I’m not good with ages, including my own. Hence, whenever bouncers or waitstaff unexpectedly bypass the usual ID-check and ask, “How old are you?” the first thing that comes to mind is, Uh… am I even twenty-one yet…? Fortunately, this number amnesia doesn’t extend to important dates, allowing me to be certain without a shred of doubt that today is my mom’s birthday.
Maman, as she’s affectionately known, is immensely important to me because (as apparent to anyone who’s ever mistaken our voices on the landline phone of our past) she makes up an invaluable portion of both mine and my sister’s identities. And considering all the incredible elements that comprise the Renaissance dynamo that is my mother, my sister and I should feel very lucky to share in that genetic pool. My mom has an imagination that packs a wallop. Her sense of wonder is tangible in the way she approaches every facet of life. Her unyielding desire to learn from each of the experiences she encounters is inspiring. And demonstrating the very essence of the adjective “motherly,” my mom has the unfailing ability to comfort even the most overwrought hysterics.
Furthermore, my mom is a woman from whom natural talent radiates like the awed circles that form around her whenever she takes the dance floor. Among the many skills she demonstrates an aptitude for, she’s the most fastidious and loudest cheerleader in all of North America; an incredible artist and writer whose oeuvre spans the creative gamut from joyously whimsical to powerfully evocative; an aficionado on all things kooky-fresh, such as The B-52’s, Shonen Knife, and Plastique Bertrand; a learned and opinionated voice vying for social, cultural, and political equality; the contender you absolutely want on your team for trivia night; and an altruistic giver through and through.
When I was a child, one of the greatest gifts my mom gave me–despite the hordes of Barbie dolls I pleaded for and miraculously received–was her time. When I came of kindergarten age, my mom decided to take up the helm as a homeschool teacher for a year that may well have been the most formative period of my lifelong personality. Thanks to my mom’s patient and steadfast teachings, I developed a deep adoration for vocabulary, a genuine affinity for reading, and a penchant for writing that catapulted me beyond the school’s benchmark. I can’t begin to thank my mom enough for the educational time she dedicated to her children, and I feel certain that without the lessons she’s continued to impart to this day, I would not have ended up as academically driven as I am. Quite frankly, I attribute my brains to my mom and thank her every day for placing so much emphasis on their fortification.
While incredibly important to my character, this inherited love for learning barely begins to skim the surface of all the things my mom’s doted on her daughters from day one. As children, my sister and I grew up in a home replete with fantastical paintings adorning the walls and floorboards: a cheerful, multicolored snake spiraling on the living room floor, an alebrije-esque lizard spanning the length of the kitchen, a winking fish suspended above the stove inquiring, “Hey good lookin’ whatchya got cookin’?,” and our little bunk bed fortress decorated with Shoobie the flying pup, our beaming faces, and an array of designs and calligraphy unique to my mom’s playful aesthetic.
For birthdays, she gave us not only presents but whole window murals commemorating the occasion and themed homemade cakes that somehow defied gravity with their twisting Seussical stairways. From the time I was nine-years-old my mom devoted hours upon hours to reading us Harry Potter aloud, complete with individual character dramatizations and the correct pronunciation of “Hermione” years before the films enlightened my peers. Her all-encompassing love for animals turned my sister into an atheistic St. Francis incarnate, preaching to kittens and puppies The Word According to a Six-Year-Old. When relationships went south or the transition into college proved dispiriting, my mom gave me ways to combat sorrow and the means to harness positivity in the face of life’s many obstacles. And her multilingualism and sense of adventure resulted in my love for language, graphic design, and cultural history and mythology.
For physical sustenance, my mom gave us the many delectable gifts of moussaka, chipotle chicken, banana bread, and the phenomenal macaroni and cheese recipe she inherited from her father. For mental fodder, she gave us a love for games, even if it occasionally resulted in my sister overturning a card table in a bout of loser’s rage. For 85mph exhilaration, she passed down her love of roller coasters and repeatedly travelled with us across the country to seek new thrills–although the spinning tea cup gene clearly skipped me. And as a strong female figure who embraces her identity and doesn’t shy away from displaying that fabulous demeanor to the world, my mom gave her daughters the ability to be ourselves regardless of any judgment that may come our way.
To top all of that off, my mom has taught me how I want to approach motherhood one day. Thanks to Maman’s example, I want to inspire uninhibited imagination, I want to answer every question with honesty and imbue a love for learning, I want to be a comfort whenever my children are in need. And beyond that, I’m very eager to behold the whoops of excitement my future children emit when I tell them we’re going to their grandma Lulu’s house, a place of wonder, creativity, and warm, unwavering love.
Through indeterminate acts of nature or nurture, some people are born or bred with the insatiable desire to knock themselves out… gifting. To some, if there isn’t sweat when partaking in the sport of gift-giving, then you haven’t combed the aisles or blinded yourself by the LED light of e-commerce long enough.
I first recognized this peculiar mania in myself when at age ten a friend expressed that she pined magazines or candy for her birthday. In a whirlwind of prepubescent energy and dishwashing allowance money, I proceeded to clean out a magazine stand of every teenybopper rag they possessed and fill a paper bag of Ikea proportions with the king sized candy bars that usually eluded me unless my dad took us trick-or-treating in the ritzy neighborhood. While adult retrospection notes that my friend’s dentist probably would have preferred the gift of a couple magazines and one candy bar, child logic dictated that gift recipients should be spoiled to the same degree of rottenness that my family had always reserved for myself and my sister on gift-giving holidays. Even if money was tight, the little Moon sisters always had a staggering array of store-bought, hand-me-down, or homemade gifts to parade through like pint-sized kings every birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. And besides, buying my friend magazines and candy by the bucketful was way more fun than spending my chore money on yet another Now That’s What I Call Music CD.
