Things I’ve Done Since The Postal Service’s Last Album: Field Trip

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Click through image above (or click here) to read my list thingy on every accomplishment I’ve made over the last ten years. Well, maybe not every accomplishment… Sample below.

It’s been ten very long years since I stared at the screen of my Sony Vaio laptop – the one my dad got me as a graduation present instead of the gun he really wanted for himself – watching the video for “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight.”

Freshman year at NYU, 2002. I was sitting on the concrete slab of a twin-sized bed, wearing a pair of sea foam green Roxy pajama pants and sporting an East Coast winter tan. I remember this video like I remember a handful of others. The marriage of image and noise and my own personal experience.

First, the guttural, electronic buzz. Then, Ben Gibbard’s shaky, contemplative whisper of a voice. Cobalt light over a sleeping girl, paper suns over a paper city, holograms of ex-boyfriends, strangers dancing, lips kissing, running clocks. It had a distinct feeling, a mood that I liked but couldn’t relate to because I was a freshly minted eighteen-year-old with $1,100 in my bank account and an inability to cook for myself. High school was a still a memory whose distance I could count in days.

Last week, when The Postal Service announced that it would finally be recording its first album in a decade, it got me thinking about what happens over the span of ten years. As it turns out, a lot. In the 3,650 some odd days of Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello sitting on their lazy asses, here’s a list of my accomplishments…

SEE THE LIST AT FLIP COLLECTIVE, CHEATERS.

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NYFW Field Trip

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Had the pleasure of working with Victoria Floethe and photographer Patrik Andersson for this piece about New York Fashion Week. Click here to read if you haven’t had the chance to do so already. It’s rather verbose, but that’s kind of my thing.

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The Four Seasons of Michael James: June, 2011

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The following is an excerpt from a finished book that I may or may not eventually publish,The Four Seasons of Michael James. For now, I’ll be periodically dropping bits and pieces here. 

Serena, Mona, and Kris are standing outside of a brownstone on 13th Street.  Everyone is wearing short shorts and sandals, sporting side-boob or, in Serena’s case, real cleavage.  We look like summer sweat, urban beachcombers.

There’s a row of young kids sitting outside against rough iron rails smoking cigarettes, waiting for something that’s never going to come.  “Are you sure we’re not on the list?” one moans, helpless and uninvited.  Mona gives her name to the man at the door.

We step through the threshold into a clean hallway with a view into a well-outfitted kitchen where two women frantically gather plates of hors d’oeuvres to walk upstairs.  The wood floor is new and refurbished and there are layers of crown molding where the wall meets the ceiling.  It’s the type of place that would be perfectly suited for a Nancy Meyers film about privileged people who live perfectly normal lives while they deal with their relatable, real people problems in million dollar houses with perfect lighting and living rooms that never get used.  Needless to say, this is not our usual environment – a place more often filled with Red Stripe-drinking, chain smoking hipsters with $100 in their bank account that they’re supposed to live off of until the end of the month.

Someone asks Mona whose party this is.  She doesn’t know.  Nobody knows.  We laugh the nervous, satisfied laugh of the uninvited.  “I have no idea what this is going to be like,” she warns, though judging from the rosewood banister leading upstairs, we can all guess.  Toto, we’re not in Brooklyn anymore.

I follow Mona and her jean shorts up the staircase towards the party.  The first person I see is a woman in a white, silk jersey cocktail dress standing next to a man in a blazer and tie.  She adjusts the diamond stud in her left ear.  Her legs cross at the ankles, two gym-toned calves wrapped over one another.  She looks like she’s showered in the last hour.  And she is not in the minority; everyone here looks decidedly country club.  We, on the other hand, look like prostitutes.

The friend of a friend of a friend who invited us here is a well-spoken and well-to-do art history buff with long brown hair.  She reminds me of Catherine Hepburn – someone astute and reserved, poised even when laughing, always composed and never sloppy.  Compared to her, we all look like a ridiculous bunch of overgrown children.  Girls in Never Never Land.  I try to assess any abject horror on her face upon seeing us enter the party, our scrappy little crew with uncurled hair and dewy foreheads.

I look around the room, scanning the scene of hungry, waspy men and their equally waspy girlfriends.

