Monday, July 7, 2014

Lordly Love: How Our Obsession with Frodo Made Us Friends and Pop Stars

Once upon a time (that time being August 15, 2012), I submitted this essay to an online magazine. It was not published, but since I wrote it to be read, I figured I'd leave it here.

I remember the first crush that truly engulfed my senses and consumed my being hit with a fury in eighth grade. I remember distinctly because it first gathered steam in Mr. Smith’s Algebra class in the notes Sarah Botkin and I passed. You see, Sarah dubbed the graceful Legolas the most desirable character of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring while my loyalty laid firmly with Frodo. He was the hero, after all. Legolas was just a pretty boy, with hair more luscious than mine.  The whole fate of Middle Earth rested on the shoulders of Frodo, a humble hobbit with a heart of gold. He was like Jesus, who I had always been taught to love. However, Frodo was like a Jesus it was okay to daydream about French kissing, a Jesus with blue eyes that were like deep pools of infinity. The Lord of the Rings was so epic that I had a whole canon of literature to reinforce this religion of loving him. Over the three years of the theatrical releases of Peter Jackson’s stunning adaptation of the trilogy, I spent my spare time pining over the Frodo in the pages of JRR Tolkein’s masterpiece and on the screen, and the great thing about celebrity crushes is you can share them without it resulting in at least one woman scorned. And while Sarah never was never converted from Legolas-loving, Frodo worship was a bond over which Amanda, Elizabeth and I built up a fledgling friendship and inspired the creation of the girl band notorious among our Junior High peers.
                In eighth grade, Amanda, Elizabeth and I all found ourselves in new territory. Amanda and I had moved from different quadrants of our three-stoplight town to find ourselves as new kids on the same block.  Elizabeth had moved from a land of many stoplights to our settlement that seemed to be on the edge of civilization.  Elizabeth’s mother became ambassador of culture, establishing a youth theatre group.  Soon our paths were became intertwined. Not only were we acting together and in many of the same classes, but we all deemed Frodo more worthy of affection than Legolas, which differentiated us from our fellow geeks.
Amanda and I once spent an afternoon painstakingly typing letters to the quartet of hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin, in case you were less dedicated than us) in which we made hyperbolic claims like “seeing your face on screen is like someone shining a flashlight in the dark crevices of our souls.” All of the letters were four-paragraphs effervescently extolling actors’ fine performances and were perfect capsules of how The Lord of the Rings had completely rocked our world. We received signed headshots back from two of the four hobbits, and weren’t devastated by the two we did not receive because the first self-addressed stamped envelope (we had wisely provided these to expedite the response) to return contained a headshot of Elijah Wood, our exalted Frodo.
                At this point, our devotion to Lord of the Rings and Frodo reached fever pitch and Amanda, Elizabeth and I were in the throes of a production of Annie. Amanda and I had minor roles as servants in Daddy Warbuck’s household and Elizabeth’s part as Grace was not terribly demanding, so we spent a lot of time fantasizing about our collective crush. Obsessing over Frodo merged into obsessing over Elijah Wood and became Elijah factotums. We knew that he was born in Cedar Rapids, smoked clove cigarettes, and was 5 foot 7 (I double checked this, and IMDb says 5 foot 6, but I swear it was 5 foot 7, so I am sticking to what I knew ten years ago). I fervently prayed that at 5 foot 3 I stop growing so that we would conveniently fit into the social construct that boys should be taller than girls (and I actually did stop growing. The power of intention or just the end of puberty?) We rejoiced in the fact that Elijah had been a child actor and at the age of twenty already had a robust repertoire. So many of our weekends were spent searching through video stores for films he appeared in to tide us over until the next Lord of the Rings installment was released. We rewound his 15-second bit as an extra in Back to the Future II over and over. We watchedFlipper so impressed by the devotion he could show to a dolphin. If he could demonstrate that level of commitment to a creature of a different species, imagine how capable he would be of loving a human woman. At one particularly dramatic point in the film, I clasped my hand to my heart and told my friends that every time he cried out “Flipper!” I was going to imagine he was calling out “Roni!” with that tender desperation.
