I’ve moved! Please visit me at my new website:
I’ll be blogging over there, too! My new blog is here.
Hope to see to you over at my new site!
I’ve moved! Please visit me at my new website:
I’ll be blogging over there, too! My new blog is here.
Hope to see to you over at my new site!
Sometimes, I blatantly contradict myself.
Like how I used to say it was so important to have balance in your life.
Then I went on this kick like, fuck balance, it’s all about the passion.
And now I’m kinda into the balance thing again. Or trying to be at least. Living a life of balance is not the place I naturally default to.
But, both things are true. Balance is nice. Passion is cool, too. Balanced passion may be something to strive for, although sounds like something that’s probably impossible to achieve.
Or when, several years ago, the married man I was having an affair with abruptly ended things. I was devastated to the point of barely being able to function, but I was also relieved — relieved that I no longer had to spend agonizing days waiting for his texts, calls, or emails, or hours lost to fantasy, obsession, fear, and worry. I was devastated, but I was also free.
Both were true.
I learned this from my therapist, she says it a lot. Life is big and complicated enough for seemingly completely contradictory things to both be true at the exact same time.
The last blog post I wrote was about how I always need to be writing. I wrote this almost 9 months ago. So you can see already: contradiction.
Shortly after writing that post, things fell apart, as they sometimes do in my life. As a freelancer, I was doing work that I loved, but unfortunately not enough of it to support myself. I have a high tolerance for deprivation in service to following my vision; if I’m doing work I love, I can make do with very, very little in terms of material gain.
But at a certain point, the chaos of financial instability starts to interfere with my creative process. Waking up every day in a state of panic tends to make me shut down, writing-wise. As someone I know once said, “You can’t write a novel if your house is on fire.” And based on my own experience I can say: tru dat.
Not knowing how I was going to pay the following month’s rent, and with my financial house up in flames, I set out looking for work. Once I’ve reached this point of complete desperation and panic, I can’t like, casually look for work and keep writing on the side. At that point, earning money requires all my time and attention.
I got temp work right away, and a month later, a full-time job. My first full-time job in over three years, I now had health insurance, paid time off, and some stability.
Although I hadn’t written in a few months, I decided to consciously continue my writing break so I could get acclimated to my new job. Also, I wanted to be a normal person who went to work and then had a life — time for socializing, dating, and decluttering my apartment — instead of this person who has a day job and then in every moment of her free time is trying to make things happen with her own creative projects on the side, living multiple lives and driving herself to exhaustion.
But after a month at my new job, my friend said to me, “Jen, I think you should start writing again.”
Because what happens is, not writing takes on its own crazy non-momentum momentum. If you don’t write for long enough, it turns into this really huge, daunting deal, and you can’t imagine how you ever wrote anything in the past or will ever again in the future. I said something along these lines to my friend right before she said, “Jen, it’s time.”
So, I wrote my dating profile for OkCupid. It was kind of fun. It made me laugh. I thought, This is good and I can write.
Inspired by my success writing my dating profile, I dipped my toe further into the writing pool, and wrote an essay about writing my online dating profile. Then I wrote a few more things, like this, and this.
It felt so good to be back. I was on a roll. Sort of. I still start and stop. Write, take a break. Struggle with writing/self-care. Balance/passion. Working hard/rest. Being consumed by creative projects/having a life. I write, but then I have to take mini-breaks. Because I work full-time and have activities and commitments almost every night after work, and I get t-i-r-e-d and need to rest. Not be so busy and striving all the time. Just be.
Last Sunday afternoon, I planned to write. But I was exhausted. So I took a nap instead. By mid-week, I was aching to write. I’m doing it today. I may need to take a break tomorrow.
Taking breaks from writing can be good self-care, and necessary periodically, but still, still, if I go too long without writing, I feel really shitty. Sometimes I need to take a break from writing to pay attention to how I’m going to pay my rent. But when I’m not writing, inevitably, I hit a point where I start to get angry and filled with resentment. I feel invisible, unseen, unheard, disempowered, like I have no voice. And the only way out of this is to USE MY VOICE and write something.
