Beautiful Boy

It’s your 5th birthday today. A pretty big deal. Five years ago, you came into this world and you changed everything.

So much can happen in five years. Five years before you came, I hadn’t met your dad. I was living in New York, and the last thing I was thinking about was being a mom.

Now I can tell you that the best thing I’ve done in the last five years is you.

In fact, the best thing I’ve done in my whole life is you. And I assure you, there’s nothing else I can do that will be better.


But I can’t take credit anymore, Lucas. Because in five short years, you’ve done so much on your own. You’ve smiled, discovered your hands and feet, crawled, walked, ran, talked, questioned, yelled, drawn, written, hugged, held hands, made friends, played, created, learned, loved.

When my back was in pain and I laid on the ground, you crawled over to me and put your hand on my face.

When your friend Stephen got hurt at school, you sat with him all day and made sure he was alright.

When I picked you up at daycare, you ran at me full force and nearly knocked me over. Every day.


When you were two years old, you discovered you loved lights and things that spin. Now you’re building circuits and amassing a strange and wonderful collection of fans.

You laugh easily, and your laugh makes everyone else laugh. Your smile brightens the room. You power our family like the sun, and you warm all those around you.

That’s the kind of beautiful boy you are, Lucas.


These past five years with you have been nothing short of magical. I look at you and can’t believe there was ever a time before you.

This precious, precious time with you. It’s going by quickly. I never wanted to live forever until the day you were born. Then I looked at you and thought: I can never leave you. I know someday, someday before I even know it, you’ll strike out on your own. Thirteen more years in our home is not enough. Fifty more years on this Earth together (God willing) is not enough.

Eternity wouldn’t be enough.

But for now, let me just say, I’m so thankful for these five years, Lucas. Happy birthday.

The Epic Argument That Almost Ended in Divorce

IMG_6072Every once in a while in a marriage, you come to a crossroads. Should we keep slugging away and work through this thing? Or should we just split up?

During a recent, ridiculous argument, I came thisclose to calling the whole thing off. But to understand how I got to that point, I have to take you on a little trip through memory lane.

Once upon a time in a living room in King City, two brothers decided to torture their younger brother, whose only crime was asking to go see the movie 28 Weeks Later with them. The oldest brother, Alex, told his youngest, pre-teen brother, Zamir:

“You’re a giant pussy, and there’s no way you can sit through this movie.”

Zamir, of course, insisted he was junior-manly enough to handle it. So Alex and Ozzy (middle brother) put him to the test. They said that if he could grit his way through 28 Days Later, then they’d bring him to see the sequel. So they popped in the movie, and a pseudo-confident Zamir sat next to them.

Ten minutes later, Zamir said, “Oh snap! I left something in my room!” and disappeared for the rest of the film. Needless to say, the older brothers have never let him live it down. It’s a story that gets told over, and over, and over, and over at Zamora family gatherings.

But you guys, here’s the thing: I SWEAR I was there. And Alex insists I was not.

28 Weeks Later came out on May 11, 2007. That was a mere four months after I had moved to California, and I knew no one else except Alex and his family and friends. If Alex was in King City, so was I.

But apparently…I wasn’t. We argued and argued and argued, and finally Alex called Ozzy for backup. “Nope,” Ozzy said. “She wasn’t there.” I still insisted. I can distinctly remember where Zamir was sitting and his voice as he said, “Oh snap!”

Alex checked with Zamir. “Was Wendy there when that happened?” Nope. Alex explained that they’ve told the story so many times, I must have come to believe I was there in person. I got served. But I remained frustrated, and continued to argue my point. Because if I wasn’t there, then…

Where the hell was I?

And here’s where the epic argument went south. Alex damned himself by saying that I DIDN’T EVEN LIVE IN CALIFORNIA at that time. Apparently, I’m the one with the shitty memory, but he’s the one who has purged entire months of our relationship from his brain.

Just as I stubbornly insisted that I was there when Zamir tucked tail and booked it back into his bedroom, Alex contended that no, I did not live in California at the beginning of 2007. His side of the story was that I spent the summer of 2007 in Massachusetts looking for jobs and THEN moved out west.