Thus, the gift-giving fever took hold and replicated throughout my genetic makeup over the next thirteen years, culminating in last Christmas’s ardent desire to make everyone personally-tailored gift baskets (or gift crates and gift ice buckets in some cases). The overzealous process of analyzing each of my loved ones’ personalities, brainstorming potential gifts, imagining up different themes and titles, and then organizing the baskets themselves proved to be so fun I don’t know why I haven’t started seriously considering a career as a professional basket case.
I know this passion (or outright obsession) is a little eccentric and I know I have to warn newcomers to my close circle about the overbearing nature of my gifting, lest they abandon our friendship or break up with me out of shock (because yes, I can count myself among the very few people on this planet who’ve been dumped solely for excessive gifting). But I assure those of you who are coughing “CRAZY” into your hands, I garner sincere pleasure from the chance to plan a gift for someone I care about, and when I have enough money, the right artistic tools for the task, and time aplenty to make everything just right, manifesting the present I’d long visualized is sheer bliss.
That is, when everything goes right.
To foster such a manic love for crafting or comprising pre-envisioned presents means that the collapse of said plans produces equally strong emotions… in the opposite direction. If anyone was ever to accuse me of bipolar disorder, the accusation would absolutely arise from a Christmas in which most of my loved one’s gifts are executed to a T, but one gift goes horribly wrong. Then all that built up excitement and anticipation I’d been harboring for the gift’s completion storms out as irate despair: a great surging, catastrophic, gift-mania flood that only my sister–or Emily’s External Conscience–has ever had to witness. Fortunately for the sake of my sister and my future risk of stroke, my insane gift-giving schemes don’t often backfire to such calamitous proportions, and if anything goes wrong at all, I’m usually just left to sour internal-monologuing about how I wish I could have afforded a nicer piece of jewelry, or how I wish I’d had more time to make that painting look more professional, or how I really wish I hadn’t developed irreversible writer’s block just before finishing that book seven years in the making that was intended as a giant, surprise anniversary present.
In recent years, however, I’ve added someone to my heart’s Excel sheet of loved ones that God, Allah, and that sneaky, scheming Buddha seem intent on sheltering from my voracious attempts at gift-giving. And that person would be my boyfriend.
When you have a significant other and a major, albeit strange, facet of your personality is a life-fulfilling addiction to assembling gifts, the world suddenly embraces you in a haze of polychromatic zeal. Not only do you suddenly have more holidays for which to indulge in the joy of gifting (such as that day devoted to love that you previously spent commiserating with the first half of Bridget Jones’ Diary or the anniversary that you’re not sure whether to attribute to the first date or the first proclamation of, “What the hell, let’s throw caution to the wind and make this official even though you’re graduating from college and leaving in a month!”), but you also have the opportunity to make any old day a gift-giving day because he dotes on you so much that mere holiday gifting could hardly suffice. Thus, as anyone with a knack for algebraic algorithm could tell you, significant other + gift-giving psychosis = absolute, unadulterated euphoria.
Unless of course, you factor in unforeseen variables that hinder or outright sabotage almost every gift you’ve ever tried to give that special someone. Then absolute, unadulterated euphoria tends to be equal or lesser to sheer panic.
To exemplify this mathematical anomaly, let’s examine the evidence. The first birthday present I ever tried to give my boyfriend should have been thwarted by the hurdles of that summer’s time-consuming 16 hour work days, limited space for artistic production, and the 2,761 miles that separated Oregon from Maryland, but miraculously the whole thing came together, arrived on time, and resulted in perfect orchestration. Until I realized that after just four months of dating, I hadn’t yet warned him that I’m a nutty fanatic prone to over-gifting, and had to suffer the consequences of my omission.
After surfacing from that debacle, I was determined to get things right five months later when Christmas rolled around. My first gift, a week-long trip to his family’s beautiful home in Maryland, was set in motion without a hitch. I reserved my plane ticket well in advance, bought a myriad of warm clothes befitting an actual white Christmas (not that unreliable Portland, Oregon shit), put in my two week’s notice a month in advance, and even booked a seat on my vehicular arch nemesis–a Greyhound bus–because the fifteen hour drive from Baltimore to Savannah would be an hour quicker than the three airport layovers that for some godawful reason decelerated what should have been a two hour flight. Ultimately, the planning was impeccable and I was so excited that the bank account I usually had to empty into my private college’s pocketbook miraculously had the quan to fund my cross-country reunion. This gift was perfect.
Until a friend’s birthday trip to Las Vegas gave me a dose of the flu to rival the scale of New York, New York, and the successive, germ-riddled flights from Vegas to Portland and Portland to Baltimore (first flight I’ve ever puked on!) only aggravated my condition, ensuring a good three weeks of fevered incapacitation. I still pity the unsuspecting Marylanders whose Christmas was sieged upon by my Vegas disease like the boa constrictor’s invasive and carnivorous take-over of Florida.
But even if the biological warfare raging in my lymphatic system dared mar my boyfriend’s Christmas, at least there was the physical gift I’d purchased online a month prior. The physical gift that, come to think of it, hadn’t arrived in the mail in time for my departure to Maryland… In fact, no matter how much I heckled the seller, my purchase didn’t arrive at my Portland address until March, when I was well entrenched in a heap-load of college torture in the city of Savannah. Despite my wonderful boyfriend’s unyielding capacity for forgiveness, I was ready to crumple up Official Gift No. 2 and toss it in the dumpster where failed attempts at happy memories go to die for being both the most contagious and latest Christmas gift it had ever been my mortification to bestow.
