Ignorance vs. the Ending

I was scrolling through my Instagram history when I found a post from this day five years ago. It was a picture of the whiteboard we kept on our fridge at my old apartment, on which my roommate had written words uttered by yours truly: “I don’t want to be immersed in this kind of ambiguity.”

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It was, apparently, a significant enough declaration to deserve whiteboard status – perhaps because it was inspiring, but more likely because my roommate recognized that it was a notable digression from a pattern that shaped my existence. I architected my life such that few conclusions could be drawn. It was more than being indecisive. I lived in a world in which nothing was decided.

The utterance was accidental, but it briefly highlighted the error of my ways, and I immediately wanted to change. I developed a new mantra for my new life: Full Court Press. I was going to make irreversible decisions and pursue everything at 200%.

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That strategy suffered from poor planning, worse execution, and ultimately, ironically, lack of commitment. Over time, I reverted to my old ways with little guilt or concern. When you’re younger, it’s easy to treat everything as harmless and temporary. “Now I’m in my ambiguity phase, next month I’ll be in my aggressive phase, who knows what phase will come next?!” One of the most interesting things about getting older is that you have a larger data set and start to see that some phases are recurring. In other words, you start to notice your patterns.

Another thing about getting older is that if one of your patterns is an aberration from typical human behavior, you have to work harder and harder to keep it alive and you look stranger and stranger to other people. So if your pattern is ambiguity and the world around you is drawn to certainty in droves, you have to wonder: why work so hard to be miserable?

Of course, that question ignores the real essence behind our developed behaviors. Even when they seem detrimental and ineffective to others, they are the protective devices we have built up to spare us from something we perceive as worse. But I probably wouldn’t have realized that ambiguity was one such behavior for me if not for the fact that at time when I rediscovered that Instagram post, I had not also been dealing with a dying tooth.

See, last February, I had a crown put on my tooth that resulted in pain that never went away. The dentist (who, by the way, I blame entirely) tried to fix it several times, to no avail. She was a deeply incompetent woman, but she said something to me that really stuck: “Your tooth is pain because it’s either healing, or dying.”

Oh, the ambiguity! I was briefly flummoxed by her obvious ineptitude, but I was pleased by having options; I was thrilled by the possibility that my tooth might be healing, which is a normal response. The abnormal response is that I refused to find out if my tooth was dying.

Although she recommended that I see a root canal specialist who would be able to tell me if the tooth was dead or dying, I didn’t go. Ultimately, I just stopped chewing on one side of my mouth. To many people, this seems absurd. But I remember at the time, I was despondently unhappy in my life. I was in a crippling relationship, I was miserable at my job and I didn’t have much going on outside the two. I thought, “my tooth can’t die. I can’t lose that, too.”

Again, it’s not the craziest thought anyone’s ever had. What’s crazy is the idea is that if you never visit a doctor who can tell you that the tooth is dead, there’s still a chance that it’s healing. Obviously, the tooth is dead whether or not you chose to acknowledge it. But that was not what I thought. I thought that if I rejected the information I didn’t want, I could make it untrue. In other words, ignorance enabled me to pretend that the situation was still ambiguous, and ambiguity protected me from the outcome I most feared.

In way, ambiguity is the evil twin of possibility. It creates the violently untrue illusion that if you analyze the situation enough, you can bend it to your will. It creates the violently impossible illusion of control. But while possibility can only be actualized with action, ambiguity lets you believe that thinking is the same as doing.

In most areas of your life, you can play this trick convincingly, but physical pain is not one of them. At some point, you’ll be sitting in a dentist’s chair and he will say, in disbelief, “This happened a year and half ago? And it’s been hurting the whole time?” You will hope he says, “To reward you for your suffering, I’m happy to inform you that your tooth is healing” but instead he says, “you need to see someone who can tell you if this tooth is dead.”   You’ll realize that do need this information, but also how much you don’t want it. You’ll realize that no matter how much you theorize or how many years you wait, you will not be able change the outcome. You’ll realize how much familiar pain you’re willing to endure to avoid a feeling you don’t understand.

I thought I couldn’t handle life with if my tooth turned out to be dead so I tried to protect myself by refusing to know whether or not I have a dead tooth. The irony of the situation is that if you acknowledge the dead tooth, you have to go through an awful process to fix it, but when it’s over,  you start chewing normally again. If you don’t acknowledge it, you get to have eternal hope, but you struggle every time you try to eat a carrot.

So, today, I’m going to root canal doctor to find out what’s going on. Maybe, five years later, I’m finally ready to stop being immersed in ambiguity. Or at least pretend for a few months.

 

 

 

 

 

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Isn’t it Romantic?

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Wendy Wasserstein in 1985, beneath a poster for her play Isn’t It Romantic. Wasserstein’s plays examined the place where the upheaval witnessed by the baby boom generation met the demands of family and professional life.

 

By my sophomore year at Penn, I decided I’d done everything wrong. As a person who has almost always felt I’d rather be anyone but myself, I’d tried to capitalize on the opportunity provided by college to become someone else, but felt that I’d failed, and was more lost than when I’d started.

My high school friends, who knew me as an outspoken theatre kid, made fun of me when they found out that I was going to Penn, suggesting that I should immediately trade my ripped baggy jeans for tight black pants and accessorize my standard wife-beater tank tops with a Tiffany necklace.

I told them they were crazy, but within a year, I had given up theatre and joined the crew team. My new (and first) boyfriend personally and profusely thanked the teammate who took me shopping and forced me to buy jeans that fit and a push up bra. He got me a Lima bean necklace from Tiffany’s for Christmas.

The necklace briefly made me feel that I had assimilated, but I was becoming an increasingly unhappy and straight-up inconsolable human being. When we broke up that February, he said, “I’m with you because I’m worried about you, but if I don’t have to worry about you, I’m leaving.”

