Irrational hotel envy

Last night, I was sitting in my car at a red light. It was dark, cold and raining, and the end of a long day. I stared blankly at my windshield wipers swishing back and forth and then zeroed in on a car pulling into the Hampton Inn & Suites across the street. Ugh, lucky, I thought.

I have irrational hotel envy at least once a week. Whenever I see someone walking into a hotel, I can’t help but wonder what they’re up to. What’s their reason for checking in?

Vacation? (Maybe not so likely here in Albany.) Business trip? Rendezvous with an online lover? Termites? Doesn’t matter. I’m jealous.

I’ve always been obsessed with hotels. I love everything about them. I love hurling myself onto the bed and getting under the covers even if I’m only in the room for a few minutes. I love hoarding the little travel-sized lotions in the bathroom for my purse. I love the ice machine.

This pretty much sums it up

                                           This pretty much sums it up

It’s not an issue of luxury – a hotel need only be clean and comfortable to become the object of my passionate love. And it’s not about being on vacation – I frequently have to talk myself out of checking into hotels in my own town for no reason other than I’m craving a fix.

It’s just that something about staying in a hotel is so comforting to me. It feels like a suspension of real life, like everything can just be placed on hold while you’re within the walls of that clean, peaceful, benignly-decorated room.

I think this love stems from my childhood, which I for some reason feel contained a lot of hotels – and I guess it sort of did. There were family vacations, of course. But we also moved a lot, which a couple of times involved living in a hotel until a house was ready or after one had sold. (Fun fact: we lived in the hotel where Caddyshack was filmed – but I’ve still never seen it.)

And as much of a pain as I imagine it was for my parents to be confined to a hotel room with little kids and all our stuff, I loved it. I loved going to sleep with my whole family where I could see them. I loved that my teenage sister, normally busy with her own friends, had nothing to do but sit on the bed and play Guess Who? with me for hours. I loved taking the nightly walk to the ice machine with my mom (the root of my ice obsession is still unknown). Everything was happy, contained, and right.

And to this day, hotels always give me that exact same feeling. Comfort, happiness, and a childish sense of delight. Which is probably why one of my ultimate fantasies involves gathering up some essentials (snacks, books, gossip mags) and checking into a hotel, by myself, for no reason at all. Maybe ordering, like, a turkey burger and an ice cream sundae from room service if I want to get crazy. And that’s it.

The ultimate mental health day (slash night). Someday, I will do it.

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The biggest regret of my life?

That I didn’t pet the dolphin.

That is not a euphemism. And okay, maybe it’s not my biggest regret — but it is seriously up there.

When I was little, maybe early elementary school, my parents took me to some kind of dolphin show. I have no idea where we were, but I remember it being indoors. Wherever it was, it was awesome. At some point during the show, the trainer said she needed a volunteer to come pet the dolphin and describe to everyone what it felt like. She glanced around, then zeroed in on me and smiled. My heart pounded. I wanted to touch the dolphin so bad. It was, and remains, a lifelong dream to interact with a dolphin. I should have been jumping out of my seat, right?

The trainer came over and sweetly tried to take my hand. Wide-eyed, I shook my head. She cooed at me, telling me not to be afraid, to come on with her and I could pet the dolphin. I wanted to cry. I watched Flipper on TV every day after school. Now here was my chance to basically meet him! The trainer smiled uncertainly as I sat there, motionless and petrified. To meet Flipper, I’d have to not only stand up but speak in front of ALL those people.

“Go on, honey,” my parents said — but I couldn’t. I willed myself to move, but I was glued to my seat.

“Okay,” the trainer said, chuckling uncomfortably (because, what kid says no to petting a dolphin!? we were going way off script). “How ’bout you?” she said to a cute little blond girl in OshKosh B’gosh. The girl confidently took the trainer’s hand and bounded down the steps to the pool.

I was filled with sorrow as I watched her pet the dolphin. That could have been me, I thought, over and over.

“What does it feel like?” the trainer asked the girl. “Kind of like a balloon!” she said, and beamed adorably.

That’s a really good description, I thought, staring daggers at her.

I left the show dejected.

That incident haunts me to this day — okay, not really (maybe a little). Because the thing is, it was only one of many times in my life, particularly my childhood, that I passed on doing something cool because it scared me. And then… I don’t know when it happened…but somewhere along the line it clicked: those are the things you have to do, the best things to do. Those are the things you’ll remember forever.

For some of us, it never gets easy. I threw up like five times on the way to the airport when I went to teach English in Costa Rica (I have what Mindy Kaling has termed the “stress barfs”). I almost turned down a cash award in college because it involved speaking at my graduation. For almost every great thing that has ever happened to me, there’s been that overwhelming moment of wanting to bail. Only now I don’t — lest I have another Dolphin Incident to live with forever.

I admire people who are fearless, but I’ve realized you don’t have to be — you just have to be willing to do things that scare the crap out of you. I don’t want to say something cheesy like “embrace the fear” — so I’ll just say, in my experience, the more it makes you want to puke, the more worthwhile it probably is.

As the saying goes…you’ll never regret petting the dolphin, you’ll only regret not petting it. Is that not a saying? It should be.

