Being Good at Being a Girl

Nope, this isn’t a how-to. I’m going to come right out with it: I’m really bad at being a girl. That’s been different amounts of ok with me over the course of my short life. It’s actually been really helpful for me to grow into the woman I am proud to be. That said, there is still a part of me that knows that I don’t “fit in.” Even as an adult, the expectation is that you’re either part of the T-Swift #squad, or you’re the socially anxious chick who’s joking-but-really-serious about being scared to ask a new friend to coffee. Turns out, I’m neither one of those girls.

I wasn’t overly insecure as a kid when I was actually a girl. I did my thing and I was pretty happy about who I was. I had a lot of friends and interests, and I was able to freely explore myself as someone who wrote poetry on the bus in the morning and played football with the boys at recess and sang in a girl band after school and spent my Saturdays in synagogue and went to science camp during the summer and shopped at Limited Too at the mall and played magic cards with my brother and his friends and…and you get the picture.

Flash forward through a 10-year montage of creative writing in the woods at Interlochen, to amazing adventures abroad, and then back to NYC for a few years of dancing late and dreaming big…the woman I am now is somewhere in between hyper career oriented and on the couch watching a movie with my husband on a Friday night. I realize that I’m not alone in this routine, and at the same time, I’m a bit lonely. The one area I’ve had trouble managing in my adulthood is spending time with my existing girlfriends and getting to know other awesome females.

Here’s where being bad at being a girl goes against me. I think getting my nails done is a chore–not an activity, boozy brunches are out since I’ve been working on my private pilot’s license for the past year, and although I do love exercising, I realize not everyone does–so spin class isn’t always inclusive. I also hate the beach, prefer to go shopping on my own, and have no appetite for anything I have to stand in line on the street and wait for 2 hours to eat. I am probably the last woman standing in NYC who hasn’t had a cronut.

I mentioned earlier that being bad at being a girl, however uncomfortable at times, did help me to become my own woman. An important turning point in my development as a woman, it turns out, has to do a lot with how my relationships with my girlfriends have changed. This idea–a lesson that I hadn’t even fully articulated to myself until now–came up while I was watching Taylor Swift’s Vogue 73 Question interview as part of my brainstorming for this piece. I think she’s an incredibly talented yet introspective female force, and I’m inspired by the energy she puts into her girlfriends. I really respect her ability to bring powerful girls together.

I’d like to think that I was like this when I was 26. Part of me wants to retain some of this spirit as I stare down my 30th birthday. Nonetheless, something that resonated with me and shed a light on my own development in the past 3 years was when she mentioned that she told her girlfriends “absolutely everything.” I can’t quite put a finger on when I stopped doing that. I certainly used to. Even by the time I had my first “grown-up job,” I would spend hours chatting to my girlfriends, stream of consciousness style, dissecting recent dates, dissing new girlfriends of ex-boyfriends, and deciding where to go dancing that night.

Was this our way of desperately trying to replicate preindustrial, it-takes-a-village kind of womanhood? Camille Paglia put it simply in the 2015 Women in Entertainment issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine, “Women have lost the natural solidarity and companionship they enjoyed for thousands of years in the preindustrial agrarian world, where multiple generations chatted through the day as they shared chores, cooking and child care.”

I don’t disagree with Paglia, and at the same time I’m increasingly finding the need for female relationships and am consistently coming up short. I’m not sure if I’m more troubled by the possibility that they simply don’t exist anymore versus the dearth of productive and actually powerful ways for women to come together, group selfies aside.

Classical Music and Mindfulness

I asked for a violin at age 3. By 5, I could identify different recordings of The Marriage of Figaro (my brother and I each had our own favorite). My grandfather played violin in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, my mother is a cellist, and some of my most cherished memories are of putting on small recitals with them when we all got together. During one of these performances, I made special note to the room of adults not to clap between movements. Even at that young age, I had enthusiastically soaked up on concert etiquette, and I felt it important enough to enforce.

Not just hobby, music is a major force in my life and has profoundly shaped my brain and character. As many families follow a religion, ours was music. The traditions of music from both sides of the stage are integral to who I am and the people and values I identify with. Call me a snob, but I don’t go to your place of worship and disrespect your customs.

applause1

 

There are some incredible moments that transcend this rule. Music is supposed to be emotional and exceptional talent should be recognized. Most musicians and maestros have a problem with applause out of false obligation. I’m not saying you need to be an expert in classical music, but I charge everyone to understand a few points that I think play into some greater issues that I find with the contemporary human condition.

Silence is important.

It’s becoming increasingly rare. Even as I sit here writing in my apartment building’s lounge alone, there is ambient background music. Text messages come in and my attention is diverted. Yes, I consider electronic messages to be a form of noise. There’s something physically uncomfortable about silence. If you’ve ever experienced a Joseph Beuys felt space or sculpture, you know what I’m talking about.

