What it means to be a boss(sy) bitch

Gonzalez Street was populated by an army of 7-year-olds.

Trekking through the battlefield of our suburban housing track wearing kneepads, rollerblades, and band tees for *NSYNC, Hanson, and the like, we occupied the club house, seized homemade cookies from unsuspecting countertops. We fought against faceless adversaries, like the incessant suburban predators that the news said were lurking around every corner–explaining why none of us were allowed to turn off of Gonzalez onto the intersecting Polk or Huston Street without adult supervision, conjured the soul-eating Bloody Mary in unlit bathrooms, spied on our parents as they tried desperately to tune us out by blaring Seinfeld, noting every misstep the characters took against the established Good Kid Code of Conduct—“Did you hear that? They just said SEX! Tehehehehe.”

I, of course, was the self-established General.

Because I had the tendency to be a rather demanding leader with occasionally drastic and unfair demands—“No, we can’t Parent Trap my parents, they are already married. We have to do it to your parents because they are the divorced ones.”—my troops would occasionally abandon me for a day, burning their friendship bracelets like the smoldering draft cards their grandparents may have thrown into the San Francisco bay. And while I have learned to contain this need to tell everyone how and what to do (usually because they’re doing it wrong), I would be lying if I told you that no boyfriend had ever pointed out what I like to refer to as my “leadership skills.”

One sunny summer afternoon, basking in the excruciating heat of California’s Central Valley, I decided that it was time for my troops and I to play.

“Alright guys,” I said, pacing up and down in front of my line-up, “We are going to play a game.” Caitlin sniffled, her index finger in her mouth. I paused pacing and shot her a glance. She had had a stuffy nose, but I began to worry that perhaps this was really a sign of insubordination.

“We are going to play Lifeguard. Everyone have their bathing suits?”

They nodded. We obviously all had our swimsuits on. It was 110 degrees in the middle of August. If our plans didn’t involve a pool, they definitely would have involved sprinklers.

“OK, in this game, we are going to make a whirlpool.” A few ears perked. Even my little brother, who was the most unruly of the battalion, enjoyed this game. Running in circles until the water could push you all on its own felt about as close to magic as we had managed to conjure, despite that a few of us had recently joined a crew of witches at our elementary school started by fourth graders who had seen The Craft. “We are going to make a whirlpool, and then you are all going to pretend to drown.”

Caitlin immediately started to cry.

“Caitlin, honey, what’s wrong?” I used my best mother voice to console her.

“I don’t want to d-d-d-d-drroowwwwnn,” she wailed.

I rolled my eyes. If my parents had only been smart enough to have me in New York City where I knew I belonged, I wouldn’t have to tolerate these weakling Suburban kids. But I had to make the best of what I got. I took a deep breath.

“Caitlin. You’re not going to drown. Keep listening,” I said, moving away from her and resuming my pacing. “You are all going to pretend to drown,” extra emphasis on the pretend this time, “and then I am going to save you.”

“Why do you get to save us?” Billy asked. He was the only one in the group who was also on the swim team, my usual reasoning to be the leader in all things water related.

“Because I’m the lifeguard. It’s my turn to be the lifeguard, when you’re the lifeguard you can save everyone.” I replied snidely.

“But why do you get to go first?” he retorted.

“Because it’s my house.”

This seemed logical enough. He quieted down.

“Alright you guys, is everyone ready?”

Silently, they all scuttled up the two-step plastic ladder, and scooted into the cold blue plastic-lined pool. I brought up the rear and assumed my position at the top of the plastic ladder.

“Everyone ready? GO!”

So they began spinning in a circle, walking with all their might along the bottom of the blue tub, some using just the tips of their toes to push themselves around, bobbing up and down in the water of the pool.

“Alright guys, now DROWN, DROWN!”

They all began fake coughing, spitting water into the air, screaming “help, help” with their arms flailing above their heads. I dove right in. First I grabbed Caitlin and dragged her to the safety of the plastic ladder. She seemed genuinely relieved which made me feel happy. I saved her, I told myself.

