,” Josh told him. “They are doing ok. They are excited to get home, I’ll tell you that. We were visiting my wife’s family in California.” Another kiekie’s head popped up behind her dads. She had somehow climbed up his torso and was now resting in between the seat and the back of his head staring at Josh and I. “Where are you guys from?” I asked while Josh bugged his eyes out, causing the kiekie’s to break into two matching smiles. “Hilo,” he said, “Where are you guys headed?” “We are moving to Kona,” Josh told him, “Hilo, that’s the other side of the island right?” The dad nodded, “Congratulations on moving to Hawaii! What’s the plan once you get there? Anything lined up?”

Josh and I looked at each other. When I was young and sitting in my tree fort outside in the backyard writing in my diary, I never would have imagined one day I would move to a tropical island to live with a boyfriend I am not yet married to. As an impressionable, rule following, timid child sitting in a pine tree and writing sentiments like:

I saw two girls in the park today. They didn’t talk to me. They were whispering to each other. Maybe they were saying mean things about me. I bet they were….

I thought as an adult I would take a more safe, traditional, and practical route. “We don’t really have a plan, I mean we are going there and hopefully we can find a place to live…and jobs,” Josh said. Unlike my parents and friends, this dad seemed unphased by the foolish, carefree, adventurous and naive attitude this plan adhered. “Do you have a place to stay or know anyone on the island?” the dad asked. “I lived there for three months before this. I know two people, so we know..two, well technically I know three. We know three people on the Big Island,” I said. “Two friends and one who I know, because I worked for him, he owned the bed and breakfast I worked at so really he was my boss…he was Swedish. Hopefully he would remember me if he saw me again. He probably wouldn’t,” I looked across the way at Audrina. “He absolutely wouldn’t consider me a friend though.” The dad just listened with understanding eyes, a character trait that must be strengthened with marriage, and further strengthened with fatherhood, being able to listen to someone rambling on and not making any sense without giving off any vibes of judgement or criticism. “Good for you two. Well gosh, if you guys need anything let’s exchange information, my name is George and my wife’s name is Cheryl” he said pointing to her at the far end of the row, one of the kiekies hanging off her neck. “I came out to the island much like you guys, I didn’t know anyone, but I met my wife and never left.” He told us in a tone that suggested reassurance.

Just then, one of the kiekies licked the back of the seat in front of him and then teetered off the edge of his own seat in the process. George scooped him back up without flinching and pulled out a piece of paper and pen from a backpack beneath his seat. We exchanged phone numbers and email addresses and the rest of the flight we chatted about the island, George gave us tips as well as things to look out for and things to look forward to. It always surprises me when people you don’t know, but who you encounter, even briefly, take genuine interest in your own personal journey. When they ask, and actively listen, and then share their own while extending help and kindness to you. Josh and I knew what we were doing was kind of nuts and definitely going to be dominated by obstacles that in order to succeed, we would have to overcome together. Most of which would rest on our ability to trust, rely and believe in one another, which is a challenging obstacle in and of itself but we both were crazy enough to take the leap of faith and see what happens. George and his family were the first people we met on the journey who made us feel like we would be ok. George and his family, and in my own twisted delusional world, Audrina of course.

As we got off the plane we (by coincidence I swear) followed closely, but not too closely  Audrina down to baggage claim. My phone is now cluttered with a million pictures of Audrina pulling her Louis Vuitton luggage through the Honolulu airport. We had a few hours to kill before our connecting flight to Kona so we had lunch, and when we finally landed in Kona we were met at the airport by my friends Alis and Jeremy who were waiting with laies. After we got laied’ the four of us went back to Jeremy and Alis’s studio apartment which in Hawaii are called “Ohanas” to have dinner. Ohana means family, and in Hawaii that’s what a home is called too, it makes sense. The next day, our first day on an island, we hit the ground running.

Finding a job in Hawaii meant we would probably need a Hawaii address otherwise you typically get the same response, “You have a mainland address. You are a mainlander? Are you on vacation? Mainlanders always say they are going to move to Hawaii.”  The same went for landlords. “You have no job? How will you pay rent?” Their logic was correct, but Josh and I were looking to find someone illogical, like us, who would give us a break. The realtor at The Kona Islander Inn was not one of these people. “You guys came at the totally wrong time. The snow birds haven’t left yet. The people who come and rent everything out all winter long, they will be here well through February. If you guys were smart you would have come in March, that’s when they all clear out. You won’t find anything out here until then.” After she said this Josh and I looked at each other and all we could do was laugh. We went outside and sat down. “I remember someone telling me something about housing behind the McDonalds,” I told Josh. Josh looked at me, “Behind McDonalds?”  he asked. A flashback of my Swedish boss at the bed and breakfast standing on his balcony, posed with a bow and arrow and shooting at nearby roosters down below came back to me. “Never live on that hamburger hill! NEVER. It is cheap housing and all the drug addicts and runaways live there. I would NEVER let a daughter of mine live on that hill behind the hamburgers, absolutely not!”

I opened up my laptop and began re-browsing through all the Craigslist ads I had already called or emailed:

“Do you have a four wheel drive truck? It’s near impossible to get to the house without it, the road is all lava rock.”

“We are forty five minutes away from town and the property is on a lettuce farm, is that a problem?”

“In the ad it is listed as an apartment but it’s really more of a treehouse. Or dollhouse, whichever you prefer.”

“You guys will share the room with my son Kai, I didn’t mention that in the ad.”

