Author: Jess

Résumé

Education

observation, conversation, inference, repetition, failure

Cumulative GPA

results pending

Experience

riding on airplanes

sitting in libraries

reading the Harry Potter series four times through

trying

wearing headphones so people think I’m listening to music when I am in fact listening to them

existing

Special Skills

uncanny Keira Knightley impersonation

ability to use a blowdryer successfully

ability to identify songs in less than one second

good kisser

watched The Big Short and understood it

ability to walk into a room I am not supposed to be in and convince persons therein I am in fact supposed to be there

quick walker

good at locating best thing on the menu and proceeding to order it

curious

ability to look at a person and assess if their day is crummy, glorious, or woefully in-between

can apply makeup satisfactorily when given appropriate amount of time

good at making playlists

delegating

laughing at my own jokes

good at making points

loyal

can dance to express emotion

excellent Scrabble player

good at parties (if I want to be at said party)

steel trap memory

ability to be plopped into a new city and get from point A to point B

good at persuading other people to like the things I like (Madewell jeans, Sing Street, Nicolas Cage, The OA)

Reasons You Should Not Hire Me But Come with the Territory Though You May Never Actually See Them Because Women Are Excellent at Hiding

still not 100% clear on American geography

allow my own feelings to overshadow reality

subpar cooking skills

quicker to tell someone else they’re wrong than to consider I might actually be wrong

nosy

tendency to give the long version over the short one

incessantly pick my nails

put my own needs before those of others

don’t like being told what to do

hate showering (not because of cleanliness but because it takes a lot of time but either way bad at showering)

moody

laugh at my own jokes

a severely undercover fandom for the music of Selena Gomez (can’t predict how this will affect the workplace)

often run late

judge myself by my intentions and others by their actions

chronically dissatisfied

often accidentally shame people for not liking the same things as me

difficulty listening when I am thinking about something else (which is often)

Comments That Have Influenced My Work Ethic

“I was an English teacher, so I often wish people could express themselves more perfectly.” – woman talking to herself at library

“I just think things are gonna work out for you.” – my friend’s mom

“You smell really good, you smell like a combination of shampoo and pizza.” – my friend Whitney

Please find attached a photo that best describes said work ethic.

Thank you for your consideration, and please feel free to respond either by phone or email.  I look forward to hearing from you!

 

Cusped

Last winter, at the end of a texting conversation, my friend asked me to describe my current life in one word to get a head start on the catching up we had just planned.  I, of course, took this very seriously, and sat with fingers suspended over electric keyboard as I searched for the perfect word.

“Cusped,” I replied.

I come from a long personal history of heightened expectation.  I expect good things.  Big things.  I also expect heaven to touch earth semi-regularly because I have seen it happen as often.  And when I chose that word, it was with a very real expectation of some combination of the three.  Cusped.  Like the moon.  Like I’m standing on my toes.  The breath between warrior poses one and two.  The moment between the lean-to and the kiss.

I would still choose that as the one word of my life at the moment, but my expectation and understanding of it are different this winter.  There is a little more awareness of the waiting itself, and decidedly more mist around the thing waited for.  I was recently in my acting teacher’s office with Amy, looking over the finished product of the portfolio we put together for him.  I hadn’t seen him since July, and he asked what I’d seen on the road since I’d seen him.  I’m not even trying to be poetic – that’s what he said.  “What have you seen, Jessie, since I last saw you?” I cried a little, because he’s an extremely emotionally available person and has that effect on people, and gave a sort of cursory response in regards to the route, and then he asked what it felt like to come back home.  I didn’t know how to tell him about 3 months of my life, and so I said, “I used to feel stuck, and now I feel stalled.” He replied, “Well, maybe you’re just waiting.”

Cusped applies to both.  I felt cusped when I felt stuck, and I feel cusped being stalled.  But I mostly feel cusped in the waiting.  Poised for movement, but rivetingly aware of my own lack of motion.  Literally like the moon between phases, in the space between shadow and light.  Aware that things are moving, and I am not one of them.  It’s more amusing than anything else.  And it’s hard to write about, because there is less to say.  Waiting requires less words of me, because I don’t know what happens yet.  And, as a person who likes to learn the lesson without making the mistake, this is a good thing.  This first post about it is just that – a first attempt, an initial tapping into the thing that will surely be revisited as long as it needs to be.   Perhaps I may simply continue to say the same thing over and over again, until I figure out what it is I mean to say.  It’s only ever an attempt anyway.

Also last winter, I came across a book called Watch for the Light, a collection of Advent readings focused on the nature of waiting in general, and also in specific application to the waiting inherent to Advent.  My friend Bethany recommended it to me, after a Bible study where I read Luke 2 aloud and could not contain the tremor in my voice.  I cried where it says, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” It struck me then, only slightly, how wild it is to live in the thick of belief that a promise will be kept.  That something, even now, is being worked out that you cannot quite see.  That it will come to pass, has already come to pass, is happening even while you are waiting for it to happen.