Left Dance Spirit magazine in January 2006. Moved to California in February 2007 (lived with Alex’s friends). MOVED IN WITH ALEX in April 2007. Went to Massachusetts for the summer to look for jobs. Failed. Came back in September 2007 for good.

I guess I was such a good roommate that he had no idea I was there!

The argument intensified. I keep pulling up facts and figures and dates and specifics, and Alex dug in his heels. Since I had lost so spectacularly in the Zamir argument, there was no way I could be trusted. My blood was beginning to boil. A miasma of red anger was clouding my eyes. I could feel my skin turning to green when I said, “Don’t you remember? You proposed to me that summer! Why would you propose to someone who had not yet lived in the same state as you?”

Guys…deep breath…He goes:

“Oh, I didn’t remember proposing to you then.”





What the will-you-marry-me fuck?!?!

The natural, level-headed reaction to that from me was, “Fine! I never lived in California in 2007! You never loved me! And we should just get a divorce!”

Thankfully, this was so absurd that Alex just started cracking up, and so did I. But in seven years of marriage, that’s the first time the D-word has escaped my lips.

Problem is, I have opened a can of worms. Because now, in true Zamora fashion, he will lord this over me for the rest of our lives. For example, a recent Twitter conversation:

Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 8.14.32 PMScreen Shot 2016-01-07 at 8.16.28 PM

And I can’t take it. Divorce may be the only way to escape.

Word of the Year: Balance

Every New Year, us humans have an innate tendency to reflect on the 365 days we survived and look ahead to the 365 to come. We can’t help it, it’s a thing we do. (And me especially. This annual tradition falls right into the lap of my navel-gazing wheelhouse.) After reflecting and checking boxes for accomplishments and contemplating tasks left incomplete, we resolve to forge ahead. Some of us wish for change. Some of us want to keep momentum going. Some of us plainly don’t give a shit.

But I do. And as I think ahead to my 36th year, I search for a path that can bring me and my family happiness and prosperity. In some years, I’ve dug my heels in with renewed tenacity, looking to pursue missed goals or creating new ones to reach. Sometimes that’s worked. Other times, it’s been a miserable failure.

This year, I’m trying a different approach.

2015 was a year of transitions: selling the house, getting laid off, moving, getting a new job, buying a new house, starting a new school for Lucas…ticking that off right now, I’m surprised I actually came out of that year alive. Whenever you reach a bend in the road, or in my case, six bends in the road, you’ve got to put on the brakes a little. But, as far as I can tell, it’s a straight shot ahead. Time to accelerate, right?

With every bone of my body, I want to say yes, let’s punch it! But something holds me back this time. I’m ready take things out of second gear (I swear I’m almost done with this car/road metaphor…bear with me), but as I do, I’m mindful of patterns in my past. I go from zero to 60, make some progress, but then run out of gas.

More time with this guy
More time with this guy

So in 2016, I need to find balance. I want to balance my dreams and the dreams of my family. Balance my work life, home life, and hobby life. Balance my health and my pleasure. In order to do that, though, something’s gotta give. Because if I keep trucking along as I have been, I’m going to go all Bilbo Baggins—butter scraped over too much bread—and I’ll come to the end of 2016 either completely wiped or obsessed with a magical ring that I stole from a scrawny goblin underneath a moun…wait a minute, no.

So how do I achieve balance? I divide my time and effort wisely. I can’t keep trying to give 100% of myself to every endeavor. Don’t get it twisted: that doesn’t mean I won’t be working hard. If I want to accomplish something, I’m going to throw my (currently considerable) weight behind it. For example, my annual “Oh God, I ate my body weight in pasta” holiday regret always turns into the cliche “Now I will make myself miserable on a New Year’s diet”—and I almost always pull it off.

But what I can’t continue to do is attempt to both laser focus in on a goal and have multiple goals. I need to reserve energy—both creative and physical—in order to play with my son, write this here blog, do something worthwhile and enjoyable (instead of just the literal definition of Netflix and chill all day ery day), kick ass at work, be a good wife and partner, and maybe do something about managing this 10-year-long crick in my back.