I need to be writing all the time. And I need to take breaks.
Both are true.
I get stuck a lot. Tripped up in fear, anxiety, obsessive worry. Paralyzed by perfectionism. Waylaid by depression and absolute apathy, where I can’t muster up the motivation to do or care about anything. Not even writing. Sometimes I deliberately take a break from writing to focus on more responsible, possibly more remunerative pursuits. But whether it’s deliberate or not, if I’m not writing I often sink into depression, fear, stuckness, I-don’t-give-a-shit-about-anything-ness. I feel like I’m alone, without a voice, this invisible, forgotten, forsaken person.
Even–especially–when I don’t feel like writing, the way out of this apathy and despair is usually writing. This reminds me of a time 10 years ago, when I decided that I was going to give up acting and write instead. So I quit acting for a summer, and was totally blocked and couldn’t write a word. That September I signed up for an acting class, and soon after started writing my heart out, so inspired by the words in the scenes I was memorizing and performing. I wrote monologues and scenes and plays until the only words I was performing–in and out of class–were my own.
Sure, then it was acting that unblocked me and gave me back my voice and today it’s writing, but the message is still the same–the thing I avoid is the thing that sets me free.
I get very despairing when I feel like I don’t have a voice. When I feel like I’m not heard. When I feel like I’m all alone. In my obsessive worry and depression. This is not a fun place to be.
A few weeks ago, writing and I were on a little break. I put it on the side burner, or maybe even the back burner. It’s not you, it’s me. I just need some space. To focus on other things. And then that familiar despair crept in. I didn’t want to do anything, didn’t care about anything.
Day in, day out, my life felt like drudgery, comprised mostly of crying and naps (you know how exhausting crying can be). What’s wrong with me? I thought, even though this has happened before. Longing to give a shit about anything at all, to feel even the slightest desire to write again. Crying on the subway, something that used to be more of a regular occurrence but I hadn’t done in a long time. After getting off the subway I stopped at a Starbucks, red and puffy-eyed. I knew I was nearing a bottom and something had to change when the barista rang up my water bottle, looked at me sympathetically, and said, “Feel better.”
So I decided to end my break and go back to writing. I had to make the decision first, before I felt like it. But it didn’t take long for what I felt like doing to catch up, to want to write again. To feel inspired and idea-filled and excited and energized. To remember what it feels like to have a voice. To not feel invisible and powerless anymore. To be strong–and unstuck.
Writing, once again, is the solution. That thing that I sometimes avoid, resist, resent, and can’t even find the tiniest spark of inspiration for, is the thing that makes me feel better. This doesn’t last if I stop writing, though. Whenever I feel like I don’t have a voice, I’m on the path straight to despair. To claim my strength in the world, to get unstuck, to feel like myself, I have to go back go back and go back again to writing. I have to remember that I have something to say, and say it. I have to return to my voice–and use it as if my life depended on it.
Yesterday my friend invited me to see a movie at McCarren Park that night. My usual M.O. is to say no to fun plans. Especially last-minute fun plans. Because they’re inconvenient. And take me out of my routine. And a whole host of deeper psychological reasons to be explored at another time in another post.
But I’m trying to say “Yes!” to fun plans. To bring more joy and spontaneity into my life. Plus, this particular friend had recently invited me on several fun plans, all of which I’d said no to, and I was a little afraid that if I didn’t start saying yes soon, she was going to stop asking. What really put me over the top though, and convinced me that I had no other option but to say yes, was that the movie was none other than Dirty Dancing, my all-time favorite movie, symbol of my adolescence, and the unofficial theme to my Bat Mitzvah.
