Monday, June 28, 2010


well, hello there. how are you? i am fine, thanks for asking. did i mention it was my birthday recently? i turned 34, which is one of those weird interstitial ages, the bookend of the coveted 18-34 demographic. i suppose i have one year left to be trendy and watch MTV. after then, it’s sensible shoes and VH1.

this birthday sort of snuck up on me, but i’m glad it did. it’s like a cab that arrived just at the moment i needed a ride from one part of town to the other, from one chapter to the next. it’s a fresh start, all new beginnings and seasons changing and tides turning.

except that i don’t really feel a year older this year. so far, 34 has felt a lot like 33, which felt a lot like 32. the years have begun to blend into one another, and i often find myself having to think hard every time someone asks me my age.

the worse part about aging is still the aging part, with my metabolism slowing, wrinkles deepening and gravity winning every battle. each day, i can see my genetics at work, determined to give me the same bunions my grandma had, the same droopy eyelids my mother has. the gray hairs have become relentless. i tire easily. my back aches constantly.

the best part is all that wisdom shit i’ve heard people talk about for years. i’m finally starting to get it. i’m finally starting to get comfortable with the world as it is and my place in it. i don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. i trust my own instincts. i know the areas i need to work on and i know which ones i don’t. i feel clear-headed, driven and in control, secure in the knowledge that i’ll land on my feet because i have to and that life will take care of everything in the same way it always has.

as in years past, this year’s birthday saw a fabulous party held at my friend Raidis’ house, whose own birthday is two days after mine. the party was damn near perfect, with great friends having a great time (photo essay forthcoming). i felt loved and deliriously happy.

this should be a good year.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Landmark Forum: Day 3 (Part V)

(sorry for the delay in publishing this sucker. if you missed my earlier essays on my Landmark experience, you can find them here; read from the bottom.)

“life is meaningless and we are meaning-making machines.” this is the crux of the Landmark Forum, the conclusion we arrived at after three grueling days of instruction. everything had led up to this, the big transformative lecture, given sunday afternoon at around 4pm, the one that would make us “pop” into our new and improved selves whose futures were brighter than before.

life is meaningless and we are meaning-making machines.

we are all going to be dead one day. you can’t take anything with you. there is no inherent meaning in anything. there are only experiences, which we ruin with our interpretations of them. we project our views onto everything and everyone around us, views whose only function is to reinforce our belief that we are right.

we need our meanings to live, to make sense of the world, to make sense of ourselves, to put everything in a neatly labeled box. we put ourselves in that box, too — with fixed ideas about our strengths, weaknesses and limitations, ideas that are artificial and borne of trauma.

the weekend had been spent examining that trauma and the ideas it has created, ideas that have cemented themselves into the baggage we have carried from one life experience to the next, baggage that has made us self-righteous and self-conscious, that has stopped us from pursuing our dreams and becoming the person we were meant to be.

the time had come to let it go. because the simple truth about life is that things happen and then other things happen. none of it means anything, even when we force it to mean everything. life is just events. and a transformed life is taking those events at face value and not coloring them with our judgments and interpretations. a transformed life is joyful and limitless, positive and fearless, honest and authentic. on this side is nothing, on the other side is everything.

Angie delivered this speech while running around the room. she had clearly given it many times before and knew which words to emphasize and how much eye contact to make. as expected, the crowd drank the kool-aid with great enthusiasm, questioning nothing, with a few vocal dissenters resisting the idea that their lives held no meaning. some people had their head in their hands, crying uncontrollably, while others looked elated, as though all their burdens had been eradicated.

“do you get it? do you get it?” everyone was asking everyone else. a buzz weaved through the room. people were hugging, some were still crying; smiles were everywhere. after being lost at sea for two days, we had finally hit the shore and walked toward it as changed people.

life is meaningless and we are meaning-making machines.