Now Nutty Gifting Lady (less-famous cousin of Crazy Cat Lady) was really reeling to get things right. But the curse that catalyzes hyperbolic old wives’ tales had officially set in. “Gift yer man wrong once, shame on ye. Gift yer man wrong twice, shame on he for not tossin’ yer virus-plagued body out into the white Christmas ye ruined. Gift yer man wrong thrice, and it’s gift-giving limbo ye’ve sentenced yerself to fer life, me dearie… Cookie?”
After a one-year anniversary gift I’d assumed wouldn’t count in old wives’ ledgers for having gone only slightly awry (arriving in shambles after the United States Postal Service forgot about that “FRAGILE” stamp I’d requested), it seemed certain: I was cursed to flub my man’s gifts for the rest of eternity. Hence it came as no surprise when the next gift I purchased was charged to my card three times, succeeding my bank account and causing me to reevaluate my choice. Fortunately, the original idea I’d forgone due to sold out tickets suddenly opened up when scalpers began pawning off seats to The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival featuring Dave Chappelle and Flight of the Conchords. Hadn’t we been re-watching Flight of the Conchords and obsessing over Jemaine and Bret all summer? And didn’t we love comedy!? AND WERE WE NOT ODD AS HELL!!!???
It all seemed too good to be true. Far too good to be true considering my nightmarish track record when it came to doting on my boyfriend. Thus, as the summer wound down and the date of the festival approached, I jealously guarded those tickets with my life, terrified that at any moment they might blow out the window or spontaneously combust, and absolutely petrified by the thought that my scalper tickets were fake and we’d be denied entry after three months of whooping and whinnying in excited anticipation. That would be the cherry on top of my attempted gift-gifting travesty, and it’s certain I’d shrivel up and die of loss of identity right then and there at an irritable security guard’s feet.
Looking back on it now, I really can’t believe that The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival didn’t explode under the weight of all the old wives’ points I’d racked up for being such a gifting failure. But I guess they’d decided to let me off easy for a change, and the only thing that was truly lamentable about the whole shebang was the abominable bubble font I added to the card.
Fortunately for the more malicious members of the Universal Fate Association (which in this blog entry seems to have witnessed a merger between superstitious wives and a couple vengeful deities), their contracts must have contained only one Let Her Off the Hook clause, and this past Christmas they obviously relished the chance to get back to their scheming.
À la the aforementioned Yuletide Gift Basket Extravaganza, I spent December running around Portland in search of an array of man-things for my boyfriend (tools, Irish whiskey, 2 liter flasks, the likes). The centerpiece of this man-thing assortment was to be a vintage drinking horn that I’d committed to memory months prior when my boyfriend glanced at it and compulsively said, “I want that,” perhaps because it’s Celtic accoutrements appealed to our collectively fervent pride in our Irish ancestry or perhaps because my boyfriend harbors a secret affinity for those Celt-murdering vikings. Either way, so began the drinking horn debacle that’s aptly summed up by a review Amazon repeatedly refused to post until I whittled it down to two measly, inadequate sentences:
I suppose the entire drinking horn fiasco is a lesson never to trust any business that goes by the title The Man Cave (aren’t man caves the dens men retreat to to actively avoid work?). But beyond the opposing concepts of business and men at rest, this experience and the shit storm of unsuccessful gift-givings past has taught me a larger lesson. In the realm of obsessive-compulsions, it’s important to actively practice letting things go astray. While frenetic in its overbearing nature, my gifting isn’t at the top of my obsessive-compulsions list, and as such, I should use its occasional divergence from The Plan as an opportunity to learn to readjust and not set such avid stock in the fate of material presents. After all, gifts are fleeting: physical objects get lost, break, pass from owner to owner, get shelved, and eventually lose their significance, and Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festivals only last one glorious day. So instead of melting into a melodramatic puddle that my sister has to mop into a dustbin every time one of my big present schemes goes amiss, I should work on my ability to ignore imperfection, to learn from and harness the outcomes of mistakes, and to ultimately accept failure, thereby making my relaxation, flexibility, and optimism one of the best and longest-lasting gifts I could possibly give those closest to my heart.
Every once in a while, a moving asseveration comes barreling your way through the routines of diurnal life. In my case, yesterday’s unexpectedly stirring experience resulted from a long chain of quotidian events. Forgoing my usual desire to remain bedridden until 10 a.m., it all began with a sudden spurt of productivity at 7:30 in the morning. Hopping out of bed with a vigor my body hasn’t demonstrated since Saint Nick still existed, I got right down to business and washed the sand-steeped vestments that comprised my suitcase while vacationing at Newport beach, entered a juried gallery exhibition on the subject of portraiture, conducted an array of business calls that my indolent-self would have delayed, safeguarded my bank accounts against the Target hacking fiasco, rendezvoused at the grocery store, and ventured to Victoria’s Secret to exchange a blind pity buy I’d made after receiving word that Steve Job’s infantry of Geniuses couldn’t salvage my fried laptop. Because my newfound productivity was so potent, I then decided to take up my neglected hobby of drawing for the first time since completing a festively gruesome Christmas gift that parodied The Walking Dead. Avid illustration led to a late night of BBC mysteries, and watching Mark Williams of Mr. Weasley fame merge Catholic priesthood with amateur sleuthing soon segued into one of OPB’s film critic programs. Thus, at the very end of my long day, it was this adventitious sequence of causality that ultimately introduced me to The Spectacular Now.
