Kiss From A Rose

I have a book of writing prompts intended to inspire creative energy and encourage you to write. It’s called Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir and I acquired it during college when I took a memoir writing class that was held at 8 o’clock Friday mornings and was full of spirited Grammies taking adult education courses. As I set sail into becoming one of those Grammies myself, I’ve broken it out again. Here’s the first one:

Write about a moment in your life that you replay when you need encouragement. 

I think of a moment in high school. Track practice was over and most everyone was gone, even the sun. I was at the high jump pit with my friend Jake. High jump was one of the items on a growing list that also included pole valuting, choreographed dance and participating in spelling bees, things I considered impossible and that I didn’t ever want to attempt. I was stretching as Jake ran and gracefully threw himself backwards over a pole, landing on a rough but squishy blue mat. His skinny skeletal body looked like a feather once it had been launched into the air, the wind blowing him over the pole effortlessly, it looked easy and rythmic, like it should be accompanied by three violen players narrating his movements with the smooth sounds of their strings. Maybe a flute. No, all string instruments. “Try it,” he said, rolling off the mat.

I imagined what I would look like, clunky and chaotic, hurling my body off the ground. The music would be deafening and unpleasant, like circus carnival music. “No way, lower the pole down to the very bottom and I’ll think about diving over it head first,” I told him. “No, Jenn, do it at this height, it’s what boys jump. You’re as tall as a boy. Just try. No one’s even here or watching.” I looked around. I eyed my coach, Coach Spencer, a tall, compact black man who was always wearing colorful matching sweatsuits paired with reading glasses, across the field with his back turned, deep in conversation with someone. Everyone else was either gone or packing up and leaving. I looked at Jake. “Fine, but walk me through this. How do I do it?” “All you have to do is set your mark, and once you hit here,” he motioned to a spot next to the mat, “you just jump up and throw your arms behind you so you fall backwards. Do a few jumps first.” I thought about how I would jump into a ball pit, like the ones at Chuck E Cheese, and I jumped up and down with my hands over my head next to the mat. “See, all you’d do differently is throw your body backwards,” he said. I can actually jump pretty high, but it was the syncronization of running at full speed with the jump and the navigated fall that was the issue. Jake just wanted to laugh at me, I could see his eyes had brightened once I said I’d try. I started running and once I hit the mark, closed my eyes, jumped, and felt myself spring upwards and over the pole. It was like my body turned into a noodle as a defense mechanism, like it knew the only way to get over the pole backwards was to turn my bones into rubber bands. I sailed over the pole and landed on the mat and sprung up. “Oh my God, you did it!” Jake said. “Oh my-” “Donahue!” No no no no no no. Coach Spencer was making an a-line down the middle of the football field straight towards the high jump pit, his voice booming. “Donahue, do that again!” I was sitting on the mat peering up at both him and Jake like a meerkat. “Oh, I- no thank you,” I said rolling off. “Donahue!” Jake started walking towards me and Coach Spencer boomed, “Get away from my athlete son. Donahue! Do that again!”

Coach Spencer and I had an interesting dynamic.

“Donahue! You will wear a speed suit from now on!” My eyes lit up, a suit of speed.  He held out a thin, small neon blue piece of spandex that looked like a bathing suit, or a college freshman girl’s superhero  Halloween costume, sans a cape. “Oh, no thank you,” I said, imagining it slowly rising and bunching up to reveal my bare butt as I ran. “No thank you? Donahue! Do you want to cut seconds off your 400 time? You will wear this and you’ll see, you’ll be thanking me!” And so I wore it. “Donahue!” he’d yell from the sideline. “Stop trying to pull down your drawers and run girl!” “Coach….I feel like I’m in my birthday suit. My butt….is it falling out?  Wait, don’t look…” I’d whimper as I ran past him. Neither one of us could figure out our relationship. Did we like each other enough to enjoy a fun, comedic banter because at the end of the day there was trust and we knew we were a great team? Or did we live in constant disagreement and aggitation causing us to always get in each others way?

And now, on this fated Thursday night, under the setting sun, our story of togetherness would carry on. “Donahue, I swear if you tell me no thank you one more time!” I knew I had to jump. He was standing there with his hands crossed, his perfectly round, bald head aglow in the soft orange light. Jake was halfway down the football feild, high tailing it home, abandoning me like a true friend. I walked back to my mark and ran, jumped and again flew over the pole, which remained in it’s place, untouched. “Donahue, you’re jumping at the meet on Saturday.” Coach Spencer informed me. “In my speed sui-” I asked. “In your damn speed suit,” he said.

So on Saturday, there I was, standing in another high school’s high jump pit, wearing my speed suit, my hair gathered into a high ponytail, in complete and utter foreign territory. The women I was competing against were tall like me, but they had muscles and girth. I was the Jake among a group of Clydesdale horses. A skinny willow, who the wind blew over the bar twice, and now had carried her here against her will. When competing in my middle distance races, I knew how to behave beforehand. I knew how to block out the noise and focus. I knew how to build myself up into someone powerful and capable. I would run laps while listening to Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose.” From the seats in the stadium, I looked intense, driven and fueled by adrenaline. My mom and dad were the only ones watching who knew that setting the mood of my performance, there was Seal:

“There used to be a graying tower alone on the sea.
You became the light on the dark side of me.
Love remained a drug that’s the high and not the pill.
But did you know,
That when it snows,
My eyes become large and
The light that you shine can be seen.
Baby,
I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the gray.”

