Strong enough to hold a ship, able to slip through fingers; Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes

There’s this Langston Hughes poem, “Brand New Clothes,” that we recited at Holy Savior Academy. I was in preschool, it was my first school and it was filled with girls and boys who looked like me. We were in an auditorium for a recital or performance of some sort. In unison, we recited the name of the poem and author, dragging out the vowels in each word of “by Langston Hughes” in that sing-songy voice particular to young children on stage. Our teacher, or the older children – I can’t really remember, my memory’s never been that good – recited the lines and we repeated them.

My mama told me – 

You better get off your knees with those

brand new clothes on

Last year at this time, I was having the best day and drove to downtown Lawrence to listen to some prose and poetry and eat cake. On that day, it only just crossed my mind how serendipitous it was that Langston Hughes’s birthday ushers us into February. The Singer of America, The Speaker of Rivers. Who else could do it so well?

In the children’s section of a used bookstore at the border of Berkeley and Oakland I saw a book of Langston Hughes’s poetry and I picked it up and scanned each page. I tried to find the words I know from back then, but I didn’t find them. I never do. It always makes me doubt my memory, what’s real and what really happened. Have I known rivers? Rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins? Has my soul grown deep like the rivers?

We said the next part of the poem in unison:

But mama, I’m already down

May I stay down?

She said no. And she had her way.

That’s why I’m so clean today.

The answer is yes, I have. The answer is of course. The answer is to emphasize the “too” in “I, Too, Sing America.” The answer is that this month and this history belong to all of us in the same way that America does. The answer is that I hope the girls and boys who read that book of Langston Hughes poetry will get something lodged into that space of memory between interpretation and understanding and sing of rivers, or America, too.

Aren’t birthdays the best?

Langston Hughes

the fate of objects

Nothing is more improbable or subject to chance than the fate of objects

Billie Dyer and Other Stories – William Maxwell

 

Downton Abbey does not sound like a show I would like. I am not a fan of period dramas; I’ve had enough of icy brunettes with mean streaks. I just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day” and it turns out, I am also not a fan of Great Britain in the early 20th century. Or, to be honest, I am just not interested in it.

But there’s a particular escapism in Downton Abbey that I enjoy. I enjoy escaping into a life in which the stakes seem low, but are actually impossibly high. I enjoy seeing the drama of gigantic problems and quiet solutions played out in soft, measured tones. I enjoy the calculations and the hard-hearted stoicism with which they face the unaccounted for incidents of life.

How do you ever know?

Preparation is just pretend. Nothing is more improbable than anything at all.

Billie Dyer kept a notebook. Billie Dyer, the African-American doctor from Kansas City by way of Lincoln, Illinois, kept a notebook that ended up in the hands of a curious Texan.

William Maxwell wrote a story. William Maxwell actually wrote a lot of stories. I read them and thought about aphorisms and why we write and who we hope will read.

I think we hope we’ll read it again someday. That we’ll pick it up and it will have a purpose outside of what it was. I think we hope for eternal life by way of notebooks and notes and write like a motherfucker aphorisms and quotes. I think we hope.

Nothing is more improbable or subject to chance than the whims of a nineteen-year-old carried out by a twenty-something-year old.

Will the object be gone tomorrow? Or venerated later today? I am almost always sure that there is a better course of action than the one I am on, or I’m almost always sure that I’m doing the right thing for me.

Who knows? Who could’ve guessed a Victorian mansion in the English countryside would experience it’s second wind by way of an ITV/Masterpiece Theater drama featuring English ladies in compromising positions with foreign dignitaries, blackmail, revolution, war, Dame Maggie Smith and Shirley Maclaine?

But then again, when I write it like that…

no one would riot for less

Film is a reflective medium; it’s only successful when it finds ways to tap into the public’s subconscious and provide some sort of mirror or escape.

I once read an article from 2008 that addressed this from a political standpoint: the Bush years, the inhumanity of extreme capitalism and There Will be Blood; the Obama campaign, hope and cute films full of possibility like Away We Go.

