Destiny and Shoelaces

Whenever I’m in the midst of a tough decision, I look for signs. I look for metaphors. I look for anything that will help me reason through this enormous stress because I have to know that someone or something in the world is looking out for me. This can’t just be me all on my own. Life must be hiding clues for me; once I find the clues, I’ll have the answer. Then I’ll know how to treat life, what to do with it. Because how could life possibly trust me enough to live it myself?

I am currently in the midst of one of these life-changing decisions. I’m making choices about people, places, and my future, and I’m searching desperately for an answer that comes from anywhere but my own head. It feels like I’ve thought about everything there is to think about, and at this point I simply need life to put the answer in front of me. I may be mentally exhausted, but I’m sure I’ll be clever enough to find this sign.

Last night, I thought I’d found it. My favorite pair of shoes, which I’ve owned for seven years, recently walked their last road (and a great road it was: Central Park). I’m still in the process of letting go, and last night I took out their beat-up laces and transferred them into some much newer, much snazzier shoes. Cue all of the metaphors about moving on, mixing the old with the new, whatever you want. All of this happened as I was on my way out the door, and suddenly I was paralyzed mid-lace on the floor, frozen like a cool special effect in a movie, feeling so close to having found an answer.

And then I said to myself, “Leah, it’s shoelaces. Get up and get out the door.”

We have to process the things that happen in our lives, and sometimes we do that by justifying them as “meant to be.” We can map out the moments that led to any significant life event, but when it comes to making decisions about the future, we’ve put ourselves in a handicap. We’re so used to patterns and miracles and destiny and fate that we stop giving ourselves any credit at all. Yes, I can make some significant statement about life from the simple act of lacing up my shoes. But does that mean that I should base my life decisions upon this act? I’ve become so hyperaware of all the possible signs the universe is handing me that I’m not even thinking about myself.

Maybe it’s possible that, no matter what I choose, it will be right because I will make it right. We can’t look for clues in the present as though they’ve been left here by the future; there is no invisible sign pointing us in the right direction. All we can do is commit to being the kind of person we hope to become at the end while we’re on the way. I may not know where I’m headed, but the destination isn’t as important as how I deal with what I’m given when I get there. My future will not be handed to me as a pre-completed plan, and I am not on a scavenger hunt to find it. I need to remove my focus from my shoelaces and turn it within. I need to give myself credit for running my life and forgive myself for not knowing exactly how to find my path. I need to build myself up and prepare myself for anything, because ultimately we don’t get to choose what happens to us. Frankly, we waste a lot of time trying. I hereby propose that we all stop looking for the perfect answer and the perfect direction, and instead simply try to be our perfect selves- our most fulfilled, most happy, most contributing selves, because our selves are the only things we have control over anyway.

The future is important, and so is making the right choices. I won’t deny that we should put our best effort forward. But I will say that there is no one right answer, no one right direction- translate that, and it means that there’s also no wrong answer, and no reason to ever give up. I don’t need to overwhelm myself in the present just because I don’t know my future; instead, I just need to try every day to be the person I want to become.

So, I’m going to tie up my shoelaces, revel in their wisdom for just a moment, and then I’m going to walk out the door and let life handle the rest.

101 Goals in 1001 Days

Eighth grade was quite a  year for me- both times. The first time around, I discovered my love of running, pursued my interest in music, and saw Moulin Rouge, Titanic, and Rent all for the first time. I came out of this transformative year with the life mantra that I still think about today: no regrets. Ever since one life-changing trip to Six Flags in 8th grade, I have made it my mission never to pass up on any opportunity that will make my life even a little bit fuller.

The second time I did 8th grade was with City Year, and that year was just as life-changing as the first. I came out of it with the confidence and the hunger to truly take charge of my life as a newly branded adult, which added a whole new dimension to the notion of grabbing life by the horns. This year I also embraced my love of goal setting; the rush I get from checking an item off a to do list is unreal, and I have no shame about that.

So when a friend told me about this thing where you make yourself 101 goals and you have to finish them in 1001 days (roughly 2.75 years), I was a little scared, but I knew it would be great for me; here was my opportunity to think about what I really wanted out of life and then just do it. I’m not saying that we can’t have great lives if we don’t list out everything we want first; I just know that, for me, having the list is a huge motivator and also a fantastic catalyst for thinking about what I really want.

Here’s the list; I’ll keep it updated as I go. (A few items are censored for privacy or surprise reasons.)