                Our Frodo/Elijah mania inspired action. During a slow time on set, we penned a song that we aptly titled “Sad Obsession.” It was a pop song of the highest order filled with upbeat teenage longing and a weird hopefulness that one day Elijah Wood really would return our affections. The lyrics and melody came effortlessly, as though the song had been dormant in our souls since we had first seen Frodo/Elijah greet Gandalf in the Shire on the silver screen. The chorus was simple with a nice little rhyme scheme: “Here’s my confession/He’s my sad obsession/This guy that I’ve never met/Why’s he playing so hard to get?” Inspired by the fabulous reception our song received from our younger castmates, we moved toward full-fledged band-dom, and thus Oxydation was born.
                Never mind that oxidation is the chemical process by which rust forms on metal. We were oxYdation, with a Y. Amanda, whose immaculate handwriting was lauded by every teacher we ever had (in college a professor even gave her extra credit on an exam for her fine lettering), designed a logo and we emblazoned the design on matching T-shirts using the advanced technology of the iron-on transfer. We proudly donned our band costumes through the halls of our junior high, and developed a following, and not just from fellow drama nerds. It would be overstating it to say that we were the hit of the school, but kids in our English class knew of our musical stylings, and a friend who had caught the fan fever with “Sad Obsession” hashed out the melody on the piano for us. (I neglected to mention that we had no musical accompaniment to our ballad of a celebrity crush. We found our violin, viola and flute proficiency didn’t lend itself well to this sort of pop.)
                The glory days of Oxydation peaked with our last performance of Annie. The set had been striked, and we were celebrating the months of hard work with pizza and cake when the cast asked, nay, demanded (this is how I remember it, okay) that we perform “Sad Obsession.” We yielded to their pleas. A whole troop of kids aged 6-16 faces thickly coated stage make-up waited with bated breath as we got up on the stage where Annie had sung her last rendition of “It’s a Hard Knock Life” only hours before and wowed them with the most vibrant performance Oxydation ever gave. There was much cheering and dancing and merry-making and we basked in our small measure of fame. For it was all that Oxydation would ever have. We attempted to write other songs. I remember one that referenced loathing the alarm clock, but nothing came as naturally as our woe-begotten love of an unattainable actor, and eventually even our most ardent devotees got sick of our obsession.
                However, our candle for Frodo/Elijah still burned bright. The three-year span over which the Lord of the Rings trilogy was released was the golden age of our friendship. Sometimes we would measure the future by the release of later movies. We knew we would be almost 16 when The Return of the King hit theaters, and actually, the release date fell smack on Elizabeth’s birthday. Amanda and I coordinated a birthday kidnapping and took her to see the midnight showing in a town twenty miles away, and then we saw it again with more friends at the next available matinee screening. And then it was over. We still watched the Academy Awards that year, hoping the camera lingered on a shot of Elijah in a tux, and gloated as if we had been awarded statuettes when Return of the King garnered the Oscar for Best Film. But as a trio of friends, we began to drift apart.
 I can’t blame the end of the trilogy entirely. High school came and we developed different interests. Elizabeth was the truly musical one, with a voice that could melt butter and break glass. She got tied up with all sorts of musical commitments with the elite school choir and any group looking for a skilled vocalist. Amanda and I drifted towards passionately arguing about NBA players’ right to wear do-rags and other random squabbles that high school debate tournaments landed us in.
Today, Amanda and Elizabeth are married (not to each other) and I haven’t seen either of them for over a year. However, I know if I were to call them up and begin to sing, “Here’s my confession...” either one of them would join in without skipping a beat. We could then segue into trying to determine the exact shade of blue of Frodo/Elijah’s eyes, and then blithely bring up that I am still single, just to dwell on that possibility that we held so long ago that Frodo Baggins was our destiny. However, I did just buy a ticket to see Amanda, who has since moved across the country. I fully intend to convince her that we need to write a letter to Martin Freeman, soon to play a young[er] Bilbo Baggins, so he isn’t the only hobbit who hasn’t received one of our gushy fan letters.
SAD OBSESSION
I’m sitting here
staring at an empty wall
wishing a weren’t such a pathetic loser
I’m not anyone at all

CHORUS
Here’s my confession
He’s my sad obsession
This guy that I’ve never met
Why’s he playing so hard to get?

