Tagged: College

To Maman, With Love

To Maman With Love

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.

Maman Catrina

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Hungry Like the Digitally Domesticated Wolf

Hungry Like the Digitally Domesticated Wolf

I live in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, capital of progression in entertainment. As such, I don’t know if I could possibly be more saturated in a trend that future decades may well identify as the zeitgeist of our era. In the way that the 80s are stereotypically characterized by teased hair and overzealous synthesizers and the 20s are remembered for board-thin flappers and sexual revolution, I think our period might be historically defined by the beginnings of the technological takeover George Orwell prophesied. Only rather than relying on technology for every facet of both survival and comfortable living (as science fiction likes to predict) our era seems to utilize the majority of our technological strides for the very concept that makes my current hometown a tourist Mecca: entertainment.

In this day and age, we spend so much time sapping entertainment from our televisions, computers, and cell phones (more aptly known as “cellular devices” due to the increasing antiquity of actual phone calls), that it makes the deeply repressed wild child in me sick beyond Pepto-Bismol relief. So much so that I resorted to college-ruled paper for the crafting of this entry, just to spare my eyes the LED glare of my laptop as long as possible.

When I was a child, long before the invention of Smartphones, Rokus, iPads, and Netflix, I technically had far less access to information. In order to garner new knowledge via the answers to numerous queries, people and books already possessing said wisdom had to be sought out–and this process of learning could take far longer than tapping into your Wi-Fi and posting a thread on Yahoo Answers. But despite the hefty girth of old school dictionaries and the time it took to navigate them, the pre-MP3 world I was brought into was far more wondrous. For entertainment, we looked to nature to provide us with sand to sculpt, rocks to climb, mud to throw, trails to explore, and water to paddle. We looked to our toy box for blueprint-less Lego castles to build, Barbies to direct in plays, and whole worlds to fabricate from disparate pieces. We looked to our friends and relatives for tag between the cherry trees, trampoline acrobatics, and lava monster on the stairwells. And in the pursuit of new knowledge, where wise people and books were scant, personal experimentation in pursuit of an answer thrived. In all, it was a time when imagination and the endless joy you could glean from it ran rampant.

Now I’m not saying the child of my youth doesn’t exist anymore. Trying my hand at teaching elementary and middle school art for several years has proven that there exist many amongst the post-millennium babies who still get a kick out of seed-spitting contests, capture the flag, and playing the time-resistant “house.” But my observations have also yielded a great number of children taking cues from the modern adult: riveted with their iPhones, Angry Birds, Facebook, PSPs, and cable television. Sedentary hobbies that I fear may continue to escalate in child popularity.

Frankly though, I’m one to talk. My sister and I may as well have ushered in the child cell phone craze when at ages 9 and 11 we were envied by our peers as the only two children in school to possess brick-sized, antennae-toting Nokia 5110s. The year was 2001, Snake was one of the few 8-bit games a cellular device could support, and cell phones were still such an up-and-coming phenomenon that instead of confiscating mine when it went off in class one day, my fifth grade teacher merely laughed. But even as early prototypes of elementary school cellonistas, my sister and I only had them as safety precautions for the long, unsupervised walks home from school, not as idle distractions. And when cell phones began to proliferate throughout school systems by the eighth grade, my dad decided our exponential texting warranted the cancellation of our family plan, an act that may have deemed us social pariahs throughout high school, but ultimately did us and our eyesight a world of good.

Nine years later, sitting in a Hollywood apartment with my laptop blinking at me sleepily from the bed, my Smartphone sedate on the table, and my image reflected back at me on my boyfriend’s flatscreen TV, the thought of pre-adolescent children fixating on their digital devices with the same vim the characters of Her demonstrated with their Operating Systems is a frightening notion. I’m 23 years old, living in the age that witnessed the birth and demise of CDs, DVDs, and Blackberries; an age in which the rapidity of technological advancement grants our lifestyles increasing facility on an annual basis. And yet rather than celebrating the ease with which I can archive my music or send my sister messages via satellite, all I really yearn to do right now is ditch the muffled television conversations that eek through every Hollywood wall, throw my phone and its tempting crossword puzzles to the wayside, bid adieu to the computer that served as my life support and safe haven throughout college, and take up residence in a remote, mountain-ringed field somewhere.