I got ready to dive for the next victim, but then, my mother opened the sliding glass door, “Honey, are you being Bessie?”

“Bessie” was the code word my Mom used when she wanted to tell me that I was being a diva dictator and needed to slow my roll without embarrassing me in front of my friends.

“MOM, THIS IS NO TIME TO BE POLITE. I’VE GOT LIVES TO SAVE!” I said, as I did a shallow dive and dragged my brother back to the ladder while he made fake drowning sounds. I had to admit he was a pretty good actor. I would have to consider him more seriously the next time I put on a play in the garage for my parents.

“Kids, are you alright?” she said, looking behind me at a pool full of limp child bodies.

They all popped up from their drowning positions and answered in unison, “Yes, Miss Youngblood.”

“Okay… Have fun,” she said as she slid the door shut.

“Guys, she’s gone. Drown again!” I demanded.

And I, of course, did save them all. And I did let the others have their turn at being the lifeguard, begrudgingly and with a lot of training and advice.

And while I do understand that you can’t make people do what you want, and I do try to say please and thank you, and I have learned to let people “do them” and not worry so much about being the star, sometimes you’ve just got to be a bossy bitch to get shit done.

And seven-year-old Megan, the General of the Gonzalez Street Battalion, could get some shit done.

 

Stop Sharing Elite Daily’s Listicles. They Make You Sound Like a 1950s Housewife.

If you are a typical millennial woman, then you’ve probably seen at least ten inspirational listicles this week alone on your Facebook Newsfeed. Lists such as “30 Ways to Throw Caution to the Wind and Be More Spontaneous In Life” or “The Importance of Finding Yourself In Your 20s.”  And after you read these articles you’ve probably had the sneaking feeling that your Instagram feed is in desperate need of more photos of you holding up a peace sign while over looking a sprawling foreign city in cut-off jean shorts. These articles are essentially self-help books written by 22 year-olds, specifically created for the attention deficit-addled generation of smart phones and 22 tabs on the web browser. They typically consist of superficial, feel-good advice on how to live life to the fullest, embrace singledom, and be the modern, independent woman.

You’ve probably also noticed an uptick in your friends bitching about all the weddings and babies invading their social media streams. Maybe you’ve noticed the wedding photos of a couple random high school acquaintances from time to time, but you’ve probably seen a lot more bitching about them than you have the actual wedding photos. Statistically, millennials are getting married later than any other generation before us. In fact, a recent study found that “(o)nly 26 percent of the millennial adults are married. When they were the same age, 36 percent of the Gen Xers, 48 percent of baby boomers and 65 percent of the Silent Generation were married.” Additionally, not planning to have children is another pervasive trend among millennials. Another recent study “found that the rate of students graduating from college who plan to have children has gone down by roughly half in just two decades.”

It isn’t that “dreaming about travel and self-employment—and staying off the corporate ladder” is actually some sort of unique, individualistic jab against The American Dream, it is that our generation has shifted the current definition of The American Dream to embody exactly those ideals. Millennials “identify the dream of home ownership at a far lower rate than Gen X and baby boomers.”

With this in mind, it is actually more radical to post about your wedding or your newly acquired picket fence or your child’s first birthday than it is to post about your wanderlust, career goals, and desire to travel. Instead of idealizing women who can cook and clean and represents domesticity at its most tailored, our generation has been trained to see the adventurous, free-spirited, and self-sufficient woman as the ideal of femininity.

This new, “unconventional” ideal doesn’t just exist within listicles published online and social media statuses, but also in movies, TV, and other forms of pop culture. The tale of the unattainable wandering woman who brings a certain joie de vivre into the life of a less-adventurous man is not one that goes untold. In fact, film critic Nathan Rabin has actually given this unattainable trope a name: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The term Manic Pixie Dream Girl was coined to describe Kirsten Dunst’s character in Cameron Crowe’s disastrously disappointing Elizabethtown. Rabin explains, “Dunst embodies a character type I like to call The Manic Pixie Dream Girl (see Natalie Portman in Garden State for another prime example). 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.”