“I’ll take the one in the button-up,” I joke.

We walk straight to the bar and Serena hands me a watermelon drink that supposedly has rum in it but I don’t think it does because it doesn’t make me want to vomit.  In high school, I had an epic evening spent with six friends and a bottle of Captain Morgan from which I have never fully recovered.  The night included dancing on the wooden table in my mom’s living room, crawling on the white tiled floor of her kitchen, and dragging my friend Jeff out into the backyard “to see Lady,” my dead dog who we had buried three weeks previous under a lavender bush and accompanied by one of her favorite toys, a fuzzy blue Cookie Monster with bulging plastic eyeballs.  We sat down in front of the fresh mound of upended earth until I remembered that Jeff had just buried his father, and – given how drunk I was – I apologized profusely, making the situation increasingly awkward.  That was, at least, until Jeff tried to kiss me, his eyes drooped with drunkenness and his mouth in that half-moon frown that came when your brain started to loosen its control on your motor skills.  “Just friends,” I said, waving my hands in front of him as though I were directing flight traffic.  “Just friends.”

Serena asks where the bathroom is and we make a joke about how you actually have to go down a hallway to get to it.  In New York City, this is usually only a two-door decision: closet or bathroom, take your pick.  “There’s another one downstairs,” someone offers.

Over the polite din of chatter comes the sound of a knife being aggressively banged on the side of a glass.  “CAN EVERONE PLEASE QUIETEN DOWN?”  A robust man in his early 30s with the cholesterol level of a 60-year-old takes to a white stepladder.  A server stands beneath him holding a tray of banana pudding in white paper cups with red spoons.

The man is the fiancé of the birthday girl – this is the point where I realize this is a birthday party.  He gives a speech about the birthday girl apparent, who stands to his right with glassy eyes and nice hair, a chunky necklace and wide hips.  He tells a parable about a little boy and a beach of starfish and for a moment I find it charming, until he wraps it up saying how many lives she has touched over the years, proceeding to list all of her accomplishments that reads like a bibliography of all of my own failings.

We’re the kids in the room.  This girl, this woman, is only three years older than myself.  She’s been on the boards of charities, produced television shows, is getting married sometime next year.  And here I am, 27, untethered and grasping.  I still feel like I’m supposed to be leaving for college soon.  I still wear sneakers and shorts that barely cover my ass cheeks.  I sit cross-legged on concrete floors even when a chair is available to me.  I have no idea when I will grow up, when I will be like any of the people in this room with their white teeth and their pink shirts, when I will be the girl who’s turning 30 and is engaged to some 30-year-old man with a steady job and cigar nights with the boys.

He finishes his toast and people that know her cheer and when we sing happy birthday I get quiet at the part where I’m supposed to sing her name because I don’t know her name.

The crowd gets louder as the music gets worse.  Serena and I pluck fat strawberries off of a silver tray and dance around the table under a chandelier with dripping crystals and round glass spheres.  I put the chewed-off stems into a white paper napkin and wonder if this is considered appropriate strawberry disposal behavior.  No matter what we do here – whether we’re dancing around the table or drinking watermelon drinks or eating fruit for desert – we’re going to look like the bastard kids who snuck in through the backdoor.

I’m introduced to the host of the party and the owner of the townhouse, a man who looks like he’s in his twenties until you get a little closer.  He’s neither tall nor short, neither handsome nor offending.  He’s not my type but maybe he could be.  We fall into conversation easily because he likely wants to have sex with me and I am hell bent on challenging my patterns of attraction.

The two of us discuss his current conundrum: he is debating an invitation to St. Tropez set for the following week, the problem being that the group consists of all of his married-with-children friends.  A girl behind us chimes in with her own suggestion.  “Never go to St. Tropez unless you’re with your single friends,” she laments.  “I’ve done it the wrong way before.”  White people problems.

