the-interview-james-franco-seth-rogen1

It’s exactly what you thought it would be.

I wasn’t the least bit disappointed with The Interview. I expected it to kinda suck, and I loved that it did. It is exactly what you think it is: A dopey buddy film with lots of asshole jokes. When I laughed, which I did, I laughed with a simple, stupid glee. And the fact that it WAS stupid is what makes this film even more important than it might ever have been.

You know why? Because that’s what makes this whole thing so amazing. And why watching it, and yes, paying for it, is an act of patriotism and a critical vote for freedom of expression. Because if the whole ruckus had been over some truly controversial or film, say Django or [insert WWII film here], then we’d be having a different discussion. We’d be talking about how tyrants shouldn’t be allowed to inhibit us from Making Important Art. But instead, it was Darth Vader plotting to destroy Dennis the Menace. It makes the whole thing even more absurd and completely awesome.

True freedom of expression includes the freedom to also make dumb, fun, pointless, laughable, silly, crappy, jokey shit. It’s our right. And freedom of expression and creativity should not be reserved only for the films YOU think are important or wonderful, or the artists who you think should have that right, over and above the ones you don’t approve of. Because if you DO think that, you’re essentially a fascist.

If you caught Howard Stern’s interview with Rogen and Franco, then you know that this was a funny idea Rogen had, and decided to write it up and see if it would stick. By the way, he came up with it before the whole Dennis Rodman-as-ambassador moment—which is why when Rodman started all that nonsense, it confirmed for Rogen that this was a real idea, because, yes, this shit happens.

I don’t love that we were cyber hacked and terrorized, and hate that the media did the dirty work for the North Koreans by disseminating information that wasn’t theirs to begin with. But I do love that the film earned $15 million on the web in its first four days. Millions of people have ponied up to see The Interview, and not one of them did because they think it’s an amazing film. They are doing it to gawk at it, and see what all the fuss is about. And they’ll ultimately go back to watching Homeland and forget all about it.

But the reason you should see it isn’t because it’s great, but because you can, and for a few bucks, you get to cast your vote for something very important: The freedom to create, say, and do what you want—and also to watch what other people come up with, regardless of who thinks it’s stupid, or dangerous, or both.

mad-lib

Stop playing mental Mad-Libs.

 

You’ve already done a lot of things up to this point: Bought gifts, planned trips, cooked or baked a bunch of stuff. Now you’re packing your bag and girding your loins in preparation of some of the issues/topics/discussions that will likely come up over the course of the next week around the people you’ll be in close quarters with once again.

And so I’m not telling you to DO anything more right now. You’ve done enough. Now’s the time to STOP doing some things. Things that you do because you’re on autopilot from years of training by the very people whom you love dearly, but who have and will drive you crazy.

Take it from someone who’s ruined many a holiday. Oh please. Many. I get worked up, rattled, defensive, and then like an old motherboard I short out completely and shut down. My mood hits Blue Screen of Death and there’s no coming back from it. Not even for dessert.

If you can stop doing these three things, even for just this short period of time, you’ll be better off. I’m telling you so that I can remind myself to do it, too.

STOP PLAYING MENTAL MAD LIBS

When it comes to your relatives, so many ingrained patterns can take over that having conversations turns into a horrible game of Mad Libs where you start filling in the blanks of with outrageous thoughts and ideas.

Meaning: If your older sister asks you how work is, she actually may just want to know how work is. You, however, may find yourself working off the old script that says that her character resents you for your job / thinks you’re unambitious, etc. When you start filling in the blanks with YOUR idea about what she really thinks of you and your work, boy are you in trouble now. You’re down the rabbit hole. Which leads to the next thing to stop doing.

STOP REACTING

If and when my family reads this, they will each do a spit take with their pinot grigio at me doling out this advice. (“Now THAT is rich!”). Because you’re talking to the Queen of Reaction. Whether it’s your sister asking about work or your mother asking about your love life, it may hit some buttons but you have control over how you respond.

