Sorry

I apologize too much.

Recently, a man came out of a coffee shop, texting while he walked, and slammed his shoulder into mine.

“Sorry,” I said.

He didn’t say anything.

Last week a bartender forgot to make my drink. “Sorry,” I said when I reminded him.

“Sorry” to the Uber driver who had a hard time finding my obvious location. “Sorry” to the grocery store cashier when I decided to not buy a bag of broccoli that was rotting. “Sorry” to my neighbor when I asked her to do something about her constantly barking dog.

I’ve had this compulsion – to apologize for things that aren’t actually my fault – since I was young. And I’m not alone. I’ve known many people – women actually – who do the same thing.

I’ve tried to consciously stop using the s-word but it leaps, unbidden, out of my mouth in every situation. It’s so deeply ingrained in me that it’s almost physically impossible to stop.

When I was ten-years-old I attended a manners camp for girls.

While there, I learned many important lessons like: A lady eats chicken drumsticks with a fork and knife.

On the first day of camp, I showed up in purple khaki shorts, a purple and yellow sleeveless denim shirt, and my giant glasses. In other words, I was looking my best.

During check-in – after they’d determined what ‘season’ of colors most complimented my skin tone (autumn) – a woman asked me to stand against a wall as she took the “Before Picture.”

“Before what?” I asked.

She smiled brightly.

“Before we make you beautiful.”

Do you hear that? It’s all the feminists in the world screaming.

I’m screaming too – but only on the inside, like a lady.

A few days later I posed for my “After Picture” with no glasses, my face caked with make-up, and wearing a white and blue pants suit.

I looked like a 10-year-old Murphy Brown.

I felt uncomfortable but I supposed that was just what beauty felt like: Awkward, not quite right, and not at all what I started with.

Even then, I was learning to apologize for who I was.

Young girls are taught this kind of thing all the time in various forms – that maybe we’re not good enough, smart enough, strong enough without some simple additions.

Now, twenty-two years and many-more-stories-like-that later, that message for me is slowly fading.

I’ve learned a few things. Important things like I don’t look good in pants suits.

And I don’t have to apologize for who I am.

So lately, I’m really focusing on stopping the constant apologizing. I know it’s just a leftover word from my less-confident days but I’ve realized that by keeping that little habit in my language I’m actually saying something much bigger.

I’m sorry for being here. I’m sorry for having an opinion that’s different than yours. I’m sorry you feel threatened by my confidence.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m sorry for those things. Because I’m not.

Not anymore.

Sorry.

 

This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.

Body Image

I am face down on my yoga mat, trying to muster the strength to attempt another half plank.

I can feel the instructor’s eyes on my back and know I have to get up. I use every muscle in my arms – muscles I have just discovered I have – to push myself into position. I stifle a whimper and think for the hundredth time that hour, “Why the hell am I doing this?”

There are a lot of answers to that question (wedding, acting, general loss of metabolism) but the answer I like to tell people is that it’s ‘for my health.’

The real reason is more complicated.

Growing up, I felt pretty comfortable in my body thanks to some skilled parenting and a delusional self-confidence. But after moving to Los Angeles things started to change.

In Hollywood, beauty is everywhere. This industry draws the most beautiful people from all over the world, setting the standard inconceivably high.

Unlike most places, these beauties are not just safely on the big screen or in a magazine. They are living among us. This sculpted, surgically enhanced, wealth-injected beauty can be seen in the grocery store, in the audition room, in the women’s bathroom at the McDonald’s by my house.

In fact it’s right next to me in my workout class not breaking a sweat while doing the most advanced version of the pose.

I work in an industry that exports fantasy and I would be lying if I said it hasn’t shaken me up a bit. It is incredibly difficult to focus on what truly matters when the way you look is a factor in whether or not you get a job.

After a few years of living here, I started to notice that my positive inner monologue was starting to change. Rather than focusing on what I loved about myself, I started to fixate on what I considered my flaws.

I thought about that as the fitness instructor adjusted my position for the seventh time. I smile at her, which turns into a grimace as she pulls my leg further out.

For a while, I had managed to keep my negative thoughts at bay, but after a few years of auditions and working in Hollywood, they became louder.