I had never heard of The Spectacular Now before, but with my detachment from zeitgeist culture that hardly comes as a surprise. After conducting some curiosity-fueled research and interrogating my movie database boyfriend, I learned that the film’s reception had deemed it “a slightly better than average coming-of-age film.” This response, coupled with the OPB critics’ repeated comparisons to The Way Way Back (a story that only cultivated grins and furrowed brows as it strove for profoundness), made me question whether The Spectacular Now was actually worthwhile. But when restlessness prompted me to watch it at 2 a.m., I was pleasantly surprised by a genuinely resonant narrative: one of those rare, arresting movie experiences that we’re lucky to encounter in a film era where unoriginality runs rampant amidst an endless procession of sequels and remakes.
As its average reception suggests, The Spectacular Now isn’t for everybody, and anyone whose stomach turns at the thought of teenage insecurities, judgment calls, and hormones would be wise to avoid this film. Considering my personal retrospection on the roller coaster that commences at thirteen and keeps you dipping and diving until you’re twenty, I regarded The Spectacular Now as one of the most honest film depictions of teenage sentiment I’ve seen to date, and was very grateful that someone finally endeavored to do it right.
The film starts out in typical teen-flick fashion à la She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You. Our protagonist Sutter Keely serves as both a party animal and wounded recipient of a recent break-up, two stereotypes that pervade the coming-of-age genre for their existing veracity. As the diegesis advances, Sutter’s preoccupation with his ex is gradually sidelined by an interest in his humble classmate Aimee Finecky. While the OPB critics dubbed Aimee “the quiet girl,” I would argue that the original author and screen adapter devised a character refreshingly atypical of Hollywood’s teenage pigeonholes. From my perspective, Aimee straddled the archetypal barrier between solitary academia and the whim to experience new phenomena, just as a real teenager exhibits contradictory mannerisms. Not to mention, it was nice to see a character who laughed her way through her dialogue just as persistently as I laughed my way through my entire institutionalized education. Once Sutter and Aimee’s courtship comes to fruition, the film turns to examine another relationship, that of our main character and his absentee father. Subsequently, we witness an estranged 18-year-old become increasingly entrenched in the pathos of inherited alcoholism, subject his relationships to an utter disdain for the future, and ultimately face the crux of how to approach the “now.”
The plot is no revolutionary tour de force by any stretch of the imagination, but the way in which the filmmakers divulge this prosaic concept is immensely effective. The critics discussing the film remarked that cinematic analyses of teenage experience are becoming more frank and relatable, citing The Perks of Being a Wallflower as an exemplary character study. In my opinion, The Spectacular Now takes human verisimilitude to a whole new level by evading the flawlessness coveted in celebrities like Logan Lerman and Emma Watson and instead presenting a cast that looks so natural you might as well be watching a documentary. The last time I was this impressed by the film industry’s stab at reality was when the latest Star Trek franchise allowed Chris Pine’s pockmarked complexion to fill screens in high definition. But even then they had Pine’s pre-established sex appeal to justify such tight cinematography. In The Spectacular Now, makeup was mostly foregone in surrender to the Georgia heat that would have melted it off, and in an uncommon scenario, we’re free to scrutinize scars, pores, double chins, and ultimately the unique beauty of real human visages.
It is this visual candor and the equally credible performances by the film’s principal actors Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley that result in a tangible, recollective look at youth. It’s a shame that my first exposure to Woodley was the trailer for Divergent, in which we’re expected to believe that this unthreateningly skinny girl could aid an ass-kicking insurgent squad while decked out in false eyelashes and thick slabs of concealer befitting children’s beauty pageants and the aging Southern belles who “jog” Forsyth park in hot pink sweatsuits and teased up-dos. If my familiarity with The Spectacular Now had preceded said trailer, I could have saved myself some initial cynicism, revering Woodley as a thoroughly endearing actress whose conjunction with Teller’s charisma yields palpable on-screen chemistry.
Fortunately for those of us with flighty attention spans, this is not your typical Mandy Moore and Shane West love story. True to its sense of authenticity, Sutter’s newfound feelings for Aimee don’t drastically alter his character, and their relationship is periodically marred by an ongoing reverence for his former girlfriend and the assertive asides he makes to a buddy that he’s “just giving this girl a first boyfriend experience.” Where Aimee’s concerned, it broke my heart to watch her fall victim to the rapid stages of First Serious Boyfriend Syndrome, an ailment that can be very detrimental if the first serious boyfriend is emotionally unavailable, infatuated with a previous girlfriend, and prone to abusive behaviors inherited by no fault of his own, all of which define my first serious relationship to a T and serve as further evidence of this film’s cathartic impact.
