On Christmas Eve, I had dinner at my neighbor’s. After the delicious squid salad and salmon were licked off plates, and the tea and Pannatone were served, the congenial conversation turned to the water cooler variety. More specifically the, “What are you watching right now?” kind.
“We’re re-watching 'Breaking Bad' ” my neighbor offered.
“I still haven’t completed it,” I admitted rather sheepishly. “I still have to catch up.”
Catching up. I think if I had to choose a phrase to describe 2014, that would be it. Catching up with TV shows, books, music, and the rest of . . . life.
In 2013, I quit my full-time editorial position at a magazine, and, shortly after, I was fired from my part-time waitressing gig (I’m a truly terrible waitress). I’ve refused to take any job that doesn’t have to do with writing since then (mostly because I don’t have any other skills) but, as I stick to my writing guns, I’ve been trying to make up for the loss in my finances ever since. I’ve made serious strides in my freelancing career this year—enough to make me feel more comfortable than I have in a while—but my credit card balance is far from zero on my credit card statement this month.
Then there are the books. Oh, man. I bought a ton of books this year. Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature so I bought her latest book. I also purchased a bunch of books by Gloria Steinem and bell hooks and “Lean In” because the word “feminist” was used everywhere this year, and not always correctly. Oh, and “Gone Girl” was pretty popular, so I have that one, too. And, of course, Amy Poehler was a “must read.”
But as the new year rings in? I will have read only two of them.
Then there's my iTunes purchases and my Netflix queue. Taylor Swift’s new album has been played on repeat, but D’Angelo’s has not. I’ve watched every season of “House of Cards” and “Sherlock Holmes,” but I can’t say the same about “Homeland,” “Game of Thrones,” or, yes, “Breaking Bad.”
Now that my reality is being a full-fledged thirtysomething, I felt it was my duty to look the part, or, at least, feel my way to what a “real” adult woman should appear as this year. I bought an exquisite perfume set along with expensive creams and lotions. I accepted only really good wine and cheese for my birthday party. So I ditched my cute flannel pajamas for elegant “lounge wear. But in truth it’s actually the fleece onesie that my mom bought me that I wear the most now.
And then there's my dating life. Prior to 2014, I was undergoing quite the dry spell that left me parched for affection, companionship, and a good, hard-working penis. This year not only did I date multiple people—one of whom whisked me away on a European vacation—but I also had multiple sex partners. However, at year’s end, I am still single.
You could say that, despite, or in spite of, everything that did or didn’t happen, at least I made up for lost time. At least I got some. At least I watched “House of Cards”. At least I know what people mean when they say, “1989 was good, but not that good.” But even fortified with the knowledge and sensation that time has been "made up" or well-used . . . I'm left feeling utterly unsatisfied.
When I was in the seventh grade, there were two major social groups in my class: those who listened to Wu-Tang Clan and Snoop Dogg, and those who were into Nirvana and Soundgarden.
And, then, it seemed, there was me.
I listened to top 40, and also, thanks to my parents’ influence, a lot of disco (Bee Gees, Diana Ross) and leftovers from the ‘80s (Hall & Oates, Lionel Richie). When kids would congregate outside the class by our lockers and swap Discmans and say things like, “Ain't Notin' To FUCK wit,” I would stare, rather clueless. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I mean, if there’s nothing to fuck with, then why are they so angry about it?”
I was soon left out of conversations, which then led to being left off the list for birthday parties and sleepovers.
In high school, one of my best friends lost her virginity to some punk who my friends and I disapproved of, in part, because he gave her a ridiculous baseball cap that she insisted on wearing slightly askew. We called an intervention at my parents’ house and as we ran down the list of why she should dump his sartorial insufficient ass, she said to me, “You’ve never had a boyfriend, so you wouldn’t understand what I’m feeling right now.” She was right.
A couple of years after I graduated from NYU, I met up with a few of my former classmates for drinks at an ultra-exclusive, and expensive, speakeasy. I was waitressing at the time and writing plays on the side in Harlem, while my peers were all working in finance on Wall Street. As they paid for their swanky cocktails with their AmEx cards, I dug up a huge pile of crumpled ones from my wallet prompting them to ask me—perhaps more earnestly than I would have liked—if I moonlighted as a stripper.
“I wish,” I said. “At least I'd be making some money.”
That night, like almost every night I’ve had during my thirty-odd years, I thought to myself: I have a lot of catching up to do. There were times this year when l felt like that seventh grader who initially thought the Wu-Tang Clan members were all Asian: I’m missing out and being left out. Truthfully, there were times when I felt that I wasn’t enough. No matter what I’ve experienced or attempted this year, or in years past, I felt that I wasn’t “there” yet.
Then I tried my best to catch up. And you know what? Catching up is tricky. In fact, it's fucking hard to do. And it doesn’t feel particularly awesome, either. At year’s end, I’m still in debt, I’m still not married and I still don’t know why Walter White died!
So I’ve decided that I no longer want to depend on an exchange of cultural consumption or “comparing lives” currency in order to feel a sense of belonging . . . because it actually makes me feel like shit. Besides, as long as there is civilization, ego and the Internet, there will always be a staggering backlog of sitcoms, books, films, friendships, careers, hobbies and a whole host of “would have, could have, should haves” . . . so why bother playing catch up at all?
If this year has taught me anything, it’s that no matter how much progress I’ve made, it never feels like I’ve made it “there,” to the proverbial finish line where I canoodle with the love of my life, while basking in a sea of money and the secrets of Los Pollos Hermanos. I am starting to realize that maybe I don’t need to catch up on anything, or to anyone. My “here” is way better than “there,” wherever that is anyway. Watching “House of Cards” in my onesie, alone, with a balance on my credit card, at 32, is the best place for me, right now. And the more I believe that and accept that, the better I feel about my life, myself and just about everything.
After our drinks, my NYU friends and I piled into a Porsche Cayenne that one of them owned, and we went to another exclusive, and also very expensive, West Village spot for dinner. Over mussels and wine, they spoke of their exotic recent travels and new condo purchases. I reluctantly told them about the play I had just finished re-writing, which had been recently accepted into an off-off-off-Broadway festival.
“Man, that sounds so exciting!” one of them gushed. “I would love to do something like that because, honestly, I really fucking hate my job.”
I want to declare something to 2015: I am no longer interested in playing catch up. Instead, I am going to walk, run or gallop through my life at my own pace on my own time.
And then maybe I’ll watch the rest of “Breaking Bad.” Or maybe I won’t.