Case in point, one of my sisters has a way of laser-focusing her support on me in such a white-hot glare of loving attention that I sometimes can’t take it. I really can’t. I feel like it’s burning a hole through my head. I know she’s doing it with nothing but loving intentions, but for some reason, it always comes across as a kind of interrogation by the time it hits my amygdala.

And it’s not because of what she does (though she is very intense), but how I react to it that makes it worse (anger, defensiveness, aggression, tears). We can all control this; we often don’t.

Let’s pinkie swear this year that we’re going to try. Assume instead that all of it–the comments, the questions–are coming from a place of compassion and care (even if deep down you’d bet dollars to donuts it’s not)–doesn’t matter. ACT as though it is coming from love, and you’ll respond in a much better way.

STOP DEFENDING

Sometimes even the prospect of standing your ground can pitch you into a state of weariness and despair (and long naps). Christmas can often become a kind of Year in Review. How far has everyone come? Where have people f’d up? Let’s regale everyone with those tales again. The course correcting, the interventions, the would-be come to Jesus moments–all can fail horribly and go upsettingly awry.

And it can be really hard to hold onto what sanity you had when you arrived–when you were this other, whole, happy person who has a life and an apartment, a job, maybe a relationship. Just being in the vicinity of people who knew you before your teeth were straight or you had a bank account, can make you feel like you’re Benjamin Button-ing into that bitchy, deplorable teenager you once were. EVERYONE goes through that. Doesn’t matter if you’re approaching menopause or your hair is thinning.

The defensiveness that you and I feel comes from an effort to hang onto that calmer, cooler, respectable adult that everyone else knows you to be…and that you feel you must prove that you are. You never outgrow your family–and so it can feel like you need to fight off the “old” you, no matter who that was. To do battle against the old jokes, expectations. But you don’t. And to think you can change your relatives’ minds?  You’re lucky if you can get them to try one new dish that wasn’t on the table last year.

TRY IT….

Choose a new script. Find a new motivation. Pull the plug on your hard-wired panic buttons and allow yourself to breathe a second before you say a goddamned thing.

Recognize that there is love in the midst of all the ancient game-playing. What’s more, while no one can tease you about the kinds of things these people can, no one loves you like them, either.

Holidays are for giving. Gift giving. And I mean actual gifts. Not, “I donate money to charity and send you a card that pretends you gave it,” and not, “Let’s just split the check on this dinner bill and that’s our gift!” No. I’m talking the kind you shop for, buy, and wrap. And I for one cannot stand and will not abide anyone who tries to remove gifts from the Christmas equation. You’d think it was unevolved or a straight-up sin to buy great shit and give it to people.

CHRISTMAS-PRESENTS-ARE-ALWAYS-WORTHYYou couldn’t be more wrong.

Yes, we live in a culture obsessed with stuff, 99% of which none of us needs. In fact, I’m willing to bet that not one of us would notice it really if we didn’t buy a nonperishable item in the next 12 months. Unless you died of boredom. Which I might. And yes, that very culture defines us not even as people, but as consumers. This makes some people just curl up in despair. Not me. I embrace my consumer self. Because when this time of year rolls around, my big consumer heart pulses and heaves with joy.

Look, I’m not fan of the Black Friday ritual of full-blown shopper mayhem either, and am not willing to risk life and limb to press through the doors of Best Buy for a flat screen TV. But Black Friday is and has always been about the savings, not the giving. There’s where it goes off the rails. Because an attempt to buy more stuff for less ultimately does little but, well, make you buy more. So you’ve got to separate out the crazy people-tramplers from the importance of gifts themselves. If you’re struggling to meet the financial demands of gift giving this year, think about how you can cut down on your every day costs such as by switching your energy provider with the help of Money Expert.

What I’m saying is, don’t throw the baby (Jesus) out of with the Black Friday bathwater.

Because unless you’re going all Kirk Cameron this year (who attempted to save Christmas and ended up in the shitter), you know this to be true. And need I remind you that Jesus HIMSELF GOT GIFTS on his birthday. Shitty gifts, I grant you. But they’re a big part of the story.