Travel

  1. Dream up a trip and save up just for it.
  2. Bring my US states traveled to up to 30. (Maine 7/15; Michigan, Vermont- 6/16)
  3. Get a credit card that gets me travel miles. (4/16)
  4. Explore 20 places in the city where I live (20/20 done- Echo Park, 9/15; Capitol & light rail, 12/15; Ramsey Park, 2/16; DUMBO, 8/16; Riverbank State Park, High Bridge, Yankee Stadium, 9/16; Riverside Park, 10/16; The Cloisters, 10/16; MetLife Stadium, 11/16; Battery Park Esplanade, 12/16; Radio City Music Hall, 12/16; New York Public Library, 12/16; Museum of the Moving Image, 1/17; Italian American Museum & New Museum & Katz’s Deli, 2/17; Apollo Theater & Statue of Liberty, 3/17).
  5. Go to another country. (6/18/16 Canada)
  6. Spend 5 days exploring small towns. (1/5 done- New Hope, NJ, 2/17)
  7. Take five weekend trips. (5/5 done- NYC, 7/15; Austin, 9/15; Chicago, 10/15; Cincinnati, 1/16; Boston, 9/16)
  8. Go to Harry Potter Land or do HP in England
  9. New Years in New York City.(2016-2017)
  10. Go on a road trip. (LA to Austin, 12/15)
  11. Cross Abbey Road.

Life Experiences

  1. Buy a meal for a homeless person and eat with them. (11/12/16- Janell)
  2. Become a regular at a restaurant or bar.
  3. Pull an all-nighter just talking with a friend. (11/10-11/16)
  4. Own a pair of heels in every color of the rainbow. (3/6 done; red, blue, purple)
  5. Do five things that legitimately scare me. (4/5 done; 11/15, 12/15, 1/16)
  6. See a performer I really care about in concert.
  7. Spend 3 weekends camping with no electronics.
  8. Participate in 5 community events (festivals, charity, flash mobs, etc) (5/5 done; SXSW 3/16, Zilker Park musical 7/16, Storytelling Hour 8/16, Flash Mob 12/16, Women’s March 1/21)
  9. Censored
  10. Go on a beach trip with girlfriends like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
  11. Do balloon paint art like in Princess Diaries. (10/22/16)
  12. Go to a Meet Up. (5/10/16 board games)
  13. Go horseback riding. (9/15)
  14. Take five dance classes.
  15. Censored
  16. Be outside for sunset and don’t go back inside until after it rises.
  17. Take at least one picture every day to document the day.
  18. Create a playlist each month.
  19. Slow dance in the rain.
  20. Do the 36 questions to fall in love with somebody. (1/14/17)
    1. see the questions here
  21. Be in the audience for the taping of a TV show.
  22. Get a tattoo. (8/6/15)
  23. Get a record. (12/6/15)
  24. Create art out of 5 favorite quotes and display in my home.
  25. Finish reading the Harry Potter series with my dad. (9/11/16)
  26. Sing at a karaoke bar.
  27. Ride a jet ski (8/9/16).
  28. Spend an entire day outside.
  29. Go on a meditation retreat.
  30. Do something normally social (seeing a movie, going to dinner…) on my own. (7/18/16 went to see Finding Dory)
  31. Meet a celebrity I admire. (Cobie Smulders, 4/16/17)
  32. See a Broadway show. (Hedwig and the Angry Inch & A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, 7/15)

Health/Self-betterment

  1. Go 21 days without desserts, 3 separate times. (3/3 done 3-4/16, 4-5/16, 5-6/16)
  2. Do the Couch to 5k.
  3. Publish at least 50 blogs.
  4. Start my retirement fund. (3/6/16)
  5. Finish my college scrapbooks. (7/13/16)
  6. Write a letter to myself twice a year.
  7. Eat raw for a week. (6/16)
  8. Do a weight-training program (1 month minimum) from start to finish.
  9. Journal at least once a week.
  10. Try 15 foods I say I don’t like or don’t eat. (15/15 done- lobster bisque in Maine, peach and plum at camp 8/15; mochi 9/15; boba 9/15; deviled eggs 10/15; pumpkin seeds AZ 12/15; sunflower seeds 12/15; ramen, pork, seaweed, shrimp, cole slaw NY 1/16; jalapeño, sushi, lox OH 1/16)
  11. Go to bed at the same time every day for one month.
  12. Go through one week in which I COOK/PREPARE everything I eat. (no frozen foods or snacks as meals!) (1/24-20/17)
  13. Read at least one news item each day for a month. (7-8/15)
  14. Free write 10 minutes a day for a month. (12/15-1/16)
  15. Do brain exercises every day for a month. (11/15)
  16. Finish or throw away all needlepoint projects.
  17. Make a list of things I want in life, keep it visible, and update as needed.
  18. Write down what I’m thankful for every day for a month. (11/15)
  19. Do the 7 minute workout every day for a month. (1/16-2/16)
  20. Censored
  21. Censored

