Thursday, December 26, 2013

Why Christmas Felt Different This Year

The phrase “twenty-something” has been introduced into my regular vernacular lately… probably because I see it used all over the place these days. I suppose it was coined as a blanket term to refer to those of us in that pivotal, life-altering age bracket: when we aren’t exactly kids anymore but still wouldn’t quite call ourselves adults; when our age is practically defined by this state of transition; when our teenage years are still a fairly recent memory, and yet we are simultaneously entering in a phase of life filled with weddings and baby showers. It is not uncommon for my Facebook newsfeed to toggle between posts about getting drunk at the club, right alongside gushing mothers announcing, “Baby Jake took his first steps today!” – both belonging to people in my same graduating class. This juxtaposition is bewildering to say the very least.

As someone who is far from having kids, but also far from going out clubbing every night (although, to be fair, there was never really a time when I was out clubbing), I find myself wondering where I fit in this generation. By some accounts, I am an adult. I moved away from my hometown for the first time last year, and have lived in two more cities since. There are no bills that I don’t pay completely on my own. And, with a gun to my head, I could probably explain to you the benefits of investing your 401k. But at the same time, in so many ways I still feel so much like a kid – My parents are still on speed dial for all general life questions (“Mom! I spilled nail polish on the carpet, what do I do?!”), and when I hear about people my age getting married and having babies I still can’t quite wrap my head around it.  I have also heard the term “quarter-life crisis” used to refer to this general phenomenon.

I found that this manifested itself most recently in my experience of Christmas this year. And, if the internet is any indication, it’s not just me.

Now, granted, my 2013 Christmas holiday is unique in itself, considering that I am essentially homeless in between two living situations. All of my possessions are in storage as I road-trip my way down the coast to visit family. This meant that leading up to the trip, this was the first year in my entire 24 years of life that I didn’t erect a Christmas tree (which, alone, made me a little more melancholy than I care to admit), and gift shopping / wrapping was a lot less of an event than usual. As a result, my holiday season as a whole was remarkably unremarkable, feeling much the same as every other month of the year. All of these could also be factored into an atypical holiday experience.

But nevertheless, I was going to spend ALL of Christmas with my family in San Diego – a first in awhile for me. The highlight of the trip was going to be spending the night IN my parents’ house on Christmas Eve, something I hadn’t done since moving out. I looked forward to completely reverting back to my childhood, with all the same wonder and tradition, and had no reason to expect anything otherwise.

But I would be lying if I said it felt the same. Something had definitely shifted during my absence.

There was something inescapably different about this Christmas. Even just deciding where to sit to open presents was enough to give me anxiety. (This goes back to the old “which-family-reunion-table-do-you-belong-to” debacle.) I used to always sit on the bottom stair, right next to my little sister, but now I felt like that area was too spotlighted. I’m too old to be in the center of the action now, aren’t I? But the couch – where my mom, dad, and older brothers all sat in a semi-circle – also seemed out of reach. I might not be the whirlwind of energy that my little sister is, but I also don’t think I’ve quite reached the point where I’m solely a spectator, either.

See what I mean here?
And speaking of my little sister, Christianne started high school this year. Was that the event that triggered this relative apathy in her? Sure, she was excited. It is Christmas, after all. But I had memories of her running full-speed around the house in footie pajamas, screaming at the top of her lungs about Santa coming… and by comparison, this Christianne was practically bored. For one thing, she took the time to change clothes before coming downstairs. Who does that? Or I should say, what kid does that? Her eagerness to grow up just ignites the opposite compulsion in me.

And another thing – Santa seems a lot lazier than I remember. Christianne’s name was written in black Sharpie on the wrapping paper itself, rather than on individual tags, and gift bags were more the giftwrap-of-choice than in previous years. The sheer quantity of presents seemed to pale in comparison to my memories of past Christmases, when I swear you couldn’t see the carpet through the mountains and mountains of toys… But that’s just it, are my memories skewed because I’m looking at them through the rose-colored glasses of childhood? Has Santa always had these habits, and only now am I seeing them with the wide-eyed skepticism of an adult?