My boyfriend has always been easy to buy for — he’s got a lot of hobbies like gaming so I can easily just find the perfect gift for my gamer boyfriend by looking at guides I find online. But this year he tried something different for our gift-giving, he tried to pull this no-gifts maneuver this year. To his credit, he is a great lover of experiential gifts, and he’s good at it. Last year he bought us an evening cooking class-and it was great and thoughtful and sweet! But when he floated the idea of us just doing something together this year and calling it our Christmas gift, I said, let’s do something together, because we do things together-AND you’re also getting a gift from me whether you like it or not. I simply will not be robbed of this annual joy. Especially since I’m so goddamned good at it. You can still get touching, personal gifts without spending the earth, for example check out Name Necklace Official.

There was a study published a while back that said that experiential gifts are better, as they appreciate over time, as opposed to “that iPod” which will be out of date in a few years. I think cruises or show tickets or super fancy restaurant dinner as gift are great. But don’t you dare poo-poo the iPod. The year my family and I all got our first generation iPods was one of our historical best. Even if I don’t even know where that thing is anymore.

Granted, I come from a tradition of heavy duty gift exchanges (my childhood was awash in electronic toys, digital alarm clocks, stereos), and my parents admittedly have a habit of going overboard. But it was fun for them, and they were in a position to do it, so there you have it.

But even we tried doing a no-gifts thing. One year, not that long ago, we did a complete Christmas detox and exchanged nada. Except for my mom, who says she gets to do what she wants because she’s the mother. But between the rest of us? We all had bills to pay, and yada yada yada. “We’ll bake cookies! We’ll play games! We’ll have a beer tasting!” Yeah we did that. And you know what? It sucked. It was one of the most boring, least gleeful Christmases ever. It’s like trying to remove cake from a birthday party and instead blowing out candles and pretending it was just as fun. It’s not.

We have since arighted the ship and are back to our giving ways, even if we do keep within a budget so no one goes crazy. You don’t have to go into debt. But Christmas is always coming. So you budget for it.
And lest you think I’m some kind of heathen, I say this: Giving really is more fun. But you need to give something to do it. During my very first year of gainful employment, I pulled up to my parents’ home at the holidays with a Subaru packed to the gills with gifts I paid for with my own money. I was particularly proud of a pair of super cool Old Navy overalls for my sister Kim (it was a phase). Most importantly, it was the year I felt I had arrived as an adult. I could finally bring something to the table, or tree, as it were. That mattered. Still does.

Oh, and the Christmas-is-for-kids thing? Please. I think it’s a very bad idea to forego gift exchanges between adults so that you can drown the kids in so much stuff they can barely open it all before lunch. Because what you’re modeling is, “Christmas is recreation and gifts is all about what you get and what parents provide.” Not true. Stop giving to the people you love on Christmas, and you’re saying, “Meh, we had our fun. Let’s just skip our gifts and throw another Barbie on the funeral pyre.” It also in some small way says, “I’m not worth a gift, and neither are you.” And that is the most anti-holiday sentiment of all. So get your friends some custom bobbleheads or whatever else they like because we are all worth it!

February 1984tbt

You know what?

I’ve got a little case of LICE! Why me?!

A– and I were scared (we both had it), and then found out J– had it too. And D-. I never want to go back to school again!

I’m missing out on first Friday mass with the kindergarten–oh, I don’t care. But I don’t want lice or any other bug in my head! Ever! Every time I touch my hair I have to clean my hands. I also had to throw everything I ever wore in the past few days into the wash.

I went out to a really nice Chinese restaurant tonight and tried some strange food, plus jazzman tea. It was good. Then I had to go  home to have my hair fixed with the lice shampoo. I really didn’t have lice; I had nits. Lice eggs. We caught them before they hatched. Phew!

I saw the conclusion of “Different Strokes.” It makes me want to take judo so I can defend myself against cruel people, or even rapists.

Oh! Our dance to “Thriller” won 2nd prize in the talent show!

And I have a job! I shall clean Dad’s underwear and dry and fold and deliver it to him for $2.00 every time. All right!

judy-blume-diary

Penned in one of the many Judy Blume diaries.

