Why I’m Not Having a Wedding

My dream wedding venue, despite that it has no trees and is only accessible by helicopter...

My dream wedding venue, despite that it has no trees and is only accessible by helicopter…

This isn’t about how I have something against weddings, or the institution of marriage. In fact, I very much plan on getting married. Recently, a close friend and her boyfriend have been at a crossroads — she wants to get married and he doesn’t. While giving them advice about their relationship, I’ve found myself really thinking about marriage and what it means. In the past, when I was young and idealistic and enjoyed writing essays on Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, I liked to tell people that marriage was meaningless. It was a piece of paper, and it represented nothing. Instead, it was the bond between two people, choosing to be together, but not forced to be, that was truly beautiful. Over time, my view on marriage changed. As a law clerk at an immigration legal aid center, I saw how much marriage meant to the government. Just to apply for naturalization, we had to list all of the applicant’s prior spouses, including their birthdays and dates of marriage and immigration statuses. My clients would never remember, obviously. They would have to call up their ex that they hadn’t spoken to in years before they could apply. Not to mention, if you were married, your spouse could be automatically attached to every kind of application for immigration status. Often, our Latin American clients liked to refer to their long-time boyfriends as “mi esposo” or “mi marido”, and we would have to ask them to clarify: ¿están casados o no? Are you married? Though clearly not to them, to the government, there was a huge difference.

So I told my friend that marriage means something. Whether it is antiquated or not, it means something to the government and it means something to our society. The LGBTQ community didn’t fight so hard for marriage just for a piece of paper. The legal benefits of marriage are many, though almost all of them you can achieve through roundabout ways. Personally, I believe that the most important benefit of marriage is societal respect. The words boyfriend, fiancé, and husband have very different connotations. You can move across the country for your fiancée or your wife, but girlfriend? That sounds ill-fated. You can take time off work to care for your fiancé or husband, but your boyfriend? He should be able to take care of himself. Marriage legitimizes your union to the public; it’s something that almost everyone can respect.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a long tangent. Back to weddings. Yes, when I was a kid, I always thought I would have a big, beautiful wedding. When I started dating my first boyfriend in high school, I fantasized about that wedding. I wanted a big tree, with lights strung up, and I was going to walk down the aisle to Book of Love by the Magnetic Fields. My first dance was going to be Leanne Rimes’ Unchained Melody. And then, because I have a morbid sense of humor, I wanted Creep by Radiohead. And You Know I’m No Good by Amy Winehouse. I’ve always found the saddest songs the most romantic. More recently, I’ve added details to my dream wedding, like riding down the aisle on horseback, against the backdrop of the Canada’s Torngat Mountains, while the first snow fell.

And now? I’ve realized that I don’t want any of it. What happened, you might ask? Moving in to my first house happened. Well, technically I haven’t moved in to it yet, but I’ve been virtually moving in from 1,000 miles away, which is infinitely more stressful. I want my first house to be perfect in every way; I want every corner to give me a little joy when I pass by. For the past few weeks, I’ve been stalking Amazon, Zulily, Craigslist, and estate auctions for the best deals for everything ranging from custom-made club chairs to steam mops. I learned what valances are and how many panels of curtains you need for different sized windows. I bought diffusers and essential oils and two bird feeders for Blueberry. Most of these things I bought were 30-50% off. The few pieces of furniture we picked up from the auction are more than 80% off their original retail prices. Dan is obsessed with his Italian leather recliner. I’ve told him that it’s gonna have to go in the basement, but for now he’s put it in the living room and has been enjoying it in all its glory. The fabric on our club chairs is softer than a baby’s bum. We have crepe makers and Korean stone bowls and a fire pit. How could I be anything but insanely happy?

The beginnings of our library/piano room. Don't worry -- those valances are coming off.

The beginnings of our library/piano room. Don’t worry — those valances are coming off.