I excuse myself and lock myself in a bathroom with black and white wallpaper and an absurdly large sink that’s the size of most New York City bathtubs.  I note that they have run out of hand towels, but that’s the room’s only fault.  I wash my hands and dry them with toilet paper that disintegrates in between my fingertips.  I stare at myself in the mirror – my blonde hair, my red shorts, my summer tan legs and shiny forehead.  I wonder how I would fit in in a place like this – this townhouse with Italian marble floors and light fixtures imported from France.  I imagine that I am dating the host and try to see myself here.  My reflection looks back at me and we wonder if we are nice enough for a life such as this, refined enough, deserving.

 

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Field Trip!

Police Discover A Victim Of Jack The Ripper

Flip Collective started off their first season of 2013 last week and that means I’m back in that saddle for the time being. Click on the image above to read my latest piece, “Bullets and Butterfly Wings.” Excerpt below:

The four of us sit in an expensive restaurant on Kenmare, four blondes from all over the world gossiping over the smudged surface of a copper table: Milena from Denmark, Hannah from Sweden, Anneli from Finland, and myself from glamorous Woodland Hills, California. Ultimately, we all speak the same language, the language of I’m-Single-in-New-York-City-and-This-Is-the-Fucking-Worst. That language. With the exception of Milena, who has been married for thirteen months. Even so, she’s got stories that would last anyone more than a few years…

 

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Cheer up, buttercup

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The Four Seasons of Michael James: April, 2011

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The following is an excerpt from a finished book that I may or may not eventually publish, The Four Seasons of Michael James. For now, I’ll be periodically dropping bits and pieces here. 

***

There’s a monsoon outside. Not a real one, but real enough for New York. Rain falls in unrelenting sheets. Water splatters against my window like paint. A heavy-handed wind bends the trees outside my apartment, howling and shuddering, while lightening cracks through dark clouds and illuminates the walls of my bedroom with a cobalt pop.

“Come meet us!”

Audra is in town with her ex-boyfriend who is now her boyfriend again. He’s done terrible things to her; I’m not supposed to like him.

“Okay,” I say.  “I’ll come.”

I haven’t left the house in weeks.

My umbrella whips around me furiously, yanking my arm around spastically. Water soaks through my boots to the socks inside. When I finally make it to the Bowery Hotel lobby, I look like a pitiful, soggy mess.

They’re sitting at a configuration of sunken-in sofas against the south wall. Brett’s older. He shakes my hand aggressively. He has an erratic charm about him, a pleasant care beneath crazed eccentricity. Audra sits next to him, a beautiful toy.

A friend of his arrives: Darren. Darren is older, too. Maybe late forties or mid-fifties. He sits next to me.

“Let me guess,” he starts.  “You live in Brooklyn or the Lower East Side.”

“Brooklyn,” I confirm, turning my back towards him and craving better company.

There is something about Brett that is beguiling, despite an untoward intensity. He asks questions. He looks at you when he speaks. He connects and engages. He is a people person with a penchant for monstrous behavior.

Michael comes up. Winter. My malaise.

“I’m broken,” I say, a smile stamped into my face.

“You’re fine,” Brett insists. “Look, you’re here, aren’t you?”

I am here, but I’m not really here. Lately I feel like I’m trapped in a glass box, banging on the walls as the room begins to fill up with water.

“Let’s do a word association game,” he says, facing towards me, his forearms propped on his knees, his back hunched.

“Fashion,” he begins.

“Whores.” I say.

“Tattoos.”

“Hot.”

“Cat.”

“Dog.”

“Michael.”

“Jackson.”

“See!” he exclaims.  “You’re fine!”

***

Audra whispers something in my ear about having MDMA. “Let’s go upstairs,” Brett says and someone pays for our drinks and we take an elevator to a penthouse with a rain-soaked balcony. The green and white striped awning whips furiously in the wind. Clouds pass over the city, heaving water at Manhattan in buckets.

Darren cuts the bag of MDMA into quarters with a clinical precision. “There,” he says, standing above bits of white scattered on a red envelope. “That’s how much you need to take.” Darren’s a doctor. A real one.

Audra and Brett take swigs out of a plastic bottle filled with water and drugs while I admire the chenille sofas and the wooden ceiling. There’s something about it that reminds me of that scene in Mary Poppins with the penguin dance in a parallel, animated universe.

Brett suggests we go to Darren’s house.

