Modern Love Love(r)

My thoughts on the Modern Love column of the Sunday New York Times and a hoshposh of other things that I love.

What is Bradley Cooper Like in Real Life?: Reflections of an Almost MSW

Silver Linings Playbook is an immensely appealing movie in which we root for the underdogs –in this case, two attractive, talented, albeit mentally unstable, young people. It is curious that so many people relate effortlessly to Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s characters in Silver Linings Playbook but are less than tolerant of their off-screen counterparts. That is, the clients and patients we work with every day.

As a social work graduate student, I work in a high school where I recently had the honor of reading a college essay written by a senior with a history of psychiatric hospitalizations. He wrote poignantly about his sense of being cut off from society. He stated that the movie, Harold and Maude, and the book, The Bell Jar, gave him hope that he had compatriots out there in the world and that one day he would find them and feel less alone.

What is it about seeing a character work something out on screen, or reading about it in a book that allows us to be drawn in? Movies and books become vehicles for us feeling for characters who are quirky, wacky and messed up. They allow us to have a catharsis for the aspects of ourselves that are less than whole. Movies and books remove the buffers and lies. Movie and book characters are uninhibited and vulnerable, they show us the very parts we are taught to hide from each other. As a result, we get something out of movies that is often more human than our actual experiences with one another.

As I prepare to leave school for the real world, I am thinking about how I can help our clients feel there is a silver lining somewhere other than in the movies.

With Every Passing Paige

The summer after my first year of social work school I worked at a camp outside of New York City. I had never worked with 5th and 6th graders before but I was eager for a job and happy to be working with kids. It was at this camp that I met a 5th grader named Paige. Paige was tall and lanky for her age. She had blue bug-like eyes that almost jugged out of her head. Her mouth was full of metal as she spoke rapidly about the things that 5th grade girls like to talk about. She was almost cartoonish; upon reflection I believe that she looked identical to the young girl superhero from The Incredibles. If you’ve never seen it then please google Elastigirl. 


While to me Paige resembled a superhero, Paige perceived herself as having the opposite of magical powers. The week before camp started I had the unpleasant job of reading all of the notes that parents had written about their kids. Paige’s file stood out to me because her mother had written “is very hard on herself” and “could use a self-esteem boost” all over Paige’s file. Comments like these often resonate with me because they are rare. Parents of 5th graders usually write about their kid’s allergies and send them on their way. However, I did not come to fully understand the comments until I got to know Paige a little better, during the final weeks of the summer. 


I suspect that the camp I worked at had stock in Mott’s because they served apple juice at least twice a day, during snack and at lunch. Inevitably one of the kids would pour apple juice all over themselves and the table during one or both of these meals. One day I was walking by Paige’s table as she accidentally poured apple juice on herself and a few other girls in her bunk. The other girls seemed to be over it pretty quickly but Paige began apologizing profusely and mumbling that she had ruined apple juice for everyone. She would not let it go and started bringing it up during random parts of the day. During kickball she said, “Remember when I ruined apple juice for everyone? I’m such a jerk.” While spinning pottery during arts and crafts Paige said, “The day is already over because I ruined apple juice for everyone, forever.” This was not a rare occurrence for Paige; she tended to get stuck on things and had trouble letting them go.

During an overnight camping trip Paige was the last person out of the tent while everyone was trying to pack up to leave the camping grounds. Her counselor asked her to make sure that everything was out of the tent before she left because she was the slowest person in the group. I remember hearing Paige sifting through the tent, looking in the tents pockets for things that campers may have forgotten. Then after a few minutes Paige came out of the tent with a juice box in her hand, looking horrified. She said, “If I didn’t ruin apple juice for everyone already, I sure as heck did now.” None of the girls paid her any attention. It became clear that the only person Paige ruined apple juice for was herself. 


My own worries and obsessiveness mirrors that of Paige. However, instead of thinking that I ruined apple juice for everyone I become obsessed with comments I make to my friends. I mull over these comments for days and beat myself up over them, only to find out that my friends didn’t remember what I said or didn’t take offense to it. 

It wasn’t until months after the summer ended that I began thinking about Paige. I imagined running into her and her mother on the Subway platform or on the Upper East Side. I imagined what I would say to her, things that I wished people would say to me. These imaginary conversations didn’t have words but rather warm feelings and were followed by a sense of understanding. I didn’t have words during these imaginary encounters because I was too deeply into my own worries to say what Paige needed to hear. Or maybe I didn’t have the words to talk to Paige on the imaginary Subway platform because I hadn’t yet told them to myself. Nevertheless, I knew the end result in my fantasy but didn’t know how to get there. 


Through my experiences in my last year of social work school I am working on the words to say to Paige and myself. These days I am more mindful of my worries and obsessive thoughts. I can manage them better and keep them in check. Sometimes I wonder if Paige has, or if she’ll ever find salvation from her worries. Maybe one day I’ll work with Paige in another setting or maybe I’ll never see her again. I realize now that until I handled the Paige in me, I couldn’t help the real Paige. And I hope to have the opportunity to work with a kid like Paige again. Kids that are cool and funny and smart and a little neurotic, because with every passing Paige there is an opportunity for me to grow as a social worker and person. 

