I apparently have a strange, emotionally charged relationship to holidays. This became most evident in my life when I wrote a little blog post about a succession of Valentine’s Days and lessons learned. The blog post inadvertently became “my big break” — a web-series executive produced by Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky for Refinery29. It seems that my tendency is to track my emotional development over the years according to the dates chosen by Hallmark to con the general populace into buying heart-warming greeting cards, and that this is my one marketable skill so far.
My birthday is no different from Valentine’s Day in that it has for some time seemed “cursed,” particularly as far as my relationships to the opposite sex are concerned.
My birthday curse started when I was turned five. I remember it vividly. I was a big “Barney the Dinosaur” fan at the time, and as such had requested a Barney themed birthday party in the park. I don’t remember much from that party except climbing a slide and meeting a gang of 8 or 9 year old boys who just so happened to also be at the park that day. They sang to me for my birthday along to the tune of the Barney theme song.
“I hate you, you hate me, we’re a dumb stupid family…”
I don’t remember the rest of how they cleverly altered the lyrics, but I do remember crying hysterically and the rest of the day feeling completely ruined. Subsequent childhood birthdays were less traumatic and therefore more forgettable, but this particular party seemed to foreshadow birthdays to come.
At age 19 I began “dating” for the first time, and the first boy I was intimate with, so to speak, refused to show up to my birthday party to meet my friends. I was shocked and devastated.
At age 21, a different boyfriend promised grand plans of taking me out to a fancy dinner, then canceled at the last minute for pretty much no reason.
At age 23, ruffled from previous disappointments, I created high expectations of yet another boyfriend, explaining that I really wanted a gift, perhaps something we could do together — even something he would want to do like a baseball game (these were part of my specific instructions) and I felt let down by his gift of a note written on yellow legal pad paper and a mixed-CD.
At age 24 or 25, I was deliberately single, attempting to be smarter about dating, but also still dating. I had been unsuccessful on these dates and one of these boys decided to show up to my birthday party anyway in spite of the fact that we didn’t seem to get along and he pulled a really weird move (see said web-series). He brought another girl along to my birthday party. She seemed dead inside. I politely shook her hand and it was like a limp fish. Later a friend revealed to me that she was a prominent porn star.
At age 27 I was determined to break “the curse” that seemed to always happen on June 29th and decided to have “no expectations” of my then-boyfriend. We got in a big fight anyway because I wanted to listen to “Copacabana” in the car and he didn’t, and since it was my birthday I assumed I should be put on a pedestal for at least one day and allowed to listen to whatever the fuck I wanted without someone else being grumpy about it.
At age 28, last year, I was simply relieved to be alive. I had been through a lot in the previous years, and though I have never been a successful musician known for her drug habit, I was glad to not be in the 27 club. Previous big dreams (see, again, web-series) had not resulted in my imminent demand within the entertainment industry as I had anticipated. With raising rents, no new job prospects, etc. I had come to a crossroads where I decided to move in with my grandma to get back up on my feet. I spent June 29th packing and cleaning what was left in my old Silver Lake apartment. My grandma and I got lunch at California Pizza Kitchen. It was not my worst birthday by any means, but it still felt heavy and very symbolic of endings rather than new beginnings. I wished my birthday weren’t a thing that had to happen every year.
My birthday fast approaches once again, except this year the pressure is on more than ever. I am going to turn 29. And you see, this particular birthday is of special importance to me, I think more so than “30” will be. I’m going to be 29 on the 29th. It’s my golden birthday, an event that only happens in every person’s life once. Some people are born on the 2nd, and so they turn 2 without ever knowing it’s their golden birthday and it passes them by. Since I was born towards the very end of the month, my case is different. I’ve had lots and lots of time to anticipate my golden birthday.
I started planning for this particular birthday back in January of 2017. I knew this was going to be the year I broke “the curse.” I had a lot of shitty birthdays to make up for in this golden one. It had to be spectacular.
It had become a joke between me and a close friend that my life was like “La La Land” except it stops at the failure. I had indeed already fallen in love with and broken up with a pianist, not succeeded completely in my dreams of making it in showbiz despite, like Emma Stone, getting people coffee for a long time and not liking it anymore, and I was moving back in with my family after perceived failures in following my dreams.
I decided the solution to all of this was obviously simple. All I had to do was create a shitty one-woman show that no one wanted to go to, and even if no one did go or liked what I did, at least one person in the audience would conveniently just so happen to be a prominent casting director who “saw past” whatever other people didn’t like about my failed show, and then decide to create a movie script around me and my visits with my rich aunt in France.
Of course, I don’t have that last part going for me, but I did genuinely decide that for my birthday party this year I would create and plan a one woman show, the concept being, “for my birthday this year all I want is for all my friends to have to listen to me talk about myself for an hour. Tickets are free for powerful casting directors who want to create a featured roll for me.”
I conceived of these ideas in March. Quickly afterward I began working for a local political campaign. I learned things on the campaign, and then once it was over the pressure was on to really plan this one woman show that had for so long just been kind of a funny idea in my head. I looked at theaters to book the show, but felt overwhelmed by the cost of booking said theaters compared to my lack of discernible income and my desire to become a “real adult” and not live with my grandma well into my 30s, even though I love her.
