Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My Fight Songs: Tunes for the Longest Long Run I've Ever Done, the New York City Marathon

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If a runner's playlist says a lot about her, a marathon runner's playlist says a whole lot.

I mean that literally—there are 83 songs on this bad boy.

I've known people who could get through a marathon listening to one Lady Gaga song on repeat. I know runners who prefer purely instrumental. My sister-in-law and fiancé like to run to the stylings of AC/DC and Henry Rollins, respectively. For some people, nothing can get them moving like a good, hard yell.

I myself like to guide my list by what part of the race I'm in at any given time (and I also have a penchant for male falsettos and badass female rappers). 

Here is the compilation I've gradually built over the past two years. It's what will keep me company as I push myself through all five boroughs of New York on foot, trying to reach Central Park in less than five hours. Trying to reach Central Park at all, God willing.

If this list and I part ways I will be lost. OK, so I'm being dramatic.

No, really, I won't know what to do.


Miles 1 through 4 (the Verrazano Bridge to Bay Ridge)

“A Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay: My evergreen intro; I started using this when I ran my first half. It’s like a Winter Olympics commercial, any Winter Olympics commercial, as long as that commercial features the fresh sound of a skater on ice. It’s large, all-encompassing and gradually builds from a slower start…all things I’ll want to emulate when that gun goes off.

“New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel: It’s not like Frank’s “Theme From New York, New York”—now that’s an all-out celebration. This is a man sitting over his newspaper and coffee at a kitchen table, looking out the window, perhaps at the Verrazano Bridge, and thinking to himself, Yeah, this is my kinda place…

“We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus: Say what you will about Miley—this is the most motivating song on my list. Exhibit A) the bridge: “It’s our party, we can do what we want to/It’s our house, we can love who we want to/It’s our song, we can sing if we want to/It’s my mouth, I can say what I want to.” It’s all about personal power, man. If you want to run 26.2 miles, well then go run 26.2 miles. And go ahead and say whatever you goddamn please while you’re at it.

“Work” by Iggy Azalea: Those first couple miles are always rough when you have six months of accumulated muscle fatigue. At this point, it’s starting to feel like hard work. So it helps a whole lot to hear a badass rapping “I've been up all night, tryna get that rich/I've been work, work, work, work, working on my shit.” She later adds, “Too late, now I’m in this bitch.” It’s mile 2, so that’s pretty damn true.

“Dark Horse” by Katy Perry: Merriam-Webster’s definition of “dark horse”: “an entrant in a contest that is judged unlikely to succeed.” That sounds familiar.

“The Night Is Still Young” by Nicki Minaj: That’s right—I put Nicki two songs away from Miley. Deal with it. Remember that muscle fatigue I mentioned? This is where I remember I’m about to add 24 more miles of it. But then Nicki sings, “What is the hurry? It's pretty early/It's OK, we'll take our time./The night is still young, the night is still young, the night is still young and so are we.” And I start to relax a little. Later in the song, she says, “My only motto in life is don’t lose.” I like that, too.

“On the Floor” by Jennifer Lopez, featuring Pitbull

“Where Are U Now” by Skrillex and Diplo, featuring Justin Bieber

“Chains” by Nick Jonas

“Can’t Feel My Face” by the Weeknd

“Take Me Home” by Cash Cash

“Beautiful Now” by Zedd, featuring Jon Bellion

Pompeii” by Bastille

These songs are all up-tempo filler I added in the past few weeks; no special meanings here. Just trying to keep my pace.

Miles 4 through 6 (Sunset Park)

“Happy” by Pharrell Williams: Obviously.

“Girls Chase Boys” by Ingrid Michaelson:
The lyrics I need to hear after mile 5: “I’m a little bit down, but I’m not dead/There’s a little bit more that has to be said.”

Timber” by Ke$ha, featuring Pitbull: At least two songs on this playlist feature Pitbull, whose wardrobe a friend of mine describes as “creepily geriatric—you know, since he’s 34.” I honestly have no idea how he ended up on this list twice. Ke$ha made it on twice, too, but that makes more sense.

Bend Ova” by Lil Jon: Huh? I know, I can’t believe it’s here either. But this one has the fastest pace and gets me going when I’m starting to lag. It also has the dirtiest lyrics, to the point where I’m almost offended. And yet it stays. I guess I just like being commanded to “bounce my ass like a yoga ball.”

“Only Girl (in the World)” by Rihanna:
Pure egotism, really.

“Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake: When this one comes on, I breathe a sigh of relief, because at six minutes, it’s just so gosh darn long. Also, it makes me imagine my wedding in the spring with the “other half of me,” who also incidentally helped me train for this race. And, well, it’s Justin Timberlake.

Miles 6 through 8 (Park Slope)

“Ho Hey” by the Lumineers

“Daylight” by Maroon 5:
I have a lot of Maroon 5 songs on here, for no real reason except that they were often played in my gym when I started doing 5Ks, and I seem to enjoy running to very high-pitched male voices—something about their relentless effort makes me want to put more effort into my run. That’s the truth.

“Shower” by Becky G

“All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor

“Scream & Shout” by, featuring Britney Spears:
Pretty much any song that includes the line “Britney, bitch” is a song I can run to. Also, this one celebrates screaming, which almost makes me also want to do hand gestures. More on that later.