By the time we leave it’s nearly 11 and the rain has passed. The sky looks less dense, though increasingly blackened. Darren picks us up outside of the hotel in a Jaguar from the 60s, a shiny white two-door with red leather interior.  Audra and Brett crawl into the backseat to fondle one another while Darren discusses with me the curatorial process of bringing people into your life as you get older.

“The more sure of yourself you get, the more you know what you want, the more you know what people aren’t worth wasting time on,” he assures me. But here we are, all wasting time on each other. Pretty young girls and old rich men, money and beauty bridging the gap.

(Photo courtesy of Murray Mitchell)

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The Surface Stories: Closet Wars

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She reminds me of Hilary, except that I like Hilary and I cannot stand her. She’s the girl who sniffles all the time and asks around the room if anyone has “anti-bac.” The news junkie who laughs to herself while scrolling her iPhone, laughing a laugh that begs someone to ask her what she’s reading. A waterfall of self-satisfied chuckles. It doesn’t matter; if you don’t ask, she’ll tell you anyway. I dread these days with her like gynecological appointments.

Armed with the usual artillery of useless information, she prattles on about news stories, large and small. I’m getting zipped into a $5,000 red carpet gown while she’s blathering on about some psychopath chopping off Amish people’s beards and braids. I’m convinced the reason she studies her clipboard is solely in preparation for these hours, trapped in a closet with a handful of undereducated peers. Every exchange is meant to suffocate, not educate. There is no dialogue, just a silent war of “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” from Annie, Get Your Newspaper.

Rachel flips through photos from her sister’s wedding, praising her like she was pitching a celebrity. “She’s amazing. Amazing. Like the most wonderful woman.” Her gushing is so profuse you’d think it’s meant to make your relationship with your own family feel inferior, subpar by comparison. You wish you had a sister this amazing, she says, and her sister’s amazingness makes her amazing by proxy. Her family is God’s gift to this changing closet.

Look at this picture. Look at this. Here’s my brother. He’s also amazing. Aren’t they wonderful?

Wonderful? Like I’m supposed to judge that just from a wedding picture? If you’re any indication… Polite dressers crane their necks and coo at a row of people standing together in the foreground of a lake that we will never – not in a hundred years – meet. They are beyond not mattering.

When she accidentally manages to have an exchange with another person – namely, me – she tries desperately to redirect it from dialogue to monologue. If no one else speaks, then she is always correct.

Someone mentions Jessica Chastain.

“She’s in that movie,” Rachel muses, waiting for it to come to her.

Zero Dark Thirty,” I interject.

“What’s the name…” Rachel can read but she cannot hear.

Zero Dark Thirty,” I repeat.

“Oh, yeah.”

“What’s that about?” asks one of the dressers.

“Post 9/11,” I start.

“No, it’s about Osama Bin Laden,” Rachel corrects, trying to scramble back to her place at the top of the heap.

“That’s post 9/11,” I insist, wishing for nothing more than to punch her in the face or throw her down a small set of stairs.

“Oh, well,” she says, defeated, trying a different angle so she can rein supreme over the conversation once again. “I wish they named it something more awesome. Like a better fucking name. Like the actual time they caught him.”

“That’s what it is,” I say. “Zero Dark Thirty. 12:30. That’s when they caught him.”

She walks out of the closet and into the showroom, leaving me to gloat alone in my victory, aware that such gloating makes me shades similar to Rachel herself, two people shouting “Anything you can do I can do better” like obnoxious children clutching copies of The New Yorker.

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Make Me a Match. Light Me on Fire.

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My phone whistles at me, my Steve Jobs cat call. A text message: “Holy shit. I’m sorry. I owe you an apology.” There’s no name, just an anonymous series of numbers.

“Who is this? New phone!”

[Not true!]

For the record, this is an excuse that is viable and understandable – equal in scope of forgiveness as the tried and true “I’m getting back together with my ex” story. In both instances, the other party is obligated to be forgiving because, hey, you can’t fight with history or someone’s $800 phone sinking to the bottom of a pool and wiping out all of their contacts. No truth, no harm, no foul.

“I didn’t make the cut in the new phone?”

Errr… messing with my batting record, dude.

“Lost all my new contacts. Sorry!”

Phew.