Silence is also difficult to tolerate emotionally. There is a strong pull to fill the space, especially when just moments before it was so full. This is the entryway to my issue with not only applause between movements, but what it represents. I see the silence as a container for the noise. Think about it from another angle. In writing, the form — including the white space — dictates so much of the meaning. I feel this way about music as well.

Also, the silence is an important place to reflect. Music can be an intense and multi-dimensional experience. It’s essential in order to process the emotions and form opinions. All too often, this part gets overlooked. This leads into my next topic.

Not everything is awesome. 

The thing about the silence is that you get to decide what you thought about the music you just heard and recharge for the music that you’re about to hear. Love it, hate it, or completely unsure about it, taking the moment to think and reflect will probably create a deeper and more lasting connection with the experience that will enhance your understanding of yourself, your tastes, and your future experiences. If you jump to applaud because you think you have to, you lose out on this process.

Music isn’t all cerebral. It’s also built to be visceral. If you’re not already clapping at the wrong time without caring whether or not anyone else is because you’re so moved, maybe it’s because it didn’t deserve it. Sit on that for a while. That doesn’t make it bad. There are those surprises that blow you away. There are those moments of climax where you can’t help but burst into applause. It’s also ok if it’s not one of those moments.

Be present.

Yes, it’s pretty cool that you went to a concert. Go ahead and post it on your social media. After that, turn off your phone (!!!!!!!!!!!) and settle into the present moment. I recently went to a concert where a number of phones rang audibly during the first half of the performance. A member of the audience got up during the break and reminded everyone to turn off their phones. That deserved and received a rowdy applause.

Another concert I recently went to included run times for each movement in the program. I prickled at this. Something I love about music is really getting lost in it, devoting my whole self for that span of time. How present are you in the moment when you’re fixating on the end? I consider being present during the noise is as important as reflection is during the silence.

Is it sometimes difficult to dig in and commit to the moment, but you’re already there. You carved out the time, now give it the space. This is a practice that drastically enhances the experience and has been proven to make you happier.


 

Oh, one more word of advice (I’m also a photographer): using flash photography is not only rude to the rest of the audience and disruptive to performers, it’s pointless for you. The flash on your point and shoot or even the one on your DSLR isn’t meant for long range (like, not more than a few feet in front of you). Your image isn’t enhanced and you’re just running down your own battery.

New Year’s Resolutions

Ok, it seems I’m a little late to start talking about New Year’s resolutions. But right now–the third week in January–is when people most likely fall off the wagon, especially for fitness goals. The resolutioners in my apartment building didn’t even make it this far. The gym downstairs has thinned out, thankfully, and my favorite treadmill is always free again.

I sound cynical. I really like the idea of New Year’s resolutions. Everyone, together, looks back and then reaches for better. It’s cool to put yourself out there, share an area of your life that you’d like to improve upon, and hopefully have your friends and family for accountability and support. This all sounds good and set up for success. Why does it fall apart for so many people? Or, better yet, how best can we keep going?

Last year, Mark Zuckerberg started a book club. I didn’t follow along, but it seemed to work out pretty well. I’m guessing that Mark already read a book per month, though I’m not trying to discredit the cause. For some, reading a book per month is a stretch and he created a community to support success for those who joined. The feeling of belonging and accountability to a community can be a solid foundation for making change.

I grant, there are also some goals on a more personal level that aren’t meant to be shared with other people, or that aren’t always practical to be done as a group. Beyond that, there is something potent to keeping a promise to yourself and developing your own process. An important lesson that I’ve learned is that success is not solely based on “strength.” The problem with this model is: most people make mistakes. If you didn’t make it through, does this mean you’re “weak”? In a black and white world, a fuck up can lead quickly to a free fall.

When I’m going it alone with a goal, I have found that it’s good to start small and attach an action to an already established ritual. As part of a larger lifestyle overhaul to be healthier, I started taking vitamins at the same time as I make my coffee in the morning. It’s kind of weird to have my vitamins in the cabinet next to my coffee, but I do it every day. Now that I’m comfortable and confident in that coupling, I am working on adding a sun salutation.

蝸牛そろそろ登れ富士の山


Check out the app, Tiny Habits, for some small change inspiration.

 

Cultural Compass (part 4: Adultolescents & Exaggeration)

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

What is beyond insane? Is this *literally* the worst day of your life? Would you do anything for a Dr. Pepper?

My parents gave me my first cell phone at the beginning of high school. To kids today, this sounds oppressively old fashioned (I can already hear my future children clamoring for a device). Anyhow, I recorded my first voicemail greeting that said something like, “Hey! You’ve reached Claire’s cell. Leave a message and I’ll call you back. Love you!”