For once, I’m not trying to conquer the world. I’m truly lucky enough to have checked off many of the big goals of my 30s. I can thank 2015 for that. So in 2016, I’m going to focus on learning how to enjoy them and how to find happiness within myself, instead of within getting stuff done. This is the year of peace. This is the year of self-worth. This is the year I’ll find balance.

So what’s your word of the year? Or…let’s not be coy about it…New Year’s resolution?

Why Do We Even Have Those Seven Fishes?

The Feast of the Seven Fishes. It wouldn’t be Italian Christmas Eve without them.

As far back as I can remember, Christmas Eve was my absolute favorite night of the year. The day was spent in feverish anticipation of the food, songs, presents, and other shenanigans to come. And one smell punctuates all those shenanigans: fishy fish fish.

When we walked up the brick stairs to my Nonna’s house, we were greeted by a giant plastic light-up Santa and, as we opened the front door, the wafting smell of seafood. Entering the kitchen, we were met by an already watery-eyed Nonna getting emotional whilst stirring a pot full of tentacles.

Over the years our table was graced with scallops, calamari, octopus, haddock, cod, shrimp, salmon, and sometimes, when times were good, crab legs. Of course, I didn’t touch any of it for 25 years, but once I finally decided to eat fish, it was damn good.

Nothing says class like mudslide shots and a middle finger. Just another X-mas with the Garofolis.
Nothing says class like mudslide shots and a middle finger. Just another X-mas with the Garofolis.

Recently, someone asked me why we have seven fishes on Christmas Eve and I realized that I actually had no idea. So in honor of the approaching holiday–one I’ll be spending with my Italian side of the family this year–I did a little digging.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a distinctly Italian-American tradition, although its origins are rumored to be from Southern Italy. According to all-knowing Wikipedia (which is a totally trusted source), Southern Italians, in their obsession with the Virgin Mary, would fast during a period they called The Vigil, which is basically the time spent waiting for Mary to huff and puff and blow that holy child out in a dirty manger.

What does all this have to do with fish? I’m getting there. Apparently all that omega-3 and cholesterol helped the Virgin Mary have a smooth delivery.

Okay, that’s a boldfaced lie. But here’s the likely answer. Catholics are the worst kinds of vegetarians. In order to fast during high holy days, we refrain from eating meat. But yeah, we totally go to town on that fish. It reminds me of this scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding:

So Southern Italians would maybe eat fish on Christmas Eve to honor the time the Virgin Mary spent destroying her vagina giving birth. Take a minute to let that sink in. If you’re anything like me, you are making all kinds of gross fish puns in your head right now.

Anywho, us Italian-Americans…we completely bastardized the tradition. Because just one fish isn’t enough for us gluttons, we decided to go with seven. No one knows why that number, but it seems appropriately too large for one meal. Which is apropos, since I keep seeing this being shared around the Internets:


So there you have it. That’s as close to an “answer” as I could find doing a couple lazy Google searches. If you want more serious journalisming, you’ll have to pay me. A lovely seafood meal would go a long way…

White Christmas: Chicken Soup for the Soul

Normally I’m all about respecting each holiday’s dance space, but this year my psyche is all “fuck you, Thanksgiving, you killed the Indians” and has moved right from Halloween into Christmas. And with that move, I’ll gorge myself not on turkey and stuffing, but on classic holiday movies full of white people dancing.

And the best white people dancing holiday movie is, hands down, White Christmas.

White Christmas is my chicken soup for the soul. Each December, my cousin Jonelle and I would curl up on our Nonna’s plastic-covered couch and settle in to watch our favorite holiday movie. Then we’d spend the next few weeks pretending we were the Haynes sisters. (Poor Matt had to be freckled-faced Haynes the dog-faced boy.)

This movie stands the test of time because of extreme attachment vis-a-vie nostalgia (just like claymation Rudolph), but also because of its fantastic set construction (unlike claymation Rudolph). I mean, how many times have you walked into a train club car and been severely disappointed it didn’t look like this?

white christmas club car

The plot of White Christmas is as flimsy as a California “winter” coat in Massachusetts February. But the dancing. Oh, the dancing! There’s a minstrel number with a cast of 50,000 who are summoned to rehearse show material at a Vermont ski resort, even though the day before they were given time off to be with their families for the holidays. The show must go on! Families be damned! That’s the Christmas spirit.