“You don’t have to worry about me,” I assured him, more indignant than confident. Then, I set about restoring my life to what I thought it should be, which is how I ended up at auditions for a play produced by the campus Jewish theatre group, Wendy Wasserstein’s Isn’t it Romantic. 

The play features two women coping with the unmitigated terror of being nearly 30, and having not yet established their careers, thrilled their parents or satisfied themselves. There’s Janie, a short, chubby, awkward, hilarious, sarcastic, Jewish freelance writer. And there’s Harriet, a tall, blond, attractive, driven WASP who is desperately trying to rise through the ranks at her super corporate job. Although I desperately wanted to be Janie, I got the role of Harriet, assuming that I was (unfairly) typecast because I was the closest thing to a WASP that the Jewish theatre company could find. I was excited to have a leading role, but I couldn’t relate to Harriet. I wondered, what kind of vapid sociopath wants to have a successful career in advertising?

I suppose that’s the joy and absurdity of being 20 – thinking you know enough of the answers to pass judgement. The woman who directed the play, however, was a real adult. Her job was to teach two strong-willed young college students to have empathy for their future selves,  and even worse: to accept that their future selves might be no smarter than they were – and more stuck.

Both characters desperately wanted to please their mothers. Both characters felt conflicted about work and love. Janie is a plagued by guilt because a nice Jewish doctor wants to marry her, but she’d rather be independent and focus on her writing. Harriet is has internalized the pressure to be married and desperately wants to excel in her capital C Career, and along the way lands herself in a horribly inappropriate affair with a misogynistic, narcissistic older executive at her company.

I don’t remember much about playing Harriet; I distanced myself because I was so appalled by her boring take on life. But I often think back to the evening when our director tried to explain us what it really felt like be a grown-up and confronting the impossible task of making yourself “happy.”

“The best advice I ever heard,” she told us, “Is that if you’re trying to figure out what you want, you should take a look at what you have. They’re probably going to be pretty similar.”

The phrase was so poetic that it seared itself in my brain, even though I didn’t entirely understand what it meant. But in the years to come, when I would start to panic about “What To Do With My Life,” I would remember her words and think, “well, whatever’s supposed to happen next, you’re probably already sort of doing it.”

That said, when it first occurred to me this past year that I might have grown up and turned into Harriet, I was beyond horribly disappointed. I might even have cried at the irony. I feigned innocence and shock, thinking, “how on earth did this happen to me?” But when I was done berating myself for being a lifeless sellout with whom my 20-year-old self would have refused to speak, I thought back to what it was really like doing the show.

I remembered that when I was playing Harriet, I became best friends with the girl playing Janie, and our real-life friendship mimicked the one we had on stage. I was fearful, I wanted to fit in, I wanted to be too skinny, I wanted to get good grades, I wanted to get back together with the asshole boyfriend. She was highly intellectual, fierce, eloquent, full of conviction, marched to the beat of her own drum and had an exquisitely beautiful soul. I thought maybe somewhere deep down I could be a Janie, which is why I loved being friends with Janie. But I also loved the safety of being Harriet.

I recalled my director’s words: “If you’re trying to figure out what you want, you should look at what you have.” I had to laugh at how much that turned out to be true. 13 years later, I was still Harriet wishing I was brave enough to be Janie. But after all that time, I had to wonder, did I really want to be Janie? If I did, wouldn’t I have done something about it by now?

The answer, I think, is that there is no Harriet and there is no Janie. They’re both characters that Wendy Wasserstein created as canvases for her own uncertainties about all the options we have in life, as well as all the guilt, inadequacies and ideals we’ll never meet. In reality, I didn’t grow up to be Harriet or Janie. I couldn’t, because they’re both archetypes. Having a full-time job doesn’t make me Harriet and just as being wildly neurotic with frizzy hair doesn’t make me Janie.

What I have in common with both characters is that I’m trying to do the best that I can with the information I have, and it never quite seems like enough information. All I can do is look at the life I have and hope that even though it’s sure as hell not perfect and some days it’s not even close to good, I can find the story a little bit romantic.

On Making Decisions Out of Fear, and Why Maybe It’s Time to Forget

Yesterday, I went to a BBQ with a friend who had just broken up with his girlfriend earlier that morning. He told me that if I hadn’t joined him, he would have spent the BART ride to Berkeley crying, but instead, he spent the time telling me about what happened.

Like any good story involving the polyamorous community in SF, the logistics pretty much require an infographic to follow, so we won’t get into them here. Personally, I don’t understand the whole “poly” thing at all. (I was interrupting with dumb questions like, “how is it possible that all the people in this story have two boyfriends and two girlfriends, and I have zero?”)

But my friend was able to push past my insensitivity and bad jokes to share that his (ex) girlfriend was caught in the unenviable position of wanting to make the safest choice but not knowing which one that was. “She was sobbing uncontrollably, spitting, snotting, heaving – the whole works – and saying that she doesn’t know what to do because she makes all her decisions out of fear. She has her whole life, and she can’t get past it.”

This part of the story really stuck with me,  but I wasn’t really sure what to make of it until I woke up this morning to a flood of Facebook posts carefully concocted to make me feel bad about September 11th. I expected this, and was ready for it. As a New Yorker and generally oversensitive person, September 11th was a day that fundamentally changed who I was as a person, or so I always thought.

However, as a writer and a marketer, I’ve also been aware of how the media takes events like these and ensures that they hit every single one of us in a deeply personal way. When we read stories about people who died on September 11th, we’re not really crying for them or their family members, we’re crying for ourselves, and people we’ve lost. And when we mourn for our lack of safety or decry the evil of the terrorists, we’re just finding comfortable ways to process the excruciating and incomprehensible truth that life is fucking unfair. All day, all the time, for all of us.

