I didn’t post last week. You’ve all been flooding my inbox and text messages and sliding into my DMs like “omgggg Jesse where you been, girl, what have you been up to you’re so fascinating I need to know what series you finished on Netlix and if you solved world hunger and what you’re listening tooooooooooooo.”
And the answers are Bates Motel, No, and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.”
Also nobody asked those things.
Nobody even noticed I was gone.
Not one of you.
And so I was like “f**k them they don’t even miss me.”
But then yesterday I got an email from a total stranger via my contact page saying “hey I found your website you’re really funny” and I was like:
So I decided to forgive you all.
I’m still chillin’ over here restyling and re-imagining myself every single day. Last week I thought it might be nice to look for work on a Christmas tree farm, but then I remembered “hard labor” and “cold” and “outside” and “people” and “axes”.
This week I might be a paralegal and next week could be anything from lunch lady to literally Kristin Wiig’s “Target Lady.”
But actually I’ve been thinking “hey, Jess, maybe the rest of fun-employment should be dedicated to establishing good habits and undoing bad ones so that when you DO go back to work you can be the bestest, most functional d**n lunch lady or Target lady or Christmas-tree-cutter-downer that ever lived.“
And then I was like “ooooh, that’s good. Write it down in your diary.”
And then I was like “omg you don’t KEEP a diary.”
And then I was like “I’ll START with keeping a diary.”
So I started keeping a diary, and my next goal is to maximize the time I’m awake between 6:45am and 7:45am.
So my boyfriend wakes us up at 5:45am (for his “j0b”, EYEROLL) and then I fall back to sleep until 6:30am, when he insists on waking me up to “chat” for a few minutes before he leaves (for his “j0b”, EYEROLL). Even though sometimes I can be cruel and hurtful and say things like “I want to punch you in the face with pointy blood-diamonds on every finger.“
I am very protective of my sleep.
So anyway, he leaves at like 6:45am, and I always decide that while I’m conscious, I might as well check my email JUST in case, overnight, like, someone found my website and wants to give me a book deal…or I’ve been discovered on YouTube and Casey Nicholaw thinks I’m the only actress who can relaunch Broadway…or like, @vintagespadefashion wants me to collab on Instagram to sell their repurposed fiberglass watches (?).
You never know.
SOMETIMES! I even GET OUT OF BED, GET A GLASS OF GREEN JUICE, SIT ON THE COUCH, AND PUT ON MORNING JOE.
However, from there…I just end up falling back to sleep. I need to find something to do–something enticing to groggy-wake-up-Jesse–that will keep me awake and keep up the momentum.
Momentum (n) the quantity of motion of a moving body, as measured as a product of its mass and velocity
WHOA. Sorry. Dating a physics teacher.
K, so, like, this morning instead of making a cup of coffee and free-writing, I cuddled up on the couch and checked in on the Ryan Phillippe/Ellen Degeneres feud, of which I am obviously Team Ryan because of the escalator in Cruel Intentions.
Then I decided I should follow him on Instagram.
Then I realized he doesn’t have Instagram.
Then I stalked a bunch of Ryan Phillippe fan accounts.
Then I watched the Cruel Intentions escalator scene on YouTube.
It was not a process conducive to starting a productive day. That 6:45am-7:45am hour is CRITICAL for me.
So that’s one habit I’m working on.
Or, rather, it’s a habit I’m wishing to change. I don’t know if I can necessarily say I’m “working” very hard on it.
I’m also trying to work on just staying in the present. Mindfulness. Appreciating the fall colors. Appreciating the people around me, the things I have, yadda yadda yadda…
And, see, the thing is, I know that having a stricter meditation schedule would really help with that.
But instead of meditating and focusing on my breath and all that jazz, I seem to prefer READING about mediation and focusing on the breath.
I have read so many books on meditation, mindfulness, and even on habit forming. But instead of finishing the books and then putting the subject matter into practice, I prefer to just read ANOTHER book about the same thing.
Which got me thinking….
MAYBE READING ABOUT MEDITATION AND MINDFULNESS IS MY FORM OF MEDITATION AND MINDFULNESS.
AND THEN I WENT LIKE
OR! OR! OR! I’m ADDICTED TO SELF-HELP BOOKS AND IT’S WHAT THE SELF-HELP BOOK PEOPLE WANT SO THAT I’LL BUY MORE BOOKS!!!!!!!!
Mr. H is back and hasn’t visited in a month. Of course, he made his reservation half an hour beforehand, and expects his favorite table.
Before his arrival, the hostess comes to inform me that there is no way Mr. H can possibly have his favorite table. It’s been reserved for a party of five all night, and Mr. H is only a party of three. We’re packed and there’s nowhere else the larger party can sit.
Of course, I already know all of this. I’ve got the floorplan and reservation books pulled up on my phone, I saw Mr. H’s reservation appear in real time, and I’m already figuring out a game plan.
“Tell Francisco he’s gotta drop the check on table 70,” I tell the hostess. “Put a “reserve” sign on 71. When 70 gets up, I’m gonna turn the tables sideways so they’re longer. Party of five sits there. Mr. H gets his table. We just need 70 to go.“
I pull Lucas, the busser, aside. “As soon as the butts are out of seats on 70, I’ll meet you over there with a tray. I bus, you wash, we turn the tables sideways. Capiche?”
The plan works.
“Jesse, Jesse, come here dear,” Mr. H. is seated and ready for “the routine.” I wipe my sweaty brow with my sleeve and march over for my line:
“Well, hello, long time no see!” I sing.
“Ugh, I know! I was in Florida all last week, and then Toronto for a conference before that! I’m actually only here a few days but I just HAD to show these two my favorite spot!” He introduces me to his guests and I coo a “welcome” as I shake each of their hands.