For as an active participant in the age of intensifying technological reliance and reproduction, it’s nerve-wracking enough pondering ways to go about shielding my future children from the comparably substandard Harry Potter films long enough for them to read the books. With this and similar obstacles amassing by the day, it’ll be a wonder if I can convince these pending Moon babies that racing you to the other side, climbing to the highest peak, and letting your imagination run away with you provides entertainment that simply can’t be found by poring over an iPhone.

Mademoiselle Needle’s École du Smokescreens

Sharon Needles

SyFy’s Face Off is the second reality TV competition I’ve ever exhibited real interest in (the first being a bewigged, tucked, six-inch-heel race to a rhinestone tiara), and thanks to my mom’s testimonial, my boyfriend and I started watching it in October and finished all five seasons in the time it takes Halloween candy to be forgotten in an over-abundant closet.

Akin to my confessions in several previous blog entries, there’s always been something incredibly alluring about the ability to transform oneself into another entity: to step inside both the psychology and physicality of someone else. And without the funds for those elusively reputable plastic surgeons or the gall to allow a Romani medium and her phantasmic constituents to possess you for the price of a green Ulysses S. Grant etching, makeup is the perfect vehicle for accomplishing said feat. With malleable facial features ripe for the morphing, makeup fanaticism came to me with the same gusto that impelled Claude Cahun to don a guise of androgyny, Martha Wilson to emulate the squinty, grey visage of Bill Clinton, and Leigh Bowery to manifest nightmarish acid trips in human form. Despite my odd childhood disinterest in the adult makeup my four-year-old sister idolized, once puberty hit my cocooned metamorphosis produced not a fully actualized butterfly but a chameleonic canvas upon which I would spend eleven years imagining an array of guises, utilizing this pliant mug of mine to artistic advantage.

Without any formal cosmetic training or a kit that exceeded thirty dollars, pounds of acrylic paint, wood shavings, and chip brush bristles were expended before I discovered nirvana in the form of a class description my freshman year of college. The heaven-sent Introduction to Makeup Design was a course harbored away in the production design department whose only prerequisite was the monk-like patience necessary to nab a spot on its coveted roster. Finally, after three years of waiting, becoming hopelessly smitten with RuPaul’s Drag Race one fateful all-nighter with my life-altering friend Erica, and discovering relentless idolatry in the form of Sharon Needles, I was admitted into Makeup Design my last quarter senior year. As if that turn of events wasn’t enough to make me click my heels in euphoria, happenstance scheduling conflicts enabled my Bajan bestie Logan to join the vanity mirrored mix, resulting in a more idyllic class configuration than I could have imagined. With this fortuitous development, I was ready to end my college education with a resounding, greasepainted bang.

But that was before I discovered that the usual Makeup Design professor had stepped down that quarter, and his replacement was an improv actor whose only experience courting the fair maquillage was in applying rudimentary black eyes for theater audiences whose vision was marred by distance and bright stage lights. As photo majors bent on creating conceptual, camera-ready designs that elicited either realism or hyper-fantasticality, Logan and I were less than enthused. Especially when the professor revealed the book he expected the class to teach themselves from.

Laura Thudium Stage Makeup

If your eyes perceive four makeup designs befitting a festive elementary school parade and an overwhelmingly blue cast that is no fault of any scanner, then thank your lucky carrots: your eyes are very astute. I won’t bash the publishers for comprising this collection of what someone must have deemed a valuable tool for beginning cosmetology, but based on the fact that the lesson plans contained within this book’s pages only deteriorate in technical skill from the cover on, this is no educator for a class full of college students.

Fortunately, our professor, new to his academic profession and still unscathed by the autocracy that develops after too many impositions on the school board’s behalf, was incredibly lax about our approach to the curriculum. Fully aware that he’d relinquished his teaching duties to an outdated book, Professor Improv allowed us to do whatever we pleased as long as it involved our faces and Bill Nye’s cosmetologist cousin Ben.

