Inception: The Relationship Edition

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just not properly equipped to be in this relationship.”

Frank Hampshire had sent me  a text message asking if he could catch the next train to come see me.

No, I said. He could call me.

I knew what was coming even though there had been no preemptive discussion. I have a 6th sense — I see dead relationships. I always know when we’re over, even when all signs say otherwise.  In retrospect, I probably should have made him pay the $20 in transportation fees…

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What exactly Frank Hampshire meant by “not properly equipped,” it’s hard to say, but he was right. We were fundamentally ill-equipped for each other, despite a Thanksgiving-dinner-grocery-shopping list of reasons why we had been great plus-1s over the last six months.

We had hit that perfect grove of a stable relationship — game nights with his friends, concerts and outings, Seamless or Blue Apron and pirated movies at his place, a holiday with my parents, my toothbrush in his medicine cabinet and my shirt in his closet. There wasn’t anything glaringly out of place. But then one cold January morning, after a perfect night of laughter out with friends, I woke up in his apartment, looked around, and knew I had better take my toothbrush.

Frank was still asleep. From his bed I had a perfect panorama of his apartment. Through the bay windows in front of me I could see the whole of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I loved that view. Dawn was breaking but the sky ached with the weight of late winter grey clouds. On the windowsill, I could see the sombrero ashtray his mother brought him from Mexico — the ashtray he swore he never used, even thought I caught him leaning his head out of the window dragging long puffs on a cig from his secret stash more than once. And I could see his elliptical machine — the one he definitely never used because it was thick with dust and  which had become symbolic of our divergent lifestyles. If I turned my head to the left, I could see into his closet where the purple dress shirt I gave him for Christmas because it made his blue eyes pop hung in a sea of white and solid blue.

And I could see him.

For all the things that had been good about us, the things that had gone unsaid were becoming palpable.

It’s like inception — once that idea “this is over” creeps into your head, you can’t get rid of it. You can say you’re being silly. But it bores away at you. And before you know it, you’re trapped inside a collapsing deep daydream. No matter how much you try to reason your heart into believing you’re in love, you just know — it’s over.

leonardo-dicaprio-in-the-water-in-inception
Like Leo, we’re in a dream that was about to collapse, and for us there was no way out

 

 

 

 

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Let’s Not Stand On Ceremony: Becoming Reverend Reck, Part 1

I was in the middle of my attempted return to a nightly yoga practice and (un)comfortably contorted into a parivrtta parsvkonasana (a revolved side angle pose… ) when my cell lit up with a text message fit for the opening lines of a Camus novel:

“Today, our Japanese rabbi died.”

My best friend, a bubbly, intelligent, and kind culturally-Jewish girl from the suburbs of New York City, was getting married to a warm, thoughtful, and humorous Japanese bar owner in exactly one month. And after all the pinterest boards and dessert tastings, this was the last thing she needed.

Shocking, I know, but like unicorns, Japanese rabbis are kind of rare.

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There was a few exchanges — she had a Plan B, everything was going to be fine.

The next morning I got a phone call.

I was the plan B.

When she asked me if I wouldn’t mind the promotion from bridesmaid to stand-in officiant, I flashed through the last seven years…

To the weekend she crashed at my small “efficiency” studio on the upper west side of Manhattan and I suggested we go to this fancy cocktail bar downtown. After comping us a round a drinks, the bartender made us a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage to help us make our way home. That bartender would become her boyfriend…

Flash forward a few years later, she and I were standing in an elevator she was wearing a kimono the bartender’s mother had gifted her. “He’s the one,” she said without reservation. “Women know these things”…

And now I was standing in the bathroom at work, on the phone, being asked to officiate their wedding.

“I really can’t think of a bigger honor than getting to marry you two.”

“Great! I hoped you’d say that! I think it’d be really awesome to get married by officiant in a blue jumpsuit!”