Am I way too old for this?

On my 25th birthday, I stepped out of the shower and looked down. Oh my God, I thought…

Am I way too old for this belly button ring??

I had gotten it pierced when I was 18, my friend Urmi squeezing my hand as I laid on the table in the tattoo parlor. I knew my dad didn’t want me to do it, but I was eighteen. I felt fiercely independent as I left the shop giggling with a pretty pink gemstone and a slight throbbing under my shirt. The day felt like a little milestone, of making my own decisions, of expressing who I really wanted to be.

But then 25 hit and it felt like another milestone, one where I was supposed to be “a grown woman,” where maybe I couldn’t be that girl anymore who just seven years ago I’d been so excited to become.

It happens all throughout our lives, I think, where we have to take stock and rid ourselves of those clothing and accessories that just no longer seem to fit – not our bodies, but our lives. But I think it’s most frequent and pronounced in our twenties, when many of us go from being college kids to professionals, even wives and mothers.

It all seems to require a complete overhaul of everything we own – and sometimes everything we are. That can be pretty overwhelming…which is probably why we often cling to certain items far longer than we should, probably why I couldn’t bring myself to take out my belly button ring that day.

Note: these are not my abs. Or my tiger stripe extensions.

Because sometimes it feels like, you know, you’re not just saying goodbye to a shirt, you’re saying goodbye to being the kind of girl who could wear that shirt.

I read a book once where the author reminisced about something bold her younger self had done and thought, “Who was I then, and why can’t I be her anymore?”

Why can’t I be her anymore? I’ll admit to having had that thought countless times. But I think what we often overlook when we’re swept up in nostalgia is that who we become is most often better than who we were.

Yes, I had a lot of fun in that flouncy skirt and halter top when I was 20…but I was also kind of dumb. I’m glad I’m not that dumb now. And I’m glad my “going out” shirts are no longer made of questionable, highly flammable “fabrics” and that I own jeans cut for an actual adult woman’s body. It’s just a better, more fire-safe situation all around.

It’s okay to cling a little, though. I’ll never get rid of my dorm sweatshirt from my first year of college which on the back says “…damn right, it’s better than yours” – yes, from the iconic “Milkshake” song of 2004. I wear it at home as a cozy little reminder of those good times, and okay, maybe I even sing the song when no one’s around. But when it’s time to leave the house? I toss it aside and put some real clothes on.

As for the belly button ring? When I was 26 I had to take it out to get an MRI and never had any desire to put it back in. Progress, people.

Times it is physically impossible for me to look pretty

So I was thinking about those women…you know the ones…those women who, no matter what they do — running, sweating, giving birth, whatever — somehow manage to look equally attractive at all times. Their attractiveness is in no way circumstance-dependent.

I am not one of those women.

Here is a list of times it is physically impossible for me to look pretty:

Crying. You know how some women somehow look even more beautiful when they cry, eyes glistening, lashes defined, cheeks dewy? (Wait, is that only in movies?) Not me. Three heaving sobs and my nose turns shockingly red — not even a uniform redness, just my nose, which makes the rest of my face look even paler. Whatever makeup I’m wearing is immediately smeared across my face. My lips are suddenly inexplicably chapped. And there is nose blowing…so much nose blowing. I’ve found this to be a particular indignity when I’ve gotten dumped. If you’re going to get dumped, the final image burned into his brain should not be of you doing the ugly cry. Shout out to the guy who dumped me over the phone — he must have really not wanted to see that, and who can blame him? (I can. I blame him.)

Fresh out of the shower/swimming/a heavy rain. Being soaking wet – theoretically a sexy state — does not become me. I think it’s the slicked-back hair. I unfortunately sported this look a lot while living in Costa Rica during the rainy season; more unfortunately, there is photographic evidence. My male roommates got several good laughs out of this look while I stood seething, and dripping, in the doorway post-downpour. (You know it’s bad when your shirt has been rendered see-through and the reaction you get is still hysterical laughter).

Exercising. This is sort of a tragic hybrid between crying and being wet. Hair matted with sweat + blotchy facial redness = I am not one of those girls who gets picked up in the gym. (Well it happened once, but it made me seriously question his judgment/aesthetics.)

Being sick. I’ll just illustrate this one with a recent quote from my mom (after I had gotten a facial): “Your skin does look beautiful. But I always think you look so beautiful, Kelly. Well usually…I mean…not when you had the flu. You did not look beautiful then [makes face of pure disgust merely remembering this event].”

Post-sunbathing. Sun-kissed glow? Haha! Let me clarify: I don’t “sunbathe.” I once got sunburned, in New York, in March. But sometimes I just like to be in the sunshine or, God forbid, go to the beach like a normal person rather than the vampire my skin tone suggests I am. This is always a mistake. Despite slathering myself with SPF 375 before throwing my towel down on the sand, sunburn is inevitable — but rather than the uniform redness experienced by all other humans who have ever been sunburned, mine comes in shapes! Highlights include a perfect outline of a hand print on my back and once, after boating, a single, geometrically perfect square in the middle of my chest.

