When I was 19, I was so eager to experience my 20’s. A decade loosely portrayed in the media and by old people as a decade of carefree adventures and self discovery. “You will look back at your worst moments in your twenties with fondness, you will never get another chance to experience a life like the one you will live in your twenties,” said scripted TV characters and heroines in books I loved. I couldn’t wait to have those moments. Other people wanted to get married and I couldn’t understand, why would anyone waste this decade of freedom on settling down when you have your thirties to really anchor yourself down into adulthood? Your twenties were meant to set sail into the open sea and see what happens. I knew deep down somewhere in myself that being the fully formed, interesting, compassionate woman with depth and character that I wanted to be would not come from within the safety of my comfort zone. Some girls collect purses, I wanted to collect stories. And your twenties seemed to provide the right amount of youth, freedom, and “maturity” to do certain things. So when I graduated, newly 21 and educated, I went out into the world seeking new stories, foriegn teritory, hungry for experience. And I was fearless. And so clueless.
Instagram handle: Buttabeehoney
Hollywood Jenny was twenty-two and had no intention of being in Hollywood for any of the reasons all the best looking people from every other state in the U.S. came to Hollywood for. I did not want to model, act, design, style, produce, direct, be a screenwriter, a singer, or have my own reality show. This removed me from the competative grind of it all and allowed me to creepily watch what was going on from the sidelines. And everything I saw disturbed me. I was introduced to Hollywood by a job as an art assistant for photographer David LaChapelle, who I had to Google before going to the interview. “Mom he took that Rolling Stones picture of Britney Spears with the teletubbie.” “I thought he was that black comedian with the cocaine, you know the one?” From there the jobs just got weirder and weirder and my grip on reality became looser and looser. I entered into Hollywood enthusiastic, hopeful and a complete idiot, because I had no idea what I was doing. In the middle of it, I started to question others sanity in relation to my own sanity, and at the end I was boiling V8 juice on the stove while blasting Avril Lavigne’s “It’s Complicated” and wondering if I should get headshots, or work at the weed dispensary that was attached to the Urgent Care Center. It was here that the following things happened to me:
-I met celebrities but it wasn’t what I expected. My left hand was photoshopped onto Katy Perry’s after she rushed off set and David didn’t get “the shot.” I supplied Amanda Lepour endless cups of coffee while she sat topless on a fake unicorn. Pamela Anderson ran around me and everyone else on set barefoot like a little kid, I want to say she was sans shoes and pants, but I’m not entierly sure. Brad Pitt is underwhelming in real life, short and not that dreamy, incredibly disappointing.
-I briefly dated one of the retouchers at the photo studio who kind of looked like a really pretty girl, had insomnia, was a wandering nomad, and chain smoked to the point of his lung deflating one night while he was at work alone. On one of our dates we drove to a National Park and photographed huge sycamore trees all night long. I never had an experimental lesbian phase, but if I did, dating this guy would be it.
-I lived in a tiny studio apartment next to a strip club “Crazy Girls,” and across the street from Ross Dress 4 Less, which was frequently getting robbed by a group of stylish transvestites. Besides strippers and trannys, my other neighbors were homeless and urinated on the bushes below my bedroom window.
-I learned my first two real lessons in love. I say real because for me, I always think I know something about love and then another experience makes me realize I knew nothing and I learn something else, and have a new “revelation.” The first, is that love is a recognition, it’s not necessarily wild butterflies at the sight of them, or a feeling of intrigue or complexity (like what drew me to the moody retoucher, “you want to spend all night driving around a National Park with a huge flashlight on the top of your car scanning the forest for cool looking trees? Yeah I’m- let’s go now.”) It’s more of a familiar feeling- like oh, there you are, you’re my friend, let’s go explore. The second is that real true love is not possessive. A sign of love is not to hold you closer and smother you to death, love lets you go, you let someone you love go because you understand that real love knows that to be yourself and in sync with another person requires freedom. Freedom to just be.
-I worked for a director who after two weeks of working for, took me to lunch and revealed to me that he enjoys dressing up as a lady and going out to bars, and it’s ok because his wife knows and she doesn’t care. “Well, that’s wonderful!” I beamed. It didn’t pose a problem until my boss realized how tolerant I am and suddenly there were no boundaries between us. When people talk about tension at work, I now nod. “There is nothing like when your boss texts you about possibly getting breasts. I mean, my chest is pretty similar to a middle aged man’s so there’s that, but also, how do you go about handling that professionaly?” My biggest regret is that we never went to Ross Dress 4 Less, or got boobs together.