Let me tell you why — I can’t get over the one thing I lost. I had my eye on a stunning distressed white solid wood table at the auction. Full retail price would be in the thousands. The final bid was $225. And I lost that motherfucker because I entered my credit card information wrong! Since then, I’ve been devastated. I really needed that table to come home with us, not only because it was the best deal we could have gotten, and I can’t find any table that I like better than that, but because holy crap I need this process to be over. That would have been by far the heaviest piece of furniture in our place, and it would have gone a long way towards making me feel like we’re almost done. Instead, there’s still an empty space in the dining room where that table should be. The only other tables I like as much as that one are custom-made and cost around $1000. Dan says we should just get one, but I don’t know if I can spend that kind of money. That’s what all of this comes down to, money. Well, not really money, but feeling like I don’t deserve to spend money on myself. I never let myself buy anything at close to full retail price, even when I could easily afford it. When I get something more than 50% off, I feel better, because technically I saved more than I spent, which means that I almost didn’t buy anything for myself.

In her book on anorexia, Peggy Claude-Pierre wrote about her own daughter’s experience with the disease. One of the most painful scenes to read was the one where she drove her daughter for hours and to a dozen grocery stores in search of the “perfect” banana. To her daughter, the perfect banana was the one that was bruised, black, nearly rotten. To her daughter, that was the only banana she was good enough to eat. This anecdote resonated with me. Though I’ve never withheld food from myself, I’ve withheld almost any kind of guilty pleasure. My version of that disgusting banana is 80% off furniture. Buying all of these things that I love hurts me, because ultimately it’s an act of love towards myself. I’m creating the home that I’ve always wanted and never had, full of everything that will make me happy. And I still don’t believe that I deserve it. I still don’t believe that I deserve to love myself in that way. So I’m coping by holding myself to the highest standard — buying the “perfect” things at the “perfect” price. When I fall short of that standard, I torture myself.

I don’t know if there’s anything more self-loving than throwing yourself a wedding. As far as I know, there are no 80% off wedding invitations, photographers, florists, venues. If I had to have a wedding, I would probably buy someone else’s wedding from them for a discount and give up my big tree, my Torngat Mountains, my snow. I would stress over every expense the way I am now for our house. I would blame myself for not being “perfect”. And then, what would be the point? I’d much rather take a helicopter to the Torngat Mountains with Dan, 420 miles away from the nearest road, and see if our love can survive a complete lack of civilization.

I Broke Up with My Agent

And God, it hurts. Like any relationship, ours started with fireworks, hope, expectation. It was almost exactly two years ago, on January 13, 2013, that everything began with a phone call. She’d read my entire manuscript over the weekend, and … Continue reading

A Declaration

Back then, at first snow, I'd rush outside with my film camera.

Back then, at first snow, I’d rush outside with my film camera.

It’s been a while since I felt like this. I don’t remember when the last time was — perhaps a year ago, two years ago? I know that I was good at feeling like this when I was younger. Before I broke hearts and had my heart broken. Before I cared more about my GPA than my Friday night plans. Before I started writing fiction for publication instead of for myself. Back then, I just didn’t give a damn. I lived on my whims, chasing every possibility that fluttered my way. My greatest fear was missing out on an aspect of the human experience.

So yes, in short, I was young and stupid.

Although I have no desire to go back to young Rebecca, this feeling I used to have so frequently is something I’ve missed without knowing it. It’s the feeling I’d get every time I turned to the first page of a crisp new book. It’s the feeling I’d get every time I walked through security at the airport. It’s the feeling I’d get every time I woke up early and counted the dew drops on blades of grass, felt the frigid air piercing my skin. When it beckoned to me, I’d drop anything and follow it. I drove halfway to Mackinac Island once before Phineas convinced me to come back to Ann Arbor, where I had a midterm scheduled on Monday. I skipped my classes to go to Starbucks and write angry, angsty short stories about men who cheated on their wives. I made playlists filled with Leonard Cohen and Florence and the Machine, and listened to them on repeat.

How to describe it? It’s a thirst for life. Excitement for endless possibilities. Curiosity for the unknown. Naïveté of the innocent.