But then I came across one that I must have looked over because it was new to me. 2 bedroom, 1 bath, kitchenette, fully furnished ohana for rent. $1400. “Josh did we see this one?” I asked but realized Josh was on the phone. “Wait this is a one bedroom on a houseboat? Not a houseboat? Just a boat- wait what?” Josh was saying. The listing I had found had a phone number, the second biggest blessing when looking for an Ohana, because sending an email out to a landlord in Hawaii is like throwing a piece of paper out the window of a moving car. I called and a man picked up. “Is the two bedroom Ohana still available?” I asked. “Yeah, it’s the last day of the open house so if you want to see it come on by,” the man said. I got off the phone. “Josh this place is two miles from town and it’s the last day of the open house.” Josh called a cab and in a few minutes we were driving up a massive hill and into a neighborhood with huge two story houses. “This is the rich part of the town,” our cab driver was telling us, “but some call it the ghetto.” My brow scrunched up. “This doesn’t look like a ghetto,” I said as we passed two kids playing basketball with their mom in the driveway. Our cab driver was driving up and down different streets and circling culdasacs and had now started to tell us confusing war stories. “Wait did you serve in Vietnam or are you referencing Full Metal Jacket?” I asked him. “Um, I think it’s the next street,” Josh pointed out. “Oh right on man, right on. And LOOK at that view of the ocean.” Josh and I looked behind us, all around us was ocean and sky, two different depths of blue meeting on the horizon.

As we hopped out of the cab, we stood in front of a two story house with a fountain outside. When I looked closer I saw that inside the fountain were four turtles sunbathing on rocks. “I think our cab driver was high,” Josh said as we watched him drive away. A friendly looking man who looked like a grown up version of Mowgli came out of the house and approached us. “Are you Art?” I asked. “Yes, hi! Aloha, let me show you the place,” he said. We followed him down a cobblestone path to the back of the house where there was a small patio and sliding glass door. “It’s right in there,” Art said unlocking the door and letting us in. Inside was a small living room complete with a large flat screen television mounted to the wall, couch, lamps, a small dining table, chairs, rug and kitchenette. “There’s dishes and pots and pans underneath there,” he said opening drawers. I stood next to the TV, placing my hand gently on it. “Does it come with..this?” I asked. “Yeah, you get the TV and we pay for the channels, you get everything except HBO.” I began to feel emotional. “This TV….” I said, trailing off and looking at Josh. The bathroom was huge and brand new, and the two bedrooms had nightstands, dressers, beds with comforters, sheets and pillows. There were two full sized closets and a pantry in the hallway. The windows had curtains, everything was clean, it smelled like fresh paint and I could tell from looking at Josh that this had to be too good to be true and he agreed. If we were trying to find a spot back in Venice Beach, paying $700 each would have gotten us an unfurnished, windowless rat hole next to a bar frequented by tinder users meeting up with their possible conquests. Maybe there would have been a window. But a two bedroom apartment would have cost us the price of working all the time, of living to work.

The three of us stood in silence and felt the true peacefulness of the place, no cars, no bustling street, only the faint clanging of wind chimes and tropical bird noises. “We don’t have jobs!” I blurted out. Art looked at both of us, waiting. “We moved here, we have enough saved up, but no one will rent to us because we don’t have jobs, but we will! I have our resumes. We saved for this we can put down the deposit and first months rent.” I was rambling again, but laying it all out on the cute wooden dining room table and Art didn’t seem to mind. As we sat and filled out the applications we talked with Art and it felt similar to speaking with George on the plane. Art seemed genuinely interested in both Josh and I, and in helping us out. Art and his wife Mel have four cute kiekies and so far they were leaning towards renting the unit out to who Art described as  “two dudes who had traveled here from Australia.” We spent a good amount of time talking with Art before we left, and Josh and I both liked him. Before we left Art told us he had to talk to his wife and then they would make a decision and call us tonight.

As we walked down the hill and back into town Josh and I weighed every single option why two dudes from Australia would be better or worse than us as tenants:

“They have jobs.”

“They are two dudes.”

“They are two employed dudes.”

“Australians are a beloved people, more so than Californians.”

“We are one Floridian and one Californian so it’s not that bad.”

“I’ve never thought about people from Florida before you, do Floridians have a good reputation?”

“We look innocent and very nonthreatening, every waiter or waitress who cards us has said so. ”

“Less threatening than two dudes probably.”

“The dudes have jobs.”

We were hopeful, but skeptical at the same time. Later that day my phone rang and it was Mel, Art’s wife. We spoke for a little bit, I told her about Josh and I and she said they would call us that night with the decision. That evening we went surfing with Alis and Jeremy. I lay on the beach with Alis holding my phone in my hand and discussing the pros and cons of camping for an entire month and how evil the woman at the Kona Islander Inn was, when my phone rang and Art told us they had chosen us, and wanted us to move in. “We aren’t going to live in a tent or on hamburger hill!” was how I told Josh when he came out of the water. Celebrating not having to live on hamburger hill was the first success we have had. Shortly after came the success of not getting kicked out of The Sheraton when Alis, Jeremy, Josh and I snuck into the pool and climbed up the water slide at night, coating the slide with dish soap and sliding down over and over again until our butts were sore and the pool was full of soapy water. The next success came when Josh was offered a job at the West Hawaii Medical Center which is down the street from our Ohana. We’ve been here a little over a week and yesterday I had my own job interview and tomorrow I will be wearing scrubs and shadowing at a veterinarian’s office to see if I would like to be their client service coordinator. I never would have seen myself working at a veterinarian’s office, but I’ve never pictured myself doing almost all the things I have done thus far in my life, so I’m willing to put the scrubs on and try. And I really love the idea of a job that requires me to wear medical scrubs. If it works out, I wonder if they will also let me accessorize the scrubs with medical tools like stethoscopes and pens and a notebook in my shirt pocket. George even called to check up on us. “How are you guys doing?” he asked. “We aren’t living on hamburger hill George!” “Well that’s what some determination combined with an open, positive mindset will get you!” he responded.