Black Widow” by Iggy Azalea, featuring Rita Ora: There’s that Iggy again. This is one in a long line of “fuck my ex” songs.

Really Don’t Care” by Demi Lovato: This is another one.

Miles 8 through 12 (Williamsburg)

“Love Runs Out” by One Republic: “I’m gonna keep on running, keep on running, ’til the love runs out.” Repeat.

“Break Free” by Ariana Grande:
Another “fuck my ex” song, but it talks about independence in general, which I enjoy. “I’m stronger than I’ve been before,” she says.

“Maps” by Maroon 5: See?

“Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift:
OK, so this is the beginning of what I like to call “the gestures.” I often find myself, by the time this song comes on, doing a motion with my right hand, as though I am shaking something off of my person. Letting something go. Is it pain? Is it the haters? Who’s to say? I know. I’m a weirdo.

“Photograph” by Ed Sheeran:
My only rationale for putting this song here is that Ed’s BFFs with Taylor. But to be serious, this is why it’s here: “Loving can heal./Loving can mend your soul./And it's the only thing that I know (know)./I swear it will get easier./Remember that with every piece of ya./And it's the only thing we take with us when we die.”

Much of my marathon training has been a grief journey for me. I spent several years after my father’s death being angry at the world, focusing in on how scary and unfair the event of his departure was. The way that it happened. That I didn’t get to say goodbye. That I didn’t know how scary it might have been for him.

As I’ve gotten physically stronger as a runner, I’ve also gotten emotionally stronger as my dad’s daughter. As me. That’s the most important part. I’ve gotten emotionally stronger as me. For the first time in the past 12 years, I now feel that I have spoken up and begun to make a difference in the community of people who’ve lost loved ones to distracted drivers. Unfortunately, there is a whole community of them. It’s a group of people who have to deal with the senselessness of a loss—and really, most losses are senseless, but this is something we all face every single day and never think anything could possibly go wrong when we use our phones. It just feels stupid, in a way. That it could cost someone their life. What a dumb way to go. But it happens…and for the first time, since I’ve taken action, I no longer feel that my dad's death could be seen as meaningless, ubiquitous, impersonal and dumb, or that I am somehow meaningless and dumb in connection to it…in other words, I no longer feel that the way he died has to convey his worth somehow. Because his life was worth a great deal, even if his death was probably the result of someone making a phone call.

And as long as I’m communicating that worth to the world, I’ve done part of what I’ve been put on this earth to do…and I am freed. I get to just be Laura again.

“First Flight Home” by Jake Miller: I listened to this one a lot when I used to run in Central Park. I’d run by Sheep’s Meadow, where I had one of my first dates with my fiancé, and think about the flights he took out to visit me when we first met. During my marathon training, this song made me realize that I'm the one who's never home now.

“Rhythm of Love” by Plain White T’s

“Team” by Lorde

“Problem” by Ariana Grande, featuring Iggy Azalea: It’s like the perfect equation for my running routine—a high-pitched, airy voice, a big “F you” to my ex, and Iggy Azalea. Add some sentiment to this, put a fork in me and I’m done.

“Die Young” by Ke$ha: I realize a lot of my songs talk about being young, and that’s OK. I’m 37. I’m still young, as far as I’m concerned. Also, she sings about “dirty socks” in this song. Also, its amazing rhythm.

“Chandelier” by Sia:
Over the summer, my cousin asked me what Sia is talking about in this song, as though she was sure I would absolutely know the answer to that. I can’t say I know, except that I was once a party girl, and party girls don’t get hurt, they don’t feel anything, when will I learn, I push it down, push it down…

Mostly I love this song because it starts out slow and gets huge, like most running songs I like, and Jim Carrey once sang it on the VMAs and I’m forced to picture him singing it every time I hear it.

“Get Lucky” by Daft Punk

“Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen

Miles 12 through 15 (Greenpoint, Pulaski Bridge, Long Island City)

“Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley

“If You’re Not the One” by Daniel Bedingfield

“The Only Living Boy in New York” by Paul Simon

“The Great Intoxication” by David Byrne

“The Story” by Brandi Carlile

“Danny’s Song” by Loggins and Messina

“You’re My Home” by Billy Joel

“All of Me” by John Legend

“I Choose You” by Sara Bareilles

“Stay Young, Go Dancing” by Ben Gibbard

This is an especially grueling part of the course—the halfway point over the Pulaski Bridge. So I’ve chosen the songs that mean the most to me in the world, a chronology of my relationship with my fiancé. They start in 2003 when we met online (he was in Seattle and I was in New York) with Buckley, Bedingfield and Simon; move on to the 2005 to 2008 years, when we were long-distance again between Baltimore and Pennsylvania; segue into songs from when we had our first home together in 2008; and end in our most recent years, choosing to wed. These songs will be played at our wedding, if I have anything to say about it.

Mostly they remind me of how far we’ve come from those days when we used to roam the streets of New York and couldn’t afford to do a damn thing. We both lived in Queens when we were first dating, and that’s the part of the course where this portion starts.