If I had a million bucks
or pesos, centavos or francs
I’d buy a Winnebago
and park it in front of his house
*beep* *beep*

CHORUS

I’ve been to all of his movies
His face lights up the silver screen
The heat in the theatre rises
It’s the best thing that I’ve ever seen

 CHORUS

People tell me I need therapy
They don’t know what it’s like
I think that I’m going crazy
But, HEY, it’s my life
nah, nah, nah, nah
CHORUS

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Life Between Parentheses



This post could just as easily be titled: "Roni, This Is Real Life."

This is what my face looks like these days. Although, sometimes I close my mouth.
But I like slightly esoteric titles, and this one comes from a letter penned by the Italian Hermetic Poet Alfonso Gatto. He had been exiled by the Fascist regime to Tuscany (not a terrible exile, if you ask me), and wrote to a friend that he seemed to be "living between parentheses." The sentiment resonated. I read his letter as a grad student in Italy. I had friends in Italy. I had my crew of cohorts and my roommates, and we hit the town and such. I had a life and purpose. I attended classes, researched in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, and volunteered at a homeless shelter. However, everything felt so disconnected from what I considered my life.  

It was a parenthesis.

I'm barely in contact with the folks that filled my Florentine days. The most meaningful contact I have with my old roommates or university colleagues is writing "Tanti auguri" on their facebook wall on their birthday. I barely have the opportunity to converse in Italian and discuss the intricacies of Dante's body of work or the bombastic declarations of Italian Futurism. I went back to the world of pizza slinging post-grad and by following a windy road, found myself in the nonprofit world serving low-income families. The time I spent earning my Master's degree almost seems like an unnecessary aside in the narrative of my adulthood.

Sometimes I feel the same way about my time in New York City. Like I am living in a new parenthesis. I elaborated on this sentiment with my friend, and she said, "This is your life."

But the parallels are worth remarking about. In Italy, I arrived with two suitcases, an address to an apartment I'd never seen, and a letter that I'd been accepted into a university program--not knowing a soul. I arrived in New York City in much the same fashion, except instead of education, I'd come with the knowledge I'd have a job. Once again, I was disconnected from the world I knew.

As a result, I built a new world. I made friends, planned work events, settled into a new habitation. Everything is new, but that does not indicate it isn't meaningful.

Nonetheless, sometimes in the morning I still open my eyes and have to ask myself, "Is this my life?"

I'm trying to get better at living in the moment. I suffer terribly from an overindulgence in nostalgia. Once I learned the term saudade, I became obsessed with it. (In case you are wondering, it is an untranslatable Portuguese word which means something like a deep melancholic nostalgia with a sort of repressed understanding that the object longed for will never return. Heavy, beautiful, and kind of tragic.)

I romanticize even the recent past--which in someways I think is worth romanticizing. 2013 was a complex year with nearly every feeling in the spectrum being felt within its twelve months, but I forged amazing friendships and learned a lot about life, love, sacrifice, beauty, the transience of youth, fallibility, and so much more. I miss so much of last year, even though I was just as angsty and existential as I am now.

Anyway, I guess I am trying to break out of the parenthesis mentality and say, "Hey, this is your life now! Just live it! Don't over-analyze! It will only be a parenthesis if that is how you treat it."

And even if it is a parenthesis, sometimes those are pretty important.

Like how would you know the definition of saudade without my parenthetical aside (besides google)?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

ambition

yesterday, i searched flights from new york to damascus.

there are none.

i had just read a summary of the UN report on the atrocities syrian children have been subjected to in the ongoing syrian civil war and felt so tormented how easily it is to sit idly by that i had a brief flashing moment of being some intrepid bleeding-heart throwing herself at the mercy of a war-ravaged land in hopes of doing some good.

i wrote a lengthy blog post--that is sitting in my drafts folder--titled "the age of impotent advocacy" where i wrote out many sentences in ALL CAPS and composed a lot of damning rhetorical questions. it was not exactly scathing, but it was sort of hopeless. it was cathartic.

today, i've been thinking a lot about ambition.

i don't know if i have any in particular. i used to. i wanted to be a politician. i wanted to be a journalist. for a brief moment, i wanted to be a video game programmer.

my dad told me once that he imagined me in some high level executive job.