Bonus example: oral surgery. My sister’s response after I had my wisdom teeth out? “You look like the Godfather.” Thanks Kate!

Exposing all of my insecurities to the entire Internet

The idea of starting a blog was an extremely uncomfortable one for me. For one, I feel like it’s become incredibly cliché – everyone has a blog; it’s a joke (“You really never read my blog, do you?” Barney constantly laments on How I Met Your Mother).

And, not everyone should. Well, let me rephrase that… I think people should express themselves in whatever more-or-less socially acceptable way feels right to them. It’s just that blogging for “writerly” purposes seemed kind of pointless to me, since not only writers but 87% of people on the planet have blogs.

Still, the number one piece of advice I’ve received both from writing books and writers more experienced than me is: start a blog. Apparently, unloading your most pressing thoughts and well-crafted phrases into a Word document is not the best way to showcase your writing. Also, I’m generally technology-averse for someone my age. I have no social media accounts. My LG Envy 3 had to be pried out of my hands and exchanged for an iPhone only when it reached the point of never turning on, as opposed to only sometimes turning on (I could work with that). I’m still working myself up to creating a LinkedIn profile (I know).

So those were all reasons. But probably the bigger reason? Putting yourself and your writing (kinda the same thing) out there is tough. Especially if you care about it, especially if it’s personal. I’ve written for newspapers, had my papers read aloud in class when I was in school, wrote and delivered a speech for my college graduation. But those weren’t about me and therefore were not terror-inducing (well, okay, the speech might have involved a teeeeeny tiny anti-anxiety pill).

On a recent episode of Girls, Lena Dunham’s character Hannah, an aspiring writer, gleefully exclaims, “I’m about to write an essay that exposes all of my insecurities to the entire Internet!” Of course, her plan also hinged on trying cocaine for the first time. Which, this blog does not. But her exclamation was dead-on. You can’t write about personal stuff, not well anyway, without exposing all those insecurities, those times you’ve messed up, those thoughts you’re ashamed to admit you have. Super fun!

It makes me laugh because it reminds me of a scene on The Office where Tim Meadows is at Chili’s with Jan and Michael and says to Jan re: her divorce, “You were really brave. I mean, you put your arms out there, you slit your wrists. You said, ‘World, this is my blood, it’s red, just like yours. So love me.’”

Jan stares at him awkwardly and chugs the rest of her cocktail.

Writing makes me feel like both Tim Meadows and Jan.

The “Quarter-Life Crisis”

The “quarter-life” crisis has become such a cliché term and, I think, quite an overly optimistic view of how long we are all going to live. Nevertheless, it’s real. And it’s painful.

It’s painful when you realize that maybe you can’t be what you want to be when you grow up, like your parents always told you. When you realize that “becoming the person you want to be” is likely a lifelong struggle, not something you scrawl a big checkmark over at age 25, smugly satisfied at having completed the task.

It’s when you realize that love is not a fairy tale, love is not always enough, and that many of the people around you are settling for way less than the kind of love you always dreamed of – and sometimes you wonder if you should too.

It’s when you realize your parents are not those superhero-strong, infallible creatures of your childhood, but real humans with flaws, weaknesses, and their own disappointments. And you realize that even though they may not be superheroes, they’re going to die someday – not in an unimaginably distant future like when you’re a kid and learn “everyone dies someday, honey,” but maybe in an amount of years you can actually envision now – and you’re not going to be ready for that because you’re still going to need them.

Maybe you pick the wrong guy, the wrong job, the wrong city…and you start to feel stuck in it. There’s suddenly less of that 22-year-old sense that the world’s your own personal oyster that you can mold and shape and change as many times as you want. You wonder about marriage, kids, and when it’s all going to happen.

Sometimes the biological clock ticks at a frenetic pace, and you wish you could rip it out of your heart’s wall and disconnect it like the temperamental smoke detector that goes off in your apartment every single time you make sweet potato fries.

It’s scary, mostly because on some level you know that how you handle it may set your happiness threshold for the rest of your life.

Do you marry the wrong guy, or wait around for a chance at that once-in-a-lifetime kind of love – even if it means standing in a bridal salon one day wondering whether you’re too old for that big princess-style gown you’d once imagined, and fretting over how old you’ll be when your kids graduate from college?

Do you switch careers, or delay starting one, because you’re searching for long-term satisfaction – even if it means anxiously fiddling with your phone under the table when other people talk about their savings, investments, and stellar retirement plans?

And what do you do when you see those first fine lines form beneath your eyes, and look in the mirror one day paranoid that your butt is occupying slightly lower real estate than where it started out?

Do you feel like you’re losing something of yourself when the bartender doesn’t ID you anymore or the guy at the coffee shop says, “sorry, I didn’t see you there,” after you’ve been standing right in front of him for five minutes? Even if you know it probably has nothing to do with those fine lines and everything to do with the crippling self-doubt you’re hefting around, like one of those cartoon knapsacks on a stick over your shoulder.

People say the thirties are when women really come into their own and experience unprecedented confidence, happiness, lust for life – and lust, period.

I hope that’s true, because sometimes I really have to wonder…are your twenties a joke?