Miles 15 through 18 (Queensboro Bridge, Dorrian’s Red Hand, Upper East Side)

“One More Night” by Maroon 5: There’s that Adam Levine again.

“Glory of Love” by Peter Cetera:
After the runners make it over the Queensboro Bridge, the quietest part of the course, they’re often faced with the roar of the crowds lining First Avenue. I haven’t run more than 16 miles in any one long run during training, so this is a scary threshold for me to cross. So I’ve chosen songs that make me feel brave, the songs my brothers and I love.

As the only girl in my family, I watched a lot of sports movies growing up. This song is from one of them. After we watched "Karate Kid II" for the first time, my younger brother started singing this song to himself every night as he fell asleep. Hearing it makes me feel misty and triumphant, and the lyrics are especially poignant because he will be my “Man of Honor” at my wedding later this year: “You keep me standing tall, you help me through it all/I'm always strong when you're beside me./I have always needed you, I could never make it alone./I am a man who will fight for your honor.”

“Make Me Lose Control” by Eric Carmen: This one is here because my “girl cuzzes” and I used to sing it all the time. And it’s very upbeat. It makes me feel about 11.

“Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor:
My brother and stepbrothers love “Rocky.” We’re from Philly. Enough said.

“Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi: When my mom started dating my stepdad, my brother and stepbrothers and I used to put on concerts for them in our basement rec room, and they were exclusively Bon Jovi concerts. Each one of the five of us had his or her signature song. This one was mine.

“Dancing Queen” by ABBA:
I’ve purposely placed this one to play around 84th Street, near the bar Dorrian’s Red Hand. A year after I first moved to New York, I got an apartment on the Upper East Side. It was cramped and tiny. My brother and one of my stepbrothers helped me move, which was somewhat of a disaster because I was very irresponsible and had barely packed. I couldn't get my act together. This was a year after my father died, and I wondered what I was still doing living in the city with no real job prospects.

My brothers were kind and helpful, and later that night, when we went out to a bar for the first time in my new neighborhood, this song came on and my brother danced with me. And for a moment, it was like everything was OK—I was a 20-something experiencing my glamorous new life in New York, in my own apartment (well I did have that random Craig’s List roommate, but anyway), and I was going to do something with my life. This song always makes me think of how he helped me celebrate that.

“Killing Me Softly With His Song” by the Fugees:
My younger brother’s the karaoke king, and he often laughs at me when I say this song is “in my range,” whatever that means. It’s one we performed a duet to once in Boston.

“Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey: My oldest stepbrother is not the karaoke king, but he sure does love getting drunk and singing on tables. That’s all I have to say about this one.

“Love Shack” by the B-52s:
This is from that time the five of us did karaoke in the Outer Banks and my brother and I brought down the house.

Miles 18 through 23 (the Bronx and potentially the Wall)

“Trumpets” by Jason DeRulo

“Fireflies” by Owl City

“Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys:
I will without a doubt be very emotional by the time I reach this point, so I’ve queued up these songs to match. I'll need to be reminded here exactly why I’m doing this.

By mile 19 I’m going to start to worry. So this song is the perfect choice. The Beach Boys number among the many singers who make me think of my dad, and I’m going to need his guidance here.

“Father and Daughter” by Paul Simon: This one has been on my playlist since I ran my first half a year ago. It came on randomly one day on the treadmill and I couldn’t get over how much it made me think of my father.

The lyrics:

If you leap awake in the mirror of a bad dream/And for a fraction of a second you can't remember where you are/Just open your window and follow your memory upstream/To the meadow in the mountain where we counted every falling star./I believe a light that shines on you will shine on you forever/And though I can't guarantee there's nothing scary hiding under your bed/I'm gonna stand guard like a postcard of a Golden Retriever/And never leave 'til I leave you with a sweet dream in your head./I'm gonna watch you shine/Gonna watch you grow/Gonna paint a sign/So you'll always know/As long as one and one is two/There could never be a father/Who loved his daughter more than I love you./Trust your intuition/It's just like goin' fishin'/You cast your line and hope you get a bite./But you don't need to waste your time/Worryin' about the marketplace./Try to help the human race/Struggling to survive its harshest night.”

After that the chorus repeats. My father died on August 8, and shortly thereafter, I decided any time I saw two 8’s, that was him saying hello. So the part about painting the signs, and the numbers, really resonates with me as something my dad would do. This is especially meaningful when I’m running a race and see the mile markers go by. I believe my father would want me to avoid wasting my time “worrying about the marketplace,” and “try to help the human race, struggling to survive its harshest night.” That’s why I’m running this race. It’s why I’m championing this cause.

“Africa” by Toto

“Forever Young” by Rod Stewart and “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and the Papas:
Now that I’ve gotten past the emotional part, I’m going to need a little help from my friends, and these two make me think of my closest friend, the one who lives the farthest away from me. Rod’s song is similar to Paul’s in its message—I imagine it’s the advice her father would give her, so I’m co-opting it here. And California dreaming is what I do often these days, since all the leaves are brown, and she’s all the way out there, not here. When I’m in the ghost town part of the Bronx I’ll feel that way especially.

“Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac: This is the beginning of the “me songs” time line, the songs that have inspired me and motivated me at various times in my life. I went through a big Fleetwood Mac phase in college when they had the reunion tour. This was part of that. Also, this song is just filled with good advice from Lindsey Buckingham.

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles:
Another song with a huge crescendo, my running-song preference. This one is extra-special though, because by running for End Distracted Driving in honor of my dad, I am “taking a sad song and making it better.”

Also, this: “So let it out and let it in, hey Jude, begin/You're waiting for someone to perform with./And don't you know that it's just you, hey Jude, you'll do/The movement you need is on your shoulder./Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah yeah.”

I used to listen to that song when I was 24 and think about how badly I wanted someone to perform with. I’d try to realize that it was OK if he hadn’t arrived, because “the movement I needed was on my shoulder.” In interviews, Paul McCartney has said this was really one of John Lennon’s nonsense lines—it doesn’t mean anything, it just sounds good. But I think it’s very spiritual. Before I had someone to perform with, the movement I needed was on my shoulder. I have a band mate now…but the movement I need is still on my shoulder anyway.

I’m going to need that movement right at that very moment if I’m to finish this race. (And this playlist story…yeesh.)

“Summer, Highland Falls” by Billy Joel

“When I Was a Boy” by Dar Williams: This song is going to be extra motivating because it’s about tomboys who ride bikes topless and climb trees… and run marathons, maybe. I listened to this over and over again my last year of college, sad about contemplating my place in the world as a woman.

“I Hope You Dance” by JoAnn Womack:
My mother gave me a journal with the lyrics of this song on the cover to encourage me when I moved to New York by myself at 25 to become a writer. These lyrics helped me then, and will help me now, getting to mile 23: “I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,/Never settle for the path of least resistance./Livin' might mean takin' chances but they're worth takin',/Lovin' might be a mistake but it's worth makin',/Don't let some hell bent heart leave you bitter,/When you come close to sellin' out reconsider,/Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance,/And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”

I’m dancing, Mom.

“Prelude/Angry Young Man” by Billy Joel:
When I had a very hard time finding full-time work as a journalist in New York, I used to joke that I had become the “angry young man.” This was essentially my theme song. I hated the world. Everything was unfair. That time still motivates me to do things that are positive. I’m certain that it always will.

“Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen: Self-explanatory. Look at the lyrics: “I'm a shooting star leaping through the sky/Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity./I'm a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva/I'm gonna go go go,/There's no stopping me./I'm burnin' through the sky yeah./Two hundred degrees,/That's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit./I'm trav'ling at the speed of light/I wanna make a supersonic man out of you.”

One last surge to the finish!!!

“Fight Song” by Rachel Platten:
If there were one song that could truly express what this marathon journey and my attempt to raise awareness about distracted-driving deaths has been like for me, it would be this one. I’ll just put the lyrics here. It has taken me two years to pull all of this together. And now I am reaching the end of the marathon portion.

“Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Into motion
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion

And all those things I didn't say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time?

This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song
My power's turned on
Starting right now I'll be strong
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care if nobody else believes
'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me

Losing friends and I'm chasing sleep
Everybody's worried about me
In too deep
Say I'm in too deep (in too deep)
And it's been two years
I miss my home
But there's a fire burning in my bones
Still believe
Yeah, I still believe

And all those things I didn't say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time?

This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song
My power's turned on
Starting right now I'll be strong
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care if nobody else believes
'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me

A lot of fight left in me.”

Miles 23 through 26.2 (Central Park)

“Some Nights” by Fun.

“Roar” by Katy Perry

“What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” by Kelly Clarkson

“Work Bitch” by Britney Spears

“We Are Young” by Fun.

“Paradise” by Coldplay

“Applause” by Lady Gaga

This is my OG playlist. I started competing in 5Ks to this playlist two years ago, so I’ve kept it on my iPhone ever since. I’ve just built upon it as I’ve added miles. By now, hearing these songs induces a reaction in my legs much like a bell’s ring did for the salivary glands of Pavlov’s dogs. When Katy Perry says “Roar,” I run.

And that is the kind of robotic reaction I’m going to need in these last few miles through Central Park. The prettiest part of the route by far, and likely the part where I might hallucinate the Virgin Mary—hey, it’s happened to people! Please pray that this does not happen to me….

NB: My hand gestures extend to a few of these songs…I’ve been known to do a lot of fist-pumping to “Roar.” When Britney commands me to “put my hands up, fingers to the sky,” you'd better believe I do it. And when Gaga says she lives for the applause, applause, applause, I start clapping for myself. This is not a joke. I am the crazy lady clapping.

“Walk Like a Man” and “Medley: Stay/Let’s Hang On” by the cast of Jersey Boys:
These songs are tremendously effective. They just feel like the end of an album. Here you have the ultimate in high-pitched male voices. And “walk like a man” simply means, keep going—walk with dignity. You’re exhausted, but keep doing it. And “Let’s hang on to what we’ve got, don’t give up girl, we’ve got a lot,” well that just makes me want to refuse to give up what I’ve worked so hard for.

When I ran the half marathon in Virginia Beach, my old headphones crapped out and I only heard bits and pieces of songs. Only one sentence of this last Jersey Boys song came through, and it was “Go on and be his bride. Don’t you worry ’bout me.”