I am not Mary, but I think part of Advent requires you to believe that you could be.  That an angel could conceivably crash through your ceiling and change every thought you ever had about your own life.  That there are things happening now and things already past that are actually beyond imagining.  One of my favorite Christmas carols is on Bruce Cockburn’s Christmas album, “Mary Had a Baby.” There’s a line in it that me and my mother love, where he simply says, “Moving in the elements, ah Lord, moving in the elements.” He never says what – but it’s moving.  Something is moving.  Oh, don’t you just wanna know what it is?! And I think that’s part of Advent, too – paying just a little more attention to what’s adrift in what we can’t see.  To be in a posture of waiting for we know not what, but somehow know has already happened.  To be in the shadow between the lights, in a profoundly personal but entirely cosmic way.

Keep reading…

Thanksgiving

In case you are just now joining us (or in case you haven’t been paying attention), I love holidays.  All of them.  I used to say Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday, until I realized I was saying every day was my favorite holiday (though to be completely accurate, it’s technically Valentine’s Day, as previously articulated) and thus I couldn’t call it my favorite holiday anymore.  But it need not be my very favorite for me to have many reasons to adore it.

Firstly, it’s a holiday that isn’t really celebrated all day.  On Christmas, you start as soon as possible.  On your birthday you do the same.  The celebration involved on Thanksgiving is inseparable from the event involved (i.e., the food), thus making it concentrated.  It’s a 3 hour window, so you better use it.  Second, at least in my family, it’s pretty transient.  My family is scattered literally from coast to coast, so however many of us can gather for it varies from year to year.  It’s the easiest to invite a friend to (because apparently some people feel “intrusive” when invited over for Christmas??? but not Thanksgiving???), and I wish all holidays were more friend-friendly, because I am constantly looking for nonchalant ways to get as many people that I love as possible into the same room at the same time to do the same thing.  Third, and perhaps best of all, Thanksgiving is the least disappointing holiday.  As a person who lives in a nearly perpetual state of heightened expectation, I can attest to the Christmas Eves and Halloweens (and, weirdly 4ths of July) that have gone by slightly less adorned than hoped for.  But Thanksgiving is simple, no trappings or high stakes.  You are simply asked to come eat at the table with as many people as you can find, and to call what is blessed by its proper name.

In my planner, there is a designated section to write down the sundry gratitudes of any given week.  There is never enough room.  And so, I am making a list of what I am grateful for on Thanksgiving Day, because running parallel to my love of celebration is my love of cheesiness and leaning in.  I’m trying to limit myself only to what I presently find myself grateful for, as I would surely drive both you and I insane if I tried any time period outside the present.

1. Swiss army knives, for when you move into a new apartment and lack most kitchen appliances

2. Lady Bird.  Haven’t seen it yet, but know I’m grateful.

3. friends, family, and kindred spirits smattered from coast to coast

4. Stranger Things 2

5. walking home at midnight down my street and feeling safe

6. meeting angels in grocery stores

7. Anton Chekhov

8. ”the gay great happening illimitably earth

9. the new Taylor Swift album (haters back off)

10. yams

11. that the farthest I have to walk to get water is to my refrigerator

12. the use of my legs

13. slats to hold my bed aloft

14. my janky window that lets the breeze come in from the alley

15. that I’m not working today

16. haikus

17. the peppermint milkshake at Chick-fil-A

18.  that God already knows everything there is to know about me, but still wants me to tell him

19. emails from my uncle

20. Spotify (zero percent irony – my day-to-day life would be significantly altered by its absence)

21. the fact that being sad about losing something generally means you had it to begin with

22. collaboration

23. “There’s a hypothetically bright future for everything / each wounded creature that is bitten, or bites”

24. prophets

25. savory hand pies

26. that it is genuinely possible to take a break from your own life

27. dancing

28. that sometimes I do the wrong thing and so far it hasn’t caused me to die

29. lakes

30. my own imagination

31. progress, no matter how slow, no matter the measure

32. basketball

33.  that there is a gap in my planner from August 5 to October 13

34. that everything that I see of the world outside is so inconceivable often I barely can speak

35. nightgowns, bathrobes, and generally all garments that have to do with sleeping and comfort

36. that I didn’t completely ruin my computer when I spilled water all over it

37. coupons

38. Love Actually (it’s so weird, why am I always so excited to watch it?)

39. Trader Joe’s.

40. that I have reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland 

I am grateful that the sum of my weaknesses is not the whole. I am grateful that there are days marked for gratefulness, days marked for mourning.  I am grateful that there truly is a time and a season for everything, and that the next one is only ever just outside my line of vision.  For the record, I’d love to know what you’re grateful for, too.  And I’m sure there are at least 3 important things I’m grateful for that I’ve forgotten to write down – isn’t that great?!

