Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
My sister and I had a terrible fight on Saturday night. It was about my relationship. In the end, everything got all worked out but the thing that bothered me the most about it was I let something she said bother me when it wasn’t true in the least. She planted this seed in my head and I started questioning if there really was a problem in my relationship. She made many accusations in the long car ride where our conversation occurred and one of them was true so she brought up a good point but the others were completely ludicrous and eventually when I gave her more of the facts, she even agreed with me. But why did I ever question myself based on her spurious accusations? For a while there, I was pretty upset and wondering if she was right about everything. Why were her words simply enough for me to start doubting myself. I knew part of what she was alleging was just ridiculous but I couldn’t help but take it seriously. It was like she had said you know what your relationship problem is, you’re gay. And instead of saying, actually I know I’m not gay but thank you very much, I said hmm, maybe I am gay…That never occurred to me before but if she thinks it’s true maybe she’s seeing something I’m not.
We live in a time, where everyone and anyone wants to give you a psychological diagnosis. But just because a smart friend thinks she knows what your problem is, doesn’t make it true. We read magazines that have quizzes and articles that make you question your relationship with absolutely no accountability. We tell some women they are pushovers and need to stand up for themselves when really they’re just compromising. We tell someone who are just asserting what they want, that they are bitchy. We call some bossy and some too meek. We tell some not to settle and others that nobody’s perfect. We tell girls to have self-esteem and love themselves and women that they are too self-absorbed and vain. Some women need to be more honest and communicate and some need to know when they are being disrespectful and keep their mouths shut. Did it ever occur to you, that you don’t have any of these problems?
The problem is this, most of us are all of these things some of the time. So when we diagnose our friends and say, it seems like you make all the compromises in your relationship and he doesn’t do anything for you – we may have planted a seed that is completely unfounded so that our friend might start thinking maybe I do make too many compromises and demand that everything suddenly be her way. No one knows what goes on between a couple except the two people in a relationship. Everyone else’s opinion is going to be unreliable because it is an opinion that is not based on all the facts.
But of course, we love the idea of an easy answer to our problems. It’s very hard to keep a broad view of an entire relationship and then make nuanced judgment calls about behavior when you’re in the relationship – it’s practically impossibly when you’re not!
This problem is exacerbated by all of our TV and movie characters. As a screenwriter, it is very difficult to write nuanced balanced characters but one of the ways we do this is to make our characters flawed. We gave them a negative character trait – like hubris or being lazy or being a workaholic. And stories usually involve this character confronting this trait and eventually changing into someone who has shed this negative character trait. But in real life, no one is that one dimensional so while the diagnosis works for female characters in movies, it’s not necessarily true in real life.
I recently overheard two girls talking about whether or not they close the door to the bathroom when they’re peeing in front of their boyfriends. One did, one didn’t. Now it occurred to me that if this were an episode of Sex and the City, this would be a metaphor. The girl who closed the door would have an issue with letting men get close to her and she’d constantly be trying to be perfect in front of men. The episode would be about how she finally lets the man see the messy side of her and the credits would run while the door was open to the bathroom. I was thinking about all of this because the girl in front of me who leaves the door open was making a case to her friend and telling her she had to get over her fears of letting men in and how she finally had to allow this boyfriend to see the other side of her. The other girl was agreeing saying you’re right, I need to do this.
I desperately wanted to interrupt these two girls and say you’re not on tv! Maybe she has no problem letting men in or connecting with her boyfriend and letting him see the imperfect side of her; Maybe she just wants the door closed and it doesn’t mean anything! Psychoanalyzing our friends and their relationships has become so common that we all do it to each other all the time. But it’s dangerous to be haphazardly giving out these diagnoses.
If you’re worried that you really have fallen into a pattern of behavior that’s not healthy, see a therapist and get a professional opinion. Otherwise, stop convincing yourself that you’re a psychopath because your friend called you one after reading a Women’s mag that said psyhcopaths are reclusive and don’t go out Saturday night. We all think we know what everyone else’s problems are. But really, unless you’re a character on TV, none of us have it figured out. Especially the people trying to tell us that they do.