Running this race and feeling like I was doing something to honor my dad was something I decided to do after my fiancé proposed.

“Theme From New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra:
"These vagabond shoes....are longing to stray...right through the very heart of it...New York, New York!"

Time for some pasta, some chocolate milk and an ice bath, in no particular order. And a nap.

By the way, it's not too late to help out. Go to to donate.

Friday, October 23, 2015

My Maddicts Party Recap: On Finding My Feather, Embracing My Otherness and Discovering the Confidence to Fly

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A few nights ago, I was watching some videos on, which I do once in a while—I especially love Eckhart Tolle's—and I came across this very inspiring clip of Janet Mock:

Yes, I know, it's corny to watch Oprah videos. But I dare you to watch that and not be moved to tears.

In her speech to Oprah's audience at UCLA, and with a very careful, poised, studied delivery, Mock tells her story about growing up transgender. This speech is inspiring to me in so many ways, but I think the part that touches me the most is her description of her move to New York and her work as an editor at People magazine. Or rather, her climb to becoming a magazine editor. She talks about how despite her shiny and strong exterior, as this successful person she had set out to be, she was secretly suffering. Because as someone whose job it is to supposedly be a truth-teller, her whole persona was a lie. When she moved to New York, Mock chose to keep her transgender status concealed. She enjoyed the freedom that secret provided and the anonymity she felt as just another woman in such a big city.

Ultimately, Mock expresses in this video how important it is to tell your story, to have the courage to be your most authentic self. "Embrace the otherness," she says. Because it is the otherness that makes you who you are. Mock has since gone on to write a New York Times best-selling memoir called Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More.

I've also been a bit infatuated with the Disney movie Dumbo lately. Maybe this is because since my bridal shower, I've been noticing elephants appearing around me in odd places—on my cousin's tote bag at the shower, on the curtains in the room where we played "Head's Up" (the game from Ellen—have you played this? It's so much fun!), on a scarf my aunt wanted to buy in Anthropologie the next day, on videos that kept popping up on Facebook, on a necklace a new girl in the elevator at work was wearing. Like many people, I recently watched the Walt Disney biography on PBS, so maybe that implanted the movie in my mind.

Dumbo is someone Janet Mock would consider to be "other." He is different. But, as Timothy S. Mouse tells him after the two find themselves inexplicably high up in a tree after an accidentally drunken night of hallucinating pink elephants, "the very things that held you down are gonna carry you up and up and up."

When my father died in a car accident in 2003, part of me looked at what had happened and got very angry, because in a way, this was one more event in my life that was making me "other." And, like Janet Mock, I had escaped to New York City from a life I no longer wanted.

I'd been lucky enough to earn an internship at a magazine in New York. I knew the going would be tough. This was an opportunity I took after sending out hundreds of résumés to various news outlets, and mostly getting no responses whatsoever. Looking back, I probably should have tried harder to get something in my hometown, just to start. But my eyes were bigger than my stomach. I wanted excitement, I wanted to see the world. So I chose the $10 per day internship.

(A disclaimer: When I was at home in Delaware, looking for jobs, I was fortunate enough to have parents who allowed me to live with them for free, despite being just out of college. They also paid for my college education in its entirety. Especially as I get older, I am very well aware of how blessed my circumstances as a child were, and grateful for how hard my mother and stepdad had to work to make that happen. That being said, both of them were very nervous about my moving to New York with only $1,000 to my name and a $10 per day internship.)

I was fearless then. My gut was telling me, You must do this. So I listened. But I was also only 25 and very inexperienced in the world.

Like Dumbo, I quickly found a guide. My now-fiancé was a part-time writer and editor in Seattle, and a full-time IT guy. He also wanted something more exciting in his life.

And thank God I found him when I did. I had just gone through an incredibly difficult, life-changing year.

I'll put it this way: When I made the decision to move to New York, my ex-boyfriend, who I was still friends with at the time, said to me, "I'm glad you're doing this. New York is the perfect place for people like you."

What he was alluding to was the fact that a week after my college graduation, I'd had to spend six days in withdrawal from nine medications in a hospital. This was because I'd agreed to see a therapist in my last year of college who decided that my clinical depression required a complicated "cocktail."

I chalk this up now to the trendiness of prescribing lots and lots of prescription drugs to patients who probably mostly needed talk therapy—this was just beginning back in 2002. But as I was only 24, I listened to everything he told me. When he told me I needed to consider my limitations in life, I listened. When he told me I was a "failure at life," because I refused to take a prescribed Ambien at night sometimes, I listened.

He eventually told me he could no longer treat me because I was "not compliant." The irony of this is laughable. My life was falling apart because I was so compliant.

When I saw a new doctor a few weeks later, she was horrified by how many medicines I was on. I'm not even going to go into the various side effects these drugs incurred, but I'll just say that I was a bit of a walking zombie, had gained about 20 pounds very rapidly, had panic attacks that often required ER visits and was a shell of my former self. But after those six days in the hospital, getting off all those drugs, the doctors there simply said, "All you have is severe anxiety, you don't need to be here." And I went home.