I began skipping meals and once caught myself considering a product that ‘freezes fat.’ I felt caught in the ridiculous expectations women are forced to meet – expectations that are even higher in this town, in this industry.

Until last pilot season.

I had read a script for a TV show that I knew would be perfect for me. I emailed my manager, asking her if she could get me in. A few minutes later I had a response in my inbox.

“They are only seeing really beautiful girls right now but I’ll let you know if that changes.”

I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.

I stared at my phone, shocked that this email came from one of my biggest champions. I sat down on the bed and felt something welling up inside me.

And then I started to laugh.

The whole situation seemed ridiculous. The fact that I worked in an industry where I would get a work email like that. The fact that I put myself in this position over and over. The fact that she was right. The TV show was casting models. And I’m not a model.

After that email everything seemed to come into focus for me. I felt myself rise a bit above the fray and realize something that my manager already knew.

It wasn’t about me. I wasn’t the one setting the standards of what is considered beautiful.

And even though I might never be the most beautiful girl in the room I still have something to offer.

I sank into my last pose of the day – thankful that it was over and proud of myself for coming. Proud that I was here just for me. Because I wanted to be here not because I was trying to compete with a certain standard.

I walked out into the California sun, holding my yoga mat and feeling very LA.

I caught a glimpse of myself in my car window and stopped. I had become one of those women in Los Angeles who does a lot of yoga.

My phone dinged with a text from my fiancé, Jason.

“Pizza for dinner?”

I wiped the sweat off my face and smiled.

“Absolutely.”

 

This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.

A New Year

I’ve always loved New Year’s Eve.

I’m not talking about the drunken parties, or the short glittery dresses or the ball dropping on Time’s Square.

I like the idea of starting over – knowing that there is an entire year spread out in front of me full of possibilities.

When I was seven-years-old my parents decided I was old enough to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve. I was thrilled. I felt mature and adult and like I was in for something special.

I spent all day cutting confetti from construction paper and handing out birthday hats to my parents (the only festive headwear I could find). My mom let me drink Martinelli’s sparkling cider from a plastic glass and eat as many ‘Chicken In A Biskit’ crackers as I wanted.

The night passed quickly in a blur of sugar and expectation and finally, around 11:45, I got into my pajamas, sat down on the couch, and waited.

I sat there, staring at the clock, wondering what it would be like to experience the turning of the year.

I sat there, staring at the clock, wondering what it would be like to experience the turning of the year. I was sure I would feel a significant shift. That our little living room would seem different – washed in the fresh light of a new year.

When midnight finally came around I was ready. I got my bowl of confetti, my knees bouncing with excitement, and started to count down the seconds. Three – two – one.

Happy New Year!

I leapt into the air and threw my homemade confetti as high as I could. My dad blew a noisemaker and my mom snapped a picture.

JessicaNewYearsEve

After the confetti fell, I felt exhilarated and refreshed. Maybe it was the five glasses of cider, but I was tingling. A thrill ran through me and the world felt open and exciting. I was standing at the beginning of a whole new year, full of hope and possibilities.

This year, I’ve been looking forward to recapturing that feeling.

Sometimes I feel that I spend a little too much time looking back – lost in thought about how maybe my life had been little bit better when I was a little bit younger. Even Jason has pointed this out to me in the recent months and as much as I hate to admit this in print, he’s right. I do find myself dwelling on the past more than I want to admit.

It used to be that New Years Eve was not the only time I felt excited about the future. But as the stress of being an adult has become more and more prominent in my life I have started to turn my head backwards – to long for a time when homemade confetti and a noisemaker could make me feel that the world was full of possibilities.

This turn of the year, I’m refocusing on the future.

This turn of the year, I’m refocusing on the future. I’m ready to feel excited about what lies ahead, not long for what’s behind me. I will cherish my past in a safe spot in my heart but keep my eyes turned toward tomorrow.

I keep that picture my mom took of my seven-year-old self by my desk as a reminder that I am capable of fearless joy for the future.

This year, I want to enter 2015 like that little girl. Eyes raised to the sky, confetti raining down, waiting for things to change with unfaltering joy.
This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.