Skills

  1. Learn to play piano well enough to accompany myself.
  2. Take a voice lesson. (2/8/16)
  3. Take a glass blowing lesson. (2/20/16)
  4. Learn how to moonwalk.
  5. Learn to French braid. (11/15)
  6. Learn how to create mashups on Garage Band or something like it.
  7. Learn how money works (budgeting, saving, loans, interest, etc)
  8. Learn how to build a fire. (8/11/16)
  9. Learn how to drive a stick shift. (5/4/16)

Service

  1. Give blood ten times.
  2. Make a tangible difference in one person’s life. (crossed off 6/19/16)
  3. Volunteer as a consistent tutor/mentor.
  4. Donate 101 items/hours. (donated to Goodwill, 8/15 & 12/15)
  5. Volunteer at a nursing home or hospice. (7/16)

People

  1. Reach out to 20 past acquaintances. (8/20 done)
  2. Record Story Corps interviews with both parents.
  3. Have one interaction with a stranger every day for a month. (1/16)
  4. Cook my mom a real dinner. (5/8/16)
  5. Write my dad a song. Play it for him on the guitar.
  6. Censored (5/20/17)
  7. Censored
  8. Write a letter to every past teacher I can remember/find.
  9. Spend one day writing a note to everyone important in my life thanking them and send it to them.
  10. Spend a day taking my younger cousins to do whatever they want to do.
  11. See all 13 cousins. (11/13 done)
  12. Create some sort of family tree.
  13. Take a plane trip to visit a friend.

Learning/Culturing

  1. Watch every movie on the AFI top 100. (64 to go)
    1. see the list here
  2. Become an expert on pop culture and social issues of the ‘60s.
  3. Be able to identify every part of my car’s engine.
  4. Learn how to make a t-shirt quilt (and make one). (12/15)
  5. Take a beginner’s course in graphic design.
  6. Watch every movie on AFI’s top 100 love stories. (57 to go)
    1. see the list here
  7. Read 10 classic books (10/10 done- The Princess Bride, 9/15; Fahrenheit 451, 11/15; Wuthering Heights, 1/16; To Kill A Mockingbird, 2/16; Pride and Prejudice, 7/16; Catcher in the Rye, 7/16; The Little Prince, 8/16; The Old Man and the Sea, 11/16; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 2/17; Slaughterhouse Five, 4/17).
  8. Read one book about/set in each continent. (5/7 done- The Last Promise, 8/15; Will Grayson Will Grayson, 9/15; I Am Malala, 4/16; The English Patient, 5/16; The Thorn Birds, 6/16)
  9. Learn the backstory of every hero/villain that has been portrayed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

And finally…

  1. Put $20 into savings for each item completed on this list, and make a public announcement for every 10.

Here’s to challenges, making the most out of life, and public accountability! Feel free to ask me how it’s going!

Until next time!

High Fidelity: What is Love?

When did humans start to wonder about love? Pre-wheel? Post-fire? We’ll probably never know, so, new question. When did humans start to understand love? The answer to this one is very clear: not yet.

quotesaboutlove

Which is not to say that we haven’t tried. People have been writing books, creating movies, and singing songs about every conceivable component of love for ages. And we, the consumers, take it in. We survey our worlds for definitions that apply to our morals, our senses, our current situations. Name a predicament, and there’s a musing about love that will fit right in. Which is great, because the human brain craves categories and organization and definitions for things; otherwise there would be no way to process the endless information that life gives us. But, admittedly, this compulsion to define everything leaves us a little bit wanting. Or at least that’s where it leaves me. Which of the world’s many definitions of love is “the one?”

When I read books or watch movies I write down the quotations that resonate with me. Often, they have to do with love. I’ll size up the story’s version of love and compare it to someone in my life, and if the two fit, it’s a miracle! Suddenly I understand my feelings toward this person; the author told me it was love, and I’m relieved that finally I know what this confusing, undefinable feeling is. That’s not to say that I don’t have my own definitions, of course. But, in truth, most of them haven’t come from my own life.

I recently watched High Fidelity (2000) for the first time. This film stars John Cusack as Rob Gordon, a record store owner who loves to categorize everything in life, from music to love. The movie begins with Rob breaking up with his serious girlfriend, Laura, and immediately listing the five worst breakups he’s ever had. We relive each of these breakups while experiencing the aftermath of his split with Laura as well as the ups and downs of his life as a record store owner/wannabe producer. Eventually, Rob and Laura get back together- not because of some romantic realization, and not because they missed each other so much they couldn’t handle it. Legitimately, Laura’s reason for getting back together with Rob: “I’m too tired not to be with you.”