(Another disclaimer: Depression was something I first showed symptoms of when I was 16 years old, and by the hospital visit, it was something my parents and brother and I had struggled to find the right treatment for. I'd seen seven different doctors over the years by the time I ended up with the prescription-happy one. It's fair to say that my mother saved my life by getting me treatment when I was a very depressed teenager, and that as a mother, she went through more anguish than I did dealing with this...because mothers always do. And I have an especially generous one.)

My new doctor, the one who'd sent me to the hospital to withdraw, said I'd survived it due to my own inner strength, that I should be proud of myself, and that she wasn't worried about me in the least because I had a good head on my shoulders.

She signed me up for talk therapy, but after a few visits I decided it wasn't for me. I had become fairly disenchanted with counseling.

When I left the hospital, I was a very different version of myself. It was the first experience I'd ever had that I sensed not one person in my everyday life had experienced—and when you're 25, this idea that nobody has ever gone through what you've gone through is heightened, of course. Because you are largely basing this on what your peers tell you.

I realized I had two options in front of me: I could decide that I was a freak because of the stigma I felt, or I could choose to use it to my advantage. I picked the latter.

The worst had already happened to me, I thought. Nothing else could possibly be as scary and awful as that hospital had been.

And so like Janet Mock, I hid what had happened. I spent the next year of my life avoiding men from Delaware, who I assumed might have heard about me through the grapevine (though that probably wasn't anywhere close to the truth...then again, Delaware is a small place), and dating guys from various places (this is when Internet dating started getting big). One was from Syracuse, New York. One was a Mormon in Utah. One was a music writer in Philly who didn't own a phone in his house and smoked pot all day—that one did not end well.

And then one was a young guy in Seattle, who'd also gone out into the world seeking Timothy S. Mouse. His name was Steven.

When I finally reached the right moment to tell Steven about my hospital experience, I braced myself for rejection. A week or so after I'd left the hospital, my boyfriend at the time had sat across from me in the food court of a shopping mall and said he had to break up with me because his parents were concerned. He said his parents had been flipping through his high school yearbook, looking for other eligible girls for him to date. This was odd, I thought, because his mother had told him once that if she could have chosen a girlfriend for him, it would have been me. "What changed?" I asked him. "I thought your parents liked me?" "Well," he reminded me. "You were just in a hospital."

This wasn't a huge blow romantically speaking...he wasn't a man I loved, just a guy I had fun with. But it was certainly a betrayal, and it only echoed what they'd told me when I was in the day we were all sitting in group therapy, and one of the patients asked a counselor, "What do I tell people when I leave here?" And the counselor replied, "I'd highly advise never telling anyone that you had to spend any time in this place." The emphasis was on that patient's ability to find a job. But as the youngest member of this therapy group, I heard that message differently.

So when the moment came, and I told Steven what I had experienced—and many young men had failed this test in that year, the year I became the United Nations of online dating—he responded with one sentence: "I think you are an amazing woman."

Four years later, my brother introduced me to a TV show called Lost. By this time, I was living in Baltimore and frustrated about not having found full-time work in magazines—after all, I'd been trying for four years, which felt like a lifetime to a 20-something. I started binge-watching Lost during the week of Thanksgiving 2007—this was just as binge-watching was becoming a thing.

By the show's next season, I was all caught up. I'd had a lot of time on my hands to do this, because four months after I finally got that long-coveted magazine job, albeit at a very small trade magazine in the middle-of-nowhere, New Jersey, my company had had to lay off several employees for financial reasons. I was one of them.

This was in the middle of the recession, the perfect time to be job-hunting, especially in journalism (that's sarcasm). At the time, multiple magazines and newspapers were closing shop. People talked every day about how the Internet would eventually replace print journalism.

After many freelance copyediting jobs that year, I eventually landed at a celebrity news magazine. And because they covered entertainment, I got a shot at writing about what had become my TV obsession.

Three years later, I was working at Good Housekeeping, and tried to reprise my Lost effort with a show called Mad Men.

When I wrote about Lost, my goal was to emulate Jeff Jensen from Entertainment Weekly. I loved that he was able to find the literary references on the show and expand on them...that he could find things the writers were trying to communicate that viewers might not pick up on right away, but which could enhance viewers' experience if they read about them. This was the beginning of smart TV—Jensen was a pioneer.

With Mad Men, a GH Web editor and I came up with this concept of checking our magazine archives and seeing if I could find photos of outfits and hairdos identical to the ones that appeared on the show. Good Housekeeping is 130 years old. We felt this could be a corner of the TV recapping "market" that nobody had grasped. And while Mad Men was not a fantasy show, and not literary in the way Lost had been, writing about fashion and pop culture was something that really interested me. It was also very intimidating, though, because Mad Men wasn't a show that involved solving a puzzle, like Lost was. It was based on real-life events. And I was no history buff.

In the spring of 2014, I started writing my Mad Men recaps, and much like this particular blog post, they were lengthy and involved and complicated. I'd had the same issue with my Lost recaps—I wasn't really doing this intentionally, but in the back of my head, I was emulating Jeff Jensen. And Jensen isn't exactly known for his brevity.

I soon learned that what I was doing was too much for the GH website. And not only that, but when the recaps were trimmed to a more appropriate size, they still weren't popular enough with readers for the Web team to justify continuing posting them.