Boss Girl

I believe there’s a big difference between being a “boss” and a “leader.” You’ll hear people call themselves “the boss” but very rarely does anyone call themselves “the leader.” To me, declaring yourself “the boss” is similar to screaming “I’M IMPORTANT” out the window of your apartment to random passer-byers on the street. Someone who is capable and focused on climbing the ladder, someone who works hard, mainly for themselves and who believes that the people underneath them owe them their time and hard work. Leaders seem to possess a sense of keen self awareness that allows them to be a quieter type of person. Someone focused on a bigger goal which is bigger than themselves, and someone who views the people working for them as valuable assets, a team of dedicated individuals whom without, their dream or company would be unmanageable. The difference is one way of thinking is simple and easy and the other way is harder and much more work. And this is why: Leaders know their people. People are complex, they aren’t just what is listed on a resume, or recommended by a professional reference. People have dreams, passions, skills, talents, they grow, they change, they need, they want. Leaders not only understand this, but they take the time to really understand the people on their team- discover who they are, which is a lot of hard work. It involves a lot of asking, and a lot of listening.  Leaders know that taking the time to devote to understanding the other people they are working with is important because life is not just work.

Leaders see the “big picture.” The big picture always involves more than just a single person. The big picture is that life is not just your one self, or your own personal work. The big picture is life- which includes many many other people. Life is family, it’s relationships, friendships, love, it’s exploration, it’s experiences, it’s a roller coaster, and work is just a part of it. A leader understands that each person they are accountable for is living their own unique, complex life- full of their own unique struggles, passions, disappointments, successes and hopes. This is important because when you lose sight of the big picture you end up shrinking your world when in actuality you want to expand.

Leaders lead by example. Leading by example doesn’t mean that everyday at work you are flawless, it means that everyday you are at work you are honest, you try your best, you are sincere, and never give up. A good leader can have a bad day, but won’t let those bad days get them down in the long haul, they never lose hope. A good leader admits mistakes, takes accountability, honors their word, and respects others.

Respect is something that bosses seem to believe their employees owe them instantly, just based off some hierarchy put in place to create a sense of structure. But leaders know that respect is not only a two way street and something that every person is owed, but also something that is earned and can be lost. Leaders don’t talk down, or shut down people working with them- they don’t use their authority to belittle others to build themselves up. They don’t see value in silencing people they may disagree with. Because the rare, intelligent, and talented people won’t follow a leader who breaks them down or disrespects them forever. People of value won’t stick around and let you beat them down, they will leave. And true leaders know that no one can accomplish anything alone.

Leaders know how to communicate. They can do this because they know their people, they see the big picture, they respect others and therefore they can easily communicate their thoughts and feelings to others who are looking to them for answers or advice. They don’t manipulate. They can explain things clearly. They know how to actively listen, they can make tough decisions, they can handle problems or concerns with sensitivity and awareness. They are direct, they are positive, they are firm and they are never all-knowing. They are thoughtful and they are honest when speaking to others.

Leaders have imagination and can laugh.

Leaders have swept the floor, they aren’t above anything.

Leaders say thank you.

Leaders are FAIR.

Leaders reward hard work.

Leaders call bullshit.

Leaders take action.

Leaders appreciate.

Leaders observe and learn.

Leaders can be anyone and everyone.

My generation is an entrepreneurial generation. We have a lot at our fingertips and plenty of ideas but that’s not enough, we have to learn how to lead. It’s inevitable that if you aren’t working towards your own dream you will spend your time and energy tirelessly working to make someone else’s dream come true. I think no matter what, we all need to resolve to learn as much as we can from people in power, really put thought behind what we experience and see, so when the time comes, we can get it right.

How To Be Beautiful

My co-worker Chance is a Tinderella. He will sit on the porch of our store flipping through picture after picture of girls, assessing and rating them all. I will perch above him, bursting, full of questions. “How can you tell if someone is prettier than someone else?” “You just can,” he said. “I don’t know, can’t you tell if a guy is better looking than another guy?” I thought about all the men in the world. How does one compare Ryan Gosling to David Beckham? It’s like comparing a sunflower to a rose. They both are so beautiful. But then I have always been strangely attracted to Adrian Brody, he would be like a cactus, which is also beautiful in a unique and mystical way. “Yeah ok, but who has the better butt?” Chance said, in all seriousness. “I mean David Beckham is a pro athlete…can you google Ryan Gosling’s butt? I’m having a hard time picturing it.” After I said it, silence settled all around Chance and I, the kind of eerie, calm silence that happens in movies where natural disasters are about to strike. “No, just forget about i-” Chance said quickly but I cut him off. I had stood up and begun to pace back and forth in front of him..yammering away. “You know, if you exclude the fact that attraction is an important factor in mating-” “NO NO NO,” Chance looked pained as I carried on, “And you just think about the concept of beauty in general, I mean in such an image obsessed world, being beautiful seems to carry a lot of clout. But why? And women just seem so much more forgiving. A woman will look past a crooked tooth or wonky eye and go on and on about a man’s character, or how he bought her flowers, or their sense of humor. But men are so visual.” “I do have eyes,” Chance now seemed like he himself had aged forty years, agitated and crotchety and set in his old man ways. “Please stop, just forget about it.” I was going femme fatal on him. Shut up neanderthal MAN, listen to me, to prohibition sally-girl-boss-hilary-clinton-spice-girls-and-all-other-things-that-men-wince-at-girl-power-things. Chance was looking for exit routes, his eyes scanning all around before focusing on the horizon.