Not that there’s anything wrong with empathy – in fact it’s an important part of being human. In literature, tragedy exists to give us that very cartharsis. But it’s more complicated with an event like September 11th, when feelings are being triggered and amplified in the hopes of supporting a certain kind of political climate. I’ve always known this in the back of my mind. I’ve also thought that the most significant thing about 9/11 was that it made Americans feel unsafe, and that’s there nothing more intense than a mass of people who suddenly realize they’re vulnerable.

But I hadn’t thought about implications of that mentality until lately, when, for whatever reason, I’ve had a few conversations with people who believe September 11th was a government conspiracy (or a Jewish conspiracy, but that’s a story for another time.) And although I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, it did get me thinking about how valuable terrified people can be, if used correctly.

Now, hopefully, at this point, you’re wondering, why did this post about 9/11 conspiracy theories start with a story about a tragic polyamorous love quadrangle? Well, if  you’re like me, or any other self-help-inundated, self-righteous American, you read about the sobbing woman who doesn’t know what to do because she can only act out of fear and thought, “wow, she should really get over that.”

Or, if you’re a slightly a more compassionate soul, you thought, “Wow, living in fear will totally ruin your life, but I get that it is so, so hard to overcome.” Maybe you also recognize that fear and anxiety are actually easier to tolerate than sadness and loss. Fear and anxiety, toxic as they are, create the illusion that we can protect ourselves. Accepting sadness and loss means that we have to go out there and keep trying, with no guarantee that it won’t hurt every single fucking time.

Personally, on the morning when the Twin Towers collapsed, I was 18 years old and had already experienced a good, (un)healthy amount of sadness and loss. On that day, in a sea of bewildered college students, I watched as I, and everyone around me, converted our pain into our own particular brand of fear. Some of the guys started making “Wanted” posters for Osama Bin Laden and describing how they would kill him. I was shocked and disappointed, then called a traitor for saying that if we gave into hate, we would never find Peace (or peace.)

But even I, with my intellectual desperation to stay strong and calm and full of love, came out of the day with some key takeaways. Don’t let down your guard. Don’t relax. Don’t expect that people are who you think they are. And above all else, never trust that anything you have today will be there tomorrow. They’re not entirely implausible generalizations, but they’re not helpful either. They’ve hurt me some in my own life, but they’ve done far worse for our country.

They’ve enabled us to be a nation of people who bypass the agony of sadness and loss and instead are driven by fear and anxiety. They’ve been used to start wars, fuel hatred, and deny people their god-given right to take more than 3oz of liquid in their carry on luggage. 15 years later, those fears have morphed into an uncontrollable, irrational hatred of an entire religion. Looking back on those 18-year-old boys on my freshman hall who said they didn’t want to talk, they just wanted to kill terrorists, it’s not actually hard to see how we ended up with Trumpism.

That sounds judgmental, but it’s not. To prove that, let’s go back to our heartbroken, polyamorous friend. Who among us could look at a crying woman with snot all over her face and tell her that she should just get over it and stop being afraid? We know it’s not going to be easy for her, and frankly, she doesn’t have a good chance of recovery.

But if she does have a chance, it’s going to require her to stop dwelling on the past. It’s going to require her to stop reenacting situations that mimic the ones that hurt her, and start creating ones that look like her ideal. And if she’s been inundated with heartache her whole life, she might need to take a long, long time to figure out what that ideal looks like.

And so it is for our nation’s racists, fear-mongers, haters, what have yous. Replaying and reliving tragedy is not a path forward. The only way out is to visualize the world we want. To replace descriptions of pain with depictions of peace.

While I would never suggest disrespecting the memory of those who died on September 11th, I’m respectfully suggesting that maybe it’s time to not necessarily forget, but at the very least, we need to reposition. Let’s not use today to cry and mourn. Let’s use today to meditate on hope. Let’s use today to envision our best possible world, instead of repeatedly torturing ourselves with images of the worst day of our lives.

As a nation, we’re not short on cynicism, tragedy or anger. We need less of it. Let’s commemorate today by taking a break. It’s not going to stop war or hatred or violence tomorrow, but the sooner we stop picking the scabs, the sooner we stop bleeding, and the lighter the scar.

***

September 11, 2001, was a blur for me. I remember it in fits and starts, and it’s largely punctuated with moments of guilt, pain and confusion. Snipping at my father because he called me and woke me up at 8:30am; hours of not be able to reach my mother; learning that people I knew were missing or dead; having a boy I liked ask me not to talk to him because he didn’t want to deal with anyone’s sadness; watching George W. address the country; realizing that in some way, shape or form we going to war; realizing that people I knew were actually happy about that fact; having tone-deaf people ask me why I was upset and laugh when I explained why.

But the truth is, only one memory from that day is truly crisp for me. Late that night, a baseball player who lived a few doors down asked me if I wanted to go have a catch, as we often did. We got out to the field behind our dorm and stood across from each other. “Are you very sad?” he asked me.

“Yeah.” I said.

“Yeah, I figured,” he replied. After that, we said nothing. We threw the ball back and forth until I was tired and calm enough to go to bed.

I wouldn’t describe myself as particularly patriotic. But if I was going to be patriotic, I would probably say there’s no better way to show you care about America than standing in a field on a summer night, listening to the soft wail of a hard ball fly through the air, and knowing that when you feel that thud in the webbing of your mitt, at least for that moment, you’re protecting something real.

Real Adventures in Nashville: Part III

[Read Nashville Part I and/or Nashville Part II or just start here…]

When we last left off, I was at a bar making fun of people in their 20s (again, something I could really do in any city) before going home to fall asleep with a cat on my face (something I’m trying to avoid as much as possible until I turn 35.)

By Saturday morning, I was already starting to feel like a resident, so it felt perfectly natural to head off with my friend D in the morning when she left for work at the Corsair “brewstillery.” (That’s a combo between a brewery and a distillery, for all you sober people out there.)  Corsair is located in a place called Marathon Village, a formidable brick building located next to the train tracks. Once, it was home to Marathon Motors, an automobile factory. Now, it’s home to lots of cool, hipster shit and some tech companies. While D was getting the bar ready, V and I did the hard work of foraging for breakfast in the building.

