essay

essay

What I Read in 2017

Winter

It was our first New Year’s Eve without my father. I dipped strawberries in melted chocolate and watched my mother stir rice pudding. The family was coming over to our house. Despite the brutal absence, we were supposed to be celebrating. My brother, George, got engaged. I have big life news as well, I told everyone. I am quitting my job.

Family members congratulated my brother while raising their eyebrows at me. They didn’t hide their distaste when they told me I needed to reassess my life choices. They told me to wait until I found a new job first—to not be totally broke. I told them I was already broke. I told them my last Uber driver disclosed his salary to me. It was unprompted, and I wished I didn’t hear it because when I told him my salary in the same trusting nature, he asked me if my wage was even legal. On the bright side, I said, my free time will be spent searching for a husband full time. They are traditionalists who couldn’t believe I was not married with children already.

Around the same time, I was reading Zoey Leigh Peterson’s Next Year For Sure, which offered a dual perspective into a progressive relationship. Kathryn and Chris were dating for nearly a decade when Chris began to have feelings for another woman, Emily. The first chapter began with Chris admitting his crush to Emily.

This confession was not out of the ordinary for them. They had an open and honest relationship, divulging all their stories and secrets to each other. The news of Chris’ crush sent Kathryn into a flurry of wild emotions that she hid with nonchalance. Despite her instinct to shut down the idea, she encouraged Chris to date Emily. Their stable relationship of finishing each other’s sentences and nightly, weekly, and yearly routines unraveled. They knew everything about each other, including memories from before they got together. One night, Chris told Emily a new detail to the story Kathryn had heard hundreds of times; this simple act of Emily tapping into unfamiliar territory of Chris’ astonished and confused Kathryn.

I felt equally betrayed reading that. How could Chris do that to Kathryn? What was so special about Emily that he couldn’t just appreciate her as a friend? What was Kathryn thinking supporting Chris’ decision to date her and another girl at once when it made her uncomfortable? I started to reflect on all the relationships in my life, all the people who have come and gone. I didn’t know what made a person irreplaceable. I didn’t know how to trust anyone to stick around. Chris was happy with and faithful to Kathryn for a long time before he met Emily at a laundromat. A simple interaction and his feelings changed, a momentary thrill that he wanted to chase.

My dad was the person who made me happy when I was sad without trying, without knowing I was sad. Just seeing him would brighten my day. I hadn’t met anyone who’s absence I would care more about than my father’s. I didn’t give people the chance, but I saw no point.

So, I did not search for a husband in my free time, as promised. I instead focused on getting a new job. By the end of the season, I accepted and began a new marketing gig.

 

Spring

I was crying very often. And not because of my grief, but because of my job. The learning curve was rough and I was consumed by work. I went into the office early, left late, then went to sleep and dreamt about work. No matter how focused I was, my role was still challenging.

To make matters worse, I had no friends. My only companions were my boss and the Spotify Discover Weekly playlists. One day I forgot my headphones at home. Around noon, the group of people around me all began coordinating lunch plans, during which I sat with my eyes glued to the computer screen, pretending I couldn’t hear them making plans without me.

It felt bizarre spending eight hours a day being surrounded by people in an open floor plan, but feeling utterly alone. I didn’t even have a cubicle to blame. In Jeffrey Toobin’s American Heiress, Patty Hearst’s life before being kidnapped by the SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army) appeared fulfilled. She was engaged to and living with her math tutor, Steve Weed, who was six years her senior. It was a banal relationship she thought might be more exciting by moving in together and getting engaged. This was not the case. Toobin wrote:

Patricia cooked and cleaned; Steve did neither. They did everything, including have sex, on his schedule, not hers. Patricia made the beds or left them unmade, as she did on February 4. Their evening together on that occasion was typical. Dinner was chicken soup with tuna fish sandwiches, followed by Mission: Impossible on television, then schoolwork in silence on the downstairs sofa. Bathrobe and slippers had become her home uniform. At nineteen, this was her life? On the eve of her kidnapping, Patricia later acknowledged, she was "mildly suicidal."

I, too, felt shackled to a routine I did not want for myself: wake up, work, go home, work, sleep, and repeat. There was a lot to do and a lot more to learn. I no longer felt the rush of an idea for a new passion project in my spare time. It took me twice as long to read books. I stopped making plans on weeknights because I didn’t want to commit to anything that might force me to leave the office before my work was finished. On nights that I left the office early, I would stop by a neighboring bookstore and browse the shelves or listen to a guest speaker, feeling too tired to be inspired. Patty was trapped in an engagement; I was trapped in Outlook.

At 25, this was my life?

I pretended that not being invited to a lunch out with coworkers was what hurt, but really, I was feeling isolated from the people most important to me, my friends and family, and it wasn’t because of my headphones.

Summer

The weather was beautiful, and I was again reminded of the ugliness in this season. I braced myself for the one year anniversary of my father's death: July 14. He passed away on a Thursday; this year, it fell on a Friday. I stayed home from work and my family visited his grave together. The next day, we had a mass at church for him. I was sitting at the altar, reminded of everything I lost, when I saw four friends walk inside. They stood in the back, not understanding the Arabic prayers or Coptic writing. I joined them, and couldn’t help laughing at the sight of them. They traveled an hour out of their way, back and forth. I felt inappropriate for laughing, until I stood with my mom and watched her have the same reaction to her friend, a stranger to our religion, entering mass to stand by her side.

The following week, George, my mom, and I traveled to Egypt. I was too busy to pack my bags because of work, so my mom did. My suitcase was vibrant. It’s time to for a change, she told me. No more black clothing. I obeyed, but not without guiltily pointing out the hypocrisy in her black clothing. It’s different, she told me calmly.

It was our first time back in years. My father and I were supposed to visit Egypt the year before; our trip was scheduled for a month after his passing. Being there without my dad felt wrong. Egypt was his home. When my grandparents moved the family to America, my father was the only one left behind. He refused to leave, instead choosing to crash with his aunt and cousin. It took two years for them to finally force him onto a plane to the States. After he moved, he went back to Egypt every year, sometimes twice a year.

He always said he wanted to retire in Egypt by the Red Sea. I loved Egypt, too. I spent almost every summer of my life in Egypt, always beginning the fall school year much chunkier because of my many helpings of its delicious, high-caloric food. The loud streets of Cairo echoed my father’s presence in every corner. I associated everything, from the dusty air to the sun’s enveloping blaze, with him. Egypt was still his home.

In Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, the character Bernadette barely left her home. She found solace in it, despite its incomplete renovation. When her daughter asked to go on a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for good grades, Bernadette hesitantly agreed. She had (what I would diagnose as) mild agoraphobia. In an effort to prepare, she contacted her virtual assistant for the strongest medicine for seasickness (“stronger than Dramamine”), among other excessive requests. The highlighted theatrics behind her anxiety makes it easy for readers to gloss over the sacrificial nature of Bernadette. She felt true conflict in leaving her comfort zone, and although she plots ways to back out of the trip, she ultimately planned to go on the trip for her daughter.

Our trip to Egypt was difficult for me, but for my mother it was a repeating stab to the heart. She was surrounded by her entire family in her home country. She should have been happy, but she couldn’t fully be. She never spoke too much about her feelings. She would cry a little some days. Other times, she’d talk about my father to elicit reminiscence from people. Most of the time, she seemed to enjoy the moments without mentioning him.

One night, we were sitting outside, the only noise the sound of the can of OFF! being passed around. To no one in particular, maybe to the sky, she said, I miss him.

I remembered in that moment something that keeps me up at night. My mom had been living outside of her comfort zone for a year. I didn't want to wonder if that would ever change.

Fall

Now it was time for my oldest brother, Joe, to make an announcement: he was moving. To Cyprus. In two weeks. He’d quit his job and was moving back home for the two weeks in between. I stayed with him and enjoyed the short time I got to live under the same roof with my brothers, possibly for the last time ever. Growing up in a tight-knit family (my cousins lived right next door for most of my life), no one took this news lightly. The idea of me moving a train ride away from New Jersey was already a world away in their minds. Moving across the globe to a foreign country no one had ever visited was staggering.

This return to our childhoods felt very ordinary, otherwise. My brothers and I fell into our old routines of racing to use the bathroom in the morning and spending far too long trying to agree on a movie to watch. Before I knew it, I was waking up to hug and kiss my brother goodbye and safe travels. I kept pestering him for a return date, foolishly asking if he’d try to come back for Christmas. Christmas was a month away, and although it made no sense for him to return in that time, I could not comprehend celebrating the holiday without him.

It was beginning to be the holiday season, and I was glum. There was a time in my life when this time of the year was my favorite. I loved shopping for my family and friends, excited by a holiday that promoted gift giving.

This year, I asked my family if we could skip the gifts and tree. All I saw in Christmas trees was the mess that would be left to clean in January. George was insistent on a tree. My mother compromised by setting a miniature tree in the family room.

While everyone around me expressed gratitude for all they had, I felt burdened by all I’d lost. My favorite thing about life--my family--had dwindled from five to three. My boisterous tight-knit extended family that I saw multiple times a month rarely got together anymore.

I read André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name next to my dog by my family’s fireplace. A comforting surrounding for a heart-wrenching story. It took place in Italy, sometime in the 1980s, and was written from the perspective of 17-year-old Elio. Elio was attracted to his family’s summer guest, Oliver, and experienced a full body and mental torment as he idolized Oliver from across the backyard. He compared the feeling to fire: “Not a fire of passion, not a ravaging fire, but something paralyzing, like the fire of cluster bombs that suck up the oxygen around them and leave you panting because you’ve been kicked in the gut and a vacuum has ripped up every living lung issue and dried your mouth, and you hope nobody speaks, because you can’t talk, and you pray no one asks you to move, because your heart is clogged and beats so fast it would sooner spit out shards of glass than let anything else flow through its narrowed chambers.”