“Everyone wants to be beautiful, but in a strange obsessive way, a way that suggests we all suddenly drop dead at the age of 40, at the first sign of a forehead wrinkle or pound of weight gained, leaving behind nothing but an Instagram full of beautiful filtered selfies of us at our best angles and in our prime. But hey hi hello, life isn’t over, your twenties are ten years, that’s it! One day we will be sixty and our twenties will be a distant memory.” Chance groaned, but I had said something that made him pause and he was now staring at me, listening. “If we spend all our time trying to be beautiful on the outside, or being dazzled by physical beauty, what are we going to do when we all get saggy and old?” I could tell I had baited him but immediately lost him once I uttered the word ‘saggy.’ “I don’t like old people..or babies,” he said cringing at the thought of birth and death. I narrowed my eyes at him and he shrugged. “It’s a biological fact that you get saggy as you age, our bodies break down on us. But your soul never grows old and saggy, we should all be spending time developing that so we can emulate beauty all our lives.” Chance rolled his eyes, “Ok Thoreau. And how should we develop our souls?” After he asked it, he closed his eyes in immediate regret, similar to how people look after they take that final last shot of whiskey at a bar- the shot the takes you down.

In no particular order:

Sense of humor (especially regarding yourself). Nothing is more beautiful than a man or woman who can laugh at themselves. It’s a sign of confidence. Life is fragile yes, but it should be enjoyed, and that means you can’t spend it taking yourself so seriously that you never have a good laugh at yourself. Humor can save you, if you can laugh or see the humor in any situation, you can survive anything. Humor also attracts people to you, everyone wants to be around someone who can make a seemingly dull or challenging or even stimulating situation fun and interesting.

Sense of adventure. You want to be a person who can’t wait to trek up a mountain in Nepal to visit ancient temples and monkeys, or sail around the world, but you also want to be the person who can see the adventure in the everyday boring things, like going to the grocery store, or making a trip to the DMV. You wouldn’t think this is possible but I have had some wild times at the department of motor vehicles- you just need to be observant and have a wicked imagination.

Dope Style. This does not mean you are decked out in designer everything. This means you have developed your own sense of style and you rock it, with confidence, no matter what it is. Fashion and trends are bullshit, wear what you like, mix and match things, feel comfortable in developing your own personal style. I saw a Grammie the other day having brunch in Malibu wearing a neon red sweatsuit, flip flops, black rimmed glasses and drinking a mimosa on a Wednesday at eleven in the morning. And Grammie looked doooooope. She outshone all the young giltteraties who were all wearing different versions of big rimmed hats, drinking green juice and picking at egg whites.

Compassion. When you get old and saggy, shit hits the fan and compassion becomes a big asset. But compassion is a learned skill, it requires empathy and experience, it’s a higher level of thinking that most people sadly never really develop or reach. It’s a skill we all should be working on perfecting- constantly. Nothing is more beautiful or strong than someone who can extend kindness to everyone they encounter. Or someone who can see all sides to a story, or someone who is tolerant and open minded.

Sense of Wonder. I’m sure we have all been on a date where we sat in silence and listened to someone’s life story. These blabber-ers are not beautiful, they are annoying. Beautiful people do not think the world revolves around their own beautiful face, they are curious about others, about life, about everything they encounter on a daily basis. They wonder. The sense of wonder will keep you young forever.

Independence. We are all different. The ability to come to terms with yourself, to be self aware and  embrace your own being allows other people to embrace who they are. An independent person is someone who has blossomed, and therefore makes it easy for others to blossom around them as well. Independent people can celebrate others because they do not fear what is different than them. They can stand outside of a group as themselves happily.

Intelligence. To me, this means having the ability to challenge someone or something at an appropriate time. To think and then speak, to give voice to an opinion shows guts, and to be able to do it with grace shows incredible power. I mean, a nice pair of boobs will never be able to do that. Ever.

Going To Bars In Your Twenties

The Bungalow in Santa Monica is full of men. If you are a straight male who owns a blue pinstriped button down you are probably at the Bungalow drinking mojitos with your friends on Friday, Saturday or Sunday night. In LA on any given night bars are packed with people but for some reason, Santa Monica’s The Bungalow attracts more straight males in their twenties and early thirties than women. It’s designed to feel like you are at your richest friend’s house, a breezy Baja-style beach house surrounded by lushly landscaped gardens. There are various different rooms you can walk through, all with high soaring ceilings and wood rafters- a game room, a study, a great room with a wood burning fireplace, all of which lead out to outdoor patios covered in twinkling lights and comfy couches and tables.  I went there with my girlfriend Kristen one night after work and we were completely overwhelmed by….all of the men. I was more overwhelmed and slightly enchanted by all of the blue pinstriped button downs. “This place is packed with dudes,” Kristen whispered to me as we squirmed our way through the crowd. “Do you think they all get these shirts at the same store? They all look the same how do you pick one? Maybe I’ll ask each one how much they paid for their shirt, and whoever paid the least is the one I’ll talk to.” Kristen and I had made our way to the bar and instead of ordering mojitos we ordered shots of whiskey. In an outdoor space with hummingbird feeders hanging from the trees and full of primly groomed men holding drinks with lime wedges floating in them, I felt like a wench at a bocce ball party.