I think Christmas might be the most raw example of the ‘quarter-life crises’ we twenty-somethings face on a daily basis. And, to be fair, I think Christianne is going through her own version of this as she grapples with becoming a teenager, having to decide how willing she is to show enthusiasm for something like Christmas without it making her “uncool.” For that matter, bless my parents for having to play witness to all of our respective existential battles, more than likely reflecting on their own place in the world as much as we are. Maybe the entire human experience is just waltzing from one demographic to the next, constantly in a state of transition and meeting the unique challenges of each with growing composure and perspective.

…On the other hand, maybe we should have just bought a goddamn Christmas tree.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Meet me under the mistletoe, 60 years from now.

On the road again...
The following two days of our trip were spent in Sedona, AZ, to visit Taylor’s adorable grandparents, Jean & John. I love these two because they are the perfect, epitomic example of grandparents. I mean it, just think of every characteristic you have ever known any grandma or grandpa to have or would imagine them having, and there they are. They are endearingly old-fashioned, their eyes glaze over with pride when they talk about their grandkids, and you’ve never met two people more excited about card games.

Not to mention that they are the best walking, talking advertisement for true love I’ve ever seen. At one point Jean sat down at the dinner table, and without warning, John got up, walked over to her, and gave her a big smooch on the lips… you ready for this? Because she had just sat down under the mistletoe. She blushed and giggled like a schoolgirl, and it made me so happy I had the urge to burst into applause. I must have looked like a kid at the circus, wide-eyed and gawking at them with a big grin on my face.

Look, there they are! Awwww... (along with my incredibly
handsome boyfriend, if I do say so myself...)
When my parents got together, each of them had been married and divorced once before. Taylor’s parents split up when he was just a baby, and each parent went on to remarry (in one case, twice). Each of the people they remarried had also previously been married and divorced. Between the two of us, we are products of parents and step-parents who have (collectively) been divorced six times.

This isn’t even surprising anymore, in fact it’s become the absolute norm… so much so that when I see a couple like Jean & John – who have been married for just north of 60 years – I feel like I should erect a statue in their honor, give them some kind of medal or ceremony, and parade them through the streets with fanfare and confetti. It’s not so much to just stay married that long, albeit an achievement in itself, but to stay in love that long? To still walk hand-in-hand, still snuggle together when you sit next to each other on the couch, and still fight playfully over who gets to tell a story? Now that’s something to be proud of.

When asked about his successful second marriage, Will Smith once said in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, “What I found is divorce just can’t be an option. It’s really that simple. And I think that’s the problem… there are so many options. So a huge part of the success for [Jada] and I is that we just removed the other options… We’re like, ‘Listen, we’re going to be together one way or the other, so we might as well try to be happy.’”

Now, Will’s later marriage troubles momentarily set aside, I still think this is good advice. I take it to mean: If you go into marriage considering divorce a viable possibility down the road, even just a tiny bit in the wayyy way back of your mind, you will get divorced. Period. Because the only couples who are capable of staying together are the ones who look at it as a strictly permanent measure, and take “’til death do us part” as a literal declaration, not just a general guideline.

I can vaguely akin this to my mother who, when I was little, needed us to hide every scrap of chocolate from her at all times. She was such a bona-fide chocoholic that if she could even guess where to find that chocolaty goodness, she flat-out would not be able to control herself. Halloween candy, Valentine’s Day truffles, Christmas cookies, you name it… She demanded that they be put FAR FAR away from her sight and mind, or else we could expect to wake up to a bunch of empty wrappers the next morning. Whereas if we promised to keep it far from her grasp and conscious awareness, she was perfectly capable of living without it. Same with divorce. If you keep it on the top shelf, or in your back pocket as an option just in case… you’re setting yourself up for failure, and you will not be able to resist the temptation. But if you put it in the attic (or for that matter, don’t have it in the house to begin with), out of sight, out of mind. You’ll sooner work things out than call the lawyer.

…All right, maybe that’s a stretch. Bottom line is, I guess I’m just looking for whatever formula equals me still getting kissed under the mistletoe in my 80s. (sigh)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Viva Las Let's-Never-Do-That-Again.

We started our trip with one night in Las Vegas, as sort-of a spontaneous, last minute addition to the already lengthy itinerary.

…Suffice it to say that it was not a profitable decision.