In that context, what does it mean that we now have critically acclaimed films like Blue Valentine and Like Crazy? Films that document falling head over heels for an idea and then getting (1) exhausted by working at it and/or (2) disillusioned. Similarly, what do our blockbusters mean now?

Almost two months ago, I worked an advance screening of Hugh Jackman’s Real Steel. In case you don’t know, it’s about robot boxing. Robot boxing. Despite coming into the film expecting to hate it and actually hating the first twenty minutes (the phrase “robot boxing” was actually used and I felt so disappointed and embarrassed for this screenplay’s writer), I liked it.

Real Steel is set somewhere between now and the 2020s. There are no flying cars, no Jetson-style homes (ps, I’m so glad we’ve all collectively realized that shit is just not ever happening), nothing to scare us or indicate that we’re too far from where we’ve been. But there are robots and almost no human emotion.

In the first pivotal scene, the robot that the story will revolve around, Atom, is described as being second-generation, while the robots that they have in the present are third and fourth generation. Second generation robots were dismissed as being “too human-like,” they’re used as sparring robots and, consequently, are made to withstand hits.

This second generation robot saves the life of the main character, a little boy. In a sense of obligation to his hero, the boy cleans him up and connects with him. He decides to enter the robot into boxing matches, despite everyone telling him that the robot is old and a piece of junk. But he doesn’t listen, and Atom is thrown into matches in the only place that will take him: “The Zoo.” This is a bacchanal, junkyard of robots run by people who still exhibit human pleasures: girls and boys, boys and boys, and girls and girls hang off each other, drink beer and yell and make bets while Atom fights.

It’s a Disney movie, so of course the robot wins and keeps winning, and this is where you can see the world that these people are living in.

Robot boxing (oh, that phrase) is the new American basketball: it’s popular and profitable and the fighters are unreal—literally unreal, because they’re made out of steel. That’s where the title comes in—the “World Champion” robot, a robot described as “the champion of this universe, and any known and unknown” is named Zeus and is tons and tons of steel.

He was created by an international hipster and is owned by what looks like a Kardashian. They run around in an extravagant penthouse suite filled with even more Kardashians and indistinguishable blondes.

Everyone glorifies the seemingly indestructible and recoils at the human. In fact, the mortality of human beings makes them insignificant; everyone invests in their money-making robots, not people—which is why a robot made to reflect human emotions is discarded. Who wants to be any part of that?

When Atom faces his big-stakes-patented-Disney-challenge he gets three rounds with Zeus and three rounds to teach us a lesson. First he survives when he shouldn’t, he gets back up when no one thinks he can and finally, when he loses his ability to operate on his own, Hugh Jackman steps in to control him in a “shadow-mode” where the robot can only mimic the movements of somebody else. Whether the robot wins or loses, it’s only as good as the human operating it—and never better than that.

In watching the final scenes, I couldn’t help but think of Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” and feel hopeful. We are the ones that are indestructible and this is a nice reminder.

6/10. because the night

Patti Smith.

Patti Fucking Smith.

It’s so obvious it embarrasses me.

It’s like: she’s the coolest and the sun is hot. To say anything else seems redundant. Obvious.

But then again, that’s the whole point.

That is why this all started.

Because of the British.

Because I’d rather feel over saturated with news of women whose titles include a few conjunctions than with news of women who are lauded for their genetic makeup and silence.

Because of what Amy said and especially because of the last line of her quote.

Once it comes into the adult realm it’s like, ‘Great, go for it, do your own thing … Sit on cakes. Do whatever the fuck you want.’ It’s just that I get worried for young girls sometimes; I want them to feel that they can be sassy and full and weird and geeky and smart and independent, and not so withered and shriveled … More than it being the Pussycat Dolls thing? It’s just distracting from what is real power.

Did you know Patti Smith invented the mosh pit?

Patti Smith’s black hair inspired millions of girls and boys with Xs on their hands to dye their own hair inky black and stage dive into crowds.

Patti Smith wore ripped jeans sitting next to John Stamos on a plane once and the next day he bought ripped jeans.