This feeling used to consume me, ridding my life of consistency, responsibility, accountability. It was a miracle I didn’t fail any of my courses, and I know that I was lucky. If you were my friend during this time, I sincerely apologize. I was a shitty friend, if you could even count on me to show up. To the men I hurt, je m’excuse. I used you to get the same high that life gave me. I loved you for loving me, for broadening my human experience, but you deserved to be loved for more than that.

Slowly, I relinquished the feeling. I stopped feeling as if, every day, there was something bigger out there calling my name. I didn’t feel the need to escape. I found comfort in doing exactly what was expected of me. I began to feel as though I’d experienced it all — short of marriage and motherhood, life had little else to offer me. You could say that I simply grew up, and that that’s okay. But you know what? That’s not okay with me. I’m 22 years old, and I’ve only experienced a fraction of the world. I’ve met so few people and seen so few sunrises. Everything is out there. Everything is possible. Everything awaits me.

This is a declaration. To never fail to be in awe of life. To know that, above all, what matters more than anything is to live. To taste every experience, to hoard them and devour them, to remember them. Children are so much better than we adults are at simply living, appreciating each moment for what it truly is. They see straight through the bullshit that society constructs — resumes, salaries, credentials. Though I’m going to keep showing up at work and tracking my budget, I don’t want these things to consume me. I don’t want law school to define me. I want to know that, at any moment, I could step away from my career, move to rural China, and be okay with that. I don’t want to become so attached to any city, job, or house that I couldn’t walk away. The only things I wish to hold tightly are the people, the memories, and the cat.

Yes, this cat.

Yes, this cat.

Do you think you’ve become jaded as you’ve grown older? What do you miss about your younger self?

À plus tard,

R

When Happiness Is Terrifying

Happiness hit her like a train on a track
Coming towards her stuck still no turning back
She hid around corners and she hid under beds
She killed it with kisses and from it she fled
With every bubble she sank with her drink
And washed it away down the kitchen sink

Everyone wants to be happy. Right? As the popularity of books like The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin has shown, the secular world is increasingly prioritizing happiness over monetary success or moral achievement. Whereas the Protestant Work Ethic measured a person’s worth on a barometer of workaholism, nowadays the pursuit of happiness is seen as worthwhile and even noble. The assumption that everyone wants to be happy, however, is flawed. Those who tell depressed people to simply “lighten up” are ignorant of how mental illness actually works.

Sometimes, happiness is terrifying.

For context, I define happiness as the feeling or state of being content and satisfied with your present life. When I define it as such, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been truly happy in my life. This doesn’t mean I’ve always been sad, but I’ve always been unsatisfied. When I was a child, I meandered in and out my days, mostly numb to the external world, only looking forward to the next time I saw my father. As a teenager, I found that my morals and values were beginning to clash with everything I’d known, and I spiraled into a period of confusion in which every damn thing I did felt wrong. In college, I looked everywhere — the restroom of a dirty frat house, the sanctuary of a religious cult, the arms of a lover — for happiness. Through much trial and error, I arrived at me, Rebecca version 2014. For the first time, I feel like I have a solid grasp of what actually makes me happy. The problem is that pursuing those things is terrifying.

Why? Because when you stop fleeing the past and chasing the future, you have nothing left but the present. For someone who has spent the majority of their life relying on coping mechanisms to avoid the present, that is scary as hell. What do you do with yourself when you don’t have a perpetual catastrophe to deal with? How do you act when you develop healthy friendships and relationships that don’t function on a cycle of shame and disappointment? Who are you when you are no longer defined by your struggles?

Alive.

So maybe it’s not happiness that’s terrifying, but living with every cell in your body, every breath you take, every beat of your heart that is. For those who are accustomed to floating through life in full armor to protect themselves from anything that might hurt them, removing that barrier is the first, unexpectedly difficult step to living.

I said I wasn’t going to make any New Year’s Resolutions, so how about I make a toast? Here’s to 2014, and here’s to feeling alive.