Thus, the creating began. While the majority of the class dutifully practiced red pandas, burn scars, and oversized foreheads, my four-person offshoot of the room fathomed into existence living tree bark, geometric cubism, Cirque du Soleil reveries, reptilian scales, and, my personal favorite, the glue-sticked eyebrows and over exaggerated cheekbones of drag. Amidst this fascinating inventiveness, the boundless ideation of my peers encouraged me to bring in a new amalgam of inspiration on a daily basis, combining the evil queen of The Magic Flute with the traditional makeup of Kabuki theater, weaving together Native American symbolism and Maori tattoo patterns, experimenting with Nordic and African horn designs, and even going all-out scary she-male by emulating my screenwriter boyfriend’s incarcerated tough-gal character Sheila.

While the education I received certainly wasn’t worth the weight of my hefty tuition (a slight on the school’s behalf that could fill an entire blog entry of its own), the chance to utilize unfamiliar tools in an encouraging environment of like-minded creativity definitely had its merits. And with the numerous portfolios and theses I’ve crafted on the art of disguise and its psychological forbearance, the comparisons to Cindy Sherman my middle school oeuvre received before I even knew who she was, and the duped professors who’ve asked of my self-portraits, “Who’s the model, a friend?”, perhaps the experimental ambling of Intro to Makeup Design will get me one step closer to achieving Skin-Walker status… sans the murderous aura Native American legend associates with it. For the face and its many facets is a powerful tool, and as any prosthetic artist, title-hungry drag queen, or student rising in the ranks of production design could tell you, they don’t call that baby your money-maker for nothing!

Tusks

Return of the Mac

Many people utilize blogs as a means of archiving life, the same way a chronic photographer observes experience through a pinhole and bisects it into truncated moments printed in silver or ink. But when life intervenes with these mediums of examination and reflection, the hobbies of writing and photographing are forced to clamber into the backseat and keep quiet while the driver attempts to navigate a slippery reality without these artistic chains fortifying their tires.

In less analogical terms, due to an adult-sized helping of work these past several months, my artwork–including the writing that I swore to revive via daily practice–has been sorely neglected. This blog and the numerous saved drafts in my post repository were put on hold in favor of tearing my hair out trying to transcribe inscrutable Welsh accents and rephotographing what seemed like an endless procession of holiday menorahs. Apparently that’s the life that happens when we’re too absorbed with our individualized distractions, so to all you ornery teenagers whose parents heckle you about your technological obsessions, simply retort, “Would you rather me join the real world and get a job trying to make photos of Peter Max’s comeback collection look decent?” Cause even your parents know you’ll get more enrichment out of “practicing your grammar” updating Facebook statuses than staring at something like this all day:

Peter Max Comeback Piece

Thus, I owe this incredibly latent blog entry to a Las Vegas vacation that both commemorated my sister’s birth and ushered in the free time necessary to dust off my artistic skill set–just in time for the New Year. As such, I concede to the hackneyed tradition of auld lang sine meditation and dedicate this entry to the year 2013.

In my adult life I’ve taken a cue from the Chinese calendar and assumed the habit of naming each year that passes based on its overarching character. For example, the year one of my houses was burglarized, my mom broke her leg on Mother’s Day, and my childhood home went up in flames was deemed The Year of the Happenstance Shit Fest. Likewise, the year I immersed myself in the stress of college, endured a nightmarish relationship that culminated in an equally inimical break-up, and met a N’awlins-scale parade of freshmen jackasses was christened The Year of Building Character Out of Tears, Eraser Shavings, and Godawful Cafeteria Food. As noted in a previous entry, zeitgeist symbols of misfortune seem to have an inverse effect on my family, and the thirteen attached to the end of this year’s moniker was no different. Thus, as 2013 comes to a close, I hereby declare it The Year of the Lucky Bastard.