Okay, Patti Smith may or may not have done any of the above, but in 1967 the 21-year-old future “Godmother of Punk” moved to Brooklyn to become an artist and then she did. THE END. It was really easy and simple and she didn’t understand why EVERYBODY wasn’t doing it because OMGEASY.

No.

She was 21 and seeking refuge and acceptance. She found Robert Mapplethorpe and, consequently, everything else she was looking for—or, at least, everything she needed.

She was a poet first, a rock star by accident and a punk by necessity. She and Robert lived through poverty and all the necessary growing pains of finding yourself. And she’s shared it all with us.

Just Kids, the 2010 National Book Award non-fiction winner, is a memoir of Smith and Mapplethorpe’s early lives in New York and you’ve either heard about it and already read it or plan to read it and water is wet and other shocking discoveries. But in case you don’t know, it was just announced that it’s being adapted into a screenplay.

Patti and Robert were friends until the day he died.

I can never decide what the most interesting part of a memoir is: the meandering path that people take to become who they’re supposed to be (always so much clearer in retrospect), the little secrets nestled into already known information or the freak encounters that change the entire direction and trajectory of someone’s life. Sometimes, just the act of writing it seems like the most interesting part.

David Sedaris once said that when he re-reads journals from years ago and wants to tear pages out, he resists the urge because he knows that if he feels that way it means he hasn’t learned anything from it yet.

So, here’s Patti, showing us the pages of her journals, pointing out the beautiful and ugly parts like a kindergarten teacher at story time.

“Here is the boy I met and fell in love with in New York City.”

“Here is where I found my confidence.”

“Here is where I lost my confidence. And money.”

“Here are my ambitions.”

Memoirs, and especially the memoirs of women like Patti, are good reminders to keep the pages in your journals. Because the stories worth telling don’t come without their share of bad and it’s a good idea to remember that.

RIP MPDG

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is doe-eyed, ethereal, physically and emotionally transparent, or if we’re going to get particular with that one: translucent (in terms of her skin). You’ve probably heard of her, or if not you’ve seen her. Nathan Rabin coined the term in 2008, thanks to Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown and Kirsten Dunst’s supporting character in that film.

 

“The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family.”

By proxy, the MPDG is the heroine of any story in which she’s featured just by existing and never leaving the side of the loser-creative-type male protagonist she serves. Oh, and she has the super-human ability to not ever need to express any emotions that don’t directly correlate with her protag’s own revelations and self-growth. Super cool!

“Like the Magical Negro, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype is largely defined by secondary status and lack of an inner life. She’s on hand to lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums, not to pursue her own happiness.”

Jezebel and many others have already written essays decrying the MPDG and even the “Amazing Girl” (ie, the muse – I find the fact that someone used this phrase as a negative absolutely annoying, MANY thumbs down) so there’s no need to go into that again, but I think the scourge of MPDGs is gone now–at least, kind of.

On Tuesday, I watched an advance screening (thank you, Fillmore!) of 50/50, a new film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays a cancer-ridden good guy who has been given a 50/50 chance of survival. Blah blah, it might make you cry, blah (ps, I liked it and it’s very sweet). Anna Kendrick costars as his 24-year-old therapist and, as stated by Fillmore, plays the same character she’s been playing for, oh, basically her entire career. It’s true. I’ve never really noticed, probably because I really like her, and definitely because there’s nothing wrong with the characters she plays.

She always plays sometimes nice, sometimes mean, always smart and successful girls who have the ability to (and I’m going to get soooooo cheesy here in a second) change the lives of the people around her by living her life first.

Remember when appeasing phrases like “love means never having to say you’re sorry” were uttered in films by women on their death beds? Or, when women opted to be single mothers in New York instead of blissfully unaware Stepfords in LA after dating men who tried to shirk their responsibilities by saying they “can’t get negative enough” and “can’t get positive enough”?

I think with more women like Anna Kendrick and more stories written with that type of girl in mind, the MPDG will no longer be able to sustain herself and we can get back to films full of  characters we can recognize as human beings. Wild concept, I know, but I like to dream big. Anjelica Huston, who also co-stars in 50/50, is the antithesis of the MPDG. Her roles on screen, as well as in real life attest to that, which is a fact made even more impressive when you consider that she’s been working consistently since the 70s.