Laps: November 15

7:30a – Wake, in current attempt to wake up at same time every day to combat continual lethargy.  Allow myself one snooze on timer before opening flurry of texts sent by my mother from previous evening.

7:39a – Hop out of bed.  Take my hair out from braid in light of bathroom mirror.  Marvel at cleanliness of own hair, marvel at how it falls just so when on so many days it doesn’t.  Toss it this way.  Toss it that.

7:44a – Make breakfast of sausage and eggs.  Realize sausage has gone bad and I failed to cook eggs fully, because all things are inherently imperfect and I am unable to contribute anything otherwise at times. Throw out rotten breakfast.  Make toast instead, which is what I wanted all along.

8:07a – Read today’s allotted Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner.  Kelly texts me moments after I finish with picture of same passage.  Feel warm knowing we are waking up and reading same thing, far away as we are from each other.

8:14a – Read section from one of five scenes that needs memorizing for Chekhov class.  Am pleasantly surprised that I know some of it.  Read it again.  Try to let it just be words and not all feelings that accompany it.  “Where is it? Where did it all go?”

8: 42a – Finish up writing Just the Facts. Am shocked that it’s second hour of day and have managed to not fall behind.  Enjoy watching Bruce Springsteen music video at 9am, and that it’s thing I get to do.

10a – Begin freelance publishing work.  Spend whole hour wishing I was packing up my car to head out on more exciting part of day. Remind self of bank account in order to rally.

11a – Put on makeup to sounds of Leon Bridges.  Enjoy taking my time to do so.  Locate sample of Smashbox Primer that really is as miraculous as advertised.

11:33a – Pack up various outfits for film shoot per Annie’s instruction. Pack bag, pack up Annie’s stuff left at apartment from overnight stay, pick up check from Boss #3 from mailbox downstairs.  Walk 3 blocks to where car is parked because it’s what I have to do on Tuesday nights.

12:04p – Head to first Kohl’s.  Listen to Showstopper podcast, because it is my ideal job.  Enter Kohl’s for first shopping trip for Boss #1.  Uneventful, but notice how much fun I have doing this particular job, which is objectively absurd.

1:12p – Put in second Kohl’s address in Google Maps.  En route, am arrested by sounds of Dog Days Are Over playing from radio.  Am always struck afresh by jubilance of said song. “Happiness hit her like a bullet in the back.” Have known that feeling.  Is miraculous.

1:17p – Stop at gas station because it’s right there and, well, I need gas. Head inside to maybe grab bottle of water, but store portion is roughly 20 square feet and has no water bottles, only bottled Starbucks frappes.  Finish pumping.  Back en route.

1: 32p – Enter second Kohl’s.  As I search for cart, old man working at register calls across foyer to me, “Welcome back!”, even though I have never set foot in here before.  He is in middle of transaction with other customer, but follows up with, “You light up the whole room!” which is arresting both in loveliness and unexpectedness.  Simply smile back in wonder.

1:37p – Am accosted by two old women in toy section, who ask me what appropriate clothing size is for 3-year old male toddler.  They clearly are aware that I don’t work here as I have cart, but ask me with full confidence as if I know answer.  I don’t.

2:22p – After locating what I came for, get in line.  Am helped by woman named Raj, who insists my coupons aren’t real but scans them anyway.  Look at her nametag and see that she has been working here since 2006.  Ask her where good place nearby is to get cup of coffee.  She conspiratorially tells me Whole Foods is nearby.  Best news.  Coupon kerfuffle forgotten in wake of coffee camaraderie.

2:34p – Head to Whole Foods.  Hear Whatever You Like on radio.  Love radio version, because actual version makes me blush.  Am hopeful to be subject of hip hop song at some point in life.  Am doubtful.  Wonder how many songs are written from experience versus wished experience.

2:38p – Arrive at Whole Foods. Have exactly 20 minutes before needing to leave for call time on set.  Head in, in search of Nitrobrew.  Am stalled by Califia Farms stand with Peppermint Mocha cold brew, which I promptly decide to buy on way out (and subsequently marvel at complete lack of self control that always comes over me at Whole Foods).  Find coffee stand.  Am directed to refrigerator. Locate Nitrobrew.  Pretend to have debate with self over absurd cost of coffee (exacerbated by fact that favorite cup of coffee is found at Fresh Market for literally fifth of price) all while knowing I will of course buy it because I came here for it and I feel slightly glamorous at prospect of going to film set.  Stop by cookie table, which I also never let myself do.  Pick up mysterious cookie that looks beautiful.  Make purchases. Head to car.

Keep reading…

Just the Facts: Courteney Cox

We have received our unofficially official third request for Just the Facts, and we here at Sync Swim rejoice because there are few things I love more than a niche portrait of a life lived in the 90s.  My friend Travis suggested this lucky number 3 to me as we walked to an overpriced pasta dinner, as he is a staunch fan of Friends but knows not much about 1/6th of that powerhouse that kept the 90s from crumbling (as if it was in danger) – one Courteney Cox.