The two spent their afternoons together and came together in a triumphant, intense bond. Their passion lasted what felt like seconds, but was actually a few weeks, before Oliver had to return back to the States.

When Oliver visited a few months later, he was engaged to someone else. Years passed. Oliver got married, had kids. Elio was successful in an unspecified field; he got involved with people he identified as “those after Oliver.” Their few reunions were outwardly platonic and mostly reminiscent. Their actions were restricted, but Elio’s, and I’d like to believe Oliver’s, feelings of longing from so long ago were unchanged.

The notion that feelings live on, with the capacity to bring back a few weeks of one summer, scared me. It was years later and Elio still subconsciously craved Oliver’s touch. He would never fully get over him. Time didn’t actually heal all.

A few months after my dad passed away, a friend told me he wished I could go back to normal, to the old Nat he loved. I should have been mad at him, but instead I felt awful. I felt awful because it occurred to me that I would never be the same, that I lost the person I once was. Until this, I experienced nothing substantial to be sad about. Sure, I found things: bad grades, boys, the movie My Dog Skip. Never anything tangible. An old coworker once told me I didn’t walk, I skipped. It was true. I was free of pain.

I’ll never have that freedom back. I identify as someone who’s lost a parent. Suddenly. So, so sadly. And that’s a narrative that I’m not sure I’ll ever escape.

I expect more pain will come. Like Elio and Oliver, I will experience a full life, find love elsewhere, etc. But these feelings of grief will always be there. My father was my best friend, and if mourning him is the consequence of loving him, then my heart will forever dress in black.

me.jpg

Natalia is an editor of Things Created By People. Find more of her work on her website.

essay

Making Peace (and Finding My Own) with the De-Intensification of Britney Spears

Throughout the years generally agreed upon as her “prime,” one way in which Britney Spears remained such a thrilling performer was dancing ahead of the beat. This accomplished two things, really. It presented Britney as prepared and unstoppable, the choreography engrained in her body and spirit to the point that performing it was effortless. She was insatiable, relentlessly seeking the thrill of the next move. But the more you watch Britney perform at this speed, the more you realize there’s something deeper being going on here. Take the dance break in “Me Against The Music” as performed on Saturday Night Live. The effect makes Britney look like she is flying through space and time, while her dancers remain firmly grounded in Studio 8H, Eastern Standard. They are joining her on that stage because the public has years of visual training instructing them that a couple layers of humans do, in fact, belong behind our star.

But they also, purposefully or not, act to highlight just how capable Britney is of doing the whole thing on her own. Being in front of her dancers, too, means Britney’s satisfied facial expressions can only be linked to her knowing she’s killing it; she cannot see the full picture they’ve created as a team. It’s striking she never once makes eye contact with any of them – even when she turns around, so do they. This lack of human connection with those mere inches from her is a theme in Britney’s work as a performer. Perhaps its for the best; when she does attempt to engage with her dancers directly, she ends their lives with the movement of her hips, finds herself more interested in her cameras than her grinding partner, or, is blindfolded. The most intimately engaged I’ve seen Britney with a dance partner was when she dance-battled herself.

As a queer person whose formative years took place squarely within the Bible Belt, I too know a little bit about dance-battling myself in the mirror. I have a feeling most queer people do, actually; evidence suggests I am far from the first or last gay kid to privately turn themselves into a star, and exist within that fantasy world throughout each lackluster day, the fantasy becoming its clearest and most vivid whilst completely alone. That’s what I find most miraculous about those videos of young queer kids slaying their favorite pop routines; they accidentally reveal the grueling rehearsal schedules within the secret, private lives of the child performers. How much time do you think Robert E. Jeffrey spent in front of his mirror to get Madonna’s “Vogue” down pat? And as a fellow student of the material, I can personally vouch for Brendan Jordan that Gaga’s “A-R-T-P-O-P” hand choreo is no small feat to master.


The tour in which Britney dance-battled herself was the Dream Within a Dream Tour, and it is over the course of this two-year outing she and Justin Timberlake famously uncoupled. This is to say the tour started off dark and just got darker. By the second leg, she had replaced a cute, expository introduction to the battle song (“Who is this chick? I think she wants to battle me. Huh? Whew!”) for something pointedly anti-male (“This is a song for ALL my girls”), indicating a harsh shift in perspective: no matter the girl, and no matter the boy, the girl’s gonna get screwed. While on the surface, this seems to be Britney dealing with young straight love gone awry, I always took it to mean much more. This proclamation felt more anti-humankind than just merely boys. One thing that astounded me about the Dream Within a Dream Tour was its through line of superhero independence. On top of dance-battling her evil twin, Britney is kidnapped (honestly, an exhausting amount of times), endures a thunderstorm, and plays a girl trapped in a music box, never to find her true love (during her three most overtly romantic songs). In fact, Britney never once achieves romantic satisfaction – even when the mood shifts in favor of passion, it’s her dancers getting it on, Britney watching longingly. By the time Britney finishes the show, one can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief – not just because it’s an exhausting technical feat, but because it’s a miracle whatever character Britney is playing survived this whole plight on her own (her dancers certainly never helped; they were too busy kidnapping her). Whether she had to break through a large net, bungee off the edge of a flying cliff, or endure a loneliness her narrator – Jon Voight, by the way – makes a point to describe as both insufferable and eternal – Britney always escaped to safety, and she did it, each time, without any help. It was a 90-minute concept performance about the ineptitude of anyone else to make you happy – or, really do anything but annoy or traumatize you. The New York Times review of the show was titled “Exchanging Her Halo for a Cloak of Darkness.” So, listen, I swear – I wasn’t alone on this one, you guys.

But so what if I was? That’s kind of the idea Britney was throwing into the ether in 2002 – being alone was not the end of the world; in fact, it was noble. It made you invincible – faster than those behind you, hyper-alert, firing off on all cylinders, blasting toward the ultimate destination of career dominance. This was a conclusion I had been forced to come up with on my own, as someone who did not see himself in any romantic relationships I’d been exposed to, both in my personal life and through pop culture. But now, I had a mascot for it – and she was the most famous human in the world. If our country’s most beloved icon didn’t need anyone, neither did I. This is convenient for a queer kid who certainly wouldn’t have anyone for a while – and at the time, thought maybe ever. “One day I will be as powerful as the most insane images the outer limits of my imagination can conjure. If anyone has a problem with me, it simply won’t matter in a few years, because I will be universally adored – a type of adoration more important than any type of personal or, ew, …intimate one.” Sixteen years later, I find myself wondering if those feelings have served their purpose, and are supposed to go away.

When Britney danced ahead of the song’s beat for a small measurement of time akin to that of her ex-boyfriend’s wardrobe malfunction, the results were thrilling. When she let herself get even faster, though, it could deliver the opposite effect: our Queen was ready to wrap this sucker up, and get backstage to a warm bowl of cheese grits. She didn’t care that no matter how fast she rushed through her marks, there’s only so much wiggle room with which a show largely set to a track can bend. It was as if, for ninety minutes, she was trapped in structure she was faster than, better than, and, ultimately, over.


Regardless of her motivations for dancing at warp-speed, Britney spent years setting a precedent. Which is one of the many reasons why her 2007 VMA performance was so confounding; lagging just wasn’t Britney’s thing and here she was. This performance acted as a catalyst to a near-decade-long process of a fan re-standardization of our expectations for Britney’s live shows. While her music remained truly exciting, tours supporting the new goods were met with confusion online. YouTube clips from the Circus and Femme Fatale tours became message board deliberations between two groups. In one corner, you had the upset fans wishing Britney would come out and slay one more time for old time’s sake. In the other, understanding fans citing a variety of reasons she couldn’t – or didn’t have to, given what she’d already given us.

I was always a member of the former camp. Even as things started looking positive for Britney, with a stable Vegas residency that allowed her more time with her children and created a structure within which she could seemingly retrieve a good chunk of the pep in her step, I wasn’t seeing it. When the opposing camp would bring up that perhaps – just perhaps – Britney was happier now – with a stable home life, less grueling schedule, and easier performance style leaning harder on “fun” than “culture-shifting,” my brain could not compute an equation that rendered a lack of gravitas and a disinterest in striving toward mass public adoration – with happiness. Britney is a god and she should be performing like her god counterparts, not becoming a niche act for the nostalgic. For many years, I allowed myself no joy in the de-intensification of Britney Spears. It was my pop cultural torture chamber, watching someone I loved so much trade in owning the cultural zeitgeist with every shake of her pelvis or soda endorsement - for something nearing closer, day by day, to personal fulfillment. Even as her other fans celebrated her new personal successes – and tried as they may to invite me on board their ship – I saw no benefits in the trade-off and pouted at the dock.