 

I think everything in life is art. What you do, how you dress, the way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality, what you believe in, and all your dreams. The way you drink your tea, how you decorate your home, or party; your grocery list, the food you make, how your writing looks, and the way you feel. Life is art.
A photo I took 

A photo I took 

So, I’m reading Gloria Steinem’s book Outrageous Acts and Every Day Rebellions  and let me tell you, it is bomb ass. There is so much I didn’t know about her! And she has some really great and thought provoking quotes, which I happen to be a sucker for. Here are a few:

"Writers are notorious for using any reason to keep from working: over-researching, retyping, going to meetings, waxing the floors— anything. Organizing, fund raising, and working for Ms. magazine have given me much better excuses than any of those, and I’ve used them. As Jimmy Breslin said when he ran a symbolic campaign for a political office he didn’t want, "Anything that isn’t writing is easy." Looking back at an article that I published in 1965, though I was writing full-time and loving my profession, I see: "I don’t like to write, I like to have written." 

For me, writing is the only thing that passes the three tests of metier: (1) when I’m doing it, I don’t feel that I should be doing something else instead; (2) it produces a sense of accomplishment and, once in a while, pride and (3) it’s frightening.” 

Some of my best photos of the trip to Morocco I took in 2009. 

I’ve only seen The New Girl twice and the show is fine but Zooey Deschanel was really good in Almost Famous, so, she’s cool by me.  


I’ve only seen The New Girl twice and the show is fine but Zooey Deschanel was really good in Almost Famous, so, she’s cool by me.  

(Source: ninasharpsrighthand, via jessicavalenti)

Where have all the belly laughs gone?

One time my friend Emily saw a commercial (on TV) advising her to text a number that would in return text her one belly laugh (or hilarious joke) a day. And while I don’t remember the “belly laugh jokes” being very funny and I remember her having to pay close to 30 extra dollars on her cell phone bill that month, I have been thinking about why Emily was attracted to such an idea in the first place. Where have the belly laughs gone? In high school I remember laughing really hard at least once a day. Maybe laughs are always 20/20 but I feel like I don’t laugh like that anymore! So, where are your belly laughs coming from and will you text them to me?

Building a Better Heaven

"Whenever I see heaven in pictures or movies, it looks, at best, nice. Pleasant, comforting, calm — but it never makes me think, “I can’t wait to get there” like shots of a luxury hotel. Maybe clouds and really blue skies were enough for keep people in the 15th century in line, but heaven has to step it up a bit. They’re basically getting by because they only have to be better than hell. I think that’s setting the bar kind of low, Heaven.

I also hope that when you get into heaven they tell you how much you made it by. I’d like to be the guy who just barely made it and lord it over Mother Theresa the whole time. “Oh, you didn’t get wasted and have oral sex and we’re both here? Funny that.” I’m figuring I’ll need stuff like that to keep me occupied because heaven will be so boring.”

-Joel Stein 

“How often since then has she wondered what might have happened if she’d tried to remain with him; if she’d returned Richards kiss on the corner of Bleeker and McDougal, gone off somewhere (where?) with him, never bought the packet of incense or the alpaca coat with rose-shaped buttons. Couldn’t they have discovered something larger and stranger than what they’ve got. It is impossible not to imagine that other future, that rejected future, as taking place in Italy or France, among big sunny rooms and gardens; as being full of infidelities and great battles; as a vast and enduring romance laid over friendship so searing and profound it would accompany them to the grave and possibly even beyond. She could, she thinks, have entered another world. She could have had a life as potent and dangerous as literature itself.

Or then again maybe not, Clarissa tells herself. That’s who I was. This is who I am—a decent woman with a good apartment, with a stable and affectionate marriage, giving a party. Venture too far for love, she tells herself, and you renounce citizenship in the country you’ve made for yourself. You end up just sailing from port to port.

Still, there is this sense of missed opportunity. Maybe there is nothing, ever, that can equal the recollection of having been young together. Maybe its as simple as that. Richard was the person Clarissa loved at her most optimistic moment. Richard had stood beside her at the ponds edge at dusk, wearing cut-off jeans and rubber sandals. Richard had called her Mrs. Dalloway, and they had kissed. His mouth had opened to hers; (exciting and utterly familiar, she’d never forget it) had worked its way shyly inside until she met its own. They’d kissed and walked around the pond together.

It had seemed like the beginning of happiness, and Clarissa is still sometimes shocked, more than thirty years later to realize that it was happiness; that the entire experience lay in a kiss and a walk. The anticipation of dinner and a book. The dinner is by now forgotten; Lessing has been long overshadowed by other writers. What lives undimmed in Clarissa’s mind more than three decades later is a kiss at dusk on a patch of dead grass, and a walk around a pond as mosquitoes droned in the darkening air. There is still that singular perfection, and its perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other.” 

-Michael Cunningham, The Hours