Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Business of Being Born

I watched the Ricki Lake documentary, The Business of Being Born the other day. I'm not pregnant myself, but I'm at the age where many of my girlfriends' uteruses are currently occupied with child. Pregnancy, babies and how they are brought into our world seems ever present. My friends' experiences run the gamut - from completely drug-free labors to c-section births.

All this discussion about pregnancy has me doing some gestating all my own - just not the bun-in-the-oven kind.

While watching the documentary I was completely enraptured by women giving birth in their home, but I was also struck by how political the movie felt. In general, you could feel the frustration the midwives had about the hurdles they face in trying to provide pregnant women with natural birthing experiences. You could also feel the horror that the doctors had about women giving birth in their homes. At the end of the movie, both sides seemed at opposite ends, leaving pregnant women right smack in the middle. This made me irritated.

Last night I was discussing the documentary with a friend of mine who is in her last trimester with her second child. We talked about our frustration with the lack of separation between the information and the judgement. Women who don't find themselves virulently on either side of the birthing debate seem to be the victims of the politicization that's occurring. On one side you have doctors telling you that if you give birth outside of a hospital you could, you know, die. On the other side you have home birth advocates telling you that you may not bond with your child if too much hospital intervention is placed upon you during delivery. Meanwhile, I think of my friend who gave birth naturally and my sister who had a c-section and the fact that both bonded beautifully with their babies. Both women are divine examples of motherhood and the love a mother can have for her child.

As someone who would like to have children one day, I'm left with the plea: can someone talk to me without all the scare tactics on either side?

Women's bodies becoming the crux of a political debate is not new, but with the Women's Movement at our heels, can't we all agree that women are smart enough to digest rational birth information from both sides? That with that information we can then walk away with our own, individual, informed choice?

What I appreciated most about the documentary is that the discussion was brought to the fore. Valid and important questions were certainly raised, but can we keep talking - without the heat or the judgement.

Friday, July 8, 2011

When Fear Almost Stops You

Many of you who read my blog know that I've worked as a screenwriter (and actor). About three or so years ago, I adapted a one-woman show I performed into a screenplay. The screenplay went on to become a fully produced feature film at On the Leesh Productions. Like any low-budget independent film, it took a long time to finish the movie completely. We had to take other (paying) jobs in-between editing cycles and were forced to turn our attention away from finishing the film.

Then 2011 rolled around and "For Belly" was finally done and making its way through the film festival circuit. Alicia (who produced with me and co-directed the movie) and I wondered, would anyone like the movie? Would it get in to any festivals? In the three years that have gone by since making the movie, both Alicia and I have grown and changed as artists. We've learned more and (hopefully) our skill level is higher. When we look at the movie now we see everything that, if we had a time machine, we'd go back and adjust, fix or completely change.

Alas... no time machine.

We were left wondering then... would anyone like the movie? I can't speak for Alicia, but for me, the fear was causing my stomach to churn. Once we started getting into film festivals, I relaxed a little bit. After watching the movie with a crowd of strangers - and finding out that they liked it - relaxed me a bit more. Then came the request to review it.


Part of me, a pretty big part actually, wanted to turn them down. I went into Alicia's office and told her about the request - hoping silently that she would say she didn't think it was necessary. Reading the fear on my face she said matter of factly, "Julie, it's the nature of the business. It's what you do."

I knew she was right, but the fear! The FEAR! But off the screener went.

As the weeks passed I actually found I was able to put the impending review out of my mind. And then... today... it came out: Indie Cinema At Its Finest.

Happily, it was more positive than I could've hoped and, beyond my elation that the review was so supportive, I feel like I learned something. Had it been up to me, I might have turned the reviewer down because I was afraid. I love doing creative work. I love it more than I can express (which is perhaps sad since I'm a writer!), yet no matter how many years I do it, the fear is still there - looming.

So, if I may mangle the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: do something brilliant that scares you today. You might love what's on the other side...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Dog's Days

I don't know how many pet lovers are out there, but let me throw you a virtual hi-five if you're in that camp. I am a pet lover. I am a my-pets-run-my-household lover; and proud of it. I have a wonderfully easy cat and one of the most lovable dogs you could ever find. Through the darkness of my marriage ending, my dog, in particular, functioned as a therapy dog. The pitch of my voice would shift in a certain emotional way and she'd come running from where ever she was to give me comfort and attention.

My rescue mutt, Dyna, is going to be 8 this summer and, recently, she's had a bunch of health issues. A year ago she had cancer and this past year she's had a number of different injuries. Through it all, she remains hilarious and loving and joyful, but all of her ailments have driven home the fact that she's getting older. Her snout is grayer, she gets up more slowly and we basically have a monthly visit with the vet. It didn't help that a good friend of mine recently lost her dog who, like my dog Dyna, was a very important member of her family.

In the almost 7 1/2 years I've had her, I've obviously gotten older as well. In those years she's stood witness to some of the major events in my life like moving, getting married, getting divorced as well as an infinite number of minor things. As she gets older, I think about all the other things I'd like her to be here for, like for example, me having kids one day. I watch as my friends children play with Dyna and imagine my own children having that opportunity one day.