That’s right. I was the bridesmaid who was told “wear whatever you want, as long as it’s blue,” and decided on a cobalt blue jumpsuit. A Reverend in a jumpsuit. I could see the branding opportunities already…

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Up until this point, my day-of wedding responsibilities were fairly simple and superficial:

  1. Make sure the make-up artist doesn’t make the Bride orange
  2. Make sure the Bride’s dress corset is pulled in as tight as it can go — don’t worry if she seems to be suffering from shortness of breath.
  3. Make sure the Bride has a shoehorn so she doesn’t smash the heels of her Jimmy Choos when she’s putting them on under her dress.

I had just picked up a few more responsibilities that were significantly less superficial (Learn Japanese sake-pouring ceremony. Learn how to say “chuppah” in a way that doesn’t sound like a sneeze. Make sure Bride and Groom say “I Do” and sign marriage certificate) but I would handle them, because for her, for them, I had to.  There are only a few times in your life when the people you love really ask you to step up to the plate for them. And when they do, you owe it to them to bring your A-game… to try to hit a home run… and if you don’t, at least you go down swinging.

 

 

 

 

Behind Home Plate: Considering a Woman’s Place

league3In my hometown, girls who wanted to play in Little League played on co-ed baseball teams until the 5th grade. Despite being the generation that watched “A League of Their Own” in the theaters, there weren’t many of us who wanted to be Dottie Hinson (played by Geena Davis). We were evenly distributed across all the teams, and that meant that most of the time there were no more than two of us. I wanted to pitch, but a coach told me: “Girls don’t pitch.” But I had a good arm, so I was put in right field (well, that was the justification for it, anyway.) Girl 2 on the team was also put in the outfield… a fake position called “center right.”

Often at practice, Girl 2 and I would out-slug the guys. But when it came to setting up the order, we were always placed at the bottom. Come game time, when we’d get up to bat we were heckled by the boys on both teams — by our teammates and by the opponents. The male coaches never did anything to make the boys shut up. If I struck out, which I did a lot (and no more than the boys), I’d be met back in the dugout with “what do you expect from a girl!?”

When I was finally old enough to join the all-girls softball league, everything changed. I became a starting pitching, a top-of-the-order batter, an All-Star. When we’d play co-ed softball in gym-class, I was a first round draft because I could out-everything the boys.

There was no more heckling. There was just the game.

1923570_528551231932_5298_nI remember being in pre-school and wanting to be a boy. I’d try to pee standing up (I learned after one attempt that we’re just not built for that.) I guess it’s a phase all children go through — that phase when they’re trying to understand what makes us different from the other kids on the playground, and then trying to appropriate some of those differences… because the grass is always greener on the other side.

Maybe that’s why I preferred a hammer, nails, and a block of wood to dolls when it came to toys. My school folders had cars on them instead of “My Little Pony.” As I got older and moved into sports, I always played with the boys. I’d swim in the boys’ lanes, or go to their practices in girls’ off season. I fight the boys in karate and bout with the boys at fencing practice. In college, I majored in Economics. I did my problem sets with the boys and go for morning runs with the boys.

And then I’d throw on a pair of high heels, a bedazzled shirt and some eyeliner and drink beers with the boys. The boys would often still be in their gym clothes.

The battle of the genders begins from day one. There’s only a short, sweet time when the playing field is level and then the realizations kick in – boys and girls are not the same.

We fall from Eden.

Putting aside basic biology, what is it that makes men and women so different? To me, it’s all about experience. We fall from Eden not because we realize our nakedness, we realize we don’t have access to the same opportunities. The boys on my little league team were never told they couldn’t pitch because they were boys. As we think of what makes us strong as women, so much of what empowers us is how we learn to define ourselves in relation to the boys — even if we don’t want to admit it. What if my little league team had been 50-50 boys and girls? What if my coach had had daughters instead of sons? Would I still have been told “girls can’t?” Would someone have said “boys can’t?”

 

Reflections: She’s More than a Pretty Face

Last week I opened a new exhibition. It’s been two years in the works, and to date is my biggest curatorial achievement. People seem to like it. They’re telling all their friends and sending me nice emails. It’s bringing people together.  So I’m kind of proud of it.