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October 21, 2011 | 11:26 am
Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
I’ve been debating whether or not to post this, but since I don’t feel quite right posting about my usual quasi-snarky dating observations just yet, by default it’s going up. I spoke at my Grandfather’s funeral on Wednesday and below is what is I said.
Whenever I would see Grandpa Joel, he would always say that I was his first. His first grandchild. Not better, he’d remind me. But first, and with that to him, there seemed to be some implied responsibility. He seemed to expect something more from me.
When I was ten years old, my mom took my sister and me to dinner once at Grandpa house. I remember it was 1992 because there was a big presidential election coming up and I was as big a political junkie as a ten year old could be. As soon as the dinner conversation turned to politics, I jumped in and told Grandpa he should be voting for Bill Clinton. Grandpa asked me why I liked Bill Clinton. Because I’m a Democrat. Grandpa stared back at me, why are you a Democrat? I fell silent. I was racking my brain trying to remember any reason in the world one might be a Democrat but was coming up with nothing. I was silent for a long time as Grandpa waited for me to answer. I stared back at him but refused to say I don’t know. I looked towards my mother then back at him. I was furious he was interrogating me like this. Up till then, when I had told an adult about my political affiliation, they responded either by telling me how impressed they were with my early interest in politics and command of big words or they would comment on what a precocious little girl I was. So not only was I shocked that Grandpa wasn’t impressed when I tried to show off to him, but I couldn’t believe he was giving me a hard time about it. But really, he was the first grown up who actually took me seriously enough to treat me like an adult. Finally, he broke the silence and told me If you’re just a Democrat because your parents are Democrats, than you aren’t really anything at all. I was so mad. I stared at him angry and frustrated. I was really furious with him for embarrassing me. But soon after I left their house that evening I forced every adult around me to have what were probably some very awkward conversations about Dr. Kevorkian, late-term abortion and even the tax code. But I knew I would never be caught silent like that again. I knew that if I was going to say I believed in something, I was going to be able to tell you why.
Ten years later, when I was at college, Grandpa came to visit me at Northwestern. I had recently begun my second term as the vice-president of student government but this second term was sort of a consolation prize because I had ran for President and lost. Now most people had said things like you tried your best or you should still be proud, you only lost by ten votes. But Grandpa asked me flat out, why did I lose the election. Once again, I stared back at him, angry at him for asking me this question. I was indignant that he didn’t understand what I had been through. But I had to say something. So I stopped to ask myself, why did I lose that election. I made a mistake Grandpa. Until, I said it out loud to him, I didn’t even realize that it was true. That was the moment when I finally admitted the truth to myself. I had let something personal affect me in the last days of the campaign and I told him about it. It’s alright to make mistakes he told me. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but the important thing is not to repeat them. I knew I would never make that same mistake again.
Years later, when I was pursuing a career in dance, he again asked me an uncomfortable question. What are you going to do next Tamara? Once again, the same feelings of anger and frustration rose inside of me. I didn’t want to think about what was next. I wanted everyone to focus on the cool stuff I was doing now. But Grandpa was just pointing out what I knew was true but again didn’t want to deal with. When my mother would ask me the same question I could say Mom! Leave me alone! But when Grandpa asked me, I couldn’t say that. So once again, I had to search inside myself for an answer. I had to ask myself, what will I do next? Deep down, I had always known what I wanted to do, but for whatever reason, I hadn’t been ready to face it. I told him I was going to go to law school and a few years later I did.
In the years leading up to when I actually started school, Grandpa had a running joke with me. He would tell me that if I would vote Republican he would pay for me to go to law school. Now, this wasn’t really meant as a bribe to try to get me to vote Republican. And not just because he knew I would never vote Republican. But rather, it was a reminder to me. A reminder and perhaps a test. A test to find out if I had become someone who truly believed in what I said I stood for. Or if I could be swayed by easy money. But Grandpa had taught me well and perhaps he only made the offer because he knew that I had become the type of person that truly acted based on what I believed in even if it did mean racking up large amounts of student loan debt.