While more stories need to be written with the AKs and AJs of the world in mind, there has to be a change in the way men are written, too–another easy and redundant idea. But, really, if writers keep sharing stories about man-boy stoner-heroes or overly sensitive men who try to find the solution to all their problems in the form of a girl or woman, they need to get the fuck out. Like, now. They can come back when they’ve watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind enough times to learn how to write a story that presents a man and a woman as equal participants in whatever type of relationship they want to portray.

 

If they still don’t get it after that, Dealbreaker composed an easy to read explanation on what the MPDG would actually be like in real life (hint: a walking advertisement for rehab and possibly therapy).

ps, real commentary from a self-professed MPDG, or “Amazing Girl” as The Petite Sophisticate annoyingly refers to it:

OMG. I never realized it… I finally get it. I am an AG! Here’s something to make you feel better – men have a habit of falling madly in love with me and then freaking. AGs intoxicate lovers, but we can’t seem to keep them. They seem to disbelieve our reality and clam up, preventively.

I have had FIVE MEN fall madly in love with me, head over heels giddy, in the last eight months… only to freak out and back away when they realized that they couldn’t maintain the connection. It takes a lot of energy (and balls) to dance on hilltops with AGs. You envy the burn rate, how fast we move from sexy, soulful artist to sexy, soulful artist, blah blah blah… I guess it’s because anyone who’s not an AG (are there AMs?) can’t keep the “gates of experience” open indefinitely and bear what comes in. We are constantly disappointed. We are always hoping. And we refuse to become jaded. So, sure, the jaded envy that – but they by definition aren’t ready to deal with the pain of each successive disappointment. Wah wah wah. Yeah. Anyway, it’s a philosophical choice, we all make them.

Thanks for painting the picture so clearly. Sorry we bum you out. We bum ourselves out, too, sometimes.

where are you going, where have you been

 

For the past three years, trips out to Los Angeles have been annual and a respite from whatever temperature is plaguing the Midwest at any given time. Usually, it’s in the fall but it was so hot that exceptions were made.

I got an extra Kanter out of this trip and since meeting him I’ve decided I would spend seven billion years with these two in a cabin in the mountains, a Korean mall, an apartment in East LA with a shrieking tamales saleswoman as an alarm clock, in a car in LA traffic or, I guess, anywhere.

So, that’s where I’ve been.

ps, last Thursday I spent the afternoon at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Art in the Streets exhibit featuring the works of Shepard Fairey, BANKSY and Os Gemeos, among many others. The exhibit closed yesterday, but had been running since mid-April. It was the first major exhibition of graffiti and street art and OH MAN, was it amazing.

not as critics, but as participants

“For some reason—who knows why we do what we do?—JP started drinking again.”

The margins of nearly all my notebooks are lined with names of books, authors and quotes meant to remind me of specific conversations or to read certain essays. Usually, it works. The quote above is from Raymond Carver’s essay “Where I’m Calling From,” which was published in The New Yorker in 1982.

In attempting to write a story this summer that told “the whole truth” in a short amount of space, I was curious about Carver and where he was in fact calling from. It seemed like that aside in the above quotation held the whole truth of the story because it’s such an evergreen question. Why do any of us do anything that we do? And if we think about it too long will our heads float off into another dimension, or will we find the answer?

Last night Goodreads hosted an hour-long chat with Pulitzer Prize winning author Jennifer Egan. A majority of the questions were fan questions—people wondering what her favorite chapter was in her prize-winning book, A Visit from the Goon Squad, or people curious about what she would do next with the characters. She briefly mentioned the pilot that was being shot for HBO, emphasizing that it was in its early stages and could go anywhere, even absolutely nowhere, and talked about everything she knew about the characters. She said she had so much more to say on them but also mentioned that she wasn’t a fan of sequels or prequels, which was really wonderful to hear as a reader. If the story decided to come out in some way, or another (she is a fan of unconventional storytelling–one chapter in Goon Squad is told through PowerPoints and she just wrote a short story in the form of a to-do list), she would not fight it.