“And Jesse…just…what is new about your hair. It looks amazing!”
There is nothing new about my hair. There’s never anything new about my hair unless the color has changed, and it hasn’t. But I’ve got an answer thought up already because he says this every time.
“Ya know, I’ve been wearing the bangs pulled all the way back and I usually have them in front, swept to the side! I’m impressed you even noticed!”
“Well you’re looking beautiful as always!”
He winks. I curtsy in my mind.
Our dialogue complete, I send three flutes of Prosecco and then head on to fix the restroom door, which, I’m told, has been locked from the inside again with no one there.
At this time last year, this was my life.
I’ve been putting off writing a lot this week. I wanted to write something funny and quirky and weird, but I barely had the inspiration to write at all, let alone write something that wasn’t totally self involved and self-pitying.
So buckle up.
The week started off with a bit of a disappointment. A disappointment SO silly that is doesn’t even warrant explanation. But what it did was it opened my eyes to how much I truly am struggling right now.
I’m proud of myself for how I’m getting through. On good days, I’ve been challenging myself to cook things, and work out more, and keep up chores on a “real adult” schedule. I keep my eyes open for job opportunities that might fit the bill…I look up grad schools and programs that might interest me…I write. I make sure I get dressed each day and leave the apartment even if it’s just to pick up a coffee or a diet coke.
But anyway, I didn’t realize how much I was slipping until this minor disappointment occurred and I was faced with the reality of more status quo. More trying to wake up early, realizing there’s not much to wake up early for and then going back to sleep for two hours. More willing myself to put on a face and do my hair instead of hiding it in a scarf or tying it in a sloppy knot. More trips to department stores to keep me from binge watching another Hulu series, where I end up spending money I ought to be saving.
And I just got so, so sad. It’s pathetic right? And then the feeling of being pathetic just makes me angry with myself…like just FIX yourself, Jesse. You have it so much better than SO many people right now. You have a place to live, and food, and people who love you and will help you. You’ve had ZERO issues with unemployment, and you are getting by just fine.
But at the end of the day, I feel dread that another day is coming where I will likely accomplish nothing. And more and more lately, I don’t try to accomplish much. I don’t look for jobs as much because they don’t pay enough and I’m better off finishing unemployment benefits. Or the careers I’d be interested in require more education.
So I look into more education, but it’s costly, and I likely wouldn’t be able to afford it without a job. And then I’m back at jobs.
And then I think, okay, suppose you did figure out how to pay for a masters or a new certification…and then you hated it, and found that you’d just picked something to pick something…because really, you were already doing something that you kinda liked before…before you were ripped out of your former life by a pandemic.
And then I’m angry. Angry that my life got uprooted. Angry that it got uprooted and turned upside down for the SECOND TIME in my life, this time by a disease that I don’t even have but MIGHT get!
In the times of “Mr. H and his favorite table” I was working a full time job as an events coordinator, and ALSO covering two shifts a week as a maitre d’ at a stunning Upper East Side restaurant where I left each shift with at least sixty bucks in cash (in addition to my FULL hourly wage–not a tipped hourly wage).
And yeah, I did it because it felt great to have money for really the first time in my life. But I also did it because I liked being busy. I liked to work. I liked the buzz of NYC hospitality, and I loved the people I worked with because we were all working so f**king hard, together.
I feel like a hostage of this pandemic. So many things hold me back from taking steps forward, and when I think of going back to work, not only do I feel angry that it can’t be what it was in “Mr. H” days, but I feel scared.
Scared of getting Covid19 and spreading it to my loved ones…scared of it further destroying my kidneys.
Scared because do I even remember how to work? How to live on a schedule? How to be responsible for things?
And then I’m like “let’s be honest, Jess. What are the chances you’re NOT selling “Holiday Pine” scented candles at White Barn come Christmas time?“
And then I cry.
This is the daily routine. And it usually ends with, “why don’t I just binge watch something to calm my nerves.”
Last week I went to the mall to just kinda like wander around and kill an hour or so of my life.
So I wandered in to Sephora because this summer when I was blonde I read an article on the internet that said blondes should try wearing brown mascara, and if an article on the internet says I should do something, I usually do it which is why I’ve joined QAnon (kidding. Obviously).
So anyway all summer I wore brown mascara but now that I’m a brunette again I felt it was the right time to return to black mascara, (I know, the story is really getting good).
Well, I was a little upset because online it said that Sephora carried Givenchy Phenomeneyes Mascara but I wandered around for at least fifteen minutes and didn’t find it anywhere. ALL of the employees working asked me at some point if I was “finding everything okay”, and it was very awkward because although it was quite obvious I was not “finding everything okay,” I wasn’t going to actually ask for help. Like, what if they laughed at my choice of mascara? Or tried to help me find a better mascara for me?
My womanhood would be challenged.
So I decided to just go with Anastasia brand mascara because that’s the brand the winner of Rupaul’s Drag Race gets.
But all of this is just extraneous detail that is entirely beside the point.
So…sorry about that.
THE POINT IS, when I went to pay for my purchase, the cashier asked for my email address to look up my Sephora account. I was V excited to hear what my account would yield because I KNEW it had accumulated a LOT of points because once upon a time in days of yore, I was making bank in the city and would go to Sephora at least twice a week for some made up reason such as “this work event calls for a dark purple lip color” or “this weekend I’m going to see if I can look like a Snapchat filter“.
I knew I must have some serious points.
So imagine my surprise when the cashier’s Kat von D mouth opened wide in surprise, and instead of “congratulations, you have ten million points, your purchase is free and you now own all of Sephora” she said…
“Ah! It’s time to collect your birthday gift!”