Still, all this escaped me as a child because I was dazzled by Vera Ellen.

If you ask me, the star of this movie was not Bing Crosby. It was Vera Ellen. Vera Ellen should have been a bigger Hollywood name than Ginger Rodgers or even Fred Astaire, but her acting chops were not quite on par with her phenomenal dance skill. Watching her perform in this movie as a kid inspired me to 1. belt the shit out of my sweaters and 2. love dancing even more. I mean, take a look. This routine still holds up to today’s high standards of technique.

I will refrain from linking to all the rest of the dance numbers in this movie that I obsessed over as a kid (including the Martha Graham spoof, which again went right over my head). But you just don’t see dance highlighted in movies like this anymore. Yes, there are movie musicals, but they often feature dance doubles in weird cuts instead of the real thing. And yes, TV musical episodes are becoming a thing, but they usually feature the show’s stars with barely passable voices doing awkward jazz squares.

Quick, right now, name a big Hollywood star who is known for his or her dancing?

Okay, besides Channing Tatum.

None, right? There’s none. Even those who have a background in dance don’t usually get a chance to showcase it. It’s upsetting and it’s pulled me right off topic onto a totally different tangent.

Back to why White Christmas is the best! Did you know that Bob Fosse is the uncredited choreographer? Very apparent in the tilted pelvises and isolated shoulders of “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” (If you ask me who Bob Fosse is, you’re dead to me.)


Now, I know I said I love this movie, but I wouldn’t be The Olive Gal if I didn’t point out a completely shitty plot hole that you could drive a Christmas tree through. George Clooney’s aunt Rosemary spends the second half the movie mad at Bing Crosby because she thinks he’s trying to exploit his old army General. But she forgives Bing when he goes on TV to sing about how the General is hard up for a job. I don’t know about you, but I’d be way more pissed about someone singing the following about me on national TV than if they brought a TV crew to my ski resort to film their show:

What can you do with a general
When he stops being a general?
Oh, what can you do with a general who retires?

Who’s got a job for a general
When he stops being a general?
They all get a job but a general no one hires

Awesome. Merry Christmas, General. Here’s so much pity from your famous army buds.

Anyway, one of the best things about White Christmas is the fact that it doesn’t crack out on Christmas, and yet still makes you feel all Christmasy. Of course, that might be because this scene happens at the end of the movie:

WC ending

Okay, maybe it cracks out just a little.

Despite the girls clearly too young for pointe shoes, this incredibly sappy scene, complete with audience sing-along, just puts everything right in the world. It’s that last sip of warm soup that coats your belly and leaves you satisfied but not bloated. Your ailments have been cured. Your Christmas will be white. And you just might show up to the next Christmas party dressed in that Mrs. Claus outfit.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Read Little House on the Prairie

That Laura Ingalls Wilder. She knew a thing or two about surviving tough times.

She slept in a covered wagon and ate dinner by campfire. She lived in a bungalow dug into the banks of a creek and swept the sod floor using twigs. She spent a long winter stranded on the prairie with no supplies, grinding wheat in a coffee mill to help feed her family.

And then there’s me. I’m desperately avoiding running to the fridge to gorge myself on leftovers.

When I find myself in times of trouble, I just can’t let it be. I think and overthink and think some more, and then, because it’s comfortable and it’s never let me down, I put food in my mouth hole and I feel momentarily better. That is…until I step on the scale in the morning.

The weight came on surprisingly quick. It didn’t take much to undo years of clean eating and daily walks. First, I was having fun trying all the new restaurants in San Jose and getting to know my coworkers. Then I was too busy to go to the gym. Then I was exhausted from my long commute and attempting the work/family hustle. Next thing I knew, the snacks were calling my name at 10pm. The number on the scale kept climbing. And as it did, my mood and self-confidence plummeted.

And now I’m here, 20 lbs later, reading Little House on the Prairie.