As recently as August of 2016, Britney seemed to be sticking to a life of independence akin to the dystopian single-girl vision from Dream Within a Dream. Appearing on Carpool Karaoke with James Cordon, Britney was asked “What are you looking for in a guy?” She responds curtly, “I think I might not ever go to men again. I may never do the men thing anymore, or get married, I’m just done with men.” A shocked Cordon gets her to backtrack a bit – but not by much. “I might French kiss someone,” she admits, but then, as if catching herself straying from a hard-fought resolution, doubles back down, “But I’m not going to marry anyone, no. I don’t believe in marriage anymore.” Britney’s romantic receptors were still firmly in the OFF position, but something new was beginning: she was developing an interest in connecting with others – any interested parties, really - more intimately. Britney’s world had been shrouded in secrecy for years; then, all of the sudden, her Instagram became an intense – yet playful and funny – vision board of her psyche. The idea that personal fulfillment could be valuable - not in spite of its seeming lack of relevance to a consumer, but because of it – became an idea her Instagram account presented with gusto. It has inspired a weekly podcast, Britney’s Gram, where comedians Barbara and Tess analyze Brit’s posts with the scrutiny of Justin Timberlake watching his ex kiss Madonna. Showing off personal growth for Britney as a person first and foremost – any gains in her career falling to the wayside – became an interesting development when I could see it first-hand. I was here for it. Furthermore, the idea that an interest in self-care – as opposed to an obsession with career-excellence – could lead to new creative discoveries and possibilities is not something I’d even considered until seeing Britney take up painting. Or watched her pull out two non-singles from five albums ago during her big career retrospective at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards, simply because she wanted to. Or seen her – live vocals and all – cover a 1991 Bonnie Rait song on her Vegas stage, because she’d just learned – in 2017 – that people thought she lip-synced. These decisions are simply too random not to be her own, and in the same way that they lost all their sense(s), they also became as thrilling to watch as dancing ahead of the beat. And at the end of the day, perhaps the most intriguing new idea I’m processing from 2018ney is that all this self-care and opening oneself up to new possibilities – could, whether you like it or not, bring someone special into your life. It might even do so quickly – for instance, less than two years after you told James Cordon on national TV you were done with special someones. (To be fair, I guess it is possible Britney and her boyfriend are only French kissing…)

Growing up queer and closeted, you spent a lot of time alone – but you also spend a lot of time testing the boundaries of opening up to others, and being subsequently disappointed by your decision to do so. Sometimes, loved ones abandon you at an age so young you don’t realize what even happened until much later. You get used to this and you take care of yourself. Until it becomes exhausting, and you join a large club of young souls who’ve given up. Intimate human relationships based on truth and openness seem so impossible that the hope of them happening one day cannot build up the muscle to take on the facts of their impossibility. Your relationship with your family and friends is actually not your own, but that of them and your invented self – someone shy on personal details, obsessed with personal accomplishments, and uninterested in romantic possibilities. And they like this person, and this person is a performance you’ve perfected to the point you’re flying through space and time effortlessly when you embody them, so it feels fine to let it go on as long as need be. But what does it look like when you realize you have been trapped in structure you are faster than, better than, and, ultimately, over? And then: how do you break out of it, and let someone – a special someone – in?


Recently I found myself asking my friends what the point of a romantic relationship was. This type of provocation is not new between me and my straight buddies – I spent many a closeted teenage year insisting they were lesser than I for craving companionship, proving they were but half a human whereas I was (obviously) whole. But this recent conversation felt different; I was genuinely curious as to their answer. I had lost track of what the allure was in the first place, and was confounded anyone even tried when they could have those hours shared with another – nervous first dates, attending partners’ shows, “enjoying” lazy Sunday mornings watching Netflix in bed – back to themselves. When my friends helped me understand that relationships were more about self-nourishment in-the-now than any grand scheme for the world or one’s success in it – their answer felt useless. What’s the point of nourishing the self, if the self is but a temporary endurance test spiraling toward a future dream? A dream that might take everything in you to get even a tenth of? A dream that can’t afford distractions; one that can’t afford being thrown off by anybody? Besides, past attempts at intimacy have only left you knocked down.

But what I think I can gather from watching Britney living right now in 2018 is that sometimes it may be worth trying again. To connect with others; to reckon with how that is bettering yourself. And perhaps that “distraction” – that relationship with someone special – is not a distraction at all. But rather, a little dream within your dream. Especially if your head is on a little straighter than the first time you gave it a go. 

Besides, maybe this instinct to break free from loneliness is always there. There’s a reason both little Robert and Brendan gave the world a glimpse of their private mirror routines when cameras were rolling, and they finally had a chance to shine. There’s a reason I performed my routines in front of my bedroom window for my bully who lived a couple houses down. Would he be so moved by my performance he’d stop making fun of me? Probably not. Would he be so allured by sick (Darrin’s) dance grooves that he might fall in love with me, securing my first boyfriend/bully hybrid?… I knew I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try! You see, there’s a lot of greatness to be shared in these elaborate worlds a queer brain weaves since childhood. And in the words of the Queen – on her most recent album, in fact – “Nobody should be alone if they don’t have to be.”


Michael Doshier is a New York based writer, musician, and performer. As a writer, he's contributed to The Talkhouse, Things Created By People, and Viacom's Logo Movie House. As a musician, he's traveled internationally as Johnny Darlin, performing multimedia cabarets with his keytar, most recently at the 2018 Prague Fringe Festival. He co-hosts the weekly podcast Queers on Queens, and his next EP "Way With Words" is due out Summer 2018. Catch his performance of "Songs About Boys" at the Queerly Festival in New York City this June 23rd and 26th

essay

Wonders

I.

Two different people played me “Fall of the Star High School Running Back” a few hours apart. I like to believe it was a plot—they were in that conspiratorial pre-hook-up phase—but it wasn’t. They plugged their phones into the shitty radio in my Grams’ old car, their words haunting one another’s as they told me you’re gonna love this

I did not. I thought it was needlessly twee. But I trusted them both, and when a week later I packed up my dorm room and started driving west, I decided to give All Hail West Texas a genuine try. 

Over the course of that week, I had graduated college with a diploma with the wrong name on it. I’d passed for the first time. I’d driven away from a rebound who had been his own sort of driving away from a partner. I was alone with my body for the first time since I was teenager. My trunk was full of alcohol swabs and needles that made me shake to think about. And here was John Darnielle, telling me to hail satan, that the pirate’s life was for me, that I was the one thing in the universe god didn’t have his eyes on. 

I laughed. I whooped. I didn’t cry, but I thought about it. And then he sang: And I want to go home, but I am home. 

I did not dissociate, but I did leave my body. It felt like the fight club I’d been in the year I started coming out, the night where I told a much stronger friend who’d been holding back that he could hold back a little less and he immediately knocked the wind out of me. As I slumped against the fridge in the dorm lounge, trying to reassure him that I was fine even though I couldn’t get any words out, I felt the place where the pain was and I felt my lungs and I felt the rest of my body and I felt his hands and his breath as he tried to help me up and I heard myself laughing and I could feel that I meant it but it all felt invented somehow. My homes were gone.

II.

He’d been straight and I’d been out our whole relationship. We grew into the cognitive dissonance kind of beautifully. He was shitty about it for a few months—something I’d never put up with now, but I was twenty and afraid and ashamed—and I’m glad I stuck it out, because once I really explained it to him, he got on board. He even got me a binder for Valentine’s Day. 

He told me he was scared he wouldn’t be attracted to me when I looked and smelled and sounded different. He told me he was scared that I would turn into a different person. I never wanted to be monogamous but agreed to it because it was a hard line for him, and now I wondered if it was a bad idea to try to be present with my body while it felt like a shared thing. We never acknowledged my plans to start T as a factor in our break up; we went right from planning our wedding to being unable to compromise on where we’d move after graduation. 

We saw each other twice after the break up. The first time I was two and a half months on T. He had come back east to visit his other friends at my college right before we graduated. The first thing he said to me: “You look different. You sound different.”I held him while he cried about I don’t remember what on the steps of an academic building after dark. 

The second time was a month after that in the home in LA that he built with a Craigslist roommate and not with me. It took both of us to walk the last of his shit from my car to his room, books and blankets and men’s clothes I’d used for practice. Instead of trading mixes like we used to we spoke vaguely of songs we knew the other would never try out. I tried to explain “The Mess Inside”without saying anything about him, or about us, or about how I’d tried to scream sing it in my car every single day since the first time I heard it but I didn’t know how to make my new voice scream or sing so I got scared and whispered. He loved concept albums, so I told him about All Hail West Texas, but all I could talk about was how the sound quality was only okay and the song titles were pretentious and it was mostly acoustic guitar, all things he hated. 

My car broke later that day, stranding me in California for a few extra hours. I texted him that I would like to see him again, but this time to fight or fuck or do something, anything, that approached acknowledging what I thought we had meant to each other. He declined.

III.

I first heard Against Me! on Thanksgiving. My friend didn’t want to go to their parents’ house, so I got up early to visit them before going to see my own straight family. They’d just moved to New York and they were tremendously broke and tremendously depressed. We smoked cigarettes on their stoop and took off our pants and got under their quilt and decided to try out Transgender Dysphoria Blues. I remember holding hands and how at that moment in time, they were one of the only people allowed to touch me; I remember feeling their fingernails inside my skin; I remember how tightly we squeezed when Laura Jane Grace said that she should have been a mother, she should have been a wife, she should have been gone from here years ago she should be living a different life and how it still wasn’t tight enough. 

Four months later we’d borrowed my college roommate’s boyfriend’s car and driven to Long Island because that was the nearest place we could get tickets to see Against Me!. By the time Grace came out for the encore, I’d fallen in love with the crowd, in love with the band, in love with my friend, in love with myself. She was alone on stage, and she told us that she was going to do a song by John Darnielle. I tried to suspend myself in the moment before getting invested—the Mountain Goats have so many songs, and I knew so few then—but I am energetic and hopeful and I’ve yet to find a way to stop myself from going all in at a moment’s notice. Then she said that she was going to play “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.”