I look at her these days, willing her to stay young, healthy and spry and then I think, why not just enjoy the days that I have with her now and not worry about all those future moments? Am I ignoring the present days I have with her by trying to see into the future? Sometimes I feel like I'm mourning my living dog. I am someone who leaps - I leap ahead and wonder about the future. What will my life look like? Where will I be living? Will I have children? Where will I be spending my days? Then I think about this wonderful creature who I was fortunate to have in my life and I think, maybe she's still a therapy dog. Maybe now she's just teaching me to just be where I am - with her - as she takes up more than her share of the bed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Keeping the Faith (with the help of Russell Crowe)

Recently, I watched the Russell Crowe movie, The Next Three Days. Have any of you seen it? I'd heard mixed reviews about it but I think Mr. Crowe is quite the actor and I'll often see a movie just because he's in it. Without giving anything away, the film chronicles his character's efforts to break his wife out of prison. She was accused of murder and the couple runs out of legal options to set her free. As often happens in life, I found that one of the themes of the movie collided with something I've been thinking a lot about recently: instincts and your gut.

In the film, Russell's character is 100% sure that his wife did not commit the crime she was found guilty of. Regardless of evidence, the sway of family opinion and time, he knows in his heart that she is innocent. His stronghold on his belief becomes an issue in the film and he's often left having to defend his opinion. His gut told him that his wife was not capable of the crime.

Now, I know a movie is a movie and real life is real life, but I found the tenacity with which the character held on to his instincts to be quite inspirational. How can you hold steady to your gut even when the people around you waver? How can you trust yourself? So often in life, we're asked to take a leap of faith - in our careers, in love, in friendship - but that leap of faith has to come from somewhere. It has to come from your gut. And you have to trust it in order to fully invest in your decision.

Not long ago, I wrote a novel entitled, The Breakup Face. Through a wonderfully supportive friend, I met a literary agent who read the book and loved it. He quickly took me on as a client and began sending the book out. In my gut I felt that this book would be published. I could see it. That was a number of months ago and a publisher has yet to take the novel on. I'm told by every writer I know that this is par for the course and to stick with it and keep the faith. Yet, all I can think about are ways to change the book. So now I put it out to all of you smart women: how can I prevent myself from losing steam? My confidence in the book is waning and the clarity of what I saw is growing foggy. How do I get that knowing feeling back? When your instincts tell you one thing and reality is telling you another, how can I get my Russell Crowe on and keep the faith?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Do Over!

When you're a kid playing a game, the idea of a do-over is a no-brainer. Say you're playing ball in the street and a car interrupts your game - well that would be a perfect moment for a do-over. Or, say you have a great game of badmitton going (anybody, anybody?) and the little birdie gets stuck in a tree.... what does that make? Yep, that too is a perfect do-over opportunity. You get a clean slate to start anew. How nice is that?

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of do-overs recently, though not in a sports context. Lately, I've been thinking about whether you can have a do-over in relationships. Having experienced a failed marriage, I find myself wondering how I can avoid comfortable pitfalls in my new relationship. Is it possible to have a do-over when it comes to love, or does focusing on preventing previously made mistakes keep you stuck in the past? Or worse, force you into acting totally opposite from how you did before, risking a situation where you no longer recognize yourself. How do you stay in the present with your new love while acknowledging lessons learned from the old one?

It's true that different people create different relationships, which, obviously would mean different problems. But there are some issues - communication mishaps, housekeeping issues, etc - that are familiar to everyone. I'll call them universal conflicts. This is why there are so many successful sitcoms about families. We can all recognize ourselves in one of the characters. But recently I realized that my determination to handle familiar issues more gracefully than I did with my ex has had the added consequence of bringing me back to who I was in my marriage. An argument about say, the laundry, leads to ensuing marital flashbacks. Yikes.

I'm not worried about not being over my ex or anything like that. It's more about not being over myself, or to put it more specifically, not being over who I was back then. In truth, there are no do-overs, are there? Maybe 'try again' is better phrasing. It's hard to be present and sit in who you are when you're constantly comparing yourself with who you were.

With that in mind, I'm determined to recognize the things that I learned from my marriage and then let them go. I have to trust that the lessons - the most important ones - will stick by me as I forge ahead with someone new. I remind myself that my relationship now wouldn't have been possible without the evolution of learning from the broken one.

Do over? Uh uh. Try again.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

NYC In A Bucket

List that is...

A friend of mine in my office is planning on leaving NYC for good in the next six months. She and her husband are making their way back to California where they were both born and raised. Recently, one Monday morning Melissa came in and, as you do at the start of the work week, talked about her weekend. She'd gone to see the musical, "The Phantom of the Opera." In her story, she revealed that seeing the show was on her NYC bucket list. I thought, what a great idea to have a, by location, bucket list! I don't have any plans to leave where I am, but it's feels like a great way to live in the moment and really take advantage of where you are. With that in mind, I've decided to create my own NYC Bucket list for the summer.

Here are my top three adventures:
Coney Island
Would you believe that I grew up in the New York area and have never been to any part of Coney Island? I'm a little embarrassed by it, actually. I chided my parents for it a few weeks ago. Though, in their defense I think the boardwalk was a bit unsafe when I was growing up. When I tell my friends I've never been, their eyes pop out of their head as if I just revealed I was born with a tail. My friend, Alicia is addicted to roller coasters and promises she'll go on the Cyclone with me. I might do that before I sample the food on the boardwalk, lest it reappear on the boardwalk. Potential nausea aside, this is a definite for me this summer. I promise to let you know how it was and what I did.