Examining The Spectacular Now from a critical perspective, there were a few sensationalistic scenes that took me out of the otherwise pragmatic depiction of adolescence. And don’t worry parents, not all senior girls who become helplessly besotted with the school’s resident Bacchus start taking casual swigs from engraved flasks. I also have to admit that some of the dialogue was a bit trite, but overall these clichés reinforce the fact that the characters are in the awkward throes of high school, a period where mentally engaging conversation is few and far in between. Despite this minor limitation, every moment of teenage discomfort, joviality, and sorrow is illustrated perfectly, reinforcing the fact that high school truly is a lodestone for insecurities, superficial behaviors, and the drive to find your personal definition amidst a throng of amorphous identities. Comparably, my own high school experience was riddled with self-centered ephemera and laughably awkward anecdotes, such as the many times I was seated behind one of my boyfriends in Advanced Algebra II and found myself repulsed by the fact that his hands looked like rubber whenever they lay motionless on the desk before him. Or the way I consistently vacillated between extremely loud, obnoxious tomfoolery and respectfully silent and diligent studiousness. I even used to pour serious effort into keeping my eyes wide open at all times to reap compliments about how attractively large my peepers were, and can clearly remember the day I opened my eyelids to their natural resting position and thought to myself, “Why does this feel strangely comfortable?” Lastly, I would be remiss to exclude the hilarious occasion on which I finally succeeded in ensnaring a crush of many months by taking him on a date in my dad’s wholly unsexy Astro Van.
The fact that The Spectacular Now transported me back to the emotions of youth and evoked so many parallel memories speaks to its powerful effectiveness. In striving for an organic ambience, this film melds the universally visceral experience of growing up and harboring raw feelings for others with a very personal story about the perceived absence of love. Not only does the visible heat of the Georgia landscape appeal to my personal ideologue of living in Savannah, but the many dimensions the filmmakers have imbued in their characters allow you to identify with, or become engrossed in, or harbor sympathy for the candid nature of human experience. It’s not often that I see myself, my former boyfriends, and my high school cohort reflected so frankly through the frames of a film, but thanks to the detailed attention paid to actuality, The Spectacular Now proved to be quite the sincere and poignant mirror.
Of all the rites of passage young people undergo in pursuit of the adulthood they’ll regret upon actual achievement, there might be none more universal than the young attempt to create a band. Almost everyone I know harbored dreams of musical grandeur at some point in their lives, be it in the form of a Josie and the Pussycats tribute band, a clarinet quartet, or a Guitar Hero cop out. Having come from a city that could second as an indie pop production line, I’ve borne witness to band aspirations that actually attain liminal success, from ex-boyfriend’s acoustic albums and official ticket-selling concerts to reviews about former classmates’ bands in Teen Vogue, Elle, and Rolling Stone Magazine.
But beyond the unexpected success stories and the high school band kids who were–true to their pop culture pigeonhole–sexually active, many bands showed potential as talented collaborations or conceptual tycoons, recorded one hit, and dissipated into the recesses of adolescent nostalgia before any substance abuse or Courtney Love maladies could set in.
Personally, I was baited by four wannabe, guitar-toting ensembles, two of which needed lead vocals on cover songs, one of which headlined as “Il Punto G” and served as a mockumentary college band more interested in costumed music videos than music itself, and the last of which was the brainchild of two friends in need of a memorable final project for a Religion and Philosophy course taught by a taller, more sardonic J.K. Simmons.
I don’t even know if the first band had a name, but it featured a gaggle of girls who’d finagled their way around a couple guitars, bass, and a tambourine, and recruited me to produce the verbose and unfamiliar lyrics of a song that served as their mantra: Death Cab for Cutie’s “Title and Registration.” Needless to say, the fledgling band suffered a Guns N’ Roses fallout almost as soon as I failed to match Ben Gibbard’s timbre and several members went on to produce actual albums with one of the aforementioned exes. Fortunately, while one or two of them may have looked like Axl Rose in his effeminate heyday, nobody grew up to look like the 51 year old comeback.
The later bands emerged almost in unison, one out of academic necessity and the other, the infamous Nostril Hair Band, out of covetousness of the first. Nostril Hair’s sole attempted claim to fame was a cover of Fastball’s “The Way,” but despite the meager track listing, promotional materials flourished as obligatory mustaches were donned, younger sisters were employed as models, and photo shoots were conducted to market a one-hit-wonder band that never properly recorded their one hit.
Thus, the only band that ever produced anything beyond some memorable, androgynous photography was Shirt & Velociraptor, a band consisting of two girls, one guitar, one synthesizer, one father’s recording setup, and a mission to encapsulate the philosophical notion of “utopia” in harmoniously comedic balladry. While titular photo shoots were dreamt up, the hassle of achieving velociraptor makeup resulted in a band whose legacy spanned a one-track audio cassette, one promotional illustration, and a cover photo shot amidst the dystopian remnants of one member’s burnt-down vacation home. Ironically enough, that lone song has garnered some pretty positive feedback from today’s hipster-manic populace.
While viral YouTube glory may not have been in the cards for any of those bands, music was certainly an organic part of my existence in those days. As if trilling away the hours in classical voice lessons wasn’t enough, I was an avid composer, crafting 18 songs to lyrical and instrumental fruition and numerous more that remained confined to the pages of various college-ruled journals. With a songbook that featured satirical numbers and full on narratives that were at once part B-52’s, part Sting, part Portishead, part Third Eye Blind, part Renée Fleming, and part Björk, my synthesizer and I were shaping up to be great composers bored to death by the hackneyed pop star hits we were bound to draft for the rest of our lives. But when the writer’s block epidemic of 2006 hit, gone was my burgeoning talent for amalgamating poetry and a perfect pitch.
It’s a shame that a songwriter’s last smidgeon of creativity was spent on a track entitled “Gojira Girl” just as positive feedback and offers for instrumental accompaniment began flowing in, and it’s an even greater shame that a band with a moniker like Shirt & Velociraptor could extinguish so quickly after finally mastering a basic TASCAM recording device. Thank goodness midlife crises and the elderly cover band phenomenon offer second comings to adolescent hopefuls keen on perking ears with the untapped talent we all swear to.