But now among these lady jumpers, I was overcome with noise that even Seal couldn’t drown out or align positively. Coach Spencer was with me, of course, his presence scary and looming. When it came time for me to jump I took my headphones off and handed my iPod to him. Blarring from the headphones, we could both hear, “I’ve been kissed by a rose…been kissed by a rose on the gray.” Coach Spencer paused and we stared at each other, neither one of us speaking. “Donahue what the hell are you listening to?” “Sea-” “Donahue, nevermind I don’t want to know, you gotta jump girl.”

I took my mark and tried to think of this as fun. “You gotta jump girl. Girl it’s your time to jump. Jump jump, Daddy Mack will make you jump jump,” I sang to myself. Daddy Mack. I looked at Coach Spencer standing across from me, holding my iPod like it was a box of tampons. Coach Daddy Mack knows about Seal now. Goddamnit. One of the Clydesdale’s was stretching near the mat, her thigh muscle jetting out of her leg, I swore I could see it pulsing. Nerves are an interesting thing. When I was running the 400m or the 800m or on a relay, I could channel my nerves into something that propelled me forward. Nerves synched up with my hard work, my will to win and spirit of self and it worked to my advantage. But when you are unsure, or full of doubt, nerves become the collasal tidal wave that you have to either drop to the bottom of the ocean floor so it can pass over you, or swim away from. With just a little faith in yourself, you could convince yourself you can surf the enormous wave, but in faith’s absence you are doomed. I had taken my sweet time setting up my mark and I had no choice but to go. I crashed into the pole so hard I could almost feel Coach Spencer’s regret in my own throat. And I continued to crash into the pole over and over again. Every. Single. Jump.

By my last jump, if Coach Spencer had had any hair, it would have all turned grey. “Donahue! That bar is set lower than what you’ve jumped before!  Jump over that damn pole!” How had I gotten over the pole twice in a row on a random Thursday after practice? I just had done it. Why couldn’t I do it now? I was in last place, even if I made it over on my last jump, I’d still lose. I kneeled down to tie my shoe and take up time. There’s different types of pressures. When you’re expected to succeed there’s a certain kind of pressure you feel and when you are expected to lose there’s pressure but a different kind. I’ve always thrived in the second kind. The kind where no one truly thinks you have it in you, so you have to. It’s easier to surprise people than have people expect great things from you only for you to not deliever and disappoint. But all the greatest moments of my life have been doing what’s unexpected of me and in the shadows of people’s expectations. What I learned from Coach Spencer, and my very brief career as a high jumper, is that you can only have those moments of personal triumph, if you take risks and say yes to things. Out in the real world, you will encounter this constantly. But instead of a coach putting you in the game in good faith, you will have to put yourself in the game, and any faith in yourself will also be up to you to summon. You’ll learn to bottle up that faith in yourself and store it away in a protected safe place, so you have it at all times, standing in the sun or in the shadows, you’ll never be without it.

My last jump worked. It went just like in practice, I sailed over the bar like a noodle. I landed on the mat and didn’t get up right away. My power, my pleasure, my pain. I had lost, but when I got up, Coach Spencer was smiling at least.

 

 

 

Blurred Lines

Emily Ratajawa famously defends her right to be sexy and confident. She entered into the media young, beautiful, and dancing topless in a flesh colored thong in Robin Thicke’s music video “Blurred Lines,” and the world became a brighter, joyus place. “Blurred Lines” is a catchy song, I downloaded it, and listened to it and without knowing it, learned all the words. But one day when it came on the radio I finally realized what I was singing so happily while stuck in traffic:

“Good girl
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
You’re a good girl
Can’t let it get past me
You’re far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted”

If you actually say the words “talk about getting blasted” out loud- I mean, try it and see how you feel. Because I felt like I suddenly was balding, had a penis, was blackout drunk, and at a Hollywood Blvd strip club with no money, trying to coax a stripper into buying me buffalo chicken wings. And it was the first time I really considered the song in correlation with the music video. The fact is, Emily has the right to dance naked on the Internet, and she also has the right to be respected by the audience viewing her performace. Every woman deserves the world to be a safe space to express sexuality and body confidence. Men too. I was a fan of J Lo’s “I love you Papi” music video where she’s surrounded by muscely, greased down men wearing metallic speedos. But in J Lo’s video the presence of sexualized men felt comical for some reason, while Robin Thicke’s presence of sexualized women felt…rapey. Maybe because the men in “Blurred Lines” were fully clothed and gawking at the women, while J Lo was also wearing booty shorts and dancing in the middle of her smiling, objectified men. J Lo’s men looked like they were having fun on the yacht, and the “Blurred Lines” women looked…solemn.