The second thing that I can't believe I've never done is visit Governor's Island. How have I not done this? First of all... it's an island and who in the world doesn't want to say, 'oh, this weekend, I went to 'the island'.' I know, I know, Manhattan is an island too, but you can get so caught up in your little area that you can forget this fact! Governor's Island used to house military families and one of my very good friends actually spent a lot of his youth there. In fact, while visiting this past weekend, he had the awesome opportunity to actually walk through his old home. That must have been a bizarrely emotional event. The island is now open to the public for picnicking, biking or for visiting the exhibits. This is a must-experience for me.

The third place I'd like to visit on my NYC summer bucket list is Ellis Island. We all come from different backgrounds and have different experiences of how our family tree developed roots in America. This is one place where so many people passed through with the hope of beginning anew. I've been there once in my teens, but I wasn't old enough to really take in the magnitude of the place. Now I hope to feel the energy of the building, of the island. All of the expectation that must have existed there so many years ago.

So there you have it! The big three on my summer bucket list! I promise to write when I've visited each place to let you know how it went. If any of you have been to any of these places and would like to share your experiences (or suggestions), I'd love to hear them!

Do you have a bucket list in your city/town/village for the summer?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Watching Your Past In Two Minutes

Editing all of the BLP footage that was filmed as I flew halfway around the world to get passed the breakdown of my marriage has been an odd experience. I can often see the pain in my face - the grief and disappointment behind my eyes and yet, in this episode, I see joy. Who knew that being forced to re-envision your future could turn into hanging out with monkeys? Check it out and share a time when you had to re-envision a part of your life...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Would You Want To Know?

Have any of you heard about that blood test that can estimate how quickly you're aging, and thereby might be a predictor of how long you may live?This weekend I read up on the story and though some scientists question the accuracy of the test, the whole idea behind it- finding out how long your life might be - has me stumped. I can't figure out how I feel about it. It seems like the ultimate "best laid plans" test. Would you plan your life differently if you thought you might not live beyond fifty? Would you take more risks or would it make you live a more cautious life? What would you do if you thought your life might extend beyond one hundred? Would it mean you might try your hand at that second career you always wanted?

Would you even want to take the test in the first place?

I'm not too sure that I'd want to know actually. Whenever I go through a difficult time in my life, I always desperately wish I knew when it'll get better. I want some kind of timeline for relief. Will it come in a few days, several months or might it take years? Yet there is something wonderful about not knowing. There is something perfect about living life with a question mark over your head that would be taken away if I knew my body was aging faster than my years. I suppose for some it might create that "ah ha" moment that ignites a life change, but I'm not sure I'd fall into that category of person.

What about you? Would you want to know?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Episode 7: The Waterfall comes with BUGS!

In this episode, I visit Wli Waterfall. The view is magnificent - the bugs and the bats... are not.

About Best Laid Plans: BLP (http://bestlaidplansfilm.blogspot.com) is a documentary web series that asks the question: what do you do when life throws you a curve ball? I set out to find out. I participated in a volunteer vacation, shot my first short film and interviewed people about how they handled their own "Best Laid Plans" moments. I promise to keep the episodes short (and hopefully entertaining!), so please watch if you have a couple of minutes. As always, I'd love to hear from you. Did you have a "best laid plans" moment? Let's hear it!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Best Laid Plans and Building(!)

In this short episode, I meet the other volunteers in our group and we get our official work assignment. What will it be? Helping families? Working with kids? Can't wait to find out!

About Best Laid Plans: BLP (http://bestlaidplansfilm.blogspot.com) is a documentary web series that asks the question: what do you do when life throws you a curve ball? I set out to find out. I participated in a volunteer vacation, shot my first short film and interviewed people about how they handled their own "Best Laid Plans" moments. I promise to keep the episodes short (and hopefully entertaining!), so please watch if you have a couple of minutes. As always, I'd love to hear from you. Did you have a "best laid plans" moment? Let's hear it!

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Thought About Friendship - What We Learn from Television and Movies

A while back I wrote a blog about friendship and proceeded to give some of my own friends an assignment. What did friendship mean to them? Was there a moment or story that came to mind when I asked about the importance of friendship? A couple of blogs ago, you read my friend Shannon's story about learning about friendship through her mom's example. This week, I have an entry from Alicia Arinella. Alicia and I have been friends now for over 8 years and we've both witnessed each other go through many major changes in that time. Have a read and see what you think. As always, I'd love to hear from you!

I must admit, it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to write in response to your question, 'Will you write a little something about what friendship means to you?'

It made me wonder, how do we even figure out what friends are supposed to be in the first place. As Shannon wrote so well in her post about friendship and mom's last week, I guess we learn our first lessons from our parents. But where else do we learn about friendship?

For me, I learned a lot about frienship through movies and television. I'm a pop culture junkie (or at least I was in my formative years). I was surrounded by stories of successful pals - their loyalty, trust and companionship. So I bring you back to my early years and what shaped my meaning of friendship.

