When I was in Southern California last week, I got in a car accident in the parking lot of a Chevron station. I had pulled in to turn around, because I couldn't (for the love of God) find the building I was supposed to be at for my 6:30 meeting. While I was pulling in, this truck hit me in the back left side of my car. Startled of course, I paused, and then proceeded to park. When I looked behind me, I saw that the jerk driving away. Full of such anger, and without even thinking, I chased him down the street. I continued to follow him to a parking lot by a baseball field, pulled up next to him, pointed my finger (not that one) at him, got out of my car, and yelled at him. "You don't do that! You don't just hit someone and run away!" I screamed. I also used some strong profanities. I was mad. He actually seemed pretty ashamed, and astonished that I had followed him. He told me he didn't have insurance and drove away as I memorized his license plate. As I told this story back to my mom later that night, she was not as proud as I thought she would have been. "He could have had a gun. He could have been in a gang," she told me. That is true, and I could have just taken down his license plate and not screamed in his face. I could have done nothing and just accepted the fact that I was involved in a hit and run.
Last night my roommate, Carly, was sexually harassed on the subway by a young kid and his friends. She shared the story on her own blog, and I recommend that you read it. When I heard what had happened this morning, I found myself so angry at how everything was handled. How nobody else on the subway did anything. How people were mad that it delayed their train. How she questioned if she overreacted to a guy grabbing her arm and catcalling her. As with Carly, I've never actually said anything to a guy catcalling me. I usually ignore it, pretend it's not happening, and if I'm feeling brave then I'll just stare them down with the hope that a piano will fall from the sky on top of them. I'm so proud she spoke up. I'm happy she didn't just sit down and ignore their crude comments. I'm not sure how I would have handled the situation, but I'd like to think I would the way she did. Based off my hot temper story from above though, it might have involved something more (like a good kick in the crotch).
Over the past few weeks I've been noticing more and more posts on Facebook from my female friends regarding their experiences with catcalling. Ladies have been venting, complaining, and coming together over this subject. NPR's "Tell Me More" asked women to share their stories. I haven't listened to the podcast yet, but I have a feeling it will carry a similar tone to my friend's on Facebook. How it makes women feel objectified, weak, and powerless. How if they don't hear a guy catcall, it makes them wonder why not. How much it sucks that they dress up to make themselves feel good (not to appease the dudes) and then have to walk down the street in fear. Fear that maybe someday it won't just be a catcall, but a grab of the arm or worse.
When I was seventeen, this guy I worked with came up behind me and pinched my ass. Without hesitating, I turned around and punched him in the arm as hard as I could. He was very startled and yelled at me, something like "what the fuck!" Then I apologized. Yes. I apologized for hitting him. I never reported it. I never said anything. I even thought, "Oh. Girls aren't supposed to act like that, are they? They're supposed to flirt back." I'm ashamed that I even thought that. I'm angry that somewhere along the way, I had gained the understanding that we as women should be okay with it when we are being objectified.
It seems like a broad statement to say that society taught me that. Society led me to believe that I should keep my mouth shut and ignore the catcalling and the inappropriateness in the work environment. That I shouldn't yell at the guys when they hit me and then run away, because I should protect myself. As a woman, I should protect myself. What about protecting other people though? What about protecting other women and young girls? We shouldn't be afraid to confront these guys when they're verbally attacking us, or when we see someone else being harassed. I know it's easier said than done. I know we all think we'll handle things differently than we do when faced with a situation like that. A bunch of us responded to Carly's story and said that they would have physically attacked the guys that approached her. While that might or might not be true, I do know that no matter what we would have stood by Carly so she wouldn't feel so alone. We would have offered some help instead of just closing our eyes, ignoring it, and pretending like none of it has absolutely nothing to do with us.
It's Monday afternoon, and I'm sipping iced coffee out of a mason jar while curling up on my bed as the air conditioner blasts cool air around me. I arrived at the Newark Airport at 5:25 this morning, and was home by 6:45 a.m., after flying back from a business trip in San Diego. Prior to the five days I spent in California, I was in Atlanta for another business meeting (which literally was a 24 hour turn around event) and had a few days at home to unpack and repack my suitcase. As evidenced from my absence here on this blog, I have been struggling with this whole balancing the job, traveling, and writing thing I'm aiming to achieve. I always swear that I'll set time aside to work on my own creative ventures while traveling throughout all these cities across the country, but time constantly seems to slip away from me. Now I'm back in Brooklyn for a week before leaving for Maine, where I'll be celebrating the 4th of July with a close group of friends. Following that, it's Connecticut in July and California in August. As I tell people how much I travel with my job (or just in general), and how often I've moved in New York, I'm sure some may wonder if I have a fear of staying in one place for too long (which might be true) but in all honesty, I've always had a traveler's heart and an adventurer's soul.