Sleigh Bells

Growing up, I loved the holidays.

Everything about them – the lights, the snow, the food, the candlelight church services and singing “O Holy Night” next to my grandfather – are wrapped in warm memories.

Most of all though, I loved Santa. I loved believing he was real, thinking about how he flew in the sky, slipped down chimneys, and survived only on milk and cookies. The idea of Santa made me feel like the world was a magical place where anything could happen.

But around fifth grade, in that tricky time when I still played with Barbies but also felt tingly around boys, I started to feel like maybe I wasn’t supposed to believe anymore.

It seemed like kids my age were moving on, eager to get an early start on teenage life. But growing up seemed scary to me and meant so many things I wasn’t ready for. So I hung on to Santa longer then most of my friends.

Until one day at school my teacher announced, “I don’t want anyone to burst into tears here, fifth graders, but I think we all know that Santa doesn’t exist.”

My whole class erupted with laughter but I was frozen to my desk.

My friend Ashley – who would later tell me what condoms were used for – snickered and caught my eye.

“Does she think we’re babies?”

I laughed a little too loudly – embarrassed and heartbroken and angry with myself for still hoping my teacher was wrong.

That night, I went home and wrote a letter to Santa.

That night, I went home and wrote a letter to Santa.

I asked him for sleigh bells – instructing him to please take them off a reindeer and put them in my stocking. I used my best penmanship but really I was throwing down the gauntlet.

I needed Santa to show himself to me – to prove that some things from my childhood would last forever. I needed him to save me from growing up.

As Christmas Eve got closer, my parents reminded me again and again that Santa might not want to give up his sleigh bells. That maybe I shouldn’t hope for them so earnestly. But I couldn’t hear them. I didn’t want to hear them.

On Christmas Eve, I went to bed with a nervous heart. I fell asleep, clinging to a tiny shred of hope.

I woke up around midnight to a noise. I lay there for a second trying to hear.

There it was again. Unmistakable.

Bells.

I sat up and leaned over to the window, throwing aside the curtains and scanning the roof. Nothing – but it didn’t matter. The roof was big and my window only faced one side.

I eased my way out of bed and crept down the stairs. A hammer beat in my chest as I circled down the hall to the basement – where earlier that night I had half-heartedly set out milk and cookies.

I heard it again – jingle bells – high and light and music to my ears. I couldn’t believe this was happening.

Santa was real.

I paused at the top of the staircase and eased a toe down onto the brown-shag step, feeling light-headed and a bit in shock.

I paused at the top of the staircase and eased a toe down onto the brown-shag step, feeling light-headed and a bit in shock. Before I could take another step I heard a deep, soft voice.

My foot hovered in the air. There was something familiar about that voice. It sounded just like my dad.

My hands were sweaty and I felt stuck in indecision, my toe dangling above the second step. I willed myself to move, to prove it.

And then, before I could change my mind, I turned and ran back upstairs.

I scrambled up to my bed and grabbed my blanket – another totem of my youth with which I couldn’t yet part.

I buried my head in the covers and closed my eyes. I had had the chance to end it – to walk into adulthood and leave the soft gray of childhood to enter the black and white. But I just couldn’t take that brown shag step into reality.

I wasn’t ready.

On the stairs, I had realized it was up to me. I was in control of when to move forward.

The next morning, I pulled the sleigh bells out of my stocking. They were made from worn brass and attached to a weathered strip of leather.

My dad leaned forward, eager to see that I still believed.

I smiled, my heart aching, and announced loudly that they smelled like reindeer.
This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.

 

Showered

Last weekend I attended my hometown bridal shower.

In Los Angeles – and on the wedding blogs I’ve started to follow – bridal showers consist of perfectly coifed brides sipping mimosas in flowery dresses while very young and very beautiful women crowd around her feeding her compliments and caviar.

I knew that’s not what I was getting into.

Even though my aunts (the hosts of the shower) had kept most of the details a surprise from me I did know a few things.

I knew they had placed the invitation in my hometown newspaper. I knew the event was being held at the town community hall. I knew I was supposed to dress-up.

But when I walked into my bridal shower that morning I was instantly overwhelmed.