#1 - My Little Pony (The Movie)
I'm not sure if you remember this fantastic contribution to the home video market from 1986. No? Let me fill you in. So all the ponies are around preparing for a festival. Baby Lickety Split (she's got ice cream cones on her tooshy - I'm already a huge fan) is one of the ponies preparing a dance number (what's that you say, DANCE? I'm doubly in). BLS is practicing with her good friend Spike (a dragon - AWESOME). On the actual day of the performance, BLS tries to steal the number by interrupting the routine with a grand entrance while wearing a wild outfit and improving on the choreography with her own flair. She is scolded, embarrassed, and vows to run away. What follows is a big song from BLS and Spike where they sing, "I'll go it alone!" and, "Don't go it alone!" They agree to face the world together. I was riveted.

How did this seep into my real life? Pretty profoundly. Every time a babysitter came over and tried to get me to take a bath, I would pack a suitcase with my blanket (think child's binky) and "run away." This consisted of me running around a big rock in my back yard while my babysitter chased me. I was a N.I.G.H.T.M.A.R.E. But, every time I "ran away" my sister (and best friend) was always at my heels singing her own rendition of "Don't got it alone." We watched, My Little Pony: the Movie on repeat, and what we took away from it was that even when friends in your life are acting like crazy people, it's important to support them - follow them into the breech my friends - and defend them against the evils that the world has to offer (like baths).

#2 - Han Solo and Chewbacca
That's right - it all comes back to Star Wars. Although for the sake of this argument I could just as well have said Strawberry Shortcake and her band of renowned. Han and Chewie not only are the coolest cats this side of the Death Star, BUT they also have each others backs. They know that going into any challenge, it's going to be easier if they're together. They may quarrel along the way about the best way to do things, but they're a unified front in fighting the man (aka: the Emperor). Same goes for Strawberry Shortcake vs. the Peculiar Purple Pie Man.

When I was growing up, I thought I knew what their friendship was all about. However, it took some "big girl challenges" to realize that sometimes in life we face some decisions or turning points that just....well they suck. But if you have a good friend by your side, supporting you, willing to fly wing-man on your falcon? It makes it worthwhile. And it doesn't matter if this friend is male, female, black, white, or extremely hairy. A friend is a friend. For all of you non-geeks out there, try this analogy - there are a select few that I would go into a foxhole with and be happy share the long arduous hours there - no matter what the cost.

#3 - The Golden Girls
Let me just say these sassy young things were the first Sex and the City. Pioneers! These women taught me what it meant to have girl friends. Each character brought her own baggage and her own life's lessons to serve as "learning moments" for her roommates and for the audience. We all had our favorites (I was quite fond of Sophia and her need to carry her bamboo handled purse everywhere), but we learned to love them all for their uniqueness, their comic timing and their ability to solve everything with cheesecake.

To this day, I think about my life in terms of these ladies from Miami. Say, for instance, I'm at the movies and I turn and see a friend actually CRYING at Bride Wars. Well, I just pull Dorothy's dry reality out of my pocket and, in lieu of hitting her over the head with a newspaper, I just turned to her and say, "Stop it!" Through each of their unique Golden Girls's ways of handling the situations that life threw at them, I learned that you have to love your friends for who they are and sometimes provide a smack on the back of the head when they're acting crazy.

So I guess I absorbed a lot about what friendship was "supposed to be" through different cultural influences, but until I went through some serious changes, I didn't really know what friendship was all about in reality. For instance, you and I were always close, but when my mom died and you dropped everything to be my side and sang your own version of "Don't Go it Alone," rode wing man to my fear and hit me over the head with a newspaper, it solidified my feelings about you. And now? Well you're stuck with me forever.

And I'll be your wingman anytime.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Episode 5: Traveler's Illness

In this short episode, the stress of traveling has set in, but today is the day I leave Accra for Ho... and it's a long drive....

Most of us who have traveled have experienced it before, but between the stress and the new water/food, my body chose to, unfortunately, speak up!

About Best Laid Plans: BLP (http://bestlaidplansfilm.blogspot.com) is a documentary web series that asks the question: what do you do when life throws you a curve ball? I set out to find out. I participated in a volunteer vacation, shot my first short film and interviewed people about how they handled their own "Best Laid Plans" moments. I promise to keep the episodes short (and hopefully entertaining!), so please watch if you have a couple of minutes. As always, I'd love to hear from you. Did you have a "best laid plans" moment? Let's hear it!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Thought About Friendship (and Moms)

Last week I wrote a post about Best Friends. In it, I asked for stories from other people about what having good friends mean to them. When my extraordinary friend and writer, Shannon, said that she would put down some thoughts about this ever-important relationship in her life, I was thrilled. See her essay below and, if you’d like to read more about Shannon check out her blog.

As always, let's hear from you. I know ya'll must have a friend story you're dying to share!



by, Shannon Rigney

There are many qualities of my mother that I would like to emulate. She's funny as anything. She has good fashion sense. She makes a mean steak, and a great rice pilaf. I hope that one day my daughter looks forward to spending time with me as much as I do with my mom.

But, the quality of my mom's that I would most like to acquire is that she is a great friend. To see my mom with her closest friends is to watch a give-and-take of love, honesty, and humor. She treats her inner circle of friends like family. They're with each other forever. One way that my mom and her friends make sure that they stay glued so tightly is they carve out significant and regular time to be together. Mostly they have a glass of wine and some cheese, but they also cook together, go to movies, or just hang out. It doesn't matter what they are doing. They have a blast just because they are together. And all these shared moments and belly laughs do more than just pass the time in a happy way. All this love and time they devote to each other helps them weather difficulties.