My entire life flashed before my eyes.
My day of birth is March 25th.
I tried to mirror her excitement, and then winced….
Oh my god, I’ve been unemployed so long that I don’t even know what month or season it is…
Or…or I’ve gone into mental hibernation…a protective mode to shield me from the chaos of the world.
It must’ve been triggered by the “debate” the previous evening. My senses were on overload and I couldn’t cope. So much yelling, so much “old white man,” so much peanutbutter whiskey consumed…
My true consciousness went to sleep and my body and brain had continued on auto-pilot until the chaos was over and it sensed a safe place to wake me back up…
How much had I missed?
Was Donald still the president?
Was Amy Coney Barrett a Supreme Court Justice?
Can women and people of color still vote?
Can gays still marry?
Did I miss the last Christmas where women can sit at the same table as men?
Is it “Handmaid’s Tale” now? Is Britney okay? Did she get any freedom before we all had to don our “Maid” apparel?
WHEN WILL THE NEW BATMAN WITH ROBERT PATTINSON COME OUT AND WHY DO I CARE!?!?
All these thoughts…all at once…
The cashier was looking at me. It was now or never.
Do I tell her its not my birth month? Do I do the honest thing so they don’t run out of birthday gifts for people who actually have October birthdays?
“Y-yeah…ohh…er…yay! My birthday!”
Just….just wow. Some poor Libra isn’t gonna get their free body cream or free mascara because you are the worst.
Wait…this could not be my fault…she didn’t even ask me! She just…said it. She told me it was time to collect my birthday gift…and I’m not trying to argue in the Sephora store, that’s not part of my zen.
But now I was feeling rushed. Rushed to turn thirty. The pressure and doom I’d associated with that number sent a chill up my spine.
It’s the bags…the bags under my eyes.
She took one look at me and she was like….”this b—h just turned thirty, look at those lines. You can see the young person she was yesterday just being devoured by an old witchwith osteoporosisand New Balance sneakers!”
She looked at me impatiently and said, with an evil smirk, “do you want the body cream or the mascara?”
And what I wanted to say was “B***H I JUST BOUGHT MASCARA WTF DO YOU THINK?” and then just RUN OUT OF THE STORE CRYING.
Deep, deep, “Harry-Styles-Calm-App” Breaths.
How could she be this cruel on my birthday!
IT’S NOT YOUR BIRTHDAY YOU PSYCHO!
“I’ll go with the body-cream.” And I’ll rub it all over my hot, young, wrinkle-free twenty-nine-year old body.
Smile. Nod. Thank you. No bag necessary, I’m saving the planet.
So I have this dishonest Sephora birthday gift now, and I can’t bear to open it because I wonder what it means.
What it means about who I’ve become and who I’m becoming.
I wonder if this means no Sephora Birthday Gift in March…
I wonder if it is possible to hibernate my consciousness until after November 3rd, or possibly even until 2024.
I wonder if Sephora is really a safe space or if they’re pushing me to grow up too fast.
And I wonder if maybe they accidentally pulled up my mom’s account who’s birthday is in October, and now my mom will be Sephora Birthday Gift-less…
I am losing it because I flung my Apple watch against the backseat window of the car because it “keeps bossing me around.”
Because it doesn’t count the bike at the gym toward my exercise ring, and my RINGS are my PURPOSE.
I AM losing it because my last Google search was “is it acceptable to eat straight up steak seasoning”
Because the answer was “yes.” And so I did.
I am LOSING it because I’ve gone to Michael’s or Marshalls every weekend since September 1st to buy festive fall decor for an apartment I don’t technically live in or pay rent on.
While the apartment I AM paying rent on sits DECOR-LESS and FESTIVE-LESS four hours away.
I am losing it because I spend, like, 70% of my time sitting at stoplights trying to make eye contact with people.
One of them was “penny nips” from high school. She was called “penny nips” because the rumor was she had penny-sized nipple. Obv.
I am losing it because I’ve wandered aimlessly around Barnes and Noble multiple times in the last month without buying anything.
And have pooped in their bathroom on each occasion.
I am losing it because I almost bought a Tamagotchi at Urban Outfitters the other day.
Because I want something to rely on me.
I am losing it because I almost shouted “NICE MASKS, LADIES” at a woman and her daughter who came to the grocery store without masks even though its state mandated that we wear masks.
Although, I actually kind of wish I had followed through on that one.
I am losing it because I know the solution to “losing it” is to get a job.
But the available jobs pay less than what I receive through unemployment and pandemic assistance, and instead of saying “why don’t employers pay their employees enough“, people say “they are getting too much on unemployment.“
This morning I spent 20 minutes in my car examining the differences between (You Drive Me) Crazy on Britney’s original album and (You Drive Me) Crazy on Britney’s greatest hits.
Seneca Falls, New York is the home of the first US Women’s Rights Convention. We all memorized that somewhere along the line. Declaration of Sentiments, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, et cetera, et cetera. You probably wrote a shi**y essay about it or had to dress up as Lucretia Mott and give a “suffrage talk” about Women’s Rights to your third grade class who chuckled every time you said the word “sex.”
Fans of the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life probably know a bit more about Seneca Falls. Frank Capra, the film’s director, spent time there while writing the script, and although the film was entirely made in California, it is said there are plenty of reasons to believe that he had Seneca Falls in mind when he created “Bedford Falls.” The tiny, doll-like train station, the references to Buffalo, Rochester, and Elmira, NY…
…a bridge that runs over the sleepy canal in the middle of town that is now referred to as the “George Bailey Bridge.” Legend, of course, being that this is the bridge Capra recreated in the movie where George jumps to save Clarence the angel.