My parents were disturbed. They sat me down and told me they were very disappointed in me. I didn’t understand. I was a good student and never snuck out of the house. They told me I didn’t, in fact, love everyone who might call, and I was to change my greeting immediately. I agreed, but didn’t really get it. I totally love all my friends and want them to know all the time! My parents will never understand me

Right, so that’s what my parents were afraid of–my overuse and/or misuse of “love” devaluing the actual meaning. But hold on, Rhianna wants (and so do you!) to be made to feel like she’s the ONLY girl in the world. Bruno Mars caught a grenade for me! I admit, I’m a little late to this party, but now that I’m here, I’m going to open the bottle I brought and pour myself a glass.

Perhaps we are “a generation that is scared of commitment, linguistically deferring reality.” Maybe we’re all cry babies conditioned to understand that the louder we wail, the more attention we get. And, if that’s not enough, there’s a whole generation of 30 going on 13’s, or adultolescents that are now the editors (more in tune with being the interns) and the lawyers (more fit to be freshmen at the frat party).

It all seemed so real and true to me when I was 14 and composing my emo away messages on AIM. The intensity of emotions and increased excitement of adolescence is expected. This prolonged adolescence, however, is starting to look a lot like sensation addiction. The emotional exaggeration that has become a stylistic emblem of our society is scary.

Sensation addiction is not new. We anticipate the hedonic impact of certain actions and behaviors (AIM away messages grew up with us to become play-by-play Facebook updates about your baby or broken leg). At some point, we get desensitized to the dose and the next hit isn’t too hard to find. We don’t just need it, we deserve it.

In the end, though, how will we tell what extreme emotion is–good or bad–if everything is expected to be exaggerated? How can I tell if you’re interested or if you’re feigning because that’s what we feed Facebook? Being “thrilled” these days is just as good as my perky wedding planner’s e-mail template. Tragedy is just as good as the emoji with the long stream of tears.

I’m waiting for the reality check.

Cultural Compass (part 3: Faigy Mayer & The Extinction of Adults)

A week ago, Faigy Mayer committed suicide…and immediately started trending. I picked through the articles that were posted in my newsfeed. No shred of fact seemed to be shared by anyone about her “tortured” life or “shocking” death. Instead of launching a discussion about mental illness in young adults and support for the suicidal, we strip mined the girl’s social media accounts for sentimental images and meager meanings of her final days–all but calling her a hero.

I don’t care if she had a boyfriend. I don’t want to know what her tragic last Tweet read. I don’t agree that she exemplified “bravery.” Perhaps what she did was radical for her community, but on some level, she did what I consider that most people are expected to do in order to achieve adulthood: establish your own value system, make choices for yourself along those lines, and stop needing permission approval from your parents.

Yes, the process of individuation can be emotional. Sometimes it can even be painful. Nobody said it was easy, but it’s the very notion that it should be that scares me about my generation, in particular. Nobody held Ms. Mayer accountable for taking her own life. This wasn’t a murder. She made her choices and couldn’t live with them. Am I to teach my children that this is the definition of courage?

At the opening, I called Ms. Mayer a girl, but in fact, she was 30. (According to the Jewish law she so desperately tried to escape, she had been a woman for more of her life than not). A recent study of Millennials coming into adulthood, “Mission: Adulthood,” examines a number of Gen Y-ers coming of age and “transforming” this process.

One of Seligson’s subjects, (liberal arts educated, unencumbered by student loans) Lizzie, said in an interview with Huffington Post in 2012 that she felt “like” one of the major hurdles she faced in achieving adulthood was “figuring out all of the things they didn’t teach me.” Am I to believe that this is an argument against the “unfair” portrayal of the Millennial as “entitled”? Nobody held a gun up to her head and made her major in Fine Arts.

Seligson goes on to talk about this phase–one’s 20’s–as being “hugely confusing and disorienting,” and that it’s natural and important to be searching, trying to figure out what you “want to do with your life.” The author, herself, admitted that, even at 30, she doesn’t identify as being an adult. I’m horrified by this championing of extended adolescence–this insistence that life is about amusing ourselves, avoiding pain, and shirking responsibility for our choices and actions.

Faigy Mayer’s death is upsetting–it’s unnatural to bury your child. I wouldn’t call it tragic. In fact, to call it tragic dilutes the pain and sorrow of real tragedy, which is so insensitive and insulting to those who have actually suffered real sorrow and survived horrors. I’m sure she was distressed and confused, but I refuse to call it torture. I’m disappointed in my generation that at 30 years old, we are so willing and happy to blame our parents, the last generation of adults, for what we weren’t given instead of going out and getting it for ourselves. I fear for the time when the last of our parents will die and we’re left only with the myth of the anchor of adulthood.