As I scoped out my surroundings I made eye contact with a pinstripe, who promptly made his way over to me. “I’m Conrad,” he said. “I’m Louisa,” I responded without even thinking. “That’s a pretty name.”  I nodded, “Louisa May Alcott.”  “Beautiful name,” he said and added, “And what do you do?” I sighed. The real Louisa May Alcott died in 1888 and is the author of Little Women. This is my favorite fake name to give to pinstripes because they one hundred percent never know that. If anything they just remark on what an old timey name you have. “Louisa? That’s like a grandma name.” I don’t know what I expect, for some boy to say, “Wait a minute, you just gave me the name of a dead feminist author!” More than half them men I meet don’t read books, or even know what feminism means, let alone support it. And why should they, they are men, they are strong, they have no feelings to express, they are just looking for a pretty, docile, quiet women to stand next to them. An empowered women with thoughts and ideas who is always yammering away is alarming, and not in the good way a long lean pair of legs with a nice butt is alarming to them.  “I’m a… hostess,” I told him. “At a restaurant?” he asked. “A restaurant on a golf course,” I smiled coyly. “I love to cook,” he told me, a half smile spilling across his face. He was very attractive. “I’m from L.A.,” he went on without me asking. “I love it here, I just moved from Downtown L.A. to Santa Monica, it is so much prettier by the beach let me tell you.” “Downtown LA has some charming places,” I commented positively. A flashback of a very scary looking homeless man I had seen the last time I was in Downtown LA filled my head. He had been wearing some sort of cloak with no shoes and was hobbling across the street to the public toilet at the corner of an intersection and I remember I couldn’t look away, I just kept watching him like he was in the zoo, it was such a haunting image. I realized that while I had drifted off, thinking all this, pinstripe had just been talking. “I’m a producer, it’s a really high stress job.”

“What is your favorite thing to cook?” I asked him. If I ever have a daughter I’m going to tell her that she should genuinely be interested in others. I’m going to encourage her to be engaged in other human beings on the planet. Get to know others you encounter through being empathetic and interested, ask them questions about themselves! But I’m also going to tell her that if she ever finds people who not only ask her questions about herself but who also listen to her responses sincerely, those are the people to keep around you. Like when you are walking down the beach and you stumble upon beautiful shells amongst all the grey rocks and seaweed. Collect those shells and put them in your pocket. My pinstriped chef was staring at me, he had gone quiet, thinking, and then finally said, “Salad.” My eyes lit up. “Salad!” I said excitedly. “Salad!” he repeated again but more enthusiastically. “I love salad!” I exclaimed. “What kind of salad do you make?” I asked. He paused again. “Lettuce and herbs.”

Even though he was handsome, this guy was clearly a Daryl who had me confused for a girl who would throw herself at him because he was tall and attractive. After awhile if you are boring, which lets face it, producers who make salads, and the way this conversation was going was not very promising- I stop caring about how dreamy your eyes are. Good looking people are everywhere in LA, if that’s the reason why you hold yourself in high esteem, good luck out there amongst all the glitter. I had begun to eat the olives out of the bar tender’s mason jar, the one next to all the cut up limes and lemons. The bar tender was busy and not paying attention and the olives were in perfect reach from where I was standing. As I popped two in my mouth, I was just at a loss at where to go with this. “Do you ever put olives in your salad?” I asked, holding one up to my face like I was in an infomercial. Kristen appeared with two old-fashioneds. “Kristen, this is Conrad, he enjoys making salads,” I introduced them, remembering my manners- introduce people using thoughtful and interesting details! Conrad shook Kristen’s hand, “I’m a producer,” he told her. As I nonchalantly reached across the bar to pluck another olive out of the jar my eyes met the bartenders. I coughed. The bartender stood across from me firmly, his eyes locked on mine as he took a lid out from under the bar and promptly screwed it onto the olive jar. I took Kristen’s arm and looked at Conrad. “It was a pleasure meeting you, good luck producing your lettuce dishes,” I said with genuine good will, and whisked Kristen off into the crowd.

After we finished the old-fashioneds, we went to use the bathroom. The girls restroom at any given nightclub or bar is full of your new found sistas. These are girls who, if you saw them on the street wouldn’t even smile at you, but once they are drunk and in a bathroom they only want to shower you with love. “You are SO pretty! I LUHVE your skirt! The lock doesn’t work in that stall let me hold the door for you!” I am reassured as a female with very few girlfriends, that the night before my wedding I will be able to round up bridesmaids by going and hanging around a women’s bathroom at a bar. I can only imagine- “You’re getting married! Oh my God! You want ME to be in the wedding! Oh my God, of course, I LUHVE you!” As we wandered back outside, Kristen’s phone began to ring. It was a cute boy who she had been out with and who was absolutely smitten with her. “Answer!” I reassured her. “I’ll be over there..” I said pointing to a nearby bush. As she was on the phone, I realized I had begun to feel slightly drunk. I looked around, the whole room stripes of blue with splashes of brown and blond swished back hair. “I like your hat,” a passing pinstripe said to me. “Thank you…it’s my adventure hat,” I whispered. These people are scary. I don’t want to meet them. Strangers. People I know, where are they? I know where! They live in my phone. I pulled out my phone from my motorcycle boot and began to fire off texts:

“Let’s raise a rabbit together!” I’m pretty sure the person I sent this to blocked my phone number the next day.