Our first stop was Garage Coffee, which is immaculately decorated to look like an authentic, grungy garage. (That said, the industrial size red coffee bean grinder actually did seem authentic.)

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D and V got iced “Slingshot Lattes,” which consisted of espresso, vanilla cream, caramel and bourbon salt. Somehow, despite having the option of drinking a bourbon-flavored milkshake for breakfast, I chose to get a regular drip.

That turned out to be ok, because from there we headed to Grinder’s Switch Winery. Perhaps you’re thinking, “what were you doing at a winery at 11am?” The answer, obviously, is that we were getting wine slushies (a fruit slushy topped off with wine.) There were two flavor options, neither of which I remember because I was too busy accepting a plate of leftover Gouda from a random girl at the bar and protesting that it was too early in the morning for me to drink a wine slushy.

Of course, I was wrong. And the flavors change on a daily basis anyway, so no harm, no foul.

After finishing all the random girl’s cheese, I brought my coffee and my slushy back to the Corsair taproom. As you may remember, I started my Nashville adventure on a business trip, so I still had to follow up emails to send. Empowered by frozen wine and grungy coffee, I sent about 20 strangers invitations to connect on LinkedIn before D sent me off to meet her friend L.

L works at Antique Archaeology, a store/museum for the History Channel show American Pickers. This is a huge tourist spot, and with good reason. It was a like a museum of every day life. Old amusement park rides, old motorcycles, old car parts, old locks, old jukeboxes, old jackets…I was in old heaven.

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They also have some less everyday items, like a dress Loretta Lynn wore in concert. A lot of it you can touch, and some of it is for sale. (Not Loretta’s dress.)

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After I wandered around, I had some time to chat with L. Within about 7 seconds, we were through with small talk and discussed how important it is to allow experiences to transform you, the importance of storytelling and how to leverage multimedia to portray multiple stories as a unified experience. Unlike me, L actually makes art instead of just talking about it, so when we said goodbye, she invited D and me to come see her sing that night at a cafe in Watertown. She also suggested I head up to the second floor and learn more about the car factory that was the building’s original tenant.

In fact, there are abandoned pieces of car-making machinery everywhere in the building. They’re well-maintained, but there’s almost no curation whatsoever, and it was a complete joy to watch people of all ages and genders to interact with them. The second floor was more like a landmark than a museum, but exploring it was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

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Marathon Motors was a unique car company in that they manufactured every single car part on site, and each car purchased was made to order. I poured over descriptions of car parts, marketing materials, sketches and more.

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I also poked my head into the museum store when I was done and naively asked the older lady at the cash register, “Why did it shut down in 1914?”

She smiled at me with mild surprise and said, “The Model T.”

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After my spiritual journey through turn of the century American car parts, I had to reorient myself by going into all the building’s high end souvenir stores like Brown Dog Market. I immersed myself in fancy soaps, quirky dishes, magic stones, t-shirts describing the difference between whiskey and bourbon, etc. etc.

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I managed to escape without buying anything, including the magnet below.

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Then I needed air. I decided to walk downtown to a place called the Arcade, which I read had been converted to a space for art galleries. On my way, I stopped at Transplant Outdoor Living, a large, outdoor garden across the street from the Marathon building.

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Apparently it’s a store, but it felt like a cross between a fairy tale and junkyard. I wandered around until I got scared by my own image in an arbitrarily placed mirror and left.

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By that point, I’d missed the action at the Arcade, but based on what I could see through the windows, I would recommend going back when they’re open. Instead I decided to “investigate” a grocery store for local idiosyncrasies. I wasn’t disappointed. What the fuck kind of place only sells one kind of hummus but offers packaged deviled eggs?!

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On my way back, I stopped in a few art galleries, walked by the Tennessee State Capitol and checked out the War Memorial.

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I got to have my Yankee moment when, after going through the Vietnam War and the Korean War, I got to the “war between the states” and thought, “Weird. I’ve never heard of that.”

Back at the taproom, I drank a few sour beers while making friends with a couple in their 60s. I had never heard anyone use the term “baby daddy” non-ironically, and I eagerly asked them questions about their lives until the husband almost cried. But that’s a story for another time.

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(The sour beer I drank)

 

Once D had closed the bar, we got in her car and started the hour-long trip to Lulu’s Cafe in Watertown. The only thing we knew about our destination was that it was in a dry county, so we prepared by filling an empty seltzer bottle with whiskey. We didn’t have an address for the venue, but Watertown is only a few blocks long. It consisted of a few houses, seven churches, a hardware store and Lulu’s, which was so small that L waved to us from on stage as we drove by.

We parked and walked into a 50s-esque diner that met my expectations for a small, dry, southern town. However, much of the clientele consisted of men in drag, which did not meet my expectations. D and I decided to get a light dinner and a couple of cokes.We poured our whiskey into paper cups, and while I was afraid of being caught every time I took a sip, nobody gave a shit.

While L sang, we ate sweet potato fries, fried okra and roasted beets. We dipped everything we had in ranch dressing. We applauded for L, whose beautiful voice and intense stage presence managed to hold our attention, despite being preoccupied with trying to figure out what the Hell okra is.

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From left: Beets, Okra, Fries

 

Then we realized that fried side dishes don’t fill you up, and ordered a veggie burger with tater tots. Finally, we got a recommendation for the the most authentic honky tonk joint around, and when L finished performing, we all got in the car and headed for Smitty’s in Lebanon, TN.

As someone who has lived in NYC & SF (and technically Philly but doesn’t count it as a real city), Smitty’s was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Sprawlingly large, it was the combination of a Vegas casino and a high school cafeteria. In fact, near the bar there were computerized slot machines, with instructions saying the game was just for fun and not for money. The idea of playing seemed even more hopeless and desperate than actual gambling.