I’ve had the ‘It’s a Wonderful Life House’ pointed out to me many times throughout my life. “You want the moon, Mary?”
Downtown Seneca Falls is a picture of holiday cheer come Christmas-time, as you can probably imagine. Even a crotchity millennial like me can admit that when the “George Bailey Bridge” is all lit up, and the town twinkles red and green beside the water, it looks like a kind of “dream America.” A picturesque town ripped right out of the same history book you plagiarized your sh**ty paper from.
For me, Seneca Falls feels as much a part of my childhood as Syracuse does. I recently drove my boyfriend down ONE street in the middle of the town (slowly and creepily, of course), and narrated for him:
“this house was my aunt’s, then this one my grandmother’s. Across over there is a cousin, that house another aunt, then a great aunt, another cousin…and (as a woman emerges from a car parked up ahead) that’s actually some sort of cousin of mine crossing the street right now. Second, third, removed…I couldn’t tell you.”
My grandmother’s house in the middle of town was a weekly gathering place of the big Italian family every Sunday for pasta and meatballs and homemade sauce. Holidays would sometimes take place at a different family house on the same street, but her’s was always the home base. She was always the star of the show, and she held court from her rocking chair watching Judge Judy, a Stephanie Plum novel dog-eared on the coffee table.
I know losing grandparents is essentially a part of life. They are a privilege while they’re here, and they’re oftentimes our first experience with loss and death, (that is, if we’re lucky enough to have our immediate families around throughout the whole of childhood.)
I’m not gonna make this about cancer, because it’s not really about that, per se. The last year of my grandmother’s life was the year of my illness, and I don’t think I’ll ever truly know how it impacted her. I know it took a toll on everyone in the family, if not because they felt close with me, then because my diagnosis was an eerie reminder that none of us are safe from life’s unwelcome surprises, regardless of age.
But my grandmother was already battling a slew of health problems on her own, even before I upstaged her.
She died a week after I was declared in remission.
She never got to see me “being okay.”
Seneca Falls has never been the same since she passed, and I hadn’t spent more than two hours there in years, let alone two whole days.
There are too many ghosts.
But a few weeks back, my cousin needed a dog sitter while her family went camping for the weekend. Me, the “unemployed job-casualty” that I am, said, “Why not?”
I wrote last week about how I’ve been creepin’ around my hometown, scoping out locations of odd memories that stick out in my brain.
It’s muy, muy creepy…this I know. But I have no nefarious intentions and because I’m white I have the privilege of not really raising alarm bells. A sad but true reality that is not at all lost on me.
But my creepin’ reached an all-time high in Seneca Falls that weekend.
I arrived around six-thirty on Friday, tended to the dog, and ordered take-out from a restaurant on Fall Street (Seneca Falls’ aptly named version of Main Street). When I parked in front of the restaurant my dinner wasn’t ready yet, so I found myself wandering to the site of a canal-side bar, previously owned by two of my uncles (one of whom, my godfather, passed away in 2014).
I stood outside the glass door, and peered inside. The space is still a bar, but a different one now. I spied the corner where my Dad and godfather had been seated when I flung open the doors, twelve years old, to announce the arrival of my first period.
It had happened at my grandmother’s, naturally, where everything happened.
My dad covered his face with his hands.
My godfather set me up on the bar stool beside him and toasted my womanhood with a Shirley Temple.
Here, now, in 2020, sat two strangers, socially distant from the rest of the bar patrons. Someone made eye contact with me, and I scurried back up the leaf-covered stairs to Fall Street.
Later, I lay awake on my cousin’s couch, her dog snoring beside me. Twelve o’clock. One AM. Two AM. I had not slept a night in Seneca Falls since 2013.
I felt unsettled, something amiss even with all the doors locked and this giant black lab at my feet.
At two thirty I sprang up and threw on a hoodie and sneaks. The grass outside was already wet with dew, and the crunching of leaves underfoot scared me sh*tless when it cut through the silence.
I jumped into my mom’s CRV, (now my infamous “creepin” vehicle of choice) and drove out across the “George Bailey Bridge,” past the old video store where my cousins and I had hiked to rent tapes, past the pretty fountain in the middle of town, beyond the Women’s Rights Convention Memorial Park where I’d walked my aunt’s dog, Dexter, and begged him not to poop.
I parked myself on the street in front of my grandmother’s house.
Turned off the car lights.
Sat in silence.
I dream about this house all the time. Dreams where I’m fumbling around looking for something, ascending the staircase, or looking out the upstairs window.
In most of the dreams I’m by myself, but every now and then my grandmother appears and I tell her we thought she had died. I tell her I’m so happy we were wrong, but that we should be very careful so she doesn’t die again.
I have never had a dream about my grandmother that doesn’t take place in the house. She never appears anywhere else.
So now I stare at the dark house in the middle of the night and wonder if maybe she’s in there somehow. I know it sounds weird but…I dunno…residual energies, that kind of thing? Possible?
A television flickers in the window of the tiny house next door. I’ve only been sitting here three minutes but I know I should leave. I know I’m being a total creep. I know this is weird.
Stars splash across the sky over the tiny garage at the back of the driveway where my grandfather used to grow grapes. Where he’d taken me once to show me the grapes, but told me not to pick any.
I picture myself sitting on the porch ledge in my navy blue bathing suit with the mesh top that always made me afraid my nipples were showing.
Gram tells me to be careful up there.
I try to feel like me at 5.
Me at 5, wanting to pick the grapes.
Me at 9, sun-kissed.
Me at 12, pimply.
Me at 18, bald.