My male co-worker was the one who first showed me the “Blurred Lines” video, and his comments were mainly about Emily and her physique. As a woman watching this video alongside a man, I without even knowing it, internalized his comments and watched as I saw another woman, topless and holding a white rabbit, while Robin Thicke moved around her looking at her naked body,  become validated by another man watching Robin Thicke move slowly around a naked woman holding a rabbit and licking her lips while shaking her shoulders in beat to “talk about getting blasted.”  I, the woman audience member wasn’t really validating her, because I was too preoccupied with what the actual fuck was happening. I was intensely focused on the concept of the overall video: the color aesthetic was nice, but I didn’t know what to make of the images. Boobs, lips, and farm animals. “Is that a goat? This is very visually stunning,” I think I said. As a woman, I felt the need to defend Emily’s honor, but also, personally, the whole thing made me uncomfortable. Is this how you gain power and respect as a young woman? Is this how men take you seriously? Should I be caring that men want this? Would Emily ever be cast in a music video like this if men didn’t exist?

In 1975,  film critic Laura Mulvey described this as the “male gaze,” or the way in which the visual arts and media depict the world and women from a masculine point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure. I mean it’s basically the concept of Robin Thicke’s video. Three men stalk around three naked women who are wiggling around, “dancing.” It’s a hot, tricky, and controversial topic to talk about as a woman, especially with the recent election of a sexual predator as President of our country, and with the added pressure of being crucified for not standing with your fellow sisters and supporting everything any woman minus Ann Coulter says or does. Am I tearing Emily down if I have a question about her feminism? Am I not supporting women everywhere if I think self objectification of our physical features may be damaging? I honestly have no idea, because Emily, like every woman, deserves to be respected, but what she is constantly representing also doesn’t feel like it’s “freeing” other young women from misogyny. Men still seem highly involved in her image, and her decisions.

There is a girl I met in Hawaii who I follow on Instagram and who is contantly posting pictures of her sprawled out on the beach, or topless, covering her nips under a waterfall, or a close up of her very nice ass. She will get so many likes and so much attention from these images and a new one appears almost everyday and they are stunning self portraits, but everyday another portrait of her hip bones is appearing on my feed and I start to tire of her physiology. Is she always at the beach doing nothing or does she have a library full of these images and posts when she’s bored at work? The comments are usually emoji’s of fire or an encouraging message of true friendship, “dang mama, looking good,” a lot of approval directed towards her physical features from both men and women, some friends, some acquaintances, and some even strangers. 

There have been studies done that show a picture of someone’s face will get more “likes” than a picture of a landscape, people like to see other people. I like to see pictures of people’s faces too, especially their eyes, because that’s how you can verify if they are dead inside or if they have a lot going on deep within. Validation that you aren’t hideious is great, but I keep hearing women use the word “empowering” in regards to posing naked. When I think of the word “empowering” I think of someone with a high rise office filled with honorary degrees, or a woman firefighter who saved a life, or female athlete, or a Nobel Peace Prize winner, or a man holding a baby tenderly. I don’t instantly think of someone validating their ass. But womanhood! Be proud of your body! Emily is! I have lived my life without any desperation for female friends, but maybe I’ve been missing out. Maybe my sisters are onto something! 

So when I was in Hawaii, I had my friend take a picture of me on the beach in a swimsuit, and it took me forever because angles can be so unforgiving, but when one finally came out ok, I filtered it black and white because zoom feature, and then spent almost twenty minutes lying on the beach staring at it trying to think of how to post it without looking narcissistic. The caption was the hardest part. For inspiration I referenced other women’s pictures and captions.
Some woman post a sexy picture with an inspiring quote underneath:

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

Some girls just simply stated the day of the week and add an emoji:

“Monday, pineapple emoji.”

If you are closer to the weekend it seemed more justifiable:

“It’s Friyay. Weekend vibes. Palm tree emoji, tropical drink emoji, sun emoji.”

Some women tried to down play the high matinence look of the picture and wrote something like:

“Sometimes I dress up. But usually I’m just chillin’ with my bra off and my sweatpants on.”

Mermaids were also really big:

“Mermaid hair, don’t care. Shell emoji”

I definately am guilty of using that one before. In retrospect though, the ocean does not turn your hair into a flowing golden dream, the sun and curling irons do. A real life mermaid’s hair, an actual woman with a fin who lives in the ocean’s hair would eventually just become one giant dread. Airelle in The Little Mermaid was falsely portrayed by Disney. As I looked at myself, my body, there I am, but what do I say? Why am I doing this? Deep down, I knew it didn’t have anything to do with empowering myself. If I truly wanted to empower myself I’d go read Maya Angelou poetry. It had to do with wanting validation from others and from Emily Ratawaja. Women should be sexy and confident is what I internalized from her. For all people right, not just men. You’re far from plastic. Talk about getting blasted. Right?