For some reason, 2013 was all about close calls and seemingly unfortunate situations that miraculously paid off. Sure there were some irrevocable bumps along the way, such as the Transportation Security Administration damaging a plaque that served as the lone reward for my tireless four-year pursuit of a 4.0. And all those cockroaches that liked to host evening soirees under the sink of my very first apartment? That too was unpropitious. But beyond the fleeting disappointment of fruitless job hunts and undercooked pasta, I’ve been remarkably lucky, and figure I ought to thank the Fates in writing to hopefully remain in their favor.

At the very opening of 2013, I found myself illicitly holed up in my friend’s dorm room after her roommate unexpectedly transferred schools and invited my room change request to hang in the slow-paced limbo that is bureaucratic decision making. With a Residential Assistant just several neurotransmissions away from discovering my ploy and a roomful of my actual assigned roommates starting to ask incriminating questions, I was undeniably in one of Ulysses Everett McGill’s reputed tight spots. But somehow, a horde of angels must have possessed the pen that finally checked off my room application just before my fugitive fever could reach a critical degree and Dave Matthews (because that was actually the RA’s name) could sniff me out like a Tommy Lee Jones-bloodhound hybrid and hand me over to the authorities. It was my first utter relief of many to come this year, and as if one heavenly miracle wasn’t enough it segued into what will most likely be the nicest living situation of my adult life and the cherished friendships of my Peruvian-Chinese bosom friend and what has got to be the sweetest, golden-eyed girl in both Arkansas and the whole country over.

Thus, my college career came to a close on a very positive note. I managed to secure all the classes I wanted, I got to reap the mental benefits of working myself to the bone one last time, I got to accumulate some funny anecdotes about the unnerving process of valedictorian interviews, and I got to gaze proudly upon a shiny graduation plaque, sans the impending scratches it would procure and the future realization that Los Angeles employers don’t look at your summa cum laude portfolio unless you happen to know Jim in accounting. The last few months of college were a gloriously bittersweet time in my life, and somehow, despite the anxieties, the few atrocious professors, and the awful consistency of Southern grits, it all worked out perfectly.

The next big risk that I took in 2013 was the decision to move out to Los Angeles as soon as I graduated, despite the fact that the only thing I’d secured in that town was a mere interview with a digital teching company in need of unpaid labor. Thus, with no apartment and no assurance that said potential internship would even be worth while, I packed my bags, kissed my family goodbye as soon as I got home, and headed south to the city of opportunity, my boyfriend, and smog.

And there she was, Lady Luck waiting for me in the guise of a 2000-car pile up on the I-10 East. Within two days of the big move I’d secured my first internship and within two weeks my very own back seat of a sedan-sized apartment two miles from the Arts District of downtown LA. My situation certainly didn’t merit boasting on the SCAD alumni forums, but I had a home, I had resume-worthy responsibilities, and I had a tan. Based on the numerous post-college alternatives, things were definitely coming up Milhouse.

The rest of my time in Los Angeles was speckled with an array of auspicious occurrences: from the fact that my brand new and wonderfully endearing step-cousin just happened to live several blocks away from my boyfriend; to the instance in which a club owner eschewed his own rule of no open-toed shoes and welcomingly admitted me into the bar he’d hidden behind a barbershop storefront; to the glorious sunshine that beat down on us while we waited in line to see Flight of the Conchords and Dave Chappelle at the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival; to the unprecedented ease with which we moved my boyfriend to Hollywood; to the remaining tickets for Nick Offerman’s stand-up book tour that we learned about one day in advance; to the miraculous parking spots I always found after work in my boyfriend’s reputedly over-crowded neighborhood; to the incredibly friendly corporate Christmas party host who invited four of us strangers in and gave us the huge roll of remaining free drink tickets; to the fact that we always got front row seats at Upright Citizens Brigade’s free Sunday show; and to my boyfriend’s friend’s sister who just happens to know Hugh Hefner’s chef and got us an exclusive free tour of the Playboy Mansion and the cutest monkeys centerfold money can buy.