Because there are bad times. My mom has been angry with her friends many times, and vice versa. But she never lets her feelings stew. She and her friends keep their connection real by telling each other straightaway when something gets under their skin. They practice a level of honesty that most people – myself included – aspire to but, like Zen mastery, probably won't achieve anytime soon.

I have lots to learn from my mother's attitude toward friendships – the way she holds them so dear, the way she prioritizes and makes time for them, and, mostly, the way she honors them with honesty. One thing that my mother had going for her when she was my age is that she lived in the suburbs amongst other women her age who had all made similar choices. They had all decided to have children and, mostly, stay home to raise them. My mom talks about many afternoons spent talking and laughing with her best friend while all of us kids ran around the yard.

Here in New York, I've got no yard, not a ton of free time, and no best friend with kids the same age as mine. In fact, few of the women whom I would call my best friends have any kids at all. And, of the women I know who do have children, most of us are working either part or full time. Scheduling even one afternoon together can be hard.

These minutes and hours with my friends are necessary to keep me balanced and happy. They remind me that I am more than a parent, more than a collection of work and dinner and bedtime rituals. They help me remember how to be light, how to be myself, how to laugh until I cry.

Those moments sustain me. Sometimes I feel like I am practically holding my breath until the next visit with a girlfriend supplies me with oxygen. I am trying to recreate with mere crumbs what my mom and her friends built with a full harvest. Time is the greatest commodity, the thing that most of us don't have (or at least don't have when we'd like to). And, yet, time is exactly what allowed my mom to build up the strong friendships that have carried her through the challenges of her life. For now, all I can do is do the best I can to spend time with the people who matter to me, the people who give me my air supply. And when I do have them with me, I'll enjoy every moment, breathing in enough to keep me going until the next time.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Art of the Possible

Recently I've been thinking a lot about my impending birthday (I'm about 5 months away). I'm in my mid-30's and am fast approaching sitting on the other side of the "mid." I'm not depressed or embarrassed about my age, but I do feel kind of anxious about the whole thing. It isn't that I care about wrinkles - well okay - that's a lie. I do care about wrinkles and the fact that they are grinding into my face jackhammer-style, but that doesn't give me palpitations. It's not that kind of anxiety.

Lately, I feel a sense of possibility unlike anything I've ever experienced before. I wonder how I can embrace all of my "possibles" in one lifetime. The goals I want to achieve. The trips I want to take. The children I hope to have. How is it all possible? Does planning or choosing to focus on one thing, turn a different possibility into an impossible? Does one choice prohibit another? How can I realistically learn about all the things I'd like to learn about? I feel envious of other people's experiences, not because I regret any of my own, but because I want to have had theirs as well. I'm sure what I'm feeling is natural. Something that comes on for many people in their 30's - like an emotional clock that rides alongside the biological one - but how do you quiet it down?

I feel like a 17-year-old who is sitting down with a guidance counselor and being asked what I'd like to do in my life. The answer: everything. Well, not everything, I think I could live a very full life without ever becoming a proctologist, but I'd love to experience many, many things. I don't really want life experience, I want to have experienced life - in all sorts of different ways.

So how do you begin?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Episode 4: We've Arrived!

We've finally made it! Fatigue sets in as we make our way through the city of Accra.

About Best Laid Plans: BLP is a documentary web series that asks the question: what do you do when life throws you a curve ball? I set out to find out. I participated in a volunteer vacation, shot my first short film and interviewed people about how they handled their own "Best Laid Plans" moments.

I promise to keep the episodes short (and hopefully entertaining!), so please watch if you have a couple of minutes. As always, I'd love to hear from you. Did you have a "best laid plans" moment? Let's hear it!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Have a Best Friend?

The other night I was out with a very good friend of mine to catch up and have a fabulous dinner (check out: Artisnal). In between consuming one of the best cheese plates I've ever had in my life - seriously - I had to stop the conversation a moment so that I could allow my taste buds to do a happy dance , I had the chance to catch up with a friend so busy that I mostly see her in blurs. After our dinner, I sat on the subway and thought about how important her friendship has been to me in my life. Okay, I also thought about the cheese, but mostly I thought about my friend.

I like to think of friendship as a living organism. One that shifts and changes, and grows and wanes as the years pass by. Some are finite but purposeful, some are life-long and everlasting and others, those rare others, are remarkable and breathtaking and make you wonder how you were so lucky in your life to have the opportunity to experience it. And yes, these friendships even have the power to overshadow a phenomenal block of cheese. Dare I say I've been lucky to have this last kind of friendship with a few people in my life. Their support, their honesty and their humor has contributed to the parts of myself that I like the most. Seeing one of these friends this weekend made me think about Best Laid Plans - how the series focuses so often on my dating relationships and not on some of the most significant relationships in my life: my friendships. I would ask: am I dating? Who am I dating? How can I meet people? Will I ever get married again? Will I die alone?

