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.

How Do We Feel About Seasonal Decor?

Once upon a time, in a duck-stenciled kitchen in a country house, a woman named Bev decided that she was going to make the holidays extra festive. She hung mistletoe and garland and threaded popcorn on the tree, and her toddler daughter was delighted. So the next year, she decided to add some carolers to the mantle. Oh, and she decided to make a mantle.

Year after year, the carolers multiplied. Soon there was a caroling cat and a flickering old-fashion lantern and an entire Christmas town that featured fake snow and lit up. Christmas became such a magical time of year that the rest of the seasons just didn’t seem to measure up. So Bev decided to spice up Halloween with jack-o-lanterns and witches and glittery black cats. Thanksgiving featured some kind of harvest spilling out of a horn, and Easter was a sea of pastel and bunnies and duckies and springtime dew. Even the 4th of July became a Patriotic puke of red-white-and-blue.

You gotta hand it to my mom: she sure knows how to holiday.

When I moved away to New York City, I shared a 500 square-foot space with three other girls, one of which was Jewish. Needless to say, we didn’t give much thought to decorating for the holidays…mostly because our counter space was entirely occupied by things that we needed to function. Still, Bev couldn’t help herself. She mailed me my first antique Santa on a sled when I was 20 years old. It stayed in the box under my bed.

Post college, I had a little more room to spread out, but I was a broke 22-year-old with no extra cash for decorating. Halloween meant wearing something slutty, getting drunk, and watching the gays parade around Greenwich Village. New York City was so beautifully decorated for Christmas that there was really no need to do anything in my apartment except hang a couple glass balls off a Charlie Brown tree. Easter? I sort of forgot about it.

My best friend Shauna and I used to chuckle at our moms for their total embrace of seasonal decor, and how they always seemed to bring us offerings in an attempt to get us to catch their holiday spirit. They were like cats leaving dead birds at our doorstep, only the birds were heavy porcelain Christmas tree ornaments engraved with our names.

You know you had one of these.
You know you had one of these.

When I became a mom, the holidays took on new meaning. I could see them through the eyes of a child again! How magical! Only Lucas wasn’t even a year old for his first Christmas. We could have decorated for Dia de los Muertos for all he cared.

As my son grew, however, and started to “get” what the holidays were about, I found myself feeling guilty that my house wasn’t the magical seasonal wonderland that the Garofoli casa was during my childhood. Christmas has now grown from a tree and some stockings to outdoor chunky colored lights, a Jesus manger featuring Obi-wan Kanobe, various nutcrackers, wreaths, and poinsettias, and vintage Christmas trees made in pottery class in the 70s.

Still, while Christmas decorating has become an Olympic event in which I turn on the Bing Crosby and yell at my son to stop dropping fragile shit on the floor, I just can’t seem to get it up for the other holidays. I see people with their autumn foliage flags and I’m like…it’s still 80 degrees outside. Why?

Still, in an effort to pretend to give a shit, I put out a sad pumpkin and scarecrow on my mantle this year. It’s almost worse than having nothing. Behold, my Halloween decorations, in their entirety:

Who needs to trick or treat when you've got this?
Who needs to trick or treat when you’ve got this?

I never thought I’d embrace seasonal decor as an adult, but now I’m feeling the PTA pressure to make something happen. Should I put my mantle decorations away and focus on making half-baked Halloween costumes that are bound to be Pinterest fails? Or should I go full Bev and resign myself to a house full of glitter for the next four months?

I’m Going Off My Antidepressants

Yeah, I said it. For reasons unbeknownst to me (but perhaps knownst to you), there’s a huge stigma against psychiatric medication. You’re never supposed to admit that you’re taking pills for a mental illness, an addiction, or an inability to stabilize your moods or focus on the task at hand. (Oh, look at the kitty!)

What was I saying?

You guys know how I feel about stigmas. Instead of tiptoeing around them, I tend to take an exaggerated, Dick Van Dyke-sized step right the fuck over them. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you have a weakness and are taking medication to try and fix it. Do I understand why people don’t go around announcing that they’re taking Lithium to manage their bipolar disorder? Of course. But I wish they could live in a world where people didn’t tsk tsk them if they did decide to share, and instead applauded them for getting the help they needed.

It's been real.
It’s been real.

So on that note, I’m out with it: I’ve been on antidepressants for the better part of a year. I come from a long line of proud Italians who don’t believe in “happy pills,” and for a while, I tried everything I could to avoid anything that could be conceived as giving up (except wine…and giving up). But I was buried under a suffocating blanket of grief. As time went on, and the tragedies kept piling up, the blankets became more and more and heavier and heavier until one day, I was like the pea in Princess and the Pea. I couldn’t continue functioning trying to get out from under it all.

That was a year ago. A year ago when I stood in my kitchen, my eyesight blurred from another onslaught of hot tears, my son asleep in his bed and my husband in his man room playing video games. I don’t remember why I went to the kitchen. But I stood there. And all of a sudden, the medicine cabinet was like: “I’ve got what you need, you know.” No. No, no, no. You’re not going to think about that. So then the knives were like: “We’d work too, if you don’t mind the blood.” Just stop it. Oven pipes in: “You could go Slyvia Plath styles.” Well, that’s just too morbid. 

So I called up to my husband. Through a typhoon of tears and snot, I told him I needed help. I told him I had tried to deal with it on my own, but failed. And he held me and told me I didn’t fail. That I was doing the right thing for me and for my family, who needed me. That he was here for me and he supported me in whatever I needed to do to feel better. And a small crack of light peeped through the blankets.