IMG_5893I’m usually pretty decent at self-motivation. Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve overcome a few obstacles in my past, and when I did, I thought of myself as Laura Ingalls Wilder: strong as a stout French horse and full of pluck. And that’s why, when my own motivational tools fail me, I pick up a dog-eared copy of the classic and remind myself what real grit looks like. It’s a pioneer family with the balls to go it alone, to make up their own rules, to battle the elements and the lawlessness and the wild.

So yeah, maybe they can help me with my 17-day diet.

Those who’ve read this blog from its early days know I’ve attempted the holiday diet before in the past and failed miserably. But with the help of Little House on the Prairie, I will persevere and at least try and make it through without tacking another 10 lbs onto my increasingly doughy frame.

Potential pitfall: some of the best parts of the Little House books are the descriptions of delish down-home Americana meals. Pies and turkeys and sage stuffing and warm bread with butter. Pickled preserves and tasty peaches and whipped cream and…

yeah, I just walked to the fridge.

Goddammit! Can anyone recommend a classic, feel-good motivational children’s book series about a skinny bitch who thinks of food as pure utility and survives on raw kale and coconut oil?

That One Time I Got Struck By Lightning

This morning in San Jose, the sky was ominous and dark and the rain fell in sheets. As I stared out the window of our 10th floor office, I saw a flash of light in the sky and felt a low rumble of thunder. I was in a glorious happy place, contently sipping my coffee as I churned away at the morning’s work. Another rumble of thunder and I hear:

“Oh my God, we’re going to die.”

Californians. I love you guys. You are so used to undisturbed blue skies that the smallest hint of “weather” sends you into a melodramatic tailspin. Case in point, this NBC Bay Area news story about thunder and lightning. The struggle is real.

But while my officemates were saying their Hail Maries, I was going full Lieutenant Dan. I can’t help it. That’s what I do in a good rainstorm.


Which brings me to my story about being struck by lightning.

When I was 13 years old, me and my friend Jackie Henry were hanging out at home doing what all bored kids do in the summertime: absolutely dick. Then, quick as a hummingbird’s hiccup, the weather turned. We went from oppressive heat to serious heat storm, the rain drenching us in oversized, sloppy drops. Since we were already in it, we decided to just run with it, hooting and hollering at the sky while terrible red branches of lightning reached their claws to the ground.

“Is this all you’ve got?!” I screamed at the sky in so much irony.

Because we were teenagers, and teenagers must immediately jump on the phone to brag about whatever it is they are doing, we ran inside to the basement after about five minutes of that nonsense, and I picked up the orange rotary phone. You know, the one with the exposed wire at the end of the chord? I grinned a toothy metal grin full of braces as I dialed my “boyfriend’s” number.

I couldn’t make this shit up, guys.

Just as the call went through, lightning lit up the sky and a zap told me the telephone pole had been struck. I didn’t have time to process that, though, because (as Jackie later recalled for me), a tiny streak of light danced from the receiver to my mouth and knocked me to the ground.

Told yah. Struck by lightning.

Jackie frantically stood over me shouting “Oh my God! Are you dead? Are you dead?” No, I was not dead. Just an idiot.

Later that day, traumatized from my brush with death, I huddled in blankets and shivered as dramatically as possible for my parents to see when they returned home. Boy, would they be upset to learn that their only daughter was almost killed by lightning!

Yeah. They laughed.


Like…tears in their eyes.

Like…doubled over.

Like…they had to walk away.

I was horrified. HORRIFIED! How could they laugh at such a serious thing?! I ALMOST DIED, GUYS!

Looking back, I’m proud of them for not peeing their pants on the spot. Because if it were me, there would be no amount of hell to pay. My poor kid would never live it down. I’d be writing about it in this here blog and then bringing it up to his girlfriends the first time we met. I’d make a commemorative video of the moment complete with a “fuck you, Mom” photo taken after said lightning strike. I’d be asking him, a week later, “Hey, remember that time you were struck by lightning?” I’d make a T-shirt that said, “I was struck by lightning and all I got was this lousy T-shirt!”

Okay, I’m done now. I hereby grant you all permission to tell this as a cautionary tale to all of your friends who think they’re badasses in the rain. And to your pussy California friends who really do think they’re going to die from a little bit of thunder when they are perfectly safe inside. Let me tell you something:

You’re fine. I was struck by lightning.