When you are out in the "single" world it sometimes feels like your personal life is public information in the way that a woman's pregnant belly becomes some kind of public touchable monument (pregnant ladies, start charging people a fee and start your newborn's college fund). Everywhere you go, people seem to want to know whether you're dating, who you're dating, what you're doing to meet people and so on. Your singlehood becomes a conversation piece: like a coffee table book. Everyone means well and there's very rarely malice behind it. However, like many of my single friends, I got totally caught up in that. So this weekend, as I sat across from my friend, it hit me, WHAM (much like a coffee table book slapping me in the face). I may have been single but I have some amazing friends around me. Why was I so worried about dying alone? In honor of the extraordinary relationship many of us know as best friends, I'd love to hear from you. Tell me your friendship story. It can be sappy, hilarious or simply honest. It's the type of relationship that we all have in common and I'd like to take a few posts to relish in it!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Episode 3: Gateway to Ghana

In this episode: I'm so close to my trip to Ghana. The only thing standing in my way? Packing. While I try to stuff my life into luggage, my parents share their thoughts on what, if any, worries I'll have while away.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Best Laid Plans: Episode 2.5 - A Confession...

Best Laid Plans is a documentary web series that asks: what do you do when life throws you a curve ball? In this episode, I use my at-home camera to assess where I am in this whole journey so far...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

At War with War and Peace

Some of you may have read my post regarding a flip (yet untenable) promise I made to friends that I would join them in their pursuit of reading (and finishing) War and Peace. If you need a reminder, check out that blog post here: Keeping Promises.

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I'm almost in the 500's! The bad news is that I'm only *almost in the 500's!

More good news: I believe the bicep on my right arm - the arm that I usually use to hold this 1200-plus page novel while I read on the subway, has gotten bigger since I cracked the book open.

More bad news: My left bicep is just as wimpy as it was a little over a month ago when I began my Tolstoy pursuit.

I have to admit, there have been days when I purposefully left the book at home. I needed a break. I needed to feel the lightness - both intellectually and physically - of my Itouch. My friend gave me an out when I mentioned my W&P hiatus, but I knew my break was only a temporary respite. If I don't finish it now, I know it'll always feel like a lost goal - like never being able to do a proper handspring, for example. So other than my occasional break, I still spend my commute absorbing Tolstoy's world of words... his many, many words.

I remain the runt of my book club litter though - far behind my friends (one has even finished!). I'm still in this race though and actually, for the most part, am enjoying the experience. I've never read Tolstoy before and I can say, in my humble opinion, that I now understand why he is considered one of the greats. He may never be considered one of the concise greats, but certainly he is one of the greats. His passage about the night... yowza! I read that passage twice just to experience it again.

So if you happen to ride the NYC subways and spot a short, lopsided girl reading a very thick, very heavy book, stop and say hello. If nothing else, it will give my eyes a rest from some very small type. And if you've read W&P, I'd love to hear from you. What'd you think?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Happily Ever After vs. The Marriage Counselor

Has anyone else read this article on The Huffington Post: Do As I Say, Not As I Do? Turns out, even the relationship experts don't always know the right path through hard times in a marriage. Marriage counselor, Sharyn Wolf, writes that while she was selling books about dating and building a successful relationship (even offering insight on the Oprah Winfrey show mulitple times), she was one-half of a failing marriage. Say what?

When my marriage fell apart, I felt like a failure. I was embarrassed. I would hear of other friends overcoming hard times in their own marriage and think, why couldn't I do that? What was wrong with me that I couldn't overcome difficulties as well? Seeing "marriage experts" on television only emboldened my sense of defeat. Yep! I it was my fault that things fell apart. A bad marriage is completely fixable if only you do the "correct" things.


Here I am, a number of years beyond my husband telling me he wanted out. I'm in a new relationship, I have a new sense of myself and feel like I've finally come out the other side of all that badness. And now - now(!) - I hear about this "relationship expert's" failed marriage? My first thoughts were: liar! Fraud! Where was this admission when I needed to hear it most?

Then I realized that my condemnation probably wasn't fair. I remembered that when my relationship was falling apart, it wasn't only a feeling of failure I experienced - I also felt shame. I walked around feeling shame that my husband and I couldn't stick it out. I've talked to other people who went through breakups and they too felt a sense of shame surrounding their coupling crash. Why would I assume that a "relationship expert" would be any different? In fact, she may have felt even worse. How hard must it have been to promote yourself as a meastro of marriage while you're own relationship is tanking. Indeed, she writes "...I was counseling my patients with the principles from my book, and they were thriving--leaving therapy to go on with their lives. They kept getting better while my marriage kept getting worse. I felt like a fraud..."

Big oy.

Isn't it time we all embrace marriage as a joint effort between two people to do the very best they can to build and maintain a thriving relationship? Doesn't that sound so much more active and realistic than happily ever after? Perhaps if we all took a step back from happily ever after we'd all realize that even a relationship expert might succumb to two people's best still not being good enough.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Best Laid Plans Question

As many divorced people can probably tell you, divorces often occur to one's life rather than one's marriage. You aren't simply saying goodbye to your spouse, you're also - at least if your experience is similar to mine - having to say goodbye to some friends as well. If you're with your partner for any length of time, your social life (for the most part) melds into one huge unified body. In fact, one of the signifiers for me that my marriage was in trouble, was realizing just how much time my spouse was spending with people I wasn't very friendly with. But once the dissolution process of our union began, and some ugly revelations came to the fore, I realized that there were certain relationships that I couldn't handle anymore. My heartbreak extended beyond my spouse when I realized that some of my friends either couldn't or wouldn't meet the expectations I hadn't even been aware I had of them. The breaking up of a marriage isn't easy for the couple or the community of people affected. Nobody comes out unscathed and that was certainly true in my situation. In the end, I needed to break up with a lot of people. For me, being in the presence of some of the people who I'd felt let down by was too difficult. I couldn't let those feelings go, so, I divorced myself from them.