What about all of the problems that caused them to fall apart in the first place? Not addressed. What about the cute, intriguing music reporter who catches Rob’s eye at his record store? Rob responds to this with the obvious move (not) of proposing to Laura. “Other women… they always seem really great because there’s never any problems… and then I come home, and you and I have real problems. I’m tired of the fantasy because it doesn’t really exist… But I don’t ever seem to get tired of you.”

To translate: “I do fantasize about other women. We do have problems. But I still want to be with you.”

Now, that’s unconventional.

high fidelityWhen I watch this movie, I want Laura to be the perfect girl (confession: I really don’t like her much). I want Rob to be genuinely sorry and to feel like she’s the only one. I want the two of them to have a passionate conversation about how they did have problems but that having each other is worth all of those things. I want them to embrace as the perfectly chosen, intensely meaningful song plays in the background. But why do I want that? Because it’s real life? Of course not. In real life people stay real, and problems as deeply engrained as Rob’s and Laura’s usually don’t go away just because they care or because they miss each other.

We all just want to make sense out of life, and Rob wants that too. That’s why he and his friends find ways to make lists for every situation: favorite music for a Monday, favorite songs about death. I do it too. I have lists of my favorite movie kisses and my favorite actors’ voices, because at the end of the day there is just so much to process in this world that we can’t handle it all. We try to understand all of this incoming information in order to make some kind of pattern out of it that we can apply to our lives, so that our lives can have some sense in them as well. But this movie shows us that as much as we try to organize, categorize, and define, we are not going to understand everything. And even if we do become an expert in some area (for Rob, it’s music) that doesn’t mean that the peace and harmony of that area will have anything to do with other parts of our lives.

When it comes to love, an area of life in which Rob admits that his “gut has shit for brains,” this notion of uncertainty is particularly apparent. Let’s remind ourselves again, Rob proposes to Laura because he doesn’t want to have to think about the possibility of other girls anymore. This is ridiculous, we might say. This isn’t real. These two are with each other out of convenience and nothing more. They are together because they don’t want to have to think about being with someone else. How can they stand this? Where is the purity of love?

And yet, they do seem happy. Who are we to impose upon them our definition of love? Which, by the way, is (at least for me) hugely influenced by movies, and unrealistic ones at that; this idea that love only counts when it’s 100% pure and chosen above all other things isn’t reality. It hurts to see this couple together simply because they didn’t much like being broken up and they didn’t want to have to deal with anyone else but each other. But what’s wrong with that, really, if it makes them happy? Is that definition of love- “I’m tired of everything else… but I don’t ever seem to get tired of you” any better than “to love is to suffer” or “love means never having to say you’re sorry?” Both of those definitions sound a bit disastrous to me as well. So, High Fidelity didn’t go along with the cinematically acceptable definitions of love. But that doesn’t make it wrong. Whether we like it or not, that probably makes it more right.

In high school, a highly philosophical friend lamented that there was no possible way to define love. I immediately wrote him off, believing that he just didn’t know how. Now, I may have to admit that he was right- with a qualifier. The issue is not that we can’t define love; it’s that there are so, so many ways to do it that they can’t all be right at the same time. High Fidelity serves as a totally glaring, completely necessary blemish on the face of romantic lessons learned from most movies by showing a love story that is dysfunctional, unreasonable, and possibly a bad idea in the most unromantic way. But it also gives the rest of us permission to have confusing and messed up relationships that don’t have fairytale endings. It gives us permission to not always understand our feelings or make the right choices. It gives us permission to be real.

John Cusack's iconic boombox scene in Say AnythingIt’s ironic that a film called High Fidelity features a relationship in which both partners sleep with other people through the course of the story, and in which the characters constantly discuss how much their number one passion- music- is full of both creators and consumers whom the characters see as total frauds. Where is the promised fidelity? I think I’ve solved the mystery. The fidelity in this movie is the fact that it refuses to be just another music-and-love movie (as much as we loved John Cusack’s iconic stereo on the shoulders moment in Say Anything). Its fidelity is not to love or to music or to film, although it teaches us a ton about all of these things. What we can learn most from this movie is that its Highest Fidelity is to nothing other than real life. Life is undefinable, unconventional, and imperfect- but it’s all we have, and High Fidelity celebrates that. To quote our good friend Rob Gordon, that’s “just good. Really good.”