Oct. 9, 1982

I had a great birthday party yesterday. When I came home from school, Mary Jo gave me a record called: Fleetwood Mac, and a letter with stickers–puffy ones. Tomorrow we will go to the Red Lobster.

On my birthday, my friends and I pretended to make out with C—. I am now changing my mind about C—. I’m beginning to like him. We passed the class picture around and kissed him. J— and J— especially really kissed him. They love him. And we’re only in the fourth grade!

I think J—, J—, and A—, and I are about the hottest fourth grade girls I’ve ever known. I like to show off a lot.

I like to write things here I’d never tell anyone. They are sometimes dirty, too. It feels good to write all of it down instead of letting it rot inside me.

Oct. 12, 1982

It’s 3:20 p.m. and I opened my mail. Uncle Bob sent me a happy birthday card with 10 DOLLARS IN IT!!! I called him and his tape machine answered. I left him a message.

Oct. 15, 1982

Tomorrow, I’m getting my glasses. I can’t wait until I get them!

Oct. 16, 1982

Bad news. I didn’t get my glasses because they didn’t come in the mail yet. The guy said I’ll get my glasses supposevly [sic] Tuesday, Oct. 19, 1982. I can’t wait!

 

Oh no. Another woman just went and married herself.engagement-ring-on-hand-5

Haven’t we gone over this? Oh wait, we have. I blogged about it and even went on Anderson Cooper a few years back to tell the “bride” she was full of it.

I get it: You want to empower yourself and commit to your wellbeing, to evolve as a woman, as a human. I am 1000% cheering you on.

But. Using marriage to proclaim your independence and self-empowerment is so insane and contradictory that the veins in my neck are bulging as we speak.

Now. Before you get your veil in a bunch, let me be clear: I don’t think all women who are married are slaves or less worthy or less feminist or any of those things. Your marriage is what you make it, and so on (insert open-minded discussion here).

But facts are facts: Marriage as an institution wasn’t ever intended to “free” or “empower” women—quite the opposite. At its best, it gave women an attempt to improve their lifestyle and social standing, which was possible because of their association with men, not because the world saw them as superheroes.

And so in attempting to use marriage to make this point is inane, backwards and, well, kind of silly. The blushing bride, Grace Gelder, told Cosmo  that she “looks at the ceremony as a testament to her self-discovery.”

That’s like deciding to celebrate Easter as a tribute to a woman’s right to dye her hair.  Sure, you can do that, but…that’s not what it’s about. Unless it’s “make up your own meaning for things” day. (Is it? Someone check the calendar.)

Oh, and by the way, when you decide to full-on “get married to yourself” in a white dress and tongue kiss yourself in a mirror (which I did at a sleepover once in 6th grade, but for other reasons), you say to the world that “Hey, I’m married now!” and all other suitors move on to the next gal.

And yet in this case, as Cosmo reports, Gelder’s ceremony “was never intended to be a legally binding marriage (and Gelder is certainly open to actual marriage if the right person comes along).”

Ah! Isn’t that convenient. So, it’s just married for now, til I get a chance to get married for real. Aha.

My head is one second away from exploding.

Far too many people (though fewer and fewer thank God) put up a big stink about same-sex marriage (a whole other ridiculous and maddening discussion). When really, it’s people like this who undermine marriage—using it as a glorified birthday party (just, on another day that’s not your birthday), and something to do while you wait to get “real” married. If you’re all pro-traditional marriage, this is the type of person you should be furious with, not some lovely gay couple from Cleveland who have been in love for 10 years and want to make a legit go at it and live their lives in peace.

Best part? Gelder says, “Some female acquaintances have told me that I’m an example to women, but I say: ‘Why not an example to men too?’ I really don’t see it as any kind of feminist statement, but creating a wedding of this kind on my own terms felt incredibly empowering.’ ”

Yes, Gracie dear, you’re right about one thing: It’s not a feminist statement. It’s the opposite. It’s saying that living life as a fully-realized, empowered woman with goals of her own wasn’t enough, that in fact the only way you could think to define your independence and self-love was to mimic the ceremony for an institution that for most of recorded history defined a woman in terms of the man who chose her. Gotcha.