I watch “ghost me” rip a big green leaf off the vines that had covered the house. I hear my Mom tell me to stop messing with them.
“Sauce is ready.”
“Set the table.”
“Is everyone here?”
I know I need to leave, but I whisper into the stale air, “what the hell are we doing down here, Gram?”
She didn’t get to see me being okay.
Am I okay?
The stars, again, distract me with a wink.
“Don’t pick the grapes, don’t touch, just look.”
I feel like Pierre at the end of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, wondering how I got here, wondering what it all comes to in the end.
‘…and there in the middle above Prechistensky Boulevard, surrounded and sprinkled on all sides by stars shines the Great Comet…‘
I feel better now, and I don’t know why.
I dry my tears and head back.
When my cousin returns, I ask if she’s seen how different the house looks now, although I know she must. She lives in the small town, after all.
My cousin says ‘yes.’
She says she knows the woman who lives in the house now. The third owner since my grandmother.
“I told her that was our grandparents’ house, and she asked me if they’d died in the house. I told her they had. She said she could hear and feel things sometimes in the house. Energies. She said it feels friendly.”
The other day my mom told me that I remind her of “the red head on Difficult People.”
And I was like…”sooo…the MAIN difficult person?”
And she was like, “not because I think you’re difficult, though!”
And I was all, “ew, eye roll emojiiiiiii”
And so you know what I told her today? I said, “Mom, you never showed me Hocus Pocus as a kid and that’s why I am the way I am.”
She laughed, but I did not.
Because can you imagine the utter humiliation I felt in college when my roommates skipped class to watch Hocus Pocus and drink pumpkin ale and I said “oh, is this Casper Meets Wendy?”
IS IT ANY WONDER I’M UNSUCCESSFUL AND UNEMPLOYED?
Well, I’ve had nothing but time during the pandemic to think about what has made me the way I am, and quarantining in the town where I grew up, I’ve been able to do some real investigating. If you live in the Syracuse area and have noticed a girl with a tiny topknot and sunglasses-even-though-it’s-overcast, driving a gray CRV slowly by your house, trying desperately to see over the steering wheel, it’s 100% me.
I’m driving by your house because
a) an old friend of mine used to live there and I used to go to her house and play, and I’m trying to get in touch with my inner child
b) I remember passing your house on the school bus and imagining whoever lived there was a sad old woman who’s husband drowned in the Erie Canal…(don’t ask, I was fascinated by the Erie Canal)
c) I stuck my head under the tiny waterfall of the creek that runs through your backyard (on a dare!)
or d) I lost my virginity in your house
I know, I know. This seems creepy and unsettling, but I promise it’s an important part of my healing process.
On some real sh–, though, I’ve found it quite therapeutic. Because ever since having cancer (yes, the cancer card! I know, you’re SHOCKED!) I’ve tried many times to remember what it felt like to not have that big black mark on my life. What it was like to be a real kid. And I think once I was well and it was time for me to go to college, I left Syracuse with the singular impression that I wouldn’t–couldn’t–ever spend more time than a summer’s vacation there ever again.
I guess I just figured it was because I had that typical, angsty, “I-HATE-MY-HOMETOWN-IT’S-SO-LAME-MAN” thing going on.
But in truth? I think it was because I was just afraid of being surrounded by history. Afraid of the memories of the “before” Jesse creeping up. The places she went, the things she did. Knowing how difficult it is sometimes to try and remember what it was like to be that girl…
Or, rather, maybe I DO remember what it was like to be that girl quite well…and what makes me sad is knowing how innocent she was, and how blindsided she would be by the darkness of the world…
Or honestly, it could’ve been the Hocus Pocus thing. IF YOU WEREN’T GONNA SHOW ME THAT MOVIE, MOM AND DAD, WHY DID YOU EVEN HAVE ME!?
Just a small town girl livin’ in a lonely Syracuse, New Yooooork… she took her mom’s CRV goin’ to Marshaaaall’s Homegoooooooods
Oh, don’t mind me. My boyfriend just went back to work today to yell at kids to put on masks and not touch each other…and also to teach physics, I guess. And I’m still just a little candle in the wind…clinging to unemployment when the rains set in…
That’ll be my last song parody, that’s not what this is.
So anyway, my boyfriend went back to work as a teacher today, and I am still just chillin’, getting used to a new season in suburbia after 6 years of city life…
Man, suburbanites…THEY 👏🏻 LOVE 👏🏻FALL! They do NOT mess around with it. The Marshalls/Homegoods parking lot this past Saturday? SAVAGE.
And…it’s clearly contagious, seeing as I found myself in this parking lot, middle fingers flyin’ left and right trying to get a parking space to go look at ceramic pumpkins and talking skeletons.
Wanna know an actual quote from my mouth that I actually, actually, for real, for real said the other day?
I said…FROM MY OWN MOUTH…and I quote,
“I do love the pumpkin spice latte, but I MUCH prefer the pumpkin cream cold brew…it’s a few less calories and the foam is delicious.”
-MY ACTUAL FOR REAL VOCAL CORDS
So I’m a little…concerned.
I’m worried that with my boyfriend gone during the days, I am going to further morph into a fall-obsessed house-wife…which, ya know…there’s really nothing wrong with. I just always thought if I became a housewife it would be because I married one of the rich businessmen I used to take care of at the restaurant in New York City, and he would move me in to his penthouse and I would have maids and stuff and so while he worked I’d just go get pumpkin-Starbucks-anything and then go to the yoga studio and make myself throw up in the bathroom and then maybe actually do the yoga or maybe just go catch a matinee of Jersey Boys?
I never, ever thought I’d find myself at a place called “Witty Wicks” for the second time in one week buying a pumpkin scented candle and looking at pumpkin decorations.