I gripped my friend’s arm too tightly or I didn’t touch them, I can’t remember. I was with them and I was alone and both were more true than they had ever been before. When it was over, they whispered into my ear, factual: “Something just happened to you.” Then they disappeared into the mosh pit. 

In the car on the way home, my ears rang with the quiet and the darkness of the suburbs. It took longer than usual for it to feel like it was time, and when it did, I tried to tell them. “That song was all that I listened to on my road trip after college. I wasn’t passing at the beginning of the trip and I was at the end and I learned that song the first day I was alone on the highway and I...” They listened well. It didn’t feel bad that I couldn’t explain it.

IV.

I have friends now who didn’t know me before my medical transition. I wish that they did. I want everyone to know all of me all at once. New friends may not be able to know my old voice or my chest without scars or what it’s like to think of me first by my birth name, but I can try to fold them into the history of my body. So it’s one of these friends who I asked to design my “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” tattoo (just two tiny horns, which is stupidly obvious and perfect and something I would never have thought of by myself). I got the tattoo alone. I spent a lot of time in the suspended state of knowing that the artist was wrong about what he thought my body was. 

Next week, the tattoo designer and I are going to see the Mountain Goats’ Goths tour. I will be getting to her place many hours before the show so that we can go full goth, lipstick and nail polish and a corset she’s going to lend me. I don’t think anyone else will be dressed up, but I hope it makes people glad to see that we are. It will make us glad to see ourselves.

Sometimes I get transported so powerfully by music that I am in multiple places at once. Not split between them, but fully in each of them, and each of them fully encompassing me. I wonder, next week, where I will be, and what that will feel like. Will I feel trapped or free in my car? Will the ex’s apartment feel like a flaming scar or a blink? Will I be able to explain any of this to my friend if I can just hold her hand tight enough? With my scars and her corset and our music playing all around, will I still want to go home? 


Jamie Beckenstein is a community worker, oral historian, tarot reader, and writer based out of Queens, New York. You can learn more about their work at transembassy.com and more about them at jamiebeckenstein.com.

essay

Thin and Beautiful

You and I are not the kind of women who can forget that we have a weight problem. That’s just how it is.
— Therapist to Joanna, from Thin For Life

This is the story of how I turned into that person.

Timeline

In the 2nd grade, my doctor told my mother that I should be put on a diet. I remember being offended that the doctor told my mother as if I weren’t even standing there. In fourth grade, classmates remarked that they wouldn’t want to see my body at a pool party. By seventh grade, I was called Fat Sarah or Whale by at least three or four boys daily on the school bus. On AOL instant messenger, several students anonymously told me I was chunky or ugly. As a sixth-grader, a friend’s brother told me I should be nice and skinny like our other friend, Christine. I didn’t see a reason to have any self-esteem, which resulted in tenaciously holding onto a middle school boyfriend that dumped me seven times. When I finished eighth grade, I was down to 137 lbs through extreme dieting. After drinking alcohol with my cousin at New Year’s, she showed me how to throw up on demand. Thankfully, due to having a friend whose teeth had decayed from severe bulimia, I didn’t feel compelled to purge very often.

In my sophomore year of high school, I was back up to 160-165 lbs. By 11th grade, I was down to 145 lbs thanks to Weight Watchers. By this point I had started exercising consistently. At Weight Watchers meetings, I was shocked to meet a woman who confessed to eating in a bathroom at her lowest point. I couldn’t understand how someone could ever get to that point. By 12th grade, I was down to 137 lbs. I realized I could eat less than Weight Watchers allowed so absurdly I started counting how many bites of food I allowed myself per day. I was terrified to see that this diet may have become mainstream five years later.

Through my freshman year of college, I dipped to my all-time low of 134 lbs, before I finally ended the school year at 157 lbs. My weight skyrocketed as I tried to save time by skipping the gym and I mistakenly believed I might be able to eat “like a normal person” and maintain my weight.

Eating like a normal person quickly turned into an excuse to eat everything I had craved and denied myself the past two years: pop tarts, peanut butter and jelly, Reese’s peanut butter cups, cookie dough, bagels, ice cream, even vanilla frosting. My diet had become so terrible and so embarrassing that I did what I once found unfathomable: I ate in the bathroom stall of my science building. I didn’t want anyone to ask me what I was eating (peanut butter and jelly mixed with cookie crumbs). I avoided mirrors, a scale, and any other signs which may have forced me to face the truth. The idea of having regained the weight I lost was so traumatic I continued to wear my “skinny” jeans even when I had to unbutton the zipper after sitting down for long stretches of time. I continued to wear those jeans even when they ripped open at the inner thighs. The holes were barely noticeable when walking, but I remember wearing them to the airport twice and getting patted down by the same woman. I can’t imagine what she was thinking when she pressed her gloved hand on my jeans and felt two gaping holes twice.

One of my worst memories was coming home from college having put on close to 20 lbs. The boyfriend that I hadn’t seen in months was silent about it. My brother joked about it and no part of me could laugh or even mention my weight. In the summer I got down to 149 with my three-apples-a-day-diet (and nothing more). My extreme dieting also led to occasional weekends of binging, including my birthday in which I ate so much threw up shortly after trying to go to bed. I regained the weight by the end of summer. Through my sophomore year, my weight had ranged from 149 to 169 lbs as I cheated Weight Watchers. Through junior year, I weighed 146 lbs for about a week before I started cheating Weight Watchers again. In the Spring semester of my senior year I went abroad where I was without a scale or measuring tape for four months. Terrified of gaining weight, I asked my host mother to cook me salad and grilled chicken or fish for all meals. Nonetheless, I would lie to her up to three times a week and say I was going to eat out with friends when really I went to Haagen Dazs alone to have a Belgian waffle with scoops of ice cream on top. Once, when my host mom set up a date with me and her nephew, I sent him home after I claimed to be too tired to go out; what I really wanted was to binge on ice cream. I was mortified when I bumped into my host mom and host dad at the ice cream shop. I can guess now that I was probably around 145-155 lbs during my time in Spain, which were relatively “good” numbers for me. When I graduated college, I weighed over 164 lbs. I had entered college weighing 137 lbs. I felt like an absolute failure.

In the two years since I’ve graduated college, I’ve continued to vacillate between the 150s and 160s. As I type this story, I weigh 155.0.

My Skinny Journey

The earliest age I can clearly remember dieting is at age 13. I found lots of “thinspo” and “thinspiration” through Xanga, an older blogging website, and saw other girls post their daily caloric intakes. Let me be clear: if these girls were posting their true diets on these websites, they were unequivocally anorexic. I knew that at the time and didn’t care. They looked good, which was all that mattered. I started eating 600 calories a day. Ironically, eating that little can actually make it harder to lose weight because it slows down one’s metabolism so much. Thankfully this extreme dieting phase only lasted about a month. Scarily, I remember my hunger pangs simply going away. I was able to eat a single piece of sushi all day and still feel comfortable and energized. I got to 135 lbs this way.

Since then, for at least seven years I have obsessed with my Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is a tool used by physicians to determine whether you fall into the underweight, ideal, overweight or obese category according to your height bracket.

I was simply consumed with fitting into the “healthy” category of a BMI below 25. I was able to maintain a “healthy” BMI for about two or three years in high school. I preferred fast food and chain restaurants solely for the fact that they had calorie counts (and at times I am still comforted by a meal free of worrying about over or under-counting calories). Once, I ordered a boiled potato at an elegant Spanish restaurant because that was the only food I could definitively count on Weight Watchers (even this was a false premise; my family still won’t let me live that down).

After graduating high school, my weight had increased to up to 20 lbs above the BMI healthy limit (possibly more, of course I couldn’t weigh myself at that point). Sometimes my waist circumference would even be in the healthy category, and this I don’t put in quotation marks because visceral fat (the kind around your waist, and around your internal organs) is really the fat that is dangerous.

Even though I knew I was healthy in the important measures, I was still obsessed with that number. I became self-conscious of wanting to go into a health profession, in which I would be coaching patients on healthier lifestyles, when I myself had a BMI over 25. In my mind, it was the ultimate hypocrisy.

I realized I hit rock bottom when I was at one of my best friends’ engagement party.

First: A friend commented on how thin I looked. I said thanks but snidely replied that “I was still 12 lbs overweight,” so in my mind of course it didn’t matter how I looked. I was still fat, and I had no protection if I felt big or unattractive. The healthy BMI range was my shield; it could justify any remark with the feeling that I knew “I was in the healthy category” so I’m by definition, not fat.

Second: Leaving that same party, my friend invited me to visit him up in Boston. Again, I snapped. I don’t want to do anything until I lose 12 lbs! He knew I was crazy and this was “my thing” so he let it go. He told me loved me and hoped I had fun. I reduced his beautiful party to simply “having a lot of unhealthy food.”

An event he planned for months, that he sent out beautiful invitations for, that he spent his personal money on, that he had invited all his family members and only his absolute best friends to. I reduced it to being an environment that had high-calorie snacks that I ate too much of.

Something had to change. I was so angry at myself. I drowned myself in research and reflection. I can’t believe in the BMI scale anymore. Being factually in the overweight category never inspired me to change, become healthier or “resist” unhealthy food. It just made me feel helpless, de-motivated, stressed and unattractive. I had to believe that “BMI is bogus.” This is why I support the Fat Acceptance movement: it promotes body acceptance, not hatred, as the media (and your friends) do by suggesting thinner always means more beautiful. (For example: “10 Ways to Get Flatter Abs Today”; “How to Lose 5 lbs in One Week”; “You look AMAZING. Have you lost weight?!”; “Wow! You look so thin!”