All the beer was in 6 packs in a open refrigerator, as you’d find at a grocery store or deli. D and L each got a beer, I got a styrofoam cup. After we took seats near the stage, D grabbed the whiskey and the cup and headed for the ladies’ room.

L turned to me. “D is such a good friend. I mean, a really, really good person. Look at that, I mean, she’s taking whiskey to the bathroom so she can pour for it you. That is so sweet.” Point being – with the right planning, confidence and friends, you can drink booze even in places where it’s not legally sold.

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But there wasn’t much energy for the band, and Smitty’s was almost seeming anti-climactic until an older drunk guy came over and started talking to us. Very quickly, he offered us $10 to go say hello to his friend. We couldn’t understand 75% of what he was saying, and we couldn’t get him to go away, but he stood his ground, pulling out a wad of hundreds of dollars in cash.

Thinking that I was making an empowered move, I said, “Listen, we’re not taking money. Put your money away. If you leave us alone, in a few minutes, one of us will come talk to your friend.” He left and I turned to L and D. “Ok, so who’s going to take one for the team and go say hello to that man?”

They looked at me like I was crazy (which actually makes a lot of sense, in retrospect.) “You’re the only one who doesn’t actually live here.” And so I went.
Some elements were similar to a conversation I’d have at a bar in SF: horrible awkwardness, arguing about how tall I actually am, winking at my friends across the room so they can see that I’m talking to a guy.

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But some of it was different, like trying to figure out what kind of ditch he’d spent the day digging, what exactly his role was in putting up fences, and the fact that he and Jack Daniels shared a hometown. Finally, I fled back to our table.

Unsurprisingly, they followed us. L worriedly told me under her breath that there was something called “the private room” at Smitty’s and it occurred to us far too late that we might have been mistaken for…professionals.

I tried to clear up the situation by explaining I was a product marketer, but none of them knew what that was, so it might as well have been a fancy word for “whore.” They told us we were the prettiest girls they’d ever seen, which if you looked around the bar, was probably a) true and b) not much of a compliment. A few of them insisted on dancing with us to the all the cheesy classics (We’ve got a killer video of D looking horrified while getting spun around the room to “Feel Like Makin’ Love.”)

When it came time to leave, we literally fled. Someone chased us into the parking lot shouting, “You don’t to have run!!” And maybe we didn’t, but it sure makes for a better story, doesn’t it?

Giddy in a way that you can only be after you’ve escaped the plot of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion meets Deliverance, we wanted to keep the 80s party going. It’s probably the only time in my life when I’ll feel proud to have a playlist with “Jack and Diane” on it, but we rolled down the windows and belted all the way home.

And thus ends my trip to Nashville (unless you count a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts on the way to the airport.) If you’ve been overwhelmed by the 4,000+ words I used…. tl;dr – I highly recommend it.

Better Adventures in Nashville: Part II

Although it’s been a month since I returned from Nashville, I feel compelled to write up the rest of my trip and share some recommendations for what to do in Nashville if you’re not at a B2B Marketing conference.

Anyway, when we last left off, I was feeling sad about a homeless dog – something I could do in pretty much any town. I needed to start having a unique Nashville experience ASAP, or at the very least, eat something covered in cheese. Fortunately, my friend V was prepared to drive me around on a very laid-back whirlwind tour of the city that would solve both needs.

We started at Old Glory, a really hip place in a hard-to-find back alley in East Nashville. They had gourmet twists on traditional southern food (aka, they served pimento cheese on a nice plate) and lots of elaborate cocktails. The walls were exposed brick, and the lofty layout would have been considered a massive waste of space in any other town.
Sarcasm aside, this place had good food, drink and charmingly lo-fi aesthetic that provided a good environment for V and I catch each other up on the last year of our lives. We talked about wanting to be less attached to “checking boxes” and figuring out how to get what we wanted in unconventional ways. It may sound pretentious, but I assure you, we fit right in with the artisan cocktails and exposed brick.

After that, V wanted to show me a place where he volunteers, Turnip Green Creative Reuse, a place that “diverts usable material from our landfill for creative endeavors.” As an out-of-towner, I wasn’t tempted to pick up too many weird scraps or tiles, but they have some cool artwork and jewelry at the front. It’s also made from recycled materials and benefits the non-profit.

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From there, we went to a completely different kind of place – 3 Crow Bar. This place seemed legit Southern, except for the sign out front that said I couldn’t bring my gun inside.

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V was insistent that I drink something called a Bushwacker, which the bartender disgustedly described as, “two kinds of rum and half a cow.” What she meant was “it’s a mudslide with a different name.” We sat outside  and watched numerous bachelor and bachelorette parties stumble through. I can’t remember a word of our conversation, which is either because I black out when forced to discuss my love life or because I black out after drinking two kinds of rum before 3pm. Either way, it was time to take a break.

High Garden Tea was the most serious tea store I’ve ever encountered (which coming from San Francisco by way of Brooklyn is saying a lot.) Part of the store was dedicated to herbal remedies for all kind of situations. The rest of the shop, where we shared a delicious pot of tea, included a deck of spirit animal tarot cards and lots of empty notebooks. We found our spirit animals (shark and unicorn) and made a collaborative doodle.

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Although I probably could have taken a nap there, we  eventually left and began wandering in the just-gentrified hipster haven of East Nashville.

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We went into Rusty Rat’s Antique and Vintage, where not only were they selling cool old vintage stuff, they were actually playing The Wonder Years on TV. I walked in and gasped, “Oh my god, it’s Kevin!! Wait, is that is his name?” Without looking up or even glancing at me, the woman at the cash register replied, “Yes, it’s him.”

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We checked out a few more stores with elegant laundry baskets and expensive soap before landing at a restaurant called Amot for a spontaneous dessert.