It’s as though she’s saying, “Yes, fame was a surprise, but I brought a cardigan just in case it would be cold in the white lights.”

Her rise to fame is somewhat infamous.  Legend has it she was serendipitously pulled onto the stage of my birthday twin Bruce Springsteen during one of his shows, which resulted in her appearing in one of his music videos because that performance was being filmed.  If you want to watch Bruce Springsteen adorably not know more than one dance move then watch the whole thing, otherwise skip to 2:30 to see their truly meaningful eye contact, and 3:29 to see her be organically pulled on to the stage and do her best to appear carefree.

From this footage, she was spotted by an agent for her really excellent hair and clearly #freespirit (I tried to get on the stage of a Killers concert when I was 15 but instead got trampled by a slew of drunken college students and I’m honestly not bitter okay some people get multi-million dollar contracts others get crushed dreams, it happens!!!).  Friends was certainly not her first gig – she was in several TV pilots that have since been forgotten – but it is obviously her most notable.  It was the sitcom that defined her generation and arguably the one after it, as more 20-somethings binge watch it on Netflix while they make it through life in their first (non-rent controlled, non-NYC) apartments.  For those living under a rock or with a more cultured streaming palate, she played Monica – formerly obese, neurotic, the ultimate hostess, sister to Ross, and in my opinion the most endearing of the group.  Sad fact: she was the only member of the cast never individually nominated for an Emmy, which just seems mean and unnecessary.  Though Rachel is considered the most fashionable on the show, let’s take this moment to admire that Monica aka Courteney (surely through her own flair for style and not the help of a wardrobe department) was the true style icon:

Any time I go to a Goodwill, it is to look for this dress.
I made a Pinterest board to hunt down this outfit, named “I Can’t Believe I’m Doing This.”
Please forward information about this dress to synchronizedswimblog@gmail.com

Keep reading…

Unnecessary, Pt.2

As anyone who has read my previous thoughts on the matter will know, I detest parking tickets, not simply because they are inconvenient, but because they serve no real purpose.  A car needs parking; streets have space for that.  There is zero percent need for money to get involved.  It’s not even that I don’t like spending money – it’s the lack of logic that a street  made for cars to drive and park on can’t be legally used for the latter in certain places.  Whose idea was that?

And yet, this morning, I (you guessed it) received a parking citation, after double and triple checking the area to see that I could park there.  The reason listed was for “parking outside of my permit boundaries,” which I am 100% sure is not the case but don’t want to deal with proving it to the powers that be.  This would be less irritating if not for the fact that to purchase said permit costs an arm and a leg in Oak Park, where I currently find myself living.  When my imagination starts going, it only gets worse.  I see a tiny, tiny man with a clipboard and headlamp lurking through the streets during the 2:30-6am hours when citations are most prone to be given, mouth-breathing on the back window of my car to check that my papers are legitimate and I am who I say I am.  His mouth mangles into glee as he takes out his pocket-typewriter to punish this faceless Neighborhood Criminal (aka me) and come one step closer to his monthly quota of rule-breakers and fools.  It’s like the worst game of Monopoly ever, with the opposite of Free Parking.

I am occasionally a rule breaker, but I am no fool.  And I do not like feeling like one because of a tiny piece of paper given by a faceless nighttime troll (who is probably just a normal person with a job trying to pay for things like me).  But it’s never just the one thing, is it?  The reason I was getting in to my car when I found the citation was to head to the tech support store down the street, because I spilled water on my computer the previous night and, while I mercifully, miraculously didn’t lose any of my files or information, it would only turn on when attached to my charger.  Nub computer on my back and parking citation in hand, I marched into the tech support store to see if any legitimate damage was sustained.  The technician – who legitimately had one of those persistently perspiring brows from a cartoon – whisked my laptop behind some colorless wall and began his work.  I heard strange noises from the other side, what sounded like large pieces of tape being ripped off and the whisps of tiny fans whirling away.  I heard the sound of my laptop restarting, and it occurred to me how strange it is that we go places to get things fixed and we often cannot see them being worked upon and simply trust that they are in fact being fixed.

After about 6 minutes, the technician returned from his side of the wall with my computer in tow.  His words were “mysteriously, miraculously” – nothing but the battery was touched by water.  None of the water sensors had gone off, and there was no sign of any physical damage to my computer but the battery, which simply means that my computer has to remain plugged in at all times and will essentially exist as a desktop computer while I figure out the best way to replace said battery.  Which really is a miracle considering the size of the glass of water I spilled.  The first word out of my mouth after the spill was a curse, the next one a prayer (both come out of my mouth all the time – go figure).  And I don’t know why I was surprised that God had answered my prayer that the damage not spread, that the waters be dried out and the damage controlled.  But here was the man with the sweaty head telling me he had, and the consequent cost to fix the small damage (not quite proportional, but is it ever?).  He said the repairs need not be done immediately, which was a mercy, considering this computer is essentially my job as most of my work is freelance writing.  A tiny technical miracle, sandwiched between a citation and a semi-sleepless night.