For someone who still hasn’t learned how to cope well with change, even after uprooting and inhabiting fourteen different homes in my lifetime, I sure do revel in the drastic changes produced by a much-needed, thorough house cleaning. It’s the kind of cleaning that requires a reserved schedule, an extra large bottle of 409, and a hefty playlist that won’t run out on you when you’re elbow deep in dust bunnies that makes my heart sing. But as a life long neat-freak whose only recently learned how to turn a blind eye to a little disorganization, the mess that precludes a therapeutic cleaning session sets my teeth on edge. Thus, fate must have had a hankering for a hearty bowl of irony when it made certain that some of the people I love most would come equipped with a blatant irreverence for cleanliness.
Besides the sanitary nirvanas I established in my private bedrooms at my grandma’s house, my mom’s old condo, and all three of my college dorms, I spent my entire life wading through my sister’s ever-amassing mess–just a handy byproduct of the money two bedroom apartments can save a parent. Sharing a room with a sibling can be a very beneficial experience as far as interpersonal development is concerned, but when a sibling’s disdain for clothes hangers, trashcans, and any semblance of organization begins to extend to your territory, sharing a room can become a massive source of contention. Thus, I thank God for the zen retreat college offered before I suffered a filth-induced break down and threw away my sister’s excessive sombrero collection for good.
Little did I know, my privacy-affirming stint amidst college recuperation would introduce me to another best friend with the same lifelong affinity for interior chaos: my boyfriend. Hanging out at his house in Savannah (the canvas of his hardwood floors awash with an abstract expressionistic collage of stuff) was perfectly fine in the beginning. I was in the giddy throes of a new relationship and therefore could overlook the daily hassle of tiptoeing around half-empty and cap-less Gatorade bottles, heaps of clothes supposedly arranged according to memorized cleanliness, and antiquated pizza boxes that you couldn’t get me to open even if you blindfolded me and told me you had a surprise from Nordstrom.
Today, over a year later and with a different locale’s palm trees comprising the vista from our windows, things have changed a bit. With the adrenaline of giddiness replaced by the comfort of familiarity, it’s harder to ignore the causal relationship between an orderly environment and a sense of internal stability, and therefore some serious cleaning was in order. But I went about it with extreme trepidation. Pop culture and personal experience have long demonstrated that you should never attempt to change the habits of a man lest you’re in the market for a short relationship, and even more critically, you should never attempt to change the habits of a disorganized person, lest you wish the heaps of wrath to triple out of spite. But having respected these taboo philosophies for years, I can’t help but pose the question: how do two people whose lifestyles differ so drastically in the cleanliness department make a homestead merger work? When both sides of a partnership need very different environments to feel comfortable in their home, is there any feasible solution?
In my experience, the hoarder always wins. Just like the female weight gain plight, creating a mess is much easier than cleaning one up, and therefore we neat-freaks generally surrender before the losing battle’s begun. What’s the point of procuring immaculate cleanliness if the other party will drop their jacket, keys, lunch leftovers, and receipts on the floor the minute they return home? In some memorable situations, I was even chastised for cleaning my sister’s side of the room because it imposed upon her methodologies and added stress to her leisurely lifestyle. Inversely, no one was reprimanded when her belongings began crossing the imaginary barrier that separated our space, seeking refuge in the wide open spaces that I strained to preserve.
When it comes to cleaning your boyfriend’s house, that’s an even bigger taboo. While your sister will presumably always love you no matter how many times you threaten to donate the stuffed animals she crammed under your bed and neglected for years, your boyfriend has the privilege of opting out of the partnership whenever he chooses–especially if the messiness you just vacuumed away and took out with the morning trash made him feel comfortable in his domain.
But at least my loved ones know I’m not a completely heartless tyrant when it comes to the devoid lifestyle I lead. Despite the hoarding genetics I come from, I’ve always been one to throw out unnecessary belongings, a trait my mom employs whenever she needs an insensate outsider to clean her studio. When I prepared to move back to the west coast upon college graduation, however, it was a different story. I didn’t possess much in Savannah, but what I did own I’d accrued over four years and looked to as a source of comfort when homesickness struck or when I needed a reminder of the strong, independent woman that had burgeoned out of my eastern isolation.
I had gifts from family and friends back home, household necessities that catered perfectly to my interior design palate, and emblems of my life as both a photographer in need of antique props and an outdoorsy adventurer who loved finding industrial remnants of bygone eras. When I made ready to leave my short-term home in Savannah, almost all of those possessions had to be thrown away, and what few belongings I could transport were scratched, torn, or completely destroyed by the Transportation Security Administration’s haphazard searches. While both my mental solace and nomadic lifestyle require a trove of few possessions, the Savannah exuviation was a difficult thing to undergo, and every now and then I still get remorseful pangs for that Detective Narratives anthology that I never finished, the heavy-weight tripod I had to part with, and the vintage BB gun that some happy little boy in the fifties probably shot at irate family members.
Via these experiences, I’ve learned a few life lessons when it comes to cleaning frenzies. In some situations, the space you have really isn’t as important as the memories emanating from the objects that fill it. Perhaps my sister kept all those excessive sombreros to remember the Chevy’s birthday parties that had yielded them. And for all I know, my boyfriend may very well stockpile memories in The Mess himself. So while he may disapprove of my sudden need to regain household solace when he arrives home and bears witness to the carpet for the first time in months, he can rest assured that nothing was thrown away beyond half-empty Gatorade bottles, indeterminate wrappers, and endless receipts.
