erin judge writes this

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I'm Erin Judge. I'm a comedian and a writer. I live in Los Angeles. Let's hug.

June 21, 2014

fear of a green planet

I talk a big game these days about hiking and kayaking. I even drop the c-word from time to time, as in, "We're driving out to LA this summer, gonna do some camping." On a recent trip to the Berkshires, I searched online and found a waterfall on the Greylock preserve for me and my friend to climb around in. This still feels like a big deal to me, because underneath my Smartwool socks and breathable synthetic shirts (cotton kills!), I'm very much a recovering city kid.

I'm from Brooklyn. I did not see a rabbit in the wild until I was six years old. I remember it vividly: my grandparents had just driven me up to Cape Cod for a week's vacation. I wandered into the backyard, and there it was! Just like at the Staten Island Zoo! I stood stock-still, transfixed by the panting bunny, for at least three minutes. Eating blueberries right off the bushes later that week was a second unprecedented revelation.

My urban people were not the kind of urban people who went to national parks or sent their children on Outward Bound trips to build character and provide fodder for college entrance essays. "Camping? Not for me!" my grandmother would declare, laughing and shaking her head at the notion of sleeping on the ground. Who would put up with all that? Bugs. Weather. Wild animals. Murderers. No good. Not for us.

For many of my peers, living in a city like New York takes a lot of getting used to. You have to navigate the transit system, dodge obstacles, deal with confrontation, move quickly, avoid danger. And if you're not used to banging up against loud, insane people every day, the danger can feel ubiquitous. I notice rookie mistakes, like making eye contact with some stranger who's hollering randomly or even attempting to get your attention. NYC newbies are like old people who just got on Facebook. They have no filter. They can't tell what's real and what's just noise.

I'm faced with similar challenges when I find myself out in nature. I'm lousy at orienting myself. Despite my ability to navigate cities and roads, I cannot for the life of me learn to read a trail map. Sometimes I still lose the trail I'm supposed to be following.

And I'm no good at assessing danger in the woods. Every noise in the bushes makes me jump. For years, I would cross streams with tremendous anxiety about losing my footing. I guess in my head I thought I might injure myself and get hypothermia and have to turn back or be carried out. Here's what actually happens: your boot gets wet. Sometimes your sock. But you rarely even feel it. I just had no idea.

On top of all that, I cannot understate the fear of other humans we city folk experience in an unpopulated environment. In New York, a busy subway platform at 3am on a Tuesday is about as safe as you can get. It's well-lit, there are other watchful citizens around... Meanwhile, walking down an empty street and noticing a single human figure approaching makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. That scenario constitutes 100% of interpersonal encounters out in the wilderness. Every time I tell my aunt I'm going hiking, she asks if I bring mace with me, and not because she's concerned about rabid raccoons.* It's because, in her city logic, a woman walking through a low foot traffic area is a target.

I'm so lucky that my husband and the woman I dated before him are extremely experienced in the outdoors. They taught me everything I know about how to feel comfortable in the woods or in a canoe or a kayak. These days, I do my best to observe my husband and absorb his knowledge, to retain the skills for navigating nature on my own. NYC newbies didn't grow up watching parents and grandparents and strangers and various caretakers negotiate the city's obstacles. They didn't get "around the block" privileges at age seven. They never rode the subway as kids. When you grow up immersed in something, you understand it instinctively, inside and out. It's now twelve years since I summited my first real mountain, and I still have so much to learn.

But I'm determined. The benefits of getting to know the outdoors far outweigh the horror of pulling off your first tick.** I want to get more comfortable sleeping in a tent, and eventually I hope to graduate to backpacking. For now, I scramble around familiar hiking trails and waterfalls in Ithaca, and I'm proud to say I went for my first solo kayak trip on a choppy bay off Lake Ontario just two weeks ago. My half hour on the water paled in comparison to what my husband was doing at the time (thru-hiking the Foothills Trail in seven days), but I felt proud of my little victory nonetheless.


I myself am extremely concerned about rabid raccoons.