Angie opened the floor up for questions and the hits kept coming, with several suddenly transformed participants gushing about their new personal philosophies and listing the myriad ways their lives would change. the unhappy campers stepped up to the mic as well, looking forlorn and arguing with Angie about purpose and god.

i looked uneasy, as usual — and felt bewildered. i didn’t feel particularly transformed and wasn’t sure whether that made me totally crazy or perfectly sane. why was i resisting so much, i wondered? why was i looking at all these seemingly happy people with such a judgmental eye? why did i refuse to walk toward the light of unfettered possibility, toward a life without the trappings of the past — the baggage of hurt and rejection, disapproval and disdain, ridicule and grief, heartache and disappointment?

why did i cling so fiercely to that baggage now that Landmark threatened to remove it? why did i not want to transform into a blank canvas on which i can create a future that’s more beautiful than the past? “go there,” i told myself. “just let it take over. look at all these happy people around you. don’t you want to be happy like them? what do you need your misery for?”

but i can’t do it. my ego refuses to vanish. it needs the pain. it wants the pain, with its hard-won hurts to linger and learn from. it needs to interpret the events in my life, because events inherently do have meaning. otherwise, it’s just birth, love, school, work, marriage, loss, death, and then the end?

how could i not ascribe meaning to any of it? how would i be able to keep stringing sentences together, sentences that are sometimes about pain and disappointment, about stories aching for interpretation? how could i create a life where meanings no longer existed? i would need to cancel this blog, abandon my Dish-Interested column, stop reading the newspaper and live in a cocoon.

i won’t do it. as corny as it sounds, i need to suffer for my art. i need to accept every ounce of pain that life is kind enough to bestow upon me, because that pain will keep me honest in my work. without it, i’ll have nothing to write about. without it, i’ll lose any heaviness that resides in my heart, the teen angst that still lingers in my soul and the Russianness that defines the very fiber of my being and transform into an over-inspired L.A. asshole who’s high on her own positivity and can only write about one topic: self-help.

me writing articles on self-help? me becoming one of Those People who frames her life in daily affirmations, loads up her shelves with stupidly titled self-help books — “A User’s Manual for the Human Experience,” anyone? — and confuses enlightenment with a moralizing superiority complex that nauseates all her friends? me transform into THAT?

the thought disgusted me.

i looked around again. people were still smiling, seemingly overjoyed with their newfound non-identities — glowing, vibrant and beautiful. they looked alive and, suddenly, they all looked alike: a mass of empty vessels, colorless, humorless, detached, eyes glazed over with a semi-smile etched onto their faces. they had crossed over. i had lost them. i suddenly felt very alone.

“do you get it?” the guy sitting next to me asked. i turned to face him. he looked positively giddy. “life is meaningless,” he said, “so we should just enjoy it and quit worrying about what everything means. that’s so awesome!”

“yeah,” i said, “i got it — years ago. you’ve never heard anyone say that life was meaningless before? didn’t you read ‘The Stranger’ in high school? this is just rehashed existentialism. it’s not that awesome.”

the idea that i was being a bitch didn’t escape me, nor did it bother me much. the idea that i paid $420 and wasted three days on a clichéd motivational seminar that amounted to nothing more than “seize the day” bothered me A LOT.

the dinner break came and i congregated with my newly transformed friends, who were all sorts of happy. it was as though they were all part of a group orgy where everyone came at the same time, everyone except for me. i tried not to play Debbie Downer during dinner and instead ride on the coattails of their good vibrations, which was easy to do as their positivity was quite contagious. i found myself getting contact high.

i also found myself still getting criticized by the group, this time for rejecting the transformation, but i countered their arguments with accusations that they were making meanings out of my actions — meanings Landmark would not approve of.

after dinner, i would congregate with my fellow Landmarkians for one final time. there was a “graduation ceremony” the following Tuesday that i skipped, the one we were encouraged to bring our friends and family to (even if that meant flying them into town) so they could learn about the transformative possibilities of Landmark.