-I discovered that my Sociology degree did not equip me with the power to solve societal problems like I thought it was going to. I wore it out of school like it was a superhero cape and when I landed in LA everyone just thought I was a street peddler on Hollywood Blvd. My knowledge had not given me any power to change anything whatsoever, it had just put me in debt, and basically had equipped me to be a whiner. One of those people who is always bitching outside of Vons and handing out flyers about how corrupt everything is and why doesn’t anyone care? It had created within me a moral fiber so strong that unless you were directing and producing a documentary on how to open a rehabilitation center for Hollywood’s homeless, starring Ryan Gosling and Selena Gomez so everyone would actually watch it, I viewed everyone in the entertainment industry as a selfish, superficial, crook. When I watched David photograph a Spanish billionaire and pocket $200,000 at the end of two hours, or when I was playing hostess and serving up wine and cocktails at the end of every work day and drinking with my co-workers at the office just to return home and pass a homeless man passed out on the bench next to an open bottle, or cover for a CEO’s mistress at lunch so she and the CEO could..rendesvous, and have to answer the phone and speak to his wife on the other end, all my “knowledge” and “moral prowess” did, was create chaos in my soul. This cannot be the real world, is this the real world?
Which leads me to my next “self:”
Trailer Park Jenny
Instagram handle: Aloha_Big_Jenny
Where to go after spending a year living in la la land? The obvious next step would be a crusty trailer in the jungle. Although I don’t think I had any reasoning except some odd gut intuition and the fact that I knew there wouldn’t be any strippers or producers, or actors on an island, I can now start the list of things I will be forever apologizing to my parents for the rest of my life for. “That time I went to live in a stranger’s trailer on an island…” But this “self” was one of my favorites, this experience was one of the biggest gifts life has presented to me. It was here that:
-My neighbors changed from gypsy, tramps and theives to jungle boars, chickens, geckos and a peacock.
-I discovered that there are places on this Earth so naturally beautiful and untouched that they feel sacred, like a sanctuary. And I realized how important it is that we, as humans inhabiting this Earth, need to spend at least a portion of our time here on it, fiercely protecting it. It was the first time I felt true feelings of loss at the thought of this powerful waterfall drying up, or this euphoric jungle turning dead and barren, or this beautiful warm, clear water that when you step into it, it embraces you like a hug, became polluted and toxic. I saw how magical the Earth is, how much the Earth supports our life here, an obvious truth that seemed totally lost on day to day city dwellers, and more recently, the majority of the Republican party.
-I walked everywhere. I rode buses. I hitchhiked. I stood on the side of a two lane road flashing the shaka. I rode in the backs of trucks, I met people who lived all over the island who had all, it seemed at one point, been without a car or any sort of transportation, and who did not want to kidnap me or rape me, but who actually felt the struggle of walking what felt like thousands of miles into town, and who wanted to pay it forward. I learned how to ask for help and how to say thank you to strangers. I also learned how important it is to be one of those people who does not kidnap or rape people, and who just genuinely is there to help out their fellow humans, because those people don’t just help others, they inspire hope that not everyone is bad (which there are people who are, but this “self” was a very optimistic and hopeful self, and this is what this “self” experienced). Now, when I go out into the world and something I see takes a piece of my heart, I remind myself of this time in my life, a time where strangers offered up generosity of spirit for no reason at all, and I’m able to fight to take that piece back.
-I was the third wheel ALWAYS to a couple who I befriended and I didn’t pity myself. I’m not sure if I drove them crazy, but when they invited me to camp, or hike, or surf with them I went and through our friendship I learned to celebrate other’s love. To a lot of people I know, being single is so tragic, and the last thing a single person would want to do is be around a couple, but it’s really not. It’s actually important, it’s important to be happy in love’s shadow and for others. In a way, it’s a time in my life when I felt fully whole as my own person, not trying to escape into the what if’s of the past or the anxieties of the what should I’s of the future- just happy to be where I was, and thankful to be surrounded by positivity.