I used to be very guilty of making these comments. If you accept your body and your size you are more likely to make healthier decisions that are better for you. And this is why I try not to buy magazines that fill their front covers with thin-centric messages that suggest you are not thin enough. And that is why I’m trying to be a lot more conscious of how I contribute, and thus, tell my friends that they are beautiful all the time, and not only when they’re thin.

Lessons

I’ve tried to drown myself in peer-reviewed research to try to make sense of why this has all been so difficult for me. Understanding the science behind why certain foods have addictive properties and learning about other weight losers’ struggles helps me to accept why I’ll never be “normal” around food. The lessons I’ve learned, from many books, documentaries, articles, research papers on the topic, are the following:

It is extremely difficult and rare to maintain a weight loss for more than 1 year, even more difficult to keep it off for 5+ years.

This is largely because in trying to lose weight or maintain a new weight, you are fighting the biology that was naturally selected for you through the course of human evolution. When humans didn’t know when their next meal would come, those who had the evolutionary “drive” to store the most fat were those that survived. As a result, we’re genetically programmed to desire and enjoy highly caloric, high fat, high sugar foods. For example: If your body was ever at a larger size, then you must consume fewer calories than another person at that same weight who has always been that weight.

I entered the magical 140s (magical because it was part of the healthy BMI range) at least six times in my life and gained the weight back. My longest stretch in this category was about three years. When I was unable to lose the “freshman 15” after my first year of college, I was embarrassed to go out in public, especially in my hometown. For three years I had based too much of my identity on someone who successfully lost and maintained that new weight. But I have lost and gained these 10-20 lbs almost every year since that time.

If it’s in front of you, it’s hard not to eat it.

My opinion, which is not in accord with all scientists, is that it’s not just about discipline. It’s about a food environment where the easy choice is almost always the unhealthy, obesogenic choice.

Over and over again I tried to buy junk food and resist eating it. I have memories of eating eight pop tarts or twenty-four pieces of cookie dough in a single day. I used to keep Betty Crocker’s vanilla icing in my dorm room and dip Girl Scout Cookies or Grandma’s Vanilla Sandwich Crèmes in them. I know I can’t buy junk food like this because binging makes my life miserable. I’ve become so used to this kind of life that sometimes I forget how abnormal I am. Recently I mentioned to an acquaintance that I had eaten a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in a single sitting and they were taken aback. I have eaten an entire pint of ice cream on so many occasions that I forget that anyone has the discipline to stick to one “serving size” (a fourth of the pint).

Sugar is not a “neutral” food providing “empty calories” just because it is devoid of nutrients.

Table sugar is called sucrose, which is made up of two parts: glucose and fructose. The sweeter component, fructose, is what really makes sugar such a powerful, controversial item. Fructose is the part of sugar that activates the reward centers of our brains and, as Dr. Lustig puts it, “we love [fructose]. We go out of our way to find it. Evolutionarily, there is no foodstuff on the planet that has fructose that is poisonous.” Thus, humans who liked fructose were naturally selected for because they were more likely to survive and breed children. This theory forms the evolutionary biology explanation for why humans evolved to like, even love, sugar (specifically fructose). Food containing sugar is like a “Darwinian signal” informing us that a food is safe. Food companies have taken advantage of this biological hack and attempt to sell more food by adding sugar to ketchup, bread, mustard, dressing and even meat. When more sugar is added to food, people eat more of it. Further, sugar prolongs the shelf life of food making it an even more popular additive. Unsurprisingly, excess sugar consumption is associated with obesity.

This lesson goes along with all the previous lessons: It’s really hard to keep weight off and that’s partly because it’s hard not to eat food when it’s in front of you. It’s especially hard to resist food in front of you when it’s sweet. I have an infamous sweet tooth: for my 17th birthday, a friend gifted me one of Costco’s 1000 packet boxes of Splenda. I opened it June 17th, and it was finished before school started in September.

Lastly, a calorie is not just a calorie.

Some calories keep you full and others don’t. Calories with fiber keep you full. A calorie is a calorie in a laboratory setting where study participants are locked up for a week and can only consume the food they are given. But in the real world, calories from processed food don’t keep you full so it’s much more difficult to lose weight.

Processed food calories don’t have fiber, which is important because it helps to keep you full. Fiber is also what makes the sugar in fruit safe and “neutral,” unlike added sugars – the fibers in fruit help to trigger your satiety signals and thus prevent you from overeating and damaging your liver. As Dr. Lustig points out, try eating 11 oranges and you will find it nearly impossible to consume them all. On the other hand, consuming the liquid equivalent of 11 oranges is easy because the fiber is removed by juicing the fruit. Processing food includes stripping food of its fiber because removing it prolongs a food’s shelf life. This information helped me to give up on eating candy all day.

Where I Am Now

I can relate to many of the people featured in HBO’s Weight of the Nation: Choices documentary. I can relate to Yolanda, who has to throw out half of her Kit-Kat bar when she buys a 210-calorie bar because it’s just too hard for me to not eat the whole thing. I can relate to Vivia, who at 5’5” weighs 341 lbs. She explains that “food can be my best friend… Food can be my boyfriend at the moment.” I know exactly what she feels like. I remember a particular moment when I felt neglected by a boyfriend – my thoughts were immediately “at least I’ll always have chocolate.” And even though I told myself I wouldn’t become someone more interested in food than people, seconds after my high school boyfriend went away to college I ate an entire box of Weight Watchers fudge bars. I can relate to the woman who can gain 10 lbs back in a weekend; my record is 11 lbs in just a week.

In order to keep myself accountable, I’ve had a food and exercise diary since 2012, now nearing 200 pages. I try to withhold telling family and friends what my favorite sweets are because it has always led to good-intentioned friends gifting me binge-worthy food. Upon learning that I would try to withhold this information from them, however, they would just buy me more sleeves of Oreo cookies and pints of hazelnut ice cream. 

I still cannot gift people sweets, because I’ve eaten the sweets I’ve intended to give people. I won’t allow myself to buy more than one sweet at a time because it's a signal that I'm about to binge. When I do buy those sweets, I won’t buy anything over 600 calories unless I plan on throwing some of it away as soon as I buy it. While this may sound restrictive, I actually allow myself to eat all sweets and don’t feel the need to binge in the way I used to. I’m much more relaxed having these little rules to live by because I know if I throw a little bit of the package of cookie dough out beforehand, I won’t eat it until my stomach hurts and I only want to lie in bed.

Trying to enact political change also helps me to cope with my obsession and painful past. The role of government is to take on issues that are too large for us to solve individually. “Eat less, move more” encourages us to make healthier decisions, but the weight of the nation continues to rise. While I am fully responsible for my weight fluctuations in the past, I would still like to help create an environment where it is difficult for a child to grow up obese. Being mocked everyday riding the bus to school made me want to get skinny at any cost –- exactly the kind of extreme dieting and deprivation that led to binging and self-hatred. Modern dining now means the normalization of 20 oz. soda bottles instead of 8 oz., of pizza slices that are 700 calories at Costco, of happy “meals” far cheaper than fresh produce or real, unprocessed food. This normalization makes growing up fat easier to do.

I would like to live in an environment where it is harder for children to grow up fat, which means making the easy choice the healthy choice. Namely, make unhealthy food more expensive, get rid of soda vending machines in schools and make smaller portion sizes the norm, rather than having a mini-sized ice cream blast come in at over 500 calories. I support warning labels on soda, soda taxes, "added sugar" labels and bans on advertising to children. I know some of these opinions are unpopular, but it’s not simply about discipline. I don't say that because I don’t thinking “blaming” overweight individuals for being overweight is counterproductive, but because of the convincing evolutionary and biochemical explanation: we are genetically programmed to be rewarded by high-fat and high-sugar foods, so having to constantly resist such foods is fighting our innate desires. And in response to stress, our natural reaction is to reach for highly caloric, highly palatable food. Again, I’m comforted in the science: evolutionarily, as hunters and gatherers we wanted calorically dense foods at a time when we didn’t know when our next meal would come. So we still have the chemical pathways that send stress signals from our brain to our fat cells to store fat more easily.

I hope I can now be a name and a face to think of the next time you reduce someone’s story to a nothing more than that of a “fat person.” Love or hate Chris Christie, just don’t belittle his life story down to a “but he’s fat” remark. I want to cry when people say “It’s as simple as addition and subtraction” or “All you have to do is close your mouth.” When I heard people say this, it never made losing weight easier. It just made me hate myself more. It made me internalize that there had to be something wrong with me because it was supposed to be so simple. Part of what helped me actually recover from my self-hatred and weight loss obsession was learning about the science of how difficult losing weight really is.

I wish everyone knew that stigmatizing overweight or “fat” people does not “help” or motivate that person to change. Love and appreciation for everyone for all the wonderful and different sizes that people come in helps. The most scientific definition I can give beauty is healthy. And what’s healthy is focusing on a diet full of what feels good to eat and one in which you don’t feel deprived, and don’t get upset about numbers and measurements that may not be the best fit for you.