At this point, this term has become a cliché, a catchall used to lump all “quirky” female characters into a one-dimensional category, and this has been discussed and dissected all over the internet ad nauseam. However many free-spirited women in film are allowed the opportunity to be flawed, recognizing that their flighty (albeit glamorous) behavior is fueled by an underlying issue. Examples of such characters include Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, or even Crowe’s own Penny Lane from Almost Famous. While all of these women do have a wide-eyed sense of adventure and a certain level of intellectual or creative curiosity, they are also given the right to be flawed, to be imperfect. It is noteworthy, however, that all three of these characters play the supporting role to a male writer. It is also worth pointing out that all three of these stories were created in the mind of a man.

These listicles, although oftentimes penned by women and thus allowing the female to take center stage, do not permit for that flaw or honesty. They also paint the plight of the average millennial as if it is something that only a few suffer from, when in fact, as I mentioned above, these are the experiences and dreams that most millennials have.

In a recent article “The 22 Signs You’re a Wanderer,” Elite Daily writer Lauren Martin says:

“They are viewed as the elusive and erratic…Maybe we are just restless dreamers who won’t be satisfied unless we’re exploring new territories and meeting new people. Maybe we’re just childish fools who refuse to grow up and accept the monotony of daily life.”

You and everyone else, Lauren. You and everyone else.

And while I support the wanderer in all, I think it is important to at least acknowledge the loneliness and isolation that oftentimes accompanies that sort of wandering, the underlying issues that fuels this type of behavior: what my shrink likes to call a “fear of commitment.”

These articles only paint a one-sided picture. They don’t talk about the horrific shits that any girl or guy whose backpacked through South America can tell you about or what its like to be robbed at gun point or what it is like to really just wish you had someone there with you, because those little details don’t fit into this ideal of femininity.

Here I will add a little personal testimony (sorry about that). As someone who has lived in four major metropolitan areas, visited 10 countries, and dabbled in a handful of different creative fields in the six years since I graduated high school, I still haven’t “found myself” and I genuinely believe that anyone who says things like “It is only when you’ve sat at a café in Paris for two hours, watching the people and reading your favorite book that you learn to appreciate the small moments in life” is being a little naïve and very hyperbolic. (Side note, since when is travelling to Paris a ‘small moment in life’ for a 20-something year-old? When I traveled to Paris, it was a HUGE moment.)

This isn’t to downplay the importance and value of travel or exploration: I highly recommend that everyone travel. It is just that by posting these articles we are painting a picture of a character that doesn’t exist, one that is just as idealized in our modern society as the 1950s housewife stereotype was previously. Yes, that role that we as women have been vehemently rebelling against for the past 50 years is no more or less realistic than the free-spirited, wide-eyed girl who can’t be tied down.

The other argument that many of these lists use is that this sort of “free-spirited” behavior is really just indicative of the creative process. That, as the aforementioned article on wanderlust says, “It’s also the wanderer who is the most misunderstood… They are cast as ‘unreliable’ and named ‘hippies’ or even ‘nomads.’ They are seen as irresponsible and lazy. When, really, they are the most creative and inspiring people we know.”

Does anyone actually believe this?! I have never in my life been told that I seemed “unreliable” because I’ve travelled. Additionally, being a self-proclaimed “creative” doesn’t make you the outlier any more the way it may have 40 years ago.  In fact, marketing mega-moguls have already wrapped their heads around the trend that millennials value their creative talents above almost all else. “Many new marketing campaigns are harnessing the creative energies of young people,” explains an article on millennialmarketing.com, “Dunkin’ Donuts is crowdsourcing new donut ideas via social media.”

Even Dunkin’ Donuts is in on this trend. The only ones who still seem to believe that creativity is a mark of an outcast are the writers of these lists.