If you’ve been to Vegas, or spent any time gambling, it’s a good practice to give yourself a limit at the beginning of the night. Your maximum amount, should the evening turn sour, that you would be willing (or otherwise financially capable) to lose – after which you would cut your losses and call it quits. Seeing as how I am going to Portland jobless, and with the very little contributions I’ve been able to make to my savings account this year (READ: San Francisco sucks), my personal limit for the night was $150. And folks, that was gone in the first 45 minutes of the evening.

I’ve always been partial to Black Jack – 1.) statistically, it has the best odds of any casino game, 2.) there’s enough strategy involved that I don’t feel quite as much like I’m relying 100% on luck, and 3.) unlike, sayyyyy, craps for instance, I at least have some vague idea of what’s going on in front of me.

But for some stupid reason, Roulette is where we stopped first.

Make no mistake, y’all: Roulette is for suckers. For those of you unfamiliar, this is the one where they throw a little white ball into a wheel of numbers, and you’re betting that you have the moxie to predict where the ball will land. Do you understand what I’m saying here? There is a THIRTY-EIGHT TO ONE CHANCE that you will guess wrong. WHO WOULD PLACE THAT BET? Who?

The answer, I guess, is people who are blinded by the other side of the 38-1 odds, the one that says: “If by some unimaginably small chance you guess correctly, your $5 bet just became $175.” (READ: suckers)

But then, there are also (smarter, more rational, probably better-looking) people, who prefer to play the “outside” of the table… that is, I’m not gutsy enough to predict the actual number, but suuure, I’ll bet that it’ll be an even number. Or, for instance, that the number will be a red one. These 50/50 odds are much more comfortable to me.

And yet, even then – every time I bet on red, the number was black. I put money on even, and it came up odd. New strategy: I left my money in the same spot, every round, on the gamble that it would have to be right eventually. Which it was, but not before watching the dealer sweep about $80 worth of my chips into the little hole at the end of the table.

Our luck didn’t improve, even as we made our way around to other casinos and tables (including Black Jack, which I took as a personal betrayal). Needless to say we called it a night early, grumbling about our losses to the cab driver and me trying to lighten the mood by saying at least we saved money by not flying. Tomorrow, we embark on the rest of our three-week journey, with (hopefully) better days ahead.

Desperately hoping this isn’t the universe trying to tell us that this Portland move is a bad idea, or some cosmic message that our luck is turning in a broader way, or something… It’s not, right?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Oh, hello there.

Let’s start with introductions. My name is Susie. I am 24 years old, and as I type this I am exactly one week into a sinfully indulgent three-week vacation. (WOO!) This time off is acting as an usher between two different living situations: I just left my six-month home in the San Francisco Bay Area, and am soon going to be moving North to Portland, OR.

I should probably take this opportunity to offer a very important public service announcement: SAN FRANCISCO SUCKS.

It doesn’t suck for everyone, apparently, as evidenced by the fact that over seven million people currently reside in the Bay Area with (presumably) no immediate plans to jump ship... but I truly wish I could lift the wool from the eyes of these residents, shake them by the shoulders and say, “IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!” Because they must surely be in some kind of blissfully ignorant stupor if they think that this way of life is a.) normal, and b.) acceptable.

I have honestly tried to look at it objectively. I’ve said to myself, truly, maybe there are some people who just plain don’t mind commuting an hour to and from work in traffic every day. Perhaps they enjoy the alone time, stare at the break lights, crank up the tunes and feel fine about it. Maybe living in a city where the average rent is more than triple that of the rest of the country (seriously though, look it up) just isn’t that big of a deal to them. Maybe paying more for gas, groceries, transportation, movie tickets, etc… maybe all that is something they are able to look past, in the grander scheme of living in a city they love.

And I can see why people love it. I got wrapped up in the romance of it myself, before I moved here. It was San Francisco! (You know, like, THE San Francisco!) From the movies! And Full House! I was going to live in the same city that had set the scene for so many blockbusters, and inspired so many musicians, from Otis Redding to Tony Bennett… I was going to cartwheel across the Golden Gate, protest with hippies at Hate & Ashbury, and become one of those local underground music scene people. I would ride the BART to work in heels and a skirt. I was going to become a city girl, fast-talking and brusque, à la Mila Kunis in ‘Friends with Benefits.’ I tell you, the things I envisioned in the weeks leading up to the move were straight out of a rom-com montage.