But when I walked into my bridal shower that morning I was instantly overwhelmed.

Everything from the decorations (an homage to my “I Love Lucy” collection in high school) to the food (homemade by my aunts) was filled with love and caring.

With every guest that started to arrive it felt like a little piece of my history was walking through the door. My high school English teacher who had fostered my love of literature, my great Aunt who taught me to play Old Maid and drink strawberry floats, my friend who had been my friend even before we learned to talk.

We played games, ate delicious food, and opened presents. I didn’t drink a mimosa and there was no caviar in sight but when I looked around the table I felt this was better than any bridal shower on a wedding blog could ever be. This was real. This was personal.

My cheeks ached from so much smiling and I looked around at the forty women gathered around the table and tried to string together thoughts, to grasp what this meant to me.

I have not lived in my hometown for thirteen years but you would not have known it from that bridal shower.

I still felt like one of those women – a part of that clan. And that day felt like a send off, ensuring that I stepped into the next big change in my life well equipped. Not just with gifts but with a reminder that I am not alone.

That I will never be alone

I will never be alone.

What an incredible thing, community. That feeling of having a very crowded heart – stuffed with the love of women who taught me to bake, to run fast, to be smart and strong and kind. To be a woman worthy of my roots.

Maybe that’s exactly what a bridal shower is supposed to be about – not presents or mimosas or even the marriage but about reminding you of the woman you are and the women you came from.

That you are walking into your new partnership with new pots and pans, a homemade quilt, and the very distinct knowledge that there are a lot ofwomen cheering for you.

 

Norwegian/Mexican/French….

I’ve always had a fascination with my ancestors.

As a kid, I would spend hours in my grandfather’s musty attic, trying on my grandmother’s hats from the 1940’s, pouring over pictures of my great-grandparents, and reading love letters exchanged during the war.

I would stare at my stern-faced ancestors and wonder what brought them all the way from Norway (or in my father’s family’s case, Luxembourg) to a farm in the Northern part of the United States.

Almost every person in my hometown had similar stories and backgrounds. Being a child of farmers from Norwegian descent was commonplace.
It wasn’t until moving to California that I realized there was anything special about my cultural background.

It wasn’t until moving to California that I realized there was anything special about my cultural background.

After moving to Los Angeles – a city that pulses with almost every culture in the world – being a farm girl with a Norwegian heritage became unique. It was more interesting than I had ever considered it. I began to be proud of my heritage – hold on to it with a fierceness I had never considered as a child.

I dreamt about starting a family with a Norwegian man, comparing family histories, and celebrating the holidays with krumkake and rommegrot.

Then, two years ago, I met a Mexican/Italian/French man and everything changed.

He didn’t know what lefse was and I didn’t know that some people liked salsa with their eggs. Somehow we still managed to fall in love.

In this new relationship there were whole new cultures to explore – heritage that I never considered would be a part of my story. I was fascinated that Jason’s father’s first language had been Spanish and his mother had been raised above a French Laundry in the heart of San Francisco. He loved that covered wagons and sod houses were a part of my family history.

A few weeks ago, Jason and I traveled to San Francisco to meet his Italian/French side. Jason tried to prepare me on the plane, explaining that Italians are a passionate, boisterous people who have no trouble expressing how they feel. I didn’t blame him for being concerned.

My family doesn’t really do ‘boisterous.’ We don’t get too loud and we aren’t too chatty. We love each other with a complete whole-heartedness but we don’t need to say it all the time because we told each other about ten years ago and that’s just fine, thank you very much.

So as we pulled up to Jason’s uncle’s house I felt a tingle of anticipation.
The door flew open and immediately we were met with warm hugs and double cheek kisses, excited questions and offers of wine.

That night at dinner the conversation never stopped as we dined on pasta and bread. They argued in front of me – “Where did you put those bottles of wine? I set them right here and now they’re gone! Lou, WHERE ARE THOSE BOTTLES OF WINE?!” – and they expressed their love in front of me – “I’ve been the luckiest woman in the world since the day I married you.”

And that was all before dessert.

The boisterousness was intoxicating and while I might have been the quietest one at the table, I felt warm and welcomed.