When the questions became more technical, she revealed that A Visit from the Goon Squad was written as individual chapters, which is easy to believe. Some of the chapters were released as essays long before the novel came out. I know of at least two: one in Granta and the other published in January 2010 in The New Yorker.

The New Yorker essay, “Safari“, was easily my favorite chapter in the book and was the reason why I wanted to tell a story that had everything in it from these characters’ points of view. Jennifer Egan has a knack for putting her reader in one very specific situation then giving them a sudden glimpse of the character’s entire world in a single sentence. This then colors the rest of the story. I wanted to do that—still want to do that. “Safari” is still available to read online if you want to get a glimpse of Egan’s style.

Because Raymond Carver’s essay is almost thirty years old, it is not supposed to be available online anymore. When you click on the link for it, it takes you to an abstract explanation of what the story is all about. But when you click it to read more, instead of asking you to supply login information or to buy a pass, it takes you to the complete text. Every time I flipped the virtual page I was sure that an error would pop up and it would leave me hanging, but it never happened and I was right about the aside: he’s telling it all in that moment.

Being able to interact and listen to Jennifer Egan last night was absolutely amazing and insightful, especially when she seemed to be reiterating what my professors have said. My favorite piece of advice came on the back-end of an answer she gave to the one question I submitted. In old interviews she’s mentioned how essential it was for her to be a part of writing communities, so I asked her about that and she directed me to The Paris Review’s slush-pile before saying the greatest thing ever, which (and I’m simplifying here) was that setting up a situation in which you can thrive is absolutely essential.

Really simple and obvious, I know, but having it stated was kind of an a-ha moment and will probably serve as a great reminder.

“It’s hard to pull off anything, take as long as you need”

In Goon Squad there is one chapter that I think tells the whole story of the novel and that’s the PowerPoint chapter. You see, everything ends – we all know that, but there parts where we think it’s all over, pauses.

“The pause makes you think the song will end. And then the song isn’t really over, so you’re relieved. But then the song does actually end, because every song ends, obviously, and THAT. TIME. THE. END. IS. FOR. REAL.”

4/10. mountains beyond mountains

Growing up, my mom was a tomboy and she has the scars on her knees and legs to prove it. They are not prominent scars but because I would see her legs looking immaculate in sheer pantyhose, it was jarring for me when I noticed them.

I asked where they came from and she casually explained her proclivity for trees, dirt and general rough-housing.

I was mortified. I liked all the same things, but I didn’t want them to literally scar me for life. So, I decided that I’d live my life with caution, never try the dirt ramps my brothers and their friends built; never jump on when they connected their bikes and skateboards with one of my jump ropes and would pedal, full-speed, around the block (this seriously happened and my brother has the filled in chipped tooth to prove it); never put myself in any situation in which I could fall and bruise. Tip-toeing through life and out of my own tomboy phase.

The universe would not let me get away that easily though. When I was sixteen and biking home from work, a pebble sitting in my path catapulted me over the handlebars of my bike where I skidded on the ground and picked up a few hundred pounds of gravel that sat embedded in my hands and arms for weeks. My bike was bent out of shape, so I had to readjust the wheel and chain then bike home covered in blood and grease.

That experience was all kinds of not-awesome, but not counting the two years of fear I had about getting back on a bike, it has left me unscarred. I have more scars on my legs from shaving than I do from actual physical activity.

In The Book of Awesome, the #998 thing out of 1000 awesome things was getting grass stains.

First of all, getting a grass stain means that you were running around at high speeds without proper equipment. Maybe you slid last-minute to avoid a frozen tag or made an awkward, somersault dive at a line-drive wiffleball. Either way, the grass stain symbolizes your large, devil-may-care investment in having balls-out fun, and that’s something worth respecting.

I would take that one step further and say that the scar, the bruise, the proof that you cared enough to throw yourself into something and attempted to tame it, that is worth respecting. Which leads me to the Longboard Girls Crew.