But then the actual move happened. And reality did what it does best… that is to say, took all my fantasies and expectations, rolled them up into a little ball, and smashed them repeatedly with a meat cleaver. In my early college days, I was the epitomic Struggling College Student, working only 16 hours a week at minimum wage and eating uncooked Top Ramen two meals a day… and even then, my bank account never reached the dismal levels I have seen in the last few months. (I broke my own personal record a few weeks in, when I actually took a screen shot of my account balance: $0.11. I was still in blissful denial at that point, and laughed it off… joking that I couldn’t even afford to buy a song on iTunes. Ha, ha. It became less funny a few weeks later, when that record was broken again with a balance of negative $4.71… And, as night follows day, subsequent overdraft fees… which aren’t exactly a step in the right direction)

Add that to the two hours I spent sitting in traffic every day, the bug-infested apartment that was costing me double my parents’ mortgage, and a social life so bleak that my only human interaction outside of work was an ongoing group chat with my high school friends back home… and you could say I jumped at the first opportunity to get the heck out of Dodge.

And so, here I am, on the brink of another (hopefully more successful) adventure, about to move to Portland, OR.

But first! A three-week road trip over five states and 3,000 miles, to spend Christmas with four different families. Let the fun begin!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

I can't write.

I can’t write.

The savvy observer might point out that in the very act of that declaration I am, in fact, putting words on paper… and to that clever individual I tip my hat.

When I was in high school writing was (with only very slight exaggeration) all I ever did. I carried a notebook around with me wherever I went, and held it so closely that I don’t think it ever even made it into my backpack. Whenever a thought or inspiration would strike, I would be transcribing it onto paper before the idea could even finish forming in my head. I wrote poems, short stories, limericks… I documented every time I heard a new vocabulary word, a certain phrasing I liked, favorite quotes, you name it. You could not pry my notebook away from my grasping fingers if you tried.

This passion followed me to college, when writing started manifesting itself into new mediums, thanks to our ever-changing technological world. I started a blog, drew up witty Facebook posts, and started developing a voice that I hoped was intellectual and opinionated (while still remaining human and relatable) and all the while hopefully maintaining a constant, underlying tone of observational sarcasm. At one point I remember someone calling my writing “dimensional,” and my head swelled so big that I was probably in danger of floating off into the atmosphere.

The advice I kept getting from everyone was “Never stop writing,” which seems like an odd instruction to someone who hasn’t stopped yet. But sure enough, somewhere between working 60 hours a week and struggling to hang on to whatever semblance of a social life I had left… I did stop. All of my notebooks sat gathering dust in some cardboard box in my parents’ garage, and my hopes of one day becoming a Real Live Writer were packed away with them.

And now, years later, I feel I have a better understanding of why that particular piece of advice came so often. Because once you’ve stopped, trying to start writing again is like trying to re-awaken the dead. That part of your brain that has become sluggish and lethargic from disuse, and your ability to even conjure up a cohesive paragraph has atrophied. I read things I wrote back then and tell myself, “See, brain? That was good! YOU did that! Just do it again!” (Is this how child actors and one-hit-wonder bands feel? Are we all doomed to a life of skepticism and fear that we peaked too early?)

As a result, this entire writing endeavor has turned into a big, steaming dish of self-hatred, served with a side of ‘over-thinking everything’ and garnished with low self confidence.

So, alas, it has proven to be an uphill battle.

(That sentence, for example. When was the last time you saw the word ‘alas’ in print? Shakespeare? Is this 16th Century England? Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest...” How fabulously antiquated. And ‘uphill battle,’ Susie, really? Why, what a clever, completely non-cliché comparison! Did you just make that up? What an incredible writer you’re turning out to be…)

…Do you see what I mean?

Was it Dorothy Parker who said, “I hate writing, I love having written”? Preach, sister.

In any case, lately I have found myself itching for the familiar comfort of putting pen to paper (or, to be slightly more precise, fingers to keyboard), so I am venturing back out into the writing world in hopes that it will help me collect and organize my thoughts and make sense of my chaotic mess of a life.