Keep reading…

Arcade Fire

{As evidenced by my neurotic love letter to the catalogue of Taylor Swift’s music, I really love talking about music that I love.  Really, really love.  And, eventually, I would like to write about Arcade Fire the way I wrote about Taylor Swift (yes, I really do like both of them equally and at the same time that much), but it won’t be today.  I will write it, I hope sooner rather than later. I prefer to talk about everything at once, always, so I suppose an exercise in brevity would be useful (though it is adamantly not preferred!), and I’ll attempt to stick to just talking about their concert I attended on Monday night.  Also, for the additional record, I hate intros like this!  I am a big believer in skipping the intro! But I also wanted to make clear that I wanted to write about everything! Everything now! I love a good neurotic love letter, and I’m bummed to not be writing one today!}

It started in blackness.  A loud, disembodied voice with the cadence of a sports announcer proclaimed that Arcade Fire was about to enter the boxing ring that had been constructed in the center of the auditorium, complete with roped edges and white matting.  The lights came on.  One by one, the seven of them came out, clad in various uniforms bearing symbols from their latest album, bouncing around, tying their shoes, making their way through the crowd before stepping into the ring.  I was reminded, not unexpectedly, of one of my favorite tenets from acting class in college: in acting (and really, in art), there can be no fake boxing.  You’re either boxing, or you aren’t.

I started listening to Arcade Fire in high school based on a recommendation from a boy I liked.  (They stuck; he didn’t.)  As I stood in the auditorium this past Monday night, I honestly felt like I was 17 again, but not in the bad way.  I’ve listened to them consistently over the past 7 years, most often to The Suburbs because it’s one of my very favorite albums of all time.  “Sometimes I can’t believe it, I’m moving past the feeling…”  They made me feel all right about growing up in the suburbs of the Midwest, something that sits prickly in my mind for reasons of my own making.  I liked hearing them sing about things I did with my friends, too, and about wanting to dig tunnels between houses.  In high school, I would listen to Funeral and Neon Bible on my way to school, loving how spooky so many songs sounded before the sun came up, and being met with the more hopeful songs when the sun came out on the afternoon drive back home.  They were and always have been both: spooky-hopeful.  I somehow missed Reflektor when it came out my sophomore year of college because I was still so full of The Suburbs that I didn’t want to make any room, which has actually worked out in my favor because I get to listen to it now, and now is exactly the right time.

Even the lead singers’ voices are spooky-hopeful.  It’s the husband-wife duo of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne – his voice sounds plaintive and and kind of like a lightsaber cutting through a velvet cloth, and hers varies back and forth between either childlike delight or shrieking dissatisfaction.  They are well suited to each other, sonically and otherwise.  I love the story of how they met.  She was singing jazz at an art show in Montreal, and he walked in and asked her to be in a band.  So many of their songs are about this sort of long stretch of loneliness looking for someone else of their kind.  And it’s very beautiful to watch them singing next to each other, in one seamless breathing unit that is fulfilling all these things they’re singing about.  They’ve found their kind in each other.  And they’ve found their kind in the 5 other musicians that write and perform all of these songs together, including Win’s brother Will and 4 other magical beings.  The music belongs to all of them.

I’ve seen them in concert once before, with my sister when I was 17 years old.  And what struck me in the interim between now and then is how joyfully consistent they have remained.  All 7 of them, at all times, are simply being themselves, filled with a certain wildness and joy that is really unrelenting.  No fake boxing allowed.  Most of them hop around between instruments, picking up this one for this song, that one for that, dancing in no particularly regulated fashion.  It creates an almost tangible ownership over the music, physically shows that all 7 of them are required to hold it up, and all 7 of them are entirely capable.  There’s a child-likeness to them, but there’s also this incredible confidence and assurance in each of them, this perfect mix of having the skill set of an adult and the imaginative power of a child.  It makes me wish I had more musicianship, more ability.  I love to sing, and I used to play the violin; I can pound out Teenage Dream and Fur Elise on the piano, and that’s as far as it goes.  And all of them know how to play all of the instruments!  I have all these thoughts about the music but not the right words for how to say them, how they revisit the same themes musically among the albums, how they refer back to words and notes and phrases over 5 albums that collectively make this separate world that’s been entirely fleshed out, that belongs to and is upheld by them.  A lot of their music, when recorded, sounds almost random and improvised, especially at the beginning of their songs.  But when they play live, it sounds exactly the same! Because, of course it isn’t random, it’s precisely chosen and laid over, but still!  They can consistently make the same strains of music sound improvised and random when they are in fact the exact opposite because that is how aware they are of sound! Wow!  And as they’re playing, you can see that it is truly what they were made to do.  There was no other option for any of them.  It had to be this thing.