That night, I wandered the halls of their home, staring at their old family photos that looked nothing like mine. Women with dark hair and men with olive skin, people who made their way in a vibrant city in which my ancestors had never set foot. They looked polished, sophisticated, the kind of people I read about in books as a kid. I stared at their faces and thought about my own future children.

If Jason and I are lucky enough to someday have children, maybe they will wonder how they came to be Norwegian/Mexican/French/Luxembourgian/Italian/Germans.

If Jason and I are lucky enough to someday have children, maybe they will wonder how they came to be Norwegian/Mexican/French/
Luxembourgian/Italians.

I will pull out old photos of Norwegian farmers and set them beside photos of Mexicans in Arizona and Italians in San Francisco. And I will tell them that they came from that – something mixed, and beautiful, and special.

And afterward we’ll sit down for some lefse with a side of salsa.

This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.

Run Away

When I was five-years-old I was so angry with my mom I decided to run away.

The memory is cloudy now and I don’t remember what exactly I was so upset about but it probably involved a childhood injustice. Sulking in my room, I was struck with the idea to leave and immediately knew it would be earth shattering for my mother.

I imagined how her face would fall and she would beg me not to go. How she would admit to being wrong, foolish even. She would wrap me up in her arms and tell me she couldn’t live without me.

I stamped down the stairs and stood on the landing. Chin held high I announced in my most somber voice, “I’m running away.”

I stared at her, waiting to see the crumple of emotion. Instead, she calmly stopped rolling out piecrust and smiled.

“Okay, I’ll help you pack.”

I stood there, unsure of what to do. This was not how I imagined it would happen. There was no grand apology, no admittance of guilt. She had called my bluff.

I pushed my chin higher into the air.

“Good.”

Back upstairs, I pulled my little blue suitcase that had once been my great-grandmother’s, out of the closet and filled it with the things I needed: Precious Moments mirror, pencil with the eraser chewed away, Valentine’s Day candy, and my blanket with the red and yellow ducks.

My mother folded my blanket and placed it neatly on top of my most important possessions. And just like that, I was standing on our gravel road, suitcase in hand, ready to make a life as a runaway.

And just like that, I was standing on our gravel road, suitcase in hand, ready to make a life as a runaway.

After about five minutes I knew she had won. I wandered around outside, playing with my cats and eventually settling down on the porch to eat my now melted chocolates.

I was only halfway through the candy when I heard a knock on the window. I looked up to find my mother, waving cheerfully. I picked up my suitcase and ran back inside.

I told myself I only went back for the pie.

I’ve been thinking about that story a lot lately – the appeal of running away. How easy it would be and how good it would feel to say goodbye to Los Angeles.

At times, I’m convinced I’ll do it. When I look at the temperature and it’s 100 degrees in October, when a high-powered producer asks me if I can make my family drama script more ‘murdery-sexy,’ or when I struggle to see any progress in my career. Those are the times I want to pack my little suitcase and get out.

I’ve never been a quitter but sometimes it’s all I want to do.

I am under no illusions that I’m in Los Angeles for any other reason than by choice. But sometimes it feels less like that and more like I’m a slave to my career. Obeying it so completely that I find myself pulling up and out of it, looking around and thinking, ‘How did I come to be here?”

In the last few weeks I have made another career change, switching day jobs to hopefully glean more time for writing. Piling on more responsibilities, bending my life to fit my career for what feels like the hundredth time.

Almost daily I find myself in the same position I was as a five-year-old. And the truth of those feelings are just as clear today as they were back then.

It’s not really that I want to run away, it’s that I want someone to be devastated if I do.

It’s not really that I want to run away, it’s that I want someone to be devastated if I do.

I want Los Angeles to show me I’m needed – to feel my absence from L.A. would be a blow from which it may never recover.

But the truth, of course, is Los Angeles would go on without me – happily ignorant of my departure. Even in the face of sudden celebrity deaths and shocking losses this city churns on.

Just when I think I’ve had it, ready to leave for good, there she is, standing in the window waving at me. Letting me know I’m wanted just a little bit.

So I keep coming back for a little bite of the pie.

This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.