Also, while it is inspiring to put yourself in foreign environments, try new things, and embrace the whimsical, actually succeeding in creative endeavors does require the commitment and grunt work that so many of these articles seems to shrug off as something they just don’t feel the need or desire to indulge in.  As author William Faulkner once said, “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”

Being creative or whimsical or free-spirited in and of itself even involves some less-than-glamorous daily tasks. Things like having to explain your bowel movements to a pharmacist who doesn’t speak English or having to go the Embassy to replace your passport.

Waking up every day and living life as a quirky, optimistic, ironic, whimsical, intelligent, independent woman is a standard that is just as unattainable as the 1950s housewife. So please, for the love of all things diverse and real, stop posting links that perpetuate the one-dimensional picture of adventurous women. And don’t be so diluted that you think you’re the only millennial who’d rather travel the world than settle down with a picket fence. You’re not being any more original than the housewife who perfected her apple pie recipe in 1954 was. Neither of these depictions of women is realistic or attainable. Even if you are a married, stay-at-home mom, you probably aren’t June Cleaver. You’re also probably not a living, breathing Manic Pixie Dream Girl even if you are currently sitting at the Berlin train station with a 30-pound backpack strapped over your shoulders. Frankly, those women do not exist, and we all deserve a little more character complexity than a Pinterest board of inspirational quotes or DIY crafts.

The World Traveler, Revisited

I have to go soon
I can’t remember where
but my suitcase is sitting there
open, empty, waiting.
I won’t be here much longer
no need to buy a bed or books
or flowers.
And you, friends and lovers,
you stay at arms length.
I really don’t want you to catch my FEAR
of commitment.
Keep out! Beware! Caution!
I’m afraid of you.
Because you don’t fit in my suitcase
and I have to leave tomorrow.

Me, as told by Katy Perry

So this morning, I woke up with an insatiable craving for pop music. My beautiful friend Caiikie rocked my world with her show at Fontanas last night where she sang all new tracks and put on a show that sent goosebumps down my arms and could have very well blown the power out at the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, this morning, when I woke up with the catchy beats playing in my head, I was unable to listen to them since she hasn’t released them on iTunes, Spotify, or even YouTube as far as I’m aware. So, I repeatedly watched my 30 second video of her show on my iPhone for about 5 minutes before deciding that this was weird and might result in brain damage or hypnotism. It was time to find some full-length pop songs to temporarily stave off my craving for cake (get it?).

Now while Beyonce is my reigning queen of, well, everything, she is also heavily featured on my workout playlist. And thus, it is hard for me to hear her without starting to feel the compulsive desire to jog. By proxy, she’s also become the soundtrack to my Maxim debut, but that’s a different story.

So, I landed on Katy Perry. And the second candy-coated track to fill my ears with its magical pop melody was “California Gurls.”

This was when my morning got weird. Well, it didn’t really get weird. It just got weird in my head.

Three unrelated incidences suddenly flashed through my mind. Three instances where this very song had served as a defining anthem for who I, Megan Youngblood, in fact was. I suppose we will go in chronological order.

The first, I was 19 (or 23, depending on who was asking) at a bar in the Marina in San Francisco. During this period of my life, I was dating the ultimate in cool and he was all about folk music and underground shows. Thus, I was all about folk music and underground shows. This isn’t to say that I didn’t also like other things, but I would mimic his scorn for pop music. Oh you like Katy Perry, I’d roll my eyes. He lived in the Mission and his profession was related to bicycles. If you live in San Francisco, this will makes sense. Of course, there’s no scorn that five cranberry-vodkas can’t wash away. So, on this particular evening, I stood in the middle of some Marina bar (Oh, you like the Marina, I’d roll my eyes) in a dress with my heels in my hand singing ‘California Gurls’ at the top of my lungs with my friend Kara (name changed to protect the innocent, but you know who you are) and some newly acquired acquaintances. Kara and I were both bra specialists at Victoria’s Secret and had developed a friendship by gossiping as we folded thongs, which, in case you are wondering, there is a correct and incorrect way to do. We bonded further over this drunk game we’d play where we’d look at girls and guess their cup size. We were quite good at it actually, unless they were wearing a push-up bra—we are only human after all. This game was well-loved among our immature male friends, and not always so appreciated by their female counterparts.