Here's the kicker though...

Just because I divorced myself from some people, doesn't mean that I don't still have to see them. It's a small world out there and often friendships are created through other friends and you become a part of a whole circle of connectivity. And along with that, exists a constant reminder of learning how to forgive. How do you do this? How do you let go of the pain of being let down by people you believed cared about you? I keep reminding myself of all of the mistakes I've made with friends - all of my errors in judgement or selfish things I've done. I look at my mistakes now and recall how badly I wanted to be forgiven by the people I loved. We're all human. We all want to be forgiven. People make mistakes after all and the peaks of friendship must all come with valleys, right?

So how can I do this? How can I open myself up to let that ball of hurt in the pit of my stomach roll right out of me, so that when I have to see these people I can offer them a genuine smile and extend a genuine offer of, if not friendship, peace.

Any ideas?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I'm In a Book!

I've just found out that I will be a contributor to the highly anticipated book: Five Must Know Secrets for Today's College Girl by Lauren P. Salamone.
The book is slated for release this coming May and in it, you'll find some thoughts on my own college experience. If you have a daughter who is soon to be entering the college frontier, check out Lauren's book: Five Must Know Secrets for Today's College Girl. Lauren is an award-winning mentor and it's an honor to be a part of a book that was written to help college girls confidently and with purpose, attain their goals!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Keeping Promises

The phrase, best laid plans, as I have used it, has always related to my life plans and goals, and how oftentimes the planning was for naught. But I'd like to invite another way to use this phrase, and that is how it relates to promises I've made. Like many of you, I try to keep the promises I make. I'm no angel by any means but I try to keep my word. About a month ago, my friend Jessica told me that she and our friend Mary had made a pact to read War and Peace, and I don't know if I was wearing my Julie-Joiner hat or something, but I pretty much immediately jumped on board. I too promised to read this 1,215 paged book. Almost instantaneously, I wondered what the hell I was thinking. First of all, I am a slow reader, and second of all, it's freaking War and Peace. I could almost see the words as they floated out of my mouth and into Jessica's ears. I should have grabbed them and plucked them back into my head and used them for later promises - like the ones that involve a glass of wine or the new Charlaine Harris book. But no, a promise is a promise. It's true that neither Jessica or Mary would have put up any kind of argument if I had backed out, but who wants to be that person? Why back out when I can complain in a blog instead?

Team War and Peace began climbing this mountain over a month ago and I've proven only to be the bench warmer. I have yet to crack it open. Somewhere between my promise to read this verbal Everest and actually purchasing the book, I began reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and became enthralled (along with the rest of America). But, because I'm such a slow reader, I've only just finished it. Now Jessica's in the 800's, Mary's almost in the 500's and I'm still trying to get through the title page.

So I guess my best laid plans realization here is that planning to keep a promise, and actually keeping it, at some point, have to merge. And I am currently at the meeting point.

So if you see a girl on the subway who looks like she's reading a rectangular-shaped boulder, that's just me hunkering down to process the 1,215 very, very small typed pages of Tolstoy's classic novel.

See you in a year!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Walking Tall

Recently, my friend and fellow writer/blogger, Melissa Braverman wrote about our Girls' Night Dinner at Fig and Olive. At the risk of seeming like I'm in some blogging competition with Melissa, reading her entry about some of what we discussed that night, made me want to blog about it as well. Calm down, I'm not about to embark on some blogging girl fight here, I just found that our discussion that evening lingered with me as much as it did with her. As she mentions in her entry, we talked about her recent dating experiences and the "innocent" comments some of her dates have offered her about Single Gal NYC. Melissa is correct, anyone, including the men she goes out with, have the right to discuss a public blog, but her reaction of downplaying her work was strikingly familiar to me. I, too, often play down my work - projects that I've thrown so much energy and love into – I’ve found I barely, if ever, mention. I wonder - is this a woman thing? Are we so afraid of walking tall with what we create all on our own? Is it politeness that keeps us from sounding off (if even considerately) when a date knocks what we do down a notch? I used to think that I was just avoiding being seen as the stereotypical ego-laden performer/writer. But I think it may be more than that.

I remain steadfast in my advice to Melissa. Life, work and all the rest are too draining by themselves without a potential boyfriend further sapping our chosen pursuits. I just wonder why the instinct to accept being smaller is there? I remember how difficult it was for me to tell my boyfriend, Brian, that I actually wanted him to read or watch some of my work. He had expressed interest in my projects previously, but I tended to brush it off. Then I realized, as important as my projects are to me, why would I ever want him to be cut off from that section of my life? I'm not saying I forced a Julie-Project-Marathon on him, but I finally admitted that I did want him to watch some of my work, or read my blog, or check out something I had edited.