I called my doctor, who swiftly prescribed me what I needed. She warned that it would take up to a month to really kick in, and she checked in with me frequently. Within two weeks, the heaviness began to lift and for the first time in what felt like years, I felt like myself again. And that’s when I realized: these aren’t happy pills designed to mask the pain. They’re a helping hand, reaching down into the pit and getting you up onto safe land again.

And that’s where I am today.

So it’s time to say thank you for the help. Thank you for giving me my life back. Thank you for delivering me to my family safe and whole. I’m going off my antidepressants now. I know it’s not going to be easy, going it alone. But I’m ready now. Because of you.

Reliving My Youth One Dave Matthews Band Concert at a Time

A couple weeks ago, Caryn, one of my very good friends from college, hit me up with a message that made my day: “I’ve got two tickets to Dave Matthews in Mountain View…wanna come?”

It had been a year since I saw her and 14 years since I’d last seen DMB in concert. So yes. Yes, I did.

The last time I saw Dave, I was with Caryn at Giants’ Stadium in New Jersey. Right in the middle of the encore, it started torrential down pouring and the crowd went wild. Instead of running for cover or leaving the show, 60,000 stoned college kids danced and sang in the rain, while Dave Matthews just kept right on playing “Two Step”—even through a few scary-close lightning strikes. It was the single coolest concert experience of my life. In fact, even Dave remembers it:

I knew this concert couldn’t top that. But I also felt something bubbling up inside as I revved up for the show: my youth. My Abercrombie-and-Fitch, tie-dyed T-shirt, music-loving, concert-going youth. Sure, I’ve been to a few shows over the last few years, but they’ve been big commercial to-dos. Kanye. Madonna. Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake. Very pop. Very much a big light and dance show. A little less about the music and more about the spectacle.

But Dave…Dave and his band love music and they just play the shit out of their songs. They’re the adult-contemporary version of a jam band, like Phish or the Grateful Dead if you gave them a shower and dressed them up in plaid button-downs.

a sea of white people
a sea of white people

There were a lot of mom jeans at the Dave Matthews Band concert. But I couldn’t judge because I wore my stretchy pants and my orthopedic flats. Watch me reach into this big barrel of fucks and give them out to no one. Because I was there to sing and dance (“la, la, la HEY, la la la HEY, la la la!”). And as the earthy smell of weed and patchouli wafted over the crowd, I suddenly  forget about the minutiae of my day. The responsibilities on my shoulders, the to-do lists, the soccer games and team snacks, the deadlines, the dishes and grocery shopping…they were all gone.

Dave Matthews Band played quite a few songs I didn’t know. It didn’t really matter. Caryn and I were right back in 2001, making up stories about the older couple on an eHarmony date in front of us (we had a bet going to see how long they’d stay at the show before they took off to go make gross old-folk whoopie). And then, midway through the show, ignoring the girls next to us doing their best 1980s howls (“Owwwww! Yeah, Dave! Owwww, owwwwwww!”), I felt the same joy from Giants’ Stadium all those years back, . I turned to Caryn and grinned. We didn’t have to say a thing.

I danced like I hadn’t danced in a long time. I sweat and didn’t care. I walked a long way out of the concert so that we could catch an Uber back to our hotel. I expected to wake up and be in ridiculous pain. I didn’t. I just woke up in a shitty Motel 6 in Sunnyvale happy and just the slightest bit sore.  It felt like a night at dance camp, minus the Tiger Balm.

To Caryn, I want to say: thank you so much! Something in me jiggered loose that night. I was happy on a level I hadn’t felt in a while. Purely happy without side thoughts creeping in bringing it down. And the beautiful thing is…the happy has continued on. It’s amazing what the power of music, dance, and long-time friendship can do for you. Just sprinkle on a little Dave Matthews, and all will be well.

Bad Mood Rising

There was a full moon on August 29. Usually I give no weight to astrological bullshit, but there’s something in the air, and the after effects are lingering. I’m feeling sour and snappy, and I know it’s not only me. All around, everywhere I look, shoulders are slumped, sighs are heaved, and resting bitch face is the default expression.

There’s some kind of collective bad mood happening, and it’s seemingly inexplicable. Sure, people are busy, but that’s nothing new. Sure, traffic is heavy, but that’s to be expected. Sure, most drivers are douche yachts, or…as my new coworkers like to say…douche frigates, but how is that different from any other week?

Even my adorable son, who was like this a few short days ago:

happy boy
happy boy

Turned into this over the weekend:

emo cat stretch on the bed
emo cat stretch on the bed

The weird thing is, the bad mood is palpable enough that I’ve overheard several people ask other people, “Hey, are you okay?” I hear myself attempting cheerful pep talks to people who seem down, but I don’t even believe my own load of crap and give up a quarter of the way through. Lately, I have nothing to add to the conversation except, “Yeah, that sucks, dude.” I just can’t muster up the umph. And why?

I see a bad mood rising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see stank eye and frownin’.
I see bad times today.

Don’t go around tonight,
Well I’m bound to take your life,
There’s a bad mood on the rise.

So what’s causing this? Because at first I thought I had just reached my quota of nice for the month. But then why is everyone else all “meh,” too? Can someone explain? Did we just all decide to simmer in our issues and pout at the same time? Is there some kind of virus going around that makes people droopy and sad?

Until someone can talk this out in plain science, I’m blaming it on the moon. Or Mercury, which is in retrograde September 17. Or you all, who are too busy moping around to…to…to help me finish this damn sentence. Dammit.