I posted the picture with an emoji of a dolphin…like a real dummy, but like, a sexy dummy, and waited. Slowly, random men started to like it, my girlfriends did too but more in a surprised way, like “Jenn, you’re usually a nun, look at you!” My bitter chastity aside, the likes from men made me feel good for a moment, but that moment was fleeting. Their “likes” did not make me feel empowered like my college degree does, or validated like when I make someone laugh. Instead of thinking, “I’m hot, I’m gonna take on the world,” I thought, “Men like female bodies, they don’t care about me. They just see a butt and ‘like it’ it doesn’t matter who’s butt it is.”  It was comparable to running down a public road in spandex workout attire and each “like” was a man in a car yelling out the window, “Nice Yams!” If I didn’t like to be cat called in real life, why was I sexualizing myself online. And how confusing for men. These images just fall into their lap without them even asking for them, because women are providing them.  How confusing for all parties involved, I thought. Maybe Emily feels empowered because she gets paid? But if I was getting paid to be naked, I feel like that may make it even worse. Unable to derive any sense of self worth or self respect from what I had just posted, I deleted the pic.

Then, I came across an interview on a morning show with two Victoria Secret angels. I love Victoria’s Secret, I am constantly in awe of models like Gisele who are so bronzey and svelte and have such nice hair. But these two models were young and talking about how their biggest dream came true when they were cast in the show. “As a little girl,” the one model gushed, “all I dreamed of was to be a Victoria’s Secret model. Other girls wanted to be doctors or teachers and I had my heart set on being a Victoria’s Secret model.” And that’s when I paused. “Angels” walk less than 100 meters on a glitter runway, wearing underwear and fake, feathered angel wings. Sometimes they don’t even smile while doing it. And sometimes they are forced to wear little hats like a cartoon character, or hold stuffed animals like a little girl. Is that the dream? What’s the real dream? The money and again, validation that you are good looking? To be desired? By who? Leo DiCaprio? Other woman? That old Ed guy who is the senior creative director, or the old guy Lex who is the new CEO of Victoria’s Secret? These are men controlling a women’s lingere company. One of Victoria’s Secret’s more famous photographers, Russel James, is…also a man. So while we can say these men are celebrating the female form and it’s true, they are still controlling the images of women’s bodies.

I’ve always thought that if I ever have a daughter, I’d tell her when she was little, don’t think of what you want to be when you grow up because that implies that society is in some way, showing you what you should be. Look around for yourself and think about what you’ve observed. See what society needs, then look inward at all your talents, strengths and gifts and see what you can do, where you shine and where you can make a difference, and then do it. If she one day tells me that the world doesn’t need her to be a doctor or teacher, but instead needs her to pose in thongs and walk in a straight line down a runway while holding a little umbrella, I’m going to support her obviously, but I’ll be worried.

I support my fellow women, I believe we are beautiful and should be validated as so. But I want “gorgeous” to be the adjective that follows a really badass noun. She’s a professor and she’s gorgeous, and she’s a doctor and so beautiful, and she’s a social activist and also really sexy. Emily Ratawaja can capitalize off her sexuality, and also has the right to protect her sexuality and she acted on that by wearing a feminist t shirt, jeans and holding a protest sign recently in the women’s march. Emily’s feminisim proves that however your audience reacts to you, you have the right to be sexual and treated with respect, you don’t have to cover yourself up if you don’t want to. Being sexual should never allow you to be mistreated in any way. Someone else who believes this is Lena Dunham, who is always naked on TV, only she offends almost everyone. But to me, Lena is shattering the “male gaze” window in a more powerful way than Emily, who seems to be profiting the same way Ed Razek markets Victoria Secret models for a profit. By giving men exactly the image they desire and giving women a guideline to measure their own male desirablity against. But when Lena Dunham shows her undressed body on television and men say “ew,” she doesn’t give a fuck and won’t stop showing it. And when I see that as a woman, I internalize the fact that anytime a man tells me “no”  or devalues me, I don’t have to listen. Because what a man thinks doesn’t need to validate me. Lena may be men’s worst nightmare because she actually is empowering women by not listening to men and being entirely in charge of her own body, image and voice.

But no matter how you twist it, or defend it, both men and women are not just their outward image. As a female, I worry that young men will look at a young woman who is celebrating her body on a social media site, and subconciously lose respect her as a human being, because the more common it becomes, the more we are all becoming desensitized to these types of sexual images. I’ve never heard a group of men sitting around talking about which girl has the more beautiful heart, they are always ranking women’s looks. But I could be hanging around the wrong men, it’s VERY possible. And don’t misunderstand, I don’t want people walking around in sweat suits with bags over their heads ashamed of themselves, and demanding to be more than an outward appearance. Cameron Diaz once said in an interview “I think everyone wants to be objectified,” and she kind of has a point. It feels good to be told you look good. I know that Instagram is a social media platform designed for posting images catered to yourself, but when do you cross the line into obessessing over your images? Are we becoming conditioned to get pleasure and confirmation of worth from comments generated from an image of ourselves, like “you’re beautiful,” or “nice ass.” I tell men they are handsome. Once, I hollered at a shirtless man running on the side of the road just to make everything equal. But in an image obsessed culture, this triumph of attractiveness and self objectification raises questions of “are we internalizing anything from this?” and “is this becoming the only thing that matters.” Psychologists have done studies that link dopamine rushes to “likes.” Everytime you get a “like” your brain releases a pleasure hormone and you feel good. This happens to me when I consume Kraft Mac and Cheese. Posting selfies has also been linked to low self esteem. The more selfies you post, the more you are seeking that dopamine rush, and that validation of worth. The same with my Mac and Cheese, although I’m enjoying every bite, the more I eat, the more I self loathe.