Am I there yet? Certainly not. Do I feel really good about where I am anyway? Yes. Proof? I bought jeans for the first time in five years, even though my BMI remains in the “overweight” category.

essay

Women: A Tirade

Here are some stories, reflections, quotes and experiences I’ve had which have caused me to reflect on the state of women abroad and in America. Since learning what a feminist is, namely someone who believes in the equality of men and women, I’ve identified as one and since opened my eyes to a world of sexism, misogyny and discrimination. My bones are chilled and my heart is heavy.    

Feminism is believing that men and women are equal (see Emma Watson’s lovely U.N. speech on the subject here).  The problem worldwide is not necessarily the black-and-white idea that men and women are not equal. It’s not as simple as women know they are oppressed and are trying to break free. There’s a barrier of culture, tradition and expectation that makes the idea of equally valuing human female life revolutionary. (See female feticide rates in India or in China or just the contrast in male vs. female literacy rates by country).

 Human trafficking is just one of the many abuses against women worldwide, and often starts out less dramatically than in Taken. Women are simply sold by family members or lured to foreign countries by the prospect of jobs such as working as maids, but are instead forced into brothels where they are beaten for resisting (when that doesn’t work, perpetrators will get girls addicted to drugs). Often this takes place in countries where they do not speak the language, where they are not allowed to leave their dwelling, and where no one helps them because prostitution is so stigmatized.

More offensive, degrading practices towards women:

  • Kidnapping and raping a woman who refuses to marry you to strip her of her honor in Ethiopia
  • Exchanging a bride for her younger sister when her hymen doesn’t break on her wedding in Afghanistan (My source here is actually my aesthetician is from Afghanistan and knows somebody who this happened to!)
  • Moral police in Iran taking you to court for being seen in public without a male relative to chaperone,
  • Publically stoning a 13 or 14-year old girl to death for refusing to marry a Shabab commander in Somalia
  • A husband killing his wife in Pakistan so he could marry another woman
  • Acid attacks permanently scarring women’s faces in Colombia, sometimes simply for breaking off a relationship

  

Meena is an Indian kidnapped and trafficked into a brothel at 8- or 9-years old in Bihar, India profiled by Kristof and WuDunn. She was beaten into submission before spending years in the brothel, where she had two children that the owners had taken as hostages so that Meena couldn’t leave. Even though police officers were frequent customers and serviced for free, Meena took a chance and ran away to a police station hoping that they might take mercy on her. The officers sent her back.

My Firsthand Experiences

Seven years before I became aware of feminism, I went to Egypt with my family to visit family. I was 12. I didn’t know about culturally appropriate dress or the expected role of a woman in conservative Middle Eastern countries. I noticed women staring, but at that time I couldn’t make sense of why they would cover themselves up in this hot weather. I knew it was for religious purposes, but having grown up secularly I saw no reason to dress so modestly. 

It was a busy marketplace in Cairo, filled with jewelry vendors and children selling trinkets and toys. The humidity turned my straightened hair curly again. My attire of a tank top and Soffe shorts was weather-appropriate.

A man grabbed my behind. Among the rushing, the crowds, and all the veiled faces, it was impossible to even know which direction to look. I was too stunned to act so I just stopped and looked at all the possible perpetrators… I noticed one man who was walking just a little bit too fast. Had I even been sure, I had no idea how to act.

I wish I did. I wish I knew what I know now. The appropriate action would have been to shame that man: to yell, to point, to express my disgust in anger so such acts aren’t “allowed” to happen. But I was too shocked, too surprised, too taken off-guard, too unsure if I felt what I think I really just felt.

 

I wish I knew Gabrielle then: my roommate in India. When she was groped at a crowded Indian festival she turned around and immediately punched him in the face. She describes his shocked and unexpected face as priceless. (I wish I saw it.) It’s the official protocol for more moments I hope I never find myself in.

I did, however, get to witness Gabrielle in action on another occasion. We once went out to ice cream Hauz Khas in Delhi, India when a man with a group of friends passed us and pinched her behind. My friend, knowing exactly what to do, immediately yelled “Hey! What the hell was that?! Don’t touch me, you—” “Sorry,” the man turned around smiling with his hands on his ears. (In India it is common to place your hands on your ears when apologizing).

Smiling. Flirtatiously. Smirking as if he knew she didn’t really mean what she said. Even though she was yelling, she really welcomed the invasion of privacy, the implication that she was not a person enough to decide who makes choices about her body.

But more terrible than watching it happen to someone else is watching it happen to yourself. First, at the school I worked at in Bisada, India, when a group of (mostly male) students gathered around me and I yelled “SPACE” as I usually did when they started to overcrowd me; instead of the gradual dispersal of the crowd I felt a prod in my behind. And instead of reporting to the principal immediately, I yelled angrily at the mysterious student and hoped for it to die down because of course who wants their butt to be the subject of school news and a possible suspension? And of course I “let” the group of boys gather around me and I didn’t act quickly or sternly enough to control their behavior. A full-fledged feminist for three years at that point, I still managed to become my own victim in a classic victim-blaming scenario. Here, too, the desire to maintain privacy and forget embarrassing situations was strong. (And it was something that used to infuriate me in the past: reading about women’s stories of rape or sexual violence, I always wished, above all, that they took action against their perpetrators who deserved punishment or public shaming). I did take action, but after the school expelled the student they retracted the expulsion when he threatened the school with gang violence. By this point, the whole school knew about the incident. And another generation of students were taught that violating a woman was not a serious matter, for some simple threatening could get you out of any real trouble.

In India, parents didn’t consistently rejoice for their daughters the way they rejoice for sons. I saw this firsthand in Bisada, a rural village about a 45-minute motorbike ride away from Delhi. One of our teachers left school to take care of her “second child.” In attending the celebration of her birth, I learned that Anju ma’am had not actually given birth to her child, but had taken her sister’s daughter because her sister didn’t want to keep the girl. They had a pre-arranged agreement that only if a boy were born would the sister keep the baby.

By the time this baby shower happened, the gender selection wasn’t even shocking to me. I saw it everyday in the classroom. My school had students from kindergarten to 10th grade, and as the class got higher (and fees became more expensive), you saw less and less females. All of the students who could “afford” cell phones happened to be males. Families spent more on males because they were simply worth more in their eyes. Girls weren’t worth the extra tuition, the extra milk, the cost of an extra vaccine…

Girls were valued too little to be trusted with decisions like who they should marry or what, or who, happens to their bodies. Females needed to be taught a lesson for going out late with a man who is not family, as five men “taught” Jyoti Singh in December of 2012.

The Most Recent, Well-Documented & Publicized Atrocious Rape in India

Jyoti was a medical student from a poor village. She was a harbinger of hope for the impoverished family, working diligently so that she could support them one day. Early on and contrary to Indian tradition, she told her parents to put the fees saved for her wedding towards her tuition instead.

Before she was able to practice physiotherapy however, she was sexually violated and brutalized when she went to see Life of Pi with a male friend of hers. In what is now known as the infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape, five men took turns raping Jyoti and pulling out her intestines before she died days later in a Singaporean hospital.

I watched Leslee Udwin interview these men and their lawyers in her BBC documentary India’s Daughter when it came out in March 2015. I had just returned from India at this point. Outraged and impassioned by the film, I could not even discuss it with my friends in Delhi. They were unable to watch it because the Indian government banned it because it could “threaten public order.”

Horrible India’s Daughter Quotes

“[Rape’s] just like that kind of action. Beat him. Put his hand forcefully inside.” – M. L Sharma, one of the rapists’ defense lawyers.

“If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.” – AP Singh, another of the rapists’ defense lawyers.

“A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.” — Mukesh, one of the convicted rapists.

Short American Rant

Whether you live in India or any other country in the world, don’t take girls for granted. In America, we still have an unacceptable gender pay gap, and abysmal rates of reporting rape and convicting rapists. Need I remind readers that a six-term member of Congress, Todd Akin, argued that women that were raped had a mechanism for somehow blocking the unwanted pregnancy? Or the Steubenville case, in which two teenage football players raped an unconscious young woman, posted the video on social media, and then pleaded the girl not to press charges so that his football career would not be damaged.  Most recently, adult film star Stoya accused James Deen of raping her despite her clearly telling him “no, stop, [and] used my safeword.”  In a refreshingly positive light, the porn industry quickly believed the accusations and dropped him as a performer. From that same article, I like this segment, helping us to understand what kind of women are often victimized and why:

Part of the reason that rape is hard to prove is that sexist fairytales about what constitutes consent infect judges and juries just as much as the general public. Of the many myths about sexual violence, the most pernicious is that women routinely lie about it. That’s not true; the rates of false reporting for rape and sexual assault are estimated to be around the same as rates of false reporting for any other crime – the current figure is anywhere between 0.2% and 8%. Men are actually more likely to be victims of rape themselves than they are to be falsely accused of it.
Rapists rely on these myths, often targeting women and girls who they know will be too scared to come forward, or who will not be believed. That means women of color, young girls, and sex workers. Former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw is currently on trial for allegedly stalking and raping 13 black women and girls, some of whom had previous arrest records for sex work. Serial rapists target the young, the vulnerable and sex workers, knowing how hard it is even for women deemed ‘respectable’ to be taken seriously.

But Most Importantly, Hope Lies in the Proles…

Change starts with you. Believing someone who has confided in you, or gone public wither story, is something small you can do to make this world a more gender-equal and less hostile place to be a woman.   