“Our love is forever and ever and ever.” That one got sent out to both an ex-boyfriend and a boy I went on exactly one date with.

“This tavern is full of city men. I wish I was at a saloon with sailors, or cowboys…wait who goes to saloons? Not Indians, they party in teepees. Eskimos party in Igloos.” This was sent to my best friend Breck. He responded, “Mam, don’t be weird. My good ho, get yourself an Uber and get the fuck out of that gambling den!” Breck is one of the shells I found on the beach.

“I can’t find pizza.” That was a mass text I sent to everyone I know, I think in hopes that someone would help me.

I pity Louisa May Alcott for being alive in a time period where you were unable to reach out, with ease, and in a drunken state, to people who were not physically with you. What did Louisa do when she was standing around in an idle moment in a ballroom waiting for some man who had asked her father months in advance if he could have the honor of a dance with his daughter, to approach and bow in front of her? If she was thinking about pizza she just had to keep that thought to herself. There was no way to alert anyone who wasn’t physically and geographically near her that she is craving piping hot cheese and dough. And what about the ability to pop into a past lovers life like a manic ghost they can’t get rid of unless they call their cell phone provider and blacklist your phone number? Louisa just had to let her lovers go and die on their own, she didn’t get to monitor their social media activity and lust after the good times. She didn’t have the ability to live in both the past and present simultaniously. No wonder she had the time to be an abolitionist.

Suddenly I felt my hat leave my head. I turned around and there it was, floating through the crowd. Who is holding it?  I squinted and saw that it was now being adorned by a tiny furry man. He was easy to spot not only because he was so short but also because he wasn’t wearing a pinstripe shirt. When I looked closer I noticed he had a beard and very fury arms, the kind of arms that were coated with a thick batch of dark hair, arms that suggested he also possessed hairy knuckles and probably a very hairy big toe. “Kristen!” I said, my eyes wild, “That hobbit took my,…me, I, the Louisa May Alcott’s hat!” Kristen hung up the phone and we went following the hobbit through the crowd. We cornered him by the outdoor bar and when I approached him I realized I towered over him. I plucked the hat off his head and he peered up at me. “Sorry,” he shrugged. “Lil buddy you can’t just-” I was ready to take out my life’s frustration on this small stranger when I noticed his T-shirt. It was a black crew neck with a graphic of a smiling taco underneath the words I love tacos.   “Your taco is so cute,” I said, admiring it’s tiny eyes and big grin. “I love tacos too,” I told him. “You do?” he asked meekly. “I love tacos too!” Kristen joined in. As we all shared a moment, I reveled in the fact that it is fun to go to bars in your twenties, not to meet your future husband or wife, or anyone who will be of great significance to your life really- they aren’t there, they are in a supermarket or library, mine is probably working hard as a character on a Disney cruise ship (we will meet off the coast of Florida after I have given up and decided to sell all of my belongings and float away at sea on a makeshift raft built out of various different Ikea furniture parts. He will see me, bony and exhausted from my journey and I will see him, wearing a teeny tiny hat with a tassel and dressed as Aladdin, and I will just know I finally found him, the struggle will be over and well worth the fight).  Anyways, it must just be fun to go out in your twenties because life can be so confusing and difficult that sometimes it’s nice to just blow off steam with your friends, or be in a space decorated to look like someone’s backyard, in an altered state of mind, where you can just love tacos with other people, strangers and friends, together, as one. I often reference this in troubled times- we may be at odds now, but we probably both love tacos, or salad. Let us let bygones be bygones like we do after a large bouncer named Boris cards us. Cheers! 

The Top Five Best Worst Dates I Have Been On

My 25th year of life has been a year of job interviews and dates. Basically a year of me sitting across from some stranger trying to convince them that I am fun/sexy/cool and incredibly punctual, reliable and a good candidate to grow with the company. And, not to be overly dramatic, but at this point, I don’t know if I will make it to 26.

The Top Five Best Worst Dates I Have Been On:

1. The guy had the flu. I kind of only want to go out with men who are experiencing both a fever and the chills from now on because in their weakened state, they are kinder, softer, more open to being vulnerable, and interesting conversation just flows with ease. Sitting in a booth with a tall sick man crumpled up next to you and force feeding him soup fulfilled my feminine desire to care for another, while also giving me the ability to tell stories about my favorite childhood pet to someone too weak to do anything but listen and engage me. “Your cat Fred sounds like such a fun pet,” the guy told me, his face twisted in pain. “I can’t believe he ran away as a kitten and came back months later obese, who was feeding him?” I put my fork down, “I know! No one knows!” As soup dribbled down his face, I wiped it off with a napkin. He took his napkin and wiped cheese off my face, “you have Mac and Cheese in your hair too,” he said. I picked pasta out of my locks as he put his head down on the table, “I’m going to die,” he moaned. I rested my head on my hand and twirled my hair, “Me too…we all are, we just don’t know when..” Afterwards, I texted my best friend: “Omg, had such a good time, I think we really have a connection. Like, I think I’ve met the one.