And now today, law school is over and Grandpa is gone. And he’s not here, to ask me the tough questions I need to hear. He’s not here to let me get angry and frustrated at him. He’s not here to ask me what I’m doing with my life right now. And though I miss him very much, I am so grateful to God and to him that he was a part of my life in this way and for helping push me forward to become a better human being. And though he won’t be able ask me these questions in the future, I will continue to ask them of myself. I will honor and respect him by forcing myself to search deep within myself and emerge the better person he expected of me. And so for the rest of my life, I will ask myself these questions for him and I will miss him every time I do.
October 18, 2011 | 8:41 pm
Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
I’m sorry for the brief delay in posting. My Grandfather passed away on Saturday. He had been sick for some time now so although at one point we were close, it wasn’t a total shock. But death is always hard. And it forces another side of all of us to emerge. You can only truly understand your partner in life when you’re confronted with hard times – how he acts when he’s fired from his job, what choices she makes when unexpectedly pregnant, how he deals with the loss of a parent or God-forbid much worse. But no matter how happy we think we are, life is full of hardships for everyone and so the person we are when faced with difficulties is one of the most important factors in a relationship.
In my newish relationship, there’s been a lot of smooth sailing so far but of course it’s easy to be happy and in love when life is good. But now my boyfriend will see the side of me that emerges when confronted with despondency and I will see the person he is when he is needed to support his partner. I am much less worried about how he will respond. I am fearful and embarrassed for how vulnerable I may be.
Having struggled with depression in the past, my natural inclination is to retreat. No one likes to be around someone depressed so when I feel upset, I usually avoid seeing people to spare them being around me. When I first found out about my Grandfather, I did have a good cry on Mr. DB’s shoulder but then he asked if there was anything he could do for me. I wanted to tell him I needed him to stay with me but instead I told him I was fine and I left.
So now he thinks I’m fine and I don’t need him and I’m furious at myself for letting my ego get in the way. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen me cry but it wasn’t far from it either. We’re at that point in the relationship, where it’s time to come off down from cloud nine and step into reality. If you’re lucky of course, you have times of bliss where you feel like you’re back in that beautiful place, but we all know you can’t live there permanently.
I was tempted to call him in the middle of the night and make him listen to me complain and recount my painful familial squabbles. But I also am fearful of letting him see me as some overly emotional victim. I want to tell him I need him by my side more, but I’m afraid to be needy. I want to tell him I don’t need him at all, but I’m afraid to appear cold. I don’t know how to be.
The funeral is tomorrow which is the same day he has some very important meetings at work. He’s asked me how important it is that he be there for the funeral and reception at my parents’ house afterwards. I told him on Sunday that I was fine, that I didn’t need him and that I would understand if he couldn’t make it because it was a critical day for him at work at a crucial time in his career. I was lying. I want to be ok alone. I don’t want to need him. I’ve gotten through tough times before without him and I could do it again if need be. But it’s just hard right now. My family is complicated and tense and sporadically fighting and I want to be together enough to be there for my mom. And I want him there for me in my corner so I can turn to him and tell him what I’m feeling.
But I’m afraid to be needy. I’m afraid that if I admit I need him, then what am I going to do if our relationship doesn’t work? Yet for my relationship to work, I need to be honest with him right now. He said that if I needed him to come he would. And I need to stop proving to him that I don’t need him. I need to tell him that I need him. I need to call him right now and tell him that I could use his support tomorrow. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me, but it is. I’m about to see him for dinner. I hope I can find the strength to tell him that right now, I am not strong.
October 7, 2011 | 3:00 pm
Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
Guest blogger and my dear sister, Jenna Kagel has written a letter to her boyfriend to make amends for Yom Kippur. She has allowed me to repost it here.
I’m sorry that every time you watch a boxing match on TV, I feign a terrible headache that necessitates your assistance.
I’m sorry that every time your non-Jewish afro grows beyond reasonable limits, I demand that you urgently get to the barber shop for a military haircut.
I’m sorry that I buy you clothes that say polo playing aristocrat, when I know you prefer the worn out vintage professor look.
I’m sorry that I continually cook ultra spicy Mexican delights for dinner that give you heartburn for the next three days.
I’m sorry that my vegetarianism prevents us from enjoying the delectable meats that has made your country internationally notorious.
I’m sorry I am lactose intolerant, which means that neither one of us can ever enjoy lapping up an ice cream treat - your favorite food.