My suggestions: 

  1. Be an informed citizen. Make sure all your friends know about what a terrible problem gender inequality is, especially in the developing world but also in America. Change cannot happen before awareness does. This includes pressuring, or pressurizing as they say in India, politicians to care more about these issues. As Kristof wrote in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunities for Women Worldwide, “When India feels that the West cares as much about slavery as it does about pirated DVDs, it will dispatch people to the borders to stop traffickers.” Let’s make sure our government knows we care about women’s rights and safety because the U.S. government isn’t doing enough and won’t until we all demand it. (Namely: that guard telling Nicholas Kristof that he prioritizes trafficked DVDs over women because American companies have a larger stake in pirated cinema).  The CARE Action Network (www.can.care.org), can assist you in “speaking out, educating policy makers, and underscoring that the public wants against poverty and injustice.”
  2. Know that your words matter. They are important and shape culture. Sexist language makes sexism more real. Don’t say “you hit like a girl” or “don’t be a girl.” Think about why women “lose” their virginity yet men “take” someone’s virginity. Anything which demeans, degrades or dehumanize women makes it easier to devalue or violate them.
  3. Laugh so you don’t cry. Watch John Oliver covering women’s issues here or here.

Suggestions from Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn, taken from Half the Sky – all of which can be done in the next four minutes:

  1. Open an account and www.globalgiving.org and support a grassroots project that focuses on education (which allows a woman better job opportunities, rather than only sex work and the stigma or sexually transmitted diseases that comes with it) or www.kiva.org, where you can support women to start their own business and earn an income independently, again without having to resort to brothel work.
  2. Sponsor a girl or a woman through Plan International, Women for Women International, World Vision, or American Jewish World Service. You can exchange letters with your sponsors and even visit them, as Kristof & WuDunn have in the Philippines, Sudan, and the Dominican Republic.
  3. Sign up for e-mail updates on www.womensnews.org or www.worldpulse.com, which distribute information about abuses of women and sometimes advise actions that readers can take to help these women.

Sarah is a lover of words, foreign films and gastronomic delights. She currently resides in New Jersey, where she is making the most of her gap year before continuing her education. Follow her on Twitter.

essay

Greetings from Liberty City

Last summer I decided to get a Steam account. I don’t have much of an interest in video games, but when I was around 11, my brother Wil and I would spend hours taking turns playing Grand Theft Auto III, with one of us playing the game and the other one keeping an eye out for our mother coming into the basement. Against her knowledge, our cousin LJ let us keep his copy of the game after he completed it, and we always told her we were playing some Tony Hawk game.

Wil and I never really made an effort to do any of the story missions of GTA III; mostly we just drove around, blew up cars, and shot people so we could get a wanted level and flee the cops. We also tried to get hookers into our cars to hang out with them. We named the white lady prostitute Charlotte and the black one Cleopatra. Other characters had names, too, but I don’t remember most of them anymore. When Player 1 got either wasted or busted, it was Player 2’s turn.

We were virtual gangsters. For me, it was a way to escape the world of fear and distrust I was growing accustomed to with divorced parents having new significant others whom I hated but couldn’t do anything about, changing schools, pets and grandparents always dropping dead, and puberty ruining my once rockin’ hot kid body. It was almost magical to be Claude Speed, have the freedom to drive around Liberty City as we pleased, and not care about what these little video game people thought about us because they didn’t exist — and neither did we.

I find it interesting that Grand Theft Auto has come into my life when I am again asking the questions I started to ask at 11 — is this worth it? Is life worth all the letdowns? Who can I really trust? Do they like me or are they just pretending they do? I downloaded GTA III and GTA: Vice City one night after work because I couldn’t stand to watch anymore Netflix in my leisure time. It became too draining to watch a film and wonder if that’ll ever be my name in the credits or think about how many years of story ideas will be rejected before one might evolve into something. It even became a drag to talk about movies, since most conversations with people regarding film last two minutes and only cover what was good or funny or shocking. Which is fine; you can’t have in-depth conversations with everyone. But to think about how writers and artists slave away creating passion projects that to so many people will only be awkward icebreaker discussions before they move onto discussing startups and that time they did shrooms in college can turn wide-eyed ambitions into cold realities. I wasn’t giving up on my love for movies, but was instead putting it on a backburner until it didn’t make me want to vomit so much. 

If you are unfamiliar with the Grand Theft Auto franchise, there are only a few basic things that you need to know. The games take place in fictionalized cities in America — Liberty City is a version of New York, Vice City is Miami, and San Andreas is meant to be a combination of Los Angeles and the surrounding deserts. Often the protagonist is a man who has just gotten out of jail and is trying to work his way back up into the crime world. You get to steal cars, and sometimes boats and helicopters. You can kill people and take their money. That’s pretty much all you need to know.

I decided that when I bought the two games, I didn’t want to just idly drive around as I had done in the past — I wanted to play. During my recent 97 hours of play on the two early Grand Theft Auto games, I have realized some things about life that will leave a lasting impression.

Lesson 1: Be Cool

There is no shame in being late to the party when it comes to enjoying anything after it stops being new. Just because Breaking Bad has ended doesn’t mean that the show is anything less without the craze. The Wizard of Oz will turn 77 this year, but its message will always be universal. So why do we throw away video games once their graphics look dated? We still listen to songs after we’ve memorized the lyrics like the alphabet — so why do we toss video games to the side after we’re done playing? Playing a game when everyone else has moved onto its bigger and fancier successor is an under-appreciated experience — so cherish it when you can.

With that being said, be weary that “cool” varies as you age. For example, as an 11-year-old, I thought it was badass to pick up hookers, take them to a remote area, and watch the car bounce up and down, implying that the two in the car are banging (even though if you zoomed in you could see the two characters just sitting there). It’s cool to make two characters bone when you are only 11 and have a limited knowledge of what sex is other than “this goes into that.” But as you get older, if that is your definition of “cool” and you are not going out into the world and having consensual sex with real people, you will never be cool. Those are just facts.

Lesson 2: Speed Isn’t Always the Key to Success

Throughout both games there are numerous timed missions that are designed to be accomplished only in the final seconds. It’s easy to make the mistake of going fast in order to beat the clock, but relying on speed can prevent you from having the time to avoid obstacles that get in the way. For example, in Vice City, I often like to have the protagonist, Tommy Vercetti, drive a motorcycle. But in a mission where you are chasing the cartel or trying to lose the police, if you hit another car or run into a building, you will fly off the motorcycle and it will take even more time to complete. How does this apply to real life? Say you are running away from a serial killer. But you are running so fast that you don’t see the sidewalk has ended and so you trip into the street. It will take some time to stand up, address the situation, put pressure on your wounds, and find out where to run next, and before you know it, he has hacked you to death because you weren’t fast enough.

Lesson 3: Cheating Is a Necessary Evil Full of Consequences

I am not sure how players are expected to play GTA III or Vice City without cheats. One of the reasons I have not gotten obsessed with San Andreas is that the cheat codes on Steam are random letters jumbled together. For example, if you want weapons in GTA III, you simply type: “gunsgunsguns” onto your keyboard, and you have the entire set of weapons offered for the game. In Vice City, you can choose from “thugstools,” “professionaltools,” or “nuttertools.” I always go for “nuttertools” because you get a chainsaw. In San Andreas, however, the weapon cheats are either: “UZUMYMW,” “WANRLTW,” or “KJKSZPJ.” Maybe there is some sort of logic in these three cheats, but here’s the thing, I’m not an autistic genius who can crack codes in less than two seconds.

Cheats do make gameplay easier, but beware: in an excessive amount you can prevent yourself from winning. Not because “oh, but it’s against the morals of the game, you didn’t really win,” but rather, enough cheats can corrupt a file and make it unreadable to your computer. I learned this the hard way with Vice City. I had just completed a particularly difficult mission halfway through the game where you had to outrace this one driver, and I was super excited. I went downstairs for dinner and when I came back, Steam would not let me open the file, as there had been an unexpected hold. It was truly devastating, but a lesson well-learned. Sure, cheats will get you somewhere faster, but the aftermath if caught is severe.

Lesson 4: You Will Make Enemies

The closer you get towards finishing a game altogether, the more enemies you will have. You will have gained respect among your peers and have earned a boatload of money, but you will have pissed off others in the process. Life is a competition, and you can’t make everybody happy. You shouldn’t go out of your way to piss people off, but don’t pass by opportunities because you are afraid of who will hate you. (This is all assuming you are a good person with good intentions. If you are reading this and think that I am deeming it acceptable to exterminate a race of people or blow up abortion clinics, then you are drastically misinterpreting what I am saying.)

This aside, it is important to take into consideration what you will lose if you do become successful. Barack Obama is probably pretty grateful that he is the President of the United States, but he can’t go to a Starbucks by himself without getting bombarded by soccer moms who think he is just the bee’s knees. There are certain places in both Liberty City and Vice City that you can’t get to after you complete a certain mission because you kill too many of the mafia or cartel’s buddies and if you set foot in their territory, people will shoot you from many different angles and you will likely die.

Lesson 5: It’s All Just a Game

After I completed first Vice City and then GTA III, the high ended like air being slowly released from a balloon. There was so much hype towards finishing, and then when it happened, I was left there thinking, “Is this it?” The journey was fun. I liked getting to drive around the beach with ‘80s music on the radio and Ray Liotta’s voice mocking the people Tommy runs over. I liked unlocking the new neighborhoods I had never seen before in in GTA III. I enjoyed completing the missions, sometimes on one try and sometimes after dozens, and ultimately feeling like I had accomplished something great, though in reality, thousands of others had done this before me. It was my journey, and no one else’s. I didn’t care how long it took to get there. But when it was over, I just found myself driving around and shooting hookers, like I had been doing in the first place so many years ago.