-I cleaned hotel rooms. My generation gets accused all the time for feeling entitled, or not knowing how to work. And I admit, my jobs in Hollywood made me feel that way. I felt bad about myself when I spent the day picking up my bosses dry cleaning, or being on set and doing coffee runs for the executives. I felt like I had a greater purpose, I was supposed to be doing more, that’s what college told me I’d do. Well, I cleaned toliets to sleep in a trailer in the jungle and I didn’t feel like I was doing anything “beneath” me. And after that, I never felt like any job or task was too small, because it’s not- and that applies to anyone in my generation and not in my generation. There is honor in doing a task to the best of your ability, or perfecting that task, and for seeing something through. Work is work. Hustle harder and don’t quit.
After three months of jungle living I came back to Los Angeles, renewed, energetic, and not at all ready for what was about to happen. Which brings me to my next “self,” one of my worst selves:
Serial Dater Jenny
Instagram handle: Regular_Old_Jenny1973
I learned how it must feel to re-enter real life after being in a rehab facility. It’s like driving a brand new car into a wall. My new self assured glow was back in la la land and it began to attract…everyone. And this is what I learned:
-Male models are so pretty to look at, but any male who pursues modeling, (this may apply to females too), has some sort of void in his heart, one that is screaming for the wrong kind of attention and validation, and one that has elevated him completely out of touch with reality and entirely fucked them up. They may tell you, “it’s just such good money,” but when the waiter compares them to Clark Kent and they are just beside themseleves at such a compliment that they immediatly tweet about it, it’s not just becasue it’s “easy money.” True, authentic, lasting beauty cannot be seen with the eyes, or heard with the ears…or tweeted.
-I became a bar wench at Formosa in Hollywood. Raffi, the sweet bartender, would watch in horror as each weekend I returned with a model, or an actor, or a guy I met in Malibu, and listen to them talk while getting lost in their dreamy eyes or swishy hair. Weekend after weekend of random bar escapades, so many cute men everywhere and they all wanted to buy me drinks and horrible lobster and truffle mac and cheese. The truest relationship I made there was actually with Raffi, who I would always spend time getting to know. The only other fond memory of Formosa was when I went with my best friend Connor, and we sat at the bar with our laptops, watching old Jennifer Lopez videos and drinking Port. Raffi would stand in between us, “Is this new Jlo? Can you play the one where she’s dancing on all those video screens, what’s that one called?” Formosa was the furthest thing from a library, or a Starbucks, or a living room, but the upside of being a bar wench was Raffi allowing you to plug your laptop in behind the bar and use the prime real estate at the counter as your own personal space, which you decided to use to watch JLo throw her bling off her mansion’s balcony and dance in between greased up Puerto Ricans.
-I lost girlfriends because I kept dating everyone who asked me out and who I was attracted to. I began to develop very deep connections to my friends who were male, gay, and somehow the only ones able to say “what is this new phase? I think Jenn is going to need us” and still continued to be friends with me. When you’ve grown up looking like a dodo bird, blossoming into something men found desirable felt like walking down a Victoria Secret runway, finally living every girl’s dream, to wak 100 meters in a pair of wings, a thong, and lots of feathers. It was exciting to meet new people who were interested in you, and I was buzzing with this new self confidence and I put men before a few of my girlfriends. And I paid the price. I learned how easy it is to get swept up in the superficial glitter Los Angeles throws around, and how shitty it feels to lose yourself in it. I wasn’t sharing anything significant with these people I was dating, I was creating and escaping into this alter ego of being carefree and wild- a mysterious woman back from…the jungle. I learned how to play off “not knowing what you’ll do next” as something intriguing and in doing that I ended up not knowing where to go.
-I discovered how dangerous it is to lose yourself, because when you do you are succebtable and vulnerable to predetors. In the jungle predetors are different to each species, a boar can be a predetor to a dog, a dog to a cat, a cat to a mouse, a gecko to another gecko, and it’s no different with humans. My predetors were handsome narcissistic men who saw my kindness and earnest nature as weakness, not strength. I started collecting them, and with no sense of self or grasp on who I was, I began falling for their deceptions. I latched onto what was giving me attention, and I began believing lies, accepting poor treatment, and allowing myself to get beat down, because I felt like I deserved it. I look back on this and my heart feels weighed down in disappointment in myself. It would be right about here when if I was re-writing my life I would delete this phase and make revision after revision. I would have written in distance bewteen me and any other human being. I would have put me in a nunnery for a year, or joined a cult that lives underground- anything where I was alone and forced to turn all my patience and forgiveness inwards to myself. But you can’t do that, I did not become a nun or a mole person, but looking back I have to be glad because, this was the beginning of transformation.