I’m sorry that I don’t like your girl friends because they hang on to your every word and glance, which translates into me frowning upon all interactions with people you work with.
I’m sorry that I get emotional when I drink because I drink often and usually while I’m in your company.
I’m sorry that I laughed at you when I discovered that for two weeks you had been using bath gel as a body lotion because you actually thought it was a body lotion.
I’m sorry that I automatically get mad when you show up for dinner late, when I know it’s actually not your fault and it’s really the non-existent bus system in the city.
I’m sorry I never read the book you published, which you dedicated to me.
I’m sorry I have never really read anything you wrote because it seems laboriously taxing just by looking at it.
I’m sorry for making fun of your over-gesticulations because I remember finding that to be endearing when we first met three years ago.
I’m sorry that your name is not Jewish enough for my family and that they re-named you Manny Nunnstein for a year and half, which made you wildly angry even though you never said anything and that there are still distant relatives that call you Manny.
And lastly, I’m sorry that you’re not Jewish. Because if you were, you would have so much more patience and understanding with my kvetching and my chutzpa, and my mishpocha would finally shut up about it already!
Jenna Kagel is a writer and English teacher living in Argentina. She can be reached at JennaKagel@gmail.com
October 7, 2011 | 12:14 pm
Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
By popular demand, I’m reposting my Yom Kippur entry from 2010 while I work on my I’m sorry list for this year (It’s a long list). Have an easy fast.
To my mother, I’m sorry I entered you into the Real Housewives of Calabasas auditions,
To my father, I’m sorry I still have your credit card,
To my sister, I’m sorry I always forget you’re not exactly like me,
To my manicurist, I’m sorry I said China - I meant Vietnam,
To the gentleman callers I didn’t call back, I’m sorry I gave you my real number,
To my editor, I’m sorry I use the term “deadline” loosely,
To my professors, I’m sorry I just voiced my opinion out loud whenever I feel like,
To my housekeeper, I’m sorry I laughed at the Telenovela (I thought cat fights are always comedies),
To the servers whose restaurants I’ve patronized, I’m sorry I can never seem to order off the menu,
To my grandmother, I’m sorry you always think they’re not good enough,
To the non-Jews, I’m sorry we call ourselves the chosen people (I think it’s weird too),
To the yogis I take class with, I’m sorry I communicate that you should move over with a gentle whack,
To my roommate, I’m sorry I insist on playing NPR 24 hours a day,
To that CHP officer, I’m sorry I thought it was funny to give you a Monopoly Get Out of Jail Free card,
To my sorority sisters, I’m sorry I once showed a boyfriend the secret handshake (but I’m pretty sure he forgot),
To the telemarketers who call my house, I’m sorry I think it’s funny to repeat exactly what you say back to you like a parrot,
To the drivers who are near me on PCH, I’m sorry I have to come to a complete stop for hot surfers,
To my landlord, I’m sorry I always start our conversations with “the bundle of rights” theory in property law,
To the girls I teased behind your backs, I’m sorry I didn’t say it to your face,
To all cars in Santa Monica, I’m sorry I believe jaywalking isn’t a crime,
To the TSA scanner people, I’m sorry I never take my toiletries out of my bag but you only catch me half the time so it still seems worth it,
To my writing partner, I’m sorry I put my name first and then said it was only to be in alphabetical order,
To my rabbi, I’m sorry I still make origami in synagogue but very rarely,
And to God, I’m sorry that after I read the New Yorker every week I get convinced I’m an atheist.
This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal in 2010.
October 6, 2011 | 3:58 pm
Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
In 1997, as a teenager, I saw the best commercial ever created. It was part of the Think Different campaign for Apple. There was no youtube back then so I watched it over and over on tv till I memorized the words. I wrote them down on the front inside cover of my diary and I looked at them daily for years. Over the years, I would think about those words often as I imagined Martha Graham clicking her heels together and Albert Einstein’s hair being ruffled. Steve Jobs served as a constant reminder to me that it was ok to be weird or different or even crazy. And so I too would like to join the many voices out there thanking him. Not just for every piece of electronic equipment I own, but for encouraging me to think different and showing me the immense richness the Round Pegs could bring to the world.
If this commercial were to be made today, I imagine his familiar turtle-necked image would be included….
Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Branson, John Lennon (with Yoko Ono), Buckminster Fuller, Thomas Edison, Muhammad Ali, Ted Turner, Maria Callas, Mahatma Gandhi, Amelia Earhart, Alfred Hitchcock, Martha Graham, Jim Henson (with Kermit the Frog), Frank Lloyd Wright and Pablo Picasso.
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify and vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as crazy, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
October 6, 2011 | 11:00 am
Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
My really good friends have an incredible band called LA Gypsy. I appear briefly in the music video for their new single El Camino which is just an incredible classic feel good rock song. Their album has just dropped and you can order it from their website here. They also have two shows in LA and one is tonight! Oct 6 at The Talking Stick in Venice and the other is Oct. 20th at The Key Club as well as a bunch in New York - all the details are on their website.
They shot the entire video in two days on a non-existent budget and I think they did such a spectacular job. I keep telling my friend Mike, who wrote the songs, that I’m the L.A. Gypsy the band is based on but I’m not sure he’s completely sold on that. The truth is, I’d probably post this even if I didn’t think it was all that great because they’re my friends but I definitely wouldn’t be trying to be a part of their origin story if I didn’t think the work was truly brilliant on its own.
Be sure to check out the video here:
October 5, 2011 | 1:00 pm
Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
Foxy Knoxy is out. It used to be that being a pretty twenty-something American college student got you a free latte. Now, apparently, it gets you a pass on murder. I know I know, but the DNA evidence was faulty. And of course it was and perhaps there wasn’t enough evidence to convict her, but I’m not buying that Amanda Knox was completely innocent in the whole affair either. She acted way too crazy to not to be involved somehow – doing cartwheels in the police station and making out with her boyfriend afterwards. Maybe she wasn’t the actual killer but she at least knew a little too much to have a clear conscience.
Being pretty, has always had its unfair advantages. But Foxy Knoxy seems to truly have expanded the limits of what being young and beautiful can get you. Amanda Knox has seemed to have opened the door for the underserved white educated class of beautiful women in this country.
Ten things I learned from Foxy Knoxy’s time in an Italian prison:
1. When I was in college, we used to call girls slutty behind their backs. But apparently now, girls who sow their wild oats in college are called sex-obsessed, depraved wild-orgy having perverts who rape and murder. However, the term for male promiscuity seems to have remained the same: stud.
2. If this had to happen to Foxy Knoxy, at least it happened in Italy where they don’t have the death penalty. She could have been sentenced to death in the States. But then again, when was the last time we executed someone beautiful on death row. For that matter, when was the last time we executed someone who wasn’t a poor black man?
3. They used to say the best way to learn a foreign language is to date someone who speaks it. But four years in an Italian jail and Foxy Knoxy is fluent. Perhaps an even better way to learn a foreign language is prison?
4. If you have a twenty-year old daughter, she probably has a vibrator. Perhaps your next sex talk should include a gentle reminder not to bring sex toys across international borders – they seem to be misconstrued in certain parts of the world.
5. For some people it’s herpes on your mouth and God is punishing you with an STD. For some people they’re just cold sores that can be transmitted by sharing drinks. This is the new Rorschach test that determines which sexual generation you are from.
6. Lifetime will make a movie about your story if you’re a beautiful young college student who gets sucked into some deviant foreign underworld involving rape and murder. But Hollywood will make a movie about you if you are a beautiful young college student wrongly accused of a gory crime you didn’t commit. Apparently Hollywood really does need a happy ending but sensational tv for women doesn’t.
7. College degrees are overrated. Foxy Knoxy didn’t graduate from University of Washington but John Grisham is begging to co-author a book with her. She’s about to begin her career on the talk show circuit and compare million dollar deals to allow someone the privilege of telling her story.
8. If your story is told on Lifetime, you will be prettier than the actress who plays you.
9. Basic Instinct had it right all along. Forget getting away with a speeding ticket. If you’re pretty enough, you can get away with murder!
10. If all else fails, blame it on a black man. Knox got so confused during her interview with police, she told them her boss Patrick Lumumba must have done it. Although this black man had an airtight alibi, Knox luckily admitted to knowing another black Italian man, Rudy Guede and he has been convicted of the murder.