I ask myself what’s the point of playing if eventually I’ll just wind up doing what I already had been doing. I suppose it’s kind of like asking yourself why bother to get potty-trained if you’ll just wind back up in a diaper in old age — there are a few decades in between where you’d benefit from not peeing your pants every day. Grand Theft Auto taught me that the journey is worth taking, even if the desired destination will be disappointing. 


Rachel Petzinger is a comedian. She has since moved onto other games, such as L4D2 and Half-Life. You can follow her on Twitter @chelpetz.

essay

The Importance of Listeners

When I’m in a conversation with a group, I listen intently. As each person expresses their personal opinion on whatever topic we’re discussing, I settle into their shoes. When people ask me “What do you think?” I stumble. Have I not been talking? Despite my silence, I believe I’ve been actively participating the whole time.

This happens to me a lot. I don’t know why but I much prefer listening than I do talking. More recently, I’ve started to ask myself whether this is a flaw or a strength. Especially in the entertainment industry, women who want to lead need to showcase their strength and prove that they can lead. How can I be a leader if I appear mute?

Starting at a very young age, I was fascinated by the art of storytelling, and often more interested in how a story was told than the actual story itself. I took note of all the movies I had seen that told the exact same story but had different titles. In an attempt to tell my own story, I started exploring my world through the lens of a camcorder I had been gifted for Christmas when I was eight, chronicling my life as an only child with a dog and two French parents in the city of Miami.

I believed I was passionate, always lugging my camcorder everywhere we went and meticulously writing down what events I had captured on each DV tape. Every playdate became about dressing up and taking on a role for Parallel Pictures, a production company founded by my 8-year-old self and presented by my friend Christina holding up two index fingers symbolizing the parallel lines. Similar to the MGM opening with the roaring lion, I’d film my dog looking up at a treat and jumping out of frame to catch it.

As an only child, my world was dense with imagination and curiosity that was satiated with film. I didn’t feel alone or quiet with it. I knew I wanted to pursue a life in the arts and I applied Early Decision to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for a degree in Film & Television Production.

On my first day there, our professor asked the class who wanted to be a Director. This was a difficult question for me to answer. As I thought about it, I started to hear the hands of my peers shoot up and looking around, nearly everyone had raised their hand. I also observed how all those hands belonged to men. Surely, it was a bold question to ask in the beginning of our formal education, but it was worth asking myself: Why don’t I want to direct?

Throughout my time at NYU, I was constantly reminded of the glaring indicator about women in Hollywood. If I have no interest in directing, am I only contributing to the statistic? In 2015, women comprised 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 (domestic) grossing films. This is the same percentage of women working in these roles in 1998.

After roughly three years of classes and working on set, I realized that I was finding my place in producing: the art of putting all of the elements together to make the film happen. Producers are essentially the behind-the-scenes magic that allows for the Director’s vision to get translated. Still, as a Producer, am I only facilitating the vision that men have by doing the “grunt work”? Am I submitting or am I transcending? Do I need to pave my way as a female Director to prove that I’m a modern woman? If I’m not talking, should I feel bad that I’m quiet?

During my junior year, one of my best friends from the program, Jake Fertig, approached me about an autobiographical feature he wanted to make called Howeds. He was one of the people who had first raised their hand when asked, “Who wants to direct?”

The story was about his adolescence, growing up in a New Jersey suburb where the characters had grown into drinking, dealing drugs, spouting off misogynistic taunts, and committing recreational misdemeanors for thrill.  Despite having a dissimilar adolescence, I was drawn to the clutter of ideas. I wanted to help consolidate these ideas and develop treatments that would reflect a realistic production schedule and timeline.

Shortly afterwards, Jake and I started dating. It made things easier and more complicated at the same time. When it came to drafting the script, Jake asked me if I was interested in co-writing and producing the film and without hesitating, I said yes. Why? Was it because I felt I needed to say yes?

Surely, I had the subliminal pressure to be involved in the work that my new partner was so deeply invested in. Still, I recognized this was a real opportunity to represent the female voice within a heavily male-dominated story and to use everything I had learned from producing. I wanted to prove that I could be a powerhouse despite the assumption that I’m only helping because I’m the “girlfriend”.

Recently, Producers have started to get more acknowledgement for their work in film. Veterans like Kathleen Kennedy, a Producer of the new Star Wars film, and newcomers like Megan Ellison, the Producer behind two of the 2013 Best Picture nominees are finally starting to become a part of the conversation. Typically, the Director is in the spotlight but without the Producer, the spotlight can’t be turned on because the stage hasn’t been booked and the lights haven’t been rented and the grips haven’t been hired to turn it on. Even with all of the logistical elements, a Producer is not just the business partner, but the creative and practical—The Director dumps visions and the Producer mediates the execution.

We split principal photography for Howeds into four parts, knowing it would be easier to request the cast and crew to take a week off work as opposed to thirty consecutive days while working unpaid. On a set where people are working unpaid, the resources are low but the expectations are naturally higher because they are not being properly compensated. Simple gestures like lending out hand warmers or serving hot tea in cold temperatures isn’t generous, it’s expected. There are constant production issues that come in the way of being able to have a creative eye on a project I co-wrote. Jake and the Director of Photography, Chris Fox, are constantly asking me to watch the monitor for notes on the scene, but I am busy juggling the vegan’s alternative meal while figuring out how to pick up another cast member from the bus station without an additional car.

And still, despite all of this, everyone is respectful to the Director, who has the responsibility of creating an artistic vision and should not be bogged down with any production issues that are going on behind the scenes, but not necessarily the Producer, who they believe is putting them through these conditions as opposed to protecting them. The Producer also has the responsibility of shielding the Director by tackling all of the questions, concerns, and often, personal dilemmas that a particular cast/crew member is going through. They have given the promise to do everything in their power to make everyone’s experience on the production as positive as possible. Although everyone can see the hard work that the Director exerts, it is often hard for cast and crew to understand all of the work that the Producer has done to make it all possible.

We are naturally more interested in those who appear busy and those we are told not to bother. We assume that they are of a higher status than us and assume our inferiority in that environment. In Hollywood, the Director and Producer are those people. They are the reason that the film is getting made. Some perceive that the Producer is just the moneylender and the Director is the one getting his/her hands dirty on set, slaving away at the creation. In some productions, that’s certainly true.

However, on independent and low-budgeted sets like Howeds, both the Director and the Producer are slaving away, which makes it very easy to feel overlooked and unacknowledged as a Producer. We end up feeling bad, and like we should devalue the role. If I’m being treated like this, then maybe it’s because the role is not important enough. It also confirms the fear that female Producers are contributing to the glaring absence of women in the industry. Even as I type this, Microsoft Word keeps autocorrecting director to Director and doesn’t change Producer when I use a lowercase “p”.

If the conversation is a film, then the Director is talking and the Producer is listening. Do listeners matter? The answer is yes because we can’t have a conversation without them.

Although the Producer’s main responsibility is assembling all of the elements of the set to make the film happen, I believe a Producer should also be creative. If the Director is asking the Producer to help visualize their idea, they should be able to see it and execute it. As a writer on the film, I tackle both the creative and administrative. On set, I’m asked to delineate production tasks so that I’m able to stand behind the monitor and assist in directing. Here, I’m listening. I’m listening to the actors and watching the scene play out. When the rehearsal is over, I take Jake aside and give him my notes.

On one of the last days of class, a professor asked us who still wanted to direct. Only a handful of people now raised their hand, Jake confidently among the group. I’m looking forward to when they’ll start asking students “And, who wants to be a Producer?” I’ll confidently raise my hand.

I’m thankful that we live in a country where Directors and Producers of all genders have paved a road for us and that I have peers who make way for those kind of pioneers for future generations. We aren’t there yet, though, and we need to continue having the conversation. More importantly, we need people to know it’s okay to listen.


Emily is a producer for the independent production company, Perestroika, and a Field PA at The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. She graduated from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and in her spare time, she likes to stop dogs on the street, watch movies she doesn't fully understand, and hang with her loved ones. Follow her on Twitter @emdalmas.

essay

7 Crucial Lessons from Unsolved Mysteries

There’s a joke in my family that I was only made aware of recently, and it’s that I am going to wind up being like one of the sons from Step Brothers. Living with my parents well into my thirties. Unemployed. No car. Not married. The list goes on. My brother Willy P probably told the joke to my mother and she probably laughed because she thinks it’s true. Right now, at least, I think she thinks it could happen. In addition to freelancing and working in retail, I am looking for that ever-holy full-time job. And when it comes, glory will be upon us. Yet for now, everyday I must convince Mother, “Yes, I applied to many jobs today. Yes, I reached out to people on LinkedIn. No, Mother, I can’t apply to that job, I can’t afford a car. There’s only $80 in my bank account, $37,000 of which belong to my student loans.”

Sometimes I watch Full House at night. It’s not a great show, but I remember it being on in the background when I was very little – maybe three years old. Then, when I was in middle school and had the house to myself before anyone came home, I would eat a ham and cheese Hot Pocket and watch reruns. Now whenever I watch an episode I always have my computer next to me, convinced that as long as Final Draft is opened, I am still writing.

I feel like a disappointment to my parents and a broken record to my friends – I mean, how many times can you make a joke about having no money? As much as we need comedy to relieve pain and forget our woes, hearing the same joke over and over again becomes depressing. There are only so many times you can chuckle about Uncle Jesse’s hair or Kimmy Gibbler’s feet until you feel like you’re trapped in a mental institution.