Hugh Hefner's Monkeys

And that doesn’t even begin to cover everything that went so well in Los Angeles. Sure the basement of my apartment building was covered in literally thousands if not millions of dead flies, like a scene from a Dario Argento film, but there was something nice about the simplicity of living with naught but a bed, fridge, armoire, and hotplate. And when a new job called for me to stay with my boyfriend in Hollywood (another stroke of luck, considering the beau’s very graciously accommodating roommates), the hardest part about breaking the lease–an unnerving concept considering my stingy, suspicious landlord–was sitting in three hour’s worth of traffic to get from Inglewood to downtown. Even more surprising still, Mr. Conniving Landlord even uncharacteristically called me “sweetheart” when he signed my ending contract with a kindly flourish.

Finally, when spending more than two days with my family for the first time in a year became a priority, I was lucky that my dad and sister’s Las Vegas vacation timed perfectly with all my settled LA arrangements so that they could simply shuttle me home upon their departure. And even if we did run into massive ice-storm traffic just outside of Medford and sit at a standstill for the duration of a whole movie and three-quarters, we’re all very lucky that my dad’s skillful driving kept us from sliding off the side of the Siskiyou mountains. Thank the cliff-side ice gods.

So even with the ups and downs promised to accompany life after college, some deity with a thirteen fetish has looked kindly upon me yet again. I may not have discovered the secret to post-grad billionaire status, but the overarching sentiment of 2013 was one of providential happiness. I’m no where near to surfacing victoriously from this transition into adulthood, but with a little luck-overflow and the same sense of positivity that carried me through the major changes of the past twelve months, perhaps 2014 will prove to be just as felicitous.

This American Life, 101

This American Life, 101

My family has a tendency to nag my sister about her repudiation of the national criterion that expects all nineteen year olds to immediately enroll in a four year college upon high school graduation, lest they wish to toil through a life of welfare or, God forbid, work a blue-collar job for the rest of their lives. When I was still enrolled in fastidious studenthood, I might have agreed with my family’s concerns for my sister. After all, she’s an incredibly bright human being with a charming personality and the same fierce drive that makes all us Moon-Woods workaholics. If she had found a college program that appealed to her, there’d be no doubt in my mind that she would excel at it. But thus far in her life, nothing a college degree can offer has yet to beguile her into attendance, and surprisingly, I commend her for standing by that fact. I’m probably going to be ostracized from the family for the newfound beliefs I’m about to confess, but after making the decision to adhere to The Official Timeline of an American Life, I wholeheartedly support my kid sister’s decision to deter from the norm.

For some reason, the overarching sentiments of this country seem to suggest that adults who veer from the expected college track will become work force pariahs, too burdened by ignorance to climb the occupational ladder and attain the life of monetary leisure the American dream extols. We have a tendency to completely discredit other forms of learning in the face of institutionalized academia, and pity those who reject the increased opportunities a diploma provides. But it’s an obvious fact that the boot of school is not tailored to every foot–especially since many of our schools operate under the delusion that packing young, overworked brains with a winter quarter’s worth of knowledge and then testing them to assess and grade their intelligence is a universally beneficial system. For some students, this rote methodology works wonders, but for many–including obsessive-compulsive grade point extremists like myself–this system is incredibly faulty, prioritizing a numerical outcome over the individualized educations every child would receive if all schools truly fulfilled their self-referential mission.

While this is certainly a cynical take on institutionalized learning, I’m not discrediting the value of education in the slightest. I think actively broadening your mind in the pursuit of knowledge is far more important than seeking a degree for the future income it might secure, and therefore I’m a huge proponent of the academic value of continuing on to college after high school. Sadly though, elements of my schooling reinforced the fact that monetary gain takes precedence in the eyes of our Capitalist system, demonstrated by my required enrollment in several courses that were entirely useless, taught by so called “educators” who had nothing to teach and instead comprised an obligatory conveyor belt in the production line that is contemporary college.

Based off of my experience, college is a business bent on perpetuating the larger mechanism of national wealth. While the notion of putting a price on knowledge is completely counterintuitive, the idea of coupling education with the exclusivism of astronomically high tuition is outright idiotic. Yes, garnering an education at a community college is a much cheaper route, but for those who can afford and choose to attend a community college, there’s still the stigma that their educational institution is merely a stepping stone for a more expensive school, where greater resources supposedly ensure better academia and, in turn, more profitable jobs.