-I made one of the most rash, emotionally fueled decisions of my entire life, spurring another bullet point on the list of “things I will have to never stop apologizing to my parents for.” I decided to move back to Hawaii with one of these scummy garbage can of a human being guys I had been dating. It makes me want to jump off a cliff now, thinking about it, but I also have to marvel at the sheer dumb bravery of both of us. We blindly put faith in one another, and without knowing the enormity of the adventure we were about to embark on, we decided to just go and try. I now feel completely confident that I could go on Survivor, paired with a literal garbage can, and survive. And we did pretty good at first. Landing with no place to live or jobs, we both hit the ground running and we were succeeding, we made a good team at first. It wasnt until we were all settled and I really took pause to notice who I was dating when things went south. What’s important though, is that we did work together, we got through some really tough situations together, even though we didn’t work out, our faith wasn’t all blind. I’ll always remember our wins.
Hawaii Jenny 2.0
Instagram Handle: Free_Lunch_Jenny
-Once I realized I was dating a human garbage can, I knew I needed to somehow take my power back. This was important because prior to this, I never had any awareness of how much power I actually had until I lost it all. He had taken my money, my self respect, and all my sanity and I finally snapped out of whatever fog that was clouding up my judgement and I started to recognize myself again. It’s only hopeless when you, yourself have given up on you. And I realized life is just a series of losing and finding yourself again and again, and the success comes from learning from your failures and rising each time with more grace than the last, because that’s how you build a strong backbone to support your own heart and soul and being. You earn strength.
-The human garbage can had a car, which after I broke up with him, he refused to let me borrow or even give me rides. I think he was looking for a fight, but instead, I quietly walked the two miles from our house to my work each day. I left around 6 am, I worked, I walked home, and I continued to do that while we still lived together. When I signed the lease to my new place, a little studio out in the jungle (across the street and a mile down the road from my OG trailer), I had a little more of a problem. Now I was ten miles away from work, which was not walkable. A bike was out of the question because the roads were dangerous. But there was a bus. I would leave my shanty in the early darkness of the morning, walk through the jungle, onto the main road, and to the bus stop, ride the bus to work, and then do it all again after work, returning to the shanty in the darkness of the evening. I was so poor, and so exhausted all the time, I’d get home and just collapse into my bed. But this was the human garbage can’s purpose in my life. Never had I ever faced someone who was rooting for my failure, or hoping that I would come crawling back after realizing I couldn’t make it on my own. And a strength was forming in me that I would never ever have, had it not have been for this situation or for him. He taught me resilience. I was learning how to be tough. And I was not tough before. I was an emotional ninnymuggins who was hanging out in bars and dating models and crying myself to sleep at night wondering why I felt so confused and unfulfilled. Now I was on my own, on an island, with no family, no car, and no money. There was no time for pity parties. In a state of hightened distrust in other people and myself I had to trust both and move forward. I remember thinking everyday,”Jenn you made this choice, here you fucking are now, you better fucking fix this.” You can own your mistakes and overcome them, or you can run away from them. This was possibly the first time in my life that I faced my mistakes head on and I felt this characteristic, this quiet strength imprint itself into my core foundation of who I am, into my backbone. I had changed.
-As I slowly stabalized on my own, I learned to take each day one at a time, find success in small victories, forgive, let things go, be a better friend. But at night I would lie awake and just replay all my failures, all my misjudgements, all the people I’ve disappointed, all the good people I treated poorly. While I was gathering experience and insight into these different avenues I had never been down, I was feeling all the pain from it. This must be why people avoid change or transformation, because a lot of it is horribly painful, confusing and lonely. In a moment of misery, I reached out to that first love, and I felt like a human garbage can. It’s so unfair to call exes when you are feeling low, to find comfort in their familiarity, to ask them to remind you who you are. It’s so shitty, but out of desperation, I did it. I though he may ignore me but he didn’t and in his response and his comfort I learned that while I was making many superficial connections now, there was a time when I had made a really strong one. And now I knew the difference. The discomfort of being with someone who doesn’t see you makes you hyperaware when you’re in the presence of someone who sees you crystal clear. And I realized I was in the thick of figuring out how to see myself clearly, so I could remind myself, all on my own.