A few years after enjoying the edgiest, most memorable high school Intro to Psychology course in the state of Oregon, I experienced International Baccalaureate Psychology, a class so dull it warrants no description beyond the obligatory kudos to Jesus for equipping me with the company of my friends Nyssa and Michael for vital commiseration. The entertaining pre-IB course was taught by the iconic Cliff Shaw, a man who sported a bald head, red goatee, gauges, and square glasses long before pop culture revived them, who figured effective curriculum entailed reenacting Milgram’s obedience and authority experiment with two voluntary students (to serve as “teacher” and “learner”) and a “shock machine.” While the whole thing turned out to be a ruse that only Shaw and the “learner” were in on, the shocked student’s acting was so Oscar-worthy we thought we were witnessing a lawsuit in the making, and ultimately proved as an entire class that authority overrules morality… or that everyone just wanted to see the class clown get shocked some more. With such a hard act to follow, it’d be a chore for any successive psychology course to garner favor, but IB didn’t even try. Taught by a recent college graduate who seemed to have no interest in either teaching or psychology, IB Psych was an experience that makes it difficult to decide whether my college psychology course, in which I learned nothing new beyond the rate at which your social life declines when assigned two quick-turn-around essays every week for three months, was really all that bad.
One interesting takeaway I can attribute to IB, however, occurred when a classmate discussed treatment of her obsessive-compulsive disorder which, if my memory serves me correctly, involved some sort of stick with multicolored stripes that she was instructed to methodically match with her hands. This oration hearkened back to the Intro course, in which a girl discussed her fixation with touching a certain spot on the wall prior to leaving her room each day, flipping light switches twice, and making sure her shoe laces maintained equal lengths on each side. If these things, among others, weren’t tended to on a regular basis, she would fall prey to panic.
Personally, I have never been formally tested for obsessive-compulsive disorder. My family is averse to doctors and abides by the “wait it out until it becomes dire” creed, demonstrated clearly the time I had pneumonia and desperately needed a prescription for an inhaler three months earlier. Despite the fact that I don’t have a distinctive chicken-scratch signature to officiate it, obsessive-compulsive disorder drives me with the same obviousness that plastic surgery drives Jocelyn “Cat Woman” Wildenstein.
Although Cat Woman’s obsessions clearly trump my own and she may be in dire need of a striped stick, listening to my psychology peers divulge their diagnosed OCD ticks provided an interesting comparison to my own symptoms, which were recurrent, daily necessities even without the professional signature of validity. For example, while living in the animal menagerie that comprised my mom’s old house, my nerves required that I check every single plate, bowl, cup, and utensil for pet hair before eating from it, and if someone served me up a dish without the mandatory inspection, I would literally become sick to my stomach and stare at the meal dismally, wondering how on earth I’d go about eating it without gagging on my neurotic suppositions. When I would write (which was constant habit both pre-IB Essay Onslaught and post), I would be impelled by some force of necessity to scratch things regardless of a nonexistent itch, resulting in scarification that made makeup application an exciting challenge. The contents of my room had to stay immaculately clean, everything had to occupy a permanent spot that it was always returned to, I always needed to push back my cuticles when I was nervous, and work always needed to be completed before I partook in anything else, including eating. If I didn’t perform these and numerous other compulsions with immediacy, they gnawed at my mind until I finally amended the hitch.
My symptoms have actually dissipated quite a bit with age, in part to a personal campaign I enacted a couple years ago, working to relieve myself of the more inhibitory compulsions and miraculously pulling it off. While time and sheer determination have worked wonders, there are some routines I still can’t shake. Everything in my life has to maintain a specific order, and while I no longer color-code my closet, making sure every garment faces the same direction, I still abide by a figurative grid. All my belongings have to be consistently organized in a relative pattern to one another, and if something becomes askew, it has to be fixed. Ovens and stove tops have to be checked twice before leaving the house, I have to sit in the exact same, silent spot to complete any written material, dishes have to be washed immediately after cooking and right before eating, and work has to be completed prior to leisure and meals, unless my willpower can sneak a banana past the obsessive-compulsive beast.
Recently, while enduring an internet crisis over the past couple days, something happened that almost deemed my Beat the Urge campaign moot. My boyfriend introduced me to a compulsion that’s entirely new to me: the drive to beat a game. While this unexpected competitive spirit would generally be ascribed to a spike in testosterone, I fear my fervor may be morphing into fixation before my LED-illuminated eyes. And the game of all things? Candy Crush, an iPhone app I had to commandeer my boyfriend’s iPad to play, and play I have been.
I was never one for dwindling away the hours in front of a game console or plodding away on a cell phone to navigate a centipede through a labyrinth. My dad bought us an X-Box back in middle school and we played Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Jet Set Radio for a couple months before basilisks and gun-wielding cops on the hunt for pesky rollerskating taggers gave me too many heart palpitations and retired the X-Box to DVD duty. Video games further deterred me upon returning home from my first quarter of college to discover my current boyfriend had been inducted into the Call of Duty fetish, morphing him from a peaceful musician into a Gollum-eyed drone, controller permanently at hand to shoot the enemy and attention fixated on the screen no matter how many times you walked naked in front of it.