clearly, i didn’t believe in these possibilities for myself, at least not if they were administered by Landmark. while i could get behind some of the coursework — such as examining one’s past in order to make peace with it and living life to the fullest — the mildly abusive coaching sessions, the nonsensical lingo, the emphasis on obedience masked as integrity and the discouragement of independent thought make Landmark Education a company i could never give another dollar to.

because even though Landmark claims to give participants their lives back, it can also take their lives from them. Landmark understands better than anyone the human inclination toward creating meaning, and after chipping away at our identities for two days, Landmark fills the empty space that it created with its dogma. it made sure to do all the thinking for us, with homework every night and assignments at every break that deprived us of any time we could have spent thinking for ourselves.

Landmark filled the gaps, owning us, dominating us, brain-washing us by erasing our personalities and chasing away our quirks and idiosyncrasies — things from our pasts that may scar us, but that also define us as fully formed individuals. instead, we were left with a blank slate on which to create a future of our own making, a blank slate we are told we can do anything we want with.

but we can’t do what we want; we can only do what Landmark wants, because we are no longer in control. and Landmark wants us to take more classes, to hand over more money, to enroll our friends and family in our transformed lives, otherwise our great experiences might end. this is why Angie insisted we drink no alcohol or take drugs during the process. Landmark wanted to be our drug. and it became a drug akin to cocaine, whose addicts feel invincible.

why would we ever want it to end? Landmark has made us feel alive again by re-engaging our senses and awakening us to a world of possibilities that we knew existed yet somehow could never access. Landmark helps us access it now, because Landmark’s promise is power — a power it’s convinced us can only be found in its coursework, even though it’s resided in us all along.

i don’t doubt that plenty of individuals have benefited from Landmark’s coursework, and i admit that i felt invigorated in the weeks immediately following the Forum, as i would have after taking any motivational seminar (which is all the Landmark Forum is). but in time that vigor faded and life became average again.

i suppose i could have returned to the Center and gotten my next fix by enrolling in another course that would have made me feel invincible, only to come down again and then re-enroll and re-enroll until my savings were depleted. but cheesecake is much cheaper. hell, even cocaine is cheaper.

so even though i never suspended my disbelief and reached Landmark’s nirvana of transformation, i am glad i took the Forum. if nothing else, it reminded me of a few basic truths about life and reawakened a few dreams i intend to accomplish in this one. it also helped me appreciate my past as something meaningful that should be cherished instead of discarded, even the miserable parts.

and, despite all its attempts not to, Landmark actually strengthened my personal belief system, making me even more secure in who i am and how i think, so much so that i could fail a self-help seminar and feel just fine about it.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Status Change

i’m single again. actually, i’ve been single for months but circumstances kept Mo and i living together until he was able to secure new accommodations and move out, which he did just a few days ago. so now i’m living alone again, which i suppose makes me officially single.

to commemorate the occasion, i made the (always dramatic) status change on Facebook, moving from In a Relationship to Single. at least i bypassed that nonsensical It’s Complicated phase, though living with an ex-boyfriend does tend to complicate one’s relationship status. i do not recommend it.

the reasons behind our split are also complicated, but ultimately involve some longstanding issues we could never seem to resolve, issues that needed to be resolved before we could move forward as a couple. what those issues are are none of your fucking business. i will say that they do not concern cheating, lying, stealing or any of that type of salacious drama.

if i’m close to you in real life, you probably already know this news anyway. if i know you and haven’t discussed this with you before, i never plan to so don’t ask. and please save your sad eyes and “time heals all wounds” clichés for someone who needs them because there are few things i hate more than being pitied. i already know i’ll be fine.

the truth is i’ve already had a few months to get accustomed to my new status as a single person and i’ve been around the block enough times to know that the world will not end because of my heartache. so truly, i am doing fine. i suppose i could say more about it and maybe should write some sappy referendum on love and life and loss, but i don’t really feel like it right now.