(And, I’ll just point out, the visits to this gift shop are in ADDITION to the parking-lot-danger-filled Marshall’s Homegoods trip I took on Saturday.)
“Witty Wicks”, if you must know, has incredible candles.
The rest of the gifts are just…not my cup of tea because they basically all have quotes on them.
Quotes a-plenty, quotes galore.
Like, maybe you’re looking at a cute little pumpkin face and then your eyes scan downward and you realize it’s a little pumpkin-man-statue thing and he’s holding a sign that says “WELCOME TO OUR PUMPKIN PATCH.”
Sweet Jesus, the day I buy this kind of decoration is the day I just buy a sign that says LIVE, LAUGH, LOVE, have a kid, and sell Avon.
“FAMILY GATHERS HERE” on the front door.
“DANCE LIKE NO ONE’S WATCHING” over the fireplace.
“DREAM BIG” in the bathroom, so you don’t forget to keep dreamin’ while you take a piss.
I can’t guys. I just can NOT with quotes on decorations. It’s one thing to become a suburban fall enthusiast…it’s another to become a QUOTE person…then I’ll really know it’s the end of the line for me.
My soul is dead.
Might as well buy a crockpot while I’m at it.
Anyway, this is where I find myself, folks. My boyfriend went back to work and I’m over here drinkin’ pumpkin cream cold brew, alienating quote-lovers, and ordering big Snooki slippers.
Okay…so I’m on my second nerd now, folks (their word, not mine), and I think I’ve got some comprehensive tips on how to introduce your gal (or guy) to that Super-Hero/Space Themed/Action-y series you love, WITHOUT overwhelming them, making them feel like they’re watching a bunch of Hasbro toys blowing up, and then questioning whether they bit off more than they could chew in this relationship (giggity).
Done right, it IS possible for them to care just as much about the franchise, the universe, and the characters within them as you do. (Maybe not just as much, but they’ll care enough to watch them, anticipate new ones with you, and maybe also consider incorporating some quirky “insert franchise name here” art pieces into their own decorating, such as this adorable piece of bathroom art:
5) DO IT CHRONOLOGICALLY, PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD
Here we go. You’ve gotten me to agree to sit down and give these movies a chance. You’ve told me they’re really amazing, beautiful commentaries on humanity and real life issues, and I have finally conceded that, yeah, I should probably see them since they are quite celebrated facets of pop culture and the zeitgeist, and I want to be hip to the jive.
And then you say… “I’M JUST TRYING TO DECIDE IF I SHOULD SHOW THEM TO YOU IN THE ORDER THEY CAME OUT, OR IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER”
Dude. Please show them to me in chronological order. I KNOW THIS IS A HOT BUTTON ISSUE FOR DIE HARD FANS.
I get it. I understand they came out in a different order, and there might be some enigmatic, artistic reason to watch them in said order. BUT REMEMBER: I AM A NOOB (and not just a NOOB to the franchise—really, I’m a NOOB to these kinds of movies in general), and you are asking me to take on and accept an entirely new ‘universe’ with different rules and different species and languages and who knows what else!
I NEED something familiar, something reliable, to anchor me in this unfamiliar territory. If I can at least have a timeline…I have something I trust. So if your partner is like me, they’re gonna want you to show them the films in chronological order so they can attempt to keep things straight on this journey. If we finish ALL the movies, and I love them and would like to watch them again, we can always re-watch in whichever order you’d like!
4. WHO WE ARE “VS” ? IDENTIFY!!!!
Okay. I get that the “good” guys in one movie can become the “bad” guys in another or there can be a plot twist and at some point things change and up is down and left is right and good is bad…but let me get there myself. ESPECIALLY at the beginning….I NEED TO KNOW WHO WE ARE VERSUS.
I got half-way through Black Panther before I realized Michael B Jordan was technically the bad guy. (RIP CHADWICK BOSEMAN)
If you don’t want to identify them as “good guys” or “bad guys”, I at least need to know WHO WE ARE “VS” AT ALL TIMES.
3) CHECK IN WITH ME DURING PROLONGED ACTION/FIGHT SCENES
Because I’m zoning out…I promise. I think because there’s no dialogue going on that I’ve got a little bit of a break. And so my eyes kinda glaze over a bit and I start thinking about what I want for dinner and how I should try January Jones’s skin-care routine..and then all of a sudden I’ve missed a crucial space-ship crash, character death, kidnapping, or limb detachment.
CHECK IN WITH ME. MAKE SURE I SAW THE THING I WAS SUPPOSED TO SEE. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.
2) PAUSE IT! WHENEVER! I! F—ING! WANT!
AND DON’T GET FRUSTRATED! I want to piece things together, and I want to make sure I’m piecing things together correctly. I want to make sure I’m understanding the rules of his super power. I want to make sure I know what planet we are on. I want to make sure I know which character is which when they’ve switched into their special outfits. I wanna know if they’re gonna bang. I want to know if that’s the guy from Game of Thrones. I want to know if Miley Cyrus’s ex-husband is in this movie. And maybe I want to know if you think Robert Downey, Jr. is nice in real life.
>>>>>(sidebar…Don’t get frustrated. Don’t be condescending. I’m not stupid…these movies just move with a pace that I’m not used to, and a lot of them run with the assumption that their viewer “just gets” certain things. But I’m new. NOT dumb.)<<<<<
If you want me to watch another one of these films, you will pause it whenever I ask, and you will do so PATIENTLY! How can I be interested in watching another one with you if I’m not making proper sense of the plot, the universe, and if I’m not also enjoying myself by learning that Queen Marjorie had a bit part in Captain America?