My assignment to myself (bummer...school work on a Friday), is to take my own advice. I shall walk a little taller. No. A lot taller. So tall, my 5’1” self might just be able to reach the top shelf of my kitchen cabinets.

I’m betting the view is nice up there.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Relationship Confessions

I have two confessions.

1. I am in a relationship.

As much as this blog has been an open forum for me to write about the trials of seeing beyond heartbreak and the challenges of ending a marriage, I've avoided getting into specifics about budding romances. The reason has less to do with my own personal shame (let's face it, I have very little). It has more to do with being uncomfortable about thrusting some dude into being a character in my writing. For me, Best Laid Plans is about my own experiences with life changing events, so I never felt it was necessary to write about anyone else but me. Until now. My guy's name is Brian and he's very nice and I'm very happy and all of those good things. He's been such a positive aspect of my life these past few months that I feel like I have no choice but to talk about it.

Which brings me to my second confession:

2. I think my dog likes him more than she likes me and it's freaking me out.

Anybody who's read this blog previously likely knows about my obsession and love for my mutt, Dyna. She's been my own version of a therapy dog and if I ever had to give a speech akin to an Oscars shout-out, I'd likely throw her name in the list of thank you's between my parents' and my sister's.

When Brian first came into my life, Dyna was initially a bit suspicious, she wondered who this dude was who was taking my attention away. She'd whine. She'd get between us on the couch. She'd make her presence known. She was never aggressive, but she definitely let him know that she and I were a team. However, since Dyna's go-to emotion is love she was quick to see that he was a good guy and they became fast friends. I was thrilled. As some of you may know, I'd had concerns about meeting someone who wasn't very understanding about how important she was to me. I'd even written about it here: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie. The fact that they got along was awesome. He was amazing with her and she took to him like frosting on a cake.

Recently though, something seems to have shifted for her. Acceptance of Brian transitioned into a crush and now into complete adoration. I know I should be thrilled, but the other day we walked in together and she greeted him BEFORE me. Traitor! One night, she didn't want to leave for her walk until he came along. Deserter! Now, twisted into my happiness that they get on swimmingly is (aghast) jealousy! Finally, the other night, I confessed my feelings to Brian. And while he told me there was no way that she had more affection for him, dare I say I sensed a twinkle in his eye! I guess I felt like, after these past three years, my bond with Dyna was mutual. That if she barked out an Oscars speech of her own, I'd be right there in her thank you's. I suppose it's a small concession to make - to accept that my dog's heart can be big enough to fit both of us. I was just surprised at how quickly she's made room. Then again, I guess dog owner and dog think alike.

So there it is, I'm in a relationship. And so is my dog.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Years Resolution: Losing Weight

Weight loss. Come the start of every year the gyms are full, diet companies like Weight Watchers (doesn't Jennifer Hudson look fabulous by the way!), Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem run their commercials nonstop and the news programs include "exclusive" tips and trends in their news cycles. Many of us take part in the pattern - me included. And so there I was this morning, working my way to a smaller tush on the elliptical, when it struck me just how much emotional weight I've lost over these few years. I'm not saying I've turned into some kind of uber-balanced person or anything because that would be a big honking lie, but reviewing the footage from BLP has reminded me just how far into the dark side I had gone post breakup. The depression. Feeling like I had failed. Like I'd let everyone who had come to my wedding down. Truth is, I let myself down. Now, a few years later, it's like I feel as if I'm breathing again. When did that happen? How did it happen? Exactly what year, what month, what day began allowing the oxygen back in? Did my dog help bring the air in? My friends? Family? What? What was it that helped me lose all that emotional weight?

I want to hear from you. When did you start to feel whole again after a huge failure/disappointment/heartbreak? How'd it happen for you? Tell me about your weight loss.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Breaking News - A Best Laid Plans Update

Whew! The holidays have passed and now we're fully immersed in 2011. Is it just me, or does 2011 sound like some crazy space-aged time warp that runs counter to us not yet having flying cars and teleportation? Anyone? Anyone?

Okay, never mind, moving on...

Great news for my "Best Laid Plans" followers - remember how this whole project was meant to conclude as a documentary? Well, some decisions have been made and "Best Laid Plans" will have its debut in the next month or so as a documentary web series (I promise an exact date soon). I spent a number of days over the holiday break mulling over the copious amounts of footage and... whoa. Looking back - seeing how heartbroken I was. Seeing how the failure of my marriage weighed on me was a profound experience to say the least. Memories of feelings are nothing compared with video diaries, and I guess I wasn't prepared for having to revisit those emotions. But I did and I have, and I'm sure that won't be the last time I'm put off guard by having to take in once again all that I said and felt at the time.

They say you should never do your own video editing and I can really see why. It's a challenge to choose footage based on content rather than based on where I think I look the best. Having to push out thoughts such as do i really sound like that??? or why the hell didn't anyone tell me how bad that shirt looks on me! is a challenge for sure. In reviewing tape of one sit down with friends I had the unfortunate realization that I basically ate the entire time. Nothing like an interview to make you peckish, I guess. So there I was, starting at myself, eating... and then talking... and then eating some more. Oy.

Moving on, once again.

So... there's the update! A documentary web series. Sometime in the next month or so.

That is if I can get passed the sound of my own voice :)