Last week, while sitting on a red-wine chenille sofa in my mother’s living room, I went through and deleted all of the phone numbers of the men with whom I’d spent some portion of 2012 being self destructive with – with the exception of Richard, who was, by leaps and bounds, the more self-destructive one of the two us. So I suppose it was more of an embarrassment ratio, not merely black and white grounds for termination.

Jake: Delete.

Tom: Delete.

Corey: Delete.

I imagined myself in a boardroom, calling in the slackers. “We’re making fourth quarter cuts, you see,” the corporate boss version of myself began. “And while I’m very sorry you’ve got family issues and career issues and loneliness issues that I would, as a human being – especially as a woman – feel compelled to tend to, we just don’t have the resources to continue this relationship going forward. I hope you understand.” And then I sent them on their ways, watching as they each hoisted their cardboard boxes filled with text messages and a few scantily clad pictures of myself and walked out the door. Only — because this is an imagined conversation in an imaginary world where I am somehow the boss of these assholes and not just some chick they were into for five minutes — none of these men, in real life at least, know that I have so wisely gotten rid of them. Fired them, as it were.

Delete.

Delete.

Delete.

Whoever is sending this message right now is likely one of three people. I take a shot in the dark:

“Is this Corey?”

Corey was deleted less because I felt compelled to embarrassingly message him at 3 in the morning (not even his two-million dollar loft in Tribeca could inspire this sort of sad desperation, which is perhaps evidence that I am not the horrible, soulless golddigger that I could be), but because of ego. Corey ducked out after two dates and didn’t even bother trying to sleep with me first.

When he doesn’t respond, I realize that I am wrong: Corey had too much Southern charm for the phrase “holy shit.”

“Or is this Tom? We can keep playing this game!”

Tom was deleted well before LA, his number given to Serena for safekeeping, or, rather, safeshaming. If I ever wanted to resort to contacting Tom again, I would have to go through Serena. I did the same with Jake’s number.

“It’s Tom.”

“Ahhhhh, hey.”

“What did Corey do?”

“Same old.”

“I felt like I owed you an apology.”

As I’m typing “All good dude”, my phone rings. I pick up.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

And then he tells me a whole lot of things I’m fairly sick of hearing, words like “beautiful” and “smart” and “amazing.” These are like pearls that have been gathered together in my honor without bothering to string. They move quickly and roll away, falling through cracks in the floor. Stupid, empty, meaningless little pearls.

He tells me how right when he met me he had started to hang out with his ex-girlfriend again. I told him I could have guessed as much. “I know guys at this point,” I say. I don’t need a conversation two months after the fact about why a guy stopped calling me. He, however, feels the need to wrap up 2012 with a clean conscious, using me as his dumping grounds on New Year’s Eve.

Tom gives me a whole host of reasons on how he slid back into a relationship with his ex: she watched his dog, he was working a lot, blah blah blah. Then he says something that you’d hear in a movie, something like “But then I met you.” Only this conversation doesn’t end with the boy leaving the old, worn out ex-girlfriend and jumping into the terrifying unknown. No, writers make movies that end with potential love trumping all because those movies sell. No one wants reality. Reality feels like this: sitting on my couch eight hours before I ring in 2013 while some guy I trained myself to stop thinking about seven weeks ago reads off a list of all my selling points, which, ultimately, don’t matter.

“It was hard,” he says, “because I thought, Do I start this relationship back up again? Or do I see what’s out there? Because there are other people out there. Like, you know, you.” Then comes the beautiful-and-smart complement. Next comes the sexy-hot thing. And in true New York City style, he tells me he loves my apartment, how it’s decorated, which is about as flattering as complementing someone’s fake breasts or other non-integral plumage. At this point it just feels like I’m having someone read my own Match.com profile back at me: Tall, blonde, Aries, agnostic, non-smoker, anti-social drinker, lives in railroad apartment by herself with two non-working fireplaces and hardwood floors, eats kale, reads Hemingway.

The question “Do I start this relationship up again?” is a sleeper of a “yes” – the evidence of his decision being most obvious when he tells me he “knows a really nice guy.”

“What?” I ask, not quite sure I heard him correctly.