To me, the bottom line, and the feminism I believe in, is freedom and respect, for both women and men. Be sexy, don’t be sexy, be nerdy, love your shape, celebrate your body, soul and mind, celebrate other people’s too. The world should be a safe place for expression and self identity and it can only get there when individuals make a concious effort to bring empathy and kindness into the equation. Note the word conscious. We have to respect one another, and treat each other as the unique human beings we are. Human beings with personal stories, families, friends, struggles, strengths, who love, and emote, and think. That’s how we deserve to represent ourselves to ourselves and how we deserve to represent ourselves to one another. And how we do that in a highly saturated image obsessed culture is going to have to take a lot of self awareness.

 

 

Nunu

My grandfather’s name was John. He was tall, strikingly handsome and a really sharp dresser. Walking beside him was like walking beside a movie star, he attracted stares and interest from everyone. He was quietly confident and good at loving people. I knew that because of the way his children, especially my mother, loved him. She could tell him everything, all her worries and fears, and he could take it all away. I, even as a little kid, could sense she felt safe and happy around him. I always did too. He was a curious, tolerant, caring man, and a very good listener. And as I got older I realized it wasn’t just us, his family, everyone relaxed around him, he put everyone at ease, and he became less of a movie star to me and more of a statuesque mountain, mighty and unshakable, but also a calming, quiet place of refuge. I knew him as a little girl and a teenager, he passed away when I had just started college, around 17 or 18. Once retired, he was ordained and became a Deacon at his church and when I was in middle school and high school, I was an altar server, basically a religious assistant who held books and lit candles for Priests and Deacons during ceremonies, while wearing a white robe tied at the waist with a felt rope.

Not to insult Catholicism or anything, but I really only wanted to serve the altar, because it meant every Sunday I could spend the day with my Grandfather at his church,  both of us wearing matching robes like wizards, and baptizing babies. My Grandfather always performed the baptisms at his church, which usually consisted of him giving a touching speech about love, life and faith that brought everyone to tears, and pouring three different types of oils onto screaming babies heads. My main job was to remind him what the babies names were because often there were at least three different ones in a shared ceremony, and he’d get them all mixed up otherwise. I’d stand next to him holding a slippery crystal chrism of scented oil, and I’d whisper up to him, “Noah,” and he’d take the oil and we’d approach the family, “I baptize, you Noah in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…” I watched, wondering whether or not those oils would liven up a salad in a good way, or if using holy oils as salad dressing was terms for eternal damnnation. Then we’d leave Noah, who was turning red from screaming, his head all slimy and his parents holding him and smiling, rubbing oil into their child’s head continuously because if they stopped they’d just be standing there in front of everyone with oily hands that they weren’t sure they could wipe off on their kid’s bib because is it magic Holy oil and whatnot?  My Grandfather and I would move down the line to the next family and I’d whisper up to him, “Samantha,” and Samantha would start wailing.

We were very popular in the baptism business, not only because we were a Grandfather/Granddaughter duo, but because my Grandfather had a way of taking the creepy out of Catholicism. In his speeches, which are technically called a homily, he wouldn’t focus the conversation on purification or admission into the Catholic church, he’d talk about how this tiny innocent newborn life will grow up in a confusing world and how faith won’t necessarily guide or save them, but may help them through the hardships life can sometimes bring, by providing hope. His talks were personal and authentic, they came from a place of a father raising his own children. It never felt like an out of touch and suspicious Priest or religious figure preaching or giving ultimatums, it felt like a respected and loving man was bestowing his well earned wisdom of raising children and the importance of having faith in not just them, but in the world. And what it means to love your children insufferably and not want the world to damage them in any way. My Grandfather was never religious to me, he was spiritual. He was spiritual in a very unique, rare way that made him a person of significance. A person the world wouldn’t ignore or cast aside, a person the world would listen to, a person the world desperatly needed. 

When it came time for me to be Confirmed in the Catholic church, which is basically when you get baptised again, this time as an adult into the church, around 13 or 14, I had to pick a “sponsor.” Similar to an AA sponser, but for Catholicism. My sponser would be my spiritual guide, and of course I asked my Grandfather. This meant that he would accompany me to meetings every month where we would talk about religion with a bunch of other 13 year olds and their sponsors. Also similar to AA. The first meeting we attended we were in a large circle of about thirty people, and had to go around and each tell the group the greatest gift you’ve ever recieved. It took a very long time to get through. Parents said their children, aunts and uncles their nieces and nephews, grandparents said their kids and grandchildren. I forget what all my peers said, probably pets or their friends or siblings, or parents. Unanimously, folks agreed other people are gifts in our lives. I can’t remember what I said. When I was 13 I lived everyday in crisis over the abscence of my boobs and period. So I’m sure I was only thinking about the main gift I hadn’t yet received, which was my womanhood. My grandfather was last. With the entire group’s eyes on him, he sat there for awhile, thinking. While people had whispered or fussed and there always seemed to be background noise during everyone else’s time to speak, when it was my Grandfather’s turn, the whole room fell silent. That’s the first time I realized what having a presence means. It’s not age, or good looks or stature, or job title, or economic status. No one in that group knew anything about the other people except their names and that the group was divided into “confirmandees” and “sponsors.” We didn’t share our personal stories or what people did for a living, we were all strangers to one another, brought together by our faith in God (or forced to be there for most of the “confirmandees”).  Everyone fell silent when it was my Grandfather’s turn because of this hidden, unidentifiable power he possessed.