Keep reading…

The Golden Egg

I have loved fairytales for as long as I can remember.  When I was small, I would go to the library with my mother and sisters and we would each disperse to our section of choice, reconvening hours later.  I always headed straight for the fairytale books in the far left corner on the lower level, decorated with large plush dragons and a life-size cloth doll with long yellow yarn for hair.  I would collect my books into my tiny arms, using the step stool for what was out of reach, and then march over to The Dream Tree – which, as far as I was concerned, was a transplant from Eden.  No matter what combination of books I selected, I always, always, always grabbed One Eye, Two Eyes, Three Eyes.  It’s a German folktale about a girl who gets traded over to a witch by a clumsy father, and becomes the servant of she and her hideous daughters.  The witch has three eyes, and her daughters have one and two, respectively, and they use them to spy on the girl while her goat does her chores on her behalf.  The witch, upon discovering this, kills the goat, but not before the goat informs the girl that she must bury his hoofs and horns and weep over them once he is dead.  This is no challenge for the girl, as she is heartbroken at the loss of her only friend – she weeps over his burial, and a beautiful tree bearing gold and silver apples grows almost immediately, which is in turn spotted by a prince (who I, even at age 5, greatly enjoyed was not particularly handsome) who sees her weeping and rescues her.  One eye, two eyes, and three eyes are turned into stone, and the girl becomes the queen of the land she was taken from.

I liked fairytales then, and am attuned to fairytales now, because they are straightforward tellings of a more ordered version of human desires.  If you take the poetry out of a fairytale, you get a mathematical equation: be beautiful + do good = get what you want; be ugly + do evil = get what you deserve.  Now, wouldn’t that be nice? I am fascinated by how fairytales continue to pop up, across cultures and time periods and generations, providing an alternative version of things in which good, honest people get what they want, in which life is a straightforward series of stepping stones (as if honest goodness is straightforward).  In which the desires of people are reflected in the fairytales they create, where magic makes easier the way of disappointment and life’s troubles.

My personal favorite modern fairytale is Into the Woods, a musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, which in itself is a compilation of retellings of 4 separate fairy tales: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack & the Beanstalk, and one of their own creation – the Baker & his Wife.  (I will just go ahead and say now – everything I talk about from here on out is best served by listening all the way through to the soundtrack, which I feel compelled to say even though I know there will be two types of people reading this: those who already know Into the Woods, and those who will never listen to it no matter how much I plead.  But I can’t help but ask – go, listen!)  In the great compilation of all the lyrics he has written, Sondheim explains that the Baker & his Wife are meant to represent the modern fairytale of the average urban couple, as evidenced by the wish they spend their story pursuing: a child (and later, “more room,” aka a beautiful home).  The other wishes are as follows: Cinderella wishes to go to the ball, Little Red Riding Hood wishes for a loaf of bread, and Jack wishes for gold.

I have written about Into the Woods before, because I think it’s the quintessential example, the perfect fable for how “modern” desires intersect with tales literally as old as time.  But – the entire play is about how what you wish and what you want are not necessarily the same thing, and how the aftermath of having your wish granted never looks like you think it will.  The structure of a wish is such that in obtaining it, you ultimately get the thing you want.  The wish is a means to an end; the want is the underlying desire, cloaked in something external and chaseable.  If I get this, then that will be achieved.  For instance, the Baker’s Wife says she wishes for a child, but we learn through the course of the play that what she wants is romance and to be loved by a prince, and consequently to be airlifted out of life’s mundanities.  Sondheim is not even trying to be particularly clever: in the second song of the whole play, a character remarks, “Do you know what you want? / Are you certain what you wish is what you want?”  The wish is merely the thing we pin our hopes on, the external object or circumstance that will improve interior longing and calamity.  But the want – that’s a whole different story.  The Baker’s Wife ends up getting what she wants after a rendezvous with Prince Charming in the woods.  Here’s how she responds:

Was that me? Was that him? Did a prince really kiss me? And kiss me? And kiss me? And did I kiss him back?

Was it wrong? Am I mad? Is that all? Does he miss me? Was he suddenly getting bored with me?

Wake up! Stop dreaming. Stop prancing about the woods.  It’s not beseeming, what is it about the woods?

And to get what you wish, even just for a moment – these are dangerous woods! 

Why not both instead? There’s the answer if you’re clever

Have a child for warmth, and a baker for bread, and a prince for…whatever.  Never! It’s these woods

Must it all be either less or more, either plain or grand? Is it always “or,” is it never “and”?