The only thing I can even think of is that you were simply dying for the china. Then again, an empowered woman like yourself should be able to just march in and buy some.

January 3, 1987

red-lipstick

The bright pink lipstick looked way better on my mom.

Today, mom and me went to the mall. We both got the same lipstick at the Clinique counter! “Mauve Crystal” or something. It’s so neat! But I hated to put it on my cruddy face. Yeah, it looks nice from afar, but it was peeling and dry, YUCK! Why can’t I have nice smooth brown skin, like other girls? I have to use moisturizer, special soap, go to the dermatologist. We ran out of vitamins a while ago and the corners of my mouth are sore and peeling. UGH!

Boy, I really do make a big deal about all that vanity crap when I should be helping the world, helping a little old woman across the street. I sure am a jerk, aren’t I? I also think too much. Good night!

***

October 2, 2014

For the record, this wasn’t a great color for me. That cool silvery pink looked much better on my fair-skinned, blue-eyed mother. And anyway, it didn’t matter what I put on my face—it was always my face that was the problem. Anything else I added was a hopeful improvement. (Where I had this idea that all “other girls” had smooth brown skin is a mystery.)

But how important it was to have my very own lipstick! I remember the surprising weight of the cool, metal case, the waxy, unscented lipsticky smell as I drew it across my mouth. I was hooked. I couldn’t wait til I had grown into my adult face, and out of this rash of uneven pre-teen skin, so that I could be worthy of it.

Sadly, Clinique discontinued Mauve Crystal years ago. It was the only lipstick my mother ever wore then, and the only cosmetic, aside from a bloom of rose blush on each cheek.

On the drive from the Livingston mall that afternoon, I held the case in my hand until it got warm. From where I sat in the backseat of the blue Toyota minivan, I could see my shiny, pink mouth in the rearview mirror, smiling the whole way home.

I have felt unqualified for my own life for as long as I can remember.

On the first day of kindergarten I gave a fake name. I was sure that someone named Madeline would be taken more seriously.

I have been writing poetry since I was 7, scrawling dramatic verses into my Snoopy spiral notebook (one entitled “Questions from a Broken Heart.” Again, I was 7.) I used to tell my mother I loved learning new words with a zeal most kids reserve for cupcakes.

i_am_a_writer_womens_t_shirt_tshirt-r6ba33951f80d48cc8fb2f89db78cfd3c_8naxt_324

Almost as cool as the t-shirt my mom got me.

And yet, I doubted whether I was a ‘real’ writer at all. Which, in turn, prompted one of the most memorable Christmas gifts of my youth: A green t-shirt with the words “I Am a Writer!” scrawled in pink sparkles across the front. My mother had bought it at a kiosk at the Livingston mall, where she’d really cashed in that year. Kim, my middle sister and the happiest of the bunch, got “I love life!” and my littlest sister Lori’s read, “I have PMS.”

Later, when she realized the t-shirt hadn’t quite done the job, she ramped up the existential gift giving one Christmas with a framed poster of a dock leading off into a misty horizon. It read, “Life is a Journey, Not a Destination.” And when I was in my 20s, she got desperate: She gave me a polished white paperweight engraved with the message, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.”

I graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Boston College, and the recipient of the largest cash grant you could win as a graduating senior, awarded annually to the student most likely to have a career in writing. But had I applied for any jobs? Nope. Because I couldn’t imagine anyone would want to hire me. I believed I was entirely unqualified.

After a few years working at an office job, I found myself weeping over the fax machine and decided to go back to school. I applied to exactly one school for creative writing, the only one I wanted to go to. I got in. I signed up for a class on the poetry of Bishop and Lowell.

And after one class, I went to my professor, the brilliant poet Gail Mazur, during her office hours and said, “I shouldn’t be here. I haven’t read any of this stuff.” She couldn’t imagine what would make me think such a thing. That this is where you go to learn, not to show off what you learned. I mentioned some blowhard in my class who talked a lot. “Oh ignore him,” she said with a flip of her cool, veined hand. “He’s not so great.”