Cultural Compass (part 2: SJWs & The Shame Game)

I have studied the SJW in and out of the classroom. I went to school in Boston and majored in Sociology. I now live in New York City where they run rampant ruining perfectly good picnics and dinner parties. I’d rather people point fingers fists at me than tell me, “check your privilege.”

There is no weight to those words. If you’ve ever found yourself saying that, stop. All you’ve done is expose your pious argument as unsound. You’re invoking guilt and doling out blame instead of coming up with and then communicating your own argument. I’ve got some advice for you: breathe deeply, come to terms with your insignificance, and tell me why you disagree.

Oh? You can’t? What’s that? It would be too draining to bother?

Guess what? You are a hypocrite. You are playing into the very system you’re trying to break: shame. You’re attempting to humiliate or at least humble someone who’s obviously done the misdeed of disagreeing with you. Unwilling to develop yourself through an intelligent debate over an uncomfortable issue exemplifies your intolerance (not to mention your inability to make meaning of and control your feelings, thoughts).

It’s ok to get angry or be vulnerable. The main criticism I have with SJWs is this collective disengagement and denial of the responsibility of feeling negative emotion, owning it and its accompanying actions, and tolerating the uncomfortable. All lines of communication are nuked. I find it terrifying that the immediate defensiveness behind “check your privilege” kills any discussion. No change, be it social or not, can be made in the face of such unwillingness to share experience and thus expand perception.

Political correctness is toxic in the classroom and pollutes our society. Offensive defense is crumbling the edifice of education and silencing the otherwise inquisitive and adventurous. I fail to see where this morality movement–or narcissism disguised as nobility–is producing any tangible impact on making the world a better place or enlightening our kin and country. (“But it’s really about raising awareness!”) It’s dusting off the blame and repurposing the fear.

Maybe what you meant was, “please try to be empathetic.” What you actually said was, “just shut up, your opinion isn’t worthy because you belong to group X.” We’ve strapped ourselves into social straitjackets and wriggle around in a worldwide one-uppance of shame survival.

Oops, was that too triggering?

Cultural Compass (part 1: SoulCycle & Basic Bitches v. Unicorns)

I ride. I spin. I cycle. Whatever.

Call me a basic, but I probably have a nicer ass than you do.

Yeah, everyone wants to be a unicorn. But you know what? Ain’t nobody gonna play leapfrog with you in the park.

I’ve gone through many stages of activities and exercise, not only in NYC. I landed at SoulCycle and as much as I tried not to, I love it. I also won’t stand to be shamed for any of it. I put my all into that ride; I challenge myself on my terms but with the help of an instructor I trust; I hoot and grunt when they perkily yell into the mic, “how we doing today, SoHo?!”; and sometimes I even close my eyes and have a good cry when the lights come down. What’s basic about being brave?

I love SoulCycle and I embrace my more basic qualities.

The war of The Unicorn v. The Basic indulges those who color themselves “special” in that someone else has to be identified as un-special. But, dear Unicorn sisters, I’ve got some news for you: just because you’ve got the jump on the newest styles and go to those places to lunch (not brunch) and those parties to dance doesn’t necessarily mean you’re better. Sure, what you do makes you…uniquely you, no matter which side has branded you. But don’t for a second believe that someone didn’t make those choices for you–that you weren’t herded in your own special little way and that you weren’t prodded by a certain, maybe offbeat, invisible hand that led you to consume, however counter to the popular culture.

And also, why would you want to limit yourself by any standard or label? I’m pretty satisfied that I can brush shoulders with Jered Leto at that party while I’m wearing a gypsy dress that I bought in Provence at a market nobody around me has ever been to, or rolling up to that warehouse party wearing my self-designed, handcrafted body chains…and I also love SoulCycle and the occasional PSL when we first hit Fall, and avocado toast at Cafe Gitane

I refuse to identify with either side. I am special for many reasons. I hope everyone feels that way about themselves, whether or not they like PSLs. I actually feel more confident in my choices and in the things that make me special because I haven’t put someone down to feel that way. I’ve gone out and sought an extraordinary life for myself–and certainly not in spite of anything or anyone else.


Coming back to SoulCycle, I’m impressed by the people who teach there as well as the people who go. They want something better and they don’t give a shit what you think. I’ve struggled and sweat next to all shapes, sizes, and sexes. Sometimes I go for accountability when I just can’t motivate myself. Sometimes I go, honestly, so I don’t feel so alone, especially in the city. I challenge everyone to do something different. Isn’t that why we moved to NYC, anyhow? If it’s not this, then do something else that scares you, something that breaks down your barriers and makes you question yourself. It’s healthy for your brain and for your body.

Sign up for your first class: I dare you.