My Hellish Commute Is Turning Me Into She-Hulk

I have never not commuted. Nearly every job in my adult life has taken me at least 30 minutes from walking out the door to plopping my slightly frazzled ass into an office chair. In fact, most of the time it’s taken me around an hour to get from the apartment/house I can afford to the job that barely pays me enough to afford it. So when I took a job in downtown San Jose, I wasn’t daunted by the idea of a commute.

For the first three months of my new job, it took me nearly an hour to get there. Fine. Without Lucas in the car, I could spew plenty of swears while I caught up with family on the phone or worked on my mad car karaoke skills.

Then came the start of the school year. The additional volume of school buses and mom vans crowding the road meant something as minor as a feather floating into the street could back up traffic for my entire route. One minute, you’re cruising along. Next minute, it’s this:


The infamous Silicon Valley traffic. Intellectually, I knew to expect it. But the recent hellish commute has tested my patience like a toddler throwing a mega tantrum just as you’re about to check out $150 worth of Target swag. In the last week, it’s taken me between 1.5 and 2 hours to get to work each morning. And that’s enough to turn even the most patient driver (not me) into a full-on rageaholic.

So you can imagine the scenarios.

When I lived in New York, my morning commute consisted mostly of walking. There were times when the sidewalks became crowded or when idiot tourists paused to look up at things (the nerve), but I could usually passive-aggressively huff as I sidestepped them and continued on my way.

In fact, even openly aggressive expressions were not only expected in New York, they were considered “experiencing local flavor.” A man with a too-large umbrella once shoulder bumped me so hard my coffee flew out of my hands. On several occasions I witnessed people kicking car tires or pounding on hoods if the vehicles dared stop in the middle of a crosswalk. And God forbid if you didn’t perfect the art of the can’t-nobody-break-my-stride card swipe at the subway turnstile.

So no, NYC walking commutes were no Sunday strolls, but you could usually get where you needed to go as fast as your legs could take you. And if people got in your way, you could let some of your pent up anger out in sanctioned, socially acceptable ways.

In a car, on the other hand, you can’t really do much except fling expletive-filled epitaphs on deaf ears, pound on your horn, or hold a quivering middle finger up long enough for that bitch granny going 40 mph in a 55 zone to see. And even if you do do those things, 1. you’re the asshole on the road, not them and 2. you’re still stuck in traffic.

So you sit and simmer for however long your miserable commute lasts (1.5 to 2 hours) until you emerge so full of rage that even the slightest slight causes you to lose your shit. A slow Internet day, for example, is normally a pain in the ass but livable. A slow Internet day after a long commute results in this:


Not only have I become so full of road rage that I’ve actually done a cost/benefit analysis of whether I should slam into the driver’s ed douche canoe who cut me off the other day, but my precarious home/work/personal life balance has gone from teetering on manageable to full face plant. I actually growled at my son the other night. Growled.

I’ve gone from mild mannered Jennifer Walters to full-on She-Hulk. Except I can’t seem to figure out how to transform back. Being constantly enraged will do that to you.

I’ve tried to figure out some solutions, but no amount of audio books will change the fact that after two hours in the car, I want to kill all the things. So I’m thinking it’s back to the train life for me. Especially because in a couple months, my office is moving even farther away to the heart of the seven-lanes-grinding-to-a-halt traffic hell that is Santa Clara.

Goodbye, car karaoke. Goodbye, audio books. Goodbye, She-Hulk.

Hello, sanity!

How to Be Uncool: A Lesson from Lester Bangs

Have you ever had the feeling you just don’t fit in? That’s like asking me, “Have you ever had a craving for meatballs and sauce?” I don’t understand the question. Who hasn’t felt this way at one point in their life?

The unfortunate thing is, for people who consider themselves uncool (me), the ratio of fitting in to not fitting in is proportionately disparate, leaning hard in favor of the latter. Translation: uncool people never feel like they fit in.

When confidence is high, this isn’t actually a problem. So what if I don’t fit in! I’d rather not fit in! It’s much better to be genuine and be myself!

Unfortunately, another issue for uncool people is that confidence isn’t often high. This results in some awkward longing, some trying too hard, and plenty of kicking yourself HARD after you say something stupid in an attempt to fix the situation, which only makes it worse.