So last night, inconvenient and spontaneous as it was, I met my friend and her friends on patchwork of pieced together picnic blankets to watch Dirty Dancing, which, as it turns out, is tremendously fun to watch with a crowd of fellow Brooklynites. The opening shot of Baby and her family driving down a Catskill road listening to Cousin Brucie and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” on the radio immediately transported me back to 1987 and my 12-year-old self. The crowd screamed and cheered at all the places you’d cheer in your head–when Johnny decks Robbie, “She’s Like the Wind” plays, and Baby finally does the lift. During the finale, everyone in the audience jumped up and danced to “I’ve Had the Time of My Life,” and the announcer said that that was without question the most magical moment he’d ever seen in the seven year history of SummerScreen.
Throughout the night, I leaned in towards the group, piping in with little tidbits of memories and associations I had with the movie.
“I love your history with Dirty Dancing,” one of the girls said as we were walking to the subway afterwards.
“Thanks,” I shrugged, remembering back to when it all began.
In 1987, I sat on the family room floor leafing through the movie section of the local paper. I flipped to a full page ad for Dirty Dancing with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze in the same pose that they’re in in the picture above, and my breath caught in my chest. I have to see this movie, I thought.
Shortly thereafter, my BFFEAE (best friend forever AND EVER) Beth* and I went to see it one night at a movie theater on Central Avenue in Yonkers. Someone’s parents must’ve bought us tickets, because we were only 12 and the movie was PG-13. I was mesmerized and it instantly became my favorite movie EVER. Of course, BFFs that we were, Beth loved it, too, and our bond was strengthened by our mutual obsession with this movie.
Seeing it once was not enough. I had to live it. I got the record and listened to it all the time. When the follow-up record, More Dirty Dancing, came out, I got that, too. I saw the movie over and over again, with Beth, my parents, and anyone who would go with me, and rented it multiple times when it came out on video. In between classes, Beth and I would practice our dirty dancing moves with invisible partners around the middle school hallways, occasionally enlisting beams as stand-ins for Patrick Swayze. There was a Dirty Dancing concert tour at Radio City Music Hall, featuring Eric Carmen and the back-up dancers (but sadly, no Patrick), and Beth and I went with our mothers, having dinner before the show at Hard Rock Cafe, and each buying a Dirty Dancing t-shirt afterwards.
Dirty Dancing, filled with music and passion, offered the promise of sex, electrifying to the mind and body of a 12-year-old girl. In seventh grade, I’d gone to Spin the Bottle parties in Jack Howe’s basement, but I hadn’t yet French kissed a boy or gotten to second base like some of the other girls in my class. But Dirty Dancing brought the hope of more, further down the base line. Of someday having sex with (or making love to?) a muscular shirtless dancing Patrick Swayze lookalike as “Cry to Me” played in the background. That, at 12-years-old, was my dream anyway. It might not come as a surprise that at 36, as of yet, that has never, ever happened.
As electrifying as that first sex scene between Johnny and Baby was, it was also mortifying. One of the many times I went to see the movie was with my Dad and I wanted to die during that part. It was like watching TV with your Dad when a tampon commercial came on. Mort-i-fy-ing.
That year I was planning my Bat Mitzvah, and it was a no-brainer what my theme would be. But some might not think that Dirty Dancing was an appropriate theme for a religious rite of passage for a 13-year-old. So it was my secret theme. My official theme was “5-6-7-8 Dance!” but I, another curly-haired Jewish girl named Jennifer, knew the truth. My real theme showed up in the photo on my sign-in board, in which I was smiling at the camera, wearing my t-shirt from the Dirty Dancing concert tour, with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze on it in the same pose as they’re in in the photo above, except with more clothing on. It showed up when “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” played at my party and Beth and I jumped up and down with excitement, and like all good theme songs, returned during the closing slow motion montage in my Bat Mitzvah video.
Then, as often happens in middle school, my BFF became my arch nemesis. Jealousy and resentment drove a wedge between me and Beth as we moved on to other friends. But we’d always have Dirty Dancing.
In 2007, as soon as I heard that Dirty Dancing was going to be in movie theaters for its 20th anniversary, I emailed Beth, whom I hadn’t been in touch with since high school, to ask if she wanted to see it together. She wrote back right away saying yes, and that she’d been planning on getting in touch with me to ask if I wanted to see it.