I was really dismayed by this. But ever my Timothy S. Mouse, Steven set me straight. "You have to keep writing these," he told me. "Even if it's only on your blog."

This idea made me concerned. After all, I'd only reached 800 to 1,000 readers a week with my Lost recaps because they were posted on the OK! website. Granted, OK! readers didn't always have the desire to sit there and get through 2,000 words, and God bless those Web editors who still let me keep posting them. But at least I had a podium. And when the recaps were on the GH website, I had a chance of reaching a million readers.

Downtrodden but determined, and very worried I would appear to be some super fangirl sitting in her basement, I continued with the recaps, here on—a blog I'd started back when I had to pretend to be a women's magazine editor, because I hadn't become one and who knew if I ever would.

Promoting my recaps was difficult. I knew I was annoying people on Facebook, posting my statuses every week, asking everyone to please check out my work. The GH Web editors graciously allowed me to keep using the Good Housekeeping title in my recap names, so at least that gave it some feeling of validity. And then one day I had a brilliant idea. Why not post links to these recaps on AMC's Mad Men forum? That's where the true fans were, after all. They called themselves "Maddicts."

And then slowly but surely, my writing developed a following, for the first time in my life.

I met people in the Mad Men forum who truly liked what I had to say. Yes, I'd always gotten kudos for my writing, from teachers, family, friends, etc. From my college journalism professors, from employers. From Steven. From literary journal editors. But this was the first time I had real, live readers who didn't know me from Adam. And I had barely anything backing up my abilities—I mean, let's be real here, this is a pretty rudimentary-looking blog. And my bio on the right screams "I am stuck in 2007."

But they were steadfast, and every week after I wrote a recap, whether it got 200 clicks (mostly from or 1,500, I knew I could rely on that AMC Mad Men forum for a real assessment of its worth.

This was significant to me for so many reasons.

By being willing to sit there and toil for days, researching the 1960s and 1970s (and eventually I went back and researched every decade of the century—I found every documentary I could on American pop culture, just so I could make sure I was getting my facts right), I finally embraced my inner "otherness."

I'd always been a person who was happy sitting for hours working on something that interested me. I had an ability to become interested and immersed in minutiae that many people I knew didn't have. I didn't know why I was this way. If often got me into trouble. When I was in high school, besides being diagnosed with depression, I was also diagnosed with ADHD-inattentive type. I received extra time on innate attention to details and perfectionism was often more of a hindrance than an asset. It takes me much longer than most normal people to do most things, and that includes leaving the house, especially if it involves packing a suitcase at the end of a long work day. It is probably what causes the most grief about me to anyone I am close to, and I have experienced a lot of loss and shame in my life because of it. My brother has joked in the past that I have a Type F personality because of my slowness. Yes, I benefitted a great deal in school from what I now realize is a slightly photographic memory, though this might be because my attentional style forces me to take in a lot more when I look at something.

But mostly there has always been a part of me that knew I was a bit odd, a bit different.

A bit "other."

And yet when my writing about Mad Men brought in loyal readers, I realized there were people who were benefitting from my otherness. They threw a party on a hotel rooftop in Times Square and asked me to come. And when I got to the party, I felt like a guest of honor. They had questions for me about my writing and how I came up with some of the things I wrote about. It was the closest I'd ever come to being treated like a celebrity.

Steven came with me to this party, and was both proud and bewildered.

WasThere was there, and she regaled us with all her amazing tales from the real 1960s, such as the time she met Joe DiMaggio and kissed him on the cheek. Tipsi was the life of the party, and kept telling me she expected to see great things from me someday. Eva stayed late talking films with Steven and me. One lovely Maddict, who has since changed her code name in the Facebook forum (please forgive me, Maddicts, but these names have changed so many times—was it you, Lavender?), even offered to let me stay at her house for a week just to write! Liz Geier and I talked about her job in the fashion industry, making incredible costumes for Broadway shows. And CleoClio, who I'd suspected in the forum was a man for some odd reason, told us all about his days working in advertising. It was really a wonderful night, and could have only been made better if Jon Hamm in the flesh had shown up to join us.

And so now, many months later, I am finally sitting down to recap this party and talk about these wonderful people who took a liking to things that came out of my head and ended up on this blog. And I can't help but realize that though I already had a Timothy S. Mouse in Steven, whom I met in 2003, it wasn't until I met the Maddicts that I found my elusive feather.

And it was because of finding that feather that I was able to set out and try to publish my writing in other places. I took an opportunity to write about True Detective for This was a mixed blessing, since so many people disliked the show, but I still got so much out of it as a writer.

True Detective—a show about people who actively
refuse to look at who they really are.

And most importantly, I decided to come clean about my otherness, and write about the things that mattered to me most.

Around the same time I'd started my Mad Men recaps, my brother's ex-girlfriend introduced me to running. Though I'd participated in sports in high school, I'd never really considered myself an athlete. But most of my coworkers at Good Housekeeping seemed more interested in working out than hanging out in bars (this was not the case at my previous job), so I took on running full-force. First I competed in 5Ks. Then I decided to run a half marathon. And then I entered into the New York Marathon on a lark, and got in.