A friend who came to visit was kind of proud of me too, and  passed my catalog onto a friend of hers who happens to be a hugely influential collector of contemporary art. He flipped through the catalog, recognized two of the significant names, and then shared his one comment on the content…

“Oh wow! She’s really pretty!”

He was referencing my head shot.

I laughed when she told me. Inside, I was rolling my eyes.

It’s like Hillary Clinton being told to smile more.

If I were a man, would he have told her I was really handsome?

There really is nothing more demeaning to a woman in a professional setting than a reference to her attractiveness. Don’t tell me I’m pretty. That’s not going to convince an artist to work with me (well, it might if that artist were Jeff Koons) or a museum to hire me. “Pretty” isn’t something I’ve worked to achieve — it’s not a professional milestone. When it comes to my job, I’d rather a criticism on the quality of my work than a compliment on the quality of my face.

good smile
“Good Smile, Great Come” by Tracy Emin. Maybe it’s time we start talking about how men look in the workplace. 

 

Ghostbusting: Considering The Disappearing Boo

Dating these days is like something out of a made-for-TV Halloween special. When we’re coupled off, we have our “boo.” And when we want to extricate ourselves from something perhaps in need of an exorcist, we ghost.

casper
As a tween, I had a crush on Casper (well, on Devon Sawa.) But as a grown-up, being Caspered isn’t so friendly.

Over the summer and again in November, the New York Times committed a good amount of print space to the act of ghosting, or the childish act adopted by grown-ups of giving someone the silent treatment… permanently. But as any Millennial and older knows, if by the time you’re 30 you haven’t been ghosted by someone you’re dating and/or ghosted someone you’re dating, then you haven’t really dated.

The November New York Times Modern Love piece on ghosting followed the progressing mental stages of a woman who had just been ghosted by a guy she had been seeing for two weeks. I couldn’t entirely tell to what degree the piece was satirical (two weeks? And she’s flipping out? I don’t even add a guy into my contacts until week four, let alone make an emotional investment at two… especially in this age of the disappearing boo…. jeeeez). But her piece made the point that the silence forced on us by the ghoster is a trigger. We look in the mirror and ask, “What’s wrong with me?” And then we find 1,005 answers (some valid, some hogwash) to that question.

When I was a tween, I had a crush on Casper the Friendly Ghost (well, I had a crush on Devon Sawa, to be clear.) But as an “adult,” being Caspered isn’t so friendly. Being ghosted is just like any other kind of break-up — it can lead us to believe we are unloveable.

Being ghosted by someone we’ve just started dating is highly insulting and yet, when there’s no relationship to break-up from, sometimes it really is the most humane way to end it. Like ripping off the band aid, or a single shot to the head.

When he or she just isn’t that into you, sometimes silence is the clearest and kindest message. Sometimes there just isn’t much to explain — this thing just doesn’t feel right.

“Thanks for your voice message,” Chris said to me in a text. “Most people don’t show that kind of courtesy. Maybe we can be friends?”

Chris is a guy I had a handful of working day midday dates with. I was just out of a long term relationship. He worked in a building a 5 minute jaunt from my office and lived in a rented house 15 minutes from where I lived. He liked outdoor things and to read books, real books as opposed to a Kindle. Sometimes, we ran into each other in the Wednesday Farmers Market. When we sat down to lunch or a coffee break, it was a pleasant hour or so. But when we parted ways, I just didn’t feel it. He sent me a text to plan a second “real” date. I called him to say, thanks, but I wasn’t ready to start dating again. A partial lie — had he been a little different, had things felt a little different, I would have been ready to date again.

“Yes. You can never have a shortage of good friends!”

“Great. How about friends who make-out. You have gorgeous lips.”

“Don’t push your luck, buddy.”

Chris and I never hung out again. But not because someone pulled a disappearing act. We wanted different things and paid each other the courtesy of sharing that fact.

But had I ghosted him, would he have been surprised or hurt? Probably not. It wasn’t a relationship. It was a few public sightings, exchanges, and some dates.