But that was before the Candy Crush craze. Presented in the whimsical colors of a four-year-old’s wardrobe, Candy Crush is a sugary sweet game with aesthetics not unlike Sugar Rush of Wreck It Ralph fame–sans any large-headed, speed-demon children. In a vein akin to Tetris, Candy Crush is all about aligning like candies in groups of three to complete various tasks, such as clearing away a horde of whipped cream-cover jellies and earning yourself 40,000 points in 60 seconds to save Lemonade Lake from drying up. With so many challenging puzzles and the allure of 440 levels featuring hotspots like the aforementioned yellow puddle, it’s no wonder the game is addictive. Between sketching featured images for the blog and completing a retouching project on my end and covering a script on his, my boyfriend and I spent almost 24 hours a piece trying to beat the onerous level 23, and when I finally did I almost shrieked as loud as thirteen-year-old Emily when she received the movie Holes for her birthday.
Where Candy Crush gets vicious, however, is in it’s ability to lure you in with a guise of varicolored innocence and then capitalize off your obsessive-compulsiveness by making the latter levels all about sheer luck. I felt sure I’d finally weened myself off of it when level 33 produced the revelation that a game was causing me frustration rather than quintessential enjoyment, but the next morning I found my fingers seeking out the iPad they’d previously tossed aside as if acting on their own volition. Perhaps I’ll get lucky, compulsiveness tells me, but logic asserts that it’s time to reenact Operation Quell the Hankering and crush this competitive aggression (that my racquetball coaches always wished I’d display) into a million candy-coated shards.
When two people who love each other fight, it’s one of the most piffling spectacles around. Testosterone prevails, prompting inner gorillas to puff out their chests, and nerves are frayed, making it hard to understand what the argument’s even about through all the Jimmy Stewart stammering. Teeth grit as the couple tries to refrain from making statements they can’t rescind and ultimately, if the pair is still smitten when the blows begin to cease, somebody caves and they’re left wondering what the last hour and a half was worth.
When two people who don’t love each other anymore fight, however, it’s an entirely different can of beans. Especially if one party is plagued by bipolar disorder and the other is ultra-hypersensitive.
There was a time in my childhood when I regularly beheld the savage evidence that love was fleeing my household in increments, and as a result I pledge to the Tao of Separation when I say that sometimes divorce is a wonderful thing.
But at the age of thirteen, years after the screaming tournaments had dissipated, peace had become commonplace, and my parents were well adjusted to their separate lives, homes, and dating arenas, my father mistook my disapproval of his new girlfriend for resurfacing divorce pangs, and my younger sister and I were sent off to divorce camp.
Feeling the resentment Hansel and Gretel must have felt when their woodcutter father listened to his second wife and sent them packing, I was furious about the arrangement. After all, I was in the prime of the raging preteens (a likely cause of the aversion to the new lady friend, but with Dad’s concurrence after their break up, I still maintain that she was neurotic). In those dark ages I was teeming with the only year-long hellishness my parents would ever have to endure from their children, and chartered the histrionic teenage slogan “everything’s unjust.” Attending night classes at a nearby high school for counseling on a bygone facet of life that I’d been rejoicing for years certainly fell into the “unjust” category. I’m not positive what my sister thought about the whole ordeal (she was still in the stage of indifferent agreement, probably to avoid my preteen wrath), but she trudged into Westview High School’s empty, after-hours hallways with me just the same: going up against my intimidatingly muscular father and his obduracy was not an option.
I don’t remember how long divorce camp lasted each night or how many times we attended it. In fact, I don’t remember much of divorce camp at all, as if self-induced amnesia wiped my adolescent slate clean. That, or I just wasn’t paying any attention. But while the course curriculum and the face of our male counselor slip my mind, I remember the atmosphere with clarity. Divorce camp is a sorrowful place, attended by kids who probably resisted their parents’ decisions to partake with the same obstinacy I displayed but who probably needed a compassionate guide to lead them out of the throes of misunderstanding. By surveying the circle that my sister and I had become a part of, it was apparent that all the children in attendance, including one of the popular girls from my own school district who I was startled to recognize, were conflicted about the ordeal their parents had brought upon them, and while my sister and I sat through the lessons with apathy clear on our faces, it was humbling to witness the effects divorce has on a child when it’s dealt with incautiously.
Even though they wear the red badge of divorce, my parents are exceptionally gifted at the job they ushered into their lives when I was born. They certainly weren’t one of those calendar-counting couples, eager to have kids since they played “house” in their juvenescence (like… eh hem… me), but they arose to the task of nurturing and educating their children with such a natural finesse that besides the year of frenetic hormones, my sister and have always been confident, good-natured individuals with unyielding love for the people who raised us. It was with this same open-dialogue and compassion my parents always administered that they went about familiarizing us with the end of their marital union, and because of their attention to detail, I’ve never been able to relate to the children who blame themselves for their parents separation. For me, divorce was a welcome relief. Sure, it meant moving back and forth between parents every two weeks for the next nine years, enormous laundry basket and textbook-filled backpack bursting at the seams in tow, but that only produced incredibly efficient packing skills.
Still and all, observing the despondent faces of my fellow counseling detainees, under bright, interrogational fluorescents no less, revealed to my kid-self that divorce is very often not such a clean affair, and there are bound to be emotional casualties beyond those of the legal settlement parties.
So I suppose the moral of this disquisition goes something like this: should you have kids now, or should you acquire them somewhere along the line (either unexpectedly or pre-planned since a matronly childhood), try to maintain an honest discourse with them–and not just about life-altering issues like divorce, but about all facets of life. They may be small and naturally incur your irrepressible baby-talk in the early years, but having been a small, tow-headed child at one point, I clearly remember that even little kids can absorb new information if you take the time to teach them. Besides, if an open relationship means saving your kids from belittling experiences like the extraneous divorce camp your neurotic girlfriend recommends, then why wouldn’t you engage in a little confab with your baby-kin every now and then?