He uncrossed his legs and rested his forearms on his thighs, holding his hands in between his knees and leveling with the group like he was a coach in a football huddle.  And suddenly, even though we were all seated in a huge circle, far away from each other, it seemed like we had been brought closer together in our attentivness. “Well,” he began, looking around at everyone, “I think the greatest gift I’ve been given is..my life.” I took my eyes off him and scanned the room. Everyone’s faces looked the same. Damn it, why didn’t he go first?  When I think back to this, now, as a 28 year old I see how “life” and “gift” don’t correlate as easily as “life” and “burden.”  It is much more challenging to see life, in all it’s unanswerd questions and tragedies, as a gift we are given, as opposed to a challenge we must endure. I lose hope constantly as an adult, there’s a point where the evils and the darkness of the world seem to drown out the light. Even people become burdens.

I remember once asking my Grandfather, “why do tradgedies happen? Why is there evil? Why does evil seem like it wins sometimes?” We were driving on the freeway to his church, probably on our way to a baptism, when I asked. My Grandfather was in the slow lane, with his right blinker on, signaling to other drivers that he was about to switch lanes off the freeway and into the canyon. As drivers swerved around us, he explained that God gives us free will, and with that comes choices. We don’t have a lot of control over what other people choose to do. But we have all the control over what we choose to do. And everyday we are faced with choices, but the main one is will we do good in the world? Or will we do harm? God doesn’t control us, our lives aren’t predestined by “Him”, they are just that, our lives. As a little girl, I don’t think I fully comprehended what he meant, but I knew enough to never forget his words, or that moment. So I logged it away in my heart.

Recently, I went to my Grandfather’s church, which I haven’t visited in years. I didn’t attend a mass, I went in the middle of the day on a weekday and the church was empty, but unlocked. While most Catholic churches open up and ascend down an asile to the alter in the front, concert hall style, my Grandfather’s church is built in an octagonal shape with the altar in the middle of the room. He helped design it that way. It feels less grandoise and cold. Like you are gathered around a common table having a discussion, not an audience member attending a performance. I sat alone next to the Deacon’s chair, where he would sit during mass, and I wrote him a letter. In it, I told him how it’s getting harder and harder to view life as a gift. The world is a mess, I told him. I didn’t tell him about Trump because that would send him over the edge, but I did complain a lot about the state of the world, I’m sure he can piece together Bernie Sanders is not the one running things. How do I do good when I’m so small and insignificant? How do I become bigger? How do I right wrongs and really help people or make a difference? How do I love people and give chances but protect myself from those who will hurt me? And more importantly, how do I forgive and rise above evil?  So many harsh words have been unconciously logged into my heart against my will. How do I erase that stuff and not become jaded, or bitter, or worst of all mean spirited? How as a little girl did I choose what I logged into my heart to remember forever and now I can’t stop the bad stuff from logging itself? Since my Grandfather died, our entire family has stopped going to church. I thought about how maybe I should be directing my questions to God. But now that my Grandfather is gone, all the creepy has crept back into Catholicism. And my Grandfather was not “God like” to me, but he was real, and I believed in him and his hope, and he believed in me. I trusted him. Thank you for Mom, I wrote. She’s a great mother. I don’t know what I’d do without her. I don’t know if there is an almighty, all knowing “God.” Who, if does exist, is certainly a woman.

I sat there for a long time before I folded up my letter and placed it in the song book on the Deacon’s chair. As I was driving home I thought about what my Grandfather would tell me. If he thought life was the greatest gift he’d been given, I imagine he viewed his failures, and tradgedies the same as his triumphs and blessings. That is a hard thing to do. If you can view both the good and the bad in your life as gifts, as life waking you up to something, a revelation of some sort being bestowed on you to run with, as something that connects you to others instead of alienating you from others, then the world isn’t so hopeless, and you become stronger, more capable, and more valuable to others. It’s your choice. The way you choose to percieve your life and other people’s lives is a true confession of your own personal character. Maybe that was my Grandfather’s indescribable power that gave him such a presence. People could sense he believed in them. 

It was then that I realized I was driving 45 mph in the far right lane on the freeway and that my right turn signal was slowly clicking, signaling that I wanted to turn off the freeway and into the canyon. Oh no, I thought, maybe there is a God and he’s been signaling to me this whole time to just end it all in a firey crash….No, I’m just getting old and losing my faculities. Catholicism is sooo creepy. I sped up and changed lanes.”Hi Nunu*, thanks for still being here” I said to no one.