Do you consider yourself happy? Does it come easily to you?

Santé!

R

Believe in Yourself

Someday, you could be the apple atop the tree.

I’m just shy of halfway on my current novel at 43,470 words. Yesterday, I got an email from my agent saying that she really liked the first six chapters, but she doesn’t quite know how to pitch the book. Her response was encouraging, particularly since I sent those chapters to her almost a month ago. So what I’m trying to ask is…how the hell did I manage to write half a book without anyone confirming that it was publishable? Especially when editors had praised my writing style and talent but rejected my first two novels for not being marketable? Let me answer that for myself: belief. Everything in life requires belief and you’ll never get anywhere without it. Sure, sometimes belief may be unfounded and against all odds, but you’ll never know unless you try. I have no idea if anyone would want to read my novel, yet I’m writing it because would read it and that’s all you can aim for as a writer. Jeffrey Eugenides, author of Middlesex and The Marriage Plot, says in an interview with the Paris Review:

I tell my students that when you write, you should pretend you’re writing the best letter you ever wrote to the smartest friend you have. That way, you’ll never dumb things down. You won’t have to explain things that don’t need explaining. You’ll assume an intimacy and a natural shorthand, which is good because readers are smart and don’t wish to be condescended to.

In a separate interview, which I can’t track down right now, he says that the moment you start thinking about the market and the critics and how your novel will be received, that’s when creativity dies. In other words, as a writer, you jump headfirst into the deep end and hope that you come up with something good. 

I think that life is not too different from this. No matter what field you are in, you can’t plan for everything. You can’t gauge the probability of your success, inputing factors such as your IQ and work ethic and professional connections. The only thing you can measure is your passion for something. Once you find that special something in your life, you just have to believe in yourself. Believe that you can be the one to achieve the seemingly impossible and one day, you’ll make it there. The worst thing you can possibly do is give up before you try. Life is too short to confine yourself to the statistically probable. You might not become the most famous, most successful, or most wealthy person, but you can achieve your own definition of greatness. 

I’m not sure that I want to win the Nobel Prize for literature or even a Pulitzer. I admire literary writing tremendously and I very much enjoyed Middlesex as a teenager. I’ve always loved writing that pushes the limits of my thinking and shock me and stay with me for decades. But I believe that you can achieve that sort of writing in a completely different fashion. You don’t need big words and convoluted sentences to make that happen, as many MFA programs would have you believe. That’s something that Junot Diaz has proven — that you can write something beautiful, employing the same language you would use in daily speech. But I lack his brilliance and originality, so I probably won’t win a Pulitzer despite breaking literary tradition. In conclusion, I’m going to take another page out of Jeffrey’s book (har har). He says that just as musicians can still compose in C Major, writers can still write so-called cliché books in which you fall in love with the characters. So here I am, hard at work to provide you, dear readers, with something you might love. 

If I can believe in myself, so can you. 

There’s almost a thousand of you now, so speak up! What is your dream? 

XO,

R

30 Things I Want Before 30

Now that I’m steadily creeping into my 20s, I’m getting nervous. You see, when I was in my teens, I thought a lot about my future. I didn’t have the smoothest ride through teenagerdom, so I was eager to be independent. An adult, emphasis on the first syllable. Little things like swinging my car keys around my index finger while making a run to the grocery store excited me. I imagined my future boyfriend sweeping me off my feet with his CD collection in his cozy New York City apartment. Yeah, this is back when people collected CDs. Fun fact about me: the only CD I ever purchased was Weezer’s Red Album. I don’t know where it went, but I still love me some Weezer.

Although I’m only 21, I feel like I’m so caught up in the responsibilities of being a near-adult that I’ve forgotten to focus on the goals I once had. The last time I made a list like this one, I was 18. I even know the exact date (Aug. 20, 2012), because it was posted on my last WordPress blog that is now private because it’s incredibly embarrassing. I just read through it now, and while I’m surprised by the things that haven’t changed, many things certainly have. So here’s take two of my goals for the second decade of my life.