I wrote a poetry thesis for my M.F.A., and Gail was my advisor. She gave me the highest praise I could have hoped for at my thesis defense, and I left floating on air; I had created something that might be good. I submitted it for the Graduate Dean Award. It won. I have that thesis still; in fact, I had several copies bound. They’re all in a floral box on my shelf. They haven’t seen the light of day.

Lastly: I applied for my first publishing job when I was 30. I had been working as a catalog copywriter. I didn’t have a relevant resume or work experience. I got the job. I cried at night because I thought, “I shouldn’t be here,” and was sure someone had made a mistake. Also, because another editor on staff knew more websites than I did and that proved I had no future.

But I stayed. I rose through the ranks. Everyone above me got laid off or left. The magazine moved to Manhattan, and I was the only employee invited to come along with it. I joined an edgy, new squad of seasoned editors in the ascetic halls of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia HQ. The place was teeming with brilliance, and I was cowed. “How’s Martha?” friends would ask. “I shouldn’t be here,” I said.  I felt like a stowaway, nibbling almonds at my desk.

Fake It

In her very popular TED talk, “Your Body Shapes Who You Are,” Harvard social scientist Amy Cuddy shares compelling research and insight as to how your posture determines your power, and how your body can change your mind, and your mind can change your behavior. It’s classic TED: complex theories boiled down to a graspable idea, and a handy two-minute exercise anyone can try.

Amy’s story is compelling: She survived a terrible car accident that caused her IQ to drop; she was pulled out of college and told she couldn’t go back. But she did. She worked twice as hard, for twice as long, and landed at a Princeton. She said to herself, “I shouldn’t be here.” Yet, no one deserved it more.

The most moving moment in the video is when she talks about calling a student into her office years later, a young woman who had not spoken up and was on the verge of failing because of it. The student says, “I shouldn’t be here.” That’s the point when Amy’s voice breaks, and I felt a pocket of old grief and pain open up in my chest.

She says to her, Yes, you should be. You’ve got to fake it. Not til you make it—but until you become it.

Sheryl Sandberg told us to take our seat at the table. Writer and teacher Natalie Goldberg told us to write even if we think it’s the dumbest, most boring stuff in the world. Keep writing, she says. Just keep writing.

We teach the thing we most need to learn. So it’s not lost on me that I make a living today, not just writing, but teaching people the one thing I didn’t have for so long: Self confidence. Voice. Personal power. I show people how to fake it until they are that thing.

Don’t get caught up in the word “authentic,” by the way. It’s a catch-all, used as a qualifier for everything from relationships to acting performances to Italian food. It’s a smart way for people to complain about a thing they’re not satisfied with.

But here’s the truth: Everyone feels like a phony. We all fake it. I’m still faking it. This is life as we know it. True authenticity isn’t a thing you are or aren’t. It’s what you get from faking it so passionately for so long that it becomes real.

 

 

I wish I could tell the 12-year-old me in this picture not to worry so much. That once she gets her braces off and figures out what to do with her hair, things will come together.

What follows is unedited, unfiltered self-loathing. 

April 22, 1987

I need to tell whoever is reading this, why does Kim have a boyfriend, and no one will even look at me? What the hell is wrong with me? Am I a spaz? I don’t agree that I’m beautiful, but that bad that no one likes me?

I used to think being 13 would be fun. It’s okay, but most of it is just WAITING–till someone will accept you, till you can drive, till you can be as good as everyone else.

In 5th grade, I liked Bryon Cunningham. Now, the 6th grade boys and 5th grade girls are getting together. The 6th graders back then hated us. I missed out. Here I am, 8th grader without a boyfriend, even anyone who would think I’m pretty. How I wish I looked better.

My sister will always have men at her door, breaking it down. My door will be untouched–I’ll have to put up big signs saying “I’m alive!”

How I wish I was a different type of girl. A cute, lovable girl, not a worry-wart, ugly girl with glasses that only mothers can love. I wish so hard I wear myself out!