** That first leech, however... I'm still recovering from that one.

June 12, 2014

more art

Here is the transcript of an actual conversation that took place between me and an old friend at the Harvard Bookstore, sometime earlier this century:

HER: Ugh, Eat Pray Love!

ME: Have you read it?

HER: No but my friend from work said it was awful.

ME: I really liked it.

HER: She said it was totally classist. Like, nobody is so privileged they can just go do stuff like that.

ME: Which friend from work?

HER: The one I'm subbing for.

ME: The one you're subbing for because she took five months off to go to Australia?

HER: ......Yes.

/scene

Too often, women's criticisms of female artists raise the stakes from a question of taste to one of moral judgment. This isn't simply not for me; this is bad for everyone.

Stating that somebody's personal memoir is harmful to our collective cultural consciousness when her life is so similar to your own has but one implication: self-hate.

I knew it wouldn't be long before OITNB became "problematic." Girls had no chance. RuPaul is up to her neck in criticism. Meanwhile, tired sit-com rom-com stereotypes continue to dominate culture.

There's a particular sting that comes when you're trying your best to tell stories that haven't been told. You're a new generation, or an unheard voice, and you want to tell your story, or the stories of multiple fascinating characters, in a whole new way. You're up against, frankly, The Man. Dominant cultural hegemony is your main obstacle. Somehow, you push beyond that. It's thrilling, it's exciting, it's happening. Then, somebody you think might be on your team turns to you and says: "You do not speak for us. You do not represent us. People like us would be better off if you did not speak at all."

The world is unfair. No cultural revolution will ever go far enough to fix that, or even to fix what society's got wrong. We can push. We can make little dents. But we can't be the everything. We can't write the book or make the television show that is the antidote to injustice. Moreover, any story we create that realistically reflects this broken society will likely include portrayals of injustice. Those are not endorsements. Our personal experiences are still real even if they do align with the dominant narrative. Most good stories, like most lives, contain the expected and the surprising, the typical and the unique.

If your story has not been told, tell it. Make art. Forget the consequences. And there will be many consequences, and many criticisms, some blaming you for shit that happens long after you're dead. (Seriously, read this. It'll make your head spin around at least a dozen times. It's such an exemplar of the moral judgment of women artists by women critics that it's almost a primer. It's about Frida Kahlo, and it should be called "How to Find Fault in Popular Ladies.")

Don't fear judgment. Make art. Criticism is important, but we as women need to make more art and write fewer words that break down art by women.

As RuPaul says, humans are God in drag. See that in other women, and know it in yourself. Art by women can't be "just women's art" anymore when it finally hits critical mass.

We don't need to correct other women or judge them or write them off or digitally rage, at least not as much as we need to make more art. You hear it again and again: women don't submit as much.

We need to turn up the volume.

And if you need a pep talk, just let me know.

June 3, 2014

the unisex friendzone

The more I read about getting "friendzoned," the more I see it portrayed as an essentially straight male experience. Come on now, kids.

Is there a misconception out there that human females watch "The Breakfast Club" or "Pretty In Pink" and universally identify with Molly Ringwald?

Please. I'm a natural redhead and I've still never identified with a Molly Ringwald character, not for a single second.

Okay, maybe I get a little Team Molly when her family ignores her in "Sixteen Candles." But in the company of her peers, Molly's always a pretty girl, and at least a mid-level It Girl, and so I, being Not It, tend to see myself much more in the nerds and weirdos orbiting around her.

And indeed, I have been friendzoned. Many, many times. I've been friendzoned by people I got along great with, who loved hanging out with me, who sought me out, who laughed at my jokes and cried on my shoulder but ultimately went off to seek the affections of a totally different type of girl, one who was thinner and prettier and cooler and quieter than me.

It's such a painful experience, a baffling injustice piled on top of rejection. Never does the world of love seem more undemocratic. Sometimes you don't even get to plead your case. And may god have mercy on your soul if you do.