Also around the same time I'd started my Mad Men recaps, I met a man named Joel Feldman, who'd started an organization called End Distracted Driving. Joel lost his daughter, Casey, in a distracted driving accident when she was 21 years old. She had been walking to her summer job in Ocean City, NJ, and was studying in New York at the time to become a journalist. I found Joel through my job at Good Housekeeping, when we published an article about EndDD. I have to wonder, if I hadn't followed the path that led me to that job, would I ever have even known Joel or his organization existed?

With Joel's encouragement, I spoke in a high school that year to a gymnasium full of students about my father and how we had lost him. It was terrifying and liberating at the same time. This thing in my life I'd kept hidden for so many years, much like my hospital stay, was finally out in the open. And anyone and their mother could say anything they wanted to about it.

The truth was, I'd written several essays about what had happened that summer in 2003 and about my relationship with my dad in general over the years. But most of them had gone unfinished and unpublished because of this fear I had of being seen as different. Or because I was concerned that my writing was not up to par enough to publish them.

I'm only realizing today that whether or not I was publishing these stories about my dad—one of which has now appeared on the Runner's World website, while another is coming out in December's Good Housekeeping—by writing those TV recaps, I was already describing his otherness. And my own.

On Lost, many of the main characters have to review their lives and come to terms with who they are, how their weaknesses can often be their strengths. They have to learn how to forgive in order to move on, and oftentimes the person they are forgiving is themselves. They have to find their true purpose and calling—often they realize this has to do with helping other people, and not just staying hermitic and obsessing over their own flaws (think of Jack and his drinking problems and his reluctance to be a leader). It is when they are able to "let it go," as Jack's father says, that they truly move on.

And then on Mad Men, Don Draper is a character somewhat similar to Jack. Don's appeal as an antihero came about because so many of us wanted to understand who our fathers really were, and why they were the way they were. We wanted to be able to see our parents as real, live human beings, who are capable of making mistakes, just like we are. Matt Weiner gave the TV-viewing audience a great gift in this show, the gift of "moving forward," as Don often says, but doing so with grace and humility—the lesson Don learns at the end of the series. To let go of vices that ultimately constitute a false self—Don Draper is the ultimate false persona, after all—and to embrace the parts of you that make you unique, as people learned to do more of in the 1970s.

I've recently told my younger brother, who is also my best friend, that he is my "feather" when it comes to running. That I need him to be present when I run the marathon, because I don't know if I can fly without him. Going through this process, training to run this many miles in honor of my dad and all the other families who've lost someone so senselessly, and also getting to publish some of my essays about my dad, has given me a scary feeling of empowerment—that I can take what was a very difficult time in my life, some of which I've described here, and use it to benefit others.

But today I'm realizing that maybe I've had the ability to fly all along. And in addition to my father, my parents, my brother, my stepbrothers, my aunts, uncles and cousins, my friends, Steven and Joel Feldman, I have a very special group of people to thank for that: the Maddicts.

Thank you, you lovely people, for allowing me to accept my otherness. Thank you for helping me to let go of my fears of judgment, to be OK with who I am and what I have to offer and realize that being passionate about a fictional story isn't nerdy—it's actually really cool.

At the end of this party, WasThere/Audrey sang to me, "Tell Laura I Love Her."
This is coincidentally the same song my father always sang when I was a young girl.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Writing Away From Home—and Here Again, Soon

No comments:

Just wanted to update everyone that I'm currently recapping True Detective over at Basket of Kisses. Please go check it out if you're interested in finding my writing somewhere! No old magazines this time...and lord knows I have a computer filled with those. Just finding some pictures to post here today has been difficult because I have to scour through a year's worth of Good Housekeepings (1969-1970, specifically). If there's any interest, by the way, I'd be happy to post the ones that didn't make the cut!

I'll still be updating Fashion and Grammar Gripes as well, while I complete my memoir about my dad and train for the NYC Marathon. (I'm raising money for a nonprofit called End Distracted Driving—they go to high schools all around the country and educate kids about the dangers of distracted driving, which was how I lost my dad [the teen driver who hit him with her SUV was on her cell phone]. You can find my fund-raising page here—every little bit helps: The going has been tough so far, but I'm determined. Six miles today. I'll write about it here later.

After my half-marathon in September 2014 in Philly

Stay tuned this weekend for a post about this incredible party I went to about a month ago with the biggest Mad Men fans in the world!

I'll also be updating here a bit in the next year about my wedding plans. So far, we have the venue and officiant picked out, the bridal party has been chosen and my mom is quite ahead of the pack with her bridal shower plans.

Still have to narrow down our catering and photographer...not to mention how we're going to save this money in a year (the wedding is set for May 28, 2016, two days before the real anniversary of the day we met—May 30, 2003). Oh, and we also have our florist, my lovely and very smart and resourceful sister-in-law, Jessi Wilson. She's started her own floral business and is already being featured in wedding blogs all over (and check out that awesome logo—I contributed some illustration work, which I do on the side).

Here are some shots of our venue, Casa de D'avid in Wrightsville, PA.


And here's my latest idea for a save-the-date (David Kin, our officiant and the owner of the venue, has some balanced rocks in his front yard—you can see them in the nighttime view above):

Be back soon!