Growing up as an only child in a somewhat rural area in Northern California, I found it very easy to entertain myself in the field behind our house. I would spend hours by the creek, playing with my imaginary friends (and sometimes my real friends would join me), along with venturing up to the cave on the hillside (which is about three feet tall, five feet deep, and covered with graffiti). I was never afraid of any reptiles, rodents, or insects, so I would come home to my parents with a snake or lizard in my hand, claiming it was my new pet. (The lizard catching phase stopped as soon as I actually pulled the tail off one.) This independent streak continued as I got older, and when I was twelve I decided I wanted to go to a real camp (not one of those day camps I had become accustom to attending). Even though I didn't know anyone, my parents dropped me off at this camp in the woods, where I spent a little over a week going on hikes, making paper-mâché masks, eating s'mores, telling ghost stories, and performing skits in front of people. I was the oldest kid at camp, and became closer friends with the counselors than some of my cabin mates.
When college came around, my parents dropped me off (yet again) in Southern California, where I didn't have a car and knew only one girl from my high school that was also going there. I almost moved back home my freshman year because I was so unhappy and depressed, but made a pact that I would try one more semester, and if I hated it, I would transfer to another college. I ended up staying there for four and half years, and even spent a summer in Prague after receiving a scholarship for a play I wrote. I went there, again not knowing a single soul, and ended up celebrating my 22nd birthday in a bar with all these people I had only met two weeks before, and who had become some of my closest friends. Following graduation, I then moved to Connecticut for an amazing internship at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. I moved there on December 31st and celebrated the New Year with my boss and his wife in a pub, surrounded my strangers (most of which became my friends throughout the year I spent there).
Please note, this is a very (very!) abridged version of my twenty-five (almost twenty-six) years of adventuring. I know I'm leaving out a large number of other moments, but these are the bare bones that have made me the person I am today. I've been thinking a lot about this recently, especially as I continue to travel and watch large changes happening for various people in my life. Some of my friends are starting college or grad school in the fall, others are moving to Singapore to work at Universal Studios, and others are still struggling to make it work in NYC. All of which are giant (huge, enormous, tremonsterous - not a real word) leaps for each of them, and all of which are their own adventures to follow through. And it amazes me how far some of us will go to follow our passions, our dreams.
I've always had this inclination to explore the world, to soak it all in, to capture everything either through my words or photographs, and I find myself taken aback that this is actually the life I am leading now. While it does get rather lonely spending so many nights in a hotel room by myself, and frustrating to deal with the TSA on a somewhat monthly basis, all this traveling provides me with so many life experiences and stories (which I'll include in my autobiography someday). Now, don't get me wrong, while I am so appreciative to all that surrounds me, there are moments (as I mentioned earlier) where I struggle to find the balance between my creative work and the work that actually pays me (sad as that may be). There are moments where I feel like I've sold myself out, where I've become a person working in a cubicle, just getting by with what I have - but that is not the case at all.
While in Atlanta, I found myself at this bar (okay, I looked it up on Yelp and took a cab there, I didn't just stumble in). It was called The Book House Pub (of course). So on my night off I brought my Moleskin journal with me, ordered some shrimp and grits with a bourbon beer, sat at the bar, and wrote ten pages of a new play. As I was looking back on this earlier today, it hit me. Despite having a very adult job and living in a very adult world (and dealing with adult situations that I don't want to deal with) I realized that I really haven't grown up at all. I'm still the young girl going off by herself, occupying her time with her imaginary friends, following her dreams of seeing the world. It might not necessarily be on my terms some of the times, but how much of life actually is?
I started writing this blog six hours ago. In between I have had a meeting for work, watched an episode of LOST, went on a run, did some yoga, bought groceries, and cooked dinner. I'm not sure if this writing will make perfect sense to those reading it (but mind you I also didn't sleep for 24 hours and got home at 6:30 this morning). I guess what I'm trying to get at is that it's never to late to jump, or to take that leap. There's an adventurer in all of us, and that's probably the kid version of ourselves that we sometimes try to push back, but really should just embrace.
There's a whole universe out there. Don't hold yourself back from exploring it.
Oh, and if you want to know what bliss is, give yourself a moment and sit on the edge of the beach in Southern California with In-N-Out (or whatever food makes you insanely happy). There's a helpful travel tip from yours truly.
The Wrong Number was a novel I began writing nearly a decade ago. I don't think I ever finished this one either. It went through many drafts (two of which I'm sharing with you) and at one point I even created a cover of the book on that painting program we had on our old computer.
As you will observe from reading the various drafts below, I had a small dictionary of names in my head at the time and reused them frequently throughout my writing. I blame Disney movies, The Babysitters Club, and the 90's for that. Yeah. You'll see.
So now it's time to sit back, enjoy a drink (or two), and read the brilliance I of my twelve year old self.