*”Nunu” is grandfather in Italian. My Grandfather was from Northern Italy. He ate gnocci, loved The Godfather movies, and felt no shame in expressing emotion or crying when something touched him deeply. He really was a true badass. 

 

Uber Rides 

When taking Uber’s, I always have the same fantasy. In it, I’m a Lebanese British human rights lawyer like Amal Clooney. I’m wearing a satin gown, and white gloves, and being escorted to a fancy hotel where I will be joining, not my friends for dinner, but the President of China’s wife, Peng Liyuan, whom I will be meeting with to discuss the advancement of women’s education and what she and President Xi Jinpin like to do for fun. And always, my fantasy comes crashing down around me when my driver, most recently named Carlos, strikes up conversation with me. “Where are you from?” “I am from here, from LA.” “Oh my God, wait…are you Caucasian?” Carlos will look at me in the rear view mirror disappointed, and I will look down at my gloveless hands. “Yes, I am white,” I admit, ashamed. “And I will not be seeking resolution for world conflict with the 58th most powerful woman in the world according to Forbes tonight. You can just drop me at the corner by that donut shop.”

Why Am I So Happy Alone? In Defense of Introverts

Half of me loves to be among a big crowd out in a public setting. If I have one close friend with me I truly enjoy going out.  With one other person, you never find yourself sitting around discussing the weather or the lamp fixtures at the restaurant. You can talk about the real thoughts you have on a daily basis, or the true happenings of what’s going on in your life. You aren’t going to confess the thorn of all your unpaid parking tickets that’s wedged in your ribcage to someone you’ve just met, that’s a burden only a true friend has to bear. There have been countless times where I’ve been sitting at a table among a group of people who are deep in discussion about triathlons, when I suddenly bring the conversation to a chilling halt. “Jennifer never speaks,” someone will feel the need to bring to everyone’s attention and silence will form around me, the bug eyed mute who has been stealthily working her way through the bottle of wine for the table, unnoticed while everyone was engaged in conversation about multiple-stage physical competitions.

If I’ve gotten through enough of the bottle, I’ll take this entrance into the conversation like walking onto a stage and just tell them what I’ve been thinking based off the conversation. “Sam, thank you for the introduction. Is it just me or have any of you ever thought about creating a pill that makes hair waterproof? Imagine, when swimming you wouldn’t have to wear those rubber caps that make your head look like a safetly protected penis.” To just one person, or among the right group, you could exchange that thought safetly. But with a large group, crowd mentality sets in, and you have now presented yourself to the crowd as sketchy, untrustworthy, and possibly mentally retarded. People will allow you to be silent after this, but their opinion has been formed of you, and good luck trying to change anyone’s mind after they’ve judged you once.

If I’m consciously trying to create a good impression, which most people are actively trying to do when interacting in public with one another, I can respond to everyone by saying something conscientious and within the normal realm of reason and logic. “I have never done a triathlon, how long did it take you to prepare for your first one? Two years you say? That is incredible determination. Good for you!” The group will carry on and I will fight the urge to ask, “But when do you use the restroom during the race? Do you just..release into your spandex? I’m sure in the swimming portion it’s much easier, but doesn’t that come first? Do you have to shit right away or does it take awhile?”

Small talk is exhausting to me, it drains all the energy I have tried to pump into my body and soul with cups of coffee and meditative yoga, to sit around and talk about sports teams or how nice New York is in the fall. When working in a retail store, I could sincerely build a relationship with one customer a day and usually that customer was one of those honest types. I’d overhear them blurt out, “This scarf is more than my fucking car payment!” My ears would perk up because that’s the person I wanted to talk to, and know, and gift that scarf as a thank you with a note instructing her to re-sell this tacky overpriced piece of neck fabric on eBay to cover her car payment that month. But sales were down with me as an active employee and those people were rare. Mainly, I was talking to the highly medicated about the traffic, thread counts, and the color Labrador. It killed me to strike up random conversations out of the blue with strange women adorned with jangly gold bracelets. I usually would just stand behind an innocent customer trying to think of something to say until they felt my presence and turned around frightened. “Cashmere so soft, that’s not on sale.” I’d let them know and then walk into a dressing room and shut the door behind me. Some people are so good at socializing, they naturally love to just talk and talk, it’s like they gain energy from interacting with many people, all the time. And they do, these people are known as extroverts.

To an extrovert, introverts seem mysterious, antisocial, and aloof- but not in the sexy Latin lover way, in the unibomber way. If I told people the truth, that I won’t be attending their party because the thought of mingling among twenty to fifty people is basically like working in a busy retail store for me, except without any monetary reward- they would think I’m the next Texas Chainsaw Massacurist. Jennifer would rather be alone, rolling around on the floor of her apartment eating peppermint ice cream and watching multiple Heath Ledger documentaries than come to our party. Who the fuck does she think she is? 

Who I think I am, is not far from who you think I am-which is the unibomber. But what extroverts don’t understand is that the same way they are gathering energy from other people, I am gathering energy from my own private little world I’ve created within myself. I gather energy from reading, and writing, watching television shows or movies, researching things on the Internet, taking a walk in the city alone, running in the mountains or hiking alone. It’s called recharging, and I need that time and space to process thoughts, form ideas, and create things. It is essential to my mental health, and my survival. If dragged around to multiple social events without time to recharge in bewteen I will start to malfunction, get overwhelmed, and possibly stick my head in an oven and end it all.