Those are matching sweaters. And turtlenecks. And yes...broaches.
Those are matching sweaters. And turtlenecks. And yes…broaches.

I’ve known I’m uncool from the point cool became a thing. As a spindly sixth grader, I still let my mom dress me, picking entire outfits directly from the store mannequins because I had zero sense of what to do on my own. I wore braces with elastics color-coded to match the holiday seasons, and my granny glasses made their way halfway down my cheeks. My hair was frizzy and unkempt and I spent all of my free time either at the dance studio or holed up at home with a book. I was a giant target, but I was completely unaware (at first) that I was a target, which only made the teasing intensify.

That year was one of the loneliest and most tortured years of my life. I also happened to write a 200-page novel in pencil on several unicorn-covered spiral notebooks. Great art, it was not. But I made something.

I spent the next few years doing everything I possibly could to fit in. I didn’t even want to be popular, I just wanted to blend into the background and be left alone. I was successful. I dressed like everyone else. I got contacts and the braces were removed. I made a couple friends. I erased my entire novel, painstakingly, page by page. No, I didn’t just toss the notebooks. I wore down multiple erasers and then wrote over the whole thing with something banal, like several hundred rounds of M.A.S.H.

Looking back, I think I was more miserable in the years I tried to fit in than during the year I realized how desperately uncool I was/am. So I moved on with my life, waving my freak flag freely, and reserving my fucks to give for only the most fuckworthy of situations.

In my early 20s, Lester Bangs—as played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Almost Famous—helped me embrace my uncoolness. He said that most of the great art in the world is made by people who are conflicted and longing and guilty and in pain; people who are uncool. He said:

The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.

And I believed him. Up until last week.

It’s been an emotionally shitty week. Feels like I’ve been hit with the sledgehammer used by Lumberjack Property Brother to bust through a wall in order to make an open concept living space.

Somehow, someway, I lost my confidence in being uncool. I’d been so caught up in Silicon Valley corporate politics that I started trying too hard. From a professional standpoint, I tried positioning myself as a certain way…and in trying too hard to “find my place,” I started to lose it.

I began overthinking and asking for permission and surveying and questioning. I told myself it was all good because it’s important to strategize and think hard on these things. But that was only a portion of the thinking I was doing. The rest of it was hand-wringing. And I felt myself slipping away.

lesterbangsThankfully, I watched Almost Famous tonight, and as Lester Bangs took a long drag from his cigarette, the tightly wound chord of the rotary phone swinging in the background, it all snapped into place. It was a momentary lapse of reason. A mini existential crisis brought on by self-doubt. I started caring too much about what impact I could make, what my role should be, how other people viewed me.

All of that is meaningless.

At the end of the day, what I care about most is doing good work. Yes, of course I want people to like me—especially the people I see during business hours and beyond. Yes, of course I want to advance in my career. But ultimately, the most important thing me has always been to do something meaningful and to share it with others.

So as I move into the next week, I’ll let Lester Bangs’ Almost Famous quote ring in my ear. I’ll go to meetings and I’ll listen and speak without rolling the words around 15 times in my head before they come out of my mouth. I’ll hold my head high as I walk the halls because I’ll be hunched over my keyboard the rest of the time, doing what I do best: writing…and being uncool.

La Douleur Exquise

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about lost potential.

I know that I have a long professional career ahead of me. I know that I’m extremely lucky to not only call myself a writer, but to do so for a living. Am I writing New York Times bestselling novels like some of my friends? No. But there’s no expiration date on writing. I can keep at it and keep working to get better. Someday I might even write something important. It’s not happening now, but it could happen. There’s an actual shot. So this isn’t about that.