“I have… I have a friend who’s great that you might like. I mean, is that weird? I didn’t really plan on saying that. It’s just, he’s a buddy of mine from growing up, and I just thought, you know, you’re great…”

This is the part where my ears start ringing and my throat clenches up, my body tries to curl into itself, incinerate, disappear. I feel like an apartment stumbled across by someone who wasn’t planning on moving, but who thought it was too great to let go. If they couldn’t have it, a friend would. I am just a piece of property, getting shuffled from hand to hand until someone gets tired of house hunting and signs the lease because of timing and convenience.

“No… no, I definitely don’t need that,” I say.

He fumbles for some words while I stare at the ceiling.

“No, no, really, that’s okay,” I repeat, and then I laugh to push away any real emotion. Depressingly, this is the third time I’ve had this exact same conversation.

The first was riding an elevator with a boy I had a very sophomoric (read: bizarre, dysfunctional, and clueless) relationship with during a time when I had no idea how any of this boy/girl business worked. “You know,” he started, “in a couple months, when this isn’t weird anymore, I have a friend that I think would be really good for you.” This conversation ranks up there in my Top 3 Most Depressing Post Coital Conversations Ever.

The second time was just a few months ago, with a person I fell in love with in 2007 and still, to this day, have unresolved feelings for. “How’s dating going?” he asked, having called me up out of the blue just to chat. “Bleak,” I laugh dryly. And then he keeps asking me questions, gives me the “intelligent/ beautiful/ funny” line and tells me I won’t have a problem finding somebody. “Do you know Brett So-and-So?” he asks. “No,” I say. “He’s a really interesting guy. Maybe I could try to set you two up.”

Murder me. Please.

Now here I am again, the girl for everyone and no one, getting match-made by ex-notfriends, some version of Fiddler on the Roof from hell.

(Photo: Courtesy of Care2)

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A Toast

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Dear Readers,

I just wanted to take a timeout and give my sincerest thanks for your continued support in coming here, whether you’ve started two weeks ago or as far back as four years. If it weren’t for the random comments, the kind emails, the sharing in an experience… I wouldn’t be doing this, really and truly. And, most importantly, I wouldn’t have improved. Writing is like a sport: you need challengers, goals, an audience. You throw yourself into the gladiator ring and pray you’re the guy who kills the other. I guess that means you all are the blood-thirsty Romans? And I’m killing words? Or other authors? Hell, I don’t know. Might not be my best analogy.

I remember starting this badly named blog on a lark in 2008, after someone stole $300 out of my wallet at a runway show. Thusly inspired, I wrote “Letter to a Thief” on a plane from Chicago to Los Angeles, typed it out on my phone while feeling, well, pretty goddamn angry. When I landed, I handed my Blackberry to a friend who read it aloud while we worked our way towards the exit of an LAX longterm parking structure. She laughed. Amber, thank God you laughed.

It started small. Less than small, really. Five-hundred words about being a child and walking to get candy from a gas station without my mother finding out. In 2009, Tyler pushed me more. “If you don’t write every day, no one is going to read.” So I wrote every day. Not necessarily good stuff, but stuff nonetheless. That same year, I went to some LA party where Weezer sang Lady Gaga covers ironically to a crowd who did not understand irony. I was standing on a staircase when a photographer whose work I admired, who had shot many of my model friends but never showed interest in shooting me, walked my direction. He told me he read my blog, that it was good. “This is what you need to do. This is what you need to do with your life.” It meant more than any modeling job I had ever booked, compensated handsomely for any infantile feelings of unworthiness I had previously felt. Randall, thank you. Tyler, thank you, too.

The rest of you, all you silent partners in this, have been just as integral to the journey. I cannot tell you how much it means that these stories — funny, depressing, niche, or otherwise — resonates with each one of you in some capacity. Because that is point: the collective experience.

Anyway, I just thought it appropriate to write one of these on the dawn of a new era or, at least, a new year. I wish everyone the best in 2013. Work hard, listen to good music, love a lot (cry a lot? seems to go hand-in-hand but I’m probably most definitely doing it wrong), and be grateful for everything you have.

Thanks to you all for changing my life.

Jenny B really does love you.

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