On this particular night, after we had sipped, slurped, slurred, and spilled our way through one too many vodka-crans, we decided that pizza was in order. We headed to the pizza parlor across the street (hopefully I was wearing shoes at this point, but who can be certain?) and ordered two slices. Now for whatever reason, there was a girl there who was staring at us like the drunk, loud, obnoxious messes that we were more than likely actually being. This slowly escalated into me yelling inarticulately, “Why are you looking at us?!” Kara quickly shoved me into the nearest cab, handed the driver a twenty, and told him to get me home. Before the driver drove away, I heard her slur to the girl (who had now progressed from aggressively looking at us to aggressively yelling), “I’ll kick your ass in my four inch heels and still look better than you.” Or something along those lines, I can’t really remember the details.

This was the moment I knew that Kara and I were meant to be friends, two classy California Gurls willing to brawl over pizza and staring contests.

Anyways, on to the next.

The second moment where this song served as a defining factor in what I considered my self-identity occurred during my first trip to Brooklyn. It was Halloween weekend and I was 20. I was touring potential schools and finally getting to see the city that had always infected my dreams. At the top of my list was Pratt. At the time, I was obsessed with photography and felt like if I didn’t become a professional photographer on par with Mario Testino and Nan Goldin by age 23, I would die, so Pratt seemed like the gateway to a dream come true and my escape from an early death sentence.

Anyways, I had just visited the very hip and trendy Williamsburg (which I instantly loved) and decided to head down towards Pratt. As a non-local, it seemed to make sense to just walk down Bedford and turn on Myrtle. So that’s what I did. Note: if you’re not from New York, this is actually a pretty long walk with very little that would be interesting to a tourist along the way.

At some point along my walk, everything morphed from English to a language I didn’t know nor could say for certain that I had seen. The people were dressed differently than the chic Manhattanites or hip Williamsburg residents I had started to get used to. In fact, I had never seen men with these curling hairs next to their faces and women who all seemed to have the exact same haircut. Pulling from my culturally limited archive of resources, I decided that they must have been Amish. I had just seen a documentary on Rumspringa and this seemed to be the closest reference point I could find in my catalog of memories. Now that I’ve lived here for three years and have been deservingly patronized by a few of my Jewish and New Yorker friends, I understand that I had actually just wandered through the Hasidic neighborhood in South Williamsburg.

So, as one would expect of an aspiring famous photographer, on this walk down Bedford Ave, I took photos of everything. I took photos of the colorful leaves on the ground, the basketball courts, the graffiti, and then I stopped at a lot full of school busses. I took a photo.

“Can I help you?” one of the local Hasidic men asked me, “These are my school busses. Can I help you with something?”

“No,” I said, smiling ear to ear, “I’m just visiting from California, and taking photos of, well, everything.”

“California, huh?”  he added, “The only thing I know about California is what I’ve learned from Katy Perry.”

“Oh, uhm, thanks?” I responded. I was a bit confused about how this “Amish” man had figured out who Katy Perry was and why he owned busses, which were clearly technological advances that his society supposedly shunned. Three years in New York later with a tiny bit more knowledge on what Orthodox Judaism actually entails, I’m still not sure what the proper response to this comment would be. If you know, let me know.