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This place was cute and dessert was good, but amusingly, they ran out of cake, so they served the berries and frosting in a parfait cup and didn’t explain why until we asked. Amot also serves food that looked pretty good and had a wall covered in inspirational quotes (one of which might have been “when life gives you lemons, just eat the parfait.”)

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From there, we went to check out Nashville’s gay bar scene by way of a bar called Canvas. There, I saw a lot of preppy, fratty men who were allegedly gay. Okay, Okay, they were gay. But given that most of the straight guys in SF and Brooklyn present as gay, it was briefly incomprehensible to me that a gay man would choose to dress in khaki shorts and one of those egg-shell pink polo shirts. But V explained that in Nashville, even the gay guys want a wife, a mini-van, 2.5 kids and a white picket fence as soon as possible, “it’s just they want their wife to be a man.”

At Canvas, we sat out front, slugged down vodka sodas and used the polo-shirted men as a jumping off point for a conversation about gender, sexuality, whether masculinity is a form of homophobia and if it’s fair to speculate about other people’s preferences. We didn’t talk to anyone there, except when someone zoomed by doing wheelies on a Harley Davidson. One of the preppy gay guys gave me a conspiratorial head nod and said, “he has a small penis.”

At that point, a day’s worth of drinking was starting to hit me and I knew I was going to need more fried things to soak up the alcohol. We swung by to pick up my friend D from work and headed to a bar/restaurant music venue called the Family Wash.

We sat in the back to avoid paying $10 to see the Neil Young cover band. (Although they seemed pretty good from a distance.) We ordered crispy potato skins that came with aioli and beer cheese. After drinking water and fairly rationing out the beer cheese like civilized adults, we were ready for a real dinner.

We went to a restaurant called Treehouse. Protip 1: If you want to eat in an actual treehouse, you need a reservation and a party of 6. Protip 2: If you don’t get a seat in the treehouse, you might be better off heading somewhere else (which is what we did.)

We moved on to seats at the bar of Tenn Sixteen, where D tried to order a glass of wine and the bartender very seriously lectured us on how much cheaper it would be if we got a whole bottle. (We went for it.) At this point, D and I thought it was time for a salad but V wanted a plate of deviled eggs (which are apparently a huge deal in Nashville.) I’ve never seen so many different kinds of them served at one time. A few had bacon and some of them even contained (you guessed it!): pimento cheese.

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We also got pretzels, because apparently those are a thing that can also be dipped in cheese.

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Miraculously, given that I had started my day at a B2B Marketing conference in the suburbs, I was awake enough to go one more bar – The Crying Wolf. They have a gorgeous deck there, but the view was completely ruined by the faces of many 20-somethings. We spent time debating whether the guy who talked to D was hitting on her, or just a pretentious asshole who mistook her for an Ivy-league grad. We also discussed what happens to your face in between your 20s and 30s that makes you look old even if you don’t have wrinkles.

(Sadness? Disappointment? Awareness? The cloud of mortality? Or maybe just loss of baby fat.)

Thankfully, there was a couple having a really mediocre first date right next us, and making fun of them really cheered us up. Plus, when we went home, D’s cat was really happy to see us.

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And so ends Part 2 of adventures in Nashville. Sadly, we only covered off on the hipster portion of my trip, but in Part 3 we will definitely discuss Deliverance and ranch dressing.

For my Brother’s Birthday: 30 Years of Music Memories

What 30th birthday present do you get for the guy who has everything, including much better taste than you do? For the past few years, I’ve given my brother money and playlist for his birthday, but since this is a big one, I decided to make the playlist “30 Years of Musical Memories” and annotate it. 

The Last 30 Years and notes below…

My first, and maybe strongest, memory of my brother is of him wearing a long pajama shirt and strumming his plastic guitar while singing “Heaven is a Place on Earth” I think much to our parents chagrin, this was our favorite song and we not only insisted on listening to it on repeat in the car but performing it at home.

My parents tried to steer us towards better music when they introduced us to the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. We loved this album, but particular “Drive my Car” because we were little kids and “Beep beep beep beep yeah!” are the kind of lyrics that little kids love. There is a video of us someone dancing around living in circles – my brother driving a fake car and me attempting to look like a movie star.

Another good step away from Belinda Carlise was Led Zeppelin. We loved “Over the Hills and Far Away” and made our parents play the beginning over and over again because we liked the guitar breakdown. I think about this sometimes – whether my parents thought that having kids was so annoying and we were wrecking a good song by being totally irritating. But then I realize that it is objectively a pretty good breakdown…

Speaking of wrecking good songs…For many years, neither of us went anywhere without several stuffed animals, and we would routinely have them act out the Tom Petty album, Into the Great Wide Open. I remember distinctly that they would soar up to ceiling of the car, and then we would drop them on the line “must come down” in the song “Learning to Fly.”

Then there was the summer when we got into oldies. I might be making this up, but I think the first time I ever heard my little brother request to hear a specific song was when he asked for “Barbara Ann.” This was another one that we probably liked because the lyrics are borderline jibberish.

I do know for a fact that first CD my brother and I choose to buy was Billy Joel’s Stormfront. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was a very popular song at the time; I can remember sitting with my brother and other kids we knew and trying to compete over who knew the most lyrics. There was no question that this would be our pick when we finally got a CD player at home. We took a family trip to a brand new store called HMV where there were thousands of CDs, which was the newest fangled medium for music available at the time. I think I remember my mom being sad that she’d born children who liked Billy Joel.

The next CD I remember us buying was Dookie – years later. By the time this album came out, I was undeniably uncool and my brother already knew way more about what was going on in the real world. He requested the album for Christmas, but I thought of it as mine as well. I remember listening to “Basket Case” in the car with my father, who was kind of shocked about the lyrics, and then immediately resigned to answering questions like “What’s a whore? What’s ‘stoned?’ What’s neurotic?”