these days i am a little aimless, because i cannot put a title to my ambition.

i think i just want to do things that are worth doing. things that mean something. caring about syrian children means something, but writing a poem can mean something too. and hey, i can do both.

i had a lengthy talk with a fellow who studied cello performance at nyu. however, before his senior recital, he got a career ending case of tendonitis. he told me that when he learned he would not be able to make cello performance his career, he felt a flood of relief.

our conversation segued into a discussion about how our professions do not make us who we are. we are defined by much more than the tasks we complete to earn money.

i don't love my job. if somehow, the funding for my position was cancelled, i would be relieved.

i would miss my coworkers and the inside jokes that cause us to laugh so hard we cry, but i would feel a huge weight of obligation lifted off my shoulders.

the work end of my job isn't pure drudgery. it has shining moments, but my daily stress, anxiety and bouts of existentialism brought on by the seeming futility of my efforts does not get anywhere close to being paid off in fulfillment. (here's where i start thinking, 'oh, maybe i just don't work hard enough. i could be better.' which is true, i could always be better. i feel like better is an exponential curve that will infinitely be approaching, but never reaching, best. sometimes, i think it is okay to accept that your work is hard and can sometimes feel like you are pushing a boulder up a hill to frequently see it simply roll back down again.)

i think there is something powerful about dissatisfaction, because when we recognize we are not happy in our current pursuits, we have the opportunity to change. i'll grant that "happiness is a journey not a destination" malarkey, but--to continue the metaphor--sometimes you are detoured from a more enjoyable, meaningful journey and you shouldn't be afraid to change your route.

does my current state of employment meet my ambition's criterion of doing something worth doing?

eh, difficult question.

we'll leave it at that.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

hey, sean. i'm living in new york.

in september of 2012, a boy i knew named sean died.

we'd worked together for about three years, starting as bussers--the lowly training ground for future servers--at one of the finest mexican food dives in the suburban sprawl of utah county, joe bandido's.

i earned mantle of server before sean, mostly because i was a year and a half older, and could therefore legally pour those margaritas eighteen months before he could.

i have a lot of memories working with him in different capacities. i remember the days we were peons doing the servers' bidding. most fondly, i remember slow sundays where he and i were serving and my little sister was hostessing. since it was the least popular shift, we could get away with minor slacking in the form of nonstop chatting.

i used to tell him that he was hybrid of the personalities of my brother and sister. as he mirrored traits of the people i love most in the world, it was impossible not to like him.

not that i ever was in love with him. although, once he told me i had pretty eyes, and it felt like the most sincere, guileless compliment i had ever been offered.

he was simply a golden boy. it was impossible not to be drawn to his charisma and genuine kindness.

we never hung out outside of work, despite laboring alongside each other week after week for years; however, he did once invite me to a party where psychedelic mushrooms were on the menu, and as a well-known wet-blanket and goody-two-shoes, i was so flattered i had been invited to an "edgy" party. i feel like he just didn't divide people into dichotomies, and there was no judgement or teasing when i declined the invitation.

after a five year tenure, through college and a little beyond, i quit joe bandido's to spend a summer in london. i never donned the black shirt and apron again, and i hadn't seen sean for over a year when i learned he died in an accident riding his vespa on a wet tuesday night.

my sister and i attended the funeral. we were almost late and slipped into the last row of a crowded church. after the eulogies given by his closest family, they opened the podium to invite those gathered to speak. randi and i remained in our seats, but later we talked about how we wanted to go up to the microphone to lend our voices to the memory of sean, even though compared to many of those gathered, we did not know him well; however, what we did know of him was worth speaking out about.

i think of him sometimes when i get a little lonely in new york. once, during one of our less demanding shifts, i told sean of how i had been perusing new york's craigslist fantasizing about moving to the city. i told him how i had seen an ad for a room in an apartment with a cohabitant that was a german jazz pianist with a penchant for ice cream. soon we began devising a joint move to new york city. a few weeks later, when i found out i'd been selected to go to london, he said, seemingly very, very sincerely, "i though we were moving to new york?!"  i've always wondered would we have had more sunday evening planning sessions and worked up the gumption moved to new york that summer if i hadn't taken a different route? probably not, we weren't the closest of friends and had our own individual circles of people and commitments. but maybe.

and, sometimes, when i am homesick, i think, "hey, sean. i'm living in new york."