I started writing about how I’ve been so bad at texting lately and I got, like, a good 4 paragraphs in before I realized I was forcing myself to talk about something that I really didn’t care to elaborate on because I’m not going to change.
In a nutshell, I hate that people can contact me whenever they f—ing want, especially in this pandemic because they KNOW I should text back right away because I’m not doing anything important, except maybe ordering a Bop-It on e-bay or watching old ‘DZ: Discovery Zone’ commercials on YouTube. But sometimes, I really just HAVE to have the control, and I just am NOT going to text you back right then and there, and you are going to HAVE to deal with it or don’t text me anymore, but please still extend me all the benefits and courtesies of being your friend like asking me to be in your wedding and occasionally sending me Blair Waldorf memes like this:
But anyway, I was having trouble focusing on writing this because my foot is throbbing and also today I finally found a waterfall I stuck my head under during a game of truth or dare when I was 12. And it was super exciting and nostalgic and cathartic because I have been on many-a-nature walk trying to find this stupid little waterfall and I even briefly considered walking into strangers’ backyards to do it, but it didn’t end up coming to that and I was too much of chicken—t anyway.
When I was 12, I stuck my head under this waterfall on a dare at a sleepover birthday party and it was really gross and scary because it was dark and loud and there was a shit ton of goopy, icky moss and an old Burger King cup under there:
But I did it, and I was proud, and I guess it was some sort of defining moment in my adolescence because here I am dedicating all this time and blog space to it.
Was this the same birthday sleep-over party where I fell asleep first and they decided to put strawberry Hershey syrup all up and down my arms?
Did I secretly cry in the bathroom?
Was finding this waterfall worth the poison ivy I’m probably going to get?
PS. Forgot to talk about throbbing foot. Of CRUCIAL importance.
So the other day, out of nowhere, this one section of skin on my foot started itching like CRAZY and when s–t itches, I scratch it, because the cavemen didn’t have calamine lotion. And then before I knew it, I had scratched it raw and now it REALLY hurts, and no one believes that I was bit by something that left an invisible bite, they just say “JESSE YOU SCRATCHED YOUR SKIN OFF” which is TRUE but also NOT TRUE because it was just VERY ITCHY.
“I think one of the insidious lessons about TV is the meta-lesson that you’re dumb. This is all you can do. This is easy, and you’re the sort of person who really just wants to sit in a chair and have it easy. When in fact there are parts of us, in a way, that are a lot more ambitious than that…I think what we need is seriously engaged art, that can teach us again that we’re smart. And that there’s stuff that TV and movies–although they’re great at certain things–cannot give us. But that we have to create the motivations for us to want to do the extra work, you know, to get these other kinds of art. And I think you can see it in the visual arts, I think you can see it in music…“
These words are from David Foster Wallace. I wish I could claim them as my own because they are genius. But alas.
I read some DFW in college around the time I discovered that I liked my English minor classes way more than my Musical Theater major classes. It was an odd time.
I love musicals and acting and singing, and because I had a talent for it, I thought it was what I needed to do. Don’t waste a gift. That kind of thing.
It was the plan before I got sick with bone cancer, and so when I was well enough, I picked right back up where I was and kept going with it.
So in college, when I began enjoying something else more than musical theater, it was jarring. And I suppressed it.
Graduated. Moved to New York. Auditioned for a few years. And truly found myself looking around the audition holding rooms thinking I could be the most talented person in this room…but ALL of these people want it more than I do.
And that’s huge. That was a big, ugly realization to have. Because then I’m looking around the drug-deal-in-the-bathroom McDonalds next to the studios, wondering why I’m here, in this rich-man’s city when I could be literally anywhere else nursing the same carton of fries.
I realized I wasn’t cut out for the audition-world. And don’t get me wrong–the few professional jobs I worked, I loved every single second of it, and always felt fulfilled. But I could not handle the lows of being back in the city auditioning. Back to square one. Back to the restaurant biz.
Back to the stories about how certain projects are being cast based on Instagram following. Chicago is bringing in another Real Housewife…and what!? “Such and such regional house” hired only dancers and used pre-recorded ensemble voices? A casting director told their class that someone didn’t get a role because “they didn’t look good next to the vacation swing”?
What the f—–!? Why am I doing this?
And I totally fell out of love with theater.
Cue the pandemic.
Sitting on my thumbs in Syracuse for 6 months with my new boyfriend (who LOVES theater…we’ve had a few quarantine run-ins where he’d show me a video of so and so singing such and such song from “Insert Title Here the Musical” and I’d go…”babe. You know idgaf about this right?”).
And I’ll be honest, for a little while, when it was just like, a month hiatus…I didn’t feel bad about Broadway being shut down. I was kinda like…good. That world can be so toxic (not that I really know that much about it with my rousing 000000 Broadway credits), let everybody chill for a bit and think about other things besides whether their show will keep running another month, whether they got the callback, whether they should switch agents, whether they should take their seventh class with X casting director so they will maybe get cast in one of their projects.
Let everyone remember that there’s more out there and that THEY are more than their pirouette and 16 bar cut.
Well…I’m pretty sure with all the sadness and death and misdirection of the past 6 months…they remembered.
In June, I took a stroll through Times Square and felt ashamed of myself for ever thinking a Broadway shut-down was a good thing. Empty theaters, empty streets…once-bustling restaurants still with their St. Patty’s Day promos in the window. It was just a big empty hole of LOSS.
I didn’t want to be there.
When I read those words of DFW’s a few weeks ago, they kinda stuck with me, and I’ve thought of them every day since.