Along the lines of mature adult content, we loved the musical Rent. One summer we decided to re-enact a performance for our father and godparents, but I lost my nerve before I was supposed to go on as Mimi and sing “Out Tonight.” My brother threw on a dress and completely killed it.

Although he was willing to pinch hit, as he got older, my brother mostly dictated the music we listened to as a family. I remember vacation in Florida we took with my father. All of us were hesitant about the trip for different reasons, but drove everywhere blasting a whole Blink 182 album (including “Feeling This”) out of our rental car. We thought we were so badass. In our defense, they weren’t as uncool then as they are now.

Speaking of bands we listened to that weren’t that cool: The Goo Goo Dolls. But at least we were self-aware about how lame they were. I remember being in the car with my brother listening to “Dizzy,” when he had a revelation, inspired by the line “whatever ever you are.” “I think pop music works because the the lyrics don’t actually mean anything, so nobody has to decide if they agree.” Totally smart, and also the first adult, intellectual conversation I remember having with my brother.

There were of course, many years, when we did more sharing of music than sharing of words. There was one summer when he didn’t really want to speak to me, but his best friend was visiting us and they needed me to drive them places. At the time, I was pretty much a classic and indie rock only person, and they were into mainstream rap. One song they insisted on playing at full volume was “Fire” by Joe Budden and Busta Rhymes. I insisted on calling him Joe Button, but eventually I got to like the song and we had a great time in that car. It’s a small thing, but I’m so grateful to my brother and his friend for that summer, because by listening to the songs they liked, I realized for the first time that it was possible, even ok, to change.

My brother has introduced me to a lot of music I wouldn’t have listened to you otherwise, but he’s also made me mixes with songs like Pat Benetar’s “All Fired Up” and “How Will I Know – Junior Vasquez Mix.” He’s also been really patient with me when I’ve liked his music but been unable to remember anything about the song.

Upon request, he made me a mix with “the song that talks about Sha-day?” (“Replay”). When I told him I really liked the song with the lyrics “Baby you’re my A-Train” he only insisted a few times that no such song existed before figuring out it was “Best I Ever Had.” And even then, he wasn’t too judgmental when he asked, “Why the hell would he say she was his A-train?”

Although we shared certain musical tastes with our parents and each other, (we got all into Bruce Springsteen, belatedly, the summer and I distinctly remember when my father and brother picked me up from the airport after summer camp cranking, “Badlands”), there came a point in my life when my brother really helped me expand my interests – and myself.

He was visiting San Francisco for Outside Lands and suggested I come with him and his friends. I thought, at the time, that nothing in the world sounded worse than wasting three days at a music festival, except maybe wasting it with my brother’s friends from LA. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They were wonderful people, we had a blast and I realized that you don’t to be productive every second of every day. Watching Muse perform “Starlight” with my brother and his incredible friends will always be one of the best memories of my life.

Plus, I learned I liked electronic music, which I think my brother considered a massive victory. He sent me songs like Tiesto’s “Don’t Ditch” and invited me to join him at Electric Zoo (Although I was admittedly most excited to hear “Club Can’t Handle Me”). With our combined heights, the two of us jumping up and down are probably terrifying, but we had a blast. For the first time in my life I realized I could learn a lot from my brother, but it was also the first time in my life when I was willing to let go of my own rigid rules and ideas about how to be.

I admired so much about my brother, especially the ways we were different. He was first person with whom I was able to be silent. That same summer we took a road trip together. We each made a CD – his with new electronic music and mine with old songs from our childhood and teenage years. I included songs like “These Words” by Natasha Bedingfield and was so happy that he had the same memories of them that I did. He was happy that I was totally into all the new music he shared. We barely talked for 8 hours and it was one of the best car rides of my life.

We went back to more music festivals together – one time with some of my friends from high school. One time we split up, I went with my friends and he went with his. For some reasons, when my friends got really happy — relishing in lipstick application and talking about how we were all sisters — I got really sad. Every time my friends would say, “We’re sisters” I would cry and say, “But nothing lasts forever.” We went to see Passion Pit and I didn’t cheer up, until during “Moth’s Wings” my brother and his friends appeared out of nowhere. Obviously the details are fuzzy for me, but I was suddenly smiling and I remember hearing someone say, “She just needed to find her brother.”

After this, we identified how important our shared love of music was, especially in light of our tricky family life growing up. We decided to start a blog called “The World the Children Made” based on the Deadmau5 song “The Veldt.” Let’s just say it was a great idea, and one day, I know we’ll actually execute on something.

Although for many years music held us together when talking was difficult, recently more  talking has factored into our relationship. Sometimes about music. I remember him telling me that he listened to “Sigh No More” for a full day while deciding whether to end a bad relationship, and I think of him and how thoughtful, determined and honest he is every time I hear this song. I remember him telling me he played the song “Every Day” by Eric Prydz on repeat some mornings. He said the song could be both bleak and happy, so it carried him from the time it was still dark until when the sun came out. 

He’s starting to sound like a really serious person, which he can be, but he’s also hilarious. Our next summer at Outside Lands, he blew my mind by making up genius fake lyrics to Haim’s “Falling.” We also had an amazing time watching the Killers, another show that I think was made more special by how much we listened to the band when we were younger. (And also by the memory of the time he let my my step-sister do his makeup to look like Robert Jones and my step-dad put the pictures in a video to the tune of “When You Were Young.”)

He’s also the only man who could drive me around LA cranking Big Sean’s “I Don’t Fuck With You” with you and get me to think it was a great song (rather than going on a rant about misogyny.) But maybe I would have liked it anyway, because these days, our taste is more and more aligned.

A couple of days ago, he sent me the new Mumford & Sons song, “There Will Be Time.” I’d already been listening to it obsessively for a week, and it made me so happy to think we’d both discovered the same song on our own.