I’m not sure what happens to other people at social gatherings, but I absorb 100 percent of my surroundings and I’m actually listening and paying attention to what people are saying or doing. I notice every detail, every facial expression, every comment, every detail such as what color the carpet is, social cues, body language- I will take everything in, and the information isn’t pumping me up like filling a balloon with helium so I can float around the party and make people happy.  It’s making it hard for me to live in the moment because all the information is weighing me down. Like adding bricks to a backpack that I have to carry around with me until I can go home, dump them all out, and eventually build them into something interesting and useful, like a well or a birdbath.

When I lived in my jungle shanty, I’d get home from work or going out with friends and bolt the doors and windows shut and my friendly landlord thought I was painfully unfriendly. “Want to cut down banana trees?” he’d stand on my porch and ask on Sundays, and I’d poke my head out the door and tell him I had a bad case of the clap and had to stay in bed so I could go to work the next day. When he added me on Facebook, he started to read my writing and one day he cornered me at the washing machines. “Your blog is….not like you in person.” My eyes narrowed, “Wwwwhaaaat?” “I had no idea the girl living in this studio is the same girl with all those interesting thoughts!” My eyes narrowed even more. I wasn’t dare going to ask him what I’m like in person because I already knew what he’d say- “you’re like a sad ghost!”

Introverts may roam spookily through Bar Mitzvah dance halls and New Year’s Eve parties silent and dull, but if we do connect with you, we will let you into our world, and the world is usually surprisingly vibrant, like my former landlord found out. We’re really caring, and loyal, and we form strong, sincere bonds. We will protect your most private and vulnerable thoughts because we value them and understand their importance. If there’s ever someone you can relax into your true self and express your feelings or worries to, introverts are the people to be around. I may not want to talk to you about what I heard on the news the other day, but I’ll glady talk to you about your biggest childhood fear, or places you want to travel to. We aren’t uppity or hate people, which to me is the biggest misconception of introversion. I actually love people a lot, and am very interested in the others I encounter, and need and want to talk to others and have friends, but in small groups or one on one. I thrive differently and charge differently than other people. Comparable to Apple products and their lack of a universal iPohne charger- each version requires it’s own specific adapter and humans function in a similar way. And just as I imagine forcing an extrovert to sit alone in their house for an entire weekend and not speak to anyone would leave them at 5% battery, depressed and muttering to themseleves in a pile of their own drool, that’s how introverts feel in crowded places where they are expected to socialize, or if they aren’t allowed time to unplug from reality and live in their imaginary world.

All throughout my childhood and until a few months ago, I had always been ashamed of introversion, most likely because it’s such a wildley misunderstood dimension of personality. Society tends to favor extroversion, which is much simpler to understand. Why am I happy alone? I’d ask myself while alone in my room in complete ecstasy. I should feel sad and pathetic but I don’t, I feel safe and empowered. I’d try to force myself to be extroverted but I just ended up feeling like a phoney baloney. Masking anxiety and fear with forced merriment at social gatherings comes off alarming, and makes others feel like you may have a gun in your purse. So now, I have just come to just accept this about myself, and will no longer fabricate sexually transmitted infections as an excuse to dip out of a social engagment that happens to fall on a day or night after a long bout of social interaction. Your true friends and family will always just accept you, because they actually know and understand you. My immediate family consist of three introverted hermits, and my very dear friends have always leaned towards introversion and I feel very lucky to be a trusted member of their inner worlds. They are my favorite people. And while society may favor extroversion,  society has always needed introverts:

Albert Einstein. …Rosa Parks. …Bill Gates. …Steven Spielberg. …Sir Isaac Newton. …Eleanor Roosevelt. …Mark Zuckerberg.. ..Mahatma Gandhi….Jimi Hendrix…Bob Dylan..Audrey Hepburn…Elon Musk…Neil deGrasse Tyson….Oprah…

Just to name a few.

 

Serendipity 

Sometimes life is so serendipitous. Today, I was stopped in traffic on Sunset Blvd when WHAM’s “Wake me up before you go go” came on the radio and I just so happened to be eating Cheetos with the aid of chopsticks, when I realized there was a cute blonde boy in the car next to me staring at me like I was doing something out of the ordinary. The traffic was so congested (that I could use chopsticks to eat Cheetos) and right at the perfect verse, point a single, traditional American puffed cornmeal snack cradeled between two tradional East Asian eating utensils, out my car window at him and serenade him with the line, “don’t keep me hanging on like a yo-yo.” The perfect moment had happened, traffic started moving, my cheeto fell out the window and onto the street, one of my press on nails snapped off, someone honked at me, I turned right, the song ended, and I’m sure that innocent blonde driver was scarred for life.

The Transformative Twenties

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.

Hollywood Jenny  

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, and given myself that protective shield of self respect. But transformation never comes from hiding and 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 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.

So, grow.