2. The guy turned out to be incredibly old. I didn’t know he was old at the time he asked me out, he looked around twenty-eight or twenty-nine but he turned out to be thirty-six. I found this out by accident, we had been casually talking about siblings while browsing the menu and when I asked how old his sister was he said, “Oh me? I am thirty-six.” In the moment, I didn’t really think anything about it but later on when I started doing the math I realized that when I was zero, he was eleven, and when I was eleven, he was twenty-two. I know age ain’t nothing but a number, but you’ve got to question the man with age defying pores who is still asking out twenty somethings. The main question being what is his skin regime because he looks incredibly youthful and glowy. It made me think of my future self, me at the end of my thirties- where will I be? I really have no idea but if I am still single, not even a divorce to my name, I will absolutely be living amongst a colony of mute nuns on top of a remote hill in the Netherlands because at that point, I am just one of the unlucky ones meant to share their life with no one except The Lord.

3. The guy is best friends with someone I’ve previously dated the week before. L.A. is actually quite small and I’ve decided that when you’re on the third or fourth date where you meet a guy’s group of friends, instead of trying to impress them by being the hot fun girl all the bros are jealous their friend gets to date, just pick their cutest bro friend and start dating them as well. This is effective, especially for those women commonly dismissed as sweet and timid, because no one sees it coming and it gives you an air of danger. I think Stevie Nicks tried something along these lines and the result was the end of Fleetwood Mac, but all I conclude from that is that it’s not a good idea to solidify all your conquests in the form of a musical group who shake tambourines and sing together. Baffle the bros. They won’t turn on each other- because without their bro who are they? They will just be confused together, essentially strengthening their bond while, if you go about it with class and sincerity, they won’t turn on you either and you surpass the crazy ho category, and get placed in the one just above it, the one where all the beautiful mysterious creatures who can’t be tamed go. If I were an animal in the wild, my defense mechanism to escape predetors would not be camaflouge, or the ability to turn my ribs into spikes, it would be my ability to confuse my enemy in such an intense and volatile way that all they can think of to do is run away as fast as they can.

4. The guy is/was/has been/ an underwear model. I’ve dated two men who, when you Google their name, fill your browser with pictures of them in tight, low rise white briefs and let me just say there are two types of attractive guys: those that pose with their arm over their head while a stylist greases their abs, and those who don’t, but who can run five miles shirtless without any shame. I can tell them apart now when they approach me. Men on the Google in their underoos have an air of confidence that regular muscley men just don’t possess, I think it might even be classified as a type of insanity, but I’m not sure.

5. The guy who isn’t scared away by your Instagram handle and still takes you out to dinner. I guess it’s a thing now, for people you meet to show their interest in you by following you on Instagram. This is wildly unfortunate for me because in the past few months my Instagram handle has changed from:

Aloha_Big Jenny to Hamburger_Jenny to Big_HambergJenny to Regular_Old_Jenny1973.

I already have my next handle picked out: Sad_Flat Chested _Jenny but I’m still deciding if I should throw an 88 on the end or not. There is nothing more thrilling to me than having a man with perfect hair and teeth ask me if I’m on Instagram. “I am, I’m Regular Old Jenny 1973.” The silence that ensues could cut glass, and if you’re lucky they ask you to repeat it and you get to introduce yourself as Regular Old Jenny 1973 again. It’s an excellent way to weed out people early on because for some frail and unadventerous men, that’s all they need to hear to know that Big Hamburg Jenny is a huge red flag, a ticking time bomb, stay away. I need a strong, creative man, one with a heart of gold, one who isn’t going to question why 1973? 

You Will Learn

The other day I was writing in Starbucks, like I always am, and I couldn’t help but overhear two teenage girls talking about boys. “I’ll text him and three hours later he will respond,” one girl was telling her friend. “And you can see that he totally read the text!” her friend exclaimed, disgusted. I started to sweat. This was one of those moments. A moment where I, an old woman, or an older woman than these sixteen year olds, can now bestow my hard earned wisdom to a pair of souls on Earth. “Ladies,” I began, butting my head in between the two of them, causing the brunette to let out a scream in alarm. “As an… elder,” I continued, “I can give you some knowledge….some very hard earned knowledge, knowledge only gained through painful, horrifying mistakes.” They looked at me in equal parts alarm, suspicion and awe, and I felt like Ursula in The Little Mermaid- a terrifying overweight old octopus woman, who if existed in real life would most likely be a participant on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, about to tell these girls that the only way to find true love is to surrender their voices to me, the evil drag octopus queen. “Send one and only one text,” I instructed, their eyes growing big. “What?” they asked. I paused dramatically. “Text, ‘hey’ at 2 am…..and then just turn your phone off.” They stared at me. “Then what?” one of them asked. My brow furrowed. “You just go to sleep,” I said in a tone that suggested, look at me, I clearly get all of the menI could sense from their silence, I was losing some, if not all my credibility. “Men today are slobs,” I declared in a hushed tone. One girl sighed like she just figured out that I was not a person to take any advice from ever. I was losing them. “Give your voices to me or else Prince Eric will never love you…” I trailed off. As they both ran away, I was left sitting there to stew, in shame.

As I watched them from the window I realized they would most likely go home to their parents overwhelmingly disturbed by the scary woman in Starbucks. “I’m sorry…” I called after them. In retrospect, I would have just told those girls that if he doesn’t text you back don’t worry. As you grow up life is going to throw so many more obstacles in front of you, boys will be the least of your concerns. I started to think about myself as a sixteen year old- I looked like a stick bug and I spoke to no one- and myself now- I still look like a stick bug and I talk to like, three people,  but there have been so many things I have learned since being sixteen, valuable things I could share with someone younger than I.