The woods are, of course, life.  You have to go into the woods every now and again, square up to life and risk something in order to get anywhere.  But that’s not really the point – she gets what she wants and it makes her question everything – her very self – in the wake of it.  She gets the very thing that she wants! If only for a moment.  Only to realize that it’s not what she wanted at all, which she can only sort out after tending to the interior of things.  To get what you want – danger that way lies.  Not because what we want is inherently bad (though of course it sometimes is), but because it can never really sate anything while it’s still wrapped up as a wish.  The exterior can’t do anything at all if it’s not matching up to what the interior longs for.  People everywhere know this!  John Mayer makes a literal list in Something’s Missing of every good thing he has, checking them off, aching to know what’s there just beneath, just beyond.  Creature Comfort on Arcade Fire’s latest album mocks it (though I do think gently) when Win Butler cries,

Please God, make me famous!

If You can’t – just make it painless

Is that not the cry of the Instagram generation? I will be the first to admit that I have thought almost that exact phrase, word-for-word.   It’s awful when you hear someone else say it, and genuinely know the depth of your own folly (I do think Arcade Fire has generally been the best at doing this.  How do they stay so compassionate and simultaneously incisive? How are they famous but so not famous? Are you all aware that the lead singer met the other lead singer his wife by just walking into an art show in Canada where she was singing jazz? What is that about?).   This, of course, gives a little window into my wishes and wants: I have spent much of my life entertaining the wish – sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously – that if I were able to acquire fame, I would be able to transcend my own experiences of pain and discomfort through the accompanying wealth, recognition, and opportunity it entails, and that it would somehow also lead me to more secondary desires – travel, the ability to do a thing I love, the type of person I could see myself falling in love with.  The wish is fame – the want is immunity from suffering.  When boiled down that way, it is clearly just that – a wish.  A thing that could not possibly lead to the longing it reflects.  This modern fairy tale – the one of American consumerism, in which the wish for objective financial success will lead to the want of a satisfying life – is further contemplated on Everything Now, the title track of the album, as he laments, “And every room in my house is filled with shit I couldn’t live without.”  The fairy tale is flipped on its head – we’ve gotten what we’ve wished for, so why does the longing persist?

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Laps: October 16, Move-in-Day Edition

4:07a – Wake on Margaret’s floor, third time this morning.  Sleeping bag has twisted and turned accordingly with me.  Hear restaurateurs  below still bellowing inarticulably about someone having left cell phone.  Must be important cell phone.  See Emma is awake too, on couch.  Twist and turn in sleeping bag.  Unzip.  Zip.

6:20a – Wake for real.  Scurry to collectively reassemble Margaret’s apartment as she prepares to leave to mold young minds of northwestern Chicago suburbs.  Stuff sleeping bag imperfectly into bag from whence it came.  Shuffle out, one, two, three.  Cold morning air, coloring sunrise I rarely am awake early enough to see.

6:46a – En route to new apartment, hopeful that electricity has been turned on therein re: sleeping on Margaret’s floor.  Call mother via bluetooth.  Ask her to pray with me, after some incoherent sleep-sad babble.  She tells me to take three deep breaths – why do I always forget?  Reminds me of inherent adventure in all unexpected things.  Prays.  Tells me we’ll talk later.

7: 01a – Park outside apartment.  Approach stranger on street to make sense of unclear parking restrictions posted on sign above my car.  At first she is cautious, then extremely helpful.  Assures me I will be fine to park there for next two hours.  Enter apartment with Emma; electricity is in fact still not on.  She must depart to nanny; I set my alarm for 8:45 and nap until I can call landlady and must move car.

9:00a – Call landlady re: electricity.  This is our first time speaking on phone, or at all.  Tells me she is in ComEd lobby, championing our cause.  Assures me she will keep me posted and figure it out.

9:06a – Back in car.  Having not obtained Oak Park parking pass yet, must fill hour before 10a before another spot becomes parkable, due to strange “no parking between 8-10am” restriction that populates streets surrounding my apartment.  Head to gas station 3 minutes away; obtain gas, water bottles, all within 4 minutes.  Yelp nearby cafes, that I might fill my belly with oats and coffee.  Head to said cafe.  Waitress asks for my order; am indecisive about oatmeal, even though it’s what I came for.  She is perplexed by perplexing would-be-oatmeal-patron in front of her.  We figure it out.  She brings me oatmeal and coffee while I think of all strange time pockets such as this one, in-between hours we must fill while we wait for parking spots and electricity.

9:56a – Depart for apartment.  Arrive.  Momentarily consider getting back in bed.  Do so briefly, only to pop back up and begin walking through apartment to pray over it.  Begin crying, obviously.  Continue emotional praying for approximately 10 minutes.  Think of centuries of emotional prayers God has been on receiving end of.  Bless these walls, please.  Bless this decision.  Bless him.  Bless her.  Bless me anyway.

10:22a – Receive call from co-landlady, detailing required information for setting up ComEd account.  This is our first time speaking on phone, or at all.  Upon hearing my questions, tells me they are good ones, tells me she is a mother and wants to help me.  Am assured required information for setting up Nicor account is forthcoming.