But when we talk about the value placed on today’s “premiere educations,” we’re talking about exorbitant prices. Even with the incredible, four-year scholarship I received, the 16 hour days I worked without breaks, and the nerve-wracking amounts my parents had to proffer up every quarter, the remaining bill still weighs on me like an unmanageable dumbbell, and I’m officially a statistic on the long list of post-grads facing a lifetime of staggering college debt.

To make matters worse, I’ve now witnessed the fact that many college graduates who’ve been roaming the “real world” much longer than I have are victims to the twisted notion of the internship. This concept might have once meant a brief, occupational transition between school and adult responsibility, but has since evolved into an interim period of strenuous unpaid labor that (like my boyfriend’s internship) can demand seven straight days of serious work, imperative to the company’s success. All of this sans the pay that an uneducated fast food employee makes in one hour.

Because the American system condones the idea of unpaid labor and demands five years worth of experience for numerous entry level jobs, many recent grads have to become fast food employees, waiters, sales floor reps, and grocery store parcels just to afford residency in the city that hosts their internship, which in the arts industry that my former college caters to, means the extremely expensive cities of New York and Los Angeles. Enter a restaurant in LA and if your server isn’t an out-of-work actor, they’re likely a post-grad with a bachelor or masters under their belt and at least five internships on their resumé. And I’m not over exaggerating. Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve become friends with law school graduate who has to waitress here in the City of Angels and can cite the impressive degrees of everyone on her restaurant’s waitstaff, and I’ve met innumerable people who shake their heads in exasperation when they tell you that yes, their fifth internship is also unpaid.

This whole transitional interlude is an incredibly stressful time, and if you took International Baccalaureate classes in high school in the hopes of attending a prestigious college that supposedly guarantees a comfortable job, you’ve been extremely stressed since you were sixteen. I accommodated this stress into my life as a natural part of living, and thanks to cautionary familial examples of the toll eschewing college can take, I always figured I’d made the right choice. But then my sister chose otherwise, and I had a new example to behold.

My sister works at a job that many would consider undesirable. In fact, having worked in the same establishment, I can vouch for those dissenting opinions myself. But my sister and I are two very different peas from the same pod of sweat and determination, and despite some displeasing elements, my sister loves her job. She’s incredibly popular amongst her coworkers, supervisors, and the customers she serves, she gets to arrange her own schedule (which happens to begin at four in the morning, at her request), she gets paid well and receives numerous benefits, and she has plenty of time to engage in her favorite after-work hobby of toning those buns and thighs at the gym she frequents. She may not have the salary of a med school-trained neurosurgeon, but she has an even more beneficial facet of life: she’s happy. And all those six years that I was tearing my hair out in academic exasperation, she was approaching life with a relaxed mindset that maintained her persistent, bona fide smile. Yes, there’s no telling what her monetary future holds without an official stamp of institutionalized approval, but is that really the most imperative crux of a human life?

To conclude, I applaud your decision to take things in stride, little sister, to live for the moment even though we can’t resist heckling you about the future, because we, like the rest of the country, abide by the fear that if you don’t acquire financial security there’s little hope for happiness. If you should ever want to learn a new skill set or venture into a new occupation that requires a piece of verifying paper, I encourage you to look into colleges or trade schools. Resist being swayed by money-hungry recruiters who’ll sing any school’s praises, and conduct your own research about the professors and the real success stories instead of the advertised statistics. Find an institution that will really give you your money’s worth, and attend it with a desire to learn, not a desire to merely graduate. And should you ever find yourself suddenly living a cautionary tale of your own, do what most narrators don’t: make an effort to change it. Life is too dang short to spend it mimicking the rest of society because that’s what’s expected of you, so go out and garner wisdom, work, and happiness however you see fit little girl. Keep approaching life with the sense of excitement and wonder you’ve always possessed, and I know you’ll do just fine.

The Education of Mrs. Clean

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.