Now, Ghosting a longer-term partner? That’s just cowardly.

Ghosting a friend? That should be a one-way ticket straight to hell.

Because here’s the thing: Once you have a measurable past with someone, they deserve to know that you don’t want to have a present or future with them. 

You can leave out The Why, because The Why is only important if you want to try to fix things. But tell them good-bye. Friends and girlfriends/boyfriends have earned certain rights, and one of them is the courtesy of a break-up.

Even a post-it note break-up is better than a ghosting.

post it break up

 

 

Buying for Baby

When the Paperless Post invitation to Adam’s “meet the baby” party hit my inbox, I jumped out of my desk chair, clapped my hands together and squealed in pure joy (I rarely squeal, so you can tell how excited I was.)

When you're 30, all your friends are settling down. But I'm like, nah, I'm taking up pole dancing.
When you’re 30, all your friends are settling down. But I’m like, nah, I’m taking up pole dancing.

Unlike most women my age, when it comes to babies, I’m typically nonplussed. I don’t fully understand their appeal. Whenever my co-worker brings her infants into the office, everyone runs to see the children — the ooooohs! and ahhhhhhs! can be heard across the street. Meanwhile, I just poke my head around the corner of my nook, to say “Oh! It’s Lily!” before returning to my spread sheets or grant report. Now, if my boss brings her puppies in, that’s another story. I won’t be working until they leave for their walk.

But Adam’s baby is a different baby. He’s an important baby.

Adam and I met on my first day in college, in our orientation group. Once we swapped bios, he decided we were going to be best friends — I didn’t have a choice (we were both recruited athletes, raised in Westchester.) I was christened “Kat,” and became just about the luckiest kid on campus. Adam was my best cheerleader and biggest supporter. Like, when I say cheerleader, I mean with actual pom-poms. He has the kind of infectious “we can do anything we set our minds to! Look at what we’ve already done” attitude that I still pull out some of his pep-talks when I need a confidence boost. We all need someone like that around when we’re trying to make that tricky free-throw into adulthood.

So of course, when it came to buying his son a first gift, I wanted to make it somewhat meaningful. Adam, his gorgeous wife, and I all went to the same college. We were all athletes. It seemed fitting that my gift to them should in some way resemble our Alma’s mascot.

I needed a plush lion and I needed it stat.

Here’s what I quickly learned on my store to store safari: there is a shocking lack of diversity in infant toys. Puppies, bunnies, and monkeys. That’s it. For a child under 1-year of age, those are your plush options. From the crib we’re limiting a child’s view of the world. You can only love these three things. Loving anything else is a choking hazard (metaphorically and literally.)

“We discontinued our lion plush,” the woman at Pottery Barn Babies told me.

“Why?”

“I don’t know, I mean it hasn’t been a good year for lions… or dentists, really.”

I rolled my eyes and stomped out.

When it became clear that my mini-Roaree plan was a fail, I decided I would switch course and track down a picture-book version of Homer’s “The Iliad.” All incoming freshman to Columbia received a copy of “The Iliad” as a gift from the alumni. The first 6 books are always due by the first literature humanities class. I figured, it was never too early to give the Baby a head-start.

Isn't this the kind of story you want to read to your kid at night? I know I do. The Iliad as illustrated by Marvel...
Isn’t this the kind of story you want to read to your kid at night? I know I do. The Iliad as illustrated by Marvel…

What I also learned is that there are no picture-book versions of any of the Greek classics. I mean, surely if the Coen Brothers can make 2 cinematic adaptations about Odysseus, someone can illustrate one Little Golden Book. I may have to make a phone call to a few artists about that one day…

In short, I had to abandon all efforts for a sentimentally-inspired gift and instead, sought cute and educational. Baby got a plush puppy and a matching book — thankfully, they still make books for kids. I was worried I’d have to find a “Pat the Bunny App.” Sure the puppy doesn’t roar and the book doesn’t have any epic battles, but that’s okay. There are many birthdays ahead. I’d better start drawing…

If I were a puppy....
If I were a puppy….