The Wrong Number
The sound of the gun shot was so horrible and shocking. Unfortunately, I did not know that the person who called had the wrong number or a gun. This frightening incident happened last Saturday, March 21, 1999. My three friends and I were home alone when the phone rang. I let the phone ring to the message machine and then my friends and I heard a loud scream and all of sudden there was a BANG! We all stood still in silence, none of us could move till a man’s voice said, “Hello? ...Is anyone there?” asked a man. Of course I had to answer because my friends and I heard the gun shot.
“ H-Hello?” I said cowardly.
“ Hi, I just wanted to tell you about that scream and loud sound you heard a couple minutes ago. I am very sorry to scare you like that, but my wife, is uh practicing for her um ...oh yeah, for her performance of a Snakebeer um..story.”
“Do you mean a Shakespeare performance?”I asked nicely.
“ Well of course I do, you brat, that is what I said, isn’t it!?,”the man yelled. “Of course it is, Bernard Beacon is always right! HA! HA! HA!”and he hung up.
My friends started asking me about him and what he said to me about Shakespeare’s plays. When I told them what he said and what his name was they were very worried that we got ourselves into a bad situation with a drunken murderer. As we were talking my mom and dad came home from working at their computer store down town. We stopped talking right in time, because when my parents got home from Macy’s, which is where they work, they seemed to be a little sad.
“Oh, hi girls...nice to see you...did you have a nice day?” my mom asked very nicely.
“ Yeah mom, ah... we had a swell day school. Right guys?” I said with a wink, to keep they phone call a secret. I did not want to tell my parents yet because they would freak out like the time my brother, Eric, was offered drugs down in front of 7 eleven. When my brother told us at dinner my parents instantly called my D.A.R.E. teacher and told him.
“Did anyone call here while we were gone, honey?” my dad asked. He asked everyday because he is waiting for a call back from a sales clerk that is interested in buying some of Macy’s furniture. My dad works in a Macy’s that sells furniture, mattresses, and carpets. While my mom works in the section that sells jewelry. I really like them working at Macy’s because then I get discounts on the clothes. But, I still hate to see my dad’s hope disappear while I tell him that the sales clerk hadn’t called.
“No, ∞dad, nobody called while we were home.” I lied. “Well, we’re all going up to my bedroom now.”
On the way up to my room I grabbed the phonebook to look up Bernard Beacon. While we passed the kitchen I saw Dana take a bag of chips, cookies, and some Chex Mix. Dana is always hungry, but she is not overweight, it is very strange to see such a small thin girl eat so much.
When all four of us were in my bedroom I started to look up Bernard Beacon in the phonebook at my desk. My room was a descent size for me. When I walk into it, my closet is on the wall to right, my bed is next to the wall on one’s left , my desk is next to my closet, I have a blue inflatable couch underneath my window, and a wardrobe next to my chair. Last year I had my walls painted a light shade of blue and received a blue comforter and sheets.
“Have you found his name in the phone book yet?” Clara asked. Clara “Nosy” Norton we usually called her.
The Wrong Number
It was a cold, windy Friday afternoon as the last bell at Maclin Jr. High rang. I, Valerie Benson, met my friends, Amy, Clara, and Dana, in the Library after school. We had to look for books for our Endangered Species Report, and we were all going to spend the night at my house tonight.
“Hi, Mr. Morgan.” Amy said, “We are looking for books on our endangered species. I am- oh, cool look at this Teen magazine over here. Wow! Hey guys Freddie Prinze Jr. is in it! So is-”
Yep, that is Amy, who is very, very talkative. She looks like a girl named Amy too. She has blondish, brown hair in pigtails, a nice tan, blue eyes, and very light freckles. Amy is not only talkative, but has good taste in clothes.
While no one was looking I snuck a peek at a Seventeen magazine, before anyone else did. There was this quiz in there to see if you are healthy and fit.
“ Hey, Mr. M., can I check out this magazine, please.” I asked quietly.
“ Oh, yeah sure, Valerie, which magazine is it?” Mr. Morgan asked quite loudly and of course Amy, Clara, and Dana came over.
“ Which magazine is it?”
“ I have first dibs on it!”
“ Is Zachary Ty Brian or any other hotties in it?”
All three of them crowded around me shoving to see what was in it. They’re usually like that though, I’m used to them pushing themselves around, but still laughing as if it was a joke. You can get sort of sick of it after awhile, but sometimes I laugh along with them.
“ Hey, have any of you girls seen the Sports Illustrated around hÀere?” It was my crush, Eric Johnson! He stood about a foot away from me with his olive complexion, spiked brown hair with golden tips, his brown eyes looking into mine, and his adorable smile.
“ Uh...um, well...I um ,” I got hold of myself not to look stupid in front of him. “ No, sorry, Eric haven’t seen it, maybe Mr. Morgan knows.” I said while I tired to act cool, yet nice.
As soon as he left to go ask Mr. Morgan I asked my friends if they could ask Mr. Morgan to sho them some books on the other side, so I could talk to Eric.
“ Um, Mr. M., can you show us where the books on the Endangered Species are, we can’t seem to find them.” Clara asked in her sweet suck up to a teacher voice.