 

The third and final moment was in a land far away from California. When I lived in Spain, I spent a weekend in Budapest with a friend of mine who we will call Ashley. Ashley and I were studying abroad together in Madrid, and had booked a couple of trips together. It was only a long weekend away from school, but we really wanted to see Budapest and so we booked a cheap ticket on one of Ryan Air’s high quality air travel vessels. If you haven’t flown with Ryan Air before, let me give you a quick overview. Ryan Air is an extremely cheap alternative to the traditional airline experience, however in exchange the $250 you save by buying the discount flights, you agree to spend the entirety of your travel time in a real life infomercial. They sell everything from lottery tickets to naughty calendars of their stewardesses who, mind you, have uniforms that I’m pretty sure Ronald McDonald himself designed. The stewardesses literally stroll down the aisle of your plane (which usually sits 2-4 across its entire width) and Vanna White these items as if they were gold. But I’m getting sidetracked.

It was the first weekend in November, 2012 when we went to Budapest. This happened to be the weekend before the presidential elections in the US. At this point it would be pertinent to that my friend is from Ohio. While typically if I went out with anyone who was from the US, my golden California roots would dramatically overshadow whatever measly state they were from. Not intentionally, but as anyone who is from California can tell you, people really think that the entire state of California is Beverly Hills with a beach. Say you’re from California and you will be quickly asked in quick succession, “Do you surf?” “Do you know any celebrities?” and, my personal favorite, “Why the hell are you here?”

This is true within the states, too. When I first moved to New York and I lived in the Bronx, the woman who rang up my groceries looked at my ID that had “Livermore, CA” printed on it and said, “Wow, California. Sounds fun.” My coffee guy called it “exotic.” I’m going to go on record and say this is probably the only time that “Livermore, CA” has been called exotic.

But this weekend was different. Her Ohio swing-state status was completely eclipsing my Cali girl status. People were essentially making her sign blood oaths that we would not let our great country fall to ruins by forgetting to vote for Obama. I was just amazed that people in Budapest knew what a swing state was. I couldn’t even name their president. In fact, I’m still not even sure if they have a president. When they would ask where I was from and I’d respond, they’d say, “Oh, well, you don’t really matter. Your state always goes to the Democrats.” How does everyone know this?!

At some point throughout the night, we found a bar called Szimpla, a ruin bar in the heart of Pest. Ruin bars in Budapest are exactly what they sound like: bars that are constructed of scrap parts—seats made of bathtubs, random security cameras projecting your image on the wall, bicycle wheels hanging from the ceiling. Thirteen blood oaths and an equal number of beers later, my friend Ashley and I were well on our way to drunk. This is when it happened: Katy Perry’s California Gurls came on. In Budapest. I proudly stood on an elevated surface (bar? Table? Bathtub? Who knows.) and danced and sang along, realizing this might be the first and only time where I was actually the only California Girl in the bar. Of course, there may very well have been another girl from some ‘exotic’ location like Fresno or Bakersfield seated on a dismembered television set in that abandoned warehouse. But in my mind, I was the one and only adventurer who had made it that far. I had fled the Golden Coast only to discover that there are definitely a few places that come close. I also had fled and realized that no matter how far I went, I couldn’t quite shake the California out of the Gurl.

That night, we ended up in a Hungarian Casino with a man from Japan and an expat from Virginia where we each had to have our photo taken to enter. I smiled with my eyes closed at the security camera. The next day when I went to do my tourist duties, I almost threw up in the Buda Castle. I’ll save that story for another day.

A Love Note to a Ghost.

To be in love

with the memory

of a mass of atomic particles

tickles.

Because it is a memory

a collection of electric impulses

swimming along a synapse

in your cerebral cortex.

 

It does not exist.

 

But perhaps this makes it all easy.

Easier to be lonely

with your own electricity

than when those lovely

molecules occupy the left

side of your sheets.

 

And he sprawls, with hair folicles

dripping over his eyebrow. While

his eye-lid quivers. He sleeps.

Dreaming of.

 

And I ooze with seritonin.

 

And love.

 

And loneliness.

 

And as my fingers slither to what I imagine was once

his

I call his name

but it ends up being

my own.

 

I am so in love,

the synapses sing.