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

house mouse and other tales of the order rodentia

my roommate recently returned to our bronx apartment, and her first inquiry pertaining to the status of our abode was "how's the mouse situation?"

i responded, "well, i haven't seen it."

which is true. but had she asked, "have you intuited the presence of the mouse using any of your other senses?" it would have been a lie not to say yes.

she is petrified of the mouse. when it first made its presence known, she didn't use the kitchen for a week. i didn't want to hinder her eating habits, but i am pretty sure house mouse is still living in the space between our oven and wall.

several days ago, i surrendered my bed to my visiting sister and got cozy on the couch. while lying under my fleece blanket contemplating the complications of human existence before sleep overtook me, i heard a bizarre skittering noise. i couldn't place the sound. was someone gently scratching the front door with metallic nails? was someone lightly throwing coins in rapid succession against our windows? then it became obvious.

the mouse was still among us.

i mustered the courage to rise from the couch to try to catch the mouse in the act of emerging from its home behind the oven, but it was no where to be seen. so i settled back into the comfort of couch cushions. after the passage of several moments, the patter of tiny clawed feet happened again. i rose again. saw nothing, but i tried to make as much noise as i felt i could responsibly make at 2 am to intimidate the mouse. but minutes after laying down once more, house mouse defiantly rose from the chasm to the counters a third time. so i ran over and made even more noise, forsaking all obligations of being a respectful roommate.

this time as i lay under the blanket, i began to feel the creeping wave of mouse fear. i'd thought my roommate's terror was unjustified, but in the early hours of the morning, i was also afflicted. i tried to reason myself out of being scared: mice are tiny! they are even kind of cute! stuart little! ratatouille! mickey! i once caught one with my friends while playing near an abandoned railroad track and named him rufus humperdink, iii! i could snap its back with one finger--maybe not my pinky, but definitely my pointer! why i am i terrified?

none of my attempts to minimize the mouse's potential to incite fear were working, so to conquer this mouse anxiety, i counter-intuitively began to think of all the ways mice are horrifying: they have no bones! the can squeeze through holes the size of a dime! they leave a trail of urine everywhere they go so they can find their way back!

then i began to consider the worst possible thing house mouse could do to me.

i figured the very most horrific thing the mouse could do was jump into my mouth and furiously begin biting my tongue, cheeks, tonsils, uvula, etc. and then jump down my throat while carrying hantavirus.

somehow, considering the worst made me feel better. because i really didn't think the mouse had quite the audacity to enter my mouth, and if i got hantavirus i wouldn't have to go to work for a while, at least.

and that was that. morning came. i had no puncture wounds on my mouth and i went on to live my life.

but last night, i heard the familiar skittering again. i turned on the kitchen light and ran to the oven. i didn't clearly see the mouse, but i think i got a fleeting glimpse. there was definite essence of mouse existence.

and then, this morning, i was stoked to eat a scrambled egg sandwich for breakfast, but as a laid the pieces of chia seed bread on my plate, i realized both slices appeared to have bite marks. i looked at the bag, and saw that all of the remaining loaf seemed to have a chunk missing and--the clincher--there was a small hole in the plastic bag. did you know the order name rodentia comes from the latin verb rodere which means "to gnaw"?

house mouse!

i refused to let house mouse ruin the breakfast that had given me the inspiration to get out of bed. so i just cut off the bit around the bite mark. (really, food prices have skyrocketed over the past few years, and i wanted the sandwich real bad.)

i want to catch house mouse and preserve the sanctity of any future bread loaves that i may leave on the counter. but i don't want house mouse to die. i may invest in a humane trap, and capture my nemesis and let him free somewhere far beyond alexander avenue.

in my teen years, i was a notorious mouse killer. not that i killed a lot of mice. i only killed one, but i did so with really purposeful intensity. i was at a church girls' camp. one of our leaders had been afraid of mice roaming the floors and rafters of the cabin and had placed traps throughout the place. one of these traps snapped late in the night. but after the snapping there was a gentle thrashing. the mouse had not died. it would suffer through night, unless someone stepped up. it was a mercy killing, really. of the roughly dozen girls in the cabin, i got out of bed and located a shovel propped against the wall and began beating the spade against the bouncing mouse trap and its fighting captive. soon the captive was fighting no more.