Along those lines, song #30, “Something New” is one that I always associate with my brother, but I can’t remember if he sent it to me or I sent it to him. For all of our differences (and there are many, his passion for shoes being the least of them) music has helped us to understand the important ways in which we’re similar. We both shared the experience of having our world break apart, and we both bounced back, aligned about what it means to go forward. As I get older, I meet so many people who let setbacks ruin their lives, who don’t take accountability for their lives, who get mired in the past, who end up broken. And so often, the people dragging you down are your own family members.

It’s not remarkable that my brother and I share a past. It’s remarkable that we both have the same ideas about the future, and that we’ve been able to (mostly) support each other as we get there. Here’s to the next 30 years!

Semi-Adventures in Nashville: Part 1

I’m trying to plan a trip to Cuba this summer and technically, you’re still really only supposed to go there if you have some kind of business purpose. I figured that since a) I want to get my passport stamped and b) I just spent a week in Nashville, there’s no time like the present to start pretending to be a travel blogger.

Gaylord Opryland Hotel

I went to Nashville for a business trip (marketing, not travel blogging) and stayed at the Gaylord Opryland Resort, a giant atrium that encompasses several buildings, an indoor river and an accidental maze of red brick and intricate carpeting.

The only person I’ve spoken to who thought this set up sounded really cool was my grandma, god bless her. She said, “A river inside?! Please take pictures!” so I did. See below – river, no clear path of escape.

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Although Opryland feels somewhat like a apocalyptic biodome, they have several restaurants there – kind of like a Southern version of Epcot Center (there’s Italian food, american food, southern food, fancier southern food named after Andrew Jackson, more Italian food…and fresh Tennessee sushi.) The first night I was there, I had some pretty decent hors d’oeuvres at one of the Italian places and then some pretty terrifying french fries covered in liquid cheese at the sports bar. (Little did I know that within 6 days, I would be addicted to fried things covered in cheese.)

Anyway, unless you are my grandmother, the main thing you want to do if you’re at Opryland is leave Opryland, which we were able to do on Wednesday night, when we were shuttled to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The buses were delayed because of rain, which made me really wonder if Tennesseans weren’t a bunch of wimps. However, when we finally boarded, there were some B2B marketers drinking fake moonshine and the bus driver declared the trip to be an “open mic” event. Sadly, despite all the B2B marketers drinking moonshine, no one volunteered.

The Country Music Hall of Fame

I have to be honest, I have no idea if this place is cool or not, because I love music museums so much that I’m just not myself – I get light-headed, giddy and forget to be judgmental about everything. And I don’t even like country music.

Now that the honeymoon phase is over, I can see/say that it doesn’t really measure up to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, in terms of breadth or depth of exhibits. That said, it was interesting to see the different influences and evolution of country, plus the actual size of Dolly Parton’s boobs.

Dolly Parton’s dress

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You know you love her

Just say “yes!”

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I actually love her

 

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Steve Earle’s guitar

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Emmylou Harris’s guitar

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Always forget he’s country

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Bob Dylan advertising

 

 

Downtown Nashville/Broadway

After paying our dues to the musical genre everyone loves to hate, and making a mental note to myself that “Dirk” really is a real name, we headed out into downtown Nashville. Here, you can find really talented musicians playing the hits you know and love in a style called Honky-Tonk.

We went to two places, Rippy’s and Tootsie’s World Famous Orchid Lounge. I should be clear that I think we went to Tootsie’s. I know we talked about going to Tootsie’s and maybe decided the line was too long and maybe eventually made it…but maybe just settled on another place.

Of course, not really actually knowing where you spent the night is a sign that you had a super fun night, so I’m giving both Rippy’s and Tootsie’s solid recommendations.

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Rippy’s

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Tootsie’s?

When it was finally time to leave the honky tonk, my colleague was committed to finding something greasy to eat before heading home. Fortunately, there are opportunities to induce cardiac arrest everywhere you turn in Nashville! Right across the street was a place called Paradise Trailer Park Resort. Yes, you read that right. And yes, it’s about as weird and cool as it sounds. The burger looked decent, the french fries weren’t completely soaked in cheese, and bouncer was really polite to me even though I kept pestering him with questions about his tour in Afghanistan.

In retrospect, that probably wasn’t the greatest thing to be doing, but at the time I thought I was really interesting. Another unfortunate side effect of having a fun night.

Down time 

After venturing downtown, we spent our last night at Opryland at the Fuse Sports bar watching the Warriors. (The Warriors won, which obviously means biodomes in the Nashville suburbs are good luck.) Less fortuitous was my decision to download Tinder and pass the phone to my coworkers and ask them to write absurd messages.

I’ve heard people say that Tinder can be a real ego boost because you get reassurance that strangers want to sleep with you. On Tinder in Nashville, it’s even better. You can get reassurance that even if you were a divorced mom of two who just got out of jail, a stranger would still want to sleep with you.

While I am totally impressed by my colleagues’ creativity and willingness to be ridiculous, for safety purposes I’ve deleted that account.

Surrounding Area 

There is pretty much nowhere to go around Opryland, except Opry Mills (which is gigantic mall.) Two years in a row, I’ve had coworkers that found great cowboy boots at this mall, so I guess that means that as far as malls go, I recommend it?

I’ve never purchased anything myself at the mall, but I’ve walked/run by it several times because I’d always rather be outside pretending to work out than in a hotel gym pretending to work out. Sadly, on my last morning, I picked up a stray dog who followed me for 20 mins before he realized I didn’t have any food and he wasn’t allowed in the hotel, then moved on with his life.

I feel horrible that I couldn’t help him but also aspire to some day be as good as he was at practicing non-attachment. (Case in point, I’m still thinking about the dog, even writing about him, and he doesn’t even have the brain synapses necessary for longterm memory. Life’s a bitch.)

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And so ends Part 1 of my semi-adventures in Nashville. In Part 2, I will go into Nashville proper and be batted like a pinball between uber-hipsters and the cast of Deliverance, all while eating fried food dipped in ranch dressing.