The night of the movie, I arrived at the theater early to get good seats, and I scored two towards the middle. A group of girls arrived before Beth did, and asked me if I could move so they could all sit together, pointing to an empty seat in the corner.
Nobody puts me in a corner! I thought, holding my ground and refusing to move. The girls talked shit about me through the whole movie, adding to the feeling that I was back in seventh grade again.
Afterwards, Beth and I caught up over drinks.
“You look great!” she said. “You haven’t changed at all.” I was wearing a jeans jacket so that helped my transcendence of time, but still, I felt like our 20 year feud was finally over, our wounds and resentments healed, united as we were in our love for Dirty Dancing.
Five years later, 25 years after I first saw that breathtaking full page ad in the paper, Dirty Dancing still has the power to create magical moments. Watching it still fills me with hope, possibility, that pure joy that is natural at 12 and harder to come by at 36, and the feeling that, as long as Baby and Johnny are still dancing somewhere, all is OK in the world.
*Names have been changed
I have an essay on the HuffPost Women section of The Huffington Post!
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about how I stepped on a rat, and then met my favorite singer, Maxwell. I loved this post. And not just because I love Maxwell. I loved everything about it. It was an unbelievable, miraculous story. I wrote it well. The twists! The turns! The dramatic arc! The culmination in a life lesson! I felt like it was possibly the best thing I ever wrote or would ever write again. I wanted to relish it and bask in it and savor it.
What I did not want to do was write the next post. I always want to go out on a good note, quit while I’m ahead. Like being the one to get off the phone first when I’m talking to a guy I have a crush on–right after I’ve said something charming and adorable and funny, and before I turn tired and boring and run out of things to say. I wanted to freeze my writing with my Maxwell-and-the-rat post, hold onto it so everyone would think that everything I write is always that perfectly crafted.
The thing to do in this situation is to just sit down and write that next thing. Get over the hump, break through the resistance.
So I sat down, and wrote about going to a vision board party. I liked this post. It was honest. Open. There were some funny parts, and a pretty kickass playlist. It wasn’t the most amazing thing I’ve ever written, would ever write. There were lots of reasons to scrap it (there always are) and they all seemed valid (they always do). Like, posting my vision board felt like taking a picture of my journal entries and publishing it. Like, nothing spectacular or miraculous happened. Adam Levine didn’t show up at the party and make out with me or anything.
But it was a solid post, and the most important thing was to get it down. Disregard the reasons to hold off and wait for some elusive bigger, better idea. Just write the next thing. And then keep writing.
The longer I go without writing, especially after writing a piece I’ve fallen madly in love with, the harder it gets to write that next thing. The more of a big deal it becomes. The more I need to have some fabulous idea or riveting story or life-changing lesson. The more I get bogged down and stuck, rejecting every possible topic that is anything less than off-the-charts incredible. The more I don’t write.
For writing to not become a Big Deal looming dauntingly in front of me, it has to be a regular part of my life, something I am consistently doing. Even on those days when I’m not sure what I’m going to say, and in those moments when I question if I have anything to say.
Writing my next story or post or kernel of an idea, I write my way through resistance. Through good enough writing. And I write my way back to writing that makes my pulse race, lights me up, gives me chills. To the best thing I’ve ever written or will ever write. I fall madly in love again. And then I keep writing some more…
This weekend, that fateful day finally arrived: my return to self-help. In the form of my friend’s vision board party that I excitedly, yet with some trepidation, RSVP-ed “Yes” to. Would I be triumphant, happily reunited with collaging as if we’d spent no time apart, and the past seven years since my last vision board were just an insignificant blip? I had my doubts.