Talking ‘Bout My Girl(s)

My Girls

Growing up, I always gravitated toward male friends, assimilating into dude-dominated cliques that might have hosted one other girl, if that. For some strange adolescent reason that may have burgeoned into existence after watching one too many football games with my dad, I always felt I could relate more to men: I abhorred drama, my favorite hobby was laughing raucously at trivialities for hours on end, I could withstand a shopping mall for maybe an hour before my head started to swim, and I preferred, in male patois, to just “chill.”

I wasn’t a tomboy by any stretch of the imagination though. Sure, a Ukrainian woman with an indiscernible accent completely ignored my reference image and cut my hair so short it barely met my ears, producing a masculine visage that one of my fifth grade peers mistook for the ragged coiffure of a bully. And yes, there was that identical incident freshman year of high school when a Laotian hairstylist repeatedly asked me, “Dis sha?” until I succumbed to her brandished scissors, only to discover seconds later when fourteen inches of my hair lay in a frizzy heap on the floor that she’d been repeating, “This short?” But traumatic haircuts aside, my femininity always burst from the regrettably low-cut V-necks I naïvely wore throughout middle school; my brief but ferocious stint as a fashionista who persistently strutted the halls of Sunset High School in six-inch heels with no concern for the future stiletto-repellence I was steadily instigating; and my tendency to hyper-obsess over male celebrities (specifically the cast of Lord of the Rings and one particularly deified actor from the mediocrely received Holes), a once ceaseless pastime that only just recently dissipated with a college girl crush on Tom Hardy.

Proof of femininity aside, the great rapport I always felt with my male peers didn’t mean I was ostracized from female companionship. In fact, my whole middle school table–which had conveniently gone unnamed when we decided to create a map of all the cafeteria cliques (preps, jocks, Martha Stewarts, and so forth), despite the fact that it quite frankly seated of a bunch of band kids and the token choir chick (me)–consisted of ten girls and half as many guys, one of whom kept being recycled in the bizarre phenomenon of middle school dating.

In fact, my best friend of of the past, present, and forecasted future is a kid called Willy Jazz, or Beans, or any number of monikers older sisters can’t help but ascribe to their closest DNA double helix. And close, she is. In a family of two sisters spaced two years apart, it’s as if she was developed in vivo to be my twin, complete with the added benefit of (in her opinion) not actually being my twin. In a similar vein, my former life partner à la Spongebob and Patrick and my lone female counterpart in one of those male-driven coteries was a girl who shared my embarrassing fervor for celebrity worship and helped me maintain the concrete abs of my youth just by falling prey to hysteria every time we were in the same vicinity (including that eighth grade English class where a boy named Casey Griswald turned around and snapped, “Will you two stop laughing for Christ’s sake!?“).

Beyond that, I had great times with my girlfriends forming one-hit-wonder cover bands complete with promotional materials and costumed music videos; exchanging inappropriately unpolitical delegate notes during Model United Nations conferences where we were supposed to be discussing the fate of Luxembourg’s debt sustainability; terrorizing the IMDB message boards with the fictitious “Legface,” before we knew what the verb “to troll” even meant; spending hours in front of a mirror primping for a night of lychee cocktails 15 floors above the Portland cityscape at Departure; and even achieving the coveted Sex and the City foursome all girls dream of during one magical year of college.

But in my experience, little things always seem to come between gal pals, be it the petty life mistakes that one party refuses to forget or simply 2,844 miles of United States soil and disparate schedules that handicap the relationship. However, in a gigantic city like Los Angeles where the list of entertainment, events, boutiques, clubs, bars, drag shows, and tans just waiting to be garnered at our many beaches is endless and the handful of people I’ve met thus far pardonably need to devote the majority of their time to their burgeoning careers, I can’t help but reminisce about all the benefits of having girlfriends in your life. All the fashion ogling, all the amateur restaurant critiquing, all the club hopping in dresses we’ll consider passé shortly after breaking them in, all the exotic flavors Bartini has to offer, all the inevitable man talk that spans the gamut from congratulations to commiseration, and all the laughter that can’t resist emission in one another’s presence.

Thus, even with all its endless distractions, L.A. has yet to distract me from the one glaring thing it’s missing: all my amazing girls.