I'm going to attempt to break down the experience of being friendzoned, and hopefully I'll end with a nice Zen lesson that will make everybody feel greater equanimity and higher self-esteem, and then we'll all send love and smiles and well-wishes to the beautiful flawed souls who've kicked our little hearts around along the way.

Ahem.

Zone A: Fixers of Broken Toys
The person you've fallen for likes you but loves -- loves -- the chronically unstable. Maybe they* follow an erratic addict around like a puppy dog and you get to field the scary calls in the middle of the night when he really goes off the rails. Or maybe they fawn over a gorgeous girl who can't manage to take her meds as prescribed. You see what a beautiful, beautiful heart your beloved has in the care and dedication they have for these human disasters, and you just wish they would let you treat them the way they deserve to be treated.

This is a tough position to be in, but try to realize that your pining and counseling is at least on the same spectrum as the enabling behaviors they're caught up in. You might be stuck in the friendzone, but they're in the much worse Codependency Area, which is more than halfway down the road to Abuse Town. They can't fix their people, but you can't fix their desire to fix people either. You can offer moral support, but let the crush go. Search for a love less addicted to the drama.

Zone B: Achievers
Some people used to be fat and ridiculed for it. Some people grew up gay in a bigoted environment. Some people never got attention from their dads. Some people simply felt like losers. And as a result, those people can wind up suspicious of love that's offered freely. The warm and accepting way that you adore them feels cheap. It's too easy. They believe love is a thing they have to fight for, and so only the reticent are worthy of their affections. These people will ignore you and devote time, energy, money, and all other resources to courting the lukewarm and diffident. They're obsessed with winning someone over, so they tend to find their own objects of affection with hearts like Everest to climb. You alone see how simple it could be if they just stopped fighting so hard and let you love them. But, alas, you can't make them see how inherently worthy they are. They have to figure that one out for themselves.

Zone C: Idealists
This is the classic friendzoning scenario, and it usually overlaps with one or both of the syndromes explained above. The person putting you in the friendzone has a very specific idea of the kind of partner they deserve. They want a catch, a real hottie, the human equivalent of a sports car (or a Prius, depending on their milieu) to reflect their worth and their position in the social hierarchy. When you confess your feelings to the Idealist, they often claim they're just not attracted to you, even after you've shared a series of passionate hook-ups that would seem to indicate otherwise.

Man, this one sucks.

Ultimately, the real loser here is compatibility. Many relationships -- heck, even marriages -- fail because people fixate on the brand of partner or spouse they desire and pay little attention to the actual connection. One of the biggest problems with online dating is that it usually operates under the false assumption that we know what we want, that we can rattle off the characteristics and traits we're looking for in a mate. In real life, introverted bookworms who pine after professor types with expensive eyewear might actually fall for foul-mouthed lawyers who love loud dance clubs. It's a weird world, and you have to get to know people in order to let them surprise you.

So let the Idealist seek their Perfect Object. Perhaps they'll be frustrated, or perhaps they'll find a richer, more beautiful, more socially successful version of you. Fuck 'em anyway. One of the most attractive traits in the whole wide world is the ability to walk away from somebody who is ambivalent about you. Simply stop showing up for those consolation prize make-out sessions, and I promise you'll find yourself holding your head up higher.

End Zone
Now, it shouldn't be hard to recognize that many of us who complain about getting friendzoned are ourselves often guilty of these same mindsets. If you're a software developer who constantly laments being friendzoned by Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, maybe your Idealist tendencies are holding you back from finding genuine connections with the types who grace the pages of Wired. And partnering "up" is truly just as bad as settling. I can't think of anything worse than finding yourself tied to somebody who seems great on paper but who cannot make you feel seen, who does not know your soul.

If you get friendzoned, lick your wounds and walk away. Ultimately we can't dictate how anyone else feels about us. We can't control it, and they can't control it, and the only way to deal with it is to give yourself and the other person some space.

And don't forget to look around your life from time to time to see if there's a Duckie grinning eagerly in the corner. You might be somebody's Molly Ringwald after all.

* I use the singular "they" instead of s/he and I don't care how you feel about that.