As the day approached, collaging anxiety crept in. Plus, I had volunteered to make the party playlist and was starting to feel the burden of responsibility. I felt like I had to prep. Go shopping for an array of magazines that represented all the areas I wanted to cover on my vision board. Swing by a few home furnishings stores to pick up catalogs. Buy art supplies. Decide on a vision board base–should I put everything together on one huge piece of poster board, or break up my collages by category on scrapbook pages with labels? Then I’d have to print out category labels. And I couldn’t just bring labels for myself, I’d need to bring extras for the rest of the guests. I’d started a file folder a while ago of images I liked and wanted to use in a future vision board. But I couldn’t find the file anywhere, and felt like I’d lost part of my vision. A few days before the party, I made the mistake of looking at the last vision board I made seven years ago, pre-self-help detox, and it was A-MA-ZING (categorized scrapbook pages, labeled). A sheer thing of artistic beauty, I couldn’t believe I had created it. There was no way I could live up to my collaging past.
And then there was the playlist–all the new songs I wanted to buy on iTunes, and how to organize them for optimum flow.
What happened was this: my perfectionism was taking over, turning a fun afternoon with friends, glitter, and glue sticks into an oppressive list of tasks and To Dos. So I decided to scrap everything–all the planning and preparation (it wasn’t even my party!), and just do the absolute minimum. As if I was cramming for a final, I quickly made the playlist at 11pm the night before with nary a newly purchased song, or a second thought the order. I wanted the music to be uplifting, so I just did one round of edits where I stripped out all the codependent love songs about needing someone else to be able to live or breathe.
An hour before the party, I picked up three magazines–a yoga one, a home one, and a vacation one–and found the ideal compromise of half-sheets of poster board at an art supply store. I let go of trying to locate my image file, and embraced the idea of creating my vision afresh in the moment. Pounding an iced coffee for sustenance, I was ready to collage. Imperfectly, dammit.
At the party, my friend read a few vision boarding suggestions before we got started, like keeping some white space in your collage to leave room for other things to come in, and so it doesn’t look chaotic and clutterred. Flipping through magazines, I still doubted my artistic abilities, but reminded myself that this didn’t have to be the end-all-be-all vision board, just one attempt.
I was a little behind, only on Phase 2 (deciding which images to use) when everyone else was on Phase 3 (gluing), but somehow mine came together quickly in the end. While I’d thought my vision board would be significantly career focused, and had even brought cut-outs of the New York Times Best Seller list and logos for places I wanted to write or teach, I tucked them underneath my poster board before I started and none of them made it on. Mostly my vision board wound up being about joy, relaxation, playfulness, fun–and a balanced life. And by the way, I love it.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that my playlist was a huge hit. Someone even said I should make playlists professionally, if that’s even a thing. Other than like, DJ. And someone else asked me if I’d publish the playlist, which was the inspiration for this blog post. Having recently met Maxwell, it’s a little Maxwell intensive. But as I told my friend who was hosting the party, it was a major accomplishment that my playlist wasn’t just: “Maxwell CDs.” So here it is, codependent love song free, and guaranteed to uplift!
Vision Board Party Playlist
1) “Imagine Me” – Kirk Franklin
2) “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” – Maxwell
3) “Superwoman” – Alicia Keys
4) “Beautiful” – Christina Aguilera
5) “Brand New Day” – Joshua Radin
6) “Declaration (This Is It!)” – Kirk Franklin
7) “A Star Is Born” – Jay-Z feat. J. Cole
8) “Closer” – Goapele
9) “Best Of My Love” – The Emotions
10) “Seasons of Love” – Original Broadway Cast, RENT
11) “Just Fine” – Mary J. Blige
12) “F**ckin’ Perfect” – Vicci Martinez and Niki Dawson on The Voice
13) “Party” – Beyoncé feat. André 3000
14) “Over the Rainbow” – Glee Cast Version
15) “Pretty Wings” – Maxwell
16) “My Love” – The-Dream & Mariah Carey
17) “September” – Kirk Franklin
18) “Ganapati” – Girish
19) “Guru Brahma” – Jai Uttal & The Pagan Love Orchestra
20) “People Everyday” – Arrested Development
21) “Lovely Day” – Bill Withers
22) “Lifetime” – Maxwell
What songs would be on your Vision Board Party Playlist?