He was talking to David Lipsky (the book is called “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself”), about how reading demands something of you. It demands your participation. Lots of TV and movies (especially now in our binge-watching culture, although he wouldn’t have known about that), they demand nothing of you. You just sit there and do nothing. You don’t have to live–the people on the screen do it for you.
And it made so much sense to me–I’ve had a lot of trouble sitting and watching TV for hours on end during this pandemic, not realizing that it had to do with my engagement with it.
Reading felt better. It was a two way street…I needed the author to tell the story…but he needed me to pick up the book and activate my brain to read the words.
The words implied things that I had to be smart enough to pick up on…and I was! I had to read between the lines for things…and I could! I had to interpret the messages and feel how the words on the page were hitting me…it was kinda like…kinda like….
Like DFW said, like music! Like visual art!
No, no, Jesse, we hate theater now. I ignored the thought and kept reading.
And then yesterday I came across this photo:
I haven’t thought about or talked a lot about this experience since it happened. But during the height of Spring Awakening excitement, I was mid-chemo, listening to “Don’tDo Sadness/Blue Wind” to distract from the giant needle in my arm, or the upcoming MRI, or the painful throat sores and nausea.
I had seen the show on Broadway the summer before my diagnosis, and was immediately enthralled. I couldn’t wait to audition for it.
Auditioning became my Make-a-Wish. And at first it was almost a throw-away wish. Like “yeah, you know what Make-a-Wish Foundation? You wanna fix all my problems? Ya know what I really f—ing wanted before cancer ruined my life? To audition for this show! But that’ll never happen now, so go ahead, chew on that and then send me to Disney World.”
(I was not a pleasant patient…or person in general.)
But somehow…they did it.
They got the creative team of Spring Awkaknieng to invest a WHOLE afternoon into sitting and listening and working with a sad teenager who loved their show. For all they knew, I couldn’t sing at all, and just really f—-ing loved Spring Awakening. And they didn’t care.
I loved their show enough to WISH for it. They’d been told it was the soundtrack to my cancer journey–which it was. That it had a significant hand in getting me through to remission–which it did.
Michael Mayer, Kim Grigsby, and JoAnn M Hunter worked with me one on one. Coached my singing, my movement, my acting. Looked into my eyes and SAW me…treated me like a professional actor and not a sick kid with no eyebrows or eyelashes. When JoAnn asked to touch my head and I felt my wig slide…she didn’t wince or stop or treat me with kid gloves. She asked my family if we wanted to see Billy Elliot, and got us prime orchestra seats with souvenir programs.
“A few of the actors want to meet you after the show.”
Will Chase and Greg Jbara met my whole family–said they’d heard I had an amazing audition and just really wanted to meet me.
Greg Jbara talked to my dad like an old friend and I remember thinking this must be one of the first non-cancer related conversations my dad has had with someone new in a very long time.
My Make-a-Wish had nothing to do with Billy Elliot…they just wanted to meet someone impacted positively by theater. By what they do.
Carrie Gardner, the casting director, brought me to Magnolia Bakery the next day where I ate cupcakes with original Spring Awakening cast members John Gallagher, Jr., Gideon Glick, and Remy Zaken. They just chilled with me. Talked about Spring Awakening. Asked me things about ME. Non cancer-related things!
The Broadway show had closed, and the First National Tour was on its last leg, but when it came through Rochester, NY, I was invited to come and learn an ensemble track, the “chair of rock”. The show had audience seats on the stage, and a few ensemble singers were filtered in with those audience members.
I was terrified. I still had no hair, no eyelashes, no eyebrows. Everything about me was fake, and I remember always feeling like a party clown with my big wig and painted on brows.
I thought “these are real, paid actors. They are professionals. They are not going to want some charity case to come tread on their show and waste their time.”
The first few hours, I learned the show with the stage manager, and then the rest of the cast would be coming to rehearse with me.
While I was in the hair/make-up chair, Jake Epstein, who played Melchior, came up to introduce himself to me. I was so nervous that I called him Craig (the character he played on Degrassi) and he just laughed.
He would be the first of many friendly, excited introductions. Everyone was kind. Everyone was thoughtful. From the stage crew, to the orchestra, to the actors, to the hair/make up team, to the costume crew…
During every show, I was late on jumping up onto my chair during “Totally F—“. I didn’t have the nerve to tell anyone that my legs were not muscular enough for me to jump fast after being in bed for a year.
No one scolded me. The stage manager would just give me kind reminders.
It was a beautiful experience.
But once I got a year or so away from it, and got used to being a healthy person again…I honestly just thought of it as everyone being nice to a sick kid. You see interpretations of the Make-a-Wish kids on TV shows and in movies, and they’re always so pathetic and condescending…I kinda just labeled that experience in my brain “Jesse, the Charity Case.”
And yeah, that sounds terrible and cynical. But illness comes with all kinds of icky internal feelings that you can’t quite name, and then when you look at them again from a healthy perspective, it feels like people were only nice to you because they felt sorry for you.
But when I saw that picture the other day, it came to focus better. It lined up in my head with DFW’s quote.
I was a prime example of why the world needs theater. Why we need art, and music, and mediums that engage both parties involved.
The actors and team behind Spring Awakening gave the world their words and their show and their hearts, and I was an example and testament to the engagement of the other party. The reason we make art. I had taken in their show, and used it to survive, used it to find beauty, listened to its words when I needed to remember something bigger than a hospital room.
And that is why they were so kind to me. Their work requires our engagement, and our souls require theirs’.
We need theater. We need it to come back.
During my last show with Spring Awakening, I stood to sing “The Song of Purple Summer.” Tears were streaming down my face, and I caught the eyes of the singers on the other side of the stage. We were all crying.
We were all crying because we had participated in the full circle beauty of theater.