It’s been 10 years since I’ve been able to say, “I’m a professional dancer.” I stepped right up to the line. I even stepped over it. I started with crap jobs, as any aspiring artist does, but I landed with a great company about to go on tour. (That company is now kicking ass all over the globe.)

performing at Jacob's Pillow with Deca
performing at Jacob’s Pillow with Deca

I don’t know how far I would have made it if I weren’t injured. It’s very possible I wouldn’t have. But I didn’t only pour my career aspirations into my dance dream. I became it. I’ve tried to bury the old me. I told myself that person was gone. The problem is, she’s not. She’s still there inside of me, itching to get out. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

How many times have you watched a superhero origin story where the antagonist says something like, “I always thought I was destined to do more. To be something. To make a difference. Now I can.” What would happen if that very ordinary person with extraordinary dreams never happened upon his super powers? Where would all of that energy go?

Sometimes you gotta take a few crappy jobs to get to the good ones. Filming a pilot for superhero crime-fighting dancing cats called The City Kitties.
Sometimes you gotta take a few crappy jobs to get to the good ones. Filming a pilot for superhero crime-fighting dancing cats called The City Kitties.

I can tell you.

It festers just under the surface, manifesting itself as a constant desire to jump out of your own skin. It makes you restless and then listless and then restless again. It forces you to keep searching for the next thing and the next and the next. It causes you to pace in your cube like a coyote in heat, fingers fluttering, lips twitching, shoulders rolling. You pace, you pace, you pace. Then you sit back down because there’s nothing you can do about it.

You’ve lost the ability to [insert great thing] but you still feel the pull, like a phantom leg. Or maybe you never really had the ability in the first place. It doesn’t matter. What matters is you had a dream and it was never realized, and it never can be. You have to reckon with that. There’s no amount of positive thinking and chutzpah that can change that fact. And it hurts. It really, really hurts.

La douleur exquise. It’s a French phrase made famous by Sex and the City that means “the heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have.” The literal translation: the exquisite pain.

I have loved dance since I knew what love was. Dance may have even loved me back. But I couldn’t have it.

Dance even took me to China.
Dance even took me to China.

Since my injury, I’ve tried to dance, even just for fun. I’ve puttered around in my house to some music. I’ve stood at the counter and attempted ballet barre exercises. I’ve put on my pointe shoes and tap shoes. I’ve busted out a clumsy six-step, just to see if I remembered how. I remember how. I just can’t get my body to obey. I’m slow and heavy and if I push, my injury pushes back. The pain puts me back in my place. But my brain…my brain remembers.

It reminds me that I stood in the shadow of dance giants, miming the graceful fluidity of Theresa Nguyen, the raw talent of Tony Bougiouris, or the power of Lauren Masiello, future professional dancers I trained with in my studio days.

That I took classes with masters like Gus Giordano and Desmond Richardson and Ray Leeper and Mia Michaels, who taught me how to harness emotion into movement, to understand how to make a performance dynamic.

That I interviewed dance legends Debbie Allen, Gregory Hines, and Patrick Swayze, hip-hop pioneers Rokafella and Popin’ Pete, prolific choreographers Wade Robson, Mandy Moore, Tabitha and Napoleon—getting inside the minds of greatness, learning what it takes to take it to the next level.

It reminds me of the competition dancers, the audition buddies,  the dance teams, the teachers, the dance moms, the dancewear makers, the studio owners, the dance photographers, the shoe fitters, the Broadway dancers, music video dancers, street dancers, reality TV dancers, dance writers and historians, choreographers, college dance majors, judges, entrepreneurs, agents, publishers, producers, artistic directors, dance therapists, folk dancers, swing dancers, jazz dancers, contemporary dancers, tappers, ballerinas, b-boys, stompers, krumpers, poppers, steppers.

Ask me about any of them and I can tell you. I knew them all.

Sometimes you get to be in the dance magazine before you start working for the dance magazine.
Sometimes you get to be in the dance magazine before you start working for the dance magazine.

I stood in the shadow of dance giants and felt I could someday measure up. I knew I had an uphill battle, but I couldn’t be stopped. Until I could. And now, 10 years later, that energy still bubbles under the surface, desperate to be released. I’m in a constant state of potential energy, building and building, but never transforming. I’m still climbing that hill, but there’s no crest in sight.

There comes a time in everyone’s life who has fallen short of their dreams to admit that they can’t achieve them. I know, and have known for a long time, that I will never dance (that way) again. It’s painful to admit that. It’s painful to fully realize. It’s painful to let go.

But at least it’s an exquisite pain.