A group of girls who were tired of always being the minority in male-dominated crews decided to create their own community where they could feel confident, relaxed and welcome. After realizing how awesome this was, they decided to take it even further and have expanded it into an international crew—and it’s only been one year.

Two days ago they began filming a road trip documentary where female riders who have only met virtually through LGC will be meeting and longboarding together. They are being sponsored by Sector 9, Red Bull, Roxy, Nixon and Vans, to name a few, and all of this happened because of a spontaneous idea.

This video, shot by the same guy who will be producing their documentary, is stunning and if it won’t make you wish for grass stains and bruises, I hope it will at least take your breath away.

Carving the Mountains from Juan Rayos on Vimeo.

And I’m not high, I’m just always like this

There’s a live recording of Joan Baez performing “Silver Dagger” in 1972 and while she’s warming up/trying to remember the song, she rambles. Right before she actually begins to sing she issues the quote above to the audience and it’s just such a wonderful introduction to … anything, really. People should have that put on their business cards.

Don’t sing love songs you’ll wake my mother.

On Monday night I drove up to Kansas City to sit, stand, sway and experience Fleet Foxes at the Uptown Theater before they moved on to St. Louis then my hometown–accidentally—on their way out to Denver. But that Monday night singing and swaying almost didn’t happen.

Fleet Foxes has been around for a couple of years but I only discovered them this year, thanks to Stereogum and the music video for their song “Grown Ocean.” I looked up more info on them and found out that their lead singer, Robin Pecknold, was not against fans downloading their music for free. So, download I did.

Before the album’s release, Spin Magazine gave Robin the front cover and called Helplessness Blues the “Most Beautiful Album of the Year.” They were not lying.

It starts with the lines “So now I am older…” which somehow—and maybe I’m being dramatic here (I’m probably being dramatic here)—captures everything. Like, everything. EVER. If you stop at any time and think about your life how can you not think that line and then not immediately be struck by how true and sometimes scary that is? It’s so simple that it might make you want to scoff at it if you weren’t too busy reflecting on your life – like trying to keep your eyes open when you sneeze: it ain’t gonna happen.

The line finishes with Robin singing “…than my mother and father when they had their daughter, now what does that say about me? How could I dream of such a selfless and true love? Could I wash my hands of just looking out for me?”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laid on my bed and let this song—hell, this album—play on repeat as I think about all the milestones I’ve passed/am passing/will pass. I can’t tell you because you would probably come find me, slap me in the face and never let me complain about being tired again because CLEARLY I had enough time to listen to this goddamn album a lot. Wait, I’m sorry, you probably wouldn’t curse.

The whole point of the album boils down to one line in the title track.

“And now after some thinking
I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great
Machinery, serving something beyond me
But I don’t, I don’t know what
That will be!
I’ll get back to you someday soon…”

I could write thousand word essays on this band, this album and what it all felt like and meant for me to be there, but I’ll spare you the details.

Last year I lost my set of keys and had them replaced with originals. For fourteen months now I’ve been meaning to get copies of my car keys made at the dealer but somehow I have yet to make it there.

On Monday, after the opener, after I had bought a drink and found a great spot in the pit I realized I didn’t have my keys. Cut to: me looking everywhere, asking the ticket-takers (who also served as the lost and found) and them informing me that if I left the venue I would not be able to get back in. The Uptown is in a pretty seedy area and because it’s summer, there was still plenty of light out even though it was near eight. I figured waiting for AAA in the light would be a lot smarter and easier to do while no one was busy leaving and while I wasn’t stranded in the dark. So, I left and figured I’d see them some other day.

Then by some miracle, one of the parking attendants was a locksmith (maybe they all are?), I got a free ticket to go back inside and one of the security guards upstairs had been watching my drink.

The song I made it back inside for, one of their opening songs, was “Grown Ocean.” My first Fleet Foxes song.

“In that dream I could hardly
Contain it.
All my life I will wait to
Attain it…”

Wide eyed walker, don’t betray me. I will wake one day don’t delay me.

What are you waiting for? Go download it and see if it will mean anything to you, too.

