Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Meaning of Life

Current mood: optimistic

So right now I'm house sitting and reading The Meaning of Life, this coffee table book of the collected "What I've Learned" columns, which appear every month in Esquire, (what I figure to be) the best men's magazine on earth. And it occurs to me that I've been getting a lot of good advice lately.

Today, my friend Anika and I were walking to the candy store, and she said to me, "Your life's going to be exactly what you decide it will be." And it wasn't a sunny prediction. It was a dire warning.

I must admit my mind was blown. Exactly what I decide it will be? I've always kind of thought of myself as a non-decision maker. I like being the person that kind of goes along with the flow. And I tend to think of my life as something that's kind of happening to me.

People often inform me in awed tones that I am extremely brave for having travelled to China and Japan and struck out to L.A. on my own. But I don't really think so, b/c when I'm writing my personal memoirs in my head while cleaning my toilet, my mind's pages are full of prose like

"So I was terrible at Spanish. I've never had a facility for languages and I think Spanish was too close to English to bother learning well enough to speak. By my sophomore year, I knew I'd never be good enough to get into one of the competitive junior year abroad programs to a Spanish-speaking country. I mean most of my classmates were having conversations, and I could barely string a sentence together. At that time, your financial aid didn't transfer if you went to an English-speaking country, so trying for the Oxford program was out. And most other programs required that you take at least two years of a foreign language before going abroad. So I figured, I wouldn't be going anywhere but a nicer dorm room my junior year. But then Anika was like, 'Hey, why don't you take Chinese like me?You only need one year of Chinese to go abroad..." And I thought to myself: Yeah, Chinese is so hard, no one could possibly learn it well in a year. My competition would be minimum. I took it and I was right . So I ended up doing my junior year abroad in China..."


"...So I thought I would eventually become a lawyer, and I applied to all sorts of paralegal jobs at prestigious law firms in New York City my senior year of college. None of them panned out. In fact the only thing that panned out was this interview that I went on as a whim -- a teaching position at Nova, a huge ESL franchise in Japan. So three days after graduation I was living in New Jersey with my best friend, Monique and her fiancee', Brian when the last paralegal job turned me down. There I was with no New York prospects and an acceptance letter from Nova. So I went to Japan..."


"At my interview to get into Carnegie Mellon, Milan Stitt, the head of Dramatic Writing program said, 'Well, you would be coming in as the screenwriter, which means you'll have to move to L.A. after graduation. I had kind of had my heart set on New York -- in fact, I had never had even a smidgen of desire to live in L.A. But everything that happened to me over the next two years pointed me in the direction of L.A. So I went to L.A..."

See? No bravery. No real decisions made. And I have a ton of stories like this -- I've yet to feel like I've actively pursued or even chosen any job I've ever held.

So Anika's words kind of chilled my heart. Dude, that's a lot of responsibility for a floater.

But then I kind of realized I haven't been floating nearly as much as I used to. In the last year alone, I've made the decision to buy a car, live alone, and co-produce Grown-Ups on the Playground, a collection of one-acts written by me that will premiere at the L.A. Edgefest in October. I can't say I'm always happy about these decisions. Money's usually incredibly tight and sometimes non-existent around the first of the month when my rent and car payment come due -- I make more money than I ever have, but I've never felt like more of a starving artist. And I can't remember the last time my stress levels were this high -- I actually broke out in hives during the auditioning process.

But hey, they were my decisions and I can't say I regret any of them. I don't have to worry about my car breaking down on the side of the road anymore, and I can walk around my messy apartment naked. And even hives can't dampen the sense of investment I have in my own work and worth now that I'm co-producing Grown-Ups.

And lately, whenever I start to get jealous, or upset, or just crazy about something the words of my roller derby coach, Blade ring in my ears: "Skate your own game." And then, I instantly become calm.

Skate your own game.

Hey, Anika, I just decided. That's going to be the first thing I'll say when I do my "What I've Learned" column.

Awesome. I feel like one of those movies where the sad sack heroine finally becomes spunky and starts really figuring out how to go about her life.

Maybe I'll move to New York and throw my hat up in the air.

Strangely enough, the best piece of advice so far has come from Peter Boyle, the character actor who used to play Ray Romano's dad on Everybody Loves Raymond.

"Whatever we lose, we'll get back."

Preach it, darlin.

Currently reading:
What You Owe Me
By Bebe Moore Campbell
Release date: By 03 September, 2002

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