30 Things I Want Before 30

  1. Some form of continued higher education. I’m not completely set on law school yet, but I know I’m not done with formal learning.
  2. Fluency in two more languages. I’m on my sixth now, Arabic. I like to think I have two more in me.
  3. Literacy in Mandarin. I can only read about half the common characters currently.
  4. A horse. Pretty self-explanatory if you know me. On another note, look at the pretty horse ring I picked up yesterday in St. Augustine!Copper Horse Ring
  5. Two adopted dogs. Named Blitz and Quinn.
  6. Turtles, housed in giant outdoor pond. Must redeem myself for mistreating turtles in my younger life. I’ve already given up on my fish karma, so I’ll just feed those little swimmers to my turtles.
  7. A weekly exercise routine. Well, it doesn’t have to be routine, but I’d like to keep playing squash, riding horses, and taking walks.
  8. Ability to sleep on my back. This is probably the hardest one on the whole list.
  9. Ability to sleep less than 9 hours. This might be the second hardest.
  10. Ability to drink alcohol. Forget what I said before — this is the hardest.
  11. Ability to apologize. Oh wait, no, this one is.
  12. My three favorite piano pieces, memorized. That’d be Beethoven’s Pathétique, one of the Bach fugues, and…hmm, not sure about the third.
  13. A painting, finished. This is where I left off with my first.Horse Painting
  14. Mad cooking chops. I think my chops are pretty good right now, but certainly not mad.
  15. A budget. Well, I sort of have one now, which consists of spending all my money. 😦
  16. Environmental consciousness. Which is why my dream car is the BMW X1, one of the most fuel efficient SUVs.
  17. General geographical knowledge. Why don’t they teach this in American schools?!
  18. A fabulous collection of lingerie. I’m stealing this one from my last list. Why? Because you know your life is going pretty well if you can spend time and money on lingerie.
  19. Community involvement. Whether exercising my voting rights or working in the government, I’d like to perform my civic duty.
  20. My novel, published. Hopefully I’ll get here before 30, but you never know.
  21. A year working abroad. I’m planning for Morocco in 2013-14.
  22. A year in Asia. I want to know my parents’ native countries better.
  23. A year in New York City. Probably more, but not too many.
  24. A job that I enjoy and serves a greater purpose. To me, that means nonprofit work that benefits lives around the world.
  25. A salary that gives me a comfortable life. Money isn’t everything, but it is important.
  26. A nice home somewhere that snows. That includes: a chalkboard-paint wall, a fireplace, a record player, a furnished basement, a fenced backyard, and a four-poster bed. Porch swing preferred.

    Chalkboard Wall

    Photo courtesy Apartment Therapy.

  27. A kid. Alexander Sebastian or Clementine Astrid. I believe in syllables.
  28. A best friend. Sometimes, I feel like these are harder to find than husbands.
  29. A wedding. Just one, please. I’d like it in the fall because my favorite season is winter, but I want an outdoor wedding, and my sensitive skin wouldn’t last a lick in subzero temperatures.
  30. A marriage. I’m not in a huge rush to be married, and I may have some commitment issues, but it’d be nice to have a husband before I have an Alexander.

I’m probably missing a lot of other important things, but oh well. If you are over 30, what advice would you give us 20-year-olds? If you are under 30, what are some of your goals?

Au revoir,

R

My Heart Breaks for Aaron Swartz

[youtube http://youtu.be/IyCRJmerW1Q]

The above track by the French musician Yann Tiersen is the way I feel about life right now. Although I didn’t know Aaron personally, the stories and tributes that have come out after his death have haunted me. I feel that I understand him in a way I don’t understand everyone else around me. After I read Quinn Norton’s tribute to her best friend and former lover, my eyes filled with tears. The thought running through my head was, “That could be me.”