Oh, and don’t read too much into that Joan Baez quote, that is one very loose end that does not at all match up with the loose end I just dangled after that last quote. Though Robin Pecknold has been known to perform covers of Joan Baez’s “Silver Dagger”, he did not perform it Monday night.

assvice

Last night I realized there is a reason “set and keep a budget” is number one on my to-do list and why I’ve been avoiding it for so long.

Jenny Blake, of Life After College, has a Four-Step Budget Template in ExCel that I sort-of took advantage of last year. I say “sort-of” because I think I filled it out then never looked at it again because I am Veruca Salt.

There it is: I am Veruca Salt.

You see, Veruca and I are both entitled children, although our entitlement comes from different places. Her (heaven help me, I am seriously writing about a fictional character) entitlement comes from never having heard the word no; mine comes from never saying the word no.

In the Four-Step Budget Template the first step is to fill in your income. This is what lulls me into a false sense of security. I work in an office during the week, at a chapel during the weekend and I get a semester stipend for the volunteer work that I do with our event planning board. Now, throw in sixteen credit hours, “free time” (work outs, hang outs) and don’t forget sleep! And you’ll see why I feel entitled to a new MZ, extra guac and the occasional four hour flight away from deadlines and the like. Because when I say “yes” to one thing, it’s always a secret promise to myself to say yes to something else just for me—which isn’t bad, technically, it’s just not always reasonable.

The second step in the budget template consists of the “must have expenses,” like: I must pay my rent and utilities if I’d like to keep up with the “I am human” illusion—also, my cell phone bill so I can either constantly ignore my friends’ text messages or constantly lament the fact that they never text me (Step #1 in being Veruca Salt, ie THE WORST: always feel burdened).

In step number two therein lies the rub. For in sleep what dreams may come and in must-have expenses all those dolla bills from step one must go.

Step three is where the “nice-to-have” expenses come in, like yoga classes twice a week, that previously mentioned MZ, or even enough money left over for a concert and a book—which I want: all of the above, no exceptions please.

Step four is the allowance, which is what’s left over when all the expenses are taken out of your income.

If I cut one job (which I’m really thinking about doing: life’s too short! Carpe diem! I’m over it! Et cetera, et cetera!), that reduces my allowance down to twenty dollars a month. TWENTY BUCKS.

That’s also considering the fact that ten percent of my paycheck is put away in savings as a “must-have” expense. I got my first job at sixteen and ever since I’ve been practicing the ten percent saving strategy, which used to be chump change  but is pretty hearty now. Also, I’ve counted my September festival trip into a second savings tab in “must-have” expenses, because I want to make sure I can afford it. I’d honestly rather cut some “nice-to-have” expenses (like eating out or booze) for a couple of weeks/months for a few days of exactly what I want a few months from now.

Which, I guess is how I would instruct the other Veruca Salts of the world in growing up, because that’s what this. I am getting dangerously close to technically being an adult.

First step: learn patience.

We know you want the world, girl (or boy—Veruco, anyone?) and that you “want it now” but it’s 2011—everyone wants that! Where there’s smoke there’s fire and where there’s demand, there are inflated prices. Also, feline aids.

Sorry 'bout it

Second step: Learn that when you say no (to waiting, work, anything), it means you have to temporarily say no to something else that you want. Like I said, everybody wants everything, meaning you will have to wait for something.

Final step: be original. Veruca is an original; you can tell that by her killer imagination. If it weren’t for her indulgent father, she might have been able to just let that blossom without always needing to have some concrete representation of everything that ever popped into her head (side note: I would pay all twenty of my “allowance” dollars to see a Jumanji remake starring her and her father because you know she’d beg him for a real-life version of the game instead of the plain-ol’ regular game).

Everyone wants everything, so you know what’s cool? Not wanting everything. At the very least, look at what you want and figure out whether it comes from a desire within or outside of yourself.

Rest assured, your life (and heart) will go on without those shoes/that game/that phone/that accessory.

When in doubt, don’t over-think it, do not be a vermicious kinid and Augustus, please! Save some room for later!