Another factor was, though I intended the one woman show as something of a joke, I felt that talking about myself for an hour, even in a self-aware, sardonic manner felt kind of exhausting and narcissistic. Even if I am somewhat of a narcissist, I do my best to not be a total self-involved piece of shit. Thus, I evolved the idea to being a “storytelling show” about birthdays in general, and decided that including my friends in the actual show would be a great display of me being a magnanimous, giving person who realizes that it’s lonely at the top without your friends by your side. If that powerful casting director was going to come to my shitty box-theater birthday party she’d have to cast all of us in some kind of ensemble piece. I reached out to a few friends, and found that since I had waited until the last minute to make these plans it was not coming together very easily.
And then I just felt tired, and depressed. I felt that I had spent a lot of time creating high expectations once again and I felt anxious about feeling let down again by my own demands for perfection and excellence, thus perpetuating “the curse”.
I would like to break “the curse” of feeling constantly disappointed and let down by my birthday, and so I figure there is something to learn from all this, which is what I will attempt to do now.
If I could go back to my 5 year old self, I’d first of all give her a hug because she’s just a little girl who ran into some asshole boys, but I’d also want to point out to her that a lot of good things probably happened that day too. She probably got great presents, probably had friends who were there, and I wish she now remembered those things about that day. I don’t know if at age 5 (or even age 28) if she could totally comprehend the power she has to choose what aspects of life she looks at, but those stupid boys never deserved such a prominent place in the memory bank.
If I could go back to myself, ages 19-25 or so, I’d want to tell her that she’s doing a terrific job of equating happiness with partnership, but that it’s a trap. I still assume its possible to be happy in a relationship, but after a year of detoxing and consciously not dating I think that at least at this point I feel more aware of how putting demands on people who haven’t fully earned my trust to live up to an ideal is a recipe for disaster. I seem to have a pattern of giving the power and responsibility of my happiness to others.
And in more recent years, I have just felt kind of depressed about the whole thing. My 20s were full of lots of ups and downs, as it seems most people’s 20s go. It’s somewhat hard for me to consciously understand why my birthday even matters to me to the extent that it apparently does. Is it just that I want to feel beloved, and is it also that until I learn to be-love myself no amount of validation or celebration will feel like enough to fill the void? Is it that each passing year feels like a milestone of past failures accumulated and “time running out”? Perhaps I just want to feel special, and if I don’t feel ecstatic on “my special day” then it’s somehow symbolic of my whole existence being shit?
I decided not to do the storytelling show, at least not on my birthday. Perhaps I will yet perform in a half-serious one woman show, or put together a group of my friends in a theater to tell stories. I felt like I had to let go of something this time around, namely the pressure and expectations.
My 28th year was simultaneously eventful and transformative without necessarily showing outwards signs of progress for it. Inside I know I am a different person than I was a year ago, though on the surface I am still living with my grandma and not succeeding in traditional “adulting” sort of ways. I assume that will come. I hope.
I want my life to be different moving forward, and I desperately want my 29th year — the golden one — to mark that change.
First, like my 5 year old and early 20s self, I need to remember to focus on the good and the love in my life, not the stray assholes. Assholes will be assholes, apparently. I think its crazy that I’ve let them define my happiness for so long. I have purposefully kept my upcoming birthday asshole-free by deciding to just hang out with a few best friends, doing things we love together (like working on the passion project we’ve been developing for the past few years). I’ll also celebrate with my family eating my favorite spaghetti sauce with them and keeping it low-key.
I’m not having a party, because in the past parties have felt like a gamble for my popularity. How loved am I? How many people are showing up? Who cares enough to bother for me? I mean, even in this piece I haven’t focused on some more positive birthday moments. I have had really great, wonderful parties too — like when I was 27 and I combined my friends and family for a night in my favorite pub and felt over the moon to have the people I love the most in my presence. My point here though is every year shouldn’t feel like I’m testing my loved ones to show up for me, and while it might not feel that way to others, when that’s the mindset I’m already operating in I think I need to take a step back.
I want this to be the year I learn to be the person who shows up for my own happiness, rather than expecting it from others. Instead of counting failures or perceived lack of progress in the past year, I want to give myself credit for how far I have come, and to trust that I have indeed evolved in ways I am still unveiling to myself. Instead of putting pressure on myself to conjure that magic casting director from La La Land who gives Emma Stone everything she ever wanted, I want to relax into appreciating the joys that exist in the life I’ve already created for myself. I want to give myself the gift of trust and faith in myself. My birthday isn’t cursed. It’s just a day. If there has been a curse, it was created in my own mind, and that’s something I can decide to let go of.
My birthday will be golden not because anything in particular happened, but because I decided to love and celebrate myself with compassion and patience for who I’ve been and who I’m becoming.
And if you do want to celebrate me with me, please know that I am doing my best to let go of my expectations but I still love praise and validation. If anything I want my birthday to be a day in my life where I get to see all the nice things people would say about me if I died (that maybe they don’t even totally mean), without having to do the dying part because I hope I have many, many, many more birthdays to come and that each one is a blessing.