-I moved on. I got a car which enabled me to get a better job, and I became stable on my own, but a piece of me was still not fully mended. I think I was tired, physically, mentally, emotionally. I just wanted to sleep for a few years. When you’re tired like this, learn to rest. When you are not at your best, you can invent “signs” and convince yourself the universe is trying to talk to you, or prove something to you. But you may just be tired of being disappointed or let down. Don’t fall into someone else, or find solace in someone else. Just take the time to rest, alone. This tall guy zeroed in on me, and honestly I was too shaky to do anything else but accept the love he started piling onto me, it was like having rain wash away all the dirt that’s been caked onto your skin. He seemed driven, was handsome, and he ironed his pants, he seemed like the opposite of the human garbage can. But the rain froze, turned to snow and I found myself at the base of Mt. Everest with an avalanche heading straight towards me. I began feeling similar, familiar feelings, they were just packaged differently, and I couldn’t be let down again, I didn’t know if I could take it. So I did something new, I spent awhile ignoring everything and I settled into complacency. Instead of trying to fight the bullshit, I just accepted it, I stopped fighting for myself all together, and it wasn’t until the Presidential debates began when some fighting spirit returned within me. I realized that watching others arguing with Donald Trump felt familiar, but why? How? The disillusionment? The arrogance? The lack of any and all self awareness? The condescending nature? This man I was now dating had opened my eyes to a lot but the most frightening was inauthenticity. One of the most hurtful, cowardly, and dangerous things to be as a human capable of choice and conscious thought. A sure fire way to waste the valuable and short amount of time we are given to live a life. I was lost in what was true and what was fabricated, lost again, a new type of lost. I felt like I was in a maze taking the same turns over and over, the same route that just lead me around and around. I needed to go a different way. I was about to learn another lesson: how to listen to myself.
-When your brain and your heart sync up, your inner voice will speak up, but you have to be aware, you have to be open to hearing it. Sometimes we create so much noise in ourselves so we can’t hear our intuition, probably because we know it’s going to tell us something uncomfortable, or a truth that will surely be followed by painful obstacles.The lesson is to quiet that noise. You HAVE to. You’ll know your heart and your mind are working together because you won’t feel panicked or have a rush of adrenaline like you’re about to jump off a cliff, you’ll feel calm. You will have a moment alone with yourself, a conversation, and at the end of it you’ll know what you need to do to survive, and that whatever challenges lie ahead you will be able to face them. It starts with standing up for yourself- whether it be with an abusive boss, a significant other, a friend, a parent, a co-worker, the first step in surviving anything is brushing off all self doubt and confirming to yourself that you don’t deserve to be treated in any way that is harmful to your well being. Some bridges must be burned. You don’t owe anyone a million chances just because you’ve also made mistakes and no one is perfect and ah, but love, what would Desmund TuTu do? No, it’s ok to say fuck you and walk away. I’m sure even Desmund TuTu has done it to someone, and boy I bet they really deserved it. The thing about being treated poorly, is if you flip it, which you should, you learn how to treat others whose bridges you can leave standing and in tact, correctly. I have to wonder if some of the kindest souls you meet are that way because they didn’t run away from pain they encountered. Life is too short to pretend to be perfect, you will fail sometimes, pain will touch us all at one point or another, how you treat others is kind of the only thing that matters.
2016 is coming to an end (thank the Lord), I’m 28 now and I’ve done what I can only really do, and learned from every moment of my own unique journey thus far. Some people never really learn anything, they go about their life and just age, they grow old and dull and are basically garbage. I have to admit though, I have never felt so secure in who I am, as I have of recently. And it’s really from falling down and standing back up so many times. It’s when your face hits that floor, collides with the Earth that you have to face your own humanity, which is hard. It’s realizing you aren’t perfect. You are human. And you realize that’s not your weakness, that’s the very reason why you can rise after falling. So embrace your humanness, embrace other’s humanness. And you rise better, smarter, faster, more equipped to handle situations, to handle the uncertainty and unexpectadness of life, a better team member, a better daughter, a better son, a better lover, a better friend. But more importantly, if you’re courageous, and willing to have faith, you refuse to let anything bad that’s happened to you, any mistakes, anyone who has let you down including yourself, make you bitter or discouraged. I know part of my backbone will always be forgiveness, hope, and faith in others- it’s the only thing that hasn’t wavered no matter what mess I’ve gotten myself into.
I think the people who look back on their twenties fondly, are the people who really learned from them, developed themselves from them, and took advantage of the amount of time given to them to be free. Because you can’t go back, you can only go forward. You can only grow upwards.