10:37a – Call ComEd.  Set up account.  Am assured electricity will be up and running no later than end of next business day.

11:03a – Receive second call from co-landlady, featuring required information for setting up Nicor account.

11:12a – Call Nicor.  Set up account.  Am assured gas is up and running immediately.

12:24p – Call Mom again, in which we have mutual epiphanies and I go on one of my long rants that insists everything is about everything.  Cry again.  Remind self it is okay when there are days where you have already cried three times by twelve o clock, that tears are often weather simply passing through.  “No feeling is final.” Mother responds to said rant with interjections of knowledge and peace, as mothers are wont to do.  Lets me say all things I want to say before doing so.  Depart feeling understood, always singular gift.

“Fear not,” said he, for mighty dread / had seized their troubled minds / “glad tidings of great joy I bring / to you and all mankind”

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A Gradient of Tears

I have a complicated relationship with quotes, but I am able to put my judgments aside for this one: “The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.”  I can testify to the truth of this personally, as I’m sure so many others can.  Catharsis is best found when all three are woven together; perhaps a sprint on the beach that leads to a good cry, culminating in a good float in the ocean, where you’re breathless and beaten up by the waves.  I regretfully don’t live near the ocean and have a difficult time compelling myself to sweat when it’s not dancing, so more often than not my salve for what woes me is tears.  Let it be known: I know that some people think I am exaggerating when I mention crying, in writing or in life.  I am here to tell you – I really do cry as often as I mention it.  I cry a lot.  Not in a miserable or endless way (though on occasion it does feel as such) – it’s just the way I experience life.  I am easily moved.  I can go for months without crying; I sometimes cry every day.  I am moved to tears sometimes by very small things (thinking about birds, when someone lets me pet their dog, when someone uses a word aptly), often by very big things (when other women tell me about what makes them cry, looking at the moon long enough, when I listen to Helplessness Blues, pretty much every Sunday at church).  I have been a cryer for as long as I can remember, and am not picky about where I cry.  It’s not an end-of-the-world kind of thing (sometimes it is).  It’s a Tuesday kind of thing.

When I know I need a good cry that won’t come, the best way to just get it out and have done with it is watching the right movie (which inevitably leads to a long walk in the woods where the real tears are shed or a feverish pitch of writing in my journal to the same effect).  It softens the blow.  Sometimes I need to cry about something too big to approach head-on, and thus need a little pre-gaming before the main event can take place.  A thaw, if you will.  A friend of mine was recently on the hunt for a particular type of crying movie.  Her specifications included that said movie not elicit “cheap tears,” that  romantic elements were allowed, and that it preferably not be soul-crushing.  I found these requirements limiting in a helpful way, and began creating a sort of mental Venn diagram of what fit where, what was permitted based on need and merit.  For full disclosure: I have cried at truly awful movies, including the Sex and the City movie, 10,000 B.C., and Star Wars: Episode III.  Having plumbed the depths of tearful cinema, I’ve found it to have over-corrective capacities, rendering me reliably able to separate gold from straw.  Included below are my various categories that I humbly suggest are worth your tears should you find them hard to procure, with limited descriptions because I so hate to spoil.  I think movies, as much as anything else, have the potential to change your life – or at least the way you think about it – when you let your guard down just a lil and remind yourself that the reason most art is made is to remind other people they’re not alone.

Danger That Way Lies – Full Frontal Weeping

I have watched each of these movies exactly twice, and have decided that I should not be allowed a third viewing.  All 3 of them are based on nationally renowned novels; I don’t know if that means anything, but I thought it was worth mentioning.  They have either made me cry for an absurdly long amount of time (Cold Mountain) or have elicited a lone tear, all that was permitted to leave the deep waters within (The Hours).  All 3 are slow, slow burns (and 2 of them star Nicole Kidman – what’s that about?), punching you right in the face out of nowhere and leaving you there with nothing to ice it with.

Cold Mountain

A historical love story set in Cold Mountain, North Carolina during the Civil War, complete with piano serenades in the back of a carriage It’s proof that sometimes love really is contained to a handful of moments, and that survival of anything – be it war, heartbreak, or a terrible family – is always a choice.  I was so moved by my first viewing of it that I made a terrible painting inspired by it in my high school art class.  It has mysteriously disappeared.

 

Recommended watching: alone, under a blanket, windows open, October breeze wrapping you up

The Hours

The intersecting stories of 3 women in 3 different time periods circulating around the themes of Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf over the course of one day.  Approaches simple themes such as female sacrifice, life as an artist, and the meaning of life.

Recommended watching: with a pal, so you are reminded you are in fact not alone in the world once the movie is over

Never Let Me Go

The story of a love triangle between 3 friends complicated by the fact that (spoiler alert!) they have each been raised to be organ donors in a dystopian world.  The type of cry where you realize you haven’t been breathing deeply for most of the movie, and then it all comes tumbling out at once.

Recommended watching: alone, but with soft lighting

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