for years, people would bring up how i killed a mouse in the middle of the night with a shovel. and i always interject, "it was a compassionate killing!"

so, i don't want house mouse to die. it has been a formidable foe. it deserves to live.

just not behind my oven.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

an abundance of lists (okay, just two)

I love birthdays and the dawning of the new year. They serve as these symbolic points of self-reflection and analysis. I am fortunate enough to have great spacing between the two. I assess my accomplishments and future goals every January and July. (Although, let's be honest, I am basically constantly evaluating my life and its direction and purpose. However, on New Year's Eve and my birthday it feels intentional and everything feels a little more possible as I put up a new calendar or have a new age to call myself.)

Anyway, in an attempt to review the year and prepare for the next I have created some lists.

List #1: A summary of the highlights of 2013, in no particular order
1. Moved to New York
2. Held three jobs (Fat Jack's, Neighborhood House, and generationOn)
3. Went on trips to New York City, Las Vegas, Moab, Atlanta and Washington D.C.
4. Hiked a couple mountains (although, not Timpanogos)
5. Saw Bob Dylan in the flesh (from quite a healthy distance)
6. In many ways,both general and specific, I learned about about love, forgiveness, life, sacrifice and that I am clearly not a sociopath because I care about things a lot.

List #2: Objectives for the New Year
1. Visit the Grand Canyon
2. Turn 26 with grace and glory
3. Have more fun
4. Learn more things
5. Love everything more recklessly
6. Hike Mt. Timp

As I marvel that I have made it from 1988 to 2014, I can't help but think of a Bob Dylan line (and he's already made one appearance in this post): "I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now." That feels so true. When I was younger, I naively thought I had answers to any question that could be posed and that I would blaze through life with as though it were a game of Candyland. I'm glad life isn't like Candyland, though, because that game is actually sort of boring. I feel younger now, in the fact that I realize how daunting--and frankly, scary--life can be. But I just want to keep turning corners and pressing forward enjoying each step.








Saturday, December 14, 2013

Perfect Memory

I've been waxing nostalgic lately, and my go-to memory for a sort of satori, or to just remember complete intoxication with the joys and possibilities of life is seven and a half years old.

It was a July night. I could tell you the exact date because it was my friend Amanda's 18th birthday. I missed her party because I had just started a new job and was terrified about asking time off (I worked my own 18th birthday ten days later). By the time I made it to her house, the party that had been held was over, and only the Joshes remained (coincidentally, two of our best friends were christened with the same name. Josh must have been top of the baby name list in 1988.)

The moment I recall is the four of us laying on Amanda's front lawn in the heart of Utah Valley suburbia. We were not under the influence of any substance other than the exhilaration that comes from being the the precipice of adulthood. We were laying on the grass trying to feel the earth move. A science teacher we had had in ninth grade, who was that special combination of crazy, knowledgeable and inspiring, had said that he laid on the ground sometimes in an attempt to feel the earth rotating on its axis. And really, since the earth spins at a rate of 1,038 miles per hour, it really isn't too crazy to think that maybe if we were truly focusing on on our position in space that we could possibly feel the movement of our planet.

So there we were, all four of us, lying on the freshly cut green grass dimly lit by the pale light of the moon and stars and the glow of nearby streetlights envisioning ourselves as specks on the curved face of our spherical home as it spun madly around an invisible axis. We were so intent on our experiment, despite varying levels of skepticism existed among us regarding the plausibility of feeling anything. Nonetheless, in looking back, I feel so connected to the world and to my significant insignificance and now, in reflecting in the moment, realize the absolute necessity of good friends for the most whole, rich and fulfilling life.

Josh G. swears he felt the earth move.

After an indeterminate time, we drove to a nearby town to a Taco Bell where I forced Josh S. to donate $2 to whatever charity the business was supporting at the time in addition to buying his chalupas or whatever. Then we saw some midnight movie featuring Denzel Washington.

Now three of the four of us are married. At least one baby is on its way.

The earth has definitely kept moving.