I would have admitted that the hardest part about growing up will be not becoming that scary woman who has let all the painful lessons and failures of her life leave her jaded and bitter. Because there will be boys who don’t text you back sure, but sometimes you won’t text boys back, and there will also be boys that tell you they love you but don’t really know how to, and you will tell someone you love them but end up not knowing how, and there will be boys who use you, and you will use boys, and you will make and lose friends, succeed and fail at jobs, fall down over and over and have to get back up. And you will always have to get back up and keep going.

You will go out into the world, and nothing will be fair. It will shock you. You will have to figure out which battles are worth fighting for and you will realize everything in your life will be a choice. You will have the choice to fight or not to fight. You will have the choice to blend in or stand out. There will be moments when you will need to be brave. Moments when you will need to listen instead of speak, and moments when you will need to speak instead of listen- and you will need to know the difference. You will need to figure out how to love yourself, others and the world- in that order. Your heart will get blasted into a million pieces and, this will be one of those moments you will need to be brave, you will need to put it back together using yourself, others and the world- the very same things that shattered your heart to pieces in the first place. You will have the choice to let your defeats, embarrassments and failures define and weaken you, or make you a more empathetic and courageous human being.

You will have to face a media shitstorm. Everywhere you look there will be someone to compare yourself to, something to live up to, some person making you feel inadequate, threatened or afraid. And you will have to be smarter. You will have to investigate for yourself, you will have to form your own opinions and ideals and it will seem impossible and lonely at times, but it’s a struggle worth embracing- and it may take a lifetime, so don’t ever surrender. You will want to be beautiful. You will see beautiful women everywhere. You will hear men talk about beautiful women. You will have to define beauty for yourself because one day you will hopefully be a wrinkly old woman, and you will have to look at yourself in the mirror. You will be disappointed by how the world is presented to you. You will need to be more than creative, you will need to be innovative and take what’s given to you and recreate it. You will have to learn to seek- to really hunt for the good, and you will realize you have to be the good in the world, and you will have to figure out how. You will have to follow through. You won’t always follow through or honor your word- and you will learn how detrimental that will be.

You will lose things- innocence, dignity, pride, friends, lovers, family members. Your parents will get older- their hair will turn grey, they will get sick, you will need to be there for them. You will need to suck it up and be strong for others. You will have to prioritize your time and energy. You will have to determine what and who is important. You will have to be dependable for the people you love. You will need to stop thinking of only yourself. You will need to take responsibility. You will need to care. You will need to connect. You will need to be able to recognize those who are toxic to your wellbeing and you will need to learn to forgive them and let them go- because, you will learn, that sometimes you too, are toxic and worthy of being forgiven and let go.

You will feel sad. There will be some days where you won’t want to get out of bed and try. But there will also be some days where you can’t sleep because you are so excited about something, there will be moments when life will feel perfect. You will learn to remember the good days on the bad days and you will get out of bed and keep trying.

You will learn how complex you are.  You will surprise yourself. You will disappoint yourself. You will be proud of yourself. You will hate yourself. You will love yourself.  You will realize others are as complex as you are. You will learn not to fear different people, or opinions, or lifestyles. You will learn to embrace everything foreign to you with open arms. You will learn to be tolerant. You will become more interested in people, more forgiving, and more loving because of this.

You will learn that people in power are sometimes cruel. There will be people who have authority over you who will abuse you. You will have to learn to stand up for yourself. You will have to remind yourself that you are powerful too, even if they don’t think you are. You will learn how to help others see their own power- you will learn that breaking others down is a sign of weakness, not strength. You will learn how to be a leader and not a dictator.

You will learn to laugh. Laughter will be your saving grace, and you will realize it’s the only weapon you will need in any battle. You will learn that people who can laugh at themselves always win.

You will learn it’s worth it to pay attention to everything and everyone, even though everything you see, experience or encounter will most likely leave you completely bewildered and confused. Be conscious. Don’t ignore things just because it’s easier.

You will find soul mates. People who, in a crowded room, you can make eye contact with and just know what they are thinking. You will know who these people are because they will be around for all of it, they will endure your messy life with you. This doesn’t mean they will be physically with you all the time. Your soul mates will be traveling along on their own path, fighting their own journey, but along the way you both will be each others teachers and safety net. They will let you go out into the world and be there in some form when you come back completely fucked up from whatever happened to you out there. You will exchange stories with them. They will challenge you, they will see the best in you, they will bring out the best. They will remind you of all your strengths when you are downtrodden and they will call you out when you are being an idiot. They will protect you, sometimes from yourself. You will learn that being someone else’s soul mate is even better than having one.

You will love and lose. And love and lose. And love and lose. Each love will be different, and awesome, and horrifying. And you will learn to always be brave enough and willing to love again. And when you find that love you can’t live without, you will learn to fight for it every. single. day.

But most of all, you will learn to keep learning and re-learning. You will learn that your mistakes make you a good teacher, a more empathetic member of humanity. You will learn that throughout the different stages of your life you will make new mistakes, and that you will be ever evolving and in flux. And you will hopefully learn to make peace with this and accept your own humanness. And I hope you will, at the end of it all, have enjoyed being alive.

At this point, I had begun to weep- in the middle of Starbucks. As I blew my nose into paper napkins and rubbed my gigantic red watery eyes, one of the baristas stopped wiping down a table nearby and put her hand on my shoulder. “Uh, are you ok?” she asked. “Life is so crazy, but so beautiful… sorrowful.  I just didn’t want to be Ursula, I wanted to be Grandmother Willow,” I told her. She nodded kindly and said, “There’s always tomorrow.”