You see, I have also suffered from depression for as long as I can remember. It seems odd to give it a name, as it’s been an integral part of me. The same way I would call myself a writer, I call myself sad. Hello, I am sad. Bonjour, je suis triste. Like Aaron, I am not the stereotypical sad person who spends day and night confined to a bed or chained to a bottle of vodka. No, my drug of choice is: work.

I am never happy. Either I am too distracted to remember I’m sad (most of the time), or I am sad. The only thing that keeps me going in life is my work. Somehow, I believe that I have a purpose in this life. I must publish, I must feed the hungry, I must change lives. You might think this is egotistical of me, to think that I could be so influential. But you’re wrong. I need to believe in that purpose, because if I don’t pursue those goals, then why am I alive? Thus far, my 20 years have been filled with misery. Attack upon attack of my sensitive soul. To know that I would be born into this existence, I would have chosen death before it all.

Like Aaron, I am an idealist. Every time I hear of the atrocities in the news (since when has the USA and school shootings become synonymous?), my heart bleeds. Like him, I hate the system. Fuck this elitist, faceless mass that would drive someone like Adam to his grave. Perhaps this world doesn’t have a place for a voice like his, like mine. As for now, though, I will continue to believe. Until the day I am convinced that everything I’ve worked for has betrayed me, I will keep fighting.

Image via Quinn Norton.


Rest in peace, Aaron.

Happy 50th, Dad!

[youtube http://youtu.be/JIgt_-lC7fI]

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. This holiday season has been insane in every sense of the word. I wanted to leave you with something more heartwarming than my past few days have been. Here’s the video project my family and I put together for my dad’s 50th birthday. It was super last minute, so please excuse the randomness (the epic Korean drama soundtrack is an inside joke) and the parts that are out of focus.

Did any of you also have a terrible start to the new year? Here’s to a better rest of 2013.

Happy Holidays!

R

To Luc

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a33yZqZUCdY]

The above track embodies the way I feel right now. That tinge of melancholy, sense of urgency, tone of disconnect. I am compelled to write, because if I don’t, I will lose myself in the onslaught of emotions pulling me in polar directions. The truth is that I’ve never known how to feel about you — perhaps this is what irks me most. After a whirlwind of a month, you are finally gone. You’ve slipped out of my life as discretely as you came and I’m left to sift through the bordel  that was our relationship.

The questions are like cats clawing at the door, demanding relentlessly to be answered. Did I love you? Did you love me? Am I sad? Are you? Do I want to see you again? What would we have been if our time weren’t so finite? If every “I love you” didn’t carry the caveat “for now”?

In these past weeks, at times I was relieved that we would end with the passage of time, because I didn’t feel that we were right for each other. I never said anything, but there was one Friday I was planning to tell you that I didn’t want to see you anymore. The complications were beginning to outweigh the pleasures, and I refused to lose my “center” that I had fought so hard to find. But you know what? Falling in love is just that — trusting someone enough to give them the power to displace you.

In the end, I said “what the hell” and jumped. When I finally stopped fighting us, you made me so perfectly content that I could see myself living this life with you every day. With you, there was never anything glamorous, but neither was there anything fake. There was simply you and me — human beings with flaws and hopes, desires and needs.

Yet why do I still feel that nothing we shared was real? That I have no right to miss you, because you were never mine to begin with? That I have no reason to remember you, because our memories were but dreams?  That I have no incentive to continue loving you, because I only ever liked the idea of you?

Yes, most of all, I hate not knowing. Not knowing how I felt about you yesterday, how I feel about you now, how I will feel about you tomorrow. Not knowing if we would have been good to each other, if we would have grown old together, if we would have ended up hating each other.

I admit; I don’t know anything. Except, perhaps, that I still love you, and I’m not ready to bid farewell to us forever. Whether or not that is worth something is not for me to decide.

Bisous,

R

Summer…

This is a video project I did over the summer when the days were long and blissful. I miss them. But Christmas is coming up, which trumps all other seasons. And yes, Christmas is a season.

The song is You and Whose Army? by Radiohead, one of my favorite bands. Enjoy!

À demain,

R